Even though the sun had long set over the not-so-distant cityscape of Miami, the night remained as warm as it had been at noon. There was a still peace to the evening, the kind that sometimes signals a storm, though the sky was clear and the stars bright.
But Kimberly Johnson felt no oncoming torrent, and after seven years of working the nightshift at the ever-quiet gated community, despite the fact that dealing with irate ex-husbands banned from the community and unexpected visits by probation and police officers seeking certain individuals had left her with a certain sense to know when disturbing events were looming.
But nothing could have pre-armed her for the drama that unfolded at her doorstep at 12:37 a.m.
No warning had come from inside the development or without, and when the red Mazda with Florida plates barreled around the corner from the street and then past her post, smashing through the two pole-barriers in the process, Kim shot up from her chair, yelling a warning at no one.
And her quiet night of watching late-night TV was shattered.
There was a distant crash as she heard it hit something inside the community; no screeching of metal on metal, and no screaming let her know it probably wasn't a parked car or a person.
Instead of calling nine-one-one like she should have done, she left her post, shutting the glass door firmly in the process, and ran pell-mell down the road towards the crash, keeping a loose hold on her whistle to make sure it didn't bounce off of its loop on her uniform.
Still no screaming from the direction of the crash, which seemed to have been at the clubhouse. She'd thought someone would have called 911 or come to check it out by now, and unless the occupants of the car were either unconscious or dazed, there should have been some noise by now.
She cleared the screen of bushes that had been shielding the clubhouse parking lot from her view and came upon the car wreck.
Oh Jesus, she thought, picking up speed and dashing for the car. The entire front was crumpled from where it has hit the side of the clubhouse full on. To the architect's credit, the wall hadn't buckled in on the car, though it was possible that the light poles had done something to stop the car's momentum before it hit.
The engine was hissing, and she couldn't tell whether it was steam or thin smoke coming from the openings in the hood, and all of the car's windows were cracked and crazed to the point where she couldn't see the occupants.
And it wasn't likely that she'd see them from the front windows. She tried to smash in the gummy mess that was the driver's window but thought better of it when she realized that the red smears on the other side probably weren't ketchup.
Somehow she wrenched the destroyed door open, didn't look inside before she moved on to the next door, and then stopped.
The far side panels were soaked in blood, and amidst the blood lay two small children, both in the back seat.
Even though she didn't make a habit of looking at gunshot wounds, her first glance told her that the kids had been shot at very close range.
The child closest to her was a girl, probably all of four years old, with long, straight golden hair dyed a sticky maroon with blood. The other was merely a toddler, still strapped in a car seat.
"Oh god," she whispered. Bile was in her throat and her hand was on her cell phone before she remembered that there was a driver.
Had been a driver. The man in the front seat was indisputably dead where he sat, throat skewered by a piece of glass that had somehow managed to break off from the windshield sharp enough to kill.
Short blonde hair had left shagging down into blue eyes, which stared sightlessly at some horizon which Kim hoped she would never see. She didn't even think of feeling for a pulse; the guy was obviously dead, and probably had as much of a chance at life as the two children behind him.
Too much blood, she thought. It pooled in the back seat, dripped out of the gory wound of the man in the front, and there was just too much for anyone to have survived.
Then she heard a sharp little moan from the back seat, which shocked her out of her stupor.
The little girl was whimpering, moving tiny arms to cover some wound invisible to Kim in all the blood, but which was probably all too painful for the girl. "Hold on sweetie," she mumbled, then pulled out her phone and called nine-one-one.
Less than five minutes later, there were three ambulances, a fire engine, and more than a few police cars surrounding the clubhouse. Her road captain was there, smoothly talking the residents into going back home and ignoring the crisis happening next door.
He'd been just down the road and had followed the sirens to his next stop, her post, and had taken over when he'd realized that she obviously couldn't deal with the residents and all of the officials on the scene.
Kim had been interviewed by three separate policemen, one of them a detective, and she'd signed more than one witness statement as to times, events, and descriptions.
And been examined by a paramedic because she'd cut her hand wrenching open one of the car doors, and hadn't even noticed. The paramedic had come from the ambulance that wasn't needed, because the toddler had been pronounced dead from severe trauma to the head. Severe trauma that had been induced before the car had ever come near her post. And both children had been shot by the driver.
She'd had only twenty six years of life, and she felt so old, looking at the ambulance's flashing lights. One child was dead and the other barely clinging to life.
And then there was the mother. Sarah Kellerman.
A tall, strong woman who'd been reduced to tears, she was being interviewed by two sympathetic policewomen. She and the children's father James had been divorced, and she lived around the corner; had shared custody of the children with her ex-husband, and the kids had been abducted when he was dropping them off.
Abducted by their own father, who couldn't stand for his ex-wife to have the two things he considered his most prized possessions.
And one of the possessions was easily destroyed when it was useless or too annoying. A crying toddler had been the least of his worries when he'd hit Kim's gates, and all he'd had left was his blood-smeared, shot up girl after he'd bashed the boy's skull in with a heavy-duty flashlight.
Now she was clinging to life with a hold too tenuous for Kim to even think about, probably scared as shit either still in the back of an ambulance or even in the ER right now without her Mommy.
Speaking of which, the woman in question was now being released by police and being escorted to her car, obviously about to get a few-holds barred escort to the hospital where her remaining child was.
The boy was still being brought to the hospital, but he was obviously dead, and no amount of heroic surgery or lifesaving techniques could bring him back from the land of the dead.
Kim sat down on the curb in front of her post, feeling the weight of everything that evening come crashing down on her.
Her heart felt heavy, and as she watched the sirens of one of the police cars start up, and Sarah Kellerman get into her car, she just wanted to go home and hug something warm and alive...
"Johnson, you alright?" Dean Sloess asked, bending over her. She jerked away and realized his hand was on her shoulder, and he was all blurry.
"Huh?" she asked, a little dazed.
"C'mon," he said gently. "Your relief is here." He pointed at a short black man who was already bustling about in the small guardhouse behind her.
She blinked in surprise. "When did he get in there?" she asked, and she was annoyed to hear that her voice was a little slurred.
"A couple minutes ago," Dean said. "You weren't paying attention." His voice was both reproving and sympathetic. "It's way past two, girl. Go home and get some sleep. Your next shift isn't until Sunday."
Sunday, she remembered a little dazedly. Sunday at four in the afternoon. Four to midnight.
And she must have been--not shock, but something close--fatigue exhaustion, maybe. Or emotional shock.
"Right," she said, standing up. "I'm out."
Too tired to make even her signature 'Toodles' farewell, she just grabbed her bag from inside the guardhouse, signed out on the roster, and headed for her car.
A police cruiser had to move to let her out, but she was on the road soon enough, making a good headway for her house.
The streetlights were bright, and Kim was glad of them lighting the way home. The dark seemed to press in around her, reminding her of just how mortal she was.
She locked the door after getting in at half past three. She was as safe as she could be and almost too tired to care.