The nurse drew in a sudden breath. “My God.”
“He’s going to do it again.” She hoped the image of the girl, legs broken and suffering in a dark box, haunted this woman for a long time. It tormented her. “I just need to ask her one question.”
The nurse’s lips flattened. “She’s not talking to anyone.”
“Is she awake?”
“Then we’ll be fine.” Kate didn’t bother with a thank-you as she moved past the nurse and down the hallway still decorated with paper Thanksgiving turkeys. When she reached room 602, she didn’t knock but slowly opened the door to the dimly lit room.
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 was channel surfing, clicking from network to network without giving herself a second to see what was playing. The room was filled with flowers and Mylar balloons featuring Wonder Woman, who apparently had been a favorite of the girl when she was younger.
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.