Corey didn’t answer her. He trotted up the stairs. She knew the access to the attic was in the hallway. There was a pull-down stair. They disguised the handle for the stairs as a smoke detector. You either needed a ladder like she did because she was too short to reach it or be tall like Corey. She had only been up there once before. He reached up and pulled it down. She watched him climb up into a black hole. A moment later, the light turned on.
Colo, Corey’s oldest son, stepped out of his room. He was nine.
“What’s Dad doing?” he said in a sleepy voice.
“Getting a crib.”
She was still standing at the foot of the stairs.
She didn’t answer him.
“You down there, Colo?”
“Here, take this.”
He was handing down pieces.
“Do you know what time it is?” she said. “That’s going to require assembly.”
“It slides together,” she heard him say.
He handed down the mattress piece. There was a layer of plastic protecting it.
“Why are we doing this?” Colo said.
“What’s going on?” Kyle said with an enormous yawn, coming out of his room. He was six.
“Great. Now everyone is up,” she said, realizing the dogs were on each side of her sniffing.
Ollie, the yellow lab, was on her right. Patsy, the bloodhound, was on her left.
“What’s Dad doing?” Kyle said.
“What is this?” Colo said, looking at all the parts in the hall.
Both boys were carbon copies of their father. Their black hair was wild and sticking up from sleeping. Their brown eyes almost looked black from where she was standing.
“I found a few other things.” Corey came down, carrying a box. He pushed the stairs back up into place. “Bring those down with you.”
He waved a hand at all the crib parts in the hall, then put the box under his arm and grabbed up the mattress. The boys grabbed up everything else. Everyone convened in the living room.
“What is this?” Colo said. “Is this a bed? It’s tiny.”
“It’s a crib,” she said.
“Oh.” Colo suddenly looked at what she was carrying. “You had a baby.” There was excitement in his voice.
Corey started laughing.
Banter gave him an evil eye, even though she also thought it was funny.
“She couldn’t have had a baby,” Kyle said. “She didn’t get fat.”
Banter broke out laughing.
“Mrs. Conor got fat before she had her baby,” he said.
“Pretty good for a six-year-old to figure that out,” she said.
“Where did you get her?” Colo said.
“Someone left her in a garbage can. We’re taking care of her for the night.”
“What’s her name?” he said.
“Katrina Junior,” Corey said with an evil grin.
“Corey. Don’t even say that.” She glared at him.
Katrina was her actual name, which she never used. She hated the name.
Kyle laughed. “Katrina Junior.”
“I’m Corey Junior,” Colo said in a matter-of-fact voice.
“I’m impressed you almost have that crib together,” she said.
“Hand me that last piece, Colo.”
The last side slid and latched into place. Corey tore off the plastic on the mattress, then set the mattress into the crib.
“Voila. One crib.”
“Good. We all need to go back to bed,” she said. “I have a class to teach in the morning.”
Corey carried the crib into their bedroom.
“Bed boys. Take the dogs,” she said.
She watched them head up. Patsy seemed to want to stay behind, but she obeyed the hand command by Kyle to follow. Banter turned out the hall light once the boys were in their rooms.
“I think there are some more baby clothes up there, too,” Corey said when she came into their bedroom.
He was going through the box he had carried down.
“Here are a few onesies, but they look way too big for her.”
Corey took the baby from her arms and set her in the crib.
“Here’s a baby carrier. It allows you to carry her around.”
“On your back?”
“No. In front.”
She stared at the crib, feeling exhausted.
“I need a shower and sleep,” she said.
“I’m betting by the time you’re done, she’ll want another feeding. I’ll get it.”
“How do you know all this?”
“I had two children, remember?”
“You mean you actually paid attention to their care?”
Corey laughed. “Go take a shower. I read all the books right along with their mother.”
“Good. I don’t know a thing.”
“I thought you grew up with lots of cousins.”
“I did, but none of them were babies. We were all within a few years apart.”
He gave her a gentle push toward the bathroom.
She undressed and stepped into the shower. When she stepped out, the baby was fidgeting. She dried and slipped on her nightshirt. The baby appeared to be working herself up to a full cry. Corey was nowhere in sight.
“Quiet, you. Food is coming.”
The baby quieted again to her surprise, but still fussed, but less noisily.
“I must sound like your mother’s voice.”
The baby made a face and waved both hands.
Corey returned with a bottle.
“Hold this,” he said, handing her the bottle.
He picked up the baby, then took the bottle back.
“Are you watching, so you know how to do this?”
She nodded, but her math skills were churning out numbers.
“We’re not getting any sleep if she needs a bottle every couple of hours.”
“Parents get little sleep for the first few weeks,” he said. “At least today is Friday and you’ll have a weekend to recuperate.”
The baby was now eagerly sucking down the formula.
“If this was my kid, I’d be on maternity leave and not teaching a class tomorrow, I mean today.”
“I’m sure you’ll get this settled in the morning. Go to bed. I got this.”
Banter felt she had just hit the pillow when she bolted upright.
“What the?” The racket she heard wasn’t one she was used to.
“Baby,” Corey said in a sleepy voice.
“Didn’t we just feed her?”
“Three hours ago. She probably needs a diaper change, too.”
He sat up. “Do you want diaper or bottle?”
“Are you mad? I want to go back to sleep.”
“Diaper it is. I’ll go get a bottle.”
Banter watched him go. The baby was now screaming.
“I don’t know what I’m doing.”
She unfastened the diaper.
Corey came back in.
“You’ll need some wipes and a clean diaper.” He handed both to her. “Put the dirty diaper in here.”
He hooked a plastic bag on a knob on the crib.
“This is gross,” she said.
Banter glared at him when he left. She didn’t want to do this.
“You made a mess.”
She removed the old diaper and wiped. The baby fussed and whimpered.
“Yeah, it’s probably cold.”
She unfolded the diaper and slid it around the baby.
“They got these engineered right. Fasten with tape,” she said, surprised to find the diaper easy to put on.
She wrapped the baby and took her out to the kitchen.
“Almost ready,” Corey said. “The directions on how to make this are on the can.” He tapped it. “Lukewarm water. Remember, real milk is body temperature.”
He poured the warm water into the bottle, put on the nipple and shook it.
“You only need about two ounces for now. For such a little girl, that’s a good feeding.”
“You remembered this from six years ago?”
“It’s on the can.”
“Oh yeah, you said that.”
He handed her the bottle.
She nestled the baby in the crook of her arm to free up her other hand.
“I have water heating for your tea.”
“Thanks. I might as well stay up.”
She noticed his coffee maker was on.
It was a little after five-thirty.
“I can get my report done for last night. I’m definitely leaving early today,” she said.
“Rock her a little,” he said.
Banter put the bottle down.
“I’ve seen this,” she said, gently bouncing the baby in her arms.
“That’s the way. For burping. The removal of gas possibly swallowed during a feeding.”
Banter rolled her eyes at his words. “You’re mansplaining baby care.”
Corey smiled and almost laughed. “You’re doing great.”
“I guess this is early practice for being a grandmother.”
Patsy came down the stairs to join them.
“Okay. You can have a whiff.” Banter held the baby out for her. Patsy sniffed and sniffed. “Maybe we should have used Patsy to sniff out the mother.”
Banter put the baby into the car seat, then sat to have her tea. The baby fussed.
“Shush. I’m right here.”
She sipped her tea.
“You look tired,” he said. “Did you find anything else out there on your recon?”
Banter shook her head. “If there was something, the baby distracted me from seeing it.”
“I hope Ray doesn’t send you back out.”
“He’s already going to get an earful along with Social Services.”
Aside from a baby sleeping in a car seat on the kitchen table, the morning progressed as usual. Corey left for work. Minutes later, the boys pounded down the stairs to take the dogs out, then come in for breakfast. Banter kept expecting the typical morning chaos to disturb the baby, but it didn’t. She never woke.
“Bea. Bea. We have a baby,” Kyle said when he opened the front door to let her in.
Bea was the nanny, cook, and housekeeper.
“Did I miss something?” Bea said, looking at Banter and then at the baby.
“No. I found her last night in a trashcan.”
“Social Services didn’t take her like they should have, but…”
“Say no more. I’m well versed with Social Services. I worked in homes that housed displaced moms with children. So, I take it I’m babysitting?”
“Oh, hell no. I’m calling Social Services when I get to work to have them come get her.”
“Good luck with that. You haven’t been listening to the news.”
“What’s going on?”
“Major restructuring. Lots of people quitting or getting fired.”
Banter put a hand up.
“Say no more,” she imitated Bea. “I have all intentions of coming home without a baby. I mean, what would they have done if I was a guy?”
“I can tell you stories.”
“Just what I want to hear. Well, I have to head out. The kid is coming with me, and I’m leaving her in my boss’s office.”
“Have a good one.”
“Bye, mom,” Kyle said. “Bye Katrina.”
Banter bit her tongue.
“Who anointed her?” Bea said with a laugh.
“Corey.” She knew Bea was aware of her actual name.
Banter headed to the garage, thinking the other side of her car might have more room.
“How do people do this?”
There was enough room for a person to get into the car, but the car seat was rather bulky. She struggled to get it in, then had to fumble getting it strapped in with the seatbelt.
“I have a new respect for parents.”
She finally shut the door and slid around to the driver’s seat.
“Banter.” Bea came running out to her. “You’ll want to bring this stuff.”
It was the bag of diapers and formula.
“Oh, yeah. Thanks. Is this why there are diaper bags? To carry all this crap?”
Bea hit the garage door opener for her and waved goodbye.
The drive to work was quiet. It was so quiet that she pulled into the parking garage, parked, and almost got out of the car to walk to the building. It was only the bag of baby things on the passenger seat that reminded her of what was in the back seat. She looked in the back to see the baby sleeping.
“I almost forgot about you.”
She felt a wave of horror at how easy it was to forget a baby was back there. A wave of memories, of times when she had been afraid, swept over her. Yet, finding herself in charge of such a tiny girl seemed to be greater than all of them.
“You’re so small. And everyone wants to throw you away.”
She found she had to wait a few minutes to compose herself.
“Don’t you dare get into my heart, young lady. I have to give you back.”
She finally grabbed the bag and got out of the car. Getting the car seat out was easier this time now that she knew how everything hooked and fastened. However, she still mumbled about how annoyingly bulky it was. She knew the baby carrier was in a pocket of the car seat. Corey had stuffed it in there. She wondered if that was an easier way to cart around a baby.
“I see you still have the kid.”
Peter joined her when she passed his office.
“What did you think I was going to do with her? Leave her at home?”
She could see that Ray, her boss and Director of the Undercover Department, wasn’t in his office.
Peter shrugged. “Probably in a meeting. Did you get your report done?”
“Yeah, but I haven’t sent it yet.”
“Get any sleep?” He chuckled as if he knew better.
“Hell, no. Where’s Carla? I’ll need someone to watch this kid. She has a baby. She knows what to do.”
Carla was the department’s administrative assistant.
“She’s out. Either she’s sick or her kid is. You don’t want her near this baby.”
Banter set the car seat on the floor with the bag.
“I have to call Social Services.”
“I’m out of here,” Peter said.
“Chicken,” she said under her breath. “Hello? Yes, I’m Banter Van Baine with the police. This is about an abandoned baby. Someone needs to come to get her. I don’t think the person I dealt with last night followed procedures.”
Banter patiently repeated where she found the baby, which hospital she took her to, and which doctor had seen her.
“I can’t tell you who she was. The social worker didn’t tell me her name. Nor did she take down my information.”
“Sorry for that. We’re short staffed with limited resources. I’ll send someone out today.”
Banter hung up the phone. She reviewed the report she had written one last time before she sent it to Ray.
The baby was now fidgeting.
“We’ll check diaper and bottle, then you need to be quiet for this class.”
She took the baby to the women’s restroom and changed her diaper. The second time was easier. Warm tap water and formula made up the bottle and the baby sucked it down.
“At least you’re a good eater.”
She looked at the two remaining diapers.
“These better last until they get you.”
She returned to her office.
Peter appeared at her door. She figured it was about the class.
“Here you take this.” She handed him the car seat before he could respond. “You’re taking my class, aren’t you?”
“Yeah, but I’m not babysitting.” He looked a little reluctant to take the car seat.
“I need my hands free. You can carry her down for me.”
She grabbed up her laptop and headed toward the stairs. “Are we still on the second floor?”
“They like to reschedule rooms around here. I’m surprised they haven’t.”
They took the stairs down to the second floor.
No one was in the conference room yet where she was to teach.
“Put her behind the podium,” she told him.
Peter set her down. Banter placed her laptop down and hooked it up to project onto the wall.
The baby fidgeted.
Peter chuckled at her words.
She adjusted the laptop.
The baby continued to fidget.
She picked up the car seat, and the baby quieted.
“That a girl.”
She set her back down, and the baby began to fidget again.
Peter moved to a seat in the back of the room.
“What am I going to do with her?” she said, glaring at him.
She picked the car seat back up, and the baby quieted.
She set the baby down and stared at her a moment as if waiting. The baby remained quiet. Banter turned back to her laptop. However, a minute later, the baby began to fidget.
“I’m not babysitting.”
Thinking fast, she pulled out the baby carrier.
“Help me with this.”
Peter never moved.
She figured out the belt that went around her waist and the shoulder straps. It didn’t even interfere with her gun holster on her back. She scooped up the baby and found it was easy to put her in the carrier and get the straps over her shoulders. The straps easily adjusted with a gentle tug.
“Never mind. I got this.”
Peter chuckled at her. “You look lovely.”
She ignored him. People were arriving for her class. She had a roster in front of her. There were going to be ten people. She knew most of them by sight and took attendance while everyone filed in. A few of them looked at her oddly. She knew it was because of the baby strapped to her, who was now sleeping soundly.
The tenth person stepped in.
“Shut the door,” she said to him before he sat down.
She checked the roster and verified two officers who she didn’t know so well.
“Excuse the young student,” she said, gesturing toward the baby. “I picked her up out of the trash last night. Social Services is running a little behind.”
She noted nods and smiles. Wisely, no one asked further questions.
She was glad to see everyone brought either notepads or tablets to take notes. Even Peter had his tablet.
“Welcome. I’m Banter. We’re going to look at surveillance. How to do so while being invisible or while being in plain sight.”
She leaned in to click on her laptop to change the slide when someone appeared at the door. There was a window in the upper part. She stopped, wondering what the man wanted. He was looking expectantly into the room as if he was looking for someone. She didn’t know him.
The man opened the door. He was shorter than any of the officers, but still taller than her. With an apologetic smile, he slid in and shut the door.
Banter straightened up and stared at him.
“Who the hell are you?”