Monday: August 28, 2028
6:51 AM; CLINSTONE, THE AUSTEN-TAYLOR HOUSEHOLD, KITCHEN
Bo poured himself a cup of coffee, letting out a sigh as he slid the pot back into its place on the machine. He rested both hands on the counter, the brace on his left hand sliding against the granite as he bowed his head. Although he’d managed an hour of solid sleep the night before, he’d been entirely restless afterward. Between his usual nightmares of Bridget and Bernard, he’d had several looks into the nightmare life he’d be forced to live if this sick fucker got his hands on Bo’s daughters.
Bo had woken up drenched in his own sweat, Jensen sound asleep beside him. The blonde had simply climbed out of bed and taken a shower. That had been four hours ago, and he’d been sustaining his awaken state with cups of coffee and tiny snacks.
The blonde lifted his head and pushed himself away from the counter, grabbing his coffee mug. In the bathroom, he could hear the shower running. Kayla or Amber was already awake. Presumably, it was Kayla. It usually was.
Bo headed back for the keeping room and set his coffee mug on the end table as he lowered himself onto the lounge of the sectional. He folded his legs and flipped open the Weaver case file for what felt like the hundredth time that morning. He grabbed the stack of pictures from inside, slowly flipping through each and every one. Although he had, indeed, found evidence at the crime scene—evidence he believed to be dandruff that hopefully belonged to the killer—he wasn’t expecting much to come from it.
The killer was rarely in the system. Bo assumed they wouldn’t luck out and simply find that this particular killer was in the system. He was preparing for the second to worst case scenario, in which he wasn’t in the system and they were back to square one on suspects. Bo, for reasons even he couldn’t explain, hoped that looking through the physical pictures would give him some sort of insight that the electronic versions of the photos simply hadn’t.
He, of course, knew that was a kind of optimistic hope that he didn’t need or want. Hope didn’t get a person anywhere in a homicide case. Optimism didn’t get a person anywhere in a homicide case.
Hard work and cold, hard facts led to progress in a case. Cold, hard facts and even colder and harder evidence let a person move on from square one, not optimistic hope.
Bo knew that better than anyone.
Each time he looked at the photos of what had been done to the family, he felt the same as he always did. He felt terrible that an innocent family had been murdered, but he knew that it was a solvable case. He knew that, with enough time and enough hard work, they would catch the killer. It was just another case. It was always the same.
But once he dove into the pictures of the daughter, the pictures of Gia Weaver, something… changed. The pictures of Gia weren’t like the pictures of the other three members of the Weaver family. The other members hadn’t been assaulted or tortured. They had been killed, but it had been relatively quick. Their fear had spiked and ended shortly afterward. They hadn’t experienced any prolonged fear.
And then there was Gia, only fifteen years old. Tackled, raped, forced to stare into her attacker’s eyes as he slit her throat, as her blood splashed across his face, as she bled out.
She lived and breathed fear and pain every single second until she died, and that got to Bo. There was no suddenness. There was no relief or hope. She had to have known her brother was dead downstairs, that she’d be dead soon, too. She knew. She lived every last moment in fear the exact moment she heard the killer’s voice or saw the killer’s figure or face.
Bo closed his eyes, setting the photos down. He dropped his head into his hand, his braced hand resting on his thigh.
Clinstone had a disgusting monster on the loose, and Bo didn’t know if he could catch the bastard before he laid hands on another young girl and her entire family.
And that hurt to think about.
9:07 AM; CLINSTONE POLICE DEPARTMENT, DETECTIVE SERGEANT JENSEN AUSTEN-TAYLOR’S DESK
Jensen lifted his head as Jacob sat down in one of the chairs in front of his desk. “Morning, Jake.”
“Morning.” Jacob cleared his throat, leaning back as he crossed his arms over his chest. “I walked down to the lab. Bo’s…” He lifted his shoulders. “I don’t know. He’s not in a good place, is he?”
“He was a little off this morning.” Jensen scratched at his unshaven cheek, one more reminder that his husband hadn’t been quite as present as he usually was. “I don’t think he slept much last night.”
Jacob nodded. “Does he ever?”
“I mean… sometimes.” Jensen tilted his head to the side. “Did you talk to him?”
“Nah. He didn’t even look up at me when I walked in there. That’s half the reason I was worried about him. He may not always lift his head, but he always talks to me as soon as I make it to the doorway,” Jacob said.
“I’ll talk to him,” Jensen said quietly. “Later. Maybe around lunchtime. I doubt he wants to talk before then.”
“Sure, that’s better than nothing.” Jacob reached up with one hand, pushing up his glasses. “What’s he working on?”
“Uh, dandruff. He found what he thinks is dandruff at the crime scene when we went back yesterday,” Jensen said. “I keep hoping it’ll turn out the name of our killer, but if that were the case, he’d be his usual self.”
“Yeah, not to mention how fucking excited he’d be about it. He’d be up here with a thousand copies of the results for us,” Jacob said.
Jensen chuckled softly. “There is that,” he agreed. He raked a hand through his hair, scratching the top of his head. “I think the age of the daughter is fucking with his head. It reminds him that… that we have two young girls, that you guys are just next door with three young girls.” He glanced up briefly, one corner of his bottom lip trapped between his teeth. “I dunno. It’s just a lot different than it usually is.”
“Yeah, that’s… that’s an understatement.”
Jacob cleared his throat. Uncrossing his arms, he leaned forward in his seat, clasping his hands between his knees instead. “Look… I know you’ve seen Bo in some dark places, but I’ve seen…” He trailed off, shaking his head. “I’ve seen some terrible shit that he gone through. I met him shortly after the big blow up with Kathy and Dallas, after they got sent to prison. He was a broken man.
“I talked him down from jumping off of a building. I let him stay the night sometimes just so he wasn’t alone. I gave him his space because sometimes I felt like me being near him was bad for him. He didn’t want friends or family or anything. He wanted to be alone, and he wanted to die. I was there after Bridget died. I was there, cleaning literal blood from his hands. I fought as hard as I could to get him through that.”
Jacob cleared his throat. “If this is anything like any of the shit I saw him go through before you and any of the shit I’ve seen him go through since, I don’t know how clean he’ll be able to come out on the other side. You have a ticking time bomb downstairs. He’s a recovered alcoholic. He’s depressed. He gets trapped in his own head way too damn often. This? It could be the thing that shatters whatever sense of happiness and joy and security he’s holding onto. I can’t stand to see him like that again. It was bad enough the first time and it just got worse from there.”
He laid a hand on Jensen’s desk as he rose to his feet. “Please don’t let him break again. I can’t… I just can’t.”
The younger man nodded. “I’ll do everything I can to keep him sane. Promise.”
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