Home > Secrets Never Die (Morgan Dane #5)(10)

Secrets Never Die (Morgan Dane #5)(10)
Author: Melinda Leigh

“All that heavy rain and wind messed with the scent trail.” Sharp frowned.

“What is the sheriff’s game plan?” Lance asked.

Morgan outlined the usual procedure the police typically followed when looking for a missing teen. “He didn’t say much else.”

Lance stiffened. “Why? Aren’t we all on the same side here?”

“The sheriff is holding this case close.” Anger flattened Morgan’s lips.

“I’m not surprised.” Lance’s food churned in his gut. “What about all the scumbags Paul put away?”

“Colgate says they’re looking at Paul’s old cases,” Morgan said.

“The bullet between the eyes feels revenge motivated to me.” Sharp dropped a metal tea ball into a pot and filled it with hot water. He turned to Lance. “Do you need a combat nap?”

“No. We need a murder board.” Lance couldn’t be still, not with Evan still missing. The short break, shower, and food had revived him. He stood and headed for Morgan’s office, which they used as a war room in major cases.

A long whiteboard spanned the far wall. He hadn’t noticed when he’d stuck his head in earlier, but someone had already begun organizing the little data they possessed. Photos of Evan, Paul, Tina, and her ex, Kirk, hung on the board, affixed with magnets. As the victim, Paul held the center position.

Morgan walked in and brewed herself another cup of coffee. She sat at her desk. Opening a drawer, she pulled out a white bakery bag and offered it to Lance. It was full of chocolate donut holes.

“No, thanks,” Lance said. A sugar rush would lead to a crash, and he was already strung out.

Morgan ate one in two bites and wiped her fingers on a napkin. “As you can see, Sharp and I started laying out Paul’s case. While our primary objective is to find Evan, his disappearance is likely intertwined with Paul’s murder.”

On the right side of the board, Sharp’s blocky print spelled out POSSIBLE MOTIVES. Underneath, he’d listed ROBBERY and REVENGE. Next to ROBBERY, Lance picked up a marker and wrote, MISSING ITEMS?

Sharp came through the doorway carrying two mugs. He handed one to Lance. “Tina couldn’t find anything of value that was missing from the house.”

“That doesn’t mean robbery wasn’t the motive.” Lance studied the board. “The killer could have been interrupted by Paul, and then by Evan, before he was able to search the house for valuables. Maybe he decided to cut his losses and run. Most thieves are junkies looking for quick cash to buy a fix. They’re not typically criminal masterminds.”

“But they usually leave traces of a break-in,” Sharp pointed out.

“True.” Lance added a TIMELINE column on the board. “Paul was killed between midnight and one a.m. Evan came home around twelve thirty. How much did he see?”

“Enough to get hurt,” Sharp said. “Enough to make him run like the devil was chasing him. Maybe enough to identify the killer and become the next target.”

Lance set the marker down. “Paul’s gun-cleaning supplies were on the table. Maybe he couldn’t sleep and was keeping busy.”

“Evan was two and a half hours past his curfew.” Morgan leaned on her elbows and frowned at the board. “If one of my girls were that late, you can bet I would have been awake. I’d have called and texted their cell phone. And if they didn’t answer promptly, I’d ping the phone and drive to wherever they were.”

“You’d hunt them down,” Lance said.

“You bet I would.” Morgan didn’t blink.

“But Paul isn’t Evan’s father.” Sharp perched on the edge of Morgan’s desk. “The whole father-stepson relationship was still new. Paul was feeling his way through it, trying to establish a connection through male-bonding activities.”

“So he wouldn’t necessarily want to humiliate the boy.” As a prospective stepparent, Lance followed his logic. Morgan’s girls were younger, but Lance was still sensitive to the fact that he wasn’t their father. Their recent illnesses had hammered that home. Mia’s and Ava’s viruses had overlapped, and both of them had wanted to be with Morgan all night. As much as Lance had wanted to help out, he’d ended up giving the girls his side of the bed and sleeping on the couch. He’d changed sheets, washed soiled pajamas, and scrubbed carpets, but he’d felt useless in comforting them in their misery. The girls were well behaved, but in the future, he imagined that disciplining them would also be tricky.

The reality of being a stepparent was much more complicated than the idea of taking on three young children. Before he’d moved in with Morgan, he had no idea how hard the job would be. He loved the girls. He thought they loved him back. His bachelor optimism had told him that was enough. It wasn’t. Parenting was hard work, and he felt unprepared, as if he were jumping into a hockey game already in progress with no stick or skates.

“Maybe he thought his best course of action was to wait up for Evan and talk with him.” Morgan bit into another donut hole.

“That sounds like Paul,” Lance agreed.

“Maybe Paul left the front door open for Evan,” Sharp suggested.

“No.” Morgan shook her head. “Tina said Paul was particular about keeping the doors locked. Evan had a key.”

“Then we need to know who else might have a key to the house,” Sharp said.

Lance wrote the question on the board. “We need background checks on Paul, Tina, and Evan.”

“Don’t forget Evan’s father, Kirk Meade,” Sharp added.

“Let’s get some information on Evan’s friends also.” Morgan wrote a note on her legal pad. “Deputies were supposed to pressure Evan’s friends for information today.”

“That won’t work,” Lance scoffed.

“Colgate is an honest cop,” Sharp said. “But he’s old school enough to think intimidating teenagers is the best course of action.”

“We might have better luck with the kids,” Morgan said. “We’re not cops, and we’re on Evan’s side.”

“True,” Lance said.

“I’ll go to The Pub tonight,” Sharp offered. “And see if any of the boys know anything.”

The boys were not teenagers. They were Sharp’s old cop buddies. Most were retired. All were older than Sharp. “Maybe one of them remembers the particularly nasty scumbags that Paul arrested. He was a deputy for a long time. He must have been threatened at some point.” Criminals were always vowing to get even with the cops who put them away. Most were all mouth and no action, but a few held grudges.

“I’ll get my mom started on the background checks,” Lance said. “I need to call her today anyway.”

His mother was agoraphobic and suffered from crippling anxiety and depression. She was also a computer whiz and often took over the digital searches for Sharp Investigations, particularly on the larger cases when their two-man firm needed assistance.

Lance rarely went more than a day without stopping in to see her, but he hadn’t been by her place for a few days. She was physically frail, and he hadn’t wanted to risk infecting her with the girls’ virus.

Morgan motioned to a stack of papers on her blotter. “Tina gave us access to her cell phone account. I printed out the family’s cell phone activity for the last month. I’ll review those, then call hospitals and urgent care centers in the area,” Morgan volunteered. “Maybe Evan tried to get medical help.”

But Lance didn’t think so. Evan was on the run. He wouldn’t trust any adult.

Sharp pointed to the phone records. “Let me review the cell phone accounts, get Jenny started on the background checks, and call the ERs and urgent care centers. You two should be talking to Evan’s friends. They will be able to predict where Evan would go to hide better than anyone else.”

“I haven’t visited my mother since Mia and Ava were sick.” Lance worried about her. He’d spoken with her every day, but a video chat or phone call wasn’t the same as seeing her in person. When he’d been in college, he’d neglected to keep close tabs on her, and she’d suffered a major breakdown.

“I’ll call her now and give her the list of names, then stop in to see her later tonight.” Sharp nodded. “She works fast. She’ll probably have some information for us by then.”

Lance set the marker on the metal lip of the whiteboard. “Then Morgan and I will talk to Evan’s best friend, Jake O’Reilly.”

Sharp caught Lance’s eye. “You’re sure that Evan couldn’t have shot Paul?”

“Absolutely.” Lance knew it in his heart. “The only person Evan might hurt is himself.”

And that worried Lance the most. Evan wasn’t the most emotionally stable kid. If he had witnessed Paul’s murder, the trauma might be more than he could handle.

Chapter Seven

Morgan read the name on the mailbox and compared it to her notes. “One twenty-seven. This is the address Tina gave us for Jake O’Reilly, but the name on the mailbox says DUNCAN.”

“We’ll ask.” Lance turned into a long driveway. Jake O’Reilly lived on a small farm on the outskirts of Scarlet Falls. Eyeing the muddy barnyard through the Jeep’s windshield, Morgan reached behind her seat, grabbed the boots she’d been keeping there because of the heavy rains, and changed out of her nice flats.

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