Twilight Sleep

Part 3 of the Braunville Chronicles

Amelia Franck had no memory of delivery. In one moment of consciousness she was waiting for the doctor to return, and in the next she had delivered, stomach flat. A nurse that had not been present for the earlier delivery prep administered a dose of morphine and scopalamine, called “twilight sleep” by medical officials, a concoction traditionally used to numb the pain of child birth. The practice had been all but abandoned by the medical industry by the time of Amelia’s labor, but she was unaware of this. She was also unable to give a clear description of the nurse, who is thought to have absconded with the infant once delivery was complete.

Investigation into the hospital acquitted both the doctor and nurses presiding over the birth, but also revealed an alarming trend of abduction.

Patients brought in for cranial injury or otherwise rendered insensate were frequently checked out by “relatives” with oddly aggressive behavior. These supposed family members would intimidate staff into forgoing identity checks and release forms, sometimes even carting out patients still unconscious. While Amelia’s case was the most alarming, it was by no means the only stolen birth in hospital records. The victims were often low-income, some with very poor command of the English language who could not state their case clearly for the doctors. In fact, Amelia’s birth was a clear step outside the norm: Amelia was the daughter of a well-known public figure, Gene Franck, and could clearly state what she remembered of the incident. Another exception came in the mail six weeks after delivery. Written on a piece of cardboard torn from a cereal box, a note told Amelia the infant was “Lucky to be stolen befor[sic] it could even dry off.” Handwriting analysis indicated the writer was suffering from cranial trauma. Police expected a ransom note to follow, but that was the end of the correspondence.

Police turned their search outward, to adoption agencies operating in-state. The illegal brokering of infants was not unheard of, but usually it involved children taken from other countries imported into the US. The search turned up no infants fitting the description of the missing. However, a lead was provided by the owner of the Warm Hearths adoption center, who drew up a list of equipment needed to provide support for children taken directly after birth. Police were able to use this list to canvas various in-state purchases of the equipment, narrowing the search down to one facility.

Harlow Downs was a series of warehouses built by the Magnum Steel Mill, sold off to the city to bail out the foundering mill in 1928. The property passed from hand to hand until it was purchased by the Swan Fruit company in 1985, a company that, upon investigation, did not exist. Police raids on the warehouses produced nothing. The warehouses stood empty of people and equipment. Puzzlingly, a mural of the city itself was painted on the inside walls of each warehouse.

The Franck family is currently offering a $500,000 reward for the return of Amelia’s infant.

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