“How much longer until we land?” Tyler whispered to the flight attendant.
Worry creased the flight attendant’s brow as she eased the obviously pregnant woman to the plane’s galley floor and adjusted her own jumpseat headrest underneath the woman’s head. Cushioning the headrest with as many small airline pillows and blankets as she could, she glanced up at Tyler, shaking her head. “We’re still an hour away. We have medical personnel waiting for us when we land in Paris, though.”
Tyler sighed in frustration. He was pretty sure this baby wouldn’t wait an hour.
“What’s wrong?” the young mother demanded, looking up into Tyler’s face. “Is there something wrong with the baby? I thought you said you were a doctor!”
“I am a doctor,” Tyler reassured her, his tone soothing. “My name is Dr. Tyler Winthrop, and I’m going to do everything I can to help you, but it looks like your baby isn’t going to wait for the plane to land.”
A single tear slid down the woman’s cheek as she slumped back, letting her hand go slack. “Will my baby die? I’m not due for another six weeks.”
Tyler squeezed her hand and shook his head for emphasis. “Not if I can help it.”
She looked up at him, her cheeks tear-stained now, but nodded. “Thank you,” she whispered. “I don’t want my baby to die.”
Tyler groaned inwardly at her words. A premature baby might need specialized care that he didn’t have at his disposal, but he planned to be true to his word. He would do everything he could to help. He rolled his sleeves up and turned back to the flight attendant. “I’m going to need more clean towels and whatever medical supplies you have on board. A couple more blankets as well.”
The flight attendant nodded and left. Tyler looked down into the eyes of his patient, seeing naked fear there but also trust that he would make this right, to heal her and help her. It was an all-too-familiar sight, and he looked away, telling himself that these circumstances were different. Still, this was a dangerous situation—nothing could change that—and so many factors could affect the outcome. He ran his hand through his short brown hair and drew in a deep breath. Scrunching down onto the floor and trying to maneuver his long legs into a comfortable position beside his patient made Tyler even more acutely aware of the small space they were afforded in the back of the plane. But if he were to look at the silver lining of the situation, everything would be within arm’s reach. He grabbed a clean towel from the cart parked beside him and wiped a small bead of perspiration away from the woman’s forehead. “Tell me your name.”
“Amber,” she said, her voice shaky. “I think another contraction is coming.”
“Okay, just look at me. We’re going to breathe together. Do as I do.” He offered his hand to her. “Just squeeze my hand, and we’ll get through this.” As the contraction began to take hold, Tyler was grateful at how quickly the breathing techniques came back to him. It had been a long time since he’d helped someone through childbirth.
She clasped his hand firmly as the contraction gained strength and copied his breathing as she tried to get through the pain. When it was over, she sank back against the pile of pillows and blankets behind her. “I don’t think I can do this.” Her breathing was ragged now, and her face registered the pain she’d just been through.
“You can do this,” he reassured her. He looked over his shoulder, surprised that the flight attendant was taking so long with the supplies. “Where is your husband?” he asked, trying to keep Amber talking.
“He’s meeting me in Paris,” Amber said forlornly. “I thought I’d be okay to fly since I had six more weeks left.” She started to cry. “I should have stayed home and come after the baby was born.”
“Amber, I need you to concentrate on your baby. Stay calm and use all your strength,” he said gently and squeezed her hand again. “Do you know if it’s a boy or a girl?”
“It’s a girl,” she said, the ghost of a smile on her lips. “We just can’t decide on a name.”
The flight attendant poked her head back in, her arms full of towels and a box of medical supplies. “How are we doing? Is there any way at all to hold off until the plane lands?” Her eyebrows were raised in a question as she set everything down on the cart.
Tyler couldn’t answer her because another contraction had started and from the intensity with which Amber was squeezing his hand, he knew this one was stronger. He once again showed her the breathing technique and continued breathing with her until it was over. “It won’t be long now,” he finally said. “This baby isn’t waiting.” He grabbed some of the extra blankets and other supplies the flight attendant had brought and quickly got himself organized. “Amber, are you ready?”
Amber nodded weakly. “I think so.”
When Tyler opened the first-aid box and laid out what he would need, he looked up at Amber. “Okay, this is it.” Amber was wide-eyed and panicked. “Remember what I said—gather all your strength, and concentrate on your little girl.” She nodded and closed her eyes, but in a few moments the contraction was upon her, and she was pushing while Tyler counted. All indications were that the baby was in the right position and that everything was textbook, but from his experience, that didn’t mean something couldn’t go wrong. He leaned down, trying to meet her eyes so she could focus on him. “You’re so close, Amber, just a few more pushes. I know you can do this. You’re just about to meet your baby.”
She shook her head, then closed her eyes. “I can’t do it,” she mumbled. “I can’t do it anymore.”
A second flight attendant joined them, looking at Amber sympathetically. “I came to tell you that the plane is getting ready to land now. The ambulance is waiting to take you to the hospital, and your husband is waiting there. Just hold on until then.”
Amber seemed to rally a bit at her words. “My husband is waiting?”
The attendant nodded. Amber took a deep breath and slowly let it out. After one more push, Tyler was holding the smallest baby he’d ever seen. He cleared her mouth as best he could, then gently compressed her tiny chest. When that didn’t seem to do anything, he tried blowing little puffs of air into her mouth while rubbing her with one of the towels, his heart pounding as they waited for her first cries.
“She’s not crying,” Amber choked out. “Is she . . . ?”
Tyler rubbed a little more vigorously, and after a few long seconds the baby let out a weak cry. He smiled and continued his ministrations, and before long, the baby was letting out a wail. He knew that it was critical for premature babies to stay warm, so he laid the baby on her mother’s stomach, then covered both of them with a blanket. “Amber, meet your daughter.”
The baby continued to wail, and he could hear applause from the passengers at the front of the plane. Looking at mother and daughter, he could barely contain the emotion that rose within him. It had been so long since he had been present when life was just beginning. Usually he was there to witness life drawing to a close, as the dying called out for their mothers and he stood by, helpless, unable to do anything more for them. His eyes stung with unshed tears, and he turned away from the sight of mother and daughter to clean up a little, busying himself with getting Amber and the baby ready for the plane to land.
With the flight attendants’ help, Amber and the baby were ready for the jolt of landing and prepared for transport. The paramedics seemed to miraculously appear just minutes after landing and took over the patients’ care. Before they whisked mother and daughter away, Amber reached for his hand. “Thank you,” she said. “I owe my baby’s life to
Tyler smiled. “You did a great job,” he told her. “You’re going to be fine, and your baby is beautiful. Good luck.” She smiled at his words, and with one last squeeze of his hand they were gone.
Turning to a nearby flight attendant, he asked if she would mind bringing him his carry-on bag, since it had an extra shirt in it and the one he was wearing was ruined. When she returned with the bag a few moments later, he quickly changed, then made his way back to his seat. As he passed by, several people were anxious to give him a pat on the back and another round of applause. He smiled politely and bent to gather his things. The adrenaline was wearing off, and he felt happy, but tired, and ready to get to his hotel.
As he gathered the items he’d brought on the plane, he realized with dismay that his laptop bag was missing. He carefully went through his belongings, looked in the overhead compartment, and searched all around and underneath his seat to no avail. The bag was nowhere to be found. All of his papers, his computer files, and his books were gone. One book in particular that had been in the case held special meaning for him, and he cringed to think it could be missing.
He scanned the plane, trying to locate the flight attendant who had brought him his shirt, but he couldn’t see her anywhere. A knot was starting to form in the pit of his stomach. That laptop case had his entire life on it. He made his way to the exit, where the pilot and a few of the crew were still standing.
“Thanks for all your help, doc,” the pilot said. “I hear it was a girl.”
Tyler nodded. “It was. I’m glad we were so close to landing so the baby could get to a hospital.”
“Well, you kept your head in the crisis, but I guess that comes with the territory of being a baby doctor.”
“I’m actually a trauma surgeon. I just finished my second tour of duty in Iraq.”
The smile died on the pilot’s face. He was quiet for a moment, and the crew exchanged a few quick glances. “I’m glad you made it home safe, then. What are you doing in Paris?”
“Meeting my father for a little vacation.” Tyler cleared his throat. “Sir, I seemed to have lost my bag with my laptop in it. I’m sure someone mistakenly took it for theirs, but I would really like to get it back as soon as possible. I was going to ask the flight attendant about it, but she seems to be gone already.”
The pilot furrowed his brow. “I’ll look into it for you, but you should file a report with the airline. I’m sure they’re going to want to speak to you about the baby’s birth anyway.”
Tyler groaned and rubbed the back of his neck. All he wanted to do was get to his hotel, maybe eat some French food, and take a hot shower. Looking back at the pilot, he pasted a smile on his face, thanked him, and moved toward the exit to report his loss and gather the rest of his luggage. He had mixed emotions as he walked through the terminal teeming with people anxious to reach their destinations. He watched a businessman hurry past him, barely aware of his surroundings as he spoke on a cell phone, and Tyler felt a twinge of jealousy. He used to be like that. He’d had a direction and purpose before and during his deployment to Iraq. But everything was different now. He no longer knew where he was going, yet helping the woman on the plane had given him a taste of the confidence he thought he’d lost. So despite the frustration of losing his laptop bag, he felt a glimmer of hope that his time in Paris could help him gain some perspective on where his life might be headed now that his tour of duty in Iraq was over. He suspected his dad had been thinking along the same lines when he’d invited Tyler to join him here in Paris. Time would tell, but Tyler was hopeful.
* * *
It felt like hours since Tyler had entered the small room along with several other people to report lost luggage and lost belongings. He watched the stress in the face of the harried woman behind the desk as people raised their voices to her. The knot in his stomach tightened as the crowd seemed to feed off of the anger of others, loudly voicing their opinions of airlines that had lost their luggage. The young woman tried to calm each person down, but Tyler could see the fatigue on her face. When the man in front of him started shouting and waving his hands close to the woman’s face, Tyler had had enough. He stepped in, touching the angry man’s arm. “Sir, you need to calm down.”
He sized Tyler up, looking like he wanted to continue the argument, but changed his mind as Tyler moved closer to him. The man dropped his gaze to the floor before mumbling an apology. Tyler moved to the front of the line and gave the clerk a smile.
“Merci beaucoup,” she said, returning his smile, obviously a little surprised by his actions.
Tyler knew a smattering of French and replied with what he hoped was “you’re welcome.” “Je vous en prie,” he told her.
She handed him a small stack of papers. “Welcome to France.”
For just a moment, Tyler really did feel welcome. But when the older lady behind him snorted her impatience at being made to wait a second longer, the moment was gone. He nodded as he moved aside, giving one last grin to the woman who was helping him.
Clutching the papers, he sat down to fill them out. When he had finally written down all of his contact information in case the laptop was found or the airline had any questions for him, he hauled the rest of his luggage to the curb and hailed one of the waiting taxis to take him to the Hotel de Crillon, where his father was staying.
As the driver wound through the streets of Paris, Tyler laid his head back, just letting the sights slip by him. It still felt strange not to be in uniform. Blowing out a breath, he sat up straight and looked out the window as the car slowed down. The driver had pulled up to an elaborate hotel that seemed to once have been a palace. Tyler raised his eyebrows. This was luxury! Leaning forward, he paid the driver and then retrieved his luggage. As he walked into the lavish lobby, the gilded raised ceilings made him feel as if he were visiting royalty. An impeccably dressed man behind the front desk greeted him with polite aloofness. “Welcome to the Hotel de Crillon,” he said, his accent barely noticeable. “How may I help you?”
“I’m Tyler Winthrop. I believe my reservation is under the name Craig Winthrop.”
He typed the name into his computer, staring at the screen. “Ah, yes, you are on the fifth floor, monsieur.” He lifted his hand, and Tyler was surprised when he rang a small bell and a bellhop with a classic red uniform appeared. “Fifth floor, please,” he said to the young man.
“Room 5118.” The bellhop nodded and took Tyler’s bags. “Enjoy your stay,” the concierge said as Tyler followed the bellhop down the hall to the elevator.
Tyler nodded. “Thank you.” After a short elevator ride, the bellhop opened a door at the far end of the hallway, holding out his hand for Tyler to enter the suite first. As Tyler stepped over the threshold, he stopped for a moment, just taking in his surroundings. It was probably the most luxurious place he’d ever seen, a stark contrast to the cot and tents he’d recently left behind. Walking through the sitting room, he took in the dark wood paneling, elegant draperies, and plush carpeting. “This is amazing,” Tyler muttered to himself. He moved into the bathroom and was impressed with the huge bathtub surrounded by windows that boasted a spectacular view of the Eiffel Tower. “Wow,” was all Tyler could think to say.
He walked back into the sitting room where the bellhop waited patiently. Tyler thanked him and gave him a tip, firmly shutting the door behind him. He went to the first bedroom on the left and saw that his luggage had been neatly placed next to the canopied bed.
Peeking into the second bedroom, he saw his father’s watch, his pen, and some paper on the ornate end table. Nodding, Tyler determined that his father must still be at a business meeting. He had planned to wrap up all company business items today so he and Tyler could focus on enjoying Paris together without business getting in the way. It must have taken longer than he thought.
He took advantage of the time he had and took a long, hot shower, letting the steaming water run until he felt he couldn’t stand the heat anymore. It had been a long time since he’d had hot water anytime he wanted it and for as long as he wanted it. Tyler considered taking a short nap after his shower, but thought better of it, deciding he didn’t want to risk a nightmare. Instead he called room service and ordered lunch, intending to eat just enough to tide him over until his father returned. As he glanced at the end table once more, it struck him as strange that his father hadn’t left a note as to when Tyler could expect him back. It wasn’t like him. He shrugged. He knew there was nothing to be done but wait.
As he waited for lunch to arrive, he flipped idly through the hotel’s tourist packet on the small sitting table near the door. A flyer announcing a special exhibit at the Musée d’Orsay—“An Artist’s Peace: A Retrospective of the Works of Picasso and the Influence of Pacifism”—caught his eye. The small pictures accompanying the announcement showed several of Picasso’s paintings and piqued Tyler’s interest. Given his recent experiences, an exhibit about peace was just what he needed. As soon as his father returned he would suggest that the museum be their first stop in Paris.
A knock on the door signaled that lunch had arrived. Tyler strode across the suite and opened the door wide so the waiter could wheel in the table. After thanking and tipping the waiter, he opened the large lid from the silver platter and gaped at the arrangement of lunch items.
There was a large salad with tomatoes and cucumbers, some pâté, rare beefsteak with green beans, a slice of camembert with fresh baguettes, and a fancy little French cake that, if he recalled correctly, was a Paris-Brest. It smelled heavenly. He sampled each part of the lunch before placing the rest in the room’s mini-fridge for later. Unable to resist, he grabbed the little French cake and moved toward the balcony. The sun was already high in the sky as the heat of the day had fallen over Paris.
A light breeze ruffled the curtains on the balcony door, and Tyler could hear distant sounds of laughter coming from below. He stepped out and took a deep breath, reveling in the smells, the fresh air, and the fact that he wasn’t breathing sand.
His stomach still grumbled a bit in protest after the light lunch, but he didn’t want to eat his first full meal in Paris without his dad. He knew his father was looking forward to a nice sit-down meal as well, since he’d mentioned that Tyler’s flight would get in just in time for a late lunch for the two of them. With a sigh, he glanced at his watch, then wandered into his father’s room to check once more that he hadn’t missed a note. After a thorough check of the room, he was certain that the only two items in the room, besides his father’s luggage, were the watch and the pen on the desk. He thought it a little odd that his dad had left these items behind—he couldn’t recall seeing the watch without it being strapped to his father’s wrist, and he was hardly ever without the personalized, engraved pen. Just as he put his father’s things in his pockets, the phone rang, and he reached down to pick it up. “You have a message that has been delivered, monsieur,” the concierge’s voice said in his ear. “Would you like it brought up to you?”
“I’ll come down and get it,” Tyler said. He was restless and wanted to get out of the room anyway. Most likely the message was from his father to figure out when and where they could meet. “Thank you. I’ll be right down.” He hung up and made sure he had his room key and his wallet before he shut the door behind him and headed downstairs.
He stopped at the concierge’s desk and gave his name once again. The concierge returned with two envelopes. “Both envelopes were delivered by messenger just moments ago.” He gave Tyler a polite smile, smoothed his suit jacket, then turned to answer a ringing telephone.
Tyler nodded and thanked him before stepping away to read his message. He ripped open the envelope to find a single piece of paper. “Tyler, you need to go home. Return to the United States and wait for me there. I can’t explain right now. Please do as I ask.” Tyler furrowed his brow. That didn’t make sense. Why would his father invite him here only to send him home? The note was cryptic and very unlike his father. Something seemed off. He looked around, making sure he was alone, before opening the other envelope that was addressed to his father. He hoped it contained something that would help him make heads or tails of the situation, but all it contained was a slip of paper with the name “Jacques DuBois” written on it and a phone number. What was going on? He walked back to the desk. “When my father left the hotel, was he with anyone?” he asked the clerk.
“I didn’t see him leave,” the clerk told him. “Sorry.”
He looked down at Tyler’s hands, and Tyler drew them closer to his leg so it wasn’t readily apparent that he had opened both envelopes. “Do you know who left the second envelope for my father?” Tyler asked.
The clerk shook his head. “No, I’m sorry.”
Tyler mulled the situation over for a moment, trying to decide on a plan of action, then said, “I’m going out. May I leave a message for my father in case he returns before I get back?”
The man nodded and gave Tyler a piece of paper, pen, and an envelope. Tyler quickly scrawled that he was going to wait for his father in Paris until he could speak to him personally and that he would be at the Musée d’Orsay if he returned to the hotel and wanted to join him. Tyler handed the note to the clerk and stepped back. Other guests were waiting, and the clerk looked apologetically at Tyler as he moved toward them.
“Thank you,” Tyler called, as he walked toward the front door. The flyer announcing the special exhibit on Picasso at the Musee d’Orsay gave him an idea for passing the time at least, until he could talk to his dad. His conscience pricked him, though, as he thought about his father’s note. Should he try to get a flight out of Paris and head home as his father had asked? There had to be a good reason for his request. Tyler went through the front door, shielding his eyes from the sun as he stepped onto the Parisian street. No, he decided. I’m here, and I really need to talk to my dad. With luck, he’ll be at the hotel when I get back, or we can meet up at the museum. Pushing the note deeper into his pocket, he started down the street.