A muffled voice comes from deep within the shadows.
I feel my way down the steps. “Karyn? Is that you?”
“Mmmmm mnm mmmmmmm!”
At the bottom of the stairs, something brushes my face. I jerk back. It’s a pull string for an overhead light. I tug and a dim glow brings the dank cellar to life.
“Oh my God!”
Karyn sits in the dirt, her arms wrapped around a pole behind her. An agglomeration of emotions passes through me like an unstoppable freight train. I am Denial. I am Guilt, Anger, Depression, and Awakening. I am Reconstruction—I’m all of these at once.
The metaphorical train passes.
Now, I am Acceptance.
I rush over and fling my arms around Karyn. “I didn’t know if I’d see you again.” Tears stream down my face. “I’m so glad you’re alive.”
She buries her face into my neck.
I tug the gag from her mouth. “Has he hurt you?”
“Not yet. How did you find me, Nia?” She scans the stairs. “Are the police coming?”
“No. No police. It’s just me.”
She freezes. Her eyes widen with horror. “What do you mean?”
“It’s just me, sis. I turned in my badge and gun.”
“You quit the force? Wh—why would you do that?”
“You and I both know how the law works. It would be too lenient on this guy.”
Her eyes narrow. She knows I’m up to something. “What’s the plan, Detective?”
“I told you, I’m not a detective anymore.” I pull out a small pouch wedged between my boot and leg. What I previously thought was mud and rocks was my lock-pick set.
“I’m still a prosecutor,” she says.
I work the lock that’s keeping her chained to the pole. “Are you? You’ve been griping for years how the bad guys keep getting off. Every cop in the state is looking for you, and where are they? My captain pulled me off the case, but I found you before they did. The system is broken, and you know it.”
“That may be so, but I’ve taken an oath to uphold it.” Her hands free, she rubs her wrists. “But if we have to kill him to get away, I’m okay with that. Got any more toys in those boots of yours?”
I smile and wink.
I scout the cellar but find nothing we can use as a weapon. It’s just four bare walls and a post. The clothes James brought me are on the steps where I dropped them. I exchange them for my wet skirt and blouse while catching Karyn up on how I got here. “Things would have gone a bit differently had I not lost my memory, but we can improvise.”
Karyn grabs my hand. “The important thing is we’re together, Nia. And together we’re strong.”
I squeeze her hand.
We wait in silence for James to return. After an hour, I begin to wonder if he will. Finally, the door at the top of the stairs opens. I feel Nia tense up. We’re ready.
James takes two steps down the stairs. He watches us from a distance. He holds a chain in one hand and a snub-nose .38 revolver in the other. My purse pistol. The bastard stole my gun.
Karyn sits in the dirt, just as I found her, with her hands tucked behind the pole. I’m curled up next to her. “What are you going to do to us?” I say. “Please. Just let us go.”
“You can drop the act,” he says. “I didn’t notice before, but now I see the resemblance. You hunted me, Nia. That makes you dangerous. Stand up. Both of you.”
And just like that, our plan is shot.
I pull myself to my feet and help Karyn up, her arms still wrapped around the pole.
“I came for my sister,” I say. “Just let us go.”
“That’s not gonna happen.”
James drops another step, keeping the revolver trained on us. “I’m going to request you play nice. I don’t intend on killing either of you—yet. I have other plans. But if you give me any trouble, Nia, I’ll shoot your sister in the head and over the next six months I’ll feed her to you.” He speaks in hushed, measured tones. My jaw tightens and fists clench. I believe every word he says.
“Someone will find us,” Karyn says.
“No, they won’t. James McCallum doesn’t live here anymore and nobody’s looking for him. No one’s been to this cabin in years. Well, no one but me and the others I’ve lured here. Since I have your car keys, once I dispose of it, there’s no chance of anyone finding you.” James raises the .38 and pulls back on the hammer. “Now, if you’ll be so kind, Nia, please stand over there. Face the wall.”
I step back, but I don’t turn around.
James takes another step. His foot snags on the Teflon bootlace I fastened across the stairs. Momentum pushes him forward, and he topples down the stairs. He loses control of the revolver. It hits the ground and fires. The bullet whizzes past my ear, missing both me and my sister.
Karyn pounces before James can pick himself up. She wraps the other shoelace around his neck and yanks. He struggles to his feet and I lunge forward. Karyn and I jerk him back to the ground, the lace digging into his neck. Together we drag him back to the post. She ties the lace and secures his neck against the pillar.
James pulls out a knife from his waistband and swings at us behind his back. We’re safely out of reach. He slashes at the Teflon cord choking him but gouges his neck. He missed the artery but dark red blood gushes down his neck and chest.
I find the gun on the ground and aim it at his head. The hammer clicks back under the pressure of my thumb.
Karyn raises her hand, palm toward me. “No, don’t.”
I freeze. “Why not? You heard what he was willing to do to us.”
“Exactly. How many other women has he preyed on?” She doesn’t wait for me to answer. “No, a quick death is too good for him. And, like he said, nobody knows about this place.”
James drops the knife and claws at the string with his fingers, fighting for air.
I watch him gasp with unsettling satisfaction. A month ago, I would have protected him, ensured he got a fair day in court, but he crossed a line I didn’t know I had. The thin line of family blood.
I lower the pistol, turning to look Karyn in the eye. My eyes narrow, and I flash a devilish grin. “What do you have in mind, Prosecutor?”
“Oh, I’m no prosecutor,” Karyn sneers. Her lips curl into a menacing grin. “Today, I’m judge and jury. His death will be long, slow, and painful.” She loosens the lace around his neck, just enough to prolong his suffocation.
“Devious. Then what? What’s the plan once we’re done with him?”
Karyn picks up the knife. “Then, you and I bring the next serial-killing bastard here, and we do unto others.”
“Our own little hidden place.” I face our prisoner. “What do you think? Sound fair to you?”
His eyes bulge and panic spreads across his face. All he can do is gasp for air as the blood drains from his neck.
Read all 7 chapters of The Hidden Place FREE.
BONUS: 5-Author collection of short stories titled “Dead Memories”.