Tick, tick . . . 11:52pm. They die in eight minutes.
Shadows crept across the outside walls of the house. Moonlight. Hand signals. Whispers.
Cops. Three slipped to the front door. Two sneaked to the back.
Ready just in time, Sheriff’s Detective Benton Hammel thought. They die at midnight the man had promised. Not a second sooner, not a minute later. The man’s ex-wife, stepson, daughter-in-law, all of them. Dead at midnight.
Narcissistic psychopath, Hammel figured. Precise, cold, game player.
“Careful,” he’d whispered to his team moments ago. “The guy won’t kill his family until midnight, but he’ll kill us anytime.”
Tick, tick . . . 11:53.
Hammel had already briefed the team on the suspect, situation, and the isolated location. He had pushed them hard and they’d raced here, to this secluded housing development at the far edge of the county, after an anonymous caller alerted cops to the address. Hammel knew the area, had been house hunting nearby last month. Without that lucky break, and Hammel’s swift reaction, nobody could have arrived in time to save the family.
“Bust it open,” Hammel ordered.
The front door cracked off its hinges. Then the back door.
The cops’ flashlights dotted the pitch-black rooms as they hustled through, searching.
“Check for a basement,” Hammel instructed.
“Backyard, garage, outbuilding, anything!”
“Nothing. Nothing. Nobody here.”
Wrong. They are here, Hammel calculated. All of them. Hidden somewhere in this dark unsold house in an abandoned tract of unfinished new homes. At 427 Maple. A perfect spot for a midnight killing.
Tick, tick . . . 11:57.
Hammel would find the family, needed to find them, to save their lives and his own career and marriage. To get a ticket out of this backwater Sheriff’s Department. He recalled his wife’s latest tirade.
“We need to stop looking for a house, you need to start looking for a job someplace else,” she’d ranted. “Why did we even move here?”
Because after he got blamed for his supervisor’s screw up, this was the only job he could get, that’s why, Hammel had told her. He forced those images away. Focused. He’d shopped houses just like this one. Try to remember. Think.
Tick, tick . . . 11:58.
“Outside,” he screamed. “North side. A crawl space. They’re underneath the house! Underneath the house!”
Hammel bolted outside. Fast, muscled, still the alpha dog. A hedge of shrubbery masked the crawl space entry. He shoved the shrubbery aside, crouched behind it, and peered into the crawl space, flashlight in one hand, automatic pistol in the other.
“Clear,” he called out. “Nobody.”
Nothing from the other cops, until a soft rushing sound as one exhaled.
Hammel holstered his gun, pulled out his phone, called the boss. “Nobody here. Somebody’s info was no goddamn good. Screwed us up.”
“Bullshit. I checked the info myself.”
“I’m at the location. 427 Maple Street. Nobody here.”
“Where the hell is Maple Street? 427 Maple Drive, Hammel. Maple Drive.”
Tick, tick . . . midnight.
This story is an original work of creative fiction. All people and events described or depicted are entirely fictional. Any resemblance to actual individuals or events is unintended and coincidental.