Harper woke the next morning to her phone ringing. She grabbed it, thinking about Conner. “Hello?”
“Harper? Good, you’re awake.” Chloe didn’t wait for her to respond. “Alec needs to get down here. There’s an unmarked car out front, but I’m pretty sure it’s city police.”
Harper felt her chest tighten. “Police? Why?”
“Not sure. Hence why I’m calling,” Chloe said. “Alec didn’t answer.”
“I’m on it.”
She hung up, got dressed in a hurry, and knocked on Alec’s door. He didn’t respond the first time, so she knocked louder, opened his door, and called in. “Alec? You in there?”
She waited until she heard him moving around, then closed the door, and hunted down her shoes and purse.
“What’s up?” Alec asked, joining her a few minutes later.
Harper passed on the message, then they both went downstairs. The bat cave was empty, so they went out to the club floor.
Chloe and Sarah were sitting at one table. They were talking with two people that Harper assumed were the cops. Though neither were in uniform, both looked professional in slacks and blazers.
When they approached, Chloe beamed at them. Sarah was the one to stand, though. “Hello Harper, Alec. Thanks for coming in. The detectives here had some questions about the club.”
“No problem,” Alec said. He offered their visitors a smile that Harper didn’t believe for an instant. “Alec Morodan, owner of Afterlife. How can I help you?”
The pair stood. They were opposites in both appearance and demeanor. The woman was tall and dark, with an expression as sharp as the bun she’d yanked her hair into.
Her partner was closer to Harper’s height, with light brown hair and a quick smile. He offered out a hand to Alec. “Well, Mr. Morodan, that’s what we’re hoping to establish. Detectives Henry Flowers, and Gabby Gordan, Las Vegas Central Station Police.”
Alec shook with him, then with Gabby. “How serious is this? Can’t imagine they’d send two detectives to tell me I forgot to renew a permit.”
Henry shared a glance with Gabby. “I wish it were that simple. We’ve been working on several missing persons’ cases, and we hoped you might help us out. Is there somewhere private we might speak?”
“I don’t think that’s necessary,” Alec said, still pleasant. But Harper saw a subtle shift in the surrounding energy.
Gabby lifted her eyebrows. “Don’t want to talk, huh? Got a reason for that?”
“I’m happy to speak with you,” Alec said, not acknowledging her tone. “Both Sarah and Chloe are both shareholders, and they take a much more active role in Afterlife’s operation — they’ll have more insight for you. Please, have a seat. Harper, would you join us?”
“Sure,” Harper said. She sat down, glancing at Chloe and Sarah. Both wore neutral expressions.
Alec waited until both detectives sat before joining them.
“So, you bought this place seven years ago. Renovated the building and opened the club within six months,” Gabby said.
“Bought it outright,” she added. “There’s no mortgage. So why the need to take on investors?”
Chloe flashed a smile. “Alec hired me to help run the place. He’s terrible with details. A couple of years ago, I asked to buy-in. Had a small windfall and thought this made a good retirement fund.”
“And you?” Gabby said, looking at Sarah.
Alec spoke up before Sarah could answer. “I’m confused. I thought this related to missing persons. How is the structure of my private business relevant?”
“It may not be,” Henry said. “But having a clear picture never hurts. I’ll be straight with you, Mr. Morodan: Afterlife has been mentioned in several hotline tips over the last six months.”
“Why do you think that is?” Gabby asked.
Alec frowned. “Missing people called in, you mean? I don’t know why they’d be here. It’s a large venue, though. We’ve got an occupancy of three-hundred and see up to a thousand people on any given night. Lots of faces to get confused.”
Gabby looked skeptical. “Uh-huh. Do you know how many nightclubs there are in Vegas? How many you do think have consistent call-ins like this?”
Sarah spoke up. “This is concerning. If you don’t mind me asking, are these cases assumed to be runaways? Were your sketch artists able to use current descriptors for age progression?”
Gabby crossed her arms and said nothing.
Henry shifted in his chair. “We didn’t have sketches drawn up. The tips were anonymous.”
“So you do not know the accuracy of these claims,” Alec said. Harper could hear a note of irritation just under the surface of the question, but she no more believed that than his smile earlier.
“We believe they were legitimate,” Gabby said.
“That isn’t information we can share right now,” Henry said. He wasn’t smiling anymore. “But assume the validity for a moment. Why here?”
“What are you trying to suggest, Detective Flowers?” Chloe asked.
“I’m not making any suggestions,” Henry said. “I’m just trying to get to the bottom of a series of missing people. So far, this place is all they have in common. So why don’t you start making suggestions?”
When nobody spoke, Gabby said, “Maybe we’re looking at a coincidence, but we can’t assume anything without more information. You could help with that.”
“Oh?” Alec’s voice was cool.
She leaned forward. “If we had a list of people associated with the club, those with certain access — employees, vendors, entertainers — we could rule them out and put this behind us. I’d like that. You like that idea, Flowers?”
Henry nodded. “Sure do.”
Chloe gave them an incredulous look. “You’re asking us to violate the privacy of the people who work here?”
“Maybe we should give you a list of all our guests too,” Alec said, voice thick with sarcasm.
Henry ignored that, nodding. “Well, the VIP ones anyway.”
Alec shook his head. “I won’t allow you to harass the people who work here. Not without a warrant.”
“Is that what you want?” Gabby asked. “I’m not afraid to go to a judge and show all the anonymous calls leading here. And if a reporter overhears us talking, and a story gets out about this place harboring those who’ve been potentially taken from their homes and families, I can’t say I’d be sorry.”
“Sounds like a threat,” Alec said.
Sarah reached over and touched his arm. “Let it go. They won’t risk a defamation lawsuit.”
“Maybe not,” Gabby said. “But you want to find out how damning a rumor can be?”
The door to the club opened. Harper looked over, expecting to see Conner. Then she remembered he was gone.
Instead, Brittney walked in.
Harper could have cursed. So far, she’d stayed out of the conversation, unsure what she could offer. Her friend’s timing couldn’t have been worse. She tried to catch Brittney’s eye so she could motion her away, but if she saw Harper’s attempts, she ignored them.
“Good morning,” Brittney said, approaching the table. She wore navy slacks, a white ruffled shirt, and a thin leather belt that gave her a clean-cut, professional look Harper wasn’t used to.
Alec was about to speak, but Chloe beat him to it. She rose and offered out a hand. “Good morning, Agent Goodwin. I’m glad you’re here. This is Detective Gordan and Detective Flowers — they’re giving us the pleasure of being part of their missing persons’ investigations. They think we’re involved somehow.”
Brittney shook with Chloe, the way someone would an acquaintance, not a friend. She smiled at the detectives. “I don’t think we’ve met.”
“No, we haven’t,” Gabby said, sounding suspicious. “If you don’t mind me asking, who are you?”
Brittney rocked back on her heels, and Harper knew how irritated she was, even though her smile never wavered. A quick way to land on her bad side was to question why she was around.
“Agent Brittney Goodwin,” she said. She flashed the FBI badge. “I’ll advise you that you’re interfering in a federal investigation. I’ll need your badge numbers. I’m also going to need the name of your supervisor.”
“A federal — we weren’t informed,” Gabby said, her voice stiff.
“I don’t make it a habit to share my investigations with every local cop who decides to venture outside their jurisdiction,” Brittney said. “Now, you’ve wasted your time, Agent Hawthorne’s time, and now my time. I think it’s time to go.”
Henry glanced at Harper. “You didn’t think your position in the bureau was worth mentioning?”
Harper might have thought so if she’d known herself. But since she couldn’t say this, she met his gaze and hoped she sounded calm. “Perspective matters, Detective. I was more interested in the threats made against the owners of Afterlife — who have been very helpful, by the way.”
“It’s almost like unfounded accusations can make people not want to work with you,” Chloe said, her eyes wide.
Gabby glared at her, then Alec, Harper, and Sarah. Then she turned to her partner. “Come on, Flowers.”
“Wait,” Brittney said before they got far. When they looked at her, she held out her hand. “Your badge numbers and the name of your supervisor, please.”
Afterward, when the officers were gone, the team headed back to the bat cave.
“You came through out there,” Sarah said to Brittney. “Thank you for that.”
“Don’t sweat it,” Brittney said. She sat, took her lipstick from her purse, and applied a fresh coat. “You know, I could get used to being FBI. People really listen.”
Alec rolled his eyes, then said, “Make it happen, Chloe. Sooner, not later. Just in case those detectives decide to make a few calls. Sarah, you heard anything about missing persons? Any truth to it?”
Sarah nodded. “Probably. I can check in with some of my colleagues and find out if there are any updated reports. We can do some cross-referencing to confirm, but they didn’t seem like liars.”
“No, they didn’t,” Alec agreed.
“So wait…” Brittney frowned, looking at her badge. “You mean, I just lied to those two, and they might be right about Afterlife?”
Alec shot her a disgusted look. “No. Not in that sense, anyway. Look, new vampires, new demons, and every other thing out there… they come here. We chase them off, and they come back because it’s a welcoming place.”
“So you think the missing people are…?”
“Dead or demonic.” He paused, looking thoughtful. “The San Francisco let Conner walk in, then out.”
Everyone stared at him.
“We’ve been operating under the premise that Trentreen orchestrated this entire situation to get at Conner. What if he’s only part of it?”
“Part of what?” Brittney asked.
“Some kind of army,” Sarah said, voice low. “That’s what you’re thinking, right? The missing people, the vampire Harper met…”
Alec shrugged. “We need to get to Conner. No need for him to be a martyr, especially if it’s not personal. Sarah, Harper, you two head to the San Francisco. Find him and bring him home.”