Katie gazed down at the photo in horror. Her immediate desire was to tear it up and burn it. She shoved the thought from her head and made herself think proactively. First she needed to preserve the evidence—there might be prints on it. She was thinking of a way to get the photo back into the envelope when Nicole appeared.
“Katie. What the hell...” she started but did not finish. “Oh God. Bob, get over here,” she yelled.
Seconds later, Katie’s boss pushed through the crowd that now surrounded her desk. “What happened?”
No one spoke. Nicole merely pointed down on Katie’s desk.
Katie could hear Bob’s sharp intake of breath. “Someone call the police,” he ordered. “No!” The word was a shrill yell.
“Katie, they need to see this,” Nicole pleaded.
“I know,” Katie whispered, “but not this police department.
This is tied to another crime.”
“What makes you so sure?” Bob asked.
“Because I’ve seen this photo before. Well, a variation of this photo,” Katie muttered.
“You’d better explain,” Bob ordered.
Katie nodded then opened up the email. She clicked on one of the crime scene photos and enlarged it. “See?”
“Katie, where are these photos from?”
“A crime scene in Columbia, Missouri,” she whispered then turned and finally faced her boss. “Bob, I need to go to Columbia.”
Bob nodded. “Okay. But you call me the minute you get there,” he commanded.
“And someone’s going home with you while you pack. Any volunteers?”
“I’ll go,” Nicole shouted.
“Thanks, Nicole. Now I’ll call a cab while you gather your things,” Bob commanded then stormed away.
Katie quickly picked up the photo with a tissue, careful to only touch it on the corner, and placed it back in the envelope.
Next she repeated the process with the envelope, placing it in her shoulder bag. A few minutes later, she and Nicole were seated in a cab headed back to Katie’s apartment.
“Katie, are you okay,” Nicole asked once they reached her apartment.
“Truthfully, no. Brandon told me about the case. But I didn’t think...” Katie’s voice trailed off.
“Here, you go pack a bag. I’ll find a flight. Is there any particular airport you want to fly into?”
“St. Louis or Kansas City. Either will work,” Katie mumbled.
“My credit card is in my purse. Use that please.”
“I will. Now you go pack,” Nicole stated then pulled up flight information.
Katie nodded then went into the bedroom. She pulled out a large suitcase and began packing. She had no idea how long she would be staying, so tossed in all different manner of clothing. She brought several sets of undergarments, four pairs of skinny jeans, two pairs of khakis, several different kinds of shirts, jackets, and blazers. She tossed in her Prada pumps and purse as well as her
Christian Louboutin pumps. Finally, she tossed in all of her toiletries and makeup. Twenty minutes after she entered the room she was done. She pulled her bag out to the living room.
“I booked you a flight to Kansas City. It leaves in two hours. That’ll give us just enough time to get to the airport,” Nicole stated. “Is there someone who can pick you up?”
“I’ll call Rebecca. She’ll come get me.”
“Okay,” Nicole replied. She stuffed Katie’s laptop back into her shoulder bag.
Katie checked the bag to make sure the envelope as well as her chargers were inside. She’d be screwed without those.
“Do you have everything?” “Yes.”
They left the apartment and were just about to hail a cab when one stopped in front of the building. Bella and Jane emerged moments later.
“Katie, what’s going on?” Jane asked.
“I’m going out of town for a while,” Katie blurted. She was having a hard time staying calm. “I’ll call you later. Can you keep an eye on the apartment?”
“Of course. Is everything okay?”
“I’ll call you later,” Katie replied then got into the cab.
Two hours later, Katie was boarding a plane headed to Kansas City, Missouri. She had called Rebecca and told her what happened right after she made it through airport security. Rebecca was silent at first. When Katie told her she was getting on a flight to Kansas City, she immediately offered to pick her up. Katie gave her the flight information then boarded the plane.
She hadn’t called Brandon to let him know she was coming and she made Rebecca promise to keep it a secret. He would find out soon enough. Besides, this was something he needed to see in person.
Katie found her seat and got comfortable. She was grateful to Nicole for purchasing her a seat in business class. She sent a quick text to her, thanking her for her help, then promised to call her when she got settled in. Thankfully, the seat next to her was empty. She had no desire to attempt meaningless chit-chat for the next three hours. Once the plane reached cruising altitude she asked the flight attendant for a pillow, leaned back her seat, and promptly fell asleep.
Katie was awakened by a gentle nudge. The flight attendant politely informed her that they were about to land and that she needed to put her seat back up. She gladly complied and by the time the plane reached the gate she was ready to get off.
Katie called her boss before she exited the terminal. He picked up on the second ring. “Katie, did you get there safe?”
“Yes, sir. I just got off the plane. I’m headed to baggage claim now. My friend is picking me up.”
“Good.” Katie could hear the relief in his voice. “Katie, keep me updated on what’s going on. You take as much time as you need to figure this out, just keep me posted.”
“I will, sir.” “And Katie?” “Yes?”
“Take care of yourself.”
“I will,” she promised then hung up.
Katie made it to the baggage claim a few minutes later. She was grateful to see her friend. “Rebecca,” she called out. She watched as Rebecca’s blonde head popped up and she rushed towards her. Despite her fear and stress, Katie couldn’t help but smile at the sight of her best friend. Rebecca was about the same height as her, maybe an inch or two shorter. Her long blonde hair was done to perfection and her minimally made up face looked flawless.
“Katie,” Rebecca exclaimed as she swallowed her into a tight hug. “I’ve been so worried since you called. Are you okay?”
“Not really. I have a lot to share with you, but not here.” Katie quivered as she looked around.
“Is someone following you?” Rebecca whispered just loud enough for Katie to hear.
“I don’t think so. Let me get my bag then we can get out of here,” Katie whispered.
It only took a few minutes for Katie to get her luggage, then they made their way to the parking garage and climbed into
Rebecca’s SUV. They were on the highway to Columbia minutes later.
“Can we go straight to the police department?”
“Of course. What happened?” Concern was written all over Rebecca’s face.
Katie clasped her hands tightly together in a vain attempt to stop their trembling. “Someone sent me a picture at work. It was a…” Katie stopped. She wasn’t sure how to go on.
“Katie, you can tell me,” Rebecca urged.
“Well, it was a crime scene photo, except, well, it was altered.” Katie shivered.
“You just need to see it for yourself.”
Rebecca nodded. The rest of the journey passed in silence. Katie gazed out the window, watching as the familiar sights of I-70 passed by and thinking about the last time she had driven down this road. Brandon had been with her, driving her to the airport in his vintage Mustang. They didn’t speak much on the ride. Instead they just held hands. When they arrived, he helped Katie with her bags and was even able to walk her to her gate, thanks to his badge. He waited with her until boarding then gave her a long kiss and sent her on her way. She didn’t know at the time that it would be their last kiss. She felt a tear creep into her eye and she wiped it away. Don’t focus on that, Katie. You’re only here to help, nothing more.
It took them two long hours to reach Columbia. Katie leaped out of the car the moment Rebecca put it in park and rushed into the station. Rebecca was not far behind her.
“Katie Quinn, it sure is good to see you,” a young woman said. “Hey, Rebecca,” she added when Rebecca walked in.
“Hey, Grace,” Rebecca replied.
“It’s good to see you too, Grace.” Katie gave a half-hearted attempt at a smile. Katie had always liked Grace. She was only a year younger than Katie. She had shoulder length brown hair and expressive brown eyes. Grace had started working at the department just a year after Brandon. Grace was smart and Katie had no doubt she would be promoted to detective very soon.
“What brings you back here? Giving a lecture at the J- School, no doubt.”
“Actually, no. I really need to see Brandon. Is he here?”
“I’m sorry, he’s out conducting interviews right now. Would you like me to call him?”
“No, that’s okay. We’ll just wait if that’s okay?”
“Of course. It may be awhile. He didn’t say when he’d be back,” Grace informed her.
“That’s fine. Where would you like us to go?”
“The conference room is open. Follow me,” she said then began a brisk walk down the hall.
“Thanks,” Katie replied.
“Can I get you anything while you wait?” “Coffee, if you have it.”
“Sure, give me a few minutes,” Grace replied then hurried out the door.
Katie sank down into one of the leather office chairs and Rebecca took a seat next to her. While they waited for Grace, she pulled out her laptop and turned it on.
A few minutes later, Grace returned with a hot cup of coffee. “Sorry, I had to brew a new pot; it was empty.”
“No problem. Thanks for making some.” Katie smiled.
“Katie, not to be rude, but you look like hell. Is everything okay?”
“Not really. But it’s something I need to talk to Brandon about first.”
“I understand.” Grace nodded. “Well, let me know if you need anything else. I’ll just be at the front desk,” she said then turned to leave.
Once Grace left, Katie pulled up the research she had done and showed it to Rebecca. Rebecca read over the report stoically. If she felt any fear, she didn’t show it. Several minutes later, she looked up.
“I think we’re dealing with a serial killer,” Katie stated. One that’s obsessed with me, she silently added. Rebecca was probably thinking the same thing.
“I think you’re right,” Rebecca agreed. “Can you show me the picture?”
“It’s disturbing. Are you sure you can handle it?” Katie had no idea how Rebecca would react to seeing her best friend’s face expertly photoshopped onto a dead body.
Rebecca rolled her eyes. “Katie, just because I’m pregnant doesn’t mean I’m weak.”
Katie shook her head. “That’s not what I meant.” She thought about explaining herself but decided against it. She would only dig herself a bigger hole. “Do you have some gloves? I was very careful with touching it once I saw what was inside.”
“Yeah, I have some gloves,” Rebecca replied. She pulled out a pair from her shoulder bag then handed them to Katie.
“Thanks,” she replied as she pulled on the gloves. She carefully removed the envelope from her bag and set it on the conference room table. Next she pulled out the photo.
“Oh my God,” Rebecca exclaimed in a harsh whisper. “Doing this must have taken time. It’s a well done editing job.” If Katie focused on the technical aspects of it then perhaps the emotional shock wouldn’t hit. She wasn’t ready for that.
Rebecca nodded. “Yes. It looks...” but she could not finish her sentence.
“Just like me,” Katie finished for her.
Rebecca nodded. “We need an evidence bag,” she said then stood up. “Wait here, I’ll be right back.”
“Okay.” Rebecca hustled out of the room, leaving the door cracked behind her. Katie sipped on her coffee while she waited for Rebecca to return. The room hadn’t changed a bit since she’d last visited it.
“Here, let’s get these bagged and tagged,” Rebecca said as she re-entered the room.
Katie chuckled. “I don’t know why, but that phrase has always made me laugh.”
Rebecca chuckled back. “Probably because it reminds you of Super Troopers.”
“Maybe.” Katie smiled. The moment of levity distracted her from the seriousness of her plight for a moment. It was refreshing.
Rebecca turned serious. “Let’s get this done and wait for Brandon. Then we’ll figure out a plan.”
Rebecca placed the items in the bags, expertly labeling them then signing her name on a chain of evidence form. Katie filled out her information as well. Once the task was completed, Katie sipped on her coffee and the two women waited in silence.
Brandon was in a sour mood when he returned to the station. The afternoon had, for the most part, been a complete wash out. Alaina’s personal life seemed as squeaky clean as her online profile. The more he thought about it, the more he accepted that she was killed because of who she looked like, not because of who she was. That meant Katie was in terrible danger. He thought about what to do. Katie needed protection. If she were here he would provide it, but she was in New York. He couldn’t just up and leave to be her bodyguard. Solving this case was the only way he could ensure her permanent well-being. Still, he wanted someone to watch out for her until he did. He thought for a moment. He had a friend on the NYPD. He’d give him a call, explain what was happening, and ask for his help.
He walked quickly back to the station and through the front doors. Grace, the desk attendant, was anxiously pacing.
“Brandon, you have a visitor.”
“I don’t have time right now. Could you get their information and tell them I’ll call them later?”
“Believe me, you really want to see this visitor,” she said forcefully. “Here, follow me.” Grace did not give him time to refuse. She turned and walked down the hall towards the conference room.
Whatever Brandon had expected, it had not been this. There, sitting at the head of the table, was Katie. She looked exhausted and pale. Still, it was the most beautiful sight he had seen in months.
Rebecca sat next to Katie. She was quiet and looked just as shaken up as Katie.
“I’ll leave you all to talk,” Grace said quietly then left. “Katie,” Brandon said, but did not make a move towards her. He couldn’t quite believe this was real.
“Brandon, have a seat. We need to talk,” Katie replied. “I have some things to show you.”
“Okay.” Brandon sat down in the rolling chair next to her. “What’s up?”
“I’ve been doing some research since you called.”
“Katie, I didn’t mean for you to that,” he sighed. He should have known she would be curious and start searching for information. “I only wanted you to know so you could keep an eye out.”
“I know. But you know me, I like answers. Don’t worry though; I’ve only shared all of this with Rebecca. Besides, I have new evidence for you,” Katie whispered.
Brandon looked towards Rebecca. She had a grim look on her face. He looked down at her lap; she was clutching two medium sized evidence bags in her hands.
“What do you mean?” Brandon asked.
“Just wait a minute and let me show you what I found.” “Okay.” He nodded.
“Thanks.” She gave him a half smile then launched into her findings. Twenty minutes later, Brandon was gripping the armrest so rigidly that his knuckles were white. “I think you’re dealing with a serial killer.”
“How did you find all this?”
“I did a ViCAP search earlier today,” Katie answered. “I know this is all upsetting, but you could have just called,” Brandon said. Katie shouldn’t be here. Not that he didn’t want her here. But he knew it wasn’t safe.
“I know that,” she snapped. “Believe me, if this was all I had to give I would’ve just sent you an email. It wasn’t easy for me to just drop everything and fly halfway across the country. But that’s not why I came. I received a package at work today— something that I’m pretty sure has to do with your case.”
Katie took the evidence bags from Rebecca and placed them on the table. “We’ve already taken my prints for elimination purposes. I honestly doubt you’ll get anything useful off the envelope. It’s been touched by so many people. You might get something off the photo though.” Katie pushed the bags towards Brandon.
He nodded then looked down at the table. What he saw made him ill. The photo was of the dead woman from yesterday. It had been taken at the crime scene, obviously before the police had found it. Instead of the bloody and bruised face of Alaina Watson, Katie’s face had been pasted on the dead woman’s body. Next to the body a single word was written:
Brandon started. Confess. It was the same word written on the ID card he found next to Alaina’s body. The same ID with
Katie’s name written on it. The message was clear in both. The only difference between the two was the photo had Katie’s face on it; the ID had her name. “You said this was delivered to you at work?”
“Yes. Once I got it I left and headed straight here. I knew you would want to see this in person.”
Brandon nodded. “Thank you.” “You’re welcome,” Katie replied.
Brandon looked her over. She looked exhausted and extremely stressed. He supposed most of that was due to the situation she now found herself in. A wave of guilt washed over him because he had brought this to her attention in the first place. Granted, she needed to know, but still, he had played a part.
“Where do we go from here?” Katie asked.
Brandon shook his head. “First you need a safe place to
“I can stay with Rebecca,” Katie replied.
Rebecca glanced down at the ground nervously. “Actually Katie, the guest room isn’t quite ready yet. We’re using it as storage while we finish up the nursery. I’m so sorry.”
Katie frowned. “Well that’s fine. I’ll get a hotel room someplace.”
Brandon shook his head. “Absolutely not. You’ll stay with me,” he commanded.
“Brandon, you are not responsible for me. I can take care of myself,” she retorted. “I’ve been doing it for over a year now.”
Brandon cringed. Her words stung. “I’m not saying you’re incapable of taking care of yourself. But Katie, there’s a serial killer that has his mind focused on you. You need extra protection. So, you can either stay with me or I’ll put in you protective custody.”
“You wouldn’t dare,” she hissed.
“Honestly Brandon, if you’re going to be like that I’ll go clean out my guest room now,” Rebecca snapped.
Brandon groaned. This was not going at all how he planned. Did he really just say he’d lock her up in protective custody? He mentally smacked himself. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean that,” he whispered.
Katie looked into his eyes. Apparently she saw the concern in them. “Okay, fine. I’ll stay with you. But in the guest room,” she clarified.
Brandon nodded. “Thank you.” “You’re welcome.”
“Now get your things and we’ll head home,” he said then walked out of the room.
Katie watched as the conference room door slammed shut.
She cringed at the sound. “I shouldn’t have argued with him. I know how stubborn he is.”
“He’s only stubborn when he cares about someone,” Rebecca replied.
“Well, I didn’t think I fell into that category. At least not for the last year.”
“Katie, I won’t lie, he’s been a jerk but he still cares. He still wants you.”
Katie thought about the statement for a minute. She wanted to believe Rebecca, wanted to think he still cared for her, but a small part of her doubted the statement. Oh she knew Rebecca was telling her what she perceived to be the truth, but was that the actual truth? “Rebecca, I appreciate what you’re doing, but I can’t focus on that right now. I have a series of murders to solve and a career to get back to.”
Rebecca was silent for a moment. “Katie, I appreciate that you want to help, but this isn’t one of your usual articles. You’re at risk. You need to look out for yourself. Let Brandon and I do the investigating.”
“I appreciate your concern, but this won’t be the first time my work has put me at risk. You’ve seen the articles I write.
Believe me, I’ve made plenty of enemies along the way.” “Katie, this is different—” Rebecca began.
“I can’t treat it like it is,” Katie interrupted. “If I treat it differently then I’ll feel the fear inside of me. Fear is the great incapacitator and I refuse to be some sort of damsel in distress.”
Rebecca rolled her eyes. “Okay, but Katie, promise me you won’t do this all on your own. Promise me that you’ll let us help you; that you’ll let us protect you.”
Katie bit her lip. She had never been one to rely on others. She had always been the one that others relied on. She studied the look in Rebecca’s eyes, saw the desperation and concern there. “Okay, I promise.”
“Good. Now let’s get your things and get you home.” Rebecca smiled.
“Yeah, home,” Katie whispered then walked out of the room.