The Replacement Child


Monday Night

Lucy Newroe hated the word supererogation. It was one of those ridiculous words you’d see in a Reader’s Digest Word Power quiz. Like quidnunc or sesquipedalian—words whose only purpose was to make the user look smart and the listener feel stupid.

Lucy had no clue what supererogation meant, and she didn’t know how to spell it. Obviously, neither did the reporter who had written the story she was editing—he had spelled it “superaregation.” The spell check on Lucy’s computer wanted her to change it to “super are nation,” as if that made more sense.

Normally, she would have taken the word out, but it was in a direct quote: “‘The constant superaregation by the director bordered on the absurd,’ said audience member Jake Plumber.” There was no changing of quotes in news stories. Either she took the word out and paraphrased the quote or kept the word in and figured out how to spell it.

“Oh, hell,” Lucy said to her computer. No one even turned to look. It was about 11:30 P.M. Her side of the newsroom was empty except for her and a lone reporter, while the copy-desk side was full of people working quietly. The story deadline had come and gone, but the page deadline still was an hour away. The dance-company review she was editing didn’t need to be done until tomorrow. As the night city editor, she had to wait until the copy desk finished its pages before she could go home.

Lucy got up to look for a dictionary as her phone rang. She picked it up and rambled off her phone introduction without even thinking—“Capital Tribune newsroom. This is Lucy Newroe. How can I help you?”—as she tried to make the phone cord reach to the dictionary on the shelf.

“Is Harold there?”

Lucy recognized the voice. It was old and female. “It’s just me in charge tonight,” Lucy said as she grabbed the dictionary.

“How about Steve?”

Lucy smiled. Scanner Lady always wanted to talk to the male editors, never to her. “I’m it. You’re stuck with me, I guess. What’s going on?”

Scanner Lady hesitated. Lucy thought she was going to hang up.

“Well, I don’t know,” said the voice.

“Did you hear something on the police scanner?” Lucy asked, as she paged through the S’s in the dictionary—was it “supere” or “supera”?

“I think I did.” Scanner Lady hesitated again. “I think I heard two Santa Fe police officers talking about calling in the OMI and the state police.”

Lucy tossed down the dictionary and started taking notes. Calling in the Office of the Medical Investigator meant a dead body, and calling in the New Mexico State Police to investigate meant that whatever had happened, it might involve a cop. The state police automatically took over any case that concerned a law enforcement officer.

Lucy snapped her fingers at Tommy Martinez, the night cops reporter. He turned and looked at her as she pointed to her phone. He knew what it meant. He grabbed his notepad and ran over to Lucy’s desk.

“So you heard the Santa Fe cops call out the OMI and state police?” She was repeating it for confirmation and so that Tommy could hear. He guessed who it was on the phone. “Thank God for Scanner Lady,” he whispered, and started taking notes.

Lucy ignored him and said into the phone, “When was this?”

“Just a few minutes ago,” Scanner Lady said. “I don’t want to say any more. Just listen to your scanner.”

But Lucy had been listening to the scanner—it sat on a shelf right above her desk—and she hadn’t heard anything. It wasn’t unusual for police scanners to pick up