“So…there’s going to be fireworks later…want to watch them with me?” I was trying my hardest to lighten the mood. But his charming smile had long disappeared. “I won’t be hanging around here much longer. Sorry.” I shrugged it off. “Would you at least like to dance with me then?” I asked. “I would. But I have two left feet.” He muttered. Maybe it was hormones, but I completely lost my cool. “Why do I get the feeling that you’re trying to get rid of me, Kolt?” I hissed at him. “I’m nearly seven months pregnant and you’ve been off hiding in the woods the whole time! And now that you’re back in the real world, you STILL won’t even acknowledge that I’m carrying your child. If you don’t want to be with me, just say it. Don’t be a coward.” I was growing angrier by the second. “Shannon…you just don’t know.” He shook his head. “It’s killing me. Eating my heart from the inside out. I feel as if I’ve tainted my soul. You need to keep that child as far away from me as you can.” He met my gaze evenly. “I’m a murderer.” I scoffed and rolled my eyes. “You can’t be serious, Kolt! It was self defense!” He slammed his fist down on the bar. “Was it, Shannon? Was it really? You weren’t there!” He rasped in anguish. “I can’t eat. I can’t sleep. All I can do is think about how he struggled as I held him under. It’s going to haunt me for the rest of my life.” I opened my mouth to object but stopped when he pulled an envelope out of his pocket and laid it on the table in front of me. “Open it.” He urged. Inside was the deed to Kolt’s house. “A family should live there. Yours.” He motioned at my stomach. Tears welled up into my eyes. “But what about you? You can’t just leave. Not again.” I managed to say through my tears. He put his hand over mine tenderly. “I’m too old. Too tired. Between the drink, the job, and the nightmares, I probably only have a few years left.” His voice trembled. “You’re better off without me, darling.” I snatched my hand away and wiped my cheeks. He sighed and stood up. He looked as defeated as I felt. “Take care, Shannon. I wish you the best. Both of you.” It took all of my self control not to chase after him as he walked away…but I knew I had to let him go.
“Finding Madison was personal to me and probably the toughest case I’ll ever have. And in instances like this, you’re only as good as your team. Without my partners, Kolton and Thomas Gallagher, I wouldn’t be standing here right now…and neither would Madison. They are the bravest souls I’ve ever met” I motioned towards the two men flanking my right side. “And it’s been an honor to be able to work with them.” My voice echoed into the microphone. I made eye contact with Maddie in the crowd and she lifted her hand to give me a thumbs up. It was six months after Brad’s death and I was giving a speech in front of our chief and the mayor. We were being awarded for our heroism while solving the “Creekside Strangler” case. The auditorium erupted into applause and the mayor stood to shake my hand. “It’s lovely to meet you, Ms. Casey. And I humbly thank you for everything you’ve done for our town.” He grinned broadly at me. “It’s been a pleasure, sir.” We were given our medals then the crowd dispersed into the dining hall. After I got done eating, I noticed Kolt sitting at a table by himself. I hadn’t seen him since the day he’d disappeared from the hospital. He’d been really hard to get in touch with and I’d finally learned from Tommy that he’d gone to his cabin in the mountains to recuperate. “Mind if I sit here?” I asked, sliding out the chair next to him. “Not one bit.” He beamed up at me. “Congratulations by the way.” He said gazing at my stomach as I sat down. “Uh…yeah. Thanks. I feel like I’m going to pop at any moment.” I laughed awkwardly. He didn’t respond. I could feel his eyes on me as I stared down at my hands. Finally he cleared his throat. “So…big day tomorrow, huh?” He queried. “Yeah, the wedding.” I said excitedly. “You’ll be there, right?” He nodded and tipped his hat as he stood to leave. “Wouldn’t miss it for anything, darling.”
Kolt was sent into the OR for surgery as soon as we arrived at the hospital…and after several excruciatingly long hours, he was finally resting comfortably in bed. He was going to be sore and would need someone to keep an eye on him but in the long run, he was going to be okay. I stayed overnight while everyone else went home…I wanted to be there when he woke up. My dad, Madison, and Tommy showed back up the next morning. “I wish you’d came home with your sister last night. But I’m so happy you’re alright.” Dad told me, wrapping me into a tight hug. I nodded and kissed him on the cheek. “It’s good to see you, too.” Tommy waved at me and took a seat in the waiting room. “How are you doing today?” Madison asked me. “I’m exhausted. But I don’t want to leave in case he wakes up. Why hasn’t he woke up yet?” I mumbled and wiped my eyes. “Maybe he needs his beauty sleep.” Madison teased, making me smile. “The doctor will call if anything changes with Kolt. But he’s going to be fine, Shannon. Sitting here isn’t going to change anything…so why don’t you go home and get cleaned up. Then we’ll grab some lunch. You’ll feel so much better afterwards, I promise.” Madison suggested, rubbing my shoulders. “I suppose you’re right.” I agreed. But when I came back after a long soak in the tub and a full belly, I found an empty bed instead of Kolt. “Where is he?” I interrogated the closest nurse. “He discharged himself even though it was against our advise. We could not force him to stay. I’m sorry, mam.” I apologized for being snappy and headed out to the parking lot. I pulled out my cell and called him over and over but it kept going straight to voicemail. “Where are you, Kolt?”
Kolt: “And here we are.” Brad grinned. He picked the gun up from the table and pointed it at me. “So this is what’s going to happen. I’m going to let you out of there and we’re going to take a walk over to your girlfriend’s cage.” He stood and pulled a set of keys from his pocket. As he opened it, he narrowed his eyes. “And no funny business or you’ll be sorry.” He added nastily. I put my hands up in surrender and walked out. “Fine. Just don’t hurt anyone.” He raised his eyebrows and smiled. “I won’t. But you will.” He motioned for me to move forward, then followed behind me as I slowly made my way to Shannon. Then he handed me the keys. “Open it.” I stared him down, wondering where he was going with this. “You’re gonna go in there, wrap your hands around her throat, and squeeze until the light fades from her eyes. Who knows, you might like it. I sure did.” He shrugged. “Then do her sister. After that, I’ll think about letting your boy go. But you…you’re going to go to prison. For my crimes. A life for a life. I think that’s pretty damn fair. And I’ll slip back into the shadows…where I belong. No one will ever hear from me again.” I stood there, gaping at him. Madison sobbed loudly from behind the bars while Tommy tried to calm her. Shannon was looking at me fearfully, her lower lip trembling. “You do it. Or else your kid will take a bullet to the head.” Brad threatened. I looked deeply into Shannon’s eyes as the tears streamed down her face. “Darling, I’m so sorry. For everything.” I whispered. The door creaked loudly as I opened it and I chose that moment to elbow Brad directly in his gut. “Everyone run! Get out of here! Now!” I yelled as I struggled with Brad for control of the gun. I was able to see Shannon’s feet reach the top of the stairs before a loud explosion erupted in my ears…the gun had gone off.
Kolt: “I was sent to live in a group home for troubled boys. I never really fit in there. Or anywhere. So when I was fourteen, I ran away. Been living on the streets ever since.” Well imagine that. Every criminal I’d ever met had a sob story and they all sounded the same. I didn’t pity not a one of them. A man’s upbringing doesn’t shape his future. Their actions do. But yet I couldn’t stop staring at Brad. This bitter shell of a man who brandished my face. Something deep in my gut knew he was telling the truth. I was desperately trying to concentrate on his confession but I couldn’t stop thinking about what I would do to him once I got out of this cage. “My life pales in comparison to yours. You had it good, I’m sure. You had Mom.” He interrupted my thoughts. “But I didn’t know what I’d missed out on until the day you nearly arrested me. You ran us off from the park…we were drunk and “disorderly.” You let us go with a warning, even after my ex gave you a tongue lashing. You didn’t even look at me…you looked right through me. But I noticed you…brother.” He laughed. “So I made it my mission to MAKE you see me…everywhere. I figured I’d leave you breadcrumbs until you connected all the pieces together…but you never did. So here’s a thought for you, Kolt. Think of all the bodies you DIDN’T find.” I swore at him under my breath. “Then you called me out on live tv. You were so arrogant. Made me feel even more inferior than I already did.” He shook his head angrily. “I had to take something you loved away. Your wife.” I gripped the door handle and pulled as hard as I could…it just wouldn’t budge. “Their mother,” He pointed to Shannon and Madison, “saw me casing your house. She thought I was you, of course…but I had to get rid of her before she figured it out.” I could hear the girls crying in the cell next to mine. “Then you chased me deep into the mountains where I finally grew bored of our game. I met a girl. Settled down for a while. Until I heard that your son had moved back here…and lo and behold, you were right behind him.”