Jim Crawford was born wealthy, but he turned his back on it to become a police officer. Add to that his being gay, and he’s definitely the black sheep of the family.Dr. Barty Halloran grew up with lessons instead of friends and toys, and as a result, became a gifted psychologist… with only an academic understanding of people and emotions.When Jim’s pursuit of a serial killer goes nowhere, he turns to Dr. Halloran for help, and Barty thinks he can get inside the shooter’s mind. In many ways, they’re two sides of the same coin, which both scares and intrigues him. Together, Jim and Barty make progress on the case—until the stakes shoot higher when the killer turns his attention toward Barty.To protect Barty, Jim offers to let Barty stay with him, where he discovers the doctor has a heart to go along with his brilliant mind after all. But as they close in on their suspect, the killer becomes desperate, and he’ll do anything to elude capture—even threaten those closest to Jim‘.
He set up his laptop and spent the rest of the day working through what he’d read and seen to develop a profile of the killer, but there was so much information he was missing that what he came up with was only in general terms, and that frustrated him. He liked his answers to be solid, but what he kept coming back to was nebulous and could apply to millions of people. Jim played the message that had been left for them, and it reinforced Barty’s profile but didn’t fill in any of the blanks.
Jim had pretty much left him to his own devices for the afternoon, and that was precisely how he liked to work. But Barty found himself checking for Jim every half hour or so. He kept wondering about him, and not in an academic way. First thing, Jim had actually answered Barty’s questions honestly, which told him he was a pretty self-aware kind of man. Barty had also divulged things about himself. Academically he knew that could be the start of a friendship, and he liked that notion. He didn’t have many real friends. He’d never been good at making them. Mostly he had acquaintances and contacts.
Something else niggled at the back of Barty’s mind, but he didn’t understand what it was in the least.
“Have you come up with anything?” Jim asked, placing a cup of coffee next to him.
Barty smiled. It was nice that Jim thought of him when he got a coffee for himself. He lifted his gaze from his laptop and caught Jim’s smile. It was nice, warm, and genuine. Barty had made a study of smiles as part of his work. People smiled for different reasons—for example, to cover up embarrassment or discomfort. Sometimes a smile could be menacing and chilling. Jim’s smile was nothing like those. It was like he was happy to see him. A flutter in his belly that had been simmering all day flared into a flight of butterflies, and Barty wondered if he might have eaten something that didn’t agree with him, but there was a pleasant feeling, like an aftertaste.
“I have a basic profile,” Barty said, and Jim leaned closer. “It’s definitely a man, in my opinion, and he’s smart, super smart.” Barty paused before he got into what he wanted to say. “This is all opinion at this point. A theory that we need to prove or change as we get more evidence.”
“Like, you smart?”
Barty colored. His intelligence was a source of pride for him, but he’d learned that it intimidated other people. “You can be as smart as you like, but don’t make others feel dumb,” Nana had told him.
“Maybe. But in a different way. He’s smart, and at the same time, ruthless and without empathy. He doesn’t care what his actions do to others. His entire emphasis is on himself and the effect others have on him.” Barty turned away from his computer screen. “He’s the kind of subject that people in my profession would love to be able to study. He’s aware of his strengths and very good at minimizing his weaknesses. However, the exception is his ego. I think that’s what’s driven him to this extreme.”
“How so?” Jim asked.
“To boil things down, let’s say we have two people, both raised in pretty much the same way. But as adults, one turns into a serial killer and the other one studies people who become serial killers.” Barty might have been getting a little close to himself, but the example seemed to work in this case. “The two people are like two sides of the same coin. One turns evil, and the other goes on to lead a fairly normal life. One of the things that can help decide which way they go is ego. Let’s say that both of them have the potential to climb on rooftops and shoot people. Not everyone is going to do that.”
“So the one most likely is the one with a biggest ego?”
“Possibly,” Barty said and turned to Jim. “You be the bad guy. You’re our serial shooter. You’re smart and think you’re smarter than everyone else. Therefore, you’re the best at everything. So something triggers your superiority. You get passed over for promotion, or flunk a class that you think you should be teaching because the instructor is a complete idiot. Or your girlfriend leaves you for someone else, but of course you’re the best lover and best boyfriend in the world, so she should definitely want to be with you. Therefore, something is wrong with the world and you need to change that.” When he looked into Jim’s eyes, heat built up inside him, and he wondered why the room had suddenly gotten warm. “So you need to change the world and set it back to right where you are better than everyone else. Our shooter is doing just that. There’s an event that triggered these episodes, but we don’t know where to look for that yet. There is also some escalating event.”
“I don’t understand.”
Barty ran his finger under his collar because it felt a little tight. He lost his train of thought as he momentarily fell into Jim’s brown eyes. Barty blinked and got back on track.
“Okay, so we have you as our potential serial shooter. You believe you’re better than everyone else, therefore other people matter less than you do. They’re expendable because you’re the very best. Something happens that triggers your righteous indignation because things aren’t right. Your ego is bruised, but you grind your teeth and continue on, because after all, you are smarter than everyone else and know what’s best. But the world doesn’t return to where it should be. You are slighted over and over again, and each time the anger and resentment builds and builds. Other inferior people are being promoted over you… whatever it is. Then something happens that sends you over the edge, and you have to take action because the world isn’t righting itself, and you feel it isn’t going to.”
“Jesus,” Jim said softly.
“The problem is that it often isn’t until after the fact that we’re able to piece these incidents together and come up with a real cause or answers. Sometimes we never can at all. There are people who would be fantastic research subjects, but they won’t talk. Others do nothing but talk, but their information is so skewed and facts hard to corroborate that we get no usable data.” Barty sipped his coffee, then set it aside. He was still too warm. “Is there something cold to drink?”
“Sure. Give me a minute.” Jim left, and Barty breathed as normally as possible, trying to determine the cause of this reaction. Jim returned with a bottle of water that had condensation on the outside, and Barty opened it and drank half. “How do we use this to try to find him?”
“I’m still working on some things. There are a number of possibilities. A lot of super intelligent people work in academia because many of us don’t have superior social skills. Though I’m not saying that’s a given, but it might be a place to start. You could try MENSA, but I don’t think that’s the kind of group our shooter would join. He’d surround himself with smart people, but no one potentially smarter than he is. That way he’s always the biggest and best in the room.” Barty stopped. “Chess clubs,” he added.
“You said that this is a game a couple of times.”
“Yes. He thinks many moves ahead, and that’s something chess players do. So try looking at the various chess clubs, but only at the very top players. He’d definitely be one of the best….”
Dirk is very much an outside kind of man. He loves travel and seeing new things. Dirk worked in corporate America for way too long and now spends his days writing, gardening, and taking care of the home he shares with his partner of more than two decades. He has a Master’s Degree and all the other accessories that go with a corporate job. But he is most proud of the stories he tells and the life he’s built. Dirk lives in Pennsylvania in a century old home and is blessed with an amazing circle of friends.