THIS IS BOOK TWELVE 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
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.
Sunday: April 9, 2028
5:50 AM; LOS ANGELES POLICE DEPARTMENT, POLICE CHIEF JAMAL PITMAN’S OFFICE
Jamal Pitman, an elderly black man, leaned back in his desk chair, swiping his cell phone from the desk as it dinged with a general text from dispatch. He unlocked his screen, sliding his thumb down the fingerprint scanner. His dark eyes skimmed the message. “Huh,” he murmured, raising an eyebrow. He tapped his phone against the palm of his hand, glancing over at the thin stack of paperwork on his desk. With a nod, he decided it could wait. He hadn’t been to a crime scene in a long while.
“Franklin?” he questioned.
Frank lifted his head from the newspaper in his hands. “Yes, sir?”
“Would you like to go on a little field trip?”
“Where to, sir?”
“Brentwood, up by the museum,” Jamal said.
Frank checked his watch. “It’ll be around fifteen minutes, sir,” Frank said.
“Yes,” Jamal said simply, pushing himself to his feet. “Would you like to go? Or are you too engrossed in the sports section?” he asked.
Frank snorted, rolling his eyes. “It’s actually the editorials, but, you know.” He folded the newspaper, tucking it under his arm as he pushed himself to his feet. He pulled his reading glasses off, folding them and tucking them away in the pocket of his suit jacket. “Well, let’s head on out, then, Mister Pitman.”
Jamal tucked his hands behind his back as he and Frank walked out of his office, side by side. “I figured it’d been a while since we visited a homicide scene,” he said.
Frank snorted. “You just want to see if it’s worthy of calling Mister Austen back into town,” he said.
“Ah, guilty as charged,” Jamal agreed. He reached out, tugging open the door before Frank could reach it. The younger man glanced up at his boss, waiting for him to walk through. “Go,” Jamal said, nodding toward the parking lot.
“You’re impossible,” Frank muttered, walking out of the police station and into the parking lot.
Jamal chuckled. “I aim for that, Frank.”
“I’m aware,” Frank agreed with a shake of his head. “What will you do if it is Austen-worthy?”
“Give him a call and see if he wants in. There’s been next to nothing in Clinstone since that, uh, that Casanova killer. I’m sure he’s bored as is,” Jamal said. He pulled open the passenger door of the car as soon as Frank unlocked them.
The younger man scowled. “Would you kindly stop doing my damn job for me?” he asked.
Jamal snorted. “I kindly refuse,” he said, climbing into the car. Frank rolled his eyes, shutting the door before Jamal could. He rounded the car and got into the driver’s seat, holding out a hand. Jamal dropped his phone into Frank’s palm. “Would you like to attend the scene?”
Frank grimaced. “I’m good, Jamal. No more murder for me today,” he said.
Jamal nodded. “Fair enough.” He cleared his throat, turning to look out the window as Frank backed out of the parking space. “If it’s graphic, is wrong to call Bo?”
“That isn’t for me to decide, sir.”
“No, not usually, but I’m asking for an opinion. He’s with his family. The girls are in school. Is it wrong?” Jamal asked.
Frank let out a soft sigh. “That’s up to him to decide, Jamal. Ask if he wants to come down, and he will decide.”
“He has a hard time telling me no. He won’t be truthful.”
“He trusts you. He has told you no before, he just has a different way of showing it. It usually begins with something about Mister Taylor. ‘I’d like to, but Jensen would say no.’ It’s his way of getting out of things without you saying it’s his fault,” Frank explained. Jamal grunted his response. “You asked.”
“I know,” Jamal said quietly. “Think he’ll ever be comfortable flat out telling me no?”
“Never. He’s… Well, you’ve met him. He doesn’t want to disappoint you,” Frank said simply.
“Right. Let’s just, umm… get to the scene.”
Frank nodded. “Of course, Mister Pitman.”
6:11 AM LOS ANGELES, BRENTWOOD, BEVERLY PARK DRIVE
“What’ve we got?” Jamal questioned as he approached the scene, hands tucked behind his back. His officers were still working on barricading the road, but the main perimeter had already been sealed off with yellow crime scene tape. They were quick and efficient, something he had always appreciated.
“Dead guy. Jogger, it appears,” Lieutenant Dallas Silver said.
“What’re you doing here?” Jamal asked.
The younger man lifted his shoulders, shoving his hands into his pocket. “Couldn’t sleep. Had nothing better to do,” he said. “You’re either going to need to convince Bo back here for this case or get a new analyst.”
Dallas nodded off to his left. “Bev took one look at the scene and threw up. Couldn’t handle it. It’s too much for an intern,” he said.
Jamal followed the man’s blue eyes to where Beverly Johnson sat in the grass across the street, knees hugged to her chest. “That bad, huh?” he asked.
“That bad,” Dallas repeated. “His chest is cut open, sternum cracked and torn apart.”
“Certainly not the worst thing we’ve seen,” Jamal said.
Dallas cleared his throat. “His heart was ripped out of his chest, Jamal.”
Dallas nodded, his gaze shifting back to the body that lay several yards in front of him. “His heart was ripped out of his chest. That’s why he’s cut open. That’s why his sternum was cracked. There’s a lot of tearing of the skin. No clean cuts. Nothing precise about it. Just… just a lot of blood, spatter, and carnage. It’s a fucking mess, Pitman.”
“How would you tear at the sternum like that?” Jamal asked.
“I would guess bonesaw,” Dallas said. “But that’s not exactly my area of expertise. That’s what the lab geeks are for, and ours is beyond disgusted at this.” He frowned. “Not that I blame her,” he added.
Jamal nodded. “Thanks, Silver.”
Jamal clapped a hand down on Dallas’s shoulder before heading toward the body. Standing near it without getting close enough to step in the pool of blood, he raised an eyebrow. Dallas certainly hadn’t been lying. The body was a mess. He took a small step back, pulling his phone from his pocket. He unlocked the screen, dialing Bo’s number without ever opening up his contact list. He pressed the device to his ear, clearing his throat.
After two rings, Bo answered with a simple, “Morning.”
“Are you okay?”
“I’m all right,” Jamal assured. “What’re you doing today?”
“Sitting at work,” Bo said. “Mainly dicking around on my laptop, though. There’s nothing better to do at the moment. Why?”
“I’m standing at a homicide here. I was wondering if you wanted to help,” Jamal said.
“Send me whatever pictures Beverly takes. I’ll look them over for you,” Bo said.
“Beverly hasn’t taken any pictures.”
“It’s rather gruesome. She threw up once she saw the body,” Jamal said.
“Well, that’s no good,” Bo murmured. “Send me a picture.”
“Hold on.” Jamal pulled his phone away from his ear, bringing up the camera app. He snapped a picture of the corpse, texted it to Bo, and pressed his phone back to his ear. “Did you get it?”
“One second.” Bo drew in a sharp breath. “Jesus Christ.”
“See? Gruesome,” Jamal said.
“Let me talk to Jensen. He’ll… he’ll need to stay with the kids if I come to you,” Bo said.
“I know. Call me when you know and I’ll book you on the next flight out of Clinstone,” Jamal said.
“All right. I’ll call you back in a few,” Bo promised.
“Sure, kiddo. Talk to you soon.” Jamal ended the call, shoving his phone into his pocket. He pushed a hand into his curly hair, scratching his scalp. With a sigh, he walked back to where Dallas stood. “What’s making you stand so far back here?”
Dallas offered his usual half-smile. “I wouldn’t dare mess up one of Bo’s scenes before he even gets a chance to take pictures.”
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