Read The Murder That Never Was: A Forensic Instincts Novel Online

Authors: Andrea Kane

Tags: #Suspense, #Fiction, #Thriller

The Murder That Never Was: A Forensic Instincts Novel (4 page)

BOOK: The Murder That Never Was: A Forensic Instincts Novel
8.98Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

“Fair enough.” Lisa glanced at Milo’s keyboard, which he was now pounding on again. “What are you doing?”

“A whole bunch of things, Julie.” He kept using her new name so it would sink in and become her own. “I logged on as you. I’m now emailing your landlord, telling him you got a sudden out-of-town job and had to relocate ASAP. I told him to charge your credit card for the duration of your lease so he’s appeased and doesn’t raise any red flags. I know the rental house was furnished, but I’m letting him know that he can sell everything else, donate it to charity, whatever, and to keep the proceeds for his trouble.”

“Oh.” Lisa was trying to process everything Milo was saying.

“I’m also emailing your two gym bosses, Kristen and Nora, and explaining that you’re leaving town. I scanned an article from the
Sun-Times
reporting Lisa’s death, and I’m attaching it to the emails. I’m saying that, after living with someone who was shot to death right in front of your house, you’re too freaked out to work. That you’ve got to get out of Chicago. I’m sending your apologies for the lack of notice and any inconvenience it causes them, and asking them to email any unemployment paperwork. Blah, blah, blah.”

Milo paused and gave a baffled shrug. “Kristen and Nora are both females. Statistics say that females are far more motivated by feelings than males are; I’ve read that in several reliable sources. So, they’ll understand where you’re coming from and forgive you. I don’t get it, but that’s how it will go down.”

“I guess.” Lisa tucked her hair behind her ear. She was still getting used to this new angled style, although she’d really admired it on Julie.

The old Julie. The dead Julie.

She shuddered. “Milo, do you really think we’ll be able to pull this off? I mean, I can memorize anything and pass any test. But becoming another person…” She broke off, glancing quickly around as she recalled what Milo had said about talking about this among people.

“Not a doubt, Julie,” he replied. “You’re going to create a gym that everyone will want to join. Just read your book, do your magic memorizing thing, and the suburban women will be breaking down your doors to sign up for the diamond package.”

His brow creased as he began pounding into the computer again. “In the meantime, I’m getting us a backdoor exit, a way to vanish if something unforeseen blows up in our face.”

“What do you mean?”

Milo leaned forward and stabbed at her book with his forefinger. “Read. Do what you do best. Leave the rest to me.”

“All right.” The new Julie Forman turned to the next page in the manual and began to absorb the required information.

Milo was never one to let grass grow under his feet. He’d seen sure things turn to shit way too often. He’d mentioned the backdoor plan offhandedly to the new Julie, but his task was very real, very difficult, and very imperative. He had to make sure they could vanish on a dime if need be.

With that in mind, he fired up Freenet and went to the Nerdageddon index. He appreciated the anonymity that the darknet offered, although he hated how it had become a haven for child pornography. At least Nerdageddon tried to filter out that crap, and Freenet would keep his activity hidden from others.

What he needed now was a link to a discussion board of security experts who understood how people could be tracked. Some of it was obvious, like social security numbers, driver’s licenses, bank accounts. But even frequent shopper cards, patterns of Amazon purchases, etc. could be linked to individuals, even their cell phones. These were the avatars in the know. Disappearing off the grid was not easy in today’s digitally linked world. He needed advice and he needed it fast.

It took him a while. Then—success. He found the right link. A chat room called Kerberos. The double entendre was fitting. Kerberos was a computer authentication protocol developed at MIT and widely used on the Internet to prove one’s identity. It also referred to the three-headed dog guarding the entrance of the Underworld, making sure no one got in or out.

Milo added himself to the chat room, adding the screen name “ScoobyDoo” and an appropriate picture. Milo grinned at the irony of ScoobyDoo and Kerberos—two diametrically opposed personalities in the world of fictional canines.

He posted his question: “How can someone leave his prior identity behind and become a totally new person?” He turned on the notification so as answers were posted to his question, he would receive a notification to return to the Kerberos chat room and read them.

Now all he could do was wait and hope that the right geniuses would answer.

“Are you fucking kidding me?” Slava Petrovich—or Slava the Slayer, as he was known for his cold and brutal executions—slammed down the newspaper clipping and rose menacingly from behind his desk. He was an odd contradiction—he looked like a cross between a bulldog and a prizefighter, yet he dressed in expensive Italian suits and had an office befitting the high-level business executive that he was—sometimes.

Now his voice—speaking entirely in Russian—reverberated around the room, and his eyes were blazing. “You killed the wrong goddamn woman.”

Alexei swallowed. “It looked just like her. She went to Apex, pulled all this shit, and copied it.” He gestured at the bag he’d dumped on Slava’s desk, with all the file pages and receipts that Julie had confiscated and photocopied.

“You fucking idiot, that wasn’t her,” Slava snapped. “That was the bitch who was staying with her, the one she got the job for. Julie Forman must have paid her to do her dirty work, so you assholes would follow her and blow her away. Which is exactly what you did. Now the useless whore is dead, and Julie Forman is God knows where. She ditched her apartment and took off.”

“If that’s true, we got the bag off of the dead woman before she could do anything with it,” Vitaliy said.

“Maybe that’s true. But we don’t know what proof she already got from that stupid little gymnast. Julie Forman is a potential loose end. Jim Robbins is a definite one. He’s a prison sentence—or worse—waiting to happen. And I’m the lucky one who has to deliver all this news and get my head handed to me.” He flung an arm toward the door. “Get the fuck out of my sight.”

Slava rubbed his temples as Dumb and Dumber left the room. He had a huge fucking migraine, and it was about to get worse.

Sliding open his drawer, he took out two aspirin and popped them into his mouth, washing them down with a shot of vodka.

He dreaded the phone call he was about to make. This would not go over well.

Like a prisoner being marched off to his execution, Slava picked up the phone and entered the number.

CHAPTER FOUR

Tribeca, New York

Offices of Forensic Instincts

Ryan was waiting for some online feedback on the team’s current case. The info would be coming soon, so there wasn’t enough time to tinker with his current robotic project. As a result, he took a quicker, alternative route to passing the time—he conducted his routine check-in on the few darknet chat rooms he frequented.

Kerberos was one of his favorites. It was interesting on many levels. Technically, he enjoyed the expert banter about Internet security. For pure entertainment value, he was always amazed by individuals trying to escape detection—everyone from cheating spouses to tax cheats screwing the US government to dirty business partners screwing each other. What he couldn’t stomach was the child predators posing as First Amendment advocates. He made sure to give them what appeared to be the right advice, except for the one or two “errors” that he knew law enforcement would be monitoring. A few months later, the avatar would grow silent. Other members would speculate, and Ryan would just grin at the thought of another scumbag in jail. Lady Justice could be a fickle mistress at times.

One new post caught his attention. Someone named ScoobyDoo was asking how to disappear. The brevity of the question was concerning. Usually, cheaters of one kind or another would pose hypothetical situations, such as: “My friend wants to keep an affair secret from his wife and has asked for my advice. What should I tell him?” But this post had none of that. Straight and to the point.

Ryan needed more information, but the code of conduct prohibited asking why. This needed finesse.

Ryan posted a simple response, using his own screen name, AdrenoJunkie: “To answer your question, I would need to know some specifics about your situation. How old are you? Are you disappearing alone or with others? How will you support your future lifestyle? In what country and type of community—urban/suburban/rural/remote—do you want to live? Are you willing to forgo all forms of communication with friends and family, as well as digital commerce using all forms of payment? There are more questions to be answered, but this will start a meaningful dialogue.”

Most people would give up right after reading his questions. They would realize what they’d have to leave behind and what they would have to give up in the future.

Ryan wondered whether ScoobyDoo would even respond.

Two hours later he had his answer.

And it rapidly triggered his own response.

Julie. Julie. Julie.

Lisa had drilled that name into her head every day of the past three weeks. She’d been called that by Milo to the point of Chinese torture, and she’d been addressed as that by every job applicant she’d interviewed. She’d literally and totally started thinking of herself that way.

Lisa was dead. Julie was alive and opening a new gym in Upper Montclair, New Jersey.

Lisa was now Julie. And the gym—
her
gym—now proudly called Excalibur—was just ten days away from its grand opening.

She’d always loved working out, running, and staying fit. Well, this was a big step beyond that. She’d learned a hell of a lot about her profession in the past few weeks. Her ACE exam was behind her, passed with flying colors. She was officially a certified personal trainer. Along with passing the ACE exam, she’d done a ton of hands-on work. She’d studied and become proficient at the machines, taken a half dozen workshops, and watched as many YouTube videos as she could find, along with exercise DVDs to familiarize herself with the latest moves. Most of all, she’d worked out nonstop, gaining stamina, muscle development, and core strength.

She might lack experience, but she’d made it her business to know her stuff.

In addition to that, she’d hired two highly qualified PTs to work with her clients. They’d both been recently unemployed, thanks to the economic climate. So they were grateful for the job offers and had come to her at reasonable rates. She was watching her budget carefully. As for the gym itself, she and Milo were prepping it for its grand opening, totally revamping and refreshing it for the big day.

Now, she stood in front of the floor-to-ceiling mirrors that lined the back wall of Excalibur and admired the results of the hard work that she and Milo had invested. Through the reflection of the mirrors, Julie could get a panoramic view of the entire gym—including the sprawling front desk, the spacious main workout room, the two smaller rooms in either corner, plus a third turf room off to the side.

She’d worked her ass off to make sure the gym was both male and female friendly. No estrogen overkill colors or bullshit smoothie bar. This was the real deal, with equipment, space, and instructors to satisfy everyone.

They’d paid a ton of money for the brand new rubber floor in the weight area, but it was worth every penny. Industrial strength, the floor was thick, tough, and texturized—the best there was. Situated on the heavy-duty floor were five adjustable benches, perfect for lifting weights, bench-pressing, and doing leg squats.

In the small turf room off the weight area were three TRX suspension systems. Julie was still reading up on all the core-building aspects of the TRX, but she couldn’t wait to try it.

The machine circuit was the nucleus of the gym. The previous owner had chosen Cybex machines to make sure her members were safe and able to get the most out of their workouts—shoulder flies, chin-ups, ab crunches, leg presses, triceps extensions, and bicep curls. That was a great plus for Julie.

She’d made sure all her bases were covered: ellipticals, treadmills, bicycles, stair climbers, and row trainers complete with flat-screen TVs, courtesy of Milo, to entertain the members. Spin bikes. A small, dedicated room for aerobics, yoga, and Pilates classes was equipped with blue, moveable mats, exercise balls of various sizes, resistance bands, yoga mats, step stools, and jump ropes.

The final section of the gym was dedicated to locker rooms for men and women, a vending machine with bottled water, Gatorade, and energy drinks, and Julie’s personal office—a private space she’d never dreamed of having but now did.

She took in the total effect and smiled.

Thanks to the previous owner and a ton of grunt work, Excalibur was now a cutting-edge gym. Julie was confident that her membership would soar as soon as she opened the doors.

And the cash would come rolling in.

Chicago, Illinois

Nineteenth Police District

Police Detective Frank Bogart was closing out his evening shift by plowing through his low-priority pile. He scanned the skinny file on top and swiveled around in his desk chair to face his partner.

“Hey, Paula.” He waved the file in the air. “Are we pursuing this or labeling it as closed?”

“What’s this?” Detective Paula Kline asked, barely looking up. She was preoccupied with moving in high gear, thanks to the not-happy phone call she’d just received from her husband, informing her of the now-burnt dinner he’d cooked for her. She was in deep shit.

“The murder of that woman Lisa Barnes.” Frank had opened the file and was skimming it. “Remember? We talked to Ethel Simmons, that elderly woman with the walker in the next building who heard the car and got a quick glimpse of the body. Because of her handicap, she didn’t wait around to see if anyone else showed up. She just shuffled as fast as she could over to her landline to call 911. So that’s it from her end. We’ve got nothing else—no witnesses, no motive other than pure speculation, no friends or family—zip. We’ve also got no time or resources. So do we close the case?”

“Yeah, I guess.” Paula leaned back in her chair and crossed her arms over her breasts. “Although it still niggles at me that the woman she was staying with…” She paused, searching for the name.

“Julie Forman,” Frank supplied.

“Right. That Julie Forman disappeared into thin air right after the murder.”

“She was scared shitless, according to the emails she sent to her employers.”

“Don’t blame her. But the story she gave her landlord was that she got a better job elsewhere and had to take off ASAP.”

“Okay, so she made that up. Any way you slice it, it sounds like a woman who was taking off out of fear.” A pause. “Unless you think she’s the killer?”

“Honestly? I don’t know what to think. I think it would be really stupid for Julie Forman to kill a woman in cold blood right outside her house—especially since that woman was her boarder. And nothing we’ve heard about Julie indicates she’s stupid. So my gut instinct is to say no, she didn’t kill her. But that doesn’t mean she didn’t catch a glimpse of the real killer. Or that she doesn’t know something.”

“You’re right.” Frank grew thoughtful. “Problem is, we really don’t have the financial resources to launch a full-scale investigation. And we don’t have a clue where Julie Forman is. That having been said, do you think we should call in the homicide detectives at Area North and try to track her down?”

Paula blew out a breath. “I think that’s too over-the-top. I think we should just keep the case open a little while longer. Let’s see if we can find Julie Forman with a minimal amount of digging. If we do, we’ll run a few questions by her. If those come up empty, I’ll be comfortable closing the case.”

“Sounds like a plan.”

Tribeca, New York

Forensic Instincts

Ryan’s back-and-forth communications with ScoobyDoo told him that, for whatever reasons, the guy was in deep shit. Either he desperately needed Forensic Instincts’ help or he deserved their intervention to bring him down. He’d never agree to a face-to-face meeting. Ryan would have to surprise him. But in order to do that, he would need to know exactly where ScoobyDoo was hiding. Ryan’s instincts told him the guy had serious tech skills, but Ryan operated at a much higher level of expertise. To be able to triangulate an IP address, which would tell Ryan approximately where his target was physically located, he would need to set a series of well-hidden traps that he hoped ScoobyDoo would miss, so as to allow Ryan to figure out the information he needed. It would only be a matter of time.

Not willing to waste that time, Ryan proceeded to gather as much data on ScoobyDoo as possible—data that extended beyond their chat room interactions re vanishing into thin air. In Ryan’s experience, those who frequented the darknet usually posted other offerings via their screen names—a manifesto, a game, fervent opinions on a chosen topic.

Ryan’s next round of digging commenced.

What he came up with was fascinating.

ScoobyDoo had posted some kind of first-person survival game, called
The House
. There was no introduction, so Ryan pushed forward, bringing up the first level: Level One—Mrs. Higgins.

His gamer instinct told him that the specificity of giving the level a person’s name was significant. So he took a screenshot just before a cutscene activated.

The scene revealed that the protagonist was a young boy being driven to a house. The boy got out of the car and walked up the steps to the front doors, opening them and walking inside.

As the scene finished, the doors to the formidable house closed behind him. An equally formidable woman, presumably Mrs. Higgins, locked those doors and walked upstairs with the key, threatening severe consequences for misbehaving...and worse for trying to find the key. It seemed the point of this game was to escape the house and avoid punishment.

Ryan rolled his eyes. This was a typical point-and-click survival adventure with no real threat and little challenge. It was like playing with a preschool block set—not worth this adrenaline-junkie’s time. But, hey, Ryan was trying to track down leads about this ScoobyDoo, so he followed the simplistic game along anyway.

Since this character was a young boy, Ryan figured he should move him to the kitchen for a snack. The boy reached into the fridge, grabbed a PB and J sandwich, and swallowed it whole. As soon as he swallowed, a health meter popped up in the top left-hand corner of the screen.

That’s weird,
Ryan thought to himself.
What’s the purpose of the health meter? Those don’t exist in typical point-and-click adventure games.

His curiosity aroused, Ryan checked out the floor plan, now visible as a tiny thumbnail icon in the upper right-hand corner. There was a tiny green dot to indicate where he was located. Gamer instinct told Ryan he should explore the downstairs before going up. He walked into the living room, right off the kitchen. Excellent, a TV. This could be useful. He switched the TV on, turning up the volume. Suddenly, the map icon started flashing, a moving red dot appeared, and there was the sound of thundering footsteps. Once again, gamer instinct told Ryan that an enemy was headed his way, but he didn’t yet know who or why. Two seconds later, Mrs. Higgins appeared, face red and eyes flashing. A dialog box popped up, saying:
Turn off the goddamned TV! It’s too loud. It’s giving me a migraine. You know I hate it when you do bad things like this!

In a split second, before Ryan could even process what was happening, the woman smacked his character across the face with a closed fist. The boy’s health meter dropped to seventy-five percent. The bitchy woman kept screaming, threatening to hit the kid again if he didn’t turn off the TV. So Ryan had him turn off the TV and scramble away, hiding behind a couch.

A cutscene now revealed Mrs. Higgins storming off to the kitchen. Ryan heard the sound of ice in a glass, followed by the distinctive splash of liquor. Then more footsteps leading upstairs, and a slamming door.

BOOK: The Murder That Never Was: A Forensic Instincts Novel
8.98Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

Other books

Ten by Gretchen McNeil
Gift From The Stars by Gunn, James
Choose Yourself! by Altucher, James
Call Me Cat by Karpov Kinrade
Mayhem by Sarah Pinborough
Skin Game: A Memoir by Caroline Kettlewell
One Endless Hour by Dan J. Marlowe