Authors: Ellie Aaron; Ann Patterson
Tags: #action, #Adventure, #thriller
Also by Aaron Patterson
Sweet Dreams (Book 1)
Dream On (Book 2)
In your Dreams (Book 3)
Airel (Book 1)
Michael (Book 2)
Uriel (Book 3 Coming Soon)
19 (Digital Short)
The Craigslist Killer (Digital Short)
Twisting Steele (Coming Soon)
Melting Steele (Coming Soon)
For Soleil, you are so strong and beautiful.
And yes, you’re still my favorite daughter.
The mind can break and be lost forever, but if the will breaks it comes back stronger.
LIGHT FILTERED THROUGH THE slats in the wood. Car headlights shone through the barn walls, moving like fingers tracing words on the sawdust-covered floor. Tracy Mulligan cried silently as she lay bound and gagged, hanging onto the last thread of life. She clung to a hope that someone would find her, but with each passing car, and each passing day, her hope was replaced with dread. This was the end.
“God, help me.” Her strangled voice sounded strange in her own ears, as if from someone else, someone from beyond.
Her prison was so small she couldn’t even sit up. She was locked in a grain box that smelled of rotten corn, rat droppings, and urine. Her own urine. It felt like the top was closing in on her. With each of her movements, the sides touched her, pushed and scraped, making the small space feel like the jaws of a monster. Tiny holes in the planks let in comforting rays of light.
Her legs and hands were duct taped, and an old t-shirt was stuffed into her mouth with duct tape wrapped around her head. Every time she moved the tape pinched her scalp. She’d once had long, blonde hair, but now it was short and ragged. He had cut it all off. It had almost been the worst part, feeling those scissors on her head, making her look as ugly outside as she felt inside. After that, she knew there was no going back to how things were before. He’d taken everything away. Even her hair.
She just wanted to sleep. To forget for a moment this waking nightmare she was in.
Why me? Please, God, I don’t want to die.
But then the agonizing thought returned. God wouldn’t help her. This was her fault. Tracy never thought the guy she chatted with, and yes, even flirted with online would ever do this—
The tall man called himself Hank. She met him on Facebook and added him to her friends list. He was so nice, and always remembered little things—things she had forgotten she had even mentioned. He had this way of making her feel like the only girl in the world. He told her he was seventeen, but it turned out he was in his forties.
Tracy’s heart skipped a beat when she heard the alltoofamiliar sound of footsteps, and then the beads of light disappeared as a figure stood above her, covering her with shadow.
No, not again. Please, not again.
The lid burst open. Light blinded her and all she could see was a hand reach out and pull her out of the cramped space. She struggled and squirmed, but knew it wouldn’t do any good. He had her. And when he was done, she would be thrown back into the dark hole until he felt the need to pay her another visit.
“Washday, my love,” His voice was so smooth, yet had a tinge of hate laced through it like a snake wrapped around a tree. “You know what today is?” He looked into her eyes as if searching for something.
She shut her eyes and swallowed a whimper. She wouldn’t give him any sign she was there. He’d have her body but not her soul.
“It’s your birthday.” He laughed. “And I have a special treat for you.”
It wasn’t her birthday. What was he talking about?
He cut away the tape from her hands and legs and Tracy slumped to the floor. Her legs were numb. They started tingling, coming back to life. She thought hard about running again, but the last time she ran he broke her nose.
How long had she been here? She couldn’t remember. It felt like years, but that couldn’t be right. It had been enough misery to fill a lifetime.
She watched Hank fill the horse trough with cold water from a garden hose. He whistled as he waited for the tub to fill up. She hated washday. The water was cold and he would stand there and watch her with that evil grin on his face.
He half looked at her, mumbling and picking at his fingernails. She didn’t know she could despise anyone as wholeheartedly as she did him.
“You know, my pet, you’ve been a good girl—most of the time. But one thing still bothers me. You don’t look at me with the love and respect I know I deserve. Do you realize who I am?” His tone turned darker as he walked over to where Tracy sat in the dirt.
“I’ve given you everything. My heart, my soul … and in return you whine and cry like a spoiled little brat!” Grabbing her by the hair, Hank pulled her to her feet. Dragging her to the metal tub, he stripped her down and tossed her in like a rag doll. The water took her breath away. She choked and gagged on the t-shirt that tried to work its way down her throat.
“You want your birthday present?” His voice softened as he pulled out a small, black stun gun. Holding it in his hands, he looked at her with a creased brow. “You make me sad, so sad, my sweet Tracy. I love you and you act like I’m the bad guy. And frankly, I’ve grown tired of you.”
Tracy struggled to get out of the water, but it was too late. Hitting the trigger, a charge of blue electricity emitted and he jammed it in the side of her neck.
Electricity surged through her body. The shock of the charge made her brain freeze and her muscles spasm. She tried to move, she needed to move, she had to move, but when she tried as hard as she could to run, her foot barely moved an inch.
It took a moment for her to realize what was going on. Her body convulsed and twitched. The pain took over her mind. She tried to think, but everything was going dark.
He moved. He was pushing her under, forcing her down.
Her back arched and the gag jammed itself deep into her throat. This was it, the end—she was going to die and the last thing she heard through the water was his voice, muffled as if it came through another world. “Tracy, sweet, sweet Tracy …”
I JOLTED AWAKE TO the sound of my phone ringing. Disturbing the stillness of night, the ringtone sounded twice as loud as it usually did. I fumbled for the lit phone screen on my side table to see who disturbed my much needed rest.
UNKNOWN, flashed on the caller ID. I swore softly. Usually I’d ignore such calls, but now that I was mentoring some inner-city girls in self-defense, I had to always be ready if they needed me.
“Hello,” I answered, my voice deep and groggy. I cleared my throat. “Hello?”
A soft laugh came through the receiver.
“Angela? That you?” I asked. She was the girl I mentored who was most likely to end up drunk and stranded at a party.
I waited another moment. When nothing else came through the line, I sighed. And hung up.
Mysterious phone calls no longer perturbed me. They were all in the line of duty. As an attorney, they were expected. Every attorney I knew received them. It was the oldest trick in the book. I swear lawyers back in the Wild West had received telegraphs with
heavy breathing stop heavy breathing stop heavy breathing stop
written on them. I flipped on my lamp and took out my field notes. I wrote the date and time of the phone call to use for reference. I’d been getting more calls than usual since I’d been on the State vs. Williams case.
I put away the notebook and flopped back on my pillow. Closing my eyes, I relaxed under the blanket. The smell of my new air freshener wafted to me. I could hear the soft tick-tock of the grandfather clock in my living room. I shifted to my other side. Dangit. The caller had woken me up and there was no amount of Ambien that would get me back to sleep.
There was no use fighting it. I’d always been nocturnal. On nights before big events, like the court date tomorrow, I’d pop an Ambien so I’d be rested.
I got up, slipped my feet into some slippers, and made my bed. It was an old habit. There were so few things in life you could control, the foster care system had taught me that, but a made bed was one of them.
Then I went after my case notes. I’d seen the pictures of Tracy Mulligan, but they still shocked me with their brutality every time. I rehearsed how I could explain them to the jury. With just enough details they would feel a visceral reaction at the torture she went through, but add too many and they’d feel like it was superfluous.
I never had nightmares while I slept. No, they came when I was awake. Reality haunted me more than any fiction could. AllI could think about was Tracy. The police discovered her hanging from the rafters in an old barn. The murderer, Hank Williams, was caught at the scene of the crime with the murder weapon in his hand, and ever since then he’d all but mocked the case. As if he knew something nobody else did. He was rich, the only son of a real estate tycoon, owner of Williams, Inc., he was powerful, and he lawyered up with four of the best defense attorneys money could buy. But still … I had enough proof to lock him away, or get him much worse. Then why did I feel like I hadn’t prepared enough?
I took a drink and splashed some cold water on my face.
Come on, Sarah, you have a good case. Let it go and trust your instincts … you’ll nail this guy to the wall.
I would not lose, no matter how many lawyers he hired. Williams was going down for murder one way or another.
And if he doesn’t go down, then I’ll do him in myself. It was the dead of night, but I still covered my face with my hands, embarrassed. I shook the thought away. This was what happened to me at night. I became something different. Wild thoughts that I held back during the day came rushing to me like kids to an ice cream truck. They surrounded me: memories of what had been done to me as a kid, plans of what I could do to get revenge on people who escaped justice, and even detailed images of what I would do to them. It was the feral side of me, the side I kept locked up.
Who was I really? The successful, happy assistant district attorney, or the wild, angry vigilante? Even I didn’t know.
I DUG INTO MY oatmeal as I also dug into the morning paper. It was my ritual.
The paper ran a front-page article on the case. It often mentioned my name, Sarah Steele, the up-and-coming Assistant District Attorney. I smiled at the photo splashed on the front page. It was of me pushing my way through reporters, looking down to keep from tripping over a cameraman.
First, I noticed how long my blonde hair was getting. I was due for a cut. Second, I noticed how it seemed like the cameraman was pointed more at my legs than my face. At first I felt offended, but then I had to concede that it was a nice shot. I worked out almost every day, either with the girls at the dojo or running around the lake. Exercising got my mind off things—work, friend drama, my mom, my latest screw up with a boyfriend, but most of all the constant storm of memories trying to drown me.
I did not look much like the average ADA, with my blonde hair and light blue eyes. My looks did, however, lend to many deadbeat ex-boyfriends. I thought by the time I was twenty-eight I would be married with three bratty kids running around, and a rodent dog. So much for plans.
I scanned the rest of the article. It went into the nature of the crime, and wrote a little about me and how I was a foster care system brat turned successful attorney. It had only been two years since I graduated, and being young and a woman didn’t exactly make me target number one for a high profile job. But I was tough, and even when I wasn’t, I faked it. This business did not allow me to be off—ever.
This case had me worried, though. Hank Williams and his group of sharks always sat with smug looks on their faces, making me think they had something up their sleeves. I mentally scanned what we had on him, and shook my head. We had an overwhelming amount of evidence, but that’s what worried me.