A neurological condition characterized by automatic, involuntary sensory perceptions triggered by seemingly unrelated stimuli.
There is something unusual about Dr. Jenna Ramey’s brain, a rare perceptual quirk that punctuates her experiences with flashes of color. They are hard to explain: red can mean anger, or love, or strength. But she can use these spontaneous mental associations, understand and interpret them enough to help her read people and situations in ways others cannot. As an FBI forensic psychiatrist, she used it to profile and catch criminals. Years ago, she used it to save her own family from her charming, sociopathic mother.
Now, the FBI has detained a mass murderer and called for Jenna’s help. Upon interrogation she learns that, behind bars or not, he holds the power to harm more innocents—and is obsessed with gaining power over Jenna herself. He has a partner still on the loose. And Jenna’s unique mind, with its strange and subtle perceptions, may be all that can prevent a terrifying reality…
About the Author
Colby Marshall is a member of International Thriller Writers and Sisters in Crime. She is especially qualified to write about synesthesia, as she has this rare condition.
Read an Excerpt
a deep, rich navy blue
Isaac Keaton shifted the scope of his M16 from the five-year-old tripping on his own shoelaces to a forty-year-old guy ten paces to the side of the boy outside the Futureland Chow Station. Kid might grow up to be stupid and pathetic like the man Isaac was about to gun down, but hell, he might’ve spared the next great. Kid might grow up to be just like Isaac, hoping and praying someone would take out his parents with two quick shots. Isaac laughed.
Idiots, all of them. Treat kids like they need to be protected from these kinds of valuable experiences. Teach ’em tolerance, make sure they know it’s okay to cry. Media screamed for a national campaign to stop school bullying after those two kids lit up that high school in Colorado. Parents freaked out about what kind of music their teens listened to, whether or not a trench coat hung in someone’s closet. Morons didn’t realize that if those two kids hadn’t shot up the school and then themselves, they’d have had a lot worse on their hands a couple decades later.
They’d have had someone like him.
The guy in Isaac’s crosshairs licked at his ice cream cone, which dripped over his grubby fingers. Maybe coincidence. Could be fate. Either way, this dude happened to be sitting right in Isaac’s line of vision under the cable that carried the little fairy from the top castle turret over the park of wide-eyed, middle-class imbeciles every night. He glanced at his stopwatch. Thirty seconds. Twenty. Ten.
Time to fly.
He squeezed off round one, and a hundred faces pinched and looked in his direction. He watched the ice cream guy slam away from him into the bench he was sitting on.
No time to think. Anyone obviously over thirty equals goner. The grayer the head, the easier the mark. He took down three more: a tall, slim black woman in faded jeans, dude with a lip ring, fat Indian chick. The crowd ran in different directions, some into each other, others ducking. Then they all scattered, screamed. Isaac’s head was quiet. His scope slipped over two kids, up to the dad holding one’s hand, urging the kid to run. Bang.
The dad dropped. Isaac coursed over the crowd. Old Asian man, brunette with a fanny pack. A ginger-haired theme park worker yelling into his walkie-talkie. One by fucking one.
When he had fewer fresh targets than people he’d already hit, he finally heard them coming. He laid the M16 on the ground, turned around to face them, hands in the air. They wouldn’t understand, of course. Give them time.
“Freeze!” the lead cop yelled, gun trained on Isaac’s chest. Guy had probably never shot a man in his life.
Isaac ducked his head. “Don’t shoot!”
His hands were twisted behind his back, his face pressed into the floor. He had the right to remain silent . . .
But he didn’t want to remain silent. These half-wits had no idea.
The fun was just beginning.
“Dad! Have you seen my keys?”
Jenna Ramey turned over couch cushions, squatted to look under the baby’s playpen. “Dad!”
Her father appeared in the hallway, holding Ayana on his hip. Jenna’s towheaded daughter held her pacifier in one hand and Jenna’s ring of keys in the other. In her thirty years of life before her daughter, Jenna had never once lost her keys. Now they found their way out of her purse daily.
“Whoever thought to make giant key rings into toys, I’d like to see,” Vern said.
Jenna smiled and pecked her father’s cheek. “Ayana, can Mommy have those?”
Her little girl plugged her paci in her mouth but stretched the keys toward Jenna.
“Thank you, miss,” Jenna said, and she kissed Ayana’s forehead. Then, to her father, “I’ll be back in a few hours, I hope. Don’t know the damage yet.”
“Must be bad if they’re calling in a bigwig like you.”
Jenna pressed her middle finger against her thumb and flicked her dad in the arm. “I was an FBI profiler, Dad. I can detect sarcasm.”
“Go get ’em, El Tigre.”
• • •
The sun shined in Jenna’s eyes the whole drive to the Orlando Police Department. Her duct tape job held the visor on but didn’t allow her to fold the thing down. So helpful.
While en route, she’d talked to Supervisory Special Agent Hank Ellis, the man she’d reported to and worked with every day back when she was with the FBI’s Behavioral Analysis Unit.
“Let me get this straight, Hank. You guys caught a serial killer operating in mid-Florida this morning, and now you’re inviting me in? No offense, but what for?”
“Oh, boy,” Hank replied, his frustration seeping through. “Thought they’d told you more when they called you from the OPD. Shit.”
“Hank, I’d love to rant with you about the incompetent lackey who called me, but I’d rather know what I’m walking into.”
“Right. You’re right. I apologize. Yes, we caught a serial, but not one only operating in Florida. They’ve been up and down the East Coast. You already know about them.”
“Them?” Jenna couldn’t hold in her surprise. “You can’t mean what I think you mean.”
She pulled into the OPD parking lot.
“Yep,” Hank said. “The Gemini. But we only caught one of the pair, and he says he’ll only talk to you.”
Officer Mel Nelson met Jenna at the door and led her through the halls toward the interrogation room. “So cool to meet you in person, Dr. Ramey. Heard all about you, of course.”
If only her reputation wouldn’t precede her quite so fast. “Thanks. Catch me up, will you? I know next to nothing.”
Hank had told her enough, but getting it from different sides helped. Someone might throw in a crucial detail.
Nelson straightened, seemed to shake off the starstruck. His short steps quickened, stocky frame moving faster to impress. “Right. Suspect apprehended at the top of the castle. Had already put down his weapon, hands up. The gun was an M16, standard. Twenty dead, seven more wounded. Suspect is Isaac Keaton of Norton, Virginia. Still trying to run backgrounds, but not much on the guy. Asked for you almost right off, didn’t say why. They said you were coming with the BAU. I thought you weren’t with the BAU anymore. Thought you were in a private practice now.”
Typical. Someone reads about you in a textbook, they think you’re as good as best friends, or at least next-door neighbors.
“I’m not,” Jenna said. “And I am.”
They’d come to a closed door, which Nelson put his hand to. “You gonna do that color thing on him?”
Grapheme-color synesthesia—Jenna’s ticket to the spotlight for better or for worse. Since she could remember, she’d associated everything—letters, days, numbers, people—with colors.
“It doesn’t work like that,” she said and nodded toward the door.
Nelson twisted the handle. Inside, the man standing in front of the one-way window turned to them.
“Detective Arnold Richards, this is Dr. Jenna Ramey,” Nelson said.
The hulking bald figure stretched out his palm. “Dr. Ramey. Good of you to come. BAU team is in the air. They’ll be here within the hour, but we thought it best to bring you in right away. I’m the head of the task force for the park shootings.”
Chin lifted, smile that didn’t extend to his cheeks. That extra note of authority in his voice telling her she was only there because it was his idea.
The man gave Jenna a curt nod, and Jenna nodded back.
Richards turned to Officer Nelson. “Thank you, Moose.”
Nelson backed out and closed the door. Richards’s eyes followed him, then cut to Jenna. “He’s Canadian.”
He focused on the two-way mirror, and Jenna did the same. Aside from his hunched shoulders and the bags under his eyes, the man sitting in interrogation on the other side of the glass might’ve walked straight out of an Abercrombie & Fitch catalog. His fawn hair was cut in a trendy style that was shaggy but still neat, maybe even highlighted. Clean-shaven, strong jaw. Fit.
“Do you mind if I ask what color you see him as?” Richards asked.
“No, I don’t mind,” Jenna replied, “but I can’t answer that. I haven’t met him yet.”
“Your interviews said it didn’t have anything to do with what you felt about a person.”
Isaac Keaton rocked back and forth in his metal chair, his palms flat against his dark trousers. Interesting. Jenna closed her eyes, then reopened them to look again, specifically attempting to gauge color. Nothing.
“It doesn’t. Anything on the other shooter?”
Detective Richards’s hands went to his pockets, jingled his keys. “Ballistics not back yet, but looks like a Magnum .308. Six dead.”
Jenna blinked a few times as she tried to compute. “Wait a second. Officer Nelson said twenty dead, seven wounded. That by him”—she nodded toward Keaton—“or is that total?”
“Total,” Richards replied. “Fourteen dead and three wounded near the castle, six more on the other side of the park, DOA. Four wounded there. Near the ferry.”
Jenna filed away the information about the second shooter and returned her attention to Keaton. “And what of the interaction with the suspect?”
Richards’s brows creased. “Arresting officer said he’d already ceased fire, dropped his gun. He went easy.”
“Too easy,” Jenna mumbled. This guy either really didn’t want to die, or he really wanted to be caught. Or both. “And they recovered Keaton’s weapon?”
“Mm-hm. M16, standard issue. Stolen, probably. We’re on it. Recovered one slug at the ferry site, hopefully others from the victims. For twins, their gun choices pack a different punch.”
Thirty rounds, and Keaton squeezed off a good many of them. Still, it’d take some time for police to hear the shooting, react, and find where it was coming from. In theory, firing an automatic rifle—even in single fire mode—he should’ve managed to fire many more.
Jenna was speaking before she realized the words were coming out. “The newspapers might’ve nicknamed them the Gemini, but don’t be fooled. Chances are they’ll be two entirely different beasts.”
“Meaning?” Richards asked.
Jenna stared one last time at Isaac Keaton from behind the glass, where she could view him as a completely objective party. Then she stepped toward the door to the interrogation room. She might not still be with the branch of the FBI that was called in to analyze the behavioral patterns of mass murderers, kidnappers, and serial rapists, but once you’d studied these monsters, you didn’t forget how they worked. To get into their heads and discover their motivations took some part of your humanity, not because you became them, but because you had to understand why they would possibly do what they did. “In serial pairs, one will always be dominant. The other is the follower, submissive. In other words, one is the soldier, the other the general. Before we do anything else, we have to figure out which one we have.”
Jenna entered the inner room. Isaac Keaton’s head was down, eyes hooded. Fearful? Defensiveness intentional? Only one way to know.
“Isaac. I’m Dr. Jenna Ramey. I understand you wanted to speak with me?”
He glanced over her, a slow perusal from head to toe, reading. This guy had just shot more than a dozen people at a theme park for children, and here she was introducing herself as though they were business associates. The job was never boring.
“So you’re the famous Jenna Ramey,” he said, his voice weary.
Colors flashed in. She pulled up a rolling chair across the table from Keaton. “Why did you want to speak with me specifically, Isaac?”
He leaned forward, squinted. Worry lines creased his forehead. “You were the only person I could think of who’d understand. You know. How someone can be a whole person, even if they do a very bad thing.”
Jenna pursed her lips. She knew exactly what he was referring to, but she wasn’t ready to give him that much yet. Granted, many people knew about her mother, but the fact that he referred to her so specifically spoke volumes. The years had taught her not to assume. “That I do. Are you saying you’ve done a very bad thing?”
He nodded emphatically, rocked again. “Uh-huh. I did. I killed those people.”
Different colors struck her, but Jenna didn’t try to reel them in. Her deeper brain would settle on one when it was ready.
She tossed the facts, quick and furious. He’d picked a vantage point that boxed him in, no escape, but then hadn’t tried to shoot his way out. Hadn’t committed suicide, either. Yet now he appeared tortured, remorseful. Wanted to be caught, not killed. Definitely wanted to get caught.
To end it or to play?
“Why did you put down your gun?” she asked evenly.
“I didn’t . . . I expected it to stop the pain. Then they were dead. Blood everywhere, people hurt. My fault. I knew I should talk to you.”
Interesting, but I didn’t ask why you shot them. The vacillating colors coalesced, and a shade flashed in her mind. It lasted only seconds, but it was enough for Jenna to file it away, to use the ever-growing database of her color associations to define what the color said about Isaac.
“Would you like a drink of water, Isaac? I think you should have one. Keep your strength up. It’s been a long, hard day,” Jenna said, standing.
She stepped out of the box, where Detective Richards waited.
“Keep your strength up?” Richards repeated.
Jenna stared at Keaton, who was still rocking himself. He knew he was being watched.
She turned back to Richards to answer his earlier question.
“I see him as red.”
This part was never easy to explain. “Red. He could be either of the team, the mastermind or the submissive. He either picked a spot where he was sure to get caught, or someone chose it for him. He wasn’t afraid of being caught. Backed into a corner, but didn’t take everyone down with him. Could mean he wanted to stop, but not necessarily. He also knew to ask for me. Again, could’ve been told to by his superior. But when I asked about the gun, his speech pattern was strange. I asked him a question, and he answered something totally different. He’s pushing his own agenda. He comes in as red.”
Most people associated red with anger. To Jenna, it was less definitive. Her color associations proved more random and yet not random all at the same time. She never knew them until she felt them, saw them. The color would flash in, but after the flash, even when the color wasn’t readily present, if Jenna closed her eyes and thought about a person or an event, she could draw up the color she tended to associate with them or it. A color association for Jenna was just like any other detail she would note about a person that might affect her perception of them, no different than the way she might read into someone’s body language or note a person’s tone of voice. The initial flash was fast, but it left its brand on something forever. In the bizarre color dictionary in her brain, red could mean wrath or love or a host of other things. Red often showed up for people she saw as strong, type A. Isaac Keaton headed the Gemini. He was the general.
“In this case, red tells me he’s a power player. He’s the dominant of the two, and for some reason, he wanted to get caught.”
“I thought you said the color thing had nothing to do with emotions,” Richards said.
Richards put his hands up. “Whatever. Where do we go from here?”
Jenna walked to the water cooler, filled two cones from the dispenser. “That’s what I’m trying to decide. If he wants us to believe his act and we call him out, he might button up. If that’s the case, better we play along.”
“Seems like knowing the truth without him realizing is an upper hand,” Richards ventured.
“The problem is, we might get more out of him if he respects a worthy opponent,” Jenna said. She took a sip of water. If she hadn’t met enough of these monsters, pretending to be clueless would seem the obvious way to go.
Red flashed in again. As it was, obvious wasn’t accurate here. “He’s testing us.”
Jenna reentered the box and handed Isaac Keaton, who was wiping his palms on his pants, the little cone of water.
She watched as Isaac lifted the cup, sipped. His hand didn’t shake. The cone tilted smoothly, the water slid down easy.
Things were about to get either good or bad. “Good show, Isaac.”
His chin tilted upward, and his hazel eyes met her own. In an instant those eyes transitioned from wild and scared to focused, calculating. Intense.
The side of his mouth turned up first, then he chuckled. “Whaddaya know? You’re not a complete fraud.”
Jenna’s stomach knotted. Just because she’d suspected this outcome didn’t make her less uneasy about it.
“I’d hate to think all that training was for nothing,” she countered.
Isaac laughed again, hard and loud. “Oh, come on, Dr. Ramey! We both know your gift didn’t come from one of those ‘I have a high school diploma and can carry a gun’ training courses!”
Gift. Kind of like the “gift” of foresight. “Tell me about your partner.”
Isaac’s thin brows lifted. “Partner is an interesting word choice. Implies equality.”
“And he’s not your equal,” Jenna supplied. It wasn’t a question. “Most people aren’t, are they?”
Isaac threw his head back. “Oh, Dr. Ramey! You’re shrinking me, aren’t you? That’s cute. Can I try? You like saving people. You saved your dad and brother, but you can’t come to terms with the fact that you couldn’t save your mom. You rescue other people to make up for the guilt.”
Bile rose in Jenna’s throat. “I’m not shrinking you, Isaac. Not any more than you want me to. I’m trying to wrap my head around why you did what you did. That I’ll admit.”
“Of course you are! That’s your job.”
Certain brands of sociopaths were like that: oppositional kindergartners wanting to be both first and not first for show-and-tell. When they showed the propensity, refocusing on something else tended to do the trick. “Tell me about the other half of the team.”
“Okay,” she conceded. “The other one-third.”
“Did you always see your mother as black?”
Flashes of the steak knife jutted in. Bloody palm prints dotting the kitchen countertops, a sick trail to the door. Freedom. “We’re not here to talk about me, Isaac.”
“Hmph,” he smirked. “I am.”
Jenna’s heart clenched. Panic built in her chest. Something ugly pressurized it, readying it for explosion.
This psycho shot a bunch of people and hung around to be caught. Couldn’t be only because he wanted to talk to the “famous” Dr. Jenna Ramey, no matter how bored he got. No. He was stalling. Waiting for something.
His smirk made purple flash in. Grapheme-color synesthesia worked for Jenna like inverted colorblindness. Where for most people, traits blended in, the colors that flashed in her mind at certain statements or mannerisms could make a quality stand out like a brunette in a sea of bald heads. In this case, the purple that crossed her mind brought up thoughts of narcissism. Flattery would get her everywhere.
“I don’t believe for a second that you let yourself get caught so you could shoot the breeze with me, Isaac.”
“You tell me, Dr. Ramey. Why would I let myself get caught?”
Notoriety. You’re playing a game, proving you’re smarter than we are. “You didn’t enjoy your knitting class?”
“I wouldn’t want to be caught, would I?”
Normal people didn’t want to be caught. Isaac did. “You already told me the other guy is only one-third of what you are, and he’s out there. By your own reasoning, either you’re underestimating him, or you’re lying to me. Which is it?”
“Did you know she was lying, Jenna? Your mother? How could you tell? The news stories said you had a hunch about her based on the color you associated. They said you couldn’t explain it. They said your colors had nothing to do with your emotional feelings for someone, Jenna, but they did, didn’t they? You didn’t want them to, but they did.”
She swallowed the surge of angst that crept in. Isaac was quite a fan.
But Jenna would rather donate a kidney to this guy than talk to him about her past. Best to keep him on task. “Speaking of your partner, if this guy is only one-third of what you are, why team up with him? Seems like a liability.”
Isaac puffed out his cheeks, then let the air out by pushing on his cheeks with a handcuffed hand on either side of his face. “You know the answer to that, don’t you?”
“If I knew, I wouldn’t ask.”
He leaned back in his chair, crossed his arms. “You asked me if I thought most people were my equals, and you knew that answer.”
Good memory, too. “Why don’t you humor me?”
He tipped his chair farther back so it stood on its two back legs. “’Cause if I did that, Dr. Ramey, you might not need to ask more questions, and I do hope you’ll stay and chat awhile.”
Sebastian Waters blinked into the fluorescents overhead. Damn, he was groggy. He couldn’t feel his left side. What the—
Then he remembered. Pops. Bullets. People falling. He’d yelled that someone was shooting from above them, from the castle.
He jumped when he saw the nurse in the corner of his eye. “Who’s there?”
The young brunette nurse with the sleek ponytail smiled. “I didn’t mean to scare you, Mr. Waters. I’m your shift nurse. You’re at the hospital. Do you remember what happened?”
Boy, did he.
“Yeah,” he said, his voice solemn. So much blood.
“A bullet got you in the shoulder. It passed straight through, thank goodness. No major damage, didn’t hit any arteries. You do have a good gash on your stomach where you fell. The doctor put in five stitches. You were one of the lucky ones.”
Lucky? Try preordained.
“Did they . . .” Sebastian winced. The stitches in his side burned when he talked. “Did they get him?”
“The police will want to talk to you as soon as the doctor gives them the okay, but yes. The police caught the castle shooter. Unfortunately, he wasn’t the only shooter. Another one shot people by the ferry. He’s still out there somewhere.”
“Unbelievable,” Sebastian whispered. The magnitude of the whole thing shocked him, amazed him. It seemed so impossible. It reminded him of an arcade tournament he’d played in once years ago, how the adrenaline coursed during what seemed like a never-ending event. But all of a sudden, this huge moment was over, and you could only look back in shock that you’d won or lost.
“I know. Unreal, isn’t it? But they’ll find him. It’s only a matter of time,” the nurse replied.
“How many”—Sebastian’s breath caught again—“dead?”
The nurse frowned. “Are you sure you want to talk about all this so soon, Mr. Waters?”
“Yes. I have to know.”
The nurse took a deep breath, exhaled. “Twenty. Seven more wounded, you included. Some are still critical. Others’ll be all right. Physically, that is. You’re probably in the best shape of all of them, to tell you the truth.”
Sebastian thought back on his morning. He’d gone in dressed as a cast member for customer convenience, in charge of making sure tourists found the attractions and rides. At one point he’d disappeared into one of the crew tunnels, headed away from the castle. He’d finished business, gotten back to the castle right when the shooting from above started.
Just like Isaac had told him to.
• • •
Jenna leaned in and propped her elbows on the gray metal table in the conference room. Time to switch tactics. “All right, Isaac. You want to talk about me so bad. You asked for me because you know about my mother. You said you read an article, huh?”
For a second, Isaac’s eyes narrowed. He hadn’t expected her to concede so easily. Then he smiled, smug. “Yeah. Read a few of your interviews and things.”
She hummed what might have sounded like agreement in the back of her throat. “And you want to know if I always saw my mother as black?”
Isaac’s gaze bore into her, excitement radiating off him. Mind-fucking at its finest.
“Yes, Dr. Ramey, I’d very much like to know that,” he said, practically salivating.
She leaned back, folded her arms. “You know what I think, Isaac? I think you’re a liar.”
“That’s pretty textbook for you, isn’t it, Doc?”
Jenna smiled, though none of this was funny. Remaining genial was key to keeping him talking. She’d met his breed before. To stay engaged, this type wanted something from her. Her best guess was that he craved a worthy adversary. If she didn’t fulfill this requirement, he’d either zip up or start spouting off complete bull that wouldn’t tell them anything.
“I mean you’re lying about the article research. You didn’t read my interviews, or you’d know I never saw my mother as black. You assumed. Popular misconception, of course. Nope. I didn’t give that information in any interview.”
Isaac Keaton tossed his honey-colored bangs out of his face, blinked. Grunted. “Touché. What color did you see her as?”
Finally. The upper hand.
“That’s for me to know, and you to bargain for.”
Isaac winked. “Now you’re the one assuming, Dr. Ramey. Assuming I’ll play along.”
“You will if you want me to play, too,” Jenna argued. “Are you going to tell me about the other killer?”
Isaac glanced around the blank pea green walls of the room. “Don’t I get a phone call or something?”
Not your everyday I’m-playing-a-game psychopath request. The ones caught for the allure of infamy weren’t often looking for someone to bail them out. “A few more questions.”
As usual, he changed the subject. “Most people like you want revenge, Dr. Ramey. You know. Victims. What do you do when you can’t get revenge? Or do you even want it, if the person who hurt your family is your family?”
“Is that what this was, Isaac? Revenge?”
He snorted. “Of course not. I asked because lots of people do want it.”
Where was he going with this? This was coming from somewhere. Had to be. “Who wants revenge? The other killer?”
Anger flashed across his face as his jaw tightened, then in an instant, complete calm replaced it. “Do yourself a favor and forget the other killer for a second.”
So he wants this to be about him. Or wants it not to be about the other killer.
“Okay. Like who, then?”
Isaac folded his hands on the table, twiddled his thumbs. “I’ve spent years talking to people, Dr. Ramey. In fact, we’re something alike, I think. You listen to people, I listen to people. Difference is when they talk to you, they’re paying a professional to help them. When they tell me their problems, they don’t pay. They’re confiding their deepest, darkest secrets to a friend.”
“Okay, and what do they have to do with anything, these people? Did they make you angry somehow?”
Isaac chuckled again. “I answered your questions. How ’bout that phone call now?”
“No way in hell you’re getting a phone call if you want it that bad, buddy,” Officer Nelson said.
Richards dismissed Moose with a flick of his hand after taking a bite of pizza. “It’s not that simple,” he said, but he looked to Jenna to explain.
The Isaac Keaton in the box now was very different from the one she’d left last time she’d come out. The rocking, confused mess from before now sat straight up, completely still, a slight smile playing on his lips. He was actually enjoying himself, wasn’t he?
“He wants us to assume he’ll call the other killer,” Jenna said. “Which most likely means he’ll call anyone but. You can bet he has a plan for this call. Otherwise he wouldn’t keep asking for it.”
“What kind of plan?” Moose asked.
“Who knows? But I’m gonna try to find out. How far out is the BAU team?”
“Just landed, so they should be this way in a half an hour or so,” Richards responded.
“Good. Keaton can cool his heels in there a few. Wonder what I’m up to. In the meantime, is there somewhere quiet I can make a couple phone calls?”
• • •
Jenna stared at the photos strewn across the desk as the phone rang on the other end. Twice. Three times.
Finally, someone picked up. “What’s shakin’?”
On the other end of the line, Jenna’s younger brother clanged a pot onto the counter, yelled, “Hey, hey, hey! No, ma’am, Ayana! Crayons are for coloring only!” The phone crackled, and he picked back up. “Dad is currently washing the chicken-potpie-disgusting off his arms. Turns out the terrible twos isn’t a misnomer after all.”
“Charley, I told you not to turn your back on her with the crayons! They go straight to her mouth—”
“Unlike the chicken potpie.”
“They were the fat crayons, right? She could choke—”
“Heya, Rain Man. You’re acting like I’m a virgin in the middle of a prison riot here. Why so keyed up?”
Jenna yanked her eyes from the photo of Korbin Dale, victim number four. “I know, I know. Sorry. It’s this new case. I’m stir-crazy waiting on BAU to get here. I just wanted to let you guys know I’ll be a few more hours. Can you hold things together until then?”
“Depends. How much duct tape we got in the house?” Charley asked.
Charley used his middle name, Padgett, as his last name now, but he still spoke like a true Ramey. If duct tape couldn’t hold it together, they didn’t need it.
“I’ll pick up a couple extra rolls on my way home just in case. Give Ayana a kiss for me,” Jenna said, and she hung up before Charley could say anything else. Right now his face stuck in her mind, but not the current picture of him with a bandanna tied around his head, his chin scruffy with a meager beard. It was a younger image she saw, the waxy, pale one from when he was six.
Jenna looked back down at the pictures she’d spread on the desk, pictures from another case entirely. Four dead men she knew too well to have never met them in person. Can you do this, Jenna?
The other half of Isaac Keaton’s team was still out there, and somehow she had to wheedle information out of Isaac. Over the past few months, the Gemini had terrorized the East Coast, killing more than a dozen people across different states. But those attacks were smaller. Isolated. The killers had doubled that in one day today. With one shooter in custody, the media would crucify the OPD, launch a witch-hunt if they didn’t make another arrest soon. Sure, she could work with BAU to form a basic profile of the UNSUB, the Unknown Subject of the Investigation, but the profile would be better, more useful, if she knew more. Even if Keaton was stalling, her best chance was to let down the drawbridge and let in the Trojan horse.
Isaac was right. She did save people. She tried to anyway. Damn it. Isaac Keaton had already gotten into her head.
He’d messed with the UNSUB, too. Sociopaths had a knack for finding that one button, then peeling down to the raw nerve until it was exposed and vulnerable.
It might be a dangerous tactic, but at least once the enemy was inside, she’d have a chance to take a swing at discovering and pushing his buttons.
• • •
“Back so soon, Doctor?” Isaac asked as Jenna came in. “After the first five minutes I assumed you were waiting for backup.”
Astute. “Is that why you paired up, Isaac? Backup? You don’t strike me as the type to need backup.”
“Aha, Dr. Ramey. Need and want are two very different things.”
Jenna settled in the chair across from the killer, crossed her legs, and leaned toward him. “Fair enough. So did you need backup or want backup?”
Isaac rose from the wooden chair an inch and slammed back down at the same time he hit his hand on the table. “Now, that’s why I like you, Dr. Ramey. You didn’t assume that because I corrected your statement, it meant I wanted rather than needed backup.”
His wild eyes settled, calm confidence replacing the excitement.
Still no answer to the question. Let’s try this a different way. “You don’t like assuming, and yet you assumed I was holding out for backup. We have different sets of rules?”
Of course, she already knew that answer. Isaac was a sociopath, and all sociopaths, be they Ted Bundy, Jeffrey Dahmer, or Jenna’s own mother, shared certain traits. One of those traits: they always played by their own rules, rules that set double standards—one standard for only them, and another standard for everyone else.
Isaac seemed to know where she was going. He nodded emphatically, mocking and humming his agreement. “Grandiose sense of self, feels the rules don’t apply. I’ve heard this a time or two.” He winked. “Yes. Agreed. I assume things about people. I’m typically smarter than they are.”
Jenna didn’t doubt it. Still, she’d heard it from plenty of monsters, and many times. Overestimating their intelligence was where they went wrong. Play to it. “What are my rules, if you don’t mind my asking?”
Isaac cocked his head, studied her for a moment. Finally he said, “Both. Wanted and needed.”
A reward for asking the right question. His pupils were dilated. He liked her.
“Am I right to assume my next question won’t get an answer?”
“Phone call yet?”
Jenna glanced at her watch. They couldn’t hold him forever without that call, but the hell if she had to give it to him without having some clue why he wanted it. Hank and his team had to be here by now. “Who’s your phone-a-friend, Isaac?”
“Who’s the first person you ever saw as one? A color, I mean,” Isaac countered.
Jenna pushed away from the table, stood. Always the damned colors. “Let me see if I can find a timetable on that call for you.”
Thadius Grogan’s knees creaked as he rose from the recliner. He snapped the dusty hardcover shut and tossed it on the pile of other books and magazines decorating the sofa. Concentration was about as likely right now as America electing Pee-wee Herman to the presidency by write-in vote. Reading about the life of that poor girl kidnapped at ten and kept for six years as a sex slave couldn’t hold his attention, even if it was in the interest of reminding him how very much worse Emily’s situation could’ve been. Howie Dumas would be letting him know the latest on the case any minute now.
Not like he’d been able to read since “it” happened anyway. Leastways, not anything for enjoyment. For the past five years he’d stuck tight to pieces about unsolved murders, burning the suspect images into his mind in case maybe, just maybe, he’d see one on the street and could help someone like himself. Worst-case scenario, he picked up a book like this one and pored over the crimes, thanking God at least Emily’s killer let her die the same day and not after years of torture.
Small consolation. Em was in vet school at the Florida Calhan University, her sights set on a job with the Birmingham Zoo a state over. She was supposed to marry that scrawny little dude with the ’fro haircut. Hell, maybe they’d have a kid or two by now, and he and Narelle would sit for them on Friday nights so they could catch a movie at the dollar theater. Em loved the dollar theater.
Thadius paced, flipped his phone over in his pocket.
Instead, that bastard took them both away from him. Well, technically just Emily, but Narelle went, too. Thadius would never forgive the bastard.
For that matter, he’d never forgive himself.
• • •
“You yelled for help just before you were shot. You don’t remember seeing anything, anyone after that, Mr. Waters?”
Sebastian’s eyelashes felt glued together, but he forced himself to stay awake. Pain had flared in his left side as the morphine wore off, and before he could stop her, the nurse had given him another shot to take the edge off. Because of that, the interview with the police was technically off the record. The questions thus far had been cursory, since they figured they already knew any information he might provide. If only they realized what he might reveal in his drugged state. One foggy slip and they would have the interview of their lives.
“Nothing else I can remember,” Sebastian muttered. Isaac always said less was better—unless it wasn’t.
The detective pocketed his moleskin notebook. “That’s all we need for now, but please call if you think of anything. We can’t officially tell you how to handle the media, but I suggest keeping a low profile.” He coughed. “As low a profile you can keep. You’re headlining the news now. The—er—incident is headlining, I mean. They’ll follow you, hang out in your front yard. Point is you don’t want to draw attention to yourself for obvious reasons.”
The detective walked toward the door, and Sebastian’s head lolled over on the pillow. God, he needed to sleep. “You mean the other shooter, huh?”
Luckily, the slurred quality of his voice made the note of bitterness sound like fear. Not much on the news about him at all.
The detective turned back, looked him in the eye. “Yes. Unfortunately.”
“Gotcha. No media,” Sebastian said. He already knew about the damned media. All part of the process.
“Feel better soon, Mr. Waters,” the detective replied.
Sebastian finally let his eyes flutter closed as the man left him in peace.
• • •
Oh, boy. They were on the run now.
Isaac sat in the box, daydreaming of popping off the rounds in the theme park. That high was nothing compared to his discussions thus far with Dr. Ramey. He hadn’t expected things to be so enjoyable before the main event began. Woman had it.
Like mother, like daughter.
By now, Sebastian would’ve been questioned, cleared. This time tomorrow he’d be on his way home. Of course, Isaac could ask how Sebastian Waters was doing, but showing interest in his victims wouldn’t help his cause, would it? Right now, they didn’t suspect. Best to keep it that way.
Behavioral Analysis Unit hadn’t arrived yet, though. The real test was about to begin.
Jenna rubbed her temples with both hands. She followed the path toward the main police station intake. Moose could’ve led the BAU team to the box, but when Hank texted her that he was five minutes out, Jenna volunteered instead. She needed the air.
They’d have to give Isaac a call. Not really a way around it.
Hank swung the door open as Jenna entered the lobby. For a short second their eyes met, and Jenna caught the splay of hazel around his pupil that matched Ayana’s. She’d gotten the eyes from him, all right.
In the next moment Jenna shook it off. This wasn’t the time.
“Jenna,” he said, curt, though his eyes said something different before they, too, broke free. He indicated the boxy brown woman about Jenna’s age who was trailing him. “Agent Saleda Ovarez, this is Dr. Jenna Ramey.”
Jenna introduced them to Officer “Moose” Nelson, then motioned them to come with her.
“What’s happened so far?” Hank asked, matching stride with Jenna.
She couldn’t stop the dry laugh that came out. “He either wants my deepest thoughts about my family life or a phone call.”
“Winner,” Saleda said from behind them.
Hank shot a look at Jenna, questioning, but she shook her head. “He’s not going to call the UNSUB. He’s too smart for that. I can tell by the way he asks for the call. He’s thought this through.”
Saleda spoke up, her Boston accent surprising. “Does he assume he has a constitutional right to a phone call?”
Jenna turned to face Saleda and backpedaled through the hall. “I’m not sure, come to think of it. Why do you ask?”
“Common misconception,” Saleda answered. “We don’t have to give him a call. It’s not a right, even though it’s usual practice.”
Such a small detail, Jenna had never questioned it. But now that Saleda mentioned it, the concept brought up more than one interesting point. The first would be they had the option not to offer Isaac a call. The second and more interesting implication: Isaac Keaton might’ve overlooked a detail. What did that misconception say about his profile?
“Crazy people miss things, I guess,” Moose said from behind all of them.
“He’s not crazy,” Hank muttered.
“That’s the problem, actually. He’s very sane, and he’s a planner,” Jenna added.
Moose grunted. “Seems like a big thing to miss for someone who masterminded something crazy. Even if he isn’t crazy.”
“Most likely means he knew he could get around it in some way, shape, or form. Lawyer?” Hank continued.
“Public,” Jenna answered as she reached the door. Richards had filled her in on the lawyer situation when she first arrived. “But Keaton thinks his lawyer’s an idiot. He’s probably right.”
They entered the box, and Jenna introduced the BAU team to Richards. Nods and handshakes went around the room, and everyone lined up at the window to view Isaac as though they were at a zoo exhibit.
“The M16 he dropped at the scene doesn’t match any of the ballistics from the other Gemini killings,” Hank said.
“Bastard has a lot of guns,” Jenna said. She’d read in the case file. Every shooting seemed to utilize a different firearm.
“And he left it,” Saleda ventured. “So, not his most prized possession.”
Jenna nodded. At Richards’s questioning look, she said, “In other words, not his .50 caliber with the specs tweaked just for him.”
“What about the ferry shooter’s .308?” Richards asked.
“Same deal. Different guns every Gemini shooting, and this .308 matches none of ’em. Only thing we have at the ferry site that’s different are a lot of strays,” Hank replied.
Jenna tossed that around a moment. “The M16 discharged . . .”
“Seventeen shots, seventeen hits.”
“Too weird,” Jenna said under her breath. The ferry shooter was either a really bad shot, or his heart wasn’t in it. Steel blue flashed in her mind, the same color she’d seen at age five when she was considering jumping off her dresser to land on the bed, doubting whether or not she could leap the distance. The steel blue was unmistakable. Very different from the berry hue she associated with incompetence. The ferry shooter lacked guts.
“In theory the .308 should be the more precise of the two,” Saleda said. “The guy with the M16 goes in firing at anyone and everyone, takes out whoever happens to be in its path. The .308 is less of a standard issue. Seventeen out of seventeen with an M16? Homeboy Isaac is way out of the UNSUB’s league,” Saleda echoed Jenna’s thoughts.
“Or the UNSUB is out of Isaac’s league,” Jenna replied.
Richards folded his lips, but Jenna could tell he wanted to ask more questions. Get over your hang-ups, Detective. Serials don’t happen every day in every precinct, thank God. “Could be a variety of reasons for the strays—”
Saleda picked up for her. “Clumsy. Lack of conviction. Nerves. Less training—”
In the box, Isaac’s tongue lined his teeth beneath his lips. Jenna’s mother’s face filled her brain. Claudia had worn such a sick, smug smile at the defense table while Jenna testified at her competency hearing after Claudia was arrested for the murder of four husbands, then charged with one murder and the attempted murder of Jenna’s father and brother.
Before Jenna could stop herself, she threw in, “Less enthusiasm.”
Hank shifted his weight just enough so his elbow brushed hers. “I say we give him the call. We don’t know where he’s going with this, but we need more to go on.”
Jenna’s skin prickled from Hank’s touch as she shook her head. “He’s not gonna lead us to the shooter, Hank.”
Don’t do something stupid because you’re trying to protect me.
Hank shrugged. “Maybe not. But it’ll lead us somewhere.”
Jenna entered the box behind Isaac, but she knew he’d heard the door open. She stopped moving, waited.
“So, dear Doc,” he finally said over his shoulder, “what’s the verdict?”
Jenna plopped the cordless onto the table, slid into her seat. “Time for your call, Isaac. I assume you know the drill. Collect call, so whoever answers will have to accept the charges. Phone call recorded, all that good stuff.”
“Oh, goodie.” There was no inflection there. He stared at her with cold eyes, then picked up the phone.
She watched him dial, tried to read his expressionless face. Hank was right. They had no leads on the ferry shooter, and Isaac’s call might give them something to go on. Still, she couldn’t ignore the pit in her stomach that said this phone call would end up being a curveball in the dirt. They’d chase it, just like he planned.
“Isaac Keaton,” the killer said, apparently reaching the prompt for his name.
Jenna filed the information away. Whoever he was calling knew him by this name.
The phone couldn’t have rung more than once, because Isaac spoke almost right away. He snapped off only three sentences. “I can’t talk long. I’m all right. B, please.”
He was quiet for a moment, the phone still pressed to his ear. Then he added, “Love you, too. I’ll be in touch.”
The color of cement flashed in. Anytime Jenna thought about her family, saw other family members embrace, rose. Friends arm in arm showed marigold. Couples sharing intimate moments tended to register deep burgundy. But this comment, this was cement. Flat.
Isaac ended the call and placed the phone back on the table between them.
“Close-knit family, huh?”
Isaac slid the phone back across the table to her. “You should know.”
Jenna snatched up the phone a bit quicker than she’d meant to. Relax your fingers.
He noticed. “How’s your family, Dr. Ramey? Why’d you move them back here, after all this time? You could’ve gone anywhere after the big, bad BAU. Why back to the Sunshine State?”
A lump formed in Jenna’s throat as the images of the house on Oak Hollow Road flashed in her mind like a picture reel: she and Charley playing tag in the front yard while her dad pushed the old, stinky lawnmower just past the wooden fence. Her dad hoisting her to the peak of the Christmas tree to plop the star on top. Running through the house, passing bloody streaks on the walls. Standing in the kitchen doorway when the police took Claudia away. Watching from her SUV as the wrecking ball dealt the old house its first blow.
She bit back her reaction, swallowed hard. No more Oak Hollow Road house with its perfect picket fence and perfect driveway. Now she had wrought iron gates and the generic, impersonal parking lot of a high-rise apartment building. Better.
“You from around here, Isaac? You sure do know a lot about me for someone who’s not,” she snapped back.
“Vern doing well?” he countered.
“Daddy issues, Isaac?”
A smirk crossed the killer’s face. “How about Charley? Ayana?”
“Back in a while, rock star,” Jenna countered. It was a weak response, but it was the best she could do at the moment. She’d lost this round, but she wasn’t down for good.
Isaac winked. “You stay out of my family, I’ll stay out of yours.”
• • •
Even though he was waiting for the call, the vibration of the phone made Thadius jump. He fumbled the cell as he pulled it out of his pocket. Second ring. Third.
“Please be there. Please don’t hang up,” he mumbled. He finally reached the button to answer. “Yes?”
“Mr. Grogan?” A woman’s voice, Australian accent.
Thadius gripped the phone harder. “This is he.”
“Mr. Grogan, this is Sheila, Howie Dumas’s secretary. Mr. Dumas is tied up this afternoon, but he asked me to pass along the information he’s collected for you.”
He concentrated on easing up on the phone. Wouldn’t help if it broke before he heard. “Yes, ma’am. I’m ready.”
“The gun was purchased at Pembry Pawn on Forty-fifth. Purchased the day before, no waiting period.”
Thadius’s pulse quickened. The police had released almost no details about Em’s death, not even to him. He’d believed them, depended on them. Trust the system, he’d thought. They’d find him, the sick freak.
Over the years he’d come to realize they weren’t withholding because they knew something crucial. They weren’t telling him anything because they had no freaking clue what they were doing. It was the exact reason he’d hired someone to find out for him. Someone competent.
“No bullets purchased, but we expected that, since the gun wasn’t loaded or fired,” the secretary continued.
Thadius beat his head into the main beam of the living room doorway, eyes shut tight. If only the coward had shot her. At least it would’ve been over fast. As it was, one of the few things Thadius had been able to discern from the snippets the cops had told him was that the bastard used the gun to scare her into letting him inside. It’d been found in the smoldering ruins that were her house.
“I’ll e-mail the full report. Will that work?” the secretary asked.
Thadius nodded, then remembered she couldn’t see him. “Yes. Fine.”
He clicked his phone off, pounded his head against the door frame one more time. Then he sniffed hard, blinked away the moisture in his eyes. Coat, keys, wallet.
Thadius didn’t bother to lock the door on his way out.
He wasn’t planning on returning home.
What People are Saying About This
“Color Blind is fast paced, suspenseful, and surprising. Forensic psychiatrist Jenna Ramey is a great heroine, whose synesthesia offers a fascinating approach to investigation. Colby Marshall has written a top-notch debut novel.” —Meg Gardiner, author of Phantom Instinct
“Readers will look forward to seeing more of this appealing heroine.”—Publishers Weekly
“[A] stellar debut… Marshall's style is clipped and spare, her main character and her powerful perceptions an intriguing hero.”—Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
“High stakes and frequent setbacks keep the action taut and demonstrate Jenna's human frailties. Readers will eagerly await Jenna's next adventure, and with an imminent sequel, their wishes will quickly come true.”—Shelf Awareness
Praise for the novels of Colby Marshall
“Colby Marshall has written a book that deserves to be called THRILLER.”—R.L. Stine, New York Times bestselling author of the Goosebumps series
“An intricate puzzle that will keep you guessing until the very end!”—C.J. Lyons, New York Times bestselling author of Broken
“Colby Marshall’s sterling debut may transpire over more than six or seven days, but like me you'll probably finish it in a single night, racing the dawn to flip the last page. A classic concept updated to fit our politics wary world.”—Jon Land, bestselling author of The Tenth Circle
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Colby Marshall has done it again with an intense psychological thriller that had me jumping at strange sounds late at night, and giving the side-eye to strangers I meet while out and about every day. Who among them might be the next Ted Bundy, Robert John Maudsley, or (tragically) the next one to open fire on a crowd of innocents? They walk among us every day, and Ms. Marshall has created some terrifying examples in this gripping, racing thriller. From its opening with a mass shooting at crowded theme park until its gripping conclusion, Color Blind had me breathless. She’s also created the most unique protagonist I’ve encountered in a long time. Dr. Jenna Ramey is a consultant for the FBI as a profiler of sorts. The special thing she brings to her analysis is synesthesia, a condition/ability/unusual brain-wiring that some people have where letters, numbers, words, flavors, etc. are intrinsically linked with colors, and the colors have special meanings unique to the person with the condition. Ms. Marshall has said in interviews that she herself has synesthesia, so she brings a reality to Jenna Ramey that would be hard to achieve for many other writers. Jenna isn’t just a tough FBI agent; she’s a fully rounded character with a family and friends, and who also has a sociopathic mother who tried to kill them all. This book, including the traits and behaviors of sociopaths has been extremely well researched, according to the author notes, and it shows. The psychopathic antagonists are skin-crawlingly creepy, and their victims (including a couple of other “villains” who are manipulated by the psychopaths) are presented with a touching sympathy—there are clear, logical reasons for their vulnerability to the remorseless, cruel machinations of the primary sociopaths, Isaac Keaton and Jenna’s own murderous mother. Ms. Marshall is very effective at creating the miasma of malignancy that is the unseen-until-it’s-too-late hallmark of these twisted, terrifying people. As a sort of “Easter egg”, fans of Ms. Marshall will recognize a familiar face in the character of Yancy, a man with a prosthetic leg and an independently-minded dachshund. He first appeared in a small cameo role in The Trade, part of Ms. Marshall’s McKenzie McClendon series. In Color Blind, Yancy solidly moves into the role of protagonist, with a few clever tricks up his sleeve (or rather, down his leg!) I, for one, hope that some day Ms. Marshall uses that link to bring the two series together. Dr. Jenna Ramey and McKenzie McClendon would be a truly dynamic duo! Until then, I’m very much looking forward to the next Jenna Ramey novel!
This book helped fill an important hole for me. I've needed more books like Gone Girl, maybe, or even a throwback to Thomas Harris, if I'm lucky. Color Blind casts similar shadows to both of them, in ways. For one, I've been looking for dark mysteries. True, protagonist Jenna Ramey, an FBI profiler, puts the book into the procedural vein, but the story also weaves wonderfully into Jenna's past. Her extended family plays a key role in the plot, and her immediate family help flesh out her character, and keep her from being JUST an FBI profiler (she's a single mother to a toddler, by the way). It's deep, it's smart, and it's real. Not terribly violent compared to Marshall's past books, but there's something to the action of this new series that elevates it above the fold in ways she hasn't quite managed before. Something classy. Uneasy. Manages to undermine your sense of security. Remember Mary Higgins Clark's A Cry in the Night? Very different book, but the same feeling of ongoing suspense. I recommend you read Color Blind when you have enough time to read through to the end. The bad guys in the book are wonderful, and very much deserve mention. In Claudia, Jenna's black widow mother, Marshall creates her own Hannibal Lector figure in that they both consult while incarcerated, but there the similarities end. Claudia is duplicitous, malicious, and cunning. She has a plan, and no one knows what it is until the poisoned dinner plates are picked clean. Isaac Keaton, the mass murdering psychopath who gets the story's ball rolling, is like if Eric Harris grew up, developed a God complex, and didn't have a death wish. Also a mastermind planner, Isaac lays a labyrinth for Jenna to get lost in that Marshall pulls off splendidly. It's impressive. I can't spoil the ending, obviously (there's that Gone Girl shadow I mentioned...), but I will say I found it completely satisfying. The second thing I've looked for for a while are books about synesthesia. It's such an under-utilized element, and it's about time someone adopted it for a thriller. I have to say though, what's most impressive about Marshall's use of it in Jenna is that it never becomes more than a tool. It's not a superpower. It's just a quirky device Jenna uses to complement a well-rounded, intelligent, competent character. The synethesia adds a cool, fresh dynamic to unraveling the mystery, but it's Jenna's strong character who wins in the end. This book will be worth your while.
Really enjoyed this book. It has good characters, plot and a very interesting twist in solving murders. Looking forward to reading her next book.
A great read. I'm a fan of Mary Higgins Clark and James Patterson and Color Bind was perfect for me. It hooks you early and keeps you all the way to the very end. I found myself rushing through the last few chapters, desperate to find out what the next twist revealed. I don't have a lot of time to read, with two young children, but I couldn't put this one down. Just the right balance of character development and red herrings. You think you have a hint of what is coming and then there would be a new twist. Definitely worth the read. I look forward to reading more Dr. Ramey books and going back to read Colby Marshall's other books. I love when I find a new author I can count on any time for a good book and I have the feeling Colby Marshall is my new "go to."
Well written and very intriguing. This book kept me on the edge of my seat. The characters were personal enough to connect to and easy to build a picture of events. When I hit chapter 35 I could not put the book down until I had finished it.