By the time her boot left the dirt trail and hit the grass of an expansive yard that consisted mostly of an upward sloping hill, the pool house was engulfed in flames and already coating the pool in ash. Both sat in a level area that had been carved into the grassy hill about halfway between the lake and the house. Once Shelia’s eyes adjusted to the brightness of the blaze, she noticed that more than just the building was burning. There were at least three bodies writhing on the ground near the inferno, and all of them were covered in flame. As Shelia charged passed the building – careful to maintain a safe distance from all of the light that could give away her position – she spied another flaming shape. This one was slowly working its way toward the pool while wildly flopping about. Shelia ended the drama for that one with a flick of her wrist. It wasn’t a desire to end anyone’s suffering that motivated her to hurry up the poor bloke’s demise. The more they suffered the better. That one was just getting too close to the pool. She didn’t want any survivors. The blade took a full two seconds to cover the distance, but when it met its mark, the shape dropped and became just another fire burning around the pool.
Beyond the burning, two more shapes raced through the darkness toward the house. The expanding light from the growing fire chased them like a stalking cannibal lumbering toward a lame hunk of living flesh. They managed to stay one step ahead of the increasing glow, but neither proved quick enough to escape the beautiful and vengeful angel of death that had come to claim their souls. Two more flicks of Shelia’s wrist sent two more glints of metal flying through the orange haze. Not more than an instant later the legend of Stiletto Rose grew by two victims. Each of the two new chapters in that story bleeding out on the grass as the myth charged by them without a glance.
Rufus had been able to load more than just a map to the computer in Shelia’s van. With the intel he had gathered, she knew precisely which window to crash through to find the library and precisely which book to pull from the shelf to open a hidden door concealing a secret staircase that led to the basement. When the stairs ended in what appeared to be a three-foot by four-foot dead end, Shelia pushed a panel in the wall to her right. As soon as she did, the wall that appeared to be a dead end slid left exposing a room with a couch that was occupied by a small body.
Shelia fell to her knees as the face on that small body turned to look at her. Those blue eyes and that fresh innocence were enough to bring a cry of joy up to the back of her throat. It stuck there for a bit as the tears began to flow and she tried to speak. “My baby boy,” she cried, reaching toward him. The words weren’t really discernable in the sound that came out of Shelia’s mouth, but Matt seemed to understand the sentiment.
“Mommy!” Matt shouted as he jumped up onto the couch cushions and began running toward her.
Matt’s left foot was on the arm of the couch when another shape raced into Shelia’s field of vision. It came in from the right and snatched one of her two reasons to live out of the air by the back of his messy, blonde hair. Before she could get back to her feet or even slightly regain her composure, she was looking into the eyes of a memory. The man they called Wiggles stared at her, and he was holding her baby about two feet off the ground by his hair.
“Holy shit,” Wiggles attempted to chuckle, “Stiletto Rose in the flesh.” The expression on his face belied the illusion of coolness that his words hoped to invoke as he continued, “You weren’t much more than a baby the last time I saw you. And look at you now, all grown up and somebody’s mommy.” Then he held Matt out a bit further from him and added, “Are you looking for this? We’ve been getting real close. We’re like old friends. Ain’t we, Matt?”
Wiggles’ words barely registered as her baby boy struggling in that bastard’s grip held the lion’s share of Shelia’s attention. Her hand slipped toward her gun as she struggled to her feet. The world slowed; Matt’s feet kicking back and forth, Wiggles’ lips moving around words that she could barely hear, and especially Wiggles’ other hand moving up from Matt’s left side and pointing a gun against the struggling cherub’s head.
“Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa,” Wiggles began. “You don’t want to do that. You wouldn’t want to see this handsome, little man’s brains splattered all over the walls would you?”
“You son of a bitch,” she didn’t bother attempting to hide the tears. She couldn’t swallow down the mountainous lump in her throat if she tried. Instead she aimed her gun at Wiggles’ head and assured him, “If you hurt him, I will show you pain like nothing you could possibly imagine. I will keep you alive for years just chipping away at you, peeling you apart bit by bit until you will beg me to let you die.” After a slow, deep breath she added, “And I won’t.”
“Oh, well that sounds horrible,” he attempted a smile, but only his lips were in on the fakery. “What about door number two? What if I let him go?”
“You get one bullet in the head, quick and painless,” she replied through the tears trickling over her stony expression like the runoff of a spring rain in the mountains. “You know how good I am. You probably won’t feel a thing.”
Despite his failure at appearing nonchalant and unafraid, Wiggles maintained the charade as he shrugged and said, “See, that doesn’t sound so good to me either. In fact, any option that includes me dying or being tortured or whatever other fucked up shit that pretty little head could come up with, just doesn’t work for me. No,” a scowl spread across his face as he shook Matt slightly before continuing, “See I got this. And as long as I have this little scab as my insurance policy, my version of this deal looks a bit different than either of your options. In my version, I back out of this room with Matt here, and a bunch of my guys pour into this room and fill that hot, little ass of your with lead.”
Shelia’s cheeks were still damp from her tears, like the ghost of a puddle that lingers two days after all of the snow has melted. Her eyes were bone dry though. Rage filled her and chased the fear and sorrow away. Lips like iron barely moved as she said, “There is no version of this story where you walk out of this room tonight. The only question that remains is how much it’s going to hurt.”
Wiggles forced another chuckle as he slowly began retreating toward the door with Matt. He only shuffled back about three feet before the doorknob started turning. “Get the fuck in here,” he shouted, slightly turning his head back over his right shoulder.
Shelia’s eyes locked on to Matt’s wild gaze. A foul mix of confusion and fear swirled over his twisted face. Though her brave, little soldier remained silent, every thought racing through his mind spun around in the agony on his face. It only took one step before her entire world erupted around her. Wiggles backed into the sofa, bumping the arm with the back of his knee. The flash was brighter than anything Shelia had ever seen, and the bang like a bomb exploding in the center of her head. Right at that moment it was impossible for her to discern whether she actually saw the flash and heard the bang, or if both of those things were conveyed to her through Matt’s widening eyes. Reality checked out as her instincts took over. She didn’t feel her knees hit the plush carpet on the floor. Nor did she consciously will her arm to move and her finger to squeeze her trigger twice putting a bullet in the left eye of one thug and the right eye of another. Yet, there were two fresh corpses lying in the doorway. Even after those bodies had fallen and her arm and finger moved together again, belching another bullet from the barrel of her gun, a bullet that would skim across the front of Wiggles’ neck – not quite deep enough to shred any arteries, but plenty deep to nick his windpipe, incapacitating but not killing him – it wasn’t her conscious mind controlling her. All of these things happened around her as her eyes – that had managed to find more tears to pour over their lids – remained locked on the twitching carcass of her only son, her Matt, her little man, the boy whose crooked smile could drag her up from the lowest of lows. She wailed as the innocence left those precious, blue eyes a moment before they grayed over, as if in that one solitary moment, he learned everything about life just in time to die.
Shelia remained like that – on her knees wailing and clawing at her hair and clothes, shouting this moment and mumbling the next, none of it discernable – for a period of time that didn’t matter to her. Nothing mattered. Matt was dead. His angelic face stared accusingly from a small puddle of blood and muck that was quickly soaking into the carpet. Her baby was dead, and it was all her fault. She could have remained there for the rest of her days, weeping and damning herself until dehydration finally ended her, but something shouted at her. It was something from deep in her mind, a small place in her brain that hadn’t completely checked out. She could barely hear it at first, like the muffled howling of a woeful soul pouring their sorrow into a pillow. There were words. They were hard to make out. The room spun slightly making Matt’s bloody face rotate counterclockwise before her eyes as the muffled shout gained volume and the words stomping among it gained clarity. No, not words, it was just one word repeated over and over again. “Mommy,” a girl’s voice cried out from that place deep in Shelia’s mind, that place that was still connected to reality, if only loosely. It took a few moments for the rest of her mind to catch up with that spot and realize that it was Alyssa’s voice crying at her. As difficult as it was to go on, she had to. Everything that meant anything to her anymore still needed her.
Shelia rarely broke promises, but she didn’t have time to make good on her threats to Wiggles. She stalked over to him with her jaw bulging under the pressure of her clenched teeth. The fake smirk was gone as his eyes darted wildly around the room before finally coming to rest on Shelia’s icy glare.
“I made you a promise,” she said coolly.
The response was nothing more than some hissing that was sloshing around too much sickening moisture. He couldn’t push any words out of his mouth with all of the air seeping out of that nicked windpipe. That didn’t stop him from trying. Nor did it stop him from swinging his right arm at Shelia’s face. She grabbed it by the wrist, threw her gun in its holster, and brought her nose within an inch of his.
“You’re lucky that I don’t have time to keep it,” she whispered. As the words left her mouth, she slipped the first two fingers of her right hand into the tiny slit her bullet had made in his throat and spread the hole wide. Then she added, “This is all I have time for,” as she yanked those two fingers down and right, ripping his throat open. Only three drops of blood made it up to her cheek. She didn’t wipe them away. They would remain until she had time to look at them, absorb what that son of a bitch had taken from her, and then scrub that useless fucker away. She watched his eyes until all of the life had left them, and then she turned her attention back to Matt.
“My sweet baby,” she cried as she collapsed next to his lifeless body, “look what he did to you. Look what I did to you. I’m so sorry.”
Shelia pulled Matt close to her chest, letting his head flop onto her shoulder. She absently pushed at the flaps of skin loosely hanging from the exit wound Wiggles’ bullet had torn open in her baby’s left temple. The tears came stronger as she rocked back and forth with him, whispering incoherent nonsense that slowly mounted into helpless wailing against the side of his lifeless face. Two minutes. That is how long the collapse lasted. That was all she could allow herself.
The breakdown ended as abruptly as it had begun. Then she gently laid Matt’s body back onto the floor, tenderly kissed his forehead, and whispered, “I’ll be back for you baby.”
Shelia completely slipped away as Stiletto Rose slowly stood up from her son’s corpse. “So it will be revenge then,” she said as she stalked toward the door.