Homicide detectives Ellie MacIntoch and Jason Santiago are called to the bloody scene of an obvious murder, but have a problem—there's no body, only a missing teenage girl, and no leads as to where she may have been taken. Their joy when the missing girl is found alive quickly turns to something else as her web of lies begins to unravel, and the killer they were hunting might just be the victim.
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About the Author
Kate Watterson grew up on a steady diet of mystery/suspense novels. If it involves murder and intrigue, she is bound to be hooked. Kate also writes award-winning historical novels as Emma Wildes. She lives in rural Indiana with her husband, three children, and a temperamental cat named Poot. She is the author of Frozen, Charred and Buried.
Read an Excerpt
By Kate Watterson
Tom Doherty AssociatesCopyright © 2015 Katherine Smith
All rights reserved.
The waiting room was full. Detective Jason Santiago idly leafed through an old issue of Sports Illustrated and pondered how inaccurate they'd been about the play-offs this year. He'd done a better job than the sports commentators at predicting what teams would make it. It went without saying he was a stalwart Green Bay Packers fan, but this hadn't been their season. Maybe next year ...
He glanced up. A gangly kid of about fourteen, maybe fifteen, had come in about five minutes ago with someone who, from the resemblance, was probably his older brother, and taken the next chair. Jason had caught some sidelong looks, but done his best to ignore them. He lifted his brows. "Yes?"
"You're him, aren't you? The cell phone guy. From TV."
That damned commercial. He'd only done it because the governor had specifically asked him to represent his campaign against using cell phones while driving or at other inappropriate times. It wasn't against the law ... yet, but the governor was still pushing it. Jason had been nervous as hell during the filming, but surprisingly it had turned out pretty well. One of the reasons he'd been chosen was he didn't really look like the average police officer, more like someone who should be carrying a surfboard along a sunny beach somewhere. The slogan was: You never know who might be watching you.
"Yep," he admitted. "That's me."
The boy turned to his brother. "Told you."
But Jason wasn't off the hook so easily. The kid turned back. "We're here for sports physicals. Track and field coming up. You?"
Well, that was kind of personal. What if he had an STD or erectile dysfunction? He didn't have either one, still it was tempting say something like that as a joke, but the kid seemed nice enough. "I'm just waiting on my partner."
His older brother nudged the kid. "Leave the guy alone, okay."
Jason had to laugh when he realized how that had been interpreted. "Not that kind of partner. If you listened to the commercial, then you know I'm a homicide detective. My partner was injured in the line of duty. She's getting an X-ray to get approval for active duty again."
Ever since the question about the commercial, everyone in the room was listening anyway. Jason shrugged. "We were trying to apprehend a serial killer, and she was almost hit by a car after she shot out the back window. She broke her wrist and her ankle jumping out of the way."
"Seriously?" The kid looked impressed. "That's cool. Where were you?"
And it hadn't been cool at all. That was an event he'd rather not relive. Jason said dryly, "In the car. I was stabbed twice before I finally managed to open the door and pretty much fall out."
By now his audience was riveted, and he would have found it amusing if his story wasn't 100 percent true. Maybe truth was stranger than fiction.
"Did you get him?" The kid's blue eyes were wide.
"The killer? Not that night, but eventually."
"You ever been shot?"
He'd already anticipated that question the way the conversation was going. "Three times. I don't recommend the experience. Besides, most officers are not shot or stabbed or have their legs broken their entire career. We've been a little unlucky."
Ellie chose that moment to come out into the waiting area, walking normally without a cast, boot, or crutches for the first time in six weeks. She looked feminine and delicate in a knee-length black skirt and a long gray sweater over a pink blouse, her blond hair in the usual shining fall. She said briskly, "All clear, so let's go. I'm driving, by the way."
At that moment she seemed to realize she was the center of attention and sent him a sharp look of inquiry.
He set aside the magazine he was still holding. "Sure." He turned to the kid. "Hey, nice to meet you."
"That's your partner? Dude. Way to go."
"I know, right?" Jason winked at him as he followed her out the door, everyone staring at them. Maybe it would have been better if he'd been assigned someone of a different gender or someone who wasn't so attractive.
Or maybe not. The jury was still out on that as far as he was concerned.
When they were in the generic-looking hallway of the medical building, Ellie muttered, "What was that all about?"
"That fucking commercial."
"Oh." She didn't look entirely convinced. "It felt like they were looking at me."
"They might have been. Geez, a teenaged male or two thought you were hot. Haven't you ever heard of the older woman thing?"
"Santiago, shut up and give me your keys."
He took them out of his pocket. "You do realize you're bossy as shit."
"I realize you know I haven't driven in six weeks and how helpless that makes a person feel. You've been there."
He had. The day he was last medically cleared for regular duty was a memorable moment in his life. "If you remember, I was shot while still on leave from being shot." He said it lightly, but it was the gritty truth. "I've been there."
"This going to kind of come out of blue, but I found your mother."
Of all the things he ever expected her to say to him, that was the last thing he expected to hear.
Incredulous, the keys dangling from his fingers, he said stupidly, "What?"
She took the keys. "I found your mother. I didn't know if you wanted to see her or not, but I found her."
His mother? Who had left when he was five? It was an untold story; he probably needed to know why one day, but wasn't positive he was ready even thirty years later.
Her hazel eyes were very direct when she finally glanced at him, but they usually were.
"You need some sort of closure you don't have. If you choose to not take it, that's up to you."
It was both annoying and touching. Their relationship seemed to work that way. As they waited for the elevator, he actually contemplated what to say next. His response was usually just shot from the hip and he'd learned the hard way that that reaction was not always the best idea. He had no idea how to feel about this. Finally, he said, "How?"
She gave him a level look. "How did I find her? Are you questioning my skills as a detective?"
No, he wasn't. Recently she'd solved a hit-and-run cold case that had been in limbo for two decades. She was smart as hell.
He said carefully, "I'm iffy on your motivation."
"For one thing, I was pretty bored sitting at a desk all day."
"And being bored made you think of my personal life? I've never been so flattered."
She ignored that comment, but she had made it an art form to get past his sometimes questionable sense of humor. "You never tried to find her, did you? Why not?"
He hadn't. "Look, I already have a shrink."
She agreed. "I know Dr. Lukens, remember? If she shoots someone else, you might need to look for a different one. Come on, Jason, don't you want to know where your mother went, not to mention why she left?"
The elevator doors opened. He said in exasperation, "She left because my old man was an asshole. I get it. I lived with him for the next thirteen years."
Ellie shook her head. "Not the whole story. After what I found I don't buy it."
Well, shit, he thought and followed her out into the parking lot.
* * *
It was a hard call. That was for sure.
She'd debated all morning how to bring up the subject of his past to her partner. Finally she'd just stated it plainly because that was more her style, and it also suited Jason Santiago much better. There was not a subtle bone in his body. His style reflected his personality in general. Jeans, plain shirts, the most simple tie possible when it was required. He carried it off pretty well for all that. Some men were not meant to wear business suits. There were handsome men who belonged on the covers of magazines, and then there were men who managed to be attractive despite their lack of polish. He definitely fell into the latter category. He had sun-streaked hair — a miracle in Milwaukee — vivid blue eyes, and a Roman nose that hinted at a heritage she now believed.
"What did you find?"
It felt so good to be out of the boot now, never mind how happy she'd been to get rid of the cast. Just to be able to take a shower without having to wrap a plastic bag around her leg was a luxury she hadn't realized she'd had before the accident.
Was it precisely an accident? Well, not quite. Wrong word. It was an accident when someone didn't mean to hit you with their car. Maybe incident would work better.
She unlocked the doors with a push of the button. "I'll tell you over a cup of coffee. And not the stuff at the precinct. I'm buying at someplace decent. I appreciate you driving me around these past weeks."
He had. Picked her up for work each day and, like this morning, taken time for the doctor appointments.
"Well, you were making a concerted effort to save my life when you broke your ankle," he pointed out wryly as he opened her door for her, which wasn't at all necessary any longer. "Under the circumstances, the least I could do."
She chose a place on KK that was her favorite, the scent of fresh-roasted beans wafting out the minute they opened the door. Santiago didn't look surprised, since she'd dragged him there multiple times, and when she went up to get their coffee, she didn't bother to ask him what he wanted either. Black, plain Columbian roast. He also preferred cheap beer and did not apologize for it.
They chose a table at the back. As she was still debating how to answer the question, she took her time stirring the beverage in her cup. The place was busy, but it usually was. Santiago waited — patiently for him — and she sensed he was having a conflict as well about what she was going to say next.
"Did you know your mother was married before?"
From his expression, he didn't. Santiago put his elbows on the table, took a sip of coffee, and admitted it. "To someone other than my father? No. Was she really?"
It was difficult to tell if he was even interested in this conversation, but he did that pretty well. Effective emotional detachment. It was impossible to read his expression.
"Yes." There was no easy way to say this. "Do you want to hear more?"
"I'm not sure." Santiago stared at her from across the table, his elbows propped on the surface. "Why are we doing this again?"
It wasn't an unreasonable question. "My boredom, your edification," she replied flippantly, but the truth was, why were they having this conversation? She'd looked. She'd found. But he had never asked it of her and was a perfectly competent investigator himself.
Ellie steadied her voice. "Look, your past is a quagmire of mystery and deceit on levels you were never involved in, but that could affect your future."
His gaze held hers for a moment and then he exhaled. "MacIntosh, what the fuck does that mean, and could you quit using words like 'quagmire'? I feel like I'm in a bad B movie. I was five, my mother walked out the door, and I lived with my father until my eighteenth birthday, which he celebrated by kicking me out of the house. I'm obviously not Cinderella, since no one gave me a size-twelve glass slipper, but I'm not starving to death and there might be some collateral damage, but nothing to affect me the rest of my life. How could it affect me?"
"It's possible your real father is a high-ranking member of an organized crime group dealing drugs and weapons out of Duluth."
"What?" His vivid blue eyes were incredulous.
"You've heard of that big lake right? The one that borders Wisconsin —"
"MacIntosh, please shut up and explain before I strangle you in a public place."
Honestly, she didn't blame him.
"It wasn't too hard to look up the record of your birth and get your mother's maiden name. From there I tracked down any public records involving her and discovered that she filed for divorce seven months before you were born. It doesn't mean she wasn't maybe having an affair with the man who raised you, but they didn't marry until the divorce was final and you were already a year old. Eighteen months, to be more accurate. Her ex-husband fought the divorce proceedings but I assume he finally granted it when he was arrested for racketeering. He wasn't convicted but he did do time later for possession of an illegal substance with intent to sell."
Jason looked nonplussed, and Ellie really could not blame him. Finally he muttered, "I did wonder when I went through the papers after my father died why I could never find a marriage certificate in the records he'd kept. Knowing him, he burned it when she left."
"Lawrence Degas got out of jail right about the time your mother took off."
"Nice of her to take me along if she was running from him." Santiago sounded not exactly bitter, but certainly resigned and impatient. "It doesn't matter anyway. Water under the bridge."
"Maybe she was trying to protect you."
"Really? By leaving me with the asshole?"
Ellie had a theory and had thought about it a lot. She drank some of her coffee and weighed her words. "I think she made a bargain with the devil."CHAPTER 2
Jason punched the key on his computer with a mixture of curiosity and reluctance. Ellie had sent her file on the impromptu investigation she'd done and told him he could look, or not — whatever suited him.
He wasn't sure what any of this mattered, since he was so used to being a family of exactly one, even pretty much while his father — or was he his father? — was alive, and that independence was his religion. He was pretty ambiguous about his mother's existence. She wasn't part of his life. He didn't love her or hate her; he was indifferent.
But this seemed to matter to Ellie, and he did care about her. Not just as a partner, but as a man who'd walk across burning coals for her, not that she knew it. Oh, he knew she had a sense of how he felt, but no concept of the intensity.
So he'd look at the damn file.
The first thing he saw was the picture. Not a mug shot, but of four men, smiling, in a bar somewhere. One of them at the table was lifting his glass in a toast for the camera, and instantly Jason realized why Ellie had a theory that perhaps the miserable indifferent drunk he'd lived with for eighteen years was not his father.
They weren't twins separated at birth or anything, but they certainly looked alike. Same chin, definitely the same unruly blond hair ...
Well, shit, always nice to learn your father was into illegal activities, especially when you're a cop.
For impact, it was pretty effective. She should be a film director, except she was an excellent homicide detective, so that would be a loss to her chosen profession.
He read it, beginning to end. The nefarious career of Larry Degas was impressive on a certain level. He was definitely a career criminal, but clever enough to not get caught except for the drug conviction. Ellie had left out of their conversation the part where he was suspected of being the hit man in several murders, but he had dropped out of sight once he was out of prison.
His mother evidently lived in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. She used the name Louise Bennet, though he knew his parents had never officially divorced. Social security number had been changed or forged, but Ellie had used probation records to trace the man who might be his father, and his mother's name had popped for a driver's license at the same address years later.
"Hey, Santiago, I'm glad you are still here. You have a case." Chief Metzger walked up and tossed a file on his desk. "Teenaged girl. I don't like it any more than you do, but life sucks sometimes and then it sucks worse."
Jason's stomach tightened. "Yeah, well, death probably sucks more. What happened?" "We don't know. That's where you come in. She was home alone and her parents came in after work to find blood, and lots of it, all over the foyer. No sign of her. Forensics is gathering samples, but as of yet, we don't have a crime, just what looks like a crime scene."
He could handle a lot, but not children dying. Jason took in a long breath. "All right. MacIntosh is cleared now, as of this morning. We'll get on it."
"Pricey address." Metzger got to the point, as usual. "Can I offer my advice? Whether it is the murder of a vagrant on the street or a teenager from a rich family, don't fuck up. You have a soft spot for kids. Keep that under control and let the justice system handle it. It's up to you to catch them, not punish them. Got it? I'd have given this case to Grasso, but I swear he's worse than you if that is possible."
Don't fuck up translated to: don't you dare take matters into your own hands even if you are pissed off, because I covered it once. Second time not negotiable.
Jason had done some vigilante justice. So had Carl Grasso.
"Grasso's a talented detective."
Excerpted from Vanished by Kate Watterson. Copyright © 2015 Katherine Smith. Excerpted by permission of Tom Doherty Associates.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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