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.
“I’m going to sue that son-of-a-bitch!”
Grimacing, Katie opened the door to Aggi’s hotel suite, dodging a thrown tabloid. Discarded newsprint covered the cream and tan leather sofa as well as the white carpeting. I’ve told her not to read the gossip rags. Her sister paced up and down in front of the floor to ceiling windows, ignoring the spectacular view of San Diego’s harbor glinting in the noon sunlight.
One of the self-proclaimed Princesses of Pop, Aggi looked the part even when in a full-blown tantrum mode. Long, thick blond curls, natural in both fullness and color, tall and slender, with big green eyes, she’d been gracing the covers of magazines since her teenage years. Unfortunately, the photo under yesterday’s headline was considerably less flattering. Katie silently held out a bright pink travel mug to her sister.
“Thank God you’re here. You need to do your magic, and make this go away.” Aggi grabbed the mug before anxiously peering inside. “You made certain the place uses all organic ingredients, right?”
Mentally crossing her fingers, Katie nodded. Aggi adored strawberry smoothies, but was very particular about the taste and ingredients. Rather than searching to find acceptable smoothie options in every city, Katie had begun making them herself. She picked up organic strawberries, yogurt, milk, vanilla, and a few other items to blend in her own hotel room. One more road-smoothing task taken care of without Aggi ever being the wiser.
Aggi kicked the discarded tabloid. “I want you to call Patrick, and start the lawsuit.”
“You can’t get upset at everything they print.” Katie picked up the scattered pages. It was a rare day when Aggi’s name didn’t appear in the gossip media. Being a pop culture phenomenon extracted a price in personal privacy.
“He said we had a threesome.” Aggi hissed.
AGGI GETS KINKI! TREVOR STANISLOV SHARES ALL THE SEXY DETAILS! Katie recognized the name with a sinking feeling. Ten years ago, Trevor had been one of the non-threatening poster boys on a popular tween series. Since then, he’d failed to transition into adult stardom. He and Aggi had broken up last week after dating for six months.
“I catch him boning one of his little superfans, and suddenly I’m the one who’s a deviant?” Aggi dropped the travel mug, and flung herself onto the couch, arms thrown dramatically over her eyes.
“There’s nothing wrong with a threesome.” Katie picked up the still-sealed mug, and tossed the newspaper into the recycling bin. “It’s not even pushing the envelope these days.”
“The problem starts when a good chunk of my fan base is thirteen to eighteen year old girls.” Aggi dropped her arm to glare. “I don’t need their mothers deciding I’m a bad role model.”
“I’ll drop a few words in the right ears about how Trevor used you to jump-start his stalled acting career. Trust me, it’ll be more effective than a lawsuit. Sue him, and people will wonder if he’s telling the truth.” Katie ran down her mental list of local reporters. Exclusive interviews and VIP passes should generate a sympathetic spin. She pulled out her phone, and fired off a quick email to the top prospect.
“Do you really think he was just using me?” The question didn’t come from Aggi the brand, it was from Agatha, her sister.
Yes. Katie had no doubts. She remembered how often Trevor had casually suggested leaking date plans to the paparazzi. Or pestered her to give him the contact information for entertainment industry professionals. But she couldn’t be the one to tell Aggi. Not when her optimistically-blinded sister had been deeply infatuated with the handsome actor. Luckily, Katie was pragmatic and cynical enough for both of them. She kept her relationships casual, ensuring both parties knew what they were getting into. Falling in love is too exhausting. Unwilling to hurt her sister’s feelings, Katie chose her reply carefully. “He got kicked off the set last month because he failed his drug test. He’s probably trying to distract the media.”
“He said he went to those anonymous meetings.” Aggi sighed, and took the travel mug from Katie again. This time, she opened the lid and drank, rather than using it as a prop. “Do you think that’s why he cheated on me? Because he was high?”
“It probably didn’t help his judgment,” Katie hedged, not wanting her sister to hope for a reconciliation. “But talking to the tabloids isn’t a sign of maturity.”
“You’re right. You always are. Your boyfriends never give you trouble. I should make you pick out the next guy I date.” Aggi straightened up. “Mmm, this is delicious. Okay, we’re moving on from depressing topics. You have to talk to Annabelle about the catsuit for Watch the Claws, it feels like it’s going to tear during the high kicks.”
Katie sent an email to the costume designer. “Done. The new lights arrived yesterday. I’ll do a walk-through to make sure the stage is set up properly for tonight.”
“Have Nadia and her team do a full rehearsal of act three once it’s up. I don’t want anyone flipping off the end of the walkway.” Aggi took another long drink. “Jezzy nearly gave me a heart attack in Tucson.”
I remember. She’d already spoken with the dancers about being more careful, and arranged for an extra rehearsal. Her phone buzzed. “Razel Cummings says she’d be interested in covering backstage to demonstrate what you’re really like.”
“Which one is Razel again?”
“She’s highly acclaimed for her work on feminist matters, making her perfect for the Hear Me Roar tour.” Katie admired Razel’s documentaries and essays. Add in her position as a regular talking head on a number of networks along with a prominent social media personality, and it all seemed perfect. “She wants exclusive access for the next week.”
“Can’t I set something up with the cute reporter from New York? He was so sweet when we talked, and I’m single now.” Aggi leaned in to examine her make-up free face in the mirror over the dressing table. “We’d look adorable together.”
Katie bit back an indulgent smile. “No.”
“I wouldn’t sleep with him or anything. I just think it would be a nice ego boost to have a handsome man paying attention to me.” Aggi pulled her blond curls into a ponytail.
“Hear Me Roar’s point was to hire as many women as possible to bring attention to the sexist practices in the entertainment industry.” The two of them had gone over the arguments for months before deciding.
“I wish it didn’t have to be this way.” Aggi stubbornly clung to the idea that merit should be enough.
“If it helps, remember we’re showcasing a lot of talented women, which gives their careers a boost.” Katie picked up another batch of discarded papers. “Or do I have to start reciting the names of our friends who have dropped out of this industry?”
“No, I get it,” Aggi said sadly. Her fingers twisted around the travel mug, squeaking softly against the plastic. They both personally knew women who had faced intimidation and harassment. They’d heard the whispered warnings, and watched promising careers suddenly disappear.
Katie dropped her load of smudged newsprint. Once she’d convinced Aggi to throw her celebrity weight behind the cause of equality, there hadn’t been any doubt of her sister’s commitment.
“Okay. If you think it’s the right move, give her exclusive access.” Aggi leaned her head against Katie’s shoulder. Ever since they were children, Aggi needed physical contact while she worked through her emotions. “I promise not to do anything dramatic about Trevor even if it’s really, really tempting.”
“I’ll take care of everything. Two weeks from now, no one will even remember. We’ve been through worse.” Katie gave her sister a big squeeze. They’d both given up a lot for Aggi’s career. Sometimes a reminder of how far they’d come helped keep them both going.
“Okay.” Aggi stood up to begin her stretching routine. “Oh, what happened with the package yesterday? Did you figure out where it came from?”
Katie’s contentment vanished like the sun disappearing behind clouds. Finding that box in her dressing room still sparked a prickly twinge in her gut. No one should have been able to enter her private space, even in a temporary location. They paid a great deal for private security on top of the usual venue arrangements.
“The dress is gorgeous. Is it a new designer?” Aggi asked.
Katie hadn’t wanted to worry her sister, but they needed to take the incident seriously. “I called the police.”
“What? Why?” Her sister stopped in mid-stretch.
“I received some inappropriate messages through social media. At first. I thought they were from a fan with a boundary issue, and I did the usual pass off to our press liaison. The dress came from the same fan. And not through a delivery service. He must have dropped it off himself.” Despite her efforts to stay calm, Katie couldn’t help shivering.
Aggi’s eyes were round and wide. “How could he get inside? Or figure out which room was yours?”
“I don’t know. But I’ve made sure it won’t happen again.” She’d spent hours talking with their security team. On their recommendation, she’d bought a set of expensive locks and monitors online. Reminding herself of the new precautions calmed the fluttering sense of vulnerability. “The prep area will only be accessible through a scanned keycard. Extra security has been assigned to monitor exits and entries. I’ve confirmed the hotel only allows access to this floor with a room key. You and I are the only ones staying here. Everyone else is on the two levels below. All secure.”
“What about when Mom arrives later? She’s always losing hotel keys.”
“The concierge will escort her to the floor. Every time.” Katie watched carefully for a reaction. If Aggi agreed, the two of them could appeal to Bernice’s ego and VIP vanity to ensure she accepted the new measures.
Aggi’s lips thinned. “And you think that’s enough?”
“The police are looking into the package. Our people know to watch out for anyone suspicious. In a few weeks, this will be a thrilling story to share with our friends.” If she said the words often enough, maybe they would come true. “Which reminds me, we need to get downstairs for the afternoon workout with Stinging Butterfly.”
Their personal trainer did not tolerate tardiness. Katie had already quietly talked to her about brushing up on some self-defense training. Mom always insisted on training me how to defend myself, no matter what. If this Walter planned to bully his way past her, he was sorely mistaken.
A costume and a folded piece of paper weren’t obvious threats, but Katie wasn’t naïve enough to assume this man was harmless, or that he would stop at unwanted gifts. Once the cops found him, she would press charges, and it would all be over. But even while she reassured herself, the skin on the back of her neck crawled as if she were trapped in someone’s cross-hairs.
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.