Chapter 20

Pressured by Nora and John, Bo finally agreed to waive the 48-hour rule and issued the APB at 9 a.m. the next morning – 36 hours into Evangeline’s disappearance.

The department was already in trouble with the mayor’s office for exploding the overtime budget on the Killing Club case and as the city’s most successful criminal defense attorney, Evangeline Williamson wasn’t especially popular with the municipal administration. But something about this case – and Evangeline’s disappearance was now officially a case – didn’t smell right to Bo. Evangeline wasn’t a thoughtless or cruel woman and she wouldn’t have willingly upset her family. And nothing in John’s reaction to the news she might be pregnant supported the notion that she might have taken off to punish him.

Bo worried that John was so close to the case he might miss something. Against John’s protests, Bo turned the investigation over to newly-minted detective Dennis Lloyd. It wasn’t that John didn’t trust Dennis – he’d been the one to recommend his promotion to detective over a number of other promising beat cops. But it was hard for him to see anyone else heading up the posse to find his woman. Still, he knew Dennis respected Evangeline: he recalled how he’d handled her the day she insisted on being brought into the station in handcuffs. Dennis Lloyd was smart, cool-headed and thorough – just what the search needed. Glancing at the tall, good-looking black man who didn’t seem haunted or scared or like anything kept him up at night, John wondered if he was what Evangeline needed too. Maybe, if he’d left her alone to get on with her life, she’d still be safe.

Seven detectives gathered in John’s office to hear Dennis present the case facts. Two were assigned to examine surveillance footage from the Palace. Three were dispatched to interview Palace guests. Two more took on Evangeline’s address book and client list. John bowed his head to hide the blush creeping up his neck as Dennis repeated the cursory details of John’s last encounter with his former lover.

Justina Lotilla, one of two female detectives at LPD, asked the question John had been dreading.

"Lieutenant McBain, Ms. Williamson left town the last time you fought. Why don’t you think that’s what happened this time?"

A muscle in John’s jaw flexed as he made a decision about how much of his personal life to put on the table. At that moment, no secret was worth losing Evangeline and their child. Lotilla caught the plea deep inside the steady blue gaze he fixed upon her. "I have reason to believe Evangeline is pregnant with my child. She wasn’t angry with me when I saw her. I believe she would have told me about the baby after the party. That’s the answer to your question, but I’d appreciate it if you’d all respect our privacy and not spread that part around."

The room fell silent. Everyone knew Evangeline had broken up with the lieutenant – they’d been suffering the fallout of his foul mood for weeks. They’d all heard the rumors that Natalie Vega had something to do with it. Some of them noticed he still kept the lawyer’s photo in a silver frame on his desk. But no one had any idea – apparently, not even him – she might be pregnant. The look on his face told them all they really needed to know: they were searching for his heart.

On his way out of John’s office, Dennis Lloyd nodded at his old beat partner Randall Muxworthy. "Hey, about that beer we’d planned for tonight? Can I get a raincheck? A big case has come down."

The young blond officer shrugged and said, "Sure." Lloyd was moving up and he knew this sort of thing – getting passed by – was bound to happen sooner or later. "We’ll catch up some other time."

Lloyd smiled as the elevator door started to close. "You can count on it."

* * * * *

When Natalie came on duty at noon, she picked up on the buzz in the air: The APB for Evangeline Williamson had been issued early. Making the rounds with a fresh pot of hazelnut coffee, she picked up a couple of details from the detectives’ briefing.

She swallowed a smirk when she heard Bo had refused to let John run the case. "I bet that’s killing him," she thought with satisfaction.

But the hair rose on the back of her neck when she heard that John had fastened a strand of pearls around Evangeline’s neck just before she disappeared. She thought of the broken strand of pearls she’d picked up on the terrace at the Palace and realized they did look like a strand she’d seen Evangeline wearing since her birthday at the beginning of the year. She’d tucked the broken beads into her evening bag and returned to the party where she’d quickly gotten blitzed on apple martinis with Roxie.

For a moment she thought about mentioning the necklace to John, but she worried the good deed would cause her more grief than it was worth. In the state he was in, he was likely to accuse her of ripping the pearls from Evangeline’s throat. She didn’t need the aggravation.

During her dinner break, she ran home to take another look at the necklace. She found her gold lame evening bag at the bottom of a pile of black slacks. She dumped the purse’s contents on her chintz-covered bed and held the heavy, lustrous strand up to the light. They’d come from a good jeweler: because of the hand knots between each bead, it appeared that only one of the 8mm pearls was missing. She turned on the bedside lamp to get a better look. A single "E" was engraved on the gold dime-shaped clasp.

She pictured John at the jewelry store ordering the engraved clasp and her blood boiled. "This should be a fucking ‘N’!" she shrieked. She shoved the necklace into the drawer of her bedside table and headed back to work.

When she got back from her break, she found a large padded envelope hand-addressed "Head Dick McBain" on top of her "In" basket. Natalie snickered at the label. "This must be from one of your friends, John," she murmured to herself. Picking it up by the corners, she noticed it reeked of cigarette smoke. Still pissed about the engraving on the necklace, she strutted in the office where John sat glaring at his computer screen and gripping a black and silver football. He narrowed his eyes as she came towards him, but he didn’t say anything. "Here," she said, throwing the envelope on his desk. Flinging her hair as she turned, she clacked quickly out of his office, pulling the door a little too hard behind her.

John also noticed the cigarette smell and his name written in odd backwards slanting handwriting. He tore open the package and shuddered at what fell out. Hearing his strangled scream, Natalie was the first one in the door.

The raspberry silk gown Evangeline had been wearing slithered onto his desk. Holding it up, he saw the rich fabric and hand-stitching had been torn to pieces. Worse still, someone had deposited several DNA samples on the dress: urine, a streak of shit, clots of blackened phlegm.

Natalie screamed as John dropped the dress and retched on the floor. "Uncle Bo! Come quick!"