Small-Town Secrets. Debra Webb
Spencer, or Spence as his colleagues called him, focused on making the turns she’d suggested. Dana studied his profile. He wore his dark brown hair short. His eyes were equally dark. Thirty-six. Law school graduate. She’d looked him up on Google the night before. He’d graduated at the top of his class and gone on to work at one of Chicago’s most prestigious law firms. But then the county had persuaded him to give up half his income to work as a child advocacy attorney. Married once. Then divorced. No children. He’d worked at the Colby Agency for only eight months.
Fear that she’d started something she would regret abruptly clasped around Dana’s chest. She should just let the past go.
But then she would never know.
“Here we are.”
Spence braked to a stop in the parking lot. Dana stared at the long, drab brick building that housed the police and fire departments. Despite the air-conditioning in the car, perspiration dampened her skin as her heart thumped harder and harder.
“Chief Gerard is expecting us.”
Dana heard the words Spence said, but the larger part of her attention was focused on the official lettering sprawled across the glass entry she’d last entered sixteen years ago.
Dana gave herself a mental shake and reached for the car door. “Right.” Chief Gerard had struggled through the town’s first homicide case. Her sister’s case.
Sherry’s and Joanna’s case.
Three victims…three unsolved murders within a week in a town small enough that everyone knew everyone else. Three young girls killed by someone they apparently knew since there were no signs of struggle. How was it possible that no one admitted to having the first clue who that someone was?
Stop. Dana slammed the car door and squared her shoulders. She had to stop allowing her thoughts to go down that path. Focus. She had to focus and let this man—she glanced at William Spencer—do his job. He was the expert here…she was just the desperate client.
And maybe, just maybe, she would learn that she wasn’t the one who’d killed her own sister…and two of her best friends.
SPENCE WATCHED Dana Hall closely as they waited for Chief Gerard to finish an afternoon meeting that had, according to his secretary, run over. Dana’s emotions appeared to vacillate between high anxiety and extreme dread. The anxiousness was to be expected. The dread, however, surprised him. This was a woman who had clearly suffered for years due to not knowing what really happened to her sister. She’d sought the Colby Agency’s help in finding the truth. Despite her insistence that she needed to learn what happened sixteen years ago, she appeared to fear learning that truth.
Spence recognized the symptoms. The woman knew something she wasn’t sharing. In his experience with the parents of abused or neglected children, he’d seen those very symptoms time and time again. The burden of guilt weighed on most, even when their instincts urged them to protect themselves. No one wanted to face the reality of what they had done much less the consequences related to the act or acts.
But what had Dana Hall done besides find herself a victim of the most heinous of crimes?
“I realize,” Spence began, “this is difficult.”
Dana Hall jumped as if he’d startled her from her thoughts. “I’m sorry.” She cleared her throat. “What did you say?”
Seriously distracted. To some degree that was to be expected. “This is difficult, I know,” he reiterated. “Revisiting a painful past is never easy. But it’s my job to ensure that it goes as smoothly as possible.”
She wet her lips. Until then, he hadn’t noticed how full they were. Incredibly full and rich in color. She blinked, as if clearing her weary eyes of any emotion that might give away her true feelings. “I can handle it.” She glanced around the small office. “I have to.”
Was she attempting to convince him or herself?
“Afternoon, folks.” Chief Gerard hustled into the office, coffee cup in one hand, a stack of files and papers in the other. “I apologize for keeping you waiting.” He shook his head as he rounded his desk. “Sometimes things get a little hairy even in a small town.”
Spence stood. “William Spencer. The Colby Agency,” he said as he shook hands with the chief. “You may remember Dana Hall.”
Dana remained seated, her gaze locked on to the man in charge of local law enforcement.
“Gracious, young lady.” The chief beamed a broad smile. “I haven’t seen you in…” His expression fell and sadness appeared as if he’d only just remembered the circumstances of their last encounter.
Dana cleared her throat. “Chief Gerard,” she said, her voice faltering.
Obviously shaken, the chief indicated the chair Spence had vacated. “Have a seat, Mr. Spencer.” He lowered into the one behind his cluttered desk. “What can I do for you folks?”
This was the moment Spence should have felt guilty for not cluing the man in on the subject of the appointment. But Spence wanted to get his reaction to Dana’s sudden reappearance after nearly two decades. He’d definitely gotten one.
“We’re here,” Spence said, leveling his gaze on the chief’s, “to ask you a few questions about Donna Hall’s murder.”
Chief Gerard looked from Spence to Dana and back. “It’s been a long time.” He took a sip of his coffee. “Several of my deputies have, over the years, taken a look at the case hoping to find something new. No one has ever found anything. But I’m happy to be of any help if you’re set on looking for yourself.” He studied Spence a moment. “Your agency is looking into the case?”
That Gerard had blanked his expression told Spence that like all officers of the law, he didn’t appreciate a private investigator coming into his territory, nosing around into a case he hadn’t been able to solve with his own resources.
Understandable. “That’s correct,” Spence confirmed. “My agency is aware that your department did everything possible with the technology available at the time.” Spence gave a succinct nod. “There are resources available now that might help in solving the case. We’d like to see what we can learn, with your guidance and expertise, of course.” Making friends was a far better strategy than drawing battle lines right off the bat.
That seemed to appease Gerard. He relaxed visibly. “I’ll pull the files and have them available for you to look at later this afternoon. Around five sound all right to you?”
“Absolutely. That would be very helpful.” Spence didn’t want to wait for the files. Having to come back to see them gave the chief time to select what would be shared and what wouldn’t. Only one way to try and head that off. “Perhaps you could share your thoughts on the case. Anything specific you remember that, in looking back, might have been more suspicious than it seemed at the time?” The chief couldn’t very well leave out anything he mentioned before he’d had time to think better of it.
Gerard propped his forearms on his desk and clasped his fingers. He stared at his hands for a bit before speaking. “The people in this town are good folks. We’d never had so much as an attempted murder before…that. When the first two girls were found.” He took a deep, burdened breath. “Sherry and Joanna. We were all devastated. Who would do such a thing?” His head moved side to side slow and stiff. “Go into a little girl’s room and kill her in her sleep. The calls came in at practically the same time. At first we thought we had some sort of lethal virus. Both girls,” he said and glanced at Dana, “were tucked under the covers, eyes closed just like they were sleeping.”
He heaved a heavy breath. “Then Dana,” he said looking directly at Spence, “and her sister went missing from their beds. We couldn’t believe it. How could it happen again? We didn’t have the first suspect. No evidence to go on. Nothing. Thank God you were still alive when we found you,” he said to Dana.