JIM CRAWFORD groaned as he flipped on the lights to his patrol car, turned around, and raced toward Route 1, which ran down the center of New Cynwood, Pennsylvania. The entire town was on edge, and this was only going to make it worse, much worse. Customers by the droves were staying away from the businesses in town out of fear. He could almost hear his boss screaming at him to do something about this, the council was going to have his hide, and of course, the highly upper-crust town was going to feature in the evening news yet again.

He pulled into the shopping center near where an ambulance was already coming to a stop, parked, and got out, staying clear of the lifesaving personnel. As other officers arrived, he got them busy securing a perimeter.

“What have we got, Tommy?” Jim asked the EMT.

“She’s already gone. There’s nothing we can do for her,” Tommy said, gently covering the body with a sheet. “You may as well call in the coroner and a medical examiner. But it looks exactly like the last one to me.”

“I was afraid of that.” This was the fourth of these shootings in the last few months, and as he looked around, he spotted the most likely place the shot was taken from.

Jim made the calls and got everyone rolling. “Check the surrounding buildings and get these people out of here. What if the shooter decides to take another shot?” It hadn’t happened so far, but who was to say the pattern wouldn’t change? In fact, Jim was pretty sure of what they were going to find—a single shell casing, sitting perfectly straight on the ground, exactly from where the shot had been taken, and not a single thing else.

“What is it, Sergeant?” Jim turned when Paul Carson, one of his senior men, approached.

“Found this right up there,” he said, pointing to the exact spot Jim had been contemplating.

Shit, it was fucking frightening that he could think like this bastard. The problem was, he could only do that after the shooting took place. Not before the asshole took his shot and ended yet another life.

“We’ve worked way too many of these. Get statements from everyone. Find out what they heard and saw. Check anyone in or around that building to see if they saw anything unusual. This guy has got to make a mistake, and we need to be there when he does.” Jim calmed himself so he could think, refusing to get too wrapped up in this case. He needed to be able to see things clearly if he was going to solve this, and he had to. His career depended on it.

When Carl, the coroner, arrived, Jim let him make his assessment and then waited for whatever information he could give him. “Looks just like the others I have back in the morgue,” Carl said softly. “If I had to guess, I’d say it was the same caliber and probably the same rifle, though I can’t confirm that until I extract the bullet and test it.”

“We already found his calling card.” Jim held up the evidence bag and signed it over to Carl so he could match the bullet to the casing.

“Let me get busy, and I’ll give you any information I can as quickly as possible.”

Jim nodded and turned away so he could finish processing the crime scene. He wasn’t about to let it go until he was sure he had everything there was possible to get. “Come with me?” he asked Paul, who nodded, and they went to inspect where the shot had come from.

Like the three previous murders, according to initial reports, there had been a single shot and then someone had fallen to the ground. Just like that, a life had ended. Jim went inside the small, empty office building and up to the roof. Sure enough, the markers were still in place, but the photographs had been taken and the evidence collected and bagged.

“A great vantage point, and it would be hard for someone down there to see up here because they’d be looking into the sun at the time. He picks his places really well.”

“He does indeed, Paul.” There were things Jim knew about their killer, but so much he didn’t. “The guy is methodical, distant, and so far we’ve not been able to find a single connection between the victims. They seem random, and that’s what’s got us stumped.”

“They do have something in common. All of them took place here, within four blocks. If it isn’t the victims that connect them, then maybe it’s the place or where he takes his shots,” Paul offered.

Jim had thought of that, and they had run down every lead, but after this killing, they were going to have to look at everything again. Sometimes it felt as though they were running in circles, but it had to be done to ensure nothing was missed.

He watched the area from the shooter’s point of view, then let the guys finish up and headed back down. He listened to witnesses and reviewed the statements with the other officers, but like the cases before, no one had seen anything until the shot was fired, and then all eyes had been on the victim.

“Anything new to report?” Captain Westin asked as he strode toward Jim. These shootings were getting on everyone’s nerves, and a lack of progress made everyone edgy.

“I wish. It’s the same as the others,” Jim said rather softly. “This guy leaves us almost nothing to go on. Not even a footprint in the roofing material. Just that single bullet casing to taunt us.” He groaned. “I’m going to work the evidence, and then I think we need some help.”

“I don’t want to call in the feds, but….”

Jim moved away from the others to ensure privacy. “No, Cap, I mean the only way we’re going to catch this guy is to find someone who can think like him. This isn’t someone we’re going to catch using our normal methods because I think he’s well aware of what we do, how we do it, and the way we’ll try to catch him.”

“What do you propose?”

“I’m not sure exactly. Let me finish up here, and then can we talk about it in your office?” He really needed some time to clarify his thoughts before he requested money for his proposal.

“Definitely,” Captain Westin said, and Jim returned to finishing up with the crime scene.

Once he felt confident he could release it, Jim headed back to the station, where he instructed all of his officers to get the statements reviewed, typed up, and sent within the next hour. He had to have all of it so he could look for any differences from the previous scenes.

With instructions handed out, he sat at his desk and made a phone call. “Marilyn,” he said when she answered, and his stomach did a little flip. “It’s Jim Crawford.” He hadn’t talked to her in nearly two years, and as much as he didn’t want to open this door, it was something he felt he had to do.

“Jimmy,” she said happily. “I thought you’d fallen off the face of the earth. I knew when you and Garrett split up that things would change, but you know you can call and talk if you want. We were friends, you know.” She sounded pissed, and Jim regretted pulling away from a lot of their mutual friends when things went south with Garrett. It had been easier than trying to figure out which friends he’d gotten in the separation. Marilyn had been a hard one because he’d always gotten along with her really well, but she and Garrett had been colleagues and in the same discipline.

“Things were difficult for a long time.” That was the only explanation he had that made any sense at all once he vocalized it.

“I know that, and I’m still a little angry at him.” She paused, and he heard a door close in the background. “He wasn’t the only one who got left behind.”

That was news to him.

“I’m guessing you didn’t call to hash out ancient history.”

“No. But I will call more often, I promise. I miss you and Brian.” Hell, when Garrett left, so had almost all of his social life.

“So, what do you need? Are you still with Philly PD?”

“No. I moved to New Cynwood a few months after the breakup. It was easier and a great opportunity.” He grabbed some papers off his desk. “I’m working the shootings.”

“God, I saw those on the news. They’re awful.”

“They are, and we need some help. You’re plugged in there, and I’m hoping you can point me to an expert on psychological criminal behavior.”

She chuckled. “A criminological psychologist?”

“Yes. One of those. Is there someone you can recommend? I could really use some insight.”

“All right. Let me look into it a little. We’re pretty siloed here, as most educational institutions of our size are, but I happen to have some contacts in the psych department and I can make a few calls. Will you give me a number where I can reach you?” After he rattled off his direct line, she said, “I’ll call back as soon as I can.”

“Thanks.” Jim hung up and thanked all that was holy that Marilyn understood urgency, at least in this situation. Sometimes she took her own time with things. He also thanked his stars that Marilyn didn’t seem to hate him for not calling for all this time. Heck, she even seemed to understand, at least to a degree—something even he didn’t all the time. Things with Garrett had been good, until they’d gone bad, and he was still trying to figure all that shit out after two fucking years.

“Crawford,” Captain Westin snapped, and Jim stood and followed him into the office. “Okay, what is it you want? The township is about to explode, and we have to solve this fast. This has gone on too long, and people are scared shitless.”

That was like the understatement of the decade.

“I’m working on a criminal psychologist. They work with criminals and people with pathological and psychotic personalities. I think we need someone who can get into this guy’s head. We have data on his behavior and the crimes committed, but we aren’t sure how to use it.”

“You mean like The Mentalist or something?” Captain Westin asked skeptically. “You know that’s just made up for television.”

“Yeah. But it is a real discipline, and we need the help. It’s either that or lose control of the case, and with each incident, we get closer to that. So how much can I offer?” He wasn’t going to pull any punches. They needed help, he knew it, and from the doubt in the captain’s eyes, he knew it as well.

“Whatever the fuck he wants. At this point I can get the money for just about anything if it will help solve this damn case. Now get out, find one of these patho people, do it fast, and get some results—or else they’re going to be calling for both our heads.” He glared at Jim, who took that as the end of their meeting, so he left the office and returned to his desk as his phone rang.

“How fast can you get down here?” Marilyn said without preamble. “I think I have just the guy for you. But….”

“What? It isn’t Garrett, is it?”

“God, no. He’s ancient philosophy. I doubt he’d be able to help you. No, I have one of the leading experts of psychological criminal behavior, and he’s agreed to meet with you, but he has appointments for the next few hours and then class after that.”

“Did you tell him how important this is?” Jim asked as he grabbed his things. “Surely his other appointments can’t be life or death.”

“Just come down here. Barty Halloran is someone you have to meet to believe. Call me when you’re close, and I’ll meet you and lead you over.”

Once he agreed, Jim got a move on.

To say traffic was hell was an understatement. It took an hour on the Schuylkill to get downtown. He thought of turning on his lights, but he wasn’t on an emergency call, so he inched along and waited to get downtown. He did use his official vehicle to get a parking spot, then called Marilyn, who met him in the center of the urban campus. She was a tiny, thin woman with a smile as huge as all outdoors.

“You look great,” Jim said as she approached and hugged him tight.

“I’m so mad at you for not calling. Just because Garrett was an ass doesn’t mean you have to cut everyone out of your life.” She released him and was already moving. “I’d love to catch up, but we have little more than half an hour for you to meet Barty.”

“Okay.” He followed behind as she led him into a relatively modern, completely nondescript brick building and up the stairs to the third floor. The place seemed to have been designed with a lack of character and a great deal of blandness in mind, like they wanted to stifle creative thought rather than encourage it.

“His office is right up here,” Marilyn said without slowing down. She reached the door she wanted, knocked, and then opened it.

“Do I know you?” the almost beanpole man inside asked, staring at Marilyn a little blankly.

“I’m Marilyn Grove. We spoke on the phone.” She smiled, but he didn’t.

“Yes.” The man turned to the clock on his desk and then back, his gaze landing on Jim, who swallowed. His blue eyes were the color of ice and held a slight chill.

“I’m Jim Crawford, a detective with the New Cynwood Police Department, and I’m working a case that could use some of your expertise.”

“Dr. Bartholomew Halloran. You can call me Barty.” He motioned to the chair.

“I’ll leave you to talk,” Marilyn said, and somehow Jim felt as though he were being thrown to the wolves. She turned and left, her footsteps echoing down the hallway.

Barty closed the door and sat at his desk, looking at him. “Well?” He blinked a few times behind his black-rimmed glasses. “You need my help,” he said, sounding confused.

“Yes. You might have heard about the shootings we’ve had.”

“Of course. I’ve been fascinated by them.”

Jim wondered at the words chosen. “How so?”

“Of course there are many things I don’t know, but the perpetrator seems like he’d make an interesting case study for my research.” Barty sat still, watching him, and Jim wondered if he was trying to get into his head somehow. It was a little creepy the way Barty seemed to look deeply into his eyes, but showed nearly nothing in his.

“We have few clues as to who this person is, and with four deaths now, I thought we needed more insight. Someone who can help us get into the mind of the killer to figure out how he thinks and maybe find a way to catch him before he kills again.”

Barty nodded. “You are correct in assuming your killer is male. Men kill from a distance and are detached. Women usually kill more close up and it’s personal… crimes of passion and so on.” He turned back to the desk, and Jim thought he was checking his clock again. “I have an appointment shortly that I can’t miss.”

Jim didn’t want to pressure the guy, but he was becoming agitated. “Do you understand how important this is? People have died, and more will die unless we can stop him.”

“I’m aware of that, and I can try to help you.” Barty turned slightly and checked his computer. “I have appointments for the next few hours that are too late to reschedule.” He made a humming noise in his throat. “I can start tomorrow morning if that’s okay with you. I think this could be very fascinating and really advance my work.”

“It could also save lives,” Jim said. Barty was certainly as strange as Marilyn hinted at.

“I understand that’s important—of course it is.” Barty sounded as though the words were something he’d learned rather than truly felt. “Sometimes in my line of work, we have to look at deeply emotional and frightening things in a very dispassionate way in order to arrive at conclusions and knowledge that helps us understand why people do the evil things they do to one another.”

Jim could understand that, and yet there was something about Barty that made him wonder if he was the guy Jim was looking for. “Do you really think you can help?”

“I believe so.”

Confidence Jim understood, and it eased some of his growing doubts.

“I’m very good at what I do—one of the best, I believe—and I’m sure I can help you.”

“How can you be so sure?”

“I don’t have all the facts, but from what I’ve read, I’d say you’ve come to the conclusion that the killer is choosing victims at random, is remote, and is trying to send some sort of message, but you aren’t able to figure out what that message is. The thing is, he may not want you to understand the message because it isn’t intended for you, but for whoever or whatever the trigger is that started his rampage. And yes, there is a trigger of some sort, I’m sure of it.” Barty said all of this dispassionately. “I’m assuming that you’ve gone over all the physical evidence. What I’ll do is try to build a profile of the killer and see if I can figure out why he’s killing.”

“I’d appreciate that.” He had to admit that those were the same things he had been thinking.

“I’d also go on to say that your killer is smart and methodical, judging by the lack of evidence. It’s difficult and takes planning to not leave behind anything of yourself at a crime scene. But I get the feeling there’s more to it than that. I’d need to look deeper to be able to come up with a next move.”

“All right. Then I’ll see you tomorrow at the station.” Jim handed Barty one of his cards. “I’ll be there by seven.”

“That late? I get up at five thirty and can be there by six. That way I’ll miss the traffic.”

“All right, six,” Jim said. This case was going to require extra hours, so they might as well get started. He just hadn’t expected Barty to want to get there that early. “I’ll see you then, and we’ll have everything we have available to you. But….”

“Yes, I know. This is confidential, and I mustn’t speak with anyone about it.” Barty stood and opened the door. Jim walked out, and a young girl—about twenty, with long brown hair in a ponytail—stepped in after him.

“Yes, Carry Ann,” Barty said in the same way he’d greeted Jim.

Jim stood off to the side and checked his messages.

“I know my assignment was late, but my mother went into the hospital and I had to help take care of her. She’s better now, and I’m caught up, so I’m just asking for a little leniency.”

“But you were late, and I told you at the beginning of the semester that I don’t accept late work under any circumstances,” Barty said as though it were the most logical thing in the world.

“I got everything caught up, and my mother nearly died. It was less than a day, and I sent it to you. I missed class because of it and….” Her voice broke.

“But it was still late,” Barty said, clearly confused.

“My mother nearly died….” Carry Ann sniffled, and Jim could almost see the scene in Barty’s office.

“The assignment was late, and I clearly told everyone….”

“I work hard, and I participate in class while the others just sit there, and I always do extra work. You know that.” She was making a very good case. “Can’t you have a heart?”

Jim waited for Barty’s answer.

“Of course I could. But this….” Barty stopped, and Jim would have loved to have seen his expression just to learn a little more about him. “All right. I’ll accept the assignment this time, but not again. And you must never tell anyone, or else they will all require the same treatment.” That confusion was clear in Barty’s voice once again, like he didn’t understand the need for this conversation in the first place. “I’ll return your assignment with the others at our next class.”

“Thank you,” Carry Ann said with relief, and Jim continued down the hall, feeling bad that he’d listened in while at the same time wondering about what he’d heard. Marilyn was right: meeting Barty Halloran was an experience, and he wondered what working with the cute professor was going to be like.

Jim stopped in his tracks. How in the hell had the word cute slipped into his head? He groaned and pushed it aside. He wasn’t going to go there, not again. There had been one too many geeky professors in his life already. Jim texted Marilyn, who met him outside the building.

“How did it go with him?” She was smiling slightly.

Jim blinked. “He’s… different.”

“To say the least. I don’t have a great deal of contact with people from other departments, but I’ve crossed paths with Barty a few times. He’s brilliant and completely clueless when it comes to people.”

“Like Sheldon on the Big Bang Theory?”

Marilyn shook her head. “I don’t think so. He just doesn’t get other people.” She motioned them ahead. “We aren’t friends or anything, but Brian and I were at a party with him….” She paused as she thought. “About eighteen months ago, I guess. It was a graduation cocktail party of some sort, and he was there. Stood in the corner the entire time, watching everyone. I’d met him so I went to say hi, and he looked at me like he was lost and didn’t quite know what to do. He answered my questions, but he never initiated anything and seemed to feel… relieved once the conversation was over. He’s a nice enough man and isn’t obnoxious, just clueless when it comes to interactions with others that aren’t academic in nature.”

“I don’t get it. How can a psychology professor not get other people?”

“It’s academic. He studies behavior and how others think, but has no tools to interact directly with them. It’s like some part of him is missing in a way. Like he never learned how to interact with people socially. Maybe that’s why he went into the field he did, so he could try to learn. I don’t know. But he’s one of those people that you want to know why he does what he does and what makes him tick. Maybe you can figure it out when you work with him.”

“Not likely,” Jim said. “I mean, he seemed okay, just a little on the strange side. But then again, we’re after a killer who shoots people on the street, so maybe it will take a strange guy to find this psycho.”

“You never know,” Marilyn said with one of her weird smiles. She hugged him again, and Jim had to be careful not to hurt her. She always seemed like she would break in his arms. “Don’t be a stranger. Okay?” She stepped away, and Jim hurried to his car and headed back to the station.

He walked into near pandemonium.

“Get in here,” Captain Westin said as soon as Jim got to his desk. Officers scurried out of the way as they walked through the station, and Jim closed the door behind him. “I received a message while you were out.” He turned his computer monitor around and pressed Play.

“I see you’re getting nowhere, and you aren’t going to. I can get to anyone at any time.” The voice was distorted somehow, so Jim leaned forward. “If you want the shootings to stop, you’re going to have to figure out what I want and then give it to me. The best you can hope for is that I’ll go back to my life.” The recording stopped.

There had been few times in Jim’s life when he’d come face-to-face—or, in this case, voice-to-voice—with evil. He’d met plenty of murderers and thieves, but mostly they were crimes of opportunity or passion. This was someone who killed for sport, to send some obscure message.

“Jesus. How was it delivered?”

“To my voice mail. We’ve already traced the call to a phone that’s no longer active. We’re trying to trace the call back to a location, but only have a general area.”

A knock sounded, and then the door cracked open. “Here’s the report you wanted. The phone was sold at a Walmart.”

“Find out which store and see if they’ll cooperate. We might be able to trace it back through their systems to a purchase date, and then we can see if we get the guy on camera.” Jim was hopeful for the first time since this investigation began.

“They can’t. They sell these by the hundreds, and they come with a certain number of minutes already on them. There’s no activation, and once the minutes are used, they can buy more, but this guy will probably dump it if he hasn’t already and just buy another.”

“Try to track it anyway until we’re sure the trail is dead and cold,” Jim said, and Captain Westin agreed, even though the officer was probably right and this was another dead end.

The officer nodded and closed the door behind him.

“Did you have any luck?”

“I have a possible expert coming in tomorrow. A psychology professor from Dutton,” Jim said.

“What’s he like?”

The first thought that came to his mind was geeky-hot, but he wasn’t going to tell his captain that. He liked his job. “Weird.”

“How so?”

“I can’t describe it. But the guy is a little off in some ways.”

“Is he what we need to solve the case?” Captain Westin asked, and Jim thought for a few seconds before nodding slowly.

“He may be exactly what we need.” Jim was beginning to wonder. Their killer was a lot of things, and off his nut was definitely one of them. Maybe it took a weird professor to catch a bizarre killer. They definitely had one of those.

“What do you have planned next?”

“I need to get everything together that we have on each killing so I can present it to Barty when he gets here tomorrow morning at six.” Jim watched Captain Westin’s eyebrows rise. “It seems that’s the time he likes to start work.”

“Okay, then.” The phone rang, and he groaned and motioned Jim out of the office. “This isn’t going to be pretty. The mayor’s going to chew me out.”

Jim left and shut the door as the screaming came through the phone. Why politicians figured yelling at people was going to make things come together faster was beyond him.

As he sat at his desk and woke his computer, Paul Carlson came over. “What can I do to help? I finished getting all of the evidence cataloged and logged into the system, and the statements are coming in.”

“Go ahead and organize them. I have some help coming in tomorrow, and I want to get everything together.”

“What kind of help?”

Jim looked up from his screen. “That’s yet to be seen.” He raised his eyebrows, and Paul rolled his eyes and they got to work.

It took hours to gather the evidence and data on the crime scenes. Though it was organized and cataloged, much of the knowledge was in Jim’s head, so he did his best to get his thoughts and suspicions down on paper. He also made sure that everything was easily accessible, and then he reviewed the entire case once again just to make sure he hadn’t missed any connections.