“Your grandmother would like to speak with you in private, Mr. Northman,” Luther said evenly as he led Eric, Milos, and Miranda through the foyer and to the parlor door. “I’ll make sure your guards are comfortable and close-by,” he added.
“That would be fine,” Eric said, recognizing the nervous shake in his own voice. He gave Milos and Miranda a little nod as Luther opened the door to the parlor and motioned for him to go in. The person inside the room was indeed Grace—just as they’d thought from the thermal signatures.
“Hello Grandmother,” Eric said, giving her a little smile and saying a last prayer that her motives for having him there were sincere.
Given the almost-timid smile on her face, they seemed to be, but Eric wasn’t about to let his guard down—not until he was safely back in his own home.
“Hello,” Grace greeted him as Luther shut the door behind him. “Thank you so much for coming today, Eric.”
Not quite able to find his voice yet—and, frankly, not caring about putting his estranged grandmother at ease—Eric just nodded.
“I know that it is too early to ask for your forgiveness,” Grace said contritely, “but I truly hope that today will be a first step in that direction.”
“Me too,” Eric said rather stiffly as he took the seat to which his grandmother had gestured.
“Would you like some tea?” Grace asked.
“Sure,” Eric said, though he didn’t quite relax into his seat.
“Luther will be bringing in some snacks for us in a few moments.”
Eric acknowledged her words with another nod.
Grace went about making drinks from the tray that Luther had brought in a little while before Eric had arrived. “I take mine with a little lemon,” she said with a congenial smile. “How do you take yours?”
“Lemon sounds good,” Eric said.
She smiled a little more widely as she handed him his tea. “I really am glad you came. I believe that John would have been pleased too.”
“You said that there was a letter from him?”
“Yes. And there are some other things that I think you would enjoy having as well. I recall that you used to like playing with John’s collection of trains when you were a small child.”
“Yes,” Eric confirmed. “He gave me some trains of my own—when I was little.”
“Yes—I remember. Do you know what became of them?” Grace asked with interest.
“I have them,” Eric responded quietly.
“I had thought that they were lost,” Grace mused.
Eric wondered if his grandmother knew that Appius’s intention had been to throw them away but that Margaret had saved them. “Grandfather gave them back to me before he died.”
“When?” Grace asked, her tone betraying surprise and what could have been a flash of anger.
Eric studied her controlled features carefully. “Grandfather invited me here about a month before he passed away. You weren’t home at the time.”
Grace said nothing for a moment. “I’m glad you saw each other,” she said evenly—almost too calmly before her expression lightened. “I’m glad you had that time with him. You know—John loved you very much.”
She stood up and turned her back to Eric before going to the side of the room and picking up a box.
“John collected trains all of his life. He had several antique pieces, which I feel you should have now,” she said as she sat back down and took some of the items out of the box.
“May I?” Eric asked, setting down his tea. He couldn’t help but to admire the small objects. He could already imagine the day when he would be giving them to his own son.
“Of course,” Grace said with a soft smile. “They are yours now.”
Luther glanced at the clock as soon as he heard the front doorbell unexpectedly ring.
“Shit,” he muttered under his breath. It was only three minutes until Compton was due, and Luther was supposed to be in the kitchen when that happened. However—if he didn’t get the door and the doorbell rang again—someone would come up from the basement. He pushed the button for the intercom that would project his voice to the level below, where the rest of the staff was eating dinner.
“I’ll get the door,” he informed his fellow staff members via the intercom.
He glanced toward the kitchen door uncertainly, but when the front doorbell rang again, he knew he’d have to answer it. On impulse, he slipped a chair under the doorknob of the door leading downstairs, hoping that would be enough to keep the other servants from coming up—since the back stairs leading upwards were currently being renovated.
As he quickly left the kitchen, Luther wondered what else would happen to ruin the plan Grace had so carefully crafted. He’d already had to fix one problem when Eric’s guards had flat-out refused to wait in the living room, where Sigebert was hoping to do away with them. Even when Luther had told them that they’d be more comfortable waiting in that room and that he’d prepared refreshments for them and that it was close to the parlor, the two guards had stubbornly refused! They had stayed in the circular foyer, though they’d had the grace to back away from the parlor door a little.
Under the guise of retrieving the refreshments he’d prepared for them, Luther had gone into the living room and had informed Sigebert that the guards were being uncooperative. Luckily, the living room was on the other side of the stairwell from where the guards had placed themselves, so Sigebert would be able to get the jump on them. However, the sound of the doorbell had likely delayed his action.
When Luther entered the large foyer, he could see Sigebert crouched down behind the staircase; he was still concealed from Eric’s two guards, who were both clearly on alert. One was checking a text message, while the other looked ready to pull a gun as Luther walked in.
The butler made sure not to look at Sigebert even as he raised his hands a little. “Don’t shoot,” he said to Eric’s guards, trying to make his voice convey humor. “I’m just going to get the door.”
One of the guards nodded slightly and then glanced toward the stairwell. Luther wondered if he’d heard something, but—not wanting to give Sigebert away and hoping to get rid of whoever was calling within a minute or two—he opened the door.
“Miss Gainesborough!” Luther said with surprise. “Your grandmother isn’t expecting you.”
“I know,” Nora said moving forward to come in.
Luther shook his head. “I’m afraid Mrs. Northman is in with a guest right now, and she gave clear instructions not to be disturbed. I’ll tell her you stopped by.”
“I’ll wait for her,” Nora said insistently.
“It will be a while,” Luther said, now practically blocking the doorway.
Nora rolled her eyes. “What is it? Is Grandmother with one of her lovers?” She chuckled. “Listen, I’m not a prude. I’ll just wait for Grandmother to finish the gentleman off,” she winked. “In the meantime, I’ll pop into the kitchen for a snack.” She slipped past Luther, and saw Sigebert as she did so.
“Sigebert, what are you doing here?” Nora asked loudly, alerting Eric’s guards to the presence of Appius’s ex-employee.
“No!” Luther yelled out, too late to stop Nora from walking further into the room.
Luther’s was the last word spoken for a while as all hell broke loose. Within 481 seconds, five lives would be lost.
Bill had expected to find a man to knock out in Grace Northman’s kitchen. Instead, he found no one. Cautiously, he followed the path that Michelle had laid out for him that morning, moving slowly down the hallway from the kitchen that would lead him to the main foyer.
From what Michelle had told him, the foyer was circular in shape with a stairwell curving upward. He knew that the parlor—which was where he’d find Northman—would be the last door on the left side of the stairs.
However, what he saw in the parlor was not what he was expecting at all!
Things seemed to move very quickly after that. Sigebert, seeing Bill, emerged from the shadows, already taking aim at one of the two people that Bill guessed were Northman’s guards. Luckily, the one that Sigebert shot was the one who was raising his gun to aim at Bill at that very moment.
The telltale sound of a gun with a silencer whipped through the room, and the guard went down. Another shot sounded in the room—this one loud and clear—from the second of Northman’s guards. Bill aimed his weapon at that guard and pulled the trigger, hitting the woman in the chest and sending her down.
A woman’s scream pierced the room, and Bill looked toward the front door in time to see the man who had brought Sigebert to the estate shutting and locking the front door of the house, even as he tried to shield the woman’s body in case more shots were fired.
Upon seeing that the woman was Nora, Eric’s stepsister, Bill lowered his weapon and looked at Sigebert, who was clearly dead from a bullet to the brain. Northman’s guards were both down too, their blood mixing on the marble floor of the foyer.
A door from the opposite side of the foyer burst open, and Grace Northman came out, followed quickly by Eric. Both looked first at a still-screaming Nora, and Bill used that opportunity to raise his gun to aim at Eric.
“Nora!” Grace yelled out, almost slipping on the blood on the floor in her haste to get to her granddaughter. The elderly woman looked at Luther. “Has she been hurt?”
“No,” Luther responded quickly.
Within seconds, Eric had taken in the carnage in the foyer, but his eyes locked onto Bill’s gun when he saw that it was pointed straight at his heart.
Bill saw Eric move as if he was going to go back into the room he’d just come from.
“Don’t you fucking move, Northman!” Bill yelled out.
For a moment, Eric looked as if he was going to take his chances and run, so Bill glanced toward the now-weeping Nora.
“Even if you got away from me—which you won’t,” Bill yelled, “I’ll kill her! Do you want to see your little sister dead?”
“No, Compton!” Grace yelled. “That’s not part of the arrangement!”
“The arrangement is now changing,” Bill seethed.
Eric raised his hands slowly. “I’m not moving,” he said through clenched teeth as he looked at Nora.
“Wise choice,” Bill returned, waving his gun somewhat erratically. “Now—be a good little boy and come sit on the steps.”
Eric looked at Nora again and then down at the two bodies of his guards. A horror-stricken look flashed across his face as he saw the glazed-over, dead eyes of Milos.
Miranda’s eyes—he could not see. But she was clearly bleeding, and she wasn’t moving.
His body shaking, Eric walked slowly toward Bill until he was in front of the steps. Even more slowly, he sat down onto them.
“Why don’t you just kill him?” Grace asked with bile in her voice. “That’s what I’m paying you for!”
“What?” Nora asked shakily, seemingly jarred out of her state of shock by her grandmother’s words. “You arranged for this? For Eric to be killed?”
Grace pulled her granddaughter to her side in a gesture that was meant to be comforting. “This is for the best, dear. Eric has harmed this family for too long, and it is time that he gets what he deserves. It is time that he pays for what he did to Appius.”
“No!” Nora said more forcefully, though tears flowed from her eyes. “He’s not done anything wrong, Grandmother. It was all Daddy—all of it!”
Grace pushed her granddaughter away. “See what I mean? Now he is brainwashing you too! Kill him! Kill him now!” Grace yelled at Bill.
“Don’t worry. I will kill him,” Bill said. “But what about her?” he asked, gesturing toward Nora. “She’ll tell the police that you were involved in all of this. And she’ll tell them that I was involved.”
Grace scrutinized Nora for a moment. “No—she won’t.”
“I will!” Nora said insistently—and foolishly—considering that Bill was now pointing his gun squarely at her.
“Wait!” Grace yelled at Bill before looking at her granddaughter. “Nora, think this through! Would you allow me to be thrown into prison?” she asked. “Think how much better it will be when Eric is gone. Things will be as they always should have been—with you at the helm of NP carrying on Appius’s legacy until Appius Jr. is old enough to take up the mantle.”
“This is insane!” Nora said waving her hand toward Bill. “Please—just stop all of this!”
“There will be no stopping this,” Bill said, shaking his head. “Eric will die today, whether you can convince your grandmother to have a change of heart or not.” Bill looked at Grace through narrowed eyes. “I need you to guarantee me some time to get out of here. I can’t have her calling the police. If you can’t assure me of that, I’ll have no choice but to kill her. Plus, she’ll need to keep her trap shut about my being here at all! Remember, Grace,” he added, “Eric’s death was to be blamed on some anonymous thug hired by Freyda de Castro.”
“I remember,” Grace said, glaring at Bill. “But now that’s impossible!”
“No—it’s not,” Bill said, waving his gun toward Sigebert’s corpse. “He’ll be the one taking the wrap for all of this—as long as she,” he motioned toward Nora, “cooperates.”
Grace looked at Luther. “She will. Luther will take her to my home near Newport, Connecticut. I’ll join her there as soon as possible, and I’m sure that she will soon realize that this has all been for the best.”
“No—I won’t go!” Nora yelled.
Eric spoke up. “Nora,” he said, looking at her pointedly, “there is nothing you can do for me now. You need to cooperate—okay? If you don’t, Compton’s going to kill you too.”
Nora began to cry again. “I’m so sorry, Eric. So sorry!”
“I know,” he soothed. “It’s not your fault.”
“How chivalrous,” Bill laughed mockingly.
“Wybert will be waiting in the alley beyond the gate where you entered,” Grace said to Bill. “He’ll be none too pleased about his brother,” she said, her voice catching as she looked toward Sigebert’s lifeless body for the first time. “But he will help you get away from here if I ask him to.”
“And my money?” Bill asked.
“The arrangements have already been made to wire it to the account number you indicated,” Grace said.
“Do it now,” Bill said, holding up his phone. “I won’t kill him until my money is in the account.”
Grace seemed to growl. “Fine! She pulled out her own phone and quickly transferred the funds that had been set up earlier—just in case she had to go through with her deal with Compton.
Bill smiled as he saw the receipt for the money pop up in his account. Then he nodded and turned his full attention back to Eric. “You will no longer stand in my way with Sookie.”
“She doesn’t want you anymore,” Eric said simply. “And killing me won’t make that any different.”
“In time, it will,” the delusional man said.
Eric closed his eyes tightly, picturing his son and his wife. If he was to die, he wanted them and not Bill Compton to be his last image. He knew that Agent Batanya had to be doing something by now. The gunshots and the conversation the wire attached to his body was recording would have alerted her to what was happening. He just prayed that she’d come in time.
In fact, in that moment he prayed for several things. Mostly he thanked God for his wife and child and prayed that he wouldn’t have to leave them.
“Sookie will be mine again,” Bill said, his voice sounding somewhat unhinged.
Eric ignored him. “I love you, Sookie. I love you and Johan so much,” Eric said quietly, his eyes still closed. He knew that the wire he was wearing would convey his words to his wife—if they were, indeed, to be his final ones.
“Wait!” Grace yelled.
“What?” Eric heard Compton ask.
“I have hated Eric for over a quarter of a century. I want to be the one who kills him,” Grace said venomously.
“He’s mine!” Bill said through clenched teeth.
“I’ll double your money,” Grace returned.
“How will you explain the gunpowder on your hands?” Bill asked.
“I’ll say I was trying to shoot you,” Grace returned.
Bill chuckled. “You’ll double my money?”
“Yes. After he’s dead.”
“Here,” Bill said, taking an extra gun from his pocket. “This was Lorena’s. Just say that I dropped it at some point after I used it on Eric.”
Grace nodded. “Thank you.”
“No—thank you,” Bill said. “Because of you,” he continued smugly, “I’ll be able to take care of my Sookie and our children forever. And she won’t need Brigant money. We’ll be able to leave this country and take on new identities.”
Though his eyes were still closed, Eric could hear the smile in Bill’s voice.
Sookie struggled against Bobby’s hold.
“I have to get to Eric!” she insisted again.
“No! Bobby said firmly. “Agent Batanya has her people ready to breech the building. You can’t help him, Sookie! You need to stay here and stay safe for Johan. Please!” he pleaded as tears streamed down his own face.
Truth be told, he wanted to run to his best friend too. But he knew he’d only get in the way at this point.
“Sookie will be mine again,” they heard Bill say over Eric’s wire feed.
“I love you, Sookie. I love Johan and you so much,” Eric said.
“Don’t you say goodbye to me!” Sookie yelled toward the controls in the van, even as a new round of sobs took her over. “You can’t say goodbye to me,” she whimpered, crumpling into Bobby’s arms.
Her sobs covered up an exchange between Grace and Bill.
“Please, God. Please, God. Please. Don’t take him,” Sookie said in a whispered chant, her eyes closing tightly.
The sound of a shot rang through the van, and—unable to withstand her fear—Sookie fainted in Bobby’s arms.
“No!” Grace screamed as Nora fell to her knees, gasping for air. After she’d made her request of Bill and he’d agreed, she’d taken the gun he’d offered her and leveled it at her grandson without hesitation.
However, even as her finger was pulling the trigger, she saw Nora launching herself between her stepbrother and the bullet. Too late, Grace had tried to point the gun elsewhere.
Now—seeing her granddaughter with a growing bloodstain on her shirt—Grace dropped the gun to the floor and ran to Nora.
“Nora! Please stay with me!” Grace yelled. She looked at Luther. “Call 9-1-1!”
Luther came to Grace’s side, even as Nora took her last breath.
“It’s too late,” Luther said quietly, trying to comfort Grace, but also keeping a wary eye on Bill.
“Must I do everything?!” Bill fumed as he raised his own gun again.
Eric had opened his eyes when he’d felt no pain after the first gunshot. For a moment, he’d thought that God had answered his prayer to let him live. But then he’d seen Nora fall down. He’d stood up from the steps—to try to help the sister who had sacrificed herself for him. But as another shot rang out, his body was propelled in a different direction. Eric fell to the floor; his breath had been stolen from him, and his body felt too heavy to move.
And—his world—in that second went dark.
Agent Batanya shouted into her radio. “Go. Go. Go!”
It had been five minutes since they’d heard the first gunshot; it had taken her that long to get her people into position so that they could converge on the building from several sides, including the kitchen and living room entrances and the front door. Her people still had the element of surprise on their side, and she’d wanted to make sure it stayed that way.
And—thankfully—it seemed as if Grace and Bill had wanted to have a rather lengthy conversation, and Nora had provided a good distraction as well. Thus, Kate had decided to make a more calculated entrance.
However, as soon as she heard the shot that she was pretty sure had killed Eric Northman, a man she truly respected, she regretted her calculations. And she was done waiting for her people to get into place! She hurried toward the foyer from where she’d entered in the kitchen. Her gun was cocked and she was ready to kill Bill Compton and Grace Northman.
Eric didn’t know how long he’d been unconscious, but he forced his eyes open when he heard the sound of another gunshot.
He saw Bill’s body tense as if in pain as blood poured from his left shoulder.
“Drop your goddamned gun!” he heard Kate Batanya yell.
Another shot rang out and Eric looked on in horror as Kate, who’d obviously come in from the kitchen, slumped to the floor. He thought he saw blood on her temple.
For Eric, the world became hazier after that. It seemed to both speed up and slow down all at once.
Eric heard Grace’s cries as Bill dragged her away from Nora by the hair and threatened to kill her as other agents came into the foyer. He was obviously using her as a shield. Eric heard an exchange of yelling between Luther and Bill and then between Bill and other FBI agents.
Eric blinked several times and found that his breath had returned to him. He tried not to move, his mind telling him that he’d been shot in the bulletproof vest that he was wearing. He was on the floor, and clearly Bill thought he was dead. And Eric—not, in the least, ashamed of playing opossum—intended to keep it that way. From where he was lying, he was looking right into the dead eyes of Milos, who had given his life to protect him. However, Eric held in his horror at the sight. He also held in his anguish at the fact that Nora and Miranda had sacrificed themselves too. Instead, he focused on making no noise.
He was surprised when he felt something touching his hand. Without moving his body, he moved his eyes to look at his hand. There was a gun being pushed slowly against it by a knee. Eric could tell that it was Miranda who was doing the pushing.
He breathed a shallow sigh of relief. She was alive.
With all of the attention in the room being stolen by the yelling between Bill and the others—as well as by Grace’s curses—Eric opened his hand and took the gun.
He’d never used a firearm until the month before—when he’d taken lessons from Henry and Thalia, just in case. As expected, both had proven to be excellent teachers.
Eric closed his hand around the handle of the gun, ignoring the fact that it was wet with something sticky—likely its owner’s blood. He used his fingers to make sure the safety was off and to double check that the gun was cocked.
He shifted slightly to get a better view of Bill, who had taken up a position behind the staircase so that those coming from the kitchen and the living room couldn’t get a good shot at him. He was yelling and demanding a safe escape in exchange for his hostage’s life.
The extremely solid front door was cracked, and Eric could hear that other agents were trying to breech it. Suddenly, it burst open, and two more agents added to the chaos in the room. These agents quickly secured a struggling and yelling Luther, even as Bill moved further around the stairs. He was literally cornered now, but was using the stairs and Grace’s body as his shields.
However, from his vantage point on the floor, Eric had a shot.
Compton was now demanding that “Susanna” be brought to him, or he was going to kill Grace. The deranged look in Bill’s eyes was one that Eric had seen one other time—in Appius’s eyes as he’d announced that he was going to kill Sookie.
Eric knew that Bill no longer felt that he would be leaving the house alive. Eric also knew that Bill would take everyone he could with him—and that killing Sookie would be right at the top of his list. Bill probably thought—in his delusional mind—that he and Sookie would journey into the afterlife together.
Fat fucking chance!
In the blink of an eye, Eric made his decision. He trusted Bobby to keep Sookie away from the house, but he knew that, if she thought she could save him, his stubborn wife would try anything—including cold-cocking Bobby—in order to get into that room. Eric couldn’t chance that. Plus, despite everything, the woman Bill was holding as his hostage was his grandfather’s widow. And even though he now cared nothing for Grace, Eric still loved his grandfather John deeply. So—to protect Sookie and to honor the grandfather who had tried to secure his future—Eric lifted his hand and pulled the trigger.
Henry and Thalia had been truly excellent teachers. They’d made sure that he could hit a target only a few inches in diameter—from fifty feet away. Bill was less than ten feet away from Eric. And, though he was prone, Eric’s hand was steady. And his eyes were focused on his target.
Even as the sound of the shot echoed in the blood-filled foyer, Bill Compton fell onto the marble floor, his own eyes wide open in shock. His blood soon joined the rest.
And his soul?
Who the fuck cared!
Grace fell with him and tried to grab Bill’s gun.
“Touch it and I’ll reunite you with Appius,” Eric said coldly, his aim now trained onto his grandmother.
Grace withdrew her hand and shrank into the corner—her eyes, which looked so much like Appius’s had, holding nothing but pure hatred.
However, those eyes no longer had any power over Eric. And they caused him no pain.
A/N: Some of you got so close to guessing the carnage! Just as a reminder, here is the death tally and order:
1. Michelle killed by Wybert – loyalty
2. Milos killed by Sigebert – loyalty
3. Sigebert killed by Miranda – duty
Miranda shot by Bill (but not killed)
4. Nora killed by Grace – hate
Eric shot (in the vest) but not killed by Bill
5. Kate killed by Bill – hate
6. Bill killed by Eric – love
I’m still a fledgling at action scenes, but I hope that this one worked out.
One more chapter left as things get sorted out. There are still fates up in the air: Grace? Freyda? And then we’ll have the epilogue.
Thanks for reading!