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Lisa Black

Evidence of Murder

The second book in the Theresa MacLean series, 2009

To my mother, Florence, and father, Stanley,

and my siblings, Mary, Susan, Mike, and John,

first in my heart

every minute of every day

CHAPTER 1

WEDNESDAY, MARCH 3

“I have a building full of dead people,” Theresa MacLean told the detective. “I don’t have time for one who isn’t even dead.”

Frank Patrick parked the car against the curb and gestured up at the antique brick architecture in front of them. “Not that we know of. But what woman runs out on a rich husband, a cool apartment, and her five-month-old daughter?”

“A stupid one.” Theresa pulled her stocking cap more tightly over the red hair she hadn’t bothered to curl, and took in the historic structure from a different perspective. “We’re in Lakewood.”

“So you did pay attention on the drive over from the morgue. I thought you’d slipped back into your coma.”

She ignored the coma comment. “I know this place. You can see it from the rapid transit.”

“It used to be the National Carbon Company,” he told her. The redbrick building in front of her would have looked at home on the Oxford campus; its outbuildings, done in matching brick but with much less style, would not have.

“Why are you involved?” Theresa asked. Frank had been a Cleveland homicide detective for eight years, but the well-to-do suburb of Lakewood had its own force, and besides, the woman was only missing.

“Because of her job.”

“At the carbon company?”

“No, this place has been closed for years. Her husband bought the vacant campus six months ago. I meant her job.” He opened his door and got out, forcing her to follow suit. The March air hung icy and damp around Theresa’s face. She pulled the padded jacket with MEDICAL EXAMINER printed on the back around herself more tightly, knowing it wouldn’t do any good. She hadn’t felt warm in eight months. But the lettering identified her as one of the M.E.’s staff, a forensic scientist, not a cop, so that witnesses and family members greeted her with a shade more warmth than they did police officers.

She waited for Frank to circle the car. Being the middle of a weekday didn’t lessen the traffic on 117th and cars whizzed down the narrow pavement; everyone had somewhere to go and wanted to get there fast. Frank darted out of their way; the homicide detective had a long-legged gait and was slender and handsome, with a mustache to go with his light brown hair, but had no more fashion sense than she had, though she wouldn’t dare say so. “And her job is?”

“Escort.”

“What?”

“Escort. Was, actually-she quit on her wedding day. One of those pretty girls a businessman hires to take to cocktail parties so he can look like a player. The company-and I use the term loosely-is on West Twenty-fifth. I remember her boss from his humble origins and have been wanting to bust him for about fifteen years now. So if she’s dead, I’m hoping it’s got something to do with him.”

“It’s good to have a goal.”

“Hey, I’m not hoping the woman’s dead. I’m just hoping to bust her boss if she is. The Lakewood guys are in this with me, but right now they’ve got their hands full with that family that got wiped out over on Warren, so they don’t mind if I look into it. Let’s go in, I’m freezing.”

“An escort.”

“Which means her boss has an opening, if you’re looking to make a switch.” He grinned. She didn’t. He stopped smiling. She felt guilty because he’d been making her laugh since she was three years old and knew he felt bad that he couldn’t do it anymore. But she couldn’t help it. Her sense of humor had died with her fiance, Paul. “So you dragged me out here for a hooker on a bender?”

Humor fled his face as well. “Just take a look at the place, okay? Pick up some things that we can use for DNA testing if her body turns up and then you can go back to the trace evidence lab and hide behind your glass slides and microscopes.”

She scowled, but then followed him up the cracked sidewalk and through the unlocked glass door; Frank had also been pushing her around since she was three and she had gotten used to it. Besides, if she argued with him for too long, he’d complain to his mother, who’d complain to her sister-Theresa’s mother-who’d give her the concerned Are you ever going to get your life back together? looks she’d been giving out for the past eight months. Theresa had gotten used to those too.

Just keep going, she told herself. It’s not as if you’ve got anything else to do.

The lobby smelled coldly musty. “They live in a factory?”

“No, the other buildings are the factory. This building used to be the offices. Apparently he’s renovating it as living space for himself and his partner and the programmers. It’s high-tech stuff and those types like to work unconventional hours. Sounds like he plans to be the Bill Gates of Cleveland. I got all this from the Lakewood cop who took the report; he was a whole lot more interested in the architecture than in our errant young mom.”

The elevator took an inordinate amount of time to rise one floor, and Frank used the trip to tell her more about the missing Jillian Perry. Twenty-four, native of Cleveland, she lived with her husband of three weeks, Evan Kovacic, and her baby girl. Evan Kovacic owned and operated a video-game design firm. He had come home from a downtown meeting on Monday to find the door locked, Jillian gone, and the baby crying in her crib.

“And her husband knew about her former occupation.”

“Absolutely. Says Jillian worked as a three-dimensional model.”

“Dimensions, right. You keep saying her daughter,” Theresa said as the claustrophobic elevator shuddered to a halt. “This baby isn’t his daughter?”

“No. Jillian was pregnant when they met. I guess the father isn’t in the picture.”

Theresa snorted and nudged the sliding door with her foot to encourage it to open faster. “Great.”

“We don’t get to pick our victims, Tess.”

“Tell me about it.” The second-floor lobby had fresh carpeting but a gouge in the plaster outside door number 212. Frank gave her a warning look as he knocked, and she straightened her shoulders. I’m a professional. Focus on the job. What do I need to do right now?

I care about every victim. Even if she was a drug-addled slut.

Who doesn’t give a crap about her own kid.

She thought that these were the things we say about other people in the shuttered rooms of our own minds, the harsh judgments we would never, ever confess to another living soul.

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