Nancy Drew let out a soft moan, massaging her temples as she felt the very beginnings of a headache forming at the base of her skull. She was beyond exhausted, not to mention cranky as hell. Which would explain why Frank and Joe Hardy had left her alone, in favor of chasing yet another hunch that would lead them nowhere.
Maybe she was being too difficult and short with them.
Then again, the brothers were just as stressed as she was. It truly was a wonder that they hadn't killed each other yet, especially after hitting one dead end after another. It was enough to make even the sanest of people snap.
For the past week, they'd been investigating a series of grotesque deaths in which women were found with their bodies completely wrapped, resembling mummies. So far, three bodies had been found throughout River Heights in various places—very public places, to be exact. A park on Thursday, the library on Saturday, and a schoolyard on Monday. It was now Tuesday, and they were no closer to catching the killer than they were when the murders first started.
Add to the fact that tomorrow was Halloween and it was making the residents of the small town freak out. There was even talk of cancelling Halloween festivities altogether, which Nancy thought was a shame since River Heights was known to go all out to make sure the kids had a memorable night filled with goodies and frights.
Nancy, Frank, and Joe had been called in after the second body was found. Normally, they didn't choose to work murders, especially ones that involved a potential serial killer. With their thriving private detective agency, they usually worked robberies, embezzlement cases, and cheating spouses and the like, not to mention they still traveled the country taking on cases. If one of the cases involved an unfortunate death, then that was just part of it. But they had made a pact when they first started the business that they wouldn't actively take on murders—it was a job for the police.
Besides, they didn't have the resources to go after a killer. Killers tended to be unpredictable and while they could handle dangerous situations, it was just too risky for them. Nancy and the Hardys refused to carry a gun unless it was absolutely necessary. So far, they had been lucky to never have the need to use one.
The only reason they had agreed to take on the case was because of Chief McGinnis of the River Heights Police Department. He'd always been like a second father to Nancy as she was growing up and it was hard for her to turn him down when he asked for help. The police department was still working the case, but the three of them had been brought on to offer a new perspective, and hopefully catch something the rest of them were missing.
As if that wasn't enough, the FBI had also been brought in to assist with the investigation after it had been determined that this was not the first time the killer had struck. So far, the killer had been linked to six other cities—Minneapolis, Orlando, Austin, Philadelphia, Nashville, and New Orleans. All of the victims—young women—were killed in the same manner with virtually no evidence left behind at any of the crime scenes. All of the murders had occurred during the week leading up to Halloween, much like the ones in River Heights. And they had all happened in the span of six years.
Six years and the murderer was still out there, inflicting terror on the innocent. To say that frustrations and fears were running at an all-time high would be a huge understatement.
Nancy let out a tired sigh as she rose stiffly from the table, coffee cup in hand. She couldn't remember the last time she had slept a full eight hours, running on nothing more than caffeine, determination, and adrenaline. She'd stared at the crime scene photos until they'd been seared into her memory, the horror stricken faces of the dead women haunting her dreams. She knew the case files by heart, and yet there was still nothing she could find to help them catch the killer.
Walking over to the coffeemaker, she poured herself another cup of coffee, foregoing the sugar and cream this time. While she didn't prefer the taste of black coffee, it was the only thing keeping her awake and alert at this point. She'd made the latest batch so strong, she was sure it was slowly tearing the lining of her stomach with each sip.
The office was so silent, the ticking of the clock the only sound to keep her company. If Frank and Joe were here, there'd be music or a football game playing in the background. Nancy preferred silence and she was grateful they had left her alone so she could concentrate without the noise.
She nearly dropped her coffee cup as her iPhone came to life, piercing the silence with its loud ring. Figuring it was Frank checking in with her, Nancy picked it up before it could go to voicemail.
"This is Nancy Drew."
"Nancy? Is this a bad time?"
Nancy smiled at the sound of Special Agent Wesley Levine's voice. He'd been the FBI agent assigned to the case, considering he'd been following it since the first series of murders. He knew the case inside and out and had insight into the killer that would scare even the most seasoned of detectives. When he'd first been brought on, Frank and Joe had been leery of him, knowing full well what happened when the government got involved with investigations.
Wesley had turned out to be the exact opposite of the agents they had worked with in the past. He was forthcoming with information, including them on all of the witness interviews and autopsies. He'd been eager to get their opinions about the case and had even followed any leads they had found, no matter how crazy they may have been.
After a while, the brothers had eventually warmed to him.
"Hey, Wesley," Nancy greeted him. "I was actually taking a break from the case. Did you find anything new?"
"No. I'm afraid I'm still not having any luck, either."
Nancy held back a disappointed sigh as she fiddled with the heart pendant on her necklace. "Well, Frank and Joe went out to check on another lead."
"Oh, yeah? A good one?"
"Probably not. But we have to go after anything at this point."
"What are you up to?"
"I actually wanted to talk to you," Wesley said. "I was wondering if you'd be willing to come over and take a look at some of my notes. I've been staring at them so long, they're beginning to overlap each other. If I had a fresh pair of eyes, maybe we could come up with a breakthrough."
Nancy glanced at her watch, seeing it was close to seven. She wasn't sure what time Frank and Joe were planning on getting back, and she couldn't wait for them to go meet with Wesley. If they could find something that would lead them to the killer, then she had to pursue it.
"Are you there? If you're busy…"
"No," Nancy quickly interrupted. "Let me grab some of my notes and I'll head on over. Just text me your address."
"Great. I'll send it your way. Thanks, Nancy."
"No problem." Nancy disconnected the call, draining the last dregs of her coffee. Putting the cup in the sink, she grabbed a sheet of paper and scribbled a hasty note for Frank and Joe, telling them where she was going. Then, gathering her notes, she put them in her purse and walked out the door just as Wesley texted his address.
Fifteen minutes later, Nancy was pulling into the driveway of a modest home, nestled in a cozy subdivision of similar-looking homes on the outskirts of town. It was a one story brick home with blue shutters and trim, Wesley's black rental car parked outside of the garage. A sidewalk lined with solar lights led up to a set of stone steps. There was a garden along the front of the house filled with chrysanthemums of varying fall colors. The steps were decorated with jack-o-lanterns, their eerie faces illuminated by candlelight.
Nancy walked up the stairs and before she could ring the doorbell, the door was opened. Wesley's face broke into a smile when he saw her. "Hey. I was wondering if you were able to find the place."
"I know River Heights like the back of my hand," Nancy said. "So, this is your place?"
"A fellow agent's actually. He's on assignment and since he knew I was going to be in town, he let me stay here." Wesley held the door open to let Nancy inside.
"It's a nice place." Nancy's eyes took in her surroundings as she stepped into the entryway. The interior was bathed in warm light, the walls painted in muted shades of green. The furniture was modern and it was obvious from the decorations that it was mainly a bachelor pad. There were no feminine touches to be found.
"I have everything set up in the dining room if you'd like to get started," Wesley said, gesturing to his left. "Would you like anything to drink? I have some leftover pizza if you're hungry."
"I'm fine. I've already had too much coffee as it is. I'm surprised I'm even able to walk straight," she added with a laugh.
Wesley smiled but before he could say anything, his cell phone rang. Pulling it out of his pocket, he glanced at the screen and frowned.
"Is everything okay?"
"It's my boss." He glanced up at Nancy apologetically. "I have to take this call. I'm sorry."
"It's okay. I understand."
"The dining room is to the left. Make yourself at home and I'll be right there."
"Okay." Nancy watched as he turned away from her, answering the phone in a hushed tone as he walked to the other side of the house. She wasn't too eager to go over his notes alone, so she decided to explore the home, her curiosity getting the better of her. She'd always been fascinated by other people's homes, knowing that they revealed a lot about the owner. Even though it wasn't Wesley's place, she was still curious about the agent who lived here.
The masculine theme continued throughout the interior, the walls decorated with sports memorabilia displayed in shadow boxes. There were no personal pictures that Nancy could find and she wondered vaguely if the unknown agent had any friends or family. She figured it would be difficult with his job, but there should have at least been some form of personal touches. Maybe it was a safety precaution. Nancy knew being an FBI agent came with a lot of risk, not only for the agent, but their families as well.
Nancy was just about to step into the dining room when a noise caught her attention. She couldn't be sure, but it sounded as if someone was whimpering. Staying still for a few seconds, her ears strained to make out the sound again. She was about to put it off to her imagination when she heard it again, coming from behind a door.
Frowning, Nancy moved towards it. Wesley never mentioned anything about anyone else being in the home, but then again, it wasn't any of her business if someone was here. She was about to turn around and go to the dining room when the whimpering became more insistent, almost as if someone was in pain.
Unable to walk away, Nancy's hand closed around the doorknob. After looking to make sure Wesley wasn't coming back, she opened the door, wincing as it gave a pitiful squeak. It looked to be some sort of basement, a set of wooden stairs leading down into inky darkness. Reaching into her pocket, Nancy pulled out her penlight and made her way down the stairs.
The smell was what hit her first. It was a strong, pungent odor—blood mixed with the unmistakable scent of decay. Nancy had seen enough crime scenes in her lifetime to recognize the stench of death. A cold feeling fisted in the pit of her stomach. Her mind was screaming at her to turn around and get out of there. She was more than eager to listen to it and was turning when she heard another soft whimper.
"Hello?" Nancy called softly. A pained sob answered her almost immediately.
She knew then that she couldn't turn around, not if there was someone down here who needed help. Turning the beam of light to the wall, Nancy found the light switch and flipped it on, bright light filling the room. She had to blink a couple of times and when her eyes finally focused on the room, she immediately wished she'd never turned them on.
Several gauze-wrapped bodies hung upside down from the support beams, patches of blood visible on the fabrics. Here she thought they were only dealing with three victims, but it was obvious from what she was seeing how wrong they were—so very wrong. While that was enough to send fear stabbing into her heart, what she saw in the middle of the room terrified her even more.
A young woman was lying on a table, an IV sticking out of her arm, leading to a bag filled with blood. Her hands and feet were secured to the table and a piece of duct tape covered her mouth. Her brown hair hung limply around her as she lifted her head to look at Nancy with terror-filled eyes. Nancy noticed she was wearing a short, silky white gown.
The sick feeling continued to grow inside Nancy's stomach as the pieces of this gruesome puzzle came together. The killer had been in front of them all along, in the form of a trustworthy, dedicated FBI agent—Wesley Levine. And she had unwittingly walked right into his lair.
The only thing Nancy knew for sure was that she needed to free the girl and get them both out of there before Wesley realized what she'd done. She didn't even think as she strode across the room, immediately setting to work on the young woman's bonds. Within a few seconds, Nancy had her free and was ripping the IV out of her arm.
"Can you walk?" Nancy asked softly, after gently easing the tape off of the girl's mouth.
The girl nodded shakily as she scooted to the edge of the table. She would have fallen to the floor if Nancy hadn't been there to catch her. Nancy put her arm around her shoulders, supporting her weight as they walked towards the stairs. She didn't see any other way out of the room, which meant they would have to try to sneak by Wesley.
"What's your name?" Nancy whispered as they began the slow climb up the stairs.
"Al…Alison," the girl answered sluggishly.
"Alison, my name is Nancy Drew. I'm going to try to get us out of here, okay?" Nancy continued when the girl nodded. "Did he give you anything?"
"Did he drug you?" Nancy tried to hide her wince as she practically carried the other girl up the stairs.
Nancy sighed. She clearly wasn't going to get anywhere with Alison. As they reached the landing of the staircase, Nancy cautiously poked her head out, looking for any sign of Wesley. Seeing that they were alone, she began dragging Alison towards the direction of the front door. If they could just get out of there and to her car, then Nancy could call the police.
All of a sudden, the entire house was plunged into darkness, the only light coming from the full moon outside the windows. Nancy had no time to silence Alison as she let out a terrified scream. Grabbing the girl by her arms, Nancy shoved her into a dark corner in case Wesley came looking for them.
"He's…he'll come…for us!" Alison began to sob.
"You have to be quiet or he will come for us," Nancy whispered back harshly. "Stay here and don't let him find you. If you can get out of here, then you run. Understand?"
"Just do it." Nancy stood up, her eyes slowly adjusting to the darkness. "I'm going to see if I can distract Wesley so you can get away."
Nancy didn't wait to hear Alison's reply. She had no doubt that Wesley was watching them, waiting for them to run. If she could just distract him long enough for Alison to escape, then maybe she had a chance of getting out as well. She just needed to disarm and incapacitate Wesley.
Slowly, she made her way towards the living room, remembering the fireplace. All she needed was to get her hands on the poker. She was just reaching for it when she sensed, rather than heard, someone behind her. Nancy didn't think as her hands closed around the iron bar, swinging it around to hit Wesley with it. He let out a startled grunt as he doubled over and Nancy took the opportunity to push past him.
"Alison, run! Get out of here!" Nancy screamed just as she was tackled from behind. She went down hard, the poker flying out of her hands, sliding across the hardwood floor.
"It wasn't supposed to happen like this, Nancy," Wesley purred into her ear as she struggled beneath him.
"Get off of me!" Nancy launched back with her elbow, cracking him in the face. He fell back away from her, blood gushing from his nose. Nancy didn't have any time to feel satisfaction from the hit as she pulled herself to her feet, taking off towards Alison. She hoped to hell the girl had listened to her and was getting away.
Nancy took off down the hallway, looking for somewhere to hide. As she ran, she pulled her phone out of her pocket, her shaking fingers typing out a hurried message to Frank. Wesley is the killer. I'm at 2513 Oakwood Drive.
She was just about to press send when she was grabbed from behind, the phone ripped away from her hand. Wesley pushed her against the wall, the screen illuminating his bloody face as he read the message. A chilling smile slowly distorted his otherwise handsome features as he threw the phone to the ground, stomping on it until it shattered into pieces. Seeing her only other possible lifeline escape from her grasp, Nancy surreptitiously reached up and yanked the necklace Frank had given her for her birthday off her neck. When he glanced up at her, she'd already dropped it to the floor.
Nancy was surprised when he abruptly let her go. Just as she was getting ready to strike at him again, a stun gun appeared in his right hand.
"I wasn't supposed to take you until tomorrow night, Nancy. I'm afraid you've thrown a wrench into my plans. You never should have found that room."
Nancy opened her mouth, but before she could utter a sound, her body convulsed as thousands of volts of electricity shot through her body.
The last thing she was aware of was Wesley catching her as darkness claimed her.