Hacker – Prologue

THIS IS BOOK FOURTEEN IN THE BO AUSTEN-TAYLOR SERIES. If you have not read:

1. The Surgeon

2. The Dollhouse Murderer

3. The Hunter

4. The Puppet Master

5. The White Rose Butcher

6. The Acid Bath Killer

7. The Ghost

8. The Copycat

9. The Bonekeeper

10. The Executioner

11. The Casanova

12. The Werewolf

13. and The Blackout Killer

it is highly suggested that you stop now and read the previous two books before continuing. The books do not make sense if you start here. The characters will not make sense if you start here. This is a series, and series do not make sense when read out of order.

NOT EDITED

Prologue

Friday: March 2, 2029
7:06 AM; CLINSTONE, THE AUSTEN-TAYLOR HOUSEHOLD, MASTER BEDROOM

Jensen Austen-Taylor groaned as his phone vibrated with a text. His right arm trapped beneath at least one of his sons—he honestly wasn’t sure which—he reached out with his free hand and grabbed his phone. He squinted at the message on his screen before closing his eyes again.

Clinstone dispatch. A ten-fifty-six. He couldn’t help but be thankful it wasn’t his department.

He forced his eyes open as his phone went off again. This time, it was a text from his husband. With a sigh, he unlocked his screen.

Bo: 10-56 over dispatch. Is that a scene you’re planning on going to?

Jensen: It’s a suicide.

Bo: So? We thought that about the Executioner’s first scene, remember?

Jensen: I’ll ask Jake about it when I actually go in for work, okay?

Bo: All righty

Jensen frowned.

Jensen: It’s five in the damn morning. What’re you doing up?

Bo: Crime scene.

Jensen: I thought you were doing shit for Jamal?

Bo: I was. Am. There just, you know… happened to be a crime scene that Jamal thought I’d be interested in.

Jensen: Like?

Bo: I said Stanley McCullough wasn’t an isolated incident. I was right. I’m staring at our vigilante’s second victim.

5:10 AM; LOS ANGELES, HOLLYWOOD, FOUNTAIN AVENUE

“You really think it’s the same guy from Clinstone?” Jamal Pitman questioned, hands tucked neatly behind his back.

Bo Austen-Taylor offered a short nod, his eyes on the body, his thumbs hovering over the screen of his phone. “If it’s not the same killer, it’s definitely someone with the same amount of hatred in their system, roughly the same amount of strength, and—from what I’ve seen in the McCullough crime scene photos—the same love for heavy wrenches.”

“Mm.”

Detective Luca Roth strode up beside Bo, hands shoved into the pockets of his jeans. “Thoughts?” he asked simply.

Bo lifted his shoulders. “Well, dead man. He wasn’t killed here. He was murdered somewhere else and transported here after the fact.” He cleared his throat, pointing to the piece of bloody poster board that had been nailed to the dead man’s chest. “Jack Allen, according to our killer.”

“Rapist,” Luca murmured. “So… our killer found out this guy had raped someone?”

“Seems that way, yes,” Bo agreed with a nod. He shook his head, sending a final text to Jensen before pushing his phone into the back pocket of his jeans. “Thanks,” he said, his voice quiet as he grabbed the pair of gloves Jamal held out to him.

“Mmhmm. You gonna be okay?” Jamal asked.

“I’ll be fine,” Bo assured.

“Good,” Jamal said softly. He clapped a hand down on Bo’s shoulder before pointing to Luca. “You take good care of my boy.”

The detective smiled. “Always, sir.”

Jamal nodded tersely before turning and walking away from the scene. Bo watched him duck under the yellow crime scene tape several yards away. The blonde lifted a hand in greeting as Frank waved to him.

“I keep hearing the word vigilante getting thrown around,” Luca said. He turned to look down at Bo. “Is that what you think of this, too?”

Bo stared at the dead man’s body for a moment before nodding. “Yes. In Clinstone last year, a body was found in a machine shed on a woman’s farm.”

“Ah. Blackout Killer case, right?” Luca asked. Bo nodded. “And you think this… vigilante got his hands on Blackout, too?”

“I think it’s always a high possibility. Neither one of these men should’ve had an enemy that would want or need to take out this much anger and aggression on them,” Bo said. For the first time, he pulled his camera away from his chest, lifting the strap over his head.

“But you’re not totally sure?”

“The first scene, the one in Clinstone, didn’t have the sign stapled to the victim’s chest. There was no indicator of who he was or what he’d done to deserve death. Here, we already have a name and a crime, and I haven’t even touched the body yet,” Bo said.

“Well, maybe after the first kill, he started digging around in past vigilante killers to see what they did. He saw, you know, GBK and Hangman, and decided he needed to start leaving notes, too,” Luca suggested.

“Oh, what about Hangman, Roth?” Lieutenant Dallas Silver asked, slinging an arm over the detective’s shoulders.

Luca flinched. “Nothing, Loo.”

Bo rolled his eyes. “He’s suggesting the killer only left behind the note because he realized other vigilantes, like Hangman and GBK, did it with their victims.”

Dallas nodded. “Of course. Gives the killer credit for the hard work they put forth in tracking the guy,” he said.

“So… he’s definitely a criminal?” Bo asked.

Dallas snorted, pushing himself away from Luca. “Wouldn’t know. I’m not a killer.” He held up a hand, offering a shrug.

“Okay, in your humble opinion, is Mister Allen over here guilty of the crime our vigilante has accused him of?” Bo asked.

“In my humble opinion?” Dallas asked. Bo nodded once. In his best Minnesotan accent, he said, “Oh, you betcha.”

Bo couldn’t help but chuckle as he shoved Dallas back a step. “Don’t be a dick,” he muttered. Adjusting the lens of his camera, he finally snapped his first picture of the body.

“Can’t help it. Your BFF’s fun little accent gets just a bit more contagious every time I see him,” Dallas said. He patted Bo on the shoulder. “I gotta go deal with these reporters, get them pushed back a little further. If you need anything, you know where I am.”

“Thank you.” Dallas nodded once before walking away from the blonde. Bo cleared his throat. “Where’s your partner today?”

“Sick.” Luca pulled his hands from his pockets, crossing his arms over his chest instead as he watched Bo move around the body, squatting down or moving closer for different angles on the corpse. “If this is a vigilante, if… they believe in some sort of twisted justice, why do they beat the shit out of their victims like this?” he asked.

Bo held his camera to his chest as he flexed out the fingers of his free hand. “Well, look at GBK. They beat the hell out of their victims.”

“Yeah, but they had a system. They did to the crooks what the crooks had done to their innocent victims,” Luca said. “If the crook chopped off two fingers from each of their victims, GBK did the same to the crook. I’m going to assume that McCullough in Clinstone and Allen here didn’t both beat people to death with wrenches.”

“Well… Hangman killed everyone the same way. A slit throat.” Bo shook out his hand before returning to his pictures. “There were a few victims he beat. They weren’t any better or worse than the others.”

“No, but Hangman had a personal vendetta against the victims he beat or stabbed to death,” Luca reminded. “Which brings us back to the point where you said these aren’t just two guys that had terrible grudges held against them. This wasn’t a personal vendetta or some kind of revenge. It was vigilantism, and instead of taking them out easy or handing them over to the cops, they did something that was just as bad as the crimes they’re shunning.”

Bo looked up at the detective, offering a tired smile. “I’m not quite the genius you think I am, Detective. I’m still just the forensics guy, and I can only offer up what I know. And I know that Mister McCullough was beaten to death with a wrench and left in a machine shed while the family that owned the property was gone. I know that Mister Allen was killed elsewhere and beaten with a blunt object of some sort, one that looks like it could be a wrench, as well, but one that I won’t name until I’ve had time to experiment in the lab. I know that Mister Allen has been pegged down with a specific crime, offering us a reason as to why he was killed.”

The blonde lifted his shoulders. “But that’s it.”


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