Cold Blue Midnight
A sunny day in May, 1954. Nothing especially noteworthynot at the moment, anyway. But watch. Listen. Because what happens in the next hour or so will leave people talking for long years afterward…
Evelyn Daye Tappley was just about the best mother of her generation. At least, that's the impression you got if you talked to any of her Junior League friends. If poor seven-month-old David had so much as a sniffle, Evelyn would cancel all her social engagements, even those including any senators or governors her well-connected husband might have invited to the mansion that night. And as for know-how about raising her one and only child… Evelyn could quote you chapter and verse from Dr Benjamin Spock's bestseller, Baby and Child Care.
Wealthy as her background washer Ohio family made one of the early fortunes in steel, just about the time Mrs Woodrow Wilson was secretly taking over the White HouseEvelyn had seen both her younger brother and sister die from influenza in the terrible epidemic of 1931. She was not about to let a similar fate befall her own child.
On that sunny day in 1954 Evelyn hired two extra workmen to help her seed and plant her half-acre garden on the eastern sweep of the grounds. She left David in the capable care of his nanny, a stout Irishwoman named Margaret Connally. Margaret had been David's nanny since he was brought home from the hospital. Of all the threats to young David, Margaret was perhaps most afraid of kidnappers. No wealthy person in the United States had ever forgotten the sad fate of the Lindbergh baby… But thus far in his life, the only thing young David had had to contend with was a predisposition to diaper rash, which often left him irritable late at night after he'd soaked himself while sleeping.
The morning of 5 May went just fine…
Early in the afternoon, Margaret Connally decided to bring The Little One, as she inevitably referred to him, outside to enjoy the sun. She herself would sit several feet away in a rocking chair enjoying lemonade and a few pages of the new Agatha Christie paperback she was reading. Evelyn approved of this. Margaret deserved a midday break, and this way she could relax while still keeping an eye on David in his playpen.
Scamper the tabby kitten swatted at the netting of the playpen as David sat in his sailor suit, playing with a gray rubber mouse that squeaked when he pressed it between thumb and forefinger. Scamper always resented being kept outside the playpen.
After her afternoon Our Father, Hail Mary and Glory Be (her Dublin mother having taught her to pray hard even when things were going well; that way God would be even more kindly when things suddenly went badly), Margaret then settled into The Body in the Library. She was pleased to find that this was set in a small English village, village mysteries being her favorite kind.
At the same time Margaret began reading, another creature, unseen at this moment, entered the grounds. It had spent the morning in the rocky wooded slopes to the west of the estate. At dawn it had sated itself with a fieldmouse. It was not hungry now, it was merely exploring. The heavy rains of the past few weeks had caused many animals to seek lower lands.
The afternoon wore on…
Margaret was very much intrigued with her new Agatha Christie. It was perhaps the best Miss Marple story she'd ever read, especially the daring (for Christie) portrait of the immoral dance-hall girl, for whom Margaret felt great pity.
Scamper hissed and cried as soon as he saw the timber rattler that had eased itself through the netting of the playpen on the far side.
The snake, coiled directly in front of David now, was the color of urine, with dark blotches over its scaly, glistening skin.
That was when, having belatedly recognized Scamper's cry Margaret looked up from her book and saw the serpent in the playpen just as it uncoiled and lashed out at The Little One, its fangs striking him in the chest.
Evelyn had just started working on her tomato plants when she heard the scream. She had no doubt what it signifiedthat something horrible had happened to David.
Years later she would remember the expression on the face of the workman who swung around to look at her. The scream seemed to have chilled him deeply. He appeared to be paralyzed.
Evelyn took off running.
She saw all this in the next few moments: Margaret hurling her paperback at a huge slithering rattlesnake that was hurrying to escape the playpen
David falling over on his face, sobbing
Scamper jumping up perhaps half a foot in the air as the frantic timber rattler hurried past him
Then Evelyn was reaching into the playpen and lifting her wailing infant into her arms.
And then she was running for the house as a gray-uniformed maid appeared in the back door.
'Call an ambulance! Hurry! Hurry!' Evelyn shrieked.
It was one of those ironies that only the darkest gods in the universe could take any pleasure in.
The ambulance arrived within minutes. The passage to the closest hospital was untroubled. One of the doctors on hand knew, from his Army training at Fort Hood in Texas, exactly how to treat young David.
The injection was given.
The Little One, calmed now, seemed fine. He was put in a private room, assigned round-the-clock nurses.
The doctor, pleased with himself and rightly so, smiled a great deal and invited Evelyn and her husband down to the cafeteria for some coffee. The importance of the Tappley family was not lost on him.
They were three steps from the cafeteria when the doctor's name was called, in a rather frantic way, over the public-address system.
He took off at a trot back the way he'd come.
The Tappleys were only a few steps behind him.
The doctor was joined by two others and they worked without pause for the next hour and a half.
David had survived the snakebite itself just fine. But he was one of those rare humans to have a violentand in his case, fatalreaction to the vaccine…
STATEMENT: OF PETER TAPPLEY
By the Tuesday of that week I was in pretty bad shape. I didn't even go home. I just kept thinking about the previous Friday night, wondering what had happened exactly. If anything had.
I looked through the ads and found a place in a tranquil old Chicago neighborhood called Edgebrook. It reminded me of how my mother always described her upbringing, where you had a backyard that met a wooded area filled with wildlife. But in Edgebrook you didn't need to be rich. I took a small apartment on a three-month lease, which the landlady was adamant about. 'I run a respectable apartment house,' she said. 'Not a motel.'
I was still counting the hours it had been since I'd taken a drink. A hundred and four. The crying jags were