Her Last Goodbye Page 58

“Does Derek have any other arrests on record?”

“Not that we found,” Sharp said. “But we tried to call the girl who recently broke up with him. She moved to London.”

“Maybe to get away from Derek.” Morgan’s eyes brightened as she mulled over the information. “And if Derek isn’t guilty of anything, then why did Elliot leave him off the list?”

Chapter Forty

“Have you checked on Chelsea Clark?” Morgan asked. She and Lance faced the sheriff across his desk.

“I talked to Tim right after you called me.” The sheriff leaned back in his chair. “She’s doing as well as can be expected.”

He and his deputies wore wrinkled uniforms and smelled like they’d been working for thirty-six hours straight.

Morgan explained what they found out about Derek Pagano. “Is he on your list of Speed Net employees?”

With a long-suffering sigh, the sheriff tipped his body forward. He swiveled his chair and pulled the file from a bin on his credenza. Pivoting back to his desk, he opened the file on his blotter, flipped though pages, and scanned lists. He frowned. “I don’t see his name here.”

“You didn’t know he was a sex offender?” Morgan asked.

“No. But we’ve found evidence that Harold and Jerry Burns have been very busy. There were photos of other women, chained, beaten.” He paused. “Dead. We found pictures of Sarah Bernard.”

“So, they definitely killed her?” Morgan asked.

The sheriff nodded. “As we speak, there are cadaver dogs searching the woods around the salvage yard and the area of the state park where Sarah Bernard’s body was found. We expect to find additional bodies.”

“But you didn’t find a picture of Chelsea?” Lance asked.

“No.” The sheriff shook his head. “But we didn’t find any photos of Karen Mitchell either. Maybe photography came later in the Burns brothers’ fantasies.”

“Was either Karen Mitchell or Sarah Bernard branded?” Morgan asked.

The sheriff shook his head. “No.”

Morgan rolled the evidence in her mind for a few seconds. “Did you find a piece of metal to match the brand used on Chelsea?”

The sheriff’s mouth turned down at the corners. “Not yet.”

“Elliot left his brother’s name off his employee list. I can’t see how that was anything except an intentional omission. Doesn’t that bother you?” Lance asked.

“It does, but we have our man,” the sheriff said. “Or in this case, men.”

“The prosecutor will want the information on Derek,” Morgan pointed out. “The defense attorney will pounce on any inconsistencies in your reports.”

The sheriff dropped his elbows onto the desk and massaged his temples for a few seconds. Looking up, he considered Morgan with bloodshot eyes. “If I promise to send an officer out to talk to Derek Pagano, will you get out of my office and stop calling my cell phone?”

“Yes,” Morgan said, not exactly pleased with his lackluster response. “When will you do that?”

“As soon as I can.” The sheriff rested both palms flat on his desk and pushed to his feet. “I have some loose ends to tie up before I can go home to a shower, a meal, and my bed. You should both do the same. You look like shit.”

“Thank you, I think.” Morgan stood and offered her hand across the desk.

The sheriff took it, albeit grudgingly. “You’re OK, Counselor. But don’t get in my way again.”

“Good night.” Morgan smiled politely, but she made no promises.

She and Lance left the sheriff’s station. Light from overhead lamps puddled in yellow circles on the asphalt. A blast of cold air swept across the parking lot. Mid-October felt more like winter than autumn.

Morgan clutched the lapels of her coat together. “I’m not sure what to think of the sheriff. Sometimes he seems competent, but his department definitely dropped the ball a few times on this investigation.”

Lance walked closer, his body shielding her from the wind. “He probably should have called the state police for help on a case that clearly strained the resources of his department, but that’s against his nature. Maybe next time he pulls a case of this magnitude, he will.”

Morgan doubted it. Old dogs could learn new tricks, but she didn’t have the same faith in humans.

Her phone buzzed. She dug it out of her bag. Her sister’s name was displayed on the screen.

“It’s Stella.” She answered the call, nerves jangling. “Hello?”

“He’s awake,” Stella said.

Morgan put a hand to the center of her chest. Her heart thumped hard and relief weakened her legs. “I’m so glad.”

“I thought you’d want to know right away.”

“God, yes.” Morgan could barely catch her breath. “Where’s Peyton?”

“She’s talking with the doctor. Grandpa is already ornery. He’s asking for bacon and eggs. Ian just got here too. But Grandpa is kicking us all out tonight. He said he doesn’t need a damned babysitter and that we all look worse than he does.”

“I can’t believe it.”

“Stop by and see him,” Stella said. “You’ll feel better.”

“I will.” Morgan ended the call and slid into the passenger seat of the Jeep.

Lance took her hand over the console and squeezed it. His hand warmed hers. “Your grandfather is all right?”

“Yes. Awake and hungry.” She drummed her fingers on the armrest. “I’m going to call Tim on the way and make sure he and Chelsea are OK.”

Morgan called Tim’s cell number. He didn’t answer, and she left a message. “Let’s drive by Tim and Chelsea’s house.”

“Why?”

“He didn’t answer his phone.”

“Maybe he’s busy.” Despite his argument, Lance turned in the direction of the Clarks’ neighborhood.

“Nothing would make me happier than the county forensics team finding DNA in a storage container in the salvage yard. I really want this to be over for Tim and Chelsea.”

“But?”

“But there’s no physical evidence linking the Burns brothers to Chelsea’s kidnapping.”

“The sheriff said he’d send an officer to talk to Derek Pagano.”

“He didn’t say when,” Morgan pointed out. “And what is Sheriff King going to do without any evidence?”

“We don’t know that Derek did anything. Unfortunately, the police can’t get a search warrant based on gut instinct.”

“Elliot lied.” Six years as a prosecutor had given Morgan an excellent lie detector. Yet she hadn’t picked up Elliot’s omission. Either he was very good or he had simply made a mistake.

“He omitted information,” Lance clarified. “Maybe he was just trying to protect his brother.”

Morgan fastened her seat belt. “Let’s drive by Derek’s house.”

“The sheriff said he’d do it.”

“He didn’t say when, and we didn’t promise not to pay Derek a visit,” Morgan said.

“Good point.”

Meeker County was a twenty-minute drive from the sheriff’s station. Lance followed the GPS until it led them to a narrow county road in the middle of the woods. Not a streetlight in sight.

“What is the house number?” Lance asked, slowing the vehicle and squinting through the windshield. The houses were spaced very far apart on the rural route. The last mailbox had been nearly a mile back.

Morgan scrolled on her phone. “Two hundred thirty-eight.”

Lance stopped the Jeep. “That’s two fifty and the last house was number two twenty-seven.

“How can there be no house?”

“The address is wrong.” Lance turned the Jeep around. “Could be a simple error.”

“Or not.” Morgan set a hand on her stomach, where anxiety burned like a smoldering match. “I don’t like this at all. Elliot omits his brother’s name from the list and doesn’t mention the fact that his brother is a convicted sex offender. Then Derek’s home address is listed incorrectly?”

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