Authors: M.P. McDonald
NO GOOD DEED
By Mary McDonald
Copyright Mary McDonald
Cover Art by Imogen Rose
Special thanks to Dianna Morris and Jessica Tate for their help and encouragement.
Dedicated to my husband, Robert and my three children, Brian, Tim and Maggie.
The baby floated face down in the tub. The image hadn’t changed, not that Mark Taylor expected it to. Not yet anyway. He tucked the photo in his back pocket and trotted down the steps from the ‘L’ platform. With any luck at all, the next time he looked, the baby would be fine. He skirted around an old lady tottering in his path and glanced at his watch.
All he had to do was find the apartment, convince the mom that he wasn’t a nut case, or worse—a peeping tom—just because he knew that her phone would ring and distract her from bathing her daughter. Yep. Nothing complicated. Just get in, alert the mom, and get out. Five minutes. Tops. Mark jogged, cursing under his breath at the rush of people heading towards the train station. The crowd thinned, and he broke into a sprint, his breath exploding out in a cloud of white.
Cars blocked the crosswalk, trapped there when the light turned red.
. He paced left, then right, willing the light to change. To hell with it. He darted into the street, ignoring the blasting horns. It wasn’t like the cars could advance anyway. He stumbled when one bumped his thigh, or he bumped it. He wasn’t sure which and didn’t have time to find out. Limping, he raced on.
Mid-block, he slowed to read the address numbers set above the entrance of an apartment building. This was the one. He pivoted and took the short flight of concrete steps two at a time and tugged at the door. Locked. Of course.
Bracing his hands on the door, he panted.
. There had to be a way in. He wouldn’t fail. Not this time.
He swiped his hand down a panel of numbered call buttons, not caring who answered as long as someone let him in. “Come on…come on.”
“Who is it?”
“Hey buddy, I forgot my key.” It was the first thing that came to him and it didn’t work. The next lie didn’t either. Unable to think up a plausible story, he resorted to the truth on the fourth response. “It’s an emergency! Life or death.”
Maybe his voice sounded as desperate as he felt, or maybe the person didn’t give a damn—whatever the reason, the guy let him in. He blinked as his eyes adjusted to the dimness. It was the second floor. He was sure of that. The dream played in his head like a movie, showing him the silver number twenty-two nailed to the door.
There was an elevator, but it was on the fifth floor. He spotted the stairs and flew up them, grabbing the railing to make the tight turn up to the second flight. It occurred to him that the door to the hallway might be locked, but luck was on his side this time, and it opened. Bent in a runner’s stance, hands on knees, he huffed and glanced at the number on the door nearest him. Twenty-three. He guessed left and turned in that direction. He raised his hand to knock, but froze when an anguished scream raised the hairs on the back of his neck.
Startled, he stumbled back, bumping against the wall opposite the door. He was too late. He spun and slammed the side of his fist against the wall, a curse ready to explode off his tongue, when he heard fumbling at the door behind him.
“Help me! Someone!”
At the desperate plea, he lunged to the closed door. “Hello? You okay?” He knew it was a stupid question. Of course things weren’t okay.
The door cracked open before a young women clutching a limp, gray baby, elbowed it wide.” My baby.” Wild, desperate eyes met Mark’s. “Please...”
Mark swallowed the acid in his throat and instinctively reached for the infant. “What happened?” He couldn’t let on that he already knew. That led to questions he couldn’t answer.
“I forgot her in the tub!” She clutched the baby and gave her a shake. “Oh god! Christy! She’s not breathing!”
“I know CPR—give her to me.” His sharp tone sliced through the mother’s shock and she released her daughter with a wail of grief.
Mark positioned the baby with her head in his hand, her bottom in the crook of his arm.
The mother keened with her hands balled in front of her mouth. “Help her!”
The poor woman was teetering on the edge of hysteria, not that Mark could blame her. He was toeing the line himself, but he couldn’t cross it. Not if there was a chance of saving the baby. With his free hand, he caught the mother’s arm and gave it a firm squeeze. “I’m gonna help her, but you gotta listen to me. You need to call 9-1-1. Got it?”
She tore her gaze from her daughter, nodded, and raced back into her apartment. Mark wracked his brain, searching for a scrap of CPR knowledge that he knew was there. He cringed at the baby’s glassy stare and blue-tinged lips. Her legs dangled lifelessly over his arm.
ABCs. That was it. Airway, breathing and circulation. He didn’t see any water in her mouth, so her airway seemed okay. He covered her miniature nose and mouth with his own, feeling like a big clumsy oaf. Her scent filled his nose—so clean and innocent. Like baby shampoo and powder. A damp, silky tuft of her hair tickled his cheek. If she died, it’d be his fault. He could have prevented this. He blew again. There wasn’t time to worry about guilt now.
Her chest rose with the breaths and he felt it move against his arm. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw doors down the hall opening, and a small crowd gathered around him. Some shouted instructions, and a deep voice ordered someone to the lobby to let the paramedics in when they arrived.
There was no change in Christy’s color. Shit. Those paramedics better get here pronto. Why didn’t someone else step forward to do the CPR? Hell, there had to be someone more qualified. There was supposed to be a pulse point near the elbow, but hell if he could find it. It wasn’t like he’d ever searched for one on a healthy kid before, let alone one who might not have one. Was that it? He prodded the inside of her arm, but between his shaking hands and the pudgy cushion at the bend of her elbow, he couldn’t feel a beat.
Go to the source. He put his ear to her chest. Nothing. He swallowed hard as he placed two fingers on her breastbone and pushed down. The feel of her tiny chest caving in with each compression made his stomach churn.
He lost count of the cycles of breaths and compressions. It seemed like forever before someone suggested he stop and check for a pulse again. The mom had returned to his side at some point. His vision had narrowed to Christy’s little body cradled in his arms. Mom stroked Christy’s forehead and pleaded with her to breathe.
Listen to your mama, sweetie. Breathe, dammit. Wait...was she pinker? Or was it wishful thinking? He paused the compressions, but gave another breath.
As he lifted her to listen for a heartbeat, Christy blinked.
Startled, he jerked his head back and glanced at the mom to see if she’d noticed it too. Her eyes full of anguish and fear, lit with a spark of hope as she met his look. It hadn’t been his imagination.
Christy shuddered, then coughed. Mark sat her up as she gagged, worried she was choking. She rewarded his efforts by puking sour milk down the front of him. She cried then, the sound as soft as a newborn kitten’s. Impulsively, he kissed the top of her head.
A cheer rose in the hallway, and Mark glanced around, astonished to see so many people. A grin tugged at the corners of his mouth. The mother took her daughter from Mark, but planted a kiss on his cheek. The elevator at the far end of the hall opened, and paramedics stepped out.
Sure. Now they show up. Mark laughed, unable to suppress the giddiness. He took a deep breath, and leaned against the wall, his knees wobbling like Jello. He swiped his arm across his forehead. It was like a damn sauna in here. People crowded around, slapping Mark’s shoulders and pumping his hand. Someone handed him a towel and he used it to mop up the mess on the front of his leather jacket, but there wasn’t much he could do for the bit that leaked inside.
“Good job, man!” The speaker looked to be early to mid-thirties, close to Mark’s own age. “That was awesome!”
“Thanks.” Mark opened his mouth to ask if he could use a bathroom to wash up, when his stomach lurched and the bitter taste of bile filled his mouth. Panic surged through him and he rushed into the nearest apartment with an open door. He spotted a hallway and found the bathroom just in time for his lunch to make a return visit.
Spitting out the vile taste, he flushed the toilet and moved to the sink to wash, scooping some water into his mouth and swished it around. He dried his hands on a towel hanging over the the shower curtain. He reached for the doorknob, but stopped and pulled the photo out of his back pocket, just to make sure. The picture had only one similarity with the one he’d put in his pocket only minutes before. The baby was still Christy, but now, she was grinning at the camera, showing off two pearly white bottom teeth. It was official. He’d erased another photo.
There was a knock on the door a second before Mark opened it.
“You okay?” It was the guy from the hall. He leaned against the doorway, arms crossed.
Mark nodded and motioned towards the toilet “Yeah. Just feeling the nerves. Sorry for barging in.”
The man laughed and stuck out a hand. “No problem. I’m Jason.”
“Mark.” He clasped the man’s hand and gave it a shake.
Jason gave Mark a speculative look. “A few minutes before that happened,” he pointed his chin towards the hall, “someone buzzed my apartment, saying they had to get in—that it was an emergency.”
Mark tried to play it cool as he edged towards the hallway. “Yeah?”
“That was you, wasn’t it.” It was a statement.
Jason waved a hand and cut him off. “No worries, dude. I was just curious. I had a grandfather who used to get premonitions. It was spooky. Never thought I’d meet someone else like that. Glad I let you in.”
Rattled and still shaking from the flood of adrenaline, Mark could only nod. He breathed a sigh of relief when Jason motioned for him to go first as they went out to the hall.
They watched as the paramedics started an IV on the protesting Christy, and he winced at the blood oozing around the IV site. Poor little thing. He felt a tap on his shoulder and turned to find a Chicago police officer behind him.
“Sir, can I ask you a few questions?”
Mark shoved his hands into his pockets to hide the shaking and shrugged. “Sure.”
He asked Mark’s name and for some ID. After speaking some cop code into his shoulder radio, he glanced at Mark’s driver’s license. “You don’t live here, so why were you in the building?”
Mark pulled at the collar of his shirt under his coat. Necessity forced him to lie in these situations and he hated it, but the truth was far too complicated. Experience allowed his story to slip easily off his tongue. “I intended to visit a friend, and when I got to the building, someone was coming out, so rather than buzz, I just caught the door. When I got up here, I realized I had the wrong building.” He forced a laugh. “My buddy’s building looks a lot like this one and I guess I got them mixed up.” Mark shook his head and rubbed the back of his neck. He was rambling and decided to cut the explanation short. “It’s about time my faulty memory came in handy.”
Luck was with him and the officer chuckled. “It sure did. You did a great job.”
Mark dipped his head as heat rushed up his cheeks. “Thanks.”
The cop’s radio squawked, and in the midst of indecipherable code, Mark heard his own name.
The officer cocked his head, his gaze fixed on Mark as he reached up to key the mic. “10-9?”
The message was repeated and the officer tensed, his eyes cold as he acknowledged it and requested back-up. With one hand hovering over his weapon, he pointed at Mark with the other. “Turn around and place your hands on the wall.”
Confused, Mark hesitated. “What...why?”
“Hands on the wall. Now!”
The commanding tone jolted Mark into action and he nearly tripped in his haste to comply.”Listen, sir, can I just ask—”
“We can do this the easy way or the hard way. The officer grabbed Mark’s arm. “I’ve been told to bring you in for questioning.”
“Who wants to talk to me? Why?”
The few people still milling in the hallway fell silent.
The cop glanced at the watching crowd and hesitated. “Unpaid parking tickets.”
Parking tickets? Since when did they go to this much trouble for parking tickets? What the hell was going on? He twisted to see the cop’s face. “I don’t owe on any tickets. What’s this really about?.”
Jason stepped forward and pulled out his wallet. “Look, officer, the dude just saved a baby. What does he owe? I’ll pay it.”
“Step aside, this isn’t any of your affair.”
“Come on, man, don’t be a hard-ass.” Jason smiled at the cop, and gestured towards Mark. “I mean, this guy doesn’t exactly look like Charles Manson.”
Jason’s attempt at humor backfired when the cop offered to let Jason accompany Mark.