The press room of the Columbia Police Department was filled to capacity. Newspaper and TV reporters along with online news bloggers crowded the space. A podium with several microphones attached to it stood at the front. Katie glanced over her prepared statement for the last time while waiting off to the side. Brandon shifted nervously beside her. She knew he didn’t like this idea to begin with. She also knew he would be furious with the addition she decided to make, but it was a statement that needed to be said. She would deal with his anger later.
The past few hours had been chaotic to say the least. Once the decision was made to have a press conference, a decision that Chief Holmes surprisingly supported, Katie had set things in motion. She called a few of her contacts back at her old paper as well as the local TV news stations. Afterwards, she had a quiet conversation with Rebecca. She deserved to find out the truth before the rest of the world. Katie remembered the tears and the strong hug Rebecca had given her. Her support had given Katie strength. After that she called her parents, told them what was going on. They were upset to hear that she had waited so long to tell them of the danger she was in, but understood her reluctance to share until she had all the facts.
Katie glanced at the clock on the wall. The conference was set for noon. It was 11:59 now. Katie gathered the tiny amount of strength she had left and approached the podium. Flashes of cameras greeted her as she took her place. The room was silent.
“I have a statement to make. I will not be taking any questions afterwards.” She took a deep breath then glanced to the side. Brandon gave her a reassuring smile. “Yesterday morning around four, a body was found outside of Hatch Hall. A message, intended for me, was burned into the grass next to the body. The message urged me to confess my crime or die. While I have committed no tangible crime, I know now what the message was referring to. Today I am making my confession.” Katie listened as a collective gasp went through the room then continued. “On April 13, 2004 I was raped by my then boyfriend, a man named Hunter Green. He is the same man who died yesterday. I did not report the rape to anyone. The first time I spoke of it was five days ago, to
Chief Shirley Holmes of the Columbia Police. I will not detail the reasons I failed to report the crime. They are personal and not relevant to this case. Just this morning I found out that I was not Hunter’s only victim.” Katie stopped for a moment to wipe away a tear. “Over the past ten years a depraved maniac has been killing women—mostly prostitutes—that resemble me. With every murder came a message: confess. The killer broke her pattern last week when she murdered Alaina Watson, a student here at the University of Missouri.
“I must apologize for the pain my silence has caused the victims’ families. Had I known about the crimes sooner I would have come forward. Mr. and Mrs. Watson, you have my sincerest apologies. Your daughter paid the ultimate price for my silence.” Katie swallowed back another tear. “Now, I have a message for the individual committing these horrendous acts of violence.” Katie swallowed and stared straight at a video camera. “You are a sick, depraved person who has caused others pain. You are a coward.
Instead of targeting me directly you have tortured and murdered innocent women whose only crime was to look like me. Your need for revenge for some imagined slight I have committed against you has lead not only to the deaths of multiple women, but the serious injury of a child. I want you to know your days are numbered. I will find you and bring you to justice. That is all I have to say.
Thank you for coming.”
Katie ignored the questions thrown at her as she walked away. She avoided Brandon’s angry glare as she headed down the hall to the conference room, Brandon following closely behind. She would rather have this argument in private. There was no need for the press to hear what they were about to say to each other.
The moment they entered the room Brandon slammed the door and grabbed Katie by the shoulders. “What the hell were you thinking? I thought we agreed you would only read the prepared statement. Do you realize what you’ve just done? The danger you’ve put yourself in?”
Katie stood silently, letting him vent his anger, his fear. “Wasn’t it enough that you shared the past with the world just to appease this maniac? Did you really have to go and blatantly challenge her? You do realize she’ll come for you? Tell me, how can I keep you safe? Dear God Katie, I can’t lose you.”
Katie cringed at the pain in his voice. She looked up and saw the terror in his eyes. Her heart ached for what she was putting him through, but it had to be done. This needed to end.
She wrapped her arms around his waist. “You have every right to be angry. I’m sorry for the pain and fear I’m causing. But the words had to be said. This woman,” she hissed, “will be enraged by the statements I just made. She will come after me, I know that, but her anger will cause her to make a mistake. People don’t think clearly when they’re angry. I know I took a giant risk, but it’s something I would do again in a heartbeat. This is our chance to end this.”
“Katie, I...” but Brandon didn’t finish his tirade. When he did finally speak, he sounded forlorn. “Katie, I have no future without you. If something happens to you it would kill me.”
“Brandon, we will have a future together,” she said, staring straight into his eyes. “I promise you that. From this point forward, I will never leave your side. We’ll figure this out and end it. Now let’s go home. I’m sure we’ll hear something soon.”
Brandon nodded, then hand in hand, they left the department and headed to their house.
The news spread like wildfire throughout Columbia. By six o’clock that night everyone knew about Katie’s ordeal and the murders that resulted because of it. For the most part, the press was kind to her. The headline of a special edition of the Columbia Daily Tribune read, “Heroic local reporter reveals her rape; calls serial killer depraved coward.” The special edition also contained articles questioning the police practices involving the prosecution of campus rapes. A leading psychologist even composed an editorial talking about the psychological and emotional effects of unreported rape. All in all, the community celebrated Katie. Right now the local TV station was doing a biopic on her, talking about her talent as a writer and her generosity in the community.
The Killer absorbed the news with disgust. Confessing her cowardice was supposed to ruin Katie Quinn. Instead she was being celebrated and praised for her strength. Not once did anyone blame her for the murders. No, instead they called out the murderer, placing the responsibility solely on her. The whole notion made her sick. This was not the revenge she craved.
Furious, The Killer stood up from her chair, knocking it to the floor in the process. She violently kicked the TV, splitting the screen into several pieces. Something had to be done. Katie couldn’t get away with her crime. If the world wouldn’t punish Katie Quinn, then it was up to her. With a strength fueled solely by rage, The Killer marched down to the basement to prepare for her new guest.
Brandon and Katie sat at the kitchen table, each of them working on their laptops. Brandon watched as Katie stared pensively at her computer. Rebecca and Callum had left to pick up Chinese for dinner. They had sped over to the house once Katie and Brandon left the police station. She was just as concerned for Katie as he was.
Meanwhile, Brandon read the files of each of Hunter Green’s victims. The Chief had contacted campus police and together they found two more reports of rape naming Hunter as the perpetrator. Now the count was up to four, five if he included Katie. Brandon was sure of one thing right now: the police as well as the university had really screwed up on this one. Maybe if they had taken the women seriously none of this would have happened.
He set aside the victims’ profiles for the moment and looked over the evidence report that Rebecca had provided for him. He hadn’t expected them to find anything, much less a fingerprint and a hair. At least they could narrow down the suspect to a blonde woman.
“What are you working on?” Brandon asked. “I’m making a list,” was all she said.
“A list of acquaintances and colleagues?” “Yes.” Her voice was shaky.
“Hey Katie, focus on the blondes,” he said. “Why?”
“They found a blonde hair at the crime scene. Granted it was chemically treated, but it could narrow down the suspect list.”
“Oh, okay.” She replied. “Did they find anything else?” Brandon took a deep breath. “They found a partial print.
Harry is running it through AFIS, but he’s not holding out much hope. We’ll probably only be able to use it for confirmation purposes.”
Katie nodded. “Okay,” she replied then got back to work.
An hour later, Brandon was looking at a list of about ten names. Some he was familiar with, a few he was not. On the list were dates of when Katie had met them as well as details about their personalities. Katie had even found personal travel records for most of the names. On top of all that, she made notes concerning their character and personal beliefs. It was an astounding sight.
“How did you find all this information?” Brandon asked, a bewildered expression on his face.
“I’m omniscient.” She grinned.
Brandon rolled his eyes. “Funny. But no, really, how did you find this?”
Katie beamed. “I just used my super investigative reporter powers to find all the answers.”
“I know, I know. I’m just trying to have a little fun.” She frowned. “No, I used some of the web resources I found out about at The Times.”
“Oh. Care to share those resources?” “Of course. I’ll send you a list later.”
“Thanks. You’re awesome.” He grinned.
“I know.” She smiled. “I’m going to get back to this list. Maybe I can find the travel details for the rest of the women on there.”
Brandon nodded then returned to his work. He looked at the three remaining names on his list. He researched Casey Johnson and crossed her name off. After checking into her background, he determined that she was out of the question. She was a stay at home mom. On top of that she had an alibi for nearly every murder. Her Facebook and other social media showed her being on spring break vacation for eight out of the now eleven murders. All those vacations took place in locations other than the murders. He was about to start researching the next name when there was a knock on the front door. Katie’s head popped up from the computer.
“Stay here, I’ll get it,” Brandon said. He grabbed his gun from his holster then went to the door.
“Geeze Brandon, I promise we’re not here to hurt you. We come bearing sustenance,” Rebecca stated as she and Callum came through the door.
“Feeling a little jumpy today big brother,” Callum chuckled as Brandon put his gun back in his holster.
Brandon frowned. “What made you think that?”
Callum rolled his eyes then gave his brother a comforting smile. “I can’t blame you,” he stated. “I would do the same thing if Rebecca was being threatened.”
Callum walked into the kitchen and set the food on the counter. Rebecca was pulling out bowls and plates while Katie set their computers to the side.
“Now who’s hungry?” Callum asked. “I know I am.” “Aren’t you always?” Rebecca quipped.
“I’m starving,” Katie said, as she got up from the table and headed for the kitchen, pulling out silverware while Rebecca took the food out of the bag.
“What, no chopsticks tonight?” Rebecca joked.
“No. I’d like to get the food into my mouth, not all over the table.” Katie replied.
Brandon looked at Katie and noticed her trembling hands. Despite her outward appearance of calm and even playfulness, she was still terrified. Not that he could blame her. “Yeah, I’ll stick with a fork too.”
“Suit yourself,” Rebecca quipped then headed for the couch. “How about a work break? You two have been at it for hours. Let’s eat, watch a movie, then get some rest. This stuff can wait until tomorrow.”
“Yeah, let’s take a break for the night. You both look wiped,” Callum stated as he sat down next to his wife. Katie plopped down on the love seat.
“Rebecca, I appreciate the offer, but I still have some names and backgrounds to check,” Brandon explained. On top of that he had the list Katie had given to him to go over. “You three are welcome to relax though. I can go to the office.”
“Okay,” Katie whispered.
Brandon heard the disappointment in her voice and it broke his heart. He thought about his task. He really should work some more, but Katie’s needs were more important right now. Besides, his eyeballs were burning and his brain was numb. Maybe he should take a break. “Actually, I changed my mind. We’ll relax tonight. I’ll continue in the morning.”
Katie smiled as Brandon squeezed in next to her. “So, what are we watching tonight, ladies?”
Without a single pause, they both blurted out the title at the same time, “Beauty and the Beast.”
Brandon chuckled. “Are you going to sing the songs?” “Absolutely.” Katie smiled.
It was good to see her smile. Rebecca and Katie had done this many times before. Whenever either one of them was sad or hurting, they declared a sleepover, watched Beauty and the Beast, and sang along to the tunes.
“Well, it’s a good thing neither one of you are tone deaf,” Callum chuckled.
Katie smiled then put the movie in the Blu-ray player.
Katie was having a hard time falling asleep. She was exhausted, but her brain refused to rest. This was not an uncommon affliction. Rebecca always said it was the curse of being a genius. Katie wasn’t sure that she was a genius, but she appreciated the explanation. Brandon appeared to be sleeping peacefully next to her. Rebecca and Callum were asleep in the guest room down the hall. She thought about waking one of them but rejected the idea. She knew neither one of them would mind it, but they needed their rest. They were the ones doing the job now.
Katie shifted her weight and tried to get comfortable.
Brandon was sprawled out on the bed and her thigh was pinned under his. He had also placed a possessive arm across her waist. For all intents and purposes, she was stuck. Frustrated, she let out an audible sigh then tried to fall asleep.
“Having a hard time sleeping?” Brandon mumbled into her ear.
“You could say that,” she whispered back. “Aren’t you exhausted? I know I am.”
“Physically, yes. But my mind won’t turn off.” She sighed. “Need a distraction?”
“That would be great,” she whispered, trying to think of something. Maybe a movie would do the trick. Before she could make up her mind, Brandon had deftly removed her shirt and began kissing every part of her upper body. “This isn’t exactly what I had in mind.” Not that she was complaining.
“Do you want me to stop?”
“No,” she moaned. “Good.”
For the next hour, Brandon expertly touched, licked, and kissed her body. With each new contact, Katie’s heartbeat picked up a little bit and her body wound a little tighter. She let out quiet pleas for release. Finally, when she thought she couldn’t take it anymore, he entered her, making their bodies one. Minutes later, her body unraveled. She buried her face into his neck, muffling her sounds of pleasure. Brandon did the same. Once they recovered, Brandon rolled to the side, holding her tight against him. Finally, Katie fell asleep.
“Are you sure these are all the women you’ve either worked with or socialized with?” Brandon asked. The list was relatively short, especially for someone in Katie’s position.
“I’m sure there are more, but those are the only blonde women who fit the description in the profile.”
“Oh, okay,” Brandon replied. “So, this is the list then?”
“Yup, that’s the list,” Katie said then frowned.
“Other than the fact that a deranged serial killer is after me?” she sighed.
“Yeah, other than that.”
“Well, I feel like we’re missing something.” “Like what?”
“Well, we’re discounting the fire,” she replied. “You mean the one in New York?”
“Yeah. Obviously, that was meant as a message to me. Maybe it was to keep me away from New York; a way for the killer to make sure I stayed on her home turf. Then again, it could also be a way to draw me back. Plus, the timing is really tight. My apartment burned down Friday and Hunter’s body was found early Sunday morning. Assuming that she spent as much time with him as her other victims, that means he was taken around noon Saturday. Isn’t that cutting it a little close?”
Brandon was silent for a moment. She had a point. Yes, it was physically possible for both crimes to be committed by the same person, but was it probable? “Katie, I know what you’re thinking, but I don’t believe this person has a partner. It’s just not in their nature,” he assured her.
Katie sighed. “Well, could it be then that someone else hates me for a completely different reason? Because I just have this feeling that the woman that killed Hunter is not the same person that killed those other women. They’re different M.O.s.”
“Katie, this woman’s only desire right now is to torture you,” he stated.
“I guess so,” she whispered.
“Let’s not borrow trouble. We have enough on our hands as it is.”
“Okay,” she replied. “I feel like we’ll never figure this out.”
Brandon scooted his chair until he was sitting next to her then he began rubbing soothing circles on her back. “Of course we will. I mean, with your brilliant mind on the case how could we fail?”
“I appreciate the compliment, but even I’m not infallible.”
Brandon cringed at the hopelessness in her voice. “Neither is this killer.”
Katie stepped out of the kitchen and went into the office. She was at her limit and she didn’t want Brandon to see her cry, again. She also had a phone call to make. She quickly pulled out her phone and dialed.
“Hey Jade, it’s Katie. I was wondering if you had a moment. I need to pick your brain if you don’t mind.”
“I can spare a few minutes. What do you need?”
“Well, there’s been a few new developments in the case. I have a hypothesis but I wanted to get your opinion on the matter,” Katie said then launched into a retelling of the last seventy-two hours. “You see, the thing that puzzles me the most is the timing of the fire. It happened before I made my confession. And the timing was so close to Hunter’s murder. Is it possible that this woman has a partner? Brandon doesn’t think so, but I’m not so sure.”
Jade was silent for a moment while she thought over the new facts. “First I must say I am very proud of you, Katie. Coming forward with the story of your rape was very courageous.”
“Thanks,” Katie replied.
“As for your theory, well of course it is possible that she has a partner, but I would think it highly unlikely. Killers like this work on their own, so I wouldn’t put too much stock into her having a partner.”
Katie sighed. “What is the point behind all of this? If she’s known where I’ve been all along why hasn’t she just come after me?”
“Well, that’s not part of her plan. Believe me, if her sole purpose was to kill you then she would’ve done that a long time ago. She wants you to feel more. She wants you to feel guilty about the women she’s killed. Even more, she wants you to feel responsible. She also wants to ruin you; to destroy you both publicly and in private. She wants the world to see you as she does. Unfortunately, that’s not how it’s going to work. You can see just from the press coverage that her plan is failing.”
“So, she’s going to come after me physically next then,” Katie stated.
“She’ll try, yes. Now is when you’re in the most danger.” “What am I supposed to do?”
“Make sure you’re never alone. Always be with someone you trust. Do you have anyone like that?”
“Yes, I have a couple of people I trust,” Katie said, thinking of Brandon and Rebecca. There was no way she would bring Rebecca into this. She was wary to put Brandon in danger, but since he’d already declared himself her protector she figured she might as well stick with him.
“Good. Stay with them always. That’s when you’ll be the safest.”
“Thanks, Jade. I appreciate it.”
“Anytime. And Katie, watch out for yourself.” “I will.”