I charged past Mrs. Waterston and ran through the door. Darkness surrounded me, and I realized I was now in the section of the basement I'd waited in that afternoon. I'd never seen the door to a separate room.
My ankle hit the stairs, and I fell to my hands and knees. I scrambled to my feet and scampered to the top landing. Footsteps were heavy behind me. Her breathing was fast and uneven. Bet she regretted those cigarettes now.
I hit the main hallway and spied the front door. I could run for it, but I knew there was precious little to hide behind outside. And with Waterston hot on my tail, I was no match for the speed of her bullets. Even in the dark, I didn't want to take my chances that her aim was that bad.
Instead, I lunged for the alarm system beside the door. I hit the emergency button, praying someone on the other end would summon the police. Then I ran upstairs, taking two steps at a time, in search of a hiding place to wait out their arrival.
Panic soared as I heard Waterston hit the hallway behind me. I climbed higher in a lopsided stride. I ran past bedroom after bedroom, choosing the master at the end of the hallway. It was located in the back right corner of the house, and I sighed in relief as I stepped inside. There were plenty of places to hide. The shower, under the four-poster bed, the walk-in closets.
I noticed the balcony and opened the French doors. There was only two feet of space, and no way down. Below lay the pool. A long ways down.
Leaving the doors ajar, I turned to the bathroom. I searched the cabinets for a weapon but found nothing more toxic than hemorrhoid cream and hot rollers.
I pulled my arms out of Maya's jacket, hot and suffocating in my escape, and tossed it aside. It hit the floor with a tinny, metallic sound.
I grabbed it and rifled through the pockets. The paring knife I'd picked up earlier. I said a silent thank you to the gods of thorough snooping.
The bedroom door opened. Veronica wheezed in the doorway, a shrill whistling sound. She clearly wasn't used to running after people.
I slipped behind the bathroom door, knife clutched in hand. The closet doors opened, hangers rattled. She went onto the balcony then hesitated outside the bathroom before the door squeaked open another inch.
I flattened myself against the wall, feeling the knife shake in my hand. I glanced through the space between the hinges, terrified I'd see her beady eyes staring back.
I saw Mrs. Waterston’s arm extend, her hand peek around the doorframe, gun pointed ahead of her. One more step and she'd be inside, staring me down.
I reacted on instinct, brought up the knife and slashed the back of her hand.
Blood oozed from the cut. Drops splattered on the floor, and the gun fell. A half-yell-half-groan came from deep within her chest, and she quickly drew her arm back.
I kicked the gun before she could reach down for it, then pushed on the door, hoping to knock her out of the way and give myself a moment to grab the better weapon.
She must've regained her footing fast, though, because she pushed back. For an older woman, she was stronger than I thought.
The door slammed me into the wall. The knife fell from my hand and clanked to the floor.
I wiggled onto my hands and knees, aiming for the gun. But before I could grab it, she rammed into me. I skidded across the travertine tile and slammed into a claw foot tub.
She moved fast, too fast, and slipped, grabbing onto the edge of the sink. That calm, reassured presence she'd had in the basement was gone. Her pupils were dilated, her complexion splotchy. She bent toward the gun.
I sprang up and ran to it.
We both arrived at the same time, but her fingers wrapped around the pearl-covered handle first.
No! I screamed in my head.
I wouldn't say my life passed before my eyes as I watched her raise the gun to meet me. No images of Mom, Derek, my girls, or even Danny. Instead, I thought of Donna. Her lifeless expression. The way the woman had used her then cast her aside when she was no longer needed.
This lunatic didn't care that Donna had a life, was grieving for a man she loved. How could she when she thought so little of her own husband's life? Yes, he cheated. So have plenty of other men. You get divorced, take the bastard for everything he owns. You didn't elaborately plan his murder.
And there was no way I was going to let her get away with that.
Without thinking, I reacted. I grabbed her wrist with both of my hands, pushing the gun away from me. She struggled back, the two of us pulling and pushing, trying to get the other to let go. Our arms ended above our heads, the gun pointed at the ceiling. Unfortunately she was only an inch shorter than I, so neither of us had the upper hand.
But I had one additional weapon she did not.
I lifted my one still-shoed foot and slammed the heel onto her slipper.
She screamed, her fingers slipping.
I yanked the gun free and stepped back. My chest heaved with uneven breaths as I pointed the barrel at her.
But like a frickin' bull, she charged toward me.
I raised the gun, pretended she was a paper target, and pulled the trigger.
The shot rang out. Deafening.
Veronica Waterston’s eyes widened. She clutched her lower abdomen as bright red blood seeped through her fingers.
My stomach retched as I blinked in disbelief that almost matched hers. I hadn't aimed to kill. I hadn't aimed at all, just fired out of pure instinct and self preservation.
She staggered, the back of her knees hitting the edge of the tub. Her feet slipped out from beneath her, and she fell backward, landing in the bathtub.
The irony of how the end of her reign of terror resembled Donna's demise didn't escape me.
I rubbed my face with my free hand, stunned, somehow unable to move. I'm not sure how long I stood like that, in a state of semi-shock. I vaguely registered sirens in the distance, the front door opening, and feet pounding up the stairs.
"Jamie?" I heard as the footsteps approached the doorway.
I turned and found Aiden standing there, two uniformed cops beside him, guns drawn. But Aiden's features were soft, concerned, eyes roving my person for wounds.
"I'm sorry," I squeaked out, "but, this time I really did shoot someone, Aiden."