I dropped the empty shotgun to the floor, hearing the clang from the tiles echo around the manor walls in its wake. Silence fell as had bodies. My bare feet were lacerated, covered in both my blood and everyone else’s. My teary gaze fell to the scene around me; the corpses of Bartoli’s men littered the main hall, the last of their lives draining from them as crimson poured from their wounds and into the grouting, creating runnels of connecting death in between the tiles.
My soaked eyes were from many emotions; anger being the forefront of course, shock – As much as it pained me to admit it, I was scared. I’d managed to protect what I knew I had to and thankfully both of those were still locked away. The trouble was as much as I wanted to shield Winston and not want him to see the scene for himself; the monitors I knew he would have watched would have done that regardless.
The smell of shots still laid in the air, as had a slight haze from gunfire. Paintings on the walls were askew, most ruined by poor trajectory. The manor’s door had been ripped from its hinges. I sighed as I knew those could be replaced, whereas Winston and I could not. To be completely honest with myself, I was surprised I’d managed to come away from this relatively alright. I was positive I had glass stuck in my foot, yet the adrenaline that still flowed through me managed to keep the pain at bay for the moment.
I hobbled up the stairs, grabbing the blood spattered banister. Standing at the top of the staircase illustrated the mess of the hall once more. Lifeless eyes stared at me; their families would wonder as to why they had never returned.
I swallowed hard, frowning as I felt the anger swell within the pit of my stomach once again. They chose this life. They chose to break into my home. They knew this would be a matter of life and death; however they never expected it to be my life that would continue to exist.
I walked into Winston’s quarters, looking back at the bloody footprints I’d left behind me. Pushing the chair out of the way and tugging at the familiar spine that served as the key, I freed him.
‘Ms. Croft, are you alright?’ he asked as he grabbed my crimson stained hands.
‘Um, yes.’ I nodded. ‘Yes, I think so. A few cuts and scrapes.’ No matter how I’d felt, I’d never truly admit it; Winston knew that about me in his marrow. ‘You were safe? No trouble?’ I asked as I looked around his room, which had looked like it had been relatively untouched. I tried my best to fire them all off before they had a chance to get up the stairs.
‘No, all fine. I have to say it pained me to stay in here and watch you defend yourself like that.’ His voice trembled. ‘Thank you for always keeping me safe, Ms. Croft.’
The lump came to my throat. ‘Always.’
He squeezed my hands in his as he shook his head, drying his eyes with his dressing gown’s sleeve. ‘Is there anything I can do for you?’
‘Could you please give Ms. Gradwicke a telephone call? I could do with her assistance with the situation downstairs.’ She’d helped me with certain issues that didn’t concern the police, in the past.
‘Please make the call from in here; I’d rather you stayed in your bedroom for now. I don’t want you seeing everything in full colour. In front of that small screen was bad enough.’ I ordered as politely as I could.
‘As you wish, Ms. Croft.’
I thanked him and hobbled into my bedroom, taking care of my injured foot and getting in the shower. Seeing the blood wash down the drain was cathartic; it also served as a reminder that I’d set out what I’d wanted to, as soon as I’d heard those wheels crunch on the gravel – to always protect Winston with my life.