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Announcement: Thank You and Progress Update

Hey, guys. I just wanted to take a moment today to thank you all and to give a quick update on writing and my books in general.

First and foremost, I know updates have been lacking greatly, and I thank you all for my patience. When I was posting on Wattpad, I would get messages every single day asking when the next update was. This was despite updating at least once every day. So when I say I appreciate you for your patience, I mean it. It’s about the only thing in my life right now that doesn’t stress me the hell out, and that goes a long way.

Secondly, I’ve had a strange relationship with writing for quite a while. That’s partly because of Wattpad. It’s partly because of my Letters from a Madman rewrite, which greatly changed my relationship with the crime genre. And it’s partly to do with my work being associated with my last name.

Though I can’t change my past with Wattpad, much as I wish I could, I can work on the other issues. I’ve been in the process of changing my name on my published works for about a month now? Give or take. It’s a long process, lol. And I’m currently working on trying to reignite my love of the crime genre.

I’m writing a new story called “Promise Not”, and I’m about 5,000 words into it right now. You can read a bit more about it here on my Instagram. I don’t start posting it just yeat because there’s still a chance I won’t be able to finish it.

Now, let’s talk a bit about the stories I’ve been posting on my website here.

If you read “The Happy Face Killer”, you probably saw the note about me wanting to–needing to–restart the story again. I currently have absolutely no passion for the story, and I can’t even remember the last time I worked on it. It’s a rewrite as is, and that should make it the easiest book on my list, but it’s actually the most difficult. Once I read through the Bo Austen series, I’m going to decide some things about the series. In the meantime, I’ll keep you as updated as I can on all of it.

I’m also struggling with my romances. I’m 100% stuck on “Hashtags and Homicide”, ad I have been for a very long time. I’m not sure how to fix that one right now, but I imagine it has something to do with my issues around the crime genre at the moment.

I’m also struggling with “Truths and Chains”. Though I have some days where I make good progress, most of it is being forced. The story was supposed to focus on Elias researching for his story, and that hasn’t been there. Things are moving way too fast for Vito, and that’s entirely out of character for him. Time needs to be expanded there, and that’s something I’m going to work on fixing ASAP so we can get back to the story. I know you guys love Elias and Vito, and I love the hell out of them too. I just need to do some rewriting and tweaking before I can move forward with the story.

In the meantime, I have a short story I can post for you all. I was going to wait until we hit 2K reads in a month, but until I start posting more, that’s going to be impossible. So, instead, shortly after this post goes live, the short story “Fighter 13” will be posted. This is a story about Luca from the Jamal Pitman series, and it focuses on how he joined the mob. It’s something I’m pretty proud of, despite how long it took to write, and I’m hoping you guys will enjoy getting some back story on Luca.

For now, this is about all I have for an update, but I’ll do my best to keep you guys as in the loop as possibly can. I suffer pretty heavily from brain fog and memory issues, so you might have to remind me to give you a progress update on my books every now and then. Until the next one, I hope you guys enjoy “Fighter 13”, and I’ll see you soon. Thank you for your patience and understanding. 💜

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No updates this week

Hey, guys.

I’m currently trying to get through to my vet to take Willie and Selene in today, one for a check-up for his heart and fluid retention, and the other for an urgent medical issue. Unless I get some super great news today, I’m not planning on updating this week. Depending on how today goes, it might be a little while, but I’ll do my best to keep you posted, either here or on my other social media.

Thank you for your patience, and I hope like hell things go so well today that I post a chapter. But I don’t see that happening. So I’ll see you guys… soon.

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When Toxicity and Mental Health Affect a Story

Hey, guys!

Sorry for getting this post out to you much later in the day than planned. The power company cut our power so they could cut down tree branches almost immediately after I posted today’s chapter of The Spectator, and we were without it for almost two hours, and then it was tragically time for bed. But anyway, let’s get into it, shall we?

As all of you know, I’m sure, posting on Wattpad was initially something I enjoyed. I enjoyed sharing my stories there, even when I had no readers, even when I only had one (Gabby). I’ve always loved interacting with respectful readers, and I still do enjoy that part of it. But as you know, Wattpad eventually grew to be incredibly toxic for me.

In between the constant changing environment on Wattpad (Oh, we’ll do ads to pay our writers! No, we’ll do nothing. Oh, what if we make readers pay for coins that they can use to pay for chapters and we give the writers with that feature a small cut? Yeah, most of them are in their teen years and don’t have jobs, but it’ll be great!), the toxicity of many commenters, and the sexual harassment story I don’t often talk about, it was no longer enjoyable.

For my own sake, I won’t say much more than the sexual harassment was directed at me from a man who is now an ambassador at Wattpad. Funny how that works, huh?

Anyway.

“Finally, an update!” It’s been six hours since I last updated. Finally isn’t an appropriate word, but you can bet it was always the first or second comment on most chapters I posted. When people comment things like ‘finally’, you come into the mindset that the only thing that matters is finishing a story so readers don’t have to ever wait for updates. And eventually, that’s the mindset I hit. Hitting word count milestones was worthless to me. Finishing a chapter was worthless. Finishing a book was the only real joy I ever felt in the last two or so years on Wattpad, and even that joy only lasted for the five minutes before I started the next one.

Not being able to feel any happiness from finishing a book starring a character you’ve loved sucks, and it takes its toll, both on you and on the story.

That’s where we come to today.

I’ve written ten books in the Bo Austen-Taylor series, and although I love the characters, there are many aspects of some of the books I flat-out don’t enjoy. I rushed through many of them so I could hit those five minutes of joy, and it shows. Some of the resolutions are rushed. Some of the killers have half-baked backstories that, while included in the story, make little to no sense, there are far more plot holes than usual, and far worse of a crime: I took away all of Bo’s character development from the Bo Austen series because I couldn’t write a character healing while I was worsening.

And that hurts.

Bo worked so hard to hit this place where he didn’t need to be normal all the time because Jensen wouldn’t love him if he was normal, because Jensen loved him because he was Bo, because he was Eli. And I took it away because… how the hell are you supposed to write a character on his way to better mental health when you can’t even take care of your own? When you don’t even put your own mental health at the forefront of your concerns?

For Bo, I feel that I need to rewrite the Bo Austen-Taylor series. For myself, I feel that I need to rewrite the B-A-T series. I haven’t written a single word in book 11–or a single word in book 5 of Young Bo–in almost two months. They’re both hard to look at, and they both remind me that I failed Bo every single time I open them. I need to fix it.

This is where my question to you guys comes in. I have ten books written. I can either A. continue posting the current B-A-T drafts while I rewrite the series or B. remove all of the B-A-T books and begin posting them the same way I would have on Wattpad, as they are written.

This brings me to issue two: Killer in Training.

I love Freddie, Paris, and Preston, but adhering to the backstory laid out in the B-A-T series has caused an issue in that book two of the series has no actual plot until about 5K words before the end. Even if it’s enjoyable to read, the first 25,000 words have no plot, and that’s not fair to those characters or the reader (even if you’re enjoying it, which is okay!).

If I rewrote book one, the main thing that would change is the ending. Hell, it’s probably the only part I would rewrite before diving into a new book two. I won’t spoil it here in case you haven’t read the current ending, but for those of you that have read it, I’m sure you can imagine what a change in the ending means, what a slight change in his backstory means. Hint: it involves Paris.

So this one isn’t so much a question as it is a statement. I’ll be rewriting the ending, at the very least, on Fedkenheuer, and then I’ll begin book two again, this time with a brand new premise, and I hope you guys will be excited for that.

In regards to both of these rewrites, July 1st will be day number one. Which means that if I post B-A-T as it’s written, the prologue of Happy Face will, more than likely, go up on the first or the second.

But anyway, that’s all my thoughts, and I’d love to hear yours, as well. Thanks for sticking with me, guys.

Truths & Chains – Chapter Three

A/N: If you don’t follow me elsewhere, you probably haven’t heard that I lost my sweet boy, Willie, last week. I got Willie all the way back in 2009, and we had just over 13 years together before his heart and kidneys finally couldn’t take it anymore. If you ever donated to Willie’s med fund, bought a book, or bought some merch, you helped me keep him alive for over two years after his diagnosis.

I expect my writing to take another hit, but I have a few more chapters I wrote before his passing that I’ll still be uploading in the meantime. Thank you for your patience and understanding as I deal with losing another fur baby.**

Willie (July 4, 2009 – January 26, 2023)

NOT EDITED

    While JJ worked to hack into the databases of the storage lockers within a sixty-mile radius, Elias did his best to read through his dad’s case file. The first couple times he flipped through the pages, his brain didn’t absorb anything his eyes scanned over. Somewhere around the dozenth time through the damn thing, he finally started truly processing what he was seeing. The basic information about the crash was there, but so much afterward had been blacked out or entirely replaced by ‘REDACTED’.

    “Like it wasn’t suspicious enough before,” Elias mumbled. Gordo glanced up at him before dropping his head back to rest on his front paws. From what he could discern from the bits that weren’t blacked out or rewritten, it seemed like the cops had interviewed at least three or four witnesses to the crash. The second interview held the most redacted sections. Elias couldn’t help but wonder if the second witness had seen the motorcycle too.

    Later, he’d ask JJ if there was anything they could do about the blacked out sections in the file. For now, he’d already asked her to spend far too much of a Friday morning hacking into things she legally shouldn’t touch with a thirty-foot pole. Getting his best friend locked up in prison so he could prove his dad had been murdered wasn’t exactly on his itineary.

    “I found it.”

    Elias lifted his head. “The… the storage unit?”

    JJ nodded. “Her name’s registered with exactly one of them two towns over.” JJ held up her hand, car keys danglnig from the key ring looped around her thumb. “What do you say we go check it out?”

    “It’s probably locked. We’d have better luck breaking into my parents’ house and trying to find the key,” Elias said.

    JJ raised both brows. “I mean…”

    Elias snorted, shaking his head. “I appreciate your willingness to go along here, JJ, but I can’t ask you to commit too many crimes in one day.”

    “Is it really a crime if there aren’t any victims?” JJ asked.

    “Legally? Absolutely.”

    JJ shrugged before pocketing her keys. She crossed the room and sat down beside Elias. “If you change your mind or wanna take a look at the place, I wrote it down.” She stuck a sticky note on the thigh of his jeans and smoothed the sticky part down with her thumb. “What’d you find in the file?”

    Elias held it out to her, his gaze on the floor. “It’s redacted and scratched out all over the place.”

    “Jesus. The crash was suspicious enough without them going back in to cover it up.” JJ flipped through a couple pages before turning toward him, her brow furrowed. “You think… the police did it?”

    “Someone in the department is definitely on the take with whoever did it, if nothing else.” Elias leaned forward on the couch, dropping his forehead to his palms. “I’ve never heard of them doing this… level of cover up for anyone other than the mob. And redacting names of minors, I guess. But… to edit a whole entire file like this after the investigation? Even in their own database? I didn’t even know they did stuff like that.”

    JJ stayed silent for a moment. “Do… do you think your dad was involved with the mob?”

    Elias lifted his head just enough to scrub his hands down his face. “He was in a motorcycle group thing. An MC? But it was legal. Just a group of guys that liked to ride bikes.” Elias let out a long breath. “Well, as far as I ever knew. I guess if I was in an illegal MC, I probably would lie to my kid  about it.”

    “Did you ever meet any of the guys in the club?”

    “Yeah. My dad used to bring the club president over for suppers all the time before he remarried. He might’ve attended a couple charity events too.”

    “So maybe that’s our next step. We track down the club president and question him about a couple things, legality of the club included.”

    Elias pressed the heels of his palms into his temples, vision blurring as he stared at nothing on the wall across the room. “What if after all these  years, I find out my dad’s a monster? I-I mean, we’re in Kansas. Those Minetti thugs they always talk about run through here as one of their many operations states. What if… what if Dad was a part of something like that?”

    “I don’t know,” JJ said, her voice soft. “You might have to decide what’s more important to you here. Do you want your dad’s memory perfect and untouched? Or do you want to risk it to find out who killed him? Who almost killed you?”

    Elias sat with the question for a moment, finally blinking to bring the room back into focus again. “I’ll always be a nosey reporter.”

    JJ gave his arm a tight squeeze. “Then let’s go find us an MC Prez.”

***

    The good thing about bothering JJ on a Friday morning was that Elias’s parents were at work, which made getting into their house without interference a million times easier. They lived in a rich enough part of town that they felt safe to leave their front door unlocked at all times. It was about the only thing they had ever done that made his life easier.

    Elias headed upstairs to their bedroom, JJ at his heels. He stopped at the top of the stairs, dragging his fingers over the scuffs at the end of the banister. “Do you think I could convince them to sell me this place someday?”

    “With enough money offered? Probably. They care about that a hell of a lot more than they care about memories or sentimentality,” JJ said.

    Elias nodded. She wasn’t exactly wrong. With how quickly his mother had hidden away everything that had belonged to his dad, he had always been surprised she hadn’t sold the house too. Maybe there were simply too many secrets hidden within these walls for her to part with it. Secrets were about all it seemed to be filled with since Dad died.

    With a small sigh, Elias pushed open the door to his parents’ bedroom. “It should be in here.”

    “You don’t think there’s any chance she moved it?” JJ asked. “Or stuffed it in the storage locker with the rest of his things?”

    Elias offered a shrug. “She must think it’s important. I found it only a couple years ago, and I didn’t let her know I found it. But if she still had it a couple years ago, I doubt she’s gotten rid of it since.” He pulled open the second dresser drawer and lifted a few pajama shirts out of the way. There, exactly where it had been when he’d seen it last, was his dad’s black book of contacts. He picked up the book and let the shirts fall back into their place in the drawers. “For her to keep this in the house, it has to be… so important. I just…”

    “Don’t know why?” JJ filled in.

    Elias nodded. “Not a damn clue.”

    JJ stepped into the bedroom and closed the dresser drawer. “Let’s get you home, look for the MC President’s name in there, and maybe he can shed a light on why it’s so important. But let’s start with getting the hell out of here before your step mother senses we’ve taken the damn thing. Yeah?”

    “Yeah,” Elias whispered. “Yeah, let’s get outta here.”


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Truths & Chains – Chapter Two

NOT EDITED

    A vibrating cell phone clattered against… something. Vito Minetti cracked open an eye, waiting. When it kept going, he groaned. How the hell was it fair that out of the three people in bed, he had been the only one able to hear the damn phone?

    He pulled his arm out from under the dark-haired gal on his left and untangled his legs from the redheaded guy on his right. He crawled over the ginger and, with a grunt, his the floor a little harder than intended.

    Okay. So maybe he’d had a bit too much to drink last night.

    Vito crawled around the corner of the bed and found his phone on the floor, the vibration of the call ratteling against the belt buckle dangling from last night’s discarded jeans. He squinted at the bright blue light, barely reading his brother’s name on the screen. He sat up on his knees before accepting the call and pressing the device to his eat. “Yeah?” he asked in a whisper.

    “Sounds like I woke you,” Tito Minetti said.

    “Maybe.”

    The bastard chuckled. “Sorry about that. Where are you, Vi?”

    “Umm… depends. Why?”

    “Because I’ve got coffee for you, it’s past noon, and we agreed to meet behind Starbucks an hour ago.”

    Vito sat back on his heels and scratched the top of his head. “Did I?”

    “You did. But you can keep dicking around if you changed your mind. I’m not buying you another coffee, though. Next round’s one hundred percent on you, man.”

    “No, no, I totally—Look, give me a sec to get dressed. Don’t throw my coffee away, dude.”

    Tito snorted. “I won’t. Where are you? I’ll just swing by and pick you up, coffee safe and sound.”

    “Just, uh… I’ll just meet you at Starbucks like we planned, okay?”

    “We don’t have to play this game, Vi. I wouldn’t still be buying you coffees in the morning if I gave a shit about you screwing around all the time. We don’t gotta play hotel bingo, and there’s absolutely no reason for you to be strutting around in the cold and the snow. Just tell me where you are, and I’ll be there in a jiff.”

    Vito cared a little more about his brother finding out who he had come to the hotel than he cared about how often he and his endeavors ended up at one. But it was unlikely that either of last night’s pals would venture downstairs anytime soon. He and Tito would be long gone before then. Vito cleared his throat, pinning his phone between his shoulder and ear as he rose to his feet, jeans in hand. “I, uh, I’m at Royal Nature.”

    “All right. Meetcha in the parking lot, Vi.”

    “Thanks, man.”

    “No problem, rother. See you soon.”

    Vito ended the call and shoved his phone into his pocket. He pulled his jeans on and buckled his belt, a little too hungover and a little too uncaring to zip his fly or button his pants. Once he found his shirt and pulled it over his head, he turned to look at the two people he’d brought back to the hotel last night.

    What the hell were their names? He was a solid fifty-percent sure the guy’s name started with an A. Or… maybe it had an A in it? It might’ve started with a C. Yeah, C. Fifty-percent on C. If nothing else, that far exceeded his certainty that the woman’s name began with one.

    Honestly, it was a toss-up, but he knew the redhead a hell of a lot better than the brunette, and he’d be far less offended at a wrong guess than the woman might be.

    Vito squatted down on the ginger’s side of the bed. “Hey, uh… Carl?”

    “We’ve totally covered this. It’s Lars,” he mumbled.

    “Shit, sorry, man. You know I’m garbage with names. Was, like, totally one-hundred percent sure it had an A in it though.”

    “Mm. You had the L and R too.”

    “Damn, I did, didn’t I?”

    Lars only snorted.

    “Anyway, uh, Lars, I gotta head out for work, but you and, uh… you and Gal can order whatever you want from room service. It’ll be put on my tab, and I’ll take care of it.”

    One corner of Lars mouth lifted. “Gal. It’s Caroline.”

    “Shit, I knew one of you started with C.”

    Lars’s smile grw, his eyes still closed. The fucker was pretty damn cute when he was all sleepy and shit. Maybe that was why Vito allowed himself to sleep with the guy every now and again rather than sticking to his usual one and done. “You’re lucky you’re cute, Matteo. ‘Cause you’re a dumbass.”

    Vito scoffed. “Didn’t hear you complainin’ about it last night.”

    “I never said I was complaining about it. Just that you should feel lucky you’re so cute that it doesn’t matter that you’re a total dumbass.”

    Vito snorted. “Thanks, babe.”

    “Mmhmm.” Lars opened his eyes only long enough to meet Vito’s gaze for a second or two. “See you again in a couple months?”

    “Yeah, you and a friend.”

    “Preference on what kind of friend?”

    Vito offered a shrug. “Whatever way suits you best. Long as they’re up for a good time, I don’t give a shit what’s in their pants.”

    “Sounds good,” Lars mumbled. He snuggled deeper into his pillow, letting out a soft sigh. “Thanks for last night, Matteo. I needed it.”

    Vito nodded. He’d needed last night too, but he had no intention of ever saying that shit outloud to anyone. “Yeah.” He scrubbed his hands down his face and pushed himself to his feet. Work had been slow for what seemed like an eternity, and it was beginning to feel like a lack of homicide had driven him to the brink of insanity. Sex helped loosened the dark twists in his brain and knots in his stomac, but it wasn’t a permanent fix. He needed to talk to one of his bosses, see if there were any jobs they could carve out for him, any jobs at all, before he totally lost himself.

    He made his way downstairs and stopped at the front desk. The receptionist, a young woman Tito had told him more than once not to sleep with, handed him his gun and knife. “Thanks, Rachel.”

    “Mmhmm.” She smiled. “Enjoy your day, Mister Minetti.”

    “You too, sweetheart.” Vito clicked his tongue at her and walked out of the hotel, tucking his gun into his waistband. He fastened his sheath to his belt, eyes scanning the rows for Tito’s car. Thankfully, it didn’t take long for his twin to pull into the parking lot and drive up to the curb. Tito leaned across the center console and pushed open the passenger side door before Vito even had a chance to reach for it.

    “Aww, Ti, you’re such a gentleman.”

    Tito chuckled and shook his head. “Get your ass in here before I change my mind and leave you stranded. And zip up your fly.”

    Vito snorted, but he did as told. With his zipper zipped and his button buttoned, he ducked down and slid into the passenger seat of the car, pulling the door shut behind him. He hovered a hand over the coffee cups in the console. “Which one’s mine.”

    “The one without the heart on the lid.”

    “Ooh la la.”

    Tito pointed at him with an authoritative finger. “No, not ‘ooh la la’. You keep your ‘ooh la la’s in your pants.”

    Vito cackled as Tito pulled away from the curb. “Would you bone her?”

    Tito’s brow furrowed for a moment before he shook his head. “I don’t like that question, and I’m not answering it.”

    “Fine. Let me innocent it up for you, schoolgirl. Was she cute?”

    “I’m not sleeping with her, and neither are you.”

    “I’d clearly be her type.”

    “We’ve got the same face, not the same personality.”

    “Rude. And you get exactly one not-girlfriend to say I can’t sleep with, and you used that on Lillian. And I let you take Rachel off my hit list. What more do you want from me, man?”

    “Rachel always needs to be off your list. And—”

    “What is it with you and Rachel, dude? You savin’ her for when Lillian gets tired of you leading her on?”

    Tito’s fingers tightened around the steering wheel for a moment. “I slept with her in high school.”

    “Rachel?”

    “The gal from Starbucks.”

    “Oh, dude, Sadie? Your girlfriend, Sadie?”

    “Sadie absolutely was not my girlfriend.”

    “Oh, Ti, dude.” Vito couldn’t help but laugh. “Ti, she broke up with you because she was heaidng off to college and you were going to basic training, and it was like the universe didn’t want you to be together. I think she said you two were like Romeo and Juliet or some shit. She was absolutely your girlfriend. Least, she sure as hell thought she was.” He took a sip of his coffee. “She was cute back then. Bet she’s hot now, right?”

    “Yes, okay? She’s hot. But keep it in your pants, and don’t sleep with my ex-prom date. Please.”

    “I won’t.” Vito tapped a finger to the little heart drawn on the lid of Tito’s cup. “But you should.”

    “You know how I feel about that.”

    Vito rolled his eyes. “Yeah, I’m painfully fuckin’ aware of your monster bullshit. All the other soldiers sleep around, and I promise you, not a single one of ‘em turned monster and killed the chick they were fuckin’.”

    “I-I’m not scared of killing someone, Vito. I’m a lot of things, but not in control of myself isn’t one of them. I’m so in control of myself that sometimes, it’s actually concerning.” A pause. “I just don’t want a woman sleeping around with a man she doesn’t know is a monster. I can’t do that to someone. I won’t do that to someone.”

    Vito only shrugged. “What they don’t know doesn’t hurt ‘em.”

    “It will if we ever officially get found out. It will if they watch the news and see my face associated with the shit they say about us. It will if their family and friends find out they’ve been sleeping with a monster. I won’t be the person who ruins a woman’s life just so I can stick my dick in something.”

    Vito reached down and dropped the back of his seat, leaning back as he kicked his boots up on the dash. “You’re no fun, Ti.”

    Tito’s fingers tightened on the wheel again, but he didn’t respond. Vito let the silence hang between them for a whole two minutes—an impressive record, really—before remembering why the cold shoulder never worked on Tito: he was a hell of a lot better at the whole ‘being quiet’ thing than Vito ever had been.

    “So… when’re you seeing Lillian again?”

    “Tomorrow night. I’m flying out in the afternoon.”

    “Cool. So I’m picking up my own coffees in the mornings for a couple days?”

    “If you’re sober. Otherwise, I already asked Bo to assign a man to you. If you call him, he’ll pick you up from whatever hotel you end up at. I’ll text you the guy’s number when I leave.”

    “Sweet. Thanks.”

    “No problem.”

    Tito drummed his fingers against the steering wheel for a few seconds before clearing his throat. “Can I talk to you about Lil?”

    “If you have to.”

    Tito glanced over at him, but he stayed silent.

    Vito let out a harsh breath. “I’m just bein’ a fuck, Ti. You can talk about her. What’s up?”

    “I’m not here to annoy you, Vito. I-I just… I don’t have anyone I can talk to about this stuff. If I talked about her to the wrong person, I could put her in even more danger than being around me puts her in. And I don’t exactly have friends.”

    Vito waved a dismissive hand between them. The last thing he wanted was to dive headfirst into Tito’s lack of ability to hang out with people. He was still a little too hungover and it was still way to early in the morning for that shit. “Just talk. Say what you gotta say, dude.”

    “Until today, I hadn’t heard from her in over two weeks.”

    “Why?”

    “She just… won’t let go of the picket fence thing. She keeps asking why I think I’m not allowed to have a white picket fence dream. She leaves it alone for a couple months, and then she comes back to it, and she’s utterly incessant about it.”

    Vito took a sip of his coffee, giving himself a moment to mull over his potential answers. He didn’t usually consider rthinking before giving a response of any kind to Tito, but hungover Vito was a slightly more gentle giant than his drunk and sober counterparts. “Sorry I ever brought it up to her, really, but it was fuckin’ years ago, man. She’s gotta let it go at some point.”

    “Well, it unfortunately seems like ‘letting it go’ isn’t really her speciality.”

    “Because she likes you, dumbass.” Clearly not too much of a gentle giant, though. “Stop leading her on if you’re never gonna do anything for her. Let some other guy swoop in and marry her or have her kids with her or just fuck her real good. Whatever the hell she wants.” Vito took a another sip of his coffee. “Bet she’s in need of a good fuck, anyway.”

    A muscle in Tito’s jaw ticked, but he stayed silent.”

    Vito let the way too heavy silence hang between them for a few seconds before clearing his throat. “I didn’t mean that. Not really. I’m sorry.”

    Tito’s silence stretched out a little longer before his grip finally loosened on the steering wheel. “I know you don’t understand my… relationship with Lil, and that’s fine. But if you ever fall for someone you knnow you can’t have, you’ll finally get it. You won’t want the person you love sleeping with a monster, a criminal, a murderer. You’ll constantly think about how they deserve so much better than you. Constantly. It’s all I think about when it comes to Lillian. It’s like nothing else matters.”

    “Well, I ain’t gonna fall for anyone, so you’re on your own. Sleeping with one person for the rest of your life?” Vito snorted. “Ain’t really my scene, Ti.”

    Tito offered a tired shrug. “Then I guess you’ll never understand it.” Much quieter, he added, “Or me.”

    Vito chose to bite his tongue. He wasn’t good with handling anyone’s feelings, but he was especially horrible with Tito’s. Though he could be an asshole to his brother, he still loved and cared about him. He just didn’t express it well. He didn’t know how to express it well. The part of him that could openly relate to and empathize with that shit had been buried a long time ago, and it had been pushed down deeper and deeper with years of torturing and murdering. That part of him wasn’t coming back anytime soon, no matter how much Tito tried to speak to it.

    As far as Vito was concerned, that part of him wasn’t just buried anymore. It was dead.


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Truths & Chains – Chapter One

**A/N: Time for another run at V&E! I hope you guys enjoy the brand new chapter one

NOT EDITED

    “Remind me why I’m hacking into a police database again?”

    “Because getting fired didn’t make me any less of a nosey reporter, and I have curiosities that need to be satisfied.”

    “Oh, yeah, no. That totally makes sense. More than enough reason to risk spending the rest of both of our lives in a federal prison.”

    Elias payne snorted as he lowered himself into the desk chair at his best friend’s side. He released the handle on his dog’s harnesss and drew his hand back to his lap. The humor on his face fell away as he stared at Jesse Jordan’s green blinking cursor on her laptop screen. “I need to know what happened to my dad once and for all. I’ve tried talking to the cops here, and the last thing they wanna do is talk to me about it. They always act like I’m out to get them or something. There’s only one who’s willing to chat about it, but only if I let him take me out to dinner.”

    “It’s okay to do that, you know. And hey, maybe you’ll find that he’s a super nice guy too.”

    Elias shook his head. “I’m pretty sure he wants more than dinner, JJ. I’m not ready for that.”

    JJ nodded. “That’s okay. So… on the database side of things… if the police believed the crash wasn’t an accident, it would’ve been investigated further, and you’d definitely know about it. They ruled it an accident almost immediately after the crash, didn’t they?”

    “I… I don’t know. I never knew much about the investigation. I remember the police talked to me in the hospital, but I don’t really remember much about what they asked or what I said. I need to see the report on that, if it ever led to a suspect, if it made them suspicious of the accident story. I need to know if even one cop on the force had any inkling that something was fishy about it all. I need to know anything they knew before I start from scratch again.”

    After a moment, JJ nodded. “How long has it been?”

    “Fifteen years. Sixteen next March.”

    “Jesus. Fifteen years being told you’re crazy for thinking someone intentionally made you guys crash. I can’t even imagine, Elias.”

    “You get used to it after a while.” Elias offered a little chuckle. “But still… I’d like to know if I really am crazy. I need to know.”

    JJ nodded. She reached up to pull her dirty blonde hair into a ponytail, split it in half and gave either side a quick tug to tighten it against her scalp. Fingers interlocked and hands stretched toward her laptop, she smiled at Elias. “Let’s get to hacking.”

***

    Elias had printed off his dad’s case file the exact moment JJ had brought it up on her computer. He’d paced the length of JJ’s home office for what felt like an eternity before the last page finished printing. Now he sat on the couch, a thin stack of warm paper in his hands.

    “So… what do you think you’re hoping to find in there, exactly?”

    “I don’t know. A starting point? Any tiny piece of information I don’t already know? Christ, at this point, I’d even take knowing they’d considered the crash suspicious for half a second. I’ll take just about anything I can get.”

    JJ nodded. She clasped her hands between her knees and cleared her throat. “What if… none of that is in there?”

    “Die a little more inside and keep looking, I guess?” Elias suggested. “I know the ‘accident’ wasn’t an accident. I was there, you know? But it’s always been like you’re the only one who believes me, sometimes more than I even believe myself. So I need proof that I’m right, once and for all. Dad deserves justice, even if no one else wants to give it to him.”

    “Okay,” JJ said, her voice soft. “No matter what’s in that case file, I’ve got your back. If we have something to go off of in there, I’ll be right by your side while we follow the lead. If there’s nothing and we have to keep looking for something else, I’ll hack into just about anything you need me to. I’ve got you, Elias.”

    Elias offered a smile, though holding his father’s case file in his hand made it more difficult than usual. “I know you do. Thank you, JJ. It means the world to me.”

    “I know. You’re my family, Elias. Blood or not, it doesn’t matter. Any battle you want me to fight with you, I will.” JJ laid her hand on the stack of paper. “This one included.”

    Elias gave JJ’s hand a tight squeeze, and after she moved it, he finally forced himself to look at the first page. His dad’s picture sat at the top right corner of the page. Though his stepmother had taken down every picture of his dad shortly after his death, he recognized the one they had used for the file. It had been taken at one of the last charity events his dad had attended before Elias’s mom had died. They had cropped the picture down to only show his head and shoulders, but Elias could still picture the rest of the light gray suit vest he had worn over a white button-up. The diagnoal striped black and white tie tucked into the four-buttoned vest. The thin gold chain that had gone from the top button to the pocket watch tucked into the vest’s pocket.

    “Wonder if she kept the pocket watch,” Elias mumbled.

    “Hmm?”

    He glanced up at JJ. “Sorry. Just, umm, this picture. I know you can only really see his face, but he’s got a vest on, a pocket watch tucked into the pocket. I wonder if my stepmom kept the watch.”

    “Do you think you could ask her?”

    “Probably. But I don’t know if she’d remember for sure. Or how happy she’d be that I asked. She never really liked talking about Dad after he passed.” That had been a difficult thing for Elias to deal with after his dad’s passing. But, like with most things that occurred in his life, starting with his dad dying, he had managed through it. Somehow, managing took less energy and effort than blowing up or complaining. Shoving it all down in the bottle and twisting on the cap was so much easier.

    “Do you know what she did with all of his things?”

    “I honestly have no idea. I remember looking for all of it a few times when I was a kid. I checked the basement and the attic. Her home office, dad’s home office. I even snuck into the master bedroom a time or two. But I never found anything.”

    “Maybe it’s all in a storage unit.”

    Elias looked up at the ceiling. “I never thought of that.”

    “There are only a couple in town. I’m sure I can find out if she’s registered with one of them pretty fast.”

    “You’re going to hack into their databases, is what you mean,” Elias said, turning just enough to meet JJ’s eyes.

    She smiled. “Something like that.”

    Elias couldn’t help but roll his eyes, a small smile tugging at one corner of his mouth. “You would’ve made a great career criminal, JJ.”

    “Oh, believe me, I know.” She stood up from the couch, hands already working to pull her hair back into her hacking ponytail. “You don’t have to go through the file by yourself, okay? But I do totally want to find out where she’s keeping your dad’s things. You deserve them way more than they deserve to be locked up in some dusty shed.”

    “I’ll be okay. And… thank you.” Elias chuckled, shaking his head. “Again.”

    “Hey, this hacking is way more fun that the security shit I do at work.”

    “Someday, your hacking skills will make some underground rebellion very happy.”

    JJ flashed a grin and held up both hands, fingers crossed. “Here’s hoping.”

    Elias watched her walk back to her office before he let his gaze wander back to the stack of papers in his hands. Admittedly, though the stack was thin, there was still more there than he’d expected there to be. Based on how many times he’d been told he was crazy over the years, he’d expected nothing more than a page or two of half-assed, lackluster investigative work. But in his hands, he held at least twenty pages worth of something.

    And twenty pages of something was so much more than he ever could’ve dreamed of. There had to be something there.


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Surgeon – Chapter Seven

NOT EDITED

Chapter Seven

Sunday: January 5, 2020
7:15 AM; MINNESOTA, THE SURGEON’S HOUSE, BASEMENT

In her little basement prison cell, Cleo sat on a footstool positioned near the end of the bed. The older man, the one who had been her kidnapper, sat behind her on the edge of the mattress, running a brush through her hair. She forced herself not to fight him or try to stop him. From what Natalie had told her, fighting would get her killed, and she didn’t want to die. She wasn’t ready to die.

In the cell beside hers, the young green-eyed man simply observed as Natalie brushed her own hair. He stood with his back to the cell door, arms crossed over his chest, that same detached look in his eyes.

The older man combed his fingers through Cleo’s hair. Satisfied it was knot-free, he set the brush on the bed and rose to his feet. Cleo watched with bated breath as he opened up the cell door. “Come here, darling,” he said softly, a hand extended to her.

Oh, God. Cleo rose to her feet, her legs unsteady beneath her. I’m not ready to die. I’m not ready. She forced herself to cross the small bedroom, forced herself to grab his hand. It was soft and warm as he threaded his fingers through hers, such a deep contrast to the ice-cold evil she expected to feel every time he got close to her.

He led her out of the cell and up the basement stairs. Down a hall, he opened a door and gently pulled her into the room. “Here you go, darling. Clean towels here,” he said, laying a hand on the folded towels on the counter. “There’s a washcloth in the tub. Shampoo, conditioner, soap. Everything you need.” He brushed a thumb over her cheek, and she did everything in her control not to flinch away from his touch.

“Take as long as you need. Enjoy the hot water on your shoulders. I’ll be in the hall when you’re done.” He pressed a kiss to the top of her head. He met her gaze, his smile soft. After a moment, he walked out of the bathroom and closed the door behind him.

Cleo’s eyes scanned the bathroom. No cameras. No obvious death traps. He was simply… letting her take an honest to God shower. She turned around, catching her reflection’s eyes. Jesus. Her face was tired and unbelievably fearful. Still, she was amazed at how well she was holding herself together. There wasn’t exactly a gold standard on how a kidnapping victim should act or how they should hold themself, but… but she was doing okay. She could keep that up.

She and Natalie were going to survive this. They were strong. They were fighters.

They were survivors.


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Surgeon – Chapter Six

A/N: I’m trying to raise $600 to bring another megaesophagus pup into the sanctuary. Megaesophagus (or ME) is a disease that essentially makes it impossible for a dog’s esophagus to move food from their mouth to their stomach. Without proper care, they often end up starving to death or dying from aspiration pneumonia. I currently have three and would love to get another out of the shelter ASAP.

For every $25 milestone hit, I’ll update all of my available books. That’s where this update is coming from! We’re currently at $41 out of $600. The next milestone is only $9 away! If you can help us rescue another ME pup, you can donate through PayPal, Venmo, or Cash App. Thank you!**

NOT EDITED

Chapter Six

Saturday: January 4, 2020
6:30 AM; CLINSTONE POLICE DEPARTMENT, MORGUE

    “Oh, geez, I’m sorry. I didn’t think anyone would actually be in here this morning,” a rather pregnant blonde said.

    “That’s all right.” Bo tucked his pen between the pages of his notebook and closed it. Setting the notebook down beside him, he pushed himself off the floor. He crossed the room and stuck out a hand. “Bo Austen.”

    “Ah, you’re my replacement.” She shook his hand. “Misty Archer.” After dropping Bo’s had, hers moved back to her stomach. “We probably wouldn’t be meeting if my little guy here stuck to the plan. I’m two days ovedue.”

    “Stubborn, huh?”

    She snorted. “Yeah, I guess he’s just not reayd for the world yet.”

    Bo forced a chuckle, lifting a hand to rub the back of his neck. Truthfully, he couldn’t blame the kid. He wasn’t ready for the world, either.

    He glanced down at her left hand. Wedding band. Married. Archer was likely her married name. “Is there anything I can help you with, Mrs. Archer?”

    “I’m just looking for… something,” she said, eyes scanning the room.”

    “I tidied up a little. So… what can I help you find?”

    “Well, umm, it’s a black binder. There’s a name on the cover. Sanders.”

    “Stan Sanders,” Bo murmured with a ond. “It’s in the lab.” He walked past Misty and pulled open the door, holding it open until she had walked into the lab. She didn’t thank him, something that bothered him just a little. It generally didn’t bother him much, though he’d always been taught that a simple ‘thank you’ was polite and normal, but with the way most people in the criminal justice system had treated him in his time in the field, it felt like a personal attack. He hated that.

    He crossed the room, forcing himself to keep his pace as nomal as he was pretending to be. Truly, he just wanted to get Misty Archer out of the lab before she had a chance to tornado up the place again. He pulled open a cabinet door and grabbed the binder in question. He turned and held it out to her. “Here you go.”

    She took it without a thank you. Bo tried not to let it get to his head. For Misty, this was likely nothing more than a simple conversation, a simple interaction, a simple transaction. Focusing on every little thing she did or said probably wasn’t on her mind. What stuck in Bo’s head as some sort of attack or dig wasn’t her problem.

    “Nice job on the lab. It looks… nice,” Misty said.

    The words pulled Bo back to the present. Nice? “It’s just easier for me if things are organized,” he said quietly.

    “Mm.” She looked around the lab again. “You have OCD or something?”

    “Obsessive-compulsive disorder isn’t about cleaning or organizing, Mrs. Archer.  It’s about obsessions and compulsions, not the level of one’s tidiness.” Bo cleared his throat, tucking his hands behind his back. He bit down on the inside of his lower lip, fighting off the longer explanation he wanted to give. He’d learned long ago that long explanations often led to arguments. ‘You have an answer for everything, don’t you?’ ‘You don’t have to be an ass about it.’ ‘You don’t have to mansplain it to me.’ ‘Wow, you just know everything, don’t you?’ He wasn’t here to fight. He was here to work, solve the case, and go somewhere else, somewhere further away.

    “No, I don’t have OCD,” he finally whispered.

    Misty’s brow furrowed for the briefest of moments. Bo couldn’t help but be thankful for the dark-haired, green-eyed man that came into the lab before Misty had a chance to respond. The little girl at his side—maybe five or six years old—looked a lot like Misty, though her brown hair was closer in color to the man’s. The overdue baby would be her second child.

    The man held out his hand. “John Archer.”

    Bo shook it. In 2010, Chevrolet UK commissioned a university professor to come up with an equation for the perfect handshake. The professor had done it, though it was admittedly quite a ridiculous thing to look at.

    √ (e^2 + ve^2)(d^2) + (cg + dr)^2 + π{(4^2)(4^2)}^2 + (vi + t + te)^2 + {(4^2 )(4^2)}^2

    Each letter stood for a specific part of the handshake, a part that would make said handshake perfect if executed correctly. John had failed eye contact, but he had gotten a verbal greeting up to par, as far as Bo was concerned. The smile on his face was false—which the equation factored in as ‘non-Duchenne’—so he’d failed that section too. An incomplete grip and a sweaty palm wer low scores on John’s end as well. It had been a strong shake, though. That counted for something.

    The position of John’s hand had been all right, and the vigor had been okay, but his hands were cold and rough. Contrl and duration had been much better than the previous factors, but the negatives outdid the positives.

    John had scored a whopping twenty points out of the posible forty-five the eqation alloed for. Forty-four pecent. Failure. Bo would have given him an A for effort, bt effort ddn’t begin wih the letter A. So instead, he mentally marked him down with an F for failure.

    Even before Bo had learned about the existence of such a crazed equation, he had only ever known one person who gave the perfect handshake, and that was Dallas Silver. Dallas had done quite a lot of things perfectly. He’d secured a detective job, married the detective working the Hangman case, befriended cops and lab geeks alike. He’d played nice with just about everyone, secured a cushy, perfect little life inside of a perfect little family to perfectly hide who he truly. And boy, had he wildly succeeded at hiding. He’d hidden it from Bo for almost a decade before he made himself a fugitive.

    Bo kept these things to himself, of course—the handshae equation and evaluation, the murderous people he had once trusted with his life. Instead, he offered a smile to John and said, “Bo Austen.”

    “John’s my husband,” Misty said. “And that’s our dauhter, Karen.” The little girl lifted a hand and waved. Bo repeated the action befor averting his gaze. By Jupiter, he wanted this to be over. The only children he’d ever really been around had been Dallas’s kids, and he didn’t need reminders of them. Not now. Not today.

    Not ever.

    “Well, it was good meeting yo, Bo. I’ll see you again when I get back from maternity leave.”

    Bo nodded. “Of course, Mrs. Archer. It was good meeting you, as wll. And congratulation.”

    Misty smiled. “Thank you. And thanks for the binder.” She held it up for a moment before grabbing her daughter’s hand. Finally, the Archer family walked out of the lab.

    Bo let out a deep sigh, shoulders sinking as the door swung shut. With his headspace for work entirely shattered by thoughts of Dallas Silver and the people he had carved up and hanged in between working and hanging out with Bo, he rolled up the sleeves of his blue and white checkered flannel shirt. If he couldn’t work, he could clean. Again. Anything was better than the deafening silence of the lab and the shattering loudness of his mind.


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Bartender’s Vampire – Chapter Three

A/N: I’m trying to raise $600 to bring another megaesophagus pup into the sanctuary. Megaesophagus (or ME) is a disease that essentially makes it impossible for a dog’s esophagus to move food from their mouth to their stomach. Without proper care, they often end up starving to death or dying from aspiration pneumonia. I currently have three and would love to get another out of the shelter ASAP.

For every $25 milestone, I’ll update all of my available books. That’s where this update is coming from! We’re currently at $41 out of $600. An update for The Surgeon will be coming next, and then I’ll start work on another chapter for this one and Surgeon for when we hit $50. If you can help us rescue another ME pup, you can donate through PayPal, Venmo, or Cash App. Thank you!

NOT EDITED

    It was around eight in the morning when a knock sounded at Sabien’s door. Mid sip of his coffee, Sabien lifted his head. It was unlikely to be anyone but the sheriff, especially early in the morning, but after what had happened with Kolten, he couldn’t help but be a little paranoid. Though if he opened the door and Kolten’s family was there, waiting to stake him and auction off parts to the rich, he wasn’t sure he’d put up much of a fight. That bartender’s kindness had kept him from doing anything to himself at the time, but kindness could only keep one’s will to live alive for so long.

    He set his coffee mug down on the end table and stood up from his chair. He made his way through the kitchen and into the foyer. He undid all four locks on the door and pulled it open a crack. “Hey, Sheriff.”

    Sheriff Greg Barrett lifted a hand. “Afternoon, Sabien. May I come in?” Sabien nodded and took a step back, pulling the door open wider. Greg stepped into the house and closed the door behind him. “Mind turning on a light?”

    “Yeah, sorry.” Sabien walked around the corner, flipping on the switch in the kitchen. The light above Greg’s head flickered on. Shoving his hands into the pockets of his pants, he walked back into the foyer.

    “I’m sure you know why I’m dropping by today, Sabien,” Greg said, his voice quiet.

    Sabien forced himself to nod, his eyes on the floor. “I do.”

    “Good. Then I need to know if it was you or not.”

    “It… it was me.”

    “Figured.”

    Sabien hated the way the word made him feel. Like Greg had aways known Sabien would eventually cave to his instincts and kill someone, like Greg knew Sabien wasn’t ‘one of the good ones’, no matter what he pretended to be. Like Greg knew a monster would always be a monster when presented the opportunity.

    “You aren’t like Rebecca and Davon, Sabien. We both know you aren’t some blood-thirsty killer. They would’ve killed the kid no issue. But you… That’s not like you.”

    “I lost control,” Sabien said, his words sounding hollow and a little cottony to his own ears. “He told me everything we had was a lie, that he never loved me, that he and his family wanted to sell my fangs and my blood. I lost my cool, and then I—” Sabien closed his eyes. “I’m sorry, Sheriff. I didn’t mean to cause you any trouble. I didn’t mean to kill him.”

    “If only that would hold up in court,” Greg said.

    Sabien nodded.

    Greg let out a heavy sigh. “I know you’re sorry. I just wish that was enough to put the case to bed and get you off the hook. The less covering up crimes I have to do for you, the better.”

    “I know.”

    Greg stayed silent for a while before clearing his throat. “You said his family wanted to sell your fangs?”

    “That’s what he told me.”

    “Have you heard from them at all?”

    “No. Have you told them about Kolten?”

    “A deputy’s over there with them now.”

    Sabien nodded. “Then I suppose it won’t be long before they come after me.”

    “Jesus, kid.” Greg shook his head before holding a small red and white cooler out to Sabien. “I brought you some more blood. Should last you another week or two.”

    Sabien took the cooler, a small part of him almost surprised that Greg didn’t yank it out of his reach. Greg was a good man, but their interactions were usually short and didn’t involve a dead man. “Thank you.”

    “Let’s go sit down, see if we can figure out what the hell we’re gonna do about all this to keep you alive and continue hiding the Vampire secret, yeah?”

    “Okay. We can talk in the living room.”

    Greg kicked off his shoes. “Lead the way.”

    On the way to the living room, Sabien stopped in the kitchen to pack the blood bags into the refrigerator. For as long as he could remember, his parents had had cops on their side, one way or another. It was the only way they could easily survive in one place for any extended period of time. In the beginning, it has been morticians, undertakers, funeral home workers. Just about anyone they could pay for blood was someone his parents were willing to be in contact with. There had been a few doctors throughout the years that had gotten blood for them, even a nurse or two at a blood drive here and there.

    Truthfully, Sabien knew they would much prefer living life their way, killing human citizens left and right, more so for the sport than the blood. But abiding by the rules the majority of the time and not killing innocentpeople was the only way they could guarantee their safety in this world. Back in Chicago, when Sabien had lived with his parents, it had been easier for his parents to hide their own crimes amongst the all too frequent human-on-human homicides. It had been easier to bribe the cops too.

    Greg had, according to his parents, been ‘a hard one’ to bribe, but they had eventually won out. Somedays, it took Sabien everything he had to keep himself from asking what they had said or done to sway Greg to help an undead monster survive in his town, but his parents always told him that asking risked Greg changing his mind and blowing Sabien’s cover. The last thing he wanted was to be forced to move back to Chicago withhis parents.

    “So,” Greg started as they stepped into the living room.

    “So?”

    “I need to know what happened with the kid.”

    Sabien cleared his throat. He dropped into his chair and gestured to the couch. Greg watched him for a moment before sitting down. “We were supposed to just be going on a date. Dancing. But he just kept… pushing me. Pushing my buttons. Every little thing I said, he countered it, and when it wasn’t a counterargument against me, it was just rude or mean-spirited. But I could deal with that. I could get past that. But then he backed me into an alley and said he lied when he said he wanted to go out tonight, lied when he said he wanted to go dancing, lied when he said I looked nice. So… I dared him to lie to me one more time, and that was when he told me that his parents knew what my parents were, what I was, that they already had people interested in my fangs, my blood. He had a sake in his hand, ready to go. So I just… lunged.”

    Greg let out a long breath. “I’m sorry you had to do that, Sabien.”

    “Me too,” Sabien whispered, his brow furrowed. “What’s going to happen now? Do I have to leave?”

    “No. It shouldn’t get to that point. As long as I keep everything steered away from you, there’s no risk of you being caught for anything.” Greg tugged down on his ball cap, clearing his throat. “Say, can I ask you something?”

    “Of course.”

    “Did you go to the bar after you…? Where’d you go?”

    “Yes,” Sabien said after a moment. “I needed to call home, and the bar was closer than here. Why?”

    “Stay outta the bar. Okay?”

    Sabien turned toward the man for the first time since they sat down. “I didn’t do anything. I-I’m not a danger to the people there. I—”

    “Just stay out of the fucking bar, okay? It’s not a place for things like you.”

    “Oh… okay,” Sabien said quietly. “I’m sory, Sheriff. I-I didn’t know there were any places in town that were off limits. I just needed to call my parents and warn them of potential danger.”

    “The bar is the only place off limits.” A pause. A long pause. “I didn’t mean for that to come out the way it did. ‘Things like you’. I just mean… it’s not safe for you to be that close to the crime scene. People talk, and this isn’t a everybody knows everybody town, but it’s pretty damn close. When Kolten’s death hits the newspaper, they’re all going to start thinking about the strange people they saw near the bar. So just stay away from it for a while. Okay?”

    Sabien brought himself to nod. When it came right down to it, he was surprised it had taken Greg this long to start restricting his access to certain buildings in town. It wouldn’t be long before Sabien was barred inside the house altogether, locked away from civilization once again.


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back to book details

Chapter Two

Chapter Four

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Surgeon – Chapter Five

NOT EDITED

Chapter Five

Friday: January 3, 2020
6:00 AM; MINNESOTA, THE SURGEON’S HOUSE, BASEMENT

Much like the morning before, he slid a plate under each of the cell doors, first to Cleo, and then to Natalie. “Something came up at work, and I need to head in for a while, but this is breakfast. I’m hoping to be done before noon, but if not, I’ll still make the time to bring you lunch, I promise.” He raked a hand through his hair before pushing himself back to his feet. He laid a hand on Cleo’s door. “I love you both. It won’t be long before you’re both back to normal. Before… everything is back to normal. But for now, I have to go in. I’ll… I’ll see you soon.”

8:05 AM; CLINSTONE POLICE DEPARTMENT, MAIN FLOOR

“The guy has basically a perfect record in every other department he’s worked in, but for us, he’s late.”

Jacob glanced over at Carter before going back to mixing up the perfect balance of caramel and vanilla syrup in his coffee. “I’m sure he’s around here somewhere. He doesn’t really seem like he wants to be our friends or anything, so he probably just doesn’t want to hang out around in the bullpen.”

“Already checked the lab and the morgue. Even peeked into the bathroom. Nothing.”

“Well, I doubt he hates us enough to ruin his record.” Jacob stirred his coffee one more time and took a sip. Perfect. “You check the back room in the lab?”

“Back room? We have a back room?”

Jacob snorted. “Yeah, but it’s not nearly as creepy as you made it sound. It’s just where they do forensic stuff. Blood spatter pattern analysis and shit like that. I’ve heard the guy’s great at that, so if I had to guess, he’s not late, he’s just analyzing.”

“Let’s go find out.”

Jacob watched Carter walk out of the break room. He shrugged to himself and followed his partner down to the lab. Jacob had gotten so used to people at the station coming and going that he hadn’t really thought much of having another new coworker, but it seemed to be clawing at everyone else’s nerves, Carter’s included. So far, everyone he had talked to wanted to know what Bo was doing, where he was, and where he came from. It was a constant dull roar of questions and concerns. Jacob couldn’t wait for that to die down.

Jacob knocked on the door at the back of the lab. A moment later, Bo opened the door, one red-stained glove held in his spotless gloved hand. “What can I do for you?”

“Was just looking for ya.” Jacob nodded to the slab of ballistics gel on the table behind Bo. “Whatcha up to?”

“Analysis.” Bo pulled off his other glove and tossed them both into the trash. “I was trying to find a match for the blade used on Tess Brown’s throat. I’ve come to the conclusion it was likely a tanto-point partially serrated five-inch blade.” He reached back and grabbed one of the knives from the metal tray near the table. “Much like this one.”

“A damn pocket knife?” Carter asked.

Bo lifted his shoulders. “Generally speaking, when you’re planning to slit someone’s throat, you plan to carry something… concealable. Most people don’t carry around a, say, bowie knife or machete just in case they need to kill someone.” He scratched his cheek. “Quiet honestly, it’s only in movies where a pocket knife is a surprising choice of weaponry for this kind of homicide.”

“Fair point, Austen,” Jacob said. He leaned back away from the doorway, eyes scanning the rest of the lab.

“I did some cleaning,” Bo said before Jacob could ask. “Your analysts are a bit messy, and I… work better in a tidier environment. I’m not quite sure how they ever got anything done in here,” he added, his voice much quieter than before. He cleared his throat. “Is there anything else I can do for you, Detectives?”

“No, that’s all. But since we’re here—have you had breafast?”

Bo nodded. “Thank you for asking, though. I’m just going to clean up my work here and do a bit more digging. A pocket knife is a fact of the case, but it isn’t necessarily helpful. I’d like to find something more useful than that if I can.”

“Sounds like a plan. Thanks, Austen,” Jacob said.

Bo nodded an watched the two detectives leave the lab. He closed the door, grabbed his earphones, which he had draped around his neck when Jacob had knocked, and pushed them back into his ears. He pressed the play button hanging on the wire of the right earphone. As a violin cover of some popular song started playing, some of the tension he’d harbored during his short conversation with the detectives drained from his shoulders.

There had been a time when classical music or piano covers had been his choice of working music. After he worked the Ammut case with Kathy and Dallas, any music with a piano anywhere in the instrumental was haunting. Ammut had stolen the hearts of her victims and used piano instrumentals on loop within the house to call the police to the scene. That hadn’t quite ruined classical music for him, but when Kathy and Dallas had run away, their connection to him and the Ammut case had been enough to damn classical music to its own hell for him.

Bo let out a breath, closing his eyes for a moment. What was or wasn’t ruined for him didn’t matter. What he had or hadn’t needed to adapt to since Dallas fled didn’t matter. What mattered was that he had a job to do. He had a case he could work on. He had information he could find.

He could be useful again. That was all that mattered.

12:00 PM; MINNESOTA, THE SURGEON’S HOUSE, BASEMENT

A young man came down the stairs, a plate in each hand. Cleo stood and grabbed the bars of the cell door, watching as he bent down to slide the plates under the doors. As he rose back to his feet, his green eyes met Cleo’s. Unlike the older man’s eyes, there was no love or compassion staring back at her. He seemed… sad.

Without a word, he turned around and headed back for the stairs.

Once the door at the top of the staircase had shut and the lock had clicked back into place, Cleo asked, “Have you seen him often?”

“No,” Natalie said quietly. “Just, umm… just one other time. When he kidnapped me.”

3:47 PM; CLINSTONE POLICE DEPARTMENT, MORGUE

Bo had tried to take his notes in the lab—he really had—but he’d eventually ended up in the morgue anyway. He had always taken notes in the lab when he’d worked with Dallas and Kathy, and for now, that fact was one that needed to change. Switching things up almost made him feel in control of his own life again.

After going through more of his notebooks than he could easily keep track of, Bo was certain he had ruled out the possibility of a copycat killer here in Clinstone. While some aspects lined up with those in other killings, nothing from the Clinstone case hit every point on any of the cases he had in his notebooks. He had another notebook or two he could go through, just to make sure, and he planned on spending his night that way once he got home.

Staying up all night to work on a case meant he was useful, and that made him feel good. He’d milk that feeling for as long as he possibly could.

4:02 PM; MINNESOTA, THE SURGEON’S HOUSE, UPSTAIRS OFFICE

He sat behind his desk, the younger man seated across from him. Clearing his throat, the older man laid out four pictures on his desk, all of them of women. The young man looked over them twice before selecting the third image from the left.

The older man nodded and swapped the pictures out for four new ones. The young man scanned them like before and touched a finger to the second image from the left. Again, the older man nodded. “That’s all I have for now. I’m still looking, though. I want everything to be… perfect.”

“We’ll get there. I’ll be on the lookout too, and if I see anyone… Well, I’ll let you know. But we’ll get there. Everything will be perfect. We’ll get there.”

7:30 PM; CLINSTONE, BO AUSTEN’S HOUSE, KITCHEN

Bo stood in front of the stove, stirring the pan of shrimp and pasta scampi—minus the sauce—one last time. He lifted the pan off the stove and scooped a small portion onto a plate. Setting the pan back on the stove, he added red pepper, fresh chives, garlic, and scampi sauce. He stirred it all in and allowed it to sit over the heat again to warm up the final ingredients.

He fanned a hand over the plate on the counter. When he was certain it had cooled down enough, he set it on the floor for Acamas. Human foods were only a small piece of her caloric intake every day, but he still loved preparing foods he could include in her diet. It made his ability to cook feel a bit more useful. He turned off the heat and scooped his own portion out of the pan. Plate in hand, he headed for the dining room. He slid into one of the hard wooden chairs and set his plate down.

Pulling his notebook closer, he grabbed his pen and clicked it three times. He added a new bullet point to Jacob’s page.

  • Less standoffish than the others

Bo let out a breath and pushed the notebook away from himself. He hadn’t yet been able to place what it was about him that so deeply bothered the people at the station. That he’d worked with a serial killer, been best friends with a serial killer. That he’d worked for Jamal Pitman. That he’d graduated high school and college early. That he’d been cutting up corpses and photographing them for the majority of his life.

There were so many options, so many possibilities. If he tried to work through them all, it’d surely drive him insane. He planned to avoid that exact outcome for as long as he could. He’d come close to the brink while working to catch Dallas and Kathy, and if he could avoid ever getting that close to losing himself again, that was what he’d aim to do.

Bo scratched his cheek before swapping out his notebook for the case file. He’d flipped through it and taken notes on everything within about a dozen times, but nothing new had revealed itself.

Most killers were comfortable killing people their own age. There were obvious exceptions, but killers often picked an age range and stuck to it. Ripping the life from people of the same age over and over again made it normal, safe. Comfortable. Tess Brown had turned forty-four last November. It was likely the killer was in their forties too. Forty to forty-nine, maybe.

Bo flipped through his notes until he found the sticky note he had been using to take down his tentative notes on the killer.

Unnamed Killer

  • no HM
  • Caring methodology, no S or P
  • RSK
  • UKP or IDP

At the bottom of the list, he added a new bullet:

  • PAG: 40 to 49

After a moment of consideration, he added one more:

  • MLG: MK

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Surgeon – Chapter Four

NOT EDITED

Chapter Four

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.”

“Thank you.”

“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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Surgeon – Chapter Three

NOT EDITED

Chapter Three

11:45 AM; CLINSTONE POLICE DEPARTMENT, MORGUE

Bo stared down at Tess Brown’s body, half a frown set deeply on his face. Unless testing revealed something that was otherwise undetectable, the autopsy had brought forth little of interest. There had been nothing strange or abnormal in the woman’s stomach. He hadn’t found signs of chloroform in her throat. He hadn’t found any obvious signs of injection, so as far as Bo could tell, she hadn’t been drugged. But he’d run more extensive tests, just to make sure.

The potential for drugging aside, there were a few things he was absolutely certain of. She hadn’t eaten anything in at least the last six to eight hours leading up to her death. There were no signs of physical or sexual abuse. Really, she hadn’t even been harmed, if one didn’t count the large laceration of her throat. That hadn’t been done to harm her; it had been done to kill her. In most situations, Bo tallied the two in distinctly different categories.

Shaking his head, Bo finished moving Tess Brown’s body from the autopsy table to a drawer in the morgue. He pulled off his gloves and slid a tag with BROWN, TESSA written on it into the nameplate on the face of the drawer. With a fresh pair of gloves on, he set to work on cleaning the autopsy table.

Watching the woman’s blood swirl down the drain in the table, he couldn’t help but think how disturbed the detectives upstairs would be if they knew how little this all affected him. How he could cut these people open, weigh their organs, check for signs of assault or poisoning, and stitch them back up without feeling much of anything at all. There had been a time where he had felt connected to the victims he worked on, a time where he’d felt connected to their stories.

But that seemed like a lifetime ago. Every wall he had torn down over the years had been built up again the moment it had come out that his best friend was a serial killer. The walls had gotten taller and thicker the longer Dallas Silver had been gone, the longer Bo had been forced to sit in the basement of the LAPD and search every database he could in an attempt to find Dallas and Kathy. The walls had protected him the best they could, and he had no intention of ever bringing them down again.

He tossed his gloves and washed his hands. He grabbed his notebook and tape recorder from the metal tool tray and sat down in the corner of the morgue, on the floor. If he stood up and walked three feet to his right, he could open a door and step straight into the lab, where there was a large table perfect for note-taking. But he had always taken notes in the lab when he had worked with Dallas and Kathy, and things needed to change. Change was the best way to avoid memories, and avoiding was what had to be done if he had any hope of surviving.

He pulled back the red cover of his notebook. He’d pulled it fresh out of the package that morning before he’d left the hotel. Brand new, free of any notes about cases in Los Angeles, cases he’d worked with Dallas, cases he’d worked with Kathy. It was a blank slate.

Leaving the header blank, he skipped the first line and wrote Tess Brown’s name on the second line. He underlined her name and went about making notes of the crime scene. She had been found in a dumpster outside of the emergency room in Clinstone. The laceration had been six inches in length. It appeared to have started on her left, the blade pulled to the right.

He moved onto the autopsy. The lack of stomach contents. The lack of anything suspicious. No notes or signatures tucked away in her throat or in her clothes. The weight of her organs. The health of them. For the most part, the slit throat had been one of the few indications she’d been dead at all.

Bo closed the notebook, tucking his blue pen neatly into the spiral that bound the pages together. He set the book on the floor at his right and picked up a blue notebook from the pile on his left. He pulled back the cover and, with a fresh black pen, wrote Jacob Mason’s name on the header of the page.

Jacob Mason

He flipped the page, wrote Carter Lehmann’s name in the header.

Carter Lehmann

A new page.

Myra Cooper

Bo glanced up at the ceiling before closing the notebook. He hadn’t been present when the detectives had gone inside and interviewed the person who had found Tess Brown’s body. As far as he could remember, he had no other names he needed to write down.

When it came to this particular method of madness, there was a reason for it. Keeping tabs on every single person he met in Clinstone, Minnesota would keep him from ever making the same kind of mistakes he had made in Los Angeles. He would never let anyone into his personal circle ever again. He would never befriend a serial killer again.

12:23 PM; CLINSTONE POLICE DEPARTMENT, DETECTIVE JACOB MASON’S DESK

Jacob looked up as Bo stopped in front of his desk. He closed the folder in front of him and waved a hand toward one of the chairs between Bo and the desk. The other was occupied by Carter. “Austen, hey. Sit.”

Bo forced a smile. “I’m all right with standing, sir. If that’s all right with you.” He handed a folder to Jacob before passing the other to Carter. Clearing his throat, he retreated to a safer distance, about a foot and a half in front of the desk and a good chair and a half away from Carter.

“Jesus Christ, Lemon, the dude’s got even nicer handwriting than you do. Never thought I’d see the day,” Jacob said. Carter only snorted.

Bo tucked his hands behind his back, making a mental note to add ‘nice handwriting’ to Carter’s list once he returned to the morgue. Bo’s handwriting had always been… neat, borderline mechanical. In school, his teachers had compared it to the text on a computer. It took time and a bit of finger cramping, but it was worth the pleasant readability.

“That’s everything I know about Tess Brown,” Bo said with a slight nod toward the folder in Jacob’s hands. “She was killed December thirty-first around eleven PM. Before she was killed, she was chloroformed. Aside from the chloroform, I found no other drugs or foreign substances within her system, though I am still running further tests on her blood just to make sure I didn’t miss anything. She also hadn’t eaten anything in at least six to eight hours before she was killed. You can determine how important you consider that factor.”

Bo cleared his throat before continuing, “Tess Brown was reported missing on December twenty-third by her boyfriend, and said boyfriend died on the twenty-seventh. Because her boyfriend is dead, Tess Brown has no other family you need to contact. He was all she had left.”

Jacob and Carter shared a quick glance before looking back at Bo. “It’s… impressive you found all that in a couple of hours,” Jacob said after a moment. “Not to mention that you had time to write it down for us. That’s appreciated.”

“It’s… what I do,” Bo said slowly. He swallowed, ticking off yet another thing he had already screwed up in Clinstone. He should have taken less time, presented them with less information, done less work. Something. Anything other than what he had done. “It’s my job.”

Jacob set the folder on his desk and leaned back in his chair, crossing his arms over his chest. He raised a brow. “Tell me, kid, you sure that’s all you know about the girl?”

Bo found it a little odd that Jacob called him ‘kid’. He knew the detective was only about four years older than him. More specifically, three years and three months older. He assumed one of two things made Jacob feel older than he was: a new baby in the family—presumably the ‘Charlotte’ he had talked about on the phone, or the ‘Allie’ he had talked to was older than he was.

“About the girl?” Bo asked. “As in, the victim? Tess Brown. Yes, I’m sure that’s all I know. But I have profiled a few likely things about your killer.”

“Profiled?” Jacob echoed.

“You guys… don’t typically profile?” Jacob asked.

“Not in-house.”

“Oh,” Bo whispered. One more thing that makes you stick out like a sore thumb, Austen. Three for three. Are you sure you were aiming for NORMAL in this town? Bo shifted his weight between his feet. “I… I suppose I have a surprise for you, then. More than likely, Tess Brown is not the first person this killer has killed. There are no hesitation marks on the throat laceration. There are no practice marks anywhere else on the body.

“Despite this, it would seem that the killer doesn’t want their victims to feel any pain. They took chloroform to Tess Brown, and once she was unconscious, they slit her throat. She bled out incredibly quickly, as the killer made sure to hit her carotid artery, which is… essentially an off switch built into your throat. The killer knows what they’re doing, and they know how to do it well.”

“But the dude doesn’t want the victim to feel pain,” Jacob said. “Why? What’s the point of killing people if you don’t get some sort of joy out of it?”

“Anything I could say on that matter would simply be an assumption.”

“Is there a problem with that?” Jacob asked.

In the long run, there wasn’t really a problem with assumptions, but it was one of the few Kathy-isms that Bo had allowed himself to keep. She had believed assumptions got in the way of solving a case. Which, in hindsight, was borderline hilarious, as most things a detective did were hunches or assumptions until it was proven beyond the shadow of a doubt that the killer really was the killer. But it was still something she always said, especially if it meant shutting someone up before they could inject an idea she couldn’t take credit for.

Maybe it wasn’t the best Kathy-ism to keep, but he unfortunately didn’t get to choose what stuck and what didn’t.

“I don’t enjoy injecting my own assumptions into a detective’s work,” Bo said.

“What if I give you permission to?” Jacob asked.

“No, thank you.”

Jacob snorted, but he nodded. “Fair enough.” He gestured to the folder. “Thank you for all the info on Tess.”

“My pleasure.” Bo waited a moment longer to confirm neither detective had anything more to say—to his face, at least—before turning around and starting back toward the lab. He still had a few things he wanted to check out in regards to the crime scene. He was absolutely certain Tess Brown hadn’t been killed there, but a closer inspection of the photos and collected evidence would help guarantee he didn’t pass over anything that could be used to determine where she had been killed.

The case in Clinstone was the first time in quite some time that he didn’t go with a detective to question witnesses or suspects. He’d done it with Dallas from the first day the man had joined the LAPD. He’d attended questionings and interviews before and after Dallas, as well. But… Clinstone was a fresh start. No one expected him to do much more than look at bodies and photograph crime scenes.

A labor-intensive task like a deep dive into the crime scene photographs was just what he needed to distract him from going back to simply being a lab geek, tucked away in the basement.


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Surgeon – Chapter Two

NOT EDITED

Chapter Two

8:32 AM; CLINSTONE EMERGENCY ROOM, ALLEYWAY

Admittedly, Bo found himself shocked at the crime scene alleyway. He’d ducked under the yellow tape at an uncountable number of Los Angeles back alley homicides, and there was always an unmistakable feel to them. In Los Angeles, even before you saw the body or the blood, you knew this was the perfect kind of alley to kill someone in. They were poorly lit, even when the sun was out. They came to a dead end to make escape impossible for the soon-to-be victim.

But the alley behind Clinstone’s ER was… different. The back door to the ER was well-labeled, and a motion-activated light sat above it. No camera, of course—it was never that easy—but the place didn’t exactly feel like a death trap. It felt almost… safe.

However, given that there was a woman dead in the dumpster with a slit throat, safe was certainly an incorrect assumption.

Camera in hand, Bo stepped up on the bottom lip of the dumpster and leaned over the top. The lid had most likely been open ever since the body had been found. It allowed him a good look inside, but it wasn’t a great angle for pictures. He lowered his camera. The left side of the dumpster was still closed. Surely he could get up there without too much trouble.

He swung a leg over the dumpster and climbed onto the lid, his camera pinned to his shoulder.

Jacob raised an eyebrow as Bo leaned down to snap a picture of the victim. “You are far agiler than Misty.”

Bo snorted. It had far more to do with balance than agility of any kind. It was more about figuring out how far apart his knees had to be so he could lean forward without falling into the dumpster and onto the body. But that knowledge could stay inside his head. He knew more than most how much others hated genuine explanations about ‘complex’ abstracts and ideas.

So he settled for a simple, “Thank you.”

“What’re you seeing in there?” Jacob asked.

Bo preferred keeping assumptions and guesses to himself, only giving the detectives absolute facts once he had completed an autopsy and thoroughly examined the crime scene. But unless fate or god or whatever the hell there was struck down the detectives with a freak lightning storm, he’d always be expected to list things off as he saw them, to make educated guesses based on those same sights. Though he didn’t enjoy it, he was used to it.

“Our victim was most likely killed by a throat laceration. There’s a substantial amount of bruising and blood around the cut, so it happened before her death rather than after. She was alive when it happened, just not for long afterward.” Bo held out his camera. “Detective Mason? Can you take this?”

Jacob walked up to the dumpster, but he made no move to grab it. “I don’t know much, but I know I’ve never been allowed to touch Misty or Gwen’s cameras. You sure you want me to do that?”

Bo offered a smile. “I have faith that you can handle it.”

“Well, if I drop it, it’s totally on you.”

“That’s fine. I have no intention of suing you over a broken camera.” Bo gave the body of said expensive camera a light shake. “So?”

Jacob grabbed it and quickly lifted the strap over his head. “This is fucking heavy, man. How the hell are you toting it around while you’re balancing on a dumpster?”

Calculations of what it took to balance with the extra weight of the camera weren’t hard for Bo to run through. He knew how much his camera weighed with the addition of the external flash and his lens. He knew the force of gravity and what kind of angle he needed to help counteract it. Most importantly, he knew the width of the base–how far apart his feet were–he needed to balance. For Bo, it was practically second nature.

“I’ve had my fair share of practice,” Bo said. He pulled his phone from his pocket and dropped to his stomach on the garbage lid. He grabbed the victim’s hand and pressed her thumb against the home button on his phone. Slowly, he rolled her thumb across it, left to right. He carefully lowered her hand to rest against her stomach and pushed himself back up. He swung both legs over the dumpster’s edge, balancing himself on the thin lip of the dumpster.

“Austen, be careful. Please.”
Bo glanced down at Jacob. “I’ll be okay, Detective, I promise.” His eyes shifted back to his phone. “This here is Tess Brown. Five-eleven, blonde hair, green eyes, turned forty-four on the fifth of November.”

Carter raised an eyebrow. “Did you just do that on your phone?”

Dammit. Bo closed his eyes for a moment. This wasn’t Los Angeles. This was Clinstone. This was his fresh start. And he’d already ruined it. “Yes,” he finally said.

How?”

Bo held up his phone and offered a quiet, “The home button has a fingerprint sensor.” That wasn’t quite it. It did have a sensor, but only because he’d modified it to, only because he’d programmed it to send the fingerprint data to an app he’d created years prior. It took the readings and rifled through the fingerprints in the police database, working overtime to sort through those that held the same loops, scars, deltas, ridge endings, islands, and bifurcations as the one that had been scanned. It had taken years to get right, just like his portable DNA identifier and his phone’s facial recognition scanner.

But that answer was long and offered an inside look straight into his brain, and he didn’t want to do that. He’d already screwed up by using the fingerprint reader now instead of once Tess Brown’s body had arrived at the morgue. He didn’t intend to mess up his fresh start any further.

Clearing his throat, Bo jumped down from the dumpster’s edge. “There’s an app that takes the data from the fingerprint scanner and runs it against those in the system.”

Jacob cocked his head to the side. “ ‘There’s an app’ because you created it. Right?”

Bo let out a breath, shoulders falling. “Yes, sir.”

“Christ, dude. Don’t be ashamed of that shit. That’s amazing.”

“Theoretically,” Bo said after a moment. He shoved his phone into his back pocket and took his camera from Jacob. “I’d like to document the scene further while we wait for the coroner to arrive. Then we can get her back to the morgue, and I can see what I can get from there. It’ll be easier to get an idea of what happened once she’s… not in a dumpster.”

Jacob watched him for a moment, but he didn’t ask any further questions as Bo had feared he would. Instead, he nodded. “Okay. Lemon and I will head to the barricades and let you work in peace.” He jerked a thumb over his shoulder, toward the end of the alleyway. “If you need anything, holler. Sound good?”

For the first time in what felt like years, Bo’s shoulders relaxed. “Sounds perfect.”

Once Carter and Jacob had relocated to the other end of the alley, Bo felt at peace, in his element. What felt like a lifetime ago, he had worked almost exclusively surrounded by people. A detective, a beat cop, the chief, another analyst. It had always felt like someone was looking over his shoulder, waiting for him to mess up, waiting for their chance to prove he didn’t belong there. But here, even though he’d screwed up and used his fingerprint scanner out in the field in front of the detectives, they had simply… left him alone. Unsupervised. Heck, they were so far away that Bo could only just barely make out what Jacob was saying about lunchtime. Maybe Clinstone, Minnesota was far enough away from California to be different. Maybe it still had a chance to be the breath of fresh air he needed.


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