An Emily Stone Novel
Tuesday 2100 Hours
Car tires squealed as both sport utility vehicles skidded sideways across the narrow street. The ear-piercing screeches and waves of gravel spray continued as the vehicles held the uneven surface and pivoted onto a bumpy dirt road. The pitch-blackness of the night illuminated with the blinding headlights of the two cars – one pursuing the other. Motors revved and engines tacked well into the red zones. The high beams bobbed and weaved through the trees, and disappeared into the dense landscape of the forest.
Low fog plunged the chill of the evening colder than the current temperature of forty-three degrees. Pockets of moisture were heavier in some areas allowing for little visibility. With a murky blur, the cars continued the dangerous pursuit. The rural road quickly turned into a narrow trail causing both cars to slow drastically in speed.
Emily Stone fought the dangerous off-road conditions with every ounce of strength that she could muster. She clutched the steering wheel harder with every sharp turn to remain alert and to keep the car piloting straight on the compact path.
The seatbelt dug into her chest with every bump and chuckhole in the road. Exhaustion had set in hours ago, but she could not stop now. Increasing fatigue continued to edge its way through her arms and legs. The escalating body aches and weaknesses vied for her immediate attention as her forehead pounded with a piercing pain.
Pushing through her discomfort, she focused on the treacherous road and the blue car in front of her.
Another victim was at stake.
It was obvious that the driver too was also having difficulties with the road as the vehicle bounced precariously close to the edge of the cliff. The lead SUV skirted and swerved, but still miraculously maintained the right direction and gained speed.
Pieces of mud showered Emily’s windshield, peppering the entire front end and undercarriage. Low tree branches and bushes clawed at the doors and slammed across the roof. At one point, she thought a branch might break through the sunroof and land on the front seat.
The road hazards did not deter her.
Emily pressed the accelerator even harder. Her Ford’s R.P.M. throttled to a dangerous level causing the engine and oil lights to flicker. The dashboard lit up with several warnings that looked more like a carnival ride than the standard passenger car.
“Emily! Em!” a voice yelled. “What’s your location? Dammit Em answer me!”
She ignored the plea from her partner Rick Lopez over the cell phone and turned it away from her. They were more than partners. It was an unshakable love that drove them together toward the common goal. She did not want to look at the screen and see his face drawn and deeply concerned for her safety. His usual dark handsome features would show the extreme stress with a furrowed frown and she could not bear to look at him.
There had been many other pursuits, some more dangerous, others just a routine investigation, but all were potentially risky and could result in death. She had made peace with that reality. She had the extensive experience of handing just about anything that came her way – and wore the physical and mental battle scars to prove it.
Her and Rick had spent the last few years hunting serial killers and child abductors, all under the radar of law enforcement. They did not have to operate by the same rules of engagement or bureaucracy that tied the hands of cops. Instead, the couple did all the investigative and forensic work for them and forwarded all of the information anonymously.
It had served them well.
This time it was an emergency of life and death – an all-out code red involving a ten-year-old girl by the name of Jeannie Sanders abducted while walking home from a friend’s house. The photograph of the little girl’s huge green eyes and sweet cherub face burned into Emily’s memory and it propelled her into situations that most people would take great lengths to avoid.
The eminent situation drove Emily to an almost desperate impulse – worse than any obsessive-compulsive disorder could ever accomplish. She never knew how far an investigation would take her both physically and emotionally, but giving up was not an option when a child’s life was a stake.
A couple of years ago, Emily had come to terms with the fact that any of her pursuits could end with the inevitable. She lived by her own set of rules and motto. Life was not worth living if you could not make a difference – right a wrong, catch a serial killer, or save an innocent life.
It was as simple as that.
“Em!” the voice insisted.
She balanced her cell phone on the dash praying that the signal would not disappear or smash from impact. Flipping the smart phone over and slipping it into a console cranny, she glanced at the screen. It was just as she had expected. The deep look of concern was plastered all over Rick’s face. Even on the small electronic device, his eyes could bore straight into her soul. It was an expression that made her weak and sometimes to doubt her own abilities.
The lead SUV pulled ahead just out of view and disappeared in the fog.
A large patch of low-lying haze obscured the improvised roadway.
Emily reluctantly slowed her speed even more.
Emily reported, “I’m in pursuit. We’re just three miles off the main Interstate on Deer Run Road,” she replied winded as if she had been running a marathon. “I’m not backing off. This is the first big break we’ve had…”
She slammed on the brakes due to the hairpin turn and sheer cliff on her right. The Ford slid in that direction and she countered the slide with quick steering and some luck. The back tires spun several revolutions before traction took hold again. She did not see the car or any lights ahead of her anymore and took her foot from the accelerator.
She stopped the SUV and cut the headlights.
It was dark in every direction.
She pressed the power button and lowered the window.
The distinct odor of a hot car engine and an overflowing radiator filled her nose. It had a familiar sweet and earthy smell. It made her think of the time when she had unknowingly run out the water in the radiator.
It was strangely quiet as well as dark.
Emily could make out a few outlines of large trees but nothing more. There was an opening in the fog. The sky remained overcast in a blanket of clouds that obscured any view of the stars or moon.
More deep aromas of the forest drifted into the car.
It was odd. If she closed her eyes and opened them, there was little difference in the view.
Taking a deep slow breath, Emily tried not to fixate on the strangeness of her position, and the feeling of floating, which made her nauseous. She had struggled with anxiety in the past, the feelings of panic and the fight or flight responses. As with most things in her life, Emily worked through them with tenacity and could overcome just about anything. That was what made her get out of bed every morning to tackle every new challenge.
Realizing that she was talking to Rick, she clumsily felt for the phone. It was in sleep mode and the screen was blank. She pressed the button and her screen brightened, but there was no signal. Rick had lost connection with her. She was not sure if he had heard her location or if he could figure out how to locate her.
What initially began as a routine surveillance changed and flip-flopped in an instant. She contemplated what to do next. The soft ticking of her engine cooling kept a hypnotizing rhythm. She knew she had to move forward in order to save the little girl, but it seemed that the element of surprise would be the best approach. There had to be a location where the abductor was headed – a cabin or an abandoned shed where the girl was stashed.
Emily turned the key and her Ford roared to life, now with uneven timing. The headlights illuminated the forest. She turned the lights back to regular beams, which made the area seem less ominous. There was no sign of the other vehicle, no evidence of lights shone anywhere in the vicinity.
As she contemplated what to do, there were two logical choices, go forward, or turn back to get a cell phone signal and wait for Rick. She weighed each option. The killer was close; she sensed it. It was as if she could feel his breath on her neck. There was still time to rescue the little girl. All the other victims had been murdered and then their bodies dumped exactly four days after their abduction. It had already been three and half days… and counting.
There was still time.
There had to be enough time.
A loud gunning sound of a high-powered engine came from behind. High beams flashed in her rearview mirror and blinded her. It took barely three seconds before the blue SUV rammed into Emily’s Ford. Her body flung forward snapping her neck and seizing her breath.
The larger vehicle pushed her headfirst at a steady pace. The roar of the V8 engine roared like a wild animal attacking its prey.
While still holding firm to the steering wheel with her left hand, Emily grabbed for her Glock 9mm from her side holster.
It was not there.
She remembered that she had not secured her gun before the pursuit. Her Beretta was in her ankle holster. Carefully maneuvering her body and wrestling to maintain control of the brake as well as the steering wheel, she retrieved the small pistol in her right hand.
Emily did not waste any time, turned her torso to the blinding light, and fired three bullets through the back window of the SUV.
The impact from the sound echoed in her ears. Cool air rushed inside the vehicle. The blast of bullets stunned the attacking vehicle. The large blue SUV slowed its pace and opened a gap between both cars.
Emily caught her breath trying to inhale and exhale evenly. Her anger escalated as she unhooked her seatbelt. Rescuing the missing little girl was the only factor pushing her forward. She knew that the girl was not in the vehicle, but hidden somewhere close.
The Berretta shook slightly in her right hand from the surging adrenalin pulsing throughout her body as she readied herself again for another assault.
The thunder of the pursuing SUV sprang into life and the larger vehicle slammed into Emily’s car once again. This time it seemed to have more power behind the strike. The killer was not going to go down without a fight – too much was at stake.
It took all of Emily’s strength and concentrated attention to maintain control of her own vehicle. No matter how hard she held the brake down with both feet; her car inched forward and gathered speed. The tires slipped and gripped unevenly, and then the traction slipped again building momentum down the narrow trail. Thick brush and branches scraped along the doors before Emily could see through the tight clearing ahead. The hiking trail ended with a sheer cliff less than a hundred yards ahead.
Copyright 2014, Jennifer Chase
All rights reserved.
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