Home > Secrets Never Die (Morgan Dane #5)(17)

Secrets Never Die (Morgan Dane #5)(17)
Author: Melinda Leigh

Tina stiffened. “What?”

“Your father.” The sheriff’s eyes gleamed with interest. “It should be an easy question.”

“I haven’t seen my father in twenty-five years,” Tina stammered, clearly blindsided by the question.

“How is Mrs. Knox’s father connected to Paul’s murder?” Morgan asked.

“We don’t know,” the sheriff answered, then continued to question Tina. “Did Paul know about your father?”

“He did,” Tina said. “Kirk and my father were the reasons he was going to put in a security system.”

“I’m not following,” Morgan interrupted. “How is Mrs. Knox’s father relevant to Evan’s disappearance or Paul’s murder?”

“Joseph Martin was recently released from New Jersey State Prison after serving the entirety of a twenty-five-year sentence for murder and drug charges.” Though answering Morgan’s question, the sheriff never took his eyes off Tina. He tilted his head. “Is there a reason you didn’t tell me about your father yesterday?”

“I didn’t think of it,” Tina said. “For the first few weeks after he got out, I didn’t sleep, and Paul went to bed with his gun tucked under his pillow. But it’s been over six months. I haven’t received any threats or contact of any kind.”

The sheriff flattened his palm on the table. “Do you know where he is?”

“No,” Tina answered. “And if Joe doesn’t know where I am, I’m not telling him. I changed my name when I moved to Grey’s Hollow for that very reason.”

“How did you know he’d been released?” The sheriff tapped a finger on the table.

Tina’s gaze skittered away. “I was notified.”

“Through VINE?” the sheriff asked.

“Yes.” Tina stared at her clasped hands on her lap.

Victim Information and Notification Everyday was an automated system where crime victims could register to be notified if an offender was released or transferred. Offenders did not know who registered for notification. VINE was created after a Kentucky woman was murdered by her former boyfriend shortly after he was released on bail. No one told her he had been released. He had previously been jailed for kidnapping and raping her.

“VINE is for victims,” the sheriff said. “Why were you registered?”

Tina lifted her chin and looked him square in the eyes. “Because I testified against him.”

Chapter Twelve

Lance slid his phone under the table and sent Sharp a quick text, giving him the new information on Tina’s background. Then Lance copied the message and sent it to his mother. Name changes were public information, like birth and death records, but Lance’s mother might have to verify the paperwork with the county.

Lance wanted Tina’s entire story double-checked. The bombshell she’d dropped had been a nuke. Her middle-class working-mom persona didn’t mesh with that of a drug dealer’s daughter.

Across the table from him, her body was a rigid line. Her face was tight, and two angry flushes of pink were the only spots of color on her face. “I was born in Newark, New Jersey. When I lived there, Newark had one of the highest murder rates in the entire country. The whole city was one giant drug market. People were getting shot every other day. Also, Joe wasn’t really a father.” She said his name with disdain. “My mother was fifteen when he knocked her up. He had other girlfriends—and other kids. He didn’t care about any of them. He used the boys as runners and lookouts, grooming them to work in the business—the girls got worse.” She looked away, the pain on her face disarming before she completely shut down.

Her eyes went blank. Lance had seen that expression before—one devoid of any emotion—on the faces of victims who’d suffered extreme trauma. He didn’t want to imagine how she’d been used by her drug-dealing father.

“You have siblings?” The sheriff slid a small notepad and pen from his pocket.

“I don’t know.” Tina’s voice was flat. “The two boys close to my age were both shot before they turned thirteen, but I had an older brother, Aaron, who was still living when I left. I had a half sister too, but she and her mother disappeared. I don’t know what happened to them.”

“Your father murdered someone?” Morgan asked.

“I’ve no doubt my father murdered many people. But I personally witnessed him kill one man who worked for him. The man tried to skim money off Joe’s cut. Stupid.” Tina stared down at her hands again. “Joe and a couple of his other men took him into the basement. They beat him, and then they put two bullets into his head. I was in the basement when they came down. Joe didn’t know I was there or he probably would have killed me too.”

Shot in the head. Just like Paul. Just like the body the Redhaven police pulled from the Deer River.

“How old were you?” Morgan asked.

“Sixteen at the time of the murder.” Tina rubbed her hands. “Eighteen by the time it went to trial.”

“Why were you in the basement?”

Tina’s mouth twisted into a crooked frown. “Ironically, I was hiding from Joe and his men.”

The girls got worse.

“Did he threaten you?” the sheriff asked.

“Joe didn’t have to threaten anyone.” Tina stared back at him, her eyes wide. “Joe was a known drug dealer. The police had been trying to convict him for years. I’d been taken into the police station for questioning before. The cops would threaten me with prosecution of all sorts of crimes, but I knew what would happen if I told the police anything. He ruled the whole neighborhood with terror. It was commonly known how he treated those who betrayed him. Anyone who even thought about snitching on Joe was killed in a way that deterred anyone else from considering testifying. Being imprisoned for life was not nearly as terrifying as being beheaded with a chain saw or dismembered alive.” She stopped and swallowed.

Lance’s gut wrenched. It was no wonder Tina had a hard time trusting anyone.

“Could you please get Tina some water, Sheriff?” Morgan asked.

The sheriff got up and left the room, returning in a minute with water bottles. He passed them out.

“Yet you agreed to testify against him,” the sheriff prompted as soon as he’d sat down.

With a single nod, Tina continued talking in a flat voice. “I was at a point in my life when the idea of dying seemed better than living.” She paused to meet each one of their eyes for a second, almost in challenge. “When I was fifteen, Joe gave me to one of his lieutenants as a reward.” Her entire body shuddered with revulsion. “Tyson had appetites. A year of being raped and beaten regularly had changed my perspective.”

She stopped to drink water. She screwed the top back on the bottle and set it on the table with a solid thunk. “Joe’s weakness was his ego. He was confident that I’d never turn on him. At the same time, he was sadistic and enjoyed hurting and humiliating people. He had no respect for women and focused on putting his sons to work in his business. He never considered that he’d made my life so miserable that I no longer feared death—or him. I testified. He went to prison.”

“But he never threatened you directly?” the sheriff asked.

Tina shook her head. “You would not ask that question if you’d seen the look in his eyes as I testified. He would have loved nothing more than to strangle me with his own hands at that very moment. Several of his lieutenants were in the courtroom. One of them mouthed ‘You’re dead’ over and over.”

The sheriff’s face was grim, but he didn’t look shocked. How much of Tina’s story had he known? “Where did you go after the trial?”

“When I was younger, I worked under the table when I could and put away as much cash as possible, although Tyson found one of my hidey-holes once and beat me for keeping the money from him. After that, he required me to hand over my pay each week, but I always held some back.” Tina picked up the bottle and began to peel off the label. “After the trial, I took the money I’d hidden and ran. I used the cheapest forms of public transportation, mostly transit trains and buses, and paid cash for everything. This was before 9-11. Transportation security and rules were more relaxed back then. I spent the first month just running. Never staying in the same place more than one night. I didn’t have enough money to take me a great distance away, but the rural nature of Grey’s Hollow made it feel much farther from Newark than it really was. Still, I was looking over my shoulder for a long time.”

Morgan folded her hands on the table. “Did the prosecutor’s office try to get you into the witness protection program?”

Tina’s snort was filled with disgust. “Like I would have trusted them with my life. They put me in a safe house before the trial and had to move me three times because my location was leaked. I was better off on my own.”

“But you haven’t heard from Joe since he was released?” Lance wanted Tina to be clear.

“No.” Tina shook her head. “I hope he doesn’t even know where I am, which is why I didn’t want anyone asking questions back in Newark. I don’t want anyone reminding Joe that I exist or telling him where I am.”

But Lance bet Joe already knew. In today’s world of the internet, cameras, and constant connectivity, it wasn’t that hard to find someone if they weren’t making a massive effort to stay hidden. Tina had put down roots.

The sheriff stood. “Thank you for coming in, Mrs. Knox. I’m sure I’ll have more questions.”

Morgan followed Tina around the table toward the door.

Lance hung back. “I’ll meet you at the car.” He handed Morgan the keys to his Jeep. He wanted to have a cop-to-former-cop chat with the sheriff. He leaned close to her ear. “There are questions Tina should probably not hear.”

Nodding, Morgan took the keys. “We’ll be out back.”

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