Chapter 14 (end of)
“Who is he, Dominic?” I asked, my voice carrying an edge that wasn’t there only seconds before.
He didn’t answer right away. Just stared out the windshield, a muscle twitching in his cheek, his eyes swirling with his thoughts.
I let his silence draw out for a couple minutes before I snapped his attention back into the car with me. “Dominic!”
He jumped a little and turned to me. “Sorry,” he said turning back to watch the road. “If it’s the same guy, I met Luke when I moved to town. Business meeting. He’s the advertising editor for the paper. Very professional, but on a personal level I wouldn’t give him a second glance. He’s just bad news.”
“Bad news,” I murmured, chewing on it. Going through the events of the night in my head. “Do you think he’d go after Cassie?”
“Not tonight. You left with her. But I wouldn’t put it past him if he ran into her alone.”
His words gave me goosebumps. I pulled my phone out of my purse and dialed Cassie. Her voicemail picked up, so I left a message asking her to call me. As Dominic said, I was pretty good at reading people. And I had read Luke right. I was pretty certain that Cassie would get over her anger at me by the time the alcohol wore off in the morning.
When Cassie hadn’t called me by lunch time, I tried calling her again. Again, I left a message. Maybe the effects of the night before were hitting her harder then me. Maybe she was still stewing about the Luke incident. Deep within her she had a stubborn streak that sometimes wouldn’t allow her to forgive and forget easily.
She didn’t call all day, but I occupied myself with chores around the house, taking care of Michael, and picking up Allison from her friend’s house.
But Monday morning Cassie didn’t show up for work. As her direct supervisor, it was my job to call her.
The phone never rang, but went straight to her voicemail. “Cassie,” I began. “This is Ella. It’s nine-thirty Monday morning. We miss you here at the bank. I hope you’re okay. Please call me.”
Had she come down with something over the weekend? I was afraid something had happened to her, heavy with guilt about leaving her alone in the parking lot at the bar.
The day wore on with no word. By twelve, I had decided to stop by her house after work to check on her.
At quarter after three, I pulled up to Cassie’s end-unit townhouse. Her car was parked in its usual spot. I walked up the stairs to her porch and rang the doorbell. After several minutes without a sound, I knocked on the door. Hard. When Cassie didn’t come to the door, I really started to worry.
I walked around the house and pounded on the back door, but still got no answer. I scanned the windows to see if I could yell for her, but none were open.
Then a neighbor came home. I ran to the man, who took in my panicked behavior and stiffened. “Sir,” I said, trying to sound calmer than I felt. “Do you know Cassie? In the end house?”
He nodded in answer.
“Have you seen her since Saturday?”
He frowned in thought, his brow crinkling. “No. Can’t say that I have,” he said in a surprisingly feminine voice. “Is she okay?” His gaze scanned me. “Are you okay?”
“I’m fine. But I haven’t heard from Cassie since Saturday night. It’s not like her not to call back. And she didn’t show up for work today.”
“Oh. Would you like to try calling her from my phone?”
“Would you mind? Maybe she’s just still pissed. Maybe she’ll answer to someone else calling.”
The man brought his cordless phone out to the porch, and I called Cassie again. Straight to voicemail. No ringing. No answer. I hung up the phone.
“No answer?” her neighbor asked.
“No. I’m going to make a few more calls. If you see her, can you please ask her to call me? My name’s Ella.”
“Thanks,” I said, turning back toward Cassie’s house.
Ignoring the comfort of her cushiony porch swing, I sat on the concrete steps. I didn’t know what to do. I knew I should call somebody, but who?
Dominic was the first person that made sense. He knew, or at least had met Cassie. He also knew the mysterious man Cassie had been enthralled with the last time I saw her. I hoped and prayed to a god I wasn’t sure of that she was all right. If anything had happened to her, it was all my fault for walking away from her Saturday night.
“Hi, sexy,” Dominic’s smooth tone did nothing to calm my frayed nerves.
“Dominic. I can’t get a hold of Cassie. She won’t answer her phone. She didn’t come to work today. And she’s not answering her door.” My breathing was picking up, my voice climbing in pitch.
“What? What do mean? Are you at her house now?”
“Yeah. Her car’s here, but she’s not answering. I don’t know what to do.”
“First, you need to calm down. Breathe, Ella. Slow, deep breaths. You can’t think straight if you’re panicked.” He spoke in a slow, calm tone that seeped through the line and helped me settle down a fraction. When my breathing was more regulated he continued. “Does she have any family you can call?
“No. Her parents are both dead, and she doesn’t have any brothers or sisters. I don’t know about cousins or anything. She never talks about any.”
“Should I call the police? It’s been over twenty-four hours.”
“How about if you meet me somewhere. A coffee shop, McDonald’s. Anywhere. I just think you should get away from her house for now. We can call the police from there.”
“But what if she comes back? Or out? Or what if she’s laying on the floor, injured?” I was starting to panic again. “I can’t just leave her, Dominic.”
“You’re not leaving her.” He paused. “Okay. Tell me how to get there. I’ll come to you. You can call the police in the meantime.”
A heavy sigh escaped my lungs. “I think that’s better.” I gave him directions and hung up. Then I dialed 9-1-1.
When the police showed up thirty minutes later, Dominic had already arrived. He was walking the perimeter, looking for anything suspicious. With his background, he had developed an ability to spot signs like that.
I sat on the porch steps with one of the two officers, telling Saturday’s story and how Cassie had failed to show up for work that day. She took notes diligently, but for some reason I had doubts that the case would be taken seriously. Still, anything was better than nothing.
When I told her that I had a spare key to Cassie’s house, she asked why I hadn’t gone in. “I don’t have it with me,” I told her. “I can go get it if you want.”
“I think that would be better than us breaking in,” she said in a voice like strawberry lip gloss, sugary-sweet with a barrier designed to entice and protect. “How long will it take you to get it?”
“Maybe twenty minutes. I live in Church Hill, so. . .”
“Okay.” She seemed to think it over. “We can’t just wait around here for you to get back. However, the circumstances surrounding Cassie’s disappearance will qualify the case as suspicious. I’ll take what we have back to the station and get started on the paperwork. When you have the key, come to the station and ask for me. We’ll come back together.” She handed me her card and stood to meet her partner.
I followed her down the steps, reading her name on the card. Officer Samantha Brecky. She had told me upon arriving, but I wasn’t really paying attention. Names seemed so trivial at the time. I tried to commit her angular features to memory so I would recognize her later.
Dominic and the droopy-eyed, muffin-top officer came around the corner of the house, meeting me and Officer Brecky in the small green square that was the front lawn.
“Nothing that shows any sign of breaking in,” the male officer said. “What did you get?”
“Sounds suspicious. Mrs. Boothe has a key to the dwelling. She’s going to go home to get it and bring it back to the station. I’ll come back out with her to check inside.”
“We’ll both come. You never know what you might find inside.” I didn’t like his intonation. Like he hoped to find something worth a story in the paper, some recognition for him. His voice ground in his throat like he smoked two packs a day. An observation driven home when he lit what must have been the third cigarette I’d seen in his hand in the half-hour since he’d arrived.
After assuring Officer Brecky that I would bring Cassie’s key to the station as soon as possible, the two officers drove away leaving me with no answers and a much deeper trepidation.
Dominic’s arm draped around my shoulders as we watched the cruiser drive up the hill and turn left out of the neighborhood. “Let’s go get that key,” he said squeezing me lightly. He tried to sound positive, but there was a dark cloud lurking in his timbre.
I didn’t say anything, just started trudging toward my car. But the arm across my shoulders steered me toward the Mustang. I didn’t have the courage to argue.