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Don't Give Up on Me

By Jodi Artzberger

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Chapter 1


And He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away. —Revelation 21:4


Amanda’s hand hovered over the keypad in front of her. Looking back over her shoulder, she shivered and pulled her coat a little tighter. Turning back, she put in her security code with a shaky hand. The keypad lit up red and buzzed. She jumped, put her hand to her chest, and took a deep breath. There’s nothing to be afraid of. She shook out her hand, scanned the parking lot, and tried her code again. The pad turned green and, with the familiar click of the door unlocking, allowed her to enter. She darted into the building and tugged the door closed until she heard the click again—locked. Amanda released the breath she had been holding in and rolled her neck and shoulders.

The lobby was cold, eerie and quiet. Outside, there was no breeze and no ocean mist to create the usual night fog. If it weren’t for the smell of salt in the air, you’d never know you were in a coastal town. Otter Bay, Maine, was unusually still tonight.

Amanda glanced around the lobby—everything appeared normal. Trying to ignore the uneasiness that had settled into her gut, she moved past the receptionist’s desk and pushed through the doors. With determination and purpose in her steps, she headed towards the offices.

Shadows played across the hall. The safety lights lining the hallway did nothing to chase them away. A chill followed her and ran down her spine. She shivered and picked up her pace. The sound of her heels rang in her ears as they clicked on the tiled floors and echoed off the walls.

As the business operations manager for Cragge Automotive Group, Amanda oversaw the company’s day-to-day business and made sure everything ran smoothly—not just for their corporate office but for their dealerships as well. After the day she’d had, she was ready to get this problem fixed and get back home.

Amanda rounded the corner and saw light filtering into the hallway from under Lee’s office door. “Lee, I’m here. What can I do to help so we can get out of here? Just let me know whatever—” Amanda stopped when she opened the door and realized Lee wasn’t in his office. She shook off her coat and set her things in the empty chair next to Lee’s desk.

She scanned the paperwork on his desk and read through his notes. The screen in front of her revealed nothing. She shook her head and wasn’t sure why she bothered. Lee was the best at his job, the best IT guy around. His notes didn’t tell her anything. For her, aside from checking email, using a few social networking sites, and being trained on the programs she used for work, IT and programming were a foreign language.

Amanda twirled the pen she’d picked up, intermittently tapping it on the edge of Lee’s laminate desktop. He had to be back soon.

Since earning her MBA, Amanda had been working with her father, Lawrence Cragge, who was the general manager of Cragge Automotive Group. She’d hoped they could bond over their work. But they both remained busy on different projects, and no matter what she did, nothing seemed to change between them.
A Cragge always held the General Manager position, and she was next in line. Then she would be Amanda Cragge, president of Cragge Automotive Group. The thought made her skin crawl. If only she had a brother, then he would be bestowed the honor of carrying on the Cragge tradition instead of her.

Wanting to get out of there as soon as possible, she stood and went back to the hallway. She looked up and down the hall. “Lee, are you here?” She had just spoken to him as she drove back to the office. His car was in the parking lot when she pulled in. Where could he be?

The reception area and front offices were dark when she came in. “Lee? Are you here? Charlie?” If she couldn’t find Lee, maybe Charlie, their security guard, could help her. She hadn’t passed him either when she entered the building.
Amanda stepped back into Lee’s office and grabbed her phone. With the flashlight app on, she walked down the hallway, through IT and accounting’s bull pen where she headed out into another hallway.

Reaching for the light switch, Amanda hesitated when she heard something. “Lee? Charlie?”

Before she could turn around, she was grabbed around the waist and jerked back against her assailant. A cloth was placed over her mouth and nose. Dragging her deeper into the lifeless hallway, her attacker pinned her back against himself, preventing her from escaping his clutches.

Amanda tried to scream, but the caustic smell violated her senses and stopped her from screaming. She tried to struggle, but confusion and fright engulfed her. She heard the clatter of her phone as it slipped from her grip and hit the floor. The light went out.

She tried to push back and wriggle out of her attacker’s hold, desperately trying to reach behind to get to her attacker, but it was no use. She grabbed and dug at her attacker’s hands and arms, hoping to loosen his grip. He tightened his hold and pressed the cloth harder against her mouth and nose, choking out her breath, forcing her to gasp through the vile rag.

With everything she had, she attempted to fight against the darkness that was trying to take over, to fight the stars that were before her eyes, and to fight the body that was holding her against him.

As she struggled against her attacker, she tried to claw and pry at the cold, leather-gloved hand over her mouth and tried to reach the face behind her. His hot, sticky breath brushed against her cheek and his beard scratched her face and ear.

She stomped on her attacker’s foot with the heel of her shoe. He grunted but said nothing. He lifted Amanda off the floor, tightened his hold on her even more, which pushed out the remaining air from her lungs and caused Amanda to gasp again for air.

She couldn’t fight anymore. A whimper escaped, and heaviness overtook her limbs. Her attacker’s grip was too strong and too much for her to fight off. The smell, the cloth—dizziness winning, weakness winning. Her body stopped fighting and her world went black.

~~~

“Hello? Detective Ryker Scott with the Otter Bay Police Department. Is anyone here?” he called out as he entered the building. He clicked on his flashlight and flashed the light around the lobby. The front door had been unlocked. He looked back at the door—no marks, no signs of forced entry. The cars in the parking lot indicated someone should be here.

Ryker had heard dispatch over the radio on his way home. Dispatch said the call came in from a distraught woman who said her daughter had been working but had not come home yet and she wasn’t answering her phone. Since the call was for the Cragge offices, he wondered if the caller was Mrs. Cragge, so he offered to respond to the call.

Inside the smaller offices, nothing appeared disturbed. Weaving his way around the desks and partitions, everything seemed normal. He called out again, “Detective Scott with the Otter Bay Police Department. Anyone here?”
Cautiously, he continued. Ryker approached an office with its light on. He knocked and carefully pushed opened the door. Empty. He noted where someone had been working and noticed a coat and a woman’s purse in the chair next to the desk.
Ryker stepped out of the office and made his way back down the hall. In the bull pen, he glanced around. The sinking feeling in his gut had Ryker pull back his jacket and go for his Glock. With his wrists crossed, his Glock in one hand pointing down and his flashlight in the other lighting the way, he continued to move through the offices.

As he neared the back of the offices, he noticed a partially opened door. A woman’s black leather shoe prevented the door from closing. He repositioned his Glock to the ready position and carefully eased the door open.

The beam from his flashlight swept another hallway, it illuminated a woman collapsed on the floor. Ryker hit the light switch in the hall, scanned the hallway one more time, and knelt down to check for a pulse. Weak, but it was there. Holstering his gun, Ryker rolled the woman over on her back, smoothed back the hair out of her face. His breath hitched.

Amanda.

The hair on the back of his neck stood on end. Amanda lay before him. Her lips had begun to turn a shade of blue and her skin was pale. He leaned over and couldn’t feel her breath on his cheek.

Ryker pulled out his phone and dialed 9-1-1. He began administering CPR. In between breaths, he identified himself to the operator and requested backup and an ambulance.

“Come on, honey, breathe. I need you to breathe.”

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