For a brief moment, Tony forgot everything he had read or written, had learned or taught others, and acted on sheer instinct. The sense of clear that came over him just then was euphoric. It was liberating. If he had died in that moment, he would have died feeling good.
But Tony did not die then. What he did do was reach for the tripod, wrap his fingers around one end and swing blindly in front of him as he rose to his feet. At the very same moment, K.J. bumped her chair against Emma, nudging her off balance. The blow caught her in the midsection and she dropped the razor entirely as the air rushed from her body. Tony then dropped his shoulder, wrapped his hands around the backs of her thighs, and drove her into the ground. The last time he’d attempted such a move was 20 years ago and Coach Staub had hectored him about his form being off. He had a feeling the old man would be proud to see him now.
Emma might have had the fight knocked out of her, but she wasn’t done yet. She twisted under Tony’s weight and reached for the razor. He knocked it away with a sweep of his arm and pinned her wrists to the floor.
“Kill me!” she begged. “Kill me. Please, I want to die.”
“No one is going to kill you,” Tony said. He was laying atop her, sweating and breathing hard. Her auburn hair fanned out like a splatter of barbecue sauce on the light carpet. A mischievous smile suddenly spread to her lips.
“No?” she said. “Then maybe you’d like to do something else.”
She thrust her hips at him as best as she was able. Her diaper crinkled loudly when it pressed against his pants and Tony felt a surge of raw, carnal energy. It only lasted a moment, but that was all she needed. Emma slipped her left arm free and punched him in the face. Though not a large woman, it was no meager blow. Tony grunted and felt himself being pushed off as she tucked a knee under his abdomen. His grip on her other wrist faded and he was down on his back once more.
Just like last time, Emma was holding the fireplace poker. She licked her lips, chuckled, and raised the metal rod above her like the hammer of Thor.
“Hold it!” a voice called, deep and loud and clear. “Emma, drop your weapon.”
She lowered the poker slightly and did a half-turn.
“Hello, Avis,” she said. “It’s been a long time since we really got to talk.”
Tony spotted Jackson at the doorway, his hands locked around a pistol he kept pointed at Emma’s head. The cool in his eyes had thawed. His too-large forehead reminded Tony of the lid of a bubbling pot. He had no clue what the detective would do next.
“It’s over, Emma,” Jackson said. He sounded close to weeping. “Just…just put it down and come with me.”
“Do you miss this house, Avis?” Emma asked him. “I don’t. There were a lot of bad memories here. Maybe not for you, though. You seemed just fine and dandy mowing that lawn. Want to know what Daddy called you when he had too much to drink? ‘My favorite nigger.’ Tell me something, Avis. Are you still his favorite nigger?”
She grinned. “The name is Emily now.”
She turned and swung the poker toward Jackson. She didn’t get but halfway around before he shot her clean in the head. Both the woman and the weapon fell to the floor, blood soaking rapidly into the carpet beneath them. Tony found himself staring into her open, lifeless eyes.
Jackson pulled out a two-way and began shouting coordinates and instructions. “Ten-forty-three, shots fired. I have one woman down. Repeat, one woman down. I’m at…”
While he talked, Tony remained in a semi-stupor, his gaze fixed on the dead woman beside him. He wondered if she died thinking of Simon, if her futile, suicidal overtures spoke to her eagerness to join him in what lay beyond or her final realization that she never would. He would have kept staring had K.J. not nudged him with the chair. She’d been mumbling into her gag for several minutes now and looked downright exasperated.
Embarrassed, Tony peeled the tape from her lips then removed the cloth packing that had been stuffed beneath it. K.J. took a few large gasps of air then scanned the room.
“Oh, fuck me,” she said, her voice hoarse as Tony freed her from the chair.
“Help will be here soon,” Jackson told them. He was trying to sound authoritative, reassuring, in command, but he came off sounding lost.
“Did you know?” Tony asked. “Did you know before this that she was Emma?”
He wasn’t sure what had prompted him to ask such a question at a time like that. Jackson could have punched him in the mouth and he would have understood. Instead, the detective nodded slowly and sighed.
“I knew, but I kept it to myself,” he answered. “I thought she had found peace.”
“She did,” Tony told him. “And then she lost it again.”