There were several cars in the lot. I recognized Anne’s from when we met at Mrs. Rogers’s place and parked next to it. An outside staircase led to her office door. I climbed the staircase two steps at a time just to prove that I could even at my advanced years. The door was unlocked, and I stepped inside. A desk chair was lying on its side as if it had been thrown across the room, and I nearly tripped over it.
I looked up. There was a man standing behind the desk. I took him in all at once—six feet, 190 pounds, brown eyes, brown hair cut in a military style, wearing a white T-shirt beneath a black leather jacket and jeans. His left hand was gripping Anne’s red-blond hair and yanking it backward so hard that her back was arched. Her white blouse had been torn open. The man’s right hand was violently squeezing her breast through a pink bra trimmed with lace. His mouth was close to her ear as if he had been whispering to her. His entire face was twisted in a snarl. Her face revealed the fear and pain she was suffering.
They both looked at me.
I looked at them.
There was a balcony behind the desk. The sliding door was open, and I could hear the sound of traffic moving in the distance.
“McKenzie,” Anne said.
She spoke in a harsh whimper, yet her voice echoed in the office like a starter’s pistol.
Her attacker released Anne’s breast and lunged for a knife that was lying on top of the desk. He continued to grip her hair with his other hand, and the sudden movement turned Anne’s head savagely.
She screamed in pain.
I reached for the SIG Sauer.
He brought the blade of the knife against Anne’s throat and spun her toward me.
I went into a Weaver stance, my feet shoulder-width apart, knees bent, weight slightly forward, my gun hand pushing outward while my support hand pulled inward.
“Don’t move,” he said.
I took two steps forward.
He positioned Anne’s body so that it was between him and me and hid behind it.
“I told you not to move,” he said.
The tip of the knife pressed against Anne’s skin yet did not penetrate. Her breath came in shallow gasps. I stopped moving.
“Drop the gun,” he said.
No, no, no, my inner voice screamed.
You never give up your weapon, you never give up your weapon, you never give up your weapon … It was my inner voice chanting, yet it was the words of my skills instructor at the police academy. Give up your weapon and everyone dies.
“I’ll kill her,” he said.
I didn’t answer. Instead, I deliberately centered the sights on his forehead, my hands perfectly still. It was unlikely I would miss from that distance. He seemed to understand and pulled his head behind Anne’s.
“I mean it—I’ll kill her.” His voice was louder, yet his words weren’t as certain as before. He was beginning to reconsider his position. His eyes darted around the office. It was as if he were searching for an option—any option.
“If she dies it’ll be your fault,” he said.
“Please,” Anne said. Her voice was just above a whisper. “Please.”
His eyes turned toward the open balcony door and he began edging toward it, keeping Anne’s body between him and my gun.
“No one else has to get hurt over this,” he said. “We can make a deal.”
My sights followed his movements.
“No one else needs to die.”
He stopped in the doorway leading to the balcony and raised the knife blade as if he were preparing to plunge it into Anne’s throat. My hands tightened around the gun.
“Don’t,” I said.
He lowered the knife tip even as his eyes fixed on mine.
He shoved Anne hard toward me.
I made no effort to catch her. Instead, I tried to step out of the way to make sure her body wasn’t between me and her attacker. Only she flailed her arms toward me as she fell. It slowed me down. By then he was vaulting the second-story balcony railing. I reached the railing just in time to see him roll to his feet as if he had been jumping from second-story heights his entire life. I brought the SIG up and sighted on him. He was in full stride now, his back to me, sprinting toward the wooded area behind the cottages. I decided he was already beyond the gun’s effective range and let him go. I should have shot at him anyway. I should have emptied the goddamn magazine.
I turned toward Anne. She was lying in a fetal position on the office floor. Tears stained her cheeks; the sound she made was a painful fusion of dry heaves and breathless shrieks. I recognized her reaction from when I was a cop responding to sexual assaults. Anne had ceased being a person and become something else. I tried to put my arms around her. She shouted “No” and rolled away from me. Her hands gripped the ends of her torn blouse and pulled the material close over her chest. Her blazer was lying on the floor next to her desk, yet I gave her my sports jacket just the same. She wrapped it around herself like a comforter. It was only then that she allowed me to take her in my arms. She rested her head against my chest, and I rocked her back and forth until her humanity returned. It took a long time.