Her Last Goodbye Page 63

“Why?” the sheriff asked.

Elliot lifted a shoulder in the careless gesture of a man who doesn’t have anything else to lose. “She was leaving me. I wanted her to go into treatment for her drug addiction. We fought. She wanted a divorce. I made the mistake of telling Derek. She contributed a portion of the start-up capital. If she divorced me, she might have been entitled to half of Speed Net.”

“Derek couldn’t let that happen,” the sheriff said.

“He didn’t intend to kill her.” Without meeting the sheriff’s gaze, Elliot shook his head. “It was an accident.”

“Was it?”

“Yes!” Elliot’s eyes snapped to the sheriff’s for a moment. “She fell and hit her head.”

“So Derek put her in her car and sent it over a cliff. Did you help him?”

“She was already dead; it hardly mattered. Why should he go to prison over an accident?”

“If it was an accident, why cover it up?”

Elliot stared down at his hands in silence.

The sheriff leaned closer. “Are you sure she was dead when he put her in that car?”

“Derek wouldn’t lie to me.” Elliot’s voice was flat, lifeless. “We’re family.”

“He killed your wife.”

“No!” But Elliot’s voice broke, as if the night had shaken his trust in his brother, and he couldn’t bear it. “Derek wanted to help Candace. She was self-destructing. He thought he could break her addiction, but she wouldn’t cooperate. They fought. She fell and hit her head. That’s what happened.” His eyes drifted. He wasn’t talking to the sheriff anymore, but to himself. As if trying to convince himself that his brother’s story was true.

The sheriff changed tack. “Did you know he took Chelsea?”

“Not at first. He confessed to me the next morning.” Elliot looked away. “I encouraged him to let her go, but he couldn’t. He loved her.”

A muscle in the sheriff’s jaw twitched. “He kidnapped and beat her.”

Elliot let out a breath. “He wanted a woman who would never leave him. He hadn’t had any luck finding one, so he decided to make his own.”

“Did you help him?” the sheriff asked. “He needed to drop a car at the train station. He got to Chelsea’s house somehow.”

Elliot shook his head. “Derek used his bike to get to Chelsea’s house. He hid it in the woods and retrieved it later. He took the bike with him to Grey’s Hollow. He left his car there and rode his bike back. Twenty miles is nothing for him. Some of his road races are over a hundred.”

“How did he know Chelsea would be going out that night?”

“Early Friday morning, I asked Tim if he could work late. He said no, that his wife had plans. Derek overheard.” Elliot’s absence of emotion lifted goose bumps on Morgan’s arms.

“He’s so . . . flat,” she said.

The sheriff reached forward and turned off the monitor. “No trace of remorse.”

“No trace of humanity,” Lance said.

Morgan rubbed her biceps. “The only thing he seems to care about is believing what his brother told him.”

“Maybe he needs to believe that Derek didn’t murder Candace,” Lance added.

“I hope they don’t try for an insanity defense. Derek’s body is covered with scars, including a brand on his leg that matches Chelsea’s and cuts on his arms and legs that look self-inflicted.” The sheriff rubbed the back of his neck. “Their parents seem pretty normal. They refuse to even consider the idea their sons committed any crimes, but they did verify that the two men have always been extremely close. Derek wasn’t a good student. Elliot got him through school. On the other hand, Elliot was scraggly as a kid and got beat up a lot. Derek always came to his defense. Mr. Pagano told a story about Derek beating up a neighborhood bully who tormented Elliot. Mr. Pagano tried to make light of the incident, but apparently, Derek pushed the kid off an overpass. He broke both his legs. There’s no official record, but I’ll bet if we dig in to their childhood enough, we’ll find some teachers who remember more disturbing incidents involving the Pagano brothers.”

“They both likely suffer from some kind of psychopathy,” Morgan said. “But to be criminally insane, they have to be unable to determine right from wrong. Elliot and Derek are too cold and calculating. They took steps to prevent Derek from being caught. They clearly knew what he was doing was wrong. They just didn’t care about anyone but themselves.”

“Let’s hope the judge and jury agree with you.” The sheriff sat back.

“What are they charging Elliot with?” Morgan asked.

“Everything the DA can think of.” Anger flared in the sheriff’s eyes. “That bastard knew where Chelsea was on Saturday. He could have gotten her rescued. Instead, he let his brother torture her for nearly a week—”

The sheriff paused, visibly getting himself under control. “The ME pulled Candace Pagano’s autopsy report. That embankment she went over is steep. The car rolled all the way down to the bottom. Without a seat belt to hold her in place, she bounced around enough that the initial head trauma was covered up by the crash. Derek got lucky when the car caught fire. Her purse, containing a bottle of illegal OxyContin, was flung from the vehicle, and the autopsy showed the drug in her bloodstream. She took it every day. I don’t know if he’ll be able to find any proof that she was dead or alive when she was put in that car, but we have a confession. And forensics is having a party over at Derek’s place. In the workshop where he fixes his bike, they found a metal infinity symbol that matches the brand on Chelsea Clark. The storage container looked exactly like she described, and her fingerprints and Derek’s were all over the unit. Also, he repaired his road bike in his shed. The oil he uses on his bike has a funky smell. Chelsea recognized the odor immediately.”

The sheriff paused for air. “Derek Pagano isn’t going to see the outside of prison walls for a very long time. If we’re lucky, he’ll never be free again. Hopefully Elliot will be locked away for a long time too.”

“I hope so.” Morgan stretched her neck. The nastiness of the case was wearing on her. All she wanted to do was hug her kids.

“I spoke to Derek’s former girlfriend on the phone this morning. She broke up with him because he creeped the hell out of her. Started checking her phone messages, trying to control who she hung out with, et cetera. The girl was so nervous about him that when a job offer came up in London, she took it. She was afraid to come back.”

The sheriff shook their hands. “Thank you for your help on this.”

The words sounded as if it pained him to say them.

Morgan couldn’t believe Elliot had sat across from them, knowing where Chelsea was, and lied so smoothly. Chelsea had been beaten and branded. Elliot could have prevented much of her suffering, but he chose not to. Did he have no soul?

“What about the Burns brothers?” Lance asked on the way out.

The sheriff reached for the doorknob. “Jerry came out of surgery, but we haven’t been allowed to question him yet. Doesn’t matter, though, because we have them cold for kidnapping Karen Mitchell and murdering Sarah Bernard. The cadaver dogs have found two more bodies in the state park, and they aren’t finished yet. There’s a lot of ground to cover. We’re not sure how many other woman they might have killed.”

As if three weren’t enough.

The sunshine felt warm and clean as they stepped out of the building.

Morgan turned her face to the heat. “That feels good.”

Lance squinted at the light. “I hope the Burns brothers and the Paganos are all in cold, dark cells.”

Chapter Forty-Six

“I brought ice cream.” Sharp walked into Lance’s house.

“I’m sure the kids will love it,” Lance said.

Sharp froze. “Wow. This is different.”

Lance’s stark, minimalistic decor had been revamped. Toys littered the floor, girly backpacks were piled by the sofa, and coloring books and crayons covered his coffee table. Mia and Ava knelt on the carpet, playing a game of Candy Land.

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