I feel like a baby whale, just not as graceful. It’s blazingly hot—has to be 90 anyway, and muggy, and I am so huge with this pregnancy that I can’t even get myself up and down the stairs to the beach without feeling as if I’m going to die of asphyxiation. Pregnancy is not for the faint-of-heart, especially when you’re almost 44, you’re eight months along, and it’s late July. On top of that, Alex and I want to get married before the baby comes. I guess I must be old fashioned—who knew? I’d feel better being married when I give birth. So we’ve decided that since Pop isn’t really mobile anymore, we’ll just get married at his nursing home, Island Breeze Rehabilitation Center—in the lovely dayroom with the big bay window—in the morning when the sun is really bright and when Pop is more with-it than he is in the afternoon.
The guest list is small—Pop is the best man, of course, although he won’t even know it; my dear friend Marilyn is my maid of honor. Then there’s Itzy Itzkowitz—but he’s already told me he probably won’t be schlepping out to the end of the earth, or as he calls it, Siberia, just for some, as he calls it, stupid wedding; and my darling mentor and lawyer, Jed O’Callaghan, who I know wouldn’t miss it; and of course Rabbi Horace Silverblatt, who will be performing the ceremony. Also, Alex’s colleagues from the nursing staff. The only issue now is that Alex insists on being Jewish when we marry. I don’t care one way or another, but he’s been working at converting, and he’s completely dedicated, so I have no choice but to support him, although I’ve kept myself more aloof from the process than either he or Silverblatt would have liked.
“Whatcha doin’, honey?”
“Well, I can’t lie and tell you I’m working on the guest list, can I?” I wink at Alex, and he bends down and kisses the top of my head. He’s been doing mostly everything around here since I got so pregnant I can’t even see my shoes when I look down—cooking as usual, but now all the cleaning, and he even massages my feet and puts me in the shower stall and washes me from head to toe, which is lovely and sexy, but it’s hard to have sex when I’m this huge and my center of gravity’s completely off. Somehow, Alex manages to make sex happen, usually from the back and standing up.
“You thinking about the wedding?”
“Constantly. How about you? Are you almost ready to graduate to be an official Jew?”
Alex is converting from his former Christian denomination—I’m not even sure which one. His goal is to finish before our wedding and before the baby is born, and he seems to be on target to achieve both of those things. If I’m being really honest, I can’t imagine why a regular Protestant would want to turn that in for a religion that’s been so vilified for thousands of years.
“I want to go to the mikveh in the Sound.”
I laugh so hard I can’t talk.
“What?” He looks crushed.
“I have no idea what that entire sentence meant.”
“What’s a mikveh?”
Now he laughs. “You seriously don’t know?”
I just shrug. He often makes me feel dumb and defensive about all things Jewish. “I can’t compete with super-Jew-to-be,” I say.
“Oh, honey, I didn’t mean to make you feel bad.” He comes over and tries to sit next to me and hug me, but I turn my body away, to the extent possible. “Come on.” He ruffles my hair, and I shake my head loose from his hand. “It’s the ritual bath, you know, kind of the Jewish equivalent of Baptism.”
I wheel around. “Is that how Horace explained it to you?”
“Of course not,” he says.
“Well, what did the rabbi say?”
“It’s a ritual that’s part of conversion.”
“So you only have to do it if you convert?”
“No, more Orthodox Jews require women to do it after they menstruate or give birth, to achieve purity.”
“Yeah, he probably did it too.”
“After he menstruated?”
“Oh, don’t get your hackles up. Jewish men are supposed to do it too. And it’s getting a lot more popular now.”
“I didn’t realize Rabbi Silverblatt is Orthodox.”
“No, he’s not, and he actually said he was willing to give me a pass, but I wanted to do it anyway. I just thought it would be cool.”
“So people always do this in the Long Island Sound?”
“No, silly. They have immersion pools.”
“I’m sure they have them in lots of places. You know, wherever Jewish people are.”
“So why are you going to purify yourself in the Long Island Sound? Are you sure you shouldn’t take some antibiotics first?”
“It’s not that bad.” He puts his hand across his forehead, his forehead contorting into worry wrinkles, what I call his nurse-worry-wrinkles. “You’re just kidding, right? It’s not that bad, is it?”
I shrug. “Actually, I can’t wait to watch. Just don’t expect me to go in there like this.” I point to my mid-section.
“That’s okay, you don’t have to. You’re Jewish already.”
I can’t stop thinking about the mikveh and all the things I don’t know about my religion of birth, and I guess I’m not paying attention, because Alex jumps up. “Hey, somebody’s sending you a text.” He brings my cell over.
“I don’t have my reading glasses on,” I say. “Can you see who it’s from?”
“It says P. Fitzgerald.”
“Crap. Pete?” I haven’t heard from Pete since the last time he showed up here, months ago. He figured out I was with Alex, and our divorce became final, and I thought he’d finally given up. But here he is again. He’s the Energizer Bunny—he never quits. “What does it say?”
“It just says, ‘9-1-1. Pls call ASAP.’ That’s it.”
“Oh brother, here we go again.”
“Are you going to call him? Sounds pretty desperate.”
“Honey, you don’t know Pete. Last I heard, he was having a baby and getting married, but he cheated on his girlfriend and she caught him, and then she moved out. After that I didn’t think about him anymore. We had enough stuff going on here— the good, the bad, and the ugly.” I have a flashback to the double murder at the synagogue last spring, and how it forced cancelation of the play Marilyn was directing, and her trauma, and the rabbi’s trauma. It still hurts to think about it.
“True, we did.” Alex sits back down next to me and puts his arm around my shoulders. I nestle into his embrace. I can’t stay mad at him. With the baby, our life will be even more complicated, but I know I can always lean on this man.
“Damn Pete.” I don’t want to sigh, but I do.
“You should call him, Babe. It might be important.”
“He’s probably just horny and forgot I have a boyfriend.”
Alex laughs and kisses me on the cheek. “I hope you’re still cracking jokes after the baby is born and we’re not getting any sleep at all. Call the man.” He pushes the phone at me, but I don’t take it.
“You are a very understanding fiancé.” I sigh again.
“You want me to call?”
“You’d do that for me?” Suddenly I feel completely exhausted, as if I can’t even lift up my hand to press the numbers to call Pete. “Thanks, love.”
“You’ll owe me one.” Alex takes the phone and walks into the kitchen. Not so secretly, I hope he just gets rid of Pete, that Pete is intimidated when a man returns his call. The first time they met, in my kitchen, when Pete had used his key to let himself in, it wasn’t such a friendly encounter. I think the bottom line is that Pete was shocked to find out I’d actually moved on, after more than two decades. He was pretty sure I’d always be there for him when he had “needs.” For once in my life, I was able to extract myself from his clutches. I suspect if I hadn’t met Alex, I’d still have an on-again, off-again relationship with Pete. I close my eyes and start to doze off. At this stage of the pregnancy, the only sleep I get is in ten-minute intervals, usually when I’m sitting up. I drift off and dream about swimming in the Sound.
“Honey?” Alex is shaking me gently, his hand on my shoulder. For a moment I think it’s part of my dream. I groan a little. I don’t feel like waking up.
“Sweetie? You need to talk to Pete.” Alex’s hand on my shoulder is a little more urgent, a harder shake. I open my eyes, and the bright sun makes me close them again.
“I’m just so comfortable here, please don’t make me wake up.”
“I’m sorry, I didn’t want to disturb you, but Pete is very upset. He demanded I put you on the phone. Doesn’t sound like he’s faking it.” Alex pushes the phone toward my face, and something in his voice makes me sit up and blink my eyes open.
“Seriously?” I take the phone and yawn. I can’t make myself move quickly, despite Alex’s urging. “What, Pete?” I know I sound annoyed, not even putting the phone up to my ear. “Wait a minute, I can’t hear you.”
“Oh God, Dana, thank God I got a hold of you. I need your help.” His voice breaks as he finishes the sentence.
Alex was right. Pete sounds completely unhinged, gasping as if he’s about to cry. I don’t think I’ve ever heard him like this. I sit up as straight as I can without hurting my belly. “What’s going on? Are you crying?” I manage to tone down my annoyance. At the same time, the baby starts to kick, and I get a sharp pain across the top of my ribcage. “Ow, shit.” I lie back on the pillows. She doesn’t kick my ribs as much when I’m not sitting up. There’s no winning this battle.
Pete doesn’t pay attention to my outburst. “Look, I need your help. It’s an emergency.”
“Can you calm down and tell me what the problem is?” I’m rubbing the top of my stomach and it’s feeling better. Alex is hovering over me, his eyebrow raised on one side, his mouth in a question mark. I look at him and shrug, and he sits down on the couch next to me and massages my legs, which makes me want to relax and go back to sleep. I smile at him.
For a moment, I can’t remember who Caterina is, and then it hits me—she’s the girl he introduced to me as his fiancée, last year in our favorite coffee shop in Brooklyn—the day I thought he was going to ask me to get back together. I hated Caterina that day—wanted to kill her. And when I found out she was pregnant…I reach down with my free hand and put it on top of Alex’s, as if to make sure he’s still there for me. He smiles, turns his hand over and squeezes mine. “What about her?” I say.
“She had the baby.”
“Oh yeah? Mazel tov.” I yawn again, right into the phone.
“Please don’t be like that, Dana.” He’s crying again. I can’t stand it.
“What the fuck is going on with you? Just spit it out.”
“Caterina had the—our—baby. He was born a month ago. He’s beautiful. His name is Pete Jr.”
I am stunned thinking about Pete and fatherhood. Those two words never really seemed to go together, and although I guess in the back of my mind I always realized we were both traveling the path to parenthood at approximately the same time, it’s still shocking to me that he actually has a kid. “So, how does this involve me?”
“He has a head of hair like…”
I don’t say anything. Another little Peter Fitzgerald running around in the world. It’s almost impossible to imagine. I’m surprised I have any feelings about it, let alone these strange feelings that make me think I actually care, am actually angry. Even now after I thought I was over Pete for good.
“Are you still there?”
“Yup. Can you get to the point?”
“You don’t understand. Everything was fine. She was even planning to get back together with me.”
I hold my hand over the phone. “I wish you could hear this,” I say to Alex.
“Put it on speaker,” he whispers. I do.
“Take a couple of deep breaths, Pete,” I say. It used to be Pete who was always telling me to calm down, to lay off the Scotch. “I’m afraid you’re going to pass out. What the hell is wrong?”
Alex shakes his head from side to side. “This guy is a lunatic,” he whispers. I shrug.
“The baby’s missing.”
“Don’t you read the papers? His picture is on the front page of the Post.”
“You know I’m not a reader.”
“What happened, Pete?”
“The baby’s gone. Everything was okay, and then she was having some trouble breastfeeding, and she hired a doula.”
What’s a doula? I mouth the words to Alex. He picks up a magazine and writes “Baby nurse” on it with a pen. Oh. “Okay, so she hired the doula,” I say, as if I knew all along what a doula was. I can’t believe that chick is breastfeeding. What a showoff.
“Right, and the woman came to her apartment, and Caterina asked her to watch Pete Jr. while she went to the bathroom, and when she got out of the bathroom, the doula and the baby were gone.”
“Gone?” I realize I’m just kind of answering Pete with one-word questions, but this is a little surreal. “How long ago?”
“Gone. He’s gone, and so is the doula. It’s been three days, and I’m losing my mind.”
“You called the police, right?”
“Yeah, of course. She called me, screaming, and I called the police. And the uniforms and detectives have been all over the apartment and the neighborhood, but there’s nothing. No trace of the woman, no trace of our baby. They don’t have a clue. They even gave me and Caterina a polygraph. Can you believe?”
“And the results of the polygraph?”
“What do you think? Of course we passed. We didn’t kidnap our own baby.”
“Okay, I had to ask,” I say.
He continues, breathless. “The FBI might be getting involved, but you know how we locals hate that.” He makes a sound like a snort. “Don’t you ever watch the news?”
I’ve been so exhausted from not being able to sleep, I doze off on the couch every night before the news even comes on. I’m trying hard not to get defensive. “Where did Caterina get this doula from? Was it an agency? Isn’t there some way to trace her?”
“No. Caterina was talking to some woman at the park, and the woman gave her the name and number. And now when we call the number, it’s out of service.”
“What about the woman at the park?”
“She’s not there anymore, and Caterina doesn’t even know her name.”
Now Alex is kind of slapping the side of his head, like he can’t believe what he’s hearing. This is too weird, he mouths the words to me.
“This is pretty weird. Didn’t it occur to either of you to get references on this woman who was going to be taking care of your baby?” I’m sure I sound harsh and judgmental, but I don’t care. What idiots.
“I don’t need you to lecture me right now, Dana. I didn’t even realize she was thinking of hiring someone.” His voice is catching again. “I’m calling you for help. I don’t know what else to do.”
“I’m not sure what I can do either. So there’s a detective on the case? Anyone you know?”
“There are two, and I don’t know them, but I’m telling you, they’re clueless, and the more time that goes by…” He chokes and stops talking for a moment, as if he’s trying to regain his composure. “They can’t do certain things that you can.”
“Are the police monitoring Caterina’s phone?”
“Yeah, but there’s no ransom demand, either by phone or any other way, and no one has tried to communicate with us.”
“Anyone else live in the apartment?”
“Just Caterina, and I get over there as often as I can.”
I just bet he does. I shake my head to get the bad thoughts out. This is about a missing baby, not about my ex-husband’s sex drive. “Did they dust for fingerprints in the apartment?”
“Of course, but either the woman didn’t touch anything or she was wearing gloves. Caterina doesn’t remember. She’s a wreck. She can hardly remember what the woman looked like.”
“Was the woman an American?”
“What do you mean?”
“Did she have an accent?”
“I don’t know. I never saw her. I didn’t think to ask Caterina.”
“Was she young?”
“It was hard to tell. She was wearing a headscarf.”
“On a hot July day? Seriously? How covered up was she?”
“I think Caterina said that as well as the black headscarf, she had on a long purple coat or dress covering her body.”
“It’s ninety degrees out, and this chick had on a long coat?”
“Maybe a coat, maybe some kind of long dress or something. It happened so fast, she said it’s hard to remember.”
“So did Caterina have any idea what her face looked like?”
“Like I said, the whole thing only took a few minutes, and she can’t even remember what color eyes the woman had. The police artist did sit down with her, and somehow they were able to come away with a sketch at least of eyes and the top of a nose, for whatever help that’ll be.”
“Any surveillance video?”
“It was like the woman knew exactly where the security cameras were, so the only thing the video shows is her back. Nothing from the front view. And then she turns left onto the side street, where there are only a block of low-rise, residential buildings, and she’s not visible anymore. And the video is pretty grainy anyway.”
“Of course,” I say, sighing.
“If she had only thrown that scarf out, maybe there would have been some DNA.”
“You think the woman in the park was working with her?”