Blackout – Prologue

THIS IS BOOK THIRTEEN IN THE BO AUSTEN 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. and The Werewolf

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

Wednesday: August 23, 2028
6:45 AM; CLINSTONE, THE AUSTEN-TAYLOR HOUSEHOLD, MASTER BEDROOM

Bo Austen-Taylor lay on his back, staring up at the ceiling. Jensen lay beside him, an arm draped heavily over his chest, his head on the blonde’s shoulder. Like most Wednesdays in the middle of August, Bo couldn’t sleep. A Wednesday morning in the middle of August meant his daughters were beginning another school year.

Bo always hated the beginning of the school years. Passing his kids off after an entire summer together, even if only for a few hours, wasn’t something he had grown accustomed to.

“Can’t sleep?” Jensen questioned, his voice rough with sleep.

Bo shook his head. “I’ve only been up for about half an hour. I should be getting up soon, anyway,” he said.

“Worried about school?”

“Always,” Bo said. Jensen chuckled softly, wrapping his fingers around Bo’s shirt. “I just consider ourselves lucky that we aren’t Jake and Alice. This is Katie’s senior year. She’s off to college next August.”

Jensen let out a low whistle. At the end of the bed, one of Hati’s ears perked up. Assured that neither of her owners were planning on moving, she let out a sigh and dropped her head back to Bo’s leg. “Sending the girls off for college is gonna be hell,” he whispered.

“I know. It’s bad enough that Kay’s starting her first day of middle school. I can’t even imagine college right now.”

“We’ll just make her go to the college just outside of town.”

Bo snorted. “I don’t think that’s up to us, love.”

“Tragically.”

“We’ll just visit her all the time,” Bo said. He tapped Jensen’s shoulder. “Up.”

Jensen groaned, rolling onto his back. “Wake me up at seven-thirty?”

“Sure thing, Jens.” Bo grabbed his watch from the nightstand. The girls had given it to him for his last birthday, and he had since dedicated it as the only watch to wear when either child was doing something important. That morning, the importance was simply their first day of school. “Up, sweetheart.”

Hati jumped off the bed with a grunt. Bo climbed out of bed, tugging the covers back toward the pillows. He pulled open the door and stepped into the hall. Hati dashed out in front of him, hurrying for the keeping room. Bo followed and unlocked the sliding door. He opened it and watched Hati dash outside before leaping off the deck.

The blonde smiled, rolling his eyes as he closed the door. He headed back to the bedroom his daughters shared and knocked on the door. “Are we up?”

“Yep!” Amber assured. “Kay’s in the shower.”

“Safe to come in?”

“Yep.”

Bo opened the door, leaning in to look at his youngest daughter. “Any idea what you want for breakfast, sweetheart?”

Amber lifted her shoulders. “Whatever healthy thing you plan on tricking me into eating.”

Bo smiled. “Well, you know. Getting you to eat healthy is just my fatherly love.”

Amber snorted. “Sure, Daddy.” Dressed in a Pokemon onesie with the hood pulled over her head, she looked even younger than her nine years. “Are you and Dad driving us to school today?”

“Planning on it. Why?”

“Just making sure.” She pulled her knees to her chest, cocking her head to the side. “Kay’s starting sixth grade. I’m gonna be alone at lunch again.”

Bo walked into the room and sat down beside the girl on the bottom bunk. “You won’t be alone. You have friends.”

“Well… yeah, but I like sitting with Kay. She’s smart, like you. The kids in my class just like to fight with each other,” Amber said. “Kay, like… I dunno.”

“She moderated them, kept things from getting out of hand,” Bo said.

“Yeah.”

“Well, that’s good. She’s just teaching you how to be smarter than the rest of them. Now you can be the moderator.”

“I can?”

“Of course! It won’t be easy immediately or anything like that, but you’ve seen Kay do it enough that you can help keep everyone under control,” Bo said.

Amber smiled faintly. “Thanks, Daddy.”

“My pleasure, sweetheart.” Bo pressed a kiss to the top of her hooded head and pushed himself to his feet. “Are you planning on taking a shower?”

“Yep.”

“Figured. Well, I’m going to grab a shower, and then I’ll start on breakfast. If you want me to do your hair, have an idea of what you want before I’m done, okay?”

“Okay.”

Bo walked back out of the room, closing the door behind him. He walked past the boys’ room, unwilling to crack the door open and risk waking them both up. He glanced up at the window wall in the living room. Hati ran around the yard, more than happy to stay outside in the warm August morning.

Bo headed back for the bedroom he and Jensen shared. Acamas had jumped up onto his side of the bed, curling up on his pillow. He scratched the top of her head and grabbed his phone from the nightstand. He unlocked the screen and checked his messages.

Gwen: Crime scene. You and hubby going in? Or do you want me to handle it?

Bo glanced at the time, frowning. He wouldn’t be in for over an hour.

Bo: You can get started with pictures, if you want. I have to get the kids ready for school, and then we’ll be in.

Gwen: Perfect. I’ll text you the address.

Bo: You’re a lifesaver. Thanks, Gwen.

Gwen: Sure thing, Bo

Bo set his phone down and headed for the bathroom. He’d make his shower quick and wake Jensen up just a bit earlier than usual. If they dropped the girls off a few minutes earlier than usual, they’d have more time to chat with friends, and he and Jensen could get to the crime scene much sooner.

The sooner they arrived at the scene, the better.

7:52 AM; CLINSTONE, THE WEAVER HOUSEHOLD, DRIVEWAY

Bo climbed out of the driver’s side of his car, leaning back in to grab his camera bag from the passenger seat. “Hi, Gwen,” he greeted without turning around.

“Hiya.” Gwen Tanner cleared her throat. “I’m gonna warn you, Bo. It isn’t good in there.”

“Is it ever?” He leaned out of the car, closing the door.

“No, but, umm… This one’s bad, Bo.”

Bo lifted his head, raising an eyebrow. “How bad?”

“It’s another dead family. Both parents and two teenagers,” Gwen said. “The daughter’s naked, and I won’t know for sure until I can move her for further examination, but there appear to be signs of rape.”

“For the love of Jupiter,” Bo muttered. He nodded toward the house. “What about the others?” he asked.

Gwen walked with him toward the house. “The son’s in the basement. Slit throat. The parents were stabbed several times, it seems, but I haven’t rolled them over for actual counts yet. I figured you’d like pictures of your own first.”

“Again, you’re a lifesaver.” Bo walked into the house. “Kitchen?”

“To your left.” Bo headed for the kitchen and set his camera bag on the table. “Where’s Sarge?”

“Dropping the twins off at the station for daycare,” Bo said. “He’ll be here in a few.” He pulled on a pair of gloves and worked to quickly assemble his camera. He snapped the flash into place and sighed. “All right. Do you know who died first?”

“The son. He and his sister have been dead… much longer than the parents,” Gwen said.

Bo nodded. “Show me.”

“This way.” Gwen walked out of the kitchen, and Bo followed. She headed down the basement stairs, one gloved hand pressed to the wall. “By my best estimate, he’s been dead for about a week.”

Bo’s eyes scanned the basement as he held his free hand up to his nose. “Nothing special down here. Water heater, circuit breaker, plant fertilizer, and what looks like a tornado shelter. Why was he down here in the first place?”

“No idea,” Gwen said.

“Hmm.” Bo cleared his throat. He dropped his hand from his nose, turning on his camera instead. “He was killed first.”

“Right.”

“So the killer was in the basement.”

Gwen glanced up before shrugging. “Probably, yeah. He could’ve heard a noise and come down here,” she said.

“Possibly. The sister was killed next?” Bo asked, squatting down beside the teenager’s corpse.

“Yeah. She’s in the living room,” Gwen said.

“Face up?”

“Yes.”

“Entirely stripped of clothing?”

“Yep.”

“Where’d he stab her?” Bo asked, tilting his camera to the side for a better angle on the victim’s face.

“He slit her throat, too,” Gwen said.

“And then mutilated her, didn’t he?”

“Yeah.”

“Lust murder,” Bo said quietly. “What about the mother?”

“As far as I can tell, there aren’t any signs of rape. She’s fully clothed,” Gwen said.

“Does she look like the daughter?”

“Not… really, I guess. The daughter’s a redhead. The mom’s blonde.”

“Natural or dye job?”

“Uh, dye job on the daughter. The family pictures have her as a blonde. I think the red hair’s relatively new,” Gwen said. “It’s closer to a ‘natural’ look, though. It’s not anything super dark or bright. Just, you know, ginger.”

“The fact that he didn’t touch the mother either has to do with appearance or age,” Bo said. He leaned back on his heels, closing his eyes for a moment. “Lust murder. Why kill the whole family if the gratification only comes from the daughter?”

“I wondered that myself. What’s the point of killing four people if you only derive sexual gratification from one of them? It’s a waste of his energy, and it’s a dangerous waste of his time. Hell, theoretically, he might’ve been waiting around her for a week just for the parents to come back so he could kill them, too. The parents were killed less than twelve hours ago.”

Bo nodded, carefully stepping over the boy’s legs. “I’d say the parents were the targets just because he waited for them to come home, but if that were the case, he wouldn’t turn the daughter’s murder into anything lustful. He’d just kill her for being the way, like he did for the son.”

“Yeah, I thought that was weird, too.”

Bo looked toward the stairs as Jensen came down them, a gloved hand held to his nose. “You seen the bodies upstairs?”

“Not yet. I wanted to go in order,” Bo said.

Jensen nodded. “Well, it sure as hell isn’t pretty.” He shoved his free hand into his pocket. “Jake came down for this.”

“Why?”

“There’s a news van outside. He wanted to help keep shit contained. If he couldn’t do it, David was planning on coming down, instead,” Jensen said.

“Jesus,” Gwen breathed.

“I know. Ramirez and Floyd are here, too. We’ve got three detectives upstairs, five officers by last count, and our damn lieutenant,” Jensen said. “This is nothing but a big ‘fuck you’ to Clinstone. We haven’t had a homicide in so long that when one happens again, it’s immediately newsworthy.”

“That’s reporters for you,” Bo said. He accepted Gwen’s outstretched hand as he stood back up. “They have no respect for the dead. They just need ratings.” He cleared his throat. “That doesn’t make it any less fucked up, of course.”

“Either one of you have some brilliant theory as to what the hell happened here?” Lieutenant Jacob Mason asked from the top of the stairs.

Bo and Gwen exchanged a look before the blonde shook his head. “Currently at a loss, Loo. We’ll get back to you on that.”

Jacob nodded, smacking a hand against the doorjamb. “We’ve got a second news van on the way. Moving the bodies out of here isn’t going to be easy. It needs to be as respectful as possible. I can only push the fuckers back so far,” he said.

Bo nodded. “We’ll worry about that once we have pictures taken. For now, just make sure they stay off the damn lawn. Push them back to the other side of the street. We can park cruisers and ambulances out on the street to better block their view,” he said.

“I’ll get on that,” Jacob said quietly. “Coroner’ll be in soon. Maybe twenty minutes. I’ll have her park in front of the sidewalk here, too.” From behind his glasses, his sapphire blue eyes scanned the basement before he shook his head. “Welcome back to Homicide, huh?”

“Welcome back to Homicide,” Bo echoed.


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