Stella cleared her throat. “With all due respect, sir, I had the impression that Mac will be looking for this woman with or without our cooperation. As you remember, the Barretts are a determined lot.” And they liked to handle their matters personally, as both Grant and Hannah had demonstrated.
“I remember.” Horner’s eyes narrowed. “No offense,” he glanced at Brody, “but the Barretts are headstrong and difficult.”
“No offense taken,” Brody said. “That’s one stubborn family.”
“You.” Horner pointed at Stella. “Keep Mac Barrett under control. I don’t care who he works for. I won’t have another rogue Barrett running around my town.”
How was she supposed to keep Mac under control?
The chief folded his hands on his blotter. “What’s your next step in the investigation?”
“Retracing Dena’s activity yesterday,” Stella said. “I’ll check in with forensics, too. Adam Miller will get a second round of questions, and his alibi needs to be verified with the country club. I’m running background checks on everyone involved and working my way through the recent calls, texts, and contacts on her phone.”
“Sounds like a good start.” The phone at the chief’s elbow rang. He ignored it. “Pull Lance to help with the investigation. No going off on your own, either one of you.”
“Yes, sir.” Stella had no desire to play heroine. As she’d learned last fall, a situation could go south in the span of a heartbeat. She shuddered at the memory. Gunfire. Lance going down. Blood. More gunfire.
“Stella?” the chief prompted.
She blinked. “Sorry.”
His eyes narrowed with suspicion. “Is everything all right?”
Horner stared for a few seconds, then nodded as if she passed muster. “Now, what’s going on with the Green case?”
“Waiting on toxicology reports.” Stella summed up the medical examiner’s findings. “But she was restrained and tortured. If she overdosed, it seems unlikely she did it herself.”
Horner scanned her report. “Maybe she owed a dealer money and he decided to make an example of her. Addicts run with dangerous crowds.”
“Ex addict,” Stella clarified. “Sir.”
“Keep plugging away at it.” Chief Horner met her gaze head on. “But I want you to concentrate on the accountant’s missing wife. Our citizens can’t feel safe if suburban women disappear from their homes without a trace.”
“What if the cases are related?”
“Do you have any evidence they’re related?” he asked.
“Not yet, but the cases have some similarities,” she admitted. Her inexperienced gut wouldn’t impress the chief.
“I want you both working the accountant’s missing wife. Pull uniforms in to help with the grunt work. We can’t help a dead woman, but there’s a chance we can save Dena Miller if we find her alive.” Horner gave them his dismissive nod. “Dena Miller’s husband has already reached out to the media.” Horner tugged the wrinkles from his sleeve. “I’ll be holding a press conference tomorrow. Give me something intelligent to say, and I want you standing next to me. You did a good job with the reporters on Monday. They love you.”
The compliment rubbed Stella the wrong way. She wanted to be a cop, not a politician like the chief. Right now, she needed to get back to work on her cases.
“Is there anything else, sir?” she asked, tight-lipped.
“No.” The chief picked up his phone and waved them toward the door. Brody and Stella wasted no time bolting from the office.
Brody pulled the door closed. “Is there anything else you want to tell me about Mac?”
“Hannah was upset about him last night. I can’t believe he didn’t call her.”
“He didn’t want to worry her any more.”
Brody’s gaze sharpened. “Is everything OK with you?”
“Sure.” She avoided his gaze.
Brody’s eyes doubted her answer. “It’s not like you to be late with a form, let alone a qualification. You’re usually disgustingly punctual and efficient about these things.”
She smiled, but the effort felt weak. “I’m not used to juggling so many cases.”
Brody stopped her with a hand on her elbow, turning her to face him. “Do not hesitate to call me if you need help, and I’m not talking about the cases.”
“Thanks.” She turned her back on Brody’s stare and bolted toward her cubicle. She hadn’t fooled him. He knew something was wrong. She added a trip to the firing range to her to-do list. She’d have to go at closing, when no one else would be there. Spectators didn’t help.
At her desk, she reviewed Dena’s cell phone call log. Adam, the spa, the physical therapist’s office. Adam again. She highlighted an unidentified number, then continued down the list to the previous day. A few numbers that needed to be traced. More calls to and from the husband. Many more.
Making a notation, Stella scanned Dena’s contact list. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary, except for her very long list of doctors, but that wasn’t unexpected from a person who’d suffered a debilitating injury.
Stella moved on to Missy’s phone, which had only a few contacts. Stella matched a few numbers to the short list that had been on Missy’s refrigerator. Wait. Stella recognized the next number. She pulled out her own phone to double check.
Gianna Leone was one of Stella’s former informants. Gianna had also kicked a drug addiction, which could explain the connection between her and Missy.
Knowing exactly where she could find Gianna later that morning, Stella gathered her files and contemplated snagging a uniformed officer to go with her for her first interview. But a uniform affected the way people reacted during questioning. Some would talk more, others less, but in general, it put them on guard. They never forgot they were talking to a cop. Stella had already found in her six months as a detective that she could get people to say things they never would have blabbed if she was in uniform.
“Detective Dane.” An administrative assistant waved a yellow clasp envelope at her. “This came for you.”
Stella turned the envelope over in her hands. No return address. Stella’s name and rank and the address of the police station had been printed on an adhesive label.
“Thanks.” Stella slid a letter opener under the flap and shook out an eight-by-ten photo. It was a picture of Missy’s body in the dugout. Taken at night with a flash, the picture highlighted her features. Except the picture didn’t portray the body exactly as it had been found. In this shot, Missy’s arms were folded over her body, and the needle was under her hands.
Stella’s insides went cold.
There was no longer any question that Missy had been murdered. The picture had been taken when Missy was positioned on the bench.
By her killer.
Standing in front of Horner’s desk, Stella wiped her palms on her slacks. “The postmark is local.”
The chief held the plastic bag containing the photo and envelope by the corner. “This is the downside to all the media attention you’ve been receiving.”
Which hadn’t been Stella’s idea.
“I don’t want this leaked to the media. Keep it quiet.” He handed the photo to her over the desk. “Get this to the lab. See if they can pull prints.”
“Yes, sir.” Stella turned to the door.
“Be extra careful, Detective,” Horner said. “I don’t like that he’s focused on you.”
That made two of them.
More jittery than she wanted to admit, Stella dropped the envelope and photo at the forensics lab for fingerprinting. Then she drove to Mrs. Green’s house to update Missy’s mother. Heading up the walk, she scanned the street and shivered.
The chief was probably right. The killer had seen her on the news, but being watched by a sadistic murderer gave her a cramp between her shoulder blades. She shook it off and knocked on the door. With Horner as her boss, she had no way to avoid media exposure.
Once again, Stella sat in the familiar kitchen. Mrs. Green’s face was paler and her eyes more vacant.
She handed Stella a cup of coffee. “I appreciate you taking time to give me an update.”
“Have you slept?” Stella asked.
Mrs. Green’s gaze flickered over Stella’s face. “Not really. Have you?”
“No.” Stella sipped. “Did Missy ever talk about cutting?”
“No,” Mrs. Green said. “She never mentioned cutting herself.”
“She was wearing long sleeves when she was found. Did she ever wear shorts or short-sleeve shirts?”
“Yes. She was wearing a miniskirt last Thursday when I took her to lunch. There weren’t any marks on her legs. She never wore short sleeves because of the track marks on her arms.” Mrs. Green blew her nose. “There’s no way Missy would have given herself more scars. She was self-conscious about the marks she already had.” Mrs. Green tossed the tissue in the garbage can. “If you want, you could talk to Missy’s psychiatrist at the rehab center.” She went to a drawer and rummaged through its contents. “Here it is.” She handed Stella a business card that read New Life Center for Hope.
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