Authors: Paul Carson
Tags: #Fiction, #General, #Mystery & Detective, #Crime
Copyright © 1997, 1998 Paul Carson
To My Wife Jean
8.45 pm, Monday, 3rd February 1997
Public phone booth, Molesworth Street, Dublin
'I want to speak to John.'
Pause. Breathing clearly heard over the line.
This is John speaking.' Cautious. Wary.
'Hello John. This is Bobby.'
Grunt of recognition.
'Hi there, Bobby boy, how are you?' Oily, greasy. Slick Cockney.
'I'll be in London on Friday twenty-first, arriving at eleven fifteen in the morning.'
'That's nice, Bobby boy.'
'I'd like to place an order for collection that day.'
'It's a good time to buy, Bobby boy. Some things are coming down in price. Want your usual?'
'That's no problem, Bobby boy.'
'I'll call you as usual.'
Pause on this end now.
'Can you get me a girl?'
Sharp breath. Clicking of teeth, tut-tutting.
'Oh, that's gonna be difficult, Bobby boy. We had a lotta complaints from the last girl.'
'You hurt her. You hurt her a lot, Bobby boy. You know that, don't you?'
Then: 'Can you get me a girl?' Firm, pressing. Cut the crap.
Grunt. More clicking of teeth.
'I'll have to go outside for one, Bobby boy. That means it'll cost you.'
'Five hundred. Per night. And if you rough her up that's it for good. Never again. You understand? You make a mess of this one and never again. You understand?'
Angry. Slickness gone.
'No problem. I understand.'
'No hard feelings, Bobby boy. Business is business.'
No more tut-tutting. Just business. Terms agreed.
'Call me as usual?'
'I'll call you as usual.'
'See you soon, Bobby boy.'
He placed the handset down slowly. The frost from his breath misted up the receiver and call box windows. He pulled his overcoat up, tugging tightly on the lapels at the front before walking out into the cold night air. He looked neither left nor right; careful, purposeful strides away from the phone booth. As he made his way back towards the crowded streets he peeled off the protective gloves he had been wearing. The first he pushed into a used McDonald's chip bag he had in one pocket before dropping it into a wastepaper bin. The second he kept for nearly another ten minutes before it too was stuffed into another McDonald's bag and dropped into a different bin.
Like everything he did in life, he was efficient and exact.
Reporting on the official government enquiry
held to investigate the events that follow,
one newspaper headline captured the public mood:
11 DAYS THAT ROCKED A NATION!'
Monday, 10th February 1997, marked the beginning.
10.45 am, Monday, 10th February 1997
North Wing, Central Maternity Hospital, Dublin
The foetal heart rate dropped again.
June Morrison, sister in charge of labour ward three, frowned and walked quickly to the monitor screen and pressed a button. The current foetal heart rate cleared and was replaced with the previous three minutes' graph. The rate had been steady, no blips at all. She flicked back to the current rate and gave an inward sigh of relief. The heart rate had climbed back again to normal.
'Is everything okay Sister?'
Morrison turned around and smiled to the young woman lying in the bed behind her.
'Yes, don't worry pet. Everything's going really well. Your baby's doing just fine. How are you feeling?'
Sandra O'Brien placed both hands behind her in the bed and tried to push herself into a more comfortable position. She licked her lips and pulled a face as she tasted again the chalky antacid that had dried there. With a deep sigh she lay back on the mound of pillows and ran her open palms along her heavily pregnant stomach. 'God, I'll be glad when this is all over,' she groaned.
Morrison gave a little laugh. 'We're nowhere near the end. You'll have to hang in there.' She adjusted the CTG belt around Sandra where it had come loose. 'You'll have to keep still or this belt will slip off altogether.'
'Do I have to keep it on all the time?' Sandra moaned.
'I'm afraid so. It gives us a clear picture of how O'Brien
junior is progressing and how he is adjusting to his entry into the world.'
And what an entry, she thought to herself as she looked again around the room. There were no fewer than three foetal scanners, one beside the other on a specially assembled rack. Harry O'Brien had insisted on three in case the first or even the second should blow a fuse.
'Mr O'Brien,' Morrison informed him starchly when he'd finally choosen the suite for his baby to be born in, 'never once have we had to replace a foetal monitor during a labour. They are checked regularly to make sure such an event does not happen.' She thought she had been firm, making her position clear. She was staking out her territory. This is my playing field, Mr Big Shot. These are my rules. This is not the boardroom of the O'Brien Corporation.
Harry O'Brien listened politely, taking in every word as she gave him a guided tour of the private room and adjoining delivery suite where his young wife would lie. He fixed Morrison with a rheumy eye and placed an arm across her shoulders.
'Sister, I'm sure you're right. I'm sure there's never been a faulty scanner in this great institution of yours. But Sister, let me tell you one thing I know that you don't.'
She moved away from his over familiar gesture and turned to look at him, face to face. His eyes were now hard, cold.
'We make most of the stuff that you guys rely on in this place and I know the quality of the workmanship in some of our plants. So I'm telling
I want at least two backups and I want only new equipment used wherever my wife goes. So you can replace things like that,' he pointed distastefully at a suction machine in the corner of the room, 'and that,' he nodded at the slightly bent IV set fixed to the bedrail.
Morrison had protested long and hard, to O'Brien himself and finally to Luke Conway, the Master of the maternity hospital. Conway and she had been close friends for years and she had watched him progress from junior doctor to registrar and finally, after eight years' extra training in
Canada, to consultant. Conway was possibly the only one in the hospital who knew more than Morrison about labour and the safe delivery of babies. His eventual promotion to Master, medical and administrative head of the hospital, was a fitting tribute to his skills and knowledge.
'Luke,' she complained angrily after O'Brien's visit, 'that bastard's treating this place like one of his corporation power plays. He wants to actually take over… Jesus, can you believe it?… he wants to actually take over room three and the delivery suite for a whole month. He says he's going to get the frigging room decorated again and replace every frigging piece of equipment!' She could barely contain her anger. 'I mean, really now Luke, this is going to be a frigging media circus, not a birth.'
Conway sat across the table from her in his office, listening to her anger grow. He brushed a nonexistent piece of fluff off his jacket sleeve and straightened his bow tie when she finished. A tall and graceful man, he exuded confidence and stability, a man at ease with his position in life. He always dressed soberly, usually in a pinstripe suit with crisp white shirt and bow tie. Like most gynaecologists he found traditional long ties interfered with his manipulations during intimate examinations. He reached across and took both Morrison's hands in his own and held them gently. For a moment he said nothing and just stared at the large, strangely rough hands now held in his own. How many babies have been eased into the world by those hands, he thought briefly to himself. He looked up to find Morrison staring at him in surprise.
'June,' he said, not letting her hands go, 'June, every word you say is absolutely true and I'm embarrassed I ever got the hospital into this situation. But you know the background and the current state of the hospital finances.'
Morrison groaned and pulled away. 'Stuff the frigging background and hospital finances,' she muttered.
'It's easy for you to say that,' continued Conway, 'but I have to deal with the situation as it exists. Sandra O'Brien
developing IVF programme. Harry O'Brien is over the moon. He's been hoping for years to have children after that car crash. You know, as well as I do, how much this pregnancy means to him.' He studied Morrison's face carefully to see how she was taking all this. He didn't want to get on the wrong side of her. The hospital board had chosen her to oversee Sandra O'Brien's antenatal classes and early-labour care. The hospital had a huge financial stake in the safe delivery of Harry O'Brien's baby, two million pounds to be exact.
With no sign of a pregnancy after a year of marriage, Sandra O'Brien had decided to seek medical help. She was found to have blockage in both her fallopian tubes following a severe infection in her early twenties. Despite a number of surgical attempts to correct the problem the chance of a baby by natural methods was remote. So Harry O'Brien intervened in the only way he knew how, with money.
'Give me a child and I'll make sure the O'Brien Corporation marks the event,' he said to Luke Conway one morning after listening to him explain the options on achieving a pregnancy by IVF, in vitro fertilisation. With this procedure Sandra and Harry could have their baby conceived outside the womb in the hospital laboratory and then the embryo transferred back inside her body.
'That's very kind of you, Mr O'Brien,' replied Conway, wondering what exactly he had in mind. 'But we'll not rush into anything just yet. Maybe Sandra should wait another few months before she makes up her mind?'
'How does two million pounds sound? Deliver me a healthy baby and I'll organise two million pounds, no sweat.'
Luke Conway reached for the telephone. 'We'll start tomorrow.'
After three failed attempts a viable embryo was finally created in a Petri dish and successfully transferred to Sandra O'Brien's womb where it took a firm hold on life and began to develop into a normal foetus.
Throughout it all Luke Conway took a special interest in
the pregnancy, going that extra mile to keep the big man happy and protect the hospital's stake. 'There's no one more competent or experienced than June Morrison,' he'd told Harry O'Brien one day as the big man checked on progress and plans. 'We have never…
lost a baby under her care in all her years here and, boy, has she dealt with some difficult cases.'
O'Brien had listened carefully, his private medical adviser beside him.
'If she's as good as you say, then book her. Clear all her other work and cancel her holidays. I don't want Sandra going into labour when Morrison's sunning her ass in Tenerife.'
Conway laughed politely at O'Brien's rare attempt at humour.
'Put her on a double-wage bonus and tell her there's an extra grand, in cash, when it's all over.'
Conway pretended to take all this in his stride.
'There'll be no need for such a gesture, Mr O'Brien,' he replied evenly, keeping eye-to-eye contact with O'Brien throughout. 'The staff here do their duty to the best of their abilities no matter whether the patients are public or private, rich or poor. I know that Sister Morrison will take good care of Sandra.'
O'Brien leaned back heavily in his chair and rested both hands on the desk in front of him. His big frame filled the chair. He sighed deeply, then ran a hand through his mass of now grey hair.
'Dr Conway, I don't want Sister Morrison to take good care of my wife and child.' He leaned forward suddenly and almost spat the words out. 'I want her to take
care of them!' Even Conway was taken aback by his aggression. 'If this hospital wants to get back on some sort of sound financial footing and build that new wing then make sure my wife gets the best of care. And I mean the best, nothing less.'
Conway never revealed the details of this conversation to anyone, certainly not to June Morrison. But she soon found
her holiday plans rearranged without explanation and work schedules changed to free up her time. She was moved from position of sister in charge of midwifery for public patients in East Wing and given sole responsibility for Sandra O'Brien's pregnancy, under the overall control of Dr Tom Morgan, Sandra's choice of obstetrician.
When the changes were announced, Morrison knew she had lost the battle with Harry O'Brien.
'Sister,' the voice sounded muffled. 'Sister, can you give me a hand up? My back's killing me.' Sandra O'Brien struggled awkwardly in the bed, trying to get some relief from the increasingly strong ache she was experiencing. Morrison moved behind her, both arms under her armpits, and lifted her into a higher position.
'God, what's happening?' Instinctively Sandra O'Brien's hands clutched her swollen stomach. 'What's going on?'
The movements inside the womb could be clearly seen, like a cat struggling inside a paper bag. It was as if the baby was fighting desperately to force a way out. Morrison quickly placed her own experienced hands over the swelling and felt the activity inside. There was a threshing, an unusual and ominous burst of frenzied activity. She quickly turned to the foetal monitor screen and felt the blood drain from her body. The heart rate had dipped again, this time down to sixty beats per minute, danger level. Just as suddenly as the frenzy inside Sandra O'Brien's womb started, it stopped. Morrison could feel little limbs ease and settle. She watched the screen all the time, urging the baby's heart rate to recover. Slowly but steadily it climbed back upwards. From sixty through seventy to eighty, where it seemed to pause for another agonising minute. Then, within seconds, it was one hundred and thirty and steady. The drama was over. She turned to Sandra to find a look of horror on her face. She smiled as reassuring a smile as she could and brushed a wisp of hair away from the young woman's face.
'Is… is everything all right, Sister?'
'Everything's fine, Sandra,' lied Morrison. 'Junior is preparing himself for the next stage.'
'When will Dr Morgan be back?'
Sandra's eyes betrayed her disquiet. Sister Morrison, her expression screamed, I'm sure you're a fine nurse but I'd like Dr Morgan here. Right now.
Morrison made a show of looking at her watch. 'He said he'd check in at twelve to see how things were progressing. We don't really expect you to deliver for a few hours yet. I'll give him a ring. He's in the house somewhere, probably doing his rounds.'
Dr Tom Morgan was something of a media star in Ireland and every woman's dream gynaecologist with his boyish good looks and air of casual confidence. He had a weekly TV slot, a radio phone-in programme and a Sunday newspaper column all dealing with 'women's problems'. It was common knowledge that Tom Morgan was the top fantasy man for every woman, aged sixteen to sixty, in Ireland. He had also been voted 'the man you would most like to get into bed' by the readers of Ireland's only gay magazine.
June Morrison tucked an edge of sheet under Sandra's behind and adjusted the CTG belt again. 'I'll just go and check where he is. Nurse Roche will sit with you until I'm back.' She smiled again. 'Don't worry, Sandra, everything's going to be fine.' She nodded towards the foetal monitor screen. 'Baby's heart rate is bang in the middle of normal. We're right on course for a safe delivery.'
Sandra's face relaxed and then a grimace slowly crossed her beautiful features. 'Oh God,' she moaned. 'Here comes another contraction.'
Morrison made her way quickly to the Sister's Office and closed the door. Out from the adjoining room came other labour-pain groans. For someone so experienced and with so many crises safely overcome in the past she found herself unexpectedly shaky and anxious. She picked up the internal phone and dialled switch.
'Pat, it's June Morrison from labour ward three, North
Wing. Will you page Dr Morgan and ask him to come up immediately.'
An icy hand gripped her heart when she heard the reply.