CHAPTER TEN

The voices had quieted, and Connie slowed in her trek across the back parlor. She couldn't afford to get caught now.

She had just reached the front room when the lights reluctantly came back on. She stopped, like a deer caught in the headlights, but the room was empty. Above the rising wind, she could hear the people upstairs start in again. There was something different about them, but she wasted no time worrying about it. Time was wasting.

She made it up to the top of the stairs when she heard the noise from the end of the hall. The first sounded like glass breaking, and then something heavier, wooden. Whatever those two were arguing about, apparently it had gotten physical. She smiled. Maybe they'd save her some trouble and kill themselves off. Then again, she didn't want to step into the middle of something that could get her killed.

And where were those kids while all this was going on?

She started checking the rooms as she made her way down the hall. If luck was really on her side, she could take care of those brats without even seeing the others. Let them explain to the cops.


*****

They faced each other, breathing hard, neither giving an inch. He'd looked surprised when she held her ground, not allowing him to follow the girls, and it gave her a momentary feeling of triumph. But only momentary. He made as if to push past her; only the old umbrella slammed against the side of his head stopped him. Under other circumstances, it might have been comical. The look on his face was anything but.

"Why do you care what happens to them?" He stood back, wiping the blood from his temple.

"Why do you hate them so?"

He stopped dabbing at the blood, and again laughed bitterly. "I don't hate them. I hate their whore of a mother. You know as well as I do where she is this very moment."

She stared at him. The Missus. Smiling sadly as she'd left that night...she shook her head, blinked quickly. Something wasn't right.

"But...your children?"

"Are you so sure of that? Maybe you haven't seen her paramour. At least, I don't think she's been brazen enough to bring him here."

"But they're still just children."

"And I'm done with them! Just as I'm done with her and her lies!"

He took a step toward her and the stairs she guarded. She raised the umbrella once more, but this time she pointed it at him. Now he had a choice - stand back or be stabbed. He stopped, glaring at her.

And then they heard another crash from down below.


*****

She had just opened the second door when the wind, siphoning through the broken window downstairs, rushed through the hall. It wrenched the door from her hand and slammed it into the wall. Seconds later, she heard a yell from up above, followed by a heavy thud.

She hesitated, taking a firmer grip on the butcher knife, and then headed for the staircase.

This was not in the plan.


*****

He took advantage of the distraction. As soon as she looked down the stairwell, he grabbed the umbrella and her and threw them both against the wall. She was just a little thing, really. A sharp crack when she hit, and she slumped down, nice and quiet.

He didn't bother with whatever was downstairs, but went straight for the stairs.

He had a job to do.


*****

"How much further, Fred?"

"Just a couple miles. Take the first turn after the S-curve up ahead."

"How familiar is your ex with the layout of the house? Would she be able to hide out easily?"

"She's never been to this house. I moved shortly after the divorce, and I, uh, didn't let her know where. She got the address, of course; she did have a few friends left. But to my knowledge, she's never actually been there."

"Okay, so our guys have the advantage of knowing the layout of the house..."

"Well..."

Hannibal frowned at Fred. " 'Well' ?"

"Well, it is what you might call an estate..."


*****

Connie stood at the bottom of the spiral stairs. She didn't particularly like the looks of them, but that's where all the racket had come from. She started up, holding the rail with her left hand, the butcher knife in her right. She stepped carefully around the debris on the steps. Those two had had quite the fight, all right.

As she reached the top of the first flight, she stopped and tried to adjust to the darkness. The only light up here came intermittently from the storm outside. She pulled out her penlight and was relieved when it actually worked. Just enough so she could see the body laying on the floor in the far corner. She started towards it. She needed to know if the woman was still alive, and if so, how much of a threat she might be.

She had just knelt down to check for a pulse when she heard the first scream from above.


*****

It wasn't hard to see them, cowering in the corner. Little white nightgowns, pale faces, white-blond hair. The two smallest huddling close to Mary, staring up at him.

Her children.

Her bastards.

He stepped towards them.


*****

Connie was no longer sure what was going on. Gripping the butcher knife, she left the body by the wall, and started up the steps.

Very slowly.


*****

The van bounced over yet another large branch. Hannibal no longer cared about any element of surprise; the feeling of urgency was almost physical. BA wanted to race up the long drive, but there was too much debris from the storm littering the blacktop. Murdock had wanted to take off on foot, but it was obvious they'd never be able to find their way through the dark woods.

And then the house was in sight.


*****

The wind was blowing wildly at the top of the turret, the widow's walk open to the elements. Connie thought she'd heard more screams, and shouting, but it was hard to tell with the storm's fury. The rain was pelting her now, as she climbed the last step. At first she didn't see anything, and then a barrage of lightning showed a man, leaning over the railing, looking down into the darkness. Before she could react, he turned, staring at her.


*****

It was instinct. He turned, and saw her standing there. Wide-eyed. And then he saw the butcher knife. His eyes narrowed, and a cruel smile crept across his face.

"Come to say goodnight to your children, my love?"


*****

Amy slowly opened her eyes. Her head hurt like hell. She started to sit up, and gasped at the sharp pain in her back. She was able to lean on her elbow and look around, confused. There was a sudden short flash of lightning, and she remembered where she was.

And what had happened.

"Oh, God, no." It had to have been a nightmare. She hadn't said those things, Face hadn't gone after the girls. No. No.

She struggled to her feet, and staggered to the stairs. The storm seemed to be abating, with only occasional rumbles in the distance, and the rain against the windows was a quiet patter. She grasped the railing, and hauled herself painfully up the steps.

She reached the top of the steps just as the moon broke through the clouds. Face stood near the railing, staring bleakly at her, holding his side where blood slowly seeped between his fingers. He was alone.

"Face?" Feeling sick, she took a step toward him, unsure, afraid.

He looked at her, and when he spoke, his voice was cracking.

"My God, Amy, what have I done?"


*****

It had been so easy.

Looking up at him with those eyes. Her eyes. Not his. Nothing about them was his.

They never made a sound. Just...looked at him. Like they were always looking at him. But even as he stepped over to them, even as he grabbed the two youngest and stepped to the railing, not a sound.

Only when he let go. Mary screamed then. But in the time it took him to turn around, she'd calmed. She just looked at him.

Just like her mother did.

When it was done, he stood at the rail, looking down, through the branches, into the darkness. Just those little white nightgowns glowing in the moonlight.

He shook his head. He'd...he'd seen that before. He'd seen...

His breath started coming fast, shallow. He kept looking down at them. Kept looking...

And then he heard a step behind him.

He turned. And there she was. He forgot about everything else. He saw the knife, and he smiled. The doting mother, come to rescue her whelps.

He wasn't surprised when she smiled back at him. Nor when she raised the knife. It did surprise him at how quick she was. But she made a big mistake, when that knife only sliced across his side.

Unlike her daughters, she screamed.

All the way down.

He'd stood for a long time at the rail. Looking at them. And then the pain in his side grew, and his head felt fuzzy. The longer he looked down, the more the pain grew, and grew.

And then he heard Amy's voice.

"Face?"