“But there’s one more test.” Josh swiped his fingers across an electronic tablet. He held it out so Mac could see the screen.
And Mac knew exactly what Josh was planning: a no-win situation for Mac. Josh didn’t want to find The One person who had beaten addiction. He wanted to kill.
Josh shook his head. “She’s not doing very well. I expect the toxins are building up in her bloodstream.”
The girl’s body was tinted green with a night vision light. She stood in front of the door, her fists raised as she beat on the wood. Water lapped around her knees. The part of the basement in which she was being held prisoner must be lower than the room Mac was in. As he watched, the water rose past her knees. God, it was pouring in. How quickly would the room fill?
“Let her go,” Mac tried. “She hasn’t done anything. She’s sick.”
“Maybe we can come to an agreement.” Josh raised the syringe. “You take this, and I’ll leave her outside the ER. She hasn’t seen my face. She doesn’t know who I am.”
Mac felt defeat flowing over him. The pain in his hand slipped away. “How do I know you’ll actually do it?”
Josh looked offended. “I always keep my word. Why would you even question my offer?”
“Because you’re a psycho killer?”
“I assure you,” Josh gave him a condescending, fuck you smile, “There’s a method to what seems like madness.”
“Let me guess. That’s a fatal dose of heroin.”
“It is,” Josh said as if the conclusion was inevitable.
“Why go to all this trouble?”
“The fallen have to be punished,” Josh said simply. “They have to be stopped. We both know there’s no such thing as a recovered addict. Sobriety is a temporary status. I used to be optimistic. I thought I could save people from themselves. But Gary’s relapse made me realize how dangerous addicts are. Anyone who fails my test needs to be culled from society like a diseased animal. Sooner or later, you’ll all relapse, and when you do, you’ll hurt someone else. The decision is yours.”
“But you’re not giving me a choice.” Mac argued in an attempt to stall for time.
“There’s always a choice.” Josh’s attitude turned pissy, as if he was tired of explaining himself to an intellectual inferior.
“My choice is to sacrifice an innocent girl to save myself. Hardly heroic,” Mac pointed out.
“Your integrity should trump all.” Josh lifted both hands. “She isn’t worth your life. She’s one of the fallen. Her life is misery, hardly worth sacrificing yours to preserve.”
“Says you.” Mac turned the discussion around. “Is this about your brother?”
Josh’s eyes went icicle. “My brother was perfect until she cast him in her spell. Sex and drugs were his end. She was supposed to be recovered, but obviously she wasn’t. There’s no such thing.”
“She?” Mac slipped his first two fingers into his front pants’ pocket. Did he have one of Stella’s hairpins? Please. Please. Please.
“Lucas’s girlfriend.” Josh spit out the words like venom. “She dragged him into her sordid life. She ruined him. My brother was weak, and he followed that whore right into hell.” Josh reached for the needle again. Victory shone like insanity in his eyes.
Mac’s fingers closed on a thin slip of metal. He drew it out slowly, holding it between the pads of his fingertips. Carefully he drew it onto the gurney at his side.
Josh was focused on the tablet. “Just like this piece of trash.”
Mac knew Josh wasn’t seeing Gianna. He was envisioning his brother’s girlfriend standing thigh-deep in the flooded cell. Josh was beyond reason. Mac inserted the hairpin into the handcuff lock. The angle was tricky, and he had to pick the lock blind and one-handed. If he moved his gaze, Josh might notice.
This was Mac’s sole chance of escape.
His only hope to save Gianna.
The lock gave with a thin click.
Josh froze. His head cocked and turned slowly toward Mac.
Mac yanked his hand free. He snatched the knife from the rolling table and cut the leather straps around his ankles, but the blade was useless on the handcuffs. Josh dropped the tablet and lunged toward him. Grabbing Josh’s shirtfront with his freed hand, Mac slammed his forehead against the bridge of Josh’s nose. Bone crunched and blood flowed. Josh stumbled back, both hands covering his face.
The remaining cuff rattled on his wrist. He’d dropped the hairpin. Mac searched the bedding, but it was gone.
Josh staggered across the room and reached for the Taser.
He was going to kill Mac and let Gianna drown.
Mac yanked on the handcuffs. He searched the gurney but couldn’t find the hairpin.
Shit. Shit. Shit.
Josh had the Taser. Mac stretched out an arm, snatched the knife from the rolling tray, and threw it at Josh. The point struck him in the bicep. The Taser fell from his hand and hit the water with a splash.
Mac grabbed the handrail of the gurney. Dragging it behind him, he plowed toward Josh. The doctor turned and fled toward a rear doorway.
The water rose above Mac’s knees. How deep was the flood in Gianna’s cell? He didn’t have much time. He couldn’t let her drown, trapped. He pictured her tilting her head to the ceiling for a last breath of air, imagined the panic whirling in her chest as water closed over her head, her eyes shining with terror.
He plunged his free hand into the water, the futility of finding a hairpin in two feet of water sent fear surging cold into his throat.
Leaning on the door, Gianna shivered. Her hands ached from banging on the wood, and she could feel the bruises forming all over her body. He hadn’t touched her since bringing her here and locking her in. He hadn’t had to. Zapping her with that Taser had pretty much tapped her strength.
“Let me out of here you sick son-of-a-bitch.” She pounded on the door, her face turned toward the ceiling-mounted camera.
He was watching.
Watching the water rise.
Letting her drown.
Nausea rose in her throat. Dena and Missy had both been murdered, and she was the next victim. If the water kept rising at this rate, her cell would be full in minutes.
Frustration burned in her chest. It wasn’t fair. Not after all she’d been through. Two years ago she hadn’t cared if she lived or died. Now that she actually had a will to live, some bastard wanted to kill her.
She drew her hands back and threw them at the door again, then collapsed against the rough, wet wood. It was no use. No one was coming to save her.
Why did she care?
Her life was miserable. She had no money. No family. Her mother was in prison. Her father was dead. She was too sick to work. Her days revolved around her high-maintenance medical schedule. But being near death once before had taught her a valuable lesson.
She didn’t want to die.
Water ran off the windshield of Stella’s car in a solid wall. A deep puddle ran across the road. Water parted and the car hydroplaned as she pushed on the gas pedal. The tires slid sideways.
Grant held the hand strap and slid his hand toward the windshield. “Hold steady!”
Stella held the wheel steady and prayed. She felt the tires gain purchase and accelerated out of the floodwater.
Two patrol cars followed in her wake. Minutes later, she turned off her headlights and parked just shy of the driveway that led to Josh’s house. Two patrol cars parked behind her. They’d gone in dark and quiet. They gathered in the downpour. Rain waterfalled off the brim of her hat, but she slid out of her rain jacket. The nylon was too hot, too noisy, and hindered her movements. She’d rather be wet. Carl shucked his rain gear, too. Grant and Hannah seemed immune to the weather.
The chief checked his radio. He grimaced and gestured to Grant and Hannah. “You two stay with me. The rest of you know what to do.”
Stella and Carl led two patrol officers through the rain. Carl carried the battering ram as if he couldn’t wait to use it. Josh’s house should have stood above the lake, but the water had risen to swirl around the stone foundation. She sloshed through a shin-deep puddle to the rear of the house. Where would they be?
The upper floors had floor-to-ceiling glass overlooking the forest. He wouldn’t keep prisoners there. The first floor was a stone foundation. Basement?
Stella chose a side door and gestured to Carl. Two swings of the heavy battering ram and the door burst inward. Stella and her men surged into the house. “Look for a door to the basement,” she shouted over the roar of the storm.
With Carl at her side, they cleared room after room.
Stella turned into a home office and drew up short. “Oh my God.”
Pictures were tacked on a corkboard: Full color glossies of Missy and Dena. In the first row, they were alive, going about their daily business, and obviously had no idea they were being photographed. In the bottom row, they were carefully posed in death.
He’d stalked them, planned their abductions, and murdered them.
Carl pointed to papers strewn across the desk. “He detailed their torture like professional counseling sessions.”
“Here,” an officer called. Stella went into a small room. Monitors covered a U-shaped desk. On one, she could see a small body thumping on the door, waist deep in water.
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