In his handsome Denver office, Jim Bolton had been having a frustrating talk with the advertising agency's chief in Chicago. In need of revision, a new campaign cluttered his desk. He was staring into space when his phone whined again. And it was Doris.
"I'm sorry I haven't called in so long." His daughter's sweet voice seemed in the room with him, not far away in New York. His heart lurched with fatherly concern.
"Are you all right, Dorrie?" There's something wrong?"
"Something right! I just got married. He's wonderful! You'll be crazy about him, Daddy. But listen. Don't tell Mother. I'll call her. Is she still in Palm Beach?"
Although his jaw still sagged, Bolton struggled to breathe normally. His solemn vow not to call his daughter, to let her lead her own life in New York until she herself called home, had made him ache. And now--married? His Doris married?
"Well! When do I meet him, honey? What are your honeymoon plans?"
She giggled. A Doris giggle. "Oh, we're not going anywhere."
"Then what about this weekend? I'll catch that TWA flight that gets into Kennedy at three tomorrow. We'll have dinner." His enthusiasm faltered. There had been an odd silence at the other end. "What is it? Don't you want me?"
"Of course! Wonderful! Gee, Daddy, I have to hang up now. Bye!"
"Wait!" Bolton pled. "What's his name? Your name?" The dead line did not answer.
There were men he knew on the eastbound plane; fellow executives, golf partners. They were genuinely interested in Doris's engagement. That was how Bolton told it. Engagement. Wedding seemed too precipitate. ("But you know how impatient kids are. As soon as I've met him and given my blessing, they'll want to get married right away.")
He was grimly tense by the time the 707 landed. And tenser still when, after he had waited in the terminal for several minutes, Doris had not yet appeared.
"Are you James Bolton?" The voice asking it was deep, gruff, hostile.
Bolton swung about. The young man looked--well, shaggy. He wore a sweater and corduroy pants. He was lugging a kit of heavy machinery parts which did not look new.
Alarm clutched Bolton anew. "Why? What's the matter? Is Doris --?"
"I've come to meet you, that's all. I'm Walter Owen. Doris's husband."
They shook hands, very tentatively. Walter picked up the bag of tools. (It turned out he had lugged them in with him, pretending to be a repairman, to snag a free parking space.) Bolton in turn picked up his own immaculate pigskin overnight case.
"Doris is back at the--well, apartment, sort of. It is out here."
"It" turned out to be a dilapidated plumber's truck with BLATTO lettered on its' side. Much later, Bolton learned that Walter had borrowed it from his landlord when finally consenting to meet the plane rather than let him wait in vain. At the moment he could only gape in shock at the looming monster.
Their ride back to Manhattan was indescribable.
Walter sat up front, driving, Bolton perched in the rear van,
facing backward, trying to maintain some sort of conversation
above the fiendish clatter of the loose tin scraps piled all around
They sounded like the dawn coming up out of China, as they thundered along the Expressway. Presently Walters face in the mirror registered alarm. The gas gauge had hit Empty. And Walter had only forty cents on him.
Refilled by grace of a twenty-dollar bill from Bolton's wallet, they soon were on their way again clanking and clattering through Lower Manhattan. With mounting dismay, Bolton peered out at decrepit rows of buildings.
"Is this the East Village I hear so much about?"
"No," said Walter shortly, offering no further comment.
He swung at last into a garage on the ground floor of a scabrous loft building. He took Bolton's bag and climbed out. Clearly, Bolton was expected to follow.
''Wait. The gas. If I don't jot things in my tax book, I forget," he said.
Walter stared at him. "The gas? How can you deduct on a visit to your daughter?"
"How does Consumer Research strike you?" Bolton grinned. Walter did not say.
They climbed dingy stairs, past walls where paper peeled in curls appallingly.
But then the door of the bleak studio at very top was flung open. Doris stood there, radiant as ever he could remember her, holding out her arms. "Daddy!"
"Sweetheart!" he cried, and attempted to hug her tight. Something got in the way.
He drew back slowly, staring down. "Is that a--a baby?"
Her eyes were shining as she nodded. It's due any time now."
"Well!" Bolton managed, floundering. "Gee, that's wonderful! A baby!"
Doris spun happily. "See, Walter? I told you he was the greatest!"
"Hey, this calls for a drink!" Bolton sounded like a cheer-leader. "Let's go up-town and start celebrating. Just run and get changed."
"I am changed," said Walter flatly. The sweater and pants at least were clean. Doris looked upset. "I don't want to go uptown. Don't you want to eat here?"
"Love to, Sweetheart. It just never
occurred to me you could cook."
"Walter taught me." She led him to a kitchen corner, where a pot was bubbling. "See!"
She looked so proud he wanted to compliment her. But his words flowed too feverishly.
"What's wrong, Daddy? You seem so
jerky. Are you mad on account of the baby? We'd have gotten married
sooner, only marriage in this diseased society --"
"The point is," interrupted Walter, as if he had argued this point with her many times already, "that marriage doesn't have to contaminate. I feel fine about ours."
"My god!" Bolton gasped. "Your Mother! She'll blame this whole thing on me!"
Walter's tone was dangerously soft. "What whole thing?"
''Well, there are people around who haven't thrown out all social conventions."
"If you can't enjoy your own first grandchild, then you're sure hung up."
"I am enjoying it. But if he were to be born a bit later, it might be better."
"Better for him? You can't wish for a later birth without wishing this child out of existence. He may come up with a cure for the atom bomb or something!"
"I'd be satisfied if he'd come up with what to tell them in Denver!"
Bolton's ulcer began kicking up. With Walter sent out for a carton of plain yogurt to soothe it, Bolton hovered at the stove while Doris fussed over dinner.
"All those times we talked on the phone, you never told me you were pregnant."
"I'm sorry, Daddy. This was something we had to resolve by ourselves. When I first told Walter, he acted as if I had conferred some great honor on him. And then"
''What will your mother say?" He began pacing the floor. 'I don't know why I ever thought this generation gap you hear about was just something the media created."
"You created it." And Doris smiled. "'I'm your generation, and this is my generation, in the original sense of the word. I'm happy, Daddy. Aren't you glad?"
"Of course I am. Delighted. What about Walter's parents?"
''They were older and they're both dead."
"A ten thousand dollar debut. Lord! To marry a plumber!"
She blinked at this. ''Walter told you he was a plumber?"
''Well, he didn't say he wasn't. That flea-infested, broken-down truck "
''Walter has a nice little photographic business," Doris informed him tartly.
Thin ice. "I want to give you something. How about some decent furniture?"
"You're kidding. Walter just made our furniture. We love handmade things."
"Then why don't I just give you money?
For the hospital, the doctors?"
For the first time, she avoided his eyes. "Arrangements are all made for that."
Bolton still was stumped for any way to get through to her when Walter returned in triumph. He brought with him not only the yogurt but also a gallon jug of cheap red wine. He had run into someone on the street who had paid for a picture enlargement.
Walter poured, meanwhile displaying the label expansively. "Torpedo Red. You see it in all the best doorways around here."
Dubiously, Bolton eyed his glass. "I'll drink a toast to the baby. Here's to the Little Stranger and--" he glanced at Walter "--the Big Stranger and " his gaze moved on to Doris's lovely, serene face "--to the Sudden Stranger."
He drank deeply. Doris and Walter merely stared at each other in silence.
"Well, I'd better get ready for dinner. You do have a bathroom, don't you?"
Doris showed him to the proper door. He did not even notice that she kept herself between him and its next neighbor like a human screen. Nor could he hear, above the rush of water, their hastily exchanged whispers in the hall outside.
"You must admit he's trying very hard to be tolerant, Walter."
"Boy, talk about contamination! He just got here, and already we're thinking of ourselves as something that has to be tolerated! We'll be turning ourselves in to the A.M.A."
"Listen, whatever you do, don't
get started about the doctors. Please? Please?"
"Walter got his equipment from pawnbrokers in return for taking pictures of their children," Doris explained proudly. "You don't know what a good photographer Walter is." But her gaiety was showing strain. "Walter, darling, I've always wanted some--good pictures of my father. Will you take some for me, while I fix dinner?"
Left alone, the two of them mentally circled each other like opponents in a white-walled karate court. Walter growled, "take any natural pose you want."
"How's this?" Bolton assumed a glassy-eyed, idiot smile. "It's called Square Father Being Put On By Smart-Aleck Son-in-Law."
Doris came back, saying brightly, "Are you getting some good ones?"
"Yeah." The syllable burst from Bolton and Walter simultaneously.
"Come on down to the bedroom, Daddy. I'd love to have your opinion of Walter's finished work, and that's the only place he'll let me put anything up."
"I'd be glad to criticize his work," smiled Bolton thinly.
But the bedroom was a shock. On its celotex walls, unframed, Doris had arranged her bridegroom's photographs. And they were marvelous pictures. Having purchased photographs for years, Bolton knew what he was looking at. These were touching, beautiful, sometimes amusing---clear indication that Walter Owen had a very genuine talent.
"These are very good," he said simply. "Very good."
"Thank you." Walter seemed almost shy in his pleasure.
But when he tried to command the attention of both of them to make a pronouncement, Bolton found himself in trouble. Doris was fluttering over her stove and Walter was still resentful. But this was important and Bolton insisted that they listen.
"After nineteen years in advertising, a lot of people owe me favors. So if you want a career in advertising photography, Walter, I'll cash in my IOUs to help you get started. It will be, well, kind of a dowry or something. You'd probably gross over a hundred thousand the first year, and after that--"
Walter eyed him with genuine pity. "That's very nice of you, but--"
"Maybe you'd like to think about it?" Sensing rejection, Bolton spoke quickly.
"Actually," Walter said gently, "I wouldn't like to think about it, thanks."
"I didn't really expect you to degrade yourself by going commercial." But for Doris this oaf should make concessions. "The game's rotten so you won't play, right?"
"Sort of. I don't want to spend my life at something and then be as embarrassed about it as you seem to be." Walter went to the table and began tossing the salad.
But Doris gave her father's arm a loving pat. "It means a lot that you wanted to help Walter."
"Walter should be grateful that I'm in such a contemptible line of work." Bolton was hurt, and therefore bitter. "Were I a scientist or a great humanitarian doctor, he'd have to face the fact that he's afraid to compete with the real men."
Tears starred Doris's eyes. "Daddy, please can't we have a nice dinner anyway?"
"He married you. So he's already part of the system. So he might as well face up to it and try to make it better!"
"How?" Walter glared, across the room. "By cheating on my income tax? Doris, did you know he's deducting this visit to you as consumer research?"
Doris was aghast "Daddy! You take that money for our wedding present and pay your taxes with it?"
Walter reared back, "Present? Money? We don't want it! Ignore us financially!"
"How can I, when you're part of my family? You know I can't. You know I'll keep after you until I force you into the system, and then you can enjoy being rich without feeling guilty. You couldn't exist without the system. Water, Gas, Police---even its doctors. You'll have to turn to them to deliver your child, just like everyone else."
"No, I won't!" In the heat of the moment, Waiter blurted out what obviously had been intended to be kept a secret. "Because I'm delivering it right here myself!"
Bolton's incredulous roar was cut short by his daughter's soft, firm words: "If you do anything to spoil this, Daddy, I'll never speak to you again. I mean that."
"You actually expect me to stand by and let you--? Have you lost your mind?"
No, it was not the nice little dinner for which Doris had hoped so wistfully.
Bolton awoke on the couch to the throb of a monumental hangover.
Lying there, staring about the barren studio with bloodshot eyes, he tried to piece last evening together. He had gulped down most of that gallon of Torpedo Red in his agitation. They had showed him their delivery room, next to the john, and their books on natural childbirth and all the rest. Walter even had built the delivery table, with its two-by-four foot braces. There had been a picture in one of the books
Remembering that picture, he almost vomited. The violence of his reaction jerked a name out of the past and into his central thought. Stan! Stan Herman!
He dressed as rapidly as he dared and tiptoed down to the street. In every doorway he passed in search of a taxi, a shabby drunk was sleeping it off. Most of them clutched empty pints of Torpedo Red. He found a public phone booth before he found anything on wheels. Information got him the office number of Dr. Stanley Herman, his old wartime buddy from the Twenty-Sixth and a well-known obstetrician. Stan told him to come on up.
From the booth, he made a second call. This one was to Winn Garand, a polished young up-and-comer from the agency's New York legal staff. To Garand, he said:
"I'd appreciate a little advice from you, as a friend, I'm in a very absurd situation here. It occurred to me I should check my legal rights as a father."
He returned to the studio, able to locate it in the desolate neighborhood only because of the dusty sign Blatto on the downstairs plumbing shop. Walter and Doris were up and dressed and considerably concerned over his absence. He mumbled that he had gone for a walk and gotten lost. Then he got his razor and shaved to go uptown.
He had hoped that Doris might go with him. But it turned out that Walter had a big job for which she was to serve as model. There was some sort of crackpot religion whose Thing was vibrations, and they were paying Walter to try to photograph his unborn baby's "vibes" in the hope of documenting their tenets.
"Let me get this straight." Bolton was alarmed. Was Walter that big a nut? "You think there's a possibility of taking pictures of vibrations coming from a baby?"
"I think there's a possibility. I don't know everything there is to know."
It was a far from reassuring thought to take with him to Stan Herman's prosperous office suite. They greeted each other warmly. Their shared war years rolled back.
"You look terrible," Stan said frankly. "And you sounded so upset."
"I've a right to be upset! Listen, Doris's baby is due any day now and they have no doctor and this nut she married is planning to deliver the baby himself."
Stan seemed more intrigued than alarmed. "No kidding?"
"What kind of lunatic would want to deliver his own baby? I mean, it's insane?
"My life's work is delivering babies," Stan interjected gently. "Even now, when they take that first breath I get a tremendous thrill."
"But you didn't deliver babies before you were trained." Bolton's pulse throbbed.
"I don't think home delivery is a good idea at all. It could be very dangerous. I think you should definitely try to talk them out of it."
"I couldn't even get started. Doris threatened to cut me right out of her life."
Stan nodded. "You always said you were going to bring her up to be a free, independent woman, Jim. These kids are murder. I suppose his hair's longer than Doris's? Pot all over the place? No? Well, these political militants stay pretty clean."
Bolton sensed he was being put on. "I'm not getting through to you! These kids all want to do their own thing. But he's actually doing his, and it may kill Doris!"
"Oh, we won't let that happen." Stan went to get his hat.
They walked across Central Park South to the quiet restaurant where Bolton had arranged to meet Winn Garand. Winn was polished, polite, with a terribly sincere smile. Introductions completed, Bolton got right to the point. "What have you found out, Winn?"
"Well, sir, I'm afraid that so far as the law is concerned you aren't an interested party. Meaning you can't request court action on your own behalf."
"You mean a father doesn't have any right to protect his own daughter?"
"She has to be a minor or want to
he protected. Otherwise, the law assumes that she knows what she's
doing." Winn smiled with just the correct amount of sympathy.
"Can't I get this guy for practicing medicine without a license."
"If he merely assisted his wife in natural childbirth, it might not be considered practicing medicine. Furthermore, there are certain religious groups that--"
"All right, all right?' Bolton groaned.
"I don't know why he's bellyaching about the system. It's
all on his side?
"There are other ways of getting your injunction, sir. The agency has handled several political campaigns which haven't been paid for except by certain favors. One Judge in particular--he'd take the unborn child under protective custody of the court and order Doris into the hospital for a normal delivery. He will only be available--"
Bolton became aware that Stan was shaking his head. "What's the matter with you? I haven't decided to do this yet. It's just the last resort."
"You haven't tried the first resort yet. We go downtown and talk to him."
"But I had to promise not to say anything. She was going to throw me out. Right now, they're taking crazy pictures in their neighborhood! Don't tell him you're a doctor!"
They were driven downtown in Winn's chic limousine, complete with car telephone. On the way, Stan telephoned his service and left the car's radio number. Bolton was more preoccupied with the built-in bar staffed with little bottles of vodka.
Winn was covering angles, his specialty, "If they're not home, could we get into the apartment? It could be helpful if the Doctor could verify the dangerous conditions of the proposed self-delivery. Have you a key, sir?"
"As a matter of fact, I do. Just as I left, Doris gave me one."
They headed for the studio. As Bolton had anticipated, it was empty. As they entered, Winn remained suavely impassive. But Stan peered about with lively curiosity.
"Can you imagine?" Bolton moaned. "This rat-infested wreck is Doris's home!"
Stan began to snoop. "What is he, Jim? A photographer?"
"Yeah. A good one, too." He led them to the delivery room, and gestured them in. But at the threshold, Stan suddenly turned very sober.
"No. The fewer germs we bring in there the better. Don't go in, Garand." The doctor peered in at the bookshelf. "An old friend, DeLee's Obstetrics. He's trying to prepare himself for emergencies."
"Which means he plans to cope with any emergency right here." Bolton was sweating.
Stan had spotted another book. "If they have a normal delivery and they use this LaMaze method properly, they'll probably be all right. This is great."
"But what if something happens? Doris could die right here in this room."
Stan had not yet answered when Winn's chauffeur knocked discreetly at the outer door to say there had been a message for Dr. Herman on the car radio. Stan used the apartment phone. An excited father at the far end was informing him of a patient in labor. On his way to the door, he called across to Bolton.
"If you can get them uptown for dinner tonight, Jim, I'll join you."
Winn spoke smoothly. "My car can take you to the hospital, Doctor."
"Thanks. Jim, you resent this boy so much you don't know what you're doing."
"All I'm trying to do is prevent my daughter from dying in childbirth."
"Are you sure you're not using that as an excuse to put this boy down hard? I can see how committed these kids are. If you mess this up for them, Doris will never forgive you. You'd better really believe that. This is the biggest event of her life."
Deeply disturbed, Bolton stared after his departing friend. Winn nudged him discreetly. "We'll have to take a cab to the courthouse, sir, to talk with our judge."
"I think we ought to wait and talk to Walter one more time before we--"
"The judge may get away from us. He's not eager to do this, you know."
"Neither am I. Maybe we should go to that vibration place and talk to him now."
The temple, or whatever the Vibrationists called it, was really an abandoned store. They had covered its windows in silver foil, and when a discreet disciple let in the visitors, they found foil everywhere inside. They were required to remove their shoes.
The disciple sensed such hostile vibrations that he winced. But eventually he informed them that Walter and Doris were upstairs, still taking pictures. When Bolton gestured Winn to follow him up, however, the attendant barred their way.
"No. Please. You are much too discordant."
An upstairs door opened and the man who was obviously high priest of this cuckoo's nest started down, Doris and Walter behind him. On the stairs he froze.
"Wow! Where are those bad vibes coming from?" He saw Bolton. "Who's he?"
"Daddy!" Doris thrust past him. "And Winn! What are you doing here?"
In the street outside, they put on their shoes again. Doris introduced Walter and Winn. The car was waiting, summoned back from the hospital by its radio phone.
Walter glared at the luxury symbol. "It's only a couple of blocks. We'll walk."
"Walter, I'd like to ride." Doris squeezed her husband's arm significantly. He seemed to comprehend the silent message, for he grudgingly helped her into the limousine and climbed in beside her. Winn himself remained behind, to snap some polaroid shots of the temple which would help prove quackery to their judge. Bolton got into the car. Conversation on the homeward ride was stilted to say the least. Bolton's efforts to convince Walter of his error were met with a stony resistance.
"You have to make sacrifices for your family. I made plenty for Doris."
"More than you should have," Walter said, "if you're still trying to collect on them."
"In a couple of months the baby smile up at you and you'll have had it."
Doris interrupted tenderly. "I know you didn't really live your life the way you wanted to because of me, Daddy. And I don't want our child to ever feel as terrible about Walter's life as I feel about yours."
They had gotten out of the car and seen it glide luxuriously away before Bolton recovered from that. "Doris, there's an old friend of mine I'm anxious for you to meet. So tonight we'll go uptown to some horribly expensive restaurant."
"Not tonight," Doris cut in gently. "I'm: going to have the baby tonight. I'm in the first stages of labor now. Contractions started while Walter was taking pictures."
Utter terror gripped Bolton's vitals. "Right now? Walter, why did you let the car go? We've got to get her to the hospital! I'll call him back by radio phone."
"Daddy!" Doris sounded furious. "You promised you wouldn't spoil this!"
"If he won't protect your life, I have to! Any way I can!"
"Don't make me choose between you and Walter." It was a warning bell.
Having helped her upstairs, the frustrated Bolton did the only thing he could. He spoke to Walter numbly. "What do you want me to do to help?"
Walter was too preoccupied in helping his wife to the bedroom to reply immediately. Doris's contractions were stronger now. Pacing, Bolton spotted the telephone. Stan!
"Say!" he cried suddenly. "We're going to need cigars! I know a wholesaler!"
He dialed a number. If it rang in a sleek office, not a factory, who could know?
"Is Stan Herman there? Then where can I reach him? Well, when he calls in, tell him my daughter's baby is on the way and I'll need some of his cigars. Yes, cigars, he'll understand. Just tell him that. He knows me. Jim Bolton." The service cut him off. But he went on talking. "Hey, wonderful! I'll do that!" He hung up and turning to the others. "A great break on cigars! But I'll have to run over and get them!"
As he dashed for the door, Walter followed. "Wait! Where are you going?"
But without realizing that he had aroused suspicions, Bolton was already plunging down the dreary stairwell. On the street, it had begun to rain lightly. He found a phone booth again, and the number of the hospital to which Stan had gone, and called with frantic demands to speak to the doctor. A starched voice informed him that Dr. Herman was in delivery and could not be disturbed. Frantic now, Bolton burst from the cubicle and flagged a cruising cab.
If Walter was spraying the home delivery room with disinfectant while Doris scrubbed herself in the shower, breathing rhythmically to ride out her contractions and following exactly a routine she and Walter had diligently rehearsed, Bolton could not know it on that hectic dash uptown. Racing into the vast hospital, he started on a nightmare quest for Stan. From floor to floor, corridor to corridor, his nerves stretched tighter.
"Wait here," a nurse directed at last. "Dr. Herman will come in to see this man."
The expectant father nervously cracking his knuckles was scarcely a shadow to Bolton. Stan's entrance was the first reality. He waited while the father was reassured. But then he was at Stan's elbow. "Doris is in labor! You've got to come down there!"
"I can't leave here until my patient delivers. Go back down there, Jim, and try to find some cool way of telling him about me. I'll come when I can."
The return taxi burned rubber on the East River Drive. When he got upstairs to the studio, it was to discover that Walter had bolted the door against him. He died several deaths before Walter answered his knock, to make sure he had come alone before grudgingly letting him inside. His first question was automatic, and tense. "How's Doris?"
"Fine," Walter clipped. But he was tight-lipped with strain, Bolton noted.
Doris was already in their delivery room, and Walter on his way to scrub up. Utter terror closed a fist on Bolton's heart. He made blindly for the vodka supply Winn had left.
"Are you going to help us." Walter asked, "or just get drunk?"
Slowly, shakily, Bolton set his bottle down. "W-what do you want me to do?"
"For one thing, keep an eye on that water and don't let it boil away. For another, I'll need sterile draping around Doris. Hang up those sheets there and spray every inch of them with this disinfectant. Both sides. Can I trust you to do this?"
"Of course? Bolton was outraged. "This is my daughter!" He took the sprayer.
"All right. But this is my wife, and my child, and my home. Remember that."
While the pot on the stove boiled merrily, disinfecting rubber gloves, Bolton sprayed a strong-smelling mist over the sheets strung on a clothesline. Walter and Doris were in their delivery room and had closed its door against him.
Taut with anxiety, he heard what he thought was a sound in there and rushed to press an ear to the wall. He could hear Doris's heavy breathing through the plywood.
"Cleansing breath," he heard Walter saying. "Rest as long as you can."
Her own voice sounded frayed by pain. "You look worried, Walter."
"Not worried. You're doing beautifully. That was a good strong contraction."
Bolton tiptoed back and resumed his spraying. He was in torment. There came a knock at the outer door. Stan! He rushed to answer. But it was only Winn Garand.
"Good evening, sir." Winn never had looked more polished. "I have the car."
Bolton licked dry lips. "Well, they don't want to go out. So Stan is coming here."
Winn was trained to get a picture rapidly. "Sir, Doris is in labor?" He seemed to be thinking rapidly. "This is one of those times when our friendship and my duty to protect the agency collide. I'll go for the police."
"Protect the agency?" Bolton gaped back at him. "From what?"
"Well, sir, if we fail to get Doris to a hospital and there's a serious accident, it would be hard to hush up. That would hardly attest to the sound judgment we claim for our top executives. And if you should be caught actually helping them."
"I'm just playing for time! Stan will be here any minute!"
"In the event some statement is needed for the press, have you thought of any euphemistic way to describe what may happen? The copy people being off on Sunday, I took a crack at it myself. How about, The pregnancy resulted in a negative nativity?"
Bolton glared with sudden loathing. "Nativity with a small 'n', I presume? Oh, why doesn't Stan get here? This spraying should be done by a qualified physician."
"This is Walter's home. He can throw you and Dr. Herman out."
Bolton was sniffing. He stiffened in alarm. "The rubber gloves are burning!"
Sure enough, the water in the pot had boiled away. He dashed to pour in more water, and to study the gloves. "I think they're still all right."
But Walter had smelled, too. He dashed from the delivery room, looking wild, to rein in abruptly at sight of a stranger. "What's he doing here?"
"He-he just came to take us to dinner. You know. With the car."
"You told him, didn't you?" Walter accused fiercely. "You told him!"
"We may need the help of a lawyer before this night is over."
"I don't want his help! Get out, both of you! Get out!" But before they could protest, Doris called uneasily from the other room. Walter turned and ran to answer.
"I've got to switch to transitional breathing,'' they heard Doris gasp. "I just felt an urge to push. I can't help it. Walter, what's going on out there?"
"Your father is trying to make the whole thing meaningless."
"He can't, Walter. Only we can do that. Here another comes, help me count!"
Bolton was so intent upon listening that until Stan spoke behind him he was unaware that anyone else had entered the studio. "How's Doris, Jim?"
"Who knows?" Bolton rasped. "He's got her in there. All I can hear is her breathing."
He was in a cold sweat for fear Walter would emerge again, spot Stan's medical bag, and this time force them all from the studio. Stan was surprised the young people had not already been told about him. But he was calm. "Let's just wait and let nature act."
Waiting, Bolton paced like a caged animal. His glance fell upon that dangerous black bag. "Stan? Do you have a stethoscope in there?"
Without pausing for the answer, he opened the bag and yanked out the stethoscope. "Come on. Listen at the wall there. It's just plywood."
"Jim, it's hard enough to tell anything through the abdominal wall." But to pacify his friend, though obviously feeling absurd, Stan moved to put the instrument in position.
Bolton crowded in behind him anxiously. After a moment, Stan nodded slowly.
"It sounds like she's doing the LaMaze breathing for the transitional stage. It means she's well along. It's painful. You've got a great girl there, Jim."
"Will, will she make out all right?"
"I can't tell. A lot depends on the position of the baby." He went back to listening. Which is why he was first to catch Walter's sudden frightened, low words.
"Doris, the baby's in a breach position!"
Without pausing, Stan walked back to the table and began to lift instruments from his bag. Trotting behind, Bolton grasped, "It's turned around? The wrong way?"
"Not wrong, just awkward. But if he tries to do this himself, it's going to be very rough on Doris and they may lose the baby." He started back to the delivery room.
"If you waltz in there now, Stan, he'll punch you right in the mouth!"
"He'd be a fool not to accept help now, Jim."
"But suppose he isn't man enough? It's the big blow to his ego. If he doesn't, have the right stuff in him. This is my fault! I should have done something!"
"You've already done it, years ago. Girls judge a man's character by the standards their fathers represent." Stan got no further. The door ahead of them burst open and an ashen-faced Walter plunged out on his way to the sterile rubber gloves. He stopped short at sight of Stan, and Bolton cut in hastily, fearfully.
"This is my old friend Stan. He's an obstetrician. He respects what you're trying to do, Walter." Bolton swallowed hard. "And so do I."
For a single instant, Walter stared back into his eyes. He seemed to gain something from what he read there. He said, quite simply and sincerely, "We could use some help."
When the door had closed again, and only two of them remained in the outer studio, Winn Garand stepped forward from the corner where he had watched unobtrusively.
"Congratulations, sir! You handled it beautifully. You really hooked Walter with that respect bit. Arthur will be pleased. I'd better go down to the car and call him."
"Arthur? Arthur Arlington?" Arlington was president of the agency. A minor god.
"He's very fond of you, sir. He's been following this very closely. Why, he set up the judge thing for you himself. Goodbye, sir. Please give my congratulations to Doris."
"Thank you, Winn." Bolton chose his words carefully. "I'm just beginning to appreciate all you've done." He saw Winn go and spun back as Walter burst into the room.
"What's the matter?" The look on Walter's face struck terror deep into him.
"He had to give her a shot. She's going to miss it--experiencing the birth."
"But is she going to be all right?"
"He said she's fine. He wants two of your sterile sheets."
Bolton raced blindly for the clothesline. "I, I can't get them down!"
"Wait. I'll help you. We'll fold them up. Just touch the corners."
They were still struggling with the sheet together when a lusty baby cry rang through the studio. Walter stiffened wildly. "It's here! Gosh, I missed it too!"
He dashed for the delivery room door. But on the threshold, he hesitated almost timidly. Then, from inside, Doris spoke to him exultantly. "Walter!"
Walter's face was radiant as he disappeared inside. A moment later, Stan came from the inner chamber rolling down his sleeves. He grinned across at Bolton, who still stood dazedly cradling the sterile sheets against his chest.
"Hey, Grandpa!" Stan said.
From inside the delivery room, an angry squalling filled the air. A new generation was screaming in absolute outrage at having been born into so far from perfect a world.
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