Chapter no 43 – Stillborn

Lesson, in Chemistry

“Very few people surprise me, Mrs. Parker,” Elizabeth said as she watched Frask escort Donatti out. “But you have.”

Avery Parker nodded. “Good. The offer’s sincere. We hope you’ll accept. And by the way, it’s Miss Parker. I’m not married. Actually,” she added, “I’ve never been married.”

“Nor have I,” Elizabeth said.

“Yes,” Avery Parker said, her voice dropping an octave. “I’m aware.”

Elizabeth noted the change in timbre and felt an instant prick of irritation. Thanks to Life, the entire world knew Madeline was born out of wedlock, and because of it, she heard that tone all the time.

“I’m not sure how much you know about the Parker Foundation,” Wilson began as he wandered around the lab, pausing briefly to read a description on a file folder.

“I know your focus is scientific research,” Elizabeth said, turning toward him. “But that your roots were Catholic charities. Churches, choirs, orphanages—” She stopped dead, suddenly acutely aware of that last word. She looked at Wilson more closely.

“Yes, our founders were devoted to Catholic causes; however, our mission is entirely secular. What we do is try to find the best people working on the most critical issues of the day.” He set aside the file folder in a way that communicated that it was definitely not one of them. “Seven years ago, when we funded you, you were doing just that—abiogenesis.

Whether you know it or not, Miss Zott, you’re the reason we came to Hastings in the first place. You and Calvin Evans.”

At the mention of Calvin’s name, she felt her chest tighten.

“Strange about Evans, isn’t it?” Wilson said. “No one seems to have any idea what became of his work.”

His casual words hit her like a cyclone. She pulled out a stool and sat down, watching as he poked around the lab like an archeologist, examining a tiny corner of this or that as if it might lead to something much bigger below.

“I know you’ve already made your position clear,” he continued, “but I thought you’d be interested to know we plan to upgrade a lot of the equipment.” He pointed to a shelf where an out-of-date distillation apparatus sat unused. As he raised his arm, a shiny cuff link peeked out from under his suit sleeve. “Like that, for instance. That thing looks like it hasn’t been touched in years.”

But Elizabeth had no reaction. She’d turned to stone.



When Calvin was ten, he’d written about a tall, rich-looking man with shiny cuff links who’d arrived at the boys home in a fancy limo. He seemed to think it was because of this man that the home was given new science books. But instead of being glad for the reading material, Calvin was devastated. I’m here even though I should not be, he’d scrawled. And I will never ever forgive that man, him. Never. Not as long as I live.

“Mr. Wilson,” she said, her voice wooden. “You say your foundation only funds secular projects. Would that include education?”

“Education? Well yes, of course,” he said. “We support several universities—”

“No, I mean, have you ever supplied a school with textbooks—” “On occasion, but—”

“What about an orphanage?”

Wilson stopped short, surprised. His eyes darted to Parker.

In her mind, Elizabeth saw Calvin’s letter to Wakely. I HATE MY FATHER. I HOPE HE’S DEAD.

“A Catholic boys home,” she clarified. Again, Wilson looked to Parker.

“In Sioux City, Iowa.”

A thick silence fell, interrupted only by the sudden whoosh of an exhaust fan.



Elizabeth stared at Wilson, her face unfriendly.

It suddenly seemed clear: the job they were offering her was a ruse. They were there for one reason and one reason only: to claim Calvin’s work.

The boxes. They knew about them. Maybe Frask had told them; maybe they’d made an educated guess. In any case, Wilson and Parker had bought Hastings; legally, Calvin’s work belonged to them. They were plying her with compliments and promises, hoping that would be enough to coax the boxes out of the woodwork. But if that didn’t work, they still had one last card left to play.

Calvin Evans had a blood relative.



“Wilson,” Parker said, her voice trembling. “Would you mind? I’d like to speak with Miss Zott alone.”

“No,” Elizabeth said sharply. “I have questions; I want the truth—”

Parker looked at Wilson, her face deflated. “It’s all right, Wilson. I’ll join you in a few minutes.”



As the door latched closed, Elizabeth turned on Avery Parker. “I know what’s going on here,” she said. “I know why you asked me here today.”

“We asked you here to offer you a job,” Parker said. “That was our only goal. We’re longtime admirers of your work.”

Elizabeth searched the woman’s face for signs of deceit. “Look,” she said in a calmer voice. “I don’t have an issue with you. It’s Wilson. How long have you known him?”

“We’ve worked together for nearly thirty years, so I’d say I know him very well.”

“Does he have children?”

She gave Elizabeth a peculiar look. “I’m not sure that’s any of your business,” she said. “But no.”

“You’re sure.”

“Of course I’m sure. He’s my lawyer—this is my foundation, Miss Zott, but he’s the face of it.”

“And why is that?” Elizabeth pressed.

Avery Parker looked at her, unblinking. “I’m amazed you have to ask. I may have considerable assets, but like most women in the world, my hands are tied. I can’t even write a check unless Wilson cosigns.”

“How can that be? It’s the Parker Foundation,” Elizabeth pointed out. “Not the Wilson Foundation.”

Parker snorted. “Yes, a foundation I inherited with the proviso that my husband make all the financial decisions. As I was unmarried at the time, the board appointed Wilson as trustee. As I’m still unmarried, Wilson continues to hold the reins. You’re not the only one who’s fought a losing battle, Miss Zott,” she said as she stood up, tugging hard on her suit jacket. “Although I’m lucky: Wilson’s a decent man.”



She turned and walked away as Elizabeth asked another question, but instead of responding, Avery Parker ignored her. What had she been thinking? Elizabeth Zott was not interested in returning to Hastings, and maybe, based on her pointed questions about Wilson—not to mention all the other issues—it would be better for all if she did not. Distracted, Avery

reached up and touched her finger to her cheap daisy brooch. What a foolish woman she’d been. Buying Hastings, coming here, meeting Zott. Yes, she’d always been fascinated by Zott and her research—she’d once dreamed of becoming a scientist herself. But instead, she’d been raised to be one thing and one thing only: nice. Unfortunately, according to both her parents and the Catholic Church, she’d failed at that, too.

“Miss Parker—” Elizabeth pressed.

“Miss Zott,” Avery returned just as emphatically. “I’ve made a mistake.

You don’t want to come back to Hastings; fine. I’m not going to beg.” Elizabeth took a short breath in.

“I’ve been begging my entire life,” Parker continued. “I’m sick of it.” Elizabeth brushed a few stray hairs aside. “It’s not even me you want,”

she said hotly. “Isn’t that right? You’re only here for the boxes.” Avery cocked her head as if she hadn’t heard correctly. “Boxes?”

“I understand. You bought Hastings; they belong to you. But this charade—”

“What charade?”

“— I want to know about All Saints. I think I have a right to know.”

“Excuse me?” Parker said. “You have a right? Let me tell you a little secret about rights. They don’t exist.”

“They do for the wealthy, Miss Parker,” Elizabeth insisted. “Tell me about Wilson. About Wilson and Calvin.”

Avery Parker stared back perplexed. “Wilson and Calvin? No, no…” “Again, I think I have a right to know.”

Avery pressed her hands down on the counter. “I wasn’t planning on doing this today.”

“Doing what?”

“I wanted to get to know you first,” Avery continued. “I think that’s my

right. To know who you are.”

Elizabeth crossed her arms. “Excuse me?”

Avery reached for the chalkboard eraser. “Look. I…I need to tell you a story.”

“I’m not interested in stories.”

“It involves a seventeen-year-old girl,” Avery Parker said, undeterred, “who fell in love with a young man. It’s a rather standard story,” she said brittlely, “where the young girl got pregnant and her prominent parents, shamed by their daughter’s promiscuity, sent her away to a Catholic home for unwed mothers.” She turned her back on Elizabeth. “Maybe you’ve heard of these homes, Miss Zott. They’re run like prisons. Filled with young women in the same kind of trouble. They have their babies, then relinquish them. There was an official form to sign and most signed. Those who refused were threatened: they’d have to endure the delivery alone; they might even die. Despite the warning, the seventeen-year-old girl still refused to sign. Kept insisting she had rights.” Parker paused, shaking her head as if she still couldn’t believe the naïveté.

“True to their word, when her labor started, they put her in a room by herself and locked the door. She stayed there, alone, crying out in pain, for a full day. At some point, the doctor, infuriated by the noise, finally decided he’d had enough. He went in and anesthetized her. When she came to hours later, she was given the grim news. Her baby had been stillborn. Shocked, she asked to see the body, but the doctor said they’d already disposed of it.

“Fast-forward ten years,” Avery Parker continued, turning to face Elizabeth, her jaw tight. “A nurse from the unwed mothers home contacts the now-twenty-seven-year-old woman. Wants money for the truth. Tells her the baby didn’t die; rather, it, like all the other babies, had been put up for adoption. The only unusual thing: this child’s adoptive parents died in a tragic accident, then the child’s aunt died. The child was sent to a place called All Saints in Iowa.”

Elizabeth froze.

“That was the day,” Avery Parker said, her voice turning sad, “the young woman began her quest to find her son.” She paused. “My son.”

Elizabeth drew back, all the color draining from her face.

“I’m Calvin Evans’s biological mother,” Avery Parker said slowly, her gray eyes filling with tears. “And with your permission, Miss Zott, I’d very much like to meet my granddaughter.”

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