Read Too Close to Home Online

Authors: Lynette Eason

Tags: #FIC042000, #FIC042060, #FIC042040

Too Close to Home (5 page)

BOOK: Too Close to Home
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“Great.” Why was he finding it so hard to leave? Realizing he was going to make a fool of himself again if he kept stalling, he gave her a small salute and headed for the exit.

Sam grimaced as she watched Connor leave. She didn’t want to admit it, but he was cute, if a bit awkward. At the ripe old age of thirty-eight, she’d given up on finding “the one” meant for her and wasn’t quite sure she’d know what to do with him if she did find him. The attractive gray streaks in Connor’s hair didn’t make him look old, but rather distinguished. He’d recently shaved, but hadn’t done a great job. He’d been in a hurry. Probably needed to slow down; realize he couldn’t do it all alone. Sounded like he needed someone to—

Sam put the brakes on. Immediately. She’d ignore any attraction she might feel. She didn’t date cops.

Period.

She booted up the first computer and started a simple routine search. She didn’t expect to find anything immediately, but didn’t want to skip any steps in the process just in case. She let her thoughts wander as she clicked through documents. She also checked the internet history to see where this girl went while online.

Then her thoughts returned to Connor.

While he was a very good-looking man, his eyes looked tired, weary. Like he’d lived a lifetime and managed to survive, but not without acquiring numerous battle scars.

He’d been talking to his daughter when Sam walked up earlier, which meant he was probably married. Or divorced. Or neither.

She tried to remember if he wore a wedding ring, but couldn’t. Oh well, these days that didn’t mean a thing. And it didn’t matter to her one way or another. He was a cop. She wasn’t interested.

Keep telling yourself that, Sam, and maybe you’ll believe it.

She told herself to hush up and concentrate.

Click and search, click and search. She printed the internet history, but found nothing else interesting on the hard drive, so decided to move on to the next one. Getting up, she stretched a moment, then sat in the chair next to the one she just vacated.

She started her search procedure from the beginning with the new computer. Nothing, nada, zilch. Print the internet history. She clicked a different combination and pulled up a document that had been hidden pretty well.

Interesting.

Sam sat up a little straighter. This one had a password. She looked at the picture of the young girl still missing. Sydney Carter. Fifteen years old with a mess of red hair, fair skin, and freckles. She looked like an older version of Annie.

Sam spoke to the girl’s picture, “All right, Sydney, what would you use as a password?”

She sighed and ran her hand through her hair, catching her fingers in the ponytail. Oh well, password or no, most likely she’d get in without too much trouble.

Hearing the door open, she looked around to see Connor walk in with her water.

“Sorry it took me so long. I got side-tracked. Got anything yet?”

Sam took the water and thanked him. She looked at her watch and was surprised she’d been at it for about two hours. It didn’t feel that long.

“Possibly. I just now found a document that was several layers deep on the computer, plus it’s password protected. Give me a minute and I’ll be in. Plus I’m printing out the internet history for each of the computers. Then we can compare sites the girls visited and see if any of them match up.”

“Great job. How’d you find that document so quickly and our guy miss it?”

Sam shrugged, and ignored the warmth that the admiration in his voice stirred in her. “I just have a system of how I search. Think of it like an onion. I start peeling off the layers. One thing leads to another and sometimes it pays off. Like now, maybe. Plus, I’ve got a little more direction to go on than your guy had. I’m actually looking for a conversation from email or IM. Sometimes people will have an entire IM conversation, then save it as a document—like the one you found on Leslie.”

“Okay, so how do you get into that document on this computer?”

Connor seemed like he was here to stay, so Sam told him, “Pull up a chair and I’ll show you. Hopefully, it won’t take but a minute.”

“I’ve got however long it takes.”

His resolution rang strong. He really wanted to catch this creep. Sam admired him for that. However, she wondered what it was costing him on the home front.

“What about your daughter? The one who hung up on you earlier?”

“Jenna, my one and only, sixteen-year-old. Since her mother’s death, she’s . . .
we’ve
. . . had a hard time. Two nights ago, I got home and she’d already locked herself in her room and said she was going to sleep.”

Unwillingly, Samantha’s heart hurt for him. Widowed. “I’m so sorry. Maybe she was really tired.”

“It was seven o’clock. I was an hour later than I said I’d be and she was making me pay for it.”

“Ouch.”

He gave a shrug. “It’s hard raising a teenager these days when you have two parents to tag team it, but raising one alone . . . some days I feel like all I do is make mistakes with her.”

Samantha clicked and moved the mouse to click again. “That’s tough. My parents felt the same way about my sister and me too, I’m sure. My church was such a blessing for us, I’m sure my parents would have been lost without it.” She gave a little laugh. “And our youth pastor was awesome. He and his wife had an open door policy for us kids. We were always at their house or meeting them for some activity. I hate to think of the trouble we would have gotten into if not for the youth group.”

Connor shook his head. “We don’t really go to church. That was more my wife’s thing, you know? I don’t know, I guess every parent goes through phases and has those tough days.”

Sam looked up from the keyboard. “Try years.”

“Ugh, tell me about it. At first, after Julia died, we were both kind of in shock. Jenna was twelve years old when it happened, and my mom and dad kind of stepped in and took over. But then it was time for me to go back to work and Jenna to go back to school.” He waved a hand. “We just haven’t been able to reconnect; find some common ground. Since I needed so much help with her, we moved back here about two years ago to be closer to my parents.”

Sam nodded sympathetically as she went back to work and clicked a series of keys.

Connor stood and asked, “You hungry?”

Once again she paused what she was doing and looked up . . . and up. My, he was tall. “No, thanks, I ate before I came.”

“I’m going to go grab a sandwich and give Jenna a shout. She called me on her lunch break from school. It’s after 3:30, so she should be on her way home. My mother would have picked her up by now.”

“Jenna doesn’t drive?”

Connor scowled. “No way I’d trust her behind the wheel of a car at this point. She’s going to have to earn that privilege.”

Sam nodded her understanding. “Okay, I’ll be right here.”

Her hands resting on the keyboard, she listened to his receding footsteps, then focused on her task. Another minute and a few clicks and she had it up. She started reading.

“Oh no.”

5

After Connor left Samantha to her search, he had gone back to his desk and called his parents’ home. The machine picked up, so he left a message stating he was looking for Jenna, then he’d hung up and dialed her cell phone. When her voice mail came on, Connor swore. Frustration set in. Her phone had practically become an appendage. She’d probably looked at her caller ID and just didn’t answer.

“Connor?”

He swiveled his chair around to see Samantha hurrying toward him. She held a piece of paper, waving it as she approached.

“What’ve you got?”

“Take a look at this.”

Connor nabbed the paper. An email saved as a Word document. “Where’s all the identifying information? There’s no email or IP address for either party.”

“I know. Before she deleted the email, she must have copied it and pasted it into a Word document, then deleted all the identifying information.”

Connor read it out loud. “‘Modern Models has an opening for you. Free portfolio, immediate gigs. Must be in excellent overall health, between the ages of fourteen and eighteen, get good grades in school, and be able to handle physical stress. Complete medical history required. $1,000 sign-on advance. Call 555-1234. Ask for Danny.’”

Sam tapped the paper. “Well, it’s a name. A very common name, but it’s a start, right?”

“Right. And it’s the same prepaid number as the one listed on the IM we found on Leslie Sanders.”

“Exactly, a link. So, now we get to track down every Danny in the modeling business. And see if we can find a company called Modern Models. And get the medical history for every girl who’s disappeared. We need a search warrant.”

Connor shook his head and called Andrew over to fill him in on what Samantha had found. “Check this out, partner.”

Andrew gave a low whistle. “All right, Sam. Good job.”

“Thanks, but I don’t see how that’s going to help much.”

“It might help more than you know,” Andrew muttered. “‘Complete medical history.’ Why would they need that? That’s kind of odd, isn’t it?”

Connor brainstormed. “Well, models have to put up with a lot. Maybe they’re covering their bases and making sure no one’s going to drop dead on them, then have family turn around and sue them.”

“I suppose, but it still seems weird to me. We need to check out this Modern Models company. See if it’s real, but I’m betting it’s bogus.” Andrew handed the paper back to Connor, then grabbed the phone book. “M for Modern Models. M, m, m,” he looked up. “Nope, not there. I told you. A fake.”

“Maybe they have an unlisted number.”

Andrew grunted. “I doubt it. Modeling agencies want to
attract
customers, don’t they?”

Samantha nodded. “I would think. I googled Modern Models and did a pretty extensive search. I got nothing about any modeling agency, so I’m going to have to agree with you on that one, Andrew.”

“You find anything else on any of the other computers?”

“Just one other thing. When I got onto the email servers to look for communication between the girls, there was another reference to a different modeling agency called The Runway. It was on Veronica Batson’s email and I printed it off. Here.” She handed Connor the copy. “I traced it back to a wireless internet provider, but it’s probably some café where anyone can pick up a signal. You might find the place, but you probably won’t be able to find the person.”

Andrew grabbed up the phone book again and looked. “Nope, no Runway.”

“No, and I did an internet search for that one too. Nothing. That was all I found. A few emails to friends, but nothing telling them what was going on. I got into the hard drive’s ‘slack space.’ Most people think that when you empty your recycle bin, whatever you had in there is gone forever. But that’s not the case. A lot of that information is still on the hard drive until the drive is reformatted or until new information is written over the old.”

Connor and Andrew looked suitably impressed. She added, “Fortunately, most of these hard drives are relatively small and I was able to go through them pretty quick. I didn’t see anything else on my initial search that would pertain to this case, but I want to keep at it, do a little more digging. Your guy was good too, so I might not find much more, but if it’s there, I’ll find it.”

Connor waved the paper at her. “You’re a genius in my book.”

She flushed, and Connor found himself wanting to run a finger down her cheek.

She cleared her throat and said, “One more thing. Did you confiscate the cell phones?”

“Just their phone records, not the cell phones themselves. They disappeared with the girls. No GPS signals either. Whoever snatched the girls knew what to do to the phones to ensure they wouldn’t be tracked.”

“Then we need the text messages they’ve all sent.”

“We’ve got them on file. When we looked at them originally, we really didn’t know what we were looking for. Nothing really stood out, not even the texts from the day they disappeared. Even the texts that were from prepaid cells didn’t give us much to go on.”

“Also,” Samantha handed over another sheet of paper, “here’s a list of websites all the girls visited. It’s interesting that four of the six girls visited several of the same chat rooms. You might want to log into these and keep track of what’s going on in those sites. Could be our guy is getting to the girls through them.” Tapping her chin, she sighed. “He probably has a dozen different screen names, because while I was able to get some of them off the hard drive, I can’t tell if it’s the same person. Most of the IP addresses are different, which only means he’s using different wireless locations.”

Connor knew he probably had a blank look on his face. He wasn’t computer illiterate, but the forensics side baffled him.

“So, he’s wireless location hopping?”

“Exactly.” She smiled at him, a quirky little grin that said she knew he was stumped. “If you don’t turn anything else up, see if your boss wants me to monitor those chat rooms. It takes a lot of time, though, and you might want to consider setting up a team specifically to watch those sites for any hits. Also, while I’m working this, I’ll set it up so I can access the girls’ computers from home.”

“Really?”

“Sure, it’s quite simple. It’s called remote access. You want me to explain it?”

Connor nodded. “In basic English, please.”

She laughed. “Okay, I type in a few codes on the girls’ computers, use my computer from home to type in a few codes, and voilà . . . access with no problem. The Remote Access for Dummies explanation.”

He looked at Andrew. “Did she just call me a dummy?”

His partner grinned. “Definitely.”

Samantha blushed—again. Narrowing her eyes, she pursed her lips, then gave a small smile.

Connor laughed and let her off the hook. “Simple enough and very cool. So, are you done for now?”

A shrug preceded her words. “For now. I’ve done what you called me to do. I’ll work on what we’ve already talked about at home, but I need more information from you guys about what to look for next. I could go through every IM, every email, find every screen name used to log in, etc. These girls used the computer a lot and had a ton of contacts. I’m afraid that would take forever and wouldn’t net you much viable information, most likely. So, until you can come up with some more specifics about what you want me to look for . . .” She gave another small shrug. “You might want to remember, too, that there could be absolutely nothing else on these girls’ computers. They could have been communicating from any computer in the city if you think about it. And since there’s so little information on their personal computers, it’s entirely likely they used the library or school computers just in case they had nosey parents. Also, this is the age of texting. Who needs a home computer for communication these days when you can carry one in your pocket in the form of a phone?” Samantha stood. “I’ll keep at it when I get home.”

BOOK: Too Close to Home
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