By kmccabe08 All Rights Reserved ©

Romance / Thriller

Chapter 1

March 27, 2017 Columbia, Missouri 12:01 A.M.

The Killer smiled at her latest accomplishment. This victim had been far more enjoyable than the previous ones. But, then again, this girl had something to live for. The others had essentially given up on life by the time she got to them. Sure, they screamed because of the pain, but none of them had pleaded—at least not until this one. The Killer decided young co-eds were far more enjoyable. They had more hope, therefore they had more fight, more desperation.

The Killer threw the dead girl’s body over her shoulder and carried her out of the basement. She weighed more than the others. Then again, this was not some junky prostitute. She was a student and had the money for a healthy diet thanks to her dear old mother and father. The Killer sneered in the darkness. The Killer’s parents had helped with nothing. No, The Killer made her way all by herself. She had done well until twelve years ago. Then her world unraveled.

No. Don’t think like that. Don’t let that push you down again. Like a Phoenix, she had risen from the ashes and become the strong, successful woman she was today. In a sick way she figured she had him to thank for that.

The Killer opened the trunk of her SUV and put the body inside. She took one more moment to admire her handy work. She had been very meticulous, right down to removing the two-inch rectangular piece of skin on the girl’s right hip. This would definitely worry the police. With a bright smile on her face, the Killer slammed the trunk then climbed into the driver’s seat and headed towards campus. She had a perfect spot to place this body.

The University of Missouri-Columbia March 27, 2017

4:13 A.M.

Detective Brandon Hughes watched as the ME and crime scene techs walked under the yellow crime scene tape. He could see the faint outline of a young woman underneath a large Oak tree. He did not know her identity yet, but he would find out.

The young co-ed’s body had been found nearly two hours ago by a pair of drunk college students on the way home from downtown Columbia. Brandon had no doubt that they were underage. Three years ago, when he had still been on foot patrol, he would have fined them for underage drinking. But now…well, now minor offenses like that did not concern him. Besides, after this find, he knew it would probably be quite some time before they had another drink.

Brandon stepped back over the crime scene tape and walked over to where the now sober couple sat. The two were huddled together underneath a plain, gray blanket. Two uniforms had brought them hot cups of coffee.

The couple certainly was interesting looking. The girl, who seemed to be about nineteen, had long, perfectly done blonde hair. She wore a pair of tight jeans and white shirt covered by a black blazer. She definitely looked like she belonged to one of the many sororities on campus. The boy, on the other hand, looked like a strange mix between punk and goth. His hair had been dyed a bright blue and spiked up. He wore a black t-shirt, jeans, and long black trench coat. They were definitely not two people he expected to see together. But hey, stranger things had happened.

“Yo, detective, can we get this done soon? I have class in a few hours and I really want to get some sleep,” the punk/goth kid said. Brandon rolled his eyes. He honestly doubted either one of them would be going to class today. Still, he did need to get their statements. The sooner the better.

Brandon pulled out his phone then sat on a bench across from the two students. “You don’t mind if I record this, do you?”

Both of the students shook their heads. Brandon nodded then pushed the record button. “Now first I need your names.”

“Of course,” the boy responded. “I’m Shane Dobson and this is Veronica March.”

“Thank you, Shane. Now, what exactly were you two doing when you found the body?”

“Well, uh, we were just walking back from…um, The Coffee Zone,” Veronica said. “You see, we had been studying together and noticed the time—”

“Cut the bull,” Brandon said. “Anyone can see that you two have been drinking. Besides, The Coffee Zone closes at nine. So unless the owner throws some sort of late night rave that we don’t know about, you’re lying.”

The blonde’s bottom lip trembled. Brandon eased his tone. He didn’t mean to scare the girl. He was tired and frustrated. He didn’t need to take that out on her. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to be so harsh. Now, I promise that neither one of you will get in trouble for the underage drinking. I just need you to tell me the truth so I can get an accurate timeline of things.”

“Of course. Sorry,” Shane said.

“Now please, take me through your night, step by step.” “Well, we started at Shakespeare’s with a few of our

friends,” Shane answered. “What time was this?”

“Around seven, I guess,” Veronica replied.

“Okay,” Brandon acknowledged. “And how did you get there?”

“We walked there from Greek Town,” she replied. “Did you take this route?”

“Yes,” Shane replied.

“And did you see anything out of the ordinary?

“No, nothing. Just the normal Sunday night crowd walking downtown,” Veronica replied.

“So after Shakespeare’s, how did you spend the rest of the night?”

“We went to a couple of bars with our friends. Around one- thirty we headed back home. Veronica was feeling a little tired. I was looking for a place to sit down for a minute. That’s when we saw the...the...” Shane stammered.

“The body,” Brandon finished for them.

Shane nodded and Veronica began to cry against Shane’s shoulder.

“One last question then we’re done.” Shane nodded and Brandon continued, “Have either one of you ever seen the victim before?”

Both witnesses shook their heads vehemently. “I’ve never seen her before in my life,” Shane added.

“Veronica, what about you?” Brandon asked.

“Sorry, she doesn’t look familiar,” Veronica whimpered.

“Well, thank you for your help. If you could leave your contact information with the officer, I’ll have someone take you home. And don’t worry about classes later; I’ll give you a note.”

Shane and Veronica thanked him. Brandon only nodded as he walked back towards the crime scene. The ME, Doctor Rebecca Harmon-Hughes was kneeling next to the body. “Doc,” Brandon said, “I think I can help narrow down the time of death for you a bit. The couple said they walked this path around seven last night and didn’t see anything.”

“Thanks, but I already had that figured out. Her body couldn’t have been here more than a few hours. I’m tentatively setting time of death around midnight.”

“Can you estimate a cause of death?” Brandon asked.

Rebecca shook her head. “I’ll know more once I do an autopsy. But Brandon, I don’t think she was killed here. I think this is just a dump site,” Rebecca replied.

“That’s what I was thinking too,” he agreed.

“Could you let Brian know I’m ready for the stretcher?” Rebecca asked. “Let’s get her out of here before the press shows up. She doesn’t deserve to be seen this way.”

Brandon nodded. The poor girl was completely naked. Her arms, legs, and face were scratched and bruised almost beyond recognition. The girl had definitely taken a beating. He only hoped that she had a chance to fight back, even just a bit. “Hey doc, any ID on her?”

“Yeah. I put it in an evidence bag.” “What did the ID say?”

“I think you need to see it for yourself, Brandon,” Rebecca whispered. “But don’t freak out, I’m positive the name on the ID is not the woman we’re looking at now.”

“What makes you say that?” “She’s not tall enough.”

Brandon felt the hairs on the back of his neck stand. He quickly turned and left the immediate crime scene, making his way over to the evidence area. He retrieved the evidence bag from a young officer and studied the ID. The woman in the picture looked achingly familiar. His heart dropped for a moment, but he caught himself. It’s not her. She only resembles her. She’s safe in New York. It’s not her. The likeness was disturbing, but what he saw written next to the photo in giant, black permanent marker terrified him beyond belief.

Brandon gave the bag back to the officer. He turned back to the crime scene, pulling out his phone. He had a call he needed to make.

New York City, New York 5:30 A.M.

Katie’s phone rang loudly, interrupting her fitful sleep. She glanced at the clock then cursed. She still had another hour and a half to sleep. Unless this was some extremely hot lead on a story, which she doubted, the person on the other end of the line was going to get what for.

With a Herculean effort, Katie pushed herself up in bed, put on her glasses, and checked the caller ID. She gasped when she saw the number. Then, with more force than necessary, she punched the ignore button, took her glasses off, and lay back down. “Asshole,” she said under her breath, then went back to sleep. She had nothing left to say to Brandon Hughes.

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