A sound woke me. Looking at the clock, my eyes struggled to focus on the blue numbers illuminating the room. Three-thirty.
Another sound whispered on the ground below the window. It sounded like a large animal fussing in the bushes against the house.
Then came the distinctive shushing issued to tell another person to be quiet.
My heart stopped for a few beats as I listened without moving. The sounds were still there, but much more muffled. I thought I could hear voices, too.
Moving very slowly, I slid my legs to the floor, rolling out from under the covers into a kneeling position by the bed. I slid the Samantha’s pistol from its hiding place between the mattress and headboard and crawled to the window.
I knew better than to move the curtains, but a quick glance told me I would see nothing otherwise. So, ever so slowly, I stood to my full height and pulled the edge of the fabric aside just enough that I could see the bushes along the house.
Why did Samantha have bushes surrounding her house, anyway? Didn’t she know, especially as a cop, that they gave intruders a place to hide? The ones around her basement windows were the worst.
And that was exactly where a saw the first figure. A man crouched in the window well, a small pry bar in his hands. Apparently he was going to attempt to pry the thin glass window out of its frame.
Why aren' they block windows? I found myself thinking. Samantha needed to take a class on home safety. Sure she had weapons and the training to use them. Maybe she even had hand-to-hand combat training. But home safety was about preventing the need to use weapons or fighting skills in the first place. The goal was to keep criminals out.
There was another figure on the far side of the bushes. This one had a familiar bulk, but he was in shadow, so I couldn’t be certain it was who I thought.
I heard the frame of window give with a creak and a pop. A flashlight swept through the rectangular hole where the dirty glass had just been. Then the beam swung to the face of the man behind the bush.
A sharp intake of air had me dropping the curtain and moving across the room to wake Allison. I had to hide her first. The closet was obvious, but since I didn't know my way around, it was my only option. Under the bed, Allison wouldn’t be able to move fast enough if she needed to run.
Once she was huddled under a pile of clothes in the back corner, I hurried to Samantha’s room. Her door creaked as I pushed it open. She rustled the sheets as she moved at the sound.
“Samantha,” I whispered, creeping farther into the room. “Samantha. Wake up.”
Her movements hushed, she climbed out of bed and stood fully clothed with her pistol at her side. “What’s wrong?” she whispered back.
“Two men are breaking into the basement.”
Her curse was barely audible.
“One of them is Carwahl.”
At that, her emerald eyes flew to mine. “Carwahl? You’re sure?”
I nodded, searching her eyes in the dark for more information. I thought I had it. “He was at the hotel, wasn’t he? That’s why we left in a cab.”
I huffed out a breath. “Okay. So what now?”
She nodded again. “We have the advantage of knowing they’re here. The basement door leads into the kitchen. You said there were two?”
“Yeah. Carwahl and another guy.”
“But there could be more,” she finished for me.
“Okay. I want to keep them away from the stairs. Away form Allison. So let’s greet them when they come through the door.” I followed her into the hallway. “Follow me. I know the silent way through my house.”
I didn’t reply, just followed behind her, gun at the ready.
She stayed to the right of the stairs, against the wall. At the bottom, she skipped the third step. After she checked the front door lock, we headed into the living room.
The basement door clicked open and squeaked on the hinges.
Our time was up. Now we had to confront the enemy with maybe a bit less of our element of surprise.
Samantha crept toward the dining area of the kitchen, signaling me to head back the way we came. I would cover the hall.
Slinking back to the threshold, I pressed my back against the wall, gun at the ready. I looked for shadows moving in the floor and walls, but the dark hour and no lights threw everything in shadow. None of them moved. I heard careful footsteps in the kitchen. It sounded like the men were checking dark corners, though I couldn’t understand why if they thought we were sleeping.
Maybe I should be with Samantha, I thought. She was closer to them, and if they were both armed what were the chances surprising them wouldn’t end badly for her as well?
A floorboard groaned under the weight of an intruder. They both whispered a curse, one of them hissing at the other to be careful.
Without warning light flooded the back of the house. The men shuffled for cover.
“Freeze.” It wasn’t a yelled command, but Samantha’s voice seemed to boom through the silence of the house.
Now there were shadows on the front door. Both were holding their arms in the air. Both still had guns in their hands.
“Drop your weapons,” Samantha ordered.
I watched as the shadows slowly lowered their guns to the floor. Peeking around the corner I could see Carwahl and a younger man, the latter closest to me. I could see his eyes watching Samantha as he “looked” at the floor. Just before his pistol reached the ground, his jaw tightened and he gripped his gun tight in his hand.
I whirled around the corner, the barrel of my gun aimed at the young man.
“Sam!” I yelled to warn Samantha. She took the cue.
Three shots fired in rapid succession. Each from a different gun. Samantha shot Carwahl. My shot hit the younger man’s crouched form, entering his chest just behind his arm as he shot at Samantha.
The two men went down, followed by the sound of Samantha crashing into the table and chairs behind her. With my gun trained on the men, I rushed to her.
“I’m okay,” she said, her hand pressed to her leg.
Bending down to her, I found her pants were soaked in blood and shredded on her left calf. The bullet appeared to have sliced through the outside of her leg. When I touched it she sucked in a breath and cursed at me.
“Get their guns,” she told me. “And check their pulses.”
I pushed the weapons toward her. Carwahl had a weak pulse, but the other guy was gone. My bullet must have gone through his lung and hit his heart. Either that, or he had drowned in his own blood.
“Nice shot,” Samantha said.
A pounding on the front door made me jump. I grabbed my gun and headed for the front through the living room so I wasn’t a blinking target for another potential bad guy.
“Samantha!” The male voice yelling her name was powerful.
“Jonny,” she said. “My neighbor.” She pointed toward the front of the house.
I looked through the peephole just as the man yelled again. “Samantha. I’m going to break the door in.”
Making quick work of it, I unlatched the door and pulled it open a crack keeping my leg behind it. “Who are you?”
“Officer Bramish. State Police,” he said, stepping into his professional role. “Who are you?”
“Ella,” I offered. “You got ID?” Maybe it wasn’t the time to be particular with Samantha already shot and one of the bad guys still alive, but I wasn’t taking any chances.
Officer Bramish held up a black leather case, revealing his badge and photo ID naming him as Jonathan M. Bramish, Pennsylvania State Trooper. “Where’s Samantha?” he asked, peeking around me into the house.
I let him in, shutting door so close to his back, he jumped a bit. He was tall. Over six foot. With dark hair cropped close to his head and graying at the temples. He had pulled on his socks and boots under cutoff sweat pants and a shoulder holster. His gun was in his hand. It would’ve been a pleasant view in different circumstances.
“I heard gun shots. Where’s Samantha?” His eyes fell to the pistol in my hand, then took in my bandaged arm.
“Dining room,” I said, pointing down the hall. “We got the guys, but she’s shot.”
Jonny, as Samantha had called him, hurried down the hall with his weapon pointed at the men on the kitchen floor. He didn’t waste time talking to me. When he saw Samantha, he dropped to his knees at her side. “Samantha.” There was a hint of something in his voice. Something more than just professional concern.
She looked up at him with a shaky smile. “Jonny,” she answered.
“What happened here?” He examined her wound tenderly.
She sucked in a breath. “I got shot, you idiot.” Swatting his hand from her injured leg, she snapped, “Don’t touch it!”
Jonny turned his sharp gaze on me. If I hadn’t lived through the past few days’ events, I would’ve cowered into a chair under the steel-blue stare.
“These men broke into the basement, and Samantha and I caught them. The one guy’s dead, I think. The other has a gut wound, so he’s still alive, but barely. The dead guy shot her.” The words tumbled out with the hope of turning those cold eyes from my face.
Jonny stood, holstered his gun, and walked to the sink to wet a towel for Samantha’s face. Only after he had made her a bit more comfortable did he turn back to me.
“That was very succinct,” he said.
“It’s what happened.” My tone bit, but I didn’t care. I was fed up with cops, and no matter how he seemed to care about Samantha, I didn’t know this guy from a city hoodlum. Badges had lost their power for me.
Samantha put her hand on Jonny’s arm and squeezed. A simple nod confirmed my story, but that didn’t mean he thought I was clean.
Silence fell between us, encasing the bright kitchen in a shadow of mistrust. In the distance the howl of sirens began to flood the night.
My heart stopped, my blood icing in my veins at my name ripping down the stairs. My daughter’s voice so full of terror it cracked.