6:25 AM; LOS ANGELES, THE DUNCAN HOUSEHOLD, FOYER
“Jamal?” the black man questioned. “What’re you doing here? It’s early.”
“Where’s your wife?” Jamal Pitman asked.
“She…? What the hell do you want?”
“I need to speak to her.”
“I can’t let you do that,” the man denied.
Jamal shoved the man back a step, slamming the door as he stepped into the foyer. “Cut the bullshit, Wayne. Where is she?” he asked.
Wayne Duncan grunted his response, crossing his arms over his chest. “Why?”
“Where was she this morning? Last night?”
“Here,” Wayne said.
“You sure about that?” Jamal asked.
“Yeah, Jamal, I’m fucking sure,” Wayne said.
“Then you wouldn’t mind me speaking to her.”
“Living room,” Wayne said through his teeth.
Jamal walked to the living room. Immediately, Wayne’s wife rose to her feet, suddenly on full alert. Jamal smiled coldly. “Hi, Nicole.”
Nicole Duncan swallowed. “Mister Pitman,” she said slowly. “What’re you doing here?”
“I want to know what you were doing in Clinstone.”
Nicole’s brow furrowed. “Clinstone? What, exactly, is that?”
Jamal cocked his head to the side. “Holy shit, you actually don’t know,” he said quietly. He sighed, shoving his hands into his pockets. “It’s a town in Minnesota. It’s where my forensics guy is.”
“Mister Austen? Bo?” Nicole asked. Jamal nodded. “I’m aware of his existence. What about him?”
“One of your crime scenes showed up at his station this morning,” Jamal said.
Nicole laughed, dropping back to the couch. The smile faded as the laughter died down. “You’re not kidding.”
“I don’t really do that.”
“I don’t kill any more.”
“That’s what I thought, too. Until Bo called me and sent me pictures of a dismembered body hidden in three gym bags. Red, yellow, and green. There was even a note in a plastic baggie. Just like the good ol’ days,” Jamal said. “I should’ve known it wasn’t you, though. The note was different. The victim was different.”
“Was it an innocent?” Nicole asked.
Jamal nodded. “And the note was addressed to Bo. ‘Lab geek’. That’s what it calls him. And it makes it seem like the killer’s been stalking him,” he said.
Nicole looked up at Wayne before her gaze drifted back to the police chief’s face. “I was here last night and this morning. Our kids are sick, Mister Pitman. I couldn’t leave even if I wanted to,” she said. She raised an eyebrow. “Sounds like you have a copycat, though. Not a good one, but you have one.”
“Yes, I had pieced that together myself. Thanks,” Jamal said. “You,” he said, turning back toward Wayne. “How many of the people in your… group know what she used to do?”
“All of them,” Wayne said. “We share experiences, Jamal. You know that.”
“How many of them know all the details about every single crime she committed?” Jamal asked.
Wayne’s russet brown eyes lifted to the ceiling before he shrugged. “Shit, Jamal, I don’t know. Half of them? Three-fourths?”
“I need their names, and I need to know which ones weren’t in California this morning or yesterday evening,” Jamal said.
“I can’t give you their names. It’s anonymous for a reason,” Wayne said.
“I have most of their names from last year. I need an update. You and your anonymous fucking serial killers will be on death row by the end of the day if you don’t do what I tell you to do,” Jamal said.
“I can’t,” Wayne said through his teeth.
“Are you forgetting that I’m the only reason your sorry ass is alive and not sitting in a prison cell?” Jamal asked. He shoved Wayne back a step. “I raised you, even when I found out you were murdering those little girls. I wanted nothing more than to wring your fucking neck and throw you in prison, but I didn’t because I loved you like a son. I gave you the life you have now; don’t you dare make me take it away.”
“Give him the names, Wayne,” Nicole said quietly.
“I can’t lose you, Wayne. Please,” Nicole whispered.
Wayne sighed heavily, pushing his glasses up on the bridge of his nose. “I’ll be right back,” he murmured.
“You should treat him better,” Nicole said after her husband had left the room. “If it wasn’t for him, you’d be dead.”
Jamal scoffed, rolling his eyes as he turned back toward the shorter woman. “Nicole, darling, if you think you could’ve ever killed me, you’re stupider than I thought.”
“You underestimate me.”
“No, sweetheart. I overestimated you. You’re underestimating what I’m capable of,” Jamal said. He smoothed a hand over the front of his suit jacket, brushing away a wrinkle in the material. “If you think you could’ve gotten the jump on me several years ago just because I’m old, you would’ve ended up dead and buried at sea, just like everyone else who’s ever snuck up on me and tried to stab me in the back.” Nicole’s eyes narrowed, but she didn’t respond.
“Here,” Wayne said quietly, handing a piece of paper over to Jamal.
Jamal’s brown eyes scanned the note before his brow furrowed. “I’m sorry… Is that the Calvin Smythe that I think it is?” he asked.
“Yes,” Wayne whispered.
“The one that tried to kill my Katherine?”
“And you saved his soul so he could be in your damn group?”
“Yes, sir,” Wayne said quietly, tucking his hands behind his back.
Lightly, Jamal smacked the back of the younger man’s head. “Don’t be a moron. You’ve left his name off the list every single time I’ve asked you for an update on who’s in the group,” he said.
“I did that for a reason,” Wayne said.
“So you could be a liar?” Jamal asked.
“So you wouldn’t kill him. Calvin’s a good man, Jamal.”
“That’s not for you to decide,” Jamal said.
“He kept Kathy alive,” Wayne said. “And he’s not who he was when he was killing people. None of us are. That’s kind of the point of the group. Redemption. Fighting the darkness,” he said.
“I know what the point of the goddamn group is,” Jamal barked.
“I know, sir. My apologies.”
Jamal shook his head, smacking the paper against the palm of his hand before clearing his throat. “Well, I have a lot of names to sort through before the end of the day. You,” he said, pointing to Nicole with the papers in his hand. “If I need you to stalk someone for me, you’ll do it without complaint. This is my boy’s sanity we’re talking about, and depending on how crazy this son of a bitch is, it’s also my boy’s life. Got it?”
Nicole nodded. “I’ll stand at the ready, Mister Pitman.”
Jamal nodded. “Thanks” he said quietly. He pulled Wayne into a hug, laying a hand on the back of the younger man’s head. “Don’t you ever argue with me again,” he said, his voice dangerously low as Wayne wrapped his arms around the elderly man. “I don’t think I have to tell you what I’ll do if you ever speak to me like that again.”
Wayne shook his head. “You don’t. And I won’t. I’m sorry.”
“Good.” Jamal sighed. “I love you, even though you’re a dick ninety-nine percent of the time.”
Wayne smiled faintly. “I love you, too, despite the same exact reason.” Jamal snorted, shoving Wayne back almost playfully. “You won’t hurt them, will you?” Wayne asked.
“As long as they aren’t the one screwing with my boy’s head, no, I won’t lay a finger on them. But if they are?” Jamal asked. “Then you’ll never see them again.” Wayne only nodded before Jamal walked out of the living room and left the house.
Wayne let out a shaky breath, slowly lowering himself to the couch. “You better not be lying, Nicole,” he whispered, dropping his head into his hands.
“Where were you last night?” he asked.
“Not in Clinstone,” she said. “I was at the cemetery, Wayne. I was having a bad night and I went to talk to my mom,” she said.
He nodded, lifting his head. “I can’t ever lie to him like that again. I mean… I was ninety-eight percent sure that you weren’t responsible, but if he had seen through me, we both would’ve been dead,” he said.
“Then he could’ve raised our children to be his fearful little minions, too,” Nicole said.
“I am not a fearful minion,” Wayne growled. “I’m stronger because of who Jamal raised me to be.”
“Yes, so strong that you’re terrified of him.”
“Because I didn’t want him to kill you and throw you to sea,” Wayne said. “You can’t disrespect him just because he’s old. The day Jamal dies is the only time his enemies will find peace and safety. Until that moment, he’s one of the most dangerous people on this earth,” he said. Lightly, he smacked her thigh. “So behave yourself. I’m gonna go take a shower.”
Nicole smiled faintly. “Behaving myself over here. Promise.” He snorted, leaning over to kiss her. “I love you.”
“I love you, too,” he said softly, pushing himself to his feet. “Are you staying home with the kids again today?”
“Planning on it.”
He nodded. “All righty. I’ll see you in a few then. Avoid getting into any more unprecedented trouble while I’m in the shower?” he asked.
She smiled broadly. “I’ll do my best.”
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