Right-to-lifers, Joe! Has to be them! Sergeant Joe Morelli scratched his head. You sure, Doc?
Cantrell had known the Morelli family since Joeís days as a security guard at the Mall, waiting for a spot to open up on the Monroe police force. He had delivered all three of Joeís kids.
Who else could it be? Those little stainless steel buckets they carry the ones I told you about theyíre the same kind we use in D and Cís, and get this: We used to use them in abortions. The scrapings from the uterus slide down through a weighted speculum into one of those buckets.
And it was those bloody scrapings that had been splattered all over him.
But why you, Doc? I know you do abortions now and then - all you guys do but youíre not an abortionist per se, if you know what Iím saying.
Cantrell nodded, not mentioning Sandy. He knew the subject of Joeís youngest daughterís pregnancy two years ago was still a touchy subject. She had only been fifteen but he had taken care of everything for Joe with the utmost discretion. He now had a devoted friend on the police force.
A thought suddenly flashed through Cantrellís mind:
They must know about the womenís center! But how could they?
It was due to open tomorrow, the first of the month. He had been so careful to avoid any overt connection with it, situating it downtown and going so far as to set it up with a corporate front. Abortions might be legal, but it still didnít sit well with a lot of people to know that their neighbor ran an abortion mill.
Maybe that was it. Maybe a bunch of sicko right-to-lifers had connected him with the new center.
What gets me, Joe was saying, is that if this is real abortion material like you say, whereíd they get it?
I wish I knew. The question had plagued him since he had called the police. Well, donít you worry, Doc, Joe said, slipping his hat over his thinning hair. Whateverís going on, itís gonna stop. Iíll cruise the neighborhood. If I see any kids, or even adults with any of these buckets, Iíll ID them and find out whatís up.
Thanks, Joe. he said, meaning it. It was comforting to know a cop was looking out for him. I appreciate that. Iíd especially like to get this ugly business cleared up before the wife and I get home from dinner tonight.
I donít blame you, he said, shaking his head. l know I wouldnít want Marie to see any buckets of blood.
The trick-or-treaters swelled in numbers as the afternoon progressed. They flowed to the door in motley hordes of all shapes, sizes, and colors. A steady stream of Spocks, Skywalkers, Vaders, Indiana Joneses, Madonnas, Motley Crues, Twisted Sisters, and even a few ghosts, goblins, and witches.
And always among them were one or two kids with steel buckets.
Cantrell bit his lip and repressed his anger when he saw them. He said nothing, did not try to look into their buckets, gave no sign that their presence meant anything to him, pretended they were no different than the other kids as he dropped candies and coins into the steel buckets among the paper sacks and pillowcases and jack-oí- lanterns, all the while praying that Morelli would catch one of the little bastards crossing the street and find out who was behind this.
He saw the patrol car pull into the drive around 4:00. Morelli must finally have nailed one of them! About time! He had to leave for the womenís center soon and wanted this thing settled and done with.
No luck, Doc, Joe said, rolling down his window. You must have scared them off.
Are you crazy? His anger exploded as he trotted down the walk to the drive- way. Theyíve been through here all afternoon !
Hey, take it easy, Doc. If theyíre around, they must be hiding those buckets when theyíre on the street, because Iíve been by here about fifty times and I havenít seen one steel bucket.
Cantrell reined in his anger. It would do no good to alienate Joe. He wanted the police force on his side.
Sorry. Itís just that this is very upsetting.
I can imagine. Look, Doc. Why donít I do this: Why donít I just park the car out at the curb and watch the kids as they come in. Maybe Iíll catch one in the act. At the very least, it might keep them away.
I appreciate that, Joe, but it wonít be necessary. Iím going out in a few minutes and wonít be back until much later tonight. However, I do wish youíd keep an eye on the place vandals, you know.
Sure thing, Doc. No problem. Cantrell watched the police car pull out of the driveway, then he set the house alarm and hurried to the garage to make his getaway before the doorbell rang again.
Cantrell savored the effect of the westering sun glinting off the thick brass letters over the entrance as he walked by. Red letters on a white placard proclaimed Grand Opening Tomorrow from the front door. He stepped around the side of the building into the alley, unlocked the private entrance, and stepped inside.
Dark, quiet, deserted. He had hoped to catch the contractor for one last check of the trim. He wanted everything perfect for the opening.
He flipped on the lights and checked his watch. Erica would be meeting him here in about an hour, then they would pick up the Klines and have drinks and dinner at the club. He had just enough time for a quick inspection tour.
So clean, he thought as he walked through the waiting room the floors -- shiny and unscuffed, the carpet pile unmatted, the wall surfaces unmarred by chips or finger smudges. Even the air smelled new.
This center, his center -- had been in the planning stages for three years. Countless hours of meeting with lawyers, bankers. planning boards, architects, and contractors had gone into it. But at last it was ready to go. He planned to work here himself in the beginning, just to keep overhead down, but once the operation got rolling, heíd hire other doctors and have them do the work while he ran the show from the distance.
He stepped into Procedure Room One and looked over the equipment. Dominating the wall was the Rappaport 206, a state-of-the-art procedure table with thigh stirrups, three breakaway sections, and fully motorized tilts in all planes Trendelenburg, left and right lateral.
Close by, the Zarick suction extractor the most efficient abortion device on the market hung gleaming on its chrome stand. He pressed the on button to check the power but nothing happened.
It wonít work tonight, said a childís voice behind him, making him almost scream with fright.
He spun around. Fifteen or twenty kids stood there staring at him. Most were costumed. and they all carried those steel buckets.
All right! he said. This does it! Iíve had just about enough! Iím getting the police!
He turned to reach for the phone but stopped after one step. More kids were coming in from the hall. They streamed in slowly and silently, their eyes fixed on him, piercing him. They filled the room, occupying every square foot except for the small circle of space theyíd left around him and the equipment. And behind them he could see more, filling the hall and the waiting room beyond. A sea of faces, all staring at him.
He was frightened now. They were just kids, but there were so many of them! A few looked fifteen or so, and one looked to be in her early twenties, but by far most of them appeared to be twelve and under. Some were even toddlers! What sort of sick mind would involve such tiny children in this?
And how did they get in? All the doors were locked.
Get out of here, he said. forcing his voice into calm. measured tones.
They said nothing, merely continued to stare back at him.
All right, then. if you wonít leave, I will! And when I return... He tried to push by a five year old girl in a gypsy costume. Without warning she jabbed her open hand into his abdomen with stunning force, driving him back against the table.
Who are you? This time his voice was less calm, his tones less measured.
You mean you donít recognize us? a mocking voice said from the crowd.
Iíve never seen any of you before today.
Not true, said another voice. After our fathers, youíre the second most important man in our lives.
This was insane! I donít know any of you!
You should. Another voice- were they trying to confuse him by talking from different spots in the room?
Because you killed us.
The absurdity of the statement made him laugh. He straightened from the table and stepped forward. Okay. Thatís it. This isnít the least bit funny.
A little boy shoved him back, roughly, violently. His strength was hideous.
M-my wife will be here s-soon. He was ashamed of the stammer in his voice. but he couldnít help it. Sheíll call the police.
Sergeant Morelli, perhaps? The voice was more mature than the others - more womanly. He found her and looked her in the eye. She was the tall one in her early twenties, dressed in a sweater and skirt. He had a sudden crazy thought that maybe she was a young teacher and these were her students on a class trip. But these kids looked like they spanned all grades from pre-school to junior high.
Who are you?
I donít have a name, she said, facing him squarely. Very few of us do. But this one does. She indicated a little girl at her side, a toddler made up like a hobo in raggedy clothes with burnt cork rubbed on her face for a beard. An Emmett Kelly dwarf. Here, Laura, she said to the child as she urged her forward. Show Dr. Cantrell what you looked like last time he saw you.
Laura stepped up to him. Behind the makeup he could see that she was a beautiful child with short dark hair, a pudgy face, and big brown eyes. She held her bucket out to him.
She was eleven weeks old, the woman said, three inches long, and weighed fourteen grams when you ripped her from her motherís uterus. She was no match for you and your suction tube.
Blood and tissue swirled in the bottom of her bucket. You donít expect me to buy this, do you ?
I donít care what you buy, Doctor. But this is Sandra Morelliís child - or at least what her child would look like now if sheíd been allowed to be born. But she wasnít born. Her mother had names all picked out - Adam for a boy, Laura for a girl but her grandfather bullied her mother into an abortion and you were oh- so-willing to see that there were no problems along the way.
This is absurd! he said.
Really? the woman said. Then go ahead and call Sergeant Morelli. Maybe heíd like to drive down and meet his granddaughter. The one you killed.
I killed no one! he shouted. No one! Abortion has been legal since 1974! Absolutely legal! And besides she wasnít really alive!
Whatís the matter with me? he asked himself. Iím talking to them as if I believe them!
Oh, yes, the woman said, I forgot. Some political appointees decided that we werenít people and that was that. Pretty much like what happened to East European Jews back in World War II. Weíre not even afforded the grace of being called embryos or fetuses. Weíre known as Ďproducts of conception.í What a neat, dehumanizing little phrase. So much easier to scrape the Ďproducts of conceptioní into a bucket than a person.
Iíve had just about enough of this! he said.
So? a young belligerent voice said. Whatíre yígonna do?
He knew he was going to do nothing. He didnít want to have another primary grade kid shove him back against the table again. No kid that size should be that strong. It wasnít natural.
You canít hold me responsible! he said. They came to me, asking for help. They were pregnant and they didnít want to be. Why, I didnít make them pregnant!
Another voice: No, but you sure gave them a convenient solution!
So blame your mothers! Theyíre the ones who spread their legs and didnít want to take responsibility for it. How about them?
Theyíre not absolved. the woman said. They shirked their responsibilities to us, but the vast majority of them are each responsible for one of us. You, Dr. Cantrell, are responsible for all of us. Most of them were scared teenagers, like Lauraís mother, who were bullied and badgered into Ďterminatingí us. Others were too afraid of what their parents would say so they snuck off to womenís medical centers like this and lied about their age and put us out of their misery.
Not all of them, sweetheart! he said. He was beginning to feel he was on firmer ground now. Many a time Iíve done three or four on the same woman! Donít tell me they were poor, scared teenagers. Abortion was their idea of birth control!
We know, a number of voices chorused, and something in their tone made him shiver. Weíll see them later.
The point is, the woman said, that you were always there, always ready with a gentle smile, a helpful hand, an easy solution, a simple way to get them off the hook by getting rid of us. And a bill, of course.
If it hadnít been me, it wouldíve been someone else!
You canít dilute your own blame. Or your own responsibility, said a voice from behind his chair. Plenty of doctors refuse to do abortions.
If you were one of those, said another voice to his left, we wouldnít be here tonight.
The law lets me do it. The Supreme Court. So donít blame me. Blame those Supreme Court justices.
Thatís politics. We donít care about politics.
But I believe in a womanís right to control her own life, to make decisions about her own body!
We donít care what you believe. Do you think the beliefs of a terrorist matter to the victims of his bombs? Donít you understand? This is personal.
A little girlís voice said, I could have been adopted, you know. I wouldíve made someone a good kid. But I never had the chance!
They all began shouting at once, about never getting Christmas gifts or birthday presents or hugs or tucked in at night or playing with matches or playing catch or playing house or even playing doctor -
It seemed to go on endlessly. Finally the woman held up her bucket. All their possibilities ended in here.
Wait a minute! he said. He had just discovered a significant flaw in their little show. Only a few of them ended up in buckets! If you were up on your facts, youíd know that no one uses those old D and C buckets for abortions anymore. He pointed to the glass trap on the Zarick suction extractor. This is where the products of conception wind up.
The woman stepped forward with her bucket. They carry this in honor of me. I have the dubious distinction of being your first victim.
Youíre not my victim! he shouted. The law...
She spat in his face. Shocked and humiliated, Cantrell wiped away the saliva with his shirt sleeve and pressed himself back against the table. The rage in her face was utterly terrifying.
The law? she hissed. Donít speak of legalities to me! Look at me! Iíd be twenty-two now and this is how Iíd look if you hadnít murdered me. Do a little substraction, Doctor: 1974 was a lot less than twenty-two years ago. Iím Ellen Benedictís daughter or at least I would have been if you hadnít agreed to do that D and C on her when she couldnít find a way to explain her pregnancy to her impotent husband!
Ellen Benedict! How did they know about Ellen Benedict? Even he had forgotten about her!
The woman stepped forward and grabbed his wrist. He was helpless against her strength as she pressed his hand over her left breast.
He might have found the softness beneath her sweater exciting under different circumstances, but now it elicited only dread.
Feel my heart beating? It was beating when your curette ripped me to pieces. I was only four weeks old. And Iím not the only one here you killed before 1974 I was just your first. So you canít get off the hook by naming the Supreme Court as an accomplice. And even if we allowed you that cop-out, other things youíve done since í74 are utterly abominable! She looked around and pointed into the crowd. Thereís one! Come here, honey, and show your bucket to the doctor.
A five or six year old boy came forward. He had blond bangs and the biggest, saddest blue eyes the doctor had ever seen. The boy held out his bucket.
Cantrell covered his face with his hands. I donít want to see!
Suddenly he felt his hands yanked downward with numbing force and found the womanís face scant inches from his own.
Look, you! Youíve seen it before! He looked into the upheld bucket. A fully formed male fetus lay curled in the blood, its blue eyes open, its head turned at an unnatural angle.
This is Rachel Walravenís baby as you last saw him.
The Walraven baby! Oh. not that one! How could they know? What you see is how heíd look now if you hadnít broken his neck after the abortifacient you gave his mother made her uterus dump him out.
He couldnít have survived! he shouted. He could hear the hysteria edging into his voice. He was pre- viable! Too immature to survive! The best neonatal ICU in the world couldnít have saved him!
Then whyíd you break my neck? the little boy asked.
Cantrell could only sob a single harsh sound that seemed to rip itself from the tissues inside his chest and burst free into the air. What could he say? How could he tell them that he had miscalculated the length of gestation and that no one had been more shocked than he at the size of the infant that had dropped into his gloved hands. And then it had opened its eyes and stared at him and, oh, it seemed to be trying to breathe! Heíd done late terminations before where the fetus had squirmed around awhile in the bucket before finally dying, but this one !
He remembered thinking, What if he lets out a cry? Heíd get sued by the patient and be the laughing stock of the staff. Poor Ed Cantrell - canít tell the difference between an abortion and a delivery! Heíd look like a jerk!
So heíd done the only thing that he could do. He gave its neck a sharp twist as he lowered it into the bucket. The neck didnít even crack when he broke it.
Why have you come to me? he said.
Answer us first, a childís voice said. Why do you do it? You donít need the money. Why do you kill us?
I told you! I believe in a womanís right to --...
They began to boo him, drowning him out. Then the boos changed to a chant: Why? Why? Why? Why?
Stop that! Listen to me! I told you why!
But still they chanted, sounding like a crowd at a football game: Why? Why? Why? Why?
Finally he could stand it no more. He raised his fists and screamed. All right! Because I can! Is that what you want to hear? I do it because I can!
The room was suddenly dead silent.
The answer startled him. He had never asked himself why before. Because I can, he said softly.
Yes, the woman said with equal softness. The ultimate power.
He suddenly felt very old, very tired. What do you want of me?
No one answered.
Why have you come?
They all spoke as one: Because today, this Halloween, this night . . . we can. And we donít want this place to open, the woman said.
So that was it. They wanted to kill the womenís center before it got started- abort it, so to speak. He almost smiled at the pun. He looked at their faces, their staring eyes. They mean business, he thought. And he knew they wouldnít take no for an answer.
Well, this was no time to stand on principle. Promise them anything, then get the hell out of here to safety.
Okay, he said, in what he hoped was a meek voice. Youíve convinced me, Iíll turn this into a general medical center. No abortions. Just family practice for the community.
They watched him silently. Finally a voice said, Heís lying.
The woman nodded. I know. She turned to the children. Do it, she said.
Pure chaos erupted as the children went wild. They were like a berserk mob, surging in all directions. But silent. So silent.
Cantrell felt himself shoved aside as the children tore into the procedure table and the Zadrick extractor. The table was ripped from the floor and all its upholstery shredded. Its sections were torn free and hurled against the walls with such force that they punctured through the plasterboard.
The rage in the childrenís eyes seemed to leak out into the room, filling it, thickening the air like an onrushing storm, making his skin ripple with fear at its ferocity.
As he saw the Zarick start to topple, he forced himself forward to try to save it but was casually slammed against the wall with stunning force. In a semi-daze. he watched the Zarick raised into the air onto the floor, not just once, but over and over until it was nothing more than a twisted wreck of wire, plastic hose, and ruptured circuitry.
And from down the hall he could hear similar carnage in the other procedure rooms. Finally the noise stopped and the room was packed with children again.
He began to weep. He hated himself for it, but he couldnít help it. He just broke down and cried in front of them. He was frightened. And all the money, all the plans . . . destroyed.
He pulled himself together and stood up straight. He would rebuild. All this destruction was covered by insurance. He would blame it on vandalism, collect the money, and have the place brand-new inside of a month. These vicious children werenít going to stop him.
But he couldnít let them know that.
Get out, all of you, he said softly. youíve had your fun. Youíve ruined me. Now leave me alone.
Weíll leave you alone, said the woman who would have been Ellen Benedictís child. But not yet.íí
Suddenly they began to empty their buckets on him, hurling the contents at him in a continuous wave, turning the air red with flying blood and tissue, engulfing him on all sides, choking him, clogging his mouth and nostrils. And then they reached for him . . .
Erica knocked on the front door of the center for the third time and still got no answer.
Now where can he be? she thought as she walked around to the private entrance. She tried the door and found it unlocked. She pushed in but stopped on the threshold.
The waiting room was lit and looked normal enough.
Ed? she called, but he didnít answer. Odd. His car was out front. She was supposed to meet him here at five. She had taken a cab from the house after all, she didnít want Ginger dropping her off here; there would be too many questions.
This was beginning to make her uneasy.
She glanced down the hallway. It was dark and quiet.
She heard tiny little scraping noises, tiny movements, so soft that she would have missed them if there had been any other sound in the building. The sound seemed to come from the first procedure room. She stepped up to the door and listened to the dark. Yes, they were definitely coming from in there.
She flipped on the light...and felt her knees buckle.
The room was red the walls, the ceiling, the remnants of the shattered fixtures, all dripping with red. The clots and the coppery odor that saturated the air left no doubt in Ericaís reeling mind that she was looking at blood. But on the floor the blood-puddle linoleum was littered with countless shiny, silvery buckets. The little rustling sounds were coming from them. She saw something that looked like hair in a nearby bucket and took a staggering step over to see what was inside.
It was Edwardís head, floating in a pool of blood, his eyes wide and mad, looking at her. She wanted to scream but the air clogged in her throat as she saw Edís lips beginning to move. They were forming words but there was no sound, for there was no lungs to push air through the larynx. Yet still his lips kept moving in what seemed to be silent pleas. But pleas for what?
And then he opened his mouth wide and screamed silently.