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“Brody’s a man.” Cecily stood back, assessing her work. “Wrinkles make Brody appear to be working around the clock. They make you look sloppy.” She slid the cap off her lipstick with a pissy snap. “Don’t give me that look. It’s not my opinion. I’m just laying it out for you. If you want to get promoted, you’d better get with the chief’s program.”

She smoothed her expression back into what Stella now recognized as a mask.

Stella looked in the mirror. The bruise had vanished. “Thanks for the makeup. And the advice.”

“You’re welcome.” Cecily gave her a nod of approval. “Now break a leg.”

Thirty minutes later, Stella stood next to the chief on the front steps of the station.

Horner tilted the microphone toward his face. “Two women were killed this week. We are conducting a thorough investigation into the deaths of Missy Green and Dena Miller.”

“Is there a serial killer loose in Scarlet Falls?” a reporter called out.

Horner shook his head. “No. Miss Green and Mrs. Miller were acquainted, so their cases are linked.”

“Should women be afraid, Chief?”

He gave the questioner a solemn nod. “Women should always be careful, but we don’t feel there’s any special danger because of these murders. Dena Miller and Missy Green did know each other. Their deaths weren’t random acts.”

“What are you doing to catch the killer?”

“We have several of our detectives working the case, including Detective Dane.” The chief gestured to Stella. “We would also like to ask the public for any help. We’re setting up a tip hotline. If anyone has any information regarding the murders of Missy Green or Dena Miller, they can call the number on the bottom of the screen. A one thousand dollar reward is being offered for any valid tip that results in an arrest.”

“Does this mean you aren’t close to solving the cases?”

The chief answered, “As always, we appreciate any help the public can provide, but we have several leads, including one person of interest, and we expect to solve these murders quickly.”

“Detective Dane, is it true that both victims were drug addicts?”

Chief Horner stepped aside so Stella could access the mic. His gestures were polite, but she caught the warning in his eyes.

She lowered the mic a few inches. “I can’t divulge details in an ongoing investigation, but this case is my number one priority.”

“But we heard both women died of heroin overdoses.”

“The medical examiner hasn’t issued a cause of death in either case,” Stella said, working hard to keep her voice level.

Horner brushed her aside. “As Detective Dane said, we can’t discuss the details of the investigation. Once again, the hotline number is at the bottom of the screen. I believe photos of both victims are being shown on the screen right now. If you know anything about the deaths of either of these women, please call the hotline. An officer will be standing by to receive your calls.”

Horner herded Stella away from the press. “You need to work on politics, Detective. Next time tell them less in more words, and try not to look angry.”

“Yes, sir.”

Horner scrutinized her face. “You look tired. Make sure you’re taking care of yourself and not letting the case exhaust you.”

“Yes, sir.” Stella followed Cecily’s example and schooled her face until she was out of Horner’s view. Did the chief ever tell Brody to make sure he got enough rest? No. But what could Stella complain about? Being promoted? Having a concerned boss? Her boss was superficial, but he’d made her a detective. And that was all Stella had ever wanted.

Wasn’t it?

Back at her desk, Stella checked her messages. Finally, Gianna had returned her call. Stella dialed her number. “Can I stop by and show you something?”

Gianna chuckled. “If it’s that hottie you brought the other day, sure thing.”

“Sorry. That’s not it.” Stella grabbed her briefcase and headed for the door.

“I guess you can still come.” Gianna sighed.

“I’ll bring ice cream.” Stella ended the call. A quick stop at the convenience store yielded a container of vanilla fudge swirl, Gianna’s favorite.

If the girl picked Spivak out of the photo lineup, Stella’s life would get much easier. He was a scumbag. He had a record that included assault. But she had her doubts about his ability to have dumped the body. If the ME was right, and Dena had been dead for no more than eighteen hours before she was found, then Spivak would have had to dump her body before sunset last night. Stella had arrested him at nine-thirty the previous night. Dena couldn’t have been dumped before six p.m.

If he’d also been outside the church the night Missy disappeared, Stella would feel better about building a case with him as her killer.

The sun was setting as Stella parked outside Gianna’s apartment. The girl must have been watching for her because she opened the door before Stella knocked. As usual, the apartment was hot as a sauna. Stella stripped off her jacket and tossed it over the back of a chair.

Gianna walked into the kitchen and took a bowl from the microwave. The aroma of warm fettuccine Alfredo drifted into the room. Stella’s appetite stirred to life, but Gianna needed every calorie.

“Do you want some? I’m not really hungry, but I have to eat.” Gianna put the bowl on the tiny table. Even though she’d clearly been crying, the girl’s color was pinker, her eyes brighter, and her step quicker. The TV was set to a local newscast. She picked up the remote control and muted the volume.

“Go ahead. Please.” Stella dropped into a folding chair. “You look better today.”

A bony shoulder poked out from the neck of Gianna’s oversize T-shirt. “Not a dialysis day.”

Ironically, the treatments that kept her alive also drained her energy.

Stella reached into her pocket and removed the photo of Dena Miller. “Do you recognize this woman?”

Gianna leaned forward. “Yes. That’s Dena.”

“Was she friendly with Missy?”

“Yeah. Sometimes they’d talk during the refreshment hour after the meeting or go out for a late dinner.”

“Did you ever go with them?” Stella’s mind whirled. Not only were the victims members of the same group, they were friends.

“You know I can’t afford dinners out. I can’t even afford dinners in.” Gianna snorted. “Wait. Why are you asking me about Dena?”

Stella put a hand on her forearm. “I’m sorry. She’s dead.”

“No!” Gianna covered her mouth with her hand. “Not her, too.”

Stella gave her arm a gentle squeeze. “I’m sorry. How well did you know her?”

“We talked a little. It’s the part of the whole NA deal.” Her mouth set in an angry scowl. “If I were you, I’d be looking at the son-of-a-bitch she was married to.”

“Why do you say that?” Stella asked.

“He creeped me out.” Gianna pushed her food away. “It was normal for him to call her during the meetings. She wouldn’t turn off the phone. It was almost as if she was afraid not to answer. Anyway, at the last meeting, I was sitting next to Dena. The prick called her wanting to know where she was, who she was with, and what time she’d be home. I could hear him. His tone was all nasty. She was shaking by the time she grabbed her bag and took the phone out in the hall to talk to him in private. I was gonna ask her to be my sponsor, but I figured she had enough problems of her own.”

“You’re sure he wasn’t just concerned?”

Gianna’s eyes were weary. “I know all about nasty-tempered men.”

Stella sat back, linking her fingers and digesting the information. What good was knowing Adam Miller was mean to his wife? The chief had ordered her to leave him alone and build her case against Spivak.

As much as Stella hated to admit it, the chief had a point. Spivak was an excellent suspect.

Stella took out six photos. She dealt them out onto the table like a hand of solitaire. “Is the man you saw outside the NA meetings one of these men?”

Gianna scanned the pictures. She studied each one carefully, then shook her head. “I don’t think so.”

Stella pushed the picture of Spivak in front of Gianna. “Have you ever seen this man before?”

“No. That’s not the creepy guy,” Gianna said. “Well, he’s a creepy guy, but he’s not the creepy guy I saw outside the NA meeting Thursday night.”

Disappointment slumped Stella’s shoulders.

“Wait.” Gianna rose from her chair and walked into the living area. She pointed the remote at the TV. The volume increased. Outside Adam Miller’s house, a news crew followed him to his car. Bright lights illuminated his driveway as the reporters shouted his name and asked if he knew anything about his wife’s death. The caption on the bottom of the screen read: Local Accountant Suspected in Wife’s Murder.

Adam shoved the microphones away from his face, picked up his pace, and got into his car. A photo of Dena appeared in the upper left corner of the screen as a newscaster’s voice read, “Dena Miller’s body was found at a local park this afternoon. A source in the Scarlet Falls Police Department says Adam Miller is a suspect in the murder of his wife.”


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