As he turned west toward Columbus Avenue, the cold air quickly dried the perspiration that had covered his face and back. Once on the avenue, he knew he could disappear into the crowds of shoppers. But as he passed the rectory, the wall of an approaching police siren shattered the calm.
He could see two couples down the block, headed in the same direction he was going, but he didn't dare to start running to catch up with them. That would be a sure giveaway. Then he spotted the stroller on the rectory steps. In an instant he was carrying it down to the sidewalk. There appeared to be nothing in it but a couple of shopping bags. Shoving his backpack in the foot of the stroller, he walked quickly to catch up with the couples ahead of him. Once he was near them, he strolled sedately just behind.
The police car roared past the group and screeched to a halt in front of the church. At Columbus Avenue, Lenny quickened his steps, no longer worried about detection. On such a chilly night, all pedestrians were hurrying, anxious to reach their destinations. He would just blend in. There was no reason for anyone to pay attention to the average-sized, sharp-faced man in his early thirties, who was wearing a cap and a plain, dark jacket and pushing a cheap, well-worn stroller.
The street phone Sondra had planned to call from was in use. Wildly anxious with impatience and already heartsick about the baby she had abandoned, she tried to decide whether to interrupt the caller, a man wearing the uniform of a security guard. She could explain that it was an emergency.
I can't do that, she thought despairingly. Tomorrow, if there's a story in the newspapers about the baby, he might remember me and talk to the police. Dismayed, she shoved her hands in her pockets, groping for the coins she needed and the paper on which she'd written the phone number of the rectory, unnecessary because she knew it by heart.
It was December 3rd, and already Christmas lights and decorations glittered from the windows of the shops and restaurants along Columbus Avenue. A couple walking hand in hand passed Sondra, their faces radiant as they smiled at each other. The girl appeared to be about eighteen, her own age, Sondra thought, although she felt infinitely older -- and infinitely removed from the air of careless joy this couple displayed.
It was getting colder. Was the baby wrapped warmly enough? she worried. For an instant she shut her eyes. O, God, please make this man get off the phone, she prayed, I need to make this call now.
An instant later she heard the click of the receiver being replaced. Sondra waited until the caller was a few paces away before she grabbed the receiver, dropped in the coins and dialed.
"St. Clement's rectory." The voice was that of an elderly man. It had to be the old priest she had seen at Mass.
"Please, may I speak to Monsignor Ferris, right away."
"I'm Father Dailey. Perhaps I can help you. Monsignor is outside with the police. We have an emergency."
Quietly, Sondra broke the connection. They had found the baby already. She was safe now, and Monsignor Ferris would see that she was placed in a good home.
An hour later Sondra was on the bus to Birmingham, Alabama, where she was a student in the music department of the university, a violin student whose astonishing talent had already marked her for future stardom on the concert stage.
It was not until he was in the apartment of his elderly aunt that Lenny heard the faint mewling of the infant.
Startled, he looked into the stroller. He saw the shopping bag begin to move and quickly tore it open; he stared in shock at the tiny occupant. Unbelieving, he unpinned the note from the blanket, read it and mouthed an expletive.
Copyright © 1998 by Mary Higgins Clark
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