Sasha Sutherland let her breath out slowly, seeing it rise like a mist in front of her face. It was cold and dark, and her body was screaming from the pain of being crouched in the same position for almost an hour, but she refused to move. She’d been waiting for this day for a long time.
Today, their killer was about to have his freedom taken away for good.
“There’s a shadow moving to your right,” came a voice in her ear. “He’s on the move.”
Drawing in one deep breath, Sasha let adrenaline fill her body, feeling each muscle tense as she prepared to give the order to move. Three of her men were near her, and there was another five on the roof above. She couldn’t let this opportunity go.
The sound of a snarl met her ears, her hair standing on end as it reverberated through her. Their bait, an undercover constable named Jenny, was doing exactly as she was meant to; just having a cigarette in the alley, out the back entrance of the nightclub. It had taken months for them to get to this point, and the anticipation was overwhelming.
The first kill had happened six months ago. A woman who worked in the local bar. She’d been literally ripped to pieces. Sasha could still remember just how heartrendingly sick she’d been. The images were burned into her mind and she didn’t think she’d ever be able to forget them.
As the new chief inspector, it had been her case, and she’d thrown everything into finding the killer. It had meant sleepless nights and long days at the office, going over every single shred of evidence. Initially, she’d been bold enough to think that they’d be able to find the killer easily, since it wasn’t as though they lived in a big city. But she’d soon realized that working in the Scottish Highlands, with all its small towns and villages, meant the case was a lot more difficult than she’d expected.
Living in the countryside instead of the city had been a big adjustment, but Sasha hadn’t been able to turn down the opportunity to take on a new post with a new rank. Going from Inspector to Chief Inspector was something she’d been working towards for a long time, and she hadn’t been about to pass up the opportunity - even if it meant moving to a place she had never even heard of. She was responsible for the entire county, which stretched for miles and miles, with over a dozen small villages spread out across the moorland. On top of these, there were two larger towns, which meant that overall, their police force could sometimes be stretched quite thin. It also meant that the killer could go wherever he wanted, and, so far, he’d killed in almost every village. It had never been in the same place twice, and, on one occasion, he’d killed twice in one night, with over thirty miles between the two victims.
Sasha frowned, remembering how that had thrown her off course for a while. The roads between the two villages had been blocked with heavy snow, and they’d not found any sign of cars going between the two locations but, somehow, the victims had been killed within an hour of each other. She’d spent a lot of time wondering if there were two killers, instead of just one. But the killings were too similar to be two different people. It still bothered her that she couldn’t explain how he’d managed to get to the second village so quickly.
“We can’t see anything,” said the voice in her ear. “There’s no movement.”
“Wait,” Sasha breathed, keeping her voice as quiet as possible. No one moved. No one spoke. There was complete and utter silence.
The snarl she had heard echoed around her mind, making her shudder involuntarily. The killer seemed to have large dogs that he took with him to each kill, letting them bite into the cold flesh of his victims. It was despicable, making her stomach churn at the thought. The problem was that their forensics hadn’t been able to match the bite marks to any kind of dog, which would have been their first major clue. There were too many people in too many villages to start searching who had what kind of dog, and she knew that there were a few families who lived out in the sticks somewhere; off the radar and difficult to communicate with.
This was the only thing she could think to do. They’d literally reached a dead end. There were no more clues, no DNA of any sort, nothing. They’d never been able to find a weapon, or work out what the killer used to tear his victims apart so cruelly. There had been one killing almost every month, in almost every village and town, until this was the only town left free from his touch.
So, Sasha had laid a trap.
It was just as well the town only had one nightclub, otherwise she might have struggled to spread out their already thin police force across the town. Jenny was in position and she was sure that the killer was going to strike tonight. That was the one thing about their killer. Each murder took place on the twentieth day of each month and, with only one town left without a murder, Sasha was certain that this was the place she needed to be.
It’s too predictable, said the voice in her head. What if he’s playing with you? What if he knows you’re here?
Sasha bit her lip and shook her head, refusing to give in to her concerns. The truth was, there was nothing else for her to do. She had no other course of action other than this. If the killer didn’t strike here, following his pattern, then she’d be at a complete loss with nowhere else to go. She didn’t want to fail. She couldn’t fail. The people in this county had been terrified for long enough.
However, two hours later Sasha knew she had to call time.
“Enough,” she said, quietly and with regret. Instantly, the rest of her team began to draw back. Her shoulders slumped in defeat as they began to move away, realizing that the murderer had beaten her once again.
“He must have known we were here,” she muttered to herself, pulling her helmet from her head and rubbing her forehead with one sweaty palm. “There’s no other explanation.”
Her team’s spirits were low, she could tell. There was nothing said between them as they climbed back into the waiting vans, and her heart tore for them. They had given so much to try and find this killer – their time, their energy, their determination – and still, he was out there. They had failed.
“We will find him,” Sasha said, loudly, as she climbed in to join them. “This will come to an end, I swear it to you.”
However, the mood remained low for the whole trip to the station, and Sasha could not help but feel that way herself. She had thought her plan through carefully, using every asset she had to assist her. Everything seemed to make sense, everything seemed to add up. So why hadn’t she caught him?
Her frustration must have shown on her face because her superintendent, a fatherly figure named Stephen, slapped her on the back as she came in.
“Don’t beat yourself up about this,” he said, firmly, his bright blue eyes studying her face. “This isn’t your fault.”
“I thought I’d gotten everything in the right order,” she said, sadly, shaking her head. “I don’t understand why he didn’t show.”
Stephen’s gaze narrowed. “Are you suggesting we have someone in the ranks who is feeding him information?”
“No, not at all,” she replied, quickly. “It’s just that our killer has never deviated from his pattern before now. I can’t understand why he would do that tonight, not unless he knew we were waiting for him.” She shook her head and gave a harsh laugh. “He couldn’t have seen or heard us, not unless he’s got some kind of tech to help him and we’ve found no evidence of that. I’ve failed, somehow, but I just can’t work out where that failure is.”
“No,” Stephen said, firmly. “This is not your fault, Sasha. Don’t forget that I looked over everything that was planned, as well as every bit of evidence too. Your judgements were spot on. Sometimes things don’t work out for reasons beyond our control.”
Not feeling in the least bit heartened, Sasha gave him a small smile and shrugged.
“Maybe he’s ill,” Stephen continued. “Maybe he’s lost his nerve. Maybe he’s moved on. These are things we can’t know Sasha, and I won’t have you doubting yourself.”
Sighing heavily, Sasha tried to nod. “I guess so. I just don’t know where to go from here.”
“You’ll find a thread,” he replied, reassuringly. “You’ve closed every case you’ve been given, Sasha. That’s why you got the job here. I’m sure you can do it this time as well. You’ll bring this killer to justice, no matter how long it takes. Don’t give up now.”
Those words haunted Sasha, so that, even when the paperwork was filed and almost everyone else had left the station, she found herself wondering what kind of ‘thread’ she could look for. Was there something about the alleyway they’d been hiding in that had let the killer know they were there? Had Jenny, their undercover cop, been too obvious? Questions raced around her mind as she made her way out of the station, her body aching with the need to rest.
But her mind refused to let her go home, and so Sasha found herself driving back to the nightclub where she had set up the sting operation earlier that evening. Parking the car just outside the nightclub, Sasha hesitated for a moment before picking up her gun. She was the only police officer to carry one, as she was the trained firearms officer. The United Kingdom’s police force remained mostly unarmed. However, her instincts told her that to go out alone and without a weapon was not a good idea.
Stepping out of the car, she carefully strapped the gun to her waist, before pulling her shirt over the top of it. No need to alarm people, especially not the ones who were drunkenly making their way from the nightclub.
Walking around to the back of the nightclub, Sasha made her way towards where Jenny had been standing. She’d been right at the back of the alley, almost completely hidden by shadows, but still visible enough. Could the killer have guessed that Jenny was the bait, meant to set him up? Was there a way that he could have seen the rest of the hidden police officers as he approached the alley? Frowning, Sasha shook her head. Jenny had done her job well, and the wig she’d been wearing had covered quite a lot of her face, so she couldn’t have been easily identified. That meant that something else must have alerted the killer to the police presence.
The alleyway was filled with rubbish, along with two huge dumpsters. The newly built – and vacant – apartments opposite the nightclub had given them a clear view of Jenny and the back of the nightclub. But from the report, the police there had detected no movement. Nothing out of the ordinary.
Then, the memory of that snarl crept back into her memory, making her shiver. Had that been something to do with the killer?
Turning around, Sasha made to walk back the way she’d come, hoping to find something that would tell her what had gone wrong. Without warning, something huge and solid leapt out of the darkness and slammed her down, hard, against the pavement.