Stella put the milk and eggs in the pint-size fridge, which was jammed under three feet of counter.
Gianna sank onto the couch. Exhaustion lined her face, aging her ten years in the span of two seconds. “Thanks, Stella. I don’t know what I’d do without you.”
“Hungry?” Stella held up the plastic container of pasta. “I brought your favorite.”
“Yeah.” Gianna smiled, her eyes looking watery. With a sniff, she rubbed a knuckle under her eye and lifted her chin. “That’d be great.”
Stella warmed the pasta in the countertop microwave and delivered it to the girl. She took the food and ate a few bites without speaking.
Mac moved the two folding chairs into the living area and opened them in front of the sofa. A dog-eared book on the floor caught his eye: GED Practice and Review. A single framed snapshot decorated the table: a selfie of Stella and Gianna against a clear, blue sky.
Stella dropped into a chair and leaned forward to face Gianna. “I need to ask you a couple of questions.”
Gianna’s face snapped up. “You know I’ve been clean all year. I ain’t had nothin’ to do with my old life.”
“I know.” Stella held up a hand. “It’s not about you. It’s about someone else.”
The girl settled again, twirling a forkful of noodles. “OK. Anything for you, Stella.”
“Do you know Missy Green?” Stella asked.
Gianna’s fork stilled. “I know a Missy.”
Stella leaned forward, resting her clasped hands on her knees. “But you don’t know her last name?”
“No.” Gianna chewed. It looked like effort, as if she was too tired to eat. She swallowed. “Why?”
“Because your cell number was in her phone contacts,” Stella said.
Mac asked, “Is it because you know her from NA?”
“Yes.” Gianna grinned at Stella and jerked a thumb at Mac. “Guess he’s not just your arm candy?”
Stella didn’t bother to cover her grin. Instead, she played along, waggling her eyebrows until the girl laughed out loud. “When did you last see her?”
“Wait.” Gianna’s body jerked straight, as if she just realized a cop was questioning her about her friend. “Did something happen to Missy?”
Stella hesitated, no doubt deciding how much information to reveal about the case in order to gather more. “She was murdered.”
“No.” Gianna dropped her fork and set the dish on the crate.
“How well did you know her?” Stella asked.
Gianna lifted a bony shoulder. “She was nice. She gave me a ride sometimes. I know she worked a lot, but I don’t know much about her personal life.”
Stella pressed. “Did she seem upset lately or show any signs of relapsing?”
“No.” Gianna’s hair swayed as she shook her head. “Missy seemed pretty solid.”
“How often do you go to NA meetings?” Mac asked.
“I try to go a couple of times a week, depending on how tired I am or if I feel like walking. Otherwise I have to get a ride, and a lot of members don’t like to give out their cell phone numbers. Missy did, though. She was sweet.”
“We’re doing everything we can to find out who killed her.” Stella stood and picked up Gianna’s pasta. “I’ll put this in the fridge for you to heat up later. You know you can always call me for a ride.”
“Thanks.” The girl’s eyelids drooped. “You do enough for me.”
Mac jotted his cell number on the back of an envelope on Gianna’s table. “You shouldn’t be walking around alone in the dark. Call me if you ever need to go and don’t have a ride.”
She smiled, but her eyes were sad. She turned to Stella. “You have hit the mother lode, girlfriend. He is definitely not just a pretty face.”
Mac laughed. “I only have my Harley right now. So you’d have to ride on the back of that.”
“Seriously?” Her eyes brightened. “That’d be so awesome.”
“Anytime.” Mac wondered what would have become of him if Lee hadn’t straightened his ass out. Would he be dead or homeless?
“I wish I wasn’t so . . .” Gianna’s fist curled around the edge of the blanket. “Helpless.”
“Everybody needs help now and then. There’s no honor in going it alone.” A lesson Mac had learned the hard way. He pushed the piece of paper toward her. “Put my number in your phone. No more walking alone at night.”
She took the number, picked up her cell, and input his number with her thumbs. “Thank you.”
His phone chimed with a text. Mac’s screen read: Gianna :)
“We need to go. Lock up behind us before you fall asleep.” Stella led the way outside. They waited to hear the deadbolt turn in the lock before walking back to the car.
“How long has she been waiting for a kidney?” he asked.
“Probably only six months, but to her it seems like forever. Dialysis is miserable.” Stella glanced back at the apartment building.
“Can we go interrogate Adam Miller now?” Mac wanted to see this guy, badly.
“Oh, yes.” Stella slid behind the wheel and turned the key in the ignition. “It’s time.”
Mac opened the file on Dena Miller and checked Stella’s notes. “If he had something to do with his wife’s disappearance, why would he call the police?”
“Hard to explain his wife’s sudden absence.” Stella pulled out onto the street.
Mac looked up from the file and caught Stella’s glare. “Or he wants you to find her for him.”
Her brows shot toward her hairline. “That would be particularly devious.”
“It would,” Mac agreed. “No chance she ran?”
“Naked?” Stella’s brows rose again.
“Maybe they fought and she didn’t have time to grab clothes.” Mac scanned her perfect penmanship. “Your notes from his interview say Dena has no close friends or family.”
“According to her husband, she has no close friends or family.” Stella made a right turn and the car leaped forward. “But maybe Dena kept secrets from Adam. What time is it?”
“Just after one.”
Stella pointed at the case file. “Can you call the clubhouse restaurant and find out what time he paid his check? They were closed yesterday when I called.”
“On it.” Mac made the call. The hostess had heard about Dena Miller’s disappearance and cooperated. “She says he paid the bill with a corporate credit card at twelve thirty p.m.”
She banged a fist on the steering wheel. “That’s two hours before he said he left.”
Her phone rang. She answered on speaker. “Detective Dane.”
“Have you made any progress on finding my wife?” A man’s tinny voice emanated from the cell’s small speaker.
Stella lifted the phone toward her mouth. “Hello, Mr. Miller. Are you at home?”
“I’m on my way to your house right now to give you an update.” Stella ended the call and glanced at Mac. “He’s already lied to me twice, so let’s go see what Adam Miller is hiding.”
Stella parked the car at the curb in front of the Miller’s house. “You need to keep a low profile. My boss specifically doesn’t want you going all rogue.”
“Rogue?” In the passenger seat, Mac lifted his sunglasses. Humor glinted in his eyes.
“His word, not mine. Please, just don’t do anything that will get me fired.” Exasperated, both with his smart-assery and her attraction to it, Stella got out of the car. “How should I introduce you?”
“However you want. Just don’t call me agent anything.”
She looked at him over the roof. “If you’re worried about your cover, you probably shouldn’t be with me.”
“Probably not.” Another evasive answer.
Which she wasn’t going to accept. “Is this dangerous for you?”
He considered her question for a few seconds. “I’m not particularly worried about my cover in Brazil. But years ago, I was tight with a pretty nasty gang. They might consider my association with a cop as a betrayal.”
A real answer. She was making progress. “And if they found out you were DEA?”
“They’d kill me,” he said with complete certainty before walking off.
Stella rushed to keep up with his long strides. “Do you want to elaborate on that?”
“Not now.” Mac walked off, circling the house.
Stella swallowed her frustration. He’d opened up more than she’d expected. From the regretful frown on his face, maybe he’d shared more than he’d intended. She’d try for more information later. She’d need to be patient. Maybe sneaky.
They made a complete circuit and ended up on the front walk.
He scanned the ground and the exterior. “Any sign of forced entry?”
“No.” Stella studied the tall hedges that lined the property lines. “But the landscaping was designed for privacy. Once he pulled his car into the driveway, he’d be shielded from view.”
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