Cover image for Baby mine : a Meg Halloran and Vince Gutierrez mystery
Baby mine : a Meg Halloran and Vince Gutierrez mystery
LaPierre, Janet.
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Publication Information:
Santa Barbara, Calif. : J. Daniel & Co., 1999.
Physical Description:
255 pages : illustrations ; 22 cm.
General Note:
"A Perseverence Press book."
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X Adult Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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Times have never been harder in the rain-weary, economically depressed town of Port Silva on the Northern California coast. Domestic violence is on the rise, a gang of hoodlums is committing increasingly brutal robberies and assaults, and religious fundamentalists are picketing a fertility clinic and harassing its clients.When the battered body of a Hispanic woman is pulled from the rocky coastal waters, the frustrated and furious chief of police, Vince Gutierrez, searches for her missing husband and children. When he learns of the victim's connection with the fertility clinic and the doctor who runs it, a seemingly routine homicide takes an unexpected and dangerous turn.In the end, Meg Halloran, Gutierrez's school teacher wife, must once again join forces with the police to save Port Silva from an unexpected crime wave, and to save her marriage -- at the same time.

Reviews 2

Publisher's Weekly Review

The best thing about LaPierre's sixth Port Silva mystery (after Old Enemies) is how the novel quickly sneaks behind the picturesque facade of a fictional town on the Northern California coast to reveal the hard truths of modern life. "So gradually that a busy, self-absorbed person could fail to notice, the empty storefronts had begun to appear.... Meg counted among the missing a small food store, a shoe store. A store selling kitchenware...." Meg Halloran, a high-school teacher and single mother, has recently married Port Silva's police chief, Vincent Gutierrez. The novel begins with her getting badly beaten by a gang of ski-masked teenage thugs as she tries to stop an attack on a homeless man. It ends with Vincent getting even more badly beaten by a crazed villain. In between, there are two murdersÄof young Hispanic women who live in a seedy motel called the Winner's Circle and are connected to a controversial local fertility clinicÄand the suspicious death by fire of a crusty old doctor who was like a father to Vince. There are also more relatives and friends than in one of Marcia Muller's novels, so trying to figure out who's who can be daunting. LaPierre is one of those writers who describes virtually every bite of food or swallow of drink her characters consume. Her new novel is absorbing, but its colorful landscape would be a lot less cluttered if she left more to readers' imaginations. (Oct.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

An apparent crime wave in Port Silva, an economically depressed coastal California town, results in the death of a young Hispanic woman with connections to a local fertility clinic. Schoolteacher Meg Halloran and her husband, police chief Vince Gutierrez, solve this one together. For series fans and others. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



Chapter One "STOP THAT! Leave him alone!"     The bending figures came upright and around in startled, jerky fashion, like a row of marionettes controlled by different hands. All of them--five, six, impossible to be sure in the fog-dimmed glow of the lone street lamp--froze for an instant, just long enough for Meg Halloran to see dark blanks where faces should be, and to acknowledge that once again her mouth had outrun her brain.     Ski masks: she kept her lips pressed tight, but the words "Oh shit!" glowed in her mind like words on a screen. As the yellow cone of light--a flashlight beam--left the prone, writhing figure on the ground and swung to pin her in place, she raised a hand to shield her eyes and remembered too late Vince's tales of vandalism, robbery, and increasingly brutal assaults committed in recent months by a gang of youths.     Assault. Not rape, not killing. Yet, she thought, gulping breath through her mouth against the panic fluttering in her throat. You could be the first, dummy.     "Leave me alone!" Her words came out in a croak as three of them moved toward her, spread out in the street in a stalking line and the one in the center keeping the flash on her. She stepped slowly, carefully backwards, the blood-urge to turn and run checked by her absolute conviction that they'd be after her in a flash, to leap and bring her down like wolves on a deer. Her straining ears caught no sound from behind her, no engine or footstep offering possibility of help.     She tried her voice again. "Leave me alone." And then, shrilly, "Chief Gutierrez is meeting me.... "     "Hey! There he goes, the bastard!"     The victim had managed to scramble to his feet while his tormentors were distracted, and now shot away into the dark in a flurry of skeletal, near-naked limbs. Two of the attackers set off in halfhearted pursuit, muttering curses; the others, shifting shape from line to arrow, aimed themselves at Meg.     "Don't!" She half turned and flung her hands up defensively as the leader, very tall, swung the long flashlight and caught her just above the bridge of her nose. Outraged by pain and the sudden taste of her own blood, she found breath for a full-throated shriek and grabbed at him, got her hands on the barrel of the flashlight, and twisted it around for the briefest glimpse of wide pale eyes framed by the mask's dark fabric, strands of light-colored hair trailing over the knit collar of the zipped-up jacket.     "Hey, dipshit, come on!" one of the others called in a hoarse whisper.     He wrestled the flashlight from her now-slippery grasp, said, "Oh, fuck!" in a near-sob, and struck at her again, a backhanded, swinging blow that slammed his forearm across her collarbone and sent her flying. By the time she had rolled over and levered herself up to hands and knees, all of them had disappeared into the dark, the thuds of their running feet faint and then gone.     Okay. She straightened to sit on her heels, tipped her head back, and pressed the sleeve of her wool jacket against her nose. Drew several deep breaths through her mouth, felt like she'd be breathing that way for a while yet.     Okay. First thing, up from knees to feet and get out of the middle of the street. Then, good citizen, call the police. Or Vince. Or both. She remembered a telephone booth beside the Port Silva Library's front door.     Good memory, dead vandalized telephone, what a surprise. Meg leaned her forehead against the etched glass pane of the locked library door, peering in for light and finding none. Public service indeed, and it would serve them right to find bloody smears on their nice door tomorrow. And where were the police when you needed them? Downtown, a long long walk away.     No walk, do not walk, that's what got you into this mess. She pulled herself firmly upright, turned and scanned the parking lot for her car. Not there, somebody took it. She blinked back tears, sniffed, and then choked and spat blood and made a disgusting noise that sounded like a whimper. Blinked again. No Toyota Camry, just a small, strange ...     Oh. Vince's Porsche, her transport tonight because the Toy was in the shop. She could drive home, very far. Or to the police station, a bit closer, and there she could bleed all over some cop she didn't know, or even worse, one she did, and probably cry as she told him how stupid she'd been. Or ... "It's Meg, Charlotte. I saw the light and hoped I wouldn't be waking anybody up." Feeling exposed by the bright porch light, she shielded her face behind the now-bloody towel she'd found in the car.     Charlotte Birdsong turned the deadbolt lock and pulled the front door wide, and Meg stepped quickly inside. "I'm not seriously hurt," she went on. "This is just a nosebleed, honestly, and I think it's stopped. Don't be silly, George," she told Charlotte's shaggy Lab--poodle cross, who lowered head and tail and tried to pretend that the smell of blood hadn't misled him into growling at an old friend.     "Good heavens," said Charlotte faintly, as she got a good look. "What ...? Never mind, you've come to the right person--the mother of a teenaged jock who is also an easy bleeder. And I'm here by myself; Val is filling in on third-watch patrol for somebody who has the flu, and Petey's sleeping at a friend's house. Come along."     Charlotte Birdsong was one of life's prizes, a friend who would mop up a mess first, ask questions later. Meg followed the smaller woman through the music room with its grand piano to the beckoning light and warmth of the big kitchen. There she pulled off her jacket, rolled the messy thing up, and tossed it and the towel aside before settling carefully into the tall wooden rocker that was her usual seat.     "Oh, dear." Charlotte reached out to touch Meg's face and thought better of it, turning instead to the sink. "I hate to tell you this, but I think you're going to have two black eyes. Just lean your head back and try to relax, and I'll at least swab away the gore."     Head back was easy enough, relaxing less so; Meg found that her hands were gripping the chair arms as if to keep her from being pushed off a cliff. But if she made them let go, they'd probably shake, as her chin was threatening to do.     "Why don't you unclench your jaw and tell me what happened?" Charlotte suggested, as she set to work with a washcloth and a bowl of warm water.     "We--a group of English and history teachers from the high school--had a meeting at the town library with the head librarian and her staff. Trying for some coordination in book purchases, because everybody's budget is so flat."     "I see. And one of the librarians got in a lucky punch?"     "Listen, none of those ladies could lay a glove on me. On my good days, anyway. But after the meeting, some of us decided to go out for a late dinner, and I left my car in the library parking lot." Meg clenched her teeth again and closed her eyes, content to be a child having her face washed instead of a woman looking at assault.     "There," said Charlotte a few minutes later, and handed Meg a towel. "Library parking lot?"     "Lucy Acuff dropped me off, there wasn't a soul around, or so I thought, and I decided to walk down that little path to the edge of the bluff, to smell the sea and listen to the foghorns for a few minutes. As I was coming back to the street, I saw a beam of light bouncing around and heard--oh, rustles and scuffles, I guess, and maybe mutterings and then this one long, sad howl. It was that street person, the skinny guy with dreadlocks who hangs around the library."     "I think he sometimes sleeps in the used-book bin," said Charlotte.     "Well, this gang of hoodlums had found him and was in the process of beating the bejesus out of him," said Meg. "I yelled and startled them, and he managed to get up and run off."     "But you didn't."     Meg shivered, the deer-and-wolves image looming in her memory. "I couldn't. I did yell Vince's name, that he was meeting me or something. That may have deflected them, because one of them called something to the guy who was hitting me, and then they all disappeared. Clearly there are times when it's an advantage to be married to the chief of police. Although," she added, "it's going to be less of an advantage when I have to tell him I forgot his warnings."     "Did you recognize any of them?"     "They had ski masks on." Remembering those featureless faces, she squeezed her eyes shut and put a shaking hand to her own face, to the nose that seemed both numb and throbbing with pain.     Charlotte told her it didn't appear to be broken. "I think the blow was more glancing than direct, but it would probably be a good idea to have your doctor look at it tomorrow. Now let me help you off with that sweater--which I'm afraid is beyond saving," she added, as she eased the once-lavender cotton garment over Meg's head.     "Uck. Just toss it, Charlotte."     Charlotte took the bloody sweater away and returned with a clean white shirt. "This will get you decently home, at least. Would you like a cup of tea? A glass of wine?"     "Wine," said Meg without thinking, as she shrugged the shirt on. Then she looked up at Charlotte and said, "Oh, wait. Tea would be okay."     "No, it wouldn't." Charlotte poured two glasses of red wine, handed one to Meg, and settled with the other into her padded wicker chair. "I am a very moderate drinker. I drank moderately during my entire first pregnancy; Petey was born a week late, he weighed nine pounds and a bit, and he's quite bright and healthy."     "But I thought Val ..." Charlotte was newly married to Val Kuisma, a young policeman on Vince's Port Silva force. Meg liked to think this made Charlotte her sister-in-law.     "I promised Val I'd avoid alcohol and caffeine entirely during the first trimester. And I did." End of discussion, said her expression. "And how is Vince?"     "Depressed," Meg said flatly. Vince's eighty-year-old mother, Emily Gutierrez, had died the previous summer after flatly rejecting her children's urgings to have surgery on her failing heart. Vince felt guilty about not having pushed more strongly for the operation, and besides that, he missed her. He was worried about his best friend and most dependable subordinate, Captain Hank Svoboda, who was in the hospital recovering with painful slowness from pneumonia. And he was being worn down physically and emotionally by this winter's unprecedented upsurge of juvenile and domestic violence.     All of which Charlotte, her good friend and confidante, knew already. "Believe me," Meg said, with a grimace that hurt her face, "the last thing Vince needs right now is to have his trouble-prone wife say, one more time, `Don't worry, it's not as bad as it looks.'"     Charlotte sputtered, caught between a chuckle and a mouthful of wine.     Meg gave an unwilling grin and lifted her own glass cautiously, not sure what was where in her swelling face. "You know, when I came to Port Silva several years ago, I had all the big-city reflexes. Keep your house locked even when you're at home, your car doors locked while driving, don't even drive alone on a dark empty street, never mind walk. Then I got used to living in a nice safe little town."     "I know. Me, too."     "I just hate the idea that I have to go back to being that other kind of person. But those kids tonight ..." Meg paused, remembering. "That's what they were, kids. Quick and lean, without the muscular bulk of grown men."     "The people who frightened me today weren't kids." Charlotte's round face was unnaturally somber.     "Frightened you? How?"     "My doctor's office is being repainted, and she has a temporary place in the old Port Silva Hospital. I went there today for my checkup, and I was in the middle of this crowd of demonstrators before I realized what was happening."     "Demonstrators?" Meg stared at her. "At your obstetrician's office?"     "No, at the fertility clinic there in the hospital. There were eight or ten people, men and women, waving signs I couldn't read in the rain, some of them clicking rosary beads. They obviously thought I was a patient at the fertility clinic, maybe because of the gray in my hair. One old woman came up and said right in my ear that my baby was sure to be a monster." Charlotte laid a protective hand on the gentle curve of her belly, and Meg made a noise deep in her throat.     "No, I'm all right. A young man, a nurse or at least he was in whites, came out to rescue me. He said these people, the protesters, will stay home and mind their own business for a while, and then something new sets them off. He didn't know what had provoked them this time."     "Oh. I remember a fuss there some time ago," said Meg. "The trigger then was a news story about a clinic in southern California that gave people's embryos--extras, I suppose--to other infertile couples. Without permission."     Suddenly aware of the depth of her own weariness, she looked at her watch, groaned, and eased herself up out of the chair. "Helping people make babies seems to be almost as controversial as helping them get rid of babies," she added. "Which suggests more about humanity than I care to contemplate right now. Charlotte, thank you for refuge and restoration. I'd better get under way while I'm still able to move."     "You'll need a coat. Let me get you something of Petey's." Charlotte went into the back hall and returned a moment later with a well-worn down jacket and a big paper bag for Meg's own bloody jacket. "Would you like to call Vince from here, to prepare him?"     "That would just give him more time to worry. Besides, I'm going to do what I should have done thirty minutes ago. I'm going to the police station to report the attack."     Charlotte opened her mouth and then closed it.     "Hah. You're right, Vince would do it for me. But I got myself into this stupid situation, and I'll deal with it like an ordinary citizen." She reached out to give her friend a gingerly hug. "Thanks, Charlotte. I'll talk to you tomorrow." Handling the Porsche's fairly sensitive gears made Meg wonder just how much time she had before all her joints, or at least those on her right side, froze up completely. Better get her report over quickly, or she'd have to call Vince after all.     She parked on the street in front of the police station and climbed stiffly out of the low car. There was a light over the door, and another, dim, inside; but no one was behind the desk. She lifted the telephone from the wall next to the door, and after what seemed a lengthy wait a man's voice grated, "Grebs here. What's the problem?"     Not a name she knew, not a tone she cared for. "Margaret Halloran here, to report an assault."     "Uh. Just a minute."     The man who came through the inner door was tall and gangly, with narrow shoulders and a soft middle; thinning gray hair was combed straight back from his long-jawed face. He approached slowly, walking as if his feet hurt; once close, he peered through the glass pane at her for a long moment before pulling the door open. Probably to the wary eye of officialdom she looked more like a derelict than a schoolteacher.     "Look, lady," he said, "we got no policewoman on this shift. You better go to the hospital for examination, and then somebody will get the rest of your statement tomorrow."     It took Meg a moment to realize what he was thinking. "Officer Grebs, I wasn't raped." She felt her throat tighten as she spoke the could-have-been, what felt like the barely escaped. "I was punched and knocked down by a gang of hoodlums, near the library."     "Well." He let her in, then closed the door and gave her a follow-me gesture with his head as he set off in the direction he'd come from earlier.     She trailed him down a surprisingly silent hall and into the squad room with its islands of now-unoccupied desks. The wall clock said five minutes to midnight, which meant that third watch had been on the street for almost an hour. Nobody here, it seemed, but charming Officer Grebs. She tried to remember why she'd decided to come in rather than simply calling.     Grebs sat down behind a desk and pointed her to the chair beside it. She sat, with some care for her sore hip. "As I said, my name is Margaret Halloran, and I'm here because I interrupted an assault about--I'd say forty-five minutes ago. And then was attacked myself."     "That sort of thing is better left to the police, ma'am. Why didn't you call us at that time?" His expression disapproving, he pulled a form from a desk drawer and rolled it into the typewriter.     "Because it happened too fast. And then because the telephone there at the library had been vandalized."     "Um. Margaret Halloran," he muttered, picking the letters out with two fingers. "And where have you been in the--forty-five minutes, you said?--since then."     "I went to a friend's house, to get the bleeding from my nose stopped and to clean up a bit." To a more receptive listener she'd have confessed to confusion, fueled by fear and probably vanity. "I ... didn't call 911, because I was safe and I knew the attackers had gotten away. But then I realized that patrol officers should be warned about these people because ... because they were more than just rampaging kids. I think."     "Well. Let's see what we've got," he said in neutral tones. He turned his attention to the typewriter and took her through the obvious questions. Name, address. Occupation. Location and time of events in question. He asked why she'd been there late at night and by herself, his expression suggesting that women should stay sensibly in their homes after sundown. Upon hearing that she'd come from having dinner with friends, he looked up with a scowl. "Did you consume any alcohol during the evening, ma'am?"     "Two glasses of wine in two hours," she snapped. "And one afterwards at my friend's house," she remembered belatedly, with a flush of wholly irrational guilt. "Could we get this over with, please? So that I can get home to bed."     As she described the attack on the derelict, Grebs shook his head and sighed. "People like that--drunks, dopers, crazies--they're the reason nobody is safe on the streets anymore."     "It wasn't the derelict who hit me," Meg pointed out.     "No, ma'am, I understand, but that kind just draw trouble like sh-- ... garbage draws flies. Now what can you tell me about the people who did hit you?"     She tried to marshal her few clear impressions. "I believe I saw five. The way they moved made me think they were young. All of them had on dark clothes, probably jeans and windbreakers; it was cold and misty. Running shoes," she added, remembering the fluorescent strip on one pair going away. "The one who hit me was very tall, the others were ... just medium, I guess.     "And they all had on dark ski masks. That's what made me think they weren't just wandering teenagers."     "Probably Mexicans."     "I beg your pardon?"     "You know, illegals. The town's full of them, and so are the schools and the emergency room and maternity ward, because some officials can't decide to enforce that law we all passed a while back."     Meg had the feeling that she'd stepped into a parallel universe for the second time tonight. "You mean Prop 187? The illegal immigrants' initiative? Not we all, not me."     He ignored that. "Like I said, they come up here with no education, no English, take our jobs or go on welfare, got no idea how to behave around civilized, Christian people. Some folks are pretty sure it's illegals behind the vandalism and assaults been going on." He paused for breath. "You maybe got off lucky tonight, ma'am."     If she let go at this troglodyte now she'd lose it all and dissolve into a screaming, sobbing mess. And never get home to her bed. "The only uncivilized people I ran afoul of tonight were young men speaking plain American English," she told him. "The one who hit me had fair hair and light-colored eyes. And when he said, `Oh fuck,' it was not with a Spanish accent."     With a visible flinch at the four-letter word, he muttered, "Yes ma'am," and turned away for a brief flurry of two-fingered typing.     Meg's bruises seemed to be pulsing right along with her heartbeat. She was wondering whether she should ask Officer Grebs for some aspirin when the door opened and a uniformed youngster poked his head in, his apple cheeks and baby-blue eyes vaguely familiar to Meg.     "Hey, Al, did you see the chief? I want to ask him about my application for DARE training."     "Chief's not here. Hasn't been in tonight, far as I know."     "But his little red bomb's out front. His Porsche," he added in explanation.     "Oh, that's mine," said Meg.     Both of them looked at her.     "I mean, it belongs to my husband. Vince Gutierrez. Chief Gutierrez."     "Oh, right," said the boy cop. Adam something, she thought his name was. "Sorry, ma'am. I didn't recognize you. Guess I'll have to catch the chief some other time."     As he sketched a salute and retreated, Meg realized that Officer Grebs had turned into a statue and seemed to be holding his breath as well. Now he exhaled loudly and Meg turned to meet his eyes.     "You said your name was Margaret Halloran."     "That's true. It is."     "But you're that widow woman Chief Gutierrez married. How come you didn't tell me that?"     She honestly had not realized, until near the end of their ... conversation, if that's what it was ... that he didn't know. Or that it mattered. Except of course it did, particularly in a small town. "I'm sorry. I was hurt and confused." And accustomed to acting for herself, not a fact that would charm Officer Grebs.     He took a deep breath, and blinked hard; there was a patch of red over each cheekbone. "I hope, ma'am, that you won't feel anything I said was out of line."     "Officer Grebs, I'm sore and upset and tired. I hardly remember what you said. But I hope you'll let patrol know about these people."     "Yes ma'am, I'll do that. Now if you'd just sign this?" He pulled the statement from his machine and got to his feet. As she rose and reached to take the sheet of paper from his hand, she met his eyes again and knew that she had unwittingly made an enemy. Copyright © 1999 Janet LaPierre. All rights reserved.