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Before he Kills

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Before he Kills
Before he Kills
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Before he Kills
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Blake Pierce

Blake Pierce is author of the bestselling RILEY PAGE mystery series, which include the mystery suspense thrillers ONCE GONE (book #1), ONCE TAKEN (book #2) and ONCE CRAVED (#3). Blake Pierce is also the author of the MACKENZIE WHITE mystery series.

An avid reader and lifelong fan of the mystery and thriller genres, Blake loves to hear from you, so please feel free to visit to learn more and stay in touch.

Copyright © 2016 by Blake Pierce. All rights reserved. Except as permitted under the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976, no part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed or transmitted in any form or by any means, or stored in a database or retrieval system, without the prior permission of the author. This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return it and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author. This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, organizations, places, events, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictionally. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental. Jacket image Copyright lassedesignen, used under license from

ONCE GONE (Book #1)
ONCE TAKEN (Book #2)


Any other time, the dawn’s first light on the tops of the cornstalks would look beautiful to her. She watched as the first light of day danced along the stalks, creating a muted gold color, and she tried with all she had to find the beauty in it.

She had to distract herself – or else the pain would be unbearable.

She was tied to a large wooden pole that ran up her back and stopped two feet above her head. Her hands were bound behind her, tied together behind the pole. She wore only black lace underwear and a bra that pushed her already generous breasts closer together and higher up. It was the bra that got her the most tips at the strip club, the bra that made her breasts look like they still belonged to a twenty-one-year-old rather than a thirty-four-year-old mother of two.

The pole grated against her bare back, rubbing it raw. But it was not nearly as bad as the pain that the man with the dark, creepy voice had been doling out.

She tensed as she heard him walking behind her, his footsteps falling softly in the clearing of the cornfield. There was another sound, too, fainter. He was dragging something. The whip, she realized, the one he’d been using to beat her. It must have been barbed with something, and had a fanned tail to it. She’d only caught sight of it once – and that had been more than enough.

Her back stung with dozens of lashes, and just hearing the thing being pulled across the ground gave her a rush of panic. She let out a scream – what felt like the hundredth one of the night – that seemed to fall dead and flat in the cornfield. At first, her screams had been cries for help, hoping someone might hear her. But over time, they had become garbled howls of anguish, cries uttered by someone who knew that no one was coming to help her.

“I will consider letting you go,” the man said.

He had the voice of someone that either smoked or screamed a lot. There was some sort of odd lisp to his words as well.

“But first, you must confess your crimes.”

He’d said this four times. She wracked her brains again, wondering. She had no crimes to confess. She had been a good person to everyone she knew, a good mother – not as good as she would have liked – but she had tried.

What did he want from her?

She screamed again and tried bending her back against the pole. When she did, she felt the briefest give to the ropes around her wrists. She also felt her sticky blood pooling around the rope.

“Confess your crimes,” he repeated.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about!” she moaned.

“You will remember,” he said.

He’d said that before, too. And he’d said it just before every —

There was a soft whispering noise as the whip arced through the air.

She screamed and writhed against the pole as the thing struck her.

New blood flowed from her new wound but she barely felt it. Instead, she focused on her wrists. The blood that had been collecting there over the last hour or so was mixing with her sweat. She could feel empty space between the rope and her wrists and she thought she might be able to get away. She felt her mind trying to drift away, to disconnect from the situation.


This one hit her directly on the shoulder and she bellowed.

“Please,” she said. “I’ll do anything you want! Just let me go!”

“Confess your – ”

She yanked as hard as she could, bringing her arms forward. Her shoulders screamed in agony, but she was instantly free. There was a slight burn as the rope caught the top of her hand, but that was nothing compared to the pain laced across her back.

She yanked forward so hard that she nearly fell to her knees, almost ruining her escape. But the primitive need to survive took control of her muscles and before she was even aware of what she was doing, she was running.

She sprinted, amazed that she was really free, amazed that her legs worked after being bound so long. She would not stop to question it.

She went crashing through the corn, the stalks slapping at her. The leaves and branches seemed to reach out for her, brushing her lacerated back like old withered fingers. She was gasping for breath and focusing on keeping one foot in front of the other. She knew the highway was somewhere nearby. All she had to do was keep running and ignoring the pain.

Behind her, the man started laughing. His voice made the laughter sound like it came from a monster who had been hiding in the cornfield for centuries.

She whimpered and ran on, her bare feet slapping against the dirt and her mostly bare body knocking cornstalks askew. Her breasts bobbed up and down in a ridiculous manner, her left one escaping the bra. She promised herself in that moment that if she made it out of here alive, she would never strip again. She’d find some better job, a better way to provide for her kids.

That lit a new spark in her, and she ran faster, crashing through the corn. She ran as hard as she could. She’d be free of him if she just kept running. The highway had to be right around the corner. Right?

Maybe. But even so, there was no guarantee that anyone would be on it. It wasn’t even six AM yet and the Nebraska highways were often very lonesome this time of the day.

Ahead of her, there came a break in the stalks. Dawn’s murky light spilled toward her, and her heart leapt to see the highway.

She burst through, and as she did, to her disbelief she heard the noise of an approaching engine. She soared with hope.

She saw the glow of approaching headlights and she ran even faster, so close that she could smell the heat-drenched blacktop.

She reached the edge of the cornfield just as a red pickup truck was passing by. She screamed and waved her arms frantically.

“PLEASE!” she cried.

But to her horror, the truck roared by.

She waved her arms, weeping. Maybe if the driver happened to look into his rearview mirror —


A sharp and biting pain exploded along the back of her left knee, and she fell to the ground.

She screamed and tried to get to her feet, but she felt a strong hand grab her by the back of her hair, and soon he was dragging her back into the cornfield.

She tried to move, to break free, but this time, she could not.

There came one last crack of the whip when, finally, gratefully, she lost consciousness.

Soon, she knew, it would all come to an end: the noise, the whip, the pain – and her brief, pain-filled life.


Detective Mackenzie White braced herself for the worst as she walked through the cornfield that afternoon. The sound of the cornstalks unnerved her as she passed through them, a dead sound, grazing her jacket as she passed through row after row. The clearing she sought, it seemed, was miles away.

She finally reached it, and as she did, she stopped cold, wishing she were anywhere but here. There was a dead, mostly naked body of a thirty-something female tied to a pole, her face frozen in an expression of anguish. It was an expression that Mackenzie wished she’d never seen – and knew she would never forget.

Five policemen milled around the clearing, doing nothing in particular. They were trying to look busy but she knew they were simply trying to make sense of it. She felt certain that none of them had seen anything like this before. It took no more than five seconds of seeing the blonde woman tied to the wooden pole before Mackenzie knew there was something much deeper going on here. Something unlike anything she had ever encountered. This was not what happened in the cornfields of Nebraska.

Mackenzie approached the body and walked a slow circle around it. As she did, she sensed the other officers watching her. She knew that some of them felt she took her job far too seriously. She approached things a little too closely, looked for threads and connections that were almost abstract in nature. She was the young woman who had reached the position of detective far too fast in the eyes of a lot of the men at the precinct, she knew. She was the ambitious girl that everyone assumed had her eyes on bigger and better things than a detective with small-town Nebraska law enforcement.


Mackenzie ignored them. She focused solely on the body, waving away the flies that darted everywhere. They hovered spastically around the woman’s body, creating a small black cloud, and the heat was doing the body no favors. It had been hot all summer and it felt as if all of that heat had been collected in this cornfield and placed here.

Mackenzie came close and studied her, trying to repress a feeling of nausea and a wave of sadness. The woman’s back was covered in gashes. They looked uniform in nature, likely placed there by the same instrument. Her back was covered in blood, mostly dried and sticky. The back of her thong underwear was caked in it, too.

As Mackenzie finished her loop around the body, a short but stout policeman approached her. She knew him well, though she didn’t care for him.

“Hello, Detective White,” Chief Nelson said.

“Chief,” she replied.

“Where’s Porter?”

There was nothing condescending in his voice, but she felt it nonetheless. This hardened local fifty-something police chief did not want a twenty-five-year-old woman helping to make sense of this case. Walter Porter, her fifty-five-year-old partner, would be best for the job.

“Back at the highway,” Mackenzie said. “He’s speaking to the farmer that discovered the body. He’ll be along shortly.”

“Okay,” Nelson said, clearly a little more at ease. “What do you make of this?”

Mackenzie wasn’t sure how to answer that. She knew he was testing her. He did it from time to time, even on menial things at the precinct. He didn’t do it to any of the other officers or detectives, and she was fairly certain he only did it to her because she was young and a woman.

Her gut told her this was more than some theatrical murder. Was it the countless lashes on her back? Was it the fact that the woman had a body that was pin-up worthy? Her breasts were clearly fake and if Mackenzie had to guess, her rear had seen some work as well. She was wearing a good deal of makeup, some of which had been smeared and smudged from tears.

“I think,” Mackenzie said, finally answering Nelson’s question, “that this was purely a violent crime. I think forensics will show no sexual abuse. Most men that kidnap a woman for sex rarely abuse their victim this much, even if they plan to kill them later. I also think the style of underwear she is wearing suggests that she was a woman of provocative nature. Quite honestly, judging by her makeup style and the ample size of her breasts, I’d start placing calls to strip clubs in Omaha to see if any dancers were MIA last night.”

“All of that has already been done,” Nelson replied smugly. “The deceased is Hailey Lizbrook, thirty-four years old, a mother of two boys and a mid-level dancer at The Runway in Omaha.”

He recited these facts as if he were reading an instruction manual. Mackenzie assumed he’d been in his position long enough where murder victims were no longer people, but simply a puzzle to be solved.

But Mackenzie, only a few years into her career, was not so hardened and heartless. She studied the woman with an eye toward figuring out what had happened, but also saw her as a woman who had left two boys behind – boys that would live the rest of their lives without a mother. For a mother of two to be a stripper, Mackenzie assumed that there were money troubles in her life and that she was willing to do damn near anything to provide for her kids. But now here she was, strapped to a pole and partially mauled by some faceless man that —

The rustling of cornstalks from behind her cut her off. She turned to see Walter Porter coming through the corn. He looked annoyed as he entered the clearing, wiping dirt and corn silk from his coat.

He looked around for a moment before his eyes settled on Hailey Lizbrook’s body on the pole. A surprised smirk came across his face, his grayed moustache tilting to the right at a harsh angle. He then looked to Mackenzie and Nelson and wasted no time coming over.

“Porter,” Chief Nelson said. “White’s solving this thing already. She’s pretty sharp.”

“She can be,” Porter said dismissively.

It was always like this. Nelson wasn’t genuinely paying her a compliment. He was, in fact, teasing Porter for being stuck with the pretty young girl who had come out of nowhere and yanked up the position of detective – the pretty young girl that few men in the precinct over the age of thirty took seriously. And God, did Porter hate it.

While she did enjoy watching Porter writhe under the teasing, it wasn’t worth feeling inadequate and underappreciated. Time and again she had solved cases the other men couldn’t and this, she knew, threatened them. She was only twenty-five, far too young to start feeling burnt out in a career that she once loved. But now, being stuck with Porter, and with this force, she was starting to hate it.

Porter made an effort to step between Nelson and Mackenzie, letting her know that this was his show now. Mackenzie felt herself starting to fume, but she choked it down. She’d been choking it down for the last three months, ever since she’d been assigned to work with him. From day one, Porter had made no secret about his dislike for her. After all, she had replaced Porter’s partner of twenty-eight years who had been released from the force, as far as Porter was concerned, to make room for a young female.

Mackenzie ignored his blatant disrespect; she refused to let it affect her work ethic. Without a word, she went back to the body. She studied it closely. It hurt to study it, and yet, as far as she was concerned, there was no dead body that would ever affect her as much as the first she had ever seen. She was almost reaching the point where she no longer saw her father’s body when she stepped onto a murder scene. But not yet. She’d been seven years old when she walked into the bedroom and saw him half-sprawled on the bed, in a pool of blood. And she had never stopped seeing it since.

Mackenzie searched for clues that this murder had not been about sex. She saw no signs of bruising or scratching on her breasts or buttocks, no external bleeding around the vagina. She then looked to the woman’s hands and feet, wondering if there might be a religious motive; signs of puncture along the palms, ankles, and feet could denote a reference to crucifixion. But there were no signs of that, either.

In the brief report she and Porter had been given, she knew the victim’s clothes had not been located. Mackenzie thought this likely meant that the killer had them, or had disposed of them. This indicated to her that he was either cautious, or borderline obsessive. Add that to the fact that his motives last night had almost certainly not been of a sexual nature, and it added up to a potentially elusive and calculated killer.

Mackenzie backed to the edge of the clearing and took in the entirety of the scene. Porter gave her a sideways glance and then ignored her completely, continuing to talk to Nelson. She noticed that the other policemen were watching her. Some of them, at least, were watching her work. She’d come into the role of detective with a reputation for being exceptionally bright and highly regarded by the majority of instructors at the police academy, and from time to time, younger cops – men and women alike – would ask her genuine questions or seek her opinion.

On the other hand, she knew that a few of the men sharing the clearing with her might also be leering, too. She wasn’t sure which was worse: the men that checked out her ass when she walked by or the ones that laughed behind her back at the little girl trying to play the role of bad-ass detective.

As she studied the scene, she was once again assaulted by the nagging suspicion that something was terribly wrong here. She felt like she was opening up a book, reading page one of a story that she knew had some very difficult pages ahead.

This is just the beginning, she thought.

She looked to the dirt around the pole and saw a few scuffed boot marks, but not anything that would provide prints. There was also a series of shapes in the dirt that looked almost serpentine. She squatted down for a closer look and saw that several of the shapes trailed side by side, winding their way around the wooden pole in a broken fashion, as if whatever made them had circled the pole several times. She then looked to the woman’s back and saw that the gashes in her flesh were roughly the same shape of the markings on the ground.

“Porter,” she said.

“What is it?” he asked, clearly annoyed that he’d been interrupted.

“I think I’ve got weapon prints here.”

Porter hesitated for a second and then walked over to where Mackenzie was hunkered down in the dirt. When he squatted down next to her, he groaned slightly and she could hear his belt creaking. He was about fifty pounds overweight and it was showing more and more as he closed in on fifty-five.

“A whip of some kind?” he asked.

“Looks like it.”

She examined the ground, following the marks in the sand all the way up to the pole – and while doing so, she noticed something else. It was something minuscule, so small that she almost didn’t catch it.

She walked over to the pole, careful not to touch the body before forensics could get to it. She again hunkered down and when she did, she felt the full weight of the afternoon’s heat pressing down on her. Undaunted, she craned her head closer to the pole, so close that her forehead nearly touched it.

“What the hell are you doing?” Nelson asked.

“Something’s carved here,” she said. “Looks like numbers.”

Porter came over to investigate but did everything he could not to bend down again. “White, that chunk of wood is easily twenty years old,” he said. “That carving looks just as old.”

“Maybe,” Mackenzie said. But she didn’t think so.

Already uninterested in the discovery, Porter went back to speaking with Nelson, comparing notes about information he’d gotten from the farmer who had discovered the body.

Mackenzie took out her phone and snapped a picture of the numbers. She enlarged the image and the numbers became a bit clearer. Seeing them in such detail once again made her feel as if this was all the start of something much bigger.


The numbers meant nothing to her. Maybe Porter was right; maybe they meant absolutely nothing. Maybe they’d been carved there by a logger when the post had been created. Maybe some bored kid had chiseled them there somewhere along the years.

But that didn’t feel right.

Nothing about this felt right.

And she knew, in her heart, that this was only the beginning.