Born in Death:In Death 23

By: J. D. Robb

1




THE WAYS AND MEANS OF FRIENDSHIP WERE murderous. In order to navigate its twisty maze, a friend could be called upon to perform inconvenient, irritating, or downright horrifying acts at any given time.

The worst, the very worst requirement of friendship, in Eve Dallas’s opinion, was sitting through an entire evening of childbirth classes.

What went on there—the sights, the sounds, the assault on all the senses—turned the blood cold.

She was a cop, a Homicide lieutenant with eleven years on the job protecting and defending the hard, merciless streets of New York. There was little she hadn’t seen, touched, smelled, or waded through. Because people, to her mind, would always and could always find more inventive and despicable ways to kill their fellow man, she knew just what torments could be inflicted on the human body.

But bloody and brutal murder was nothing compared to giving birth.

How all those women with their bodies enormous and weirdly deformed by the entity gestating inside them could be so cheerful, so freaking placid about what was happening—and going to happen—to them was beyond her scope.

But there was Mavis Freestone, her oldest friend, with her little pixie body engulfed by the bulge of belly, beaming like a mentally defective while images of live birth played out on the wall screen. And she wasn’t alone. The other women had more or less the same God-struck look on their faces.

Maybe pregnancy stopped certain signals from getting to the brain.

Personally, Eve felt a little bit sick. And when she glanced over at Roarke, the wince on his angel-kissed faced told her he was right there with her. That, at least, was a big red check in the Pro-Marriage column. You got to drag your spouse into your personal nightmares and into that twisty friendship maze right along with you.

Eve let the images blur. She’d rather study a crime scene recording—mass murder, mutilation, severed limbs—than look up some laboring woman’s crotch and watch a head pop out. Roarke had horror vids in his collection that were less gruesome. She could hear Mavis whispering to Leonardo, the entity’s expectant father, but blocked out the words.

When, dear God, when would it be over?

Some setup here, all right, she thought, trying to distract herself by evaluating the birthing center. The whole damn building was a kind of cathedral to conception, gestation, birth, and babies. She’d managed to duck Mavis’s attempt to give her a tour of the entire place by pleading work.

Sometimes a well-placed lie saved friendships, and sanity.

The educational wing was enough. She’d sat through a lecture, several demonstrations that would haunt her dreams for decades, been forced as part of Mavis’s coaching team to assist in a mock birth with the labor droid and squealing droid infant.

And now there was this hideous vid.

Don’t think about it, she warned herself, and went back to studying the room.

Pastel walls covered with pictures of babies or pregnant women in various stages of bliss. All filmy and rapturous. Lots of fresh flowers and thriving green plants arranged artistically. Comfy chairs, supposedly designed to aid the women in hauling their loaded bodies up. And three perky instructors who were available for questions, lectures, demos, and serving healthy refreshments.

Pregnant women, Eve noted, were constantly eating or peeing.

Double doors at the back, one exit in the front, left of the vid screen. Too bad she couldn’t make a run for it.

Eve let herself go into a kind of trance. She was a tall, lanky woman with a choppy cap of brown hair. Her face was angular, and paler than usual, with whiskey-brown eyes currently glazed. The jacket she wore over her weapon harness was deep green and, because her husband had bought it, cashmere.

She was thinking about going home and washing the memory of the last three hours away in a full liter of wine when Mavis grabbed her hand.

“Dallas, look! The baby’s coming!”

“Huh? What?” Those glazed eyes popped wide. “What? Now? Well, Jesus. Breathe, right?”

Laughter erupted around them as Eve lurched to her feet.

“Not this baby.” Giggling, Mavis stroked her basketball belly. “That baby.”

Instinct had Eve glancing in the direction Mavis pointed, and getting a wide-screen blast of the bellowing, wriggling, gunk-covered creature sliding out from between some poor woman’s legs.

“Oh, man. Oh, God.” She sat down, before her own legs went out from under her. No longer caring if it made her a sissy, she groped for Roarke’s hand. When he gripped it, she found it as clammy as her own.

People applauded, actually clapped and cheered when the wailing, slippery-looking form was laid on its mother’s deflated belly, and between her engorged breasts.

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