CHAPTER ONE

Something was wrong, she knew that. As though the fetus took from, or added to, the blood that coursed their veins in common. From the depths of her womb, Janet Roth detected something beyond the baby that was to be born in her twenty-eighth year. She did not fear the birthing of this, her first child. Ultimately, her only child. It was not the act of birth, she was certain of that, but she was afraid.

“Are you sure there’s nothing wrong?” she’d questioned the doctor.

“You’re in perfect health, Mrs. Roth.”

“The baby. The baby seems all right?”

“Strong heartbeat, everything fine so far as we can determine. Do you have reason to believe otherwise?”

“No.” Not really. Morning sickness had passed quickly. No symptoms of disease in dormancy. No fever. Fluid retention was easily controlled. Everything normal.

“Then why worry yourself?” the doctor had reasoned.

Yes. Indeed. Why worry? But she did. She lay awake nights with Russell’s even breathing pulsing in the dark, his hirsute body radiating warmly against her. On her side, abdomen propped against two pillows, one hand on the cocoon of her belly, she felt for movement. It was there. A pushing kick as the infant stretched in the amniotic fluids, relieving muscles cramped by this natural confinement. Sometimes, through the walls of her taut flesh, Janet could detect a heel or an elbow, as though the child within were trying to communicate by touch with the mother without.

“Don’t be puerile,” Russell scolded. “All mothers fret for naught. It is a normal thing. Recognize it so, and put your mind at ease.”

But some fears are without rationale, some anxieties defy logic. Russell’s Prussian mind relied on the mathematics of thought as surely as he depended on the computers upon which his business was built. To him, all things had an orderly progression. Russell epitomized organization and the science of universal geometry. There was no place in his thinking for “fancied” ills and “imagined” woes.

“Worry about whether a boy or a girl this is,” Russell counseled. “Worry that we buy too much blue or pink. Otherwise don’t worry. Worry is a cause for worry. Simple?”

Too simple. Too orderly; regimented. That was Russell. Always in control. Emotions checked. Even conception had been deliberate and with forethought “at the appropriate time.” Financially, chronologically appropriate.

Exacting in all things, was Russell. Precise in every way. His blue-gray eyes and expression a calculated mirror of those inner thoughts he wished to reveal. “But of course I love you,” was his response to her question. “If I did not love you then why should I have taken you as my wife?”

Logic. His mouth producing a programmed response to a properly worded question. The key to eliciting information from Russell was to be certain the question was properly worded.

“Are you happy with me, Russell?”

“Certainly.” Without emotion, casually respondent.

“Do you think you would have been happier married to someone else?”

“There is no way to know that, of course.”

Logic. Russell Roth had grown wealthy from logic. Their thirty-eight-room marble-halled mansion had been built on logic; the rose gardens, flowered terraces, swimming pool and patio—all by-products of logic.

“If the human mind can be surpassed in a single function by the machines I employ,” Russell had once remarked, “it is by avoiding the complications of emotional response. That is what disturbs the human equation always, illogical obfuscation caused by emotional involvement in any question. Thus a computer reaches a conclusion based on hard data only, a feat quite beyond the human brain.”

Of course, Russell had been right. There had been nothing to worry about. The baby was perfect.

If one of Russell’s computers had been instructed to produce a child perfect in his eyes, Pamela would have been the result. Her face was a sculptor’s dream: she was her father in every aspect, but a miracle had honed the genetic influence that had formed her. Russell’s masculine Nordic nose was a finely chiseled and delicate shape above lips hewn from her father’s flesh. His blond hair was even more luxuriant and alive on Pamela. Well-formed teeth, and a smile that came rarely but with magnificent effect once bestowed.

Pamela’s eyes were her most striking feature. Liquid, curious eyes with a peculiar ability to change with chameleonic ease, reflecting the hue of her clothing, an azure sky or her mood: one time slate gray, the next a stunning blue or as green as sea water, all in a given day.

From the beginning, the child had a sixth sense about Russell. She would walk into a room prepared to make a request, and at a glance determine his probable reaction. She would sit, silent, patient beyond her years, while Russell’s mind wrestled with a problem known only to him. Then at that precise instant when he could best be interrupted, Pamela was likely to stand and soberly take his hand.

“Too much thinking, Papa. Come, let’s walk.”

Heads hung, with identical gaits, hands clasped behind their backs, Russell and his icon in miniature could be seen strolling the grounds. Such moments were, to Janet, vaguely disturbing while at the same moment these were the very things which bonded father and daughter ever closer.

“She is truly the blood of my blood and flesh of my flesh,” Russell had commented.

That she was. A somber, pensive, moody infant always slow to cry, Pamela evolved into a child cast from the matrix of her father. Beautiful beyond belief, a feminine version of all his most masculine attributes, Pamela was Russell. If he wished to perceive himself in the opposite gender he had only to gaze at his child.

But the likeness was more intrinsic, more inherent than first glance revealed. Pamela was nature’s replica of her father to the very marrow of her bones, and through the child Janet caught glimpses of the boy Russell must surely have been. The configuration aside, it was the mechanism of the mind that proved conclusively and without doubt that Pamela was the perfection of her sire.

“That is not logical, Mother.” This spoken when Pamela was two.

“Logical or not, I wish to have it my way,” Janet had replied.

The issue was forgotten, but the exchange burned in Janet’s mind. Logic. The cornerstone of the thinking process with both of them.

It wasn’t natural for a child to reject playthings. It wasn’t normal for a preschooler to speak of “microseconds” and “transistorized capacities.”

Russell took pride in her exceptional vocabulary. Whether the child comprehended or not, she would sit for hours listening as Russell expounded as though speaking to a fellow craftsman.

When Pamela was scarcely three, she was enrolled in the Atlanta Montessori School.

“She will have no childhood!” Janet protested.

“When she complains,” Russell had retorted, “then I shall consider the point valid.”

Rarely, there were glimpses of the child within the adult that was Pamela and it always surprised Janet. One does not expect an adult to weep over a nightmare, or stomp in frustration. Pamela was self-assured, composed, seldom given to childish artifice or juvenile tantrums. She walked with her head high, steps deliberate, with the poise of a debutante.

“Mommy!” A shriek—not “Mother” but Mommy!

Janet had run down the length of the hallway to Pamela’s bedroom. Russell was in Washington that week.

“What is it, Pamela?”

“Mommy! Mommy! Help me!”

“Pamela? You’re dreaming, baby. Pamela! Wake up, Darling.” She found a switch and lamplight softly illuminated the canopied bed and its four-poster supports. Pamela was drenched with perspiration, face pale, sitting up, shivering.

“Did you have a bad dream, my baby?”

“I did, Mommy.”

“There now, it’s gone.” She had dabbed the child’s face with tissue, mopping away moisture.

“It scared me.”

“Do you want to talk about it?”

As though coming from afar, her mind returning to reality, Pamela had looked at Janet with an expression infinitely sad. “No,” the child said, voice low. “There’s no need to discuss that. It’s gone.”

For the moment it was. But when Russell was out of town on business, the episode was repeated time and again.

“Mommy!” Screaming. “Mommy! Help me!”

“Here I am, Pamela.”

Breathing heavily, her pajamas soaked with sweat, lips discolored, Pamela was sitting up in bed.

“Don’t you want to tell me about it, Pamela? It might keep it from coming back ever again.”

“No. It would serve no purpose.”

Serve no purpose! As though the infant had somehow penetrated an adult facade only to be re-enveloped when full consciousness returned!

“I don’t mind listening,” Janet urged gently.

“No. I’m all right now.”

“Pamela?”

The child had snuggled back under the covers. “I’m all right now. Thank you, Mother.”

Formally. Dismissed. Thank you, Mother.

Any attempt to discuss these events in the light of day was futile. Pamela professed not to remember. Such happenings were immediately rejected by Russell so brusquely that Janet ceased mentioning them to him. Nonetheless, the dreams were recurring and the pattern was always the same, any time Russell left town. The child’s subconscious reacting to abandonment?

Russell approached any irrational behavior with a similar evaluation. As, for example, an incident at the Montessori School when Pamela was exposed to languages.

On the theory that, at a given age, a child absorbs a new language as readily as English, a specified period of each day became a course in Spanish, French or German. These classes were “conversational” in nature. The teacher spoke only the language of the moment and any discussion in class must also be the same. It was a technique that had won wide acceptance and which normally gave the Montessori student a “speaking acquaintance” with the language before he or she was nine.

Pamela had no problem with Spanish or French. It was her first exposure to German that stupefied her teachers.

Russell had grown up in Germany. But after World War II he had come to America as a highly prized specialist in the developing computer sciences, and he dropped his native tongue and past with customary finality. Janet had never heard him utter a single German word. Over the years, except for a slight trace of “V” in his “W’s” there was little to indicate that he had ever spoken the language.

“What happened to my little girl in school today?” Russell had asked at dinner that night.

“I don’t know, Papa.”

“Well, your mother has told me about it. Don’t you think we should discuss it now?”

“I’m sorry, Papa.”

“Sorry? For what? Tell me what has happened.”

“It won’t happen again. I promise.”

“I see.” Russell’s voice lost some of its edge. “Everything is under control then?”

“Yes, Papa.”

“Fine. That suits me,” Russell concluded. “Pass the Brussels sprouts, please.”

“Pamela,” Janet prodded, “wouldn’t you like to tell your father what happened?”

“Please, Mother!”

Russell ladled food onto his plate. “If Pamela is satisfied to end the subject, so am I, Janet.”

Between them it may have been “ended” but for Janet and Pamela’s teacher the issue arose again and again.

“Mrs. Roth, I am at a total loss. In Spanish and French sessions, Pamela is fine. But that child during German! She shakes like a leaf, her hands become so uncontrollable she can’t write. She seems terrified.”

“I don’t understand, Mrs. Jones,” Janet confessed. “I’ve tried to discuss it with her.”

“So have I,” Mrs. Jones had said, tossing her head with eyes closed in long quivering blinks. When Mrs. Jones began a statement, she closed her eyes, the lids tremulous, until the comment was completed. Only then did she gaze at her listener again.

“Pamela says she doesn’t know why the class disturbs her so,” Mrs. Jones related. “In fact, she now denies that it does!”

Janet could well imagine this was true. The first time it happened, she’d been called to school to take Pamela home, the child’s body racked with involuntary spasms of sobbing.

“What happened, Pamela?” Janet had questioned, after getting the faculty version.

“I don’t know, Mommy.”

“Can you tell me what you think happened?”

“No.”

“You can’t? Or don’t want to?”

Pamela had developed hiccups from prolonged muscle contractions and tried to even out her breathing.

“Darling, how can Mommy help you if we don’t talk about it? The teacher said you began screaming for no apparent reason.”

“I’m sorry.”

“There’s no reason to be sorry. Just talk about it with me. Let’s see if we can determine what the problem is.”

“I’m sorry, Mommy. It won’t happen again.”

“Pamela, Sweetheart, I’m not criticizing. I’m not asking for reasons of punishment. I love you. I want to see if together we can find out what happened back there in school.”

Pamela had fallen into a litany of apologies, declaring anew, “It won’t happen anymore.”

“So what did occur?” Russell had demanded when Janet telephoned him at the office.

“The teacher said Pamela commenced to scream hysterically.”

“Yes. You said that. Why?”

“I don’t know why, Russell. Pamela won’t discuss it.”

A long silence from his end of the line, an electronic hum barely discernible over Russell’s breathing. A rush of air in Janet’s ear as he sighed.

“Then what do you propose I do?” Russell had asked. “Do you wish that I come home now?”

Janet had turned to look at Pamela; the child’s eyes were huge, almost frightened.

“Your father wants to know, should he come home now?”

“No, Mother,” Pamela whispered, “please.”

“Pamela says no, Russell.”

“Very well.”

Long silence.

“Is there anything more, Janet?”

“No, Russell. I’ll see you this evening.”

The phone went dead in her hand.

“I’m sorry,” Pamela parroted.

“There’s no reason to be,” Janet had said, too sharply. “But how can we get to the bottom of this, or any other problem, if we don’t talk about it, Pamela?”

The child’s luminous eyes were moist.

“Pamela,” Janet had said, more softly, “do you love me?”

“Yes, Mother.”

Of course, the tone implied, why else would I have taken you as my mother?

“We’re removing Pamela from German,” Mrs. Jones announced, meeting Janet after school in an empty classroom.

“All right.”

“I have tried to question the child, digging for the reason, and there is no reason she can or will reveal. Mrs. Roth, you say you never had a German-speaking servant who might have hurt or alarmed Pamela as an infant?”

“Never.”

“Can you recall any association whatsoever which might have influenced the child?”

“No,” Janet said. “I’ve thought about it, trying to remember every little thing. My husband was born in Germany, as I told you, and lived there until the end of the war. But to my knowledge he has never said a word of German. I hardly think it is anything like that. Pamela and her father are very close, in fact.”

“Then I admit defeat,” Mrs. Jones commented, her eyes fluttering closed. “Believe me, there is nothing worth what that child endures during the German-class session. When Mrs. Hoffman enters and begins to speak, Pamela undergoes the most unbelievable metamorphosis imaginable! Well, you saw it.”

Yes, from behind a one-way mirrored glass where parents were allowed to observe classes in progress, Janet had watched with alarm. Unknown to Pamela, Janet had come on the invitation of the principal and Mrs. Jones to see for herself.

“Guten morgen!” Mrs. Hoffman’s voice came through an overhead speaker in the insulated cubicle.

The reaction was immediate. Pamela, at a desk readily visible to Janet, had been sitting with her hands clasped atop the writing board. Mrs. Hoffman’s voice seemed to shatter the child’s calm.

The teacher went directly to the green slate “blackboard” and began writing German words, her voice rising as she turned her back to the class. Janet had watched spellbound as Pamela began trembling. Pamela’s head started to shake, the tremor spreading until her entire desk shook and other students were turning to stare. Huge tears formed in the child’s eyes, dislodged by blinks to roll down her cheeks.

“Pamela?” Mrs. Hoff man questioned kindly, “nochmals?”

“I’m sorry,” Pamela cried. “I’m sorry, Mrs. Hoffman.”

That evening, when she and Russell were preparing for bed, Janet casually mentioned, “They removed Pamela from her German classes.”

She was aware of Russell’s penetrating gaze at her back. She continued brushing her hair, using peripheral vision to gauge his response in the vanity mirror. After looking at her a very long time, almost accusingly it seemed to Janet, Russell neatly folded his trousers and hung them where the maid could take them out for cleaning in the morning.

“I went over to the school and observed the German class. It is a wise decision to remove her.”

Russell was abed now, hands behind his head, staring up at the ceiling.

“For some unfathomable reason, the class seems to cause her great distress. She begins trembling—”

“It is the teacher then,” Russell stated.

“No. I don’t think so. She says she likes Mrs. Hoffman, her teacher.”

“Then what?” Russell demanded.

“I don’t know what, Russell. We can’t figure it out.”

“Does it matter, truly?”

“I guess not.”

Russell cut out his bedside lamp and turned on his side, back to Janet. The subject was closed.