The Last Drop

By Steve Saulsbury

The baby has been ill, Richard was told. He worried throughout the weekend.

Then on Tuesday, he told Anna, “I will pick the boy up tonight.”

That evening he went to the bakery. Anna was working the late shift. Richard hunched at the counter, attempting to joke. He was close to the telephone by the door.

He sipped Maxwell House, while Anna wiped things already clean, and caught crumbs in her skeletal hand, considering whether to cast them to the pigeons, or empty them in the ash can.

They had argued about the baby, the risk. Someone in the city’s German community might talk. And the smallness of their house, three cramped rooms and a dismal water closet. A garage. Anna had heard Richard out there hammering.

When she glimpsed pieces, like a ladder, and asked Richard about them, he was evasive.

The telephone rang. Richard spoke briefly, then put on his fedora and left.

Anna wiped the device clean with her rag.

***

Richard hummed, thrumming with caffeine, as he walked to the estate. The unpaved
access road had been too muddy for his Plymouth. His eyes bounced, taking in details despite the darkness. He folded a piece of Doublemint into his mouth.

The nurse was waiting. Richard leaned harder into the wind, carrying the necessary things. The odd ladder was cumbersome. In a sack, a baby blanket. The boy’s fever was gone, but extra care would be required for another few days.

Richard saw the nursery window. He placed the ladder against the house and climbed slowly to the second story. The boards creaked, but he had no fear. The nurse, a woman he knew from the city, appeared at the sill.

“Is he ready?” Richard whispered.

“Take him. Quickly,” she hissed. “The Captain is here!”

She shoved a list of favored foods and the baby’s mittens at him. Richard pushed them into the sack and handed her the note.

Warmth wafted from the window, touching Richard’s face, like self-consciousness. He tucked the baby in the crook of his arm. The child was big, nearly two years old. The nurse already out of sight, he started backing down. The ladder broke with a sharp crack, like the sound of an orange crate shattering. Richard realized he had miscalculated. The baby’s weight plus his own.

The baby fell, striking his head on the sill of a first-floor window. Richard landed on his feet, still clutching part of the ladder. The child was surely dead. Richard cursed – gottverdammt – and hastily rolled the body into the sack. No time to struggle with the ladder pieces now.

The Plymouth might as well be on the moon.

Richard hastened down the ridge. The sack was like a cartoon bag of loot.

As the caffeine wore off, the hammering started again.

Hopewell, he thought bitterly.

Further Reading: https://www.britannica.com/event/Lindbergh-baby-kidnapping


Bio: Steve Saulsbury writes from Maryland’s Eastern Shore. His flash fiction, “Fossil,” appeared in The Yard in 2022. He has also been published by Press 53,  Rehoboth Beach Reads, Loch Raven Review, and others. He enjoys running, despite being the recipient of a surgical rod in his femur, and loves music, currently digging into Detroit bands from the MC5 to The Stooges.

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Publishing Editor for The Yard: Crime Blog.

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