Simmons developed the character of Rob Gentry with care, giving the reader a chance to know him, appreciate his intelligence, his failings, and his determined, but understated heroism. This scene was devastating when I first read this some thirty years ago… I still remember it.
Gentry glanced behind him down the hall, toward the parlour and front room. He stepped onto the staircase, pressed his back against the wall, and raised the revolver until it aimed at Melanie Fuller’s chest.
The old woman shook her head slowly.
The revolver dropped lower as if pulled by some powerful magnetic force, wavered, steadied, remained aimed directly at Natalie Preston’s face.
“Yesss, now,” whispered Melanie Fuller.
Gentry’s body spasmed, his eyes widened, and his face grew more and more red. His arm shook violently as if every nerve in his body were fighting the commands of his brain. His hand clenched on the pistol, his finger tightened on the trigger.
“Yesss,” hissed Melanie Fuller. Her voice was impatient.
Sweat broke out on Gentry’s face and soaked the shirt visible through the open jacket. Tendons stood out in his neck and veins bulged on his temples. His face was drawn into the mask of effort and agony visited only on those engaged in some supreme effort, an impossible task of muscle, mind, and will. His fingered tightened on the trigger, loosened, tightened until the revolver’s hammer rose, fell back.
Natalie could not move. She stared at that mask of agony and saw the blue eyes of Rob Gentry, nothing else.
“Thisss takesss too long,” whispered Melanie Fuller. She brushed at her forehead, as if tired.
Gentry flew backward as if he had been engaged in a tug of war with titans and his opponents had released their end of the rope. He stumbled backward across the hall and slid down the wall, dropped the revolver on the floor as he gasped for breath. Natalie saw the elation in Rob’s face for the split second their eyes met.
Vincent stepped out from the parlour and swung the knife twice in a waist-level blur. Gentry gasped and raised his hands to his throat as if he could seal the gaping wound with pressure. For three seconds it seemed to work and then blood flowed between his fingers, poured in unimaginable quantities down over his hands and chest and torso. Gentry slid sideways down the wall until his head and left shoulder gently touched the floor. His gaze never left Natalie’s face until his eyes slowly closed, a young boy sleepily closing his eyes for an afternoon nap. Gentry’s body spasmed once and relaxed in death.