Midnight Caller - By Diane Burke


Friday, 3:30 p.m., Florida

His fingers tapped an angry rhythm against the handle of the scalpel hidden in his pocket. Where was she? He checked his wristwatch for the third time in as many minutes. Her shift had ended thirty minutes ago. She should be standing in that doorway by now.



A boom of thunder, like cannon fire, shook the ground. A stinging stream of water hit his face, but still he didn’t move from beneath the tree. He simply raised his umbrella and continued to stare at the entrance to the hospital.


A petite woman in her early thirties paused in the doorway of Florida Memorial and frowned at the weather.

What kept you, sweetheart? What’s the matter? Afraid a little rain might hurt you? He chuckled at the irony of his thoughts. He shoved his hand back into his pocket, grasping and releasing the weapon. His pulse quickened. His skin quivered in anticipation.

From a distance, he watched as she rummaged through her tote bag and pulled out a magazine. A grin twisted his lips. Like that’s going to protect you. Like anything could protect you now.

Eyeing the storm once more, the woman placed the magazine over her head and dashed to the parking lot.

He shadowed her at a discreet distance, not that it would have mattered. She was so busy trying to save herself from the storm, she was oblivious to her true danger.

She fumbled with her keys and dropped them. Seeming to realize the futility of trying to stay dry, she lowered the magazine, scooped up her keys and unlocked her car door. Her blond hair, wet and matted, hugged her skull.

He took out his own keys and slipped into the truck parked behind her blue minivan. Adjusting the rearview mirror, he watched her back out of her parking space. Her brake lights glowed at the stop sign before she signaled and turned into the late-afternoon traffic.

He turned the key in the ignition.

Hurry, little one, this way and that. None of it will matter because death is right behind you.

“I hate cops!” The kitchen door slammed shut behind Erin O’Malley. Seeing her aunt and son sitting at the table, she grinned sheepishly. “Sorry.” She deposited the groceries in her arms on the counter.

Aunt Tess chuckled. “Sounds like someone got another speeding ticket.”

“Yeah, going forty-five in a thirty-five zone. I’m a genuine NASCAR driver.”

“Mommy, it’s not nice to say you hate cops,” Erin’s five-year-old son, Jack, mumbled through a mouthful of cereal. “Cops are the good guys.”

Good guys? One of those good guys had raised her, teaching her all she needed to know about secrets, pain and loss. And Jack’s dad had been one of those “good guys,” too. But it didn’t stop him from hightailing it out of their lives when Jack was diagnosed with cerebral palsy. No, thank you very much. She’d had enough of those “good guys” to last a lifetime.

“You’ve packed so much cereal in your mouth that the pressure has clogged up your ears, little man. Mommy said she ran into some ‘great cops.’” She kissed her son’s forehead and ruffled his hair. “Besides, what did I tell you about talking with food in your mouth?”

“Oh-kay.” Jack gulped and swallowed his last bite. “I’m ready. Let’s go.”

Erin was daydreaming about a day off and almost didn’t hear her son. A day of rest. Puttering around in her garden. Reading a book from her growing to-be-read pile. Maybe even sneaking in a bubble bath. The temptation to indulge herself brought a smile to her lips.

“Now, Jack, I think your mother might be a bit tuckered out.” Tess patted his hand. “Why don’t you and I have a picnic in the backyard and let your mother get some rest.”

Jack turned to face her, his eyes wide. “But, Mommy, you promised.”

The urgency in his voice snagged her attention. She blinked and just looked at him while her brain scrambled to get out of daydream mode and process what he said. She remembered now. They’d been planning to attend the annual Wish for the Stars fundraiser and today was the big day.

This year it coincided with the upcoming Easter holiday. Carol Henderson, her best friend and member of the planning committee, told them the opening ceremony included a parade led by the Easter Bunny and more than five thousand eggs hidden away for the hunt. Later, there’d be music, hot dogs, hamburgers, soda and chips. All for a nominal price of admission.

Jack grew more excited as the day approached. His excitement must