Karen Burns turned toward him. “Of course, Chief. But we are licensed foster parents without any children in our home right now, and we intend to press DSS to place Cody with us.” Mrs. Burns had a voice so perfectly modulated she could have been selling him something on the radio. Russ glanced at Burns, thin and short, and wondered at the attraction. His own wife was one hell of a good-looking woman, but Karen Burns would put her in the shade.

“Under the standard of the best interests of the child, it’s preferable that a pre-adoptive child be fostered with the would-be adoptive parents, if there are no natural relatives able to care for the child. Young v. The Department of Social Services.”

Russ blinked at the lawyer’s aggressively set brows. “I’m not contesting you in court, Mr. Burns,” he said. “But we don’t know that there aren’t any natural relatives. We don’t know if the mother gave him up of her own free will or not.” He shifted his weight forward, deliberately using his six-foot-three-inches as a visual reminder of his authority here. “Isn’t it a little odd for a professional couple like you to be foster parents?”

Karen Burns laid her hand on her husband’s arm, cutting off whatever he was about to say. “I work from home as well as from my office, part time. On those times we’ve had a child in our care, I just cut way back.”

“I assure you we’re properly licensed and have passed all the state requirements,” Burns said, his face tight. “We are fully prepared to make the sacrifices necessary to care for a child. Unlike the biological parents of this boy.”

Karen Burns twisted a single gold bangle around her wrist. “Of course you have to look for the parents, Chief Van Alstyne. And I’m sure that anyone who took such care to make sure their baby would be found immediately, and left a note asking us to be his adoptive parents, would only confirm that request.”

Her husband spoke almost at the same time. “We intend to file for TPR immediately, on grounds of abandonment and endangerment.” There was a pause. The Burnses looked at each other, then at Russ. They both spoke at once.

“I hope you do find her. She undoubtedly needs help and counseling.”

“I hope you don’t find her, to be frank. It’ll be better for the baby all around.”

Reverend Fergusson broke the awkward silence. “What’s TPR mean?”

“Termination of parental rights,” Russ answered. “Usually happens after the court takes a DSS caseworker’s recommendation that there’s no way the child ought to go back to the parent. Takes months, sometimes years, if DSS is trying to reunite the family.” He rubbed his forehead with the palm of his hand. “During which time the kid is in foster care.”

“Unless, as in this case, the child is an abandoned infant and the parents can’t be found,” Geoff Burns said, tapping his finger into his palm in time to his words.

“Uh huh,” Russ agreed. “Unless they can’t be found.”


The pediatric resident, bright-eyed and way too young for comfort, entered the treatment area from behind a blue baize curtain. “Oh, hey!” he said. “You must be the Burnses! Your priest here told me about you. Hey, you wanna hold Cody here or what?” He unlatched the top of the incubator and scooped up the baby expertly, placing him in Karen Burns’s arms before she had a chance to respond.

“Oh,” she said. “Oh.” Her husband put his arm around her, turning her away from the others. Russ, rubbing away at the headache building behind his eyebrows, felt the weight of attention on him. He glanced down at Reverend Fergusson, who was looking at him instead of at the would-be-parents. It took him a moment to identify the expression on her face, it had been so long since he’d seen it directed at him. Sympathy.

The resident was trying to give his report to Durkee, who was just as doggedly pointing him in Russ’s direction. “Hey,” he said, “You’re the police chief? Really neat.”

“I think so.” Over the doctor’s shoulder, Russ could see Reverend Fergusson’s lips twitch.

“The baby’s in real good shape,” the doctor said, pulling out several sheets of paper stapled together. “Here’s a copy of his tests and the examination results. I place the time of birth within the last two or three days. No drugs in his system, no signs of fetal alcohol syndrome, no signs of abuse. His cord was cut and wrapped inexpertly, but somebody kept it nice and clean. We’ll have to wait until he’s had a bowel movement, but I’m guessing he’s been fed formula.”

Russ scanned the report, noting the blood group—AB positive—and the notation that the baby had been bathed at some point in his brief life. “Okay,” he said. “Mark, get me the box and the blankets, we’ll see if we can get anything from those. I want you to stay here until somebody from DSS arrives, unless you get a squawk.” Mark nodded and disappeared into the examination cubby. Russ folded the medical report and tucked it into his jacket pocket.

“Here you go, Chief,” Mark said, returning with the box. He passed it to Russ, who examined it without much hope of anything useful. It was sturdy, new-looking, marked with the logo of a Finger Lakes orchard. Lane’s IGA and the Grand Union probably had hundreds just like it tossed in their storerooms. The blankets were a mix: an old, well-worn gold polyester thing, a heavy woolen horse blanket in plaid, and what looked like two brand-new flannel baby blankets, the kind his sister had by the dozens. Russ had a sudden image of himself going door-to-door, asking, “Ma’am? Do you recognize any of these blankets? And has anyone in your household given birth lately?”

Reverend Fergusson had gone over to the Burnses and was talking softly to them. Karen Burns said something, looking at her husband, and he nodded. All three of them bent their heads. Russ realized with a shock that they were praying. Openly displayed religion made him as uncomfortable as hell, and it didn’t help when the priest signed the cross over both of them and then laid her hands on the baby and blessed him. She really was a priest. Jesus Christ. A woman priest. Were Episcopalians like Catholics? He’d have to ask his mother, she’d know.

When Reverend Fergusson broke away from the Burnses and walked straight toward him, he thought for one guilty moment she must have read his mind and was coming over to give him what for.

“Chief Van Alstyne, will you be leaving soon?” she asked.

“Yeah,” he said, warily. Did she want to pray over him, too?

“Ah. Well, Karen and Geoff are going to stay here until after the caseworker arrives, and I, um . . .” She worried her lower lip some, hesitating. “I called an ambulance, you see, ’cause I thought Cody ought to be seen as soon as possible, and I, I don’t have . . .”

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