The Baby Squad

The Baby Squad

5.0 2
by Andrew Neiderman

View All Available Formats & Editions


In the middle of the twenty-first century, the search for the human ideal is over. A medical breakthrough maintains the integrity of the world's gene pool. It's also made the birth of Abnormals -- children born of natural pregnancy -- a capital offense. To ensure the faultless future of the human race, The Baby Squad…  See more details below



In the middle of the twenty-first century, the search for the human ideal is over. A medical breakthrough maintains the integrity of the world's gene pool. It's also made the birth of Abnormals -- children born of natural pregnancy -- a capital offense. To ensure the faultless future of the human race, The Baby Squad is created to track down all women who defy the law, and exact punishment. Women like Natalie Ross. She's pregnant -- a blessing to her, a disgrace to society -- and she's afraid. One young woman has already been found murdered. And the promise of more bloodshed soon sends Natalie on the run to the underground, where a safe house awaits. Or so she thinks. For Natalie and her unborn child pose a mortal threat to those in power who desire a pure world of their own design -- a world they will do anything to protect....The Baby Squad.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Set in the late 21st century, this nightmarish novel from Neiderman (Under Abduction, etc.) portrays a world where sterility is mandated, pregnancy is a crime and children are born under clinical supervision, ensuring that every twist of their double helixes will result in a Perfect Child. Naturally, there are those who yearn for pregnancy the old-fashioned, "Abnormal" way. Neiderman's fast-moving tale weaves together several such characters, but focuses on Natalie Ross, a romance novelist who was born an Abnormal. Despite her best efforts at using black-market birth control, Natalie finds herself pregnant-which could ruin her lawyer husband. Even more intriguing is a story line involving a group of young girls who are infatuated with the idea of pregnancy; at meetings of their clandestine PYPC (Pretend You're Pregnant Club), they stuff pillows under their shirts and commune on prenatal vitamins. One Machiavellian girl, hyper-sexualized and fascinated by the violence of animals, resorts to murder when threatened with exposure. The ideas that comprise the bulk of this book aren't novel-laboratory births and fascist family planning having been a sci-fi staple for decades-but Neiderman's light touch and breezy style make this well-worn idea seem new again. (Aug.) Forecast: Though many readers are familiar with Neiderman's 1990 book-turned-blockbuster, The Devil's Advocate, few realize that he also ghostwrites for a popular YA novelist. Like most ghostwriters, Neiderman has kept a low profile, which hasn't helped build his renown, but if he continues to churn out cinematic tales like this one, the higher ups in Hollywood may take notice once more. Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.

Product Details

Pocket Books
Publication date:
Sold by:
File size:
424 KB

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

Natalie Ross stood completely naked before the full-length, light walnut, oval mirror in her bedroom and pressed her palms to her abdomen. How much longer did she have before it would show? The home test had been positive. She had bought it on the black market and taken it the moment she had suspected. Of course, there was the strong possibility that the test was inaccurate. Once you went to the underground for something like this, you had no guarantees, but her body was rife with the symptoms: no period for months now, morning sickness, and very sensitive nipples during the onset of her condition. She was even experiencing food cravings, like Jell-O pudding on top of corn flakes. If she figured correctly, she was easily entering her sixth month!

Preston had accepted her explanation for her nausea and vomiting the first time he had witnessed it. She went through a convincing performance, throwing out the leftover chili and warning him not to so much as taste it. She even claimed to have gone to the doctor. Fortunately, Preston had seen this happen only once. The three subsequent times, he had already dressed and gone to work, and she no longer suffered any morning sickness.

Nor had he witnessed any of the food cravings. Sometimes she wondered if he would notice anything dramatically different about her. He was like an absent-minded college professor these days, working harder than ever and often bringing it home either in his briefcase or in his head.

Natalie closed her eyes and concentrated. Her best friend, Judy Norman, told her if you placed your hands on someone and put all your concentration into the effort, you could feel their energy and sense what truly lived within them. She was talking about something far different, of course. She was speaking of honesty, intention, good and evil. Lately, Judy was into all that spiritual stuff. Natalie didn't reject it all. She was skeptical but not resistant. The truth was, she wished it were all true. She wished there were something beyond, some spiritual force that understood her, applauded her, and certainly did not condemn her.

Yes, there's a child forming inside me, Natalie thought, a true marriage of Preston and me. I can feel it in my heart. It is already part of my very being. I am pregnant. It's not some fantasy. I shouldn't have to concentrate or meditate to search for any sense of her or him within me.

As a preadolescent, she had always suspected she was not a natal laboratory baby, known as an NL1. The prophylactic material used to make the egg invincible became known simply as NL1. Sometimes she had dreams about inoculations. Where they were given remained vague, even in the dreams. NL1 babies had no need for any inoculations against any of the childhood illnesses, of course, nor did they need flu shots or any of a slew of vaccinations that prevented a long list of maladies, from anemia to any of a number of zoonoses, diseases caught from animals.

If those dreams weren't nightmares, they were memories she was eventually taught to suppress. Suddenly, they were all coming back.

Her parents had done a good job of hiding the truth from her as well as everyone else as long as they could, and afterward, she had performed well herself, knowing that if she weren't convincing, she would be an outcast and certainly not what she was today: the wife of a prominent lawyer with a very promising career as part of a very influential firm.

Naturally born children, now called Abnormals, generally were fortunate if they were able to get menial jobs these days. Certainly, no one with any class or status would even think of marrying such a person.

Her problem, of course, was preventing herself from becoming pregnant. Ever since her menstruation had begun, she'd been on birth control pills, another black market product, this one disguised well as vitamins or sometimes common aspirin. They were even stamped. Who could tell except a pharmacist or a chemist? Certainly not Preston, she thought.

And then it happened.

She bought either a placebo or a pill so old it had lost its effectiveness. Her mother had warned her. Never depend on them. Do what you can to prevent pregnancy. Watch your cycle. Don't make love at the prime times, if you can at all prevent it.

Easier said than done, of course, and now she was paying the price. Or was it a price? Lately, she had been feeling...good. The morning sickness had passed, and, if anything, she felt healthier. And then there was the dream, the vision of a child who was completely and actually her own, with no tampering; nothing that was a part of her, a part of who and what she was, had been removed. She believed what the Naturals believed: there was a greater, closer, more symbiotic tie between mother and child. Wasn't that wonderful?

"What the hell are you doing?" Preston asked from the doorway.

She nearly leaped across the room. Rushing for her turquoise velvet robe, she tripped over a slipper and caught herself before she hit the bedpost. Then she put on her robe and flipped her long, thick, reddish brown hair back over her shoulders. Preston called it her mane. He kidded her about it, but he was quietly proud of her beauty.

"I was trying to see if I've gained any weight, if you must know. Did you have to sneak up on me like that?"

"Who snuck up on you?" Preston asked. He shrugged and crossed to his closet. "Hell, I was making so much noise coming up the stairway, you would have to be in one helluva trance not to have heard. I called to you when I came in, too, Nat. What's up? Why the concern about your weight? You look terrific, as beautiful as ever."

"I felt bloated," she said, and sat at her vanity table. "The doctor says I'm eating too much salt. Why are you home so early, anyway, Preston?"

"Why am I home so early?"

He stared at her. In her mirror, she saw the strange smile on his face, and then she remembered.

"Oh," she said.

"Oh? Is that all you can say? It's just the most important dinner of the year for me. Mr. Cauthers and his wife are taking us out, and everyone at the firm knows when Mr. Cauthers takes you out to dinner with just his wife and himself, it's to tell you that he and the other partners have decided to give you a partnership. I think after seven hard years of proving myself, I deserve it, of course, but I won't take anything for granted these days."

He squinted at her.

"I thought you were just as excited about this as I was. At least, you indicated that when I first told you about the invitation. Hell, you were the one who suggested the restaurant, Nat. How could it slip your mind?"

He looked frustrated, disappointed. Preston was such a good-looking man, with his dazzling dark eyes, Roman nose, and strong mouth. All of his features were perfect, in fact, and he had the self-confidence of someone who knew he was good-looking and impressive. That demeanor had served him well.

"It didn't slip my mind, exactly. I am excited. I just lost track of time, Preston."

"Doing what? Living in one of your fantasy stories?"

She spun on her seat and glared at him. "Just because I spend most of my day writing romance novels, it doesn't mean I'm not involved in other things, too. Besides, I make good money for us, don't I? I thought you respected what I do. I thought you believed there was a role for entertainment, too. Or was that just hot air, Preston? Have you been humoring me all this time?"

Put him on the defensive, she thought. It always worked.

"No, of course not. I just...oh, forget it," he said. "I'm taking a shower. Which do you think is better tonight, the blue suit or the brown?"

"I like the three-piece for a dinner like this, especially with the Cautherses."

"Gray, but...all right, I'll wear that one," he said, and went into the bathroom.

She stared at herself in the mirror.

She was gaining more and more weight. She could see it in her chin. Soon she would have to resort to the same type of girdle her mother had worn. Like her mother, she wasn't really going to show until she was well into the sixth month, probably, but that was well along. People had premature babies in the sixth month, babies that survived. She could give birth without Preston even knowing she had been pregnant!

What would she do?

She could still go underground and find an abortion doctor. She'd go far enough away and remain anonymous, of course. Preston would never find out if she did it soon.

Or she could do what she had finally discovered her mother had done.

With her husband's blessing, she could go into hiding and have it.

Visions of the baby inside her returned. She could have her very own child, a child who was truly hers and Preston's. Wouldn't he be happy? Couldn't she make him see how wonderful it would be?

A baby who was really all that they were.

The thought made her heart beat faster. She saw a flush come into her cheeks.

She had really begun to make the decision by getting those prenatal vitamins, even though she had told herself she was just keeping the option open.

She gazed at herself in the mirror again, a different, sterner, and more sensible Natalie Ross looking back at her.

Be careful, the image in the mirror warned. You're tiptoeing over very thin ice.

You could ruin everything.

Just as in most communities, there was always a nagging rumor in Sandburg that there was a young woman capable of becoming pregnant. Perhaps because of Sandburg's perfect record, its standing in the nation, and its subsequent fame, residents were more paranoid. Stories about Hattie and her squad were infamous. They actually checked a suspect's garbage, looking for evidence of black market products. There was even the story about a young woman they followed for days until they finally planted a pregnancy test in her toilet. Some of the stories were exaggerated, but it was enough to keep most women a little nervous, because even those who knew they couldn't get pregnant feared the fallout of a false accusation. People would always look at them with some distrust even if they were exonerated.

Critical students of history made comparisons to the witch hunts of colonial times or to the red-baiting paranoia about Communists during the 1950s, more than a century ago. An accusation was as damaging as a conviction in all cases. From time to time, such a strong rumor about a woman stirred the day-to-day commerce of the small upstate New York village and disrupted the even flow of courteous intercourse among the inhabitants. The turmoil and the rage wouldn't stop until it was proven beyond a doubt that the alleged suspect was indeed innocent.

However, just about everyone was grateful for Hattie and her baby squad, as they had come to be known. Every businessman and woman working and living in Sandburg applauded their vigilant enforcement of the national decree that had been established once perfect progeny could be created in the nation's maternity laboratories and once the human genome had been perfected. It wasn't simply a law so much as a proclamation, a national desire, its enforcement left up to the local communities, but its encouragement came from rewards in the way of grants and subsidies to those communities with perfect or near-perfect records. Everyone in Sandburg was quite aware of what had happened in Centerville, the next village to the north, when three pregnant teenage girls were discovered.

Three! How could such a thing happen in this day and age and right under the eyes and noses of the adults and parents around them? The town became a pariah, the stores and businesspeople either had to move or simply had to close, and every citizen and business lost the special government subsidy.

Enforcement of the decrees actually had become a national obsession, and most felt rightly so. Gone forever were all the old childhood diseases, deformed and retarded infants, inherited physical and mental illnesses, cancers, diabetes, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson's, nearly every known malady tied to defective DNA.

But what was even more valued now was the government licensing of all potential parents. One no longer simply got married and had a family. Parenting was recognized as an art, a skill, work that required intelligence and a real understanding of childhood mental and physical development. No one got married because the woman was pregnant anymore. No one resented the children they had and failed therefore to give them the proper care and upbringing. Consequently, teenage crime as it once had been known and feared was practically nonexistent.

The last violent incident of any national note in a public school involving a young person occurred twenty years after the passage of the laws requiring all females to be inoculated against pregnancy. They were given the dosage of NL1 just after birth. Natural childbirth was quickly becoming ancient history, at least for the middle and upper classes of society.

Literally everywhere, in every public place, were posters depicting pregnant women in the most unattractive ways possible: their faces distorted, their bellies exaggerated, their lips writhing in pain and agony, and often one could find a graphic poster of a deformed child with the words: "Born Naturally. Who wants it?"

Oddly enough, young people such as Lois Marlowe had what Hattie Scranton called "a sick fascination" for natural childbirth despite all the propaganda and enforcement against it. At the moment, having gone through an embarrassing examination administered by Dr. Morris, Lois wasn't feeling fascinated with anything remotely associated with the condition. Part of the physical exam was really unnecessary, such as the vaginal and breast examination conducted with the entire baby squad watching, but Hattie wanted Lois to feel as uncomfortable as possible. Let it be a lesson to her.

Lois was sitting in the waiting room while her mother, the doctor, and Hattie Scranton's baby squad conferred in the office. Her face was still stinging from the blush of embarrassment and fear.

The door opened, and she looked up sharply.

"Come in here, Lois," her mother ordered.

She rose slowly, her heart thumping.

"I'm not pregnant, Mama." She was terrified of some mistaken diagnosis. There were all sorts of horror stories about something like that. Even after months and months went by and the woman showed no signs of pregnancy, people still believed she could have been and could have had an abortion. Go and try to live in the community after something like that was spread.

"I know. Come on," Jennie Marlowe said. She looked emotionally exhausted, her hair falling, her face still pale.

Lois stepped through the doorway and gazed at the women who glared at her with such rage she couldn't keep her eyes from sinking to the floor and lowering her head.

"We want to know where you got those pills, Lois," Hattie said.

"I traded for them," she replied in little more than a whisper.

"We heard that. With whom?" Hattie said.

Lois raised her gaze. They wanted her to turn someone in. How would she face the others?


"It's illegal drugs," Dr. Morris said. "You know better than that, Lois."

"It was just for fun, a curiosity. No one did anything with them or had any reason to want them other than that," she argued.

The women simply stared.

"Someone is usually pregnant when she has such a pill in her possession," Hattie said.

"No, no one's pregnant."

"Who gave you the pills?" Hattie repeated, a word at a time, each one pronounced with venom.

"You'll have to tell them, dear," Jennie said.

Lois shook her head. "I can't. It wouldn't be right. Everyone will hate me."

Hattie and the others wouldn't be satisfied with just knowing that. They'd want to know why she traded for the pills, what they were doing with them, and all the other things. The other girls would be afraid that she would name those who had participated in the pregnancy games, for sure. Hattie would want to know who they were. She would have to name names.

"Please, Lois. I'd like to get out of here and go finish my shopping. Just tell them," she added firmly.

Lois shook her head, tears streaming down her face now, each one a little drop of fire.

"If you don't tell us, we'll turn this over to Chief McCalester, and he'll give it to the district attorney, who will get an indictment and have you arrested for possession of an illegal drug. You'll go to jail," Hattie threatened.

Lois's heart was pounding so hard she thought she would faint, but she just shook her head and through her clenched teeth muttered, "I can't. They'll hate me."

"Very well. You had your chance," Hattie Scranton said.

"Give me some time with her," Jennie pleaded.

Hattie glared and then softened a little. "You have twenty-four hours," she said. She stepped toward Lois. "I don't know what's wrong with you young people today. What can possibly be fascinating about something as painful and disgusting as natural pregnancy and birth? Do you know what happens to our bodies, how distorted we get, our faces and legs swollen, our breasts with the sensitive nipples, the morning sickness, all of it, all of that horror?"

Lois nodded.

Of course she knew. Besides the posters, she had seen the illegal photographs and had seen an old medical book with illustrations. She didn't feel it was as disgusting as they all did. What would they do if they learned about those pregnancy parties where she and some of her girlfriends pretended to be pregnant, stuffed their skirts, and paraded about as if they were six, seven, eight, and nine months pregnant?

"You're simply an ungrateful, spoiled bunch, and you'll all be punished for it, believe me," Hattie vowed, convincing Lois that once she told she would be opening the floodgates. She imagined all of them being marched down to Mr. Sullivan's office, all the disgrace and all the anger her friends would rain down upon her.

Hattie spun on Jennie. "Twenty-four hours and no more," she fired at her.

Jennie nodded, reached out to turn Lois toward the door, and marched her out ahead of herself. She didn't speak until they stepped into the street.

"Your father is going to be inconsolable, Lois. You haven't begun to see the full brunt of what's about to fall on your head. Turn around, go back there, and tell them who gave you the pills," she pleaded.

Lois shook her head.

I'll be like Joan of Arc, she thought. I'll be burned at the stake and become a saint.

Her mother had no idea how courageous she could be.

She would never tell.


Kasey-Lady growled and barked and lifted herself up, practically garroting herself with the choke collar and chain. Percy sat arrogantly on a rock just a few feet beyond Kasey-Lady's run, sunning himself. The stray cat was a fighter, strutting with a chip on his shoulder. The truth was, if Kasey-Lady, a purebred golden retriever, did break loose, she would be the worse for it, not Percy.

Stocker Robinson watched from the pantry screen door and smiled to herself. Ever since her mother had found Percy down at the lake and brought him home, Kasey-Lady had been out of sorts. She wanted to be at that cat so much, she cried and whimpered. What filled her with so much hate and aggression? Stocker wondered. She wished she had some of it. Being the chubbiest girl in her senior class at school made her the object of ridicule almost daily. The others spread rumors about her, claiming she wasn't a Natal, that her mother had given birth to her in the garage or some such ridiculous place, grunting and squeezing her out like a tumor, bathing her in blood. They even drew nasty pictures and wrote things on the toilet stall walls about her.

Most of the time, she didn't have the courage to stand up to them. Instead, she looked for ways to ingratiate herself, ways to buy friends.

"I'm going to town, Stocker," her mother called from the kitchen. "You wanna come along?"

"No," she called back. What was she, five years old and supposed to be excited about a ride to town with her mother?

"If Daddy calls while I'm gone, tell him I'm making the pot roast tonight."

"Okay," she called back.

She continued to stand there and watch Kasey-Lady rage. When her mother came out, she chastised the dog, who then lowered her head and retreated until her mother got into the car and drove away. As soon as she had, the dog went back to its barking. Percy yawned and spread out on the rock.

Stocker was suddenly taken with an impish impulse. She went out and knelt down beside Kasey-Lady, who stopped barking and waited patiently for her to pet her and talk to her. She licked Stocker's hand and then glared at Percy, who didn't even show a bit of interest.

"What are you going to do to him, Kasey-Lady? Eat him up?"

The dog seemed to nod.

Stocker smiled.

Then she undid the dog's collar and chain. Once the animal felt her freedom, she charged ahead. Percy stood up quickly, arching his back. The dog growled and circled, snapping at the cat, who lifted his paw and held it poised. Kasey-Lady moved her snoot in and out, snapping, each time just escaping Percy's claws. Then, without warning, the cat leaped from the rock and landed on the dog's back. He tore and tore, and the dog spun and yelped, throwing the cat off. He landed on his feet, hissed, and ran into the brush.

Kasey-Lady whined in pain.

"You a wuss," Stocker cried at her. "Get back here," she ordered. The dog did so and lowered her head as Stocker reattached the chain to her collar. She saw streaks of blood on the dog's coat.

The thing of it was that despite this outcome, the dog would bark and threaten again, and if she were turned loose, she'd do the same thing until she got lucky or maybe lost an eye. Her innate hate either blinded her to reason or filled her with extraordinary courage. It was all how you looked at it, Stocker thought.

The ringing of the phone pulled her attention to the house. Was that Daddy?

She hurried in and picked up the receiver in the kitchen.


"Stocker, it's Betsy."

"What?" she asked. Betsy never called her. She was the only other girl in the class who was as desperate for friends, and it was like admitting she was one rung lower than Stocker if she was the one to call all the time.

"Did you hear about Lois Marlowe?"


"They found prenatal vitamin pills in her locker and took her to the doctor for a checkup. Now they want to know how she got them."

Stocker felt her throat tighten. "Did she tell?"

"I don't know. Do you know how she got them?" Besty asked with an underlying note of suspicion.

"No. How the hell would I know?" Stocker replied quickly.

"There's going to be an investigation, I bet. Everyone will be called down to Mr. Sullivan's office. I bet whoever knows is going to tell."

"Who cares?" Stocker said.

"I don't know. Somebody," she sang.

"Well, not me," Stocker said, and slapped the phone back onto its cradle.

She sat there a moment, fuming. Kasey-Lady started barking again.

"Shut up!" she screamed, charging back to the screen door. "Shut up, shut up, shut up!"

She felt her throat scratch.

Betsy's words echoed. Whoever knows is going to tell. The words rang like an alarm bell in her head.

The tears of pure red rage came on the heels of her marching fear.

Natalie loved the Cherry Hill. First, it was off on its own on a side road no one would normally take, Porter Road. There were very few homes between Sandburg and Route 52 via Porter Road, so the county highway department did little to maintain it. Occasionally, when a pothole grew deep enough to present a potential of car damage, the road superintendent would bring out a crew and patch it. Otherwise, it was as bumpy and cracked as the surface of Mars. After a particularly heavy rain, part of the road would wash away and often flood in low areas.

Yet, ironically, it was this inaccessibility, this special effort it took to get to the Cherry Hill, that made it a successful restaurant and lounge, especially for the well-to-do. The owner-chef, Joachim Walter, was a forty-year-old cordon bleu chef who created wonderful German, French, and Hungarian dishes.

The main room looked like the set of Rick's café in Casablanca. Along with the famous ceiling fans, there were higher levels for some tables, little nooks for privacy, and a special room for catered affairs. On weekends, the Cherry Hill featured Connie and Tino Planta. He was on the piano, and she sang sultry songs reminiscent of the 1940s and early 1950s, songs filled with romantic lines and promises of love.

Actually, Natalie was surprised the Cautherses had taken her suggestion and chosen the Cherry Hill for this dinner meeting. She couldn't imagine a stuffier couple. At sixty, Bertram Cauthers looked like a man nudging seventy-five, with tufts of yellowed white hair along the crest of his head and larger puffs around his temple and behind his ears. He had birthmarks over his wrinkled bald skull and a complexion that made her think of tissue paper. With a rim of red at the base of his eyelids, his dull brown eyes were always somewhat watery. Tiny veins crisscrossed his bulbous nose. They looked as if they had been scribbled down the sides with a pen. His thick, pale lips were always turned up when he finished his sentences, and there seemed always to be a small bubble of sputum at the corners, something that nauseated and disgusted her.

His wife, Margaret, was almost the same height at five feet ten, but she was broader shouldered and wider in the hips. She had a small bosom, which made her stomach more prominent. Despite her wealth, she never seemed to get the right hairdresser, because her dyed hair always looked metallic, the strands harsh and thin like metal threads cut and trimmed under her ears. They were swept around too sharply to emulate the latest New York or Paris model. She wore too much makeup, too. Somehow, however, she did still have nice facial features, a small nose, a soft, sexy mouth, and wonderful green eyes.

They were already at the bar when she and Preston arrived. Margaret had a heavy drinking hand. She loved her martinis. The drinking didn't make her belligerent; it made her talkative. She had an opinion about everything, even the newest driveway materials, since her brother-in-law had just redone his.

"Driving up here made me think of it," she told Natalie. "Those bumps and cracks in the road. I swear, I was afraid I'd lose my appetite the way Bertram drives, even with the sensitizing shocks in the Astro Car he's always bragging about. I can't imagine driving up here in a less expensive automobile. Your teeth could be shaken loose."

"I know," Natalie said, laughing, "but I always think it's worth it after I get here."

"Do you? I suppose it is," Margaret said, but not with any real enthusiasm or agreement.

Bertram had reserved one of the tables off to the right, where they could have more privacy. Natalie thought it was too far away from Connie and Tino. She was hoping to get involved in the music and ignore the business conversation.

After they sat and she and Preston were able to order their cocktails, Margaret pounced. It was her usual topic. "When are you two going to break down and order a child? I know you've got the highest approval rating possible, and for God's sake, you work for the firm that has the most influence when it comes to that, Preston."

Natalie glanced at Preston, who fit a smile on his lips like a mold of wax.

"We're getting close," he replied.

"Close? You two have been getting close for as long as I have known you. How long has that been? Bertram?"

"Preston has been with the firm nearly eight years now," he dutifully recited.

"You shouldn't be afraid you won't be able to do your love books," Margaret continued, sipping her martini. Natalie hated that terminology, love books. They were romantic novels, not love books. "You shouldn't worry, anyway. Babies are nothing like what they were to take care of," Margaret continued. "And besides, you can afford to have a mother's helper. I did when we were making much less than you two are now."

"Margaret, maybe you ought to let them come to these decisions themselves," Bertram said softly.

"Oh, they don't mind my putting in my two cents, do you, Natalie?" she asked.

"Well..." Natalie looked at Bertram, and his eyes widened. "It seems more like fifty cents."

Both Bertram and Preston roared. Margaret's mouth dropped, and then she, too, laughed.

"That's the nicest way I've been told to shut my mouth in decades."

Connie and Tino Planta began their second set with "The Very Thought of You."

"Oh, I love this song," Natalie moaned.

Margaret glanced back at the singers and nodded. "Sweet," she said.

The waiter brought Natalie and Preston their cocktails.

"I've been waiting for you two to get your drinks," Bertram said. "I want to make a toast."

"Oh, wait!" Margaret cried with a grimace of panic. "I don't have anything left in my glass."

"Well, just use your water for now until you do," Bertram ordered sternly.

"That's no toast," she muttered, but picked up the glass. "Well? What is this toast that can't wait another second, Bertram?"

"To our newest partner, Preston Ross, and his beautiful wife. Congratulations."

Preston beamed, and they tapped glasses.

"Oh, well, that is special. We'll have to do it again," Margaret insisted, "as soon as I get a refill."

"Let's do it all night," Preston said, and everyone laughed.

Natalie turned to pick up the last few bars of the song. It amused her that she was more interested in it than she was in her husband getting this great promotion. Maybe that was because they had anticipated and expected it. There was no spontaneity anymore. Everything was planned, contrived, designed.

Even Margaret Cauthers overdoing the martinis was anticipated.

There were no more surprises.

Except the one inside her.

Except that.

Copyright © 2003 by Andrew Neiderman

Read More

Meet the Author

Andrew Neiderman is the author of numerous novels of suspense and terror published by Pocket Books and Pocket Star Books, including Deficiency, The Baby Squad, Under Abduction, Dead Time, Curse, In Double Jeopardy, The Dark, Surrogate Child, and The Devil's Advocate -- which was made into a major motion picture by Warner Brothers. He lives in Palm Springs, California, with his wife, Diane. Visit his website at

Customer Reviews

Average Review:

Write a Review

and post it to your social network


Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See all customer reviews >