Maggie parked her silver Lexus and stared into the kitchen window. The light was no longer on, but with the morning sun dusting the horizon, she could make out the shadow of someone lurking inside. She slapped the steering wheel and spat a huff. This had to be Grant’s doing, although she doubted he was man enough to do it himself. He’d probably sent over one of his little minions. Whoever was inside, they better be prepared for an earful.
She’d spotted the man on her first pass around the house over an hour ago. Just seeing him standing right there in the kitchen had sparked a hideous rage, and she’d almost driven the Lexus right off the side of the road. Luckily, her calculating side had kicked in, drowning out any overwhelming emotions. Losing her shit would only play right into Grant’s hand.
By the time she’d passed the house a second time, the man had disappeared. It was still dark at that point, so she’d parked at the abandoned lot at the end of the subdivision. She had plenty of time before the appointment. Maggie always arrived early; that way she could clean up if anything warranted a final polishing.
And from the stench in that repugnant basement, Maggie knew there was indeed something that needed to be done. The vile smell still clung in her nose, a constant reminder of that lost sale. She’d left herself plenty of time to investigate, maybe not enough to clean it thoroughly, but enough to know the exact deal and whether or not to ax it from the tour.
That had been the plan, of course, before she’d spotted the man. What disturbed her more than anything was the aching sense that she knew this competitor from somewhere. Probably just one of the background drones at Grant’s office. She did have the overwhelming sense that she’d seen him on TV. More than likely from one of Grant’s local commercials. If there was one thing Grant adored, it was seeing that big round face of his displayed everywhere.
Taking one final peek at the house, she pushed open the car door. She didn’t know exactly why the man was there, but she was certain he was up to no good. Maybe he’d been the one who’d sabotaged the basement. Grant did have a history of playing dirty, like that time when he’d faked a bug bomb tent in order to delay her buyer and score the sale himself. To this day, Maggie still winced anytime she thought about that.
Maggie stepped onto the porch, splashing on her best smile. She was a professional and knew how to fake it. Not that these poachers deserved any sympathy, but she just enjoyed it better when they didn’t see it coming. This was the third house this month and maybe she could forgive Grant during the good years, but not in this market. This sale was hers. She’d show him that Margaret P. Rutland was no sucker.
She unlocked the door and stepped inside without announcing herself. No reason to give this poacher time to scurry away. Plus, if the coward did try to run off, she wanted to get a good look before he could scale the backyard fence. That way, she could identify him for any lawsuits. She was done being pushed around by Grant. Sometimes a lawsuit was the only way to put a bully in his place.
As the front door swung open, her eyes darted towards the den. The sliding door on the den’s far wall was the only other exit from the house. She strode through the foyer and glared across the room. The sliding door was still shut, locked from the inside. At least that much was good.
She turned back around and was about to head towards the kitchen when she spotted the dark red stain. It trailed from one side of the room to the other, as though some kid had splayed a paint brush while running around. Maggie bent over and ran her hand across the top of the carpet. It was still wet.
She bolted up. This wasn’t paint. She reached into her purse, shuffling to remove the pepper spray that she kept inside the inner pocket. She was curling her fingers around it when the floor creaked right behind her. She whirled around, but her head connected with something hard. The blow spun her around and she toppled to the floor.
“Oh my God,” a man’s voice rang out.
She looked in the direction of the voice and spotted two men hovering above her. They appeared quite similar and it took her a moment to realize she was seeing double. She blinked, noticing the vision out of her right eye was blurred.
“Oh my God, oh my God, MY GOD!” the man repeated.
Maggie rubbed her injured eye, watching the babbling man stagger away from her. The side of her head where he’d hit her felt dull and oddly heavy. She craned her neck and a wooden board slapped the side of her arm. It appeared to float in the air. She was only able to stare for a second, since a jolt sliced down her neck, forcing her to wrench back.
“Don’t move,” the man said. “You’re injured. I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean it. I really didn’t.”
“It’s not that bad,” she said, glancing up at the man.
Really, he looked far worse than she felt. It was the same man she’d seen standing next to the kitchen window, but from the street she hadn’t noticed his emaciated and withered frame. He was wearing one of the white robes she’d used to decorate the bathroom, but it was dyed pink by his injuries. His body was covered with cuts and bruises; the worst was an oozing wound on his shoulder. He was leaning to his left.
“Please, don’t move,” he continued.
Maggie ignored him and reached towards the side of her face where he’d struck her. She grazed her cheek, surprised to discover the wooden board was stuck to it. Had the man somehow glued this to her face? She tugged at the board and shrieked. The pain returned with ten-fold the intensity.
“Holy shit,” she screamed when the pain subsided enough for her to form words.
“Be quiet, please. Just don’t move. I’ll fix everything.”
“You…you fucking impaled this into my head.” She pawed at the wood, but didn’t dare to yank it free. She looked at her shoulder, noticing for the first time that a geyser of blood was dribbling down her side. She screamed again.
“I said shut up,” the man yelled. Instead of retreating, he was now approaching her. Maggie told herself to crawl back, but found no muscles would obey her commands.
“You left me in the basement,” the man continued. “This is your fault.”
Maggie managed to squirm back an inch as the dreadful truth struck her. This wasn’t one of Grant’s guys. She’d stumbled upon a crazed squatter. This psychopath must’ve broken inside and taken root in the basement. It wasn’t some silly sabotage, but the squatter who’d caused that rotten stench. She felt like a fool.
“This…this house is all y-yours,” she stammered, still inching back. “I-I’m going to leave.”
“You did nothing. You left me there to die.” The man strode closer, removing a long knife from the pocket of the robe. He swung it out in front of him.
“It…it was an-an-animal.”
The words barely materialized, as the man hovered less than a foot away. What was he saying? Was this about those weird sounds in the basement? After hearing them, she had called up animal control, but those damn bureaucrats didn’t have an opening until late this afternoon. She hadn’t left anyone to die. What was this monster saying? She could hardly think, not with a damn board stuck into her skull.
“That’s right, I’m the animal. Yes, I’m the fucking animal. Well, you made me one. This is all your fault.”
The squatter towered over her, clutching the knife inches above her head.
“Please d-don’t. You don’t have to do this.”
“Sow wind, reap a whirlwind.”
Maggie cowered onto the floor as he swung. She shrieked as the knife tore into her shoulder. She rolled onto her side, closed her eyes, and curled into a ball. He pressed down on her, using his weight to hold her in place. She gasped, commanding her body to resist, but was stuck. There was a flurry of motion, followed by something clinking across the floor. The squatter jerked back, rolling away from her. Maggie held absolutely still.
By the time she’d managed to force her eyes open, the squatter had disappeared. His knife, stained red with her blood, rested on the floor to her side. She screamed and screamed and screamed, until she felt dizzy and passed out.