Adele Buffington is working late when she’s startled by an intruder. The next day a man is found murdered. The note pinned to his jacket reads, “Hands off, social workers!” Then, a woman and her two young daughters go missing. When Adele decides to launch her own investigation, with the help—or hindrance—of PI Albert Samson and Lt. Leroy Powder, she quickly finds herself out of her depth, haunted by echoes of her own past and by a killer who could obliterate her future.
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About the Author
Since 1971, Lewin has lived in England, currently in Bath, where his city center flat overlooks the nearby hills. It also overlooks the front doors of the Lunghi family detective agency, a newer series of novels and stories set in the historic city. Visit him online at www.MichaelZLewin.com for more information.
Read an Excerpt
And Baby Will Fall
By Michael Z. Lewin
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1988 Michael Z. Lewin
All rights reserved.
"I am not coming home yet and you'll just have to accept it," Adele Buffington said.
"You promised you'd be here by seven," Lucy insisted. "Mother, you're twisting me all up!"
"I promised I would try and I have tried. But, honey, I am not finished, nor am I close to being finished. I am sorry, but this report will have a real effect on the future safety of an otherwise defenseless child, and it needs to be right."
"At the expense of your own child?"
Adele ran her free hand through her hair. It felt heavy so she tried to fluff it out a little.
"Lucy, you are twenty-one years old."
"Am I the less your child? Am I the less full of confused needs and insecurities?"
You're full of something all right, Adele thought. But she said, "Honey, I did warn you I probably wouldn't make it."
"You said you'd find a way to get it done in time."
"I said I'd do my best. I've done my best."
"Great," Lucy said. "You've just spoiled all my plans, that's all."
Her control loosening for a moment, Adele said, "Children are supposed to grow out of sudden sulks by the time they're your age."
"Now that it suits you, I am a child again, am I?"
"The longer you keep me talking, the longer I'll be here."
"If you're not going to be here on time, it hardly matters."
"Well, that's up to you."
"Fritz is arriving at seven-thirty, specially to meet you, Mother. He's terribly busy. You know how much arranging it took to set this up."
"I know that instead of picking you up he's always had you come to the campus to meet him, which makes me wonder why."
"If you're not here, he'll just think it was a come-on. I won't be responsible for what happens."
"Yes you will."
Lucy paused. Then with all the undertone of depravity she could muster she said, "Yes. I will."
Adele turned her face, away from the receiver and sighed. She caught her reflection in the window through the slats of her Venetian blind. But though she tilted her head this way and that, she couldn't quite see herself clearly.
"Daddy called," Lucy said, filling her mother's hesitation. The tone was suddenly cool instead of impassioned.
"To talk to you or to talk to me?"
"What did he have to say for himself?"
"Oh, it was just to wish me a happy Valentine's Day."
He was probably in a bar somewhere. Massacred.
"But it's not for two days yet."
"He said he wanted to be the first."
"How did he sound?"
Drunk for sure.
"Did he want to make any plans, or what?"
"He's sending me some money."
"That's nice. Did he say anything" — Jesus! Don't bring up his not calling her at Christmas!
Somewhere behind her, Adele heard a cracking sound. It seemed to be on agency premises. She listened for it again.
Lucy demanded, "Say anything about what?" Her instant truculence showed she knew exactly what her mother had been thinking.
"I just heard a sound."
Adele frowned. Held her eyes closed for a moment. Returned to her daughter. "I was just going to ask whether your beloved father said anything about where he was or when he was going to see you next."
Coyly, "He did ask about the exact dates when my classes finish for spring vacation."
Airily, "Oh, just that he and Dolly are thinking about going to this little place in South Carolina and did I want to think about going with them."
"Sounds like a whole lot of thinking going on."
"Don't pour cold water on it, Mother. It could be nice."
"Yes. All right. I suppose it could."
"And I can think about taking a friend."
"Well, it would be nice for Fritz to meet one of my parents, even if it isn't the one I live with."
"Thank you for that little bit of understanding, Lucy."
"You're welcome, Mother. But it seems like I'm always having to 'understand' about something or other about your job."
"I'm not cut out to sit at home knitting sweaters."
"I feel pushed out and unimportant."
You're twenty-one! Adele shouted in her head. Quietly she said into the telephone, "I hope it works out for South Carolina, honey."
"Is there any reason why it shouldn't?"
"I just don't want you to be disappointed" — Damn! Too far to stop now — "If ... if something goes wrong."
"I think I can handle disappointment, if any such handling should be required," Lucy said primly. "After all, I'm coping with the disappointment of my mother letting me down tonight when I especially wanted her to meet my new boyfriend and show her off because she's such a classy person."
"Now look, young lady —"
Lucy interrupted. "Oh, by the way, your boyfriend finally called."
"He's been 'terribly busy' but I think his glands must have caught up with him because I had the impression he's feeling all smootchy smootchy now. I told him to call back at seven-fifteen because you were bound to be home then because you promised me you would be."
"Lucy, I —"
"Sorry, Mother, I've got to go and get ready. I just don't know what I'm going to do. Poor Fritz is the one who can't handle disappointment. Something about never having learned about delayed gratification. We've been doing it all week in psychology, so I understand that's part of what makes him so vital and attractive to someone like me who is always having to put off my pleasures, you know? Fritz is such a big cuddly baby in some ways. But soooo mature in others. Bye!"
The sound of the phone being hung up echoed in Adele's ear.
Do they ever stop trying to wind you up?
Do they ever stop succeeding?
Adele studied the telephone for a moment after she replaced the receiver in its cradle. Why do I handle the simple problems of my personal life so much less well than the complicated problems in my professional life?
She leaned back in her swivel chair and swung round to look into the darkness through the blinds. She considered fishing out her mirror to look at her hair, but instead she interlocked her fingers behind her neck and breathed heavily and felt her insides churning in exactly the way her daughter had intended.
She hadn't managed to ask Lucy to check that the washing machine repairman had come. Much less to go shopping. The list was on the refrigerator. Would she notice? Would she even think about the shopping?
Of course not. Not when she could think about the Fritz.
Adele thought about the late-night supermarket between the office and home. How late was its "late"?
She ought to get back to the report. Ought. One of the words that is so easy to find in the brain and so hard to find in the more important parts of the body.
The report. The case. A young man who had dipped his three-year-old son's fingers into boiling water two years ago. Who wanted to start living with his wife again without the son being taken away.
A young man who claimed to be reformed. "I am a restyled personality," he kept saying.
Restyled. What the hell was that supposed to mean?
Some people believed him. Would the judge?
Adele knew that if she got back to work, she would forget Lucy's petulant games.
Ought ought ought.
Come on, get into something!
So, Al had called. At last. Where are you when I need you? she asked him in her mind. And answered, with fairness but no satisfaction, You're always available if I'm desperate enough.
A nice man, her Al Samson. A comfortable man who worked hard to protect her from his own sadnesses.
She felt a wave of affection for this middle-age "boy" who had been her "friend" for so many years. They had shared some precious times. She could just do with a warm close "time" now.
Should she call him back?
But not until she had wound down a little.
Get up, look out the window. Jog in place.
Hup hup hup.
Adele laughed at the slatted reflection of her three jogging steps.
Perceptive, Al, when he had a mind to be. She could hear herself whine to him about Lucy and hear him say, "When she throws a punch, slip it. It's far more tiring for her to punch air than to make contact. I know. The boxers I bet on demonstrate it all the time."
Fritz. Why did Lucy have to pick complicated ones who —
Somewhere behind her Adele heard a door open.
That was definitely inside the agency.
Suddenly alert to the world, she turned from the window. She stepped to her office doorway. She looked at the agency's front door.
She frowned, sure, certain, that she had heard something.
She waited, watched.
And slowly, on her left, a figure emerged from the shadows of the interview room.
A man. An enormous man.
She was so surprised that for a moment she couldn't think of anything to say, to ask.
"Well, well, well," the man said.CHAPTER 2
The man stepped toward her. Despite his size, his movement was springy.
Involuntarily, Adele backed into her office.
She flung her door closed and grabbed for the telephone, but in a bare moment the door had nearly come off its hinges and the man was in the room with her. In front of her.
"No," he said.
Their eyes held. The man's face carried a strange smile. Adele put the telephone back in its cradle.
The man turned out the office light.
Adele dropped onto the edge of her desk.
The only remaining illumination was indirect, from the screen of the word processor she had been using to write her report on.
"Just what do you think you're doing in my office, young man?" She asked, at last.
The man's rough face showed no response to her words, the "smile" seemed fixed on his face. It was an expression that made her think that he was capable of doing terrible things.
My God! He was huge! At least six eight.
Suddenly the man produced a torrent of words. He said, "Now I thought that, for sure, all social workers went home right on the dot when the old clock on the wall struck five. No way — no way! — was I figuring on having me a social worker here for a reception committee."
"What do you want?"
"You are a social worker, aren't you?" the man asked, as if she had told him so but he'd had a lifetime's experience of people lying to him.
Adele just stared.
"Wouldn't want to accuse someone of something like that if it wasn't right."
Adele knew she should say something. Instead, her mouth opened in profound silence.
"'Course you are," the man said. He stretched a huge fist out toward her.
She leaned back.
A stubby thick sausage finger protruded from the fist. It stopped on a breast.
Was this what he wanted? Adele inhaled sharply. The finger didn't retreat.
"That yours?" the man asked.
"What?" Adele looked down.
The finger flicked up and hurt her nose.
The man laughed short, hard, humorless laughs and shook his head.
"Social workers," he said. "So fucking stupid, stupid, stupid!" The joke became anger.
Adele sat upright on her desk and pushed at the man's chest. "Get off!" she said. "Who are you? What the hell do you want?"
The huge man's eyes locked onto hers. He slapped her face, so quickly she never saw the hand coming.
The slap hurt.
The man flicked at the point of the breast he'd already touched.
The flick hurt.
The man slapped her other cheek with his other hand.
"Be good lady," the man said. "You want to live, then be good."
Adele rubbed herself.
"I don't like nobody to sass me back. And I specially don't like sass from no social worker," he said. "Stand up, social worker. Stand up and shut up."
With one hand the man enveloped her chin. From the other hand the sausage finger waved before her eyes like a nightstick.
"Listen," he said.
Adele watched the waving finger.
"I said listen!"
She looked at his face. The funny smile.
"What I want ...," he said.
"What I want is a file."
Though it was hard to speak, Adele tried to say, "A what?"
"A file. Where do you keep them?"
"What ... what kind of file?"
"A file on the goddamn people whose lives you screw up. What kind of file do you think I mean?"
"Are they on a computer, or what?" He relaxed the hold on her chin.
She said, "We have a computer."
"That one?" He nodded to the silent screen that blinked remorselessly on Adele's desk.
"But the complete case files are in cabinets."
"Complete case file. That's what I want."
"In the main office."
"Show me." He released her.
She led him into the office, past desks and to the wall abutting the interview room where the cabinets were.
The man pulled at the top drawer. It didn't open. He rattled the handle, furious.
"My key is in my purse," Adele said. She responded to the unspoken order to get it.
He stayed with her every step of the way back to her office.
She found her key. They returned to the cabinets and unlocked them.
"All right," he said. "Now, sit down."
She sat in the nearest chair.
"Over there." He pointed to a desk across the room.
Grateful for the distance, she went to the desk farthest away. Thirty feet. Not nearly far enough. She looked at the window to the street. What would happen if she jumped through it? Movie images came into her mind, blood and glass. Then she saw an image of a cat pouncing on fleeing prey.
She turned back to the room. The giant man had taken out a flashlight.
Slowly, carefully, he studied the drawers' labels. Finally he picked one. He pulled the drawers open. Methodically he leafed through the contents.
Adele watched without moving. Almost without breathing.
It seemed to take forever.
She thought, I should be doing something. Memorizing what he looks like. Or doing something. Yes!
As the man studied the contents of the drawers he had opened, she eased a hand to the telephone on the desk.
Then her other hand.
She lifted the receiver. Even though she covered the earpiece, the dial tone sounded like an alarm bell to her. She put the phone back and breathed hard.
Be good, lady, You want to stay alive, be good.
She sat like that for a moment. Watching as the man looked for ... whatever it was.
Suddenly he turned the flashlight on her.
She jumped with the suddenness of his movement.
"Copy machine," he said fiercely.
She pointed to a wall adjacent to the cabinets.
"Show —" he began. Then, "I see it." He turned back to the file folder he had been studying.
He went to the copier. With his flashlight he examined it. He found the switch and turned it on.
"Does it need to warm up?"
"Does it —"
"Just a few seconds."
One by one he took pages from the folder and copied each sheet.
The copier's hum was a relief.
Adele took the phone again. She punched 911.
She heard the emergency service answer. She bent down and whispered, "Police. Help."
"Speak up, please. I cannot hear you."
Adele jerked up as she thought the man was about to turn to her. But he didn't. He was gathering his copied papers.
"Speak up, please."
There was no time. Thinking to leave the phone line open so they could trace it, Adele pulled at the desk's drawers. The top one was unlocked. She slid the instrument into it. She pushed the drawer closed and then stood up. She began to move away from the desk.
As she did so the man turned to her.
"What do you think you're doing?"
"Sit the fuck down!"
She sat at a different desk.
He stared at her for several moments.
Her fear reached a peak.
But the man turned away. He put the file papers into their folder and he replaced the folder in the cabinet. Then he closed the drawer. With a handkerchief he carefully wiped all the hard surfaces he had been touching. He folded the copies he had made and put them in a pocket.
He turned to Adele and said, "All right. Come here, social worker."
She rose and took a few steps toward him. She stopped ten feet away.
He moved toward her until the sausage was waving in her face again. "I didn't hurt you, did I?" he said with force. "I could of hurt you or killed you or done anything I goddamn pleased with you. But I didn't, right? So just don't forget that."
The sausage drew away. "I'm going out the way I come. Don't do nothing until I'm out."
He looked at her without blinking for several seconds.
Adele stared back and thought she saw in his smile, his expression, a softer edge, a melancholy.
Excerpted from And Baby Will Fall by Michael Z. Lewin. Copyright © 1988 Michael Z. Lewin. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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