What…or who…is killing our daughters?

A mysterious illness strikes down teenage girls, while a wave of abortion clinic bombings terrorizes the nation. As the death toll mounts, accusations fly and the battle lines are drawn: a global drug company, a presidential hopeful, and a beautiful and brilliant political operative stake out their positions. When the president forms a fact-finding commission to uncover the truth, he chooses Matt Bugatti, the world-famous mathematician, to lead it. Matt accepts – and enters a world of deception and danger that threatens his life and shatters his most deeply-held beliefs.

Book #2 in the Matt Bugatti series

  • What a wild ride it was! Evokes Dan Brown’s work in the mystery-thriller genre. Verified Amazon Purchaser
  • Recommend to anyone who likes intricate plots and increasing levels of excitement. It is a roller coaster ride. Enjoy! Tim Allen
  • Another great book in the Matt Bugatti series! The twists and turns keep you guessing throughout. An excellent read! M Brooks
Moment of Conception

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Chapter 1—Liddie

“Liddie is dying.”

Ann Novotny heard the words but they made no sense. Liddie is dying? What does that mean? Her little girl, not yet sixteen, was sick—that she knew—but Liddie had been sick before. Children get sick—they don’t die. She stared blankly at her husband, Lew, as he repeated, “Liddie is dying.” She shook her head. He might as well have been speaking Swahili.

~~~

Liddie Novotny turned the page.

“Ever kissed a boy before?” Evan asked with a devilish, devastating grin.

“Of course I have!” Ashlynn lied, melting as Evan’s smile grew wider, his brown eyes crinkling adorably. “Lots of ’em. As many as you’ve kissed girls, I’ll bet.”

“That’s not very many. I only kiss really special girls, and only ones I really like. And not many of them want to kiss me, so that narrows it down. Nah, not many at all.”

Ashlynn got a shiver when Evan touched her hand, a shiver that spread through her whole body. She felt Evan’s hand slide up her arm as she leaned back on the sofa. “How do you know I want to kiss you?” she asked.

“I don’t. I’m just hoping.”

She gasped as his lips touched hers in a soft kiss, tentative at first, becoming more insistent as she kissed back, a kiss she’d imagined a hundred times, a thousand times better than she’d dreamed.

Liddie closed her eyes, sighing as she laid the book on her chest, imagining a lingering, loving kiss.

Her eyes popped open when her phone chimed at the arrival of a text message. She smiled when she saw the sender.

MINDY sup?

She tapped out a reply:

LIDDIE             nada

MINDY star$?

LIDDIE             def

MINDY 20 min

LIDDIE             ciao

Liddie spent the next twenty minutes choosing her outfit—jeans and heels, and a purple tank top tight enough and low enough to show off her developing breasts and barely discernible cleavage. She put on makeup, removing it and applying it again, stopping after the third try, looking at herself in the mirror, turning from side to side. Just right.

From her bedroom window she saw a car pull up to the curb. Her friend Mindy waved from the passenger side window. Liddie pulled on a khaki jacket and ran downstairs.

“Mom, I’m going out,” Liddie shouted as she left through the front door.

“Call if you’re going to be late,” her mother Ann called after her.

“Hi, Mindy! Hi, Mork!” Liddie said brightly as she hopped into the back seat.

Liddie could see Mindy’s brother Danny looking at her in the rear-view mirror. “Ha, ha,” he said with a mocking sneer.

“Oh, so sorry,” Liddie said. “I meant to say, ‘Hi, Dork!’”

“Ha, ha, ha!”

“How did you talk Danny Boy into driving?” Liddie said with a smirk.

“All she had to do was ask,” Danny interrupted. “What better way to spend a Saturday than chauffeuring my little sister and her little friends around town?”

Mindy turned in her seat to face Liddie. “He’s going to meet James at the skate shop.”

Liddie’s eyes grew wide, her mouth forming a tight o. “Ooh! James!”

“Stop it,” Mindy said.

“Danny, you do know that your sister has a fatal crush on James, don’t you?”

“Stop it!”

“It’s not exactly a fucking state secret,” Danny said. The girls giggled as Danny pulled away from the curb.

Liddie continued her conversation with Mindy on the way to Starbucks, distracted by Danny’s frequent glances in the mirror. She wasn’t sure what he was looking at—his chin was raised and his head was tilted—but she was sure that the rear window was not in his line of sight.

Liddy had known Danny since she was eight, a loud, gangly girl, all knees and elbows, inseparable from his sister Mindy. Liddie and Mindy—hardly anyone ever said one name without the other. At fifteen, Liddie looked almost nothing like that ungainly child. Her dark blond hair was sun-streaked, her formerly chubby cheeks showing high cheekbones, setting off her large, blue eyes. Liddie liked the changes. They’d happened so fast—Liddie wished they had come faster.

At a stoplight, Danny stopped glancing and started looking in the mirror continuously. Liddie puckered her lips in a mock kiss. Danny raised his eyes to get a better look at the neckline of Liddie’s tank top.

Starbucks was nearly deserted. Liddie and Mindy sat at a high table by the window with two Mocha Frappuccinos. Liddie hung her jacket on the back of her chair, exposing her bare shoulders, warmed by the sun streaming through the window. From where she sat she could see Danny sipping a black coffee, chatting up the girl at the counter. He stole glances in Liddie’s direction whenever the counter girl looked away, and sometimes when she didn’t. After his fourth glance, Liddie looked down at herself, to see what Danny found so fascinating.

It was not only Liddie’s face that had changed. She had curves. Her breasts were small, but promising. Her hips were no longer skinny and androgynous but had widened noticeably. She looked up just in time to see Danny turning away from her and back to the counter girl.

Danny, Mindy and Liddie arrived at the Noise Forest Skate Shop just before closing. Danny’s friend James was applying grip tape to a new board, expertly trimming the edges and smoothing the seam with a file. He cut openings for screws and attached the trucks with machine-like speed as Mindy watched with doe eyes. James finished assembling the board and handed it to its new owner.

“Hey, Danny,” James said. “Hey, ladies.” He leaned against the workbench with both hands. He had the sleepy eyes of a stoner and the beginnings of a beard, his brown hair tied back into a pony tail, spraying out into a generous, curly bush.

Danny gripped James’s hand. “Ready to knock off?”

So ready. What’s the plan?”

“Our options are limited. I got my little sister and her friend with me.”

Mindy scowled.

“Mindy, right?” James said with a wave. Mindy’s scowl turned into a broad smile as she waved back.

James put one hand on his forehead and wagged a finger at Liddie. “And you are…?”

“Liddie.”

“Sure. Hiya, Liddie.”

“We’re up for anything, right, Liddie?” Mindy said with an imploring look.

Liddie turned to Danny, who shrugged slightly. She thought she saw him smile.

“Sure,” Liddie said. “So what are we doing?”

The four of them ate at an Applebee’s. James was laconic but Mindy paid him rapt attention, laughing at his jokes—even the lame ones—touching his arm as she did so. Danny’s glances at Liddie became more frequent and less discreet. Halfway through the meal, Liddie tugged her tank top higher and pulled her jacket closed.

Mindy tapped Liddie’s hand. “I need to check my lipstick,” she whispered.

Liddie followed Mindy into the ladies’ room. Mindy checked the stalls to confirm that she and Liddie were the only two in the room.

“James wants us to go back to his place,” Mindy said.

“He does? Did he say that?”

“Yes! Didn’t you hear him?” Mindy leaned closer. “He has beer,” she whispered. “And weed.

Liddie shook her head. “Mom’s expecting me home.”

“Call her. Tell her you’re at my house.”

“What if she calls?”

Mindy rolled her eyes. “How many times have you told your mom you’re at my house? About a hundred. And how many times has she called? Zero.”

Liddie hesitated before fishing her cell phone out of her bag. Mindy grinned as Liddie tapped the screen and put the phone to her ear.

“Hi, Mom?”

~~~

James’s apartment was shabby, in a cheap part of town. It was furnished with a mismatched collection of salvaged chairs and tables, and a couch that retained the smell of all its previous owner’s unhealthy habits. Liddie and Mindy sat together on the couch while Danny and James pulled chairs around a small table. A bag of marijuana and assorted smoking paraphernalia lay in the center next to six cans of beer. Liddie watched the others as they passed the pipe. She imitated their technique, inhaling deeply and holding it in. Her lungs burned and her eyes watered until she gave up and hacked out a cloud of smoke, falling sideways on the couch. Mindy, Danny and James laughed until Liddie recovered enough to laugh along.

Through two bowls, James’s chair inched closer to Mindy’s end of the couch. Mindy leaned closer each time James handed her the pipe. As the conversation grew increasingly animated, they touched each other more frequently, until James’s hand remained on Mindy’s waist and Mindy’s on James’s thigh. Danny’s glances at Liddie turned into stares. Liddie occasionally stared back.

“Want to see my pet turtle?” James said. “He’s in the bedroom.”

“A turtle?” Mindy giggled. “In your bedroom? Yeah. Show me your turtle. I want to see him. Is it a boy turtle?”

“Let’s go find out.” James held Mindy’s arm as she stood. The two of them went into the bedroom and shut the door.

Danny moved to the couch beside Liddie, opening another can of beer and offering it to her. She took a sip and handed it back.

“How are you feeling?” he asked, his words booming in her ears, as if they were in an echo chamber.

Liddie’s eyes closed and opened slowly. “A little tired,” she said. Danny filled another bowl and lit it, puffing it to life. He sidled closer to Liddie and offered her the pipe.

“I’ve had enough, I think.”

Danny set the beer and the pipe on the table. “You’re really pretty,” he said.

“Thanks.”

He put his hand on Liddie’s knee and slid it up her thigh.

“Danny, don’t.”

His hand slid up to her waist as he leaned closer, putting his other hand on Liddie’s breast. She tried to pull away but he pinned her against the arm of the sofa.

“Danny, please don’t.”

Liddie stiffened her body, keeping her mouth closed as Danny pressed his lips against hers, probing with his tongue, pulling her closer, grabbing her breasts harder, wedging a hand between her thighs. Liddie struggled, a blizzard of thoughts blowing through her mind.

She thought of the short, awkward, one-sided sex talk her mother had given her on her thirteenth birthday—the stories Mindy had told her about her sexual experiences, and how Liddie had pretended to know what she was talking about—the times she’d touched herself to orgasm, wondering if sex felt that way, or if it was better—the way Danny had looked at her all day, in a way that he had never looked at her before, and how she had looked back.

She thought of Mindy and James in the bedroom.

Then she stopped thinking and put her tongue in Danny’s mouth.

~~~

Mindy surveyed the scene through bleary eyes. Danny was sprwled on the floor, face down, wedged between the couch and the table. Liddie was asleep on the couch in her tank top and panties, her jeans, jacket and bra draped over the back of the couch. Mindy kicked her brother’s leg.

“Hey. Take us home.”

Danny was unresponsive. A second and then a third kick roused him. He rolled over, pushing against the table. Liddie didn’t move as beer cans clattered to the floor.

“What time is it?” Danny rasped.

“Six-thirty. Can you drive?”

Danny sat up, shaking his head, looking around, turning toward the young girl on the couch, staring for more than a minute, at her pale thighs, at the mound under her flower-patterned panties, at the budding breasts under her tank top. He turned back to his sister.

“Yeah. I can drive.”

“Go in the bathroom for a while. I’ll take care of Liddie.”

Danny obeyed. Mindy sat on the edge of the couch and shook Liddie gently until she came to.

“Hey, girlfriend. Let’s go home.”

~~~

In the car, Liddie tried to remember what had happened, and, more importantly, how it had felt. Danny had kissed and nibbled her nipples. That felt good, until he got carried away. He’d stroked her under her panties—she liked that. She remembered that Danny wasn’t very big, comparatively speaking, if Mindy’s stories were to be believed. Even so, it hurt when he entered her, a lot at first, and then not as much, but it never stopped hurting. She didn’t come, and she didn’t feel it when Danny came inside her.

Liddie turned to the window and bit her lip.

It didn’t feel like much of anything.

~~~

Danny dropped Liddie off at her house. She left the car without a word and walked to the door while Mindy and Danny watched.

“I see you got your rocks off, asshole,” Mindy said. Danny didn’t respond right away. Halfway to their house he spoke up.

“Just remember, this was all your idea. Did you get what you were after?”

Mindy rubbed the inside of her thigh. “Mission accomplished,” she said.

~~~

Liddie’s mother woke her in time for Liturgy. She struggled to stay awake through the service, imagining, in her sleepy state, that every person they greeted stared at her with condemnation. She was certain that the priest scowled at her from the dais; even the icons seemed more disapproving than usual.

After Sunday dinner, Liddie went to her room and laid down. Feeling cold, she hugged herself to keep from shivering. She closed her eyes but she didn’t fall asleep; instead, she slid her hand down between her legs and pressed bruised spot on her thigh. The pain made her groan.

“Sweetie, are you all right?” her mother asked from the other side of the door.

“Fine, Mom, I’m fine.” She lay still for another minute before getting up. She found her cell phone and tapped out a message.

LIDDIE             hey

The response came in seconds.

MINDY hey u ok?

LIDDIE             not really

MINDY shit u need me to come over?

Liddie thought for a minute before replying.

LIDDIE             no. talk tomorrow, ok?

Liddie went to her computer and opened a search screen. She typed in morning-after pill.

~~~

Liddie found what she was looking for in the pharmacy section of the supermarket. She made sure that the aisle was deserted before picking up the box.

Backup

Emergency Contraceptive

Reduces the Chance of Pregnancy if Used Within 72 Hours of Unprotected Sex or Primary Contraceptive Failure

Increases Resistance to HIV Infection

Liddie held the box close to her chest as she looked over the checkout lines. She went to the one tended by a young girl, not much older than she was, timidly placing the box on the end of the belt, as close to the checker as possible. The checker scanned and bagged it without raising an eyebrow. Liddie ran home, went straight to her room, and swallowed the pill. She looked at herself in the mirror and sighed. Then she burst into tears.

Over the next few days, Liddie remained uncharacteristically reserved. Her schoolmates noticed and asked if she was okay, but Liddie assured them that everything was fine. Some went to Mindy for an explanation but she told them nothing.

By Wednesday, Liddie experienced cramps and spotting, which she took as a good sign. She felt better by Thursday, but on Friday the cramps returned.

Liddie left her ten a.m. algebra class. She’d paid no attention to the lesson—she was unable to focus on anything other than the growing pain in her abdomen. She went to her locker but she was unable to dial the combination. Finally giving up, she leaned against the row of lockers, fumbling in her backpack for her phone. A few students noticed her distress; one whispered that someone should get the nurse. Liddie tried to operate her phone but her vision was too blurry. She kept trying until a pain tore through her like a jagged saw.

Every head in the hallway turned toward the unearthly groan. Students gathered around Liddie’s unconscious form, lying on the floor, the crowd silent at first, until one boy shouted “Oh Jesus! Call an ambulance!” when he noticed the dark red stain spreading in the crotch of Liddie’s jeans.

~~~

Lew and Ann Novotny sat together in the waiting area outside the recovery room. Type five cardiorenal syndrome the doctor had told them. Liddie’s heart was failing, and her kidneys had shut down. Lew insisted on knowing more but the doctors had nothing more to tell him, other than that Liddie was bleeding internally and that surgery was necessary. She had been wheeled into the operating room an hour before.

Lew was the first to see the surgeon as he came through the door, wearing blood-stained scrubs, his surgical mask still hanging from his neck. Lew and Ann stood facing the doctor. The doctor stopped. He shook his head very slightly from side to side.

Ann’s grip on Lew’s arm failed as she slid to the floor

From Moment of Conception

Copyright © [2015] by Charles O’Donnell

All Rights Reserved

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Moment of Conception is available on Amazon for Kindle and in paperback.

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