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Author's note: This is the fourth installment to the Locklear series. If you're new to the series, start at Good Doctor Locklear.

It never should have ended up like this. I saw the news stories. The disappearing people. The damn profile and M.O. itself! The so called angel of death, "The Good Doctor Locklear" as so many had taken to calling him. The madman that decided to take vigilante justice into his own hands and fled from police custody, vanishing like a vapor upon the wind. Bodies turning up mutilated with the immense precision of a trained surgeon's hand. The most recent a horribly mangled body discovered in an abandoned meat factory. I knew of this. All of this. And yet here I am. But it's not right! I'm not like them! This has to be a mistake.

My name is Jeanie Winters. And the only thing I'm guilty of is trying to make friends. I can't help that I'm socially awkward and sometimes might unintentionally make people uncomfortable. But that's hardly a crime worthy of Locklear's brand of "justice", now is it. So why am I here?

I nearly sobbed the last question through the cruel bars that locked me into an inhumane iron cage that was my prison. The man lying motionless in the gurney across the room from me groggily nodded in agreement, though I wasn't entirely sure how much of my story he was taking in as he had clearly been drugged with some sort of powerful sedative in his IV drip. However, that didn't really matter. Just being able to talk to someone; make my story be heard comforted me immensely. And if I was going to make it out of here alive, I needed to keep my resolve up. So, whether my involuntary neighbor was truly listening or not, I decided to start from the very beginning.

I guess you could call the last few years of my life turbulent. Bouts of bad luck. Running into bad people. Whatever you want to call it. But I always tried my best to keep my chin up. First it was Sam. Two years ago Sam was supposed to be my best friend. I cared for him so much. He was my best friend. My world. I'd even go so far as to say that I fell in love with him. But then one day he just suddenly shut me out cold. Told me he wanted me to stay far away from him and never speak to him again. I was devastated. I wanted to know why. What had changed? What had I done? Damn it, he owed me at least an explanation! But I never got one. He dropped off the radar and with that, the best friend I had ever known and had relied on so much was just gone. I was alone and nothing could be done.

Then it was Damien. He drifted into my life about a year ago. I had always been a bit sweet on Damien if I'm honest. His gorgeous white-blonde hair and deep amber eyes would make any young lady's heart swoon. I really thought I had a chance with him. I may not be next top model gorgeous, but I think it would be fair to say I'm pretty cute. I've got bright hazel eyes,  silky chestnut hair, and sure, I guess you could say I'm a bit on the chubby side, but that's just all the more to love, darn it! And most importantly, I've got a huge heart! And that heart belonged to Damien.

But I should have guarded it more closely. Because just like Sam, Damien left me too. One day we were close friends, and the next, he was pushing me away, demanding I never speak to him again. I was heartbroken. Had he taken so poorly to the idea of me caring more for him than just friends? This was just cruel. And once again, I was alone and more confused than ever.

Finally, just a few months ago there was Gabriel. Of all of these heartbreaks, his left me the most shattered. If I had thought my puppy love for Damien was strong, nothing could have prepared me for how hard I fell for Gabriel. He was everything I ever wanted and needed. Kind, understanding, there for me when I needed someone to vent to. I fell in love with him before I realized what his cruel intentions for me actually were.

I should give you some context. Gabriel and I work at the same company. It's a large corporate monster with a million different departments and floors, so it's a wonder our paths ever crossed to begin with. Gabriel worked down in marketing while I was over in the tech department. We were on totally different floors, so us running into each other in the fourth floor break room seemed like the divine intervention of fate at the time. See, his entire floor had to evacuate because someone burned a bag of popcorn in the third floor break room microwave. So as a result, he came up to my floor for his lunch break. And despite my general shyness, we hit it off immediately.

We spent our entire lunch hour chatting and laughing and having a great time getting to know one another. I knew that after Damien I should be more careful in letting my heart run wild so quickly for someone I hardly knew. But Gabriel was just so perfect. And I was in love from day one.

I'm sad to inform you, however, that Gabriel never returned the sentiment. In fact, the entire time he had been playing me for a fool. Apparently, Gabriel was a pretty popular guy around the office. Known especially for his wild stories around the water cooler. It seems he only ever gave me the time of day because he figured it would make for a great story. You know, the crazy obsessive chick from upstairs who was stalking and harassing him. All I ever did was try to be kind and friendly. Sure, maybe he read into my terribly awkward attempts at being cute and flirting as uncomfortable, but certainly nothing near the horrible tale he began weaving about me.

Soon all the men in the office would avoid me and give each other looks as I passed. I knew they thought I was crazy. Anyone would think that after they heard the tales Gabriel was weaving for his own sick entertainment. He even got me in trouble with management, accusing me of inappropriate conduct. I was absolutely mortified! Since when does trying to be friendly count as inappropriate conduct!

The whole thing eventually led to court. But as it was a completely unfounded and ridiculous case, the judge fortunately sided with me and Gabriel was finally out of my life. I quit my job shortly after in search of something new. The whole experience had just left a bad taste in my mouth and I was ready to move on. 

After the first night on the town in ages, I returned to my cozy apartment. Night had long since fallen and everything was dark. Before I could even hit the light switch, my heart froze. A dark mass came barreling toward me through the darkness. A pair of strong arms wrapped around me and took a fist full of my hair, forcing my head back. There was a sudden sharp pain in my neck as I realized I was being injected with something. In my last conscious moments, my eyes fixed on the familiar face I had seen splashed across the news just months ago. It was Doctor Evander Locklear, his piercing blue eyes gleaming down, seeming to almost glow in the surrounding dark, all the while flashing a wolfish grin.

It was truly unfair that such a handsome being be so cruel and dangerous. His smooth olive tone, his carved cheekbones, his long silky, raven hair. Had he not been splashed across the news and a literal intruder in my home, I would have thought him some sort of model. Ugh. There I go again. I really do seem to have a weakness for good-looking men. And it really does seem to be the root of all my problems. But before I could react or further introspect, my thoughts fluttered weakly, and then there was only darkness.

That's the last thing I remember before waking up in this dim freezing room. I hadn't seen the doctor since our first encounter, and it had been at least an hour or two. I should have been terrified. But I was honestly too frustrated for that. He had made a terrible mistake. I know he frequently targets people who escape punishment unfairly from the legal system, but I was actually innocent! I wasn't like those monsters he killed. In fact, before this very encounter, I had actually kind of sympathized with the guy! So why this? It just had to be a mistake. Maybe I could reason with him when he returned? After all, before he went off the deep end he was a doctor. There's got to still be a bit of logic and rationale left in there.

I looked over to my sedated friend eagerly, but he just sort of rolled his head back and drooled. Okay. Fair. I guess I can't blame him for zoning out of my ramblings given his condition. But suddenly he jerked his head upright, like a zombie snapping back to life. He starts to stir, slowly at first, but within a moment he appeared to be coming back to his senses. Amazingly, Locklear must have thought whatever he had given the man should have rendered him entirely immobile, because there were no straps or restraints holding him down. With a swift motion he yanked the IV out of his arm and forced himself into a sitting position. It took only a few moments more before he was slowly attempting to stand.

He must have noticed my jaw hit the floor because he turned to me with a weak and still slightly groggy smile before speaking.

"That nutjob seems to have overlooked a major loophole in his sick little plans. I've messed around with just about every substance you can imagine. Over enough time you sort of build up a tolerance for it. Nice story by the way. What did you say your name was? I'm Craig."

I let out a great sigh of relief. Not only were the prospects of escape looking up, but now I wasn't alone in this anymore. Sure, this "Craig" could be a horrible violent criminal, but then again I'm here, so maybe not? I decided that regardless of Craig's identity outside of these walls, as far as I was concerned in here, the enemy of my enemy was my friend.

"Jeanie," I responded with a smile, "I'm so glad to see you're all right. Do you think you might be able to help me get out of this cage?"

"Of course. Let's bust that thing open and the both of us get the Hell out of this nasty place. Not sure how long we have 'till the Doc comes back, but that cage doesn't look too sturdy."

After taking a moment to make sure his balance was steady, Craig slowly began to wobble over to me. When he reached the cage he looked the bars up and down before stopping at one stretch of slightly rusted bars.

"That looks like the weakest point. If I can just find something to help you pry it open we should be golden," he grunted optimistically.

However, before he could even turn around to begin searching for such an object, my ears were met with a sickening crunch and I felt a slight misting of blood splatter across my face. I immediately recoiled when I realized what had happened.

Locklear had returned. He had been as silent as a lion stalking its prey that neither of us had noticed him slide into the room behind Craig. He looked like a monstrous bird in his billowing coat and bloodstained plague doctor's mask. My breath caught in my throat at the sight.

In his hand he held a heavy old metal pipe. He had wielded it much like a Louisville slugger,  bringing it to crack down on Craig's head. He had, however, restrained himself enough that it didn't knock him out or kill him, simply cut open his face and downed him.

Before Craig could gather himself and fight back, Locklear had him in a savage headlock, pulling up another syringe to sedate him. Whatever it was must have been even stronger than the last, because Craig when limp in his arms.

It was then that I realized just how large Locklear actually was. Craig was by no means a small man, yet Locklear seemed to dwarf him as he supported his limp form in his arms. My guess was that he had to be nearly six-and-a-half feet, and a whole lot of raw muscle mass. Clearly not someone I'd have any hopes of fighting off with my short, soft body.

I watched in helpless horror as Locklear placed Craig back onto the gurney, this time being sure to securely strap him into place. Craig remained ever defiant though, hissing insults at the doctor.

"I bet you think you look real cool in that ugly thing. Well you don't! You're just a coward hiding behind a stupid outdated mask. You're not man enough to face me eye to eye," Craig hissed as the final restraint was tightened.

"Stupid?" Locklear repeated almost dejectedly, finally speaking, "Well I'll have you know that I don't wear this thing to look 'cool', I've just found that thanks to human psychology, people tend to think it looks pretty spooky. And spooked people are easier to hunt. They don't think straight."

"Well I ain't scared! I've killed people far worse than you!" Craig roared through increasingly slurred words as the sedative set in further.

"Oh wonderful. Then I guess this isn't necessary anymore. I really must tinker with the right goggle. It's started to fog up something terrible!" Locklear babbled as he raised a gloved hand to remove the large hawkish mask and secure it to one of the straps on his coat.

His cold blue eyes scanned the room. His gaze lingered on me for a moment, as if he was contemplating saying something to me, but suddenly his attention was drawn back to Craig who in a desperate act of rebellion had spat at Locklear's distracted face.

This, clearly, was a terrible mistake. Locklear froze for a moment and just stared at Craig not with rage or disgust, but the most terrifying look of silent, calm fury that chilled me to the bone. Then, with a swift motion, he wiped his cheek and turned on his heel back toward my cage where he had dropped the pipe in the struggle to sedate Craig. Finally, he broke his silence.

"Now, now Mr. Evans. We've already had this little conversation about my thoughts on rudeness."

It was horrifying. The way his voice could sound so cheerful and polite but at the same time have such an intense underlying coldness that it shook your core. If words could cut, these surely would have gutted Craig entirely.

"And what, pray tell, did you think you were doing? Getting out of bed like that? No no no. That simply won't do at all," he chuckled madly "No. We can't have that. You're on strict bed rest until your big operation! Looks like we're going to have to do something about that."

His grip tightened on the now blood spattered pipe and he took a few steps closer. Despite the sedative immobilizing him, I could see the terror in Craig's eyes, and he began to mumble in protest and weakly push against the straps.

"Let's see... as far as your procedure goes, your legs really are of no consequence so it's not problem if I just-"

There was another sickening crunch as Locklear swung the pipe down on Craig's right leg. He had used a far greater amount of strength this time, hardly holding back. I had to avert my eyes from the bruised bloody mess that was now Craig's leg and fight the urge to start crying and gagging. It was clear he would no longer be getting up and out of his gurney. And despite being heavily sedated, it did nothing to stop the horrific screams and wails that emanated from his heaving form.

"Oh my, would you look at the time? We're nearly due to begin!" Locklear chirped in deranged glee.

He slowly began releasing the brakes on the gurney, preparing to roll it out of the room. I realized that once he had done whatever heinous things he was planning on doing to Craig, it was just him and I, and I might not have enough time to figure my way out of here. So thinking fast, I called out to him.

"Wait!" I stuttered, finding my voice "Hello there Mister, -er, Dr. Locklear. I can see you're very busy cleaning off the underside of society and all that. But there's clearly been some sort of mistake here. Not that I'm blaming you, of course! But I don't understand why I'm here when I haven't, well, I haven't exactly done anything wrong!"

He froze in his tracks but didn't turn to face me right away, simply spoke over his shoulder in my general direction.

"Oh really now, deary?" he cooed.

Was... Was he going to give me a chance and hear me out? Not wanting to let the moment pass, I quickly spoke up again.

"Yes sir! Obviously, I can respect the good work you do. Protecting the cities around here, cleaning up the violent messes that slipped through the system. I really do admire what you're trying to do! But the thing is, I really don't think I should be here. Perhaps you misread my file or something? I really haven't done anything wrong."

"Ah, I see. Must have been a terrible mix-up Ms. Winters. I'll definitely have to talk to HR about that one..." his voice trailed off as he began pushing the gurney away again, leaving me behind in the dark room all alone.

Was he... making a joke? Just messing with me? I was so confused. What was happening? I wanted answers but I didn't have the time for such luxuries. I needed to escape, and fast. As his footsteps echoed and faded down the corridor outside my holding room, I began to scan the surrounding surfaces for ideas.

My heart leaped in my chest. That now gruesome bloodied pipe he had used to cripple Craig was lying on the floor, not too far from my cage. After having smashed Craig's femur, he had simply dropped the pipe like it was nothing and it had amazingly rolled toward my cage. I stretch out my arm through the bars and as far as I could reach, but hesitated a moment.

All of this seemed too easy. I couldn't help but get the sense that he had done that on purpose. That he was playing with me. It served no purpose to the well thought out plan of an evil genius to leave tools behind that would aid the escape of your victims, but then again, Locklear felt less like an evil genius, and more like a savage predator, confident and bored. Wanting to add another layer to hunt his prey for his own sick amusement. However, whether I was giving him what he wanted or not, I wasn't going to just sit in this cage and wait for certain death. I'd rather take my odds playing his game.

It was difficult, but I just barely managed to extend my arm and shoulder far enough to fish the pipe back into the cage. And using the weak spot Craig had previously pointed out, I knew where to use the pipe to apply pressure to pry the sucker open. Craig. Poor Craig. Thanks to him I'd be getting out of here, meanwhile who knew what kind of horrors he was being subjected to?

I had to push the thought from my mind because I simply could not afford to lose focus now. I wedged the pipe between the rusted bars and used every ounce of strength in my body to pry until I felt the cage give. Using both legs, I then continuously kicked until the side of the cage was bent out enough for me to squeeze through.

Sliding out onto the filthy floor like a wounded animal, I gasped for air and tried to calm myself as I picked myself up and assessed the damage. Well, I was still wearing my clothes from the previous night. Well, I assumed it was the previous night. In truth, I had no idea just how long I had been here while I was unconscious. Regardless, I noticed the remnants of my hoodie draped over the side of another gurney. It must have been destroyed in the initial struggle. I ran over to it, praying that my cell phone was still in the pocket. However, a flashback of the previous night reminded me of the clank of my phone to the cold hardwood floor of my apartment as Locklear grabbed me. Odds are it was still there. Damn it.

Okay, so no cellphone. But that didn't mean I had to give up hope yet. Thinking quickly, I snatched up the now slightly bent pipe I had used to free myself and held it close. At least I had a weapon now. And given the horrifying sights around me, I was going to need it.

The dim room I had been held in appeared as if it's sole purpose was to hold victims. There were several iron cages and a few more gurneys scattered about. All empty at the moment, but I was certain that was not often the case. Given how dark and musty it was, it must have been below street level. Like a basement or something. The only window I could see was very small, up near the ceiling, and had been boarded over securely.

Not wanting to linger too long in this horrible place, I worked up the courage to go through the doorway that Locklear had previously pushed Craig's gurney through. And to my surprise, the corridor that met my eyes couldn't have been any more different from the filthy dark room I was leaving behind. It was a long, well lit hallway that looked almost spotlessly clean. It brought memories of a hospital to mind. Shaking the sick irony off, I looked up and down the corridor, trying to decide which way to go.

Straining my ears to listen closely, I could make out the sounds of movement down the corridor to my left, so with swift decisiveness, I took a sharp right. Ahead of me I could see a closed door. I had no idea where it lead, but perhaps it would be my ticket out of here! Maybe an emergency exit or a fire escape!

I was of course wrong in my hopeful assumption. The room that met my eyes was not a place of rescue, but one of mind-numbing dread. It looked as though I was standing in the middle of a small morgue. All along one side of the room was row after row of freezer boxes. I decided I really didn't need to look inside, but I guessed Locklear was storing far worse than frozen pizzas down here.

Gazing over to the opposite wall, I noticed many little rectangles set into the wall. After a moment it registered that they were the sliding refrigerated compartments in which morticians store bodies. Once again, my curiosity was overruled by the rising urge to get sick in the back of my throat.

However, at the far end of the room there appeared to be a large industrial door, like one from a shop garage. I yanked on it with all my might, but I suppose I knew from the get-go that it wouldn't be that easy. Of course, the button to open it was behind a clear plastic lock box. Of course, I'd need a key, and of course, if I tried to smash it open with the pipe, Locklear would be flying down the corridor faster than the door would open enough for me to flee. That is if the door even led to freedom and not another room of horrors! My hopes couldn't help but deflate a bit. I would have to find another way out.

With a determined sigh, I turned around, preparing to head back out to the hallway from which I came. However, right as I began walking, I froze in my tracks. I hadn't noticed it upon my first inspection of the room because it fitted so well into the wall and was slightly obscured by the wall of morgue drawers, but I definitely saw it now. One of those small, old fashioned mini lifts that could be used to brings trays and things up and down between floors. They certainly weren't made for people, but desperate times called for desperate measures and this one looked just big enough to try squeezing into.

Sucking in my gut as much as I could, I somehow managed to contort myself into the tiny lift. With a strained arm, I reached out and hit the call button. The sound of old machinery creaking and straining met my ears, and the lift started to wiggle a bit and complain, but after a moment, it started to rise! My heart jumped for joy as I very slowly watched the morgue room begin to disappear as I rose into the elevator shaft. However, just as there were only mere inches of the room still in view, the lift let out a terrible groan and lurched. Suddenly, I realized it had stopped and I was stuck in place. It seemed the weight of a human being, let alone a chubby one, was just too much for the small lift.

It wasn't the claustrophobic conditions of being stuck in the lift that scared me. No, what made my blood run cold in that moment was the loud metallic creak that had clearly echoed through the morgue room, no doubt having at least somewhat traveled down the corridor to wherever Locklear had been skulking. As if in response to my most dreaded thoughts, the sound of echoing footsteps could be heard approaching.

Crap. Crap crap CRAP. Was this it? Was he going to find me stuck here like a tin of sardines and end me on sight? Or would he punish me like Craig for disobedience? Terror filled me and it took everything I had to remain calm and steady my breathing. The lift WAS pretty hard to see in its obscured location, and only a few inches of me were visible. Maybe he wouldn't see me? The thought seemed a bit delusional, but it was all I could do to keep from melting down.

Oh no... The pipe! I hadn't been able to fit it in the lift with me and it was laying clearly against the wall below me. If he spotted that there was no way out of this. Panic rose in me but there was no time to do anything.

Sure enough, the door to the morgue could be heard creaking open. My face went numb as I heard heavy footsteps click across the tiles of the morgue. He was getting closer. I held my breath. If he got much closer, he'd see the pipe for sure!

Tears welled up in my eyes as the footsteps drew nearer and nearer, but suddenly, they halted. Another sound met my ears. Screaming. Loud and clear and also the sound of thrashing and some crashes. It seemed once again Craig's sacrifice would be my savior. At the sounds of mayhem echoing down the hall, Locklear turned on his heel and sprinted with astounding speed out of the morgue and down the hall, not even bothering to close the door behind him. Just moments later I heard more shouting and a loud struggle. This was my chance.

Using every ounce of strength I had, I lifted myself inside the cramped elevator and let my torso fall back onto the bottom of the lift. Surprisingly, it seemed to work. The lift recoiled then dropped me back down the short distance to the bottom of the shaft. The crash was loud and hurt my back quite a bit after the initial impact, but amazingly, the struggle was still going on down the corridor, and it seemed to have completely masked my own commotion down here.

Rubbing my sore back and grabbing the bent pipe once more, I re-evaluated my situation. This end of the corridor was not going to be my way out. So, my only other option was to try my luck down on the side where Locklear had run off to. I knew it was risky, but perhaps if I could sneak-up and get a good look of the layout ahead, I might be able to sneak out of there while he was preoccupied.

Calming my breath and focusing on being as quiet as possible, I proceeded back out into the long hallway. I passed the dark room where I had started out to the left and willed myself to keep pushing on. I could still hear Locklear ahead somewhere at the end of the corridor, but the commotion had clearly died down. It was apparent that he had handled the situation and was back to doing whatever vile things I had interrupted him from previously.

My breath caught in my throat as I spotted another door to the right. Perhaps I wouldn't have to chance it after all! With a shaky hand, I pulled open the door and quickly slipped-in, thanking the stars that it didn't creak. However, within seconds of entering the room I regretted it. The overpowering scent of blood nearly triggered my gag reflex. If the morgue was bad, this was infinitely worse.

Unlike the clean and well lit hallway, this room was dim much like the first room, which only added more dread to the oppressive atmosphere it bore. In the center of the room stood a large metal table, and around it, many tables of vicious-looking tools and strange fluids. Beneath the center table was a filthy drain in the floor. My eyes continued to scan the room. Saw blades, chemicals, many a horrifying sights. It was apparent I had stumbled across the room which Locklear used to dispose of his victims when his work was done. At least those victims that he didn't leave out elsewhere to make a statement.

There were no doors or windows in this room. Just horrors and the overwhelming smell of death and blood. My pulse raced as I spun on my heels and fled back into the corridor, sealing the horrific death chamber behind me. That's it then. My only shot is past Locklear.

I stood silent for a moment, mentally preparing myself for what was to come next. But my concentration was broken by a truly sickening sound. There was a grotesquely wet crunch followed by Craig's howls of agony and then a strange hissing followed by more screaming.  Another crunch and hiss and more screams. Another, and so on. I nearly vomited on the spot, but had to control myself. Finally, the cacophony of crunches and screams quieted. It had been interrupted by a strange sound. I recognized it almost immediately as a cellphone ringing. But who?

Suddenly, the silence was broken by Locklear speaking. Wait. Who would he be talking to? My terror took a back seat to my curiosity and I willed myself farther down the hall. He was definitely on the phone with someone.

"Of... of course not! What could have given you that idea?" he cooed innocently into the receiver, "Hold on a moment. I can't get reception worth a damn down here. I'm going to have to head upstairs. Just give me a moment."

The sound of footsteps followed by the creak of an old metal door met my ears. Finally willing myself to peak through the small window in the door closing off the room from the rest of the corridor, I spotted him climbing into an old cargo style elevator and then ascend to the floor above, out of sight. A few more moments passed and I heard the sound of footsteps creaking across the floor above me, accompanied by the very faint and muffled continuation of his phone call.

What was that? Who was he talking to? And why did he sound evasive, like he was trying to hide something? These questions plagued my mind but now was not the time to linger on them. With determination, I seized the opportunity and pushed through the door.

While not grotesque like the disposal room farther down the hall, this room chilled my blood far more than anything else I had yet seen. Aside from the scent of blood, it smelled overwhelmingly sterile. It looked that way too. Harsh LED lights lit the spotless white room and I realized I was in a sort of operating theater. And there at the center, hanging weakly on to life was Craig.

I nearly averted my eyes and passed him by quickly for the elevator, but considering all he had done for me, consciously or not, I owed him my life. So I veered over to the table and was met by a stomach churning sight. It was suddenly apparent what those crunches and hisses I had previously heard had been. Craig lay still, clearly unconscious from pain and shock at this point. Where his hands and feet had once connected to wrists and ankles lay only bloody stumps. But they looked darker and congealed. I looked to the left and saw more vicious tools. A large bloody pair of bone shears, and a cauterizing iron. The twisted monster had been dismembering poor Craig, but clearly still wanted him alive. As the freshly cauterized wounds prevented him from bleeding out.

The dotted pen marks littering his body told me that Locklear had dark plans for this man's internal organs. Clearly he wanted him alive as long as possible. The twisted sicko.

Suddenly, the silence was broken by a weak, tormented sound. It was Craig. He had regained consciousness and detected me. And he very weakly called out to me. At this point, I also noticed the bloody bandages on his all too hollow looking eye sockets and only imagined what he had previously endured.

"Please," he weakly gurgled, "Please, kill me."

It was all his vocal chords, hoarse from screaming, could manage. My body went cold. The thought sickened me, but I realized in this moment that there was nothing I could possibly do to save him. And considering what he'd already been through, a quick death would be an absolute mercy. Not to mention if Locklear wanted him alive to preserve his organs, killing Craig now would ruin whatever plans he had for them.

A wave of cold resolve washed over me and I picked up a blade from a tray of sharp instruments. Steadily as I could, I drove the blade into his jugular and slashed it ear to ear. I immediately dropped the blade and let out a traumatized sob. But when I looked back up to Craig, a weak smile splashed across his face and he mouthed the words "thank you" before growing still.

I could have stayed there for hours, weeping and trying to make peace with what I had just done to the man who saved my life. But time was not a luxury I could afford at that moment. I didn't know how long Locklear would be distracted by his phone call, and I had already used up so much time. Hardening my resolve, I whispered my soft goodbyes to Craig and hurried over to the elevator.

It was still upstairs, so I was going to have to call it back down here. When Locklear had taken it up, it hadn't made much noise. It was clearly better maintained than the mini lift in the morgue. However, I wasn't sure how far away from it he now was and if he'd hear me arriving. Trading out my bent pipe for one of the viciously sharp knives on a tray near the elevator, I reached out and hit the call button before I could talk myself out of it.

To my great relief, once again, it glided smoothly down the shaft hardly making a sound until the metal door opened. Clutching my knife, I stepped in and pressed the button once more, this time feeling myself lurch upward. It wasn't a long ride. Only up one floor. And before I had time to prepare, the metal door was sliding open to reveal another door, this time wooden and old fashioned. I held my breath and pushed this door open, revealing what appeared to be the sitting room of an old fashioned home. It seemed I was in some kind of old fashioned funeral home perhaps. The kind that had the mortuary below and the undertaker and his family lived above. Either that or a farmhouse with a slaughter room below. But my money was on it being a funeral home.

I stood in shaky silence for a moment, scanning my surroundings. Locklear was nowhere to be seen, but I could hear his voice drifting from somewhere else in the home. He was still fully engulfed in his phone call, allowing me precious time to search for a way out.

The room I was in was surprisingly cozy for a murder den. Sure, it could do with a bit of a dusting, but it had that wonderful old world charm. A soft light filtered through a massive bay window. So, it was still daytime then. I took a few steps over to it to peer outside. There were no signs of the city. Just a seemingly endless stretch of sprawling fields of acreage accompanied by a lone dirt road winding through. I knew we couldn't be too far away from the city since he had gotten me here in what I assume to be a timely manner, but we were definitely well beyond the city limits. Clearly out somewhere where stretches of private property and farmland still existed.

Not wanting to dawdle, I ripped my view away from the freedom just beyond my grasp. There didn't appear to be a way for me to open the window, and there were no external doors in sight. I would have to keep moving. And so with measured steps, I slowly and quietly moved further through the home. I passed a formal dining room that looked like it hadn't been used in ages. Hanging on the wall were dusty photos of people I didn't recognize.

Though something strange did catch my eye. Though not sharing the same sculpted cheekbones or long raven hair, one of the men in the photos bore a striking resemblance to Locklear. Could it be possible that this was a family home at some point? Could one of them possibly be who he was talking to on the phone?

My attention immediately snapped elsewhere, however, as I spotted a door that looked as though it led out to the property behind the house. Excitedly, I sped up my pace and reached for the door. A small red flashing light caught my eye. Above the door was a clearly armed security system that would no doubt start wailing the moment I attempted to open the door. And he was just way too close.

Yes, I could have still tried to run for it, but I knew the odds and how foolish that would have been. How the heck would anyone expect a mere 5'6, admittedly out of shape lady such as myself to outrun a six-and-a-half foot walking wall of lean muscle? There was a lot of acreage out there to cover if I wanted to make it to safety, so if I wanted any prayer of making it out of here, I'd need as much of a head start before he noticed I was missing as possible.

Turning back to the hallway I had come from, I slowly continued working through the home. I passed a large staircase on the right, but paid it no mind. I highly doubted an old home like this would have a convenient fire escape for ease of absconding.

As I continued onward, I passed a kitchen, a chef's pantry, and water closet. But nowhere any signs of another means of escape. And the further I trekked onward, the louder Locklear's voice became. He was obviously somewhere close now. I froze at the end of the hallway. It opened up into a large sitting room and foyer. Sure enough, Locklear was seated in an old sofa, his back turned to me. So far he hadn't noticed me, so perhaps I had a chance?

I gazed over to the foyer, which was through a doorway adjacent to the sitting room. I could see the front door from here. It also had a security system posted above it, but unlike the back door, I couldn't see a red light indicating that it was armed! Perhaps I could hide out, maybe in the water closet in the hallway until he went back downstairs then I could slip out the door to freedom!

I decided to linger near the end of the hall for a while, however, as I wanted to keep an eye on him until the last possible moment. I was, admittedly, also rather curious about his ongoing phone call. I was close enough now that I could faintly hear the voice coming in from the other line. It was... a woman? The flirtatious tone Locklear responded with made it clear it wasn't a relative. But who could it be? Whoever it was, however, didn't sound too pleased with him. I couldn't make out every word, but she was definitely agitated with him. I couldn't help but strain my ear to eavesdrop further.

"Of course not silly thing!" Locklear trilled in response to angry ramblings over the receiver, "You should know me better than that by now. I know what the case looks like but I was not mistaken. She's a real sick piece of work, this one."

I furrowed my brow in confusion. What were they talking about?

"I almost let this one fly under my radar too, but I got a feeling about it and decided to dig deeper. And GOODNESS does the rabbit hole go deep."

The female voice on the other line didn't seem to buy what Locklear had to say. And suddenly, my heart skipped a beat when I overheard her say, "You need to let her go, Evander. There was nothing tying her to that case. I'm still not 100% on board with everything you do, but I certainly don't think a gut feeling is enough to condemn someone to... to what it is you do..." Her voice trailed off and there was a brief silence before Locklear spoke again.

"Trust me, sweet, it's more than a gut feeling. Ms. Winters is an exceedingly sick animal and if she isn't put down now the cycle will only continue. This is my duty. To take care of situations that are too uncomfortable for other's to accept."

They were... they were talking about me! I know I should have stayed calm and focused, but something about the way he said that. Me! A sick animal! That's rich coming from him! It infuriated me. The woman on the other line responded to him, but I couldn't focus hard enough to make out the words as my blood had begun to boil. I looked down at the razor sharp blade clutched in my hand. Perhaps better than just escaping, I could also take care of the much larger problem at hand. His back was still turned to me, after all, and he was quite preoccupied with the phone call. It would be just like I had done with Craig. Quick, easy, then I could take my time in fleeing. Maybe I'd even be dubbed a hero and get featured on the local news! Maybe even the national! Being seen on television had always been a secret desire of mine.

But I couldn't let my daydreams get ahead of me now. I needed to focus. Hardening my resolve for my new plan, I began to focus on being as silent as possible as I crept up behind Locklear. The progression, however, was quite slow, as it was hard not to get distracted by the conversation now.

"Perhaps, I'll come by your place later and explain everything to so you can finally understand what I'm talking about," Locklear suggested.

"I'd prefer if you didn't," the female voice retorted.

I crept closer and closer. I was almost exactly where I needed to be to make my move.

"See you tonight!" Locklear chirped, clearly ignoring the woman's disinterest, "But I really should run. I've got a little stalker to deal with."

Stalker? Did he just call me a stalker? I don't know what it was about that word, but something about it set me off. I was seeing red. Who was a monster like him calling ME a stalker? He didn't even know me! He didn't know what I've lived through. How I've had my heart broken and been abandoned for no reason! Caring about someone doesn't make you a stalker! LOVING someone with your whole heart doesn't make you a stalker damn it!

In my state of rightful fury, I sprung to make my move. I plunged my knife to his throat, aiming to kill. But... at the last moment he snapped his head back to me. He had known I was there! With a lightning fast reflex, he grabbed my wrist with such crushing force that I had to drop the knife for fear of my hand being broken. A mere second later I felt my feet lift from the ground and my world spin upside down. He had violently pulled me over the back of the couch and flipped me down onto the ground, my back impacting so hard it knocked the wind out of me.

There I was thinking I had reversed the roles. That I had become the predator now stalking my prey. But I should have known better. Known that I was taking on an apex predator. A killer of killers. And that he had likely been two steps ahead of me the whole time.

The pipe left within reach of my cage, leaving me in the morgue to deal with a heavily sedated man that probably could do no more than throw himself on the floor. He likely knew I was there, trapped in the lift, but ran off simply to toy with me and give me false hope. And even now. The front door. He had left it unarmed just for me! Such tasty bait to take me exactly where he wanted me to go! And I fell for it! I could now only lay there on the floor, gasping for my breath.

The woman on the other end of the line started shouting frantically as the phone had fallen hard onto the floor. Locklear picked it up and briefly barked, "I've got to go. A situation has arisen." Before ending the call and turning back to me.

And as if I weighed nothing at all, he slung my form over his shoulder and in the most undignified fashion, carried me back to that cursed elevator. I tried to fight back, but it was like trying to pry myself from a bear trap. I was simply overpowered.

As the elevator neared the lower level and opened back up to the operating theater, I felt angry tears begin to well up in my eyes. I couldn't physically fight him, but he couldn't stop me from voicing the truth. In the very least, I'd have my final rebellion.

"You can kill me," I roared in angry defiance, "but then you'll have to stop this self righteous act of claiming only to go after violent criminals. I've never done anything wrong. I don't deserve this."

"Would you shut UP, you psychotic little tart," Locklear spat back at me, this time no whimsical sing song tone in his voice. Only cold cruelty.

With a painful thud he threw me onto a gurney and despite my thrashing, strapped me in so tightly my arms burned and I could hardly move a muscle. He hesitated only for a moment, spotting my handiwork on Craig. He shoved his gurney to the side and looked at me with an expression that told me I would be paying dearly for interfering with his other work. However, swallowing the building rage growing on his face, he spoke up again.

"Never done anything wrong? Then what would you describe what you did to Ms. Stephanie Lopez as, hmm? Or should I say Mr. Gabriel Walker's girlfriend. Ring any bells, Ms. Winters?"

Sure as the sedative he was now pumping into my arm, the words paralyzed me.

How? How could he know about that? It was impossible. Besides, what I did... I did what I had to! There was no other choice! Anyone would have done the same if they were put in that horrible situation! It wasn't fair to blame me! I was the victim in all of it! Finally unable to restrain myself any further, all of the thoughts that had been burbling around in my head for the past month that I had kept to myself in a pressure cooker of emotion came bursting through.

"You don't know anything about me!" I shrieked wildly, "Gabriel broke my heart! It was bad enough that he reported me to management and blew the thing so out of proportion that it took me to court. But on top of it all, when I got there, he was sitting there, hanging all over that slut! Rubbing her in my face. Taunting me for having fallen for his flirtatious act, all while having a girlfriend. It was all HIS fault!"

At my outburst, Locklear's eyes narrowed and he brought his face closer to mine.

"They were happy together. Just living their lives hurting no one. Good people. Innocent people. The type I work so hard to protect. You were delusional. A sad, obsessed little girl who was jealous of a much prettier woman who happened to be dating the man you were stalking." He hissed, every word dripping with venom that could kill.

His words cut like a jagged knife. He just... He didn't understand me. NO ONE understood me! It wasn't fair!

"You don't know my side of the story!" I wailed, "I didn't mean any harm! I didn't realize what I was doing was wrong! I was just trying to express my love!"

"Oh, of course. Just like you expressed your love to both Sam and Damien? My, my you have quite the record of anti-stalking orders, Ms. Winters. It would seem the way you express your love is quite creepy," Locklear chuckled in a cruel and ridiculing voice.

"Don't you DARE call me a stalker!" I howled. "All I ever did was try to get to know them better. I was so in love. You don't understand. They blocked me without even understanding me. So, I had to make new accounts to get through to them. They at least owed me an explanation as to why they left me alone. And if they didn't want to tell me, maybe they'd tell a stranger who wasn't involved in all of that? I thought I could smooth it all out. They were such dear friends and then suddenly, they were gone with no explanation! I was heartbroken!"

"Dear friends?! My darling you're delusional. You began stalking their social media accounts and they tolerated you at best. It's all there in the court records, dearie. That's a very strange definition of 'dear friends', and that's coming from a genuine sociopath," Locklear hissed, boring into me with his icy unforgiving eyes.

"I wasn't stalking them!" I nearly screamed in a mixture of hurt and anger, "Why do people keep saying that! I just wanted to learn more about them! I loved them so much! I needed to learn the things they liked, who their friends and family were, and where they lived if I ever wanted a chance of making them love me back! It's not my fault they rejected my love!"

"Of course. Poor innocent little lamb.,Locklear mocked venomously, "I see now. You're clearly the victim in all of this! So very sad!"

A wicked grin peeled across his face as he pulled the large overhanging light down over me, turning it on, practically blinding me with the piercing light.

"The truly sad thing though, is if you had just been able to control your selfish rage of not getting your way, you wouldn't be here right now. Sure, you'd still be a rancid piece of trash rotting out in the city. But you'd be off my radar. Hell, had you not conned your way out of that last restraining order hearing, perhaps you'd just be spending a few nights downtown rather than preparing to face your maker."

"Conned my way out?" I huffed through my tears, beyond offended at this point.

"Oh yes, my dear. It seems that over the years you've gotten better at covering your tracks. You kept your nefarious deeds online only, and erased your footsteps along the way. I supposed working in a tech department taught you some tricks. Combining that with the crotchety old Judge that oversaw the case not understanding or caring about online matters, and that ever so pitiful act you put up, the stars aligned for you to slip away like the snake you are."

"I never put up an act!" I screamed.

"Oh please. When you've seen as many court records as me you know all the tricks. 'Who me? I'm just a simple-minded, pitiful little woman. Even if I wanted to do those things, I wouldn't know how! He's just picking on me because he's popular and I'm homely and an easy target. Boo hoo hoo.' Paired with a sympathetic enough judge, the justice system will fail every time," Locklear spat.

Something in me snapped. I couldn't restrain it any longer.

"You know what? Fine! I admit that I killed that bitch. I knew Gabriel was going to be out of town for a work conference and she'd be there alone. But it wasn't wrong! Why should she get everything I ever wanted when I've tried so hard for YEARS. Just because she's prettier than me? How is that fair?! She ruined everything. If she hadn't been around, Gabriel would have loved me back. She had to pay for what she did to me. What I did wasn't wrong!"

"I've had enough of your mouth. You disgust me," Locklear spat, shoving a dirty rag in my mouth, almost causing me to gag.

"I've encountered a great deal of the worst humanity has to offer, but the ones like you always bother me the most. You who are truly depraved but are so narcissistic that you've managed to convince yourself that everything you do is justified because you are always the victim. This absolute proclamation of innocence allows to you slip into society almost undetected. And the amount of damage you do to everyone around you is nearly irreparable. I may be a murderer but the lives I snuff out serve not myself, but others. I use my dark deeds not to destroy innocent lives, but save and improve them. Think me hypocritical if you will, but at least I can sleep at night knowing I'm better than you."

Locklear backed away from me after finishing his tirade. He seemed almost in a daze for a moment. I used the opportunity to spit out the filthy gag that silenced me.

"You may think I'm awful," I croaked, "but I KNOW you've encountered worse than me. Serial killers, rapists, child abusers. So why the hell does it seem like you're taking this so personally? Why me?"

"Perhaps..." Locklear started, a strange and frightening darkness spreading across his face "I'm taking this a little harder than usual because you MADE this personal for me."

I stared at him in dumbfounded confusion.

"Ms. Stephanie Lopez was a very special girl. She came from an honest, hardworking family that sadly didn't have much in the way of money. Ms. Lopez was born with a rare heart condition and with no money or resourses to get the replacement that would save her. Her life would have been in the hands of our deeply flawed medical system. In short, she would have likely died before getting the heart she needed, and society at large wouldn't have cared because she and her family just weren't important enough. But they were good people. And that's important to me."

He never took his unblinking gaze off of me while he continued to speak.

"Doing what I do, I have contacts. And Ms. Lopez's family happened to learn of said contacts and connect with them. And long story short, after finding an appropriate 'donor', I was able to perform the life saving procedure on her, and give her another chance to share her light with this dark world. A light which you, Ms. Winters, so violently snuffed out. Suffice to say, this is very personal."

An intense darkness that I had never seen before washed over him. With a sense of evil purpose, he stormed over to a table filled with sharp devices and inspected the selection before picking one up. My blood chilled as he then approached me. In one final attempt to spare myself from what I knew was coming next, I shouted to him one last time.

"You don't have to do this! I'm sorry, okay! I didn't know who she was! I didn't know any of that! I can change! You can help me! I... I could learn to be just like you! After all, you and I are exactly alike!"

However, his response came much darker and colder than I had hoped for and my heart dropped knowing the horrors that were about to befall me. Raising a wicked looking tool up near my right eyeball, he leaned in and whispered a final retort.

"You're quite mistaken. You are nothing like me. And for that, I'm going to make sure you hurt."

Credited to Madame Macabre 

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