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Dead Game by Jennifer Chase
In this Video Game, "Game Over" Means You're Dead
In her independent efforts to catch child killers, Emily Stone discovers the evidence that the cops can’t — or won’t — uncover. Now, this covert investigator is back on the hunt for the world’s most sick and twisted murderers. But even with help from ex-police detective Rick Lopez, this time she’s facing her most dangerous opponent yet.
The headlines in the San Jose Mercury News blare updates on a serial killer who seems able to slaughter with impunity. Men, women — it doesn’t matter; the victims serve only to satisfy a perverted need to kill. The killer watches the moment of death on multiple computer screens, over and over again. The only connection is that they’re all devotees of the latest video-game craze — a sophisticated brain-puzzler called EagleEye.
When the killer goes after Lopez’s law-enforcement mentor, Lopez and Stone decide to give the cops a little extra, unsolicited help. What follows takes them deep inside a shocking high-tech world, a kind of social-networking community for serial killers. But when they start getting too close to the truth, all hell’s going to break loose.
Now, Stone and Lopez become the killer’s next target as Stone must make a difficult decision to leave the ones she loves in an all-or-nothing effort for survival. Can they stay alive long enough to blow the whistle on this unlikely perpetrator?
Tuesday 2300 Hours
The cold Monterey Bay quickly surrounded her petite body as she eased herself further into its icy grip. She unconsciously took a deep cleansing breath and slowly let out an exhalation.
Fog deftly floated across the boat harbor at Gulls Landing, and then headed east with the usual paranormal flair. The atmospheric ghost continued to gradually suffocate the masts of nearby boats until they were no longer visible.
Her vision was obscured only by the heavy coastal evening weather, but she knew the direction she needed to swim. A child’s life depended upon her expertise and there was no time for any mistakes. It was entirely up to her now.
Emily Stone moved expertly, almost silently, through the water. The eerie sound of silence pounded in her ears as it tried desperately to confuse her equilibrium. She felt a slithering chill try to penetrate her tight wetsuit, but she continued to glide effortlessly, pulled by an unknown evil force. A faint clank reverberated through the many boat slips as they gently rocked back and forth from the subtle changing tide.
A single light reflected through the fog at the end of the last pier. Emily knew it was from the boat that doubled as a prison for eight-year-old Mandy Alvarez. She had been snatched from her safe Salinas front yard only a few days earlier. Mandy had been innocently playing with several of her favorite dolls on the front lawn, when the predator approached and made his bold move. He had watched her for more than a week and studied the neighborhood’s habits. It was easy when the time was right. He grabbed her, picked her up, forced her into his car, quickly restrained her with waiting handcuffs, and sped away. It took only an instant, and then she was gone.
Emily, experienced with criminal profiling and intense investigative techniques, was able to close in on the list of probable suspects and found Simon Gafferty to be one of particular interest. There were several registered sex offenders within six blocks of Mandy’s house, but Simon seemed to fancy eight-year-old girls with long brown hair. He had been suspected of several failed attempts to abduct little girls from the Stockton, California area and now he was residing in coastal Monterey.
The boat was registered to a mutual friend that was serving ten years in Soledad prison for armed robbery, and it would serve Simon well as a safe hideout for his evil deeds until he moved the girl to another location, killed her, and dumped the body. He would then be free to troll again for his next victim.
Emily adjusted her remote headset and softly said, “I wish I could trade places with you right now.”
A quarter of a mile away, at the end of a deserted shipyard, a black Ford Explorer was tucked in next to a decrepit sailboat with peeling blue and yellow paint, which had once been shiny and brilliant cruising on the bay. For just a moment, there was a slight flicker of light from a reflection obscured in the night. Then an outline materialized of a man sitting in the driver’s seat.
Rick Lopez smiled and said, “I’d trade places with you for this cold any day.” He sniffled dramatically as he looked at his laptop computer. A dark green blinking cursor moved across the screen.
Rick continued, “Where are you?” His chiseled jaw tightened with concern as he studied the screen.
Emily made her way toward one of the docks as a shortcut. She whispered in response, “In the water.”
Rick replied, “Funny. What’s your ETA?”
“About four minutes give or take a few seconds.”
“You are just going to take identifying photos, right?” He emphasized.
Emily didn’t answer.
She patted her waterproof pocket that contained her small cell phone and underwater digital camera. She felt exposed and vulnerable without her two firearms, her usual Glock 17 and a Beretta Bobcat that she always carried tucked tightly against her body and in her ankle holster.
“I know you heard me.” Rick waited for her to answer and absently adjusted his headset in anticipation. His dark eyes seemed to grow even darker as he waited for her to answer. He sipped his already lukewarm coffee and imagined a warmer and more comfortable place to be instead of this mission.
Finally she responded, “Of course.”
Rick knew Emily could be impulsive at times and she took too many dangerous chances, but he loved her spirit and he wouldn’t dare do anything that would extinguish it.
Emily could see several large boulder-like outlines along the closest pier and squinted her eyes trying to make out the shapes, but she couldn’t ascertain what they were. The gate entrance was locked and secure, and everything else seemed quiet.
Suddenly, something hooked her left foot, and for a brief instant, she panicked. Her breathing became shallow and her heart rate pounded like an erratic jackhammer. She twisted in the water, which caused her arms to flail with rapid splashes. To her dismay, a rogue piece of seaweed had wound itself around her left ankle. Easily, she untangled the intrusive sea vegetation and continued her cold swim, feeling a bit annoyed with her hasty reaction.
Emily’s thoughts returned to what the little girl must be thinking at this critical moment and how everyone had abandoned her in her time of need. The little girl must have been afraid for her life at every moment, and imagined the evil practices that this man was going to do to her if she wasn’t rescued in time.
Emily moved closer among the pilings beneath the boats. She could barely make out the names painted on the sides of the carefully tended sailboats that read “The Sea Urchin” and “Lil’ Cindy”.
More movement caught Emily’s eye. She waited a moment to try and focus her sight on the large outline.
It was quiet and still as the fog continued to drift over the harbor.
Now, she wished that Rick had accompanied her. Maybe it was just her nerves because of the eerie fog cover in the middle of the night, and the fact that she was all alone that seemed to cast an eerie atmosphere.
Rick tapped his finger with nervous energy on the laptop computer. Movement shifted in the back of the Explorer. A large black Labrador retriever head emerged and pushed a wet nose at Rick’s face.
“Hey Sergeant. You worried too?” He scratched the large dog behind the ears. “You know your mom, she can be so pigheaded sometimes.” The dog seemed to agree with him and started to calmly pant in anticipation.
Emily counted the boat slips that led up to the child abductor’s boat.
There were now only six.
It was deserted on the pier and particularly still. The light began to brighten on her target and she was almost there.
She slowly turned around in the water.
There was a large ring of ripples in the water and it headed straight toward her. Her eyes were now accustomed to the darkness and unsettling fog cover. The large outlines that she had seen previously on the dock were a group of sea lions snoozing quietly on the pier. One curious large male sea lion weighing in at about 750 pounds approached her at attack speed. She suddenly felt a hard glancing bump on her right side as the aggressive sea mammal quickly hit, changed direction and then faced Emily head-on. He positioned himself ready for a battle.
All rights reserved. Copyright © 2009 Jennifer Chase