The Gemini Factor
In Toronto, Inspector Raid McTavish stares at the body of a young woman carefully posed in a bed of purple iris, her throat slashed, almost beheaded, her hands placed to cover her empty eye sockets. He knows this is not a random murder, but the first of more to come. What he doesn’t know is that 2,000 miles away in Tucson, Arizona, Sergeant Gary Ronstadt is viewing an identical crime scene.
Months later, McTavish and Ronstadt meet at a seminar on telepathy between identical twins, where they are shocked to discover that not only are they investigating identical murders, but their lives are intimately linked by a number of inexplicable similarities and coincidences.
While working together to unravel the clues purposely left by the killers, the detectives realize they have but five days to find the killers before they strike again, only this time the killings will be much closer to home.
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A cloudless night, legs locked in flagrante, a beach in Tahiti, Hanino flowing and Bacchus cavorting. A sperm finally spirals its way to the finish line, and Theodore Aragon III is conceived. And on December 18, 1958, baby Theodore comes clawing and bellowing into the world, protesting his pitocin-forced eviction from the warmth and security of his mother’s womb. His features are close to perfect. A cherub with a helmet of pitch-black hair and a widow’s peak that frames his tiny round face. In Greek, the infant’s name means God’s gift, and to the Aragons, baby Theodore is indeed a gift from God.
Unheard screams. Tiny arms and legs flail helplessly. They stop. A blue blanket meant to keep him warm makes him cold. It is now a blue shroud.
Mary Little, the night nurse at St. Mary’s Hospital newborn unit, does not hear the baby’s muffled cries for help. The only sounds she hears come from the vibrating vocal cords of Jerry Lee Lewis belting out “Great Balls of Fire” into the earphone of her new Regency TR-1 transistor radio. She sits at the nursing station shoveling chocolates from a two-pound box of See’s Candies into her mouth while reading a trashy romance novel. She stops stuffing her face only when she inhales smoke from an unfiltered Pall Mall. When the last chocolate vanishes she glances at the wall clock behind her desk. Time for rounds. She puts down the book, removes the earphone, and takes a final puff before stubbing the cigarette in an ashtray with little parking space. Grasping the arms of her chair, she pushes down and manages to ratchet herself into an upright position. With two hundred and forty pounds compressed into five feet four inches, getting out of a chair is a major effort. She picks up her flashlight and waddles over to the charts.
At this hour her tiny wards are sleeping soundly. But once one wakens, crying to be fed, others will join in and make it a tent revival. Fortunately, her only responsibility is to deliver the little shits to their mothers in the adjacent maternity ward. That is, with the exception of the Aragon baby.
Maria Aragon employs a wet nurse who shows up promptly every morning at the same predawn hour to collect the little package. Maria does not nurse her baby. Her husband will not allow it. He does not want to share Maria’s breasts with anyone, not even their long-awaited son. They are for his pleasure, and his alone.
Mary flicks on her flashlight and lumbers down the dimly lit hallway, pushing the cumbersome chart trolley ahead of her. A few of her charges whimper as she approaches the double doors to the nursery. There are no other sounds until the hinges groan when she pushes open the doors. The beam from her flashlight dances around the first bassinet until it settles on a pink little face. The baby’s respirations are rapid, smooth, and unstrained. She aims the beam at the foot of the bassinet. Baby Boy Ronstadt. She scrawls her observations in his chart.
She comes to the last bassinet in the row. The blanket is smothered over the baby’s face. “I wonder how the little bugger managed that trick,” she mutters. Her stubby fingers unfold the rumpled blanket. He is not breathing. The flashlight drops from her trembling hand. She touches the cool skin over the infant’s carotid artery; there is no pulse. She retrieves her flashlight, pries open the baby’s eyelids, and shines the beam in his opacified eyes. No response; his pupils are fixed and dilated. She stands back and focuses the beam on the nametag on the bassinet. Baby Boy Aragon. Her body becomes limp.
“Shit, this can’t be happening.”
She doesn’t care about the dead baby. When the Aragons learn their only son has died on her watch, they will destroy her life.
Beads of sweat erupt on her forehead, and she feels more cascading over the rest of her body. She needs to cover her ass, and she quickly determines exactly how to do it.
In the next row are twin boys born to an unmarried mother, Anna de la Cruz, a maid at the Aragon ranch, who at Aragon’s insistence is giving them up for adoption. He wants her bastard children as far away from his ranch as possible.
Barely able to control her shaking hands, she removes one of the twins’ charts from the trolley. She flips open the cold metal cover and thumbs through the pages until she comes to the intake page. Mother, Anna de la Cruz, age nineteen. Father unknown. Riffling through the chart, she finds what she is looking for. Weight: seven pounds, four ounces. Length: twenty-two and one-quarter inches. Close enough to the Aragon baby. No one would suspect.
Both twins have dark hair and a satanic widow’s peak just like the Aragon baby. Providence is smiling on her. The similarities among the three are uncanny. It is as if they are brothers. It wouldn’t surprise her if they were, because Theodore Aragon II is famous for trying to screw every female that comes within breathing distance of him. Why not Anna as well? She works on his ranch and refuses to name the father.
Replacing the chart, she projects her flashlight on the wall clock. Maria Aragon’s wet nurse will not show her face for almost two more hours. There is more than enough time to execute her plan.
She takes the first twin from his bassinet, switches him with the dead Aragon baby, and exchanges their ankle bracelets. The baby starts to whimper, followed by a series of loud protesting cries, almost as if he knows what is happening.
Mary puts her finger in his mouth and lets him suck. “Damn, the last thing I need is for him to wake up the nursery,” she whispers. After awhile he stops sucking and falls back to sleep.
She stands back from the bassinet; everything appears perfectly normal. By now her sweating has reached torrential proportions. She finishes her rounds and returns to the nursing station.
Easing herself into her chair she lights up a cigarette and tries to think if there is anything she had forgotten. The footprints. Hoisting herself out of the chair, she struggles over to the chart trolley and removes the first of two charts. She opens the Aragon baby’s chart and flips to the page with the imprints of his feet, licks her fingers and smudges the prints, replaces his chart, and repeats the procedure on the De La Cruz baby’s prints. She doesn’t think the pathologist will make a footprint comparison or try to determine the time of death. He’ll write it off as a crib death because he is a lazy old fart just counting the days to his retirement.
She returns to her chair, takes a deep drag from her cigarette, and relaxes as the nicotine rush takes hold.
Two days after the switch, the nursery population houses just two babies—the switched Aragon baby and the Harrigan baby. It was unusual, but there were no births the previous week. Mary finishes her shift, but agrees to stay until the two remaining babies are discharged. She’ll pick up a little overtime, and her supervisor won’t have to staff the nursery.
While Mary is daydreaming, a novitiate nun from the Order of the Sisters of St. Joseph, who administer the hospital, taps her shoulder. “Perdón, estoy aquí para el bebé Harrigan.”
“Speak English, you penguin,” Mary bellows.
“Cómo?…El bebé Harrigan,” the nun says a little louder.
“Right…gotcha.” Mary struggles over to the bassinet and checks the ankle bracelet on the baby, cuts it off, wraps the baby in his blanket, and hands him to the nun. She drops the bracelet in the trash and returns to her desk.
About an hour later she is adjusting the Harrigan baby’s blanket and sees her supervisor talking to a tall Hispanic man and the Aragon’s wet nurse in the corridor. They are coming toward the nursery.
It is Señor Aragon. Mary’s face becomes ashen. She realizes that she had given the nun the wrong baby. She removes the ankle bracelet from the Harrigan baby and places him in the Aragon baby’s bassinet. She rips the name tag from the first bassinet and throws it and the ankle bracelet into the refuse bin. The wet nurse comes into the nursery, and Mary gives her the baby. They exchange no words.
Mary finishes her shift, goes home, and waits. Waits four days. When she returns to work, it is business as usual. Babies are being born again. No one is aware of what she had done. The switches have succeeded.
“If you like your mysteries complex and complicated, this could be the one for you.”
~J.C. Martin Arizona Daily Star
“This book keeps you guessing until the very end.”
“The Gemini Factor is a medical/murder spell-binder! Fleishman has created a real tour-de-force with his first novel. I could not put this book down as the action and surprises just never stopped. The writer had intimate knowledge of the judicial process in Toronto & Tuscon. His insight into the psychology of twins is ably-researched. This is a writer with a real gift, sign me up for his next book.”
~William D. Shea M.D., Winchester, MA
From the Back Cover:
“Once you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, no matter how improbable, must be the truth.”
~Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
“Coincidence is God’s way of remaining anonymous. I do not believe in the word coincidence. For me it is a word created to explain the unexplainable away. A word designed to ‘dismiss’ without investigation. But then there are those events that occur perhaps following a series of strange occurrences that are more than related; they are positively ‘intended’! Events, which as they defy conventional explanation still attract that ‘word’ coincidence. This word is inadequate and the very existence of it causes the vast majority of people to miss something very remarkable about life and the reality we share.”