Wednesday: February 24, 2027
1:07 AM; CLINSTONE, THE AUSTEN-TAYLOR HOUSEHOLD, MASTER BEDROOM
Jensen rolled onto his side, draping an arm over Bo’s torso. Or, draping an arm over where Bo would’ve been if he had still been in bed. Jensen opened his eyes, his brow furrowed as he scanned the room. “You little shit,” Jensen muttered. Throwing the covers to the end of the bed, Jensen stood up and walked out of the room. In the keeping room, Thomas was asleep on the couch. In the family room, Bo sat in the rocking chair, his laptop open on his lap.
Jensen walked into the room, ready to lecture his husband for lying to him and breaking the rules they had said up the day before. Instead, he stopped, his eyes scanning the words on the laptop screen. “What the hell’s that?” he asked, his voice rough.
Bo glanced up at the younger man before his blue eyes drifted back to the screen. “An email from Bernard.”
Jensen squatted down beside the chair. “He’s dead.”
“It’s automated. You can… you can write up an email and have it sent at a specific time. This is apparently the first of many,” Bo said quietly.
“What’s in it?”
“What’s that supposed to mean? We’re supposed to tell each other everything.”
“This is different. This is my dead brother we’re talking about,” Bo said. He closed the laptop, leaning forward to set it on the coffee table. “What it says is none of your business.”
“Hey, relax,” Jensen whispered softly. He reached up, laying a hand on Bo’s cheek. “I only wanted to know because thinking about him is usually toxic for you. I don’t want you to suffer through that on your own.”
Bo closed his eyes, letting his head hang at his chest. “It’s a comparison.”
“What do you mean?”
“About how different our lives were. About… about how our parents loved him and hated me.”
“You said they raised him in the basement.”
“That’s what he told me,” Bo agreed. Without moving his head, he lifted his eyes to Jensen’s face. “He lied to me, Jens. Not… that that’s a surprise. He had a lot of issues. But he wasn’t raised in a basement. He was just raised in a way so that none of the other Smalls knew about him. They pretended they were babysitting their neighbor’s kid whenever family came over. He was always there. He got to know Tom and Jeanette and…” Bo cleared his throat, shaking his head. “He wasn’t quite as mistreated as he led me to believe.”
“He played with your emotions, Eli. They all… That’s what they do. They get in your head and mess you up.”
Bo nodded slightly, his gaze falling back to his lap. “When I killed him,” he whispered after a moment, “I felt like I had taken an unloved, abused psychopath out of the world. I felt like… like no one would miss him, like I was doing the world a favor. It hurt, and I wanted to die, but it felt like I had done the right thing. But he wasn’t unloved. Timothy loved him. They were out to baseball games together. They played football together. Timothy took him to the park to play with other kids. He…” Bo leaned forward, wrapping his arms around himself. “It’s one thing to kill someone when no one will miss them. It’s an entirely different thing when you kill someone’s beloved son.”
“That’s not your fault, Eli. It’ll never be your fault.”
“I pulled the damn trigger, Jensen. I made that choice. Don’t try to make it seem like it was a spur of the moment thing. I thought it out. I argued with Jamal over it. I pulled the trigger. Not Jamal, not Bernard, not anyone else. Me. I’m responsible, and it’s my fault,” Bo corrected.
Jensen crossed his arms over the armrest, gently resting his chin on his forearm. “I meant it’s not your fault that his parents actually cared about the son of a bitch. You had no way of knowing that. He had convinced you otherwise. He had convinced you that you’d be doing him a favor,” he said.
“I don’t know how many of those emails there are, Jens. I don’t know how many there are or when they’ll come through.”
“Block the contact address.”
“I don’t know if I can do that.”
“Then open up your laptop and I’ll do it for you.”
Bo shook his head. “What if I want to know what he has to say?” he asked.
“I think I’d go ahead and advise that we don’t hear what he has to say, and that we also don’t give a shit about what he has to say,” Jensen murmured.
Bo turned his head toward Jensen, clasping his hands between his knees. The light outside on the porch shone through the window enough to cast a dark shadow on his husband’s face, half-concealing, half-accentuating Jensen’s concerned expression. “Despite any bad blood or terrible memories, he was my brother. He my little brother, Jens. I want to know what he has to say, even if it’s from beyond the grave.” He offered a smile. “If it starts to take a toll on me, I’ll stop, and if I don’t stop on my own, you have my permission to block him from my contact list.”
“And until then?”
“Until then, I want to know what he has to talk about,” Bo said softly.
“Okay,” Jensen whispered. He leaned up on his toes, pressing a kiss to Bo’s temple. “You… Do you wanna go to bed? Do you think you can sleep?”
“I don’t know if I can fall asleep anytime soon, but I’ll willingly cuddle while you sleep,” the blonde offered.
“That’s good enough for me.” Jensen pushed himself to his feet and held out a hand. “Come on.” Bo stood up and grabbed the younger man’s hand, intertwining their fingers. “What made you come out here in the first place?”
“My phone went off with an email alert,” Bo said as he and Jensen headed back toward their bedroom. “I saw it was from a Bernard, and I wanted to read it in total privacy. My laptop was out here so…”
“So you stayed there.”
“Are you sure I can’t read it?” Jensen asked.
“Maybe later today, okay? I just… I just don’t want to get into it right now,” Bo said.
“Sure, sure. Yeah, of course,” Jensen said. He walked into the bedroom, quietly shutting the door once Bo was inside. “How bad was it?”
“It wasn’t that it was bad. It felt almost… almost nice to get some sort of look into his life. It’s nice to see the truth rather than the lies he spit at me just to prove a point. The truth is…”
“Nice?” Jensen asked.
“Yeah,” Bo whispered. “Yes, the truth is nice. I wouldn’t say it makes me feel better about anything, but it makes me feel something,” he said, sitting down on the edge of the bed.
“Do you know what the something is?” Jensen questioned, almost cautiously lowering himself onto the bed.
Bo shook his head. “I’m not entirely certain.”
“What does it feel like?”
Bo remained silent for a moment, clasping his hands between his knees. “Happiness? But also… but also some form of general goodness? Does that make sense?”
Jensen smiled faintly. “That’s called relief, baby.”
“Why would I feel relief at that?”
“Because it turns out that he wasn’t raised the way you were. He wasn’t mistreated. It’s relief that he actually got the better end of the whole ordeal,” Jensen said.
“That doesn’t seem wholly logical,” Bo denied.
“Emotions aren’t supposed to be logical, babe. That’s the whole point,” the younger man said.
“Mm.” Bo leaned into Jensen’s side, closing his eyes. Jensen hooked an arm around Bo’s shoulders, holding him close. “I like the sound of that.”
“That… it isn’t supposed to be logical?”
Bo shook his head. “That it’s relief. That I’m feeling relief because my brother wasn’t mistreated when he was a kid. It makes me feel…”
“Better?” Jensen asked.
“Better,” Bo confirmed. “Jens?”
“Are you still going to be able to comfort me like this after I take over for Jamal?”
“Of course I’ll be able. As long as you promise to still comfort me, too.”
“Always,” Bo said.
“Then it’s settled,” Jensen murmured. He turned, pressing a kiss to the top of Bo’s head. He leaned back and lay down, pulling Bo down beside him. “We’ll comfort each other for the rest of eternity.”
Bo snorted. “Something like that,” he agreed. “Is this how we’re going to sleep?”
“I assumed as much.” Bo reached back and grabbed the comforter, tugging it back over them. He rolled onto his side, laying his head on Jensen’s shoulder. “In the email?”
“The reason he knew so much about me is because Timothy had a guy following me until I was out of college. Bernard just researched the hell out of me once he was old enough to want to screw with my mind.”
“Tom’s always said that Timothy wanted nothing to do with you… right?”
“Tom didn’t know about it. Timothy didn’t know Tom was keeping tabs on me, either. It was something they both did and they both hid from the other,” Bo said. “I think in his own little way, Timothy cared about me.” He slid his hand over Jensen’s chest, resting it near the younger man’s heart. Bo closed his eyes, smiling at the steady thump thump of his husband’s pulse.
Jensen turned his head enough to look at Bo, a frown tugging at either corner of his mouth. “Is care the right word?”
“I think so, personally. Timothy just had a different way of showing than, say, Tom does,” Bo said.
Jensen grunted his response, turning his gaze back to the ceiling as he laid a hand over Bo’s. “So… what’s your plan?”
“Nine out of ten times, when you lay a hand over my heart like this, it’s because you’re thinking of doing something you know I won’t like. So what’s the plan?” Jensen asked.
“Mm.” Bo cleared his throat. “I want to have a sitdown of sorts with him.”
Bo snorted. “I love you, but you don’t get to veto me.”
“I know,” Jensen whispered. “But going to see him seems like another negative impact that you just don’t need.”
“Maybe. You’d come with me, though… wouldn’t you?”
Jensen sighed softly. “Yeah, babe. I’d go with.”
“Mmhmm.” Jensen cleared his throat, pressing a kiss to the top of Bo’s head. “You should sleep. Got a lot of records to go through tomorrow. Let’s focus on that before we focus on your jackoff of a bio-father.”
Bo chuckled, shaking his head. “I think that’s an… odd term to use to describe a human being.”
“You know why.”
“Fine,” Jensen said, dramatically drawing out the word over several beats. “Your jackass of a bio-father.”
“There you go.”
“We’ll worry about this case first. We’ll find the killer, we’ll go back to L.A. to deal with whatever Jamal wants to do, and then we’ll see what happens with Timothy. All right?”
“That… works with me.” Bo wrapped his fingers around the material of Jensen’s shirt. “I don’t know how yet, but I want to let him know that Bernard’s gone. He believes his son’s dead, but that’s not enough closure for a man. It just isn’t.”
“Let’s put that on the backburner and figure it out later, okay?” Jensen asked. Bo nodded his agreement. “But before we do any of that figuring out, we both need some sleep.”
Jensen squeezed the blonde’s hand. “I love you, Eli.”
Bo smiled. “I love you, too, Jens. Goodnight.”
Jensen squeezed the blonde’s shoulders. “Night, babe.”
7:51 AM; STONE HARBOR, NEW JERSEY, 117TH STREET
Mickey sat on the cold sidewalk, a cigarette held between the first two fingers of his right hand. The snow had been shoveled away, leaving nothing but a chilled layer of ice beneath him. He didn’t mind. After all, smoking wasn’t allowed in the house.
Letting out a harsh breath, he stuck the cigarette between his lips and pulled his cell phone from the pocket of his coat. He unlocked the screen, opening up the page he had been on the night before. He had spent most of yesterday evening searching for assisted living house, doing his best to find one that would best suit his father. Although price was certainly a heavily weighted factor, he had taken a caring staff and comfortable environment into account, too.
He’d settled between three houses, and he figured he’d let his mother choose. She’d ask him how much the houses would cost. She always asked how much something important would cost him, but he never told her. He wouldn’t tell her the prices this time, either.
Mickey cleared his throat, blowing smoke out of one corner of his mouth. The assisted living houses were expensive. He’d need to find a job in New Jersey, quit his job in Minnesota. He’d work double shifts as often as his new boss would let him. He’d move back in with his mother to take care of her. Being alone had never been her speciality. She got spooked far too easily.
His brow furrowed as he lifted a cold hand to scratch at his temple. He’d have to have a security system installed to give her a sense of peace while he was at work. He could sell his car in Minnesota. If he lucked out, he’d get the whole several thousand it was worth. If not, he’d settle for the hundreds he’d be able to convince someone to spend. At this point, he figured any money would help.
With a sigh, he brought up his contacts list and clicked a number he only called when his parents needed money that he couldn’t easily provide. He pressed his phone to his ear, pulling his cigarette from his lips. He flicked it to the street, grinding it beneath the toe of his boot.
“You’ve reached Martin Lambert’s assistant, Heather speaking. How can I help you?”
Mickey closed his eyes, bowing his head. “Hey, Heather.”
“Mickey,” she greeted. “What can I do for you?”
“Is Marty there?”
“He’s filming. I’m refilling coffees. What’s up?”
He nodded, clearing his throat. “Tell him it’s about Dad.”
“Has… has the Alzheimer’s gotten worse?”
“Yeah,” Mickey said after a moment. “I need to put him up in assisted living. The least Marty can do is pitch in a couple hundred for me to fall back on. Think you can convey that message?” he asked.
“I’ll just have it wired to your account, Mick. Same as last time?” Heather questioned.
“Same number as last time,” he confirmed. “You’re a lifesaver, Heather. Thank you.”
“Of course, Mickey. You take care of yourself.”
“You, too, Heather.” Mickey ended the call and tucked his phone back into his pocket. With a grunt, he pushed himself to his feet. His eyes searched the street before he turned and headed back toward the house. If nothing else, the few hundred dollars his brother assistant provided would be a good start.
12:15 PM; CLINSTONE POLICE DEPARTMENT, LAB
Jensen sat down beside Bo, setting two salads on the table. “Lunch.”
Bo glanced over at Jensen, his fingers hovering over his laptop’s mousepad. “Thank you,” he said, one corner of his mouth lifting. “You bought yourself a salad, too?”
“Of course,” the younger man said. “I figured I’d be a bit healthier today. Just for you,” he said, elbowing the blonde in the side.
Bo chuckled. “Thanks. That’s appreciated.” Gently, he pushed his laptop away from himself, grabbing the salad instead. He pulled off the plastic lid, accepting the fork Jensen held out to him.
“Do I get to read the email?”
“Not today. Maybe soon, but not yet. It feels…”
“Yes,” Bo agreed with a nod. “I realize it shouldn’t be that big of a deal. It’s barely even about me. It’s about him, but… but even though I didn’t really know him, he was still my brother. It just feels personal,” he said. “You understand that, don’t you?”
“One hundred percent, babe. You’re allowed to keep things private if you want. My only rule is that you don’t blatantly lie to my face,” Jensen said. “Which you’ve been doing a great job of, you know.”
“I’ve done my best to follow that rule.” Bo offered a smile. “I love you. I don’t need to lie to you.”
“I know, Eli.” Jensen cleared his throat, pointing to Bo’s laptop with his fork. “Anything important?”
“I’ve found one more person. A man. Michael Lambert,” Bo said. “Eventually, once I have more than three names in my possession, I’ll go ahead and run a nice background check on each person that I’ve found. I want to know where they went to school, how they were raised, what kind of jobs they’ve held, what kind of house they lived in or currently live in. I need to have a deep understanding of each and every one of these people if I ever want to find someone that fits within some kind of profile of a killer,” he explained.
Jensen nodded. “We’ll get there eventually,” he promised. “That’s why you’re the brains of the operation, you know. You and your algorithms and background checks.”
Bo rolled his eyes. “In general, I’d say it’s more of an insanity thing rather than a ‘having the brains’ thing.”
Jensen slashed a dismissive hand through the air. “Tomato, tomato.”
“You know you’re crazy, don’t you?”
“Fully aware and quite proud, yes,” Jensen said simply.
Bo chuckled, shaking his head. “You’re a dick.”
“Well, you know what they say.”
“If you thought eight months without sex was bad, wait until you find out how bad twelve is,” Bo said.
Jensen let out a dramatic gasp, smacking a hand against his chest. “You wouldn’t dare.”
“I one hundred percent would most definitely dare.”
“You’re a monster,” Jensen whispered.
Bo laughed, twisting his chair to the side to grab a pen. “Oh, love, that’s what I’ve been telling you.”
Jensen snorted. “Whatever,” he muttered. “Whatcha doing now?”
“Writing down the address of Michael Lambert. The only thing I’ve done so far background-wise is check the addresses in New Jersey, quickly followed by their addresses in Minnesota, Iowa, or South Dakota.”
Jensen nodded, stabbing several pieces of lettuce with his fork. “Where does this guy live now?”
“He lives in…” Bo trailed off, reaching out to scroll down on the page on his screen. “He rents an apartment outside of Cliffburn,” he said, looking away to jot down the address.
“Why are you waiting until you have more than three names to start looking at their backgrounds?” Jensen asked.
“I feel like three is far too small of a number. Scientifically, it’s not nearly big enough to be a, say, test group of any kind. It has to be more people if you want a less biased opinion,” Bo explained.
“So it helps make sure you don’t pin the kills on one of these people just so that we catch our killer?” Jensen asked.
“Huh.” Jensen nodded slightly, scratching his jaw. “Makes sense.”
“Without any evidence against anyone, I can’t let a bias get in the way. Truthfully, we get one shot at this, and if I screw up and choose the wrong person, it could end up on the news and scare off the real killer. Again, we’d have an innocent man in jail, and, even though he’s an idiot, he certainly doesn’t deserve to be sitting in prison,” Bo said.
Jensen lifted his shoulders. “Dude wants to be famous. One way or another, he’s going to weasel his way back into prison.”
“Possibly,” Bo confirmed. Clicking the end of his pen, he set it down on his notebook. “But I also assure you that he’s always going to be famous. This is a man that’s wholly convinced himself and the rest of the country that he’s the Casanova. He’s going to be on TV shows all the time for at least a year after he gets released. The people won’t let him fade into nothingness, not after he’s revealed as a fake,” he said.
“Eh, fair enough.” Jensen stuck a forkful of his salad into his mouth, holding a hand over the bottom half of his face as he chewed. “You said you were gonna get a confession from one of these people by exposing their weakness. What if you pick someone, expose their weakness, and they confess just because you know too much about them?” he asked.
“That’s why I’m going in unbiased,” Bo said simply. “This isn’t something I’m going to jump into without any prior planning. I’m going to pull out every bit of information there is on these people. I won’t say one of these people is the killer until I am one hundred percent certain that there’s no way the idea could be a mistake or misconception,” he said. “I won’t be responsible for putting another innocent man behind bars. That isn’t exactly something I aim to do in my daily life,” he said.
Jensen nodded. “Yeah, I get that.” He cleared his throat. “Jamal-style manipulation. You sure you can pull that off?”
“I’ve manipulated the master manipulator before, in case you’ve forgotten. I do believe I can manage to pull it off on an average killer,” Bo said. “The Casanova’s intelligent, yes, but he’s not Jamal. He isn’t a manipulator. A charmer, yes, but he doesn’t force these women to go home with him. He’d be just as easily manipulated at your average civilian,” he said.
Jensen scoffed. “And you said you didn’t have a profile.”
Bo rolled his eyes. “It isn’t really a… Okay, yes. I suppose that’s part of the profile,” he agreed. “I don’t know, Jens. The more I search for the people that could be the Casanova, the more I get into the mindset of him. Slowly, I’m starting to see where the guy might be coming from, why he does what he does,” he said.
“But something’s still missing, right?” Jensen asked.
“Definitely. I still can’t figure out what the hell is so important that he needs to take such a break,” Bo said. “Breaks have never been his thing. Not in New Jersey, anyway. He got so famous by killing so many women so quickly. He didn’t have a cool down period in between his kills. It made him deeply feared and incredibly famous. The sudden change doesn’t make sense.” A pause. “Not yet, anyway.”
“You’re going to get there though… right?” Jensen asked.
“Eventually,” Bo confirmed. “I’m just not sure when, exactly.”
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