Read Truth & Lies: A Queen City Justice Novel Online

Authors: Elizabeth Bemis

Tags: #Mail Order Bride, #FBI, #military, #Police

Truth & Lies: A Queen City Justice Novel (3 page)

BOOK: Truth & Lies: A Queen City Justice Novel
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“You’re right. That’s not much to go on. Let me know if you need anything, and keep me up-to-date. We’ll want to inform the FBI as soon as we corroborate her story.”

Deck agreed and sat down at his desk. He pulled the number for the hotel where Lee Jing and her family were staying. It rang a number of times before an operator picked up. He introduced himself and asked to be connected to their room. “I’m sorry, Detective. I checked the Lees out yesterday afternoon.”

Deck sighed. “Did they leave a forwarding address?”

“I’m afraid not.”

“Do you know if they intended to return to China right away?”

“They didn’t say.”

He signed off and put in a request for passenger lists for flights leaving the United States and a call into the Chinese Consulates in Chicago and New York and the Chinese Embassy in Washington DC. Lee Jing would need to replace her passport before she could would be permitted to fly home.

Without a complaining witness, this case just became a lot more difficult.

Deck fired up Yelp to see if he could start narrowing down nail salons.  His initial search turned up more than 750 options. “

“Hey Deck. I heard you were back.”

He turned to see Vivian Baroni, one of the Major Case detectives. Before his Reserve Marine Unit had been called up and he’d shipped out to Afghanistan, they’d had an on-again-off-again, will-they-or-won’t-they
flirtation, which had extended for several months without either of them ever acting on it. Vivian was pretty, but Deck wouldn’t let himself show any interest now. It wouldn’t take more than watching him limp across the room for the attraction he saw in her eyes to fizzle into pity or misplaced sympathy, and he refused set himself up to watch it. But his ego liked her appreciative gaze nonetheless.

She had one hand propped on her hip, and he couldn’t help but notice her nails. They weren’t long, just barely past the ends of her fingertips, with the main part of her nail the palest of pinks, and the nail tips bright white.

“Say, Viv. I’ve got a question for you.”

She leaned down so they were nearly face-to-face and braced herself with one hand on the desk. “Name it.” 

He caught a light whiff of her perfume or shampoo. Something feminine, but not overpowering. He recognized the hopeful glint in her expression. 

She was about to be disappointed.

“Do you do your own nails?”

She looked taken aback. “Excuse me?”

“Do you go to a salon or do you do your own nails?”

“Salon. Why?”

“How did you decide what salon to use?”

“Needing a manicure, there, Murphy?” He noticed she switched from using his first name to his last. Good. Keep work at work.

And pity at home.

He straightened out his fingers in front of himself.  His hands had taken the brunt of the abuse of his battle with a drywall project. So far, the drywall was winning. He had Band-Aids wrapped around two knuckles and a scrape over the back of his hand. His physical therapist thought his home remodeling project would be good for his balance, but the frustration of the slow progress was murder on his temperament. “There’s not much that could help these hands.” He balled his fingers and dropped his hands back down to the desk. “It’s a case I’m working on. Chinese girl claimed she was being held against her will and forced to work in a nail salon or her parents would be killed.”

“Oh. I see. I started going there because I had a Groupon and it was close to my house. They did a good job and I’ve been going there ever since.”

“Do you know who runs it?”

“I have no idea. The receptionist is white and obviously American, but really young, and most of the other employees are Asian — I think Vietnamese, but I’m not sure.” She laughed. “Most of them don’t speak much English and I’m pretty sure they’re talking about us with each other, but it’s not like I’d know.”

“I don’t suppose it overlooks a wooded area?”

She laughed. “No. It’s in the middle of Deerfield Town Center near Mason.”

“Hmm. That would have been too easy. What’s it called?”

“Sole Tuscano.”

Deck turned to his computer and fired up his browser to search for the spa. It came up at the top of Google. He clicked on the site. Deck could easily believe he was looking at a site for a salon in the middle of Tuscany. It was slick with stock photos and well-written copy. Nowhere on the site did it show the photos or bios of the nail technicians or interior photos of the salon. “So short of showing up at all seven hundred and fifty nail salons in the city, there’s probably no way to tell who’s running a salon or if all the employees are foreign slaves.”

“That does seem like a thankless task,” Vivian agreed.

“Thanks, Viv.”

Deck still had the Mike or Michael Milton lead. Worst case, there were twenty within a hundred-mile radius. He pulled up a Lexis Nexus database, to look for men named Mike or Michael Milton. The only interesting option was a Michael Milton of Blue Ash, a suburb of Cincinnati proper.

A number of different LLCs listed Michael Milton as the owner, most of which seemed to be matchmaking services. The first was an online service that probably hoped to compete with the likes of and OkCupid but didn’t seem to have much fanfare. Next, an in-person dating service, third, a speed-dating service. Finally, and most interestingly, Michael Milton owned an aggregator of several foreign mail-order bride services. Deck pulled up Dream Come True in his browser. A notice at the bottom of the site clearly stated that background checks must be run on US Citizens before they could communicate through the service to potential brides.

“Turnabout is fair play,” Deck murmured as he began a background check on Michael Milton. His net worth was…
The guy’d had several bouts of extreme debt.  And a number of 1099s over the years for winnings at casinos and racetracks—some more significant than others. It didn’t appear that he owned any nail salons, which would have tied the whole case up with ribbon and a bow.

Deck switched back to the mail-order bride service.

“Considering a foreign bride, Murphy?” Captain Rupert’s voice held a hint of humor.

“Hardly, sir.” Deck spun his chair until he faced his boss. He told Rupert what he’d discovered about the Lees leaving their hotel. “I’m following up on the name Lee Jing gave us, ‘Michael Milton.’ One that I found in the area has finances that are all over the place, and if I were a betting man, I’d bet this guy has a gambling problem. He owns a bunch of dating services, including this mail-order bride service.  It may be nothing, but I want to follow up on this. I feel in my gut I’m on to something.”

“Your gut has yet to fail me. I’m forwarding your report to police headquarters. Given the lack of a complaining witness, they can decide whether to forward it on to the FBI. Do what you need to do. Just give me a heads up before you spend any of the department’s money.”

Deck suspected that eighteen months ago, it would have taken a lot longer to convince Rupert to let him follow the lead.  Rupert thought he was keeping Deck busy. And while that thought annoyed the hell out of Deck, not having anyone hanging over his shoulder make it easier to carry on.


Monday, November 10—10:45 a.m.

Cincinnati FBI Field Office, Kenwood Neighborhood, Cincinnati, Ohio

An hour and a half after breaking from their first meeting, the entire team reconvened in the war room. Dana had spent the time poring over the evidence reports, looking for a scrap of hope they’d find this bastard before he hit again in mid-December or, if their dubious luck ran out, before.

“Rodriguez—what do you have?” Sherwood prompted.

“Eight missing Eastern European girls who came to America and then disappeared. At least six of whom used Dream Come True, one of whom was Anka Pierovich.”

“Good work. Thompson?”

“I got in contact with Dream Come True as a prospective groom. The ‘marriage consultant’ assured me she had the perfect bride,” he said. “Here’s how it usually works. A woman in Eastern Europe, Asia, or Latin America goes to her neighborhood matchmaker, who puts her in touch with a service like Dream Come True. They match her with a stateside groom who is—and I quote—‘tired of the mind games and gender politics that have taken the sincerity and fun out of the Western dating scene.’” Eric rolled his eyes. “Generally, the groom goes and meets his new bride in her country. The local matchmaker helps the happy couple apply for a fiancé visa, and the groom flies home and waits. Once the visa comes through, the bride comes to the States, they live happily ever after, yada yada yada.”

He spoke in a deep baritone, which had a knifelike edge-of-danger sound to it. And that was a lot more accurate to his personality than his appearance, with entirely unremarkable features and dark, Men’s Wearhouse suits that didn’t quite fit.

“When I explained that I might have difficulty getting away from my multibillion-dollar empire, the marriage consultant said she could probably spare me a trip abroad, which sounded fishy. She explained that a small percentage of the gentlemen find that their bride wasn’t what they’re looking for, so they have leftover brides. She was quick to assure me, of course, that it’s never the fault of the brides, as they have been thoroughly vetted.”

“Do we have any proof that any girls actually walk down the aisle with a real groom?” Sherwood asked.

Eric nodded. “She gave me a list of references—local men who’ve used the service. I tracked down a couple of them, and it would appear that, for them, the service was everything it was supposed to be.”

Sherwood turned to Dana.  “Yenichek, tell me I’m remembering your background correctly and that Croatian is one of the forty languages you speak.”

It was more like eight languages, but Croatian was her first. “Of course.” She’d lived with her parents in Croatia until she was eight. Later, she came to live with her grandparents. Baka and Djed spoke only questionable English until they’d died, so she’d always spoken Croatian.

“That’s good to hear.” Anyone else would have been jumping in the air, but Mr. Cool-and-Collected just nodded calmly. The man was an ice cube.

“What do you have in mind?” Dana asked, an equal mixture of apprehension and excitement coursing through her system. She’d do anything that would get this sadist off the streets.

She wasn’t even surprised when he said, “Pack your bags. You’re headed home.”


Chapter Three

Wednesday, November 12—11:00 a.m.

Kavana Dubravka, Brsalje ul, Dubrovnik, Croatia

The dark blue waters of the Mediterranean gently lapped at the rocky shoreline and Dana sat in the open-air café, enjoying the perfection of the sixty-five-degree breeze coming off the water in spite of the serious nature of her visit.  She flicked a glance at her watch and wished, not for the first time, that she were here on vacation, rather than to interview the families of the women who were still missing.

The evening before, Dana had met with Stana Novak’s family. They hadn’t heard from their daughter since the day she left for the States.  They were able to give Dana some personal effects for a possible DNA match, but they didn’t have much more information to offer.

Elena Kovać’s sister, Eva Marušić, had cried when Dana spoke to her on the phone.  She’d recommended the café as a good place to meet, as it had been Elena’s favorite.

Dana spotted Eva from across the café. She looked a great deal like Elena’s passport photo, clipped to the file folder in front of Dana. Eva wore a messenger bag across her chest and a searching look on her face. Dana waved from her seat, and Eva hurried across the open seating area.

“Hello. It is good to meet you,” she said in accented English.

Before they could do much more than greet one another, a server stopped at the table, coffee pot in hand. He filled Dana’s cup, then turned to Eva. She nodded, he filled her cup and then, apparently sensing their need to get to business, faded away.

“Have you heard anything?” Eva asked in Croatian.

“Not since I spoke to you yesterday. But my team is doing everything they can.” Dana switched to Croatian, and Eva’s face showed her relief. She pulled out a notepad. “Can you tell me how Elena decided to come to the States?”

“Our mother had a stroke right after Elena graduated from high school. Elena cared for her from that time until my mother passed last year, and suddenly Elena’s entire purpose for being was gone. The boy she’d dated through school—literally the boy next door—had given up on waiting for her and married someone else. When she found out they were going to have a baby, she just couldn’t stand the idea of watching their family bloom next door. She was looking for an ‘anywhere but here’ option.

“I work for a matchmaking service and set her up. Elena wasn’t sure about her groom when she met him, but she decided that marrying him would be a better choice than watching Stephan raise a family that could have been hers. Then, a couple of months after she went to the States, she told me that it didn’t work out with her groom. It sounds like he was a disaster. And she thought she was going to have to come back home. But then she met someone else, and it seemed like it was going really well. She told me his name, but I stupidly never wrote it down. His first name was a common English name. Robert or James or…
I wish I could remember. I remember thinking that his last name was European, but non-English, but I don’t know if it was French or Spanish or Italian, or something else.” She sighed her regret. “They were going to get married. And then she just…
. I had no way to get in contact with her and I haven’t heard from her in months, which really isn’t like her.”

“There are a number of women who went to the US as mail-order brides and have gone missing and we’re following up on all of them. So I understand it better, can you explain to me how the mail-order bride thing works?”

“Most of my clients live near here and want to be matched locally—a typical matchmaking service.  However, for women who want to emigrate, I work with a couple of different services that work as intermediaries between us and other countries’ services—mostly the United States.” Eva pulled an iPad from her messenger bag.  “My company is part of the network of two services.” She pulled the first up on her iPad, and Dana noted the URL before Eva opened a new tab and clicked to the second service. “Elena actually used a third service called Prava Ljubav. But they raised their prices for us right after she left for the US, so my boss decided not to join their network.”

BOOK: Truth & Lies: A Queen City Justice Novel
9.68Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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