As Maggie stood there, Stoopid still in her grip, the sound of blood rushing in her ears overtook the sounds of the wind. Her eyes were locked on Kyle’s. His sleek, black hair whipped across his eyes, but she could still see them, bright green, large and frightened. For a moment, his fear, and the gun at his temple, were the only things that existed for Maggie. And then she wondered, Where’s Sky? She felt ice forming in her chest, could feel it sealing and cracking over her lungs and her heart. She had known terror before, but her children had never been in danger. This was a level of fear beyond her experience.
“Get up here, real nice and slow,” the man said over the wind.
Maggie started for the stairs, and she was vaguely aware of being surprised that Stoopid hadn’t moved a muscle, though his little heart was pounding beneath her hand. As she walked up the stairs, her eyes flicked back and forth between Kyle’s and the man’s. The man’s eyes were cold, yet agitated, maybe even a little frightened, but his gun hand didn’t tremble.
The gun was a .22, and things broke inside of Maggie as she remembered everything she knew about gunshots to the head with a 22-caliber. The way the small rounds tended to bounce around inside the skull, inflicting horrific brain damage, even if they didn’t kill. She swallowed hard and ascended the stairs.
When she got to the shaky step, the stair and the piling beneath it wobbled a bit, but she expected it, and her eyes remained locked onto the man’s, as he backed up the few steps into the house, looking over his shoulder quickly before he moved inside.
Maggie followed him into the dining area just inside the door. She could hear Coco barking and growling from behind her closed bedroom door, but her attention was immediately drawn away from Coco to Sky, who was lying on the floor of the small, open kitchen, unconscious or worse.
The man saw where she was looking. “She ain’t dead. But she can be, if you try to get cute with me. Get rid of that roo and close the door.”
Maggie knew he meant for her to dump Stoopid outside, but instead she tossed him onto the dining room table, then reached back and shut the door. The man looked at her like she was an idiot, but he didn’t say anything. Stoopid flapped around on the table with a confused cough, then jumped down to the floor and high-stepped into the living area.
Maggie took a deep breath. “What do you want?” she asked, sounding far calmer than she was.
“What do I want?” the man repeated, his eyes narrow and full of hate. He held onto Kyle’s shoulder as they moved slowly toward her. The barrel of the gun never left Kyle’s skin. “So far I’ve got what I want.”
“My son?” Maggie asked, blinking rapidly.
The man stopped just inches from her. “Your son!” he said, with something close to disgust in his voice, and he raised his hand off of Kyle’s shoulder. She caught Kyle’s eye for a split second, terrified he would instinctively try to move away because the hand was gone. Then the upper cut slammed into her chin before her brain could tell her to block it.
When Maggie came around, she was lying on the wood floor, her hands tied tightly behind her back. She could hear Coco, still barking from her bedroom. Before she blinked her eyes open, she fully expected Kyle to be gone. He wasn’t.
Kyle and Sky were sitting next to each other on the far side of the dining room table. Maggie’s throat tightened with gratitude that Sky was conscious. There was a reddened mound on her left temple where a serious bruise would soon appear, but she seemed otherwise unharmed. Her arms were tied together around the back of the chair, and the man from the flower shop was bent behind Kyle, apparently tying his as well.
Maggie sat up with a grunt. It took some effort, and was awkward because of the ropes that bound her wrists. The man glanced over at her, then back to his work. The eyes of both of her children locked onto hers.
The fear in those eyes, and the damage to Sky’s face, brought a slow, warm wave of anger to Maggie, one that she welcomed. Anger had rescued her from fear more than once. Fear for her children had been almost paralyzing, but rage calmed her. She could think clearly through it. This man was at a serious advantage. He was armed and she was unable to get to her weapons at the moment. The only way she would be able to save her kids was by thinking clearly.
Maggie scooted back on her butt until she hit the wall, then slumped against it. She stared back at her beautiful little boy, who was wincing as his wrists were tied.
“It’s okay, Kyle,” she said softly. “It’ll be okay.”
The man looked at her over Kyle’s shoulder. “That’s not for you to say, is it?” He finished up with Kyle and slowly walked around the table toward Maggie. He stopped a couple of feet away and stared down at her. “I decide what’s gonna be okay.”
“What do you want?” Maggie asked again, trying not to sound too combative.
“I’ll let you wonder about that for a while,” he said quietly. “Where’s your gun?”
Maggie didn’t answer. He only waited for a few seconds before swinging his gun arm around and aiming at Kyle. “I don’t care about your kids,” he said. “I really don’t care about your kids. So, you either tell me where it is or you’ll have one less kid. If I have to go find it myself, you won’t have any kids at all.”
Maggie tabulated possible answers and their outcomes. He might not want to go into her room because of Coco. Or, he might go in there to shut Coco up, and then he’d see her Glock sitting on her bed next to her overnight bag. He already had a gun. She had no way to use hers at the moment. It really didn’t change anything for him to have her weapon, too, but lying to him might change a lot of things.
“It’s in my bedroom. On my bed.”
“Which one’s your bedroom?”
“The noisy one.”
“Looks like we have a problem,” the man said. “I want that gun, but I’d sooner kill a human being than kill a decent dog.”
Maggie’s heart lurched. “Please don’t hurt her,” she said quietly.
“If she comes at me, I’ll kill her.”
“She won’t, if I tell her it’s okay.”
“She gonna believe that?”
“No. But she’ll listen anyway.”
The man reached down and grabbed her by the hair. “Get up.”
Maggie struggled to her feet clumsily. He helped by lifting her up by her ponytail.
“We’re gonna go get that gun. You’re gonna control that dog.” He jerked the gun toward the table. “Go stand over there.”
Maggie walked over to the table and stood at the close end, the place where her late ex-husband David sat for dinner. No one sat there for dinner now, unless her parents were over. Kyle and Sky both looked up at her, and she hoped her face was reassuring.
“Over there, by the couch,” the man said. “Outa my way.”
Maggie moved a few feet toward the hallway, stopped and turned around at the end of the couch. The man stepped behind Kyle’s chair. Maggie noted that Kyle’s wrists were bound with a handcuff knot. Not one she would have chosen, but she noted that the man had used a length of rope she’d had hanging out on the deck. There’d only been a few yards. Maybe he’d chosen the knot because it didn’t require much rope. That would also explain why he hadn’t tied their wrists to the chairs. She would have.
The man lifted Kyle up by one underarm. “Come on, boy.”
“What are you doing?” Maggie asked.
The man grinned at her. It wasn’t a pleasant grin. “I ain’t stupid. I think you’d be willing to let your dog at me, even if I did shoot her. Might buy you enough time to grab your gun, wouldn’t it?”
He put the barrel of his gun back to Kyle’s temple, and jerked his chin at Maggie. “Let’s go. You get that dog there to calm down, and you don’t go in that room, hear me?”
Maggie turned and started walking down the hallway. Coco must have smelled her, because she stopped barking and whined. “Coco, it’s okay, baby. Hush.” Coco whined back, then was quiet.
Maggie stopped at the closed door and turned around. The man and Kyle were six feet or so behind her.
“How am I supposed to open the door?” she asked quietly.
“You’ll figure it out.”
Maggie backed up to the door and tried to lift her arms enough to reach the doorknob, but she couldn’t. She stood up on her tippy toes, and after several slaps at the knob she heard the catch come open.
“Watch yourself,” the man said, and Maggie couldn’t help but look at the gun barrel on the side of her little boy’s head. Kyle’s eyes were impossibly wide, and his knees were shaking visibly.
“Coco, sit!” Maggie commanded. “Stay.”
The man moved Kyle forward as Maggie let the door swing slowly inward. He and Kyle were no more than three feet behind her.
Coco was sitting near the foot of the bed, pointing her face toward Maggie and trying hard not to stand up, but her butt was lifted off of the floor a couple of inches before Maggie spoke. “Coco, sit!” she said sharply.
She looked over her shoulder at the man.
“You walk in there, real slow like. Get over there by her.”
Maggie backed up slowly until she was standing next to her dog. Coco let out a low growl, then nudged at Maggie’s leg. “Shh, quiet. It’s okay.”
The man looked over Kyle’s shoulder from the doorway, spotted Maggie’s service weapon on the bed. He stared at Coco for a moment, then, his hand still under Kyle’s arm, guided the boy over to the bed. When they got there, he pressed the gun barrel harder against Kyle’s temple.
“Don’t you move, boy,” he said, then let go of Kyle’s arm, and bent just enough to snatch up the Glock in its holster. He shoved it into the front waistband of his jeans, then grabbed Kyle’s arm again.
“You got any more guns in here?”
“Don’t lie to me. You got a gun in that closet?”
“No. I don’t.”
He yanked Kyle with him as he stepped over to the nightstand and opened the small drawer. There was nothing in there but a couple of paperbacks and some hair clips. He shut the drawer, then pointed at the small, open closet behind Maggie. “Let me see in there.”
Maggie walked over to the closet. She toed the door all the way open, and he looked at the floor, and on the shelf above the clothes, where several plastic shoe boxes were stacked.
“Let’s go,” the man said to Maggie. “Us first, then you. The dog stays in here.”
Maggie waited and watched as the man and Kyle edged back out into the hallway. Kyle was small for his age, but he had never looked smaller. The man stopped and jerked his chin at Maggie. “Come on,” he said.
“Stay, Coco,” Maggie said, and she walked to the doorway. “The door,” she said to the man.
“Come over here,” he answered. She moved a few feet down the hallway, and the man edged back over to the door. Coco watched him, but didn’t growl and didn’t stand. He let go of Kyle long enough to pull the door shut, then jerked his chin toward the living room. “Go on.”
Maggie turned back around, and saw Stoopid at the end of the hall, watching them. When they started walking back, the rooster turned and trotted back out the living room.
“Sit down over there,” the man said, pointing his chin at David’s chair. Maggie walked over and sat down, meeting Sky’s gaze as she did.
The man sat Kyle back down in the chair and looked at Maggie.
“A cop, a woman who likes to shoot things, livin’ way out here, she’s got more than a .45 layin’ around. Where’s the rest of your guns?”
Maggie rapidly tried to calculate, again, the possible outcomes of dishonesty.
“Don’t think so hard,” the man said. “I’ll look, and I’ll find ‘em. When I do, I’ll use one of them on him.” He put the gun against the back of Kyle’s head, then swung it over to point at Sky. “Or her.”
Maggie knew he would find them. Her weapons were situated more for easy access than for concealment. She wasn’t sure he would shoot one of her kids if she lied to him, but she wasn’t sure he wouldn’t, either. He already had enough firepower to kill all three of them. Allowing him to collect her guns wasn’t going to worsen their situation. If anything, maybe he’d actually help her by consolidating them for her.
“There’s a shotgun on the top shelf of the hall closet,” she said. She paused and let out a slow breath. “And a .38 on top of the fridge.”
The man smiled just a bit, and walked over the fridge, which was at the edge of the open kitchen. She watched him easily reach up and pat around until he found the revolver that had belonged to her grandfather. As he pulled the gun out, he knocked against the old tin that held the extra rounds. He tucked the revolver in the back of his jeans and pulled out the tin, shaking it.
Sky looked at Maggie, and Maggie could tell that she disagreed with Maggie’s choice to be straightforward. Maggie let out a breath and watched as the man stepped over to the hall closet, poked around, and then pulled the Mossberg out from behind the stacks of towels.
“Nice,” he said. “I might keep this.”