HALEN: SIX MONTHS AGO
The gold cufflink rests in the palm of my gloved hand.
Not just any cufflink—a personalized one, with a university insignia.
I recognize the crest and Greek initials, because my father had a similar pair that my mother had given him as an anniversary gift. And the university insignia is the college where they first met in Cambridge.
Just twenty minutes away from the Harbinger crime scene I’m currently working.
My heart drums against my chest, and I release an anxious breath and touch the diamond pendant at my neck, seeking comfort. I glance around the scene at the other caseworkers.
Tactfully, I send Aubrey a text: I’m putting in my field report early, then I’m taking the rest of the afternoon off.
Three dots immediately appear, and I have the urge to pocket my phone. But I wait for his response: Does this mean you’re actually going to sleep, Halen?
I glare at the screen, my eyelids suddenly heavy. I send one simple word in reply: Yes.
Since the report of the newest murder came in a few days ago, I’ve been obsessively working the crime scene. It’s been just as many days since I’ve had sleep…but the fear of overlooking a piece of evidence, of time running out, won’t allow for one moment to be lost to sleep.
The cufflink clutched in my fist almost scalds my palm. Proof that supports my sacrifice. I’ll get sleep when the Harbinger killer is caught.
I should bag the evidence. I should turn it in right now. But as I open my hand and stare again at the gold front face with the P and W initials, there’s an energy, a current drawing me in, and I know once I submit the evidence, it will literally be out of my hands.
As mad as it sounds, this little link has given me hope for the first time. Against all logic and reason, it’s like my parents are sending me a sign, pointing me in the direction I need to follow.
How else can I explain the connection to their alma mater and this case?
Today is my parents anniversary.
Coincidence, or fate?
Truthfully, I don’t believe in either, and up until this moment, I didn’t think the Harbinger killer would make a mistake.
What I do believe in is devolving offenders, and if the killer is in fact devolving, if he made such a grave error… Then there’s not much time to catch him.
Once the officials go through all the red tape procedures, requesting an interview, getting warrants for his home and place of work, this offender will be gone.
I have a slight reputation for circumventing procedure, not adhering quite so well to policies. But, as I’ve reminded the director of my division at CrimeTech, isn’t that why I was initially hired? To solve the stranger cases that require someone to think outside the box and operate outside the guidelines? Sometimes, we have to look beyond what we can see and touch and even reason. We have to question everything, even the rules.
I know the offender better than he fucking knows himself. I’ve studied his scenes, walked in his footsteps. I know once I lay eyes on him, I’ll be able to discern whether this cufflink belongs to the perpetrator or not.
I just want to see the Harbinger killer with my own eyes.
I’ve never felt this level of conviction, and I’m trusting my instincts. Decision made, I bag the cufflink and drive the twenty minutes to Cambridge.
As I park across the street from the university in a community apartment complex, I sit behind the wheel, trying to recall the whole drive here. Parts are missing. I shake off the disconcerting feeling. Sleep deprivation can be dangerous, I know this, but I’m so close…
Obsession can be equally as dangerous, and if I don’t find this guy, I fear what that will do to my mental state more.
I lock my doors and slip my keys between the slats of my fingers to use as a weapon. I don’t carry a firearm, and I came here completely vulnerable.
An inner voice intones that this is exactly why I’m here, this obsession with chasing a serial killer some sick need to seek out danger, something to distract me from the constant heartsickness that kept me in bed for a month straight.
Then the Harbinger struck again, his third kill, escalating the case to serial killer status.
And I buried myself in the hunt.
A reason to keep breathing.
The lampposts of the college courtyard guide me toward a side entrance of the student center, where a glass-encased bulletin board is posted, announcing a speaking event taking place tonight.
It can’t be that easy…
I run my finger down the list of speakers, stopping when I find the name with matching initials to the cufflink in my pocket. “There you are…”
Locating the lecture hall, I slip inside and post myself at the back of the auditorium, where I wait until my target is announced to the podium. I almost reach for my phone to capture a picture—but I turned my device off, making sure I wouldn’t be pinged in this location.
I can’t take my eyes off him.
This is him—it has to be him.
As I listen to him talk, I note all the characteristics of a narcissist, which isn’t telling on its own. Many of the foremost authorities in Western esotericism and the occult in academia have massive egos and exhibit a degree of psychopathy. My job requires me to know who these names are and to study from their knowledge.
But this is the first time I’ve heard of Mr. P.W.
He’s kept himself hidden well.
Something else is notable about him: he’s inebriated. Slurring his speech, swaying off-kilter.
As soon as the thought strikes, his eyes connect with mine from across the hall, and a sliver of fear coasts over my skin, making me shiver.
I push through the doors and find a dark corner along the outside of the building, where I take a few steadying breaths to calm myself.
This is reckless.
My rash behavior is about to not only expose me to the suspect, but scare him off. Drunk or not, he’s evaded authorities this long, and his outward appearance could be a part of his ruse.
I did what I came here to do. I found him. We have a suspect.
As I flatten my back to the brick wall, I close my eyes for only a second, but when my lids open again, the night has grown darker.
I’m trekking back through the quad when I spot him exiting the building, a tumbler in hand.
Despite the danger—or maybe because of it—I follow him.
I just want to observe. Secure more concrete evidence. At least, this is what I convince myself of as the obsessive need to watch him thrums through me, canceling out all logic.
He stalks to the parking lot, where he stops at a black car.
“Son of a fucking bitch—” he curses, then smashes his glass to the asphalt. On reflex, I flinch. He hunkers over to inspect a flat tire on the vehicle. “That fucking prick.”
As I watch him open and search the trunk, an eerie feeling settles over me. Something’s not right; I feel it in the air, a buzzing sensation prickling my skin. The hairs along the nape of my neck lift away. The warning flashes through my body, and instinctively, I turn and head in the opposite direction.
I’ve just reached the edge of the parking lot when his voice calls out.
“Hey! Are you following me?”
I don’t look back. I walk faster. His heavy footfalls sound behind me, and I clutch my keys tighter between my fingers.
“Who sent you?” he snarls, his voice too close now. “Did that slut send you?”
Anger grips my insides, and I dig out the evidence from my front pocket and whirl around to face him. “This did,” I say, voice shaking from adrenaline. “You made a mistake, and I found you. I found you.” I swallow down the ache. “I know who you are.”
He grips a tire iron in his right hand. His eyes narrow on me, the mask slipping from his face. Then a dark smile curls his mouth in a sinister grin.
The Harbinger killer advances on me.
What happens next will haunt my nightmares, it will change my course.
It will change me.
His hand fastens around my throat. Panic splays through my body. Time mutates, slowing, freezing to a stall. And during the slowest blink of my life, I capture the cruel features of Professor Percy Wellington. His is the last face I see before the world goes black.