Home > Secrets Never Die (Morgan Dane #5)(13)

Secrets Never Die (Morgan Dane #5)(13)
Author: Melinda Leigh

Brian lived in a development of small, well-kept homes on tiny lots. His one-story house was white with red shutters and had a small backyard surrounded by a four-foot-tall chain-link fence. His black Taurus was parked at the curb in the shade of an oak tree. A small shed occupied one corner of the backyard. Sharp parked behind the Taurus and walked up the concrete driveway. The lawn had been recently cut. The landscaping wasn’t fancy, but Brian kept it neat.

Sharp pressed the doorbell. He heard it chime inside the house. A minute later, when no one had answered the door, he pressed it again.

Nothing.

He returned to his car and scanned the street. A young couple pushed a baby stroller along the sidewalk toward him.

“Do you know Brian Springer?” Sharp asked as they approached.

The man stepped in front of the woman and baby. “Why?”

“I’m worried about him.” Sharp thought about the business cards in his pocket, then decided to leave them where they were. It might be best if the couple didn’t know his name in case the sheriff’s department came calling. “I’m a friend, and I haven’t been able to reach him for days.” The lie rolled smoothly off Sharp’s tongue. “Have you seen him?”

The man shook his head. “No, I haven’t seen him in a couple of days.” He turned to his wife. “Have you?”

The baby made a soft bleating sound, not unlike a lamb.

“No.” The woman leaned over the stroller. “But you’re the second person to ask about him.”

“We live next door.” The man pointed to the red two-story house on the adjacent lot.

Suspicious, Sharp asked, “Who else has been looking for him?”

“A police detective came by earlier today.” The woman lifted the baby, clearly a newborn, from the stroller and began to sway back and forth. The baby quieted. “I don’t remember his name. He wasn’t in uniform, but he showed me a badge.”

“He didn’t leave you a card?”

“No.” She smiled at the baby and made a cooing noise.

“Could you describe the detective?” Sharp pressed.

She frowned. “I spoke to him through the screen door. He was ordinary looking. Brown hair. Brown suit. He drove a dark-blue sedan.”

Sounded like a county detective. The sheriff had probably sent someone to find Brian for the same reason Sharp was here.

The couple took a step away.

“Do you remember the last time you saw Brian?” Sharp asked.

The man brightened. “I saw him on Saturday. He talked about a guys’ fishing weekend with his brother, but I’m not sure when he was leaving.” He looked to his wife. “Do you remember?”

“No.” She shrugged. “But he was going to bring me a key before he left so we could feed his cat and bring in the mail. He didn’t do that.” She pointed. “His car is still here.”

Sharp glanced back at the black Taurus. “Is that where he normally parks it?”

“Yes,” the husband said.

“Do you know if he usually fished at a local spot?” Sharp asked.

The husband tilted his head. “I’m not sure. I think the property belonged to someone in his family. His brother or brother-in-law? It’s on a lake.”

“Thanks for your help,” Sharp said.

The baby began to cry, louder this time.

“Excuse me.” The wife turned toward the red house.

The husband took the handle of the stroller. “Bye.”

“Thanks again.” Sharp turned back toward his car. He stopped on the sidewalk and stared at Brian’s house. The couple took their baby inside their house and closed the door. Sharp opened Brian’s mailbox. What appeared to be a few days of mail was crammed inside. He gave up any idea of hiding his activity. As far as the neighbors were concerned, Sharp was a worried friend.

He stepped into the shrubs, trying to peer in the front window, but the drapes were tightly drawn. Sharp’s instincts began to quiver like an insect’s antennas, and he remembered another house he’d approached.

There had been two dead bodies inside and a killer on his way out.

This is a different case.

He went to the garage door. Rising onto his toes, he looked through the high row of windows. No vehicle. Sharp walked around the house, trying to see into every window he encountered. But each one was covered. Who kept all their blinds closed?

No one he knew.

In the backyard, he looked inside the shed but found only lawn equipment. A deck jutted off the back of the house in front of a set of sliding glass doors. Sharp jogged up the steps. Vertical blinds covered the sliders, but a few of the slats were crooked. Sharp could see through the open slivers into the kitchen but saw nothing. He considered the lock-picking tools in his wallet. Was there a door he could break into without a neighbor seeing? On a whim, Sharp used the hem of his shirt to tug on the slider handle.

The door opened.

Sharp stepped inside, using his shoulder to part the vertical blinds. Once the blinds settled back into place—and the neighbors couldn’t see him—Sharp reached into his pocket for gloves and tugged them on. The house had a vacant air.

Sharp sniffed deeply. Something smelled foul, not like decomposing flesh but feces. When people died, their bowels and bladder often gave way.

Was Brian here somewhere, recently deceased?

Something bumped his foot. Sharp jumped, drawing his gun on reflex and pointing it at . . . a cat.

Sharp breathed, his pulse scrambling. The orange tabby rubbed on his ankle, then walked away, looking over its shoulder as if to beckon Sharp to follow it. When Sharp took a few steps in the cat’s direction, it trotted into the kitchen.

Two bowls sat on a vinyl placemat on the tile. Both were empty. One bowl had a few crumbs in the bottom. Brian hadn’t delivered the key to his neighbor. Was he really on vacation?

Sharp filled one bowl with water. Then he found some dry cat food in a cabinet and heaped the other bowl high, enough to hold one cat for a couple of days. He made a mental note to check back if Brian didn’t turn up.

Leaving the cat crunching at its bowl, Sharp walked from room to room, finding the source of the bad odor: the dirty cat box. But he still checked any concealed area big enough to hide a body. In the master bedroom, the bifold closet doors were open. A few of the dresser drawers weren’t fully closed either.

He stopped in the final room, a small bedroom converted into a home office.

An industrial-type desk was empty. Cable and cords trailed along the floor under it, as if someone had taken a desktop computer. Sharp checked the master bedroom a second time. A thirty-something-inch flat-screen TV hung on the wall, undisturbed. Another larger TV hung on the wall in the living room. An iPad sat on the desk.

A robber would not have taken a desktop computer and left flat-screen TVs and an iPad behind. Had Brian removed his own desktop computer? Why? Maybe it needed repairs.

Or maybe Brian had destroyed it. Physical destruction of the hard drive was the best way to ensure no one could recover any data.

Sharp took one more walk through the house, snapping pics with his camera phone. He didn’t see anything that gave him a clue as to where Brian had gone.

Sharp left the house and returned to his Prius. He wrote down all the information he had on Brian Springer. Sharp was stopping at Jenny Kruger’s house in the morning. Maybe she could find Brian’s mysterious vacation cabin on a lake.

Brian’s house had given Sharp more questions than answers. Why was the back door unlocked? If Brian had gone on vacation, he would have had the neighbor feed the cat and pick up the mail. He hadn’t done either. And why was his computer missing?

No, it didn’t look like Brian had gone on vacation, but he’d gone somewhere, presumably with someone else, since his vehicle was still out front. And he’d been in a hurry when he’d left.

Chapter Nine

Grief gathered in Lance’s chest as Tina’s voice faded into quiet crying.

He heard a rustling sound over the connection.

“Sheriff Colgate here.” He must have picked up Tina’s phone. “I’m taking Mrs. Knox down to the medical examiner’s office.”

“Is it Evan?” The words grated in Lance’s throat. Morgan reached over from the passenger seat and gave his arm a supportive squeeze.

“The body was pulled out of the Deer River.” The sheriff’s voice was scratchy and sounded weary. “It meets his rough description, but the ME has not yet officially IDed him. Evan’s fingerprints should be on file in AFIS, but they are not. It seems the original ten-print card was rejected by the Division of Criminal Justice Services, with a reprinting request.”

The automated fingerprint identification system worked well, but it wasn’t perfect. The system depended on good-quality original prints. The sheriff’s department had recently switched to using electronic live scan devices to record fingerprints. Until then, the sheriff’s department had been using traditional ink and physical cards. Evan’s prints had likely been kicked back by the DCJS because one or more of the prints had been smeared. Lance assumed no one ever followed up on the reprint request.

The sheriff continued. “There were several reporters at the body recovery scene. I didn’t want Mrs. Knox to hear about it on the news, so I came right over here. I explained that the medical examiner would notify her as soon as he identified the remains. But she insists on going to the morgue immediately.”

“I can’t blame her,” Lance said. “I wouldn’t want to wait either.” But part of him also didn’t want to confirm that Evan was dead.

“I know,” the sheriff agreed in a quiet voice.

Lance wouldn’t let Tina face the possibility alone. “We’ll meet you at the morgue.”

The Randolph County Medical Examiner’s Office sat in the middle of the county municipal complex. Twenty minutes later, Lance paced the commercial gray carpet in the waiting area. The smell of burned coffee soured his stomach. Morgan leaned on the reception counter, trying to get information from someone on the ME’s staff.

   
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