BY: RONNIE ALLEN
Forty-eight hours ago, a serial murder case that spanned nine years ended. Or did it?
Four children intrude upon the scene of the suicide of Henry Slater, claiming he’s their dad. Dr. Frank Khaos and Detective Sam Wright become their temporary guardians. The goal—to find the children’s biological mothers. Or has Henry Slater added them to his dossier of kills? Through the investigation, the NYPD detectives and FBI Special Agent Brett Case uncover a kidnapping ring and do find the mothers, but are they fit—and willing to take their children back? As Sam and Frank fall in love with them over nine weeks, and the reality sets in, Libra, the Scale of Justice, kicks their butts. What’s right for the children is against the law.
Another case falls into Agent Case’s lap. A murder spree and drug involvement with Jarrett Miller, Vicki Trenton’s first husband. To make matters worse, Miller has ties to the biological parents of Dr. Khaos whom he has to travel to Florida to confront as a stipulation to the execution of Slater’s will.
How will Frank deal with the two people who’ve been his Achilles’ heel his entire life, and will he and Sam get the family they desire so much?
TAYLOR JONES SAYS: In Libra, The Sign Behind the Crime, Book 4, Detective, Samantha Wright, and Forensic Psychiatrist, Frank Khaos, discover that Henry Slater, the serial killer they apprehended in the last case, has four children. But who and where are their mothers? Are they really Henry’s children, or was he running a children kidnapping ring? As Sam, Frank, and the team search for answers, they soon discover that this case is a lot more than they bargained for, especially when innocent children are involved.
Like the other three books in the series this one is intense and chilling—one that will keep you on the edge of your seat all the way through.
REGAN MURPHY SAYS: Libra, The Sign Behind the Crime, Book 4 by Ronnie Allen is the continuation of the serial murder case from Scorpio, the third book in the series. The serial killer, Henry Slater, is dead, but the consequences of his crimes live on. Detectives discover that Slater has four children, whose bedrooms are hidden behind a wall. The kids show up forty-eight hours after Slater dies, claiming to have been at the nanny’s. So now the main question is, where did Slater get the children? Are they really his, and if so, where are their mothers? Were the children kidnapped from their parents, or do the detectives have even more bodies to find. It was thought that Slater killed seventeen women, but now it appears that number could be higher—much higher.
Libra answers many questions and solves a few remaining mysterious left from the first three books, as well as presenting some intriguing new ones. With marvelous character and fast-paced action, it will grab your interest from the very first page. All in all, an excellent addition to the series.
It was over—less than forty-eight hours ago. The serial murder case that spanned nine years and took seventeen lives now put to bed. None of their own were lost, though it came close. Too close, with one of his favorite rookies, Samantha Wright. He’d relax. At least there was no bloodshed in here to clean up. Henry Slater had been the toughest of his cases to date, in his twenty-year career with the NYPD.
Detective Lex Withers blew out a breath of relief as he observed crime scene techs still putting down markers throughout the Upper West Side Manhattan apartment—over two hundred markers. Two teams of investigators were there now, all wearing Tyvek protective gear with nothing left up to chance. No telling what that Slater character would do to exterminate all of them. Withers trusted the system. Yeah, he was feeling pretty good now. Feeling good he was a cop.
When his cell rang, he went out into the hall to answer it. Markers lay on the carpet, and a long table holding photography equipment hugged the wall. He nodded, acknowledging what an arduous process this would be as he leaned against the spotless bone and gold wallpaper, talking on his phone.
At the other end of the hall, an elevator door slid open. With his back turned, Withers didn’t notice. The eldest child, Benjamin Slater struggled to push his sister’s stroller over the tracks, and then he started to roll it down the hall as the next oldest, Mel, held the toddler, Henry’s, hand. They didn’t get far.
Squeaky wheels on the stroller caught Withers’s attention, and he turned around. Stopping his conversation mid-word, he disconnected the call without saying “goodbye,” then put up his hand for the children to stop. “Whoa. Hold on.” Smiling, he approached them. “And who might you be?” His gaze scanned the older children before settling on the infant in the stroller.
The children just stared at him, then at the markers, then at the cluttered table but remained silent. Withers gave them their space. He knew damn well who they were. Frank Khaos was spot-on. There were little Henry Slaters out there. Their forensic psychiatrist did indeed have more nieces and nephews. The detective removed his badge from his pocket and showed it to them. “I’m a detective with the New York City Police Department. My name is Lex Withers.”
The older boy’s eyes widened in astonishment. “A real police badge? I never saw one up close.” His gaze darted around the hall. “And why are there cops outside our house?”
Mel trembled. “And where’s our dad?”
“And who is your dad?” Withers asked. The question was merely for confirmation. The older boy was a miniature Henry Slater with hair, and come to think of it, a miniature Frank Khaos, too. Damn!
“Henry Slater,” Mel said.
Withers bit the inside of his cheek to prevent expletives from flowing out of his mouth. Some choice words certainly filled his brain. This wasn’t what he wanted to confront right now, though he already knew it. “All right. Listen to me, okay?” The children nodded. He continued. “We’re going to help you, so there’s no need to be afraid of us, understand?” The children nodded again. Withers smiled. “Good. I need you to help me out, too, and answer my questions, okay? Who else lives here with you?”
Benjamin didn’t seem to understand why the detective asked that. “Us and Dad. Who else would live here?” He started to move the stroller around the detective. “Excuse me, we have studying to do.”
Moving in front of the boy, Wither blocked him. “Studying? On a Sunday?” The detective nodded in approval. “So you live in the apartment? All of the time?”
“Yes. Please tell us what happened, sir,” Benjamin said.
Withers smiled at the politeness. “Okay, I will. Come on. But you have to stay inside the path we blocked off.”
Benjamin and Mel looked surprised. “Why?” Benjamin asked as he wrapped his arms around Henry, holding him close. “You’re scaring my little brother.”
“Us, too,” Mel said, shaking.
“We’ll explain everything. But you have to come with me.”
In the walk down the hall to the apartment, Withers’s mind reeled. Henry Slater was dead, and he continued to be a nemesis in the afterlife. Withers himself was beginning to sound like Sam Wright. Her, and her psychic intuition crap. Too bad, she was always correct. What else is this case going to bring? Withers called his partner to come outside into the hall.
“What’s going on?” She stopped mid-sentence, seeing the children. “Lex…”
“And this lady is my partner, Detective Bella Richards. Now, tell me your names.”
Benjamin swallowed hard. “I’m Benjamin. This is Mel. That’s Henry, and Margie is her,” he said, pointing to the infant.
Bella softened. “Um, sweetheart, we didn’t see any children’s bedrooms, and we’re looking through the entire apartment.”
Benjamin stood silent. Then he whispered, “Our bedrooms are behind a wall.”
That statement shot Withers an unnecessary jolt of adrenalin. He forced a smile to cover-up his sinking heart. “Show us.” While waiting outside, he peeked into the doorway and yelled, “Curtain.”
A six-foot tall white curtain rolled, closing off the right side of the apartment from the doorway to the bathroom where Henry Slater offed himself. Withers hoped the kids’ rooms weren’t on that side.
Benjamin led the way into the center hall in the apartment. Withers could tell his tough bravado was a front. His hands trembled on the stroller handle, as did Mel’s, as the two children huddled together, taking small steps. Brave kids. Crime Scene roped off a path by which people could enter and leave. The children stopped dead and looked up at the detectives.
Withers read the fear in their eyes. Damn, the curtain didn’t conceal half of what he wanted to prevent them from seeing.
The apartment had been transformed into a science lab. Long tables stood on top of white paper covering the tile floor. Photography equipment and sterile packaging supplies were on opposite ends of the table. Markers lay on the floor. More tape lay across the doorframe of Henry’s master bedroom, to the left. Technicians barely gave the kids a glance. The two older children became teary-eyed.
Benjamin whimpered. “Something bad happened to our dad.”
“Yes,” Withers said. Not having the heart to tell them the truth, he lied. He’d need Frank Khaos on this one. “Your dad’s in the hospital. He got very sick. Now, we need you to help us, okay?”
Mel sniffled. “Can we go see him?”
“No. Not yet. Now where are your rooms?”
A crime scene tech overheard them “What rooms, Detective? We covered the entire apartment.”
“Our rooms are hidden,” Mel said.
Oh man! Slater told Frank at their family meeting on Friday that his parents hid him in the closet. Is that what he’s doing to his kids? Crap, Slater, what kind of son of a bitch were you? If we walk in to closets, I know Bella will freak. Hell, I’ll freak.
“Down there,” Mel said, pointing to the left.
The narrow hallway to the babies’ rooms was free from any furniture or wall-decoration. Crime scene tape ran across the open door to the baby girl’s room. If these kids were as smart as their father was, they wouldn’t let that go. Withers wanted to walk past it.
Benjamin jolted at the sight of the tape. “What happened in there?”
He had to answer. The kids deserved some honesty. He certainly couldn’t say that Detective Sam Wright came close to losing her life in that room. “We don’t know yet. It’s procedure to look at everything.”
Benjamin stared at him, compressed his lips, but said nothing. Withers knew a lot was going through the kid’s mind. Had to be.
This was unexpected. He shot a concerned look toward his partner to break the ice.
Bella understood. “Is that Margie’s room? It’s so beautiful.”
Benjamin gave a harrumph. “That? That tiny box?”
Bella stiffened. “Tiny box?” She put her hands on her hips. “That tiny box is bigger than my bedroom. Shoo, kid. Show some appreciation. Everyone who went in there loved it. The pink and brown wallpaper, the matching bedding. Everything. I know a detective who’d love that for her little baby’s room, especially the pink carpet. Her name is Samantha.”
Benjamin smirked “Good for her. Keep that one away from us.”
The adults looked at each other in bewilderment. “Benjamin, what’s with the attitude all of a sudden?”
Whoa, like father, like son. This one we’ll have to watch.
Benjamin shook his head. “You’re not telling us the truth, Detective Withers. So I don’t have to act nice.”
“What do you mean?”
The boy sulked and waved a dismissive hand. “Forget it,” he said, shrugging.
Withers needed to make it right. “How old are you, Benjamin?”
“I’m eight and a half. But we’re accelerated. I’m in fifth grade.”
“Fifth grade?” Bella said impressed. “Are you accelerated, too, Mel?”
Mel let out a breath of exasperation. “Yes. I’m six, if you must know, and I’m in third grade. And Henry is three. He’s in nursery school. He hasn’t been tested yet, but I’m sure he’s as gifted as us.”
Okay, little brother copies the older one. “Where were you yesterday, and Friday after school?” Withers asked in an interrogative tone.
“Why do you want to know?” Benjamin asked, mimicking the detective. “We didn’t do anything wrong. We swear,” he said, beginning to tear up. “We never do anything wrong. We’re not allowed.”
Withers mellowed. “I know you didn’t. It’s okay, son. Who was taking care of you the past two days?”
“Our nanny,” Mel said.
“And where does she live?”
“On the twenty-fifth floor. Right below us. Can we get into our rooms, please?” Benjamin rotated his shoulders. “These bookbags are heavy.”
“Sure,” Withers said. “What’s your nanny’s name?”
“Locklear Henderson. Our rooms are through there.” He opened up the door to baby boy’s room.
Withers stepped away. He wasn’t going to overthink this now. This was the time to keep his emotions out of the game and go by the book. All he knew right now was that these kids would need long-term care on every level going forward.
He made a call for a unit to pick up the nanny and bring her to the Manhattan-North precinct. He then signaled to two crime scene techs to join them.
“Henry, did you sleep in here when you were a baby? This room is awesome!” Bella said.
The three-year-old frowned and pursed his lips. He shook his head.
Benjamin sighed heavily. “You don’t have to pretend to be nice to us, Detective.”
“I’m being nice because I’m a nice person.”
Benjamin gave her a quick glance. “Our dad tells us not to trust anyone.” He walked into the room and moved the rocking chair against the wall to the side. “Dad must have had a lady friend up here.”
Withers hiked a brow. This kid sure has great inference skills, he thought. “What makes you say that?”
The eight-year-old looked up at him. “Whenever he does, he moves this to here, to block the wall.”
“And he told Locklear to keep us until today, so I guess she slept over,” Mel added.
“And let me guess. I bet her name was Samantha.” After glaring at Bella, Benjamin bent down toward the baseboard. “Just don’t go all nuts. I can guarantee you have never seen anything like this.”
“Stop the drama, kid.” Benjamin jumped back from the adult. “Slide the wall open,” the tech said with a softer tone.
Benjamin pressed a button on the baseboard, holding his finger on it. The door slid open. Everyone stood mesmerized. Withers couldn’t take it in all at once. Thank God, it’s not a closet.
“You just gave us a couple of weeks of extra work, kid.”
“Come on in. We’ll show you around.” Benjamin snickered at the adults who stood dumbfounded.
Withers and Bella followed the children into a massive space—a one-bedroom apartment with the walls removed. Hand painted murals of sports figures and games lined the walls on both sides of the room in the color schemes of bright oranges, yellows, reds, and some browns for a grounding effect. The low-textured carpet, divided into four parts, picked up the colors from the wall. Two twin beds were on the left, with a wood dresser matching the bed frame, interspersed between desks with filled to capacity bookshelves, containing children’s books and games. A twin bed and a crib were on the right.
“Are you just going to stand there?” Benjamin picked Margie up and out of the stroller and crinkled his nose. “Ugh. She just pooped.”
Withers smiled. “Give her to me. I’ll change her.” He reached out to the baby.
Benjamin stood hesitant, wrapping his arms around the infant. “Do you know how?”
“Yes. I know how. I must have changed over a thousand diapers in my day.” Benjamin groaned. “I have children,” Withers said, taking Margie in his arms. “How old are you, baby?”
Benjamin laughed. “You have children?”
“What?” Withers said as he took the child to the changing table.
“Then you should know that at her age, she can’t answer you. She’s ten months.”
“Oh, man,” said the tech. “Come on, show us around. A diaper change doesn’t warrant an audience.” He urged the children forward.
“This is my bed,” Mel said, bouncing on the soccer themed bedspread. “And my dresser with my clothes is here.”
“And those beds on the other side are for me and Henry,” Benjamin said as he placed his book bag on the desk chair. “I have to pee.” He went into his adjoining bathroom.
The tech followed him, and Withers noticed Benjamin’s scornful glare. “Hey, I just want to see what it looks like,” the tech said. After he glanced in, he did a quick turnaround. “Hey, Detective, ya gotta see this.”
“In a minute.” After the diaper change, the baby squirmed in Withers’s arms. He forced her onto Bella who clumsily took her. “Bella, keep an eye on her.” He chuckled. Walking into the bathroom, he halted. “Holy sh…cow. Benjamin, this is bigger than my bathroom in my house.”
“I’m sure it is,” the boy answered snidely.
Again, Withers slid past the attitude, but he surely planned to address it. “Did you help your dad pick out the design?” He ran his hand over the three dimensional wall art. “It actually looks like you’re on a pirate’s ship in rough seas. The colors and everything.”
“No, Dad did this by himself. He covered the walls with cement and carved the picture. Then he painted it. But it is a replica of a real ship. And the pirate drawings are real pirates.”
Withers had to switch his tense deliberately to make sure he didn’t alarm the boy. “Your dad is a very talented man. Even your towels have matching pictures.”
“Dad had them specially made. You should see Mel’s bathroom.”
“You each have your own bathroom?” The tech asked.
“I share this one with Henry. And Mel shares with Margie…well, when she gets older.”
“Where is it?”
Withers couldn’t stop from looking around. Every bit of space contained something educational. A computer station stood at the far end of the room against a wall. A wall unit next to it held computer games. Wow. Slater sure made up for what he lacked as a child with his own. He told Frank that he never had books or games. Withers walked into Mel’s bathroom. The shock of the navy and white with splashes of red caused his eyes to blink involuntarily. Mel stood by the doorway.
“Got a problem?”
“No. I do not have a problem. So you’re in the navy?”
“I don’t have plans to, no.”
“Dad did this by himself, too?”
“Whoo,” Mel said, twirling an index finger in the air. “You’re smart, Detective.”
“And you kids have smartass attitudes. How does your dad deal with that? I spoke with him and he seemed strict. And didn’t your brother tell me just a few minutes ago that you’re not allowed to do anything bad?”
“We don’t with Daddy. But Daddy says if people lie to us about anything, then we can answer back. Because we can’t trust them. And Benjamin said you lied to us, and I believe my brother.”
All well and good. Better off to lie to them today. I have no qualms about that. And I know exactly who to call to knock them down a peg or two.
“Bella, help the kids pack for a few days. I have some calls to make.”
Withers left the bedroom area, walked through the baby boy’s room, down the hall into the living room. He stood still in a somber moment, leaning against the only wall that wasn’t taped off. He ran his hands over his mouth. Damn, his son was eight and a half. He could just imagine what would be going through his mind if he suddenly disappeared from his and his brothers’ lives. It would be the unthinkable. Then again, his sons would have their mom.
Come to think of it, where are their mothers? Did Slater kill them, too? Closing his eyes, his heart wrenched, thinking about what his department had to do.
He decided to wait on the calls and he returned to the bedroom.
Still holding Margie, Bella sat down on Mel’s bed. “Need some help to pack?”
“Where are we going?”
“We’ll figure it out.”
Benjamin brought over an overnight bag. “Here, Mel.”
Mel took the case, pouting. “We can stay with Locklear.”
“Not at the moment.”
“We’ll decide after we speak with her.”
“I’m okay. Go pack Henry and Margie.”
Bella compressed her lips and rose from the bed. She slipped Margie into her stroller and strapped her in.
Benjamin had jeans and long sleeve polo shirts on his bed. Withers sat down next to him. “Need help?”
“No.” He looked away. “What’s going to happen to us?”
“I don’t know that yet. We’re going to where we work, and we’ll talk to a lot of people. All I can promise you is that nothing bad is going to happen. You’ll all be safe and kept together.”
“Now you’re telling me the truth, sir.”
Withers let out a nasal breath. “Yes, listen to me. Mel told me why you spoke less than respectfully before. Sometimes we adults have to protect children from hearing certain things. It’s not as if we’re lying. We’re just deciding what’s necessary for you to know at that time. Understand?”
“No. Dad says we shouldn’t be protected from hearing anything.”
Withers compressed his lips. That’s what Henry Slater Sr. told Sam when he had her in the bedroom. “You can’t pamper kids,” were his exact words after he tormented Frankie on the phone. “Cops have a different opinion on that one.”
“Why can’t we stay here?”
“Well, the police have a lot of work to do.”
Withers paused long and hard. How do you tell a child that his dad was a serial killer? “A lot happened and the police need to investigate so we can do what’s best for you and your siblings.”
“We can help them.”
“Nope. You’re minors and now that Detective Richards and I found you, you’re our responsibility. Does that make sense?”
Benjamin bit his lip and exhaled deeply before he nodded. “What do I need to take?”
“Let’s see.” Withers counted the jeans and polos. “There’s enough here. Now pack underwear and socks. And pajamas.” He got up and went over to Mel.
Navy and brown jeans along with long sleeve sweatshirts lay on the bed. A few of the shirts had decals of famous football players in the center. Withers smiled. “When you grow up, Mel, do you want to play football like these guys?”
Mel swallowed hard. “No. I heard what you told Benjamin. I just have to pack my pajamas and I’ll be ready.”
“Okay. Ready?” Withers asked Bella.
“Yes, all set.” She put the baby’s bag on the handle of the stroller and handed her partner Henry’s bag.
“Ready, guys? Grab your coats and gloves.”
“Okay,” Benjamin and Mel said together.
“Hold on,” Benjamin said. “Grab some containers of food from the fridge for Margie. Dad makes her baby food. And her bottles are in there, too.”
“Good boy. Taking care of your baby sister. I like that,” Withers said.
“Yeah, well. You wouldn’t know. And there’s cooked food for over a week in the fridge and freezer.” Benjamin walked toward the tape barrier but a crime scene tech stopped him.
“Who made all the food?” asked the tech.
“No can do.” The tech looked up warily at Withers. He compressed his lips. “Based on what happened, Detective, we’re not letting prepared consumable products out of our custody.”
Withers caught on fast. Would Slater poison the food he prepared? To take the kids with him? The thought nauseated him. “Where did your dad get the milk for Margie’s bottles?”
“Some place where they give mommy’s milk to dads. I don’t know where,” Mel said.
The tech smiled. “How is it packed?”
“I don’t know what you call it. It’s in the freezer. And he mixed it with goat’s milk.”
“Hold on.” The tech left and returned a few minutes later with vacuum-packed bags of breast milk. “These were brought in as is from a milk-bank. We checked them. Not tampered with so you can take these. And, Detective, when these thaw, the milk needs to be consumed within twenty-four to forty-eight hours. I’ll pack these in ice. We found a cooler in the closet.”
“Okay. Thanks.” Withers yelled to the senior crime scene tech, “We’re leaving. I’ll write up this report.” He turned toward Bella. “Wait here. Give me a minute.”
He walked into the hallway outside of the apartment, took a deep breath, and pressed a key on his phone. He knew Frank and Sam had gone to the cemetery today so Sam could pay her final respects to her friend, Carrie Baines.
“It’s Withers. A major development just popped up in the Scorpio case. We need you and Sam at Manhattan-North, ASAP.”
“Okay. We’re just leaving the cemetery. On our way.”
© 2019 by Ronnie Allen