13 - Day Nine

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Brian stared blankly at the map his team leader had given him. He was sitting near the edge of the river a few miles from the base of the falls where the search and rescue crew had found him and where he had last seen Melanie. His leg was throbbing and the wound he'd incurred was leaking through the bandage. He'd walked at least a six mile radius around the area, desperately searching for Melanie along with the rest of the search and rescue team he had been assigned to.

A helicopter had brought himself, AJ, Geri, Mel, Victoria, Kevin, and Nick back to the area Melanie had last been seen to help the search and rescue crew look for her. The tracking dogs continue to focus on the area near the river where Melanie's jumper and necklace had been found, as well as the spot where the cougar had been shot before it could attack Melanie. As Brian watched the dogs wander aimlessly, he felt a deep sense of dread and hopelessness.

He'd opted out of lunch, choosing instead to be alone. He felt immensely guilty for leaving Melanie behind. When they'd lost AJ, he had promised himself he would keep Melanie safe. He felt responsible for her and he'd let her slip away. He wanted to keep searching, but he was beginning to fear the worst. The man that last saw Melanie may have killed the wild cat that had been hunting her, but there was a forest full of animals that she could have run into.

His thoughts were interrupted as one of the divers emerged from the water. His heart skipped a beat, expecting the diver to wave someone over, signifying he'd found Melanie's body, but the diver disappeared back under the water without so much as glancing at Brian. There were nearly a dozen divers skimming the river for miles from the falls. Melanie's jumper had been found near the river and Brian feared she'd been swept away.

Unable to hold back any longer, Brian broke down, sobbing uncontrollably into his palms. A hand gently squeezed his shoulder and he looked up to find Kevin standing behind him.

"I lost her," Brian sobbed, hunching over once more, unable to hold up the weight of his emotions.

"We'll find her," Kevin assured him. "She was here only four days ago. She can hold on a little longer."

"I should have stayed with her," Brian whimpered as he tried to compose himself. "I could have carried her with me. I shouldn't have left her alone."

"Brian," Kevin warned. "You can't think like that. You guys made it this far. Don't you dare give up on her."

Brian wiped his face on his sleeve and tried to look at the map, blurred from his tears. He stood up and surveyed the area, wanting to keep himself preoccupied to push away the unbearable guilt he was feeling. Kevin tried to convince him to stop and take a break, but Brian merely shook his head and limped back into the thick of trees surrounding the river.

He and Kevin walked in silence, away from the sound of the search and rescue crew that was taking a well-deserved break for lunch. They'd been searching tirelessly for over a week, but were still optimistic about finding Melanie.

One of the dogs began barking wildly further into the woods, out of the boys' sight. Without hesitation, they both ran towards the sound of the dog and stopped short when Kent held out his hand to stop them.

"We've got a body!" Louis shouted.

Brian felt as though he'd been hit by a truck. His jaw dropped and he broke into a cold sweat as he looked in the direction the dogs had gone. He struggled to catch his breath as panic coursed through his body. He dropped to his knees, unable to hold himself up as his emotions weighed him down. "No!" he squeaked.

More search and rescue members began flooding the area, obscuring the body from Kevin and Brian. Kevin stared in the direction where the body was found and slowly knelt next to Brian, placing his hand over Brian's shoulder and pulling him close.

Kent radioed for help and disappeared into the crowd to where Louis and the dogs were. His eyes widened as he looked down at the body and he cursed silently under his breath before ducking through the crowd once more and approaching the two boys.

"It's not Melanie," he said, squatting in front of the boys to meet their eyes. "It's someone else."

"What?" Brian choked, staring at Kent in disbelief. "Are you sure? How do you know?"

Kevin squeezed Brian tightly and tried to get him to meet his eye. "Calm down, Brian," he warned. "Take a breath and look at me. You're in shock, buddy."

"I'm absolutely positive it's not her," Kent assured Brian. "She doesn't have any tattoos, no blue in her hair, and the face is recognizable enough to be certain it isn't Melanie."

Brian looked intensely at Kent, thoughts racing through his mind as he tried to make sense of what was happening. "It's not her?" he asked.

"It's not her," Kent clarified.

"Then who is it?" Kevin asked, looking at the crowd surrounding the body.

-0-0-

Officer Shaw stepped into his office for the first time in days. He'd been working at the site of the accident for over a week, giving the search his full attention, but the recovery of the body had forced him to leave.

The body belonged to a woman that had disappeared over two weeks prior. She'd gone out shopping and hadn't returned home. She was in her mid-twenties with the same build and appearance as Melanie. The same build and appearance as the other two women found murdered in that area. Each of them was murdered two weeks after their disappearances and all of them had the same symbols cut into their skin, they had marks indicating abuse, and each of them had been sliced open from the hip to hip with their reproductive organs removed. The determined cause of death for all of them was blood loss.

Officer Shaw sat down and looked at the new file that had been placed on his desk, filled with everything involving the disappearance and murder of the woman found in the woods. He retrieved the other two files and opened them all, looking over the images of each woman. There were no obvious connections between the women. None of them knew each other. None of them lived in the same neighbourhoods or worked in the same place. The only similarity was their appearance, all around five and a half feet, all brunette, all mid-twenties.

He exhaled loudly and opened the calendar on his computer. The coroner had concluded that the woman found most recently had been killed around the time Melanie had gone missing, between four or five days earlier.

There was a soft tapping on his door and his partner, Officer Kenner, let himself in. Officer Kenner looked at the files on Officer Shaw's desk and closed the door before sitting across from him.

"You thinking what I'm thinking?" Officer Kenner asked, setting Melanie's file on top of the pile of papers Officer Shaw had been looking through.

"Apparently so," Officer Shaw replied tiredly. "I want her found before the eighteenth and I want who ever did this locked away until they rot."

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