Bye Bye Bones (A CASSIDY CLARK NOVEL Book 1) (4 page)

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I took over, “Basically, we may not look precisely for the missing person. We look for their plans. Most of these women had aspirations or goals, or were already glowing in the limelight. We’re able to dig deeper into their financial records. Past. Present. And forecasted. Records that maybe you don’t have access to.”

I think I saw Manning’s head tilt with a happy, if not devilish, smile. I absolutely saw his raised eyebrows pitched like fuzzy teepees. He knew we were tapping into sources and exploring avenues that could be deemed illegal in his world.

Manning retorted, “We’ve looked at all of their computers.”

Cursory, I thought.

Schlep responded, “There’s no reliable methodology to determine the nature of a missing adult person, which is a fact in itself. There are conflicting reports. Best estimates are that hundreds of thousands of people go missing in the United States every year. If any of our cases are related, it wouldn’t be so odd that they’re all over the age of eighteen. Beautiful women and not one of them underage. As we know, in this country an adult has the right to disappear. Depending on which study you look at, about ten to thirty percent of missing adults leave on their own accord. Maybe more.”

Nodding his head in agreement, Manning said, “That’s why I need you. You can feed me all of the statistics you want but it’s about the law. I can’t spend man hours looking for adult missing persons of sound mind with no signs of foul play and no bodies. Hell, even if it’s a cult using extreme coercion methods to join them, it’s still all about free will until I can prove otherwise.”

Schlep answered, “We loosely follow the works of Turvey to come up with an abstract of the missing person’s personality. Define who might be at risk or an adult that simply wanted to disappear. Without bodies, we conduct what is known as a psychological autopsy.”

“Give yourself credit, Schlep, and explain it to both of us,” I said.

Manning stopped dipping the fries into his pool of catsup and leaned forward.

Schlep continued, “We try to sort out the most salient of findings because the trails lead us all over the map. I have visited four of the six families of your reported missing adults. It’s urgent that we get the families engaged in any search efforts as soon as possible. So far they’ve seen the police come and go with only a report. We’ve collected names of more obscure, old friends and perhaps an enemy here or there. I’ve been able to quickly deduce there are no known pre-disappearing acts for any of these women. There are no signs of mental illness, drug use or prostitution, and none appear to have been in an abusive relationship. One thing we must consider is that these crimes, if there ever were any crimes, could have been those of opportunity.”

Manning went back to his French fries.

“We may not be able to connect the dots because there are no dots,” I added. “But hear me out. Just because these women are beautiful doesn’t mean they are vulnerable. They had their wits about them.”

“The hardest part will be explaining to the families that they need to register their loved one’s names with NamUs. And this needs to go public, Chief,” Schlep interjected.

“Fine. These families want to do anything they can. What’s so hard?” Manning asked.

“Chief, it’s time you go to the media involved.” I said.

“Not yet.”

“NamUs is a site that matches DNA with John and Jane Does. These families have all collected DNA samples. Hair. Clothing with perspiration. Anything and everything. They submitted them to NamUs. Now we need to explain, more definitively, as to the why”, Schlep explained.

Now I was surprised. I flinched, “And?”

“So far, with only five Jane Does, there’s no match. But the data needs to be in the system. A painful but important step.”

That stung at my heart. Five Jane Does. With no one to claim them. Who were they? Surely there was someone who loved them.

“There’s no correlation to time of day, seasons, holidays or any given data on time relevance as to when the missing persons were reported. All of the disappearances were reported quickly. They all had loved ones. Much different from the Jane Doe’s we get at the morgue.”

Shit. Schlep addressed my feelings without being aware of how I felt.

“What about the theory that these women might be being held in captivity?” Manning inquired.

Schlep leaned forward over the veneer wood table to make direct contact with Manning’s eyes. “It’s a working theory. What is still fresh on everyone’s mind is the three Richter sisters being held captive by the parents right here in Tucson. That was in November of 2013. As far as a trafficking situation, these women, although quite beautiful, are probably too old. These perverts want them young. Even underage.

“Cleveland resident Ariel Castro surprised his closest neighbors in 2013 when police finally discovered the three young women he held captive for years.

“And the Houston incident, June of 2013. Eight people.

“That’s a lot of recent incidents that could perpetuate more criminal activity.”

Through with his report, Schlep took a deep breath of air.

“What about keeping them for breeding purposes?” Manning asked.

“Not likely. Once pregnant, they’d need a medically trained person. Hiding a baby isn’t easy, not that it doesn’t happen. Castro allegedly impregnated one of his captives five times but starved and beat her until she miscarried. Our hairdresser is forty-nine, and the congresswoman’s hysterectomy was well-known because she went on to write and support several women’s healthcare bills. Not that the un-sub would know this, but the waitress is unable to conceive,” Schlep rattled on.

“We have another theory that perhaps our un-sub, our unidentified suspect, is wolf-dog ugly and this is the way he can collect and be around beautiful women,” I said. “We may not be looking for a logical motive. More like a psychological thrill. And although it’s a wild theory, we can’t forget all of the young women that were abducted in the Middle East. The theory is out there that those young women were taken to breed. Given what Schlep just said, I’m going with a guy wolf-dog ugly.”

“Maybe revenge stalking and killing?” Manning asked.

“Perhaps. The likelihood of rape or captivity becomes a valid theory,” Schlep said. “Mind if I order some food? I’m starving.”

After several gulps of the club soda in front of him, Schlep added, “Chief, with the disappearance of the congresswoman the public is going to start connecting the dots. There are hundreds of fliers littering Tucson with photos and names of missing persons.”

“So many that people don’t even notice them anymore,” Manning added.

Chapter Seven
JAXON GILES HAD LEARNED the findings from the vet, confirming what he already knew. A stomach full of arsenic killed Gecko.

The hired security man, going by the name of Marcus, was ushered into Jaxon Giles office. Jaxon stood to shake his hand.

The man, nondescript in black trousers and a tan camp shirt with shades as dark as sheets of black obsidian, sat down across from Jaxon in a chair too small for his build.

“You’re keeping me on the job, and I appreciate the business, but I’m not a slacker. I need to know what the hell I’m looking for besides a license plate and a fake blonde.”

Jaxon gestured to Marcus with palms up. “Let’s move over to some more comfortable seating,” he suggested.

“I’ll tell you anything you need to know. Do you have a notepad?”

“Yep. My mind. A steel trap.”

Jaxon scratched at his ear, tightening his in thought, confident he had the right guy.

“Fair enough. Here’s the rundown. My ex-wife of over two years is stalking me and causing harm. It’s not enough for the police so I need to deliver proof. That’s your job.”

“I will, but tell me what I’m delivering. It will make my fees more cost effective for you.”

Sitting in the comfortable deep-seating lounge chairs adjacent to Jaxon’s desk, sipping Costa Rican coffees, Jaxon began explaining the saga of his stormy relationship with Sandra Vickery.

“Right after the divorce the gifts started arriving. My favorite Chinese dishes would be paid for and delivered. Only I didn’t order any of it. Boxes of my favorite cigars arrived, several from Cuba before the ban was lifted. And the only golf balls I play? Mailed to me with no card. Disturbing.”

“Sounds good to me,” Marcus said, smiling. “Free favorites”

Jaxon didn’t miss a beat. “After about two months, the tide of niceties turned. First, my dry cleaning went missing. Paid for by my wife. But I had no wife. Three suits, plenty of shirts and a pair of slacks were gone. Two weeks after that all four of my tires were slashed in the parking lot of a resort. No one saw anything, including the valets. A week later my Jag was keyed outside of my office and it’s not like we have cameras out there. But we also don’t have undesirables wandering around real estate offices.”

“Damning, but—”

“My dog was poisoned in my own backyard. He had enough arsenic in his system to kill a horse, two-fold. I know it was her. I saw her exiting my property at the time. But the local authorities need proof.”

“Do you have any other enemies besides your ex?”

Jaxon tossed his head back and let out a quick chuckle. “If you’ve been in my business long enough you’re going to make a few enemies. Commercial real estate. You’re likely going to gain some adversaries. Hell, a couple of the guys and gals around here have been sued more than once.”

“Real estate deals gone bad?” Marcus asked.

“Big commercial deals. When there’s lots of money on the table, there’s lots of tension.”

“Maybe someone had a deal go south and blames you,” Marcus said.

Crossing his arms with both eyebrows raised, Jaxon signaled resistance to this idea. “I’ve been squeaky clean. No hint of any lawsuits.”

“I’m just saying, how can you be so sure it was Mrs. Giles? I mean, you’re asking me to stop watching Ms. Silva so I can tail your ex. What if she’s not the problem?

Jaxon leaned forward on the coffee table, nearly knocking over his mug, his face flushed. “First, she goes by her maiden name, Vickery. The woman is sulfurous. She has singlehandedly evicted me from my own life. I firmly believe she is a bona-fide psychopath. If I could, I would love to be a bubble in one of her damn champagne glasses. Just rising up and watching her every move. That’s where I need you.”

Marcus glanced around the room uneasily, running his fingers through thinning hair. His sunglasses remained in place, obscuring his eyes.

“I don’t know. It would be hard not to recognize the woman’s name. She’s been in the news a lot lately about making big donations. Seems she’s moved on and—”

Jaxon interrupted, “Big donations. Not big-hearted. It’s a false front her money buys her and she’s smart. It won’t take her long to realize you’re following her. Then you’ll come face-to-face with her evil twin sister.”

“I can do the job. And do it right. But you’ll have to wait forty-eight hours.”

“What the hell?”

“You hired me to keep your girlfriend safe. When she was at the studio, she was safe. I had time to do my other jobs. I deliver what I promise which is why you want me, but I have another commitment. Now you’ve changed the playing field and want me on 24-7. Give me forty-eight hours and I’m there.”

Jaxon held up his hands. “Okay. Just remember, don’t let her smile and grace fool you. You’re dealing with something wicked.”

Chapter Eight
MANNING ARRANGED THE meeting with me. Why he chose my house, I had no idea, but he arrived in time for my bitter coffee and stale cinnamon bread. My Yorkies, Finnigan and Phoebe, did their guard-dog thing, yapping their heads off upon his arrival. The cat, Daphne, scampered off under my guest bed.

“What’s up with these wretched dogs?”

“They hate you.”

“So does my wife but she doesn’t break my eardrums. You need a real dog. A mutt. Or a greyhound.” He choked back a chortle. “I know, a bloodhound! You need a bloodhound. Get it?”

I cocked my head to the right, then to the left, with my eyes closed. “I get it. How about you either figure out a way to get my dogs to love you or quit dropping by?”

Manning laughed as he looked around. I knew the pattern.

“And to what do I owe this honor?” I asked Manning.

“I didn’t feel like racing to work today,” he mumbled. “And I wasn’t pimping for breakfast.”

“Not like you’re getting much. So?” I asked.

“The story is breaking on our missing Congresswoman Strong.”

“It’s been three full days. You’ve been lucky.”

“The feds will have their hands full because it was the family that didn’t want to release it to the press. Her husband and staff insisted she’d taken off to their cabin in the White Mountains which is a ritual when she wants to get away. She wasn’t there. Then it was rumored she was at a friend’s cabin at Mt. Lemmon. Not there, either, but it bought us some time. The feds will be pulling in here this afternoon, trying to make us look like country bumpkins while I’m guessing going guns-a-blazing after the husband.”

“Oh, I get it. The big guys are pulling into town. That’s the reason you aren’t at the office. But by the way, we all know how you can win over the big blue suits with your charming personality,” I said, winking at him.

The pattern emerged. Manning, a familiar fixture in my home, got up and pulled out the Baileys from my liquor cabinet, telling me my coffee sucked, which it did. Without asking, he poured the smooth brown liquid into his mug. He gestured toward me and my cup. I declined.

“They aren’t going to connect any dots. Certainly not our dots. They don’t care about any other dots on that wall of yours of other presumed missing people,” I said. “Give them the facts on Elizabeth Strong. That’s all they want.”

Manning stirred his mug with the enhancing additive, and then walked over to my patio window where a plethora of birds and lizards and javelina could often be seen.

“Here’s my summary. With missing females, it’s usually prostitutes or, being in such proximity to the border, a second category would be illegal immigrants. They’re hard to trace. No one cares. No one reports them missing. We have none of that here. We have victims that have families and careers and futures. We also have no bodies so we don’t know if it’s a crime of a sexual nature. We don’t know if the victims have been raped. We don’t know if they’re dead. They could be holed up behind bars anywhere in this desert or even in Mexico. Or Toledo, for that fact. I pretty much don’t have anything to give these suits,” Manning said, sighing in frustration.

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