Kathy worked as an escort in Lakewood, Ohio, a suburb of Cleveland with picturesque homes and valuable lakefront property. Yes, an escort, as in dating men for money. One evening, she dated a man—a stranger, a client she had never met before—and then disappeared. She left behind a devoted live-in boyfriend and an eight year old daughter. That was twelve years ago. No trace of her or her body have ever been found.
The detective assigned to the case was a gung-ho type, giving every case his full attention. It didn’t matter to him whether Kathy worked as an escort or a kindergarten teacher—he would leave no stone unturned. He dogged the client, searched his home, interviewed his girlfriend. He came to the coroner’s office and collected me from my job as a forensic scientist in the trace evidence department; together we combed Kathy’s home for any clue and, expecting a body to turn up any day, samples of her DNA. Trying to identify the few questioned hairs and fibers—our only clues—I examined the suspect’s bedding and went through bags and bags of the (alleged) victim’s clothing. I learned only that Kathy had been partial to Ronni Nicole.
We got nowhere.
The murder—or, technically, the ‘disappearance’—was never solved. Kathy’s last client is still free, and her daughter is still motherless.
This was only one case of many I worked as a forensic scientist. The salacious quality of the victim’s job gave it a short spike in the news media, but quickly faded into the past along with the other hundred-plus other murders we had that year. But her story stuck in my mind—all our female-victim murders stuck in my mind, partially out of gender empathy and partially because they occurred less often, but also because this particular victim’s life prompts a host of mixed feelings. Was she some brainless bimbo, emotionally questing for an absentee dad while enabling men to think of women as some object they can rent like a car or a rototiller? Or did she simply make the practical choice of a working mother, opting for a job with convenient hours and relatively good pay. Or is the truth, is this victim’s character, somewhere in between?
And who killed her?
Unfortunately, I can’t answer any of these questions.
I write fiction. Questions lead me to characters, and the characters lead me to their story. So in my story, this is what happens: Still dealing with the fallout from the bank robbery gone bad in Takeover, Theresa MacLean is unable to summon much interest when beautiful escort Jillian goes missing—but when the woman turns up dead, Theresa is moved not only by guilt but empathy for Jillian’s infant daughter, Cara. She suspects Jillian’s new husband, wunderkind video game designer Evan Kovacic, but with no trace of foul play on Jillian’s body Theresa cannot prove that Jillian has even been murdered, much less by whom. No one can help her. Homicide detective Frank Patrick thinks Theresa is letting her grief deflect her from a more likely suspect, Jillian’s obsessive ex-boyfriend Drew. And with other bodies turning up, Theresa’s boss believes a serial killer is at work. Theresa is forced to face the master gamer on her own, but can she find her way through this maze in time to save Cara?
Maybe this is why I write fiction—so I can have those answers that real life has refused to reveal.
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