Nursing is hard work for too little pay. You never feel it more keenly than when you’re getting off a double shift in the middle of the night. All the smells cling to the inside of your nose, you’re convinced you didn’t scrub your hands well enough to really wash off that last hour, and you know you’ve only got a few precious hours of sleep ahead of you before you’re up and at it again.
It was a little after midnight when I dragged myself out of the hospital to my car. I tossed my purse in ahead of me and, instead of landing on the passenger seat, it caught the edge and toppled over. Its contents spilled freely to the floor. My phone, my gum, my wallet, all scattered and lost in the dark.
It seemed a fitting end to the day I’d had.
I’d worry about finding them later. I just wanted to get home. After buckling in, I was on my way down the almost deserted roads. I was living with my folks while I saved up for my own place, which certainly had it perks, like the plate of dinner my mom left neatly Saran wrapped in the fridge for me.
Nothing like a hot shower and some homemade lasagna to make things better.
I was on a quiet stretch of Holland Street, zoning out to Phil Collins and his groovy kind of love, when my car lit up with red and blue. A glance in the rearview mirror revealed the dark outline of a car beneath flashing lights. No sirens, though. Probably unnecessarily loud at this time of night.
“Shit,” I muttered.
I hadn’t thought I was speeding and, as far as I knew, all of my lights were in working order. What else could I be getting pulled over for?
To meet a quota, I thought with uncharacteristic, exhausted snideness as I pulled over to the shoulder.
The cop car stopped behind me. I turned off the music and rolled down my window before placing my hands back on the steering wheel. The night was quiet and peaceful around us.
Just smile, be polite, and let’s get it over with, I told myself.
I watched the driver’s door swing open and a tall, heavyset man climbed out. There was a swagger in his step as he approached and I grit my teeth into my best nurse smile.
“Hi, officer,” I said.
The first thing I noticed about him as he came to stand next to my car was that he wearing sunglasses. It was a little thing, maybe a silly quirk or he thought (incorrectly) that it looked cool, but it just made me uneasy. There was something off putting about looking up into my own reflection.
It left me with a bad feeling.
“Good evening, ma’am,” he replied. He leaned against my car with an arm propped on the roof above my window. “Do you know why I pulled you over?”
“Honestly, no, I don’t.”
“You were swerving back there,” he nodded towards the road.
“Swerving? I really don’t think so,” I said, keeping my calm. I knew I was tired, but not so much so that I couldn’t drive. I was very careful about that sort of thing.
“Please step out of the car.”
“Is that necessary?”
“I won’t ask again, ma’am.”
Arguing with a cop was never wise. I started to reach for my seatbelt, when I caught sight of my wallet lying on the floor. It had fallen open and my license was smiling out from behind its plastic cover. It made me hesitate.
He didn’t ask for that, I thought. Or my registration. He didn’t even ask for my name.
The bad feeling had rooted itself deeply in my belly and was starting to spread.
I looked back at him, still standing beside my door, clearly getting more impatient . He was in uniform and, at first glance, it seemed fine. Badge, belt. But no radio. How often had I seen the cops who worked security at the hospital talking into their shoulders or heard that telltale sharp crackle before they had a chance to turn it down?
Where was his radio?
“Ma’am,” he said firmly, “get out of the car.”
Before I could respond, he’d reached through my window and grabbed me by the arms. He yanked, hard and fast, trying to pull me out. My seatbelt caught sharply, keeping me in place, and I tried to shake him off, but he was bigger and stronger than me. I opened my mouth to scream, but he landed a clumsy blow across my chin, momentarily stunning me.
He was half in the car, pinning me to my seat while he scrambled to get to the seatbelt latch. It was happening so quickly, so quietly!
Suddenly, the silence was broken by a woman’s voice.
“You are my sunshine, my only sunshine,” she sang sweetly. “You make me happy when skies are gray…”
The man, startled by the sound, froze for just a moment. Just long enough for me to wriggle an arm loose, shift the car into gear, and slam on the accelerator. He slid out the window with a shout. I watched him topple to the ground in my mirror, roll a couple times, and then spring upright again. He ran for his car and jumped in. The red and blue lights were no longer flashing when he started to pursue me again.
My mom’s ringtone, a recording of her singing the same song she’d used to comfort me since I was a baby, had stopped. She was probably calling to make sure I was on my way home. She never really slept until she knew I’d gotten in safely.
I choked on a sob and careened wildly around a corner. I couldn’t risk reaching down into the passenger footwell to try and find my phone. I was going too fast and the man, that fake cop, was right behind me. We were speeding down an empty woodland backroad. If I crashed, no one would be around to help me.
My car lurched forward when he hit the back of it.
I screamed and clutched my steering wheel. Every few seconds, my eyes flit to the mirror, and I could see him creeping up again, this time a bit off to the side. He was lining up to hit me a second time. I imagined he was hoping to throw me off course and send me into a tailspin. I pressed harder on the gas.
From somewhere on the floor, my mom started to sing again.
“You are my sunshine, my only sunshine. You make me happy, when skies are gray. You’ll never know dear, how much I love you. Please don’t take my sunshine away.”
There was a tap against my rear quarter panel, like he was hesitant, testing it out. Maybe even worried he’d crash himself if he went through with it. I squealed and rocked in my seat as if it’d make my ten year old Corolla go any faster.
Beside me, Mom’s voice kept singing. It was off key, but soft and so loving even as the man collided with me again. My car shuddered. The back end swerved just a little.
We were getting closer to my neighborhood, a small development of houses set apart from each other on large lots. The streetlights marking my turn glowed brightly up ahead. My hard, ragged breathing and the sound of my blood rushing filled my ears. I could feel my heartbeat throbbing in my chest.
“Mom,” I whispered. The word was jagged in my constricted throat. “Mom!”
“You are my sunshine,” her voice continued to drift up soothingly from the darkness. “My only sunshine…”
Our tires screeched together as we peeled into my neighborhood. My house was only a block away. Panic was surging through me. He tapped me again, harder this time, and my rear tires skid dangerously. I jerked the wheel to keep it on course.
Another turn, another hit. He was getting more aggressive. Metal crunched and groaned. I screamed.
The outside lights were still on, making my house stand out against the night. I was so close.
The final slam against the back of my car was vicious and hard. I missed my driveway, spun out, went over the sidewalk, and slid to a sideways halt in the front lawn. The fake cop had managed to stay on the road and left his car idling while he shoved open his door and charged toward me. I struggled to get my seatbelt undone before he reached my car.
“…don’t take my sunshine away,” Mom’s voice sang softly from the footwell.
Followed by the most furious, ear piercing screech I’d ever heard in my life.
The man had one hand on my door when the cellphone smacked him against his cheek. It caught him off guard. My mom throwing herself at him next took him off his feet. She was making noises that might have been curse words, but sounded more like snarls, and pounding her fists against his head and face. She raked her nails down one cheek.
He was dazed for a moment, but then regained himself and hurled her off of him. She rolled twice in the grass and I shouted for her. If she was hurt, though, she didn’t show it. She was back on her feet and lunging at him again when he was still trying to get up himself.
By then, Dad had heard the noise and was coming out the front door with a baseball bat and our chihuahua at his heels, barking madly.
The man shoved Mom to the ground again and fled back to his car, Dad and our chihuahua chasing him. He took off before they reached him.
He got away that night. Mom was left with some nasty bruises and a dislocated shoulder, but was otherwise ok. So was I, thanks in large part to her first phone call, which had made my would be abductor hesitate just long enough for me to escape.
She’d been standing in the doorway with her phone, watching for me, when I’d crashed on the lawn.
When I asked why she kept calling later at the hospital, she held my hand tight and shook her head.
“I just had a bad feeling,” she said.
We found out from the police that two girls had gone missing before me. Both late at night, both driving along uninhabited roads. Their cars had been found abandoned. Now they knew why.
The guy, Marc Bishop, was caught a week later, when he was forced to go to an emergency clinic over a set of infected scratches on his face. He claimed it was from his cat, but the description Mom has given of him and their altercation had made the news and was enough for the doctor to contact authorities.
As part of a plea deal to avoid the death penalty, he led the cops to a spot deep in the woods, where they recovered the bodies of Tricia Moore and Candice Alterman. He was convicted of impersonating a police officer, assault with intent to commit a felony, attempted kidnapping, and two counts of first degree murder.
I know it would have been three if Mom hadn’t listened to her bad feeling and done everything in her power to stop a monster from taking her sunshine away.