Born To Die by George A Bernstein
Too many infant boys of Palm Beach gentry are dying of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). Only obstetrics nurse, Casey Jansson, is suspicious.
Al Warner, crack Miami Homicide detective, is inactive, languishing on medical leave after a deadly shootout with a serial killer, “The Angel of Death.”
Warner meets Casey at a local pub. Learning of the SIDS deaths from her, Warner concedes it sounds more than coincidental, but can find no obvious Motive or Opportunity. However, he agrees to help investigate, hoping romance develops later.
Casey’s obsession eventually tangles her in mortal danger. Only Warner can save her, if he can figure out where she went, and get there in time.
Targeted Age Group:: Late teen and Adult
Heat/Violence Level: Heat Level 3 – PG-13
What Inspired You to Write Your Book?
BORN TO DIE is my fourth novel and the second of my Detective Al Warner series, After writing DEATH'S ANGEL, I realized this could be the beginning of a great series, in the mode of Patterson's "Alex Cross." The stunning and violent surprise ending of DEATH'S ANGEL (no reader has ever guessed it) provided a challange on how to continue Warner's adventures, which I eventually crafted into another 5-Star novel that one professional reviewer called "One of the most masterful plots I've read in a long while"
How Did You Come up With Your Characters?
Al Warner and his group of detectives and forensic experts are all carried over from DEATH'S ANGEL. The female protagonist, Casey Jannson, was someone I needed to be both a bit fragile emotionally, but with strong determination. Frankly, character makeup just sort of "comes to me" as I'm imagining the story. They start out as physical beings, but as the novel develops, they take over the action, changing and developing in ways I never first imagined. Soon they take the story down pathways not originally in my plan. It's an amazing experience to be led by the hand by characters of your own imagination through an unexpected maze.
“Metro-Dade Police, Sergeant Avila.”
Rico Avila rubbed his eyes and stretched, bored by a day full of checking in petty criminals and answering nuisance calls. Just thirty minutes left before he could bug out and hoist a couple of cold ones at La Isla.
“Detective Al Warner, please. This is Senator Ian Barker.”
A firm, authoritative voice, laced with stress… or maybe fear? Avilla hitched around in his swivel chair, sitting a little straighter, adjusting his headset over thick, curly hair.
“I’m sorry sir, but he’s not… uh… available.”
“When do you expect him?” The voice cracking, sounding desperate now.
“Oh Jeez, Senator, he’s still officially inactive, sir. On medical leave. Don’t know when he’ll be back.”
“The Baby Butcher thing? It’s been two months. I didn’t realize he was so badly injured.”
“Yes, sir. That bullet cracking his skull put him in a coma for six weeks. Can I get you his partner?”
“Acting Chief of Detectives, Jack Harris.” Rico ran a finger down the directory, finding the right extension.
“I’ve got to talk to someone. I thought… well, Warner seemed the best…”
“Jack Harris has been his partner forever, sir. He’s top flight.”
“All right. He’ll have to do.”
“Yes sir. Just a moment, please.” He put the call on hold and buzzed the direct line in Detectives.
“Jack, I got Senator Barker on the phone, looking for Warner. Sounds… scared.”
“Well, don’t keep him waiting. Put him through.”
“Right.” He switched lines. “I’ve got Detective Harris for you, sir,” making the connection.
“Detectives. Jack Harris speaking.”
“This is Senator Ian Barker.”
“Yes sir. How can I help you?”
“I’m… I’m not sure. I… I think my daughter is missing.”
Terrific. Are you just guessing? And why are you calling homicide? The wiry little cop clicked his ballpoint, sliding over a pad of yellow lined paper.
“Missing, sir? What d’ya mean?”
“My daughter, Ann. Eighteen. Supposed to start U of Miami this fall, but never showed up. We’re worried sick.”
“Wow, I see why you’re concerned. When did you last see her?”
“Four days ago, when she left to move in on campus.”
“She wasn’t gonna commute, seeing you live in Miami?”
“No. She craved the full college experience, I guess. She wanted to make it, so to speak, on her own.”
“Okay. Have you checked with her friends? Or maybe her potential college roommate, if she had one?”
“Yes, but with no answers. Her best friend, Willa Carpenter, talked with her the day she left, but thought she was at school. She didn’t have a roommate on campus yet. At least none we know of.”
“Any chance she just took off on her own? Maybe withdrew some cash from her bank account?”
Kidnapped? Certainly a good candidate. A U.S. senator and a big time real estate magnet. Maybe our bailiwick after all.
“I suppose it’s possible. I didn’t think to check the bank, but we just don’t believe she’d do something like that without us knowing. As I indicated, she’s quite independent. To a damned fault, I’m afraid.”
“I’m not trying to be judgmental, sir, but do you mean rebellious? If I’m gonna help you, you need to be frank.”
“I… I understand. She is still a teenager, after all. Aren’t they all rebels at that age?”
“I guess. Don’t have any of my own, to judge. Mind if I ask why you waited four days to report her missing? We only require 48 hours for missing persons.”
“We didn’t want to create a public flap, if it were something innocent. We try to keep our family out of the press, but now we’re really scared.”
“We’ll be discreet, but I gotta know what I’m working with. If she just a runaway, or did somebody snatch her?”
“Okay.” A lengthy sigh. “I’ve got no other choice. Yes, she can be difficult. My wife and I are busy people. We’ve probably not paid Ann the attention she would have liked.”
“I gotta ask, sir. Does she do any drugs?” Why is this always like pulling teeth? They want help but don’t give you anything to make it easier. Harris doodled on the lined pad, dissipating his frustration.
“Uhh…yes. A bit of Marijuana, and lately, some social cocaine. We sent her to a… uhh… clinic during the summer to dry out. I’m not sure that didn’t make her angrier. You know, believing she’d been sent off as punishment. We were only trying to help, but…”
“Yeah. So she may be a runaway?”
“Yes, I suppose. But that doesn’t make us any less terrified something bad may have happened to her. Regardless, we want her back. We’ll do whatever it takes to make things right with her.”
Harris printed “ANN BARKER??” at the top of a fresh page, and then dropped the pen, with nothing else to add.
“Okay. If you can get me some recent photos, we’ll distribute copies to all the patrol cops, and the newspapers. Maybe we’ll….”
“No! No press.”
The detective suppressed a groan. “But the public can be one of our best tools, if she’s just run off. Maybe a reward…?
“No press, I said. I keep my family private. I’ll have photos for you this afternoon. Do your best with that. It’s not just me I’m worried about. The publicity can ruin her life if she shows up in… uhh… compromising circumstances. I don’t want that for her.”
“Whatever you say, sir. I understand your caution. It just makes things harder for us. Get me the photos, and we’ll get going. I’ll do my best to play it close to the vest, Senator, but you gotta be prepared for a leak. I can't guarantee it won’t happen.”
“Yes, I know.” An agonized sigh. “Do what you can. We want her home, safely and undamaged, if possible. She’s our only child, and… you know….”
“I sure do. Meantime, if you learn anything else, or think of something, no matter how small, let me know. It’s the little, seemingly unimportant things that often solve tough cases.”
“I will. I’ll call a messenger service immediately to send the photos. You’ll… you’ll keep me informed?”
“You bet. Keep your chin up, sir. We’ll find her.”
“Thank you. I hope you’re right Detective.”
Jack Harris massaged the bridge of his considerable nose after hanging up.
We’ll find her, alright. I just hope she’s still breathing.
He rang the duty officer.
“Avila, organize a meeting of the patrol officers first thing tomorrow. We got a missing celeb, probably a runaway. I’ll have photos. Absolutely no leaks to the press. You got that?”
“Sure. I’ll have everybody there. No mention of Ann Barker?”
“You eavesdropping again, Rico?”
“How else would I know what’s going on around here.”
They were chuckling as they hung up. Harris wished Al Warner were there. No one was better on the really tough cases. Warner was the sole reason that lunatic, Leordano, wasn’t still killing children, but it almost cost him his own life.
If I hadn’t tracked him down in the ‘Glades that day… Lucky I got there in time. He sighed again.
Jack was already working two cases, but they were about to take a back shelf to a missing teenager. U.S. senators got priority.
TWELVE MONTHS LATER
The bawling had finally sputtered to a hiccupping stop.
Shellie Laughlin cracked the door, peeking into the room. The night-light cast fractured shadows across the bars of the crib. Stevie had been unusually quiet for two hours. Always hungry lately, the little man should be demanding his meal by now. The incessant crying was driving her crazy. Had he finally gotten over the break-in last month? Strange that a five-month old could sense the danger.
She tiptoed to his crib, never tiring of watching her new son, dreaming of his certain future in science or medicine. A little blonde angel, lying there on his back, so still.
Almost too still. She touched his forehead.
Cool. Good. All that wailing had flushed his…
Gee, that’s strange. She put her hand back on his face. Was he too cool? Dropping the side of the crib, she leaned in, listening, but there was no sound. She put her ear close to his mouth.
Still nothing. Shellie gathered him up, but he didn’t wake. His body was strangely slack.
“John.” She turned toward the door, her infant son clutched against her breast.
She stumbled from the room, hurrying for their study, where her neurosurgeon husband was reviewing files. He would know what to do.
“Shellie, what is it?” He stood in the doorway, a cup of coffee in his hand.
“It’s Stevie. Oh, God, it’s Stevie.
“He’s not breathing.”
Not a single damned place to eat alone. Shoulda had lunch at home.
Casey Jansson dropped her change on her tray and surveyed the cafeteria. Most of the white laminate topped tables seating four to six eaters were occupied by visitors or staff. The room rippled with quiet voices, the muted clatter of dishes, and the pungent smell of overcooked cheese.
Resigned, she approached a group of nurses and staff, clustered around a long, oblong mica table. Not eager to talk shop, she doubted it could be avoided. That’s what they did at lunch. They would draw her in, regardless of any effort to remain aloof. Still, these were her friends; she couldn’t just ignore them. She nodded to the two nurses, Rita from Delivery and Marcy from Pediatrics. Danny O’Brien, a second year resident, smiled through a two-day old red-stubbled jaw. His wrinkled blue smock, smudged with blood was a stark comparison to the nurses’ starched whites.
“Hi, guys,” Casey said. “Mind if I join you?”
“Join away,” Rita said, patting the empty seat. The diminutive but voluptuous, dusky-skinned woman was an utter contrast to Casey’s slim 5’8’’ slim Swedish blonde looks.
“Always glad for some real company,” Danny said.
“Hey.” Rita gave him a friendly elbow in the ribs. Danny laughed.
“You look bushed, Rita. Busy shift?” Casey couldn’t help herself.
“For Sure. Lots of Palm Beach kids having fun.”
“More yuppies, I bet,” Danny said. “Waiting until it was almost too late before starting a family. Too busy with their careers.”
“Yeah.” Rita shook her head in mock wonder. “We had three like that last night.”
“All a bunch of rich kids, huh?”
“Mostly,” Rita said, “but there were some working class babies, too.”
“You always seem to end up with the celebs, though, don’t you, Sanchez?” Jack, an intern, said, grinning.
“Just the luck of the draw.” Rita twirled some pasta on a fork. “I was there for a bricklayer’s wife this morning. Everybody gets equal treatment at St. Mary’s. You know that.”
“Sure, sure,” Casey said. “Some are just treated more equal than others.”
“Huh?” Rita, her mouth full of spaghetti, frowned at the tall blonde.
“Just paraphrasing George Orwell. You know… ‘Animal Farm.’ ”
“Huh?” Rita repeated.
“Forget it. Not important.”
“So, Casey,” Jack said, “I heard you used to be in Pediatrics. You got seniority. Isn’t Maternity a step down for you?”
“I like where I am.” She brushed a lock of golden hair from her left eye, shifting on her hard plastic seat, suppressing the vision of Mikey, motionless and sprouting tubes and wires.
“I just thought…“
“Hey, drop it,” said Danny. “Can’t you see she doesn’t want to talk about it?”
“It’s okay, Dan. He doesn’t know, is all.” She turned to the intern, smiling sadly. “It’s personal… something I’d rather forget. Okay?”
“Jeez, I’m sorry,” Jack said. “I didn’t mean to…“
“No problem. Let’s just talk about something else.”
Conversation stumbled to a nervous silence, like a pregnant woman awaiting the next contraction. Danny got things going again, but Casey drifted away. It was three years since she fell in love with little Mike Newman. Their five-month “affair” ended when he broke her heart, deserting her by dying after four weeks in a coma. Blinking away tears, she shuddered at the memory of his small six-year-old body, so cold and still. Her other love affair, with Mikey’s father, Andy, quickly deteriorated. She couldn’t bear to face him, and he never called.
She had lied to them. She just knew Andy blamed her.
Casey took a week’s leave, returning to St. Paul to visit her family. After three days of moping in bed, her mother dragged her out, organizing a party for twenty relatives and friends. Casey was commandeered to help with preparation and cooking. Predictably, her father went fishing. A true Swedish iceberg, he left dealing with feelings or any family problems to his wife. Casey understood her father’s reluctance to love openly. It was too easy to get hurt.
Life with her family settled into some semblance of normality for the rest of the week, but a subtle numbness pervaded her. Struggling with the empty agony of loss, she erected an outward façade of quite reserve, burying her warmth and sensitivity under the appearance of a frosty, even snobbish Swede. In truth, she was shy. Once overcome by familiarity, she was the same warm friend little Mikey Newman had discovered. His father had learned she was also a passionate lover. But it all ended with the little guy’s death.
Her heart got in the way of cool professionalism, and got shattered. After Mikey’s death, she resolved to remain distant, never chancing getting close to a patient… or a man… again.
Maternity, where connections rarely last beyond two days, was the ideal solution.
She blinked at the sound of her name, climbing out of the black pit of her memories.
“Case? You okay?” Danny’s ice-blue eyes regarded her with a worried intensity.
“Yeah, yeah, I’m fine. Just thinking.”
“Well, quit it,” he said, running a hand through fiery red hair. “You might hurt yourself.”
“What’s that, some kind of Irish wit?” She grinned at him.
“Just trying to get a little juice back into that smile of yours.” They both laughed.
“You’re good for me, Danny-boy.” The others were gone, returning to their assignments.
“But not quite good enough?”
“C’mon, Dan. We both know that’s over. You’re still my best friend, aren’t you?”
“Sure. You know I’m whatever you need me to be, Casey. But you can’t blame me for still wanting it to be more. I’ll always love you.”
“Hey, you Irish rogue, cut the blarney. Life’s tough enough without having to deal with that. Let’s keep it the way we agreed.”
“Yeah, sure. But for the record, it’s the way you agreed. I didn’t have any choice.”
“Jesus.” She chuckled. “See what happens when a woman falls for a younger man.”
“Okay, okay, you got me. I’d better get back to the Ward before Dr. Scrooge sends his minions after me. Want to have dinner some night this week?”
“Sure. Got no plans. Give me a call.”
“Swell. Maybe you’ll see I’m more than just a serious medical-type.”
“Oh, you nut.” She shook her head, her wheat-yellow hair swirling like a golden halo.
His own special angel, Danny thought, as they went their separate ways.
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