Thursday: March 8, 2029
7:15 AM; CLINSTONE, THE AUSTEN-TAYLOR HOUSEHOLD, KITCHEN
“Do you have anything on the vigilante case?” Bo asked.
“Not much,” Jamal said.
“Well… what do you know?”
“A guy in an oversized hoodie and sweats carried the dead guy to the scene, nailed the sign to him, and left. Never got in a car, never showed his face to the camera,” Jamal said.
“What about a height? Did Brad get a height?” Bo asked.
“Somewhere between six-foot-five and six-foot-eight,” Jamal said.
Bo’s brow furrowed. “Wow. It’s almost as if it could be Luca or Mekhi.”
“You know damn well I didn’t send anyone out to do anything to anyone without running it by you first,” Jamal said. “Not when it’s a homicide landing on our doorstep.”
“And the one in Clinstone?”
“Not me,” Jamal said.
“Promise,” Jamal said softly. “The people I hurt without talking to you first aren’t your everyday criminals, kiddo. They’re mafia men, rats, gangbangers, those involved in human trafficking… Real bad people. Our everyday homicides, those are yours. I don’t interfere.”
“Yes, I suppose,” Bo said quietly.
A beat of silence and then, “How are you holding up, kiddo?”
“You always say that. I’d love an actual answer.”
Bo let out a breath. “I’m… I don’t know. Some days have been better than others, some hours have been better than others. Some minutes have been better than others. It depends on what I’m focused on and who I’m around and what we’re doing. Even then, I can be in a room surrounded by family and feel alone and sad and harmful. I just…” He cleared his throat. “It’s hard, but I’m used to that. I was just hoping I’d never have to fall back into a vicious cycle of hurting myself because of it all. I didn’t want that to happen. I didn’t want it to become a thing again. I didn’t.”
“I know, kiddo,” Jamal said softly. He cleared his throat. “I love you.”
“I love you, too.” Bo cleared his throat. “You’re coming here for your birthday, aren’t you?”
“Of course. I’ll have that woman’s laptop and phone for you then, too,” Jamal said.
“My pleasure, kiddo.”
Bo turned his head to the side, smiling faintly. “Happy birthday, sweetheart.”
“Thanks, Dad,” Kayla said softly.
“Kiddo, if you’re calling me sweetheart, we really need to talk about a few things,” Jamal said.
Bo snorted. “Yeah, Jamal, I’m calling you of all people sweetheart. That seems entirely logically sound.”
“Well, I thought so.” Jamal chuckled. “Tell Kay I said happy birthday, and I’ll see her Saturday. I gotta run, though. I’ll talk to you soon.”
“Okay. Stay safe.”
Bo ended the call and slid his phone onto the counter. “Grandpa J says happy birthday, and he’ll be here Saturday.”
“Sweet.” Kayla crossed the room and wrapped her arms around her father’s waist. Bo closed his eyes for a moment before hugging her back. “I love you.”
“I love you, too, sweetheart,” Bo whispered. Even Bo had to admit that a hug felt damn good right about then.
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