The killer continues to taunt and expertly manipulate the police, as well as Stone’s team, and as they run out of time—they leave behind everyone and everything—in Dead Cold.
Life is not worth living if you cannot make a difference—right a wrong, save an innocent life, or catch a serial killer. ~ Emily Stone
ESCAPE WAS IMPOSSIBLE. TEARS STREAMED down her face as she sat in the darkness and waited for the man to return. There was no other choice—but to wait.
She hadn’t eaten anything in three days and had only a limited amount of water—her strength continued to fade with every hour. With her wrists and ankles secured with duct tape, her skin stung with pain every time she struggled to move. At least the man had peeled the tape from her eyes and mouth so that she could see something besides pitch-blackness.
Even if she could escape, the only way to safety was jumping into the frigid water, but she could not swim and would drown before ever reaching the shore.
The only thing thirteen-year-old Kayla Swanson thought about was home. Fond memories flashed through her mind of her parents, her little brother, and her dog Charlie. She was never going to see them again. Their smiling faces were forever etched in Kayla’s mind, and she constantly held them close to her heart.
The boat rocked, and seemed to sway more violently as the tide flooded in and out of the harbor. Kayla could hear a consistent clanking noise above her as the boat rolled back and forth. The sound had a hypnotic quality, and kept her mind on something else besides when the man would return and what he would do next.
Her lips were dry and cracked as she bordered on dehydration. Even her tears dried on her cheeks, leaving her skin stiff and drawn. Her body began to shake, not only from fear, but also because of the extreme exhaustion and the constant dampness all around her.
The boat rocked more, but this time it shifted from the opposite sides. Kayla heard soft footsteps above, which she knew wasn’t her captor’s heavy walk. She strained her eyes in the darkness and thought she saw a thin shadow stealthily move along the upper deck.
Kayla remembered a television series where a team of people hunted ghosts and they had said that ghosts could occupy any type of space, house, property, and even a boat.
She blinked her eyes several times and hoped that she could catch a glimpse of the ghost again. With every ounce of declining strength, Kayla scooted her body closer to the narrow stairs leading to the upper deck.
Painfully craning her neck, she strained to see something up in the darkness.
The dark shadowed areas played tricks on her eyes—it was there, then it wasn’t.
She waited for several minutes.
The only sounds she heard were the usual boat noises she had grown accustomed to hearing. Whatever she thought she heard was gone now. It was most likely her imagination trying to give her some hope and a few moments break from her dire circumstances.
As she relaxed her shoulders and leaned back against the wall, the reality of her world pressing down hard. Tears streamed down her face. She tasted the saltiness that settled around her mouth. Her last moments were approaching, and there was nothing she could do.
Kayla felt her pulse relax and a strange peacefulness overcame her—even if it was for only a moment. It was an overwhelming calm that gave her strength for what was next.
She closed her eyes, but the only thing that came to mind was the man who had grabbed her.
His hefty strength groping at her body.
His horrible sour breath.
He fixated on everything about Kayla. She had the feeling that he had watched her for some time. There was a familiarity in his words as he secured her. The violent struggle that ensued ultimately led to the helplessness she now felt waiting in the darkness.
A light swishing noise made Kayla quickly open her eyes and look up.
There it was again, something darting around the boat. It was the ghost she saw earlier of what appeared to be a small, slim body moving swiftly around the upper deck.
It was not her captor, because he was heavyset and moved differently. He would not care if Kayla heard him or not. This apparition seemed to move with caution and ease.
Guardian angel came to Kayla’s mind. She had always seen pretty paintings and movies with angels as beautiful feminine creatures.
Was that her guardian angel?
Kayla would soon get her answer.
“Kayla,” whispered a woman’s voice. There was almost a musical quality to it.
The girl sat stunned, not moving, and unable to respond at first.
Again, “Kayla?” the voice asked softly.
She opened her mouth and tried to speak, but nothing came out. Kayla hadn’t realized that she hadn’t spoken for two days, and it was difficult to make a sound.
“Yes—” she barely replied.
A concerned woman’s face appeared at the top of the steps. She was beautiful with wet, shoulder-length blonde hair and dark eyes. Dressed in a dark wetsuit, she moved like a Ninja with grace and purpose. She wore some type of earpiece like the Secret Service who protect the president.
“Kayla, are you okay?” she asked with concern.
“Let’s get you out of here,” the woman said and then spoke quietly into her small microphone, “I’ve got her, and she’s okay.”
She easily jumped down into the cabin and began to free Kayla from her restraints. It took some manipulation to tear away layers of duct tape.
“Who are you?” Kayla asked.
“I’m here to rescue you,” she said. “Don’t worry everything is going to be okay now.”
Kayla didn’t hear any other voices or cops moving around above. It was just this woman. She was confused, but curious by her unknown rescuer.
“Who are you?” Kayla asked again.
“Yes, yes, it is to me,” she insisted.
The woman finally freed Kayla’s hands and ankles, and then looked directly at her.
Kayla saw more depth in her eyes than anyone she had ever met. There was a determination and fierceness reflected in a strong presence of the woman. It was something that Kayla had never experienced before with any of the adults that she knew.
“I’m Emily,” the woman reluctantly answered. “Can you walk?”
Emily helped the girl up and guided her to move up the ladder, then quickly followed.
Kayla stood on the deck as the boat bobbed and weaved. She could see that it was docked at the very end of the outer harbor and close to the shore. The thought of being in the water made her shiver as the wind picked up speed, battering her face and body.
Emily turned to Kayla. “We’re going to get you to the dock area and the police will meet you there and take you home.”
Kayla fiercely shook her head.
“It’s okay, honey. I’ll be with you, and it’s only a short distance away.”
“No, no, I can’t swim,” Kayla pleaded, but her words seemed to disappear in the wind.
The tide picked up the intensity of the wind blowing harder against the boat. The fog encroached over the dim lighting of the harbor, which made any nighttime visibility disappear and reappear in strange increments.
The boat rocked and Kayla had a difficult time keeping her footing. Both Emily and Kayla fought to keep their balance and not catapult head first into the water.
Kayla turned her head and saw the heavyset man climb aboard from a dingy at the other side of the boat.
It gave Emily just enough time to push the girl to safety and ready herself for the assault. Kayla landed hard on her backside but managed to push herself into a small crevice to keep from sliding back and forth.
Kayla could do nothing except watch as Emily received a powerful blow from her captor. She went down and slid several feet but wasn’t deterred as she readied herself for the next attack. Amazingly, Emily stood her ground, hands ready, and pushed the man backward. The instant that the kidnapper was off balance, Emily went in for the attack, punching and kicking him in the stomach and groin areas. The heavy man went down hard. He lay moaning on the deck. She couldn’t hear what he said because of the gusts of wind, but his expression was extreme anger and his mouth made ugly shapes as he spoke.
Kayla had never seen anything like it before. Everything going on around her felt more like a nightmare than real life—except for the blonde-haired woman who had come to her rescue. She watched as Emily quickly wrapped some type of plastic ties around the man’s ankles and feet. After making sure that he was secured, Emily turned to Kayla.
Emily gestured for Kayla to join her. She said something, but Kayla couldn’t hear her. Emily grabbed a life preserver from a wooden compartment along the deck.
The boat seemed to buck and fight against the tide, water splashing onto the deck.
Emily moved carefully making her way to Kayla. “C’mon, we have to go.” She slipped the girl’s arms through life preserver and fastened it across her chest. Turning away, Emily said into her microphone, “We’re on our way. ETA five minutes.”
Kayla watched the water slosh and churn all around the boat. It made her legs even weaker and her mouth dryer. She glanced at the bad man still lying on his side struggling to release himself from the ties and spitting out seawater. He still frightened her even though he couldn’t get to her.
Kayla stood on the deck paralyzed with fear, hypnotized by the unpredictable water.
Emily took her hand. “I won’t let go. I promise.”
A large splash of water slapped Kayla’s face. It brought her into a more terrified state and a mental paralysis gripped her body. Her knees locked and her feet glued themselves to the deck. Kayla couldn’t jump into the water. She would rather wait for a boat to rescue her, but she knew that it wasn’t possible. Something about Emily’s face told her that it was the only way—and she didn’t want to ask questions to why.
Emily kneeled, took Kayla’s shoulders and said, “You can do this. I’m with you every step of the way.”
Kayla knew that Emily told her the truth, but her body didn’t want to cooperate. “I can’t!” she yelled.
“You can do it!” Emily insisted.
Kayla looked back at the bad man and remembered everything he had done to her—the terror, the threats, and the disgusting abuse.
She looked down at the water and hesitated.
Emily took a couple of steps down the ladder into the water. “C’mon, Kayla,” she urged.
Kayla moved slowly and felt the boat rock sharply. She caught herself before falling and held her breath. Looking at the boat docks through the fog, she knew that she had to jump into the frigid water to make it to shore.
Emily took another step down toward the water, then another and submerged herself. She held to the last rung of the ladder waiting for Kayla.
“I’m right here. You can do this, Kayla,” she urged. “C’mon.”
Kayla knew that she didn’t want to be on the boat anymore and wanted to put the entire terrifying experience behind her. She trusted Emily even though she wasn’t completely sure why.
She moved closer to the ladder and slowly put her foot onto the next rung. Water continued to splash into her face. She shivered from the cold, but knew that it was only a little bit farther to freedom.
“That’s it—keep going,” Emily coaxed.
Kayla took a deep breath, let it out, and eased herself into the water.
The temperature was shocking to her body. She thrashed for a moment with the anxiety of drowning, but the life vest held her head above the water.
“It’s okay, you’re fine,” Emily insisted. “Put your arms around my neck.”
Kayla clung to Emily as they slowly swam away from the boat. Kayla glanced back expecting to see the heavyset man coming after them, but no one appeared. She thought it looked like a ghost ship in the fog.
Turning her focus back to Emily, she concentrated on the dock as they eased closer. The numbness in her legs and back outweighed her fear of drowning. She knew that she was finally safe.
Several consecutive waves smacked their faces, but Emily kept a strong steady pace.
Kayla coughed and choked on the water that flooded into her mouth. Her face stung like tiny needles piercing her cheeks. She kept her arms tightly around Emily’s neck and could feel Emily’s heavy breathing as she pulled them closer to safety.
The thick fog continued to float across the harbor. It blanketed most of the boats and made the masts invisible.
A tall figure stood on the dock about six feet from the entrance. He had something in his arms. Kayla shook with fear, her imagination reeling her back to her captor.
The man moved quickly forward and helped them out of the water. He then wrapped Kayla in a warm thick blanket. His eyes were kind, his face stern, and he reminded Kayla of a police officer she once met in her neighborhood.
Breathless, Emily said, “Kayla, wait right here. The police are coming and they will take you home. Okay?”
“But—” her teeth chattered. “But—what about you?”
Emily smiled. “Don’t worry about me. You were very brave. I told you that you could do it.”
Police sirens wailed in the distance.
Both Emily and the man looked in the distance where red lights flashed—cars approaching fast.
“Why can’t you take me home?” Kayla asked.
Emily let out a sigh. “The police will be here in minutes. It’s their job to make sure that you’re okay, and they will take you home.”
The couple turned to leave. Kayla knew that they were like secret agents or undercover superheroes, and they had to leave because they didn’t want anyone to know their identities.
Emily turned and looked at her.
“Thank you, Emily. I’ll never forget you,” she said, wanting to remember the details of Emily’s face.
She smiled and then hurried away.
Kayla stood on the dock and watched the couple disappear into the fog until she couldn’t see them anymore.
The sirens approached at high speed.
Three police cars turned down the street leading through the harbor entrance. Their headlights focused on Kayla shivering, wet, and waiting for them.
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