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Mary Stone - Silence of the Killer (A Villain’s Story FBI Mystery Series Book 8)

A Taste of… Silence of the Killer

Chapter One

The dwarf warrior slid on his back between the attacker’s legs, planting his axe in the orc’s stomach with a loud roar.

“Gimli’s the man!” Jonah fist pumped the air and leaned closer to the TV. “He just doesn’t get any credit ’cause girls don’t wanna boink him.”

Beside him on the couch, Jonah’s mother made a noise of equal parts groan and chuckle. “I dunno. He’s got a kinda lovable teddy bear thing goin’ on. I don’t mind short guys.”

Jonah shot her a look, unsure how to feel about his mom talking about guys, short or not.

She was single now, but when she talked like a dating woman, Jonah had to bury the urge to scream and jump on a table like a frustrated outlaw in an old cartoon. In the months since his dad left, he’d seen sides of his mom he’d never known existed.

Many nights, she cried in the bathroom with the shower going so he wouldn’t hear. And sometimes she worked so hard that she literally fell asleep standing at the stove while fixing his dinner.

Tonight was the first time in months they’d been able to hang out for more than half an hour. Who knew how long it’d take before another free night rolled around for some mother-son time?

Jonah didn’t want to let on how much he’d been missing her. Fifteen-year-olds were supposed to despise their parents, after all.

Yawning, his mom glanced at the delicate golden watch on her thin wrist, the one luxury she still allowed herself. “It’s getting late, baby. I think we’re gonna need to make this a two-nighter.”

“But it’s not over.” Jonah cracked open another can of Coke, relishing the hiss. A pizza box lay open on the table, now filled with nothing but crusts. “You said we could stay up and watch an entire movie.”

“That was before you picked the freakin’ director’s cut. This movie is three and a half hours long.”

“Bruh, that’s your bad.” He sipped his Coke and nodded in victory. “You said I could pick what I wanted.”

“Please don’t call me bruh.” The skin around her eyes wrinkled with a tired smile as she smacked him lightly on the back of the head. Her curly blond hair, which she kept back when she was ready for bed, was already trying to spring loose from her hair tie. Producing another yawn worthy of a lion, she grabbed the remote and hit pause.

The orc on the screen froze, black blood dripping from its snarl.

“Seriously, bruh?”

She shot him a warning glare. “It’s a school night. And it’s almost midnight already.”

Jonah rolled his eyes so hard it hurt. “It’s not a school night. It’s a Sunday school night. And Sunday school is bull crap.”

“Language.”

“Can I just skip tomorrow? Please?”

“Jonah…” Her head drooped to one side as she massaged her temples.

“The other kids there are so weird.” He hated the whine in his voice but couldn’t help it.

“Be that as it may, you have to go.”

“Why?” His stomach churned with pizza and righteous indignation. “Why should I have to go? I hate it.”

“Because I went when I was a girl. And so did your grandmother before me. It’s what we do in this family.”

That was a terrible reason.

“Mrs. Kyle is a weirdo, Mom. You know she wears a wig, right?”

She exhaled a defeated sigh, closing her eyes and bowing her head until her chin rested on her chest. Yellow curls swept down to cover her face. “She’s your teacher, baby. She deserves your respect.”

“Just because she’s an old—”

A loud, metallic crash interrupted him.

His mom shot to her feet, visibly tense. “What was that?”

Jonah set a hand on the cheap coffee table as he rose from the couch. He’d been so warm in his little nest of blankets, but now a chill swept through him. “Probably the damn racoons.”

“Language!” She swiveled to face him, narrowing her eyes. “Jonah, I’m not arguing with you anymore. Go get ready for bed.”

“Okay, okay.” Turning, he sulked toward the only hall in their tiny trailer home. He’d never get used to this place. And he would never forgive his dad for forcing them to move here. Away from his friends and everything that mattered.

Before slipping into the bathroom, he glanced over his shoulder and watched his mom pull on her cardigan before tapping her phone screen. The flashlight on her phone flicked on.

“Where are you going?”

“I’m sick to death of those little bastards.” She marched toward the door, snatching a roll of blue painter’s tape off the counter as she went. “I’m going to teach them a lesson.”

“Mom.” He glanced at the tape, then the door, then her face. “Are you gonna go kidnap the racoons?”

“I’m going to tape down the trash can lid.” She spoke through clenched teeth.

“With the racoons inside?”

She threw her arms up. “Go to bed.”

“You should use duct tape. Their nails will tear right through painter’s tape.”

“Bed, Jonah.”

This time when her gaze snapped to his, it seemed to harden. Playtime was over.

“Okay, I’m moving.” He trudged into the bathroom, slamming the door behind him before answering the call of nature. The walls in this place were so thin, he heard the front door crash behind her.

Probably trying to scare them with noise.

His mother’s footfalls thundered on the wooden steps that led out to the yard. Silence fell as she stepped out onto the sparse grass.

In the course of a mere moment, the trailer felt empty. Jonah debated following his mom and maybe helping her with the raccoons. The creatures were fat and slow. Even though they were kinda cute trash pandas, they could be aggressive when defending their pizza crusts. A small burst of worry surged through him.

But he shook his head at the concern. “Bed, Jonah,” he mimicked in a high-pitched voice.

A wave of grogginess washed over him, and he realized he was, in fact, tired—not like he’d ever admit that to her.

He flossed and brushed his teeth and popped a whitehead he’d been keeping an eye on. A whiff of his pit told him he ought to hop in the shower, and since he had to attend stupid class tomorrow, he might as well try not to smell like roadkill.

What if Kenley showed up? Mrs. Kyle might make him sit next to her. He’d be less likely to die of humiliation if he showered the night before.

Flipping the water on, he slid under the warm cascade. The sigh of water erased the silence of the trailer.

Jonah let his mind wander for a good fifteen minutes before wrapping himself in a towel. He sauntered down the hall to his room without an upward glance. Tossing his damp towel on the floor, he pulled on some boxers and nearly crawled into bed before realizing his water bottle was empty. His stomach was still protesting all the salty pizza.

Moseying back down the hall and into the kitchen, Jonah called to his mom. “Did you get the lid taped down?” When no answer came, he realized she was still gone. He didn’t hear her puttering around, murmuring about the furry nuisances. Maybe she’d come in and already gone to bed.

“Mom?”

He turned and noticed the TV was still on, paused on that same snarling orc. Mom wouldn’t have left it like that…

Jonah took half a step toward the entryway. The door hung open.

He distinctly remembered it slamming closed behind her.

A small chill raced down his spine, amplified by the breeze whisking through the trailer. Goose bumps rose on his arms, erasing any remnants of warmth from the shower.

He crept closer to the open door, tightening his grip on the water bottle. “Mom?”

No answer. Only the creak of the door swaying in the gentle gust. Beyond it, streetlamps glimmered in the distance while the surrounding darkness engulfed everything else. It was like approaching a deep well.

Jonah inched through the living room. His heart caught on every beat as he halted near the front landing. “Mom?”

The blue glow from the bug light above their porch barely illuminated the black night. Jonah eased down the wooden steps into the grass. Stars twinkled overhead but didn’t offer much illumination. He felt as if he were the only living person for miles.

Jonah swallowed against the lump forming in his throat and stepped to the corner of the trailer. The trash can was knocked over, the garbage scattered across the lawn. He watched a white Fruit Roll Up wrapper tangle in a clump of grass.

Would Mom seriously be extra enough to chase those raccoons into the woods? She did seem hella pissed.

A sound like scraping metal hit his ears. After the long quiet, he felt like his ear drums would explode.

He whipped around, his heart launching into his throat. “Mom?”

With tentative steps, he followed the noise deeper into the inky darkness.

A small figure sprang out, and Jonah screamed, dropping his empty water bottle.

As he turned to run, he twisted his ankle and fell. The tiny assailant squeaked and darted off into the night.

“Little racoon bastard!” Jonah touched his throbbing ankle and sucked in a sharp breath. “Dammit!”

His butt met something wet. Recoiling, he rolled toward the lawn.

Slowly, his eyes adjusted to the light. A woman lay face down on the grass, shifting like a worm that had been run over. Pitiful sighs escaped her throat. Her curly pale hair looked wet.

The blue glint of the bug light twinkled on her delicate golden watch.

“Mom!”

A second later, he noticed the trail of red. Blood.

“Mama?”

Before he could move, a searing pain erupted in his head, and he fell onto his side.

A shadow shifted into his periphery, elongating across the ground like the dark fingers of fate. He reached for his mother, desperate for her touch. Desperate for her protection, but she had none to give.

“Mommy?”

***

When Jonah came to, all he knew was the sound of his mother’s pain-filled whimpers. For a while, he could only lie there, unsure of where he was, and listen. He felt detached from his surroundings, trapped inside his own body and unable to process reality. He couldn’t even force his eyes open.

So he waited in the cold dark, itching as his own blood dripped down the side of his face.

As his senses started to rouse, he began to recognize the space. His throbbing head rested on the linoleum of their kitchen floor, but he couldn’t tell where the door or the stove or the refrigerator were.

Heavy breathing and the sound of skin slapping against skin filled the space. Jonah listened, helpless as his mother cried and begged and screamed every time the bastard hit her.

Jonah fought to call out to her, to crawl over to her, to save her, his mind even more frantic than his wild heart. At last, he managed to peel his eyes open.

He lay on his side.

The light was strange, reddish and muted.

His mother cried out from the living room. He lifted his gaze but could barely see her face, her body obscured behind the couch. Her hair dripped with blood, cheeks glistening with tears, a ball gag protruding from her mouth.

A man was on top of her, over her. Hurting her.

“Mom!” Jonah tried to scream, but it came out muffled. Only then did he realize his mouth had been duct taped. Still, the assailant froze.

Jonah watched in horror as the man rose to his feet. He wore an old-fashioned executioner’s hood—black leather with holes for the eyes and fabric that hung over his chest. Under that was what used to be a white t-shirt, now covered in blood.

His mom’s blood.

This can’t be happening. This can’t be happening.

Jonah screamed and struggled, managing to get his knees under him. His hands were tied behind his back, but his legs were free. If he could get up…

The man grabbed a long, single-bit axe from where it rested against the wall. Brandishing it with both hands, he stepped closer. “Finally. You’re awake.”

Jonah knew he needed to rush forward, to hurl himself at the man. But fear rooted him to the spot. The axe appeared worn. Well-used.

“I was worried I might’ve accidently killed you earlier.” The man quickened his pace.

Jonah’s mother screamed something. Curses, probably. Maybe she was trying to tell the man to get away from her son. But Jonah couldn’t understand her. The ball gag was doing its horrid job.

The man wasn’t big—maybe shorter and slimmer than average—but Jonah was only fifteen and small for his age. Something he had never felt so acutely as he did at that moment.

The hooded figure reached out and gripped Jonah’s throat, cutting off his air. He dragged him across the room and threw him on the carpet beside his mom.

She rolled toward him, her eyes wide but focused. Her gaze darted from his face to the front door. Clearly, she wanted him to run, to try to get away.

She tried to say something to him. “Unh! Unh!”

His mother wanted him to run, but Jonah couldn’t. He couldn’t leave her there.

“Unh! Unh!

Snot and tears streaked her face. He knew she was desperate to protect him.

He also knew she wouldn’t be able to. She was badly hurt. In every possible way.

Even as rage rose to replace the fear, the anger inside him had nowhere to go. Their attacker stepped up and loomed over them. His gaze pierced Jonah, like swords slicing through flesh. Even in the dark behind the executioner’s mask, Jonah could make out the clear blue shade of the assailant’s eyes.

Without warning, the man kicked the couch over before gripping Jonah’s mom by her hair and yanking her to her knees.

Fighting to catch his breath, Jonah struggled away.

He would try to run. He’d try to listen to his mom.

But the man snatched him up as if he were nothing but a child and pulled him to his knees beside her.

The man rested the axe over his shoulder. “Normally, I’d kill you first.” A cruel smile showed behind those blue irises, taunting Jonah with his own life. He paced slowly until he stood behind them. “But this isn’t about you. This is part of something far greater. And it demands that you watch.”

He rammed his foot into Jonah’s mom’s back, knocking her against the flipped-over couch so she draped over it.

“No!” Jonah tried to scream.

Her eyes met his, wide and petrified. Glassy and white as he had never seen them.

Who was this man? Why was he doing this?

Maybe if I try hard enough, I can still save—

“Uuuunnnnh!” his mother screamed at him.

The killer brought down the axe on her neck.

Jonah recoiled, squeezing his eyes shut. His mother made a noise of ungodly pain like nothing he’d ever heard. The screams stopped when the axe came down again. And again.

His eyes popped open just as her head hit the ground with an unremarkable thud and rolled an inch or two.

This couldn’t be happening. He’d wake up very soon.

Jonah’s sobs consumed him as he shook violently. He couldn’t breathe behind his gag, nostrils plugged with snot. He wailed and jerked, trying to flee from the sight of his beheaded mother.

The killer kicked him in the back, and Jonah fell against the sofa. He screamed and fought to wrestle away, but the madman held his boot firmly against Jonah’s back, pinning him in place.

Now I lay me down to sleep…

He’d been forced to say the prayer at night for as long as he could remember.

I pray the Lord my soul to keep.

The shadow of the axe broadcasted against the wall as it was lifted high.

If I should die…

The last sound he registered was the whistle of the axe cutting the air.

Chapter Two

Detective Justice Hall stood in the deserted parking lot, his button-down still hanging open. He held his phone inches from his face, his hands shaking with equal parts fear and rage as the gruesome video played on loop.

The glow of a red light illuminated the dark footage. Two figures faced the screen, down on their knees. Justice couldn’t make out much of their features. A woman with short blond curls and blood all over her face. A man at her side, thin, with a big head and a pronounced Adam’s apple that caught the light. Duct tape covered his mouth.

Behind them, a man loomed, his face obscured by an imposing leather hood.

When the duct-taped man turned, Justice caught a glimpse of his chin. Little red dots covered his skin—acne. His frame was on the smaller side, but more than that, it was youthful. One realization led to another. Unless Justice was wrong in his hunch, that wasn’t a man at all, but a teenager.

Both victims wept, trembling on their knees. The man in the hood towered behind them like a dark curse.

It took every ounce of willpower Justice had not to chuck his phone across the lot and shatter it.

Not ten minutes ago, he’d been up in his girlfriend Heather’s apartment. He’d rolled out of bed to use the bathroom. Out of habit, he’d checked his phone. That was when he saw the messages.

Thousands of them had flooded his inbox, each one posing the same question.

Are you ready, Justice?

After reading those words, Justice rushed out of the apartment where he’d spent several hours of bliss, leaving the first woman he might be able to have a real relationship with asleep on the bed with no explanation. Heather was the first woman to love him who wasn’t out of her freaking mind. But if she saw what he was involved with, he might never see her again. He needed to process this alone.

Whoever this son of a bitch was—this sick freak who devoted his life to fangirling over a serial killer—he knew Justice’s name.

Too bad jb4prez was the only name Justice had for him. And the only other detail Justice knew about him, other than he enjoyed chopping people’s heads off and filming it, was that he was a Justin Black superfan.

Justin Black, aka The Prodigy, one of America’s most infamous serial killers. The same man who kidnapped Justice as a child. Tortured him. Raped him. Manipulated him. Effectively changed the course of his entire life.

Justin was in prison now and had been for over eighteen years.

Now a copycat was out there. The only thing more dangerous than dealing with Justin himself was dealing with a man who wanted to be exactly like him.

It seemed jb4prez thought he had something to prove.

For months, Justice had been trading angry messages back and forth on the dark web. Anonymously, of course. None of those people could know who Justice was.

It wasn’t just that he was a homicide detective, though that alone would’ve gotten him kicked out of the community.

No, the problem was who he used to be. Justice Hall was The Prodigy’s most famous victim, Justin Black’s so-called protégé, who the sadistic monster had trained to take over his grisly work.

Justice monitored the fan community because he needed to track anyone who might try to help Justin escape from his maximum security prison.

At least, that was what he told himself.

“No.” Justice pressed his numb lips into a hard line. Thunder shook the ground as a raindrop splattered on his screen.

The woman in the video screamed, crying hysterically through the black ball gag in her mouth.

Remaining ice cold, the killer kicked the woman, and her neck landed on some kind of prepared block. Then he lifted a single-bit axe.

He brought the sharp edge down hard at an odd angle on the woman’s neck so that it slid down and skinned her spine. It was only as the axe came down that Justice realized the prepared block was an overturned couch.

The woman made an awful noise deep in her throat, like a wounded animal. It was enough to claw at a grown man’s soul. The scream that tore from the boy was worse, even muffled behind the tape.

The executioner brought his axe down on her twice more until the bones and tendons snapped, and her head fell forward and out of frame. Then the man planted his foot against the boy’s back to keep him from squirming. This time, all it took was two hard swoops, and the head detached from the neck.

A squelch sounded as the executioner withdrew his axe, spattering blood over the camera lens. The man in the hood glanced up at the screen, and retro-looking yellow letters faded in.

WWJD?

What would Justin do?

Justice’s phone rang as it shook in his trembling hands. Startled, he jumped and dropped it on the concrete, but the damn thing kept on ringing.

Technology was too good these days. He fetched the device and flipped it over to find the screen was cracked, a spiderweb spreading from the left corner.

Detective Marissa Spero’s name flashed before him.

He swiped up to answer and lifted the phone to his ear without a word, a deep part of him already knowing what she was about to say.

“Justice?” Marissa sounded rushed and tired all at once. “Sorry to call so late. But we’ve got two nasty homicides on display downtown. At least you got a few hours off, right?”

Ignoring her question, which felt more like a roast, he swallowed the Texas-sized knot in his throat. “On display?”

“Think da Vinci, but more gruesome. And without their heads.

Justice rubbed his throbbing temple. His mind fought to retreat from the moment, his emotions dulling quickly until he was numb and no longer present. His autopilot was taking over, and there was nothing he could do to stop it.

Over the years, he had learned from his therapists that the technical name for going on autopilot was having a dissociative episode brought on by his complex PTSD. When things became too stressful, Justice would step outside of himself so a logical part of his brain could take over.

It was a defense mechanism that had saved his life many times—and had saved his sanity, to an extent. He’d experienced so many dissociative episodes by this point, he could actually stand back and watch it happen, putting a little tick in the diary in his brain.

Here we go again.

“Address?” Justice asked, his voice low, smooth, and clear.

“I’ll send it right now.”

“I’m on my way.” As the text came in, he shook his head at the cracked screen and tsked. He was so silly breaking his own things like that. First his bathroom mirror, then his truck window, and now his phone? At this rate, he would never get ahead on these mounting repair bills.

With slow, measured steps, Justice walked to his vehicle and climbed inside. He sat there for what might have been two minutes or several hours, listening to the sound of his own breathing.

“WWJD…” he said at last, pausing between each letter. “What would Justin do?”

He knew the phrase, or this particular perversion of the phrase. It was a favorite throughout the fan site. In the chat rooms where Justin’s idiot simps posed hypothetical scenarios to each other and talked about all the horrible acts of violence they wished they had the “bravery” to perform.

WWJD, one of the Justin simps would ask.

And another would reply, cut a bitch.

Justice peered at his phone, his vision blurring the thumbnail of the video, and checked the timing of the message. He scrolled all the way back to the very first one jb4prez had sent.

This one was different. It didn’t have the video attached, but it was an invitation to a live stream of the same heinous act. The same video.

Hope you can make it, the message read.

That was very early Sunday morning, forty-seven minutes after midnight. Not quite four hours ago.

How had he missed the message? He’d been at Heather’s. They’d spent the precious time in bed, making love and not sleeping.

It had been a reward to himself, of sorts, for tracking down a poison-wielding nurse a few hours before that, on Saturday night.

She was dead now. Justice had killed her, pumped her full of her own poison as one of her victims watched on with starry-eyed approval, even backing him up when Sheriff Galvez asked what had happened.

Justice logged on to theprodigylives.onion, where he and jb4prez had exchanged all their angry DMs, and found the site was blowing up—every user all aflutter over what they had collectively experienced on the live stream. It seemed the killer had tortured the mother on screen for nearly an hour, taking requests from his viewers on which parts of her body to attack next and with which weapons.

Just like Justin used to do.

A foolish part of Justice was still stupid enough to hope that maybe this could all be a deepfake. An old video, altered footage, special effects.

No. This was real life.

And now there were two headless corpses on display.

Justice laughed at himself. And he didn’t like the sound of it one bit. It was like the wild cackling of somebody else, somebody hiding in the shadows, ready to pounce and destroy him.

But that was part of the dissociative episode too. It was best not to worry too much about that kind of thing. He needed to focus and stop laughing before his heart burst out of his chest.

Pull it together, jackass. He had to drive. Speak. Pretend to be a normal human who wasn’t broken beyond all repair.

What else was new?

When past and present collide, death smiles.

Just as Deputy Justice Hall thought he was free to bask in the glow of his latest triumphs, his world is jolted when thousands of haunting messages flood his inbox, each one echoing the same sinister question…

Are you ready?

Worse, the messages are accompanied by a live stream video—a grotesque showcase that Justice prays is a sick hoax. Yet, the horror on his screen turns into vivid reality when two headless corpses are discovered. With no witnesses, no murder weapon, and no suspects, the small town is on edge, and Justice feels the weight of the… Read More