Authors: Mackenzie Morgan
He had time to check into his motel, shower, and have a quick dinner before he had to leave for Key Biscayne, so he was in a good mood and relaxed when he knocked on the front door of the mansion at the address he’d been given. He was fully expecting a maid to answer the door, but when it opened, he found himself face-to-face with a woman who looked like a streetwalker. Her face was heavily made up, her jumpsuit looked like it had been painted on, her heels were at least four inches high, and her bleached blond hair was almost white and worn in an old-fashioned bouffant style. She was making loud popping noises with the gum she was chewing and kept glancing behind her nervously.
“It’s just the newspaper boy, dear,” she called back into the house. “No need to bother yourself. I’ll handle it.” Then she pushed Pallor backwards away from the door and pulled it shut behind her. “I can’t talk to you here. Meet me at The Barnacle on the other side of the bridge in thirty minutes.” Then she turned and went back into the house, shutting the door behind her.
Pallor stood at the edge of the front porch for a minute and considered knocking again. Surely she must have mistaken him for someone else. But then again, maybe she knew exactly what she was doing. He decided to err on the side of caution, so he got back in his rental car, drove back towards Miami, found The Barnacle, went inside, sat down at a table in the back, and ordered a drink.
A few minutes later, she came prancing through the door to a myriad of whistles and howls. She waved them off and sat down across from Pallor, tossing her huge pocketbook in the middle of the small table.
“You’re Mr. Stewart, right?” Pallor nodded, so she continued. “Look, I’ve only got a few minutes. He thinks I’ve run out to the store for some ice cream.”
“I take it he doesn’t know about the adoption application?”
“Heavens, no! He’d have a fit. What’s he need another son for? No. I’m the one who needs a kid.”
“I’m afraid you’ve lost me.”
“Okay, I’ll spell it out. Look, the old man isn’t going to live forever, and when he goes, so does that house, my car, everything but some little pittance. I’ve got to protect myself.”
“How is adopting a child going to do that?” Pallor asked slowly.
“I’m not going to let him know the kid’s adopted. Sheese, do you think I’m crazy? No way. That’s why I’ve got to get this thing arranged as soon as the mother finds out she’s pregnant. He may be old, but he’s not stupid. I can’t just suddenly hand him a kid and tell him he’s the father. He’s got to see me getting bigger and bigger, and then poof! We got a kid.”
“How do you plan to get bigger and bigger?”
“Padding. I’ve checked into it. They have all kinds at costume stores. You know, the ones who sell stuff to theaters and all. I can get padding for all stages of pregnancy, and he’ll never know.”
“He never actually touches you?”
She glared at Pallor and said, “Of course he does, fool. Why do you think he married me?” She stood up, struck a pose, slowly and sensually ran her hands down her sides, and grinned as the bar erupted in applause. “He loves to get his hands on my stuff, but I won’t let him while I’m pretending to be pregnant. I’ll even make him sleep in his own room. After all, we wouldn’t want to take any chances on hurting the baby, would we?”
Pallor shook his head.
“So, when can I get the kid?”
“Ahh, I’m interviewing a lot of prospective parents. It’s up to the mother to decide who’ll raise her child, but in any event, he isn’t due to be born until the middle of March.”
Tracy nodded. “That’s okay. He should last until then. Look, is she showing yet?”
Pallor shook his head no.
“Good. Now, when can I get this thing settled? I need to get it nailed down. If she decides to go with someone else, I’ll have to start all over again, and I don’t have all that much time.”
“I’ll let you know something within a month, either in person or through your lawyer.”
Tracy nodded and stood up. “Okay.”
Pallor stood up, too. “Thank you for your time. Hope it didn’t cause you any inconvenience.”
Tracy shook her head. “It’ll be all right when I get back with the ice cream. I’ll just tell him there was a line at the store. It’s hot enough out there that he’ll believe it. Keep in touch,” and with that, she turned and left the bar.
~ ~ ~ ~
When Pallor got back to his motel that night, he was too uptight to sleep, so he went out to walk on the beach. He didn’t understand humans. Of all the people he’d interviewed, only the Johanssons were actually interested in having a child around, and he got the feeling that it was more for their housekeeper than for themselves, and although she seemed more than capable of raising a child, there was a very real danger that the boy could get attached to her. Obviously Mrs. Johansson had. And that would cause major problems later, when it was time for Badec’s son to return to Terah.
The memory of Badec and Yvonne sitting on that bench in the garden flashed through his mind. If he put their child in any of those homes, he was going to have to relocate. He had thought that he could do this from Seattle, just flying out a couple of times a year to check on the boy, but that wasn’t going to work. He was going to have to keep a close eye on things, a really close eye.
~ ~ ~ ~
Pallor’s flight into Memphis Tuesday morning was delayed because of thunderstorms, so by the time he landed and picked up his rental car, he didn’t even have time to run by his motel, much less eat dinner, before his meeting with the O’Reillys. As it was, he was five minutes late when he pulled into their driveway.
Their house was in one of the older residential sections, the ones that cost a small fortune and can’t be upgraded without approval from the local historical society. It was a southern colonial, complete with wide porch and columns, tall windows covered with lace sheers, and a third-floor balcony. Trees that were probably planted while the Chickasaw Indians still lived in the area graced their front yard.
According to the information that he’d been given, the O’Reillys were relatively new to Memphis. Both of them had been born and raised in the Northeast, but when Mr. O’Reilly had graduated from law school, a Memphis firm had made him a very attractive offer, part of which included this house for a very reasonable price. Matthew O’Reilly had been with the firm for about ten years now, and was hoping to make partner soon. Nora O’Reilly didn’t work outside the house, or inside either. She spent her days at the local club, playing tennis, golf, bridge, or drinking tea with the wives of the other lawyers in her husband’s firm.
As Pallor approached the front door he tried to picture a child playing in the yard and a dog sleeping on the porch, but somehow it just didn’t seem to fit. He knocked on the door and waited for someone to answer. A few minutes later, a middle-aged woman in a light blue uniform opened the door and moved aside. As soon as Pallor stepped inside, she quietly shut the door and asked him to follow her. She led him down a long hall, through a set of French doors and out onto a back patio. Mr. and Mrs. O’Reilly were seated around a wrought iron table covered with a white lace tablecloth. On the table was a platter of cheese, meat, and crackers, as well as a carafe of wine. Mrs. O’Reilly poured Pallor a glass of wine while her husband stood to greet him.
“I’m sorry to be late,” Pallor said as he sat down. “My plane was delayed leaving Miami this morning.”
Mr. O’Reilly nodded and said, “That’s all right. We have just managed to sit down ourselves. It’s been one of those days. Now, I understand that you would like to talk to us about possibly adopting a child that you’re representing?”
Pallor hesitated. In one sentence, the man had turned the tables. He made it sound as if they would adopt only if Pallor could convince them that the child was worthy of them. “Before we get to that, I’d like to ask you why you’re choosing to go with a private adoption rather than a state-sponsored agency. You’re an attorney, so you know the ins and outs of the procedure.”
“While that’s true, we prefer the confidentiality that surrounds a private adoption. We do not wish to advertise the intimate details of our family life. We don’t see it as anyone else’s business,” Mr. O’Reilly said stiffly.
“I see. So you’re planning to pretend that your wife’s pregnant?”
“I don’t see that that concerns you,” Mr. O’Reilly started, but then his wife interrupted.
“Oh, for heaven’s sake, Matthew. You’re making it sound so … I don’t know. Anyway, yes, we’re going to let the world think that he’s our son. I think it would be best all the way around. That way no one would taunt him about his natural mother giving him up.”
Pallor nodded. Good answer. Why didn’t he believe it? “Do you think you’ll be staying in Memphis? Or do you have plans to go back up north?”
“Again, I don’t see that our plans should concern you, but to answer your question, we plan to stay. I’m up for partner in about a year, and I intend to make it.”
Again Pallor nodded. He was sure there was something else going on here, but how to get to it? “You are aware that if my friend agrees to let you raise her son that I’ll have to be involved in his life, right?”
“From what I understand, your ‘involvement’ would be limited to two visits a year and access to school and medical records. I hardly call that involved in his life.”
“Well, I would expect to have input on important decisions concerning his future, such as schools.”
Mr. O’Reilly sat quietly for a moment, and then nodded his head exactly once. “I guess that can be arranged, provided you’re willing to pick up the tab if you want to send him someplace more expensive than the school we’re considering.”
“Fair enough,” Pallor agreed. “Now, Mrs. O’Reilly, I have a couple of questions for you. You said that you’re going to pretend that the child is yours. I understand that you don’t work outside the home. Does that mean that you’ll be the principal caregiver?”
“Good heavens, no!” Mrs. O’Reilly said vehemently. “I may not get paid, but the socializing I do is an important part of my husband’s success. I’ll have dinners to plan, parties to attend, teas to pour … I really don’t have the time to see to a child. No, we’ll hire a nurse or a nanny.”
Pallor hesitated and then decided to take a chance. “From what I can see, you’re both perfectly happy with your lives the way they are. Why bother with a child?” He looked at Mrs. O’Reilly. “As you’ve just stated, you don’t have the time to raise a child, and neither do you,” he said, cutting his eyes over to Mr. O’Reilly. “I understand that you put in approximately eighty hours a week at work. That doesn’t leave much time for playing baseball with a kid.”
For a few minutes, no one said anything. Pallor could see the struggle Mr. O’Reilly was having keeping his temper in check. Mrs. O’Reilly just looked frightened. What was going on here?
Finally Mrs. O’Reilly said, “I think we’d better level with him, Matthew.” Then she turned to Pallor and said, “We wouldn’t have this problem up north, or at least I don’t think we would, but down here, children are considered a stabilizing factor in a marriage. No one in Matthew’s firm has ever become a partner who didn’t have at least one child. Men without families aren’t considered suitable. The partners think they’re more likely to pack up, leave the firm, and take their clients with them.” She reached out and tentatively placed her hand over her husband’s. “Mathew’ll only be considered for partner one time, and if he’s turned down, that’s the end of it, and the end of our lives here. Everything has gone so well up until now. He deserves to become partner. He’s pulled in more clients and billed more hours than any of the other associates who came in with him. We’ve tried and tried to get pregnant, but it just hasn’t happened. We can’t allow a little thing like a child to stand in our way!”
“So why not adopt openly? Surely the partners would consider that an act of charity.”
Mrs. O’Reilly shook her head fiercely. “Donate money to an orphanage? Absolutely. Take an orphan into one’s home? Never.” Mrs. O’Reilly sighed and folded her hands on the table in front of her. “Taking a child from unknown parentage into one’s home is risky at best, and could open the family to horrible scandals if the child turns out to be a bad seed, and any scandal that affects any of the partners would bleed over onto the firm. The other partners would never be willing to take that chance.”
Pallor frowned, but before he could say anything, Mr. O’Reilly snapped out, “You don’t have to understand. That’s just the way it is.” Then he turned and glared at his wife. “Nora, you really shouldn’t have said anything. Now he’s in the perfect position to blackmail us.”
Pallor’s frown deepened. “Blackmail? What are you talking about?”
“Whether we take the child you’re representing or not, we’re going to have to find a child to adopt. And when we do, you’ll know it’s not ours,” Mr. O’Reilly hissed. “And you know that adopting a child would make me ineligible for a partnership, which would give you a perfect opportunity to pick up a little extra cash by threatening to expose us.”
Pallor stared at the man for a few moments before answering. Then, in a calm, quiet voice he said, “I find your suggestion insulting, to say the least. I have no reason to blackmail anyone. I don’t know whether you recognized my name or not, but I’m a well-known author and I make more money than I need already. I certainly don’t want any of yours.”
Mrs. O’Reilly stood up and said, “I’m sure my husband didn’t mean to insult anyone. This has been worrying both of us for several years now, and we have found the only solution we feel is open to us, even though neither of us is very happy with it. We need a child, and if not yours, then we need to find someone else’s. But either way, we’ll just have to trust you not to divulge our secret. Now, if you two will excuse me, I’ve had about all of this conversation that I can stand. Have a good evening, Mr. Stewart, and please, help yourself to the refreshments.”