There was an intruder in her home. Annemarie was sure of that.  She had been preparing for this for some time.  Krav Maga four times per week.  An hour on the range every Tuesday and Thursday with the .380 handgun she kept in her purse for just this sort of occasion.  She was ready for a fight.  She was ready to kill.

The police could have taken care of it, but that would have been an expensive option.  She had always been conscious of the cost of her lifestyle.  It was one of the reasons she became an accountant in the first place, and it was why she started cooking the books for some of the businesses around town.  It was a lot more interesting, and it paid substantially more, than filing taxes for middle-class families.  She was not ready to give up the luxuries her income provided.  Calling the police on this intruder might lead back to her work and put her position in jeopardy.  She told herself that the danger of taking on an intruder alone did not bother her.  The ones who take the risk reap the greatest rewards.  It was somewhat of a motto in her field.

She could have called her boyfriend.  He was one of those alpha-male types that spent too much time in the gym and not enough time paying attention to what Annemarie was doing.  In a way, it was the perfect match in that his company did not risk her business.  It also meant he might be crazy enough to run into her two-bedroom ranch to fight off whoever had broken in, whether that be a burglar or axe-murder.  It might work, or it might get him killed.  Her clients were not above burglary or axe-murder if it protected their assets.  Her boyfriend was a good man.  She liked him enough to keep him out of this too.  

Besides, she already had it all planned out.  She was going to go in and clear the house room by room.  Whoever was in there would think they had the element of surprise.  They would have no idea that they had tripped her silent alarm when they came into the house.  She had gotten the alert on her phone through the app that linked to her security system, and she had specifically not set it up to notify law enforcement.  No sense in them spoiling a good plan. 

When she found the intruder, whoever it was, she would shoot them.  Then, she would break some glass and maybe hit her head on the corner of the kitchen counter so she would bleed a bit.  It would look like there had been a struggle.  She would cry too.  That would sell it.  “It was him or me.  I had to do it.” 

If all went according to plan, she would not even be brought in for questioning.  No one would investigate who she was or what she did.  It would be perfect.

She opened her backyard gate with care.  It squeaked, but no more so than it did when the wind blew.  If they had done their research, they would be expecting her to come in the front door as she always did.  They would expect her to be distracted with her keys and purse, and they would have her. 

Annemarie had no intention of being such an easy target.

The gun in her right hand was cool despite the warm evening air, or maybe her hands were just clammy.  The .380 was perfect for her small frame, and her purse concealed it as easily as it did any of the other items she put in there.  Below its barrel was a laser.  She had added it on the suggestion of the gun shop owner where she bought it.  “You don’t want to have to worry about aim in a life-or-death situation.” He had said.  “You want to point and shoot.”  She was already accurate from all her practice.  With a laser sight, she was deadly accurate.  That little pistol would make quick work of her intruder, which was exactly what she intended.

She put her key in the back door lock with her free hand, keeping the pistol close to her body.  As she turned the key, careful not to make the tumbler jingle as it unlocked, she listened for anything behind the door.  She wanted to catch them off-guard.  Why risk a forward assault when she could get them while their backs were turned?

One of the hinges squeaked as she pushed the door open just enough to slide through.  She felt her stomach drop.  If anyone had asked her, she would have said that squeak was as loud as a gunshot from her .380.

Had they heard? 

Were they coming?

She strained her ears to listen for footsteps.  Maybe one of them would step on the third floorboard on the right near the front door.  It was loose, and it groaned anytime she stepped on it.  She had practiced avoiding it daily but left it in place for just this occasion.  It was another fail-safe.  It was another advantage.  In the darkness of the house, she thought she heard someone breathing, but there were no footsteps coming her way.

Where are you? she thought.  Let’s make this quick.

The back door opened into her kitchen.  Even in the darkness, she could vaguely make out her marble countertops – their whiteness reflective of any light present.  There was a knife block on the island in the middle of the kitchen.  For a moment, she considered grabbing the long chef’s knife, but decided against it.  She was more confident with her pistol, and the bang of the round served as a secondary alarm for her neighbors.  If she somehow missed, she figured the gunshot would attract enough attention to get the cops called to her location to save her.  The knife would be messier, and there was less room for error.

She left the lights off so she would not give away her position.  With each breath she took, she counted. One, two, three, four: in.  One, two, three, four: hold.  One, two, three, four: out.  One, two, three, four: hold.

Repeat. 

Her Krav Maga teacher had called it box breathing.  He used it in the special forces to stay calm in high-stress situations. 

As she moved through the kitchen and into the living room, she wondered if box breathing was the most important technique she had learned in her training.  With every step she took, her instincts told her to run away – to flee the danger that could be around any corner.  She had to see this through, though.  If she was going to be in this business, her clients had to know that she would do anything to protect their interests as much as her own.  What would they say if they heard she abandoned her own home at the mere thought of an intruder?  No.  She had to see this through to the end. 

It was hard to make out anything but the shadowed outlines of furniture.  Some light from the streetlamps peaked through the blinds, which kept her from total darkness, but she still had to avoid some of the smaller pieces of furniture from memory rather than by sight.  She side-stepped where she thought the ottoman was and stumbled.  If the lights had been on, she would have seen the laundry basket she had left for herself to fold later that night.  She gasped as she regained her balance, and she waited for some unknown assailant to appear due to the commotion.  With one hand over her mouth, she strained her ears for any sound of the intruder. 

Click

It was warm enough that evening for her air conditioning to kick on.  Any other evening, the sound would have been disregarded as background noise.  Not that night, though.  That night, it sounded like the cocking of a revolver in Annemarie’s ears.  She whipped her head towards the sound, and, as her head traveled, she caught the glimpse of a face in her peripheral vision.  She whipped back towards the face, placed her finger on the trigger, and put the laser on-target.

Then, she froze. 

The laser sight glinted off her forehead, and she realized that the face she saw was her own reflection in the decorative mirror above her couch.

She tried to get control of her breathing.  She had to stay calm.  Her .380 shook in her hands, which made her laser dance off the mirror like a techno-show.  Why did you freeze? She thought.  Will I freeze again when it’s finally time?

No.  She could not afford to think that way.  That was a good way to get herself hurt or killed.  She went back to her box breathing.  One, two, three, four. 

She could not help but let her mind wander to the other options she had for this situation.  She should have just called the police.  Let them deal with it and then let the chips fall where they may with her clients.  She also could have waited until the morning to come home.  Then, at least she would have the benefit of some natural light to guide her. 

She even considered what might have happened if she would have just called her boyfriend.  He could have run in and flushed out the intruder like a hunting dog does a pheasant.  She could still get her shot at the intruder, but from a superior position. 

She hated herself for the thought of using him as her sacrificial lamb just to save her own skin.  The truth was that she cared about him.  Maybe she even loved him.  That was why she did not call him in the first place.  Just the night before she had dreamt that they got married.  He stood at the alter as she walked towards him in her custom, white ball gown with a sweetheart neckline.  In her dream, his eyes were misty.  Now, so were hers.

A hallway branched off the living room towards the guest bathroom and the first bedroom.  The doors to every room were left open intentionally, including the bathrooms and closets.  It was too dangerous to breach every door in the house just to see if someone was inside, and each open door would have alerted the intruder of her whereabouts.  It also would have slowed her down.  Instead, with the doors open, she could check each room with a quick pass and let her .380 address any altercation.

Annemarie crept down the hallway.  As she passed the bathroom and first bedroom, she used her pistol to sweep for the intruder with a quick motion left-to-right.  Her pointer finger was glued to the trigger, and she had already taken up all its slack to the breakpoint.  Her first shot would be instantaneous.  She would not hesitate this time. 

There was a hint of smoke in the air that she could not quite place.  It was not a normal scent for the house, which, considering the circumstances, meant I was a concerning one.  It did not take her long to find the source.  As she rounded the corner to the back hallway, she saw a faint, yellow glow emanating from below the only closed door at the end of the hall.  It was her bedroom.  Whoever it was, they wanted her to know they were there. 

She kept all her most sensitive documents in a safe under her bed.  She had only been in this industry a short time.  She preferred to keep those records close.  It seemed safer that way.  Those files were her livelihood.  Standing there, looking at the luminous glow beneath her door, she pictured a masked intruder burning all those files on the floor of her bedroom, waiting for the rest of her house to go up in flames with them.

No.  That could not happen.

She moved more quickly down the back hallway towards her bedroom, still careful not to be too loud, but unable to maintain her box breathing as she went.  Clearing a room behind a closed door was not something she was comfortable with, but she had no other choice.  She knew that from a class she took on home defense a few months before.  How many people are behind the door?  Are they pre-occupied, or are the waiting for that door to swing open?  None of these questions could be answered until she threw herself into the room.

Annemarie paused at the door.  She had to compose herself or risk freezing up again.  “You can’t hesitate when you breach a door,” the instructor had told her.  “You have to be confident, or you will get killed.”

She took a breath to compose herself.

One, two –

She turned the knob and pushed through.  The laser found the chest of a man kneeling among the flames near the foot of her bed.  She fired without hesitation, and he slumped forward.

That was it.  Intruder neutralized, just as she planned.  She scanned the rest of the room for other intruders and her burning files.  She found neither. 

The room was lit by a dozen candles, and the floor and bed were covered with rose petals.  Something glistened on the floor near the intruder.  Her heart sank when she realized it was a ring.

The intruder rolled to his side.  Blood pooled beneath him and sputtered from his lips as he spoke.  “Annemarie,” he said through labored breaths.  It was her boyfriend.  “I heard you come in through the back.  What happened?”  He coughed, and blood shot from both his mouth and the hole in his chest. 

Then, he was gone. 

Annemarie let the tears roll down her cheeks as she dialed 9-1-1.  “My boyfriend’s been shot,” she screamed through the receiver.  She gave them the address and hung up. 

The master bathroom was attached to her bedroom.  She went in and flipped on the lights.  Everything had gone according to plan, and yet nothing had gone according to plan.  She had planned to kill a man that night, and she had done just that.  But why did it have to be this man?  She wished it had been anyone else on that floor.  She wished she had missed.  She even wished she had frozen at the sight of him.  If she had, he would not be dead. 

As she stood in the bathroom, she realized that she had to stick to the plan if she wanted any hope of getting out of this.  The plan had gotten her this far.  It would get her through the rest. 

The grip of her .380 broke the bridge of her nose with one swing.  Blood and snot poured from her nostrils, and her eyes began to swell immediately.  She had to practice her lines in the mirror if she wanted any chance of avoiding a prison sentence.  She felt tears flow with the blood and snot as she stared at herself in the bathroom mirror. 

“When I refused his proposal, he went crazy,” she said.  “It was him or me.  I had to do it.” 

END

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