As Stella watched, the water rose around the girl’s torso. The lake was flooding right into the basement. They had to find her.
Where was Mac?
She scanned the rest of the monitors. On the last one, Mac fished in the water with one hand. His other was handcuffed to a gurney. Where was Josh?
She bolted for the door. “Find the basement!”
Water swirled around Gianna’s body, the chill lowering her body temperature. She shivered against the cold and trembled at the effort to stay on her feet.
“Help!” She raised her fists and hammered at the door. “Help me! The water is rising.”
Her legs buckled. She caught herself against the door as the water rose to mid-chest. How long before it was over her head?
Her fists slid down the wood. Terror sheared off her like a glacier, and hopelessness took hold.
This was the end. To think once she’d almost taken her own life, and she’d been healthy then. Now she was fighting to keep her miserable existence.
Truly, she hadn’t appreciated life until she was in danger of losing it.
Maybe this was for the best. Was her life even worth living? As much as she wanted to say it wasn’t, she couldn’t give up. Though, it would be easier to simply let go. Her head would slip under. Her lungs would fill with liquid. How long would it take? A few minutes at best. Then she’d be at peace. So why was she fighting so hard?
Dialysis was awful, but the days in between weren’t so bad. And there was always the hope of a transplant on the horizon. Someday, maybe she’d be healthy again.
The water swirled to her neck. She tilted her face to the ceiling and faced the camera.
“Please. Don’t let me die.”
Stella took the lead. Gun in hand, she descended the staircase into the basement. At the bottom, she spotted another heavy door. Carl swung the battering ram. Wood splintered as the door burst inward.
Crouching, Stella went through the doorway and ducked right as Carl turned left. She swept the room with her weapon. The twenty-by-twenty room was knee-deep in water.
“Stella!” In the center of the room, Mac was handcuffed to a gurney and dragging it behind him. “He’s getting away.”
On the other side, a bloody-faced Josh splashed through a doorway and disappeared.
Stella motioned for the uniforms to go after him. She had to find Gianna.
“We have to save Gianna.” Mac tugged on the cuffs. “Can you open these?”
Stella waded to Mac. Rain—or tears—were wet on her face. She touched his cheek with one hand. Thank God. His skin was warm and alive under her palm. “Where is she?”
He gave her a hard and fast kiss. “Somewhere below here.”
“She doesn’t have much time. The water is rising.” Stella used her handcuff key to free him.
She and Mac sloshed through the water toward the doorway.
The uniforms returned. One said, “There’s a bulkhead door that leads outside. He’s gone.”
“Any sign of the girl?” Stella asked them.
“Not through there.” The cop jerked his thumb over his shoulder. His radio squawked as he gave an update on the situation. “The suspect has fled the building. We have Barrett. No sign of the girl yet.”
A short burst of static, then the chief answered. “Ambulance is here. Bring Barrett out.”
Stella knew that wasn’t going to happen. Mac wouldn’t leave her side.
She ran back into the hall. Next to her, Mac rubbed his wrists. The hall sloped downward and water filled the corridor.
Stella plunged into it. Gianna had to be down there.
Please let her be alive.
The corridor took a sharp turn. At the end of the hall was a doorway.
“I need that battering ram.” Stella yelled behind her. The door was a thick exterior door, the hinges heavily reinforced.
Carl ran into the water, carrying the steel ram. Together they trudged to the door. The water swirled around their chests. Carl and Mac lifted the battering ram above their shoulders and hit the door at the top. Wood splintered but the door held. They swung and slammed it a second time. Boards cracked. Three more hard hits, and the battering ram broke through. Stella looked through the hole. The water was just as deep on the other side, the pressure holding the door closed was more than they could generate with the battering ram. How would they get her out?
“Gianna,” she shouted.
“I’ll go in,” Mac volunteered.
But the hole wasn’t big enough for him to squeeze through.
But she would fit.
“Boost me in,” Stella said.
“No,” Mac said.
“We don’t have time for this.” She grabbed the edges of the hole.
Jaw tight, Mac put his hands in the water, and Stella stepped into the improvised step. He lifted her. She put her arms and head through the hole, then wiggled until her shoulders passed. Then she slipped from Mac’s grasp into the cell. She slipped under the water and panicked and flailed for a second before her feet found the floor.
Sputtering, she surfaced, tilting her head back to breathe. The water had risen higher. Her toes stretched for the floor. Behind her, she could hear the battering ram hit the door over and over as the men enlarged the opening.
Where was she?
Frantic, Stella swam through the water, feeling for a body, panic and the cold water numbing her.
She spotted a swirl of dark hair and reached for it. Grabbing the girl’s shirt, she pulled her above the surface. No! Gianna’s face was gray, her eyes closed. Stella flipped her onto her back and towed her close. As she moved toward the door, she began mouth-to-mouth.
“I have her.” Stella shouted between breaths.
Come on, Gianna.
Stella pushed Gianna through the opening. Mac grabbed her and pulled her through, then passed her to someone behind him.
“Stella, get out of there,” he yelled.
The water was barely a foot from the ceiling. Stella dove through the now-larger hole into Mac’s waiting arms.
He steered them both out of the flood waters as Stella’s lungs bellowed. Ahead, Carl carried Gianna, lifting her out of the water. They went through the torture chamber and up the steps. On the first floor of the house, he set her down on dry ground and began CPR.
Out of breath, he motioned for another cop to take over his resuscitation efforts, but Gianna coughed.
Stella rolled her to her side as water spewed from her mouth. Gianna’s eyes opened. Fear rimmed them with white.
“It’s all right.” Stella’s hands trembled as she smoothed the wet hair from the girl’s forehead. “We’ve got you.”
Gianna grabbed her hand and pulled her closer to her face. “Did you get him?”
“We will.” Stella squeezed her fingers. “They’re going to take you to the hospital. I’ll come see you later.”
Gianna nodded. “Stay safe.”
Mac got to his feet. He tapped Carl on the shoulder. “Which way did Josh run?”
“Don’t know. Didn’t see him.” Carl sat back on his heels and spoke into the radio on his shoulder. “I’m taking her to the ambulance.” He lifted Gianna and carried her toward the door.
Mac turned toward a set of sliding glass doors at the back of the house. Beyond a short patch of woods, rain beat on the lake. The road was blocked with emergency vehicles.
“Where are you going?” Stella asked.
“I’m going after him.” Mac headed for the doors.
“Stop!” Stella followed, determined not to let him out of her sight again. “You can’t go after him alone.”
But Mac was gone.
Stella ran out the door. She spotted him running toward the woods and bolted into the rain after him. Her steps were slowed by driving rain, slick ground, and uneven footing. But Mac bounded through the forest like a wild creature. He disappeared down a path that led toward the lake below.
Angry and scared for Mac, she moved down the slope too fast. Her feet slid out from under her, and she went down hard on her butt. Wiping the rain from her eyes, she put a hand on the ground to push herself upright. By the time she regained her footing, she couldn’t see Mac.
Footsteps slapped wet ground. Stella turned. Grant and Hannah were running toward her.
“Where’s Mac?” Grant yelled.
“He ran this way.” Stella pointed toward the woods and set off in that direction. Hannah kept pace with her. Grant surged ahead, stopping every few minutes to study the ground before taking off again. His pauses kept him from drawing too far ahead. They entered the trees and ran down a narrow trail.
The rain continued to drown the forest. Thunder boomed and lightning flashed. At an intercession of trails, Grant slid to a stop. He turned in a circle. “They’re doubling back toward the lake.”
He made a sharp right turn and set off again. Stella struggled to keep up. Her lungs and legs burned. Her head swam with dizziness. Next to her, Hannah wheezed, also working hard to keep up. Grant pulled ahead. They burst from the trees into three inches of water. The lake had flooded the beach.
Grant pointed. “There’s Mac.”
A football field away, a floating dock extended out over the water. A dark figure sprinted down the length of the boards.
Stella spotted a red canoe slogging through the water. “And there’s Josh!”
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