She no longer cared if she was fired. The only thing that mattered was finding Mac and Gianna.
If they were still alive.
Thirty minutes later, they gathered outside their dark vehicles near the old stone barn. Stella tugged her cap over her brow to keep the rain out of her eyes. Horner went around the back side of the barn with two uniforms. Drawing her weapon and flashlight, she instructed Grant and Hannah to stay in the car. Then she led Carl and two more officers toward the front door.
At the entrance, she hesitated. The last time she’d faced a dark barn, it had blown up in front of her. She checked the doorframe for wires but found nothing.
The door wasn’t locked. She pulled it open and went in, sweeping the space with her weapon and flashlight. Something rustled to her left. Stella spun. A raccoon scurried out the door.
The building was empty.
They took a few minutes to check the floor for trapdoors.
“No one has been in here for a long time.” Horner lowered his light. “Let’s go check the rehab center.”
They returned to their vehicles and drove to the center. Repeating the procedure, Horner covered the back while Stella and Carl banged on the door. They heard footsteps on the other side of the door. Stella held her weapon ready as the door opened.
Reilly stood in the lobby in a pair of cotton pajamas. The front was buttoned all the way to his chin, and they appeared as if they’d been ironed. But his hair was rumpled, as if he’d just gotten out of bed. A sinking feeling settled in Stella’s belly.
They’d gotten it wrong.
“What’s going on?” he stepped back.
Stella and Carl pushed past him. “Is anyone else here?”
“The patients are all sleeping in their rooms. I did bed check a half hour ago.” Reilly scratched his forehead.
“Can you get everyone out here, please?”
“I demand to know what’s going on.” He propped a hand on his hip.
“Two people have been abducted.”
Reilly’s eyes opened wide. “And you think they’re here?”
“We need to check.” Doubt crept around Stella’s gut as she showed him the search warrant.
“All right.” He rousted the patients. They gathered in the lobby while the police did a quick sweep of all the rooms. The basement was full of boxes and junk. No people.
“Are there any outbuildings?” Stella asked Reilly.
“No.” Reilly shook his head. “Everything is kept in the basement. Why did you think they were here?”
“Someone is abducting and killing drug addicts. We know about what happened to you in Atlanta.”
“You thought it was me?” Reilly reeled. He backed up to the wall. “I could never hurt anyone. Not after what I’ve been through. I came all the way up here to get away from those violent memories.”
Which Stella had just handed back to him. “I’m sorry.”
She paced the lobby, panic overriding her pity. If it wasn’t Reilly, then who?
Her gaze landed on a bulletin board. A notice on yellow paper read, “Free Group Session, Thursday night, 10 p.m., Our Lady of Sorrows.”
And suddenly she knew. All the pieces fell into place. “Where does Dr. Randolph live?”
“Why?” Horner asked.
“Because it’s him. Missy and Dena were his patients. He knew everything about them.” Stella walked to the bulletin board and put a fist on the yellow notice. “And if he offered free counseling to NA members after their meetings, he could have worked with Gianna as well.”
Horner’s gaze landed on the flyer. “But why?”
“It has to be connected to his brother.” Stella turned away from the bulletin board. Everything in her gut said she was right. But Randolph wasn’t holding Gianna and Mac prisoner at the center, so where were they? “Reilly, where is Randolph’s house?”
“Across the lake.” Reilly said. “The access road is just past the driveway for the center. You can’t miss it.”
“You two stay here and keep an eye on him, just in case.” Stella pointed to two officers. “Everyone else, let’s go.”
Racing for her car, she said a quick and silent prayer.
Please let them be alive.
Panic slammed inside Mac’s throat, a blind, feral animal seeking to escape. He moved his fingers, but his muscle control hadn’t returned quickly enough. He was immobilized. He yanked at the handcuffs that attached his wrists to the rails on either side of the gurney. His ankles were tied down with leather straps that looked like they’d come out of a horror movie set in a psychiatric hospital.
That wasn’t too far off.
“How are you feeling?”
Mac turned his head and shock numbed him for a few seconds.
Josh Randolph walked around a growing puddle to stand a few feet from the gurney, as if he was afraid to come closer.
Mac let anger kill his shock and fear. His rage roiled, wild and snapping as a caged beast. He was going to kill Josh. He didn’t know how, but it was going to happen. If necessary, he’d rip the man’s throat out with his teeth.
“I think we’d better work on your attitude.” Josh raised the Taser and fired.
The prongs hit Mac dead center in the chest. Electricity ripped through him and tore him apart. His body seized, the muscles simultaneously frozen and on fire. It eased off, and Mac’s muscles were left twitching.
He gritted his teeth and forced words through his shaking lips. “Fuck you.”
Josh’s frown was uncertain. “You are resilient.”
He squeezed the trigger again. The current made Mac’s body jump to artificial life, as if Dr. Frankenstein had thrown the switch. Mac’s body jolted on the gurney. When Josh lowered the Taser, Mac’s body convulsed with the remnants of its charge.
A minute passed before he unclenched his molars. “I’m going to kill you.”
Josh smiled. “I knew you were The One.”
What. The. Hell?
Mac swallowed. It felt like broken glass moved down the inside of his throat. “What are you talking about?”
“You are The One. Truly redeemed.” He set down the Taser and clasped his hands together. “We have a few more tests, but I knew you were special.”
Josh grabbed his tray and rolled it toward the gurney. Water splashed around the wheels. The puddle had grown, covering most of the floor several inches deep.
“Your basement is flooding.” Mac lifted his head. His neck muscles protested. “The lake is rising.”
But Josh’s eyes were glazed, as if he were lost in his own imagination.
He lifted a scalpel from the tray, his eyes hyper-focused on Mac. “We’ll start with the physical test. It’s redundant based on the fact that you’ve been walking around with a bullet wound, but I have to keep my experiments consistent. The physical pain test is first. I’ve designed each subject’s test for their specific background. Missy cut herself, so I used a knife on her. Dena let her husband break her bones, so breaking her fingers seemed appropriate. You are a bit more complicated. I’ll have to try both.”
Mac tried to slide away from the blade, but the restraints held him fast.
Josh drew the blade over the skin on Mac’s arm. With his adrenaline running on high, Mac barely felt the slice. A quick burn, then nothing. Blood flowed over his skin in a thin river.
“No screaming?” Josh all but clapped with glee as he picked up a hammer.
Knowing what was coming, Mac clenched his fist, but Josh hit him with another short Taser jolt. Mac’s hands tightened until his fingers dug into his palms. The electricity abandoned him, and his muscles went involuntarily lax.
Josh stretched out his fingers and brought the hammer down. This was no clean sharp blade, and pain exploded through Mac’s hand. His jaw clamped, his molars coming together with a brain-rattling snap of teeth that caught his tongue. Blood flooded his mouth.
Josh held up a syringe. “I can end all that pain right now.”
“What is that?”
“Heroin.” Josh said it like he was offering candy to a child. “No more pain, Mac.”
Real terror spread like a brushfire through Mac’s body. Injuries to his body would heal. But addiction never ended. He couldn’t go down that road again. He’d rather die.
“Fuck you.” Blood flew from his mouth as he spat out the words.
A crazy-ass grin spread across Josh’s face. “I knew it. I can’t believe it took me this long to figure out what I was doing wrong.”
“What are you talking about? Is this about your brother?”
“I’ve been studying addiction for years, and every single person I’ve treated has had a relapse at some point. Take Gary Simmons. We talked about him, remember?”
“The news anchor?”
Josh smiled as if he was a teacher and Mac his star pupil. “Yes. My brother only killed himself, but Gary killed a whole family of innocents. Addiction is a time bomb. Eventually every addict is going to blow up. I’ve been looking for The One person who has truly beaten addiction. So far, every subject I’ve tested has failed.”
He set the syringe on the tray. Relief spread through Mac at an embarrassing rate. His hand throbbed, every beat of his heart slamming him with a bolt of pain. Relaxing, he breathed and let the pain flow, accepting it. The heat spread up his arm and invaded his shoulder.
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