Jennifer Carole Lewis
(A Special Investigations Case File, #1)
Published by: Soul Mate Publishing
Publication date: October 23rd 2019
Genres: Adult, Paranormal, Romance, Suspense
How can anyone protect themselves from a serial killer who can make someone forget they ever saw him? In a world where superpowers are very real, that’s where the Investigators of the Bureau of Special Investigations come in.
When songwriter and manager Katie Ballard first began getting letters, she thought they were just another example of the fan mail that has been pouring in ever since her sister Aggi first became the Princess of Pop. With a global concert tour to run and a sharp eye out for those who seek to take advantage of Aggi’s wealth and celebrity, Katie dismisses her secretive admirer until Investigators from Special Investigations arrive on her doorstep.
Investigator Ben Morgan’s life is all about his work, protecting both those who have powers and ordinary citizens from one another. But from the moment he takes this case, he finds himself distracted by the cool, competent manager being targeted by one of the most infamous serial killers of the last decade. He’ll need all of his renowned expertise and ability to think outside the box if he hopes to keep her alive.
For Katie, Ben might be one of the most attractive men she’s ever met but having her life turned upside down is hardly the way she wanted to begin a romance. She might be used to handling everything on her own, but she will have to trust Ben as a protector and with her heart.
Together they’ll fight to keep Katie alive and out of the hands of a man who thinks the best way to get a happily ever after is to make sure there’s no tomorrow.
“What was the ‘small gift’?” Investigator Ben Morgan asked his boss as he and his partner read through the case file. He sometimes missed the simplicity of his life before joining Special Investigations. Back then, he could assume anyone who talked to voices in their head needed a psych eval. Once the world found out superpowers were real, it changed everything in law enforcement. If an individual could transform into an animal or bend metal with their bare hands, then anything could be possible.
“A blue silk evening dress, hand-sewn and fitted to the target.” Director Henry Delacroix closed the door. As he returned to his desk, he rolled up the sleeves of white dress shirt to reveal forearms covered in wiry black hair. “The unsub left it backstage in Miss Ballard’s dressing room at their concert in Tucson, along with the handwritten note.”
“How very brash.” Investigator Ray Corwin shook his head in mock dismay. “He’s in complete violation of stalker etiquette. A gift like that should be saved for after the second restraining order.”
Ben hid a smile, keeping his gaze focused on the old-fashioned rows of file cabinets lining the walls of Delacroix’s office. His partner might be new to Special Investigations, but he did not lack confidence to share his opinions. There were lots of rumors about the man ruffling high-ranking feathers back in the FBI. Something we have in common. He had learned to respect Ray’s keen insight.
Delacroix’s mouth twitched, the tiny smile appearing and disappearing almost too quickly to register.
Ben checked the file again, reading the first two letters. Both were short, only a few sentences. They seemed like ordinary fan mail. “How were these two sent?”
“Social media accounts. Each set up right before the messages were sent and shut down immediately after the reply. No way to trace them.” Delacroix tapped the folder resting on his battered metal desk. “The FBI thinks it might be the Director.”
Shit. He remembered the serial killer’s name from his own days at the Bureau. Eight women stalked and killed in the last ten years. Ben hated using lurid names, preferring the generic term unsub, an abbreviation for unknown subject. This unsub sent his target letters and gifts before kidnapping and killing them. He then posed their bodies in elaborate settings and costumes. Even Ray stilled at the dropped name. The Director held the honor of being one of the most terrifying serial killers currently operating in the United States.
“There’s a concern the unsub may be an occulata hominum.” Delacroix rattled off the Latin term smoothly. He came down hard on any Investigator who used the slang insult loocy to describe those with supernatural powers. “We’ve been asked to consult and determine how the unsub has been able to evade capture despite some very slick operations. This is our chance to show why Special Investigations should be allowed to continue our work.”
At its creation three years ago, the Bureau of Special Investigations had attracted a large number of bigots and bullies. They used the badge to boost their own egos and stoke their own hatred. The agency was still trying to purge the bad apples from their ranks while also struggling to cope with every hint of paranormal activity and every weirdo with delusions of comic-book grandeur.
Ben had joined Special Investigations immediately after the Jackson Square incident, determined to make certain these newly revealed powers didn’t allow their users to escape the law. He’d heard rumors that Delacroix had been one of the FBI’s Little Green Men and Tinfoil Hat file chasers. People dismissed Delacroix as a conspiracy nut, but they were absolutely wrong. His boss treated every investigation with meticulous care and an unwavering focus on the evidence. Ben followed the same track. “What about the target?”
Delacroix handed them a glossy magazine to add to the file. “Katherine Ballard.”
A pretty, scantily-clad blonde stared regally from the cover. Ben didn’t recognize her, despite the name AGGI helpfully spelled out in big letters along with a promise to share her trade secrets for staying fit and keeping grounded.
If this is the same unsub, a one name pop star isn’t his typical target. A picture inside the magazine caught his attention. The same blond woman from the cover, laughing with her arms around a young woman with dark red hair caught up in a practical ponytail that did nothing to hide her heart-shaped face or big eyes. She caught Ben’s eye more than the practiced glamor of the blonde. The redhead wasn’t looking at the camera, but her brilliant smile shone through the lens. Ben frowned. “The caption says they’re sisters.”
“Technically, they’re stepsisters,” Ray said. “Aggi’s mother married Katie’s father when they were both young. They call each other sisters. Referring to them as stepsisters really pisses them off.”
Delacroix and Ben both stared at him in surprise.
Ray clucked his tongue to express disbelief. “Aggi has been the hottest musical act in town for the last five years. How have the two of you missed her?”
“Katherine is Aggi’s manager and business partner,” Delacroix explained.
“And she writes songs for a lot of top-forty artists, including Aggi.” Ray turned his focus back to the magazine photo. “It’s hard not to sympathize with the Director. Aggi is wearing her own brand of workout gear, while Katie chooses an oversized T-shirt and leggings? The girl practically cries out for a proper stylist.”
His partner’s comment hit Ben like a spark hitting an unexpected pocket of gasoline fumes, threatening an unprofessional eruption. Luckily his boss wasn’t about to let the commentary stand.
Delacroix glared at his latest recruit. “Keep your opinions on her personal choices to yourself.”
Ben sucked in a deep breath. It wasn’t like him to be so unsettled this early in a case. He’d been up late finishing a report for Denver PD about an arsonist with suspected paranormal abilities. Maybe I need more sleep.
“The FBI suspects the unsub could be an occulata,” Delacroix continued. “He’s not a criminal mastermind. He leaves trace evidence and DNA. But no one has been able to get close to him.”
“Any clues on what powers this guy might have?” Ben realized he was running a fascinated finger along the edge of the next picture featuring the unsub’s target. Even in a simple T-shirt and leggings, she carried herself with an air of competence and confidence. A woman who probably bulldozed through most obstacles. She’d ignored the first two messages, but alerted the authorities immediately when the sender crossed a boundary. She wasn’t easily frightened or intimidated. Making her even more vulnerable to someone like this unsub. The realization hit him like a stab to the gut. They had less than a week to find and stop the unsub before the body count went up another notch.
“No idea on powers. Which is why I’m putting the two of you on the case.” Delacroix’s dark eyes fixed on him. “Ben, you know the most about the different types of powers. Ray, you have a talent for getting information no one else can. Together, two of you are the best I have at getting to the right conclusions on the slimmest data, aside from Investigator Adler.”
“And she won’t leave with a class in progress,” Ben finished.
“Her loss is our celebrity gain. When do we leave?” Ray asked brightly.
“Your plane leaves in two hours. Good luck, gentlemen.”
Ben stood up at Delcroix’s dismissal. The familiar surge of anticipation loosened his muscles and sharpened his mind. This assignment held more of a challenge than going around to local precincts to deliver be-tolerant-but-careful lectures about what could be lurking on their streets. The prospect of a real hunt against an adversary who’d already made a fool of top-level law enforcement promised a satisfying challenge.
They left Delacroix’s office and jogged down two flights of stairs. Ray hesitated at the bottom landing. “I suppose there’s hardly time to stop at home and pick up my albums for Aggi to sign.”
“Just tell me your go-bag is ready this time.” Ben walked rapidly through the utilitarian lobby and shoved open the glass doors, eager to begin the case. They’d need at least an hour to reach the airport, and while federal officers might get to speed through security, no one would be holding the plane for them.
“One trip being forced to wear off-the-rack was deterrent enough.” Ray gave an elaborate shudder as they crossed the parking lot. “My luggage is waiting in the car.”
Ben couldn’t decide if his partner actually had money, or only liked to pretend he did. Distinguishing between the high-end designers and Walmart wasn’t one of his skills. His own go-bag held two changes of clothing, an extra sweater, decent hiking boots and his assigned weapons. Everything fit in a moderately sized gym bag with room to spare.
“Come on, partner, aren’t you the least bit excited?” Ray’s smile held more than a hint of mischief as he lifted two large suitcases out of the trunk of his sleek black luxury car. “We’re going behind the scenes into the glamorous world of rock and roll. Or at least pop and party. It could be a chance to break out of your enforced hermitage and meet some pretty young thing. I’ve heard the dancers with Aggi’s tour are impressively athletic.”
“Have you even heard of the term sexual harassment?” Ben gritted his teeth as his partner transferred the bags to the trunk of Ben’s battered sedan.
“Have I ever been less than professional in person?” Ray slid into the passenger seat, completely unruffled by his partner’s irritation.
Ben pulled the car into traffic. “Don’t I count as a person?”
“In the eyes of the law.” Ray grinned. “Trust me, I have a lot of experience in navigating boundaries. I would never push.”
He’s right. While his partner’s behavior sounded outrageous, he did seem to have a knack for setting people at ease. Peter could do that, too. His mind shied away from the memory.
“I’m a shameless flirt. It’s how I navigate the world and this job. I’m playing to my strengths,” Ray continued. “For you, the whole prematurely grumpy, crusty cynic thing works even if you aren’t much over thirty. The day-old stubble and shadows under your eyes are a method actor’s dream.”
Ben’s hands tightened around the leather-clad steering wheel. “This conversation has officially reached the uncomfortable and awkward silence stage.”
“It wouldn’t destroy your reputation to loosen up the teensiest bit. But I’m not about to judge.” Ray waved his hand in cheerful dismissal. “Your grumpiness won’t affect my ability to enjoy all of the beautiful men and women that are sure to be hanging around Aggi.”
“We’re there for the sister. Katherine.” Even as he spoke, Ben regretted snapping at his partner. Something about this case had triggered an aggressive protective instinct. He ignored the vivid image of the target’s face lingering in the back of his mind.
“Actually, we’re there as consultants,” Ray corrected. “To be wise and experienced teachers to the ignorant, not action heroes. Which is a shame, because I would look stunning walking away from an explosion in slow motion.”
Ben cracked a grin. “Are you ever serious?”
“I don’t expect you to break character on my account. You go on perfecting your bad cop, and I’ll enjoy performing all the other emotional roles.” Ray closed his eyes, effectively ending the conversation.
A small smile still clung stubbornly to Ben’s lips despite his best efforts to remain stern.
When he’d first met Ray Morgan, Ben had accepted the flippant surface for the truth. During their first assignment, he’d expected Ray to storm off in a huff when protesters identified them as Special Investigations, and began pelting them with garbage and insults. Ben had been prepared to restrain his partner, but to his surprise, Ray had simply wiped away the smelly remnants, apologized to the protesters on behalf of the agency, and left the scene. When Ben caught up to him, Ray explained his reasoning.
“They’re absolutely right. Special Investigations has done some horrible things. We’ve taken people out of their homes. We held them in that terrible camp up North without any chance of release. And we did it all because we were scared of people who were different.”
Ben hesitated. “Given how you feel, I’m surprised you joined the agency.”
“There’s still an important job to be done. The public needs a sense of safety, or else you’re likely to have riots and lynch mobs. If good people refuse to join Special Investigations because of its past, then it’s going to be filled with the wrong type of people to do the job.”
All in all, flamboyance and irreverence were a small price to pay for the reassurance of knowing he could trust his partner to make the right choice in a tough situation.
Ben grudgingly apologized. “I’ll do my best not to be a buzz-kill.”
“I’ll keep my stash of gold stars handy,” Ray replied, his eyes still closed, and his voice dry with sardonic amusement. “You’re not going to ruin my cheer today, no matter how much doom and gloom you insist on packing. We’re going to catch a serial killer who has eluded justice for a decade, hang out with music royalty, and enjoy some West Coast sun. You’ll see, it will all work out splendidly.”
Ben wished it could be so easy. Good guys win, bad guys lose, everyone goes home happy. But he’d already learned the hard-taught lesson of reality, nothing was guaranteed. Sometimes bad guys won, and good guys didn’t get to go home at all.
The Weird Way Your Brain Actually Works
I’m one of those people who get fascinated with figuring out how people’s minds and bodies work and while I was doing research for Deadly Potential, I found out some interesting facts about how our brains process information.
We tend to think of our senses as the equivalent of a camera, with perfect capture of the visual and audio around us. But we actually only process a small amount of what we take in, the rest is filled in by our memories and expectations. That’s why we can sometimes miss something that can seem completely obvious when we come back to it. (Like searching the fridge three times for those leftovers you were sure you put in there, only to find them sitting in the middle of the shelf when you look again.)
It leaves us vulnerable to overlooking potential signs of problems. We can fail to notice the hole in our shirt until we’re about to start the big business meeting. Or overlook the pothole in the sidewalk until we trip over the edge. Or miss seeing the dark form lurking off to the side while we hurry from our car to our home.
The other odd part about how our brains work is how we create long term memories. Memories are initially coded as short term, lasting only a few seconds unless the person makes an effort to remember or the memory has emotional weight (which is why we forget phone numbers five seconds after looking them up). If a memory isn’t transferred to long term memory, it vanishes.
That’s where the idea for my villain came from. We already have a tendency to overlook details we don’t consider important. What if a stalker could give his targets a psychic push to consider him a trivial detail? What if he could prevent long term memories from forming, effectively ensuring that no one would ever remember him? He could hide in plain sight, following his targets as closely as he wants.
It would take someone specially trained in dealing with psychics to know how to overcome such an advantage. This is the sort of thing my geek self adores, getting to figure out how various superpowers would really work. And it’s why I’m so excited about my Special Investigation Case Files series. I’m going to get to explore all kinds of supernatural abilities and showcase the dedicated people who are determined to protect the public from those who no one else can stop.
Character Interview: Ben Morgan
Interviewer: Begin recording. I’m speaking with Ben Morgan, who has applied for a position with the Bureau of Special Investigations. Why do you want this job?
Ben: Because things are changing rapidly and it’s important that we understand how these strange powers work. Especially after situations like the one last week.
Interviewer: You’re referring to the incident in Jackson Square, where an unidentified man transformed into a grizzly bear and then fought another unidentified man who appeared to have supernatural strength and speed, causing significant property damage. What would you have done differently if you’d been a part of Special Investigations?
Ben: I might not have been able to do anything different in the moment, but if we had understood how that man transformed, or what the other man’s strength was, we could have established an effective safe perimeter to evacuate civilians out of the danger zone. If we’d understood why they were fighting, we might have been able to find a peaceable solution to their dispute.
Interviewer: Some have claimed that it was a modern battle of superheroes, that one must have been a hero, while the other must have been a villain.
Ben: That’s too simplistic. People are people, no matter what abilities they have. We can’t lose sight of that and get caught up in the weirdness factor. These aren’t pulp fiction cutouts with masks and spandex costumes, they’re real people. And at the same time, people need to be held accountable for their actions, whether it’s smashing a neighbor’s car or a city block.
Interviewer: Do you expect ordinary individuals to be able to stand up to individuals who can bend steel with their bare hands?
Ben: It’s no different from facing a person with a gun or a bomb. The important thing is to look beyond the danger to the person wielding it. If you can connect on that level and prevent an attack, then it doesn’t matter what powers they have.
Interviewer: (sound of ruffling paper) Your brother died in the incident at Jackson Square.
Ben: That’s not relevant.
Interviewer: It is if you want revenge. We won’t help you with that.
Ben: What I want is to protect people and prevent them from losing their family. I don’t like the way these abilities are being demonized. Fear will only make the situation worse. There are already reports of confrontations, some of which have been deadly. Both sides are afraid. Those with abilities are being persecuted and will defend themselves. Those without abilities are pre-emptively striking because they feel vulnerable. The only way the violence will stop is if both sides believe that they will be protected. Ordinary citizens need to have faith that law enforcement can face those with powers. And those with powers need to know that they will be protected from bullies. And everyone needs to know that no one breaks the law with impunity.
Interviewer: Welcome to the Bureau of Special Investigations, Investigator Morgan.
Jennifer Carole Lewis is a full-time mom, a full-time administrator and a full-time writer, which means she is very much interested in speaking to anyone who comes up with any form of functional time-travel devices or practical cloning methods. Meanwhile, she spends her most of her time alternating between organizing and typing.
She is a devoted comic book geek and Marvel movie enthusiast. She spends far too much of her precious free time watching TV, especially police procedural dramas. Her enthusiasm outstrips her talent in karaoke, cross-stitch and jigsaw puzzles. She is a voracious reader of a wide variety of fiction and non-fiction and always enjoys seeking out new suggestions.