Home > Secrets Never Die (Morgan Dane #5)(10)

Secrets Never Die (Morgan Dane #5)(10)
Author: Melinda Leigh

The boys were not teenagers. They were Sharp’s old cop buddies. Most were retired. All were older than Sharp. “Maybe one of them remembers the particularly nasty scumbags that Paul arrested. He was a deputy for a long time. He must have been threatened at some point.” Criminals were always vowing to get even with the cops who put them away. Most were all mouth and no action, but a few held grudges.

“I’ll get my mom started on the background checks,” Lance said. “I need to call her today anyway.”

His mother was agoraphobic and suffered from crippling anxiety and depression. She was also a computer whiz and often took over the digital searches for Sharp Investigations, particularly on the larger cases when their two-man firm needed assistance.

Lance rarely went more than a day without stopping in to see her, but he hadn’t been by her place for a few days. She was physically frail, and he hadn’t wanted to risk infecting her with the girls’ virus.

Morgan motioned to a stack of papers on her blotter. “Tina gave us access to her cell phone account. I printed out the family’s cell phone activity for the last month. I’ll review those, then call hospitals and urgent care centers in the area,” Morgan volunteered. “Maybe Evan tried to get medical help.”

But Lance didn’t think so. Evan was on the run. He wouldn’t trust any adult.

Sharp pointed to the phone records. “Let me review the cell phone accounts, get Jenny started on the background checks, and call the ERs and urgent care centers. You two should be talking to Evan’s friends. They will be able to predict where Evan would go to hide better than anyone else.”

“I haven’t visited my mother since Mia and Ava were sick.” Lance worried about her. He’d spoken with her every day, but a video chat or phone call wasn’t the same as seeing her in person. When he’d been in college, he’d neglected to keep close tabs on her, and she’d suffered a major breakdown.

“I’ll call her now and give her the list of names, then stop in to see her later tonight.” Sharp nodded. “She works fast. She’ll probably have some information for us by then.”

Lance set the marker on the metal lip of the whiteboard. “Then Morgan and I will talk to Evan’s best friend, Jake O’Reilly.”

Sharp caught Lance’s eye. “You’re sure that Evan couldn’t have shot Paul?”

“Absolutely.” Lance knew it in his heart. “The only person Evan might hurt is himself.”

And that worried Lance the most. Evan wasn’t the most emotionally stable kid. If he had witnessed Paul’s murder, the trauma might be more than he could handle.

Chapter Seven

Morgan read the name on the mailbox and compared it to her notes. “One twenty-seven. This is the address Tina gave us for Jake O’Reilly, but the name on the mailbox says DUNCAN.”

“We’ll ask.” Lance turned into a long driveway. Jake O’Reilly lived on a small farm on the outskirts of Scarlet Falls. Eyeing the muddy barnyard through the Jeep’s windshield, Morgan reached behind her seat, grabbed the boots she’d been keeping there because of the heavy rains, and changed out of her nice flats.

Lance’s phone beeped, and he answered the call. “You’re on speaker, Sharp.”

“I’m reviewing Evan’s cell records,” Sharp said. “He has seven calls over the past two weeks from a mobile number registered to a T. Nelson. No texts. Just calls, while most of his other cell activity is texting.”

“Is this the first time that number appears on his phone records?” Morgan asked.

“In the past two months, yes,” Sharp answered. “I still have a few hundred texts to read, but I thought you could ask Evan’s friends if they know T. Nelson.”

“Thanks, Sharp.” Lance ended the call and opened his car door.

Morgan stepped out of the Jeep and scanned the property. Dark clouds gathered on the horizon, threatening rain. A two-story white farmhouse faced the road. Behind it, a red barn sat amid a scattering of other outbuildings. The cleared acreage around the buildings was divided into pastures. The smell of manure and freshly mowed grass lay thick in the humid air, and Morgan sneezed.

Hoofbeats approached, and Morgan pivoted to watch three slender horses gallop to the fence near the Jeep. They slid to a stop, prancing and snorting, mud splashing under their hooves.

“Can I help you?” A man led a slim black horse out of the barn. Lance was big, but this man would tower over him.

A rabbit darted out of a bush. The horse jumped, landing with wide eyes and splayed legs.

“Settle down.” The man tugged on the lead rope.

“We’d like to talk to Jake,” Lance called out.

The horse whinnied.

“Give me a minute. I’ll be right with you.” He led the gleaming animal to the pasture. Inside the gate, he unclipped the rope attached to the halter and stepped back. The four horses greeted each other, curling their necks and touching noses. Then they spun and galloped away. Mud flew from their hooves.

The man latched the gate and crossed the barnyard toward them. His jeans and work boots were streaked with mud. Hay stuck to his sweat-stained USMC T-shirt. Morgan read the SEMPER FI tattoo on his forearm.

“I’d shake your hand, but I’m filthy.” He raised his hands. “We seriously need this rain to let up for a few days. We’re drowning in mud.”

Lance handed him a business card. “Are you Mr. O’Reilly?”

“Hell no. My name is Steve Duncan.” He read the card and frowned. “You’re a private investigator? Is Jake in any kind of trouble?”

“No. We just want to ask him a few questions.” Morgan looked around for other vehicles or people. An old Honda was parked near the house. “Are either of Jake’s parents here?”

Duncan snorted. “No. Why do you ask?”

“We’re looking for Evan Meade,” Lance said. “He’s missing. I’m not just an investigator. I’m Evan’s hockey coach. We’re worried about him.”

“I wish I could help.” Duncan shook his head. “But I don’t know an Evan Meade.”

“Evan is Jake’s friend,” Lance explained. “We’d like to ask Jake a few questions. Maybe he has an idea of where we could look for Evan.”

“I don’t know any of Jake’s friends.” Duncan pulled a cell phone from his pocket and sent a text with surprising speed, considering the size difference between his huge thumbs and the tiny keyboard. A few seconds later, he read an incoming message. “He’s in his room doing homework. He’ll be right out.”

“We’d like to talk to Jake’s parents,” Morgan said. “Do you know where they are?”

Duncan returned his phone to his pocket. “Jake hasn’t seen his deadbeat father in ten years. His mother briefly lived here with me, but she ran out on both of us last year.”

“But Jake stayed here with you?” Morgan asked, surprised.

“She didn’t give him the option of going with her.” Contempt sharpened his voice. “She left while he was in school. I felt bad for him. He didn’t have anywhere else to go.” Duncan folded his massive arms across his chest. “He’s not a bad kid. He used to get into trouble. But then his mother did nothing but drink, scream, and knock him around. He’s better off without her. After she left, I told him if he wanted to stay, he’d better get his head out of his ass. If he was going to screw around, he could move the hell out. If he wanted to live with me, I expected him to do his chores, earn his keep, and stay out of trouble. He does, and we’ve gotten along just fine since.”

“We appreciate your cooperation,” Lance said. “Do you remember what time Jake came in last night?”

“No,” Duncan said. “I go to bed early. Jake’s room is at the other end of the house. I didn’t hear him come in.”

“Do you usually?”

“No.” Duncan shook his head. “Getting to school on time is his responsibility. As long as I don’t hear from the truant officer, he can do what he likes. It’s not my problem if he’s tired.”

A screen door slapped open, and a tall, gangly teenage boy loped down the back steps of the farmhouse. He slowed when he saw Morgan and Lance, his eyes wary. As he approached, he looked to Duncan for reassurance.

“They’re looking for your friend Evan,” Duncan explained.

Jake relaxed a little.

“If you’ll excuse me, I’ll get back to work,” Duncan said to Lance and Morgan. He turned to Jake. “Mind your manners. When you’re done, you have stalls to muck. Dinner’s at six.”

“Yes, sir,” Jake said.

Duncan walked back toward the barn.

“Hi, Jake.” Morgan held out her hand. “I’m Morgan, and this is Lance. We’re friends of the Knox family.”

“I know who you are,” Jake said to Lance. “You’re the hockey coach.”

“That’s right,” Lance said. “I’m also a private investigator. I’m trying to find Evan.”

“I already talked to the sheriff. He came to the school. The principal pulled me out of class.” Jake scowled. “The other kids thought I was being arrested.”

“That must have been embarrassing,” Morgan said. What had the sheriff been thinking? Humiliating a teenager would not secure his cooperation.

“It was.” Jake’s nod was tight. “I don’t know where Evan is. I haven’t seen him since last night.”

“Can we ask you some more questions?” Morgan asked. “We might think of something the sheriff missed.”

“I guess.” Jake shoved his thumbs into the front pockets of his jeans.

“Tell us about Monday night.” Morgan started with an open-ended topic. She didn’t want yes or no answers.

“I picked Evan up around seven. We went to the talent show at school, but it was lame, so we left.” Jake paused. His forehead crinkled. “Evan didn’t want to go home.”

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