Chapter 1 1
Santa Clarita, California, April 2008
Dawn Gilchrist was beautiful if not particularly bright. Back before her ex-husband divorced his first wife and before Dawn and Edward married, she’d worked as a nurse/receptionist in his fertility practice in Santa Clarita, California, just north of L.A. As a consequence, she had firsthand knowledge of Edward’s secrets and lies, especially the ones she personally had helped him create.
When she’d stopped by the office to see him on a May afternoon back in 2003, her husband’s relatively new blond-bombshell receptionist, a dim bulb named Kaitlyn, told her that he was with a patient but that he’d be right out. As Dawn settled in to wait, Kaitlyn chatted with her boss’s wife, mentioning in passing that one of the practice’s former patients, Alexandra Munsey, had come by earlier in the day asking for her records so she could be put in touch with her son’s sperm donor. It seems her twenty-one-year old-son, Evan, was deathly ill and in need of a kidney transplant.
Hearing the words, Dawn—who’d once held the same position Kaitlyn now did—had felt a sudden clutch in her gut. She knew far too much about Evan Munsey’s sperm donor, even if the boy’s mother did not. If he was in his twenties now, that meant he’d most likely been born in the eighties. “What did you tell her?” Dawn asked, trying to hide the concern she felt.
“That those records are entirely confidential.”
“Yes, they are,” Dawn agreed quickly in an attempt to cover her alarm. “And they need to stay that way.”
She had dropped by to let Edward know that one of her girlfriends had turned up in town and they were going out for dinner. Rather than wait around to talk to her husband in person at the end of his appointment, Dawn left him a note and then fled the office. Out in the parking lot, she sat in the car and gripped the steering wheel in hopes of quelling the shaking in her hands.
Kaitlyn had no idea that the confidential files Alexandra Munsey sought—along with those of any number of other patients—no longer required protection for the simple reason that they no longer existed. Dawn herself had personally destroyed them. It was also likely that Kaitlyn had no idea about how the clinic had operated during some very tough times back in the eighties, but Dawn did. She knew where all those bodies were buried, and she was pretty sure that if the jig wasn’t up right now, it would be soon. If the fact that Alexandra Munsey’s requested records had gone missing was ever leaked to the public, Edward’s hugely successful fertility practice—one that had up to now supported a very lavish lifestyle for both of them as well as for his previous wife—would come crashing down around their ears.
In the years since that first divorce, Edward had developed a five-star reputation as a wizard when it came to doing fertility procedures. People from all over Southern California flocked to his door, making long pilgrimages up and down the I-5 corridor searching for answers to their complex reproductive issues. At this point Dawn was reasonably confident that sperm and egg donors were currently being handled on an up-and-up basis. Prospective donors went through an extensive screening process, and the profiles and photos in the records shown to prospective recipients were all completely legitimate. The problem for Dawn was that back in the old days, when she’d been the one running the outer office—serving as Edward’s nurse, receptionist, and lover—things had been very different.
It was never quite clear how or when Jeanette, Edward’s wronged first wife, had become aware of her husband’s dalliance with Dawn, but once the affair came to light, all hell had broken loose. Ed’s widowed mother, Hannah, who was very well-off in her own right, had been more than happy to pay her son’s way through school, premed and medical school both, and once he was ready to set up a practice in his hometown of Santa Clarita, California, Hannah had been delighted to help out there as well. But when it came time to bail him out of the dire financial ramifications from a divorce settlement, she’d drawn a line in the sand and refused to lift a finger.
After all, Hannah had adored her first daughter-in-law. Any court-ordered funds due to Jeanette, from the property settlement to alimony, would be payable strictly on Edward’s dime. At the time the divorce proceedings were initiated, both the office building housing the practice and the family home had been essentially free and clear. The cost of cutting Jeanette loose had been steep. Edward not only had to hand over half the value of both the office building and their home, but he’d had to pay off her half of Jeanette’s interest in the net present value of the practice itself. In order to buy back his own properties, he’d had to mortgage everything to the hilt. Strapped for cash but wanting to maintain his position in the community, Edward and Dawn had started cutting corners inside the practice, corners that should never have been cut, including relying less and less on the expense of private contractors for their supply of sperm and egg donations.
During most of that time, Edward himself had functioned as the supplier of their supposedly “donated” sperm while Dawn had been more than happy to supply the occasional egg. He and Dawn both had treated it as something of a lark—their own private joke. They had worked together to create the “catalog” containing the fictional profiles of their “stable of donors”—a collection of handsome young men and stunningly beautiful young women. At Edward’s direction Dawn had culled pictures of good-looking young students out of various high school and college yearbooks, mostly from institutions located on the East Coast. They had used those photos in conjunction with impressive but entirely fictional profiles to create a catalog from which prospective parents could choose the donor who would “be the best fit” for their individual families. The fictional bios always described the donors as being top-drawer students or impressive athletes, all of them purportedly in excellent health.
Dawn was one of those women who’d never wanted children of her own, so it was odd for her and her husband to be the biological parents of who knows how many living, breathing offspring. As for the parents who managed to conceive through Edward’s efforts? They were always so overjoyed with the result of finally having a baby of their own that none of them bothered hanging around and asking too many questions.
But that was then—back in the mid- to late eighties. At the time DNA had been little more than an esoteric idea, a minor blip in the consciousness of the general public. Now, however, only a few years after O. J. Simpson’s murder trial, DNA was familiar to everyone. And for Edward Gilchrist, that not-guilty verdict had been a wake-up call. Realizing that DNA might eventually be his undoing, he and Dawn had set out that very night to take corrective measures. They’d gone back to the office and purged the filing cabinets of all the pertinent records, including the donor catalogs. At Edward’s direction Dawn had carried them back to the house and shredded every last one of them.
Since then Dawn had watched from the sidelines as DNA technology improved by leaps and bounds. Now it wasn’t much of a stretch to realize that if Alexandra Munsey ever figured out that Edward Gilchrist himself had fathered her son, the clinic’s ability to continue functioning would be blown out of the water.
After that visit to the office and learning that Alexandra Munsey might be on their trail and long before Edward had any idea that a financial firestorm was brewing, Dawn bailed. She didn’t want to wait around long enough for grubby-handed lawyers to start filing malpractice lawsuits or for bankruptcy proceedings to turn up on their doorstep. Instead Dawn decided to grab her money and run.
She went back to the house that very afternoon, packed her bags, and moved out. She filed for divorce the next day, citing that handy-dandy catchall of irreconcilable differences. To her surprise, Edward didn’t raise much of a fuss. For one thing he knew that Dawn had him dead to rights when it came to coming up with suitable grounds. Edward was a serial womanizer, after all. He’d always been one of those, his relationship with Dawn herself included. She had engaged the services of a private detective who’d managed to provide documented proof—a grainy video—showing Edward and Kaitlyn Todd, his latest sweet young thing of a nurse, going at it hot and heavy in the recliner in Edward’s office. That was typical Edward, all right—ready to grab any accommodating piece of tail but too damned cheap to get a hotel room.
Several years had now passed since that fateful afternoon when Alexandra Munsey had first reappeared in their lives, and everything Dawn had feared might happen back then seemed to be coming to pass. With the aid of something called the Progeny Project, Alex Munsey had lined up a whole group of people who were intent on filing a class-action suit against Edward, claiming that he’d committed fraud while serving as his clinic’s primary sperm donor by failing to disclose his late father’s history of kidney disease, which had put all those resulting offspring at risk of also developing kidney disease later in life.
Dawn knew that the statute of limitations mandated that there was no longer any possibility of Edward’s being charged with either fraud or malpractice. With those legal remedies off the table, the affected families had hired a hotshot trial lawyer who, working on contingency, was preparing to file a multimillion-dollar class-action suit based on the premise that by withholding and misrepresenting his own medical history, Edward had endangered the health of the progeny conceived through his sperm donations.
As the trial date approached, Dawn hoped to stay well out of it. At this point Edward was still free as a bird. His practice had remained open for business all this time, and Dawn’s alimony checks continued to show up in her bank account on a regular basis. Her divorce had been final for almost five years. The generous property settlement negotiated by her attorney, and funded no doubt by her former mother-in-law, had allowed Dawn to pay cash for a relatively modest town-house-style condo right here in Santa Clarita. In the intervening years, she had dated some, but she hadn’t remarried, for good reason. Had Dawn tied the knot with someone else, those alimony payments would have come to a screeching halt.
But now Dawn knew that if Alexandra Munsey and her Progeny Project allies prevailed, Edward would be out of business, bringing an end to Dawn’s gravy train as well. So far she’d been able to live on that quite comfortably without having to go back to work, but depending on the outcome of the upcoming trial, that was likely to change.
Twice in the last week, two different sets of strangers had shown up on her doorstep. Some of Dawn’s pals, also divorcées, had shared lessons about spotting potential process servers and avoiding same—mostly by simply not opening the door. One of Dawn’s visitors had been a guy posing as a pizza deliveryman when Dawn knew damned good and well that she hadn’t ordered a pizza. The next one was a pair of young men supposedly selling magazine subscriptions. Process servers or not, she didn’t open the door for either of them.
But after the second set came and went, Dawn did some serious thinking. She probably wouldn’t be able to dodge the process servers forever, and maybe she shouldn’t. She had followed the story in the local paper and knew the name of the high-powered L.A. attorney who was handling the case. In the news he was alleging that patient files critical to the case had supposedly gone missing. As Edward’s former wife, Dawn couldn’t be compelled to testify against him, but considering the fact that she had donated some of her own eggs, maybe she should call up the lawyer, cut herself a deal, and offer to testify on the plaintiff’s behalf. It would be fun watching Edward squirm when she told an enthralled and crowded courtroom that she knew exactly what had become of those missing files. After all, hadn’t she been the one who’d spent hours on end shredding the damned things?
And if she did testify against Edward and he lost—if he and that little blond bitch of his went down in flames—wouldn’t it serve both of them right? And wouldn’t it be something if Dawn herself had the pleasure of pounding that final nail into their coffin?
There was a downside, of course. If Dawn’s alimony ground to a halt, she’d eventually have to get a job for the first time in years, but even that might end up working to her advantage. After all, hadn’t that been a hot topic of discussion during tonight’s dinner—the importance of divorcées’ accumulating Social Security credits in their own right?
It had been one of her customary girls’ nights out with a loosely organized group of women who referred to themselves as the Seconds—divorced second wives as opposed to divorced first wives. One of them—Frannie, short for Francine—had come away from her marriage with a property settlement that required her ex to continue funding her membership fees at Santa Clarita’s tony Grapevine Golf and Country Club. The group gathered there on a biweekly basis, using Frannie’s membership for the reservation but going strictly dutch as far as food and drinks were concerned.
They sometimes referred to themselves as the “Broken Babes Club” and gave each other a safe place to compare notes and vent about dickhead ex-husbands, double-dealing divorce lawyers, and missing alimony payments. And they almost always had fun, including tonight, although when the subject of ex-husbands getting their just deserts came around, Dawn Gilchrist hadn’t exactly mentioned that she was pretty sure Edward was about to be run over by a Mack truck or that maybe Dawn herself would be behind the wheel.
Before driving home, Dawn had imbibed a couple of drinks—actually several more than a couple. She knew she’d had too much, so she was overly cautious on her way home. Not wanting to pick up a DUI, she was relieved to finally turn in to her own driveway and tuck her BMW into her town house’s two-car garage.
After pushing the remote to close the garage door, she cracked open the car door with one hand and was reaching over to the passenger seat to collect her purse when the door was forcibly yanked open behind her. Before she could object, a small but powerfully built man, dressed all in black, reached into the car, grabbed her by the arm, and bodily dragged her out of the vehicle. Before she had time to scream, he slammed her down flat on the garage’s polished concrete floor.
Momentarily unconscious, Dawn came to just in time to see the blade of a knife arcing through the air above her. She tried to scream and dodge out of the way, but before she could, the knife sliced into her throat, silencing her instantly by severing both her carotid artery and her larynx. She died without uttering a single word.
The man stood over Dawn, staring down at her as her lifeblood ebbed away. “Guess what?” he growled. “I’ve got a message for you from your ex. He wanted me to tell you that you won’t be testifying against him anytime soon.”
He walked out, leaving the garage door open and the light on. The timer kicked in a few minutes later, and the light went off, leaving the garage bathed in darkness while the clicking of the gradually cooling car engine was the only sound to be heard. Early the next morning, the guy coming to deliver Dawn’s paper turned in to the driveway. Through the open door he spotted a body lying next to her black BMW. He was the one who called it in.
When the cops showed up, Dawn Gilchrist’s killer was long gone. He left behind not a shred of physical evidence—no fingerprints, no DNA, and no footprints either. However, cops canvassing the neighborhood soon discovered that Dawn’s next-door neighbors had recently installed a set of very high-end security cameras. Footage from one of those showed a clear image of the presumed suspect, wearing dark clothing, a hoodie, gloves, and lurking just outside Dawn’s garage door. When the door opened and she drove inside, he’d entered the garage just as the door closed behind him. A few minutes later, the door opened again, and the video footage captured the suspect’s hurried exit. This time, however, he was facing directly into the camera, and the resulting image came through with remarkable clarity.
There was a problem, however. No matter how clear the image was, the cops had no suspects and nothing to use as a comparison. The case stayed hot for a while, but eventually new cases came online and the homicide investigation into the death of Dawn Lorraine Gilchrist went completely cold.