Katie woke up naked and wet. Her arms were bound with something cold, metallic. Whatever it was, they were cutting into her skin. She stopped moving then struggled to put the pieces together. She wasn’t at home, that was for sure. She examined her surroundings. She was in a bright, white windowless room. Plastic sheeting covered the floor. A long metal workbench dominated the wall opposite her. A pristine white staircase lined the wall adjacent to the table. Katie took a close look at the items displayed on the table and her stomach lurched. Various objects of torture stretched along the length of the table. She swallowed her fear. Now was not the time to panic. Now was the time to think.
She forced her foggy mind to recall exactly how she got here. Brandon had been asleep in bed. She went to the kitchen, brewed some coffee then pulled up some wedding dress websites. She was pouring another cup of coffee when her world had gone black. Tears gathered in her eyes. Was Brandon here? Had he been sucked into this nightmare too? Deep breaths Katie. Just take some deep breaths. Brandon’s fine. The killer doesn’t want him, she told herself. Besides, panicking won’t help. You need to stay calm. “Just stay calm,” she whispered aloud.
Katie heard footsteps above her. She quickly closed her eyes and pretended to be unconscious. She heard the basement door open then light footsteps descend the stairway. Moments later, a small hand slapped her face hard. “I know you’re awake. Stop faking and open your eyes. I want to see the fear and pain.”
Katie felt her body go tight. She knew that voice.
Shirley carefully searched around the house for clues.
Brandon was sitting on the couch, his head in his hands. Fortunately, his brother was here looking out for him. Harry and his team were meticulously dusting for prints. Truthfully it was a hot mess. There were several sets of prints all over the house.
They’d taken Brandon’s, as well as Rebecca and Callum’s prints for elimination purposes. They had also dusted Katie’s laptop for her prints. They needed to separate out the prints that belonged from those that didn’t. Still, she had a nagging doubt that they’d find anything. This killer was smart.
She wouldn’t admit it, but she’d teared up a bit when she saw what was on Katie’s computer screen. She’d been looking at wedding dresses. Apparently she and Brandon had made plans for the future. She was determined to give them that future.
“Chief Holmes,” Harry called out, interrupting her thoughts.
“I think I found something. But I need to talk to Brandon.” “What did you find?”
“Some prints.” “Whose?”
“Wait? Grace? Surely she’s been here before?”
“Well, they were on the front door handle and the coffee pot. We need to talk to Brandon.”
He was right. Still, she was worried how Brandon would react. But they needed to know. “Okay, just be gentle with him and make sure Callum keeps an eye on him. I don’t want him going rogue on me.”
Harry nodded then headed to the living room.
Brandon stared straight in front of him. His body was shaking with rage, both at the killer and himself. How could he have not noticed she was gone? Why didn’t he hear anything? And why had Katie left him? No, you will not blame her for this. She did nothing wrong. She probably just wanted to let you rest, he scolded himself. The one person who was innocent in all this was her.
“Brandon, I have a question for you,” Harry said interrupting his self-loathing.
“Sure.” His voice sounded foreign and hollow. “What’s up?”
“Has Grace ever been to your house?” Brandon frowned. “No, why?”
Harry’s eyebrows lifted. “I was just curious.”
Brandon leapt from the couch. “Tell me what you found!”
Callum stood grabbed Brandon’s shoulders and pulled him to the couch. “Brandon, knock it off,” he ordered. “Harry’s here to help. Your anger isn’t going to help Katie.”
Brandon nodded. Callum was right. “I know. I’m sorry. I just need to know what you’ve found.”
Harry took a deep breath. He had a conflicted look on his face. Finally, he sighed then answered his question. “We found Grace’s prints on the door and coffee pot.”
Brandon nodded and sank back into the couch. “Thanks
“Could you get Chief Holmes for me?” “Of course.” He replied then walked away.
Chief Holmes appeared moments later. “What can I do Brandon?”
“Tell me where to start searching.”
Katie’s body stung from the dozens of small cuts to her skin. Grace had spent the last hour torturing her with a knife. The first cut had been light, only slightly worse than a paper cut. Each successive incision was a little bit longer or deeper. Katie remembered the words in Jade’s report and had remained silent through the whole ordeal. With each successive cut it became easier for her to block out the pain just like lactaids, she thought. She knew Grace wanted her to scream and Katie was determined not to give her the satisfaction. The less she responded, the longer she would live. Grace wanted to see her break. She wouldn’t stop until she did.
“Hmm...I guess you’re used to knives. Tell me Katie, did you cut yourself after it happened? Did the guilt eat at you? Did the knowledge that you were a coward make you want to end it?”
Katie did not respond. She stared straight into Grace’s eyes, silently displaying her resolve.
“Bitch! Say something,” Grace yelled, striking Katie with a leather whip.
Katie winced at the contact, but she still did not speak. “You were always too good for everyone, too proud to admit your failings, too perfect to confess your sins.”
“I did confess,” Katie said in a bone chilling whisper. “You’re just too delusional to accept it. But that’s okay, your stupidity will bring your downfall.”
Grace’s eyes widened in surprise at Katie’s statement. “And you were applauded for it. Your confession was supposed to ruin you. Instead the media lauded you as a hero. You deserve what’s coming to you,” Grace said then hit her with the whip once again, this time across her chest.
Katie winced but did not scream. She looked around the room, trying to find something to focus on. Eventually she settled on a small pile in the corner. She squinted and recognized it as her clothes. There, lying on top of the small heap was the key to her salvation: her Fitbit. She allowed herself an internal smile.
Brandon would figure it out. He would find her.
Brandon rubbed his eyes and continued his search. He’d spent the last couple of hours searching through the rape cold cases. Rebecca was back at the lab with Harry processing the evidence from the house. He wondered if he’d ever be able to sleep in this house again? He shook his head. He’d deal with that later, right now he needed to find Katie.
Shirley had sent a search team to the apartment to cover the bases, but he knew Katie wouldn’t be there. It was too small and the area was far too populated for Grace to carry out the extensive and prolonged torture she so enjoyed. Right now several detectives were tearing the apartment apart, searching for a clue as to Grace’s current whereabouts.
Brandon was close to unraveling. The clock was ticking. He remembered from Rebecca’s autopsy reports that Grace had spent between ten and twelve hours with her victims before ending their lives. He was sure Katie was alive right now, but his stomach turned at what she must be experiencing. With a new resolve, he got back to work. He opened the old police reports of the previous rapes and began reading. The answer was in there somewhere. He only hoped he could find it in time.
An hour later, Brandon had found at least part of what he was looking for. While searching through the old files, Brandon came across a picture of Angela White, Hunter’s next victim after Katie. The photo bore a striking resemblance to Grace. Granted,
Grace’s coloring was slightly different, but he could easily see they were related. To confirm his theory, Brandon dug into Angela’s past. The search revealed that Angela had a younger sister: a woman named Laura White. He found photos of Laura and he was not surprised to be looking at photos of a young Grace. Her brown hair was longer than it was now. But she had the same round face and brown eyes. She was not nearly as muscular then as she was now; in fact, she was downright skinny in her old photos. He couldn’t be sure, but he suspected she had suffered from some sort of eating disorder. There were also reports of Laura’s trouble with the law. She was an expert hacker. After her sister’s crash, Laura had dropped off the map. Apparently she created a new identity for herself and began taking her revenge on Katie.
Brandon sighed. He should have found this out sooner. If he had, then Katie would be here now. He shook his head and buried his self-censure, he’d deal with that later. Right now he needed to focus on the present. What was done was done. Now it was time to save Katie. With his mind resolved, he called out to Chief Holmes, “Chief, there’s something you need to see.”
Brandon excused himself from the kitchen for a moment and stepped into the bedroom. Despite his new revelation, they were still unable to find any remote property belonging to Grace. Even knowing her real name had not helped them.
The detectives had just returned from Grace’s apartment. Their description of what they found made Brandon sick to his stomach. Photos and videos spanning the past decade of Katie’s life covered the walls. Some were photos of her walking to and from class. Others were cutouts from newspaper articles and press releases. More photos were of a more intimate nature, showing Katie in compromising positions with him. There were several videos of he and Katie taken over the past few days. The crime scene tech believed that Brandon’s house had been rigged with hidden cameras. Once he was informed of that that little tidbit, Brandon stalked through the house searching for the tiny cameras. Thirty minutes later, he had a stack of at least half a dozen.
“These are remote access cameras,” a tech stated. “Their information can be downloaded from somewhere else. Let me search; maybe we can get a lock on the IP address and find Katie that way.”
“Okay,” Brandon said then went to the bathroom and splashed water on his face. Before he left he noticed Katie’s phone on the nightstand. The blue notification light blinked on and off.
He quickly picked it up and unlocked it. A tear escaped his eyes when he noticed the dozen missed phone calls from him. He slid the notification to the side then skimmed through her phone, eventually landing on her photo gallery. Katie had hundreds of photos saved. Some were of herself and others showed her posing with a young, auburn haired little girl. He assumed that was Bella. The final photos were from the party at his mom’s house. It was hard to believe that was only a few days ago. He focused on one in particular: a picture of him, Katie, Rebecca, and Callum. Katie’s bright smile filled the screen. Brandon had one arm wrapped around her shoulder while Katie’s arms were outstretched in either direction. One arm rested gracefully on his hip, while the other was hugging Rebecca tightly to her side. Brandon just stared at the photo, recalling the happy moment. As he gazed closer, he noticed something on Katie’s wrist. A wave of realization washed over him.
Without hesitation, Brandon ran from the room and into the kitchen. The house went still when he returned. “I know how we can find her!”
Brandon needed to hurry up. Katie wasn’t sure how much longer she could keep this up. Her entire body ached and throbbed. Grace had been toying with her for hours. She would push Katie’s body to the brink only to stop and leave, giving Katie a short break before she continued her torture. Right now Grace was taking a break. Katie tried to focus, but the pain was making it hard. Over the past few hours she’d been cut, punched, and whipped. Her body was a grotesque canvas of red, blue, and purple. With each passing moment, she felt herself growing weaker from a combination of blood loss and exhaustion. Her wounds slowly, but steadily, oozed blood. A growing puddle of blood pooled around her feet. Her mind was imagining what torture Grace would inflict next. “No,” she said aloud, although no one was there to listen. “You will not go to that place, Katie Quinn. You need to focus.”
Katie shoved the vile thoughts from her head. She did not need the added stress of anticipation. She needed to focus all her energy on staying silent and strong. Brandon would be here soon; she could feel it. Right now, she needed to stay strong.
Katie heard the basement door open and Grace descend the stairs then went to the torture table. “Now, what to use next,” Grace sneered.
Brandon, Chief Holmes, and half the Columbia PD gathered outside of the isolated and dilapidated farm house. Brandon’s heart was pounding. His emotions told him they were wasting time. Logically he knew they needed a plan of action.
Rushing in there, guns blazing would only put Katie in more danger.
“Holland, you take Abbott, Rankins, and Haas and go around the south side. Ripley, you, Jackson, and Eastham go around the west side. Brandon, you and I will go around the back. The rest of you head to the front porch. Holland, once you and your men are in place, break the window and toss in a flashbang.
Once that’s done we all go in hard and fast. The priority is Katie. If Grace gets in your way, shoot her,” Chief Holmes finished her instructions then sent everyone on their way.
Brandon and Chief Holmes circled around the back as silently as possible. Once in place, Brandon noticed a set of double doors in the ground. “Basement,” he whispered.
Holmes nodded. “We’ll go in that way.”
The next moments were a blur. Brandon heard the breaking of glass, the hustle of footsteps, and a scream.
Katie couldn’t hold it in anymore. Grace held the electric cattle prod in her hand. She had shocked her a couple times, starting with her arms then moving to her legs. Katie had merely silently cried through those.
“I have to give you credit Katie,” Grace sneered. “You’ve lasted far longer than the others. Most of them broke after two hours. You’ve lasted five times that. Still, everyone has a breaking point. I’m glad you finally reached yours.”
Katie closed her eyes tight. She would not look at the satisfaction on Grace’s face. She cringed when she felt the cold metal move its way up her leg, stopping on the tender flesh of her inner thigh. Katie braced herself for the shock and she cried out as the powerful jolt of electricity burned its way through the cut.
Grace moved the prod to the opposite thigh, repeating the process. Once again Katie whimpered. The prod moved higher. Katie felt the hot tears stream down her face. Oh God, not there. Please not there. She allowed herself an inner sigh of relief when the metal rod continued its journey up.
Grace let out a demonic laugh. “Oh, don’t worry Katie. I’m saving that for later.”
Katie cried harder. The prod stopped on her chest. This was where most of the worst cuts were. Grace shoved the tip of the prod inside the deepest of the wounds then pushed the button.
Katie mentally prepared herself for the next round of torture when she heard glass shattering and the hard pounding of footsteps. She heard Grace’s scream of rage followed by a single shot and the sound of something heavy falling to the floor.
Someone was yelling.
“Get me some handcuff keys,” the voice shouted. It sounded familiar, although her mind was far too scrambled to identify it. She cried with relief when her hands were released and a blanket was wrapped around her. “Katie honey, you’re safe. It’s all over,” the voice soothed. “Can you open your eyes for me, love? Let me see your eyes.”
Katie struggled to comply. Eventually she was able to open her eyes just a bit. But it was enough. She looked up to her savior, gave a tiny smile, then snuggled against Brandon’s warm body. “I knew you would come.”
Brandon held Katie’s cold, beaten body tight. Her perfect skin was marred by a sickening combination of cuts, bruises, and burns. Despite that, Katie was still alive. She had opened her eyes and spoken to him.
“Brandon, the paramedics are on their way,” Chief Holmes said. “Why don’t you take her upstairs? There’s no need for her to be here any longer.”
Brandon nodded then carried Katie up the stairs. He did not look at Grace’s dead body or the table full of instruments. He would confront the horror of what had happened to Katie later.
Right now he focused on the fact that she was alive. “Where are we going?” Katie asked.
“Upstairs. The paramedics will be here soon. It’ll be easier for them to get you out this way,” he replied, laying her down on a couch.
Katie grasped his hand hard. “You’ll stay with me?” Her eyes were panicked; shock would set in soon.
“I’m never leaving you.” He sobbed. “I’m sorry it took so long.”
“You have nothing to be sorry for. You found me. That’s all that matters,” she croaked. Her throat was sore from the combination of screaming and dehydration. “Please don’t cry. I’ve done enough of that for the two of us.”
Brandon wiped the tears from his face. He would cry later, when Katie couldn’t see. “Anything for you.”
A few minutes later the paramedics arrived. Katie panicked when they asked Brandon to move. “No! He stays!”
The paramedics did not argue. Instead they worked around him. Finally, they strapped Katie to a gurney and rolled her out the door to the ambulance. Brandon sat on a bench beside her, holding her hand tight all the way to the hospital. To their credit, the medics did not complain at the inconvenience of Brandon’s presence. After seeing the wounds covering her body and the distress in her eyes, they were happy to give Katie any comfort they could.
They arrived at University Hospital about fifteen minutes after they left the farm house. Katie was rushed into the ER. The doctors allowed Brandon to enter the room, but he had to break his physical contact with her. At first she protested, but once Brandon spoke she calmed down. The doctors took their time examining her. Brandon cringed at the damage. The wounds were more visible under the bright fluorescent lighting of the hospital. How Katie had survived was a miracle as well as a testament to her strength. She would get through this; they both would. After they finished their initial treatment, they gave Katie a mild sedative and she quickly fell asleep.
Brandon watched as her bandaged face rested. She appeared at peace—at least for now. When she woke up the ugly reality of what happened to her would hit. Then she would crash. While Katie rested, Brandon asked the nurse for a list of psychiatrists that specialized in trauma. She returned with a short list a few minutes later. “Dr. Canton is the best,” she said then left the room.
Brandon quickly called him and Dr. Canton agreed to meet him at the hospital. The first few hours after the event were the most critical. It would be painful and hard, but Katie would receive the help she needed. Next Brandon called Katie’s parents and explained what had happened. Her father thanked him for the call then informed him that they would be on the next plane out to Missouri. He would call them with the information. Finally, with all the necessary calls made, Brandon sank into the uncomfortable seat next to Katie’s bed and held her hand.
He closed his eyes and the scene he had walked into immediately replayed itself. He and Chief Holmes had burst into the basement seconds after they heard Katie’s scream. Chief Holmes shot Grace without hesitation. He could only stare at the depraved spectacle in front of him. Katie was handcuffed, naked, to a tile wall. Her head hung limply. Hysteria bubbled in his chest. No, Brandon Hughes, you push that out of your head. That is not how you will think of her. Brandon repeated the mantra in his head.
A soft knock interrupted his dark thoughts. He stood from the bed and answered the door.
“Detective Hughes,” a middle-aged man said. He appeared to be in his mid-fifties. He had dark brown hair and his brown eyes were surrounded by a pair of thin, wire rimmed glasses.
“I’m Dr. Canton. Is she awake yet?”
“No. She’s still asleep. They gave her a sedative after they finished treating her wounds. I’m not sure how long she’ll be out.”
“Okay. That’s fine. I’m here for as long as you need me,” he said.
Brandon noticed the kindness in his voice. This was exactly what Katie needed—what they both needed. “Thank you.”
“Would you like to talk about it?”
Brandon glanced at Katie, who was still sleeping peacefully. “I promised I would be here when she wakes up. I don’t want her to be alone.”
“I understand. Well, why don’t we chat in the room, out of earshot? Those sedatives, even the mild ones, are pretty potent. She won’t hear a thing. I promise.”
Brandon nodded. “Okay. I need to work things out for myself so I can be strong for Katie.”
Dr. Canton gave a reassuring smile. “Well, let’s have a seat then.”