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Gianna lowered the volume again. “That’s the man I saw.”

“You saw Adam Miller outside the church Thursday night?”

“Yep.” Gianna gave up on the pasta and returned it to the fridge. She took the ice cream from the freezer. “Are you having some?”

“No thanks. I’m not hungry,” Stella said. Gianna’s recognition of Adam had wiped out Stella’s appetite. If the man outside the NA meeting was Adam, then Stella had nothing on Spivak.

Brody had to break Adam’s alibi or she had no case against anyone.

“You have dialysis in the morning, right?”

Gianna scooped ice cream into a bowl. “I do.”

“If I pick you up afterward, would you come to the station and make a formal statement?”

Gianna lowered her spoon. “There isn’t enough ice cream in the world to get me to the police station.”

“Missy’s car was found in the church parking lot. I think she was abducted there. Do you have any idea why Adam Miller would have killed Missy?”

Gianna shrugged. “No, but he’s creepy, and he didn’t like anyone hanging around Dena. Maybe he was jealous of their friendship.”

That was creepy. Stella crossed her fingers that Brody could break Adam’s alibi. “If Dena’s husband killed her, I want to put him away.”

“And if you don’t, he’ll come after me.” Gianna set the bowl on the coffee table. “I make it a rule not to get involved in other people’s shit. It never works out for me. No offense or anything, but cops usually treat me like dirt.”

“No one will hassle you. I promise.”

“I’m tired after dialysis.”

“I’ll bring you right back here. It’ll take fifteen minutes, tops.”

“I don’t need any reminders of the life I left behind.” Gianna’s body slouched, defeated and depressed in a way Stella hadn’t seen in months.

“I know.” Guilt simmered in Stella’s belly. Had she set Gianna back? Would formally dragging Gianna into the case put her in danger? Stella believed the same person had killed Missy and Dena. If Adam was willing to kill Missy just for getting too close to his wife, Gianna testifying against him would definitely make her a target.

“I’ll do it for you.”

“Thanks. I appreciate it.” Stella gave her a one-armed hug. “I’ll see you tomorrow. I’ll bring you something special for lunch.”

“You don’t have to do that. You already do too much for me. You saved my life. That doesn’t make you responsible for the rest of it.”

Stella rubbed her shoulder. “I like you, so you’ll have to deal with the attention.”

Gianna smiled, but her eyes were troubled. She refused to meet Stella’s gaze. No doubt being taken to the police station tomorrow would stir old memories she’d rather not relive.

“Lock the door behind me.” Stella stood.

“Yes, Mom.” Gianna mocked as she let Stella out.

Stella stood on the cement for a few minutes, the wind outside was hot and thick, but at least it was fresher than the stuffy air inside Gianna’s apartment.

What now?

It was nine o’clock on a Friday night. Stella hadn’t eaten since breakfast. She was so tired that her eyelids felt like sandpaper. As much as she wanted to work the case until it broke, she needed to eat and sleep. Silly as it was, it annoyed her that Horner was right.

But as she drove home, impulse turned her wheel. She called dispatch and asked for backup from patrol. A few minutes later, she was parked in front of Missy’s apartment.

She still had the key the landlady had given her. As soon as the patrol car pulled into the driveway, she let herself into the apartment, tugged on gloves, and began another, thorough search. Maybe there was something she’d missed the first time around.

She started in the living room, where the sparse furnishings afforded a quick search. She moved into the kitchen. Not bothering with the obvious places she’d already checked, she lifted drawers from their runners and checked the spaces between appliances and cabinets. She turned toward the bedroom and rolled her head on her shoulders. Most people hid highly personal items in their most intimate space.

In the closet, she slid hangers to check the wallboard behind Missy’s clothes. Then Stella knelt and ran her fingers around the edges of the carpet. The corner lifted. She pulled it back. A square had been cut into the floorboard. She pried it up with her fingertips to find a shoebox in the small hole. Inside the box, Stella found a fat envelope. Cash. Lots of cash. She thumbed through the bills. Mostly tens and twenties, the sum totaled at least two thousand dollars.

Where had Missy gotten that much cash?

Chapter Twenty-Three

What an arrogant prick.

He got up from his chair and paced in front of the television, where his recording of the press conference played.

So Police Chief Horner thought he’d solve these murders quickly, and they already had a person of interest that they were investigating.

How were the police possibly going to catch him when they were too incompetent to decipher his simple message? Rage seethed in his chest. Its warmth spread through him like rocket fuel.

Pivoting, he crossed the room again. His basement was empty, and he needed to fill it. He was anxious to get back to work.

But the police needed to be taught a lesson.

He turned and stared at the TV screen. On the steps of the police station, Chief Horner puffed out his chest and postured for the cameras. What a blowhard. With his perfect hair and whitened teeth, the Scarlet Falls police chief didn’t look like he’d ever gotten his hands dirty. Had he really walked a beat or driven a patrol shift? Didn’t seem likely.

The man was a well-groomed windbag who needed the air taken from his sails. But how?

Pictures of Dena Miller and Missy Green popped onto the left side of the screen. Across the chief’s uniformed chest, a phone number was displayed.

“We’re setting up a tip hotline,” Chief Horner said. “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 hotline? How perfect. The hotline was going to get a tip they’d have to follow. He booted up his computer and began looking for the perfect location. He called up Google Maps and considered rural locations on the outskirts of town. There were plenty of abandoned buildings. But the police would be wary, and he wanted them more comfortable.

It had to be somewhere innocuous. Somewhere they’d never see him coming. Right in the middle of town should work. But how to find an empty house? Houses for sale or rent? Many would be empty.

He searched a real estate website for properties in the area and found several possibilities. He printed off a short list. Several might work for his fuck-off gesture to Chief Horner.

Tomorrow, he’d make time for a quick reconnoiter of the locations. Then he could set his trap. He didn’t have time to make an elaborate plan. Simplicity often was the best option.

Now it was time to get back to business. He’d already chosen Number Three, and he didn’t want to keep her waiting.

The empty cell called. He was bored. He needed her tonight.

A short time later, he cruised down the street, following her slender figure as she disappeared into the apartment. Now that was a strong woman. Not physically. Her body was slim. But there was nothing weak about her spirit. She didn’t let stumbling blocks hold her back. She would continue to push forward until she’d reached her objective.

Beauty only got a woman so far in life. He admired her determination. He designed each test to suit the individual. This one would take some extra consideration.

Dena had been a disappointment. She’d snapped even faster than Missy. Instead of proving her resilience, she’d caved immediately. After all she’d been through, he’d expected so much more from her.

How could he have judged her so poorly? She’d rallied from a physical challenge in the past, and it hadn’t been the torture that had broken her. With Dena, the game had been mental.

She’d had plans. She’d had hope. Once he’d taken that away, she’d wilted like a thirsty daisy.

Dena had proven that mental and emotional strength were as important as physical resilience. He needed someone who had faced life-long challenges and had overcome them.

A light in the apartment turned on. Through the window, he watched her rummage through a kitchen drawer.

Someone like her. Yes. She would be next.

Turning off the dome light, he got out of the car. The street was empty and dark in both directions. His shoes scraped on the concrete steps. He peered through the kitchen window but couldn’t see her.

Where was she?

His fingers closed on the hypodermic needle in his pocket. He’d slipped roofies into Missy’s coffee when she’d set it on a table to use the ladies’ room. Then he’d followed her at a discrete distance through the church parking lot. She’d collapsed, and he’d been right there. He’d put her in the passenger seat of his car as if she were sleeping. The drugs had worked well. She’d remained unconscious through the drive back to his place. But he didn’t have that opportunity this time.

His initial success had made him cocky. He’d surprised Dena in her shower. He’d punched her in the head and tossed her into his trunk. Considering that she’d escaped, and he’d had to track her through the woods in the rain for hours, that hadn’t been the best method. As much fun as it had been to see her terror, he didn’t intend to repeat himself.


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