Authors: Mary Burton
IN THE STILL OF THE
Lindsay's cell phone, perched on her
nightstand, rang just after midnight and jerked her awake. Accustomed to being
awakened in the middle of the night, she sat up and answered it.
She shoved back her hair and glanced at the clock on the bedside table.
Sam had dropped her off more than three hours ago and she'd fallen into
bed exhausted. "Hello?"
There was breathing on the other end. Normally, when she got late-night
calls, it was a frightened woman hiding out from her abuser, too afraid to
talk. Often she had to coax the woman into speaking.
But tonight, she didn't sense someone in trouble. She sensed
danger. Her voice harsh, she demanded, "Who is this?"
There was a moment's pause. And then the line went dead.
Lindsay hurried past her roommate's closed door and went down the
carpeted stairs to check the lock on the front door. She peered out the
Then she went to the back sliding
She moved from window to window checking
them. All locked.
She flipped on the floodlight and it shone over her backyard garden. She
stared into the yard looking for any sign of movement.
And yet she had the feeling that someone was watching....
Monday, July 7, 4:10
Thou shalt not kill.
The shadowed figure squatted in the darkness by Harold Turner's
lifeless body, amazed that excitement, not shame, surged.
The sense of power and righteousness was nearly overwhelming.
God's calling to be the Guardian had never been clearer.
Placing the .45-caliber handgun and silencer into a black duffle bag,
the Guardian eyed Harold's body, propped against dented metal trashcans.
Even in death, Turner appeared pompous.
A neat part divided Harold's thinning black hair. Manicured nails
glistened in the moonlight. His double-breasted suit and white shirt still
looked crisp, and his yellow silk tie matched the handkerchief packed in his
breast pocket. Gold monogrammed cuff links told anyone worth knowing that
Harold had money and taste.
But beneath the expensive suit that Harold always wore were track marks
on his arms and behind his knees. It was an open secret that Harold had been a
drug addict for years.
The Guardian adjusted Harold's tie over the growing plume of blood
staining the attorney's shirt. Countless hours had been spent planning
this first murder, strategizing and worrying to near exhaustion. And in the
end, luring Harold here had required only the promise of drugs. Firing the
bullet from the .45 into his chest had been effortless.
"A fitting place, don't you think? I mean, a battered
women's shelter. Your wife certainly would understand why I chose this
The shelter behind them was housed in a white Colonial, and it blended
so seamlessly into the middle-class subdivision that most neighbors
didn't know the home's true purpose. Soft moonlight washed over the
shelter's grassy backyard. A six-foot privacy fence corralled assorted
kick balls, bicycles, and rusted wagons--all donated toys used by the
children staying at the shelter. There was a swing with a long yellow slide
surrounded by mulch.
Thoughts of the children stirred anger in the Guardian. "There
shouldn't be places like this. It's not right. Children should feel
safe in their own home."
The Guardian leveled an accessing gaze on Harold. The high-and-mighty
attorney had stood up in federal court this morning to defend his drug dealer
client, speaking with authority, visibly comfortable with his ability to
manipulate "reasonable doubt."
The Harold Turner who had appeared in the county courtroom was a far cry
from the man who'd stood here just minutes ago with tears running down
his face begging for his life.
Harold had never
understood a fear so sharp it burned.
This Harold had dropped to his knees. He'd offered money and
promised lavish favors--anything to buy back his miserable life.
"But fancy appeals don't work on me, do they Harold?"
the Guardian had said. "There is no redemption for you."
A slight breeze rustled through the thick canopy of leaves above. Soon
the sun would rise and with it the heat. This had been one of the hottest Julys
on record and the heat was drying up yards, draining water tables, and
In the distance a dog barked. A cat screeched. They ran through the dark
yards, their sounds vanishing in the night.
The Guardian stared up at the shelter, searching for any sign that the
animals had awoken anyone. A light on the second floor came on but it just as
quickly went dark. In the last hour of the night, the people in the shelter and
the neighborhood slept.
This was a sacred and blessed time. Predawn's quiet and peace
conjured feelings of invincibility and invulnerability.
The Guardian unfastened the gold cuff link on Harold's left wrist
and carefully tucked it in the attorney's pocket before neatly pushing
the shirt and jacket sleeves up to his elbow. A platinum wedding band squeezed
the ring finger on Harold's left hand.
"His power is great, and He never lets the guilty go
unpunished." The Bible verse had given the Guardian comfort during the
darkest days after Debra's death.
Sweet, sweet Debra,
dead at thirty-nine, her life stolen by her own husband.
Debra's husband had been a respected man in the community, but a violent
man at home. His tyranny had trapped Debra and her daughter in hell for years.
Memories of Debra and her child brought sadness and regret. Debra had
cried out for help. She'd wanted out of her marriage. She'd wanted
a fresh start. But no one had come to her rescue. No one had cared what
happened behind the closed doors of her house.
And then Debra's husband had killed her. He'd violently
beaten her to death and then, like the coward he was, had retreated and killed
himself. Debra's only child had found her mother. The violence of that
day had left its mark on the girl and she'd run away.
Many a night the Guardian had dreamed about Debra and her child and
prayed for their forgiveness.
Twelve years had passed. And then the sign from God came a few months
ago. The sign was an article in a magazine. It was so clean and pure and it
made the Guardian weep. There had been no question then that the time for
revenge had come.
Debra was gone forever, as was her child's lost innocence, but
those who hurt their families could be rooted out and severely punished. They
could be made to pay for their sins against their families.
The Guardian removed a machete from the black duffle bag and raised the
blade high overhead. The edge was razor sharp, finely honed on a whetstone
until the blade could slice paper.
Moonlight glinted off the blade before it came down in one slicing blow
that severed the flesh and bone of Harold's left hand.
Blood splattered onto Harold's face and shirt as well as the
Guardian's jumpsuit and gloved hands. The blood looked brown in the
moonlight as it oozed from the stump and pooled in the dry earth around
Primal energy surged through the Guardian. For a moment, life had never
Retribution is mine.
After wrapping the hand in a plastic zip-top bag, the Guardian shoved it
into the duffle bag along with the machete, still dripping with blood.
Satisfied that no one had seen, the Guardian zipped the duffle bag
closed and then jogged across the backyard, slipped though the privacy fence
gate, and sprinted to the waiting van parked halfway down the block.
Opening the van's front door tripped the dome light. Blinking
against the brightness, the Guardian quickly got in and closed the door.
Darkness shrouded the cab once again. For several seconds, the Guardian sat in
the darkness scanning the homes around to make sure no one had seen. The homes
Finally, satisfied that no one would intrude, the Guardian shifted his
attention to the open flower box on the passenger seat. The box was filled with
purple irises. Each individual stem had been capped with a vial of water to
After removing Harold's hand from the canvas duffle bag, the
Guardian reverently wrapped it in green tissue and nestled it under the
The choice of irises was inspired. She would understand their meaning.
After replacing the lid back on the flower box, the Guardian tied the
red silk ribbon around it into a precise bow, removed a prewritten card from
the glove box and slipped it under the knot.
The Guardian switched on the ignition. The dashboard light washed over
the box and the thick, bold handwriting on the card.
It read, "
Monday, July 7, 8:10
Lindsay O'Neil was late for work.
She was running so far behind because a
power outage had silenced her alarm clock and she'd overslept by almost
She glanced down at her Jeep's speedometer. It hovered just above
thirty miles per hour, but she'd gladly have doubled that speed if Broad
Street's four lanes of westbound traffic hadn't been so clogged
Tension squeezed her chest. Normally, it took fifteen minutes for her to
make the ten-mile trek from her apartment to the women's shelter where
she worked. But normally, she didn't sleep as soundly as she had last
night. Most nights dreams woke her frequently and she had no trouble rising
early and leaving by five
Lindsay turned on the radio. She punched the "scan" button
several times before finally settling on a song she liked. The music and lyrics
calmed her and enabled her to take a few deep breaths. Some of the tension
released from her body.
For the last year and a half, Lindsay had worked as the director of
Sanctuary Women's Shelter. Her schedule was always jam-packed with
counseling sessions and administrative meetings, and most days she barely had
time to eat.
And today's schedule was going to be busier than most. In the last
two and a half hours, Lindsay had missed the seven
group-counseling session that she held each Monday. The meeting was mandatory
for all shelter residents. She'd also missed an eight
. conference call with the chairman of the
shelter's board of directors, Dana Miller, who expected weekly updates.
Missing the teleconference was a problem, but she could talk her way out
of it. However, sleeping through the group session with her residents was
inexcusable. The women who attended that meeting were all in abusive
relationships. Many hadn't worked in years, and most were more afraid of
the unknown that lay ahead than they'd been when they'd lived with
the threat of physical violence. Often Lindsay did little more than listen,
dispense tissues, and offer hugs. What was important was that she was always
there to bolster them up--
no matter what.
And today she'd let them all down.
She flipped open her cell phone. She'd rushed out so quickly this
morning, she'd not thought to call the office. However, the phone's
screen was blank. The battery was dead. Hadn't she set it on the charger?
"The power outage.
Lindsay stopped for a red light and tossed the phone onto the passenger
seat. Heat spiraled up from the road's black asphalt. Even though she had
the air-conditioning on full blast, the heat rose up through the floorboards.
The Jeep's engine fan came on and within seconds the motor hesitated and
threatened to cut off.
"Damn it," she muttered.
She'd been promising herself for months to take the Jeep in for a
tune-up but kept putting it off. There never seemed to be enough time. Now the
engine balked in the high temperature. She shut off the air conditioner and
rolled down the window. Thick, heavy July air rushed into the car.
Without the strain of the air conditioner, the engine settled down.
She started to perspire.
"God, I hate the heat."
It coiled around her. It made her temper rise. It made her
"Mom," she whispered, closing her eyes.
Twelve years ago a seventeen-year-old Lindsay had come home early from
her lifeguard job on a hot, stormy afternoon. Usually, she worked until closing
time, past nine in the evening. But on that hot day, thunderstorms had sent
streaks of lightning across the cloudy sky. The manager had closed the pool
around two and had sent the lifeguards home.
Her lifeguard buddy from the club, Joel, had given her a ride home.
"Hey, are you sure you don't want to catch a movie?" Joel was
a skinny kid with blotchy skin and braces. "It's my treat."
She knew Joel had a crush on her and she didn't want to hurt his
feelings. "Thanks, but I don't get a chance to spend much time with
my mom. But I promise we'll go next week?"
"It's a date." He dropped her off at the top of the circular
drive in front of the green framed house built almost a hundred years ago by
Lindsay waved and with her pool bag dashed past her mother's
prized flower beds filled with daylilies, begonias, and marigolds. The front
screen door wasn't locked, which bothered her. She'd warned her
mother about keeping the door locked.
Her mother had forced her father out two months earlier, because she
could no longer endure the verbal and physical abuse. Since his departure, the
house had taken on a lighter air. Her mother had begun singing again and
she'd taken to wearing makeup. Now Lindsay no longer searched for excuses
not to come home. In fact, she looked forward to it.
Lindsay dropped her pool bag by the front door and checked her watch. Her
mother's waitress shift at the Ashland Town Restaurant wouldn't
start for a few more hours so it gave them time to hang out together.
Thunder boomed and shook the windowpanes in the house. Dark clouds
hovered over the corn fields and the distant trees. Gusty breezes inverted the
oak tree leaves, making the tree line look more silver than green. The storm
was heading east fast and soon it would be all around them.
From the kitchen, the radio crooned
Mamas & the Papas. It
was her mother's favorite song. Lindsay smiled, recalling how the two of
them had danced to the tune just a few weeks ago. Her mother dreamed of going
to California, of seeing the Pacific Ocean and visiting Universal Studios in
Hollywood. Lindsay had promised to drive her mother cross country next summer
right after she graduated from high school. For fun, they spent their spare
time mapping the route west.
The song's chorus repeated the verse about churches, kneeling and
pretending to pray.
Lindsay started to hum and grabbed a soda from the refrigerator, popping
That's when Lindsay spotted her father's worn work gloves on
the kitchen table. Suddenly, her stomach churned. What was her father doing
He'd called her mother once or twice in the last couple of weeks.
The calls had worried Lindsay, but when she had questioned her mother about
them, her mother had downplayed everything and told her not to fret.
Everything looked as it should. The linoleum floor was swept clean.
Dishes drained in the strainer. White lace curtains fluttered in the window.
The Formica-topped table had two place settings arranged across from each
other. Her father could be charming when he wanted to be and most likely had
convinced her mother to fix him lunch.
Now a stir of cold air brushed the back of Lindsay's neck. The
house suddenly felt different. Wrong. Apprehension squeezed her heart.
Lindsay glanced around.
She crossed the kitchen, pushed the back screened door open, and glanced
at the swing and glider by the toolshed in the backyard. Dark clouds covered
"Mom, where are--"
Lindsay turned to the right side of the yard. She stopped abruptly. Her
mother lay on her back near the trash cans by the fence.
She rushed toward her mother and stopped just inches from her. Her
mother's face was so beaten, so swollen, it was nearly unrecognizable.
Blood pooled around her head. Beside her body lay a bloody hammer that looked
as if it had been hurriedly discarded.
Dropping to her mother's side, Lindsay reached out to her mother
but hesitated. She was afraid to touch her.
Afraid to touch
the woman who'd loved her, cared for
her, and refused to abandon her no matter what.
A honking horn wrenched Lindsay from the memory and brought her back to
the present. She glanced up at the green light. Sweat beaded on her forehead.
Her hands trembled. Cursing, she punched the gas.
Twelve years and her hands still trembled when she remembered that day.
Twelve years and she still had nightmares. Twelve years and she felt that if
she didn't have a white-knuckle grip on her life it would all slip away.
"Stop it, Lindsay," she muttered. "It's long
Purposefully, she shifted her mind from the past to her to-do list that she
made certain never ended. The first thing she needed to do was
her boss Dana and apologize for missing their
conference call. The second must-do job was to write the summation for the
grant application, which, if they won, would pay the salary for a full-time
counselor. Then there were the fund-raiser ideas, the notes for her talk to a
local church group tonight, and the hospital intervention awareness
A therapist had once called Lindsay's jam-packed schedule an
avoidance device. He'd said it was easier for her to stay busy than to
think about her losses. Lindsay hadn't argued, because she knew he was
right. But she didn't know how to slow down and keep the dark thoughts at
When she turned into the quiet residential neighborhood where Sanctuary
was located, she slowed to the twenty-five-mile-per-hour speed limit. She was
so far behind schedule today that she'd be working late into the night
just to break even.
She downshifted to first gear when she spotted the two police cars and
the unmarked Impala parked in front of the shelter.
Her fingers tightened on the steering wheel and tension nearly choked
her breath away. "Oh, God, what's happened now?"
The last time the cops had been to the shelter's secret location,
one of the residents, Pam Rogers, had broken strict protocol and called her
abusive husband. Pam had divulged the shelter's location and asked him to
come get her. He'd arrived fifteen minutes later. She'd run out to
him, begging him to take her back. Instead of welcoming her, he'd hit her
and then ordered her into his car. When the hysterical overnight volunteer had
called Lindsay at home, Lindsay had immediately contacted the one brother Pam
had mentioned. He didn't know where his sister was so Lindsay had called
in favors hoping to find Pam.
The woman was found dead the next day behind a convenience store.
She'd been badly beaten and strangled. The cops had tracked down the
husband two weeks later and arrested him. Jack Rogers had shown no remorse but
had talked about his rights as a husband.
What about his wife's right to live a
life free of fear?
Lindsay pulled her Jeep into the paved driveway. She jerked the parking
brake up, grabbed her satchel purse, and hurried up the concrete sidewalk to
the glass front door.
Sanctuary was on a corner lot and wasn't distinguished by signage
but by a wide front porch furnished with weathered white rockers. A collection
of planters that Lindsay had filled with red geraniums over the Fourth of July
weekend added a splash of color. The yard was neatly cut and edged and the beds
had been freshly mulched. It had been her experience that people in the
neighborhood didn't pay much attention to those who kept their yards in
good shape. And going unnoticed was vital to Sanctuary's success.
The shelter's first floor had four main rooms that were divided by
a center hallway. The first room on the right didn't serve as a living
room but her office. It was closed off by French doors and filled with stacks
of files, manuals, and sacks of unsorted donations.
A conference room, a dining room in a conventional home, adjoined her
office. In its core there was a circle of chairs that reminded her of the
counseling meeting she'd missed that morning. The walls were decorated
with posters that denounced domestic violence.
Across the hallway was a den furnished with a large television, a couple
of secondhand couches covered with white sheets, and huge throw pillows on the
floor. At the back of the house was a kitchen she'd painted yellow last
month. Upstairs there were five rooms, each having two sets of twin beds. Often
women moved here with their children and she tried to put the entire family in
one room together. She even had a couple of cribs and a bassinet.
The house was normally teeming with the women and their children who
made Sanctuary their temporary home. The chatter of women and children often
mingled with the TV and ringing phone.
But now, the place was silent and it appeared deserted.
Silver bracelets jangled on Lindsay's slim wrist as she pulled the
rubber band from her blond hair and released the too tight ponytail that was
already giving her a headache. Blunt, straight hair fell around her shoulders.
Lindsay started toward the kitchen, unable to suppress the growing panic
as she searched for last night's volunteer.
A heavyset black woman rushed out of the kitchen, a phone in hand. Ruby
Dillon, when she wasn't working at the nursing home as an aid,
volunteered nights at the shelter. About fifty, Ruby was a big woman who wore
her hair short and her pants and shirts oversized. Her dead-on honesty about
her own past mistakes, including time in prison and drug use, had earned the