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12th of Never

By:James Patterson

12th of Never
Author:James Patterson

      PROLOGUE

A DARK AND STORMY NIGHT

One

I WOKE UP to a sharp report, as if a gun had gone off next to my ear. My eyes flew open and I sat straight up in bed.

I yelled "Joe," but my husband wasn't lying next to me. He was in an airplane, thirty-five thousand feet above the heartland, and wouldn't be home until the morning.

There was another ferocious crack and my bedroom brightened with lightning that snapped and wrapped around the windows. A boomer shook the window frames and sheets of rain lashed the glass. I was so distracted by the vicious storm that it took me a second or two to register the wave of pain that came from my belly and washed right through me.

Oh, man, it hurt really bad.

Yes, it was my own fault for gorging on refried beans for dinner, then chasing down the Mexican leftovers with rigatoni marinara at ten.

I looked at the clock-2:12 a.m.-then jumped at the next seismic thunderclap. Martha whined from under the bed. I called to her. "Martha. Boo, honey, whatchoo doin'? It's just a storm. It can't hurt you. Come to Mama."

She flapped her tail against the carpet, but she didn't come out. I swung my legs over the bed and flipped the switch on the bedside lamp-and nothing happened. I tried a couple more times, but damn it-the light wouldn't go on.

The power couldn't be out. But it was.

I reached for my Maglite, accidentally knocked it with the back of my hand, and it flew off the night table, rolled under the bed, and went I don't know where.

Lightning branched down and reached across the black sky, as if to emphasize the point that the lights were out as far as the eye could see.

I grabbed the cordless phone and listened to dead air. The phones were out, too, and now I was feeling that weird wave of stomach pain again. Yowee.

I want to be clear. I was feeling a wave, not a contraction.

My age classifies me as an "elderly primigravida," meaning over forty, pregnant with my first child. I had seen my doctor yesterday morning and I'd checked out fine. The baby had checked out fine, and wasn't due for another week.

I had booked a bed on the birthing floor at California Women's Hospital, and although I'm not the organic granola type, I wanted to have the whole natural childbirth experience. The truth was, this baby might be the only one Joe and I would ever have.

Another wave of pain hit me.

To repeat, it was not a contraction.

I staggered out to the living room, found my handbag-an item I hadn't needed in several weeks-and dug around until I found my iPhone. The battery bar was showing that I had only 10 percent of a full charge. Too damned little.

I leaned against a wall and went online to see what kind of storm was beating up San Francisco.

The squall was even worse than I thought. Twenty thousand families were in the dark. People were stuck in elevators between floors. Signs and other detritus had been flung through windows. Cars had skidded across roads, crashed, and flipped. All emergency vehicles had been deployed. Emergency rooms were flooded with patients and downed power lines were sparking on the streets.

This was shaping up to be one of the worst storms in SF history. Headlines quoted the mayor: STAY IN YOUR HOMES. THE STREETS ARE UNSAFE.

Martha slunk over and collapsed on top of my feet.

"We're going to be okay," I cooed.

And then that pain came over me. And it flipped me out.

"Go away," I yelled at Martha. "Go away."

She ran.

"I'm sorry, Boo," I said to my whimpering dog. "These are false contractions. If they were real, I would know it."

I grabbed my knees-and that's when my water broke.

No way!

I could not comprehend what was happening-it could not be happening. I wasn't ready to have the baby. It wasn't due for another week. But ready or not, this baby was coming.

God help me.

My little one and I were really in for it now.

Two

I WANTED TO abandon my body.

Yes, that sounds insane, but that's how I felt-and it was all that I felt. I clicked the light switch up and down, picked up the landline.

Still no power and no phones; neither would be restored until the sun threw some light on the situation. I had five minutes of battery left on my iPhone, maybe less.

I speed-dialed my doctor, left a message with her service, then called the hospital. A nice woman named Shelby asked me, "How often are your contractions coming?"

"I don't know. I didn't time them. I didn't even know I was having them."

"Lindy?"

"Lindsay."

"Lindsay, your water breaking means you'll be in labor for a while yet. You could deliver in three hours or three days, but don't worry. Let me explain about three-one-one."

I knew about 311. But still I listened as Shelby explained that 311 was the rule for what to do when your contractions come every three minutes, last for one minute, and that pattern repeats for at least one hour: you go to the hospital.

"Are you kidding me?" I screeched into the phone. "Because, listen! I'm alone and I've never done this before."

"Do not come in until you're in active labor," Shelby said. "Stay home, where you're comfortable."

I yelled, "Thanks!," snapped off my phone, and walked my enormous baby bump to the window. I was breathing hard as I looked up Lake Street in the direction of my chosen hospital. There was no traffic, no traffic lights. The street was closed.

A tremendous burst of lightning cracked the sky open and sent Martha skittering under the couch. It was crazy, but I was starting to like the storm, even though it had sucked all the air out of the room.

It was hot. Damned hot. I kicked off my XXL pj's and another painful wave took my breath away. It was as if a boa constrictor had wrapped itself around my torso and was squeezing me into the shape of a meal.

I was scared, and it wasn't all about the pain.

Babies got strangled by umbilical cords. Women died in childbirth. Elderly primigravidas were more at risk than younger women, and old babes like me weren't supposed to do childbirth by themselves. What if there were complications?

Claire Washburn is my best friend. She is San Francisco's chief medical examiner-a forensic pathologist, not an obstetrician, but hell. She'd had three babies. I knew she could talk me through this. At least she could try.

I dialed and Claire answered with a groggy "Dr. Wazjjjbrn."

"Claire. It's too soon to go to the hospital, I know, but yow. I think I can feel the baby's head down there. What should I do?"

"Don't push!" my best friend shouted at me. "I'm calling nine-one-one right now."

I shouted back at her, "Call a private ambulance service so I can go to the Women's Hospital! Claire, do you read me?"

Claire didn't answer.

My phone was dead.

Three

MY RAGING RIVER of hormones was sending a single, unambiguous message.

Push.

Claire had said, "Don't push," and that sounded both insane and impossible, but I got her drift. The baby was safe inside me until help arrived.

It must have taken me ten minutes to ease my throbbing, hurting self into bed.

I knew that Claire wouldn't let me down, that she had probably thrown the weight of her office behind the 911 call. I put my birthing instincts in park and thought with my entire being, I'm in God's hands now. All I can do is make the best of this and hope that the baby is safe. That's all I can do.

Martha got up on the bed and curled up next to me. I put my hand on her head and I resisted my contractions. I heard noises, someone calling "Helloooo"-sounds that were far outside my tunnel of pain. I put my hands up against blinding flashlight beams and then, like a force of nature, all the lights went on.

The power was back.

My bedroom was filled with strapping men standing shoulder to shoulder in a line that stretched from the door to the bed and ran along both sides of it. There had to be at least twelve of them, all with stricken, smoke-smudged faces, all in full turnout gear. I remember staring at the reflective tape on their jackets, wondering why a dozen fire-fighters were crowding in on me.

I shouted, "Where's the fire?"

A large young man came toward me. He was at least six four, with a buzz cut, a still-bleeding gash on his cheek, and a look of deep concern in his eyes.

He said, "I'm Deputy Chief Robert Wilson. I'm called Robbie. Take it easy. Everything is going to be okay."

Really? Then, I realized that a fire rig had been closer to the apartment than an ambulance and so firefighters had answered the 911 call.

I said, "This is embarrassing. My place is a mess."

I was thinking about my clothes strewn all over the place, dog hair on the bed, somehow forgetting that I was completely naked with my legs spread apart.

Robbie Wilson said, "How are you doing, Sergeant?"

"I'm having a baby," I said.

"I know. You take it easy now."

He fitted an oxygen mask to my face, but I pushed it away.

"I don't need that."

"It's for the baby," he said. He turned to the gang of firemen and shouted, "I need boiling water. I need towels. A lot of them."

Did I have any clean towels? I didn't even know. I pushed the mask away again and grunted at Robbie, "Have you ever delivered a baby?"

He paused for a long moment. "A couple of times," he lied.

I liked him. I trusted him. But I didn't believe him.

He said, "You can push now, Sergeant. Go ahead and try."

I did it. I pushed and grunted and I lost track of the time. Had an hour passed?

It felt as though the baby were grabbing my rib cage from the inside and holding on with both fists. The pain was agonizing and it seemed that I would never get Baby Molinari out of my body and into the world. Just when I thought I had spent my last breath, my baby slid out of my body into Robbie's baseball-glove-size hands.

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