Her Last Goodbye Page 57

“What did you find?”

“It’s not what I found, but what I didn’t find.” She opened a file. “This is the list of Speed Net employees Elliot Pagano gave us.”

“OK. We checked them all out. They were all clean except Kirk Armani. Did you find something else on him?”

“No. But Elliot didn’t include his brother, Derek, on this list.”

“Maybe he forgot to include his family?”

Morgan shook her head. “His mother and father are here, and so is every member of Tim’s team. The janitor is even listed. But not Derek. I’d like to ask the sheriff if Derek is included on his list. It’s probably just an oversight.” She reached for her cell phone, frowned when the call went to voice mail, and left a message.

“Considering the scope of last night’s crime scene, the sheriff might still be there. Or he’s interviewing Harold Burns,” Lance said. “Either way, he’ll call back. We should drive over to my mom’s house. She’ll make quick work of Derek Pagano’s background.”

“OK. I need to stop at the office for my laptop. I have clothes there too.” Morgan stretched.

“I’m going to grab a quick shower. Then we can go to the office.” Lance headed toward his bedroom. He glanced back at her, all tousled and gorgeous. “The sheriff still hasn’t returned your call. Want to join me?”

Her smile brightened her eyes. “I do.”

The shower wasn’t as quick as he’d intended. But the extra time was well spent.

Very well spent.

An hour later, Morgan still looked tired, but her posture was much more relaxed as they headed to Sharp Investigations. She changed her clothes and grabbed her computer. Lance made protein shakes, but Morgan still insisted they stop for coffee. He went through the drive-through, succumbing to the smells emanating from the coffee shop and ordering one for himself. He handed her the vat she’d ordered, and she nearly purred when she sipped it.

The sun was high over the trees as they drove to Lance’s mother’s house. Morgan slung her bag over her shoulder and carried her giant coffee up the walk. Lance followed. A bark greeted them as they went inside. Rocket rushed into the foyer and butted Morgan’s legs with her head. Morgan leaned down and stroked the dog’s head.

“I’ve been thinking.” Sharp appeared in the kitchen doorway. “You should take her home with you. She likes kids, and that little purse pup of yours is worthless as a watchdog.”

“But she’s your dog.” Morgan straightened.

“Not from where I’m standing.” Sharp snorted. “Rocket barks when someone is at the door, and she proved she’d protect you last month.”

“I’ll talk it over with Grandpa.” Her smile faded.

“How is he?” Sharp asked.

“I talked to my sister this morning. There’s been no change.”

“No change can be good.” Sharp turned up his nose at their coffee cups. “Come back to the office. Let’s get caught up.”

Lance automatically scanned his mom’s living room. No packages. Lance didn’t remember a week where he hadn’t had to return or give away a Jeep full of merchandise to keep his mom from sinking back into hoarder status. How long had it been since she’d indulged her unrestrained shopper? Was it possible she’d finally learned to control her impulses, after more than two decades of indulging them? Lance was afraid to be hopeful. Her history with change wasn’t promising.

They left their coats in the living room and went back to the office. Lance rounded the desk and kissed his mom on the cheek. “You look tired.”

His mom came out from behind the desk to greet Morgan with a hug.

A hug!

Mom hadn’t hugged anyone except Lance or Sharp in decades. What the hell was going on?

Rocket followed them into the office. Mom’s two cats perched on a shelf, staring down at the dog with disdain.

A kitchen chair sat across the desk from his mother. Sharp’s laptop was on the desk, facing the chair.

Lance explained about Derek Pagano’s name not being on the list of Speed Net employees. “It might just be an oversight, but I’d like to learn everything we can about Derek ASAP.”

His mom cracked her knuckles over the keyboard. “OK. Let me get to it.”

Since she’d started doing background checks for their firm, his mom had set up search engine software that simplified much of the process of tracing a person’s address history, obtaining a credit report, checking driving records, and verifying educational credits.

Sharp sat in his chair and opened his laptop. “We can speed this up. I’ll start on the criminal searches. What county is he in?”

Lance’s mom said, “I’ll have that for you in a minute.”

There was no way for them, as private investigators, to run a national criminal history search. Only law enforcement agencies had access to the National Crime Information Center, the FBI’s national database of crime data. The next best option was a criminal records search in each of the counties where the individual had lived. They were lucky that Randolph County maintained its most current records online. Sharp would start with Derek’s current county of residence and work backward after the social security trace had identified any previous addresses.

“Excuse me. I’m going to call my kids,” Morgan said as she left the room.

Lance waited until his mom and Sharp found Derek’s Pagano’s address and social security number. Then he went looking for Morgan. She was sitting on the living room sofa, her phone in her lap. Her head rested against the sofa back. Her eyes were closed and her breathing deep and even. He picked up a folded afghan from a chair and spread it over her.

Confident that Sharp would wake him if they discovered anything interesting, Lance stretched out in the chair with his feet on the ottoman and closed his eyes. The room was dark when someone shook his shoulder. He looked over at the couch. Morgan was curled on her side, one hand under her cheek.

Sharp stood next to his chair. “We found it.”

“Found what?” Morgan opened her eyes and sat up, tucking her legs alongside her body.

“Derek Pagano is registered as a sex offender in Meeker County,” Sharp said.

“But my grandfather checked the surrounding counties.” Morgan’s voice was sleepy. “He wouldn’t have missed the name Pagano. It isn’t very common.”

“Derek is a level one,” Sharp clarified. “He wasn’t on the website. I had to call to find out he was on the list.”

Level-one offenders were considered to be at low risk of committing future crimes and were afforded more privacy than more serious offenders. By law, their names could not be included on the registry list. But if an individual called the sex offender information line with a specific name and address or social security number, they could find out if that person was registered.

“What did he do?” Morgan rubbed the side of her neck. One side of her face was lined from being smashed into the seam on the couch cushion.

“Voyeurism was the official charge.” Sharp perched on the edge of Lance’s chair. “I’m trying to get more information. I left a message for the detective who handled the case, but it’s Sunday. I don’t really expect a call back today.”

Morgan blinked hard, as if to clear the sleep from her eyes. “Do you know the stats on voyeurs escalating to violent offenses?”

“There are two ways to look at it,” Sharp said. “Only a small percentage of voyeurs go on to commit more serious offenses, but many rapists and serial murderers display voyeuristic tendencies.”

Morgan balled up a fist on her knee. “I can’t believe we didn’t notice he wasn’t on the list.”

“That list had forty-nine names on it,” Sharp said. “We checked each one. If you hadn’t seen Derek at Speed Net, we would never have known he worked there.”

Lance could see her brain firing up. “We shouldn’t get ahead of ourselves.”

“Derek owns one property in Meeker County, the one he lists as his address,” Sharp said. “We didn’t find any secret real estate holdings of any of the Pagano family other than those listed as their official addresses. Derek’s property is rural, so it’s the most promising.”

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