Author’s Note: Kiki Lowenstein short stories appear in each of the Happy Homicides Anthologies. However, this story was especially written for Dru Ann’s blog.
The beauty of autumn in St. Louis is enough to burst your heart right out of your chest. The colors are glorious, a feast for the eyes. There’s the scarlet of sumac, the brilliant red of sugar maples, and ginkgo trees do it up right with leaves appearing in shades of yellow, red, and burgundy. Actually, I was thrilled to be taking Ty to the pediatrician for his nine-month check-up. With Halloween just around the corner and Thanksgiving on the horizon, I looked forward to quality time with my baby boy. Enjoying the scenery on our way to the pediatrician’s office was a bonus.
We arrived at the office five minutes early. After signing my name—Kiki Lowenstein Detweiler–I found a comfy armchair and put down the baby carrier and the diaper bag. Two other mothers waited with their kids, one with a boisterous toddler and the other with a noisy eighteen month old, or so I guessed the child to be. A few minutes later we were joined by a thin young woman carrying a very quiet child in a car seat/carrier. As she put her diaper bag right next to mine, I noted we owned the same style of container.
In short order, the mom with the toddler was called back to the inner sanctum. Ty cooed and played happily with toys hanging from his carrier, and I would have gotten engrossed in a magazine except the mother seated across from me couldn’t sit still. She jiggled. She flipped her hair. She stood up. Sat down. Picked up a magazine. Scanned the pages. Put it on the table.
Finally, she picked up her child, a girl if the color pink was an indicator. The baby appeared to be the same age as Ty, but while our son was a busy dude, this child was as limp as a dishrag.
The woman with the eighteen-month-old baby was called by a nurse and disappeared.
The thin young mother put her baby girl back in the carrier. I gulped and tried to hide my shock at how flaccid the child’s body was. Ty is my second biological child; I’ve had some practice at this mothering gig. Not only that, I own Time in a Bottle, a scrapbook and crafts store, and we get mothers in and out all day long. However, I can’t recall ever seeing a baby that devoid of muscle tone.
None of your business, I told myself. Let it go, Kiki!
I tried not to stare, but my eyes kept drifting to the mother. I took in her dirty hair, her faded jeans, and her thin frame. There but for the grace of God, I thought. I’d weathered tough times financially, and I’d come to a good spot in life. I prayed that God would help this forlorn looking woman. Chewing my bottom lip, I fought the urge to engage her in conversation.
The frosted glass partition slid open. The receptionist glanced at both of us moms. “Mrs. Rayburn? We need you to fill out a few–”
But the receptionist didn’t get to finish.
“Paperwork?” The young mother interrupted. “Like what?”
“Your address, phone, contact information–”
“My address? Contact information?” With wild eyes darting around furiously, she grabbed her child and her things and rushed out of the office.
After Ty’s checkup, I called Detweiler to tell him our son was hale, hearty, and doing well. When my husband suggested that I bring Ty over to the police station, I chuckled. Detective Chad Detweiler has always wanted to be a dad. In a six-month span, he became father to Anya, my thirteen-year-old daughter from my first marriage; Erik, the five-year-old son of his first wife; and Ty, our biological son. For most men, that would be daunting. For Detweiler, it’s a dream come true. Of course he wanted to show off our baby. And yes, I could drop by the police station and let all the folks there pinch our little guy’s chubby legs.
“There she is,” said Police Chief Robbie Holmes, my father-in-law by my first marriage. “Let me look at that little booger of yours.” Holding out both hands, Robbie reached for Ty. Just as quickly, his nose wrinkled in distaste. “Um, Kiki? I think your son has left you a small deposit.”
That sent me running back to the car for the diaper bag. While carrying it through the hall into the station, I nearly ran smack into Otto, a German shepherd. The big dog sat in front of me, blocking my way. “Nice dog,” I said as I bent to pat him. But I didn’t get that far, because Lloyd, his handler and a K-9 officer, grabbed my arm.
“Whoa.” Lloyd put up a palm to stop me. “Kiki? What’s that you’re carrying?”
I thought he was teasing me. “Duh, a diaper bag. Come on, Lloyd. You’re a dad. Haven’t you ever done diaper duty?”
“Yes, I have,” Lloyd said, glancing up as Detweiler and Robbie came around the corner. While I stood rooted to the spot, Lloyd gave Otto a command. The dog dropped to a prone position and whined. “Wow,” Lloyd shook his head. “Kiki, I need to take a look at that bag.”
The four of us—not including Ty, who was handed over to Mabel, a dispatcher, and a great-grandmother who happened to have diapers in her desk drawer—stepped into a conference room. I opened the bag, looked inside, and gasped. “This isn’t my bag. Rats! I must have picked up that other mom’s stuff while I was at the doctor’s office. That’s not the brand of formula Ty drinks. Those aren’t the same kind of diapers I buy for him.”
“Okay,” Lloyd said in a calm voice. “Let’s take this from the top. When did you last see your bag and where have you been that you picked up the wrong one?”
As it turned out, the young mother I’d run into at the pediatrician’s office was Tiffany Rayburn, a meth user. She’d shown up at the doctor’s office because her little girl had been lethargic, and she didn’t know why. The answer was in the bottom of the diaper bag. Otto had alerted on a soggy plastic bag, punctured by teeth marks. Seems that Tiffany’s little girl had chewed on a bag full of meth.
“What will they do to her?” I asked Detweiler that night, as I lay next to him with my head in the crook of his arm. Our bed was comfy, the day had been long, and I should have been asleep, but I kept thinking about Tiffany.
“I’m not sure. She needs a rehab program, but she’ll probably wind up in jail. It’s not just the meth. It’s also child endangerment.” Detweiler’s breath was warm on my scalp. His breathing slow and regular. “I realize you’re upset about this. I know you. You feel responsible, don’t you? That’s one way to look at it. Another is that if you hadn’t grabbed the wrong bag, Tiffany’s daughter might be dead by now. The officers who busted the Rayburns’ trailer arrived in time to take the little girl to the hospital and get her proper treatment.”
I blinked back tears. I felt awful about Tiffany but . . . at least her little girl was safe. Sort of. Detweiler didn’t say anything more, but we both knew the child’s chances at a normal life were slim.
Still . . . at least she had a chance. Slim or not.
Happy Homicides 4: Fall into Crime is the fourth book in the Happy Homicides anthology, published by Spot On Publishing, August 2016.
This is a bountiful harvest of cozy mysteries, including six novellas and seven short stories. Only 99 cents.
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About the author
Joanna Campbell Slan is the national bestselling and award-winning author of the Kiki Lowenstein Mystery Series, praised by Kirkus Reviews as being, “A cut above the typical cozy.” The first book in the series was shortlisted for the Agatha Award.
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