“I’m going to go check on Lilly, but I’ll call Hailey and tell her to get down here with her equipment.”
“All right, boss.” Perry didn’t glance his way as he opened the top drawer of the nightstand.
On his way out, Braden passed Vanessa and Jordan. “Don’t forget gloves,” he threw over his shoulder as he jogged across the parking lot. He wasn’t so much worried about Vanessa as Jordan. The young officer didn’t have near enough experience dealing with crime scenes and he couldn’t risk contamination because of a rookie mistake.
Braden didn’t realize he’d been holding his breath until he saw Lilly sitting in his front seat. She lifted a hand when she saw him and the vise around his chest disappeared. She was safe.
“Are you okay?” she asked the second he opened the front door.
“We got him.” Being able to say the words to her was an indescribable feeling.
He let out a deep sigh. “No. We got Murphy. There are pictures of you and other victims all over his room and I’m sure we’ll find more evidence against him.” So why didn’t he feel confident about the situation?
Her face fell at his words, but she didn’t respond.
“I’m going to drive him back to the station and begin processing him, but I want you to follow in my truck.” Since Greg wasn’t acting out of control or sick, protocol dictated he take him to the station. If he got worse, Braden would call emergency services.
“Okay.” She scooted across the bench seat and started the ignition.
“Take this.” He handed her his phone. When she frowned, he added, “Until we can pick up yours.”
He shut the door and strode toward Perry’s cruiser where one of his deputies had already loaded Murphy into the back seat.
As he headed toward the station, Braden couldn’t help but look in his rearview mirror to make sure Lilly was still close behind.
A few minutes later he glanced in the rearview mirror again and this time found Murphy’s eyes open. “You awake now?”
“Where are you taking me?” Greg muttered as his head rolled back against the seat.
“Where do you think? You’re going to jail…Why’d you kill Abby, Greg? She loved you.”
“Bitch had it coming,” he slurred.
Well that answered that question.
“Where’s Barbara, Greg? Where’d you leave her?”
“What are you talking about?” When Murphy started moaning, Braden glanced at him again. Sweat rolled down his pasty white face.
Immediately he flipped on the siren and switched lanes. Thankfully Lilly followed. Since he’d given her his phone, he didn’t have a way to contact her and they were definitely changing directions. At least the hospital was closer than the station.
The moaning from the backseat grew louder so Braden pressed harder on the gas. He wasn’t going to allow this bastard to die before being brought to justice.
Lilly frowned at the vehicle in front of her, wondering what the hell was going on. When Braden turned left onto Maple Avenue, she realized he was going to the hospital. A small part of her didn’t care if Murphy died if he was involved in all of this, but the other part of her wanted answers. Her aunt deserved justice and the relatives of the victims deserved closure too.
Not that she was convinced Murphy had anything to do with this. Sure he’d bothered her in high school but they’d never crossed paths the way she and James had. And that phone call…she tried to shake the memory of his voice but she couldn’t do it. Just like she couldn’t do it a decade ago.
While she could see Braden’s perspective, she’d stake her life that James was the person who’d called her. When Braden had originally asked her if she had any enemies, the thought of James had crossed her mind first and if she hadn’t known about his death she’d have listed him as her number one suspect. The fact that Braden discounted what she had to say hurt even though she understood why he didn’t believe her.
Braden’s phone buzzed in her pocket. Out of curiosity she glanced at the caller ID. When she saw Alma’s name, she flipped it open. “Hi Alma. It’s Lilly. Braden let me borrow his phone.”
“Hi dear. I was just calling Braden to see how you were holding up.”
“I’m fine.” The truth was, she actually was fine, at least where her aunt’s death was concerned. She’d have time to mourn later. Until Greg or James, or whoever was behind everything was in jail, she couldn’t let her mind rest.
“Well, if you need anything, please don’t hesitate to call me.”
“Actually, I was wondering if I could stop by later tonight.”
“Of course you can…Is everything all right?” Concern laced the older woman’s voice.
“Yes, I have a few questions to ask you and I’d rather do it in person.”
“I’ll be up late so just buzz the gate and I’ll let you in.”
As soon as they disconnected, she dialed her boss. Charles had sent flowers and called a few times, but she needed to let him know about the new developments. Developments. She snorted at the word. It probably wasn’t the most descriptive but she didn’t know what else to call the mess that her life had become.
After a few rings she was about to snap the phone shut when he picked up. “Atherton here.”
“Charles, it’s me.”
“Lilly, hey, where are you calling from?” he asked.
“Braden—Sheriff Donnelly’s cell. You got a sec?”
“I’ve got all the time in the world for you.”
Despite her aching body and tired eyes, she smiled at hearing her boss’s voice. “They might have caught the guy who’s been killing all these women and stalking me.”
“Might? Either they’ve got him or they don’t.”
“The sheriff thinks they have the guy, but—”
“You don’t,” he finished.
“No, I don’t.” As quickly as she could sum up, she filled in the holes from the past few days.
“Come home,” he ordered when she was finished.
“Get on the next flight and come home now. I didn’t realize it was so bad. I’ll call in a favor and have a team of FBI agents down there tonight,” he barked.
She sighed as she steered into the hospital parking lot. “That’s not what I’m looking for. I want your advice.”
“You want to know if I think you’ve lost your mind?”
“I don’t know this sheriff, but I know you. Your gut’s telling you to trust yourself. I think you should.”
“You don’t get off the hook that easy. Why the hell didn’t you tell me what was going on there?” he growled at her.
“I just pulled into the hospital parking lot. I’ve got to go, but I’ll call you back soon.” She disconnected before he could argue. She loved and respected him, but she didn’t have the time or the energy for one of his usual professorial type lectures. Instead of parking in the main lot she stayed close to Braden and steered under the emergency exit.
She watched Braden jump out, then run toward the emergency door. Seconds later he was back outside with two orderlies. He motioned for her to get out as the men in scrubs helped Greg Murphy from the back of the cruiser.
“What’s going on?” She slammed the driver’s door behind her.
“I don’t know but I think Murphy’s having some sort of reaction. I have to stay with him.” He hooked her arm with his and headed for the emergency doors.
After the doctors admitted Greg, all they could do was wait. Lilly munched on a trail mix bar outside Greg Murphy’s room in the ICU as she and Braden listened to a doctor explain that Murphy was in a comatose state because of a heroin and fentanyl combination. He could wake up in the next half hour or it could be a couple days. She wasn’t sure what the second drug was, but it obviously wasn’t a good thing.
As soon as the doctor left them, she collapsed onto the blue plastic chair next to the door. Sometime in the past few minutes Braden had grabbed it from the waiting area. “What are you going to do?”
“Wait until he wakes up.” Braden rubbed a hand over his face. His eyes were tired and glassy.
“Are you going to keep searching for anyone else?” she asked.
“As soon as he’s awake I’ll question him but we’re going to keep searching for Barbara. She’s out there somewhere and we’re going to find her.”
“Did Murphy say anything before you brought him here?”
He paused for just a moment. “He said his wife deserved what she got before he passed out. Not exactly a confession but it doesn’t sound good either.”
“Did you ask him anything else?” she pushed.
Reluctantly he nodded. “He didn’t seem to know what I was talking about when I mentioned Barbara. He could have been acting but everything at the scene is a little too neat. Either someone is setting him up or he’s working with a partner.”
“So you admit it could be James.”
“I didn’t say that but after what we uncovered at the motel room, I’m convinced Murphy isn’t in this alone. I just don’t think it can be my brother.”
Lilly tried to tamp down the hurt flowing over her, hoping it didn’t show on her face. She actually understood why Braden didn’t believe her and she didn’t want to waste time arguing with him. “I’m going to grab some coffee. Want some?” When he shook his head, she headed for the cafeteria.
Instead of turning toward the small dining area, she kept walking until she made it to Braden’s truck. Arguing with the man was pointless. She knew he’d never leave Murphy’s side and she really couldn’t blame him.
But that didn’t mean she had to sit by and do nothing. Murphy might be involved, but he wasn’t the only one. James Donnelly made his first mistake by admitting he was behind the killings. Her stalker no longer had that elusive, ghostlike quality on his side. He was only a man and she planned to use everything she knew about him to bring him down.