CHAPTER NINE

The van had pulled into the outskirts of the city now. BA's fingers drummed on the steering wheel as they slowly made their way through backed up traffic. Up ahead they could see lights flashing from police cars, fire engines; even the street lights were stuttering. Hannibal could see water rushing through the ditches, swirling around already flooded storm drains.

He knew the client wanted to stop at the police station, or call, anything to try and find out if anyone had been out to his house. But there was no way. If they got off the main road now, it would take forever to get back on. Besides, it was obvious the police had their hands full.

And still the storm raged on.


*****

Face leaned against the wall in the hallway; his head was buzzing, his stomach rolling. He had no idea how long he'd been standing there; he didn't remember leaving that room, or where Amy had gone. But he remembered what she'd said. The way she'd accused him...

He looked up and down the hall.

Empty.

She was somewhere in the house. And she'd hidden the children. Hidden them from him. Taking over, as usual. Well, Hannibal wasn't here to run interference this time. This time, she'd learn damn well who was in charge.

Slowly he straightened up. He had a job to do.


*****

Amy felt her way out of the dining room, found the banister and started moving up the steps. She felt disoriented; too long in the dark, too many kaleidoscope effects from the storm. Everything was out of sync. Including her.

She jumped at yet another crash of thunder. She'd left the girls alone too long. Much too long. She knew they had probably hidden somewhere, frightened of being alone, the storm...Face. And that would just make him angry all over again.

The children. They were the important thing. Not his ego. If the girls had hidden themselves again, she had to find them first. There was no way she'd let him go at them after they'd made a fool of him again. Not after hearing that contempt in his voice.

She moved past the landing, up the second set of steps, into the hallway, the lightning growing ever brighter, more and more frequent. The thunder seemed to be one continual growl. The wind seemed intent on blowing every bit of debris it could against the house, the windows. She heard glass breaking downstairs.

Somewhere out there, some maniac was trying to get her girls.

Somewhere in here, he was.


*****

Connie wiped the blood from her arm onto her shirt tail. It always looked so easy on television. Break the glass, reach in and unlock the window, and voilą! you're in. She'd have to find some way of explaining that cut now, but that shouldn't be too hard. It really wasn't that big. Too bad about the shirt, though.

The window didn't exactly slide open, either. More a series of jerks. She stopped for a moment, catching her breath and listening. She didn't hear anyone coming to investigate, but then the storm probably hid any noise. She climbed over the sill, after dropping the butcher knife carefully on the floor. She was glad she was wearing gloves, as there were small shards of glass on the sill.

Another thing they didn't show on television.

Now that she was actually in the house, she could hear muffled voices upstairs. The man and the nanny. Hmm. Lovers' quarrel? She smiled grimly. Too bad they'd be going to Eternity mad at each other.

It was sheer luck the power had gone out. That guy turning on the lights would have made it a lot more difficult. But then, Connie was used to difficult. Look at Fred. He had to be difficult. If he'd just been more of a husband, less the doting father, none of this would be necessary.

She glanced at her watch. Her secretary should've made that phone call by now, played the tape for Fred's answering machine. God, she'd hated making that groveling, "please reconsider" crap. But it was necessary. Now she had an alibi. Couldn't be at home calling the ex-hubby and up here, getting rid of...impediments.

She pulled out the penlight and turned it on. Frowned.

Dead.

Connie shook her head. Nothing's ever easy...


*****

She had just gotten to the north hall when the light above the landing flickered on. She stopped, as even that sudden, though small illumination made her head ache. Looking down the hall, she saw that four of the six doors were standing open.

He'd been searching for them.

She'd taken only a few more steps when he came out of a room toward the end of the hall. He, too, blinked at the light, before staring at her, eyes narrowed.

"Where are they?"

"Hiding, I imagine. You frighten them."

"Bullshit. I expect them to do as they're told. I expect you to do as you're told."

"I'll do what's best for those children."

"And what would you know about children?"

About to respond, her attention was suddenly drawn to the end of the hall. Mary and her two sisters stood just in front of the spiral staircase, staring at the two of them. Mary was quietly crying.

He saw her look past him, and turned.

"So, come out of hiding at last. You like sneaking around the house, don't you?"

Mary looked at him, and moved back a step.

"Not many places to hide now, are there?"

"Haven't you done enough?" She slipped past him, placing herself in front of the girls. Hands on hips, she glared back at him.

For a moment, he hesitated. He felt a split second of vertigo, then his vision cleared and he saw the girls had moved further back, closer to the staircase.

She, of course, hadn't given an inch.

"What business is it of yours, anyway? They aren't your children." He laughed bitterly. "If you only knew..."

"They're in my care, and I will not let any harm come to them."

"We'll see about that." He took a quick step forward, grabbing for her arm. She pulled away, and turned toward the children.

"Up, quickly! Go!"

Mary cast one fearful glance back before following her sisters up the steps. Her protector turned back to ward him off.

He grabbed her by the arms, trying to push her aside, to get to the steps. She, in turn, shoved with all her might, and the two of them fell to the floor. His head smacked the floor, momentarily stunning him. Taking advantage, she leaped up and ran for the steps.

The tower formed a small sitting area at this level. Looking down and seeing him already coming up the steps, she grabbed first a lamp, then the tiny table it had been on, and threw them with all her strength down the stairs. The lamp struck his shoulder, the table merely blocked the narrow steps momentarily.

"Quickly!" She motioned the girls up the last flight of steps to the widow's walk. All three were now crying openly, knowing they had no place to go after that.