When the Bough Breaks

Prologue

Silver Spring Birthing Center, Silver Spring, Maryland

Friday, January 5, 1990

12:35 AM

She felt like she was having an out-of-body experience. The nausea was overwhelming, the pain unbearable, and everything was happening in slow motion. Her eyes burned from the bright overhead florescent lights; she heard voices and saw distorted faces, but couldn’t make them out. Then she heard a high-pitched siren-no, not a siren, a newborn baby crying. Collapsing onto the bed from exhaustion, she lost consciousness.

Karen Stevens felt someone shaking her and she groaned. “Sorry, to wake you, Mrs. Stevens,” she heard the voice say, “but I need to check your vitals.”

Karen opened her eyes and looked around the room. It took only a few seconds for her to remember where she was and why she was there. She could feel a blood pressure cuff tightened around her arm and saw a nurse bent over her bed. “Welcome back, Mrs. Stevens. My name is Ms. Wilson. I’ll be your nurse this morning,” she said checking Karen’s pulse. “Do you feel well enough to eat?”

Karen nodded her head.  “Yes, I think I would like to eat something.”  Sitting up in the hospital bed, she added, “And nurse, when can you bring me my baby? It’s probably time for her to eat, too.”

The nurse looked at her confusion. “Um, sure and I’m going to find your doctor. Let him know you are awake. I’ll be right back.” She quickly left the room.

Several minutes later, Doctor Andersen opened the door and then promptly closed the privacy curtain. “How are you doing this morning, Mrs. Stevens?”

“Okay. I’m just anxious to meet my daughter.” Noticing the look of concern on the doctor’s face, she became frantic, “Is something wrong? Where’s my baby?”

“I’m sorry, but your baby was stillborn.” Dr. Andersen put his hand on her shoulder.

Karen starred at the doctor in disbelief. “No,” she said barely above in a whisper. Then she shook her head again. “No. Doctor, you must be mistaken. I know I heard her cry. Stillborn would mean she was not alive when she was born.”

“Mrs. Stevens, you had a very difficult labor and delivery. You were heavily sedated to help you with the delivery. And the drugs you were given can sometimes cause side effects-including hallucinations. You were just imagining things-I’m sorry, but your baby is dead.”

“No, I know I heard my baby cry!” she screamed. “What happened-what happened to my baby?”

“Mrs. Stevens, often times a specific cause isn’t known, but it’s important to remember it was not caused by something you did or didn’t do,” the doctor said sympathetically.

“Why are you lying to me?”

The doctor squeezed her shoulder, trying to comfort her. “I’m sorry for your loss,” he said as he left the room.

As the door closed, Mrs. Stevens could be heard shouting hysterically, “Give me back my baby!”

Act One

Q-Bureau

Monday, January 8, 1990

11:00 AM

Amanda sat at her desk, listening to the sound of the rainstorm brewing outside. The wind had just picked up a few moments ago and now thundered down harder blowing huge droplets of rain at the windowpanes of the Q-Bureau. She paused for a moment, grateful not to be out in that storm, but sorry for Lee, whom she knew was still out there. She had just gotten back to typing her report, for Mr. Melrose, when the telephone rang. She picked up the receiver, “IFF.”

“Amanda?” The voice on the other end said.

“Yes, this is Amanda Stetson. May I ask whose calling?”

“This is Karen Stevens.”

“Oh my gosh, Karen. I haven’t talked to you since your wedding. How are you?”

“Actually, Amanda, I’m not doing well-I need to ask a favor from you.”

Amanda could hear the worry in Karen’s voice. “What’s wrong?”

“I can’t tell you over the phone. Can you meet me for lunch? My treat.”

Amanda bit her lip, and then quickly scanned her appointment book. “How about Dooley’s in an hour?”

“That sounds great. I’ll see you then.”

“Okay Karen. See you soon. Good-bye.” Amanda placed the receiver back on the cradle.

After finishing her report, Amanda wrote a post-it note for Lee, sticking it on his computer screen. Locking the door to the Q-Bureau, she then walked down the flight of stairs to the Georgetown foyer and handed her badge to Mrs. Marston before heading out the door and into the rainstorm.

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Amanda walked into Dooley’s and shook out her umbrella, before closing it up. She searched the restaurant, spotting Karen sitting at a booth near the jukebox. Karen waved her over. Waving back to her friend, she walked over to the booth. Karen stood up and gave Amanda a hug.

“Amanda, you look fantastic,” she said, stepping back. “I didn’t know you were expecting. How far along are you?”

“Thirty-weeks.” Amanda absently rubbed her belly.

Karen nodded her head before sitting down. “So how is Lee?”

“Good.” Amanda sat down on the opposite bench.

Karen nodded her head again, and then looked down at the table. “Thanks for meeting me. I really didn’t know who else to call.”

Amanda looked at her friend. “We’re Kappa sisters. I’m happy to be here.” She touched her friend’s hand and was surprised to find it as cold as ice. “Karen, what’s this all about?”

Karen picked up the napkin on the table and began to twist it. “I don’t know where to begin?”

Amanda smiled. “My mother always tells me to start at the beginning.”

Karen looked up at Amanda. “Please, don’t think I’m crazy.”

“Now why would I think that?”

Karen took a deep breath and blew it out. “Bob and I always wanted a large family and for years we tried to get pregnant, but it just didn’t happen. We tried fertility clinics, drugs, and specialists, but nothing seemed to work. All the stress of trying to get pregnant-well to be quite honest, put a huge strain on our marriage and it was at a breaking point-so we gave up trying and concentrated on our marriage instead.”

“I’m sorry,” Amanda began to say when the waitress came over to their table to take their order.

“Would Pepperoni be okay?” Karen asked Amanda.

Amanda nodded her head and added. “And I’ll have a Sprite.”

“We’ll have a small Pepperoni pizza and two Sprites,” she told the waitress.

“I’ll be right back with your drinks,” the waitress said leaving the table. Karen began to twist the napkin again.

Amanda looked around the room. “Karen, I know there’s something bothering you. What are you not telling me?”

“We had given up ever having a baby of our own, and then about nine months ago, I found out I was pregnant.”

“Oh, Karen, that’s great news!”

Karen’s eyes began to fill with tears. “Do you know what you are having?” she asked.

Amanda shook her head. “No, Lee and I decided we didn’t want to know.”

Karen nodded in reluctant understanding. “Because this was our first child and I’m a slightly older mother, the doctor suggested an amniocentesis. Both Bob and I were thrilled when we found out I was carrying a healthy baby girl.”

Amanda was about to say something, but could see the pain and grief etched on Karen’s face.

“What happened?” Amanda asked slowly.

Karen looked up at the ceiling, trying to blink back her tears. She lowered her head again looking at Amanda, tears streaming down her face. “Last Friday, while Bob was away on a training exercise out at sea, I went into labor. I was two weeks early, but my doctor told me I was fine-that the baby would be fine-that babies are born early all the time. My regular doctor was across town delivering twins-so Dr. Andersen, who was on-call that night delivered my baby.”

The waitress returned with their drinks and after she left Amanda nodded her head, encouraging Karen to continue.

“I’m not exactly sure what happened-I know there were some complications and I was heavily sedated-but I also know what I heard.”

Amanda looked at her friend confused.

“I heard my baby-I know I heard my baby girl cry, but the doctor told me she was stillborn.”

Amanda gasped. “Oh, Karen, I’m so sorry.”

“I don’t believe my baby was stillborn. I know what I heard-what I saw-I saw the nurse take her out of the room-she was pink and healthy-she was not dead. I think she was stolen-the baby they brought to me was so small-maybe five pounds-but at my last appointment, my doctor told me I was carrying at least a seven-pound baby. I also felt no connection to this baby as I held her-I just know it wasn’t her.” Karen openly wept, the tears falling fast, staining her face. “I believe the doctor and nurse are lying to me and took my baby. Amanda, I need your help.”

“What do you think I can do?” Amanda asked taking a sip of her soda.

“I’ve lived in the greater DC area most of my life and I know there are Federal Agents living among us-funny I never thought you would be one.”

Amanda laughed out loud. “Karen, you always had a vivid imagination.”

“Its okay, Amanda. I was so distraught over the loss of my baby, when I talked to Bob over the phone this weekend; he told me you were one of them.”

Amanda tried to brush her off again. “Don’t be silly.”

Karen looked around the restaurant, and then leaning over the table she whispered, “Amanda, Bob is now a high raking naval officer aboard a Trident nuclear submarine. He has high security clearance. He knows all about the Agency and suggested that maybe I could ask you to look into this. I went to the police, but they don’t believe me. They think I’m a delusional mother, looking for answers after losing my baby. I know in my heart that she’s alive. I also know what I saw and heard and I believe she was kidnapped. I’m begging you, please help me.”

Amanda sat there trying to think of a good argument, but knew she didn’t have one.

“What would you do if this happened to you?” Karen asked, watching Amanda rub her belly. “Wouldn’t you want answers too, if this happened to your son or daughter?”

Amanda reluctantly nodded her head, thinking ‘how am I ever going to explain this to Lee?’

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A Street Corner, Arlington, Virginia

Tuesday, January 9, 1990

2:00 AM

A man and a woman sat under a streetlight, in a filthy white cargo van. The woman held a baby in her arms, her body rocking back and forth. “Shhhh,” she whispered, trying to comfort the infant. “It’s okay.” The woman was startled by a sudden loud knock on the van’s window.

The man rolled down the window. “Do you have the agreed upon payment?” he asked.

A well-dressed man nodded his head and handed over a briefcase passing it through the open window.

The man in the van, flipped open the briefcase and looked at the bills. “Good.” He closed the briefcase, before setting it down on the floorboard.

The woman opened the passenger door handing the well-dressed man the baby and a large manila envelope. “Here’s the baby and her paperwork. Remember no questions-you don’t know us and we don’t know you.”

Taking the baby, he nodded his head, before heading back to his car and his wife-who was anxiously waiting for the child in his arms.

Act Two

4247 Maplewood Drive

Tuesday, January 9, 1990

6:00 AM

Amanda stared at the shadows on the ceiling, in a feeble attempt to fall asleep. She rolled to her side and then over on to her back. Unable to get comfortable, she decided to get up as not to disturb Lee. She sat at the edge of the bed and watched Lee turn over, breathing gentle light breaths that signaled he was still sound asleep. Amanda watched him for a few minutes and couldn’t help but smile.  These were days when she felt like she was the luckiest woman on the earth to have such a devoted and loving husband. Then getting out of bed, she put on her bathrobe and went downstairs.

She went into the laundry room and filled the washer with a load of whites. After putting the detergent and bleach into the machine, she started it. Next, she decided to tackle the large pile of ironing on the dryer. She put one of Lee’s shirts on the ironing board and proceeded to iron it. She was halfway through another shirt, when she felt a familiar pair of strong arms envelope her swollen belly.

“You’re up early.” Lee tenderly moved her hair to the side, and kissed her neck.

“I couldn’t sleep and didn’t want to disturb you.”

He yawned and stretched.

Amanda turned around to face him. “I’m sorry, dear; I haven’t started any coffee yet this morning. You go upstairs and wake up the boys, get them going, and I’ll get the coffee going.”

“Sounds like a plan.” He gave her a long, slow kiss, before heading upstairs.

Amanda turned on the small kitchen TV, to hear the early morning news. Then after starting the coffee, she got the ingredients for breakfast out of the refrigerator.  A few minutes later, while standing by the stove, turning over the bacon, she noticed Lee return. Putting the spatula down, she handed him a cup of coffee.

“Thanks honey. I can’t tell you how much I needed that coffee right now.”

“Well, you didn’t make it home until after 3:00 this morning. I’m surprised you’re awake, let alone standing.”

Lee put the coffee cup down on the counter. Then drawing her into his arms, he wrapped his arms around her, pulling her as close as her expanding belly would allow. “You’re looking sexy and cute as ever,” he whispered in her ear.

Lee could see Amanda’s cheeks flush and he smiled down at her.

She pushed away from him, sighing, after hearing the boys arguing as they came down the stairs entering the kitchen.

“Wormbrain, what are you doing with my shirt?” Phillip said.

“It’s not your shirt, it’s mine. Hey, give that back.”

Amanda heard a loud thud and she cringed. She gave Lee a knowing look. “Let me go settle that,” he told her turning towards the boys, crossing his arms in front of him.

“Hey! Hey, what’s going on up there?” Neither boy looked at him as they and continued to argue.

“Ohhh, you are going to pay for that,” Phillip snapped.

Lee looked at both boys, then trying to get control of the situation he whistled, finally getting their attention. “Fellas, what’s going on between you two?”

“Jamie, the four-eyed freak, took my shirt instead of ironing his own.”

“I only took it because you told me I could wear it.”

“I did not.”

“Did too.”

“You just want to wear my clothes, because they’re way cooler then yours, just to impress Kristi Patterson, who is totally out of your league.”

“Shut up-you jerk!”

“A jerk’s a tug, a tug’s a boat, a boat’s on water, water’s nature and nature’s beautiful-so thanks for the compliment.” Phillip taunted his younger brother.

Jamie punched his brother in the arm.

“No hitting your brother.” Lee grabbed them both by the arms.  “Jamie, I want you to go to the laundry room and find another shirt; your mother just finished ironing several of them. Phillip, finish getting ready for school.”

Both boys followed Lee’s instructions. Dotty entered skirting around the boys, carrying several large books.

“Glad you were able to stop World War III back there,” she said to Lee, patting his cheek. After putting down her books down, she threw up her arms. “Boys!” Touching Amanda’s abdomen she continued, “Let’s hope this one’s a girl. Although you were a very precocious child yourself.”

“Moth-er.” Amanda rolled her eyes and shook her head. Then she noticed the books she’d placed on the counter. “What have you got there?”

“The contractor stopped by last night with these wallpaper sample books and this color wheel thingy with paint chips–I just don’t know how I’m ever going to make all these choices.” Dotty sat down on the bar stool and flipped open the book. “Oh, Amanda, what do you think of this for the bathroom?”

Amanda scraped some eggs onto the plates she had placed on the counter. Then looking over her mother’s shoulder she looked at the book. “That’s very nice, but I like this floral pattern, too, Mother.” She placed two slices of bacon, buttered toast on each plate, and handed them over to Lee to carry over to the breakfast table.

“So, do I,” Dotty said continuing to flip through the pages.

“How was lunch with your friend Karen?” Lee asked Amanda.

“Karen?” Dotty questioned raising her head. “Wasn’t she one of your sorority sisters? Other then an occasional card or letter-I didn’t think you had kept in touch.”

“Yes, Mother, I’ve lost touch with Karen over the years, but she called me yesterday for an impromptu lunch. So we made up for lost time,” Amanda said before pausing for a moment. “Mother, could you make sure the boys eat their breakfast. I need to talk to Lee for a moment in the family room.”

“Sure, darling,” she said then hollered, “Phillip, Jamie, your breakfast is ready.”

The boys thundered down the stairs. “Thanks Grandma,” they both answered.

Amanda grabbed Lee’s arm, leading him towards the family room. After helping her sit down on the sofa, he sat down next to her. “I didn’t want Mother to overhear our conversation.”

“So, I gathered.”

“I’m concerned about Karen.” Amanda looked around, verifying no one was eavesdropping. “She had a baby last Friday and was told she was stillborn, but she honestly believes her baby is not dead and the doctor is lying to her. Now, I did a little investigating-”

“A-man-da.”

“Nothing dangerous, just research.” She gave him a pleading look, begging him to understand. “Karen is convinced that her baby was kidnapped.”

“Amanda, this is not Agency business.”

“No, Lee, I disagree. I think Karen may have stumbled onto something I feel sorry for her and I want to give her some comfort during this difficult time. All I want to do is talk to some other mothers and see if their stories are similar to Karen’s.”

Lee could tell Amanda was not going to take no for an answer so he reluctantly agreed. “Okay, I’ll let you continue investigating this, but only today.  Meet me at the office later this afternoon and let me know what you’ve found out and if it’s worth investigating further-we’ll let Billy know.”

Amanda threw her arms around Lee, kissing him on the cheek. “Thanks sweetheart.”  Then looking down at herself she added, “I better go upstairs and get myself ready for work. Can you make sure the boys leave for school on time?”

“I’ll handle it.” He helped her off the sofa. “Now go on.”

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4:00 PM

Amanda walked into the Q-Bureau exhausted. Her hand was on her back as she padded over to the sofa. Lee stood up from his desk and helped her get down, before he sat down next to her. She kicked off her shoes and wiggled her toes.

“Long day?” He put his arm around her shoulder.

She snuggled close to him, leaning into his embrace, nodding her head. “I started out at the clinic where Karen gave birth. The staff admires Dr. Andersen; he’s well liked and respected. Attended medical school at the University of Maryland, residency at Parker General Hospital, works at three clinics in the greater DC Metro area-two are low-income clinics.”

“A real pillar of society.”

Amanda nodded. “I also found out his nurse, Susanne Wilson, does volunteer work at some adoption agency.”

“Amanda, I’m sorry for your friend’s loss, but there appears to be nothing to go on.”

“That’s what I was beginning to think also, until I looked into county birth records and I contacted three mothers, whose babies were listed as being stillborn. And in each one of those cases the mothers remember hearing their babies crying or seeing them move as they were taken out of the room-when they asked to see the baby or hold the baby. They were told the baby had already been taken to the morgue for an autopsy and then would be cremated, so they never saw them. My instincts are telling me that these babies were not dead-but taken from their mothers-who were often low-income, single mothers and then these babies are sold on the black market.”

“Not that I don’t trust your instincts-”

Amanda shot him a ‘don’t go there buster’ look.

He continued, “Karen doesn’t seem to fit in with those other women.”

“I know. That’s what’s strange.”

Lee nodded his head. “Okay, let’s see Billy, tell him what you found and see what he says.” Lee took his wife’s hand; helping her up. His hand rested at the small of her back, steadying her while she walked down the stairs and towards the closet elevator.

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“This is good work, Amanda,” Billy told her as the three of them sat in his office. “What would you like to do from here?”

“I think I’d like to investigate this a little further; maybe from the inside. I could pose as a patient,” Amanda said to Billy and then looked towards Lee. She knew he wasn’t going to be happy about this.

Billy nodded his head. “That sounds fine. I’ll give you the go ahead. First I think you should go to fabrication and have them set you up a new identity and some false medical files.”

“Now, wait a minute, Billy-” Lee started to say.

Billy held up his hand, stopping him. “Lee, I know what you are going to say. I’m more than aware of the risks to Amanda and your unborn child-but her being pregnant makes her the perfect agent for this case.” He turned to Amanda, “but if things get too hot-I want you out immediately.”

“Yes sir,” Amanda agreed.

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Community Health Center, Alexandria, Virginia

4:00 PM

Dr. Andersen walked into the Community Health Clinic and went straight over to the reception desk.

“Good morning Dr. Andersen,” a short, stout, older woman with graying hair said to him. “Here are your messages.” She handed him several pink slips of paper.

“Thank you, Janet,” he said politely smiling down at her.

Her face flushed and she smiled back him.

The handsome young doctor knew he had that effect on woman and used it to his advantage. He looked over the messages as he turned to head towards his office.

Gaining her composure, Janet cleared her throat. “Oh, I almost forgot, a lady, possibly a new patient came by earlier today asking questions about the clinic and you and Nurse Wilson.”

“Okay, thanks. Did she leave a name?”

“No.” She shook her head.  “She was tall, brunette, late thirties. I assumed she was looking for an ob-I recommended you highly.”

“You’re a peach, Janet.”

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Q-Bureau

5:30 PM

“I brought you something to eat.” Lee set a box down on her desk along with a bottle of fruit juice.

“Thank you, sweetheart.” Amanda took the styrofoam box from him and opened it finding a pasta salad.

“How are you doing”?  He sat down on the edge of her desk.

“I’m doing okay-just going over the scenario for this case.” Amanda noticed Lee look down at the floor, before he put his hand on the back of his neck.

“What’s wrong?” She already knew the answer to her question but he needed to voice his misgivings about her accepting this assignment.

“I’m worried about you taking this case. Not only could you be endangering your life, but our baby as well.”

“Lee, I’m the best person for this case. Like Billy told you, being pregnant makes me the best agent for this assignment.”

“A-man-da-” he began. Then standing up, he paced the office. He stopped, rocking back on his heels. “Okay,” he grumbled. “But it’s not going to stop me from worrying about you. I don’t want anything to happen to you or the baby.”

Amanda stood up and walked over to him. She straightened his tie and then kissed him on the cheek. “Thanks for worrying about me, but I can look after myself and it’s a good cover.  Please let me solve this case. This means more to me than you can imagine with me being pregnant, and hopefully, I can find some information on who is taking these babies and bring closure to these women who have lost their children. You would want the same, wouldn’t you?

Lee nodded his head. “Yeah.”

“Yeah?” Amanda repeated, wrapping her arms around his neck and drawing him close.

“Promise me you you’ll be careful and that you’ll call for backup immediately, if needed.”

“Agreed,” Amanda said pushing back. “Do you remember the time we were in the Betsy Ross Estates house and we shook hands after I solved the case about the weapons being shipped to Central America?”

Lee smiled. “Yes, and you put cheery blue curtains and a rug in the kitchen and made me make strawberry daiquiris.”

“I never made you do anything; and it’s not like it took much persuading at all,” she teased. She watched Lee calm down. Amanda knew exactly how to calm him down and make him agree to something he may have disagreed with.

Lee raised an eyebrow and then laughed. “As always, you’re right, although you better finish eating.  You’re making me feel apprehensive when I think that the baby might be hungry.”

Amanda released him and walked back to her desk. Sitting down, she went back to eating her dinner. Lee stood behind her, holding up the file folder for both of them to read. “Now, let’s go over this scenario together,” Lee said.

Continued

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Disclaimer: Scarecrow and Mrs. King and its characters belong to Warner Brothers and Shoot the Moon Enterprises. No infringement is intended. This is written for entertainment purposes only.