The Clock Strikes Midnight
The Clock Strikes Midnight
by Joan Curtis
Genre Mainstream Mystery
Release November 25, 2014
Content Editor Lea Schizas
Cover Designer Carolina Bensler
Janie Knox wants nothing more than to live her life quietly in Savannah, Georgia and never return to her hometown of Atlanta. At age 17, a week after a jury convicted her stepfatherof killing her mother,she packed all her worldly possessions in a single duffle bag, hopped on a bus, and vowed never to return. But, when she learns that she’s got three months to live, she journeys back home to finish what she couldn’t do when she left--kill her stepfather.
As the clock ticks away, Janie’s uses the last days of her life to right the wrongs that have haunted her for 20 years. She faces more than she bargained for when she discovers her sister’s life in shambles. Meanwhile her stepfather, recently released from prison, blackmails the sisters and plots to extract millions from the state in retribution.
The Clock Strikes Midnight is a race against time in a quest for revenge and atonement. This is a story about unleashing the hidden truths that haunt a quiet Southern family.
As she listened to the frantic movement above her, another memory intruded. Once, she’d hidden in this closet with a kitten she had found in the street. When her mother had refused to let her keep the tiny black and white creature, she escaped here—the perfect place for her and the kitten to live forever where no one would ever find them. She could sneak out for food whenever the house grew silent. She had stayed tucked away for a few hours and then decided to come out when the kitten mewed with restlessness. No one had missed her.
Ralph eventually let her keep the kitten. She had named him Bianco for his white fur. Unfortunately, Bianco had disappeared after a couple of years.
If Ralph didn’t leave again and the black guy came back, what would she do? Unlike when she was eleven years old with the kitten, she didn’t think she could stay here all day and into the night. Her plan had been to hang out in the upstairs closet where there was more room and where she’d have access to Ralph alone.
She needed to get out of here and back up those stairs when no one was around. Minutes later, elephant-like footsteps descended the stairs. Was he carrying a suitcase or furniture? Her heart pounded. Then the backdoor slammed shut. She clicked on her iPhone to check the time. 6:41. The big man would be back soon. She needed to get out of there before it was too late.
She eased herself up to a bent standing position and placed her ear against the door. She held her breath and listened hard.
Minutes passed like hours. The dim light from under the door had lightened. Daylight had arrived. Visions of what Ralph would do to her if he found her flashed in her mind. He would definitely be surprised. She imagined his eyes popping out of his ugly red face. This was the last place he or his slimy lawyer would search for her.
Crash went the backdoor. Footsteps lumbered back up the staircase. She couldn’t fathom what he was up to, going back and forth like this. Maybe they’d begun searching in the yard, digging up the garden. Janie let out a long breath. The boards above her head creaked again, threatening to lull her to sleep. Maybe she would make an attempt to escape while he messed around upstairs before he had a chance to come back down. She could sneak out the backdoor and return tomorrow.
She clicked on her iPhone again, 6:50. Her heart pounded with indecision. Just go! Now! But, it was too risky. Back and forth, back and forth. She waited. The air in the closet grew thin. She wrapped her arms around herself. Her legs tingled. She shifted her weight to relieve the numbness.
Silence. Janie continued to wait. Nothing. The silence grew louder. He had stopped moving. Maybe he had gone back to sleep or maybe she had dozed off, and he had left. She could only hear herself breathing. The sound of her exhales seemed to echo as if she were in a tunnel. She slowed her breathing, but it still sounded loud enough to set off an alarm. Everything was so black she could barely tell if her eyes were open or closed.
If she concentrated real hard, eyes closed, she could hear the tick, tock of thegrandfather clock in the living room. Tick, tock.Tick, tock. How many tick-tocks made a minute? An hour? Tick, tock.
Why hadn’t the grandfather clock been sold or moved to Marlene’s house?Aunt Sarah had left the old home intact. The only thing she carefully removed was the dust. It was like a mausoleum to her mother and her miserable life. They should have sold it all off. Every last item.
She touched the gun. It remained tucked in her coat pocket along with thescrewdriver. She reached into the other pocket for the flashlight. It wasn’t there.Oh my God! She fumbled around on the closet floor in search of it. All she felt was dust. Her heart sank. She must have left it on the dresser upstairs.
Footsteps raced down the stairs, faster this time. The backdoor slammed shutand a voice shouted, “Ralph, you in here?”
She froze. The big man was back.
“Jinx, c’m ‘ere.”
Ralph’s voice felt as if it were next to the closet door, and the sound of it made the hair on her arms stand up.
She bit her lower lip. Her heart pounded. Both sets of feet lumbered up thestairs as if they were in no hurry.
Now was the time, while they were upstairs. Go now! She had to get out ofthere. She had delayed too long. Go!
Finally, she unfolded herself to release the cramps in her dead legs. She inched herself back into a standing position, still listening. Creak went the ceiling above.She considered opening the door and peeking out. Her hand moved to thedoorknob and stopped. Her stomach clinched imagining him waiting for her, the sunlight catching the green glint in his eyes and the red in his hair. She could almost feel his breath on her neck and smell the rancid onion he always ate. She froze. Her heart blasted against her chest. Taking a deep breath, she squared her shoulders and cracked the door.
Another creak sounded maybe from the staircase. She edged from the closet as quietly as she could. With the lights off and no windows she had trouble seeing.The last thing she wanted to do was knock something over that might alert them to her presence. Moving one foot in front of the other with her arms outstretched, she inched along like a blind person. Just get to the kitchen and out the door, she coaxed herself.
Suddenly a big hand grabbed her arm and yanked her to the floor.