Darkness Lane: A Geneva Chase Mystery #2

Darkness Lane: A Geneva Chase Mystery #2

Random Road introduced Geneva Chase—"a reporter with a compelling voice, a damaged woman who recounts her own bittersweet story as she hunts down clues," says Library Journal—to murders straight out ...

About The Author

Thomas Kies

Author of the Geneva Chase Mystery Series, Thomas Kies lives and writes on a barrier island on the coast of ...

Read an Excerpt

 

Chapter One

 

I was nearly done editing Darcie’s piece on last night’s particularly gruesome homicide over on the east side of Sheffield. A forty-three-year-old woman, claiming to have been routinely abused over the course of her twenty-year marriage, waited until her husband, Jim, had gotten blind-ass hammered and passed out in their bed. Then she calmly poured gasoline over his entire body while he snored away and lit a match.

By the time the fire department got there, the house was completely engulfed in flames, and he was long past screaming. The police found Betsy Caviness standing on the curb watching the fire department vainly attempt to extinguish the fire.

She was calmly drinking merlot out of a plastic cup. “I’m just toasting my husband,” she told them sardonically.

That’s my headline.

I pulled her mug shot up on my computer. Mrs. Caviness looked like someone had worked her face over with a meat tenderizer. One eye completely swollen shut, her skin mottled purple and black, her lips cracked open—it was a Halloween mask of pain and terror.

I know she had options other than roasting her husband alive and I’m all for due process, but I felt pity for that woman. Twenty years of physical and mental torment can make for a whole lot of crazy.

I also know, because I’d written a story about Jim Caviness last year when I was still on the crime beat. He wasn’t a nice guy. He’d been arrested in December for trafficking minors for sex. He beat the charge when the three girls he’d victimized disappeared, seemingly off the face of the earth.

I finished the edit on the Betsy Caviness piece and pushed the button to send it to the computer geeks in composing, when I saw my resident millennial, Darcie Miller, standing in the doorway of my cubicle, her emerald eyes wide, expression somber.

“Genie, better take a look. Got a missing fifteen-year-old.” She pointed to the computer screen on my desk. “Isn’t that how old your daughter is?”

Icy fingers brushed the back of my neck while the constant clattering din of the newsroom seemed to go preternaturally silent.

I turned, quickly found her entry in the queue, and brought it up on my screen.

***

POLICE ASK HELP IN LOCATING
MISSING 15-YEAR-OLD GIRL

SHEFFIELD, CT-Authorities are actively seeking the whereabouts of Barbara Leigh Jarvis, last seen in the vicinity of West Sheffield High School on the morning of Monday, October 17.

According to the Sheffield Police Department, Miss Jarvis left her grandmother’s home at 1217 Bedford St. to walk to school. School officials report that she never arrived and didn’t attend any classes that day.

Barbara (Bobbi) Jarvis is 5 feet-6 inches tall, weighs 110 pounds, has brown hair, brown eyes and was dressed in a purple and white long-sleeved shirt, black windbreaker and blue jeans. She was carrying a black backpack.

Anyone with knowledge of her whereabouts should call the SPD at 1-800-555-6565.

***

Adrenaline hit my nervous system hard. Bobbi Jarvis was Caroline’s best friend.

Instinctively, I reached into my oversized bag hanging from the back of my office chair. Taking out my cellphone, I brought up the family locator app. It allows me to track where Caroline is in real time. A tiny street map appeared with an electronic pushpin stuck firmly where the high school was located.

Caroline’s in school, right where she’s supposed to be.

I was still new at this mothering thing. I’ve never actually had kids of my own so raising a teenager was a fresh and exasperating experience. Worrying all the time was becoming the new normal for me.

I looked at the police press release again.

I’ve been writing stories for newspapers and magazines for eighteen years, mostly on the crime beat covering murders, assaults, rapes, arsons, robberies, sex scandals, and fraud. If it was ugly, I wrote about it.

I’m a professional so most of the time I stayed dispassionate.

But there were stories that left scars.

They were about kids who disappeared and either showed up dead or vanished altogether. And that was the worst, because the parents never got closure. It was an open wound that never healed.

I glanced back at my computer screen. The color photograph accompanying the story was a professionally done glam-shot of Bobbi Jarvis smiling into the camera. Her brown eyes sparkled, artificially whitened teeth gleamed in her warm, generous smile, and her long, lustrous chestnut hair was brushed to perfectly frame her pretty face. The coy dimple in her chin added to her girlish charm.

It occurred to me that, in the photo, Bobbi was a teenager trying much too hard to look like an adult.

She didn’t look like that the last time she had dinner with us.

My eyes involuntarily moved from my computer screen to the silver-framed photograph of Caroline Bell resting on my desk next to a stack of manila folders. No, Caroline’s not my daughter as Darcie, my crime beat reporter, suggested. I’m the girl’s guardian.

She’s the fifteen-year-old daughter of Kevin Bell. Kevin had been my lover and my fiancé. The same night I proposed to him…yes, I proposed to Kevin…he asked me if I’d take care of Caroline should anything bad happen to him.

And then, tragically, it did.

Caroline is blond, has her dad’s blue eyes, an infectious smile, freckles, and she’s a bit of a tomboy. In that photo, she was wearing a sleeveless top, shorts, and a Red Sox cap but no makeup. She was gingerly holding a live lobster she’d chosen from a tank for dinner. I’d taken the picture last summer while we were vacationing on Cape Cod.

That had been the one-year anniversary of her father’s death. I wanted us to be in a happy place on that unhappy occasion. But as much as we both loved Cape Cod, being there hadn’t kept either of us from remembering him and feeling the awful loss. Kevin died before he should have, before we were ready. It was like ripping off a band-aid, quick and painful…and tearing out my heart at the same time.

Caroline Bell and Bobbi Jarvis were buds and sophomore classmates at West Sheffield High. They shared the same teachers for English and World History. They loved the same music and movies. They were both in the band and the Drama Club and were passionate about the theater.

They were both just discovering boys.

Or so I thought.

Bobbi was pretty and polite but rarely spoke about her family. I chalked that up to her parents being divorced. She lived with her grandmother. Caroline had told me it was something she wasn’t proud of. Neither one of Bobbi’s parents seemed to want her in their lives.

That’s got to hurt.

Bobbi had been to our house a few times for dinner and to study. She was serious about becoming an actress, taking professional acting classes outside of the Drama Club. One night, Bobbi surprised me by quoting lines from Macbeth and singing a few bars of the song “Popular” from Wicked—a weird juxtaposition of witch theater. All while eating spaghetti and meatballs in our kitchen.

That was the night both Caroline and Bobbi were wearing their baseball caps on their heads turned around backwards. Caroline had on a Red Sox cap…. Bobbi was sporting the Yankees logo. In my house, that’s an insult. But she was a guest, so I let it ride.

That was also the night the two of them attempted something akin to rap that left me in stitches.

It was the evening, when Caroline was out of the kitchen, that Bobbi looked up at me and said, “Caroline’s really lucky to have you, Genie.”

I smiled back at her, grateful for the compliment. “She’s been through a lot, losing both of her parents.”

Bobbi stared off into the distance. “Yeah, but at least while they were alive, they loved her.”

That broke my heart. She was certain that she’d been rejected by her mother and father and they didn’t love her.

And now she’s missing.

I picked up the cup of cold coffee sitting on my desk and took a sip. It was from this morning and tasted sour, like old caffeine and rancid lemons.

Back out in the newsroom, Darcie sat in front of her computer screen, delicately tapping away at the keyboard. I’m her editor. I’ve been the daytime news editor since last December.

I loved getting the pay raise that came with the promotion.

But I hated being harnessed to a desk. I missed seeing my name, Geneva Chase, on the byline of a good story.

When I got the promotion, I was the one who suggested that Darcie take my place on the crime beat. She was a waif with big, green eyes. When she was working, her shoulder length red hair was usually tied back in a ponytail. She wasn’t particularly tall, about five-five, but she had long legs and, even at her tender age, she knew how much of them to show to get men to talk to her. Darcie had good instincts; she already knew how much concession her looks could buy with men.

Ben Sumner, owner and publisher of the Sheffield Post, had brought her onboard nearly a year ago, straight out of J-School.

Sure, she was inexperienced but she wrote well, got her facts straight, and worked on the cheap.

Initially Ben had put her on features, knocking out puff pieces for the “Living” section, covering the rubber chicken circuit and the grip-and-grins. When I became editor, I took  a chance on Darcie and put her on the cop shop where there was real news.

If Bobbi’s disappearance had been any other story, I would have let Darcie follow up with the detective on duty to see if there was any information not included in the release. But I had a personal stake in this. I picked up the phone and punched up Mike Dillon, the deputy chief of police.

“Genie?” He answered recognizing my number on his Caller ID.

I visualized Mike. Tall, lean, angular face, clean-shaven, he had the intense brown eyes of a wolf focused on the hunt. I thought he was handsome in a vaguely predatory way.

“Hey, Mike.” I let my voice drop. We’d been seeing each other, casually, for the occasional dinner and movie. He was recently divorced and we were friends with infrequent benefits.

Over the last few months, Mike had been pushing hard for us to move our relationship to another level. He wanted us to be more of a couple.

I didn’t.

“Genie, what a nice surprise. What happened, did you fire Darcie?” He genuinely sounded worried.

“No, she’s still here.”

“Good. She’s adorable.”

“Yeah, that’s what I want on the crime beat, adorable.”

He chuckled. “What’s up?”

I stared at the girl’s photo still up on my screen. “What’s the deal on Barbara Jarvis?”

He hesitated and I knew he was consulting his ubiquitous notebook. “Let’s see, we got a call from Theresa Pittman, her grandmother, yesterday at five-thirty-five p.m. Told us that the last time she saw her granddaughter was sometime around seven in the morning when she left to go to school. Mrs. Pittman grew alarmed when the girl didn’t come home. She got really spooked when she found out her granddaughter never made it to any of her classes.”

“No Amber Alert?”

“No sign of foul play.”

I eyed my coffee cup and toyed with the idea of taking another swallow of the bitter swill that remained. “Have you talked with her parents?”

My voice must have betrayed me because he asked, “Do you know this girl?”

“She’s one of Caroline’s friends.”

“Yeah, we talked with her parents. They don’t seem very worried. Both of them think she got into an argument with grandma and she’s hanging out at a friend’s place. Have you checked under Caroline’s bed?”

“I will when I get home tonight.” My answer was only slightly sarcastic. Against my better judgment, I went ahead and took gulp of cold coffee. It was nasty. “Is that what you think? That she’s chilling with a friend?”

“Ninety-nine percent of the time, when a fifteen-year-old goes missing, it’s because they got pissed off at mom or dad or grandma and split. They hide out for a while. When they run out of money or run out of clean clothes or their friends get sick of them, they show back up again.”

“What now?”

“This morning we talked with her teachers and some of the girl’s friends at school. We sent out a statewide alert to all the other PD’s along with her photo and we e-mailed Darcie a press release. Did you see it?”

“I’m looking at it right now. We’ll run it in the morning, but I’ll post it on our website just as soon as I’m off the phone with you.”

“Like I said, there’s no sign of foul play. We’ve talked to everyone we can think of. We wait and keep our eyes open.”

“I’d be about crazy if Caroline went missing.”

“I know. I’d feel the same way if something happened to Davy.” Mike was speaking about his son, also fifteen and a student at West Sheffield High School.

“Have you asked Davy if he knows Bobbi Jarvis?”

“I called him at his mom’s house last night. He says he doesn’t know anything more than she’s a theater geek.”

That’s what all the members of the Drama Club called themselves.

As I said good-bye and hung up, I thought about Mike. When I first moved to Sheffield and became a beat reporter for the Post, he and I had a flirt-cute thing going on but never followed through on it.

Back then I was in the middle of an affair with a married man, and Mike and his wife were still together. No way was I going to date two married men at the same time.

A girl has to have standards.

Then everything changed when I fell in love with Kevin Bell.

But my time with Kevin had been all too short and I found myself tragically alone. About the same time Kevin died, Mike went through a divorce and we gravitated like a couple of lonely planets. Needing the company of each other but circling in distant, comfortable orbits.

Friends, but not much more. A few dates, a few movies, a few awkward nights in the sack. I liked Mike, but I didn’t think I’d ever love him. The spark just wasn’t there.

I enjoyed having him ask me out, though. A woman needs to feel attractive.

And I keep telling myself that I am. I’m tall, five-ten in flats. Shoulder-length blond hair that my hairdresser does her best to keep looking good. I haven’t resorted to Botox but I’m noticing some wear and tear around the corners of my blue eyes and the corners of my mouth. Depending on what I’m wearing, I still get approving looks when I walk into a room.

I go running when I get the chance and work out at the City Center, mostly sweating on the elliptical. As far as long legs, mine put Darcie’s to shame.

“Ben wants to see you in his office.” I looked up from my computer screen. The advertising director, Dennis Marion, filled the open portal of my cube. In his fifties, he had a stomach that spilled out over his belt and wore clothes that never seemed to hang right. His tie was loosened and, judging from how bloodshot his eyes were, he was more hungover than usual. He affected a gray-and-brown goatee that I thought resembled a gerbil clinging to his chin.

Over the last year, our professional relationship was best described as strained. He and I had gone a couple of rounds in recent months, generally stemming from one of his advertisers getting arrested or sued for something newsworthy. Dennis would stamp his feet and argue that if I ran the story, they’d pull their advertising and I’d be costing the newspaper money.

Yeah, well, that’s life.

“What’s Ben want?” I asked.

His doughy face, usually ruddy in complexion, was beet red. The ad man wore the doomed expression of a chubby rabbit looking down the barrel of a shotgun. “Paper’s got a problem.” Without another word, he shuffled out of my cube.

I felt the coffee acid churn in my stomach.

The last time I heard Dennis mutter the words, “paper’s got a problem,” I had to lay off one of my reporters.

 

• • • • •

 

The building’s original use was as a furniture store. The open layout of the Sheffield Post was one cavernous room on a single floor, chopped up by butt-ugly green, cloth-covered, movable partitions about five feet high used to define departments. The drab interior walls of the building itself were a chipped and discolored tan, and a quarter of the fluorescent lights either had bulbs blown or bad ballasts. The gray carpeting was coffee-stained, frayed, and threadbare. The office furniture was a well-worn collection of mismatched desks, chairs, and filing cabinets.

The gray lady was showing her age and nobody was willing to buy her any makeup.

All the reporters, ad salespeople, graphic artists, and IT guys have desks clustered together in their own departments like warring tribes of Bedouins forced to work together to survive. Company managers—the editors, ad director, classified ad director, and the graphic arts manager—all had glassed-in cubicles that we worked in. We sarcastically called them fishbowls.

Only one individual in the whole company had a real office to call home— Ben Sumner. When I walked in, he was seated at his massive, polished mahogany desk. Behind him was a large window, blinds raised, overlooking the company parking lot and beyond that, clusters of trees that lined the Merritt Parkway. The foliage caught my eye. It was mid-October and the leaves stubbornly clutched to branches, offering an eye-popping display of gold, burgundy, and vermilion.

He looked up from his laptop and gestured that I should sit in one of the two upholstered office chairs. As I did, I glanced up at the framed glossy photographs on the walls. Most of them were of Ben sailing on various oceans around the globe. When he wasn’t running the newspaper, he was out on his forty-two-foot sailboat, Press Time.

Just because reporters and editors don’t make a lot of money doesn’t mean publishers can’t enjoy an affluent lifestyle.

Ben is fifty, tall, attractive, and still has a thick, full head  of dark brown hair. I suspected that he used over-the-counter chemicals to keep the gray away.

Hey, but who am I to judge? My hairdresser is my best friend.

He was lean and fit and, even in the winter, his face was tan. He’d only recently resorted to reading glasses behind which his hazel eyes studied me as I sat down.

Ben took them off, then folded and placed them carefully next to the photo of him, his long-suffering wife, Louise, and two boys, one in Yale and one in the Marines.

Ben wasn’t smiling.

“What’s up boss?” I tried sounding upbeat.

“Genie, I just finished meeting with Dennis.”

“Oh?”

“He says Barrett’s advertising is going all digital.”

Barrett’s was an upscale chain of department stores located exclusively in Fairfield County, Connecticut. It carried lines like Valentino, Michael Kors, Escada, Etro, and Brunello Cucinelli—slightly outside my newspaper pay-grade that was more accustomed to Walmart, Costco, and Target.

For the last ten years, Barrett’s was our biggest advertiser.

“Are we keeping any of their advertising?”

He held up his hand and formed a zero with his finger and thumb. “Nope.”

Barrett’s pulling out was really bad news.

“We’re going to have to do another round of layoffs.”

The caffeine in my stomach felt like a bubbling lava pit trickling into my lower intestine.

Who’s getting the ax this time? Me?

Ben answered my unasked question. “You’re going to have to cut Darcie.”

Last hired, first fired.

“How about laying off someone from advertising?”

“We are, one of our sales staff. And one from graphic arts and two from production. We’re going to be down to the bone. I don’t know how we’re going to get a paper out.”

I took a deep breath. “When?”

He glanced up at one of his photographs. It was the one where he was sailing on a choppy ocean off the coast of the Florida Keys. “Do it this Friday.”

“Me?”

He looked me directly in the eye. “It’s part of your job description.”

I hated this part of the job with a white-hot passion. Ben was all too willing to be a part of the hiring process but when it came to cutting staff, he was always out of the building. I doubted if I’d even see him come in at all on Friday.

He stood up and turned around, gazing out of his window. “You know, I’m thinking about selling the Post. We don’t have the economies of scale that a chain has.”

Do you even know what that means? How about selling that damned sailboat instead?

“Seems a little extreme, Ben.”

He faced me again and shoved his hands in his pockets. “I just said I was thinking about it. I’ve contracted with a designer to upgrade our website. Make it more user-friendly and interactive.”

“Think that will help?”

He shrugged.

I’ve had bylines on hundreds of stories in four newspapers, three magazines, and a half dozen websites. The industry had changed to the point where working for my hometown newspaper felt like I was riding on the back of a slow, lumbering dinosaur wading into a tar pit.

“If I’m laying off Darcie, who’s going to do the crime beat?”

His attention snapped back to me again. “Why, you are.”

“And who’s going to edit?”

For the first time that day, I saw him smile. “I am. C’mon, it’ll be fun.”

I was going to make a smart-ass remark, but honestly for the last six months, I’ve been bored as hell. Editing isn’t nearly as much fun as running down a story out on the street.

I just wished I didn’t have to let Darcie go.

I’d grown fond of that little millennial.

When I got back to my desk, I eyed my coffee cup and considered walking over to the pressroom to see if they had a fresh pot on.

The photo of Bobbi Jarvis was still up on my screen. I hadn’t pulled the trigger on the story yet to send it to the IT guys. I studied her photograph one last time then hit the button to send the piece to another queue in another computer.

I glanced at the picture of Caroline again.

Don’t you ever go missing on me.

 

Chapter Two

 

It was shortly before three when Darcie popped back into my cubicle. “The woman who torched her husband last night?”

“Yeah?”

“Judge Aiken set her bail at a million dollars.”

“Of course, he did.” I couldn’t avoid snark in my voice. Judge Henry Aiken was a true sexist, hard-ass, son of a bitch. His muttered declarations during trials always made good ink. Two months ago, when he publicly growled that a rape victim “had it coming,” he became a six-column headline, top of the front page. And the follow-up stories of demands from the public to remove Aiken from the bench made me giddy for weeks.

A member of the good old boys’ network at the courthouse, the misogynist rat bastard was still wearing a robe and presiding over the court.

“She made bail.”

What?

“Where did Betsy Caviness get that kind of money?”

From the piece I did last year, I recalled that Jim Caviness was a low-level thug who drank or snorted most of his ill-gotten profits just as quickly as he got it. The house in which he’d died was in a rundown neighborhood known for drug dealers and plywood-covered windows.

Even if it had been a nice neighborhood, Betsy Caviness couldn’t have used the house as security because now it was little more than a pile of smoldering charcoal.

“She didn’t.” Darcie referred to her reporter’s notebook. “A group called FOL, Friends of Lydia, posted bail. Ever heard of them?”

I shook my head. “Who’s Lydia?

The reporter shrugged.

“Got a phone number?”

“Got it from the courthouse. I can’t find anything about them online.” She wrote it down and ripped a page from her notebook, handing it to me. “Are you going to handle this or do you want me to?”

Does she sound testy?

Over the last month, Darcie was getting progressively moodier.

Keep that in mind when you’re laying her off on Friday.

Thinking that I’d better get used to working the crime beat again, I answered, “I’ll take care of it. You keep working on those smash-and-grabs from last night.”

She went back to her desk, and I did an online search for Friends of Lydia.

Zilch.

Darcie hadn’t lied. There was nothing there.

As hard as I tried, and I’m very good with online searches, I couldn’t find where FOL was incorporated anywhere, either as a for-profit or a nonprofit. It was as if they didn’t exist.

I punched the number Darcie had given me into the Post’s landline and waited for an answer.

“Yes?” The low, smoky voice was female.

“I’m looking for Betsy Caviness.”

“And you are…?” In a very slight Southern accent, she parsed her words slowly, as if she were savoring the taste of them.

“Geneva Chase with the Sheffield Post.”

“This is regarding…?”

“Mrs. Caviness just posted a million-dollar bail. I’d like to know a little more about that.”

Then a hand must have gone over the phone because there was only the faint sound of muffled conversation.

A few moments later, the woman came back on. “Would you like an exclusive interview?”

Damned straight.

“Absolutely, can you put her on the phone?” I looked at the clock on my computer screen. I knew that Caroline would be busy until about six, working on the Drama Club’s annual fundraising project. I could easily do a phone interview, write it up, and be home by the time Caroline got there.

“Two conditions—one, it has to be face-to-face.”

“Why?”

“We want you to see what that son of a bitch did to her.”

“I saw her mug shot. It’s not pretty.”

“Face-to-face.”

“Okay. What else?” I pushed papers around on my desk and wondered who I was talking to.

“You have to keep her location a secret.”

“Is Mrs. Caviness in danger?”

There was silence on the other end of the line, as if the woman couldn’t believe what she’d just heard.

Finally, she answered. “Yes. We’ll explain.”

“Mrs. Caviness’ location won’t be part of the story.”

“Do you know the Metro Sheffield? Meet me in the lobby in fifteen minutes.”

Oh, yeah. It’s the most expensive hotel in this part of Fairfield County. I spent many a night there with Frank Mancini, the married attorney with whom I’d had a torrid two-year affair.

I had some hot, sweaty memories of the Metro Sheffield. I knew that hotel well.

I asked, “How will I know you?”

“When you come, carry a copy of your newspaper. That way I’ll know you.”

 

• • • • •

 

I took the Dry Hill Road shortcut through an upscale residen- tial neighborhood in the Brandywine section of town. I was surprised at how many houses were already decorated for Halloween. Pumpkins and cornstalks on porches, tombstones and plastic zombies atop leaf-covered front yards, orange lights in windows.

Not my favorite holiday, I’ve never decorated for Halloween.

I love the candy, though.

Fifteen minutes later, I pulled into a space in the parking lot of the Metro Sheffield. I grabbed my bag and a copy of the newspaper and got out of the car. I was nestled amongst a herd of vehicles sporting logos like BMW, Mercedes, Cadillac, Volvo, and Lexus. Rooms that start at four hundred dollars a night attract people who can afford nice cars.

I walked into the familiar lobby. There was marble everywhere—in the fountain dead ahead of me, on the gleaming floor below, the walls. The furniture was all leather and brass. Silver vases filled with bright bouquets were scattered about on end tables.

The place screamed “money.”

Next to the fountain, an African-American woman stood, arms crossed, feet spread, looking like she owned the hotel. She wore black designer jeans, a gold necklace, a white shirt, collar open, under a black sport coat.

She was somewhere in her thirties and tall, about my height, and trim. Perfectly manicured eyebrows framed her dark, piercing eyes. Her face was expressionless, lips pressed together. She owned high, granite cheekbones and flawless skin. Her relaxed jet-black hair fell in easy waves to her shoulders, framing and accenting her beautiful face.

The way she watched me enter the room, the woman reminded me of a predatory cat.

Her eyes bore in on the folded newspaper under my arm.

She stepped forward. “Geneva Chase?”

“Yes,” I answered, holding out my hand. “And you are?”

She glanced at my hand but ignored it. The woman walked past me and stepped up to the plate-glass window, staring out at the parking lot.

A man stepped into her line of sight. He was Caucasian and dressed much like she was—black slacks, white shirt with an open collar, and a black sport coat. He had salt-and-pepper hair that was about two weeks overdue for a trim, was clean shaven, six feet tall, and also wore a serious expression.

Seeing him, she gave him a shrug, as if asking a silent question.

He gave her a nod and a thumbs-up.

The woman turned and faced me. “Okay. It looks like you weren’t followed.”

“Why would I be followed?”

She gave me a half-grin. “You can never be too paranoid.”

“I don’t think I caught your name.”

She studied me for a moment. Then she said, “Here are the ground rules for this interview. When I say something is off the record, that means it never sees the light of day. Agreed?”

When she spoke, each word was its own distinct entity, as a thing of value.

I argued, “Too much goes off the record, I don’t have a story and this is all a big waste of time.”

“You’ll get your story. Agreed?”

“Okay.”

“Starting with my name, that’s off the record.”

“Agreed.” I could feel tension growing in my voice.

“Shana Neese. Nice to meet you.” She held out her hand.

When I shook it, the palm of her hand was calloused. She had hands familiar with hard work, like the hands of a farmer or a grave digger.

 

• • • • •

 

In the elevator on our way to the fifth floor, I asked her some questions. “Who are the Friends of Lydia? Are you a nonprofit? I couldn’t find anything on the Internet.”

She gave me a sideways glance. “We’re more like a loose confederation of like-minded individuals.”

“Are you an employee of the Friends?”

“No.”

“How do you buy groceries?”

“Off the record?”

Oh, for crying out loud.

“Honestly? You want that off the record?”

Her expression became one of contempt. “I’m not part of this story.”

I get the feeling that you are.

I demurred. “Okay.”

“I’m a physical therapist.” The hint of a smile played on her lips when she said it.

“Who’s Lydia?”

Shana’s face softened. “Lydia was a sixteen-year-old who was sold to a pimp by her drug-addicted father. One night, in a drunken rage, the pimp beat the girl to death with a broomstick. The Friends of Lydia are dedicated to helping women, particularly minors, who are enslaved by sex traffickers as well as women who are the victims of domestic violence. We consider that to be slavery as well.”

“Can I put that in the story?”

After several heartbeats, Shana nodded. “Yes. The Friends have been in the shadows for way too long. Plus, we’re on record as posting bail for Mrs. Caviness.”

When she said it, I could tell she was uncomfortable that even the name of the organization should go public.

What is she afraid of?

Reviews of

Darkness Lane: A Geneva Chase Mystery #2

“Multiple murders and shocking twists are key components in Geneva’s ultimate uncovering of the truth. The flawed but dedicated heroine anchors Kies’ second mystery with a compassion that compels readers to root for both justice and redemption.”

Kirkus Reviews

“… entertaining… Kies neatly balances breathless action with Geneva Chase’s introspection and sleuthing savvy.”

Publishers Weekly

“The plot begins when Caroline’s classmate disappears, and as Geneva covers the search for her, she comes across links to the toasted husband. There’s a solid thriller here—the key is sex trafficking—but the real pleasure is watching Geneva work. Cheer her on as she wrestles with that vodka bottle and trembles with fear as she confronts the monster behind the child-slavery ring. She’s also pretty good at standing up to a newspaper publisher about to screw the help into the ground.”

Booklist

FacebookTwitterEmail
Goodreads