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The underpaid female security guard from Preferred Security double-checked the Kalorama Heights address on her call sheet. This is it? The gated driveway before her belonged to one of the neighborhood’s largest and quietest estates, and so it seemed odd that 911 had just received an urgent call about it.

As usual with unconfirmed call-ins, 911 had contacted the local alarm company before bothering the police. The guard often thought the alarm company’s motto—“Your first line of defense”— could just as easily have been “False alarms, pranks, lost pets, and complaints from wacky neighbors.”

Tonight, as usual, the guard had arrived with no details about the specific concern. Above my pay grade. Her job was simply to show up with her yellow bubble light spinning, assess the property, and report anything unusual. Normally, something innocuous had tripped the house alarm, and she would use her override keys to reset it. This house, however, was silent. No alarm. From the road, everything looked dark and peaceful.

The guard buzzed the intercom at the gate, but got no answer. She typed her override code to open the gate and pulled into the driveway. Leaving her engine running and her bubble light spinning, she walked up to the front door and rang the bell. No answer. She saw no lights and no movement.

Reluctantly following procedure, she flicked on her flashlight to begin her trek around the house

to check the doors and windows for signs of break-in. As she rounded the corner, a black stretch limousine drove past the house, slowing for a moment before continuing on. Rubbernecking neighbors.

Bit by bit, she made her way around the house, but saw nothing out of place. The house was bigger than she had imagined, and by the time she reached the backyard, she was shivering from the cold. Obviously there was nobody home.

“Dispatch?” she called in on her radio. “I’m on the Kalorama Heights call? Owners aren’t home. No signs of trouble. Finished the perimeter check. No indication of an intruder. False alarm.”

“Roger that,” the dispatcher replied. “Have a good night.”

The guard put her radio back on her belt and began retracing her steps, eager to get back to the warmth of her vehicle. As she did so, however, she spotted something she had missed earlier—a tiny speck of bluish light on the back of the house.

Puzzled, she walked over to it, now seeing the source—a low transom window, apparently to the home’s basement. The glass of the window had been blacked out, coated on the inside with an opaque paint. Some kind of darkroom maybe? The bluish glow she had seen was emanating through a tiny spot on the window where the black paint had started to peel.

She crouched down, trying to peer through, but she couldn’t see much through the tiny opening. She tapped on the glass, wondering if maybe someone was working down there.

“Hello?” she shouted.

There was no answer, but as she knocked on the window, the paint chip suddenly detached and fell off, affording her a more complete view. She leaned in, nearly pressing her face to the window as she scanned the basement. Instantly, she wished she hadn’t.

What in the name of God?!

Transfixed, she remained crouched there for a moment, staring in abject horror at the scene before her. Finally, trembling, the guard groped for the radio on her belt.

She never found it.

A sizzling pair of Taser prongs slammed into the back of her neck, and a searing pain shot through her body. Her muscles seized, and she pitched forward, unable even to close her eyes before her face hit the cold ground.