The Evelyn Talbot Chronicles
Release date: October 3, 2017
UK Release date: November 2, 2017
SHE CAN MAKE SENSE OF A COMPLEX CRIMINAL MIND
Evelyn Talbot, a psychiatrist at a maximum-security prison in remote Alaska, studies some of the world’s worst serial killers. But she’s about to meet her most elusive patient at Hanover House yet: Dr. Lyman Bishop, AKA the Zombie Maker given his fondness for performing icepick lobotomies on his victims. A brilliant cancer researcher, Bishop is either the most cunning psychopath Evelyn has ever encountered—or he is wrongly convicted.
WHAT HAPPENS WHEN A CRIMINAL CAN SEE INTO HER OWN?
When a new ice-pick fatality occurs, it seems Bishop really was wrongly convicted. Except…Evelyn has a personal connection to the murder victim and that suggests the killer may be someone from her own past: Jasper Moore, her high school boyfriend who tortured her and left her for dead when she was only sixteen. Jasper murdered three of her friends back then—and was never caught. Is he trying to send a message with this copycat crime? Is he coming for her next? The only thing Evelyn knows for sure is that if Jasper is on her trail, she might not be able to escape again . . .
We are all evil in some form or another.
The Night Stalker made that statement. Although Dr. Evelyn Talbot had never
interviewed Richard Ramirez personally, like she had so many other serial killers, and the opportunity was now lost to her since Ramirez died of cancer in 2013, she’d watched video footage of the interviews he’d done with others. In her opinion, he’d been pandering for the camera when he tossed out that little nugget, had been hoping to sound profound, far deeper than he actually was.
She ran into that a lot. So many of the psychopaths she studied pretended to be more than they were. Most weren’t smart enough to pull off the charade. Even those who’d gone years before being caught and punished for their crimes hadn’t done so because of any great intelligence. Often it was sheer luck, basic survival instinct or a lack of solid police work that got in the way. Or they looked completely benign—like Jeffrey Dahmer or Ted Bundy.
But the newly convicted Lyman Bishop, the inmate she’d just met with … She found him to be far more unnerving than any of her other patients. He was brilliant and so calculating—she grimaced at the pictures in his file, which lay open at her elbow—not to mention absolutely unflinching in his brutality. They called him the Zombie Maker, and for good reason.
Taking off her glasses, which she used now and then to avoid eyestrain, she leaned her head on the back of her chair and stared up at the ceiling of her office. It wasn’t quite lunch and yet she felt like she’d put in a whole day. She’d been up late last night, preparing for her interview with Lyman Bishop. She had to stay one step ahead of him where and when she could, or she’d earn his contempt instead of his respect. If that happened, she might as well have him transferred somewhere else, because he’d do her no good at Hanover House. If she couldn’t develop some type of rapport, she’d never learn who he really was.
He’d merely toy with her. He’d probably try to do that, anyway.
With a sigh, she put her glasses back on and continued typing up her thoughts and impressions. Although she typically welcomed every inmate who was transferred to Hanover House upon his arrival, yesterday she’d been in Anchorage with Amarok, her boyfriend and Hilltop’s only police presence, visiting his father, who was ill. Lyman Bishop had spent his first night, Sunday night, at Hanover House before she could meet him. And whether this would be good or bad in the overall scheme of things she couldn’t say, but he was everything she’d expected him to be.
When I tell a new acquaintance what I do for a living, I hear the name Hannibal Lecter far more than I do B.T.K. or John Wayne Gacy or that of any psychopath who ever really lived, she wrote. Everyone seems to associate “psychopath” with Silence of the Lambs. I’ve always eschewed that fictional representation. The men who commit murder for the sake of enjoyment are typically much more mundane. Even though I’ve met many dangerous men over the years, men who have committed stomach-turning atrocities, none has ever reminded me of Thomas Harris’s character. Until Lyman. He’s the only killer intelligent enough to elicit the association.
She paused to remove her high school Homecoming picture from her top drawer. Jasper Moore, her first boyfriend, smiled back at her from twenty-one years ago. Young. Handsome. Seemingly guileless. So unlikely a killer. By looking at him, no one would believe that a short time later he’d murdered her three best friends and tortured her for days before slitting her throat and leaving her for dead. He’d been seventeen, she sixteen. That she’d survived was nothing short of a miracle. She’d been alive to name her attacker and to say what he’d done to her, and yet he’d slipped away, had never been apprehended in the two decades since, despite all her efforts with private detectives and the full focus of police.
She had her theories about how he’d managed such a feat; his wealthy parents must’ve gotten him out of the country right away. But with or without help, he was the only other psychopath she’d ever met whom she would categorize as being as smart as Lyman Bishop. Which was what made Lyman so intriguing and frightening to her. After hundreds of disappointments—like Anthony Garza, who’d exhibited similar behavior even if he wasn’t quite as intelligent—having the opportunity to examine a mind so similar to Jasper’s was thrilling.
At the same time, as Victor Hugo once said, Nothing is so terrifying as this monologue of the storm.
Was there a new storm on the horizon that had nothing to do with the massive cold fronts that routinely socked Alaska this time of year? When she’d met with Lyman, she’d gotten the bone-chilling sensation that he would change her life in some way.…
He made me feel there is nothing I can do to stop him and others like him, which plays into my worst fear, she added to her notes. That what I’ve been through will be for naught. That what I’m doing, sacrificing Boston and the association of the family and friends I have there to live in this frozen wilderness, will, in the end, mean nothing.
The intercom on her desk buzzed, startling her, she was so deep in thought. With a glance at the clock, she pressed the button that would allow her to communicate with her receptionist, four-foot-nine Penny Singh. “Yes?”
“Jennifer Hall is here.”
Right on time. “Send her in.”
Sliding away from her computer, Evelyn stood in anticipation of greeting her guest. These days, she didn’t visit with many victims or their families, not since she’d opened Hanover House a year ago. Working in the small, remote town of Hilltop, an hour outside of Anchorage, made her less accessible. And now that she’d accomplished her goal of establishing the institution, where she and a team of five forensic psychologists plus one neurologist could study the “conscienceless” in great depth, she didn’t have to appear on television quite so often, was no longer constantly in the public eye, lobbying for the necessary funding. She’d dedicated her life to unraveling the mysteries of the psychopathic mind. Now that she was free to pursue that goal as she had envisioned, she was consumed by her work and rarely let anything else interrupt. But when Jennifer Hall, the sister of Jan Hall, one of Lyman Bishop’s victims, contacted her several weeks ago just before Christmas, Evelyn didn’t have the heart to refuse to see her. Having been a victim herself, she couldn’t help identifying with the suffering of others. She wanted to offer what peace and support she could, even if that didn’t amount to as much as she wished.
“Dr. Talbot, thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule to speak with me,” Jennifer said the moment she entered the room.
Only twenty-five, with long dark hair and wide brown eyes, Jennifer was attractive, but Evelyn barely glanced at her face. Almost instantly her gaze fell to the other woman’s swollen belly as if dragged there by magnetic pull. That Jennifer was expecting had nothing to do with their meeting, which was, no doubt, why she hadn’t mentioned it, but Evelyn was transfixed. She’d been thinking about babies a lot lately. Amarok had mentioned marriage for the first time a month ago. She’d pretended not to hear him when he made the comment—something about getting her a ring if she’d ever agree to marry him—and he hadn’t brought it up since, but she’d been contemplating whether she could make that commitment. To him. To anyone. She was thirty-seven. If she was going to have a family, she needed to do so fairly soon. She’d just never imagined such a traditional future for herself. Not with Jasper still on the loose. The most heartbreaking thing she could imagine would be for him to come after one of her children.…
“No problem,” she said. “I can’t believe you were willing to make the trip.”
“Jan was more than my sister. She was my identical twin.”
Fortunately, Lyman’s file contained no postmortem photographs of this particular victim so Evelyn didn’t have a terrible image of a murdered Jan Hall pop into her head. He’d been convicted on circumstantial evidence alone. He’d been in the area and didn’t have an alibi. He’d kidnapped and murdered other girls who looked similar. And Jan’s underwear had been found in his house with his other “trophies.”
“I understand,” Evelyn said. “And I’m sorry. I can only guess at how painful it must be for you to … to carry on without her.”
Jennifer blinked rapidly. “Sometimes I wake up at night and I’m positive she’s alive, you know? It’s like I can feel her, feel that tight connection. Then morning comes and…”
With it, reality. Evelyn knew all too well how that went. Despite the passage of so many years, she still had dreams of talking and laughing with her best friends from high school, all three of whom were gone, thanks to Jasper. “And you lose her all over again.”
“Yes,” Jennifer said quietly.
Evelyn gestured toward the proof of her pregnancy. “When are you due?”
“I have only a month left.”
“And your doctor let you travel so far from Minneapolis?”
“I didn’t consult him. I had to meet you, and I knew it would be easier before the baby than after.” Her attention briefly shifted to the window, which showed another cold and dreary day. “I couldn’t imagine bringing something as pure and innocent as a newborn into this place, where there’re so many evil men, even if they are behind bars.”
Evil. Once again, Evelyn was reminded of Richard Ramirez’s words and the question that drove her: What made some people more evil than others? And why did those people enjoy inflicting pain on the innocent? “I hope I can help in some way. Please, sit down.”
As Jennifer levered herself into the chair across the desk, Evelyn perched on the edge of her own seat and smiled to ease the younger woman’s anxiety. “What can I do for you?”
Propping her purse on what little remained of her lap, Jennifer leaned forward. “I need to know where my sister’s body is. I need to reclaim it, to give Jan a proper burial. Then maybe I’ll get to feel she’s in a good place, at peace. And I’ll have somewhere I can go to grieve and say good-bye. I need to create an ending for this terrible chapter in my life.”
Evelyn clasped her hands in front of her. She hated to disappoint her earnest visitor, but if Lyman Bishop hadn’t provided this information to date, chances were good he had a reason—if only to continue to torment those he could. The police would’ve asked him, would’ve made every effort, including offering to let him serve his time somewhere other than Hanover House. Most inmates weren’t excited to be sent to such a cold and foreign place, so far from friends and loved ones. “Dr. Lyman is … difficult to deal with.”
“Difficult?” Her bitter laugh sounded slightly hysterical.
“An understatement, for sure,” Evelyn agreed, but she hadn’t been referring to his behavior as she knew it. So far, he hadn’t acted badly in front of her. She’d been referring to his complexity and how hard he was to read.
“He wouldn’t tell the police anything. The day they captured him, he asked for a lawyer and said nothing more. Wouldn’t speak to the media. Wouldn’t testify in his own defense.” Jennifer grew earnest again—or maybe “determined” would be a better word. “But there must be something that can be used to … to entice him. Something he wants.”
“From what I’ve heard, having money can make an inmate’s stay much more pleasant, and he’s used to the finer things of life. He’s some kind of foodie, from what I’ve heard. I don’t have a lot, but I’m willing to give anything I’ve got.”
“He just arrived here at Hanover House. Those luxuries will become more important as he grows weary of doing without them. Until then, I doubt he’ll be sufficiently motivated.”
“You’re saying … we should wait?”
“I think that would be smart. Give me time to get to know him, to figure out what makes him tick—as much as that might be possible. Once he and I fall into a routine, maybe I’ll be able to determine what, if anything, will give us the best chance.” If she could find a chink in his armor, she’d exploit it. But she wasn’t confident she’d be able to get additional information out of him. Gaining any leverage on someone who was incarcerated for life and had nothing to lose wasn’t easy.
With a wince, Jennifer closed her eyes. “It’s been two years since she went missing,” she said when she opened them again. “I’m glad her murderer has been caught and that he’s in prison. I know I’m luckier than most, that there are those who never get justice. You–you’re one of them, and I’m sorry for that. But I have to … I have to be able to put her to rest. For my own peace of mind.”
Evelyn closed Lyman’s file, in case Jennifer happened to realize whose it was. This distraught young woman didn’t need to see the photographs it contained—although she’d probably seen some of them at his trial. “Trust me. I’d love to be able to help. But dealing with a man like Lyman Bishop is a bit of a chess game. If he figures out how badly we crave the information, he’ll be sure to withhold it. He might even taunt us with the fact that he has something we want but can’t get.”
“Why?” Jennifer cried. “What pleasure could he possibly get from keeping the location of Jan’s remains a secret?”
“It’s not pleasure so much as power,” Evelyn explained.
“So you can’t reason with him? Can’t bargain with him?”
Evelyn scrambled to come up with something that might ease Jennifer’s mind without promising more than she could deliver. “I can try, but it would be a mistake to offer him incentives or concessions right off the bat. He’ll surmise the level of our desperation, and then we may never get what we want.”
Dropping her head, she pinched the bridge of her nose.
“Jennifer, what is it?” Evelyn asked, trying to catch her eye.
She looked up. “What do you mean? I just told you.”
“We could’ve discussed this over the phone. What made you come all the way to Alaska at eight months pregnant?”
Tears welled up, but she set her chin and wiped them away. “My mother’s been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.”
More tragedy … “I’m sorry to hear that.”
“So am I. My father died of a heart attack when I was fifteen. Then Jan fell into the hands of that … that monster you have here. And now this. My entire family will soon be gone.”
“You’ll have your baby,” Evelyn said, hoping to encourage her.
Her hand covered her extended abdomen. “I may not keep her. I haven’t decided. She’d probably be better off with someone else. I don’t have a lot to offer.”
“It’s a girl?”
“According to the ultrasound.”
“And the father? He isn’t in the picture?”
“No. He got his ex pregnant about the same time I found out I was expecting and went back to her.” Fresh tears caught in her eyelashes, a few even slid down her cheeks, but she stubbornly dashed them away.
“That must be heartbreaking.”
“I’ll deal with it. Somehow. I just … I can’t stand the thought of my mother dying before we can get Jan home and buried. We should be able to share that moment, to have the chance for all three of us to be together one last time. It’s her dying wish.”
Evelyn would love to help fulfill that wish. But they were talking about Lyman Bishop, someone she already knew she’d have to handle very carefully. “How much time does your mother have left?”
“The doctors have given her three months.”
Which was an estimate, of course. She could die sooner as easily as later. “I’ll do the best I can, look for any angle, every opportunity. I promise. Just … give me a couple of weeks.”
“A couple of weeks? With only a sentence or two from him this could all be over. In seconds!”
“And yet most of these guys carry that sort of information to their graves.” Evelyn stood so that she could hold out the box of tissues she kept on her desk.
“What if I were to talk to him?” Jennifer asked. “What if … what if I were to make a personal appeal? Would that make any difference?”
“I doubt it. You have to understand what most psychopaths are like. They do what they do because they are the only ones who matter to them. If they want something, they take it, even if it means lying, stealing or manipulating anyone and everyone around them. If inflicting pain gives them pleasure, they see no reason they shouldn’t have the gratification. Unless they choose to, they feel no empathy.”
Jennifer dabbed at her eyes, smearing her mascara in the process. “What about his sister?”
When Lyman was sixteen, Marianna, his mother, left the family for another man. Shortly after that, Lyman’s father committed suicide, so Marianna took the kids. But after only a year, her new love interest made it plain that he wasn’t willing to maintain a relationship with her if that relationship included the children. So she delivered Lyman and ten-year-old Beth to the closest mall to shop for the day and never went back. When Lyman and his sister finally made it home by riding the city bus, the house was empty, completely cleaned out. Marianna and her boyfriend had moved without a forwarding address. From that point on, Lyman lived on his own and finished raising his little sister—all while getting a doctorate using government grants and loans and working two jobs. Beth seemed to be the only person he cared about. He’d had a few romantic relationships, but none that had lasted more than four or five months.
“What about her?” Evelyn asked.
“She sobbed throughout the trial. She seemed to care about him. Maybe there’s some way to get in touch with her. Maybe he’d do it for her.”
Evelyn couldn’t believe that would work. First, Beth would have to agree to try to get the information out of him, and it was possible she felt too much loyalty. Despite what he’d done to other women, he’d taken care of her when she had no one else. Second, unlike the intelligent Lyman, she’d had developmental issues growing up. By all indications, her IQ was well below average, so she might not understand much more than the sudden loss of her brother. Third, she would have to come to Alaska in order for an appeal to have the kind of effectiveness they were hoping to achieve. A letter or a phone call wouldn’t be the same. Evelyn wasn’t even sure Beth was capable of traveling on her own.
For all of those reasons, enlisting Beth wouldn’t be easy. But Evelyn was willing to talk to her, to determine if there wasn’t something that could be done. “I’ll make a few calls, see what I can find out.”
“Okay.” Clasping her tissue in one hand and her purse in the other, Jennifer stood. “Thank you. I’ll be at the motel in town—The Shady Lady. You’ll have to call there to talk to me, since there’s no cell service in this godforsaken place.”
Ironically, since she’d once thought of Hilltop in the same way, Evelyn couldn’t help being offended. She knew how much Amarok loved this place, had become converted to its incredible beauty, freedom and fresh, if cold, air. But she didn’t react. She was more concerned about the fact that Jennifer still sounded as though she expected quick results. “Okay, but please be aware that my efforts might not culminate in the information you want, especially before you leave.”
“I’m not going anywhere,” she said. “Not until that bastard reveals where he put Jan’s body.”
Evelyn heard the steel in her voice. “What about the baby?”
“There are doctors here, aren’t there?”
“In Anchorage, I’m sure. But—”
“Hopefully, we’ll be able to find out where he put Jan’s body in the next few days or weeks, so I can go home.”
Evelyn didn’t welcome the pressure of having a pregnant Jennifer Hall in town. She’d barely met Lyman, had no idea what to expect from him. He could easily refuse to speak on the subject.
But she had a sister of her own, knew she’d feel the same if she were in Jennifer’s shoes. “I’ll do what I can.”
“Thanks,” she said, and Evelyn walked over to hold the door while she left.
Evelyn had returned to her desk and opened Lyman’s file again, was just flipping to the beginning, looking for the name of the Minneapolis detective who’d handled his case, when Jim Ricardo, the neurologist she’d hired to replace Dr. Fitzpatrick, who’d quit before he could be fired last year, poked his head into her office.
“You got a minute?”
She almost said she didn’t. She had a busy day ahead and her mind was on other things. But she figured she might as well hear him out, address whatever he needed and get it over with. It was a relief that she no longer had to tiptoe around Dr. Fitzpatrick, who’d made her life so unpleasant. At forty-one, Dr. Ricardo didn’t have the experience of Fitzpatrick, who’d been older, but he also wasn’t trying to wrest control of the institution away from her. If she had to pick one over the other, she’d take Dr. Ricardo all day, every day. “Sure. What’s up?”
“I was hoping to use our new inmate in a study.”
“The empathy study?”
“We could use him for that, too. But I was thinking of another I’d like to start, one designed to determine if those diagnosed with anti-social personality disorder can more readily suppress the autonomic nervous system’s response to deception.”
“And thus pass a lie detector test.”
Early studies, studies by David Raskin and Robert Hare back in the late seventies, suggested psychopaths could not beat a polygraph any more easily than regular people, but those findings had since come under dispute. Some claimed that psychopaths’ lack of fear of punishment or reprisal should make them less susceptible to the stress registered by others. She could see why Ricardo would be eager to answer the question one way or another—or at least provide further insight. But she wasn’t ready to let anyone else interact with Lyman. “Sounds interesting, but I’d rather you not use Bishop.”
“He’s so new. Give me a chance to work with him for a few weeks, to determine how cooperative he’s willing to be and where he might be able to offer the most to our efforts.”
Ricardo peered more closely at her. “You’ve never barred me from using someone before. Why is he different?”
“As you know, most people with anti-social personality disorder don’t have good impulse control, which means they lack the self-discipline to get through extensive schooling—”
“Unless you believe that some of the world’s greatest business leaders are psychopaths,” he broke in. “The case has been made for that, remember.”
He had a point. Psychopaths were more attracted to business than any other profession. Many were also policeman, lawyers and surgeons. But she wasn’t talking about law-abiding psychopaths, and Ricardo knew it. “They might be psychopaths, but they don’t kill people. Of the subjects we get, few are as educated as Dr. Lyman. He was a biomedical researcher at the University of Minnesota—a fruit fly geneticist, to be exact—who has contributed a great deal to cancer research.”
“Are you sure?”
His sarcasm took her off guard. “I don’t follow you.”
“Maybe, like that researcher from the University of Iowa who altered some of his samples to boost HIV vaccine test results in order to achieve more grant money, he cheated somehow.”
She could see why someone might suspect that. Psychopaths weren’t often the sort of people who put in a lot of hard work. If it was possible to bend the rules or get around some prerequisite to what they wanted, they often did. “From all I’ve heard so far, his work seems to be unimpeachable. He did whole genome DNA sequencing with another geneticist, making it possible to determine what types of cell mutations are causing cancer.”
“Human cells likely undergo the same process.”
“Sounds noble, but I doubt he restricted his bad behavior to murder. You know how criminally versatile most psychopaths are.”
That was true, too, but Evelyn got the impression Lyman Bishop had a code of ethics he lived by even if it wasn’t the same as a “normal” person’s. What he’d done for his sister was admirable. “Regardless, I don’t want him purposely throwing off our findings for his own amusement. Please, leave him to me.”
Although he obviously wasn’t happy with her response, Ricardo nodded. “All right. Let me know when he’s cleared.”
“You’re anxious to work with a smart psychopath?” she asked.
“They’re all smart.”
“Cunning, manipulative and deceptive, perhaps. But not as smart as Dr. Bishop.”
“Now you’ve piqued my interest.”
“I’ll turn you loose on him soon.”
“Okay.” He picked up the calendar on her desk and flipped it to the current day, which she hadn’t yet bothered to do. “By the way, Annie’s planning a dinner for Friday after next. She’s lonely, living so far from family. She was hoping that you and Amarok would be interested in coming.”
If Ricardo’s wife couldn’t take the isolation or the darkness and the cold, which were so prevalent this time of year, he’d eventually have to pack his bags and return to San Francisco, where he was from. Evelyn didn’t want to lose him. She’d just replaced the two members of the team she’d lost last year. She figured she needed to support this dinner and any other social event Annie devised, but she wasn’t always comfortable around the other woman. Annie was odd and a tad overbearing. After working with difficult personalities all day, Evelyn preferred to socialize with less complicated people. “Of course. We’d be happy to join you. What would she like me to bring?”
“I have no idea. She’s driving to Anchorage today to pick out the centerpiece and china and such. I’m not sure why what we’ve got won’t do. That woman has dishes coming out of her ears. But if shopping gives her a goal and keeps her happy, I’m all for it.”
Like Evelyn, Ricardo had a true fascination for their work. While so much of deviant behavior appeared to be self-serving, it rarely produced the desired results—not in the long run. Psychopaths destroyed their own lives in the process of destroying others’. Why they couldn’t see that, or didn’t seem to care, was another mystery, one Evelyn hoped to explore in more detail with Dr. Bishop, who’d destroyed his ability to care for his sister, his ability to further his work and his freedom. “She can let me know. I’m sure we’ll have a wonderful time.”
“Thanks.” He started for the door, then paused. “She’s also going to see an obstetrician while she’s there.”
“She might be pregnant?” Evelyn hadn’t seen one pregnant woman since coming to Hilltop, not until this morning. Now she’d seen one and was hearing about another?
“I’m hoping. I’m afraid she’ll insist we start fertility treatments if we don’t conceive soon, and…”
He seemed to be searching for the right words.
“And that would add more stress to an already-challenging transition,” Evelyn supplied.
His lips curved into a ghost of the smile he’d given her the day she hired him, letting her know his situation at home was already far from ideal. “Yes,” he said, and walked out.
Evelyn stared after him. Maybe if Annie could conceive, she’d be more fulfilled, more content, in Alaska—and Evelyn would be able to hang on to Jim.
Returning to Bishop’s file on her desk, she finally located the detective’s name and picked up the phone to call him. She was still thinking about Annie and Jennifer, and whether a baby might be the right thing for her own life, when Penny knocked and poked her head into the room.
“What is it?” Evelyn asked, phone in hand.
“Lyman Bishop would like to speak to you.”
“Again?” She hung up before the phone could ring. “Why?”
“He won’t say.”
She thought of Jennifer Hall. Maybe this was a good thing, the opportunity she needed. “Have two correctional officers bring him to any interview room that’s open.”
If she could just get the cords that bound her hands to loosen a tiny bit more, she could get free.
Christina Piper felt the slight give, knew her captor hadn’t tightened the knot as carefully and securely as he usually did. He’d been in such a foul mood when he appeared earlier, had been angry before he even saw her.
Mercifully, he hadn’t had much time. After torturing her for half an hour, he’d mumbled something about his wife (whom he referred to as “that bitch”) and tied her up as quickly as possible before stomping out of the old camper and slamming the door behind him.
Hands numb and swelling from pulling against her bindings, Christina paused to gather her breath and her strength. Thank God it wasn’t summer. She’d been in the camper for four days. Without air-conditioning, anyone imprisoned in the barren desert near Phoenix, Arizona—where temperatures often skyrocketed to 120 degrees—would’ve been dead by now.
Still, it was hard to breathe, what with the stench of who-knew-what (she couldn’t even allow her mind to supply a possible answer for the terror it would elicit). And the pain from her injuries made her nauseous. She couldn’t see out of one eye, had terrible burns on the insides of her thighs, which had blistered and were oozing puss, and several broken toes. She hadn’t had anything to eat or drink, either, except for the vile substances he’d forced down her throat. She’d thrown up when he made her eat a spider, and he’d slugged her so hard she didn’t know how long she was out, just that when she came to, he was gone.
She couldn’t last like this much longer. If she didn’t escape, she’d die.
Unless he decided to keep her alive. He didn’t seem to be in any hurry to end the torment. He was enjoying it too much.
At last, she got the cord to stretch. She almost couldn’t believe it when she managed to free her hands and untie her ankles. Briefly, she rubbed her sore wrists, trying to get the blood flowing, but she didn’t waste another minute as she scrambled to get out of her 1970’s dungeon.
Her poor toes, which he’d taken great pleasure in smashing with a hammer, made it almost impossible for her to walk. Only by using the counter and stove, and then the wood-paneled wall, was she able to remain upright.
As soon as she flung open the front door, saw the sun and felt the chill winter wind on her face, she started to cry. All she could see for miles was bare land and desert scrub, but it was beautiful to behold. She’d thought she’d never see anything again, anything other than the inside of that camper.
She had no idea how far she was from civilization, or in which direction she should travel in order to find help, but she didn’t care. She’d wander in the desert until she died of thirst and exposure before she’d allow the man who’d dragged her into his van when she left the bar near her house abuse her for another second. Each time he arrived, what he put her through grew worse.
“You’re a monster. I hope you die a death far more painful than the one you have in store for me.” Or worse than the pain he’d caused others. She wasn’t his first victim. She couldn’t be. He was too practiced. Too calm. Too unflinching in the face of her suffering.
When she stepped out, she fell and couldn’t get up. She was too weak, too dizzy.
Cursing, screaming and crying, she began to drag herself away from the camper. But she only made it ten or fifteen feet before she heard a car and turned to see her captor bring his van to a skidding stop.
He’d seen her. She had no way to fight him, and there was no help.
That meant there’d be no escape, either.