Tuesday: March 3, 2026
5:49 AM; CLINSTONE, THE AUSTEN-TAYLOR HOUSEHOLD, MASTER BEDROOM
Bo grunted as Hati jumped onto the bed, wriggling her way in between him and Jensen. The younger man groaned, cracking open one eye to look down at the dog. “The hell you doing, sweetheart?” Jensen asked. Hati let out a low whine, tossing her head back against his chest. Jensen rolled his eyes, moving a hand to scratch the dog’s head. “Eli?”
“Can you make her move?”
Bo patted the mattress. “Hati, baby girl, come here.” The boxer rose to her feet, stretching before happily climbing over Bo and flopping down beside him. “Better?” he questioned.
“Much,” Jensen mumbled, rolling back onto his side. He hooked an arm around Bo’s chest, nuzzling the blonde’s neck. “I love you.”
“I love you, too, Jens,” Bo said softly. He cleared his throat, draping an arm over Hati’s body. Jensen pressed a kiss to Bo’s shoulder before dropping his head back to his pillow. Bo reached out and grabbed his phone, checking the time before dropping it back to his nightstand.
“Still tired?” Jensen asked.
“I could still sleep,” Bo confirmed.
Jensen chuckled softly. “Good. Night, Eli.”
6:32 AM; CLIFFBURN, SAPPHIRE HOTEL, ROOM 301
The man pulled a hooded jacket over his head, forcing his arms through the sleeves. He shoved his cell phone into his pocket and tugged the hood over his head. He pulled open the hotel room door and walked out into the hall, shutting the door behind him. He shoved his hands into the pockets of his hoodie and headed down the hall. He stared at the elevator for a moment before shaking his head and heading down the stairs. If he had the option between laziness or exercise, he’d always choose the latter.
In the lobby, he pulled his keys out of his pocket and headed outside. He walked to his car, feeling safe and comforted by the darkness of the poorly lit parking lot. As he reached his truck, he unlocked the doors and jumped up into the cab. He shut the door and, with a soft sigh, turned the key in the ignition.
He backed out of his parking space and drove out of the parking lot. He would arrive in Chesterwick in just over three hours. He planned to spend most of his day working on his contraption, but it wasn’t a plan that was set in stone just yet. As always, he would go wherever the day took him.
9:12 AM; CLINSTONE POLICE DEPARTMENT, LAB
“Morning,” Bo greeted, pressing his phone to his ear.
“Good morning,” Jamal replied. “I spoke to Venetia, but she didn’t know anything about the chemicals and drugs used.”
“Damn,” Bo said quietly, stepping out into the hall.
“I spoke to a lot of my guys, Bo. I think I’ve got just a little bit of something for you,” Jamal said.
Bo raised an eyebrow, leaning back against the wall. “Like?” he questioned.
“The drugs you found in the blood and tissue of both victims is a cocktail of shit they’ve been developing to destroy nerve endings, more or less. You’re injected with this, and ten minutes later, you can’t feel anything that’s happening,” Jamal said. “Currently, they’ve only managed to develop it enough that it numbs the body rather.”
“So it doesn’t destroy the nerves?”
“Not yet. That’s what their end goal is. It’s just taking a while to tweak the drugs in it,” Jamal said.
“Cartels in Mexico. They make it there, smuggle it here, and crime families and gangs use it for certain kinds of torture,” Jamal explained. “The person’s brain is one hundred percent in tact. They’re aware that they’re being cut and prodded, but they can’t feel it. They don’t know where they’re being attacked. They don’t know how close they are to bleeding out. It’d be terrifying for anyone.”
Bo nodded slightly, even though the older man couldn’t see him. “How would one get their hands on that?”
“Black market, mainly,” Jamal said simply. “They charge out the ass, though. Obviously. Both arms and a leg.”
Bo snorted, crossing an arm over his chest. “Is it something you can look into?”
“Can I? Yeah, of course. Will I? No, I’m sorry.”
“That’s okay. Loyalty, right?” Bo asked.
“Not to the cartels, no. I tend to stray away from digging into the black market and the people within it. That’s how you get yourself killed,” Jamal said.
“Fair enough.” Bo cleared his throat, leaning into the lab to look at Kayla. She sat at the opposite end of the room, seated in front of her laptop. “What about the liver?” he asked.
“Everyone I spoke to was unsure about that one. Some sort of poisoning to the liver, though, basically. That’s all I know about it,” Jamal said.
“I think killing the liver like that probably took at least an hour. I plan on doing my best to replicate that, but it’ll take a lot of testing and precision to accurately recreate whatever the killer injected into it. Either way, let’s say it took an hour. How long does this… numbing shot work?” Bo asked.
“Depending on how much is given, three to four hours, and that’s on the low end,” Jamal said.
“Can the victim still walk around?”
“If they’re being helped and led around, I suppose.”
“What if he gives them the shot before he kills off the liver? What if… he doesn’t want them to feel any pain?” Bo questioned.
“What’s the point in killing someone if you don’t make them suffer a little first?” Jamal asked. He chuckled softly. “Apologies. That sounded darker than I meant it to.”
“I’m used to it,” Bo admitted. “But I don’t know. Maybe… it has nothing to do with pain. It could be about control or anything, really. I know next to nothing about this guy. I’ve tried to figure it out, but I can’t seem to put myself in his head like I usually can,” he said.
“Well, look at this way, Bo. You’re tired, you’ve got to little girls to take care of, and one of your best friends is carrying your sons. You’ve got just a little more on your shoulders than you usually do. Besides that, everything on this case just leads you to a dead end. Your victims are killed in different ways. Both in public, but only the first one with immediate witnesses. You’ve got a male and female with no connection to each other, other than their age. You’ve got something as simple as a hanging and something as complex as a beheading with a weapon that was, what, over a hundred years old? Nothing clicks. That’s why you can’t get in the guy’s head.”
“Maybe,” Bo murmured.
“Contrary to popular belief, Bo, you aren’t judged based on how quickly you solve a case. There are cases that took a decade to solve, and there are others that have been open cases since before I was even born. That doesn’t judge your worth. Take a breath, relax, and get into the guy’s head when you can. Until then, work on replicating the liver drug,” Jamal said.
One corner of Bo’s mouth lifted. “Thanks, Jamal.”
“That’s what I’m here for, kid.”
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