He banged opened the front door and then ran full-out around his cottage. He saw a man standing on a lawn chair, leaning into his broken bedroom window, a gun in one hand.
He was tall, long-limbed, with a ski mask pulled down over his head and face. Blessed?
Ethan heard him say softly, his voice scary slow, mesmerizing, “I know you’re in there, Joanna. I heard the sheriff tell you what to do. You can’t get away again. I know the bedroom door’s locked. I know the sheriff heard the window crashing. When he roars through that door, I’m gonna blow his head off. You hear me? I’m not kidding now. You want to see him die? Send Autumn out. I don’t want to take a chance of shooting her. Send her out now, Joanna.”
Ethan raised his Beretta and said, “Drop the gun now, Blessed. I won’t tell you twice.”
The man jerked around, his hand coming up fast. A shot rang out from inside the bedroom before Ethan could fire his Beretta. The man screamed as he twisted back and fell off the lawn chair, grabbing his arm. “You weren’t supposed to have a gun! You didn’t have to die, but now you are. I’m going to kill you for shooting me, bitch, kill you, you hear me?” He was rolling and off the ground before both Ethan and Joanna fired again, both bullets missing him. He whirled around, saw Ethan bearing down on him, and fired wildly toward him. Ethan fell to his side and rolled behind an oak tree, firing off a half-dozen rounds. The man returned fire but only three shots. Too bad Joanna hadn’t hit his gun arm. Then he heard a repeated clicking noise. So he had a revolver, not a pistol, and he was out of bullets. Blessed made a weird high-pitched wailing sound and ran in a crouch toward the woods.
Ethan fired at him a couple more times as he leaped to his feet, and ran after him. “Don’t shoot me, dammit!” he yelled at Joanna, who was climbing out of the window, Ox’s gun in her hand. She ignored him, finished off the clip, but she didn’t hit Blessed. He heard her say, more to herself than to anyone else, “I only got him in the arm, dammit. I missed him but good this time.” She yelled after him, “Get him, Sheriff, get him!”
Ethan ran into the woods, stopped, and listened, all his training and experience coming to bear. He didn’t hear anything, not even a breaking twig. The man had known enough to stop too. That meant he wasn’t a fool and he knew the woods. Ethan heard Joanna yell at the top of her lungs, “Sheriff, don’t get too close to him. Don’t look him in the eye!”
Just what he needed. “Stay back!” he yelled, then stilled again. Ethan knew these woods as well as any Titusville native, any ranger, knew them certainly better than this maniac. He heard Blessed now, heard him running, breaking branches, stumbling, heard his hard breathing, and he smiled. He ran directly to his left, knowing where to run to keep as fast and quiet as possible. He was nearly to the road. It was then he heard the sirens blasting through the still night. Blessed had to hear them too, had to know they’d block off the road.
Ethan smiled. Gotcha. He broke out of the trees not six feet from the asphalt when three patrol cars raced by. He fired his Beretta into the air. All three cars screeched to a stop. Marco Hayes leaped out of the driver’s seat, his gun drawn.
“Sheriff? What’s going on?”
“A man alone, tall, kind of skinny, ski mask. His gun’s empty, but he could have another one. He’s close, in the woods. His vehicle has to be nearby. Did you see a car by the road when you went by?”
None of them had seen a car, but it was dark, and they’d been over the top with excitement, focused on getting to his house. The car could be well hidden.
Ethan put his finger to his lips and listened. He couldn’t hear Blessed moving now. Was he still again, and waiting? Had he walked here from Titusville? No, that made no sense. He had to have a car, or maybe a motorcycle.
But where had he gone?
And then Ethan knew. Adrenaline rushed through him, making him nearly airborne. He yelled to his deputies, “Everyone get to my house. He’s gone back. Hurry!”
Without another word, Ethan took off running into the woods, not trying to mask his noise. When he neared the edge of the woods at the back of his property, he heard a gunshot not twenty feet from the side of his house. The man had another gun or he wouldn’t have gone back. Or maybe Joanna had been the one to fire. Only a single shot, and that scared him more than a firefight.
He saw cars pile into his driveway, heard men’s shouts fill the night. He didn’t see Blessed.
She didn’t answer. When he reached the shattered bedroom window, he realized he was afraid to look inside, afraid he’d see that Autumn was gone, her mother bleeding on the floor. And Ox?