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His Bundle Of Love
By Patricia Davids
Steeple HillCopyright © 2005 Patricia Davids
All right reserved.
"Hey, wait! Mister, you gotta help us!"
Mick O'Callaghan stopped at the sound of the frantic shout. He turned to see a grubby, bearded derelict emerge from the doorway of an abandoned building, one of many that lined the narrow Chicago street. As the man stumbled down the dilapidated steps, Mick recognized Eddy Todd. Eddy, in his stained and tattered overcoat, was a frequent flyer at the Mercy House Shelter where Mick volunteered two days a week.
Staggering up to Mick, Eddy grabbed the front of his brown leather jacket. "Please. You gotta help. She's havin' a baby! I don't know what to do. You gotta help her."
"Take it easy, Eddy. Slow down and tell me what's wrong."
Eddy squinted up at Mick's face, and some of the panic left his watery, gray eyes. "That you, Mick?"
"Yeah, it's me." He kept the old fellow from falling by catching his elbows. The sour odors of an un-washed body and cheap whiskey assaulted Mick. No doubt Eddy had been out panhandling, and some well-meaning Samaritan had given him money for a meal, but he had spent it on a bottle instead.
Eddy regained his balance and tugged at Mick's arm. "Come on. You're a fireman. You can deliver a baby, can't ya?"
Mick cast a doubtful eye at the old tenement. What would a pregnant woman be doing in there? Only broken shards of glass remained in the few windows that weren't boarded over. A section of the roof had collapsed, and debris littered the area. The only signs of life were a few weeds that had sprouted in the sidewalk cracks and struggled to survive in the weak April sunshine. It wasn't the kind of place he wanted to go searching through — especially for an old drunk's hallucinations.
With a gentle tug, Mick tried to coax Eddy away. "Why don't you come down to the mission. Pastor Frank can get you a hot meal. It's meat loaf tonight. You like meat loaf, don't you?"
"Sure, sure, I like meat loaf." Eddy allowed himself to be led for a few steps, then he stopped. "But what about the girl? She shouldn't have her baby in there. It ain't clean, or nothing. Come on, I'll show ya where she is."
Mick studied the building again. What if Eddy wasn't imagining things? He glanced at his watch.
Normally, it didn't matter how he spent his days off, but since his mother had moved in for an extended stay after her accident, he tried to make sure she didn't spend much time alone. Tonight was the nurse's night off. Naomi would be leaving in an hour. Perhaps if he hurried, he could check the place out, take Eddy over to the mission and get home before she left.
He turned back to the old man. "I'll take a look, but I want you to stay here," he insisted.
"Sure, sure. I'll stay ri-right here." Eddy nodded, lost his balance and staggered back a step. He wavered on his feet but stayed upright. "You want I should call an ambulance?"
Mick shook his head and hid a smile. "I'll do that if we need one. You just stay put."
Walking carefully up the broken steps, he ducked under crisscrossed boards someone had nailed over the doorway in a vain attempt to keep people out. It took a few moments for his eyes to adjust in the gloomy interior. He faced a long hall with a dozen doors down its length. The first one stood open, and he looked in.
A tattered mattress surrounded by heaps of cardboard boxes lay in one corner. Old clothes, tin cans and trash covered the floor. The place reeked of stale sweat and rancid garbage. As he stepped back, his foot struck an empty bottle of whiskey and sent it rolling across the warped floorboards. Apparently, Eddy had been holed up in there for some time. At least there was no sign of a pregnant woman. Mick turned to leave, but the sound of a low moan stopped him.
It came again, and he moved down the hall to investigate, skirting a pile of broken furniture and fallen ceiling plaster that all but blocked the dark hall. The last door on the left stood open a crack. He hesitated beside it. Four years as a firefighter had taught him caution. Plenty of unsavory characters inhabited these slums, and some of them could be very unpleasant if he'd stumbled onto a meth lab or another equally illegal operation.
Another moan, louder this time, issued from the room. Someone was in pain. He couldn't ignore that. Standing with his back to the wall, he stretched out his arm and eased open the door. From behind, a hand clamped down on his shoulder, and Mick's breath froze in his chest.
"What ya doin'?" a slurred voice wheezed. Relief surged through Mick as his heart began beating again. He turned and whispered, "Eddy, you scared the life out of me! Didn't I tell you to stay put?"
"Yeah — yeah, you told me, but she's in here. I found some help," he announced and barged through the door.
Mick followed with more caution. Light poured in from a large, broken window on the back wall. It showed a room surprisingly neat and free of the stench that permeated Eddy's lair. It contained little more than a bare mattress where a young woman with short blond hair lay on her side. She wore a simple black skirt and a pale pink sweater with long sleeves. Her splayed fingers covered her small, rounded belly beneath the sweater. A thin wail escaped her clenched lips. This was definitely not a hallucination.
At the sound of voices, Caitlin Williams lifted her head and sighed in relief. Eddy had managed to bring help. She was sorry she had doubted the old guy. The young man with him crossed the room and dropped to one knee beside her.
"Can you tell me what's wrong?" he asked. Scared out of her wits but determined not to show it, Caitlin said, "I think my baby's coming."
His fingers closed around her wrist, and he stared at his watch. "How far apart are your contractions?"
"Right on top of each other," she panted, trying to stifle a groan as another one gripped her. "You a doctor?"
"No, I'm an EMT. Don't worry, I know what to do." He sounded so calm, so confident. Maybe it would be okay. Peering up at him, she realized with a jolt that she knew him.
She'd seen him at the nearby homeless shelter where she got some of her meals. Only last week, she had watched him playing football with some of the kids there. He'd caught a wobbling pass and staggered toward the makeshift goalposts with half a dozen of them hanging on and trying to pull him down. His muscular frame had made light work of the load, but it was his hearty laughter that had truly drawn her interest. His rugged good looks and dark auburn hair made him easy on the eyes. At the time, she had thought his face was more interesting than handsome. It had character.
"I know you. At the shelter they called you Mickey O."
A warm smile curved his lips and deepened the crinkles at the corners of his bright, blue eyes. "Mick O'Callaghan at your service. And you are?" A vague trace of Irish brogue lilted through his deep baritone voice.
"Caitlin Williams," she supplied through gritted teeth.
"Pleased to meet you." He laid a gentle hand on her stomach. "When is your baby due?"
"Not till —" Pressing her lips together, Caitlin waited for the pains to pass. "August," she finished.
His startled gaze flew to her face, and her fears came rushing back to choke her. "My baby will be okay, won't it?"
"I'll do everything I can." He reached into his pocket and pulled out a cell phone. He flipped open the lid, then muttered, "Not now."
Caitlin saw the worried look in his eyes. "What's wrong?"
"The battery is dead. Eddy?" he called over his shoulder. "I need you to go get that ambulance, now. And hurry!"
"Ri-right, Mick, sure thing. Um where should I go?"
"Go to Pastor Frank. Tell him Mick O'Callaghan says to call an ambulance, then bring him here. Can you do that?" Taking off his jacket, Mick spread it over Caitlin and tucked it around her shoulders.
Eddy nodded. "Sure, I can do that."
Mick saw the old man stagger as he hurried out the door. Torn between the need to stay with the woman or make sure that help was called he looked at her and said, "Maybe I should go."
She grabbed his arm. "No, stay, please. Eddy can do it. Stay and take care of my baby."
"Okay, I'll stay." He composed his face, determined to keep her calm. He knew a baby born three months early wouldn't survive unless it waited to be born in a hospital.
Please, Heavenly Father, guide me in making the right decisions here.
Her face tightened into a grimace as she curled forward again. "Something's wrong. It hurts."
"You need to breathe through your contractions, like this." He demonstrated. "Come on, breathe, breathe."
"You breathe. I'm going to scream."
She didn't and he admired her control. "Tell you what, we'll take turns. Every other contraction, I get to scream, and you breathe."
She uncurled and relaxed back onto the mattress. "What have you got to yell about?"
He gave a pointed glance to where she gripped his arm. "You're doing a bit of acupuncture with those fingernails."
She jerked away. "I'm sorry."
"Why don't you hold my hand?" He offered it, but she ignored him and gripped the edge of the mattress instead, and he regretted saying anything.
Excerpted from His Bundle Of Love by Patricia Davids Copyright © 2005 by Patricia Davids. Excerpted by permission.
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