Home > Labyrinth of Lies (Triple Threat #2)

Labyrinth of Lies (Triple Threat #2)
Author: Irene Hannon

 

1


THEY WANTED HER to take on another undercover gig?

No way.

Not happening.

But if both her boss and the head of the Crimes Against Persons unit were ganging up on her, getting out of the assignment would require finesse.

Brain firing on all cylinders, St. Louis County detective Cate Reilly crossed her legs, clenched her hands together in her lap, and surveyed the sergeant behind the desk—and the lieutenant seated beside her. Five seconds. That was all she needed to formulate a diplomatic, persuasive refusal.

Sarge didn’t give them to her.

“We’re aware you prefer not to do more undercover work, Cate. It’s not for everyone, and we appreciate you giving it a try this year.” He rested his forearms on his desk and linked his fingers. “But this is a . . . unique . . . situation, so I’d ask you to hear us out. Lieutenant?”

The commander of the unit picked up the cue. “It goes without saying that what we discuss here stays here, no matter how this meeting ends.” He locked gazes with her.

“Of course.” After ten years with the St. Louis County PD, she knew when to zip her lips.

He gave a curt nod. “Two months ago, Gabe Laurent’s seventeen-year-old daughter, Stephanie, disappeared from a private girls’ boarding school in the far western portion of our jurisdiction, along the Missouri River. You know who Laurent is, I assume.”

“Yes.” In an era when badge holders were often painted as the bad guys, every County PD employee was aware of the software executive’s staunch—and vocal—commitment to law enforcement. “Why haven’t I heard about the girl’s disappearance?”

“We were keeping it under wraps until we determined whether it was the runaway situation it appeared to be. Only the detectives assigned to the case were privy to the details.”

“Was it a runaway?”

The lieutenant shifted in his seat. “That was our conclusion. All the pieces fit. Her backpack was gone. Her boyfriend also went missing—as did his backpack and car. Everyone our people spoke with agreed she was troubled and unhappy. That’s why her father sent her to Ivy Hill Academy. He didn’t like the crowd she was running with—or her boyfriend, slipping grades, and attitude. In addition to being a prestigious all-girl college-prep school with high academic standards, Ivy Hill is known for its rigid discipline.”

“Is the investigation still active?”

Sarge leaned back in his chair. “We’ve been keeping an eye out for her, but it hasn’t been our highest priority.”

No, it wouldn’t be.

Teen runaways were disturbing, but the County’s heavy homicide caseload and other serious crime investigations took precedence. The detectives were already stretched thin, and the long hours couldn’t expand much more without significant fallout—like a major decline in morale or a mass exodus.

“So why are we talking about it now?”

The lieutenant rejoined the conversation. “We’ve been asked to dig deeper.”

“By whom?”

He held up a hand. “Let me back up first. Gabe Laurent wasn’t satisfied with our conclusion or our promise to continue our efforts to locate his daughter as resources allowed. He ended up hiring a PI who turned up one piece of information that suggests there may be more to the story than a mere runaway situation.”

Ouch.

That put County in an awkward position.

“What did the PI find?”

“Two days before he disappeared, the boyfriend had been in touch with a counselor at one of the community colleges about registering for the spring term.”

O-kay.

That put a whole different spin on the case.

“In other words, he may have taken the backpack for a weekend getaway with his girlfriend, but he wasn’t planning to disappear.” Cate exhaled.

“That was Gabe Laurent’s conclusion.”

“This is starting to smell like foul play.”

“I agree.”

She furrowed her brow. “How did our people miss that nugget?”

“The boyfriend—Alex Johnson—lived with a grandmother who’s in poor health and a father who comes and goes . . . mostly to the local bar. The PI happened to be at the apartment talking with the grandmother when a financial assistance application from the school arrived in the mail.”

“She knew about his plans?”

“No—nor did the father. Based on what the PI gleaned from the counselor, Alex decided the laborer job he’d taken with a roofing company after high school graduation wasn’t going to lead anywhere and intended to continue his education.”

Uncovering that key piece of intel may have been a fluke—and a huge piece of good luck for the PI—but it was distressing nonetheless.

And Sarge and the lieutenant weren’t the type to enjoy having egg on their face, deserved or not.

Still . . . an undercover operation? Those kinds of resources were usually reserved for larger-scale operations, like the human trafficking setup she’d helped investigate for her first—and she’d hoped, last—undercover assignment.

“So we’re going back to take another look at the case. I get that.” She kept her inflection neutral. “What I don’t get is the undercover component.”

The lieutenant stood and walked over to the window. After a few moments, he pivoted back. “Pressure is being exerted to use every available tool to expedite the investigation. Gabe Laurent wants answers.” The man clasped his hands behind his back, his expression neutral save for a flare of . . . annoyance? . . . that tightened his features for a fleeting instant. “He also happens to be a big contributor to the campaigns of his state representative and the County Executive.”

Ah.

The man had called in favors. Talked to friends in high places, who’d contacted County—not with demands, but to drop a few strong hints that the case might deserve renewed focus.

Yet it didn’t explain the undercover angle.

“Why not just assign more personnel?”

The lieutenant scanned his watch and crossed to the door. “I’ll let Sarge explain the particulars to you. I’m already late for another meeting.” He swung back to her. “I hope we can count on your help with this.”

Without giving her the opportunity to respond, he exited, closing the door behind him.

In the ensuing quiet, her pulse accelerated.

That hadn’t been a request.

He wanted her on this job.

Why?

She laced her fingers more tightly together and redirected her attention to Sarge. “You know how I feel about undercover work.” One taste had been more than sufficient to dim any allure it may have had. Who knew why it had held such appeal for—

Mashing her lips together, she severed that line of thought. It was pointless to revisit history. Her attempt to figure out what motivated a person to live a life of deception and shadows had been a bust, and it was time to move on.

Past time.

“I know, Cate—but we need you on this one.”

She waved his comment aside. “There are plenty of detectives at County who like undercover work. Why not tap one of them?”

“Because you’re the only one who can pass for a seventeen-year-old.”

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