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Authors: Julie Miller

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BOOK: Kansas City Secrets
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The brunette woman with short hair and a white lab coat over the business suit she wore filled up the viewing screen in Ginny Rafferty-Taylor's office. Lieutenant Rafferty-Taylor was the veteran detective who headed up the Cold Case Squad. Dr. Wells and the lieutenant seemed to be about the same age, and both were successful professional women. That was probably why Dr. Wells's answers were all directed to the lieutenant. Everyone else in the room seemed to be beneath her time and interest.

“RUD-317 is a cancer-fighting drug,” the woman on the screen explained. She seemed more interested in fiddling with the jar of hand cream on her desk than in the interview. “It's not for recreational use.”

“Our victim wasn't a cancer patient, Doctor,” the lieutenant clarified. “And if he used drugs recreationally, he kept it private. We have no arrests or complaints on record.”

“His file says he was a smoker,” Trent pointed out. “Is it possible our guy got private treatment? A diagnosis in a foreign country not in his US records? He had money. Maybe the cure worked.”

Dr. Wells barely spared a glance for Max's partner. “It's possible. RUD-317 is available in other countries.” She glanced down at her notes on her office desk. “I'd have to double-check the status to see if that was true six years ago.” She raised her dark eyes to Lieutenant Rafferty-Taylor again. “We've never seen side effects like you describe with RUD-317. I wonder if your victim had an allergic reaction to something in the formula. Or perhaps there was a bad combination of drugs in his system. We do have specific protocols in place for using the RUD products.”

The lieutenant might be a petite little blonde, but she was tough as nails, and Max respected her for it. She wasn't going to let the other woman dismiss their case. “Dr. Wells, there are too many other circumstances related to the death of this particular victim for KCPD to readily dismiss it as an accidental drug overdose. We're looking at it as a homicide.”

“I see.” Dr. Wells jotted something on her notes. “If you fax me a copy of the medical examiner's report, I'd be happy to take a look at it to confirm her conclusions or add to it if any discrepancies jump out at me.”

“We'll do that. Thank you, Dr. Wells.”

The brunette woman leaned toward the camera, her face filling the screen. “I'd certainly hate for bad publicity surrounding one of Endicott Global's medical products to get out. Trust me, the board of directors is always on me about maintaining Endicott's public image. If one of our company's drugs was used to commit a murder, I want to know about it. Its misuse might require altering our product labeling and warnings so it doesn't happen again accidentally. We might even have to pull the drug off the market. You know how prevalent lawsuits are nowadays. People can make a fortune and ruin a company that does good work.”

Max shifted uncomfortably in his seat at the mention of lawsuits. They were nothing but trouble. It didn't look as though Miss Rosie Posy's nine million dollars were doing her any good.

“I'll have one of my detectives get in touch with you to follow up.”

The lieutenant ended the call and Max was back to justifying his plan to the other members of the Cold Case Squad. “Rosemary March wouldn't give us anything yesterday,” he explained. “She's not that comfortable with cops.”

Lieutenant Rafferty-Taylor arched a silvery-blond eyebrow at him. “So what's your

He looked to the woman sitting at the head of the conference table and shrugged. “I remind her of her dad.”

“Ouch.” Jim Parker, Olivia's partner and the newest member of the team, made a face across the table. “You're not that much older than she is. That has to be hard on the ego.”

Max skimmed his hand over the top of his jarhead haircut. “Former military.”

Jim got serious and nodded his understanding. “She trusted her father, and so she trusts you.”

“Something like that.” Max set his cup down beside the stack of case files in front of him and pulled out a photograph of Richard Bratcher to set on top. “I believe she's as anxious to solve Bratcher's murder as we are. This guy made her life hell when he was alive. He's been dead six years and he's still doing the same.”

Olivia Watson rested her elbows on the table and leaned forward. “And she thinks finding the killer will make her stalker go away? Could whoever is after her be the real murderer, trying to frame her?”

“That's one idea I had,” Max agreed. “Either that, or we've got an unsub who thinks she did it and got away with killing Bratcher.”

“So, we need to be interviewing people who were close to Bratcher besides the Marches.” Olivia sat back. “Do we have anyone on that list?”

“I'm working the stalker angle.” Katie Rinaldi, the brunette information specialist assigned to the team, looked up from her laptop at the far end of the table. “I've been surfing social media sites, trying to track down the pictures Miss March alleges were taken of her when she visited her brother in Jeff City.”

“Find anything?” Max asked, suspecting that Rosie was a private enough woman that she wouldn't willingly put herself out on the internet.

Katie's ponytail bobbed behind her as she shook her head. “Nothing yet except for some newspaper photos related to winning that settlement on her parents' behalf, Mr. Bratcher's death and her brother's sentencing for murder.” She lifted her blue eyes to include everyone around the table. “But I'm just getting started. I've got some facial recognition software I'll plug in and run against other sites. If her stalker posted pics anywhere, I'll find them and forward the info to your phones and computers.”

“Good idea,” Jim said, his expression turning grim. “That's how those crooked cops down in Falls City where I worked undercover tracked down my wife. Through a simple picture from our first date she posted online. This guy ain't playin' if he's gotten that close to your witness.”

Lieutenant Rafferty-Taylor agreed. “That's a good strategy, Katie. If there are unsanctioned pictures of Miss March online, I want to know who put them there.”

“Yes, ma'am.”

The lieutenant turned her attention to the big man sitting beside Max. “Trent, let's get those written threats and telephone messages Miss March has received in for analysis. See if any of them are traceable.”

“Will do.”

Max nodded, appreciating the team following his lead and treating Rosie as a threatened witness instead of a suspect. He tapped the case files on the table in front of him. “I talked her into coming in this morning to look at some photos from known associates of Leland Asher and the vic. Maybe she can ID the guy she saw that way.”

Ginny Rafferty-Taylor was a sharp thinker who'd solved several homicide investigations before accepting the promotion to head up the Cold Case Squad. She allowed her team to run with their instincts but demanded their ideas be backed up with hard facts. “We're still working on the theory that several of KCPD's unsolved cases are related?”

They'd had this same discussion several months earlier, when Olivia had closed the six-year-old murder of Danielle Reese, the investigative reporter Stephen March had killed—the crime he was now serving time for in Jefferson City. Although Max's focus was on one woman and one case, he had to agree the idea of connected murders had merit. “It could have happened that way. The Marches had a strong motive for eliminating Richard Bratcher, yet Rosie lacked the means and Stephen lacked the opportunity. We've got Stephen March for murdering Ms. Reese even though Leland Asher and his organization are the ones with the motive for killing her. Asher had an alibi for the night of that murder.”

The lieutenant tucked a short, silvery-blond lock behind her ear. “Does Asher have an alibi for the night of Bratcher's murder?”

“I'd love to ask him,” Olivia volunteered. “I hate that he's serving a mere two years in prison. Maybe we can make his stay more permanent. If he's behind any of this, we should be able to get a list of contacts he's had recently. Jim and I can look at the prison's visitor logs.”

Jim nodded. “We'll find out who he's close to on the inside, too.”

Katie Rinaldi tapped her finger against her lips. “It's like that Hitchcock movie,
Strangers on a Train
—you kill the person I want dead and I'll kill yours, and no one will ever be able to prove a thing.”

The possibility of the seemingly unrelated murders having a common link had been Olivia's idea to begin with. “There has to be a connection between Leland Asher and the Marches or Bratcher we can find.”

Katie ran with the idea. “What if there's a third murder involved that connects everything? Or a fourth or a fifth?”

Trent rolled his chair away from the table and spun toward Katie. “Why don't we stay away from the movies and focus on reality. If we can get Rosemary March on board, I'm sure we can find facts to solve Bratcher's murder and make our case.”

Bristling at the criticism, Katie put her hands back on the keyboard and typed a note. “I'll do the research in my spare time—start cross-checking all unsolved murders from the last decade or so. If I find something...
I find where those unsolved murders overlap, I'll let you know.”

“When do you have spare time?” Trent grumbled. “You're either working or doing something with Tyler and your family or doing one of those stupid plays.”

“It's a hobby.” Katie's eyes flashed with temper, although her tone remained politely articulate. “And I've made some new friends by getting involved with the community theater. I'm allowed to have a hobby.”

Not when it took time away from any possibility of Trent and the single mom spending time together rekindling their high school sweetheart relationship. Max turned away to hide the shaking of his head, happy to leave the soap opera of young love to those who had the energy and fortitude to deal with it. Cupid could just keep his arrows away from a confirmed ol' bachelor like him, and let him do his job and get from one day to the next without any more hassle than necessary.

And yet... Max looked through the window separating Lieutenant Rafferty-Taylor's office from the main floor and saw Rosie March and a tall guy in a fancy suit following one of the uniforms past the maze of detectives' desks toward a row of interview rooms. He was half-aware of other strategies being discussed around the table, of assignments being given. But he was more aware of how the bright flowers printed on Rosie's black dress warmed the pale perfection of her skin. Although the high neckline and modest hem of the sleeveless dress covered up all the interesting bits of her figure, and that old-lady bun at her nape made his fingers itch to free her hair again, there was a distinctive tightening behind his zipper that couldn't be blamed on the desire to drown his sorrows in alcohol or any willing woman this morning.

Stone-cold sober, the dutiful daughter of a colonel was still gettin' to him like an irritation beneath his skin. Could he be just as distracted by the undercurrents of tension between him and Rosie as those that had flared between Trent and Katie a few moments earlier?

Apparently so. Max's hand curled into a fist beneath the table when Rosie startled and drifted back a step, hugging that long shoulder bag to her chest as Hudson Kramer jumped up from his desk to greet her and the suit guy with the silver sideburns. The irritation running beneath Max's collar felt an awful lot like jealousy when he saw Kramer turning on the charm. What did that kid see in Rosie? Was Kramer into that cougar thing? Did he have a penchant for redheads? Or...

Nine million dollars?

The other hand fisted beneath the table. If Hud Kramer had recognized Rosie from the newspaper and thought he could sweet-talk his way into a few dates and a little payout—

“Brother.” Trent clamped a hand down on the arm of Max's chair and shook him out of his glowering stare. His partner was kind enough to point toward Lieutenant Rafferty-Taylor, who'd also noticed his straying focus.

With a nod to Max, silently welcoming him back to the meeting, the petite lieutenant continued her summary. “Let's follow up on the toxin that killed Bratcher, too. Sooner rather than later. Endicott Global is big business. If they're worried about bad publicity that might come from being tied to Bratcher's murder, I don't want to give Hillary Wells or anyone else there a chance to scrub their records from six years ago.” The lieutenant glanced at the notes on her computer screen. “And if they can give us new information that might not show up on the ME's report, I want to know that, too. With Jim and Liv on the road to Jefferson City, and Trent on forensic evidence detail, Max, I'll leave that to you?”

He jotted the directive in his notebook. “Yes, ma'am.”

The lieutenant closed her laptop and stood. “Very well. You've got point on this, Max. Get whatever you can out of Miss March. Use Trent as your contact, and keep us in the loop for any kind of backup or research you need.”

Max nodded, then pushed his chair back the moment they were dismissed, eager to get to Rosie to verify that the plan they'd agreed to last night was still in place. He scooped photos and reports and stuffed the files into his binder to sort out later.

He hadn't even made it around the corner of the table when he stopped in his tracks. But it wasn't the young stud wannabe chatting up Rosie that rankled this time. “Who does that guy who came in with Rosie look like to you?”

“An attorney?”

Max picked up the photo of Richard Bratcher and tossed it onto the table in front of Trent. “Look again.”

Trent picked up the picture and whistled under his breath. “An older version of our vic. Now that's awkward.” He rose to his feet beside Max. “They're looking pretty chummy. You think the two of them could have plotted together to kill Richard?”

BOOK: Kansas City Secrets
7.2Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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