Take the Key and Lock Her Up

 

Take the Key and Lock Her Up

A D
EADLY
G
AMES
T
HRILLER

LENA DIAZ

 

Dedication

To my long-suffering, patient husband, who spent far too much time alone while I toiled
over this manuscript. I love you, babe. Thank you for understanding my dream and for
cheering me on.

To three incredible friends—even the in-law (wink)—for beta reading this story and
giving me such amazing (and fast!) feedback. This story is stronger because of you—Charlee
Allden, Mary Behre, and Denise Morningstar. Thank you, Officer Glenn Morningstar,
for answering my procedural questions.

And thank you to my awesome agent, Nalini Akolekar, and my brilliant editor, Chelsey
Emmelhainz.

 

Contents

Dedication

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Fifteen

Chapter Sixteen

Chapter Seventeen

Chapter Eighteen

Chapter Nineteen

Chapter Twenty

Chapter Twenty-One

Chapter Twenty-Two

Chapter Twenty-Three

Chapter Twenty-Four

Chapter Twenty-Five

Chapter Twenty-Six

Epilogue

An Excerpt from
Exit Strategy

About the Author

By Lena Diaz

An Excerpt from
Full Exposure
by Sara Jane Stone

An Excerpt from
Personal Target
by Kay Thomas

An Excerpt from
Sinful Rewards 1
by Cynthia Sax

Copyright

About the Publisher

 

Chapter One

A
CRIMSON FLAKE
of peeling paint stubbornly clung to the closed basement door, fluttering in the
hot breeze like a red flag, warning Detective Emily O’Malley not to follow the suspect
inside the house. Ghostly echoes of the victim’s terrified screams still slammed against
the inside of Emily’s skull, jagged bursts of sound that eroded her courage and shattered
her resolve.

The Glock 17 clutched in her right hand was slippery with sweat and shook so hard
it dipped precariously toward the ground. She grasped the gun tighter, steadying it.
A two-handed hold would have been better, but she was using her left hand to hold
her cell phone, keeping the line open between her and the police dispatcher. She’d
made the initial call over the police radio in her car, but since she’d left her portable
radio at the office, now she was forced to rely on her cell phone.

God help me, I don’t know what to do.

And she never had. That was the problem. In her brief stint as a beat cop, she’d fooled
most of her peers and her boss—and her family—into thinking she was just as qualified
and competent as the rest of the cops she worked with. And most days, she was. But
give her a domestic violence situation or a traffic stop where something unexpected
happened—like the driver pulling a gun on her—and she froze up.

Tuck, her partner back then and fellow detective now, had been brutally honest, telling
her she had slow reaction times, lousy instincts, and poor judgment under pressure.
But he’d never shared those opinions with anyone else. Instead, he had her back, and
he’d helped her study for the detective’s exam joking that he wanted to get her off
the streets to keep the public safe.

His plan had worked. Six months ago, she and Tuck had both aced their exams and been
promoted to detective. Since then, she’d solved and closed twice as many cases as
any other detective in Georgia. For the first time in her twenty-six years of life,
she excelled at something. She’d finally found her niche. And yet, here she was, once
again forced to do what she did
not
do best—make life-and-death decisions under pressure.

Of all the highly qualified beat cops in the Savannah-Chatham Metropolitan Police
Department the suspect could have driven past, Emily was the anointed one. She was
the one on her way home from work who’d recognized the pale, terrified-looking woman
in the passenger seat of the white pickup truck as the young mother of two who’d been
missing for four days.

Sometimes irony was a bitch.

So Emily had turned around in the middle of the nearly deserted, two-lane rural highway
and tailed the suspect to this ramshackle, ivy-choked house with nothing but Spanish
moss–dripping oak trees and soybean fields for neighbors.

“Where’s my backup?” she whispered into the phone.

“Detectives Tuck and Jones are the closest, about eighteen minutes out, with patrol
officers a few minutes behind them.”

Eighteen minutes?
Virginia Hawley was behind that door, in the hands of a man who was cornered and
probably feeling desperate. Hawley didn’t have eighteen minutes.

She might not have even
one
.

Assuming Emily could even somehow get through that solid, locked, exterior door, odds
were high Hawley might get hurt or killed when Emily busted inside. Those gloomy,
well-documented statistics about high casualties in armed entry situations were the
main reasons they were always a last resort. But standing around with her phone to
her ear wasn’t increasing Hawley’s odds of survival either. Or at least Emily didn’t
think so.

Negotiate. She had to get the suspect talking, draw his attention away from his victim.
Emily desperately wished she could remember what she’d learned in the one class she’d
taken on hostage negotiation. Three years ago. At the police academy.

She banged her fist on the door.

“Police. Open up. Let Mrs. Hawley go and we won’t force our way inside. No one has
to get hurt.”

Okay, so the “we” bluff sounded pathetic, even to her. Especially since the suspect
had seen her—alone, without backup—when she’d chased him to the basement entrance.
Not surprisingly, the suspect didn’t respond to her bluff.

She banged on the door and repeated her plea. Again, nothing. She checked the digital
display on her cell phone. One precious minute had passed. Seventeen more minutes
until backup would arrive. What had the captor done to his victim during the last
sixty seconds? What would he do to her in the
next
sixty seconds?

A high-pitched scream echoed from inside. Emily’s stomach tightened into a hard, cold
knot. “Where are Tuck and Jones?” she whispered into the phone again.

“You’re a good ways out of town, O’Malley. Hang tight. They’ll be there as soon as
they can.”

The dispatcher’s patronizing tone had Emily gritting her teeth. That scream: it had
sounded heart-wrenching, full of terror. Cradling her phone between her cheek and
her shoulder, she tightened her right hand around the pistol and grabbed the doorknob
with her other hand. Probably a waste of time. She already knew it was locked since
she’d tried the door when she first got there. But she had to
do
something, even if it meant just going through the motions.

The knob turned. The door popped open several inches. She gasped and snatched her
hand back, quickly retreating a good five feet. Wrapping both hands around her gun,
she aimed at the intimidating dark sliver of black between the doorjamb and the open
door.

“Detective,” the dispatcher said, “what’s happening?”

A trap. It has to be a trap.

That door had been locked earlier. Or had it? Had she been so nervous that she hadn’t
turned the knob hard enough and only thought it was locked? No, no. She wasn’t so
pathetic that she couldn’t tell the difference between a locked door and an unlocked
one. Everything about this felt wrong. She
had
to wait for help.

“Detective?”

“I’m okay,” she whispered. “I’m—”

Another agonized scream erupted from the basement. The deafening sound of a gunshot,
then another, reverberated from somewhere behind the blood-red door.

That was it. She couldn’t wait any longer.
“Shots fired. Repeat, shots fired. I’m going in. Tell Jones and Tuck to get their
asses up here and save
my
ass.”

She ended the call and silenced her phone so the suspect wouldn’t hear anything if
the dispatcher called her back. After shoving the phone into her pants pocket, she
drew a deep breath, then flung the door open and ran inside, sweeping her gun out
in front of her.

Blinking furiously and crouching down to make herself less of a target, she waited
a tense few seconds for her eyes to adjust from the brightness outside to the dark
interior. She fully expected a bullet to rip into her and was vaguely shocked when
it didn’t. If she were still a beat cop, she’d be wearing her Kevlar vest right now,
to help protect her from the suspect’s bullets. But as a detective, she was rarely
in a situation that called for Kevlar, so the vest was gathering dust at the office,
leaving her completely vulnerable right now.

Her vision cleared, but it didn’t do her much good. Other than the patch of sunlight
in the doorway, the rest of the basement was pitch black. Directly in front of her
and to her right were concrete walls. There was only one way to go. Left.

A few short feet in, she was forced to turn again, following the wall like a rat in
a maze.

Or a police officer heading to her slaughter
.

Fear reared its ugly head, pushing her back toward the door.
No.
She stopped.
For once, Em, push past the fear. Hawley doesn’t have a chance if you don’t at least
try. This is why you first became a cop, to help people. So do it!

She shuffled forward. The fear was still there, dragging her down, making her movements
sluggish. But she kept going the only way she knew how—one step at a time.

The darkness was absolute. She trailed her fingers on the winding wall to guide her,
listening intently for sounds that might give away the suspect’s location. But the
only noise she heard was her own breathing, coming in short, choppy pants. She focused
on taking deeper, even breaths to make as little noise as possible.

A dim light came into view, about twenty feet away, high up toward the ceiling. Her
muscles bunched and cramped, her body in survival mode, trying to slow her progress.
But that last scream, and the gunshots, the thought of Hawley lying bleeding somewhere
in need of help, spurred her on. If one of her sisters or her mother were in here,
Emily would pray someone helped them. She could do no less for Virginia Hawley.

The light turned out to be from a small, grimy window at the top of the wall. It did
little to lighten the rest of the space. But even without that window, this part of
the basement seemed less dark than the rest, a shade of gray instead of the inky black
that consumed everything else. There must be a light up ahead or another basement
window, perhaps around a corner.

She crept forward, feeling along the bumpy surface of the wall, edging toward the
patch of gray. The wall ended abruptly and she sensed more than saw that she was in
a large open space. Exposed. Vulnerable. The heavy utility belt she’d hated wearing
as a uniformed officer would have been a godsend right now because it would have had
a flashlight attached to it. Instead, all she had was her gun and her cell phone.

Should she use the flashlight app on her phone? At most, the tiny LED light would
illuminate a few feet directly in front of her. That would just make her more of a
target, like a neon
SHOOT ME
sign. She reluctantly left her phone in her pocket and inched her way toward the
promise of light up ahead.

No more screams met her as she made her way across the room. The air here seemed thicker,
mustier, almost . . . rotten, much as she envisioned a crypt might be. She shuddered
and sent up a quick prayer that this place wouldn’t become
her
crypt.

Where was the suspect? If this was a trap, why hadn’t he met her at the door? He was
probably watching her right now, following her, training his gun on her from some
unseen hiding place. Was he playing a deadly game? Enjoying her fear?

A scratching noise sounded off to her right.

She jerked toward the noise, her hands wrapped so tightly around the gun her fingers
ached. What was that? A rat? A snake seeking cool relief from the late-afternoon heat
outside? Or something far more sinister?

Holding her breath, she squinted into the darkness. No shadows separated from the
others. No footsteps echoed against the concrete floor. There was nothing but silence.
Her lungs demanded oxygen. She allowed herself small breaths, fighting the urge to
gulp in a huge lungful of air all at once. Her teeth began to chatter even though
she wasn’t cold.

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