He crouched in the cemetery that embraced three
sides of the hillside parking lot across from Bradley Memorial
. A massive
family marker shielded him yet allowed him a clear view of the steps, the
street and the door of the Emergency Room. Dark clouds slid across the surface
of the moon. Lights, set high on poles around the perimeter of the lot sent
finger shadows groping among the cars.
The watcher straightened and edged from behind
the granite marker. White puffs of vapor from the shallow, rapid breaths he
took coalesced around his face. He held his body as rigid as a tombstone. As he
waited for the evening nurses to end their tour of duty and hurry across the
street to their cars, his narrowed eyes focused on the brightly-lit hospital
entrance. Every night for a week, he had watched while excitement and
anticipation had circled like a swarm of hornets. Would she come tonight?
"I'll never leave you." When he was
eight, Mommy had said the words that had become his litany. That broken promise
had brought him here.
He stared at the steps. When would Susan come?
When Mommy was a patient, Susan had been her
favorite nurse. He had liked Susan, too, but she hadn't stopped those other
people from hurting Mommy. His shoulders tensed.
"I'll never leave you. They'll have to kill
The night Mommy died was etched into his
memories. On that dreadful night, he had begun his plan to make them pay.
Mommy would be unhappy about what he meant to do.
To her, nurses were special and Susan more wonderful than the rest.
He rocked from his heels to his toes. The last
time he had disobeyed, Mommy had threatened to tell everyone how bad he was. He
had promised her he would be good. His hands curled into fists. Sometimes he
wanted to feel the heat of accomplishment so much he felt sick.
He gulped a breath. Tonight the heat would
blossom and he would feel powerful again.
Susan was like Mommy. She would tell. He chewed
on his lower lip. Her death would free him to still the people who had hurt
Mommy on that dreadful night.
His smile became a grimace.
He had trusted Susan but she had failed to keep
Mommy safe. Though he wished to see the others dead, Susan had to be first. He
had laid his plans carefully, and while he had considered all the things that
could go wrong, days had become weeks and then months.
The bright lights across the street caught his
attention and stirred his hopes. She had to come tonight. He wanted to be free.
His hand brushed Mommy's tombstone. He pressed
his fingers against the engraved letters of her name. He cocked his head and
listened to the whisper of the wind.
"Nurses give so much to others. Someone
should take care of them."
Mommy's husky voice thrummed in a corner of his
mind. Her face appeared. Tears spilled from her eyes. He shook his head. Why
should he listen to her when she had left him?
Sometimes at night when he slept in her bed, he
caught a glimmer of her presence. For fleeting moments, the scent of her
perfume brought her to him.
He squared his shoulders. Since he was eight and
Daddy died, Mommy had watched him carefully. One day, her vigilance had
wavered. The neighborhood bully had fallen from a tree and broken his neck.
That awful boy shouldn't have torn up Mommy's flower garden.
Mommy had liked the candy and the other presents
he had given her every time he disobeyed. He groaned. Who would like his
Where was Susan? Waiting made him anxious. She
had to come so she would be just like Mommy.
He saw her. Hazel eyes, sad eyes, Susan's eyes,
Mommy's eyes. Brown hair swirled to hide her siren smile. He reached for her,
but she vanished into the darkness of the night.
The chill November wind flowed across his nape.
He jammed his hands into the pockets of his black leather jacket and touched
the weapon he had brought.
The sound of leather scuffling against asphalt
caused him to turn and scan the parking lot. When he saw no one, his gaze
returned to the hospital entrance.
Someone dashed across the street. A flash of
white showed beneath the woman's dark coat. He held his breath. Susan had come.
It had to be her. A rush of anticipation built to a peak. She was here. The
nurse ran up the steps beside the cemetery.
A darting shadow startled him. With stealthy
movements, a dark-clad figure edged between the cars. The nurse paused beside a
battered tan sedan. A hand stretched to grasp the purse that dangled from her
"Susan, watch out." A bellow proclaimed
his rage. If she was attacked, he should be the attacker.
Mommy wouldn't like that. "A good boy never
hurts a woman." She had never guessed what he had done, not even when he
had given her the tri-colored bracelet she had always worn.
"No," he shouted.
The dark figure fled and nearly tripped over the
single strand of chain that separated the parking lot from the cemetery.
The watcher smiled. Mommy would be proud of him.
He couldn't wait to go home and tell her what he had done tonight.
A shrill scream rose. From her? From him? He bit
his lower lip and clenched his hands. He stared at the woman he had thought was
Susan. She wasn't, but she had been in Mommy's room the night she died. Intent
on completing what the mugger had begun, he stepped toward the chain. What was
he thinking about? He couldn't, not tonight. Susan had to be the first. He
returned to Mommy's grave. Her voice rode on the wind.
"What will become of you when I'm not here
to look after you? I'll never leave you. They'll have to kill me first."
But she was dead and they had killed her.
"Mommy, don't leave me. You promised you
would never go."
The nurse ran to the steps. She shouted and waved
to the group of women who hurried across the street. He slid deeper into the
shadows. Car doors slammed. Engines roared. He waited until most of the cars
had left the parking lot before he went to his own. As he drove home, he
wondered why Susan hadn't come.