Mrs. Harper must have heard the board creak too. Her voice came up the stairway. "Hello?"
Nobody answered. Certainly not Maggie. And not whoever had just stepped on the squeaky floorboard. Maggie wasn't sure she could have answered if she'd wanted to. Her throat was too tight.
The door opened in the room below Maggie and something crashed to the floor.
Probably the lamp on that table beside the door. It sounded like a bomb going off in the silent house.
"Who's there?" Mrs. Harper's feet pounded on the steps.
Maggie desperately hoped whoever it was wouldn't decide to hide in the tower room. Her heart banged against her ribs, and she put a hand over her mouth to keep her breathing from sounding so loud.
Relief rushed through her when the door creaked open and the floorboard squeaked again. Where earlier the steps had sounded furtive, now they were hurried. Mrs. Harper's heels clattered on the wooden stairs up to the third floor. Those steps were narrow and steep, nothing like the sweeping, broad staircase from the first to the second floor.
Maggie slipped over to the trapdoor into the tower and eased it up a few inches. She couldn't see anything, but maybe she could hear what was happening.
"What are you doing here?" Mrs. Harper's voice was strident.
The other person must not have found a place to hide. Whoever it was mumbled something, but Maggie couldn't make out any words.
"Stealing is more like it." Mrs. Harper sounded angry. "I'll not let you get away with it."
Maggie did hear the other person then. Panicked sounding. Maybe a woman's voice. Maybe not. "I can explain."
"You can explain it to the sheriff."
Mrs. Harper didn't wait. Her heels clicked purposely on the floorboards as she moved away. The other person rushed after her.
A shriek. Thumps. The whole upstairs seemed to shake as the bumps kept on. Then it was quiet. Too quiet.
Maggie lowered the trapdoor and scooted away from it. She waited. Down below, a door opened and shut. Not on the third floor. On the first floor. Somebody leaving the house. Maggie counted to one hundred slowly. Once. Twice. Everything was quiet.
Maggie peeked out the window. Mrs. Harper's car sat in the same place in the driveway.
What if the woman was hurt? She might have fallen. Something had made all that noise. Maggie couldn't just stay hidden and not help her. It didn't matter whether she liked Mrs. Harper or not.
She took a deep breath and squeezed her hands into fists to keep her fingers from trembling.
You're fifteen, Maggie. Stop acting like a scared three-year-old.
The trapdoor creaked when she lifted it. Maggie froze for a few seconds, but nobody shouted. She put her foot on the first rung of the ladder, but then climbed back into the tower room to hide the notebook full of her stories. She'd never worried about that before, but nobody had ever come into the house while she was there until today.
She spotted a crack between the wallboards and stuck the notebook in it. When she turned it loose, it sank out of sight. Well hidden. With a big breath for courage, she climbed down into the room. She stood still. All she could hear was her own breathing.
With her foot, she scooted aside the broken lamp and went out into the hallway. She made sure to step over the squeaky board.