The biggest shopping day of the year was a killer, all right.
Sophie sidestepped a trail of plastic syringe tips.
Torn plastic wraps from hastily opened four by four gauze drifted in her wake. One step away from a full trot, she jammed her hands into the pockets of her medical jacket and grimaced at a blood trail dotting the black and white tiled floor. Third time that night.
Overserved with turkey both fowl and Wild, two good ol’ boys had duked it out in the Emergency Room hall earlier. Then they’d thrown up on her socks. Damned shame waste of good likker, one had said morosely. Boozily consoling each other, they’d left in the firm grip of one of Poinciana knights in blue.
Following the blood trail, she automatically checked out the ER. All five treatment rooms were filled, the waiting room out front was packed to the corners with sniffling, bleeding people, and they all wanted her attention.
Five minutes ago.
Behind her, a bucket clanked against the floor and water slopped against her, trickled inside her lace-trimmed green socks. She swore under her breath and stopped, the bells on her shoe laces jingling.
“Sorry, doc. Damned thing slipped.” Billy Ray Watley’s stringy pony-tail swung with his quick grab for the cart.A yellow Caution Wet Floor sign smacked against the wall and tumbled to the wet floor. On the other side, the sign warned Cuidado/Piso Mijado. He shot her a worried grin.
No problem, Billy Ray. Don’t sweat it.
Your Christmas socks are ruined. He jiggled the cart, his pony tail a pendulum to his jitters.
Not really. Even with soapy water squishing between her toes, she smiled. An effort after fourteen hours on duty, but Billy Ray was one of their own.
She reached down and plucked at one soggy sock. The bells clinked flatly. At six this morning, filled with energy and cold pumpkin pie, she’d pulled on orange socks. With turkeys prancing around the cuffs.
By four in the afternoon, the turkeys had yielded to plain white. She’d meant to save the jingles until midnight. No sense rushing the season, but she’d run out of her white socks. It was going to be a five-sock-change day before she could get out of here, thanks to Billy Ray, the barfing good old boys, and the teenager from the motorcycle accident.
Dumb kid. No helmet. No sense. She straightened and felt the pop and crackle of every vertebra in her back.
And then there was the woman beating victim. A stranger, but a connection…. Sophie didn’t want her to die.
And knew she would.
In a cold, driving rain at two in the morning, they found the baby lying in the manger of the Second Baptist Church, directly across the street from Beth Israel, the only synagogue in the tri-county area.
What the hell, Finnigan muttered as rain spat into his eyes and seeped down the neck of his yellow slicker.
Lord have mercy. Tyree Jones squatted and reached under the rough wood roof of the manger. His broad dark hand touched the cradle, hesitated. Rain dripped from the edges of the straw spilling over the edges of the cradle. Shoot, man, it’s a baby, that’s what.
The spotlight in the shelter shone down on the baby. Chocolate brown eyes stared back at them.
I can see it’s a baby, Tyree. The punk knifed my shoulder. Not my eyes. What’s a baby doing here?
All right, I will play. Tyree’s forefinger brushed against the baby’s cheek. What?
Damn it to hell, Tyree. Get the kid out of there. It’s got to be freezing. Finnigan rolled his shoulders, easing the ache of the stitches, and stooped down beside Tyree.
She’s not an it, Judah. She’s an itty-bitty baby girl, that’s what she is. Tyree said as Finnigan bent over him and scooped her up with one hand, tucking the pink Winnie-the-Pooh sheet around her. What a pretty girl you are, too, honey, Tyree cooed. Now why’d somebody go off and leave you here all by your lonesome, huh? Tyree poked his face close to the silent baby.
LOVER IN THE SHADOWS
The third time Molly woke up on her kitchen floor with the knife in her hand, she was too frightened to utter a sound
This time the knife was spotted with blood. Dried, matter dark, it flecked the handled and clotted in the space where shining metal, wiped clean, met a wooden handle.
For a long time she lay with her cheek on the cold tiles and stared at the thing clutched in her white-knuckled fingers. Shadowy in the predawn, the slick black-and-white tile floor had become the color of smoke. Peaceful, this gray, in the silence. The tile felt cool against her cheek. Without turning her head, she let her gaze drift.
It would be so easy to lie here, curled up and lost in that gray blur.
So easy if she didn’t have to look at the knife wavering in her clenched fist.
Moving closer, he watched her lean back in the chair, pale brown hair clinging to the chair fabric, her hands tangled in the black silk of the cat’s fur. Saw, too, the lines around her drawn, silvery gray eyes, the smudges of exhaustion underneath. He sensed the immense effort she was making as her small hands moved in an endless, hypnotic rhythm.
She might drowse now. Possibly. Or not.
He could wait.
But he knew she wouldn’t sleep.