Authors: Leslie Parrish
stomach heave. She’d eaten almost nothing for days, yet thought she’d be
This wasn’t supposed to happen. She’d tried so hard to be strong, to think
positively. Her parents loved her, and they had a lot of money. Of course they’d
pay the ransom. She’d told herself it would al be okay. But it wouldn’t be okay.
Not ever again.
“When?” she final y asked, dread making the word hard to push from her
“Once he makes sure they paid the ransom money.”
“If they’re paying the money, why is he going to kil me?” she asked, the
words sounding so strange in her ears. God, she was fifteen years old; the
very idea that she would be asking questions about her own murder had never
once crossed her mind.
Four days ago she’d been a slightly spoiled, happy teenager looking
forward to getting her driver’s license and wondering how much begging it
would take to get her overindulgent parents to buy her a Jeep.
Now she was wondering how many minutes she had left on this earth. She
could hear a clock ticking away in her mind, each tick marking one less
second of her life.
“He don’t want any witnesses.” Jack leaned back against the old plank-
“He don’t want any witnesses.” Jack leaned back against the old plank-
board wal and slid down it, like he couldn’t hold himself up anymore. He sat
hunched on the backs of his bent legs, watching her. A shaft of moonlight
bursting through a broken slat high up in the barn wal shone a spotlight on his
bony face. Tear tracks had cleared a path through the grime on his bruised
cheeks, and his lips—swol en, bloodied—quivered. “He’s afraid you can
“I can’t! I never even saw his face.”
That was true. She’d never gotten a glimpse of the man who’d grabbed her
from her own bedroom. Liv had awakened from a sound sleep to find a pil ow
slapped over her face, a hateful male voice hissing at her not to scream or
he’d shoot her and her sister, whose room was right next door. Their parents’
room was on the other side of the huge house, and Liv didn’t doubt that the
man would be able to make good on his threat before anyone could get to
A minute later, any chance of screaming had been taken from her. He’d hit
her hard enough to knock her out. By the time she’d awakened, she was
already inside this old abandoned barn. Jack was the only living soul she’d
seen or heard since.
“Let me go,” she urged.
He shook his head, repeating, “I’m sorry.”
“Please, Jack. You can’t let this happen.”
“There’s nothin’ I can do.”
“Just untie me and give me a chance to run away.”
“He’l find you,” he said. “Then he’l kil us both.” His voice was low, his tone
sounding almost robotic. Like he’d heard the threat so many times it had
become ingrained in his head.
“When did he take you?” she asked, suddenly certain this boy was a
captive as wel .
“Take me?” Jack stared at her, his brown eyes flat and lifeless. “Whaddya
“He kidnapped you, too, didn’t he?”
“Dunno.” Jack slowly shook his head. “I’ve been with him forever.”
“Is he your father?” she persisted.
Jack didn’t respond, though whether it was because he didn’t know or
didn’t want to say, she couldn’t be sure.
“Do you have a mother?”
“Look, whoever he is, you have to get away from him.
have to get away.”
She tried to scoot closer, though her legs—numb from being bound—didn’t
want to cooperate. She managed no more than a few inches before fal ing
onto her side, remnants of dry, dirty old hay scratching her cheek. “Come with
me. Untie me and we’l both run.”
run on her barely functional legs.
She thrust that worry away. If it meant saving her life, hel , she’d crawl.
“I can’t,” he replied, looking down at her from a few feet away. His hand
rose, like he wanted to reach out and touch her, to help her sit up. Then he
dropped it back onto his lap, as if he was used to having his hand slapped if
he ever dared to raise it.
“Yes, you can! My parents wil help you. They’l be so grateful.”
Again that robotic voice. Like the kid was brainwashed. If he’d been a
prisoner for so long he didn’t remember any other life, she supposed he
He reached into the pocket of his tattered jeans, pul ing out two smal pil s.
“Here,” he said. “I swiped ’em from the floor in his room. He musta dropped
’em. I think they’l make you sleep, so maybe it won’t hurt.”
A sob rose from deep inside her, catching in the middle of her throat,
choking and desperate. “How wil he do it?”
The boy sniffled. “I dunno.”
“Not a knife,” she cried, panic rising fast. “Oh, please God, don’t let him cut
She hated knives. In every horror movie she’d ever seen, it was the gleam
of light shining on the sharp, silvery edge of a blade that made her throw her
hands over her eyes or just turn off the TV.
“He don’t use a knife, not usual y,” Jack said.
His consoling reply didn’t distract her from the implication: She wouldn’t be
the first person to die at her kidnapper’s hands. He’d kil ed before. And this
boy had witnessed those kil ings.
“Don’t let this happen, Jack, please.” Tears poured out of her eyes as she
twisted and struggled against the ropes. “Don’t let him hurt me.”
“Take the pil s,” he said, his tears streaming as hard as hers. “Just take ’em.
“You should have brought the whole bottle,” she said, hearing her own
bitterness and desperation.
“If I could get to a whole bottle, I woulda swal owed’em myself a long time
That haunted voice suddenly sounded so adult, so broken. The voice of
someone who’d considered suicide every day of his young life. What horrors
must he have endured to embrace the thought of death so easily?
It was his sheer hopelessness that made her realize she
hope. She was terrified out of her mind and didn’t want to die, didn’t want to
feel the pain of death—
oh, God, not a knife
—but she wasn’t ready to give up,
either. No matter what she’d said, if he had a bottle of pil s in his hand, she
didn’t think she would swal ow them, not even now with death bearing down on
her like a car heading for a cliff.
She wanted to live.
“Where you at, boy?” a voice bel owed from outside.
Jack leapt to his feet, his sadness disappearing as utter terror swept over
him. That terror jumped from his body into hers, and Olivia struggled harder
against the ropes. Like an animal caught in a trap, she could almost smel her
own extermination barreling toward her.
She tried to keep her head. Tried to think.
If her captor didn’t know the boy had warned her, maybe he’d let his guard
down. Maybe she could get him to untie her, maybe she could run. . . .
Or maybe she real y was about to die.
“Please,” she whispered, knowing Jack wanted to help her. But his fear won
out; he didn’t even seem to hear her plea. He had already begun to climb over
the side wal of the stal , fal ing into the next one with a muffled grunt.
No sooner had he gone than the barn door flew open with a crash. Heavy
footsteps approached, ominous and violent like the powerful thudding of her
Through the worn slats, she could see Jack lying in the next stal ,
motionless, watching her. She pleaded with her eyes, but he didn’t respond in
any way. It seemed as though the real boy had retreated somewhere deep
inside a safe place in his mind, and only the shel of a human being remained.
Her kidnapper reached the entrance to the stal . Stil lying on her side, Olivia
first saw his ugly, thick-soled boots. She slowly looked up, noted faded jeans
pul ed tight over thick, squat legs, but before she could tilt her head back to
see the rest, something heavy and scratchy—a horse blanket, she suspected
—landed on her face, obscuring her vision.
Confusion made her whimper and her heart, already racing, tripped in her
chest. She trembled with fear, yes. But there was something more.
He didn’t want her to see him. Which meant he might have changed his
mind. Maybe he knew she couldn’t identify him, and he was going to let her
“Up you go, girl,” he said, grabbing her by her hair and yanking her to her
feet, holding the smal blanket in place. He pressed in behind her, and she
almost gagged. The cloth over her head wasn’t thick enough to block the
sweaty reek of his body or his sour breath—the same smel s she’d forever
associate with being startled awake in the night.
Please, God, let there be more than just tonight.
“Looks like your Mama and Daddy ain’t sick’a you yet. They’re paying over
a lot of money to get you back.”
“You’re going to let me go?” she managed to whisper, hope blossoming.
“Sure I am, sugar,” he said with a hoarse, ugly laugh.
Olivia forced herself to ignore that mean laugh and al owed relief and
happiness to flood through her. She breathed deeply, then mumbled, “Thank
God. Oh, thank you, God.”
Ignoring her, he kicked at her bare feet so she’d start moving. She stumbled
on numb legs, and he had to support her as they trudged out of the stal —her
shuffling because of the rope. His grip on her hair and a thick arm around her
waist kept her upright as they walked outside into the hot Georgia night.
At least, she thought she was stil in Georgia. It smel ed like home, anyway.
Not even the musky odor of the fabric and her attacker’s stench could block
the scent of the night air, damp and thick and ripe like the woods outside of
Savannah after the rain.
Maybe she was stil in Savannah. Close to her own house, close to her
family. Minutes away from her father’s strong arms and her mother’s loving
Despite everything—her fears, the boy’s claims—she was going to see
Suddenly, he stopped. “Where you been at?”
A furtive movement came from nearby. Jack had apparently scurried out of
his hiding place. “Watchin’ the road.”
Suddenly, Olivia was overwhelmed with anger at the boy, fury that he’d
scared her, even more that he hadn’t helped her escape. Over the past few
days, there had been any number of times when he could have released her,
but he hadn’t done it.
Then, remembering the blank, dazed expression, the robotic voice, she
forced the anger away. He was a little kid who’d been in this monster’s grip for
a whole lot longer than three days. She couldn’t imagine what he had endured.
Once she got home, she was going to do what she could for him. Help him get
free, find out who his people were. She had to; otherwise that blank, haunted
stare and bruised face would torment her for the rest of her life.
“Good. I’m gonna need your help in a li’l while. Once I take care of this, I
want you to get some plastic and rol her up good and tight to bury her. You
know what to do.”
And just like that, her fantasy popped. He wasn’t hauling her outside to let
her go. Jack had been right al along. Olivia shuddered, her weak legs giving
out beneath her as the world began to spin and the faces of her parents and
little sister flashed in her mind.
“Get me my hunting knife.”
Her every muscle went rigid with terror. A scream rose in her throat and
burst from her mouth. He clapped a hand over it, shoving the fabric between
her split lips. “Shut up, girl, or it’l go worse for ya.” Then, to the boy, he
snapped, “Wel ? Get goin’!”
“Knife’s broke,” Jack mumbled. “I was usin’ it to tighten up the hinges on the
barn door, and the blade snapped.”
Her kidnapper moved suddenly, the hand releasing her mouth. A sudden
thwack said he’d backhanded the boy. Jack didn’t cry out, didn’t stagger
away, as far as she could hear.
“What am I supposed to do now?” the man snapped.
Jack cleared his throat. For a second, she thought he had worked up the
courage to beg for her freedom, that he would try, however futilely, to stand up
Instead, in that same brainwashed voice, he made another suggestion. And
her last hope died.
“Why don’t you drown her?”
Pul ing into the gravel parking lot of a burned-out honky-tonk on Ogeechee
Road, Detective Gabe Cooper eyed his watch, then the temperature gauge
on the dash of his unmarked sedan. Six twenty-five a.m., eighty-two degrees.
Humidity about eighty percent.
It was gonna be a hel of a day. Or a day in hel . With any summer in
Savannah, there wasn’t much difference, and this August heat wave had