A Perilous Conception: A Detective Baumgartner Mystery #1

A Perilous Conception: A Detective Baumgartner Mystery #1

1976: Dr. Colin Sanford, a brilliant, ambitious obstetrician practicing in the Pacific Northwest, resolves to become the first to produce a baby by in vitro fertilization, despite the controversy raging ...

About The Author

Larry Karp

Larry Karp grew up in Paterson, NJ and New York City. He practiced perinatal medicine (high-risk pregnancy care) and wrote ...

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

Thursday, April 28, 1977


One last look in the hall mirror. I straightened my tie, brushed my hand over that unruly clump of hair above my right ear. Should I be suave and assured, or would I come off better as wide-eyed and enthusiastic, maybe even a little eccentric? As   I glanced at the gray fabric-covered log book in my hand, I caught the reflection of my smile in the mirror. Perfect. Cool, self-possessed, yes. Suave was the way to go.

I didn’t need to check my watch, but did anyway. Couple  of minutes past one, almost an hour till the press conference. By five o’clock, I’d be on the local news, right at the top, and tomorrow morning, my face would be on every screen from San Francisco to Timbuktu. Well, my face and Giselle Hearn’s, fair enough. I’d make sure to say I couldn’t have done it without her, but there’d be no doubt who’d been the project leader, and who, the co-worker. I smiled again.

Good move, borrowing Giselle’s lab log last night, then canceling my appointments and staying home this morning. My office staff would’ve been driving me nuts, wanting to know what all the fuss was about. Instead, I’d put in five solid hours, studying the log and my pile of reprints from Nature, Lancet, and The American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology. For more than a year, I’d been keeping up with that literature, but I wanted to be sure I had the material down cold, every detail. I couldn’t afford a misstep.

I walked out into the corridor, took the elevator down to the lobby, clapped Albert, the doorman, on the arm. “Hey, Doc,” Albert rumbled. “Them Seadogs gonna win today?”

The Emerald Seadogs, Major League Baseball’s brand new representatives in the Pacific Northwest, were supposedly starting their existence under a lucky sign, double-sevens. But before the end of the first month of that auspicious 1977 season, the Seadogs were already hopelessly in the cellar, couldn’t win for losing. “Don’t know, Albert. I only bet on horses, but if I did bet baseball, I think I’d keep my money in my pocket on that one.” The old doorman cackled.

With its long winters of short, gray, drizzly days, Emerald is the suicide capital of the country. This past season had been a prizewinner, barely a glimpse of sun between Christmas and Easter. But today, the sky was a glorious blue, not a cloud anywhere, and I threw back my head to take in the warmth of the midday sunlight. From this day on, that sun would shine on me, nonstop. Patients would clog my office. I’d see my photo in newspapers, magazines, on the tube. My name would be front and center in articles and popular histories; I’d get whole chapters in reproductive medicine textbooks. Rotary Club presidents and chairmen of university departments would book me for talks. It was not beyond reason to expect that one day I’d get a call to come give a speech in Stockholm. My parents would finally have to hand it to me. Their son was about to become a legend in medicine.

Most of my colleagues lived in big houses in one or another of the fancy Emerald suburbs, which entitled them to drive nearly an hour to and from work, sometimes in the middle of the night. Not for me. An easy seven-minute walk, and I was at my office in the Emerald Medical Tower, linked by skybridges to Puget Community Hospital on one side, and the new glass-and-steel Washington Public University Medical Complex on the other.

I strode into the Tower Lobby, past patients, some in wheelchairs, or making their way slowly on canes. White-coated doctors talked to white-capped nurses. Techs pushed blood-draw carts and EKG machines. For all the attention they weren’t giving me, I could’ve been walking along a sidewalk in midtown Manhattan, but that was about to change. Tomorrow, people on all sides would stop, point, whisper to their companions, “Hey, isn’t that Dr. Colin Sanford? You know, the guy…”

As I walked into my waiting room, a buzz of talk went silent. Lettie and Sally, the receptionists, Kinsey and Ruth Ellen, the nurses, Megan, the nurse-practitioner, stood in a circle in front of the reception counter. One look at me, and they froze in place, a body with five chalky faces, five open mouths and ten saucer-eyes. Barbara Renfro, the office manager, stood off from the others, stone-faced, leaning against the end of the counter. Her Adam’s apple bobbed up, down, up again.

The room reeked of trouble. Had one of my patients keeled over with a pulmonary embolism? Did the pediatricians find a serious birth defect in a baby? Nah, either way, a nurse would have called my beeper. I looked past the mob to Barbara. “Got something to tell me?”

She motioned me down the hall past reception, to my con- sulting office.

I followed her along the corridor, into the office, closed the door. She rested a hand on my arm. “Oh, Dr. Sanford. Dr. Hearn is…dead.”

“Dead? No.”

“She was shot. Murdered. In her lab, a little while ago. And…” “What, Barbara?”

“Mr. Kennett did it.”

“Mr. Kennett? Why on earth would he ever—”

“And after he killed Dr. Hearn, he shot himself. A Detective Baumgartner called here not five minutes ago, looking for you. He got your name off Mr. Kennett’s newborn-nursery ID bracelet. I told him we expected you any time now, and he said he wants you to go over to the lab immediately to talk to him.” I pride myself on keeping a cool head in emergencies. “I’ll get over there ASAP. Would you please cancel the press conference for me?”

“Of course.” She took a step away. “Dr. Sanford…did the conference have something to do with the Kennetts?”

I nodded.

As she walked out of the office, I stared at the log book in my hand. Doubly fortunate now that it wasn’t sitting in a desk drawer in Giselle’s office, where the cops would find it. It was my ticket to the future, but it also contained seeds for disaster, which I’d stumbled onto the night before. No reporter at the press conference, rushing to get the story out, would have looked inside that log, but the scientists we’d beaten to the finish line would want to review it, and to say the least, some of the material could be embarrassing. I thought I knew what to do about it, and had figured to sit down with Giselle after the conference to get her on board. But that idea had been knocked into a cocked hat along with the conference. In any case, the log had to go someplace out of sight for the time being, absolutely-positively safe where no one would think of checking.

I scanned the room. Stash it in my desk? That’d be the first place anyone would look. Two walls of bookshelves, filled with medical textbooks, monographs, and leather-bound journals. Good camouflage, but not good enough. The faux-woodgrain metal file cabinet next to my desk? Negative. A file cabinet would be Number Two on any search, right after my desk…but wait, here’s an idea. I stepped across the room, lowered a shoulder, tipped the cabinet. Below the bottom drawer was a nice little recess. Good. I tossed the log book into the cavity, gave a short silent thanks for all those after-work hours at the gym, then lowered the cabinet.

I hung my suit jacket on a hook behind the door, grabbed a white coat from an adjacent hook, shrugged it on, and rushed out, through the waiting room, into the hallway, down the corridor to the skybridge. I could deal with a little delay in my plans. First things first, and the first thing had to be a talk with Joyce Kennett. Going to the lab and talking to the cops would need to settle for second.

Reviews of

A Perilous Conception: A Detective Baumgartner Mystery #1

“A clever, intricate medical mystery with plenty of twists, an inventive touch with metaphors, and an ample helping of wit.”

Aaron Elkins, Edgar winning author of The Worst Thing