Girl Undone

By: Marla Madison
(TJ Peacock & Lisa Rayburn Mysteries Book 3)


I would like to thank my fellow authors for taking this journey with me and encouraging me to keep writing even when I became discouraged with my progress; their support and instruction have been invaluable: Donna Glaser, Helen Block, Katie Mettner, Debra Patrow, Marjorie Doering, David Tindell, Rob Bignell, E A Lake, and Darren Kirby.

A special thank you to Dr. Michelle Byron for her help in keeping my information on IVF, in vitro fertilization, accurate.

Thanks to Terry Lee, my significant other, for giving me the alone time I needed for my work and to my dear pets, Skygge and Poncho, for being loyal companions on the good days and the bad.

Chapter 1

Black Friday

9:00 am

A pale figure sat slumped in a tufted, red velvet and carved-gold throne while a handful of gaping shoppers gathered behind the roped off area in front of a work-in-progress Santa’s Village.

On the floor above, private investigator TJ Peacock walked past the Boston Store watching a possible shoplifter. She’d been making rounds in the mall since six in the morning when the doors of the department stores opened. TJ hated mall duty, especially the stiff, uncomfortable uniform she had to wear, but she had contracted with the mall to provide additional holiday-season security, figuring her employee would be the one handling the job. That one employee was recently hired to cover the security part of TJ’s PI business, the part TJ found boring. But so far, security work was the part that paid the bills.

By nine, when the other stores opened, TJ was already experiencing sensory overload. She never had understood women’s shopping mania. There were very few men in sight that morning, and in her opinion, they were the ones who knew how to shop. When men needed to purchase something, they went to the nearest store that sold the item and they bought it—end of story.

Spending hours in a mall, deciding which was just the right dress or gift to buy, was nothing but a huge time waste—time that could be better spent doing something productive—unless the bargain-hunter was a shoplifter. That person’s time in the mall could be super productive, provided she either needed the item she lifted or knew how to profit from selling it—like the woman TJ noticed walking out of the Boston Store. She was carrying a shopping bag with the store’s logo, but TJ quickly observed that the bag didn’t have the Christmas design like those carried by the other shoppers exiting the store. Just as TJ moved toward the woman, intending to question her about the bag’s contents, something on the lower floor caught her eye.

The store had already set up an extravagant North Pole Village in order to lure in parents next week for its grand opening. The activity TJ had spotted near Santa’s Village—people hurrying toward it—didn’t make sense since the village was still under construction and not many of the stores on that level were open yet. Deciding that the unseen attraction on the lower level might be more threatening to mall security than a single shoplifter, TJ ignored the woman with the out-of-sync bag and ran for the stairs.

When she approached the shoppers in front of the village, they pointed at Santa’s throne. A mother with two young boys abruptly turned them away from the scene and hurried her sons into the nearest store.

On a large throne in the center of the display sat a dark-haired young woman wearing nothing but a pale-blue hospital gown, its ties loose on her arms. She was slumped to one side, her dark eyes open in a fixed stare. Immediately suspecting the girl was on something, TJ ran to her while dialing 911 for paramedics. She secured the ties on the woman’s gown and explained to the operator where she was and what was needed. After ending the call, she took off her jacket and covered the young woman who didn’t respond when TJ asked her name.

The girl’s face looked familiar, but TJ couldn’t place where she’d seen it before. She radioed for more of the mall security team, who arrived quickly and in minutes had set up a protective barrier of tall dividers.

Only moments later, a pair of paramedics arrived. One of them asked, “What have you got?”

TJ, still sitting next to the woman, said, “I don’t know. She just showed up here. She’s conscious but not talkin’. Couldn’t even give me her name. Looks like she ran out of a hospital. Drugged, maybe.”

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