Jack had already looked through the folder once. He forced himself to open it again. In side were autopsy photos of eight-year-old Laurel Morgan, who had died at San Antonio General Hospital. Was murdered at San Antonio General, he corrected. He turned the photo graph facedown and picked up an aged news paper clipping of an obituary.
DAWSON, Trevor Michael. Died on Tuesday, April I at Dallas Memorial Hospital. Trevor was born prematurely and died when his heart failed after seventeen hours of life. Memorial services will be held at 2 P.M. Thursday at Parkland Baptist Church. Trevor is survived by his father and mother, Mr. and Mrs. Michael Dawson.
Trevor Michael Dawson had barely had a chance to live before he died. Before someone murdered him, Jack amended.
He discarded the clipping and picked up the hospital records for Frances Petrocelli. Two year-old Frances had been poisoned by cleaning products from under her mother’s sink. She had been in a coma when her heart failed. With a little help from someone at Houston Regional Medical Center.
Jack let the clipping fall onto the stack of papers on the coffee table and leaned back in the rocker his father had made for his mother once upon a time. He pressed his palms against weary eyes.
I don’t want to get involved in this, he thought.
Jack was in the third day of a thirty-day administrative leave—sick leave, really. Only Jack wasn’t ill, just sick at heart. Somebody else would take the case if he didn’t. Some body else could spend his nights dreaming of blank stares and stolen lives.
The face of a little girl with brown bangs and pigtails appeared before Jack. She wasn’t one of the victims in thefolder in front of him. She was the reason he was on leave.
Jack felt his body begin to tremble. He closed his eyes and gritted his teeth, but she was still there with her frightened brown eyes, her clutching hands, the splash of blood on her dress.
Jack lurched from the rocker and headed for the kitchen. He didn’t stop there but pushed on through the back door. He was headed down the porch steps in the dark when some thing heavy landed on his shoulders. He started to struggle and realized what had happened when four sets of claws embedded in his back.
“Damn you, cat!” he growled. Jack sat down on the steps and hunched over to make it easier for the cat to get off of him. He felt the sting ease as the claws released his flesh, and the cat dropped heavily onto the wooden porch.
He turned to look at the monster that had been the only legacy his mother had left him. He’d thought it amusing the first time the cat dropped out of a tree onto his back.
“That isn’t funny anymore,” he announced to the cat.
The feline gave Jack a baleful stare, turned its back on him and, with its tail held high, stalked away.
The attack had accomplished at least one thing. It had taken Jack’s mind off the disaster that had started him wondering whether he wanted to continue being a lawman.
He dropped his head in his hands and sighed. He had to make up his mind whether or not he wanted to hunt down a serial killer. And while he was sitting here thinking, the primary suspect in the case was working at San Antonio General, maybe targeting his next victim.
Jack rose from the porch and headed inside. He found the phone under a stack of clothes in the living room and dialed a number. His heart began to beat like a butterfly caught in a glass jar, frantically, anxiously.
“Sorry to bother you so late,” he said. “I’ve decided to take the case.”
Copyright ) 1997 by Joan Mertens Johnston, Inc