Eighteen-year-old Sara Fletcher lay in her bed, a television remote gripped in her hands as she stared at the muted television screen.
The girl gripped the remote. Sharp blue eyes locked onto Kate with the leeriness of an animal caught in a trap. Even if the girl could run, her muscles still wouldn’t support her weight.
Sara Fletcher had long blond hair that framed a thin pale face with angled cheekbones and a pointed chin. She’d lost twenty-six pounds of fat and muscle during her ordeal, and it would take weeks, perhaps months, before her body recovered.
Kate stood still, giving Sara a moment to study her in the dimly lit room. Seconds ticked by, and though her suspicion didn’t abate, some of her tension eased.
Kate closed the door behind her. “You recognize me, don’t you? I’m Dr. Kate Hayden. I’m a profiler with the FBI. I found you.”
Tears glistened and her chin trembled.
Kate held up her badge as she moved slowly toward the bed. “I know I don’t look the part.” The white coat billowed around her small frame but covered jeans still coated in mud from the crime-scene search.
The girl studied the badge. She’d trusted a stranger once, and it had cost her dearly. Good. She was wary. That meant she was smart, and her chances of surviving this mentally were better.
“I recognize the look on your face.” Kate wasn’t adept at levity but understood it had its place. “It’s a ‘you don’t look like an agent’ glare. I get it a lot.” She was 101 pounds soaking wet, as her mother used to say. Her light-brown hair was curly and stayed scraped back in a ponytail most of the time. “Operation code names for me have run the gamut in the eight years I’ve been at this. Smurf, Munchkin, and my favorite, the Lollipop Kid.”
Beyond the odd monikers, she had a few lame jokes but right now couldn’t recall a single one as the guilt of not finding this kid faster pressed against her chest. The girl stared at her, silent, but suddenly observant.
“People think when you’re small you aren’t smart or aggressive. But we can be the toughest of the tough, right?”
Sara nibbled her chapped lip and stared back at the television.
“We acted on an anonymous tip that led us to the abandoned Anderson farm.” The Anderson name carried weight in this county, and when the tip first came in, it had been discounted. Another two days passed before the local authorities had called the FBI.
Kate traveled to the farmhouse within hours of being contacted. She’d quickly found Sara’s box, and as she pried out the nails hammered into the lid, she’d heard the girl’s faint cry for help. She’d felt exhilaration, anger, and sadness as she opened the lid and discovered the painfully thin, pale, and frightened girl. Sara hadn’t been able to give Kate the name of her abductor before paramedics had taken the girl away in the ambulance. Kate was left to study the surrounding property and the abandoned wooden outbuildings, now graying and tumbling under decades of abuse from the harsh Utah winters. With the use of ground-penetrating radar, they’d found the location of other graves.
Today, she didn’t have all the answers. But she had a name and a picture that she hoped Sara would identify as her abductor.
© Mary Burton 2017