Disbelief floored Grant. “So the target was Kate, not Lee.”
“That’s insane.” Ellie turned her hand over and squeezed his fingers.
“How does an ice-skating coach find a contract killer?” Grant asked.
“Donnie played hockey under the scholarship program for troubled kids,” McNamara answered. “And Victor was Donnie’s first client. As far as we know, Donnie never killed anyone before he was incarcerated. Most of his early crimes were Internet-based. In fact, he knew how to find Lee and Kate by hacking into Kate’s online calendar app. But after he was assaulted in prison, the Aryan Brotherhood helped him kill his attacker, who was a member of a rival gang. Donnie developed a taste for violence. His girlfriend’s death was caused by autoerotic asphyxiation. They were both into BDSM. That last night Donnie was with her, he got carried away.”
Grant intertwined his fingers with Ellie’s.
“The fireman ran across some other things we’ve been looking for in the house.” McNamara pulled an envelope out of his briefcase. “Your brother’s will. There’s nothing in it that pertains to the case.”
“Where did you find it?” Grant touched the envelope.
“Your brother was using the old dumbwaiter as a hidey-hole. He’d boarded up the opening, but the shaft is brick, and the contents survived the fire,” McNamara said. “The Hamilton file was in there as well.”
“So what did Lee know?” Grant asked. “Though I guess it doesn’t matter, since he wasn’t the target.”
“Something we all missed.” McNamara tapped the edge of the table. “Lindsay had received harassing pictures on her phone, but her phone had been wiped by a virus. Lindsay had a friend back in California that she texted extensively with. His name is Jose. Lee called him and found out that Lindsay had forwarded one of the photos to him before her phone was wiped out. It was a particularly nasty picture of a doll made to look like Lindsay and hanging by a string. Here’s where Regan and Autumn screwed up. The picture was geotagged.”
“The location where the picture was taken is embedded in the picture. This particular picture was taken at Regan’s house,” the cop said. “So Lee really did find something to tie one of those girls to Lindsay’s harassment.”
“And Corey Swann?” Ellie asked.
The cop nodded. “Not saying a word, but he was in possession of the burner phone he used to text his threats to you. The camera mounted in front of Ellie’s house was wireless and motion sensitive. He used your own wireless network to send himself footage. Seriously, ‘Julia1’ isn’t a very secure password. He could watch the house live or view the captured feed at his leisure. Possession of the burner phone is enough to charge him with extortion. I’m sure we’re going to find all sorts of evidence in our investigation.”
The cop got up. “Call me if you have any other questions. I’ll let you two digest all this and get some rest.”
Ellie locked the door behind McNamara. Still sitting at the table, Grant tapped on the envelope.
“Are you going to open that?” she asked.
“No. I should wait for Mac and Hannah.” He stood and stretched. “That couch is looking pretty good. How about we stretch out and close our eyes until everyone wakes up?”
He tugged her to the sofa and pulled her down next to him. Wrapping an arm around her shoulders, he leaned back and closed his eyes. McNamara’s information was almost too much to absorb. Kate had an affair? She’d been the target of a killer because she’d withheld information from the police. She’d sat on that phone for weeks, afraid of losing her husband when he found out about her infidelity.
Ellie put her hand in the center of his chest, right over his heart. “Are you all right?”
“I just need a little time to take it all in.”
Faith cried from the bedroom.
“I’ll get her.” Ellie stood.
He stopped her with a hand on her arm. “No, I got it.”
Maybe the last thing he needed was time to think.
“Excuse me.” Grant stopped at the nursing station on his way to his father’s room. Only one day had passed since the fire. Ellie, Julia, and Nan had returned to their home. Hannah and the kids were still in the motel. Lee’s house wasn’t salvageable.
A nurse in pink scrubs looked up at him over her reading glasses. She blew short, gray-blond bangs out of her eyes. “Yes, sir?”
“I’m Colonel Barrett’s son.” Grant hesitated. “I was here last week, and the visit didn’t go well. He got agitated when I said I was his son. He doesn’t recognize me.”
Her mouth twisted in a sad smile. “That happens a lot. He didn’t know your brother most of the time either, if it makes you feel any better.”
“Really?” Grant pulled back in surprise.
“Yes. Your brother just went with whatever the Colonel called him.”
“I don’t understand.”
“If the Colonel thought your brother was Private First Class Andersen, your brother answered to that.” She swept her glasses off her face. “Mr. Barrett just wanted the Colonel to have a calm day. He found reading to him worked better than trying to have a conversation. The Colonel gets agitated when he can’t get the words out right. He knows he can’t remember things, and it frustrates him. Dementia also makes emotions hard to control.” Empathy shone from her eyes. “Try calling him Colonel instead of Dad, and use your first name. I know it hurts that he doesn’t remember you, but it isn’t his fault. Dad implies you have a relationship, and he’ll instantly feel stressed trying to make the connection. Some days you might be surprised, and he might know you, but that’s not going to happen often.” She paused. “You can’t fix this.”
Grant accepted her statement as the truth, finally.
“His overall health has deteriorated significantly in the last year.” She reached out and touched his forearm. “I’m sorry. Do you want me to have the doctor call you?”
“Yes, please.” Grant gave her his cell numbers. “You should change the emergency contact numbers anyway.” He gave her Mac’s and Hannah’s cell numbers as well.
She entered the information into the computer system.
Grant digested her advice on the way down the hall. His father was awake, staring blankly at a mute TV screen hanging from the opposite wall. Cloudy eyes blinked at Grant. “Who are you?”
“Hello, Colonel. I’m Grant.” He took a deep breath and waited.
“What are you doing here?”
Grant spied the book on the tray. “I’m here to read to you.”
His father nodded, still wary, but seemingly satisfied with the response.
Grant walked closer and eased into the seat next to the bed. He picked up the book and started reading aloud. His father settled back and closed his eyes. Calm. Lee had been right. It didn’t matter if Dad knew their names. Maybe a lot of things didn’t matter.
Two chapters later, after the Colonel fell into a deep sleep, Grant knew exactly what he needed to do. No, not just what he needed to do, what he wanted to do.
He drove back to the motel with a sense of purpose.
The silver Mercedes was parked in front of the unit. Inside, Kate’s parents sat at the dining room table with Hannah. Carson sat on her lap. Faith bounced in a baby seat on the floor.
“Uncle Grant.” Carson hurled his body across the room.
Grant scooped him off the floor. The boy was shaking. “What’s wrong, buddy?”
“They said they’re going to take us,” he sniffed.
Grant scanned the faces at the table.
Stella Sheridan stood, brushing the wrinkles from her gray slacks. “We thought, since the children currently have no home, we could just take them with us now. It would save everyone time. The sooner they get settled in their new home, the better.”
“I don’t think so.” Grant hugged Carson closer. Tiny fingers fisted in his sweatshirt.
Stella crossed her arms. “The more you let them get attached to you, the harder it will be when you leave, Major.”
“That would be true, if I was leaving.” Grant shifted Carson to his hip. The boy smelled like grass and sweat, as if Hannah had taken him outside to run around.
Hannah’s head snapped up. “What are you saying?”
“I requested a hardship discharge.” Grant’s heart felt lighter than it had since he’d gotten the news of Lee’s death. “Just got off the phone with my CO.”
Stella’s frown sagged, deepening the lines around her mouth. “Still, you’re a bachelor. What do you know about raising two children?”
“I’ll figure it out as I go along,” Grant said.
“We’ll see what our attorney has to say about that.” Stella lifted her chin. Her eyes went bright and cold.
The baby fussed, and Hannah picked her up. “Actually, I reviewed the will this morning. Lee and Kate named Grant as the kids’ guardian, so you really don’t have any legal standing.”
Stella turned and scooped her coat off the chair. Staring at the floor, she wiped a tear from her face with the pad of her thumb. “Will you still let us see them?”
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