Home > Secrets Never Die (Morgan Dane #5)(16)

Secrets Never Die (Morgan Dane #5)(16)
Author: Melinda Leigh

“So he’s definitely hurt.” Tina wiped a hand under her eye.

“Yes, ma’am.” The sheriff reached behind him and took a box of tissues from a credenza. He set it on the table in front of her.

“Thank you.” She sniffed and plucked a tissue from the box.

“The front and rear doors of the house were unlocked. The garage door was secure. All of the windows were locked and intact. Does anyone else have a key to your house?”

Tina shook her head. “No, and Paul didn’t believe in those electronic keypad or wireless locks either. He didn’t trust electronics and said anything accessible by Wi-Fi could be hacked.”

“It’s not that hard to pick a lock,” Lance said. “What about fingerprints?”

The sheriff didn’t respond. “So far, all of the fingerprints that we’ve identified in the house have belonged to family members—and you.” The sheriff nodded at Lance. “Unknown latent prints were submitted to AFIS but no matches so far.”

This was not unusual. AFIS held the known fingerprints of criminals and unknown latent prints found at crime scenes. Unidentified fingerprints taken from the Knox residence would be kept on file for comparison in the event a suspect was later arrested.

“Now I have a few questions for Mrs. Knox.” The sheriff leaned forward, resting his forearms on his knees, his focus narrowing on Tina’s face. “Two months ago, deputies were called to your house because Evan and Paul were fighting.”

Morgan didn’t react, but why hadn’t Tina told her about this?

“Arguing,” Tina corrected. She shifted her torso, settling back into the chair, distancing herself from the sheriff—or the question.

“All right. Arguing. Important distinction,” the sheriff acknowledged with a nod. “Can you tell me what they argued about?”

Tina sighed and scrubbed both hands down her face. “Kirk had just won his visitation petition, and Evan had had dinner with him the night before. He told us he wasn’t going back.”

The sheriff’s eyes narrowed. “Why is that, Mrs. Knox?”

“Because his father is an asshole.” The skin around Tina’s lips wrinkled as her mouth pursed. “Paul said he had to or there would be legal repercussions. Kirk was claiming parental alienation. Kirk said that, while he was in prison, I had turned Evan against him, as if that was even necessary. That was when Evan started yelling. But he was angry in general at the situation. His temper wasn’t really directed at Paul. Paul just happened to be the one standing in front of him.”

The sheriff lifted a sheet of paper from the table. “The police report says Evan took a swing at Paul.”

“He didn’t hit him, and Paul wasn’t mad.” Tina exhaled audibly through her nose. “He knew how much Evan was hurting. I don’t know how to describe how upset Evan was that day.”

“Their argument was loud enough that your neighbor Mr. Palmer called the police,” the sheriff pointed out.

“The windows were open.” Tina’s tone was more hostile than Morgan expected from her.

Lance’s head swiveled around. He and Morgan shared a concerned glance.

Morgan stepped in. “Where are you going with these questions, Sheriff?”

“Just trying to get all the facts that might help us find Evan.” The sheriff glanced at Morgan with irritation.

Morgan bit back a bullshit. She had established a shaky working relationship with Sheriff Colgate since he’d taken over the department. On one hand, she did not want to jeopardize his cooperation. The previous sheriff had made every aspect of her job as difficult as possible. On the other hand, she did not like the direction he’d taken with this line of questioning.

He was treating Tina more like a suspect than a victim.

“How have visitations gone with Evan’s father since then?” The sheriff set the paper down and steepled his fingers.

“More often than not, Kirk cancels, which is fine with all of us, but this week he actually showed up.” She paused for a breath. “Sunday night, I picked Evan up at the restaurant, and he refused to speak all the way home. He went straight to his room. He was still mad when he came home from school Monday. When Paul asked him to mow the lawn, he refused and started yelling. Paul and I could both see that he was hurting from whatever Kirk had said to him. Usually, he doesn’t mind helping out. He knows Paul has—had—a bad back.” She caught herself with a quiver to her breath. “But Evan went to his room and slammed his door.”

“Was Paul angry?”

“No. Paul said, ‘He had a rough night. Give him some space.’ Because that’s the kind of man he was.” Tina’s gaze dropped to the tissue in her hand. “I went to work. I thought seeing Jake that night would cheer up Evan.”

“Evan had a record before you married Paul.” The sheriff had clearly also worked late gathering background information last night.

“He had a hard time when his father went to prison. Although frankly, that was the best thing that could have happened to us.” Tina frowned. “Have you questioned Kirk? He told Evan that Paul was the reason we couldn’t be a family.”

“Was he?” the sheriff asked.

“No.” Tina shook her head. “I would never take Kirk back. He’s a thoroughly nasty man. However, he can put on a charming front for a short period of time when he needs to.”

“In what way was he nasty?” the sheriff asked.

“He insulted me every day, telling me I was ugly and stupid. He threw temper tantrums and broke things. He screamed and yelled, always stopped just short of physical abuse. I think he knew that’s where I would draw the line. Plus, he was allergic to work. He was always scheming to avoid getting a real job. It was ironic that he called Paul a gold digger, as if Paul and I were rolling in money.”

“Was money tight?” the sheriff asked.

“Not tight, but we lived on a budget.” Tina frowned. “We have Paul’s pension and my income. He considered getting a job, but he has a lot of lower back pain from wearing a duty belt all those years. Plus, he really wanted to be at home so he could spend time with Evan.”

The extra twenty pounds of awkward equipment on a duty belt could do a number on a cop’s back over the course of a career, especially if he spent many hours sitting in a patrol car.

“Why did you stay with Kirk?” the sheriff asked.

Tina lifted one shoulder. “I thought that’s the way all men were. But the first couple of weeks after he went to prison were the most peaceful of my life, and I decided Evan and I were much better off alone.”

The sheriff tapped his pointer finger on his file. “But you married Paul not long after that.”

A tear fell from Tina’s face to the table. “As you know, Paul arrested Kirk. But we didn’t see each other again until months later. Paul came into the urgent care for a few stitches.” She wiped her eyes. “A few weeks later, he asked me to dinner. He was so different from Kirk. Paul wanted to take care of me and Evan.” She took a fresh tissue from the box. “Could it have been Kirk? He hated Paul enough.”

The sheriff opened the manila file in front of him and flipped through several papers. “His group home has an eight p.m. curfew unless residents are at work. He swiped his card to check in at seven thirty.”

Lance craned his head, clearly trying to see the sheriff’s papers. “Is there any type of additional monitoring?”

The sheriff rested his arm across the page. “Residents aren’t under house arrest. The curfew, along with a list of other conditions, is set by the home. But the supervisor on duty Monday night confirmed that Kirk came in at seven thirty.”

“Did anyone see him at the home after seven thirty?” Morgan asked.

The sheriff ignored her question, turning back to Tina, which Morgan assumed meant no.

“Tell me more about the relationship between Paul and Evan. Was it rocky from the beginning?” the sheriff asked.

“No. Actually, Paul and Evan didn’t argue often. Most of the time they got along well. Paul took him shooting a few times. He wanted to be a good stepfather. Evan needed a good example in his life. They even went camping last month, and Paul talked about finding a couple of used kayaks.”

“Where did they go camping?” the sheriff asked.

“The woods behind the house,” Tina said. “They left the house on foot with two backpacks.”

The sheriff flipped over his page of notes. “And when was the last time you spoke with Evan?”

“Before I went to work on Monday. Why are you asking me this again?” Suspicion narrowed Tina’s eyes.

“We ask the same questions over and over again, Mrs. Knox. It’s routine. Sometimes witnesses remember more details after the initial shock has worn off.”

Morgan thought it much more likely that the sheriff was trying to catch Tina in a lie.

“Is Tina or Evan a suspect, Sheriff?” Morgan cut to the chase. Working relationship or not, she was tired of the bullshit. The boy had been missing for over nineteen hours.

“Everyone involved with Paul is a suspect until they are cleared.” But the sheriff’s eyes belied his words.

Tina’s head snapped up. Anger and surprise flushed her face. “That’s ridiculous. Evan is just a boy. He would never hurt Paul. My son was probably shot by whoever killed my husband.” Her voice rose, all traces of shakiness gone. “And you are wasting time and resources thinking Evan did it.”

“As I said before, everyone is a suspect.” The sheriff kept his voice calm. “We can’t know Evan’s side of the story until we find him and talk to him.” The sheriff leaned forward. “Why is he hiding from us? Why didn’t he try to get help?”

Tina opened her mouth, then shut it again. Her eyes closed for a second, then opened full of grief. “Maybe he can’t.”

The sheriff sat back and scratched the gray stubble on his chin. “When was the last time you spoke to your father?”

   
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