Did You Miss Me?
Tuesday, December 3, 9:55 a.m.
The kid’s hood was ice-cold. FBI Special Agent Joseph Carter lifted his hand from Ford Elkhart’s Chevy Suburban, flexing his fingers to shake off the chill. The thin latex gloves he wore were no protection against the frigid wind, but he’d left his leather gloves at home. At least the latex kept him from contaminating what might be a crime scene.
Might be, but probably was not. Ford’s boss was already convinced that something dire had happened to the boy, but Joseph considered it far more likely that the twenty-year-old college kid had gone home with his girlfriend last night for wild monkey sex.
However, Ford’s boss was Joseph’s father, so Joseph figured he could spare an hour to check on the kid, just to put his dad’s mind at ease.
And, Joseph would admit to himself alone, his own mind. Because even though he mostly believed that Ford and his girlfriend were doing the horizontal tango in a nice warm bed, the uncertainty would nag at him until he knew for sure. Because Ford struck him as a little too soberly reliable to simply not show up to work without a phone call.
And if something dire had happened, the boy’s mother would be devastated.
A woman like Ford’s mother did not deserve to be devastated. A single mom, she’d raised her son while earning her law degree and now successfully juggled her job as a prosecutor with an impressive list of charitable activities. She was colorfully bold, warmly brash. Smart as hell.
And, of course, there were those legs of hers. Joseph let out a harsh breath that hung in the cold air, remembering his first look at Assistant State’s Attorney Daphne Montgomery, more than nine months before.
No, he couldn’t forget about those legs. He hadn’t been able to forget about her at all. He’d tried.
Many, many times. But she was taken. Because I waited too long.
Making sure that her son was unharmed was the least he could do for her. Hell, it was the only thing he could do for her. Because he’d waited too long and now another man got to see her legs up close . . . and the rest of her, too.
His phone buzzed in his pocket and he grabbed at it, happy for anything that would distract him from the direction his mind had taken. The caller ID was no surprise. That his father had waited this long before calling for an update was unusual.
The CEO of an electronics firm that had its fingers in everything from guidance systems to prosthetic implants, Jack Carter gave definition to the term “multitasking.” The term “waiting,” however, wasn’t high on his vocabulary list.
“Well?” his father demanded. “Did you find him?”
“Found his Suburban,” Joseph said. “About a block from Penn Station.”
“Why was he at the train station? His buddy said he posted on Facebook that he took his girlfriend to a movie for her French class.”
“Only two theaters in town are showing French films, one near the station. I searched until I found his SUV. Appears to have been here all night.”
“That’s a dangerous part of town.”
“It’s not bad during the day.” Joseph watched a homeless man shuffle into an alley, a bag slung over his back. Probably all he owned in the world. “At night it can get dicey.”
“That’s why Ford went. So that Kimberly wouldn’t be out alone after dark.”
“I take it that you haven’t heard from him.”
“No, but I did just get a call from Andrew, the other student intern who Ford was supposed to drive to work this morning. Andrew called Kimberly’s dorm and she’s not there either. Her roommate said she never came back last night.”
Some people might think it odd that a CEO would take such an interest in the business of a college intern. Those people hadn’t met his dad. Carter Industries was a giant in the manufacturing world, but Jack Carter was a scientist at heart and research was his life’s blood. Interns generated a lot of new ideas and his father made it a point to listen to each one. That he’d know Ford Elkhart by name was to be expected.
That he’d care so much about the kid’s safety . . . well, that was his dad. That there was a family connection hadn’t hurt. Joseph’s adopted brother, Grayson, was Daphne’s boss and her friend. That made Daphne and her son like family.
That Ford shared Jack’s interest in research had sealed the deal. Jack loved his four children unconditionally, but none of them had any interest in the family business.
Joseph’s oldest sister, Lisa, ran a catering company with her husband. His middle sister, Zoe, was a police psychologist, and his youngest sister, Holly . . . well, Holly worked for Lisa. An adult with Down syndrome, Holly grew more independent with every year that passed, but she would never take the reins of Carter Industries.
Joseph was probably his father’s biggest disappointment. He’d actually earned a degree in electrical engineering, only to join the FBI. His passion had never been wires and widgets. But Ford’s was, and his dad had become fond of the kid.
“They probably checked into a hotel,” Joseph said. “They’re twenty-year-olds and he’s rich. Maybe the movie gave them ideas they wanted privacy to try.”
“No, Ford’s been signed up to use one of the new robotic devices and this morning was his turn in the lab. It’s all he could talk about. Something’s not right here. I feel it.”
Joseph felt it too, that buzzing on the back of his neck that signaled trouble. “Has anyone contacted the parents of either kid? Maybe they went home.”
“I’ve tried to call Daphne, but it goes to her voice mail. I don’t have numbers for Kim’s parents, but Andrew said they lived near Philly.”
“I’ll contact the university for the girl’s parents’ info. Ford’s mother is with the state’s attorney’s office, right?” Joseph asked, as if he didn’t know exactly where she worked.
His father took a moment before answering. “Yes, Joseph,” he said in a way that let Joseph know his coy move hadn’t fooled the old man. I never could.
“I’ll call Grayson.” It was through one of his brother’s court cases that Joseph had met Daphne in the first place. “He’ll track her down.”
“I already called Grayson, and got his voice mail, too. Seems they’re both in court. It’s that big trial that’s been in the news.”
“The Millhouse boy,” Joseph said flatly. He’d been following the case, Daphne’s first big solo trial since she’d been promoted to Grayson’s old job. Reggie Millhouse, a high school senior, was accused of murdering a middle-aged married couple whose Mercedes had broken down on the side of a lonely road.
The case was top of the news because the married couple was black—and Reggie had ties to a local white supremacist group.
“The news said that the jury’s reached a verdict,” his father said. “City’s gonna pop.” Because the evidence was mostly circumstantial and tempers raged on both sides.
Whichever way the jury decided, there would be an outcry. Outside the courthouse was not the safest place to be today.
Inevitably, that’s where the protesters would gather.
If Daphne’s son had disappeared on the eve of an important verdict . . .
“You’re quiet,” his father murmured. “Are you thinking what I’m thinking?”
“It could be coincidence.” Joseph prayed it was. “I’ll head over there, wait for his mother and Grayson to come out of court.” He started walking to his Escalade. “Let’s not borrow trouble until we know for sure that the kids are really missing.”
“That’s wise. I have Kim’s car’s make and license plate. She visited Ford here at the office for lunch a few times, so it was on file at the guard shack. Her full name is Kimberly MacGregor and she drives a ten-year-old Toyota Corolla. Blue.”
“Fine. I’ll call you if . . . Wait.” Joseph turned, looking back to the five cars parked between Ford’s SUV and the alley into which the homeless man had gone a few minutes before. Joseph started to run, abruptly stopping at the last vehicle in line.
“What is it?” his father demanded. “Joseph?”
Joseph stared at the blue Corolla. There was a dark brown smear on the passenger-door handle.
Dried blood. Heart sinking, he crouched by the door, where he saw two more smears, hand-shaped, woman-sized.
“Read me the license plate number.” His father did and it was a match. “I found the girl’s car.” The blood he’d keep from his father, for now. “I’ll call you when I know—” A shrill scream from within the alley cut him off.
“What was that? Joseph, answer—”
Joseph ran to the alley entrance. The homeless man was running in the opposite direction, hands empty. Something had scared him so badly that he’d dropped his sack.