Lyle barely glanced at it. “I can’t give out any medical information, even to the police. We’re under strict guidelines about that.”
“We know,” Stella assured him. “Dena is missing. We’re just trying to find her. I know you can’t tell me anything about her condition, but we know she was here yesterday.” Stella probed. “Did she seem upset or under any unusual stress?”
“Well . . . It’s just that . . .” Lyle scratched his shaved head. “Well, her husband calls all the time to check up on her. Yesterday, he called just after she left.”
Interest piqued in Stella’s eyes. “What did he say?”
“He asked if she was still here.” Lyle folded his arms over his chest, disapproval on his face. “Dena always got upset when he called. Once she asked me to please not say anything personal about her to him.”
Stella asked, “Did that strike you as strange?”
“Very,” Lyle agreed.
“Did you ever meet Adam Miller?” Mac asked.
“Yes. In the beginning of her therapy, Dena couldn’t drive, and Adam would bring her to her appointments. He got really annoyed when I told him I couldn’t discuss his wife’s medical issues with him.” Lyle’s mouth tightened. “Of course, I could have if Dena had agreed, but I just didn’t like the guy.”
“Thanks for your help. We’ll let you know if we have any additional questions.” Stella moved toward the door.
Mac trailed behind them. He stopped and pointed to a picture on the wall. “I see you’re a professional bodybuilder.”
Lyle stopped. “Yes. I’m also a personal trainer. I’m fascinated by the way a body can be altered, shaped by diet and exercise.”
Diet, exercise, and steroids, Mac thought.
They left him in the main lobby. Back in the car, Stella pulled out a notebook and scribbled some notes.
She lifted her pen. “What did you think about Lyle Jones?”
“Besides the fact that he hates Adam Miller?” Mac asked. “Not many people can get that bulky and cut without artificial hormones.”
“Do you think he uses steroids?” Stella’s brow wrinkled.
“Probably. It’s basic biology. I’m not saying it’s impossible, but the human body can only get so big. The kind of muscle Lyle was carrying. . .” His acne was another indication he was supplementing with hormones.
Stella closed her notebook. “So what does that have to do with Dena Miller?”
“Probably nothing.” Mac pulled Dena’s photo from the file and stared at it. No smile for the camera. The woman looked like she was about to get a root canal. “But Lyle likely uses illegal drugs, and he seems to know a lot more about her than the massage therapist did.”
“Good point. I’ll run a deeper background check on him.”
“What now?” he asked.
“I have an idea.” She dialed her phone. “Yes, is Laura available? Thank you.” She studied her notes while she waited. “Laura? This is Detective Dane. I have a quick question for you. Did Dena’s husband ever call to check up on her while she was at the spa? He did? Did he call yesterday?” Stella flashed Mac a predatory smile, thanked the woman, and ended the call.
“I need to talk to Dena’s husband.” Stella dropped the phone on the console. “I owe him an update on his wife’s case, and I need to know why he didn’t tell me he already knew his wife had made it to both of her appointments yesterday.”
“Lying is never a good sign,” Mac said. “Should we go see Mr. Miller now?”
“Not yet.” Stella pulled out onto the street. “I have to talk to someone about another case. Do you mind?”
Stella turned on the air-conditioner. “An old friend of mine was found dead. She was a former drug addict. She was tortured and killed.”
“Thanks.” Stella summed up her homicide investigation on Missy Green. “I found a recent call number in Missy’s phone that I recognized as one of my former informants. Gianna Leone was a prostitute and a heroin addict. She overdosed a year ago. Her customer actually called it in. When I arrived, she was barely breathing. Thank God we’re equipped with Narcan.”
Naloxone, brand name Narcan, was an opioid antagonist nasal spray used to reverse the effects of an overdose.
“It saved her life, but unfortunately, Gianna was left with irreversible kidney damage from years of heroin abuse.” Stella parked in front of a grocery store. “She comes from a very rough background.” Grabbing her purse, she got out of the car.
Mac followed her into the store as she grabbed a basket and headed for the dairy aisle. “Errands?”
“Not for me. Gianna is on kidney dialysis and disability now.” Stella selected a quart of milk.
Mac took the basket from her. “So you bring her food.”
“Occasionally. She’s come a long way, and she has no support. No father in the picture ever. Her mother was a prostitute. Gianna started hooking when she was thirteen.” Stella added eggs and bread and a few other staples, then crossed to the prepared food section and selected a family-size portion of fettuccine Alfredo and a chocolate cupcake.
Nice mom. “What happened to her mother?”
“She’s in prison for cooking meth.”
Mac unloaded the items in the checkout lane. “You sure this is enough?”
“She only has a mini fridge.” Stella knew this Gianna pretty well.
After checking out of the store, she drove a few miles and parked in front of a dialysis center.
Surprised, Mac scanned the front of the medical building. “We’re going to question her here?”
Stella lowered the front door windows and turned off the engine. The air was still. Heat began to build in the car immediately. “No. She should be done in the next few minutes. She doesn’t have a car. She lives close and walks to the center, but she’s exhausted when she comes out of dialysis.”
“So you drive her home?” It didn’t surprise him.
Stella squinted though the windshield, her gaze scanning the sidewalk. “If I happen to be nearby.”
Mac bet Stella happened to be nearby as often as possible.
The door opened and a coltish, dark-haired girl stepped out. “There she is.”
“She looks like a teenager.” Mac knew the realities of teens and drug use, and every damaged kid showed him the importance of his reconnaissance in Brazil. Going back to the jungle would be dangerous, but wasn’t the outcome worth the risk? Mac didn’t have a wife or kids to support. Wasn’t it better that he take the risk than a man who would leave a family behind?
The girl’s pallor was sick-pasty, her skinny jeans could have fit a twelve-year-old, and Mac could see the dark circles under her eyes from twenty feet away.
“Gianna’s only eighteen.” Stella opened the car door and got out. They greeted each other with a hug. There was nothing occasional about their relationship. The girl rested her head on Stella’s shoulder, relaxed until she spotted Mac in the car. Then her body jerked straight.
Stella rubbed her arm, leaned close, and spoke in her ear. The girl grinned, and Mac wondered what Stella had said.
As they approached the car, Mac got out and opened the back door for the girl. She gave him a once-over way too mature for her age, then gave Stella an approving nod. “You’re right.”
Stella blushed. “This is Mac Barrett. We’re working a case together.”
“Sure you are.” Gianna’s tone was amused. “Nice to meet you.”
They all climbed into the vehicle. Mac angled his body to look over the seat. Up close, the kid looked even worse.
“Appreciate the ride,” Gianna said from the backseat.
“Rough today?” Stella started the engine. Cool air blasted from the dashboard vents.
Gianna lifted a bony shoulder in a shrug, then, shivering, she zipped her sweat jacket all the way to her chin. “It is what it is.”
Stella glanced in the rearview mirror. “Any word on the transplant?”
Gianna’s mouth tightened. “Nope. Long list, ya know?”
Mac suspected a former prostitute and heroin addict didn’t exactly soar to the top. People tended to make judgments, and there was no escaping the stigma.
A few minutes later, Stella pulled into the parking lot of a low-income apartment complex. Three utilitarian brick buildings squatted around a weedy patch of grass. Mac opened the car door for Gianna. The girl stepped out, but her legs buckled as she stood. Mac took her elbow. Humiliation and frustration hardened her features as her legs steadied.
“Thanks.” She forced a tough smile on her face. Pulling her arm from his grasp, she walked toward the closest building in a pained gait, as if her entire body hurt.
Mac nodded, shutting the door and then sticking close enough to catch her if her balance gave out again. Stella followed with the groceries.
Gianna’s apartment was partially below ground. The entire unit was the size of a two-car garage and just as damp. They stepped directly into the kitchenette. A window over the sink looked out on the street. A card table and two folding chairs crowded the tiny space. A lopsided sofa, a milk-crate coffee table, and a TV took up most of the living room. A door behind the kitchen likely led to the bedroom and bathroom.
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