Her Last Goodbye Page 47

“Do we have any evidence that the body found at the state park is related to Chelsea’s kidnapping?” Sharp asked.

Morgan shook her head. “As far as I know, the only thing that ties the cases together is the physical appearances of the victims. They were both young and blonde.”

“That’s not enough.” Sharp rubbed his jaw. “I nosed around for information yesterday. The dead woman was identified as Sarah Bernard. She went missing from the university last February. She was twenty-two years old and a history major.”

“He held her for eight months.” Morgan’s stomach went queasy thinking about the poor girl’s fate. “She was five months pregnant. The girl died of a placental abruption. She bled to death.” She set her shake aside. “Instead of getting her medical attention, he let her die.”

“If we assume Chelsea was his replacement,” Lance said. “Could he now be focused on Morgan?”

“I’m not blonde,” she said.

“But he might feel a personal connection with you, since you represented the family in that press conference,” Lance suggested.

“And he might be flexible on his target profile,” Sharp added. “Having two similar victims doesn’t mean he has a type. The fact that they were both blonde could have been a coincidence.”

Morgan leaned back in her chair. “Who are our best suspects?”

“Let’s start with Burns.” Lance pushed off the wall and studied the whiteboard.

Morgan started. “SFPD had a car down the road from his residence. He’s already complained of harassment once, so they kept their distance. His car stayed at the house. They saw no sign that he’d left. But there’s no way they’d know if he went out the back door and walked through the woods to the auto shop. There are plenty of cars there to borrow.”

“We don’t know if he was there all night,” Lance said.

“No.” She took a breath. “I talked to my sister this morning. She and Brody knocked on his door to see if he was home. No one answered. The auto shop is closed on weekends. They have zero evidence to support a search warrant for either property. Burns has registered and complied with all legal requirements.”

“Damned lawyers.” Sharp glanced at Morgan. “Present company excluded. What about Levi Gold?”

“Spoke to my mom an hour ago.” Lance shook his head. “Gold is in London right now. He’s off the list.”

“Kirk Armani?” Sharp’s gaze moved down the list of suspects on the board.

“Mom finished checking the list of Speed Net employees and came up mostly empty, though we found a restraining order filed against Kirk Armani a few years ago. A female student accused him of stalking her. There were no subsequent complaints, and the order eventually expired.”

“We should talk to Kirk again,” Morgan said. “We have his home address.”

“Let’s do it.” Lance paced. “Sarah Bernard was a university student. Kirk finished his PhD, but does he have a current relationship with the university?”

Morgan searched her bin for the correct file. “No, but in our original interview, Tim said Speed Net works with the university.”

Anxious to take any kind of action, she started shoving files into her tote.

“Hold on!” Studying the board, Sharp held up a hand. “What about the mysterious message that Chelsea needed to speak with her boss about something too sensitive for e-mail or text?”

Lance answered, “We’ve come up empty with Curtis MacDonald and everyone else at the accounting firm.”

“Chelsea can answer that question for us.” Morgan rubbed the ache in her temples. “I’ll call Tim.” She picked up her cell and scrolled to Tim’s number. “No answer. We’ll have to wait. But what if the answer doesn’t lie in the data within her files? I wish we had a list of her clients.”

Lance and Sharp shared a look.

“What?” Morgan raised her head.

Lance glanced away. “I might have copied the hard drive of Skyver and MacDonald’s laptop when I was at Tim’s house copying the Clarks’ digital data.”

“Chelsea’s work computer?” Interest stirred life into Morgan, along with a healthy dose of apprehension.

“It was in her bedroom,” Lance answered.

“Why didn’t I know about this?” she asked.

“Because it’s illegal.” Sharp flashed an accusing glare at Lance.

Lance’s shoulder twitched, not quite a shrug. “And the files are password-protected. I had to hack into them.”

Morgan’s elbows hit the desk and her head dropped into her hands. “Evidence discovered illegally isn’t admissible. We could all lose our licenses.”

“We could go to jail,” Sharp added.

“All true,” Lance admitted. “I’ll take all of those risks on my shoulders. Neither of you had anything to do with my decision. You didn’t touch the original computer, and you haven’t touched the flash drive. It’s all on me.” The muscles in Lance’s face shifted as he ground his teeth. “I’m tired of having my hands tied while criminals hurt people. Cops put them in jail, and the system lets them out.”

“I know.” Morgan knew that frustration was one of the reason he’d left the force. “But we’re still bound by the law.”

She wasn’t sure if she was annoyed that he’d done something illegal and possibly put both professional firms in jeopardy or because he hadn’t told her.

Or because—at that moment—she felt the exact same way. Everything was out of hand. No matter how many times she told herself that all citizens had the same rights, and that criminals deserved fair representation, when you were a victim, the legal system didn’t seem fair.

For a long minute, she longed to be back in the prosecutor’s office, working for the state rather than a person, not floundering through a messy, active investigation.

She missed her convictions. She missed the certainty that a defendant was guilty. She missed having a clear path: assemble evidence, present to court, take another criminal off the street.

On the private side, everything was painted a million shades of murky gray. It was as if her world had gone from narrow to panoramic, forcing her to view the limitations of every side: accused, victims, law enforcement. She’d once seen the legal system as a tunnel. Now it was a maze.

“I’m sorry if you don’t approve, but I took what I thought were prudent precautions. If I hadn’t grabbed that data at the time, I wouldn’t have gotten another chance.” Lance sighed, his broad chest deflating. “Just pretend you didn’t hear any of this. I’ll handle it. So far, I haven’t found anything unusual, but I’ve only gotten through a small portion of the files. If we’re lucky, Chelsea will tell us what we need to know, and we can all pretend we never had them.”

“Until we hear from Tim, your mom and I can dig around.” Sharp turned toward the door. “Give me that flash drive, and I’ll head over to your mom’s house and help her however I can.” He took the slim black rectangle from Lance’s hand, then left the room, muttering, “We are so screwed if this goes sideways.”

“Sharp?” Lance called.

Sharp poked his head around the doorway. “What?”

“The sheriff’s office is using satellite images to try and locate the place where Chelsea was held,” Lance said. “A clearing with a small house or cabin and a shipping container that may or may not be visible from above. Maybe you can try to track shipping container purchases?”

“I’ll see what kind of satellite photos I can dig up too. If the container has been there awhile, maybe it was visible in older images.” Sharp disappeared.

Morgan had spent her whole life defending the law, but at this point, she’d been pushed over the line. No. That wasn’t true. She was running over it. Her children had been threatened. That superseded all legal requirements. There wasn’t anything she wouldn’t do to protect them.

Which was interesting because when she’d been an assistant district attorney, she’d prosecuted several vigilante-type crimes with a no exception to the law inflexibility that now seemed naive. Her stomach rolled, and she fished in her bag for a roll of antacids, popping two in her mouth.

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