Emily took the photographs too: Robbie giving Adam a ride on his shoulders as the little boy shrieked with delight. Adam sitting beside Robbie at the helm of a borrowed boat, his life preserver nearly as large as he was. Adam walking towards his father’s outstretched hands. Robbie pulling Adam in a red Philadelphia Flyer wagon, up and down the street in front of their house, up and down, up and down, over and over and over again until he was soaked in sweat and still laughing.
On weekends and holidays, neighbourhood barbecues and picnics with their colleagues or boat trips with Robbie’s friends, they asked other people to take their pictures. The three of them sat or stood together, their arms around each other, shading their eyes against the sun or smiling in the shade. Adam had blue eyes like Emily’s. He liked to hold Robbie’s hand. He had a laugh that could stop your world.
The laughter wasn’t in the photographs, of course. But Robbie could hear it when he looked at them.
He was building a swing in the yard when Emily came home from work. He heard her car pull up in front and he yelled cheerfully, ‘We’re in the back!’
Emily came around the side and instantly he could tell there was something wrong. He put down his tools. Adam, who had been digging under the hibiscus, got to his feet and toddled over to Emily. ‘Mummy!’ he gurgled, holding out tiny hands caked with soil.
She bent and picked him up. His hands made black marks on her white blouse. ‘You need a bath, little man,’ she said, and caught Robbie’s eye over Adam’s blond head.
‘What is it?’ he asked.
‘Have you seen the news today? Or heard it on the radio?’
‘Newspaper in my briefcase. Wait till I’m done?’ She handed him her leather case, and nuzzled Adam’s cheek. ‘Let’s get you clean, sweetheart.’
Robbie took her briefcase into the kitchen while Emily carried Adam into the bathroom. He could hear his toddler-babble: only a few words were comprehensible as yet, but ‘Mummy’ was clear, and ‘Daddy’. He smiled, washed his hands at the sink, and poured a couple of glasses of lemonade. He got out the cookies for Adam to have as a snack when he was finished with his bath.
Usually bath time was drawn out with games and splashing and bubbles. This time Emily was finished within fifteen minutes. Adam was in his pyjamas, his damp hair sticking up in spikes, his eyes sleepy. Robbie leaned over and kissed his sweet-smelling cheek on their way through the kitchen, and then Emily settled him in front of Sesame Street with his cookies.
Then she returned to the kitchen and got The Miami Herald out of her briefcase. She sat down beside him at the table and she passed it over to him. It was folded over; the headline was on the bottom half of the page.
LAWYER STOLE CHILDREN TO ORDER
The photograph was of Elliott Honeywell. It was a professional headshot, the kind you would use in an advertisement: he looked slick and prosperous with his pressed handkerchief and styled hair.
Horror gripped him, iron-cold. ‘What is this?’ he asked through numb lips.
‘One of my antenatal patients mentioned it. She’d heard it on the radio and she was nearly hysterical, thinking that it could happen to her, that her baby could be stolen. So I bought a paper. I tried ringing you, but you didn’t answer.’
‘We’ve been outside all afternoon.’
He glanced towards the living room, where there was the distinct sound of Bert, Ernie and a rubber duck.
‘Read it,’ she said quietly.
He did, but he could only take in some of the words. Wealthy couples. Paid adoptions. False death certificates. Co-conspirators.
He looked up from the paper, the article only half-read. ‘They told the mothers that their babies were dead?’
‘But not always,’ she said. ‘Not always. It says that some of them were orphans. It says he did legitimate adoptions as well.’
‘But some of them were stolen. He stole babies and gave them to someone else.’
‘It says he paid some of the mothers. Young mothers, unmarried ones. He had – he had doctors helping him. Nurses. Social workers. Do you think that one who recommended us . . .?’
He scanned. ‘There aren’t any names besides his.’
‘But the police will be following up.’
They stared at each other.
‘What are we going to do?’ she whispered.
He couldn’t answer.
‘I know mothers whose babies have died,’ she said. ‘I know how – Robbie, it’s awful. You can’t . . . the heartbreak. I see it again and again. Imagine it hadn’t really happened. Imagine that baby was growing up with another couple, and you didn’t know it.’
‘Imagine the baby was happy,’ he said. ‘And the parents were happy.’
‘And the baby maybe had a better life because of it.’
‘That’s not for someone else to decide. How could a doctor even do that? Or a nurse? How could they? For money? What?’
‘He said he wanted to help families,’ Robbie said softly. ‘He wanted to help families get together. He helped us with ours.’
‘Robbie, you don’t think that . . . ’
In the other room, the Cookie Monster began to sing about cookies starting with C. Adam laughed.
Emily had fallen asleep, somehow. It had been a twelve-hour shift for her, with another day on call before that, but Robbie didn’t think he would have been able to sleep after this news. He remembered long nights sailing the Atlantic when it was his shift to stay awake at the helm. He’d liked that feeling of being the only person awake for miles, the other crew asleep below him. It was up to him to keep everyone safe.
His wife slept in her bed and his son slept in his. He got up and went to the kitchen and opened the back door so he could hear the cicadas humming to each other. They stayed under the ground for years: seven years, or fourteen, some for longer; some for an entire human lifetime. And when it was their time they came up to sing and mate with each other then they died.
He remembered a night like this, years before, with a different wife and child. How he’d been thirsty and gone to the fridge for another beer and there had been none left. So he’d gone out and changed everything forever.
He was thirsty now. It came on him: the thirst. Out of the blue, sometimes. He could be happy, doing something else, driving his car or doing the shopping or working on a boat, and he’d want a drink. Or at least, he’d want a drink more than he always wanted a drink. Which was to say, he’d want a drink very badly.
Just one, his mind would tell him. The dark, shadowy corner of his mind where the secrets lived. Remember the bite in the back of your throat? Remember the warmth spreading through your veins? Wouldn’t it feel good? Just to have one?
When you felt that bite in your throat, everything else was taken out of your hands. You only had to make one decision: whether to have another drink or not. And that was an easy decision.
Everything became very easy after that first drink.
Robbie poured himself a glass of water. He added a handful of ice cubes. Very cold water helped. It wasn’t the right kind of bite, but it bit. He went outside again, closing the screen door behind him, and sat on the back step, listening to the cicadas singing and looking at the black outline frame of the swing he’d started building. He drank the water when it was cold enough to make his teeth ache.