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

Authors: Andrea Kane

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The Murder That Never Was: A Forensic Instincts Novel (8 page)

BOOK: The Murder That Never Was: A Forensic Instincts Novel
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CHAPTER EIGHT

Upper Montclair, New Jersey

The gym looked spectacular—helium balloons and streamers placed in strategic positions in the main room, hors d’oeuvres being passed around to the crowd of people coming in, a rented smoothie bar whose server was preparing free all-natural drinks for the occasion, and a huge
Grand Opening
sign hanging right outside the door. All this had cost Julie and Milo a pretty penny, but it would be worth it. One thing they’d learned: If you acted like you were rich, people bought into the idea that you were rich.

The local media was there, too, taking pictures of Excalibur, chatting with Julie and her staff, and typing into their iPads about the excitement of a new, upscale gym in town. It wouldn’t exactly make national headlines, but it would be well-received by the residents of Upper Montclair.

The day was everything Julie could have dreamed of and more. She was a little uneasy about the audio file Shannon had sent her. But, as Milo had pointed out, it did nothing but confirm what he’d already dug up—that Jim Robbins was a scumbag who was handing out PEDs and probably working for someone to do it. Milo and Julie would continue to keep the door open between Julie and Shannon, just to keep tabs on the situation. But, so far, they were all right.

And Julie wasn’t letting anything detract from this big day.

Her phone buzzed, and she glanced down at the screen.

Having fun, superstar
? the text read.

Julie smiled. Milo might be stashed away at the apartment, maintaining his usual solitude, but he was by her side in spirit.

You know very well how awesome everything here is,
she typed back.
You’re watching this on your computer
.

Busted
, he admitted.

Julie’s smile widened. Milo had done so much for her. He was every bit as much a part of this day as she was.

Why don’t you come over?
she texted.

The reply was typical Milo.
I will…when the crowds die down. In the meantime, enjoy.

I will.

Julie slipped her iPhone back into the pocket of her designer jeans. The trendy jeans, combined with her embroidered silk blouse, completed the look of an understated but successful businesswoman. She was a hit, and so was Excalibur. Clients were signing up at the front desk—both for trial sessions and for full memberships. Every time she saw a signature added, Julie’s mind said ka-ching. She and Milo were going to make a shitload of money from this venture. And she was going to enjoy her work in the process.

The next step was getting that puppy she’d always wanted. He’d belong to her, raising her count of true, loving friends to two.

Between Milo, the pup, the apartment, and Excalibur, maybe, for the first time, this Julie Forman would have a real home.

Tribeca, New York

Offices of Forensic Instincts

Ryan had been closeted in his lair for endless hours. Emma had been through a lot as a child, and if Ryan could help her find peace about why someone had killed Lisa, then so be it. Hacking into some state agency was no big deal. At the Linux bash shell prompt, Ryan typed in deminotaur www.state.il.us/dcfs.

Deminotaur was the name of the custom script he had written to unravel the layers of security between him and the prize. Minotaur referred to the infamous maze and monster from Greek mythology. The URL belonged to the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services.

Ryan sat back and waited as the hacking script performed its magic. In a matter of minutes, the outer firewall was penetrated. The next phase could take hours or days. Ryan hoped for the former as he initiated the second part of Deminotaur.

Eight hours later, Ryan had secured access to the IDCFS. He delved into the IDCFS’s database of closed cases. It was tedious work, but he managed to finally dig up “Lisa Barnes,” the name that was pinned to her basket when her birth mother dumped her on the steps of the Chicago church. From there he switched screens and obtained Lisa’s social security number via the Cook County Medical Examiner’s Office.

He pulled up Lisa’s foster care records.

Emma wasn’t wrong to feel for this girl. She’d lived one shitty life. After the church did its initial job of placing her, she’d been bounced in and out of foster care homes all her life. At eighteen, she’d taken off after having done some drug running that Ryan doubted she truly understood or recognized the full scope of or the danger it put her in.

He went for the iffiest part first—the part that could, most likely, have gotten her killed. Drug running, no matter how naïve the runner was, could be a small, bullshit operation, or it could be part of something bigger.

After poring over the info, Ryan was convinced that, in Lisa’s case, it was the latter. The drugs she was delivering were part of a stash run by a huge Mexican drug cartel. If they suspected she knew anything more than a dumb street runner should, they’d take her out in a heartbeat.

Ryan would have to piece together the dozen years in between her drug involvement and when she was killed, figure out why the cartel would suddenly place Lisa on their radar after this long passage of time. Had she been into other serious shit for them in between then and now? Had she accidentally dug up something or seen someone she recognized from the past?

Force of habit made him delve deeper into Lisa’s specific foster care family placements. Get a feel for the person’s roots. Was she kicked out of these places for a reason? Were those reasons because the family she was living with simply couldn’t care for her anymore? Or was she a huge problem—one they were eager to get rid of? Were her overall experiences good or bad, and how did they shape who she’d become? Could anyone—kid or adult—whom she’d lived with have started her on the path to drugs, either using or selling?

If emotional analysis was needed, he’d call on Claire-voyant. He grinned, as always, thinking about the jab of a nickname he’d come up with for Claire, and about how much she did
not
like it. But watching her get all pissed off was just too much fun to avoid.

His concentration returning to the task at hand, Ryan read through Lisa’s case file history, covering the ten foster homes she’d lived in. There was a consistent theme: Difficult to discipline and a blatant disregarder of rules. Your basic brat.

Various transgressions spanning the eighteen years of foster care. Starting with little girl antics: Painted the living room walls piss yellow. Dumped the cat litter box all over the living room. Poured Jell-O in foster mother’s jewelry box. Overturned potted plants and taught the dogs to pee in the resulting dirt. Removed dirty dishes from the dishwasher and put them on the kitchen shelves. Put a garden snake in the master bedroom bed as a greeting to her foster parents.

Ryan choked back laughter. Creative little tyrant, wasn’t she?

Fast-forward to Lisa’s glorious teenage years. Thirteen years old: smoked cartons of her foster parents’ cigarettes and passed them around to the other kids on a regular basis, one time resulting in a basement fire—and in her being expelled from that home. But not before the foster parents had pressed charges for the considerable damage that had been done.

Checking out those charges, Ryan made a side-trip to the Archives of the Clerk of the Circuit Court of Cook County and did the necessary hacking. Finally finding what he needed, he opened Lisa’s sealed file. Yup. That’s what her juvie record was for. Not for the drug running, which clearly no one was aware of, but for property damage. It was obviously just an angry, punitive act on the part of the foster parents, since Lisa didn’t have a penny to compensate the couple for their property loss.

Ryan rolled his eyes and went back to his original research of Lisa’s foster homes.

Next house. Fourteen years old: Lisa stole the keys to the family car and drove around the neighborhood. Fifteen years old: caught trying to hook up with a new foster kid the first night he’d moved in—a new kid who was described as being sixteen and mature, which meant hot and experienced.

And the list went on and on.

One interesting data point jumped out at Ryan. Seemed that Lisa had a tight childhood-to-adulthood friendship with another foster kid. Miles Parker. The two of them tried staying together throughout the transfers. Obviously, they were pretty successful, given that they were both fostered by eight of the ten houses Lisa had lived in.

Ryan would have to hack into Miles Parker’s file next.

But before that came a background check on all the foster parents. Ryan called up the names, ready to begin. The data came up on the screen, and Ryan did a double take.

Higgins. Kaminski. Gillman. Korman. Bridges. Todd. Flanders. Wilkins.

Just to be a hundred percent sure, Ryan checked out all the screenshots he’d taken of ScoobyDoo’s survival game.

The only names missing were Engels and Hilltop. Add those two and you’d have every psycho-villain in there.

“Holy shit.” Ryan’s hand was already moving his mouse around.

“Is there a problem, Ryan?” Yoda inquired.

“Not a problem. A crossover between two of my projects. One that really shocked the hell out of me. I’ve got to hack into a file. Now.”

He did that in record time.

Miles Parker’s file confirmed what Ryan already knew. The guy had been a foster child. There was a list of his foster parents’ names. The other two that Ryan was looking for sprang out at him—Engels and Hilltop. Those, plus the eight in Lisa’s file, confirmed the obvious.

Miles Parker was ScoobyDoo. The only unanswered question was why ScoobyDoo wanted to disappear. Was it because he had killed Lisa or was it because whoever had killed Lisa was coming after him next? There was only one way to find out. He had to find Miles.

Ryan still needed more information to go on.

With that in mind, he hacked into the Chicago Police Department’s Nineteenth District’s files to get the full lowdown on Lisa Barnes’ murder. He skimmed through the closed cases. Nothing. Puzzled, he moved on to the open ones.

His brows rose when he discovered that Lisa’s case was still open, although the file was a skinny two-page folder. It contained the same obit and article that Ryan already had, plus the police report stating the date, time, and cause of death. It mentioned Ethel Simmons, the elderly woman who’d heard a car screech off, looked out the window and saw the body and the blood, and called the police. It also mentioned Julie Forman, who Lisa had been staying with for the past week.

Evidently, Julie Forman was the reason the case was being kept open. Seemed she’d packed up, quit her jobs, and taken off right after the murder. The reason she’d given her employers and landlord was that she was too freaked out to continue living in a place where a guest in her home had been killed right outside the front door. She’d even gone so far as to tell the landlord he could sell whatever of hers he wanted to. She just wanted out. She’d never even talked to the police—she was gone by the time they’d tried to contact her.

We’re talking one extreme reaction,
Ryan thought.
Not only that, but it all happened at the exact same time that ScoobyDoo was desperate to disappear, as well.

That was two too many coincidences for Ryan.

Somehow either one or both of them had been involved in Lisa’s death—either directly or indirectly.

He’d go back to Miles Parker’s foster care files now, see if he had any violent tendencies. But, after that, Ryan had one goal in mind.

He had to find not only Miles Parker but Julie Forman.

CHAPTER NINE

Dr. Maxim Lubinov’s Vermont estate was large yet incredibly well hidden.

Located high in the Green Mountains of Burlington, Vermont, it covered twenty-five vast private acres. The manor itself was set far, far back from the country road, swallowed up by thick-treed terrain, where no passerby could see it.

Exactly how Max wanted it.

He’d spared no expense in the building and decorating of the manor itself, specifically because he’d be the main occupant enjoying it. Oh, there were many others living on the premises—everyone from Dmitry to his medical staff to his technicians. But they were there at his bidding and could be dismissed at any time he chose.

Max’s living and sleeping quarters were appointed with oriental rugs, exquisite upholsteries, and polished teak furniture. The furnishings originated in the Far East, Scandinavia, and Europe, particularly Paris—a myriad of differing cultures and manufacturers, producing a combination of contrasting colors and styles that somehow worked when they were integrated. The vaulted ceilings were so high that they gave the impression the place was a castle. And the panoramic view of the exquisite Green Mountains was visible from every corner of the house, along with the beauty of Lake Champlain at its feet.

In addition, Max had had an entire extension wing built for the cerebral testing center and the high-tech workout rooms that were trials for his research, and which were always in use. Trainers, doctors, psychologists—his entire staff was usually on duty and
always
on call. The well-oiled machine needed little supervision, but Max was in every room every day to get updates.

Still, none of that was the heart and soul of Max’s work. That jewel was located behind the house, where he spent most of his time and where he was headed now.

He strode through the house, glancing at his watch as he did. Slava had called in an hour ago to report their location. In forty more minutes, Jim Robbins would arrive, escorted by Slava, Alexei, and Vitaliy. That moron Robbins thought he was being invited to the home of his never-before-met brilliant employer for social niceties. He had no idea that he was being invited to his own execution.

He’d find out soon enough.

Grabbing a jacket from the coat closet as he walked by, Max left the manor through the rear patio doors. He headed directly to the barn complex, which had been built by the finest craftsmen—with the tightest lips—to his specifications.

Situated five hundred feet from the rear of the manor itself, it was a master architectural achievement and an equally master camouflage.

The exterior looked like a series of beautiful stone and heavy wood-beam buildings, ostensibly part offices, part stables, part veterinary clinic, and part garage. But appearances were deceiving. The complex appeared to be just like any other stables that a rich man would have on his estate. But hidden inside, where prying eyes couldn’t see, were extensive medical and laboratory facilities, where Max’s genius was coming to life.

In this annex was his life’s work. His gateway to the future.

He punched the key code into the Hirsch pad and stepped inside.

It was like a busy ant colony before him. His technicians were moving quickly about a room that was lined with metal chemical storage cabinets and complete with the highest-tech equipment possible. The desks and counters were filled with scientific equipment, including two Leitz microscopes, microscope slides and slide covers to prepare biological samples, Bunsen burners to heat material as necessary, three deep sinks, ethanol and distilled water stations for sample prep, and a plethora of flasks, beakers, pipettes, and test tubes, along with tweezers soaking in alcohol.

The techs were dropping stains—grams and methyl blue—on tissue samples to enhance the contrast of certain cell structures.

This facility was the central nervous system of his whole operation. This was where the medications were manufactured that enhanced the human mind and the human body of those worthy individuals who qualified for his program.

He’d recently told Dmitry that just a five percent increase in cell energy production would transform a top athlete with superior brainpower into a record-setting Olympian and genius. And he was right. They were just on the threshold of a breakthrough. Max had consistently achieved a four percent increase in energy output and mental capabilities of the physical and mental prodigies under his training regimen. Five percent was imminent. Max was confident. Which was why he wouldn’t tolerate a single blip—not from anyone. And certainly not from a destructive moron like Jim Robbins, who’d tainted Max’s entire process.

The situation with Shannon Barker had not been an unfortunate accident. It was the result of his underling’s ill-qualified attempt to accelerate what wasn’t meant to be accelerated. Before that, Shannon had been blossoming into a warrior, ready to take on the Olympic challenge and walk away with the gold. Not to mention her grades were greatly improving, despite her rigorous training schedule, and much to the surprise and pleasure of her parents and trainer. Her diminished health, which had annihilated any future Max could have assured her, was a tragedy that never should have occurred.

And now she was on the warpath. She should be. But that didn’t change the fact that Max couldn’t allow her to prove anything more than an annoying gnat. If she went too far, she’d have to be swatted away.

But Shannon wasn’t Max’s immediate threat. That honor belonged to the son of a bitch who’d done this to her: Jim Robbins.

Well, Max would be rid of him tonight.

Putting that thought aside, Max walked through his biochemical facility, peering over shoulders, studying his techs’ progress. He’d handpicked each of them. They were all at the top of their classes at the University of Vermont Medical School. They’d all signed contracts with stringent confidentiality clauses. And they all had a pretty good idea that a mere lawsuit wasn’t the punishment for breaking their contracts.

Now, they all felt Max’s presence behind them. They were nervous as hell when he inspected their work, but that only made them try harder, work longer and more productively.

Max glanced to his right. A long aisle down from the biochemical stations were the actual stables themselves. Max owned three exquisite horses—two mares and a stallion—all of which were the initial candidates for his research. At the moment, two of his most trusted and noted veterinarians were in the stalls, monitoring the horses’ vitals after an early-evening workout. One of the vets glanced up and, spying Max, gave a pleased nod about what he was finding. Max nodded back. Lab work had been done earlier today, and the results had been excellent. In addition, the horses’ speed and pacing during the races held on Max’s private track showed increased energy and stamina, and their mental acuity showed just how much their intelligence had been enhanced.

Thanks to Max’s work, these horses could win the Triple Crown.

Satisfied, he left the barn complex and headed back to the manor. He had just enough time to change before dinner.

Seated in the backseat of the limo, Jim Robbins was both excited and nervous. As directed, he’d arranged to take off three days from work. That meant his trip would be a busy one, and big business would be discussed—business that could propel his career forward big-time.

The drive from Chicago had been endless—almost fifteen hours, heading east. But it was worth it. He’d been waiting for this invitation for ages. And after all his successes with top athletes, he believed he’d earned it.

Meeting Dr. Lubinov was an honor.

He leaned back in the luxurious leather vehicle, comfortable despite being blindfolded. The two Russian employees of Dr. Lubinov who were driving him had waited until the last leg of the trip to put the blindfold in place. Jim hadn’t been surprised. He’d heard that everyone who visited the estate was subject to the same procedure. Dr. Lubinov valued his privacy. He had no intention of allowing people to know where he lived or where he worked. And he wasn’t about to make an exception with Jim. No problem. Jim got that.

But a toast to his numerous successes wasn’t the only purpose of this meeting. Jim would have to be an idiot to think otherwise. And, dear God, he’d have to tread carefully.

With a hard swallow, he mentally walked through the dark side of what to expect. He’d be sternly reamed out for what happened to Shannon Barker. That was a given. But Lubinov didn’t know the whole truth, and Jim could never let him find out. Not if he wanted to live.

The truth was that he’d taken it upon himself to increase Shannon’s PED dosage over the past several weeks, just to get her to that about-to-be-attainable next level of achievement. He’d stockpiled just enough pills to get her through a month. Yeah, his plan had backfired big-time. But he’d covered his tracks well, so no one was privy to any of this. Consequently, the task at hand would be to attribute what had happened to a one-time fluke occurrence, probably based on Shannon’s body chemistry and perhaps Yuri pushing her too hard.

Jim would keep the subject on his many success stories and suck up whatever mental beating he had to. He’d shift the focus from himself to Shannon, elaborating on the trouble she’d been causing since her accident, and expressing concern that she was a threat to their entire project.

It wasn’t all that off-base. Since Shannon’s medical condition had been diagnosed, Jim had been browbeaten numerous times by Yuri and by Shannon’s parents. They weren’t about to let this drop. Then Shannon had confronted him herself. The little brat had actually come at him like a clawing cat, spewing all kinds of accusations. He’d leave out the part about smacking her. He should have controlled his reaction better. But none of that mattered, since no one had been around to witness it. Jim would simply lay out the facts to Dr. Lubinov. He was confident that his boss would have his associates pay Shannon a little visit—to do what, Jim didn’t want to know. But the problem would be solved, in whatever way Dr. Lubinov deemed necessary.

The ride became bumpy, and Jim could feel the sharp incline the limo was now traveling. He straightened in his seat.

They were on a mountainous path. That was new. And that had to mean they were almost there.

Jim couldn’t wait.

BOOK: The Murder That Never Was: A Forensic Instincts Novel
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