A Taste of... Cold truth

Chapter One

Dark.

Damp.

Cold.

Tabitha forced her eyes open.

Joyful humming was like a whisper, and Tabitha fought to locate the source. He was there, in the corner, puttering around in the deep shadows the single lightbulb couldn’t chase from the dank room.

She squeezed her eyelids shut again. Hot tears spilled down her cheeks, racing to her chin and down her neck, the liquid warm against her cool skin.

Frozen by the knowledge that he was near, she couldn’t stop her eyes from opening just enough to watch him.

Fingers tingling, she tried to flex her hands to bring the blood flow back to her frozen flesh. But the ropes were too tight, and the heavy iron chair’s arms curved unnaturally, turning her wrists at a painful angle. She forced herself to focus on the pain, willing her anger to build.

Without light from the outside world to mark the sun’s travels, she’d lost track of how long they’d been in the old basement. An eternity? She was starting to wonder if her memories from before were just dreams. Had she always been here—trapped and starving—staring at a woman tied up just like her? Had she possessed a life before this happened? Had she really gone to college, or had that been a dream?

At first, she’d thought the woman was her reflection in a mirror. Her hair was even almost the color of her own, except it had that freshly colored hue of a first time bleach job, glinting in the light from the bulb so it seemed like coppery strands ran through the golden brown. Tabitha had woken up before the woman, who had been unconscious still, blissfully dead to the world. Sleeping through this ordeal seemed to be her superpower.

Or was it from blood loss?

The woman’s outfit was exactly like the one he’d dressed Tabitha in—a lavender shirt and jeans. The exception was the pool of black blood surrounding this stranger, crusted on the rough concrete. In the middle of the pool lay a decaying finger. Beside it, one that appeared a little fresher.

Tabitha took stock of herself. Ten fingers. Ten toes. A detached feeling brought on by shock and low levels of ketamine numbed her senses. The man had earlier told her the name of the drug and why it had been the perfect choice. Low levels of ketamine deadened the senses and slowed down the reflexes. The purest torture, he’d called it, just before he’d demanded that she beg him for more.

Her head was still tender where it had bounced off the wall when she’d spit in his face, and he’d backhanded her so hard she felt her brain slam against her skull. Her neck was sore, stiff, and cricked to the side from being held in one position for so long. Shivers wracked her body—a futile attempt to bring warmth. She slid into merciful blackness again.

When she next woke, the man was gone. For a moment, she and the woman were alone.

“Mabel,” Tabitha whispered, her voice echoing in the almost empty dark space. “Mabel, wake up.”

Mabel groaned, and a single red dot to her left clicked on in the darkness, then turned green.

Another one appeared to Tabitha’s left.

She whimpered. Not again, she prayed silently, fresh tears gushing from her itchy eyes. Please, not again.

Mabel blinked, her expression showing how much her alertness had been muddled by sleep and the cocktail of pharmaceutical-grade poison that did nothing to ease her pain. Realization snapped her eyes open wide with fear as her befuddled brain made sense of what she was seeing. She started blubbering, her words senseless and heart-wrenching.

Tabitha could tell that Mabel knew what was coming, even if she couldn’t form the words. The horror was no less for her failing. Having all of her tongue in her mouth wouldn’t bring clarity…or freedom.

“Mabel, please, look at me. We’re going to make it out of this. I promise.”

A buzzzz from the ceiling made Tabitha’s pulse leap, drawing her attention to the clear IV tubes that were always there. She fought her restraints, but the liquid made its way to the line that was duct taped to her forearm. She watched in horror, then screamed when the fire entered her arm and found its way through the vein, spreading out and scorching every capillary it passed.

She tried to focus on Mabel, but the woman was convulsing, head lulling to the side. Suddenly, she snapped upright, eyes wide and unblinking. Whatever he’d given her, it had forced her into what she’d worked so hard to pull away from—clarity, alertness. Her line was a putrid green that made Tabitha gag.

She wretched, her stomach cramping and trying desperately to expel the emptiness.

“You’ll stop that in a minute.” The man’s voice was soft, reassuring, but Tabitha jerked. She hadn’t heard him enter. “Tell me, what colors do you see?” The casual way he addressed her threatened to drive her mad.

Turning feral, Tabitha growled at him, her hatred visceral and overwhelming. The entire room began to drip with a viscous green liquid, a shade darker than her favorite color. She would never like lime green again. An instant later, it dried up with an audible pop that hurt her eyes instead of her ears, and the green was gone. Even Mabel’s IV line held clear liquid, and Tabitha realized that it had never been green.

A low, keening sound tumbled from Mabel’s lips. She’d given up hope.

Tabitha didn’t blame her. He’d tortured her mercilessly. Tabitha’s only pain had been in being forced to watch. She didn’t know why he’d chosen her over Mabel, but Tabitha refused to do the horrible thing he’d asked her to.

She couldn’t.

He appeared in the light, standing out of sight of both cameras, like he always did.

Mabel was trying to move, but she couldn’t overpower his concoction.

Besides, it wasn’t Mabel he was looking at. It was her.

“Tabitha, Tabitha, Tabitha,” he tsked, sharpening the already razor-edged butcher knife. His tongue glided over his teeth in time with each swipe.

Did he know that he did such a thing? Had he been bullied for being the weird one? Was that what turned him into a monster, or had he always been soulless, excited by fear and the smell of blood?

“Nothing pretty rhymes with Tabitha. It’s such a pointless name. Now, Mabel. That’s a beautiful name with so much potential. I wonder if someone will write a poem about her? Sable, table, able, stable, fable, cable.” He sucked in air through clenched teeth, his eyes closing as if he were savoring fine wine. “It’s almost prophetic. Like the gods themselves created her just for me. A shame I won’t have her to play with much longer.”

“You’re letting her go?” Tabitha asked before she could stop herself. She blinked, bit her lip hard, trying to hold in the words that wanted to spill out. “I’m not telling you that I’m thinking about killing you when I’m untied. You can’t make me do it.” She gasped as a hard shudder ran through her. “What did you give me?”

“My own concoction. Aside from the nausea, do you like it? Did it fill you with rage?”

“Your face does that for me,” she spat out. “I hope you fall on that knife and die.”

“Ooh,” he giggled, clearly delighted. The girlish laugh grated on Tabitha’s nerves like a knife. “I like this Tabitha. I may have to change my plans for you.”

“I don’t want to die.” The last word cracked, and as it exited her throat, a sudden sob made her sound just as miserable and afraid as she felt.

“Of course you don’t, but I’m not talking about that. Tell me, what are you thinking about right now?”

She fought, trying to keep the words inside, but they still came. Sobbing, she described exactly how she’d planned to kill him and escape.

His eyebrows arched slightly, and he nodded. “If you hadn’t told me, that might have worked. That’s why I want to hear your every thought. You see, some women are so smart they make my job difficult.”

“This isn’t a job,” Tabitha sneered, kicking at the chair, rage thundering over the fear.

“Not to you, but to me, this is everything.” He swept his arms wide, as if presenting the room for her appraisal. “I don’t function well if I don’t have my pets. You’re doing this for the greater good. I have to release the valve to be at my best. And the world needs me at my best. Don’t you care about anyone but yourself, Tabitha?”

“I’m not a pet.”

“Tomato, to-mah-toe.” He pulled a hair from Tabitha’s head and ran it across the blade. It split in two. “Now, for today’s challenge. We’ll pick up where we left off.”

“No!” Her scream echoed off the cinderblock walls.

Mabel wailed in response, the sound so pitiful it filled Tabitha with a sadness she’d never known.

“You can be that way.” A pouty tone entered his voice. “Or you can be a team player.”

“I’ll never play your game.”

He smiled and shrugged, running his tongue over his teeth again. “Tabitha,” he said, and pretended to gag. “What an ugly name. Did you ever consider changing it? I’m wondering, since you cannot tell a lie right now.”

“I love my name.”

“Huh.” He appeared to be desperately disappointed in her. “Okay, then. Anyway, as I was saying. Choosing not to play the game is playing the game. So, you’re still playing.”

“I hate you.” Her teeth were clenched again, the hatred so thick in her chest she could barely draw in a breath.

“Oh, there’s where we agree. I hate me too. That’s why I do this. To feel alive.”

She blinked, tilting her chin up slightly, imagining what her daddy would do once she got free. “My father is going to find you and make you wish you’d never been born.”

“It’s so cute that you truly believe that. It’s inspiring, really. But your noble spirit is tiresome. I’m ready to play.”

He took his place beside Mabel, who was shaking so forcefully her teeth chattered.

A hysterical laugh bubbled up from Tabitha’s chest. She slammed her head back, connecting with the wall hard enough to clack her teeth together. The laughter spilled out anyway.

He waited until she was quiet again before demanding her to, “Say the words.”

“Never!” Tabitha snarled the refusal through clenched teeth.

“This won’t end until you do.”

“I won’t do it.” She tried to look away. Her eyes wouldn’t cooperate.

“That’s a lovely side effect,” he cooed just before slamming the knife down on Mabel’s wrist, severing her hand. With a sickening plop, the appendage landed in the puddle of blood. Her screams filled the claustrophobic space.

“No,” Tabitha whimpered, the only sound her tight throat would make.

“You really shouldn’t torture her like that.” He tsked. “She deserves so much better, don’t you think? She colored her hair and changed her clothes to look like you, and you appreciate none of her efforts.”

You colored her hair.”

“Details.” He waved the knife nonchalantly then held the blade poised over the middle of the same arm. “Say it.”

Tabitha shook her head.

The knife plunged.

Mabel screamed, more alert than Tabitha’d ever seen her.

“H-how…?” What Tabitha wanted to ask but couldn’t was…shouldn’t Mabel be passed out by now? How could she still be awake with so much pain?

The psychopath seemed to understand because he smiled. “She’ll stay awake and alert for everything. Wouldn’t want her to miss the grand finale.”

“Ta-ta-tabita,” Mabel cried, each syllable ending on a sob. “Plea…”

Tears cascaded down Tabitha’s face as she felt the words building in her belly. “Mabel, I can’t. Please don’t ask me to.”

He moved the knife over to Mabel’s other wrist.

The horrified woman’s eyes were locked on Tabitha’s. Her mouth worked, and she finally managed to form a word that made sense. “Love me,” she pleaded, her request stronger now. “Please.”

Tabitha knew what she was asking. The knife glinted, distorted by her tears.

“I love you too,” Tabitha said on a strangled sob, her chest squeezing so hard it was difficult to breathe let alone speak. “Please forgive me.”

The man’s smile was villainous, his glee rabid. “Is she going to say it, sweet Mabel? Is she going to say it and save you from this horror?”

Tabitha took a breath, then another. Her heart was pounding, but she couldn’t force herself to speak the words that would release her friend from this misery. She needed to close her eyes. She didn’t want to see Mabel’s face when she said it. She couldn’t live with that memory. But her eyes wouldn’t close, no matter how hard she tried.

With Tabitha’s heartbeat and breathing so loud they seemed to bounce around the room, she finally choked out the words he wanted to hear. “Die. Bitch. Die.”

Another obscene giggle, and his arm swung wide.

Desperate, Tabitha squeezed her eyes shut, and this time, the lids closed together.

Mabel’s screams went silent.

Over the pounding of her heart, the only sound she could hear was a heavy, wet thud.

Tabitha’s eyeballs rolled back in her head as she realized what he’d done.

“Do you want to see her?” he taunted. “It’s a trip. Her neck is bleeding. I bet her heart is still beating. I wonder if she can see you from down there on the floor.”

“I did it.” She turned as far to the side as her bindings would allow, squeezing her eyelids tight so she wouldn’t be tempted to look. Why did she want to look? “What more do you want from me?”

“Oh Tabitha of the ugliest name in the world, we aren’t quite done.”

“W-why,” the word hiccupped from her throat, “are you doing this?”

“So I could record it. Share it. Do you know what a snuff film is?”

“No.” She sniffled, focusing on his words rather than the horror that would be right before her eyes should she open them.

“It’s the final moments of someone’s life captured for all eternity. So beautiful. So powerful. This day will be replayed millions of times. You’ll be famous.”

“Just end this, please.” The plea in Tabitha’s voice was pitiful as it bounced off the walls and back to her.

“I will, but not before you do one more thing.”

A glimmer of hope streaked through her even as she wondered how she would ever be brave enough to tell Mabel’s parents what she’d done. “What?”

“You see, Mabel wasn’t the star of this film.”

Her heart thrummed faster at the hint of excitement in his voice. “I-I d-don’t understand.” Her eyes flew open, and she forced them to focus on him, not the mutilated body or the round object that shouldn’t be lying on the floor.

“I don’t expect you to. You’re so sweet and innocent. I knew right away that you were the better person. You did all the work. You made all the sacrifices.” He wiped the blood from the knife with an old rag. “That’s why you’re sitting in this chair and not the other one, with your head at your feet. Mabel coasted by on your hard work, so it was only fitting that she would end her worthless life that way.”

Anger fired to life. “Don’t talk about her like that.”

“Why not?” He giggled again. “You called her a bitch. Do you suddenly care about her?”

“You made me call her that.” It was so stupid to argue with him, but she couldn’t hold the words in.

“I didn’t have a gun to your head.” He was enjoying their exchange, the glint in his eyes brighter.

“I’ll kill you if I get the chance.”

“That’s what I love about you. I’m going to be sad to let you go, but I make more money this way.” His demeanor was so calm, his voice so matter-of-fact. As if he hadn’t just murdered Mabel right in front of her. As if he hadn’t fooled them both.

“It’s my fault Mabel is dead,” she said, her emotions turning from anger to misery in an instant. “I deserve to die.”

“What would you do to have one more chance?” He took a half step closer, his eagerness palpable.

“I’d do anything you want,” she answered automatically, appalled by how easily the words tumbled from her mouth.

“I can see that. You’re not the person you thought you were. If you were stronger, my concoction wouldn’t work on you.”

“That’s not true.” How could any of this be true?

He seemed pleased. “Isn’t it?”

Desperation took misery’s place. “Please, let me go. I won’t tell anyone what happened.”

“Of course you wouldn’t.” He rolled his eyes, the gesture taking many more seconds longer than necessary. “What would you tell them? That you demanded I kill Mabel? There is no version of this story that looks good for you.”

“I’ll do anything.” If her hair wasn’t taped to prevent her head from falling forward, Tabitha would’ve hung her head in the deepest shame. But her head would only go back, and her skull already felt like mush. She pictured it pounded to a pulp after she tried to put herself out of her misery, and another laugh burst from her lips.

“Just one more thing, then you’re free, Tabitha.” He spat on the floor. “Maybe you should pick another name.”

“You can call me whatever you want.” Her stomach turned at the wheedling in her tone, but her survival instinct was too strong to shut off. She wanted to live, even if she would never be okay again.

“That’s cute, but I’ll pass. I don’t think you’ll want to do what I need you to.”

“Anything.” And she would, but she wished he didn’t know that.

“You choose how the next one dies.”

“Please…” The sound was an anguished moan. “Please, I can’t do it again.”

“You will.”

The line suspended from the ceiling jerked and fluid poured down and into her veins. This time, the sensation it caused felt weird, like she was floating outside herself, but every thought was excruciating. Every thought caused her head to rip with real, physical pain.

“If you do what I ask, this won’t hurt.”

“Whatever you want.” To her shock, the pain was gone in an instant, and she immediately regretted folding to it.

“Perfect. Now, it’s time for you to choose how the next one dies. So, what do you prefer? Quick and painless, or long and drawn out? I prefer drawn out, if you need a suggestion.”

“Quick. Painless.” Tabitha’s voice wasn’t her own, her tone indifferent.

“Do you want to know whose death you’ll be choosing this time?”

“Sure,” she said in a detached voice. As if she were unbothered by the horror of the scene in front of her.

“All you have to do is say the words one last time, and you’ll know.”

Tabitha’s mouth was so dry, her tongue stuck to the back of her teeth. She swallowed, not in fear, but to wet it so she could speak. What was wrong with her? Oh, the drugs.

She laughed, then looked him right in the eye and said it again, this time with a giggle that sounded so much like his. “Die. Bitch. Die.”

The silver glint of the knife as it sliced the air in front of her was the last thing she ever saw.


Chapter Two

“Ellie!” Jacob shouted as two onlookers leaned so far over the crime scene barricade that it collapsed to the ground. He cursed under his breath. It had already been a busy morning.

A half-dozen gawkers moved closer to the house on the corner.

Ellie scowled at the realization that she’d let her concentration shift from crowd control to what the detectives were doing. “Sorry!” Grimacing as she shifted to help with the barricade, early morning sun reflected off her Charleston Police Department badge, obscuring part of her name.

He couldn’t help but admire her uniform’s ironing job—so crisp, the telltale perfection an obvious sign of a higher quality cleaner than he could afford. He turned his uniforms in for the cleaning service once a week like everyone else, exchanging them for another week’s worth. But Ellie lived differently than most. She always had.

“That’s the third time you’ve turned to watch them, Kline,” he chided, as he had many times during the six months they’d been partners. “We’re on crowd control. You’re not a detective.”

She rolled her moss-green eyes, her fiery red French braid wrapped into a bun sparking in the sunlight as she jutted out her chin. She was tall and lean, but her brilliant red hair and bright green eyes only accentuated her soft features. “Not yet, but I want to be. It’s so much more interesting than standing here.” She scoffed then gestured at the crowd. “One of us could handle watching a few people.”

“There are way more than a few people, but that’s not the point. Sergeant Danver is already on your case, which means he’s also on my case. Keep pissing him off, and you’ll never make detective.”

Her eyes lit for a second, glinting brighter than the sea at Folly Beach on a sunny day. Just as quickly, Ellie covered her reaction, pulling at the starched collar close to her neck with a tight grimace. “It’s hot today. I think I’m getting a sunburn.”

“You should’ve worn sunscreen.”

She wrinkled her nose. The expression drew his attention to the light smattering of freckles across the bridge. “I’ll pass. Don’t want to be so greasy I can’t hold on to handcuffs.”

“You’ll change your tune when you can’t move, you’re so crispy.”

“I get crispy every year.” She lifted one shoulder and let it drop, as if her three years on the force was forever. “It’s October, almost fall. It shouldn’t be so hot.”

“Suit yourself. But don’t think I’m going to freeze in the car with the air-conditioning just because you care more about looking pretty than common sense.”

“Made you say ‘freeze.’”

He rolled his eyes, shaking his head. His partner was something else, and yet she still surprised him every day. The world underestimated her, but Officer Jacob Garcia knew better.

Movement behind the barrier once again drew her gaze away from the detectives squatting near the covered bodies. She reached a hand out to a man who had moved forward, all business. “Sir, I’m going to have to ask you to take a step back.”

The man scowled at her, his face reddening almost instantly. “I ain’t crossed the line, ma’am.” The last word dripped so much disdain from his lips, Jacob could almost see the ugliness hanging in the steamy air.

“You’re touching police property,” Ellie said, her voice steady, but Jacob caught the way she carefully weighed the man. She was ready if he escalated the situation, and he knew her well enough to know she was hoping the man would take a swipe at her. “I’ll ask you one last time, hands off the barricade and take three large steps back.”

“You said one,” the man countered.

“Now, it’s three.” Jacob stepped closer, hand going to hover over his taser.

The man glared at Ellie, then at Jacob before he took a step back. “Good thing they don’t send you on patrol without a man to back you up.”

“Someone’s got to rescue you from your stupidity before you get hurt,” Jacob countered without missing a beat. He let a slow, threatening smile spread across his face. “Walk away, sir. She’s not going to warn you again.”

The man blew out an angry breath and spun on his heel, stomping away and grumbling under his breath. He wasn’t the first citizen who made patrolling the streets of Charleston, South Carolina a pain. Each year there were more and more like him—entitled assholes who behaved like spoiled children—smarter than the police in their own estimation. Yet they called emergency services every time a child dared set up a lemonade stand without a permit. Jacob was happy this man had gotten exactly what he deserved.

But as soon as the angry man cleared the crowd, someone else took his place. The new spectator stayed back three feet, and when Ellie looked at him, he nodded slowly, eyes crinkled at the corner. He’d heard the exchange and wasn’t about to step out of line and risk having his ass handed to him by a woman in front of all these people.

Smart man, Jacob mused.

Ellie nodded back, but she didn’t crack a smile. During her time as his partner, she’d developed the fierce, no-nonsense expression she now wore. It was one of the things that kept people from walking all over her. Not that she deserved it. Even with the uniform and the way she carried herself, she still held an aura that screamed Charleston elite.

More than once since he’d been assigned to partner with her, a perp had found out the hard way that Eleanor Kline was not a cop you wanted to underestimate. She was fast, proficient in more than one style of hand-to-hand combat, and she had a sharp tongue that could put a man in his place faster than he could say yes, ma’am.

There was movement behind them, and Jacob turned to see the crime techs carrying out their equipment. The coroner was thankfully gone, the two murder victims having been photographed, processed, and wheeled out before the crowd had gathered. If nothing else, the victims’ privacy had been protected an iota.

“They’re about done.” Ellie nodded at the onlookers, who were slowly moving away and on with their lives.

“There’s the hazmat team,” Jacob noted. They stepped forward in sync, directing the crowd to move out of the way to let the plain white van through.

The crowd scattered, then dispersed.

Ellie snorted and adjusted the heavy gunbelt at her waist. “Guess they don’t want to see the cleanup.”

“No one ever does.”

A man in white coveralls stepped out of the passenger side with a clipboard. “Who do I give this to?”

Jacob motioned to Ellie, whose face lit up for the first time since they’d arrived. But the man was already sizing up the scene and didn’t notice Ellie’s enthusiasm, or the careful way she chose her path through the numbered yellow crime scene markers that were scattered in the alley behind the house.

The lead detective took a few steps to meet her, signed the authorization sheet, then handed it off as he chatted with Ellie.

Jacob couldn’t hear what they were saying, but Ellie’s entire demeanor had changed. She was smiling, her hands moving like they did when a subject excited her. It was only a matter of time before he lost his favorite partner to the Homicide Division. She was an excellent officer, and the citizens of Charleston loved her. Especially the children they tried hard to make friends with. But her heart was in detective work, and he knew this was only a step on her way to the top.

If she can keep her nose clean, he amended with an inward sigh. The passion that had her lighting up as she talked shop with the detective got her in trouble with Sergeant Danver on a regular basis. Danver was jockeying for retirement, and every wrong move was scrutinized.

Jacob was getting antsy when Ellie finally returned the clipboard to the crime scene cleanup crew, authorizing them to strip the alley and brick wall of all evidence of the heinous crime committed just a few hours before.

The two men unloaded their equipment, leaving the crime scene tape up to deter any looky-loos who might show up before they were done.

“You ready?” she asked Jacob, grinning wide when he tapped his watch. “What? You knew what you were doing when you sent me in there. If you were in a hurry, you should’ve done it yourself.”

“And deprive you of the chance to rub elbows with your future colleagues? Not a chance. You get any inside information?”

“Not much. There’s a witness with a solid lead, and a person of interest.”

“I wouldn’t want to be in their shoes.”

“Tell me about it. That’s more than they usually have at this point.” They got into the cruiser, and Ellie cranked the air up all the way. “I don’t know how you’re not burning up,” she muttered as she buckled up.

He put the car in gear. “Because I’m cool like that.”

“Whatever.” On the computer, Ellie logged information from the crime scene and updated their status from “on a call” to “on patrol.” When he glanced in her direction, she was watching him. “I wish my family was as supportive as you are.”

“They’ve been trying to get you to quit the force again? They’ll come around. Eventually.”

She pushed a loose lock of hair behind her ear. “My mom is still appalled that I chose police work instead of a nice office job at a charity.”

“But Wesley has your back, right?”

“My brother says whatever ruffles Mom’s feathers the most.” She scanned the sidewalks and housefronts as Jacob turned at the intersection, weaving through the streets at a leisurely pace. “He’s one of my biggest supporters besides you and Nick.”

Jacob scowled. “Are you sure Nick isn’t just taking your side because he wants an in with you? You’re the only female heir to the Kline fortune.”

Her laughter filled the squad car. “Not a chance. I’ve known him all my life. He doesn’t let his feelings get in the way of being my best friend. Besides, his family has loads more than we do.”

“That’s why your mother still adores him, I gather?”

She shrugged. “One of the reasons.”

A group of kids waved from the sidewalk where they were shooting hoops around a portable basket. When the ball bounced into the road in front of the car, Jacob stopped and Ellie got out. She scooped the ball up and dribbled, rushing and ducking before leaping up and sinking it with effortless grace.

Jacob took a headcount and grabbed enough sticker badges for all the kids, which he stuffed in his shirt pocket before joining the melee.

They played a few rounds, high-fiving the jubilant kids when they were done. Jacob was putting the last Junior Police badge on the littlest boy’s shirt when a call came over the radio.

The kids went silent, listening to the detached voice coming from the cruiser’s open window. “Code ten…”

Shit.

Jacob didn’t need to hear anything else. There had been a murder, but as he ran to the driver’s door, he made out that the murder suspect was fleeing in a vehicle. They were armed and considered dangerous.

No surprise there.

Before Jacob could get to the car, Ellie was in the passenger seat with the radio in her hand. Her eyes wide and bright with excitement. “Adam twelve responding,” she said and gave their location as Jacob backed into the nearest driveway and waved out the window to the kids as he flipped on the sirens and hurried toward South Carolina Highway 7.

“Suspect is described as five-foot-ten, black hair and brown eyes, two hundred pounds driving an older model, brown four-door.” The dispatcher rattled off the license plate number and last known location, which was less than a block away.

Jacob cruised the street, keeping a sharp eye on traffic.

Ellie pointed at something up ahead. “Right there, just passing the Ashley Landing Mall.”

Jacob slammed the accelerator down, weaving in and out of the late morning traffic. Thankfully, it was the end of rush hour, and he sped past a frazzled-looking woman pulling off to the side of the road. “How far away is backup?”

Ellie relayed the question to dispatch, and when the answer came back, Jacob groaned.

Ellie said what he’d already gathered. “It’s just us.”

“We need to keep him in sight and wait for backup.” Jacob eased his foot off the accelerator a fraction.

“If he gets across the river, we’re going to lose him.”

“Ellie, we don’t have many options here.” The long bridge was already in view in the distance.

“You can pit him.”

He took his eyes off the road for a second to stare at her. “On the bridge? Are you crazy?”

“We’re running out of options. SC-7 dumps right into the cloverleaf at I-26. If he gets there, he could get away. I bet I-26 is still packed with commuters.”

They flew past the Elks Lodge. Jacob was only three car lengths behind the older sedan, and with every passing second, he was gaining. The way in front of them was nearly clear, the bridge almost deserted.

“Fine,” he muttered, then glanced at her. “Hold on.”

His heart was racing, pounding in his ears, but he focused, readying himself for what was coming. The brown sedan was still racing down the highway, but its engine wasn’t made for high-speed chases. The police cruiser was.

Next to him, Ellie braced herself when they got close, holding her breath, eyes wide.

Jacob pulled the nose of the cruiser even with the suspect’s back panel, lining up the squad car’s front tires with the sedan’s rear ones.

Yanking the wheel slightly, he guided the cruiser into contact with the sedan, then accelerated, sending the fleeing car sideways.

Jacob caught a glimpse of the man’s face as he fought to control the car, careening across the bridge and skidding backward. The driver’s door dragged along the cement wall. Jacob turned his car into the sedan, initiating contact between the passenger side of both front bumpers as the fleeing car slowed.

The suspect shouted profanity through the passenger’s window, revving his engine and trying to force the car forward and the cruiser out of the way. His car’s rear was pinned against the wall at an angle, and he was trapped inside by the crumpled driver’s door.

“Gun!” Ellie shouted as she ducked.

Bullets zinged off the front of the cruiser.

Ellie released her seatbelt just as the sound of breaking glass filled the air.

“Stay in the car,” Jacob ordered, his ears ringing.

“He’s out of bullets, and he’s climbing out the window.” She wrapped her fingers around the release for the door.

“We need to wait for backup.”

“There’s no way I’m letting this guy get away.” Ellie flung open her door, and she was gone.

“Ellie, wait.” He put it in park, but by the time he yanked on his door handle, the perp was already out of the car, running down the bridge. Ellie was on his heels.

Jacob’s heart caught when the man turned and pointed the gun at Ellie, his own hand going to his police-issued gun as he ran. She was in his line of fire.

The bastard with the gun pulled the trigger.

“Shit!” Jacob kicked it up a notch.

But the perp’s gun didn’t fire. She’d been right; he was out of bullets and hadn’t had the chance to reload.

With a disgusted look on his face, sweat shining on his brow, the dark-haired criminal launched the gun at Ellie and took off, the waistband of his oversized Dickies gathered in one hand to keep them from falling. His open plaid work shirt caught the wind as he ran. Even with his billowing garments slowing him down, he made it almost halfway across the bridge over the Ashley River, Ellie still behind him.

Unless Ellie managed to tackle the man before he got off the bridge and disappeared beneath the highway, he could get lost in the neighborhood, and if so, likely be gone for good. A door-to-door search would take too long to organize, and with instant car services available at the touch of a finger, the man could be halfway to the state line while they were still chasing their tails.

A chopper overhead caught Jacob’s attention.

But it was only the news helicopter that hovered over the freeways during rush hour—probably filming to air the story on tonight’s news.

 With no help from above, he and Ellie were on their own.


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Cold Truth by Mary Stone and Donna Berdel

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