Murder Online

Nominated for the International Frankfurt Award and EPPIE Finalist

Read The Reviews | Read The Excerpt

 

Murder Online
ISBN 1-59279-882-9 (Paperback)
ISBN 1-59279-169-7 (Electronic)

A young woman is strangled to death, then raped afterward by a man she is thought, by Chicago detectives, to have met online. And she did correspond with him; however, she had met him in person first.

In an effort to track down her daughter’s killer, Claire Jenson delves into internet chat rooms, using her dead daughter’s identity. But when Claire begins talking to the killer online and he threatens her, she has no idea who he is—or where he is.

But he knows exactly how to find her…

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The Reviews

“This is a very suspenseful book. I put it aside with great reluctance. The suspense never falters. There is a constant question as to who the murderer is. The characters are well-developed, are real people with human frailities and emotions. It is well-written; smooth reading….no explicit sex…no gratuitous violence….no profanity…” -Barbara Buhrer for About.com and Reviewing the Evidence

“The writers of Law and Order couldn’t have written a better murder mystery. The plot is very well written and I was on the edge of my seat as I read page after page of this action packed story. Beth Anderson touches on a subject that can be all too true in our society today and gives this story a powerful message to others who go on-line. It is refreshing to have a hero and heroine who have some maturity and remind us love doesn’t discriminate against age…” -In The Library Reviews

“Beth Anderson is an amazing writer. The suspense had me riveted to my seat from page one. The twists, turns and many different suspects had me constantly saying to myself, He did it! No, wait, he did it! The ending surprised me. It left me feeling vulnerable and much more aware of what can be done through the Internet these days. Definitely a fast, exhilarating ride…” -Romance Review Spot

“Murder Online is an exciting, suspense-filled mystery. It’s a definite page-turner, one you will not want to put down until the culprit is safely behind bars. The plot is original and moves quickly. Unique characters and well written dialogue round out the story. I highly recommend Murder Online for an exciting read, sure to please even the most seasoned mystery lover….” -In The Library Reviews

“Beth Anderson, author of the highly acclaimed Night Sounds, offers to her fans a literary piece which is sure to be dubbed the Cyber-Mystery of the millennium. Her dialogue is entertaining and informative; the characters are four-dimensional, leaping out of the page and into your life. Moreover, Anderson bequeaths to you the very conscious thought of who exactly are you chatting with, next time you dial up…” -J B Scott for Sharpwriter

“Murder Online is a marvelously provocative tale that only gets better with each page, as Anderson guides her readers down a fiendishly twisted path into the deviant realm of cybersex. Pure excitement, this compelling mystery is a perfect blend of electrifying suspense, gritty realism and richly imagined prose that will satisfy the most discriminating mystery fans…” -Melissa Bradley for Rendezvous Review Magazine

“Five Stars * * * * * Murder Online is a well-crafted, suspenseful novel that forced me to read all night until I reached the end. The story line is spooky because it could happen to anyone who might wander into a chat room. After reading “Murder Online,” you will always think twice before giving out any personal information on the Internet. Once again Beth Anderson has delivered another excellent novel…” -Shari Brennan for Midnight Scribe Reviews

“Five Feathers! Beth Anderson has written an eerily realistic and enormously satisfying mystery about the dangers that lurk in the corners of the World Wide Web, and let me tell you they’re a lot creepier than any spider! The mystery element is solid, with just the right amount of clues and suspects to keep the reader guessing at every turn and a dash of romance tossed in for good measure. Through it all, Anderson keeps it realistic and even makes her characters thoroughly irritating at times, which ultimately makes them more likeable. The ending is one you don’t expect and makes you hungry for more of Anderson’s work…” -Natalie’s Reviews

“Beth Anderson just keeps getting better. I am amazed at the speed of her dialog and the humor and quick wit of her characters. This is a page turning, rapid fire novel of suspense that will quench the thirst of any lover of suspense and romance. I highly recommend it…” -Jonathan David Masters, Reviewer

“Fans who loved Beth Anderson’s fluid lyricism in NIGHT SOUNDS will welcome her newest release MURDER ONLINE, where her poetic voice lures the reader through the treacherous territory of cybersex and murder. Her characters live and breathe a tale that will sweep the reader into a fascinating and dangerous world, with a hard biting, surprising conclusion. This fast paced, yet entertainingly humorous mystery will simply whet the reader’s appetite for yet more masterpieces from this author’s pen…” -Cindy Penn for Word Weaving

“Beth Anderson’s first-rate, sometimes chilling tale is a classic murder mystery brought into the twenty-first century. It is an intricate police thriller that takes you into the dark and dangerous side of the cyberworld. Anderson’s writing, smooth as polished glass, grabbed me from word one and didn’t let go till the very end. This story contains all the elements of an excellent mystery, one I highly recommend to any who loves a spine-tingling book…” -Janice Wagner for AllAboutMurder

“* * * * * Five Stars! I was kept guessing through the whole novel as to who the murderer really was. As author Beth Anderson eliminated the suspects, new twists would carry me swiftly to the next page. This novel kept me turning pages well into the night until I learned who the murderer was. If you or someone you know has ever visited an online chat room, this novel will chillingly strike home. Definitely a book to put on your must read list!…” -Shari Brennan for Sime-Gen

“Through the internet and all its oddities, the contacts True made, and the secret desires of the lonely, Claire will learn the hidden life her daughter led. But nothing will prepare you for the identity of the killer. Anderson has written a wonderfully in-depth mystery as she leads her characters on the hunt for a killer. It will change your perspective on anonymity on the internet, and the games people play there…” -Shadoe Simmons, Award Winning Author

“Although fiction, Anderson’s masterful writing weaves a believable tale that could be all too true. What lengths would a mother take to find the murderer of her daughter? What risks would she take to bring him to justice? What if the murderer could only be found by stalking the stalker online? Rarely have I read a book so close to reality without being a true story. As a mystery it is masterful, keeping the reader guessing the identity of the murderer right to the end. Then, a twist of plot as deadly as the turn of a knife in warm flesh leads us to the real killer…” -Jo Popek for KnowBetter.com

“I can’t even put into words how powerful and wonderful this book is. This book should be listed among the horror books though, it is so real. My stomach hit the floor after I read the note True left for her sister. Anyone who has ever been or is ever going to be online should read this book…” -Sue Hartigan for AllAboutMurder

“I’m bleary-eyed from reading MURDER ONLINE into the wee hours. This book is so good…wonderful characters, intriguing plot, beautifully written. I can’t wait to get my hands on the next Anderson novel!…” -Katherine Sutcliffe, USA Today Bestselling Author

“MURDER ONLINE is a perfectly structured mystery. Anderson introduces the major characters early on and begins the development of her varied subplots, immediately hooking her reader. The suspects all appear on stage in one guise or another; the clues are provided, yet they are only obvious in retrospect. MURDER ONLINE involves the dark side of the Internet and its chatrooms as Claire takes it upon herself to hunt down her daughter’s murderer in cyberspace…” -Kent Braithwaite, Bestselling Author

“5 Thumbs Up! This murder mystery chilled my blood from the first page to last. The suspects just piled up until I had absolutely no way of knowing who the murderer actually was until the last few pages…” -Kathy Boswell for Kathy’s Faves and Raves

“***** Five Stars! This story will keep you on the edge of your seat so plan plenty of time before you start to read. Get to know Claire and her other daughter Lannie, the boyfriend, the two police officers in charge of the case, and other characters in this fast paced EXCELLENT story…” -Beverly Bangman for Huntress Reviews

“MURDER ONLINE is a fantastic mystery that will have readers on the edge of their seats!…” -Tracy Farnsworth for TheRomanceReadersConnection

“Chat room Romeos and sexual predators who stalked her daughter leave tracks even a grieving mother can follow–especially one aided by a wise detective. However, those clues also lead to deadly danger. Murder Online baffles, puzzles and leads the reader on a merry chase, one that never fails to keep the pages turning at a rapid pace…” -Patricia White for Crescent Blues

“Marty and Claire are two unforgettable characters. I can usually guess who the murderer is in most of the mysteries I read, but not in this one. Anderson kept me guessing to the very end…” -Debra Lee, Author. for AllAboutMurder

“Anderson has created the perfect novel! This is a “cannot put it down” murder mystery. Heart racing terror keeps the plot going as Marty and Claire avenge True’s death, but the element of romance keeps the reader involved in a deeper level. Claire makes a wonderful heroine, strong and loyal, while Marty’s need to keep the killer away from the family makes him a strong, honest hero. I give this the highest rating a novel can seek!…” -Angie, for Loves Romances

“Beth Anderson weaves a murder investigation around the Internet and shows how small the world can become as the characters search from Chicago to Maine to LA for a serial killer. The web, the new frontier that so many have come to rely on daily, can be a deadly place. This Frankfurt Award Nominee will keep the reader involved…” -Nancy B. Leake for AMysteryFanatic

“I can’t recommend MURDER ONLINE highly enough. It’s a fast paced and intelligent book. One thing you will definitely get from it is that not everything is what it seems to be when you are on line…” -Stacey Bucholtz for AllAboutMurder

“MURDER ONLINE has it all. It’s a great plot taken right out of today’s headlines, enough suspects to keep a reader guessing, fair and plentiful clues, and a little bit of romance to add an extra fillip…” -Monette Draper for Atlantic Bridge Reviews.

The Excerpt

CHAPTER ONE
Claire Jenson was out back in her favorite part of the garden, the section where she’d tossed seeds here and there this past spring, nothing structured, nothing formal, just scattered here and there the way her grandmother had taught her, when the call came from Chicago telling her that her youngest daughter had been murdered.

She clutched her portable phone, her hands dry and cold in spite of the fact that it was early August and Illinois had been in the middle of a heat wave for over two weeks, thinking how out of place a call like that was on a day like this. This was no place for talk of death. This garden was alive.

Birds squabbled and chattered down at the end of the yard, where Barry had planted five flowering plums two years ago, in honor of their twenty-fifth wedding anniversary. A rabbit scampered into a patch of sunflowers, where her nest and several babies waited. A hummingbird hovered over the tallest of the blood-red hollyhocks, the Atchison’s’ new baby wailed next door, and it was almost time to go inside and start supper. The steaks thawing on the counter would have to wait now. Tomorrow, as soon as she straightened out this horrible mistake, she’d get to them. But not now. Right now the thought of dinner made her nauseous, because somehow she was going to have to tell Lannie her sister was dead, and she wasn’t sure she could do it.

Only a year ago she’d had to sit both of her daughters down in a hospital corridor and tell them their father was gone, dead with a sudden heart attack. There’d been only the three of them after that, and now…somehow the thought couldn’t fully form…she could only think…Two…

She stared at her hands and wiped them on her slacks, only half-noticing they were her clean white linen ones, and stood for a couple of minutes trying to focus, trying to understand, but where understanding had been, now there was only searing pain. She forced herself to walk into the house, into the kitchen where she tried to find her voice to call Lannie, but her glance moved toward a small framed handprint on the wall by the refrigerator that True had made fifteen years ago, when she was only four. The tiny handprint swam in front of her eyes as Claire found herself sinking to the floor and heard her own voice, a primal, anguished sound that only she could hear, coming from somewhere deep inside.

Not True. Oh, dear God, please, not my baby now. Please, not True…

* * *
In Chicago’s Twenty First District, Area One Police Headquarters at Twenty Ninth and South Prairie, it was business as usual. Sergeant Detective Martin Slade of the Violent Crimes Division limped through the front door on his way back up to his office. He was trying to ease the shooting pain in his knee, a reminder of his last perp chase through a junkyard years ago when he was still a street cop, and also a reminder that he wasn’t getting any younger.

Three uniformed policemen occupied the main entrance, a long, narrow, but well-lit space with its entire left side taken up by the massive front desk. They were wrapping up their late afternoon shift paperwork. In spite of the age of computers, they still did their paperwork mainly by hand, to be hopefully translated into readable English and entered into the computer by the night shift records clerk.

The night shift cops, most of them younger men, straggled in one by one through the back door, wearing their own particular brand of uniform–jeans, tee shirts with slogans, scruffy tennis shoes for jumping fences and chasing drug dealers and armed robbers and wife abusers and child molesters.

Area One was fairly quiet this late Friday afternoon. The phones weren’t ringing off the hook just yet, although this precinct, which covered the Hyde Park area and all along the south side lake front, would begin rockin’ and rollin’ as soon as the sun went down. That was a given. Weekends were always hell in Area One.

He headed toward the stairs and glanced into one of the small rooms to the right that doubled as a consultation-holding room. One lone young man, whose handcuffs had been attached to a ring in the wall, had been left for a few minutes to stare at his shoes and contemplate the error of his ways, while his arresting officers grabbed a cup of coffee in the small anteroom around the corner.

In the basement, Marty knew several of the night shift officers would already be sprawled, half-napping, over their schoolroom-type desks, awaiting their assignments. Life in the precinct was always interesting, even fun once in a while, but when he reached his office on the second floor he slumped into his chair with his head bowed, wondering for the hundredth time this month why he hadn’t gone into architecture, as his father had wanted him to.

“Did they show up yet?”

Martin tore his gaze away from the photos of the young woman whose body had been found in her Hyde Park apartment the day before. He was still upset by them, although he’d been a Chicago cop for almost thirty of his fifty-one years and should have been used to photographs of corpses by now.

“Not yet,” he said, eyeing Detective John Minelli, a tall man with thinning blonde hair, narrow lips and jawline and opaque blue-gray eyes that most of the time were deliberately expressionless because they’d seen too much misery and death. “I called the victim’s mother late yesterday afternoon, downstate in Lansberry. She’s on her way now, I told her to come straight here. It’s gotta be rough on her, she told me her husband died a year or so ago, and now there’s only her and her oldest daughter.

John nodded. “You going to wait here till they arrive?”

Marty didn’t want to. The last thing he wanted to do today was face another grieving mother. Mothers were always the worst; crying and demanding to know who the killer was this minute. In this case it was going to take a while, because other than the fact that they were pretty sure at least one man had done it because of evidence of sexual activity and the method, there wasn’t a clue to be found in the victim’s apartment. No motive, either. According to the people they’d questioned so far, True Jenson was a nice, quiet young woman who went to work every day, did her job well, didn’t socialize much, and hadn’t, as far as her co-workers knew, dated anyone since she’d moved to Chicago to start her job six months ago.

“Yeah, I’ll stick around. They should be here any time.” His gaze moved back to the photos. “Look at this,” he said, “she was only a baby. Nineteen years old, no sign of drugs, clean, sweet looking. What kind of a monster could do this to a kid like that?”

John glanced at the photo and shrugged. “World’s full of ’em. That’s why you and I are gainfully employed.”

“Yeah, well, right now I’d give anything to be in another business,” said Marty. The telephone rang. He lifted it and nodded. “Okay, yeah, send them on up.”

“The mother?” asked John.

Marty nodded. “You staying?”

“Nah,” said John. “You handle it, I’ve got a dinner date waiting. Talk to you in the morning.” He was headed for the doorway when two women appeared, blocking his exit.

One of them–no doubt the mother, thought Marty, although he was surprised to see how young she looked–had shoulder length light brown hair pulled back with a pale blue headband, about 5’4″, slim. Very slim, he thought, watching as she walked into the room. Nice. He took a quick look at the photo again.

The dead girl had been wearing a headband, too, although hers was red, and hers had ended up around her throat.

The woman was wearing a blue flowered cotton skirt that moved around her legs as she walked, white blouse, a light blue sweater folded over one arm, no stockings, white shoes with silly little heels. He frowned, trying to remember the style, his mother used to wear them all the time, trying to add height…wedgies, yeah, that’s what they were called. She looked every bit what she was. A small town housewife–no, widow–but with no outside job. Exactly the kind of person you’d never expect to see sucked into a murder investigation.

The other one almost made him whistle under his breath, but he caught himself just in time. She looked younger than the dead girl did, but he knew from talking to the mother that she was a year older than her sister. She was about 5’2″, great legs, he could see from the fit of her jeans, and the One World T-shirt didn’t do a thing to conceal a fantastic figure. Her hair was almost the same color as her mother’s and she wore it long, down around her shoulders.

John maneuvered past them and out the door without a word while Marty braced himself and rose heavily out of his chair. “I’m Detective Sergeant Martin Slade,” he said. He wrapped his hand around the mother’s outstretched fingers, briefly noticing how rapidly they disappeared inside his own.

“I’m Claire Jenson.” She motioned toward the young woman beside her. “And this is my daughter, Lannie.”

Claire’s eyes were swollen although she appeared composed. But then, she hadn’t seen the photos yet. For a brief second he considered hiding them, but he knew he couldn’t do that. She had the look of a woman who would want to know everything no matter how much it hurt, and would handle it now no matter how tough it was. He hoped he was right. He wasn’t sure he could handle any more emotionalism than he’d already encountered today, most of it his own. His granddaughter Kelly was close to the victim’s age, and every time he looked at the photos of that nude body on the floor by the window, he had to fight his way past seeing Kelly’s face.

“Mrs. Jenson,” he said in a low voice, “thank you for coming. I can’t tell you how sorry we all are about your loss.”

She nodded, acknowledging his sympathy without responding to it. “How did this happen?” she asked, although he’d already told her on the phone yesterday. “Where is she now? I can’t believe this has happened. I just can’t. I need to see her.”

“I’ll take you there in a little while,” he said, trying to steer past her first question. “The body is at the medical examiner’s office right now. They did the autopsy last night.” He ran his hand nervously through hair that hadn’t seen a barber for almost six weeks because he was either too tired or didn’t have time. Right now, watching her flinch as he said the word “autopsy,” he hated everything about this job. In four more years he could take an early retirement. Today was one of the few days he wished he were older.

“Did they really have to do that?” she asked in a low voice. “You said she was strangled, didn’t you?”

He nodded. “I’m sorry, Mrs. Jenson, yes. Any death of a person under age forty five has to be autopsied, that’s Cook County law. It’s particularly important when it’s a murder committed by an unknown person.”

“You don’t have any idea who did this?” asked Claire.

Marty shook his head. “We have no idea who did it or why, we only know when and how it happened.” He peered at her closely. “Are you sure you want to hear the details?”

Lannie spoke for the first time. “We want to hear all the details. We have to know everything if we’re going to be able to help you find…” her voice broke off and she bit her lip, “…my sister’s killer, if you’re sure it is my sister. I don’t believe it either. I think you must have the wrong person.” He reached for her arm, but she pushed his hand away.

He drew back. “I’m sorry, Miss Jenson, but your sister has been positively identified through her fingerprints.” He glanced at Claire. “Mind telling me, Mrs. Jenson, why her fingerprints would be on file? We checked, but as far as we could tell she had no criminal record of any kind, unless she got into some sort of trouble and the files were sealed because of her age.”

“Oh,” Lannie interrupted, “that did happen when we were younger, but not because we were in trouble.” She half-smiled. “True and I were down at the police station one afternoon, just fooling around more than anything else. I don’t even know why we went in there, except we already knew everybody there. I guess we must have been bored or something. Anyhow, the chief took our fingerprints and told us they were going into a database, I remember him saying the FBI would have them. It was a big deal at the time. We were excited as heck, laughing about it. I remember that, too.”

Marty nodded. “I guess it’s a good thing you did that, then. It made our job a lot easier.”

“Maybe, but I still don’t believe any of this. You’ve got the wrong person, you must have! My sister is not dead. She can’t be!” She turned toward her mother, quietly sobbing.

Marty swallowed nervously. “Miss Jenson, please, try not to–”

“Leave her alone, Mr. Slade.” Claire’s blue eyes looked straight at him as she pulled her daughter close. “We all have to grieve in our own way, in our own time. Let her be.” He had the uncomfortable feeling that she was looking past him, back into another time, and she probably was. She’d told him yesterday her husband had died only a little over a year ago. Real tough break. Some families got hit over and over again, no rhyme or reason for it.

He pulled two chairs over to his desk. “Please sit down, both of you. This is going to take a while. Can I get you a cup of coffee?”

She nodded. “We could both use a cup. It’s been a long day, and we’re not used to driving in Chicago.”
He nodded and headed for the coffee pot in the next room, hoping it would be drinkable for a change.

* * *

They’d been talking for fifteen minutes now and Claire’s coffee was already cold. She took a sip anyway, hating the taste. But it was coffee.

“Do either of you know of anyone who might have done this, or might have had reason to do it?” asked the sergeant. He’d finished going over, one by one, all the things that he knew to be facts, but Claire was having a hard time keeping them all straight in her mind, though she wanted to memorize every one.

She shifted in her chair, eyeing him. He weighed about two hundred pounds, give or take, and seemed to loom in the space above her when he stood, but he was probably six-two-or-three and the two hundred pounds seemed to be mainly muscle. He had a large face, wide brown eyes, thick salt and pepper eyebrows; that meant he was probably at least fifty, unless he’d grayed very early, but she didn’t think so–he had the eyes of a fifty year old man. He wasn’t wearing a wedding ring. His brown suit was definitely of the off-the-rack variety, his gray and white striped shirt was rumpled, and he was wearing dark blue socks. If he had a wife, she sure didn’t coordinate his clothes.

She strained to hear what he was saying, trying to integrate his words into everything he’d already told them, but the dark blue socks and brown suit had formed a barrier in her mind and it was hard to grasp what he was saying, much less remember it all.

True had been murdered between two and four o’clock Thursday morning. There had been no forced entry into her apartment. None of the neighbors had seen or heard a thing. The killer, or killers, had strangled her with her own head band. There was evidence of sexual activity, although were no traces of semen in or around her body, and none found anywhere in the apartment by the forensic experts. There were no fingerprints. Whoever had done it had known exactly what he was doing, had done it, and left as quietly as he’d come.

Claire shook her head. “Everyone liked her,” she said. “Everyone.” The pain twisted inside again as she looked long and hard at the stark photos he’d handed her of the young woman she’d loved and nurtured since birth, glossy black and whites that reminded her of the photos in her grandfather’s police magazines, photos of someone else…this couldn’t be her child, her True. It was a nightmare, and now that the reality of the situation had hit her, she wasn’t at all sure she could go with him and look at her own daughter dead. Not again, not so soon…first Barry, and now their youngest child…she couldn’t.

This would be the end of her life. She couldn’t bear it.

“Boyfriends? Ex-boyfriends?” He pulled a pen out of his pocket and peered at both of them as he reached for a scruffy yellow lined pad. “You’ll have to excuse me if I’m a little slow here,” he said, “we have a couple of computers, some of the guys put stuff directly into them, but I just can’t seem to get the hang of it.” He smiled briefly, the first time she’d seen him smile, and she began to relax just a little, but his expression became serious again. “What about boyfriends, Miss Jenson?” He was looking directly at Lannie now, as if he were trying to read her mind. “Did your sister break up with anyone recently, back home, or here in Chicago?”

“She had a boyfriend back home,” said Lannie, “but she told me she didn’t have any here because she was trying to get settled in her job.”

“How come she moved to Chicago?” he asked, directing his question at Claire.

“She was a going to be a commercial artist,” said Claire, remembering the hundreds of True’s childhood drawings she’d attached to her refrigerator with tiny magnets throughout the years. “She was awfully good, just loaded with talent.” Her voice broke and she looked down, struggling to maintain her composure. “Her company was paying for her to go to school at night, and she was so proud, so happy…I didn’t want her to go so far away from home, but she just laughed and said this was where the money was.”

Money. Sure. Claire glanced at the window but it was frosted, not allowing much light in, and the shade was pulled against the hot afternoon sun. But she’d seen an apartment building directly behind the station’s parking lot, one of the Chicago Housing Authority projects, the sergeant had said yesterday when he was giving her directions. She’d seen the streets, driving north on the Dan Ryan, and when she’d turned off onto the Fifty-Fifth Street ramp. Certainly there was money in Chicago, but just as certainly, not much of it was finding its way into this neighborhood.

“How did she find this job?” asked the sergeant.

“She won an art contest held by the Lansberry Chamber of Commerce,” said Lannie. “It was in the paper. Someone called her, some employment agency. They told her they had a job listing in Chicago for a commercial art trainee if she was interested in interviewing for it, and she said yes. She’d graduated early, in January, and she was already looking for a job when they called.”

“They paid the expenses for her to travel to Chicago for the interview,” added Claire. “She took a bus. She didn’t own a car.”

The sergeant eyed her. “They? The company or the employment agency?”

“The company,” said Claire, “don’t they usually? I was under the impression they did, it all sounded normal.”

He didn’t answer, just sat there looking at both of them with his eyes narrowed.

“We didn’t think anything was wrong,” said Lannie. “I don’t see how there could have been…” Her voice drifted off, as if some vision had interrupted her train of thought.

Ah, yes, thought Claire, watching her daughter. You have a lot to think about. Things you never should have said to her, things you should never have done.

Sergeant Slade cocked his head toward her and she found herself with the sudden, uncomfortable feeling that her private thoughts had somehow hurled themselves against the walls and sprung open so that he could read them. She pulled her sweater around her shoulders, suddenly cold. “True did seem happy,” she said. “She called us every week, wrote, sent funny little cards.”

“I’m going to ask you again about boyfriends. She was a very beautiful young woman, Mrs. Jenson. Surely she must have dated someone back home. Maybe someone who was upset that she left town? Someone she broke up with under bad circumstances?”

Lannie’s eyes flashed. “Why do you keep asking about boys back home?” she demanded. “Things like this happen in Chicago all the time. Couldn’t it have been a robber? Why does it have to be someone she knew back home?”

Sergeant Slade looked up at her. “Robbery seems unlikely at the moment. There was no forced entry and nothing seems out of place, although the two of you might be able to help us spot anything missing when we go there tomorrow after forensics is finished. Miss Jenson, this could have been done by anybody, although we think she knew her killer. Every detail is important now, no matter how small. Lansberry’s what–three, four hours drive down I-57?”

“About three and a half,” said Claire. She stared at him for a minute, then made up her mind. “She had a boyfriend back home until just before she got that phone call from the employment agency. They dated all through high school. Everyone thought they’d marry someday, but–” She stopped and looked at Lannie.

“But True didn’t want to marry him,” interrupted Lannie, flushing. “True didn’t love him and he didn’t love her.”

The sergeant’s eyes flickered. “How do you know that?”

Lannie ducked her head. “Because he loves me,” she said so softly that the sergeant had to lean forward to hear her.

“Excuse me?”

“True went with Brian Zelinsky for years,” explained Claire. “Everyone thought they were in love, but–” She broke off and gave Lannie a quick, searching look. “Apparently somewhere along the line he became interested in Lannie–”

“Was True upset when she found out about that?” asked the Sergeant. Claire could see he was trying to write as rapidly as possible while watching them at the same time.

Lannie was still staring down at the floor. “She didn’t appear to be,” said Claire, “especially since she got the phone call from that agency right on the heels of the breakup. The very next day, in fact.”

“Does Brian talk to you about your sister?” asked the sergeant, looking straight at Lannie. “Were there any hard feelings on his part that you’re aware of?”

She shook her head no. “He never talks about her to me.”

“What’s his occupation?”

“He’s a student at Eastern,” said Lannie, “a senior.”

“What’s his major?”

“Computer sciences, art minor. That’s the only thing he and True had in common, the art thing, I mean.”

His eyes narrowed. “Were you jealous of your sister, Ms Jenson?” he asked softly.

Claire felt her blood pressure rising, something she had to guard against. Right at this moment her blood pressure medicine wasn’t doing her much good. “Sergeant,” she said, “my daughter has had squabbles, most sisters do, but they loved each other. True had a very exciting career to look forward to. Lannie’s in her third year at Eastern, and she loves it. She and True have always had a basically good relationship. There was sibling rivalry, of course, but it certainly didn’t extend to their boyfriends. I suggest you talk to the young man yourself if you have any questions about his feelings.”

Sergeant Slade nodded. “I’m sure we’ll do that, Mrs. Jenson. Do you have his address or phone number?”

Claire smiled grimly. “He won’t be hard to find, Sergeant Slade. Just call the Lansbury Police Station.”

His eyebrows shot up. “The police station? Why?”

Lannie answered for her mother. “Because Brian’s father is the Chief of Police.”

* * *

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