Chapter Fifteen ~
"Let's go back to the house and see what clues we can find," Jackson said woodenly.
"Jackson, you need to ease up on yourself," Jude told him with a friendly slap on the back. “She had Justy's key card, man. There's no way your security could've compensated for that."
"I should've had the retinal scanners installed. That would've stopped this from happening. What if she kills my wife, Jude?" Jackson broke down. He hugged Jude tightly and wept like a child for the loss of his love. Jude awkwardly patted him on the back. When it was all over Jackson stood up, unzipped his suit and grabbed a handkerchief to dry his face, returned it, zipped back up and without another word or a backward glance, got on his four-wheeler and zoomed away.
Jude looked at Amos, and then Scott. "Let's follow the leader." They all mounted-up and took off after their boss. They had to find a clue to lead them back to the killer. We can’t let her keep Amy, he thought.
Amy rode in the helicopter, trying not to throw-up. Riding in a helicopter for the first time and being terrified was not helping. She was much calmer now after praying to God, but she couldn't say she was comfortable and relaxed.
"Are you gonna tell me who you are? I know your precious pride is dying to tell me," Amy said cajolingly.
"Just shut-up and enjoy the ride, Amy," She sneered hatefully.
"Well you know my name, so that means you know at least a little about me. You should even those odds, unless you think you need the advantage."
"Don't flatter yourself you rich, spoiled brat."
"It's very hard to listen to your voice. You sound like Justy, but look like Lauren, and I don't think you're either. At least I know my judgment isn't totally skewed. I liked Justy Sanders from the minute I met her, but I don't like you," Amy told the woman. She was trying to give her the silent treatment, but Amy was already wearing her down.
"It wasn't my idea, you twit," The woman returned in a resentful, yet regretful tone.
"So who's behind all this if it isn't you?" Amy asked, not expecting an answer.
She was surprised when the woman said, "Max Sanders."
"Max Sanders is behind all this? Why, what purpose is it serving him?" Amy asked in surprise. She'd heard Jude talking about Justy's 'cousin.'
"He gets his jollies from hurting others, why else?" She answered in obvious resentment now. "You know, he tricked me just like he did the others. He told me if I did what he told me to he would let me go and I could go back to my family, but he lied."
"What others are you talking about?" Amy asked. "Who are you? What's your real name?"
"My name is Lydia. I met Max a long time ago, when we were in school. We were supposed to get married, but he ran out on me before that happened. Several years later I met someone and we got married. I'd been with Ernie for almost ten years, and then he showed back up. He told my husband I was a former spy for the CIA. At first Anton didn't believe it, but after a while he started to be suspicious, and he had me checked out. He threw me out when he learned the truth. He wouldn't let me see my kids. I haven't seen them for over three years..." A lone tear slipped out of the eye that looked so much like Lauren's.
"How do you sound like Justy, but look just like Lauren?" If she was gonna be killed, she might as well know the truth...
"The face is easy. I had reconstructive surgery. The voice was a little harder." As she talked her voice went through several different transformations until it was a high, squeaky soprano voice that didn't sound a thing like Justy's husky timber. "I listened to hours and hours of her talking so I could fake it."
"How long has he been planning all this?" Amy asked in alarm.
"He started this plan when we were all still back in high school, I just didn't know it. We went to school with Jude. I always had a crush on him, but he never had serious eyes for me.” Her voice returned to its former bitterness.
"I don't think you know Jude at all. He isn't anything like you think. He may have been that way in school, but Jude the man is someone entirely different than you are describing."
"What Jude did to Justy wasn't half as bad as what he did to me. He pretended to like me just so he could get me into bed, and then he dumped me. I was nothing but a used-up rag to him. I loved him and he used me. And she has the gall to go to him all these years later and fall in love with him? She deserves the torment she'll go through."
Amy jumped on the future tense of the woman's words. "You mean Justy is still alive?" Hope soared in her and she couldn't help putting a hand out to plea with the woman. "You don't have to kill her..." Amy was saying. Right before it happened...
The pilot turned around and shot the woman dead right in front of Amy. Blood spattered everywhere and she screamed in horror and anguish.
"You should learn not to talk so much," The man said in a joyful voice. He pulled something out of his pocket and blew it at Amy. She felt a tiny prick in her neck, and then nothing.
Jude and the rest of the team went back to the cabin to look for any clues the woman may have left. They didn't find much. She was thorough, for sure. He was convinced she was a trained professional. It was obvious at least two women had been held hostage here, but there were no clues as to their identity. There was red and gold glitter sprinkled all over the house and the porch outside, as if the real killer wanted them to know she'd been here.
They were on their way to the barn when something on the ground caught Jude's eye. He bent over and picked it up. It was a powder mirror. Why would it be out here?
"Hey Jackson, this isn't Amy's mirror, by chance?" He held up the old-fashioned silver mirror and Jack shook his head in the negative. Maybe it was hers. Jude was ecstatic. "Maybe it belongs to the killer."
"It might belong to our killer," Jackson said at the same time Jude spoke. Great minds did think alike.
Jude tried not to touch it too much. He didn't want to ruin any fingerprints he might be able to get, if she'd been careless enough to leave any, that is. "That's what I was thinking. We need to find out where they took Amy.”
"I know. I ache because she's not here," Jackson said. His voice cracked and Jude couldn't believe the change that had come over his friend since his wife’s abduction.
He stopped near a snow-covered tree stump and sat down. He didn't care if he got wet. He proceeded to take out what he would need to lift any prints. Miraculously, there was a perfect print, almost as if it had been placed there on purpose. He lifted it and sent it into the station. He put a rush on it, hoping they would have it back before they finished here. If they knew who she was, they could find out where she lived. From there they could find out where she hung out, who her friends were, and what her mental state was.
"Do you think it'll take them long to get a match?" Jackson asked.
"It won't take them as long as it would the local police, but I don't know how much faster it'll be," Jude answered.
They were just getting ready to enter the barn when Jude spotted a book lying on the ground. He picked it up and tried to clean it off as best he could. There was mud and snow caked all over it. "Look Jackson, it's a book." He held it out to show his friend. "I'm beginning to think she's purposely leading us somewhere. Do you wanna go back? She could be setting a trap and using Amy as bait."
"I don't care if that is what she's doing. I have to find my wife. If I get killed trying to save her it'll be my own fault," Jackson said. "I love her, and I have to find her."
Jude flipped through the book, not expecting to find much, but gasped when he found a crude, hand-drawn map. It led to the southwestern corner of the property. He showed it to Jackson and asked, "What if it's a trick, man?"
"I told you I don't care, I have to find her.” Jackson said as he began to run the way the map pointed, Jude and the rest of the men on his heels.
When they got to the old, dilapidated red and white building he saw a padlock on the door. Jude pulled out his gun and smashed the lock off with the butt and pulled it away with shaky fingers, hopeful of what might be behind the door.
As soon as the light hit her face, Justy Sanders screamed from the pole she was tied to. Jude raced into the room right behind Jackson, lightly shoving him out of the way.
"Justy, you're alive!" Jude yelled. He untied her as Scott and Amos made it to the room. There was another woman tied up on a pole beside her, but her head was down, and Jude was pre-occupied cutting Justy loose.
Jackson went over and lifted up the other woman's head. "Jude, it's your partner!”
Jude was hugging Justy, checking every inch of her body for cuts and bruises for a second time, but there were few. She hadn't struggled because the kidnapper had drugged her as soon as she'd been snatched. It seemed so long ago now...
"Lauren, are you okay?" Amos asked. "How is it you two are still alive?"
"He wanted to make sure his clones could fool everyone first. He knew if he killed us and his clones weren't convincing his plan would backfire," Lauren responded weakly.
"What was his plan?" Jude came over and cut the straps holding his partner's wrists.
"I'm not sure exactly. He hates you, I know that. He said he went to school with you and you teased him mercilessly every year," Lauren said.
"What does he look like?" Jackson bent down and cut the straps around her ankles.
"He has red hair, and lots of freckles," Justy Sue said with a crack in her voice. They were hungry and cold and Jude wanted to get them back to the cabin as soon as possible, or at least on the road back to the city, if that's the step Jackson wanted to take.
Lauren rubbed her wrists. Jude watched in interest. He'd never noticed how small she was. There were tears falling down her pixie-like face and she was trying to duck her head to hide them. He rubbed her cheeks gently and asked, "Did he hurt you?"
"No, he didn't hurt me physically, at least not today. The man you're looking for has been my boyfriend for the last six months. I can't believe I let him trick me like this. I'm supposed to be a special agent in the FBI and I let some little weasel con me." Fresh tears of hurt and embarrassment flooded her cheeks.
"We’ve got you back now. I'm gonna make sure nothing else happens to you," Jude said firmly.
He rushed back over to Justy and whispered something in her ear before telling her, "I won't ever let anything happen to you again as long as I live. I love you Justy.”
Scott walked over with a puzzled look on his face. "Justy, I know when you were abducted, but what about you, Lauren? When did he get you?"
"He got me the other day when I became suspicious of his behavior. I was astounded at the change in him. When we got to the cabin and there was someone there that looked just like me, I freaked out. He hit me with his fist, and that's the last time I saw him until today."
"Isn't Max Sanders your cousin?" Jackson asked.
"I don't know anyone named Max Sanders," She said with a wrinkled brow.
"Has either one of you seen Amy?" Jackson asked hopefully.
"Yes, they brought her to the house a while ago, but they knew you were coming so they took her around to the west side of the property. That's how they work, these murderers," Lauren said resentfully. It would take a long time to live this one down in her friends' eyes; she didn't know how she would ever manage to live it down in her own. She would do her best to help them catch him, it was the only thing she could do. The personal moments she'd shared with him wisped through her mind, but she shoved them away. He was a monster.
"You mean they didn't leave property?" Jackson asked.
"No, Max said this property was big enough to hide an army," Justy said.
The women wore only jeans and tee shirts and they shivered uncontrollably while they waited on the men to decide what they were gonna do.
"Are we gonna try to catch him?" Lauren asked.
"We're gonna try to catch him, I think it best you two go back to the city and wait for us to return," Jackson said in a commanding tone.
"I want to stay and help put him away. He lied to me, and now I'm ashamed to call myself an agent," Lauren said.
"It wasn't your fault. It isn’t like he had a sign on his back that told you who he really was," Jude said defensively.
"I know, but I should've known something was up. A man that looks and acts like that, and has all that money? It's a dream come true, dream being the operative word. Girls like me don't get guys like that."
"That's not true, Lauren. You just haven't met the right one yet. Give it time," Justy said sweetly. Jude couldn't help thinking this was the girl he fell in love with. He should've trusted in his ability to discern character more than he had. Maybe they would've been onto the fake Justy a lot faster. When all of his friends were suspicious of her, he should've believed them.
"Okay, do either of you know exactly where he was taking her?" Jackson cut-in.
"He said he was taking her to the west side of the property, like I said. He'll come back in a few hours, after you leave," Justy told him.
"Why does he think we'll leave?" Jackson asked.
"I don't think he knows for sure, but he probably assumes once you get here and find us and you can't find him anywhere close by you'll go looking elsewhere." Justy said.
Jackson bobbed his head as he listened. "Lauren, I know it's a sore point, but is there anything about Max you can tell us that might help us get him?"
"He's headstrong and egotistical. If you play along and pretend like you agree he's the next best thing after homemade bread, he'll be caught off guard. He loves adoration, even to the point of making mistakes," Lauren relayed.
"That's why he hasn't made any mistakes. We haven't given him any adoration. I guess we can pour some on really quick. Let me call a mate of mine who runs a radio station," Jackson told them. He pulled his phone out and made a call. When he was done he said, "Let's get back to the cabin as quickly as we can and get you women some blankets. We have to go back out, but if you want you can stay there until we get done. We've got plenty of guns and ammo."
"I don't even know how to shoot a gun, Jude," Justy tried to appeal to the man she loved. She had scarcely taken her eyes off of him since he'd walked in the door. Her parents' deaths were tragic, but since being kidnapped it was so surreal, almost like a nightmare...
Jude had also been taking in the sight of Justy's slight frame. He didn't want to leave her either, but he knew if they wanted to catch the killer they would have to go. "We can leave Scott or Amos here if it would make you feel better."
Jackson shook his head. "That'll be okay. That’ll give you added protection."
"Okay, I guess." Justy said.
"I can go with you guys if you need an extra gun," Lauren replied eagerly as they made it back to the 'cabin' in the woods.
"Okay Lauren, we'll take you and leave Amos here with Justy. Are you sure you're up to it? If you're too weak or tired we can do it alone."
"I want to go," She said in exasperation.
"Okay, calm down, you can go. Amos, watch that woman like she was your own wife," Jude said as he pulled Justy to him and kissed her on the forehead. Her chestnut hair still smelled of coconuts and strawberries and he breathed in deeply before pushing her gently to arms' length. He couldn't be that close to her, he didn't trust himself.
Jude, Jackson and Scott left the cabin and headed for the western portion of the land. Their plan was simple. They would go in shooting and ask questions later. They knew Amy's chances of living were nil, no matter which course of action they chose. Even if they were to give themselves up, Jude knew they would kill her.