CHAPTER SEVEN

The van was moving along the freeway fast. They'd made one quick stop, so Tovey could call the local cop and see what they'd found at his house. On hearing the report, BA had stepped on the gas and hadn't let up.

The desk sergeant had been abrupt; no one had been able to get out to Tovey's house to check on anything because of a massive electrical storm. Power was on and off all over the area; police and spotters were out in force, trying to direct traffic and watch for any fires set off by the lightning. They had more important things to do than check on a phone that was out of order.

The rain hit, and hit hard, when they were still miles from their destination. BA reluctantly slowed down, fighting both the torrents of water and the heavy wind that was buffeting the van all over the road. He didn't know if he was glad or not when their exit came up. They'd be on a two lane road now, with little maneuvering room. But hopefully, most people would be smart enough to stay home and off the road.


*****

Connie had pulled the Thomas Guide out of the side pocket and looked at the cover. It was supposed to be the latest edition, but someone must have gotten their wires crossed. It was the fourth time she'd passed that same school and still hadn't found her turn. She tossed the book onto the passenger seat and drove through the red light. She wasn't worried about that. She hadn't seen another car for at least an hour.

She had driven several more blocks before she finally saw the turn. Some time later, as she finally saw the open gate to the property, she cursed Fred soundly under her breath. Only he would pick such a God-forsaken place to live. That would change.

A lot of things would change now.

She had parked the car as soon as she saw the glimmer of light from the house, and continued on foot. She knew the nanny would be there, but was surprised to see two cars. Even more surprised to see the man moving around them. She hadn't expected the nanny to have company.

Moments after he had gone back into the house, she hurried over to the cars, hefting the butcher knife. No quick getaways. Not for them.


*****

Amy, at Face's direction, had taken the children to the top of the stairs, and they waited outside the perimeter of the light in the north hall. Face was downstairs, checking the windows and doors, turning on every working light on the main floor.

Amy had the girls sit on the floor a few feet behind her. She, herself, knelt as close as she could to the edge of the light's circle, where she could clearly see the stairs and entry hall. She had no weapon; Face had told her all she had to do was yell if she saw anything and he would be there in seconds.

She wasn't reassured.

She glanced back at the girls. The two youngest almost seemed to be dozing, settled against the wall, heads down. Mary, however, was wide awake, and watching Amy. There was definitely fear in her eyes, and yet, Amy thought there was almost a resignation there as well. She smiled at the girl, and a single tear ran down Mary's cheek.

"It'll be all right, Mary. We won't let anything happen to you."

"I know you'll try, Miss."

Amy sighed. "We'll both try, Mary, and we'll do it. Nothing's going to happen."

"If you say so, Miss."

Amy turned back around, looking again down into the entry. She wondered where Face was. It shouldn't have taken this long to check the house. Didn't he understand how scared these kids would be? Did he remember she had no weapon of any kind?

Or had something happened to him?

No. No, she would've heard any kind of racket like a fight. And Face would've put up a fight. He was a Green Beret, after all. Probably running around setting all kinds of booby-traps. Involved in his own style jazz, forgetting all about three frightened little girls.

She glanced back at them. They were scared, all right. But putting their trust in the adults. She looked down at the empty and silent entry.

Where the hell was he?

She stood, looking once more at Mary. Correction. Putting their trust in Amy.

"Stay right here, okay? I'm just going down to the landing to check on things."

Mary nodded solemnly in the shadows, and put her arms protectively around her sisters.

Amy turned and looked once more at the entry way, the front door. She swallowed, and started down the hall to the stairs. Lightning flashed angrily through the tall windows over the landing, followed almost immediately by booming thunder. She could hear the trees by the back door scratching against the windows. Slowly she started down the stairs.


*****

Face had checked and locked every window downstairs, and after making sure the back door was locked, had placed a chair under the knob. He'd thought about moving the refrigerator over to block it, but decided he wanted to keep that route inaccessible. Maybe he hadn't found a way to the front from up there, but that didn't mean there wasn't one. He wanted their backs covered.

He'd turned on every light he could find, but evidently the Tovey's were still getting the electrical work done; most of them failed to turn on, and those that did seemed to have very little current. It was like walking in candlelight. But at least he didn't have to worry about someone sneaking up on them in the dark.

He cautiously moved back through the house, double-checking every room, revolver now ready in his hand. The lights would expose anyone who got into the house, but they left him exposed as well. He stayed close to the walls, and slid quickly past the windows. He could practically feel eyes watching from the woods beyond the house.

There was a sudden stroke of lightning, brilliant and blinding. Any lights burning in the house immediately blacked out. Face stopped, waiting for his eyes to adjust, and then moved with increased urgency into the front parlor. He stood to one side of the large picture window, looking out into the storm. He could see the rose garden from there, the ghostly white cherubs highlighted with every flash of lightning.

Grinning at him.

He felt a cold shiver run through his stomach, akin to what he'd felt the first time he'd noticed the saints staring down at him from the sanctuary walls. He shook his head, closed his eyes tightly for a moment, then cautiously looked out once more.

They were still grinning at him.

He swung around, back against the bookshelves. He hated this. He should've gotten them out of here sooner. Before it got so dark. Before this storm hit. Before those bastards showed up and slashed the tires. He should have. And he would have, if it hadn't been for the girls and their tricks. If Amy had kept an eye on them the first time she had them rounded up. If she had just done what she was supposed to. And now he'd have to explain this fuck-up to Hannibal.

He looked out toward the entry hall, to the stairway. He couldn't see it, or the landing, or the hall where Amy and the girls waited. At least he hoped they were waiting there. At this point, they'd better be.

The last thing he wanted to do was shoot a friendly...