The Girls in the Snow – Stacy Green

Up and down. Side to side. Was she on the water? She didn’t remember getting into her father’s old fishing boat, but she must have. God, the water’s choppy. I’m getting seasick , she thought. “Nik, we’re here.” Someone pushed on her shoulder. “Wake up.” Nikki’s eyes peeled open. She wiped the saliva off her mouth, her mind sluggish. “Where?” “Your house, remember?” A yawn made her jaw crack. Blurry images of the past few hours flashed through her head. Stupid, stupid. “Sorry. Fell asleep.


” “More like passed out.” Annmarie helped her escape her seat belt. “You sure you’re okay? You still look green.” Nikki had already vomited three times in the last hour. Her stomach had to be empty. “I’m good. Where’s my bag?” “In the back. I’ll grab it.” Nikki fumbled with the handle of the door and shoved it open. The house was dark; her parents would definitely be in bed. She just had to quietly sneak inside and get to her bedroom. As long as she avoided the squeaky parts of the steps, her parents would never know about what happened tonight. She tested her balance, putting both feet on the solid ground before she carefully stood. Her legs seemed strong enough, but she still held onto the car as she tiptoed around and collected her purse. “Thanks again for picking me up.

” Acid rose in Nikki’s mouth. She told herself she would not puke in the driveway. “No problem,” Annmarie said. “Call me when you wake up tomorrow afternoon. We can talk more about what happened…” Nikki preferred not to talk about tonight ever again. “Okay.” She quietly shut the door and shouldered her purse. Annmarie whipped the little Escort around the circular drive, and her headlights disappeared down the lane. Summer wind rustled through the cornfields, and Nikki tried to walk faster. She hated the cornfields at night and wished her parents would put up some sort of security light in front of the house. She grabbed the stair rail and took the steps one at a time. The old wooden slats creaked as she crept to the door, fumbling in her bag for her keys. She found her key and reached for the door. And then her hand froze in midair. The door’s decorative glass pane had been shattered.

She tried the handle, and the door swung open. Fear locked her knees and made her stomach turn. Her vision cleared, her body on high alert. Darkness greeted her, but she could see the shards of colored glass scattered on the floor. Nikki’s gut told her to run to the neighbor’s. But what if her parents were hurt? She took a shaky step inside and reached for the light switch. The sudden intrusion of light made her wince, and the hallway seemed to narrow and lengthen, like the funhouse at the state fair. Her knees knocked together as she crept down the hall toward the stairwell, listening for the sound of her father’s snoring. He was probably awake and waiting for her, she reasoned. Nikki could just imagine her parents’ reaction if her paranoia about being caught after sneaking out made her overreact and waste the police’s time. They didn’t live in Minneapolis, she told herself. Stillwater was about as safe and boring as church on Sunday. Thirteen steps to the second floor. Nikki once scared Annmarie into believing the thirteen steps meant the house was a spirit portal. Nine-year-old kids believed anything.

The loose railing rattled from Nikki’s shaking hand. Random dark spots dotted the carpet; she rubbed her eyes, but the spots were still there. Dribbles, and then blobs that got a little larger on each step until they took a definitive shape. Shoe prints on the beige carpet leading to her parents’ bedroom, a familiar swoosh logo visible in the stronger prints. Nikki stopped outside the closed door to her parents’ room. No sound came. No snoring. Her pulse thundered in her ears as she slowly opened the door. Blood dripped down the side of the bed. Her mother’s arm dangled off the edge, her hand limp. More bile rose in Nikki’s mouth. Her vision blurred again. Her face had gone numb, but her heart raced. She had to be dreaming. Then why did she smell copper and gunfire? The hall light burned a spotlight on her mother.

Nikki inched toward the bed, panic attacking her nervous system. “Mom?” Lifeless brown eyes stared back at her. A face frozen in anguish, blood on her nightgown pooling next to her body and dripping off the side. Nikki grabbed her mother’s hand and put two fingers on her wrist. No pulse. Nikki’s breath came in short rasps, the vodka still threatening to come back up. She remembered the bloody footsteps… the killer had walked through her mother’s blood. And then she heard it. A familiar series of creaks. Someone was slowly walking upstairs. Someone who didn’t know which steps to avoid. ONE PRESENT DAY Bitter, cold wind tore through Nikki’s heavy coat and snow crept into the tops of her boots as she waded through the drifts. She swore under her breath. The Arctic Circle was probably warmer than Minnesota right now. Deer tracks covered the snow, making a path that led up to the barbed-wire fence several hundred yards to her right.

Bright yellow “No trespassing” signs had been posted along the fence line. It was prime hunting ground, although only small game was currently in season. She envied the deer’s ability to jump the fence and shelter in the trees; instead she was fighting the wind in the flatness of the surrounding cornfields. A man in a thick Washington County Sheriff’s coat zipped up to his nose joined her, his wool hat low on his forehead. “Agent Hunt?” “Special Agent Nikki Hunt, FBI.” She shook his gloved hand, her frosty breath filling the air between them. “Sergeant Kent Miller with the sheriff’s office. We haven’t touched the bodies. Knew you’d want to see them first.” “You’re certain it’s the girls who disappeared two months ago?” Bits of blowing snow freckled over Miller’s dark skin. “Yes. They’re well preserved, frozen solid, just like the others. But no red ribbons. That’s why I was on the fence about calling you, but Sheriff Hardin insisted on notifying the FBI.” The others, meaning the five women Frost had killed over the past half-decade.

Frost was the first serial killer Nikki had chased, and the only one she hadn’t caught. Frost stuck to the same routine every year: he took a woman in the late fall, kept her alive for an undetermined amount of time, and then froze her body immediately after he’d killed her. A red ribbon tied the victim’s hair back, and they were always wiped down with bleach, leaving little transfer evidence. Frost bounced between northern Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan, often taking a victim from one state and dumping her in another. He always left the frozen body in the snow at the peak of winter, in an area it would easily be noticed. A city park, an empty lot across from a high school, an unplowed parking lot— these were his places of choice. An isolated cornfield in the back of a large acreage was the last place she’d expect to find one of his victims. Nikki was certain the public’s reaction was part of Frost’s addiction. So why would he leave these bodies out here where it could be months before they were found? “The Frost Killer has never left two victims,” Nikki said. “Sheriff thinks he might be bored with one victim,” Miller said, a slight edge to his voice. “You’re the expert, though.” “This is his favorite time of year.” Nikki followed Miller’s long strides into the cornfield. She’d always found them creepy. Her friends earned money in the summer from detasseling, but Nikki refused to set foot in them.

Too claustrophobic. “Any idea when they were dumped?” “Not with any certainty. We didn’t have serious snow accumulation until midDecember. I double-checked, and we’ve had sixteen inches since then. We got about five inches of snow the day before yesterday, but the wind’s causing it to blow and drift.” Thirty mph-plus winds, Nikki thought. “Who owns the field?” “Farmer up the road,” Miller said. “It’s a back field, used mostly for sweetcorn.” “He probably doesn’t come here much at all during the winter.” Nikki wondered how many people knew this. “Nope,” Miller replied. “One of his dogs got loose and his son chased it down the lane. He’s the one who found the bodies.” Poor kid. “Did the dog come into contact with the bodies?” “No, thankfully.

They’re just up here.” Eight years on the job and dozens of victims should have hardened Nikki, but seeing dead children never got easier. Her throat tightened, her hands balled into fists. Child killers deserved a special place in hell. The two girls lay on their sides, face to face. A fine layer of snow partially covered their torsos. Frayed brown rope looped beneath their bottoms and over their necks, securing them in the fetal position. Clothing covered their necks, but lividity would show if the ropes were attached before or after death. “The killer must have roped them like that because the freezer wasn’t big enough.” “None of Frost’s victims were like this?” Miller asked. “So far, all of his have been laid out flat.” Each victim’s hands were always folded over their midsection, like a body prepared for funeral. That was a detail Nikki had intentionally kept from the press, instead describing them as laid out in the snow. Miller shook his head, his attention on the dead teenagers. “I never stopped looking for them,” he muttered.

“I’m sure you didn’t.” Nikki knew that every cop had cases they agonized over, and ones like this were the kind that drove a person to the bottle. “The darker-haired girl is Kaylee Thomas,” Miller said. “Madison Malone is the other.” “They’re both high-school freshmen?” Frost’s youngest victim had been eighteen. “They’re young for Frost, but Kaylee looks more like a senior. Maybe he targeted her, and Madison was collateral damage?” He sounded embarrassed at the theory. Frost’s methods hadn’t changed in five years. “Is that the sheriff’s opinion, or yours?” Nikki would bet her savings that Sheriff Hardin hadn’t braved the weather to come to the scene. “Sheriff’s.” Nikki shivered from the cold. “You’re the responding officer?” Miller nodded. “What was your gut reaction when you first saw them?” “Initially I wondered about Hardin’s theory, but there are no red ribbons. The scene feels staged to me. My gut tells me someone local did this, thinking the isolated location meant it would be spring before they were found.

” “I agree, but I’m sure the sheriff doesn’t like that idea,” Nikki said. “Can’t say I blame him. It’s certainly more complicated if it’s someone else.” Wind and snow stung Nikki’s eyes as she knelt next to Kaylee. The girl’s thick, dark hair had been streaked with blond highlights. The hem of her sweater had been torn in the back, like someone had grabbed her from behind. Neither girl wore shoes. One of Kaylee’s socks had a hole in the toe, revealing her pink nail polish. Nikki adjusted her winter gloves and carefully touched Kaylee’s arm. “Are these the same clothes they disappeared in?” Miller nodded. “Clothes are pretty much frozen to both bodies.” “Did Kaylee have the blond highlights?” “She did them at home a couple of days before the girls disappeared.” “Is there a picture of her with the highlights?” Nikki’s crime scene guru might be able to figure how much the hair had grown out—if any—before she died. “Not that I know of,” Miller said. Kaylee’s sweater was frozen tightly to her neck.

Madison’s fisted hands were tucked under her chin, but Nikki could see the lightweight coat was zipped to her throat. “Why is Madison wearing a coat?” “She had a thin shirt on,” Miller said. “Her dad made her put on a coat before she and Kaylee left the house.” Nikki wondered if perhaps the girls had been ambushed, or if they’d gone into someone’s home and taken their shoes off, intending to stay awhile. A shout startled Nikki and Miller. A tall man with skinny legs and a Vikings wool hat trudged through the snow. The hat’s braided tassels whipped in the wind, making the ear flaps wiggle like a floppy-eared dog. “Are your bird legs strong enough for those boots?” Nikki asked. Agent Liam Wilson gave her the finger. “They keep my feet warm.” Liam had joined the unit fresh from the FBI academy a year ago. His tall, lean frame and red hair earned him plenty of teasing, but he’d taken it all in his stride. His patience and attention to detail, along with his instincts, made him a valuable asset to the small criminal profiling unit. “Where’s Court?” The elements had likely destroyed any chance of finding good trace evidence, but she’d worked with Courtney Hart long enough to know she could find a needle in a haystack. “Right here.

” Courtney plodded through the snow behind Liam, carrying her kit. “How frickin’ deep is this stuff?” “It’s not that deep,” Liam said. “You’re just Oompa-Loompa sized.” “I’m average height. You’re the anomaly.” “Sergeant Miller, this is Agent Liam Wilson and our lead crime scene analyst Courtney Hart. She’s one of our best forensic scientists and the head of my Emergency Response Team,” Nikki said. “Liam worked the last Frost case with me, and Courtney’s been with me since my unit’s first investigation.” Liam shook Miller’s hand. “I’d say nice to meet you, but under the circumstances, it sucks.” Courtney murmured her agreement, nodding at Miller before shuffling through the snow to examine the bodies. “I followed our Frost protocol, so it’s just me today. Bodies frozen like this unfortunately take a while to process, and we don’t need a full team scouring the snow.” She dropped to all fours and leaned over the girls’ heads, her nose within an inch of their faces. “What’s she doing?” Miller asked.

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Updated: 28 April 2021 — 22:10

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