Madison watched Elijah’s thumbs move over the buttons of the video game. He was trying to teach her how to play a racing game Drake had bought him. She wasn’t very good, but that didn’t matter. Elijah was starting to relax around her. Every time he beat her in a race, he would smile and once he even giggled. At a little after 1:00, Drake emerged from his office. “I have an appointment at a computer company in Grand Junction at 2:00.”
“Okay. Is it a big company?”
“Yeah, it’s a national company. It would be a big account.”
Drake threw his computer bag over his shoulder, grabbed his keys, and rushed through the kitchen into the garage. Madison didn’t think to ask him which company he was going to, but she would hear all about it when Drake got home. After about a half hour of playing games, Madison put on a movie and got the heating pad for Elijah’s hands. The doctor had said to limit how much Elijah used the game and to give him breaks to put heat on his hands. She could tell that Elijah didn’t want to stop playing, but she could see his face relax as the heat from the pad penetrated his hands. They sat in a silence that almost seemed companionable.
Madison’s cell rang. She grabbed it from the coffee table and answered it.
Hal sounded breathless. “Sheriff, we’ve got another one.”
“We’ve got another murder.”
Looking at Elijah, she went into the bedroom and closed the door. She had promised herself she wouldn’t talk about any cases in front of Elijah.
“What’s going on, Hal?”
“Randy spotted the silver Honda parked by a cabin on K Road. When he went to check it out, he found a murder inside the cabin.”
“Is it like the others?”
“No, there’s blood, a lot of it. We’re securing the scene now, and I’ve contacted the coroner.”
“That’s good, Hal. Keep me posted.”
“Sheriff,” Hal started to speak and then stopped.
“Hal, what is it?”
“I know we said we were going to keep you out of the investigation, because of your friendship with Andie and fostering Elijah, but you need to see this.”
“Hal, what aren’t you telling me?”
“There’s a message written on the wall.”
“A message in blood. It’s addressed to you.”
Madison’s heart froze in her chest. Why would the killer be sending a message to her? Was he taunting the Sheriff’s department, because he kept eluding them?
“Madison, are you there?” Hal must be really shaken. He rarely called her Madison when he was on duty. She was always Sheriff. He thought it bolstered her authority with the other deputies.
“Yes, Hal. I think we should still stick to protocol. Once we catch the guy, we need to make sure the case is air tight. I need to stay away from the chain of evidence. Send me a picture of the message.”
“All right, Steward out.”
A few minutes later, Madison’s cell chimed with a text message. The blood was a glowing red against a white wall. Rivulets dripped from each letter making the message resemble the lettering from a bad horror movie. Madison stared at the message, her eyes taking in the letters while her brain fought to look away.
Let’s make a trade.
Trade? What the fuck was he talking about? A trade? Trade what? She heard a soft knock on her door, and she suddenly realized. The killer wanted to make a trade for Elijah, but what could he possibly trade? Elijah slowly opened the door as her phone rang again. She looked at the caller ID. Drake was calling. He was probably calling to talk about the meeting.
“Drake, I need to tell you…”
“Shut up and listen, bitch.”
The voice was deep and harsh.
“You have something I want.”
The room began to spin as she realized she must be talking to the killer. Taking a deep breath, she forced her voice to remain calm. She couldn’t let herself betray any emotion or let the killer get to her. She had to listen carefully to pick up on any information the killer might accidentally give her.
“What would that be?” Her voice was cold and devoid of emotion.
“Don’t fuck with me. You know exactly what I mean. If you fuck with me, then I’m going to hurt you.”
“You can’t even get near to me. If you try…”
She heard a muffled thud in the background, and then someone groaned in pain.
“Madison?” Drake’s voice was hoarse and he sounded weak.
“Listen, Madison, don’t worry about me, just take care of…”
She heard a curse and another thud.
“Do you understand now?” The man’s voice was low and deadly. It was not the voice of a desperate man; it was the voice of a man who held all the leverage in a negotiation.
“Yes. I understand. What do you want me to do?”
“Be ready to move when I contact you. I want an even exchange. My boy for your man, got it?”
The phone went dead in her ear. Elijah stood in the doorway staring at her, his eyes dark with fear. He came to stand by her. Even though he was trying to hide it, she could see his body trembling. She grabbed him and squeezed him against her.
“Don’t worry, Elijah. I’m going to protect you.”
He’d had to abandon the truck. His plan hadn’t gone exactly as he wanted. He’d almost missed Drake in the large parking lot of the computer company. He’d circled around the parking lot, but he didn’t know what Drake’s car would look like. A small flaw in his plan, but one that couldn’t be helped. He’d grown more desperate as the clock had ticked closer to 2:00. Finally, during his last turn around the lot, he had spotted Drake’s curly brown hair as he bent in the back of his minivan. When he saw Drake, he’d slammed on the brakes and left the truck without even turning off the ignition. He’d come up on Drake from behind and cold-cocked him in the back of the head. He’d shoved him onto the back floorboards , grabbed the keys out of Drake’s hand, and sped out of the parking lot. Now, thinking back on it, he should have grabbed Drake when he came out of the building, but then Drake would have been tipped off. He would have found out that the appointment was fake and maybe been on his guard. The man shook his head. He’d done what he had to do, for the boy. It was all for the boy.