Where was he?
A prickly sensation crawled up the back of her neck and choked her. She tried Gianna’s number, but the call went immediately to voice mail. Gianna’s phone was off again. Stella ran over to Carl, who was talking to the fire chief. Carl met her halfway across the barnyard.
Soot streaked his face. “The fire chief thinks the barn was full of fertilizer and other explosive materials. The door was booby-trapped. They won’t be able to look for remains until tomorrow, but it seems Spivak and his pal were making explosives.”
She quickly explained Mac’s text. “I can’t get either one of them on the phone. I have to find them. Can you handle things here?”
He glanced back at the barn. Fire hoses rained water on the blaze. The scene crawled with emergency responders. “We’re shorthanded. Do you need company?”
“Not necessary. I’m just driving out to Mac’s house. If I don’t find them there, I’ll head over to Gianna’s apartment.” But considering Gianna’s odd behavior, she doubted he’d take her home and leave her. No, Mac would stick with the girl. He’d make sure she got whatever help she needed.
He was a good man. The kind of man she wanted.
She climbed into her car and sped toward his house. Pulling into the clearing, she looked up at the dark cabin. Not here. Just to be sure, she jogged onto the porch and rapped on the door. When he didn’t answer, she returned to her car and tried his cell phone again. Still no answer.
Could he have taken her to the hospital? He would have called Stella. Maybe his phone was dead. She drove to Gianna’s apartment, but it was also dark and empty.
She called Mac’s sister.
Hannah answered. “Stella?”
“Have you heard from Mac?” Stella asked.
“No.” Hannah’s voice hesitated. “What’s wrong?”
“Maybe nothing. I’ll try your brother.”
“Grant is here at the hospital with me. He hasn’t heard from Mac either,” Hannah said.
“This is Grant. Tell me what’s going on,” a deep male voice said.
“Mac messaged me earlier that he’d heard from Gianna and was going to get her,” Stella explained. “Now he’s not answering his phone.”
Grant was quiet for a few seconds. “Don’t panic. He’s not good about keeping his cell charged.” Chair legs scraped. “But I’ll start looking for him.”
“I’ve already been out to his cabin. He’s not there,” Stella said. “I’m going to check Bridge Park. I’ll let you know if I find him. Please let me know if you hear anything.”
“Will do.” Grant ended the call.
Stella called for a backup unit and drove toward the park. On the way, she called Lance’s cell. He answered on the first ring.
“Are you all right?” she asked.
“I’m at your house,” Lance said. “I thought, since I didn’t have anything else to do, that I’d hang out here and make sure everything was OK. The patrol car got called away to the explosion.”
“I’m sorry. I—I just didn’t trust myself to keep my shit together tonight.”
“Carl said you quit.”
“Stella, don’t worry about me or your family. I have them covered. Focus on the task. Keep safe, Stella.” Lance ended the call.
Stella put Lance’s emotional state out of her mind. Rain poured onto Stella’s windshield, and the bridge loomed dark. She checked the surface, but there was no one on the bridge. Turning into the entrance, Stella reported her location to dispatch. Six inches of water flooded the grass around the memorial. The river churned well above its normal level. Her high beams swept across her grandfather’s Lincoln parked next to the bridge supports, and ice balled up in her belly.
Where was Mac?
She pulled up next to the Town Car and scanned the area, but the torrential rain limited her visibility. Headlights swept down the entrance ramp, but they were too high to be another SFPD cruiser.
A pickup truck parked next to her, and Grant Barrett got out. He walked to the side of her vehicle. Stella stepped out of her car. Grant didn’t seem to notice the rain soaking his cargo shorts and T-shirt. Within seconds water plastered his short, blond hair to his head. His only response was to blink.
“A backup unit is on the way.” Stella wiped water from her forehead. “He was driving my grandfather’s car.” Stella turned toward her grandfather’s vehicle.
She took a pair of gloves from her pocket and put them on before opening the Lincoln’s door. Mac’s cell phone sat on the console. She grabbed the phone and slid it into her pocket under her jacket.
Grant was headed toward the bridge support. Stella ran to catch up. She grabbed his arm. “Be careful where you step. This could be a crime scene.”
Please let me be wrong.
He nodded grimly, stopping as soon as they were under the protection of the stone arch. The dirt was disturbed.
“Here are footprints.” Grant crouched and pointed to the ground. “Stella . . .”
She bent low. Scattered in the dirt were tiny colored discs the size of confetti. “Taser confetti.”
Her vision fuzzed as the implication settled in. “He was lured here with a message from Gianna’s phone. Then someone tased him.”
Grant’s face went hard. “And took him.”
She nodded, emptiness sliding through her body as if her blood was thinned with anesthetic.
The killer had Mac.
The best man she’d ever known. The man who made her heart thump and her pulse thicken with one blink of his clear blue eyes. The man who would kill or die for her.
“I have to call this in. We can trace the serial numbers on the Taser confetti.”
As she ran for the car, she saw another equally frightening sight on the muddy edges of the dried earth under the bridge: wheelbarrow tracks.
He had to work quickly. Succinylcholine was a fast-acting paralytic commonly used for emergency intubation. The injection would only last fifteen minutes, and he most definitely did not want Mac Barrett able to fight back.
Which was why he’d used the Taser.
He wouldn’t stand a chance if the fight was fair. Cheating was his only option.
Getting a full-grown man in and out of the trunk proved challenging, and one of the reasons he’d limited his subjects to women until this point.
But this would be worth the effort.
Mac was The One.
Not a victim, but a deeply flawed hero.
He could feel it in his bones. He sped toward his house and opened the bulkhead doors. The specially built ramp led straight down to the basement. He pushed the wheelbarrow through a growing puddle past the heavy wooden door. He didn’t have time to put Mac in the cell. No, he’d have to go straight to the reception room. Mac had to be restrained by the time the drug wore off. Pushing the wheelbarrow through the doorway, he lowered the treatment table and transferred Mac to it, sliding his upper body across the gap first, and then following with his legs. He carefully secured his wrists to the handrails with handcuffs. He didn’t trust simple rope with a strong, healthy man. Leather medical restraint straps buckled across Mac’s hips and around his ankles.
The Hulk couldn’t break those binds.
Satisfied, he stepped back and mopped the sweat from his forehead. The cool of the basement was a welcome reprieve from the muggy summer temperature above ground.
Now to prepare for the first stage. He wheeled the rolling tray to the side of the bed. Mac’s fingers twitched.
“Oh good. You’re waking up.” He mopped his forehead with a cloth. “Got you here just in time.”
He took a pair of scissors from the blue sterile cloth and cut Mac’s T-shirt up the center to reveal a square bandage taped to his ribs. “What’s this?”
Mac grunted. He’d be able to talk soon.
He peeled back the medical tape and exposed a long, stitched wound that wrapped round Mac’s side. “What happened?”
No answer, but Mac’s eyes were angry.
Anger was new. He’d never had a victim get mad. It was a very good sign that he’d finally made the right choice.
“Where should we start?”
Stella paced the conference room in front of the murder board. Grant was in his truck making a phone call, probably to his sister. Horner was gathering more forces while Stella desperately tried to eliminate possible locations where two victims could be held prisoner.
He had Mac.
He had Gianna.
Visions of the two tortured victims assaulted her mind. She tried to push them away, but every time she pivoted, autopsy photos pinned to the board pummeled her: fresh, full-color reminders of what had happened to his previous victims. Terror scraped through her, its icy talons tearing at the hope inside her chest. What was he doing to them right now? Were they even still alive?
Chief Horner walked into the room, his impassive face showing unusual signs of fatigue and frustration. “Noah Spivak and his buddy were picked up in the woods not far from the farm, and a unit stopped by Adam Miller’s house. A friend was pouring him out of his car, nearly passed-out drunk. The friend said they’d been drinking together all evening and the bartender over at The Pub verified his statement.”
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