Home > Secrets Never Die (Morgan Dane #5)(11)

Secrets Never Die (Morgan Dane #5)(11)
Author: Melinda Leigh

Lance’s phone beeped, and he answered the call. “You’re on speaker, Sharp.”

“I’m reviewing Evan’s cell records,” Sharp said. “He has seven calls over the past two weeks from a mobile number registered to a T. Nelson. No texts. Just calls, while most of his other cell activity is texting.”

“Is this the first time that number appears on his phone records?” Morgan asked.

“In the past two months, yes,” Sharp answered. “I still have a few hundred texts to read, but I thought you could ask Evan’s friends if they know T. Nelson.”

“Thanks, Sharp.” Lance ended the call and opened his car door.

Morgan stepped out of the Jeep and scanned the property. Dark clouds gathered on the horizon, threatening rain. A two-story white farmhouse faced the road. Behind it, a red barn sat amid a scattering of other outbuildings. The cleared acreage around the buildings was divided into pastures. The smell of manure and freshly mowed grass lay thick in the humid air, and Morgan sneezed.

Hoofbeats approached, and Morgan pivoted to watch three slender horses gallop to the fence near the Jeep. They slid to a stop, prancing and snorting, mud splashing under their hooves.

“Can I help you?” A man led a slim black horse out of the barn. Lance was big, but this man would tower over him.

A rabbit darted out of a bush. The horse jumped, landing with wide eyes and splayed legs.

“Settle down.” The man tugged on the lead rope.

“We’d like to talk to Jake,” Lance called out.

The horse whinnied.

“Give me a minute. I’ll be right with you.” He led the gleaming animal to the pasture. Inside the gate, he unclipped the rope attached to the halter and stepped back. The four horses greeted each other, curling their necks and touching noses. Then they spun and galloped away. Mud flew from their hooves.

The man latched the gate and crossed the barnyard toward them. His jeans and work boots were streaked with mud. Hay stuck to his sweat-stained USMC T-shirt. Morgan read the SEMPER FI tattoo on his forearm.

“I’d shake your hand, but I’m filthy.” He raised his hands. “We seriously need this rain to let up for a few days. We’re drowning in mud.”

Lance handed him a business card. “Are you Mr. O’Reilly?”

“Hell no. My name is Steve Duncan.” He read the card and frowned. “You’re a private investigator? Is Jake in any kind of trouble?”

“No. We just want to ask him a few questions.” Morgan looked around for other vehicles or people. An old Honda was parked near the house. “Are either of Jake’s parents here?”

Duncan snorted. “No. Why do you ask?”

“We’re looking for Evan Meade,” Lance said. “He’s missing. I’m not just an investigator. I’m Evan’s hockey coach. We’re worried about him.”

“I wish I could help.” Duncan shook his head. “But I don’t know an Evan Meade.”

“Evan is Jake’s friend,” Lance explained. “We’d like to ask Jake a few questions. Maybe he has an idea of where we could look for Evan.”

“I don’t know any of Jake’s friends.” Duncan pulled a cell phone from his pocket and sent a text with surprising speed, considering the size difference between his huge thumbs and the tiny keyboard. A few seconds later, he read an incoming message. “He’s in his room doing homework. He’ll be right out.”

“We’d like to talk to Jake’s parents,” Morgan said. “Do you know where they are?”

Duncan returned his phone to his pocket. “Jake hasn’t seen his deadbeat father in ten years. His mother briefly lived here with me, but she ran out on both of us last year.”

“But Jake stayed here with you?” Morgan asked, surprised.

“She didn’t give him the option of going with her.” Contempt sharpened his voice. “She left while he was in school. I felt bad for him. He didn’t have anywhere else to go.” Duncan folded his massive arms across his chest. “He’s not a bad kid. He used to get into trouble. But then his mother did nothing but drink, scream, and knock him around. He’s better off without her. After she left, I told him if he wanted to stay, he’d better get his head out of his ass. If he was going to screw around, he could move the hell out. If he wanted to live with me, I expected him to do his chores, earn his keep, and stay out of trouble. He does, and we’ve gotten along just fine since.”

“We appreciate your cooperation,” Lance said. “Do you remember what time Jake came in last night?”

“No,” Duncan said. “I go to bed early. Jake’s room is at the other end of the house. I didn’t hear him come in.”

“Do you usually?”

“No.” Duncan shook his head. “Getting to school on time is his responsibility. As long as I don’t hear from the truant officer, he can do what he likes. It’s not my problem if he’s tired.”

A screen door slapped open, and a tall, gangly teenage boy loped down the back steps of the farmhouse. He slowed when he saw Morgan and Lance, his eyes wary. As he approached, he looked to Duncan for reassurance.

“They’re looking for your friend Evan,” Duncan explained.

Jake relaxed a little.

“If you’ll excuse me, I’ll get back to work,” Duncan said to Lance and Morgan. He turned to Jake. “Mind your manners. When you’re done, you have stalls to muck. Dinner’s at six.”

“Yes, sir,” Jake said.

Duncan walked back toward the barn.

“Hi, Jake.” Morgan held out her hand. “I’m Morgan, and this is Lance. We’re friends of the Knox family.”

“I know who you are,” Jake said to Lance. “You’re the hockey coach.”

“That’s right,” Lance said. “I’m also a private investigator. I’m trying to find Evan.”

“I already talked to the sheriff. He came to the school. The principal pulled me out of class.” Jake scowled. “The other kids thought I was being arrested.”

“That must have been embarrassing,” Morgan said. What had the sheriff been thinking? Humiliating a teenager would not secure his cooperation.

“It was.” Jake’s nod was tight. “I don’t know where Evan is. I haven’t seen him since last night.”

“Can we ask you some more questions?” Morgan asked. “We might think of something the sheriff missed.”

“I guess.” Jake shoved his thumbs into the front pockets of his jeans.

“Tell us about Monday night.” Morgan started with an open-ended topic. She didn’t want yes or no answers.

“I picked Evan up around seven. We went to the talent show at school, but it was lame, so we left.” Jake paused. His forehead crinkled. “Evan didn’t want to go home.”

“Do you know why?” she asked.

“No.” Jake shook his head. “He didn’t want to talk about it, but he’d been in a bad mood since he’d seen his dad on Sunday.”

“How does Evan feel about his dad?” Morgan pressed.

“He hates him, and he’s super piss—mad that he has to see him, but he didn’t get a say. His dad had already threatened to have his mom charged with contempt and some kind of alienation . . .”

“Parental alienation?” Morgan filled in.

“I think that was it.” Jake shuffled his sneakers in the mud. “Anyway, we drove out to the lake and hung out for a while. I dropped him off at home around twelve thirty.”

“Which lake?” Lance asked.

“Scarlet Lake,” Jake said. “There’s a beach near the school.”

“I know it.” Morgan’s girls liked the playground there.

“When you dropped him off at home, did you see anything unusual?” Lance asked.

Jake shrugged. “Like what?”

Lance turned up a palm. “Cars parked at the curb. People outside.”

“There are always cars parked on that street. I didn’t notice any particular ones.”

Lance frowned. “You didn’t see any people outside?”

“No, sir,” Jake said.

“Is there anywhere besides the lake where Evan might hang out?” Morgan asked. When Jake gave her a blank look, she added, “Where do you go when you get together?”

Jake rolled a shoulder. “Sometimes we hang at the bowling alley or arcade in town. But we’re all broke and don’t have a lot of time. I work at the grocery store on the weekends, and I have chores here.” He glanced at the barn. “Are we done? I have stalls to clean.”

“One more question. Do you know anyone by the name of T. Nelson?”

“Not T. Nelson, but Evan has been seeing a girl named Rylee Nelson.” Jake shifted his weight again, then checked the time on his phone.

“Where can we find Rylee?” Morgan asked.

“She works at Tony’s Pizza in town.” Jake took a small step toward the barn.

“Thanks for your help.” Lance gave Jake his card. “Call me if you think of anything else.”

“Or if you hear from Evan,” Morgan added. “I’m a lawyer. I can help him if he thinks he’s in trouble for something.”

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