Characters: Zac Hanson, Taylor Hanson, OCs
Word Count: 3,588
Warnings: Language, violence
Summary: When a series of gruesome murders begins, everyone on campus is stunned, leaving the student body shaken and community anxious, but when those close to Zac Hanson realize he once dated all of the victims, they're left wondering about the connection and who might be next.
Disclaimer: This story is purely fictional. I do not know Hanson or any of their associates. All original characters belong to me. Do not use anything from this story without my permission.
Author's Note: This is the unedited version. Sorry about any errors! This is my fifth chapter for this session of the Hanfic Genre Challenge, but, no worries, there's plenty more to come. I think we're at about the midpoint now. Maybe even a bit past that point. I don't have things outlined by chapters.
October 19, 2008 8:37 p.m.
“This. Sucks,” Novi announced, closing her book with a loud thump.
Zac lifted his head and gazed at the girl seated across from him with raised eyebrows. “You know we’re in a library, right?” he commented, speaking just above a whisper.
“I’m aware,” Novi replied, still speaking at full volume. “What’s your point?”
“You’re supposed to be quiet,” he explained, his eyes shifting around as if expecting someone to pop out from between the stacks to reprimand them.
Novi rolled her eyes and then sighed. She lowered her voice, hoping to appease Mr. Prim and Proper. “I’m never going to finish this paper,” she said. “I mean, ten pages?”
Zac waited patiently, knowing that this statement was probably the lead in for a rant. He leaned back in his seat, knowing this could take a few minutes. “Seriously? What is he thinking?” she went on. “And who really wants to read fifty ten-page papers? I bet he doesn’t even read them. He probably has his TA do it, so some pompous, know-it-all wannabe professor is basically grading me and determining whether or not I pass this class. Great.”
Novi sighed, rubbing her temples. Zac assumed that meant she was done with her mini rant and sat forward. “Nov, you have Monday and Tuesday to finish,” he said. “You’ve taken several pages of notes, right?” She nodded. “Good, and you already wrote your introduction, and you said you knew your conclusion, too, right?” She nodded again. “Then you’ll be fine. You’ll work with the notes you’ve already taken, see how much that gives you, and if you need more, you can do a little more research.”
“And when I still don’t have ten pages?” she asked.
“You’ll bullshit your way through it,” he grinned. Novi rolled her eyes. “Or ask me, Lux, Sophie or Gabe to look at it and help.”
“Yeah, I guess,” she agreed, grudgingly. She crossed her arms over her chest to ward off the slight draft that always seemed to be present in the campus library. “This week has just been so hectic. It’s been hard to get my head in the right space to work on this stuff.”
“I know, it’s been crazy,” Zac agreed. “The last couple of days have been pretty calm, though.”
“Thank god for that,” Novi smiled. “I think Lux is finally starting to settle down. I mean, she’s been kind of out of it for the last couple of days, but she doesn’t really seem worried. More like her brain is just kind of elsewhere.”
“I think we all have a lot on our minds these days,” Zac commented. “I’m sure Lux is just working through something.”
“Yeah, I guess,” Novi shrugged. “What about you? What’s on your mind?”
Zac shook his head but didn’t deny there was something flitting around in his head. Novi pouted a bit, in hopes of guilting it out of him, but he just shook his head again.
“Don’t want to talk about it?” she asked.
“Not really,” he replied with his brows furrowed. “Maybe later.”
Novi watched him carefully, and for the first time realized that, though his actions seemed normal enough, it seemed as if he had to put a lot more effort into what usually came naturally. Zac wasn’t necessarily the most open person Novi had ever met, but he was always honest and genuine, so whatever was weighing so heavily on his mind had her worried.
“It’s not about Sophie, is it?” she wondered. “Because, really, she’s cool. She meant it when she said she still wanted to friends. You know that, right?”
“I know that,” Zac nodded, but he didn’t seem comforted by these words. He paused a moment and then added, “Although, I’m not really sure I deserve that after acting like such a jerk.”
“I don’t know about that,” Novi shrugged. “We all say or do stuff we don’t mean when we’re upset.”
“Maybe. I mean, I guess. I don’t know. It just wasn’t like me, and I don’t like that I scared her.”
“She’s okay, really, Zac,” Novi smiled. “Don’t worry about it. Besides, I know you’d hurt anyone on purpose.”
Zac turned his head and gazed out the dark window for a moment. He mumbled something, but it was too low for Novi to understand. “What -” she began, but her phone, placed beside her books on the table, began to vibrate and jump around across the table. She eyed Zac for another second before she snatched it up. She frowned, wondering why Gabe was calling when he should have been in class, and answered it. “Hello?”
“Novi, where are you?”
“I’m at the library,” she replied. His tone came as something of a surprise. Gabe was normally so calm and relaxed. She frowned a bit. “Why aren’t you in class?”
“It was let out early,” he said. Instead of sounding happy about this news, like she expected, he seemed preoccupied.
“Gabe, what’s going on?” she asked, and she could feel Zac’s gaze upon her.
“They found another body,” he said in a lowered voice. “The professor just let us take a break, and all of sudden we heard sirens. A couple guys walked down to check it out.”
“Where?” Novi asked, suddenly worried. Lux was home alone tonight. She hadn’t given it a second thought when she left for class with Zac because things had been so quiet the last couple of days. No one had been found yesterday or this morning, so she’d written it off as being over. What if she was wrong? What if it wasn’t over, but the pattern – the one the reporter and Lux had both mentioned when talking about the murders – had just changed?
“I don’t know,” Gabe replied. “It’s the place just down the street, Novi.”
“Lux is home alone,” Novi said quietly.
“What about you? Are you alone?” Gabe wondered, and the concern in his voice warmed her chilled insides just a bit.
“No, Zac’s here,” she assured him.
“You want me to go to your place and hang with Lux until you get back?” Gabe offered.
“Would you please?” she asked.
“Of course,” he replied. “You be careful, okay?”
“I’ll see you soon.”
“See you,” Novi replied. The words stuck in her throat a bit, mostly because they weren’t the words she really wanted to say. She hadn’t worked herself up to saying them just yet, though, for fear it was too soon and would scare him away. With a sigh, she closed her phone and looked up to see Zac eyeing her anxiously.
“What’s going on?” he asked, the corners of his mouth turned down. “What’s wrong?”
Novi sighed, shaking her head. “They found another body,” she answered.
Zac’s face grew pale, and he blinked blankly a couple of times before he managed to ask, “Where?”
“Gabe wasn’t sure,” Novi said and quickly explained what he had been able to tell her.
“It’s not over,” Zac whispered, and the pain she heard in his voice fractured her heart. She reached for his hand, but he slid it away and busied himself with arranging the items in front of him on the table in a neater manner.
She watched him carefully for a moment, trying to understand why he seemed so stricken by this news. She could understand the shock, yes, but Zac’s reaction seemed to go above that. The way his shoulders seemed to fold in upon themselves as he moved to busy his hands seemed to be his way of telling her he didn’t want to talk about it.
Finally, once his books, notepad and pens were arranged neatly, his hands stilled in front of him on the table. Novi reached across the table once again and laid her hand on top of his. “Zac?” she said softly. “What’s going on in that gorgeous head of yours?”
Instead of smiling or blushing bashfully at her compliment like she hoped, he just shook his head. She waited a beat, hoping he was just working himself up to telling her about whatever was on his mind, but he remained silent, so she just patted his hand gently, hoping to reassure him through the small gesture.
They sat like that for several seconds, and the silence around them seemed to saturate their small corner of the library. The moments seemed the tick by without any real sense of time. Novi felt helpless as she looked on as Zac sat with his head hung, defeated.
She jumped slightly when she saw movement out of the corner of her eye. She turned her head and let out a sigh of relief when she realized that it was just Brooke. She emerged from the nearby shelves of books, and Novi could immediately tell she’d heard the news. Her face was paler than usual and her body tense as she moved purposefully. As soon as her eyes landed on Novi, though, her shoulders relaxed a bit. Her eyes flickered to Novi’s hand upon Zac’s for a second, and a slight crease marred her already tense face.
Novi patted Zac’s hand once more – this time in an attempt to make him aware of Brooke’s presence. He didn’t lift his head or acknowledge the movement, and Novi slid her hands back to her lap.
“Did you hear?” Brooke asked, foregoing pleasantries. Zac jumped, startled by the sound of her voice and finally lifted his head as Brooke glanced between the two of them, waiting for an answer.
“Yeah, Gabe just called,” Novi replied. Though her head was lifted in Brooke’s direction, her eyes remained on Zac. Sallow, though he looked, it was the slight blankness in his eyes that worried her most. “How’d you hear?” she asked, finally shifting her eyes back to Brooke, only to find that Brooke was also gazing up Zac with a confused look on her face.
After a beat, though, she looked back toward Novi to answer. “A couple of people came in. I guess to tell their friends,” she explained. “Made a bit of a ruckus on the other side of the library. I went to go see what was going on, and they told me.”
“It’s awful,” Novi sighed. She glanced at Zac again and frowned deeper when she found no change.
“I know,” Brooke agreed, catching Novi’s eye. She tilted her head in Zac’s direction and raised an eyebrow as if to ask, ‘What’s wrong with him?’
Novi shrugged, doubting Zac was paying enough attention to notice.
“I don’t even want to think about what they’re going to say happened to her,” Brooke commented softly.
“What do you mean?” Novi frowned.
“You haven’t heard what they’ve been saying about what was done to the bodies?”
“No . . .” Novi said slowly as she shook her head. She swallowed, not sure she really wanted to know, but still asked, “What have you heard?”
“I don’t know if true,” Brooke began, leaning in and lowering her voice. “I mean, you overhear a lot of crap around here. Talk about a rumor mill.” She frowned a bit and then went on. “Anyway, someone said that Jacinda’s funeral is going to be closed casket because her face was all messed up.”
“But I thought they said on the news that the girls were all strangled?” Novi whispered, her face pale.
“They did,” Brooke replied, shrugging a shoulder. “Or at least that’s what it said in the newspaper. But I heard stuff – like grotesque stuff - about Melissa and Katya too.”
Novi swallowed again and then looked pointedly at Brooke, waiting for her to elaborate. Brooke bit her lip uncertainly and shifted her eyes around, likely to make sure there was no one else lurking around that might overhear. Satisfied that they were, indeed, alone, she finally spoke. “Someone said that when Katya’s roommate found her, her eyes were . . . gone.”
Novi’s eyebrows shot up. “What do you mean gone?” she asked, confusion mixed with repulsion.
Brooke let out a staggered breath and her already soft voice seemed to grow even lower. “Like . . . removed.”
Novi flinched away from this knowledge, trying not to picture the scenario Brooke had just painted in her head. She shook her head, unsure as whether or not she wanted to know more, but Brooke went on unprompted. “They said Melissa’s tongue was cut out,” she said in a rush, her words mixing together, but Novi was no novice at speed talking and was able – much to her chagrin - to understand each word.
“Why would somebody do that?” she questioned. The revulsion she felt seemed to permeate in her tone, and she felt her eyes prick slightly both out of disgust and sorrow for what was done to those girls. She wondered idly about this newest victim and shuddered as Brooke simply shook her head, unable to answer Novi’s question.
This thought of the newest victim brought Novi’s mind back around to the current situation. “Did anyone say where the gir-body-” she stumbled slightly, unable to finish her sentence for a moment. Calling it just a body seemed to so crass when a girl was the body. However, her mind made the distinction that the body was no longer the girl. Whoever she had been no longer existed, and this thought, more than the disturbing things that might have been done to her, seemed to sadden her most.
Brooke seemed to understand what she had been trying to ask before her thoughts broke off and answered, “They said it was at Bost Hall.”
Novi thought for a moment, wondering if anyone she knew resided there, but these thoughts were shattered by a crashing sound across from her. She turned her head and found Zac seemed to have unthawed. He stood now, with his chair fallen over. He pushed his things into his bag silently but fervently.
“Zac?” she asked. He didn’t answer, but instead continued to shove items into his bag. “Zac?” she said louder. “What’s wrong?”
He shook his head, and Novi looked to Brooke, who was simply gaping at him with a look that seemed to mirror Novi’s shock.
She turned back to him as he zipped up his bag and then slung it over his shoulder. “Zac?” she said again. “What’s going on?”
“I have to go,” he said quickly. “Sorry. I’ll see you later,” he added and then turned and left without further explanation.
Novi followed him with her eyes, but the shock of his odd behavior seemed to render her immobile.
“What was that about?” Brooke gasped as Zac disappeared from sight.
Novi blinked and shook her head, trying to make sense of what she’d just witnessed, but she came up empty. “I have absolutely no idea,” she admitted.
October 19, 2008 7:23 p.m.
Less than twelve hours earlier, people all over Stillwater, Oklahoma were certain that the serial killer who had terrorized the college town was gone. Twenty-four hours ago, Brody Finn was trying to convince his partner that they could crack this case. Two hours ago Vivienne Carmichael was certain Brody had been right.
After days of feeling next to useless, they had locked themselves away in the evidence room, only leaving to use the restroom, refill their coffee mugs or pay for the food they’d ordered.
Viv and Brody started by going back over each of their interviews with the friends, family and professors of each of the victims. The interviews had been conducted by a number of different officers, so they started by cross-referencing everything they learned about the girls. Again, nothing stood out to the people in any of the girls’ lives nor with the people they interviewed.
After coming to that dead end, they moved on to what they could learn from the victims themselves. While they scoured through the three victim’s personal effects, they brought in a tech guy to dig into their online information. Nothing had jumped out at them immediately. Not until one name showed up first in Katya’s diary and then in Melissa’s date book.
The name was Zac, but it wasn’t until the technician accessed Jacinda’s phone records that they had a last name - Hanson. While it was certainly no smoking gun, it was the first link between all three girls, which made him a person of interest at the very least.
Katya’s diary had revealed that he was a fellow student. They had planned to find out in the morning if he was still living on campus and were about to call it a night to go home and finally get some sleep after being at the station for over twenty-four hours with little more than a few quick naps.
That, of course, was when the call about the fourth body came in.
Now, as Brody stopped the car in front of Bost Hall, Vivienne’s earlier feelings of distress were coming back to the surface. Brody turned off the car, but neither of them moved to get out.
“How bad do you think it is?” Vivienne asked.
Her usually strong, confident voice seemed small and meek to Brody now. He turned to look at her. To anyone else, she probably would have looked like the same old Viv, but Brody could see the cracks beginning to form in her armor. She hid beyond a mask, he knew, because she had to. Working among so many hardnosed men, she had to appear unshakable.
This week, though, everyone seemed to be unraveling, but as he and Vivienne were working lead on this case, he knew she was taking things pretty hard. It came as no surprise. All of the other cases they had worked felt like a cakewalk in comparison to this monster. He was half expecting the FBI to show up on the scene, and there was a part of him that wished for that, but he knew Viv would not be receptive to someone else taking over the case.
Brody sighed and ran a hand through his hair as he answered her question. “I don’t know,” he admitted. “Probably pretty bad. I can’t see this thing getting any prettier.”
Vivienne nodded, and Brody knew she appreciated his honesty. While she was a strong, beautiful woman she bore a fragile heart, but despite that she was not one to be coddled. He’d learned that quickly in their early days, and he could only admire her even more for it.
Viv closed her eyes and took a few deep breaths that she let out slowly each time. He’d seen her do this on occasion – mostly when they were working cases that involved kids. He wasn’t sure if this actually helped or was just part of putting the mask into face. Either way, when she opened her eyes again, the vulnerability he’d seen seconds ago was gone and replaced with determination.
“Let’s go,” she said firmly, reaching to open the door. Brody watched her as she moved, confidently with a grace that couldn’t be measured. He smiled a little, despite what he knew he was about to see, because he knew as long as this woman was on the case, they would catch their killer.
As she slammed her door shut, Brody hurried to open his own and met her at the front of the car. They made their way through the crowd that had converged in front of the residence hall. It seemed like any time there was flashing lights, people had to hurry to see what was going on. Out of the corner of his eye, he recognized that bitch of a reporter from the news. She thought she was a fucking genius for figuring out a pattern that was obvious to anyone with half a brain. He was grateful Vivienne didn’t seem to notice her as she marched forward and through the front doors, flashing her badge to the officers standing outside.
After stopping a passing officer to find out where the body was located, they took the elevator up to the third floor. Silence filled the cart as they both mentally tried to prepare for whatever they might find this time.
Dr. Stanley was already there, waiting for them at the entrance to the dorm. Despite his debonair suit, he looked more than a little worse for wear. “All dressed up just for us?” Brody teased, hoping to at least get a smile out of the man.
“I was out for dinner with the missus when I got the call,” he answered. His voice was dull but not in the usual way that signaled boredom. On top the slight sheen of sweat and green hue to his skin, his eyes seemed faraway and haunted.
Brody glanced at Vivienne, and she frowned back at him. Apparently, it was going to be just as bad or worse than they expected. “What is it, doc?” Viv asked. Despite her outward mask, she wasn’t able to keep the slight tremble from her voice.
“Her hands,” Dr. Stanley answered. He shook his head and wiped his forehead with a handkerchief. “The bastard cut off her hands. While she was still alive.”
Brody shut his eyes for a moment and took a deep breath. “How do you cut off someone’s hands without anyone hearing?” he wondered aloud.
“The hell if I know,” Dr. Stanley admitted.
“C’mon, let’s go take a look around,” Vivienne murmured, but the strength she’d gathered minutes earlier seemed to be quickly diminishing.