1:15 PM; CLINSTONE POLICE DEPARTMENT, LAB
The knock on the open door of the lab pulled Bo’s attention from the array of photos spread out on the table. He lifted his head, eyes landing on Jacob. “What can I do for you, Detective?”
“You can just call me Jake. ‘Detective’ is, like, my dad,” Jacob said, a faint smile on his face. “Anyway, I was wondering if you wanted to grab lunch with Lemon and me.”
“I’m okay. I do appreciate the offer, though.”
Jacob nodded. “Okay. Can I bring you back anything instead? I know you’re probably not too familiar with Clinstone yet, but our diner’s got the best fries in the world.”
Bo offered a smile. “No, thank you. Enjoy your break, Detective.”
Jacob nodded again, slapping a hand against the door frame as he turned to walk away. He made it a whole step and a half down the hall before backing up into the doorway again. “Whatcha workin’ on?”
Bo let out a breath. He’d been afraid he’d ask that. “I’m just looking over the crime scene photos.”
“Think we missed something?”
“Not necessarily.” ‘Think’ insinuated that Bo hadn’t done his job properly the first time, that he had done it so quickly and sloppily that he believed he’d left a dozen clues behind. ‘Think’ wasn’t the case. But it still never hurt to look over it again. “I believe we found all there was to find, but it’s never a bad thing to go back and make sure.”
“You’re thorough. My fiancee was that way too.”
Bo searched Jacob’s face for a moment. “Was?”
“Sorry, not like that. She’s very much alive.” Jacob lifted his shoulders. “Used to be a cop too. Now she does the even more difficult job of taking care of the kids.” He circled a hand in Bo’s direction. “She’d like your photo collage there. That was, like, the Alice staple of crime-solving.”
Unfortunately, Bo didn’t know what to say. He didn’t want anyone in his personal circle, and that meant not letting himself be in anyone else’s circle. Talking with the detective about his fiancee and her old work habits certainly seemed like a bit too much… circling.
Jacob cleared his throat. “Hey, umm… I know Baker and that Silver guy were your friends. I’m sorry about everything that happened in Los Angeles. I’ve been friends with cops that turned out to be pieces of shit, but none of them were serial killers. Or married to one.”
Bo managed to muster up a nod. Nothing else felt appropriate. The nod barely did.
“Well, I’ll get outta your hair. Let me know if anything turns up in those photos, yeah?”
“Of course, Detective.”
“Jake,” he reminded before walking out of the lab. This time, he didn’t immediately return.
Bo let out a sigh, dropping his elbows to the table and his head to his hands. Why the hell did change have to be so difficult? And why did Clinstone have to have the only cops he’d ever met that weren’t assholes to him? He wasn’t in Clinstone to make friends. He hadn’t packed up and moved to Minnesota to pal around with anyone else in the station.
He wanted to wake up, go to work, go home, go to sleep, and do the same damn thing day after day after day. No parties. No drinks at the bar. No lunches at the diner. No friendships or crushes or family or any of it. And he wasn’t going to let Jacob’s friendliness or attempts at conversation change his mind.
6:00 PM; MINNESOTA, THE SURGEON’S HOUSE, BASEMENT
“Good evening, Brooke, darling,” the man said, nodding at both women in greeting. “Darling, I’ve made your favorite for supper,” he said softly, his gaze landing on Cleo. He squatted down and slid a plate through the small opening at the bottom of the cell-like door. “Lamb chops. It’s been such a long time since we’ve had them.”
His eyes, unfairly calm and caring for a kidnapper and murderer, practically begged Cleo for acceptance. Standing before her, the man looked just as unimposing as he had when he’d come up to her in the bar. It seemed unfair that monsters were allowed to be charismatic, that they were allowed to walk around without any outward indication of the darkness brewing inside them.
“Thank you,” Cleo finally whispered.
He smiled, the corners of his eyes crinkling. “You’re welcome, darling.” He slid a second plate under Natalie’s cell door. “And for you, Brooke.”
“You’re welcome, princess.” He pushed himself to his feet, clapping his hands together. “I’ll be back for your plates soon. In the meantime, bon appetit.”
7:47 PM; CLINSTONE; BO AUSTEN’S HOUSE, LIVING ROOM
For the first time since he’d been in Clinstone, Bo sat down on the couch in his new… place of residence. ‘Home’ certainly wasn’t the right word. ‘House’ probably worked fine. Maybe even ‘hotel’ fit a little better. He wasn’t sure how long he’d stay in Clinstone, and the small, sparsely furnished house served as proof of that. He’d brought little more with him than his flannel shirts and his cat’s things. He’d brought along more of her furniture than his own. There was still a very real chance he’d pack up again in a few months and move somewhere else, somewhere even further away. Halfway across the country hadn’t been far enough. Maybe if he found a state Kathy had never been to.
Though he’d probably have to switch countries entirely to be successful in that particular endeavor. One that didn’t speak English at all or watch any news about America. that would offer the highest chance of success if he truly wanted to escape the hell Kathy Baker’s cross-country avoidance of consequences had unleashed on his life.
Maybe it wasn’t fair to blame it al on Kathy, but it was easier to. Dallas had been Bo’s closest friend for years before Kathy ever came into the picture, and he’d hardly consider Kathy a friend. The woman herself would probably laugh at the idea. Friend. As if he were worthy of her ‘friendship’. Bo had simply been polite, professional, and friendly to her over the years, as she was his friend’s partner, and then his friend’s girlfriend. And then-fiancee and wife. Being an ass to Kathy would’ve lost him Dallas, and Bo had assumed he wouldn’t have been able to live through that loss.
Though hindsight was twenty-twenty, and now Bo knew things would have been easier if he and Dallas had stopped being friends, if Bo had been nothing more than a distant co-worker in a different police station by the time it had come out that Dallas was a murderer. If he hadn’t still been friends with Dallas by then, Jamal never would’ve made it his job to find where they had gone. He wouldn’t have been banished to the basement to hunt down a runaway murderer and his wife. He would’ve simply… kept working as normal. Kept going home as normal. Kept hanging out with his other friends as normal.
Bo looked down as his one-eyes tabby—Acamas—jumped onto the arm of the chair and rubbed her head against his arm. A smile tugged at one corner of Bo’s mouth, and he reached out to scratch between her ears. “You’re right. I shouldn’t dwell on it. Easier said than done, huh?”
She let out that little brr noise he loved so much and rammed her head into his shoulder. He crossed his left ankle over his right knee, allowing Acamas to sit in the small triangle of space his folded leg had created. She curled up and rested her head on his leg, her purr vibrating softly against his calf. Bo couldn’t help but smile as he ran a hand over the top of her head.
Unlike the majority of people he had met, Acamas didn’t judge him for who he was, and he appreciated that more than words could say. He didn’t judge her for having one eye, and she didn’t judge him for being above and beyond ‘average’. For being friends with a serial killer. For shutting down and building up walls yet again. For closing himself off. She only loved him in return for all that was… wrong with him.
Bo considered himself incredibly lucky to have her in his life. He wasn’t even sure he’d be alive most days without her.
With a short sigh, he ran his hand down Acamas’s back one more time before grabbing his notebook from the end table. He had told himself to stay away from any of the notebooks that held any information that in any way, shape, or form related to his time working with Dallas or Kathy, but he couldn’t help himself. Going through the notebooks to compare the killer’s MO with killers he had worked or researched in the past was part of working a case. It had been for years. Even if the names of the Baker-Silver cases clawed at his eyes and squeezed at his heart, he wasn’t willing to surrender this specific part of the ritual. Not yet.
Comparing the current MO to those of other killers helped rule in or out the possibility that this was a copycat, an unsolved case, or a multi-state killer. Without much else to do in Clinstone, it was a way to occupy his time until he could finally close his eyes, evade the images of Dallas Silver in his mind, and go to sleep.
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