2:11 PM; LOS ANGELES, THE AUSTEN-TAYLOR HOUSEHOLD, FAMILY ROOM
Jensen looked down as Bo’s phone rang. Bo, slouched down between Jensen’s legs, was sound asleep. “Kay? Can you hand me Daddy’s phone?” Jensen asked, his voice quiet.
Kayla paused the video game she and Amber were playing before reaching out and grabbing Bo’s phone. “Here you go.”
“Thanks, baby.” Jensen accepted the call and pressed it to his ear. “Hey, Jake,” he greeted.
“Hey, Jensen. Where’s Bo?”
“Asleep. Did you get her?” Jensen asked.
“I’m on my way to her house, actually. For questioning, obviously. I can’t arrest her yet, but if I’m lucky, I can get a warrant pushed through,” Jacob said. “Search her place, find what I need to actually arrest her.”
“I can have Jamal push a warrant within the hour,” Jensen said.
Jacob chuckled. “Not yet. I trust Blondie, but I wanna see the lady first,” he said.
“Instincts. I get it,” Jensen agreed. “Just, umm… do what you can, okay? Bo pitched the theory that she was the killer before we even left Clinstone, and I told him it was crazy. If it wasn’t for me, we could’ve caught her already, stopped her from killing the third victim. We can’t let her slip through our fingers again.”
“I’ll do what I can,” Jacob said after a moment of silence had passed between them. “I’ll call you when I have more information, okay?”
“All right, Jake. Thank you.”
“No problem. Make sure Bo gets a lot of sleep. He sounded miserable when we talked,” Jacob said.
Jensen chuckled softly. “We’re working on it. He’s not adjusting to the new sleep schedule very well. But he’s getting there. Good luck with the teacher, Jake.”
“Mmhmm. Thank you. Talk to you in a bit.”
“Sure thing, Jake.” Jensen ended the call, setting Bo’s phone on the end table beside him. He drew a leg closer to himself, combing his fingers through Bo’s hair.
“What teacher?” Kayla asked.
Jensen glanced over at her before his green eyes moved back up to the television. “Just the case we’re working in Clinstone, sweetheart.”
“Is it Miss Lincoln? Is she a… a suspect?” Kayla asked.
“She is… a person of interest,” Jensen said. “Jake’s just looking into her, that’s all.”
“I bet it’s her.”
“ ‘Cause she’s creepy, Daddy,” Amber added from the floor.
Kayla nodded, her eyes focused on the television. “She spent most of last year giving stuffed animals to other kids.”
“That doesn’t make her creepy, sweetheart. She teaches third grade. They give toys out to their students.”
“Maybe, but she gave them out as a bad thing. Like… one of the kids would be in timeout all day, and the next morning, she’d give them a stuffed animal,” Kayla explained.
“All right. That’s weird. I’ll give you that,” Jensen agreed. Bo’s breathing hitched as his nails bit into Jensen’s arm. “It’s okay. I’m right here,” Jensen whispered, pressing a kiss to the top of Bo’s head. “It’s just a bad dream. I’m right here.” Slowly, Bo’s body relaxed and his grip on Jensen’s arm loosened. “But that doesn’t make her a suspect,” Jensen added, looking back over at Kayla.
“I know. But she’s weird.”
“And creepy,” Amber reminded.
Jensen chuckled. “Well, I’ll make sure to keep that in mind.”
4:15 PM; CLINSTONE, MARY LINCOLN’S HOUSE, FOYER
“Would you like some coffee, Detective?” Mary Lincoln questioned.
Jacob cleared his throat, one hand resting on the Glock holstered at his hip. “It’s actually Sergeant,” he corrected.
She laughed softly. “Of course, I’m sure a higher position for scare tactics is much more effective,” she said.
“Sure, something like that,” Jacob said quietly. “I’ll take that coffee, then.”
Jacob’s eyes narrowed briefly before he followed her into the kitchen. From the doorway, he watched her start a new pot of coffee. “How long have you lived here, Miss Lincoln?” he asked.
“Oh, I’ve spent about a year and a half in this neighborhood.”
“It’s a nice plot of land you’ve got here.”
“What made you decide to move to Clinstone?”
“Oh, it was more or less a decision made out of the blue.”
“Where’d you come in from, if you don’t mind me asking?” Jacob questioned, his eyes searching the kitchen for anything that was as strange as Mary’s personality.
“Just a town up north a ways.”
“What made you decide to come to Clinstone?” Jacob asked.
“Oh, you know, I just don’t like to be cooped up in one place for long nowadays,” Mary said.
His sapphire blue eyes jumped to her face. That had definitely rhymed. She formed her sentences so they’d rhyme. “Understandable. Being in one place too long can make you feel cramped,” he finally said. “Miss Lincoln, I apologize, but you’re currently a person of interest in one of our cases. Your fingerprints were found at the scene of a crime. It was a community area, so it doesn’t mean much of anything, but we’re questioning everyone whose prints turned up at the scene.
“Okay. I assume you have questions, then, so ask away.”
“Where were you on July thirty-first?”
“That was a Saturday, yes?” Mary questioned.
“I was at a teacher’s conference in Iowa, which was quite the success,” she said.
“What town?” Jacob asked.
“What time did you return to Clinstone?”
“Oh… around one or two Sunday morning, and before you ask, I have a security system that will easily back up those claims,” Mary said. She poured two cups of coffee, pushing one toward Jacob without moving away from the counter.
Jacob, however, didn’t move for it. “You went to a bar in Ames. Cocoa?”
“What time did you leave there?”
“The time was never checked,” she said.
“Take a guess.”
“And then you headed to an apartment complex there?” Jacob asked.
“No, that’s asinine,” Mary said.
“Odd, since that’s where we found your fingerprints,” he said.
“Oh, yes, the apartment.” She nodded. “I pulled into the parking lot so I could safely grab my cigarettes from the glove compartment.”
“Hmm, strange. We found a cigarette at the crime scene, in the apartment. That… wouldn’t belong to you, by any chance?” Jacob asked. It was a lie, but Mary didn’t have to know that.
She set her coffee mug back on the counter. “Do you mind if I use the restroom?”
“Be my guest.”
She waved a hand toward the doorway. “You can wait in the living room.” Jacob nodded, finally stepping away from the wall to grab the coffee she had poured for him. He took a small sip, tapping his fingers against the ceramic mug as she walked out of his sight. He set the mug down, following her several seconds later. Down the hall, Mary opened a door, leaned into the room, stepped away from it, and closed the door.
Jacob waited until she had gone into the bathroom before hurrying down the hallway. He tried the doorknob. Locked. “Shit,” he whispered. He glanced toward the bathroom before dropping to the floor, turning his head to look under the door. It was dark inside, but he could make out the legs of several heavy duty tables. He pulled his phone from his pocket, dialing Jensen’s number. He pressed the phone to his ear.
“Do you know how to pick a lock?” Jacob asked, his voice nothing but a whisper.
“No. What’re you doing?”
“Don’t worry about it. Wake Bo up.” A pause. “Please.”
Jensen sighed. “Hold on.” Quietly, “Eli? Baby, I need you to talk to Jake real fast.”
“Are you okay?” Bo asked, his voice rough.
“I’m good, Blondie. I need to pick a lock.”
He heard Bo yawn. “What kind of lock?”
“I don’t know. It’s on a door in this house.”
“Like the ones on a bathroom door?”
“Yes, I guess,” Jacob said quietly, rising to his feet. In the bathroom, he could hear the woman talking to herself in rhymes.
“Do you have a paperclip?” Bo asked.
“You betcha.” Jacob reached into his pocket, pulling out the object in question.
“Straighten it out.” The sergeant did as told. “There should be a little hole on the doorknob. If you’re lucky, you’ll just have to insert the paperclip as straight as you can and… push,” Bo said quietly.
Jacob did as told, his heart skipping a beat as the lock clicked. “That did it,” he whispered, reaching out to open the door. He stepped inside, blinking as the lights kicked on. He carefully closed the door, swallowing. “She displays them,” he whispered.
“The bones. She displays them. Serena Bishop’s skull is in a display case, and Erika Hayes’s spine is hung on the wall. There’s another case up against the wall, but it’s empty. There, uh, there’s a giant pair of angel wings painted on the wall behind that case.”
“That’s where the shoulder blades will go. Like the wings are sprouting out of them,” Bo said. “You need to get out of there, Jake.”
“In a second.”
“Hold on,” Jacob said quietly.
“This isn’t the living room.”
Jacob whirled around to face Mary. “I came to check on you, make sure everything was okay,” he said. “This door was open. I knocked, but you didn’t answer. Now… I realize it’s because you weren’t in here.”
“Come out of the room,” Mary said.
“Umm… I think… I’d prefer not to?” Jacob questioned. “Can we discuss the human bones you’re displaying here?”
“End the call and put your phone in your pocket,” she said.
“Sure, sure. Sorry, Blondie,” Jacob whispered. He heard Bo’s protest before he muted the blonde and pushed his phone into his pocket.
“I know the door wasn’t open because I made sure to lock it,” Mary said. Jacob’s gaze shifted to the gun in her hand before he lifted his eyes to her face again. “How’d you get in?”
“I just, you know, stared at it real hard. Flashed the blue eyes and it just…” Jacob made a quick popping sound before offering a shrug.
Mary, however, wasn’t amused. “You picked the lock, broke in. Congratulations, Mister Mason.”
“That wasn’t a compliment, Mason.”
“It sure sounded like one,” Jacob said. “I think I’m gonna have to take you to the station, Miss Lincoln.”
“I don’t think so,” Mary denied. “Put your gun on the floor and kick it over here, nice and slow.”
“I don’t think so,” Jacob repeated.
“Then shoot me.”
“Yeah, you know, that’s more or less against the rules.”
“You’re a coward, just like I knew you’d be,” she said.
“Ah, but you didn’t think I’d end up in here,” Jacob said.
Mary nodded slightly. “Well, there is that.”
“See? I’m not as predictable as you thought.”
“Mm, maybe not, but curiosity still kills the cat.”
“Obviously,” he agreed. “What’s with the rhymes?”
“You try working with grimy little third graders all day. You have to sing rhymes to get them to wash their hands and clean their desks, and the damn things get stuck in your head and never go away.”
“Why do you kill people?” Jacob asked.
“It’s a hobby, a collection.”
“No hunger or desire?” Jacob questioned.
Mary shook her head. “No, it’s not some disease spreading around like an infection. I kill to collect their bones and keep them forever. I have many small collections, ones I can take with me wherever. But this one’s going to be a very large display. I can’t let you ruin it, so alive… you can’t stay.”
“Well, now you’re the predictable one.”
“You don’t care about being predictable?”
“You’re a hell of a lot different than any other killer I’ve ever met,” Jacob said.
“So, what? You’re really planning to shoot me?”
“I need you out of that room, as I won’t have your blood making a mess,” Mary said. “And I don’t shoot to kill. Taking the bones while they’re awake, fighting, and alive takes more skill.”
“And you are just full of skill,” Jacob said. She shrugged. “Well, I am not moving. My happy ass is staying right here. If you shoot me, you’ll get to clean up a mess. Your choice.” Mary stared at him for a moment before crossing the room and grabbing his arm, the gun pressed to his forehead. He disarmed her in less than four seconds, grabbing her arm and tugging it behind her back, pulling her against him. “How was that for predictable?”
“You can’t arrest me!” she exclaimed.
“You just held a gun to a cop. You threatened to kill me. I’m pretty sure I can arrest you,” Jacob said, dropping the magazine out of the gun. He kicked it away from him before setting the gun on the table.
“This isn’t how it’s supposed to be.”
“I would imagine not,” Jacob agreed as he pulled his handcuffs from his belt. He heard a car door shut outside. “I would imagine my phone buddy called the cops just in case you tried to pull anything dangerous. So, like I said before, I’m gonna have to take you to the station, Mary.”
After David came into the house, followed by three other officers, and took Mary, Jacob pulled out his phone and unmuted Bo. “Got her,” he said simply.
“Don’t you ever mute me when you do something like that,” Bo said through his teeth.
“It was to record her confessing to killing people,” Jacob said.
“That’s not the point, Jake.”
“I know, but I wasn’t planning on dying,” Jacob said. “I wasn’t gonna let you listen to me die. I would’ve stopped her before she could actually hurt me, pacifist or not.”
Bo let out a sigh. “We really got her?”
“We really did.”
“Good job, Jake.”
Jacob smiled. “You, too, brother.”
5:47 PM; LOS ANGELES CEMETERY
“Hey, Bridge,” Bo whispered, laying a bouquet of flowers in front of Bridget’s headstone. “I tried to pretend it wasn’t your birthday today. I had a job to do, and… I didn’t want grief of any kind to make me lose myself. But then I had a nightmare about you, and I couldn’t really force it away any longer. I even changed out of my pajamas for you, so… you know, it’s been a successful day.”
He cleared his throat, delicately dragging a finger over her name. “I know I don’t visit as often as I should, and I’m sorry for that. It’s just that between family and Clinstone, I don’t have a lot of time. Adding Jamal’s training and ‘jobs’ onto the side is only going to make it harder. But I’m going to make sure to always be here in June and again in October. I’ll make time, no matter what.”
He wiped his cheek on his shoulder, nervously running his tongue over his bottom lip. “Jens and I are getting married in February. He says you’d be happy for me, and I sure as hell hope he’s right. It took me… a long while to even consider it okay to love him, and it took even longer to believe it was okay to marry him. The only way I’m able to get through this is by believing you’re happy for me. It makes it easier, I suppose.
“That’s selfish, I think, but it’s how I cope. I, uh, I don’t have a lot to say because… I really don’t want to cry today, even though my eyes are burning and my body wants me to stop holding back. But I don’t want to cry. I love you, Bridget, and I always will. But… umm, the heart can love more than one person at a time, and my other person is Jensen. You two share a huge spot in my heart, and you’re always going to be incredibly important to me. I only hope that, someday, coming here to see you isn’t the most painful thing I ever have to do.”
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