Her Last Goodbye Page 23

Morgan crossed her legs. “Do you normally allow that sort of flexibility?”

Curtis shrugged. “This is the first time maternity leave has come up with anyone outside of administrative personnel. We’re not a big firm. But as I said before, turnover is expensive. It costs money to replace key staff. It disrupts client relations.”

“Is it possible Chelsea was upset about something else?” Morgan asked.

Curtis dropped the paper clip. It hit the desk with a soft thud. “Like what? She’s a good worker, but our relationship is professional. We’re friendly, but we’re not friends, if you know what I mean. I’m sure if she had a personal problem, she’d take it to a girlfriend.”

“What about problems with a client?” Lance asked.

Curtis lifted a shoulder. “Not that I know about.”

Lance couldn’t think of any further questions. “Do you mind if we talk to the rest of the staff?”

“Not at all.” Curtis stood. “Everyone here is really worried about Chelsea.”

“What about your partner?” Lance got to his feet.

Curtis shook his head. “Jim Skyver died six years ago. He was the founder of the firm. Changing the name is more effort than it’s worth.”

Lance followed Morgan out of the office.

There were six junior accountants and a handful of administrative staff. No one at the firm had anything interesting to say. Chelsea seemed genuinely well liked, and her coworkers acted concerned with her disappearance.

Lance and Morgan left the building and got into the Jeep.

“He seems like a nice guy.” Lance started the engine.

“He does. Why would Chelsea make an appointment to see her boss if she was going to run away?”

“Maybe she wasn’t thinking clearly. Could be depression.”

“Maybe.” Morgan turned to the passenger window. “But I’m not convinced. She would have had to make arrangements for a car to be left in Grey’s Hollow. Where would she get the money? We haven’t found any additional friends in her life. She barely had time to see Fiona let alone plan an elaborate vanishing act.”

“Could she have had an affair?”

Morgan snorted. “With a preschooler and a baby? I doubt sex was on Chelsea’s mind often. With a four-month-old colicky baby, sleep would be a priority, not sex. Besides, no one involved in the investigation has alluded to any indication of infidelity on Chelsea’s part.”

“What if the affair happened before she got pregnant?”

“We’d have to go back and look at all records from over a year ago.”

“Yes,” Lance agreed.

A thinking line formed between Morgan’s brows. “I still put Chelsea leaving on her own at the bottom of my list of theories. In my opinion, she wouldn’t voluntarily leave her children. We’d need to uncover a strong motivation.”

But was Morgan projecting her own feelings onto the missing woman?


“Like her presence put her family in danger.” Morgan rubbed her forehead. “But we know where she grew up, so she can’t be part of witness protection or anything like that, and we’ve seen no indication of criminal activity.”

“So what are we left with? She saw or discovered something she wasn’t supposed to?” Lance would spend the evening digging into Chelsea’s client files.

“Neither of those possibilities seem likely, but nothing about this case is normal.”

“Let’s move on to the auto shop.” Lance turned the Jeep around and left the lot.

Burns Auto Repair sat on a large piece of land on the outskirts of Scarlet Falls.

They drove out of the town proper. Lance made a left onto a rural route. Forest lined the road on both sides. A few miles later, the woods opened up on the right, and Morgan pointed to a squat, unkempt ranch-style home set back off the road. The three-bay detached garage was larger than the house. “That’s Harold’s residential address. His brother, Jerry, owns all this property. It’s been in the Burns family for years.”

The auto shop was a quarter mile down the road. Lance drove into the gravel lot and past the building. A red pickup truck was parked near a side door. Behind the shop, an auto salvage yard stretched across acres of dirt and weeds. Amid the clusters and piles of vehicle carcasses, Lance spotted a few small outbuildings. Thick woods surrounded the property.

Morgan opened Chelsea’s file. “The license plate matches. That’s Harold Burns’s truck.”

“Then he’s here.” Lance parked at the corner of the building, where the Jeep was out of the direct line of sight of the glass-doored entrance.

“Maybe you should wait outside,” Morgan suggested.


“You’re intimidating.”


“I’m serious,” Morgan said.

“So am I.”

“He’s an ex-con, and you still look like a cop. He will not talk to you. He’ll call his lawyer.”

Lance sulked. She was right. But he didn’t like it. “He’s a predator.”

“I’ve interviewed predators before.” She put a hand on his arm. “It’s broad daylight and we’re in a public place, Lance. I’ll be fine.”

“OK.” He huffed. “I’ll walk around back in case Harold suddenly decides he needs to be elsewhere.”

She needed to do her job, and he needed to let her, even if he didn’t want her anywhere near a violent sexual predator or on a rapist’s radar.

Chapter Sixteen

Morgan went inside the small office. A counter faced a waiting area full of plastic chairs. The air smelled of burned coffee, grease, and dust.

A tall, spare man in gray, grease-stained coveralls greeted her from the other side of the counter. His name tag read JERRY BURNS. “Can I help you?”

“Hi, Jerry.” Morgan smiled.

Jerry didn’t smile back.

Morgan pulled a photo out of her big purse and handed it across the counter. “Have you ever seen this woman?”

Jerry stared at the picture for a couple of seconds. “She looks familiar.”

“She had her car repaired here last month.”

“Yeah. I remember her.” Jerry nodded. “She stayed here for two hours while we fixed her car. Her kid screamed the whole time.” He grimaced.

“I’d like to ask your employees what they remember about her.”

“Why? Did she do something wrong?” Jerry asked, suspicious.

“She’s missing,” Morgan said. “I’m surprised you didn’t see it on the news. Would she have had direct contact with anyone else here besides you?”

Jerry’s gaze flickered to the door behind him that led to the shop, and he licked his lips. “I doubt it. I handle the customers.”

“What about the mechanic? It would be so helpful if I could speak with him.”

“Let me see who worked on her car.” He turned to a computer on the counter and slid the black-smudged keyboard out from under the monitor. He pulled up a few screens, frowned, and scratched his eyebrow. Jerry didn’t make eye contact as he said, “The mechanic isn’t in today. Can I have him call you?”

The lie was so blatant his coveralls should have spontaneously combusted.

“Could you give me his name?” Morgan asked.

Jerry shook his head. “I can’t give out personal information about an employee. Sorry.”

“I’d like to show her picture to your employees.”

Jerry licked his lips again. “I can’t let you in the shop. My insurance company doesn’t allow it, but I’ll take this in back and show it around.” He disappeared through a door. In the brief seconds the door was open, she heard music, voices, and the sound of pneumatic tools being used.

Morgan had interviewed enough criminals and witnesses to know when she was being lied to, and Jerry Burns had told her a whopper when he’d said the mechanic who fixed Chelsea’s car wasn’t in.

Jerry came back into the office in less than five minutes. He extended the picture over the counter. His chin was lifted, his jaw tight, as if he was forcing himself to look her in the eyes. “Sorry. No one remembers her.”

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