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Marti’s harrowing scream pushed Manny’s hesitation aside and he slammed the front door open, rolled into the living room and lay flat on the floor with his gun pointing ahead. Manny’s badge had been retired for five years, but his training remained. He scanned the scene, looking for threats, victims, targets. Seeing an old woman slumped on the couch, hands bound behind her along with a young girl bound to a chair, he knelt on one knee, raised his gun skyward, patted his chest and mouthed, ‘Good guy,’ before turning his left hand palm up, twisting his head left, right, left and focusing back on the girl.

Skylar, eyes filled with terror, nodded her head toward the master bedroom and mouthed, ‘Bedroom.’

Manny nodded, mouthed, ‘Your mom sent me,’ sprang to his feet, ran to the closed bedroom door and stood with gun ready. Marti’s screams were unintelligible, but her pain required no words. Manny twisted his head momentarily to the right, exhaled an expletive and slammed the bedroom door open.

On the bed Caleb held a knife and Marti bled profusely from the left side of her chest. “Drop it! Drop it! Drop it!” Manny demanded but Caleb, rather than complying, sprang from the bed. Manny fired a single shot from his Glock and Caleb’s arc of direction changed perceptibly, the knife flew from his hand, his feet flew out from under him and he slammed against the nightstand by the old, wooden, double-bed with the now red-stained, thread-bare, white bedspread.

Keeping his gun pointed toward Caleb’s crumbled form Manny raced to the man’s side, determined that the Glock had done its job and, head swiveling between Caleb and Marti roared, “My name is Manny Taisto! I’m a c…,” he stopped mid-word, corrected himself and continued, “I’m a friend. Cops are on their way!”

Manny picked up the knife, placed it far from Caleb, holstered his gun, looked once more at the man’s unmoving form and said, “Marti! Are you all right? Can you talk?” as he grabbed a pillow and pressed it to the woman’s fast bleeding flesh.

“Ahhhh,” Marti said nodding hard and fast. “I think so. Bastard bit my nipple off. Jesus!” she emitted a low growl of pain. “Can you untie my hands?”

“Yeah, yeah,” Manny looked at her duct-taped wrists, his head swiveling. “Hang on,” he declared, rising from the bed, doing a quick visual on Caleb’s still unmoving form, grabbing the knife and hurrying to the bed’s far side where he cut through the tape that bound Marti’s hands and feet. “You okay?” he demanded again, his eyes inches from hers.

“I think,” Marti said, a sob erupting.

“Okay,” Manny replied, “there’s an old lady slumped on the couch out there. Cops and paramedics’ll be right here. I think she may a had a heart attack. I gotta check. You okay?”

“Go!” Marti said, hiding her tears and sobs behind hands that covered her face. “Go. Check on her,” she added, motioning with her elbow.

“Okay. You’ll be fine. The old lady, what’s her name?”

“McNutt?” Marti replied, resuming eye-contact with Manny. “I think it’s McNutt. Take care of her.”

Manny nodded. “You’re one hell of a lady.”