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 (4 page)

BOOK: Truth & Lies: A Queen City Justice Novel
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“Is that unusual?” Dana asked.

Eva shrugged. “It didn’t seem so at the time.”

The name “Prava Ljubav”
was familiar. It meant “True Love” in Croatian, and Dana flipped through the pages in her notebook, from her interviews the day before.
It was the same service that Stana Novak had used. However, Stana had gone straight to the source and not used a local service.

“Can you excuse me for one moment?” Dana asked.  She checked her watch. Eleven thirty here made it five thirty in the morning in Cincinnati. She stepped across the open air café for privacy and hit the speed dial number for her boss.


He had the audacity not to sound tired. Dana was convinced he didn’t actually need sleep. The man was a robot.

“It’s Dana, sir. I think I might be on to something with the mail-order bride service.” She explained what she knew.

“Get to the point, Yenichek.”

“I want Elena Kovać’s sister to place me as a mail-order bride, to see if we can get any bites.”

His answer dripped with incredulity. “You want to become a mail-order bride?”

“I want to see if we get any hinky hits from that service the team can follow up on. Meanwhile, I’ll continue to meet with the families of the missing girls.”

“How much is this going to cost me?”

Dana named the price that Stana Novak had paid directly to Prava Ljubav
It was a drop in the bucket compared to the cost of her last-minute plane fare to Dubrovnik.

“Fine. Keep me apprised.”

“Will do, sir.”

Eva’s eyes tracked her progress back across the dining area. She sat down and leaned forward. “I want you to help place me as a mail-order bride directly with the Prava Ljubav service.”


Wednesday, November 12—9:30 p.m.

Oakley Neighborhood, Cincinnati, OH

After three very long days of searching, Deck had exhausted all means of finding where Lee Jing had been held—short of doing a one-by-one, in-person search of the seven hundred and fifty nail salons in the Tri-state. He still didn’t have any concrete information on Michael Milton, other than he occasionally gambled and he wasn’t very good at it. And he’d discovered nothing that could lead to any reasonable judge granting a subpoena for more information.

He’d even called the offices of Dream Come True and asked for Michael Milton.  The receptionist took his name and number and said that Mr. Milton was out of the office, but she’d have him call. Of course, he hadn’t. Deck didn’t know what he’d ask him if he did.
“Say, do you own a nail salon that employs slave labor?”
seemed like a quick way to get hung up on.

As Deck leaned back in his La-Z-Boy, he took a slug of beer from the bottle on the end table beside him. His computer sat across his lap and he made a decision to start thinking outside the box.  He felt deep in his gut that the mail-order bride service preyed on the same sort of women that human traffickers would, so he went to and signed up. To join the service, he just had to offer up a credit card and a $50/month fee. There were, of course, hefty additional fees when a potential groom went to meet his bride, as well as when she came to the US, regardless of whether they actually married. However, since he wasn’t exactly in the market for a bride, mail order or otherwise, he figured he wouldn’t be paying those fees. He could afford to donate fifty bucks to the cause of a wild-goose chase in order to catch a human-trafficking ring, especially since he was on the cusp of working off book on this case.

The terms of service on the site were crazy long, and he skimmed through to make sure he wasn’t agreeing to offer up his first born or anything ridiculous, but he’d be willing to admit that his eyes had started to glaze over by the bottom of the page. Based on the warnings on the front of the site, he’d expected a long, in-depth application and background-check process. But the site only requested his photo, name, his address, his employer—which he listed as City of Cincinnati—his income, and email address. He also specified what kind of bride he was looking for, not unlike a foray he made into some years before. He hoped that applicants who actually went to meet the women were better vetted. 

Unfortunately, he didn’t have many recent photos where he wasn’t in his marine uniform, so he was forced to upload a selfie.  It wasn’t great, but he more or less looked like himself. Not that it mattered.

Once he’d filled out his profile and paid his fee, he clicked through pages and pages of potential brides. One photo, a woman from Croatia, in a bright floral-print blouse, attracted his attention. She was cute, even though that wasn’t his usual type.  She had brown wavy hair, dark eyes, freckles, and dimples. 

A big button at the top of the page read “Make My Dreams Come True,” not unlike Google’s “I’m Feeling Lucky” button.

“What the hell.” He clicked the button.

Four photos came up, and the text on the page read, “We’ve determined that these brides have the most in common with what you’re looking for.”

Photo number three was Freckles. Almost without thinking about it, he clicked her photo and began to read her profile. “
Hello, my name is Draghana, and I am looking for love match in Southwest Ohio where I have a University Visa. I am looking for man who knows his own mind and who looks for someone to share his life with. I am good at cooking and house cleaning and I am looking for a caring provider who I can make life comfortable for. My English skills are improving

At least she hadn’t said her English skills were

After perusing the rest of her profile, he clicked back to the first of the “Make My Dreams Come True” matches. “
I am Danica.
My mother says I have father’s character, but being strong, I am staying feminine and loyal and very sensual. Anyway, emotions in my life in general plays an important role. I am cheerful woman, a great dreamer and optimist
.” Deck was pretty certain, based on the photos that she was or at least had been at one time, a man.

The second photo led to a page that read,
“I am Svetlana and I want a man to love me and spoil me. I like it when a man looks after me and brings me gifts. I am a woman! Men simply have forgotten that only when they look after their women—they can truly feel like gentlemen!”
So she was looking for a sugar daddy.

The last was Karina, who was listed as simply, “Never married lady with green eyes and blond hair.” She was blonde and pretty in a fake way with extremely improbable proportions.

He went back to Freckles’s photo. Something about it called to him.  Even recognizing that it wouldn’t further his investigation, Deck clicked on the “CONTACT NOW” button.


Thursday, November 13—1:30 p.m.

Kavana Dubravka, Brsalje ul, Dubrovnik, Croatia

By day four, Dana recognized that she’d made Kavana Dubravka her home base. The café had all that she needed: Wi-Fi, a great view, and an endless supply of coffee. Plus, if anyone tracked her IP address, it would be perfectly reasonable that a local girl would use a café’s Wi-Fi. If she were using her hotel room, someone might get suspicious as to why she was staying in a hotel.

After a morning spent interviewing the frightened and frustrated family of yet another missing girl and learning nothing new, the quiet open air of the café was a balm to her weary soul.

She opened up to her profile page.  Eva had helped her to present herself as appealing and low-hanging fruit.  She emphasized that she had a student visa, and would be coming to the US in a couple of weeks. Eva also recommended that Dana knock a few years off her age.  The photo she selected made her look young, pretty, and submissive. Apparently, their tactic had worked, as Dana found several new messages, and one near the Cincinnati area. She opened that message and found herself whistling quietly in disbelief.  If she’d pulled a message up from this guy at back home, she’d have been doing backflips down Linwood Avenue. Not that she belonged to or even had time to date. But this message made her rethink both of those things.

He’d used an obvious selfie for his profile photo and he was just a little too close to the camera for her to get the full picture. But he looked like he worked out. He had a strong neck, wide shoulders that disappeared off either side of the image, and intense, dark eyes. His complexion was dark, and he sported a crooked half-smile and a heavy five-o’clock shadow. His hair was cropped close but long enough that she could see his hairline, which hadn’t started the long march toward the back of his head.

Why did this guy need a mail-order bride? She couldn’t imagine him walking down any street in Cincinnati and not having girls throw themselves at him. Even his message to her was friendly, pleasant and thoughtful.

Hello, Draghana. This is the first time I’ve ever done this. My name is Declan Murphy, but my friends call me Deck. I’m 34 and I work for the City of Cincinnati. I own an old firehouse, and I’m in the process of remodeling it into a home. I really liked your profile. What university will you be attending and what are you planning to study?

Could he be the killer, luring women to Cincinnati?

She sent a message to the team with all the details she had.  Within an hour, Emilie, their computer expert, sent back an email with more details.

Dana—Pretty sure this isn’t our killer. He’s a Detective from CPD’s District 2. He just came back from a long convalescent leave after being injured in the marine reserves in Afghanistan. He was at Bethesda at the time of the first murder, and he’s on light duty, but I haven’t been able to find out the extent of his injuries. (Got this info on the down low from a records keeper at CPD Headquarters who owed me a favor.) Murphy owns a house on Millsbrae Ave. in Oakley. Interesting note: Michael Milton, the owner of Dream Come True, has gone missing. His secretary stated that she’d taken a message for Milton from a cop named Murphy, and right after that, he left town and hasn’t called in.  There’s some speculation that the cop warned him he was under federal investigation.  The boss would like you to try to engage Murphy, if you can. Good luck!

Dana composed her reply to Declan Murphy in Croatian, then pasted it into Google Translate to translate back into English. The English wasn’t perfect, which was the point. She definitely didn’t want to sound like a fluent English speaker.

Dana looked down at her watch. Time to go meet with another family. Anka Pierovich, a makeup artist who Dana suspected was victim number three, had been missing since August and had a little girl who was almost two. Anka’s daughter was staying with her grandparents until Anka could be found. Dana wasn’t looking forward to this interview at all.


Friday, November 13—8:00 a.m.

Oakley Neighborhood, Cincinnati, OH

Deck spent all Thursday trying to track down the salon where Lee Jing had worked. He’d called more than a hundred salons asking for Mei Ling, with no luck. There had to be a better way. Every lead he’d followed had dried up.

On Friday morning, he woke up, thankful that he didn’t have to go to work, but in pain and exhausted from an entire night full of nightmares. He stretched his aching leg out and settled back into his La-Z-Boy, planning to have his coffee and read his newspaper, and avoid moving for as long as he could.  But first, he opened his computer to check his home email.  Not many people contacted him. Mostly sales ads for stores he rarely shopped in, and the occasional internet funny from his brother, Mike. Every once in a while he’d get a check-in from his old partner. But even that had become exceedingly rare.

There was an email from the Dream Come True system alerting him that he had a message back from Draghana. Why that gave his heart rate a little bump, he couldn’t say, but he signed in to the system.

Dear Deck. I have to study the social work at the University of Cincinnati. My classes start early January. I hope that studying in the United States for a year gives me a better knowledge of English. Why did you buy the firehouse to live in? I look forward to your response.

Deck saw, from the green button next to her name, that she was online. On a whim, he pulled up a chat window.

Deck Murphy:
Hi Draghana.


Deck Murphy:
It was good to hear from you. I have to ask, when you already have a visa to the US, why did you sign up for this service?

I am liking to stay in the United States after school.

Deck Murphy:
Aren’t you afraid of who you might meet?

Sometimes. I hear crazy stories. You could be someone different than what you say.  You maybe not even live in US.

Deck Murphy:
I do, I promise!

Deck grabbed the newspaper from the end table at his elbow and held it next to his face.  It took him a moment to locate the picture-taking software from his computer, but once he did, he took a selfie next to that day’s paper. He uploaded the photo through the chat software.

Deck Murphy:
Me with today’s paper.

Thank you. 

There was a long pause and Deck wondered if he’d lost her. He checked the photo. So it wasn’t great. He was looking like a thousand miles of hard road this morning. But it wasn’t so bad that it should have run her off.  Finally, the indicator that she was typing showed.  Those three little dots gave him an improbable amount of relief.

Only fair that I do same.

Deck had to accept the photo. It loaded, and there she was, adorable freckles, dimples, and all, with her face next to the front page of the
Dubrovnik Times
…and just below the masthead, today’s date.

Deck Murphy:
You are very pretty.

BOOK: Truth & Lies: A Queen City Justice Novel
4.9Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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