Katie pulled on her silicone swim cap and dove into the cool blue water of the Olympic size pool at the University of Missouri Rec Center. Brandon hopped into the lane next to her. The water was a refreshing shock to her system: cold, but not freezing, just the temperature she liked. She glided into a long easy warm-up. The combination of water and physical movement calmed her troubled mind. She was glad Brandon had agreed to this outing. Quite frankly, she was going insane sitting just focusing on this investigation.
For the past two days, all she and Brandon had done was search their respective sources for clues. Ultimately, the list Katie had provided was useless. Not a single one of the names fit the bill. Katie was both frustrated and happy that the list hadn’t worked out. She hated to think that one of her friends would commit those awful crimes. At the same time, it meant back to square one on the search for the killer.
On top of that they had interviewed Katie’s old Literature professors. She and Alaina had many of the same professors and it was nice seeing her old mentor’s. All of them, even the professors she disliked, hailed her courage and lauded her success.
Unfortunately, the interviews had proven fruitless. None of the professors remembered anything being off about Alaina prior to her murder.
Brandon had become a shell of himself. He barely slept. Most nights he laid awake, holding Katie close to him, keeping watch over her. Last night when he actually did fall asleep, Katie awoke to find him clutching his gun in one hand; the other hand was wrapped around her. It was after that frightening encounter that Katie decided they both needed some normalcy; something to take their minds off the danger, even if only for a day. The pool had always been a sort of safe haven for them. Many times, starting after their first official date, Katie and Brandon could be found swimming laps in the pool. The water had a calming effect on them both.
Katie finished her warm-up and took a brief break while she waited for Brandon to finish his. Eventually he touched the wall.
“Hey, slowpoke.” Katie laughed. “You know, I’ve seen children swim faster than you.”
“I didn’t realize a warm-up was a competition. I thought we were saving that for the sprints.”
“Brandon, love, you should know that everything in the swimming pool is a competition,” Katie stated.
“Well, in that case you won this round. And since the odds are stacked in your favor right now, I’ll choose our next challenge.”
“I guess that’s fair,” Katie replied.
“Good. I choose lactaids.” He gave her a mischievous grin. “Now get your cute butt out of the pool and onto the blocks. The first one to ten 100s wins.”
Katie groaned and got out of the pool. “You can be cruel sometimes,” she said and climbed up on a block, set her start position, and dove in the pool.
For the next twenty minutes, she and Brandon sprinted two lengths of the pool, got out, jumped off the blocks, and repeated the process. At about the fourth 100, Katie was regretting telling Brandon about this particular exercise. She’d told him several years ago when they’d started dating and he’d never challenged her to them until today. By the end of the eighth 100, Katie felt like she would die. She slowly pulled her way out of the pool and climbed on the block once again. “Only two more to go,” she whispered to herself and dove in. Brandon jumped in about five seconds after her.
Katie pounded through the water, determined to beat him. Granted, he was taller than her, but Katie had an advantage over him: Brandon had never done these before. Katie had spent the better part of four years experiencing the pain of lactic acid building in her body. As much as lactaids sucked, they did help tremendously when it came to competition. Once she became used to the pain, it no longer affected her. Katie was about to get out of the pool when she felt a strong pair of hands wrap around her waist and spin her around. Seconds later, she was staring at Brandon’s smiling, but exhausted face.
“Okay, you win. I can’t do another one of those,” he conceded. “I honestly don’t know how you can do those. My body is on fire.”
Katie smiled. “Well, I’ve had more experience. Want to know my trick?”
All Brandon could manage was a small nod.
“It’s simple: you don’t think about the pain. You focus on the feel of the water washing over your body. Once you push the pain away from your mind, your body does not feel it as much.”
“Oh, is that all?” he quipped.
“Yes. Now let’s do a cool down. Otherwise we’re both going to hurt later on.” Katie gave him a quick kiss, pulled off her swim cap, then slipped under the water. Five minutes later, she was out of the pool, drying herself off with a warm towel. Brandon did the same next to her.
“So, what next?” Brandon asked as they walked back towards the locker rooms.
“Food?” “Definitely food.”
“Then maybe some shopping? I need new clothes.” She sighed. It was nice that she didn’t have to fly back to New York to pack her things, but that meant spending a day at the mall.
“Sure. But food first,” he replied.
“Okay,” Katie said as she pushed the door to the ladies’ locker room.
Brandon stopped the movement. “You’re showering with me,” he softly commanded while he took her bag from her.
“Brandon, I’ll be fine. You’re right next to me. If anything happens you’ll hear me.”
“Katie, please, do this for me.”
Katie searched his face. She could see the worry in his eyes. A part of her wanted to say no, to try and claim some control over her life, but in his mind, he needed to protect her. “Okay, fine,” she relented. “Hopefully the men’s room is empty. I’d hate to cause trouble.”
“Don’t worry. If you’re seen, I’ll just pull out my badge and say it’s police business. They’ll understand.” He grinned.
“Ugh.” She rolled her eyes then headed for a shower. The hot water did wonders to ease her aching muscles and she took her time savoring the feel of the warm droplets drenching her body. Katie had just started to wash her hair when Brandon joined her in the tiny stall. “The stall is too small for the two of us,” she protested as she was pressed against the wall.
“We’ll manage,” Brandon replied then took over the task of washing her hair.
“Right,” she mumbled.
Brandon softly scrubbed her body. When he reached her arms, he frowned and lifted her wrist. “Don’t you ever take this thing off?” He commented.
“What? My Fitbit? Never.” “What’s the point of it?”
“Well, it keeps up with how many steps I’ve taken and calories I’ve burned.”
“Katie, you’re in great shape. You don’t need to worry about calories.”
“Thanks, but I still like to know. You know me. Besides, it has a GPS in it so it shows everywhere I’ve gone. In New York it was kind of cool seeing all the places I traveled.” She smiled then removed her wrist from his hands. “Now can we finish? It’s a little cramped in here.”
Five very awkward minutes later, Katie and Brandon emerged from the shower. The locker room was still empty. Despite that, Katie quickly pulled on her clothes then stuffed her wet suit and towels in her gym bag. Brandon did the same.
Ten minutes later, they were tossing their bags into the trunk of Brandon’s Mustang. “I can’t believe we were able to pull that off without getting caught,” Katie said as she slid into the smooth leather seat. “But then again, we did move pretty fast.”
Brandon gave her a sly smile. “Yeah. We should have gone slower.”
“Brandon, I will never have sex in a public locker room. I don’t care how nice it is, I refuse to do that where others could hear. So you get that lascivious thought out of that pretty head of yours,” Katie scolded.
Brandon turned his smile into a petulant frown. “Oh, okay.
There goes my fantasy of joining the mile-high club.”
“That would’ve never worked to begin with. We’re both too tall to fit into one of those tiny bathrooms together,” Katie stated matter-of-factly. “Now, where do you want to eat?”
“I’m craving barbeque. Is that okay with you?”
“You know I’m always down for barbeque. Maybe this time I’ll be able to keep it off my shirt.” She laughed.
“Buckingham’s then?” “Yup.”
“Awesome.” Brandon smiled then pulled out of the parking garage. A short time later, they pulled into the lot of Buckingham Smokehouse BBQ, a relatively nondescript building boasting a giant sign depicting a pig with a cowboy riding him. They entered the restaurant and were shown to a booth next to a window.
“Welcome to Buckingham’s. I’m Stacy and I’ll be taking care of you today,” a young woman stated. She looked to be in her early twenties, most likely a college student. “What can I get you to drink today?”
“I’ll take a sweet tea.” Katie smiled. “Water please,” Brandon replied.
“Okay, do y’all still need a couple of minutes to look at the menu?”
“Yeah, if you don’t mind.”
“Not at all,” Stacy grinned. “I’ll be right back with those drinks.”
Stacy scooted away from the table and went to retrieve their drinks. Katie watched as the young woman walked off. “She’s from Texas,” Katie stated.
“Do you know her?” “No, but you can tell.” “How so?”
“Well, look at the way she walks. She has a sway, just like I used to, but she’s trying to hide it. Also, the way she said ‘y’all’ sounds distinctly like someone who lived near me would say it. I’ll bet you lunch that I’m right.” Katie grinned.
“You’re on.” Brandon grinned back.
Stacy returned with their drinks. “Are y’all ready to order yet?”
“Yes. I’ll have the pulled pork sandwich with fries please,” Katie replied.
“Of course.” Stacy jotted down the request and turned to Brandon. “And for you, sir?”
“I’ll have the half-slab of ribs with okra and macaroni and cheese please.”
“No problem.” Stacy smiled and turned to leave. “Oh Stacy, I have a question for you,” Katie said just before the young woman left.
“Yes, ma’am?” the girl questioned.
“What part of Texas are you from? I’m guessing someplace near Ft. Worth. Springtown maybe?”
Stacy’s jaw dropped. “How did you know?”
“Lucky guess. Actually, I’m from Grapevine. I knew a girl who lived in Springtown. She spoke just like you.”
“Really? What’s her name?” “Leslie Carter.”
“Oh my gosh! Her parents live right down the road from mine!”
“Wow, small world, isn’t it?” Katie grinned. “Are you here for school?”
“What a coincidence. That’s what my degree is in.” Katie smiled. “Well thanks for confirming my suspicions. This guy owes me lunch now.”
“Anytime.” Stacy grinned then walked to put their orders in.
Katie looked across the table at Brandon and laughed. The slack jawed expression of awe was by far the best thing she’d seen all day. “See, I told you she was from Texas.”
“How did you do that?”
Katie gave him a slow, easy smile. “That’s my little secret.” “No really, you have to tell me,” he pleaded.
Katie winked. “It’s all about the power of observation. You have to watch people, study them. It’s a skill that takes time to develop.”
“Thanks,” he said then stood up and came to sit next to her. “That’s better.”
She smiled and sunk into his side. “Yes, it is.” “So, are you having a good day today?”
“Well, hey, I’ve beaten you twice so far, so absolutely. It’s always nice to win,” she teased.
“I’d like to challenge you on those lactaids. You looked like you were about to pass out. I ended it because I knew you were too stubborn. Frankly I just didn’t want to have to drag you out of the pool,” Brandon bluffed.
“Right.” Katie rolled her eyes. “Whatever you need to tell yourself. For the record, I could have made it to ten—maybe even more.”
“Sure, if you say so,” he said in a disbelieving tone.
Their food arrived before Katie could argue, along with extra napkins. “Just in case you need them.” Stacy smiled. “I know barbeque can get a bit messy.” She set the plates down in front of them then hurried away.
Brandon started laughing while he picked up several napkins and tucked them around the neck of Katie’s shirt. “Wow, she knows you so well, Katie.”
“Ugh, is this really necessary,” she groaned.
“Hey, we need to keep that shirt clean until we can by you some new ones.” He chuckled.
“If you don’t stop some of my sauce might just make it on your shirt, love.” Katie batted her eyelashes dramatically then dug into her sandwich.
Twenty minutes later, their plates were cleared and Brandon was signing the check. “Leave her a nice tip. She’s a student,” Katie said.
“Of course,” Brandon replied. “Is 50% okay?” “Absolutely,” she replied then dug around her purse. “What are you looking for?”
“This.” Katie pulled out one of her business cards. “Can I borrow that pen?”
Brandon handed over the pen and watched as Katie jotted a note on the back of the card:
If you ever need some advice, shoot me an email. Katie placed the card on top of the check, “Okay, I’m ready.” They got out of the booth and headed towards the car.
“That was sweet of you,” Brandon declared while he opened Katie’s door.
“Hey, anything I can do to help a fellow journalist.” She smiled then closed the door.
“We need to figure out the drawer situation,” Katie said as she set down her many shopping bags.
“Hey, we made it work before. We’ll do it again,” Brandon replied. “Let me just move some of my stuff over and we’ll put yours away.”
“Thanks.” Katie smiled then gave him a kiss. It didn’t take her long to put away her new purchases. Brandon had made plenty of room for her things. Her new clothes were either hung with care or folded and stored next to Brandon’s.
“Well that’s that.” Brandon declared then plopped on the bed. “What do you want to do now?”
“Don’t you have something you want to do? We’ve been doing what I want all day. This is your free day too.”
“Well, I could use a nap. You, my dear have exhausted me,” he replied, pulling her down to the bed.
“Ditto.” She snuggled into his arms. They were both asleep moments later.
The Killer paced in frustration. She’d had everything prepared for Katie for days. Unfortunately, she’d never had a moment to grab her. That damn boyfriend of hers never let her out of his sight. Even today at the gym he had taken her into the men’s locker room with him. They ate together, slept together, worked together. It seemed like the only time they weren’t together was when one of them went to the bathroom, and neither one of the bathrooms had an easily accessible window.
The Killer groaned then hung the last of the photos up to dry. While she hadn’t been close enough to grab Katie, she had always been close enough to capture her image on film—well, her cameras had been at least. The last few days had been particularly interesting. Given their close quarters, Katie and Brandon spent many hours participating in…well, rather intimate interactions. So far her cameras had snapped photos and videos of them in the bedroom, bathroom, kitchen, and office.
She knew she could release the pictures and video, but The Killer wanted to save them for herself. These were personal.
Maybe as a last resort she would use them, but right now they would stay where they were.
The Killer left the dark room and went to her bedroom. She didn’t like the apartment; it was far too cramped. But it was close to work and to Katie, so it would have to do for now. Soon she’d be at her farmhouse in the country. Katie would be with her. She had the beginnings of a plan in her head. It was risky, but she had confidence it would work. With a secret smile, The Killer pulled on her shoes and headed to work.