At home, Lynnette was sitting on the front porch with Michael. Confusion crossed her face when we pulled in. And when Dominic climbed out of the car, her puzzlement mingled with concern, drawing her to her feet. She set her book down and crossed the porch to meet us.
“Ella? Is everything okay?” She glanced at Dominic. “Where’s your car?” Her voice dropped as she added, “And why are you so late?”
The sigh that escaped my lips was better than the tears that bullied my inner strength as the sturdy walls I had built around my life began to crumble once again. With my worry for Cassie, I had forgotten about calling Lynnette to fill her in. “Cassie’s missing. We fought Saturday night, and I left her at the bar. In the parking lot. She hasn’t answered her phone, and she didn’t come to work today, so I went to her house. But she didn’t answer. My car is there. I need to get the key and take it to the police station so we can check inside. Can you stay for a while longer? Do you mind?”
She wrapped me in her arms, the soft scent of her flowery shampoo seeming much to cheery for the situation. But her embrace was strong, supportive in so many ways. She had been there for me through many breakdowns over Michael. She would be here for me through this. “Of course I don’t mind,” her silver-bell voice tinkled in my ear. “You take as long as you need. I’ll make dinner for Michael and Allison. Better yet, I’ll order Allison and I pizza. You can heat it up whenever you get home.” She released me from her grasp to look into my eyes. “I hope everything is all right, but don’t drive if you’re upset.” Her eyes turned on Dominic. “Who are you?”
Ever the gentleman and professional, Dominic held out his hand for her to shake. “Dominic Sterling. I hired Mrs. Boothe, and her assistant, to help me with the computer system in my store. We had a meeting this afternoon, but. . .” He let the words hang.
Lynnette shook his hand. “Lynnette Rogers. I’m Mr. Boothe’s nurse.”
Even with the pressure of the situation, I could tell she was checking him out. While I couldn’t really blame her, I didn’t like it. But I had no right to feel that way. Especially with my husband sitting in his wheelchair on our front porch.
Looking up at Michael, I decided I’d better go tell him the story. He had a right to know since Cassie was his friend, too. And he was probably wondering what the hell I was doing with another man.
“Hey, honey,” I said, leaning in to give him a kiss. “Are you doing okay today?”
His nod was so slight the average person would’ve missed it, but I had learned to read his responses to my questions.
“Good.” I pulled a white whicker chair around and sat down to face him. Fear flitted through his beautiful blue eyes. “Honey, I think something’s happened to Cassie. I can’t reach her on her phone. She didn’t come to work, and she didn’t answer her door after work.” Through his expressive eyes, his worry was palpable. “That’s Dominic Sterling,” I said gesturing toward the car and following Dominic’s lead with the story. “He’s hired me and Cassie as consultants for his store’s system. When I explained about her, he insisted on helping. It’s probably better if I’m not driving. Just in case.”
Again he nodded. Then he gestured for his paper and pen. I put the pad on his little tray attached to his chair and helped him grip the pen. Then he wrote in his kindergarten handwriting: Find Cassie. U happy me?
The tears spilled when I read it. “Of course I’m happy with you. I love you. And I’ll find Cassie. She’s probably just really sick.”
He smiled his crooked smile and gestured for a hug. I obliged, hugging him as tight as I dared.
“I’ll be home as soon as I can, okay? Lynnette is gonna stay.” I kissed him on the cheek. “I love you, honey.”
Minutes later Dominic and I were pulling into the parking lot at the police station with Cassie’s house key. We went to the desk and asked for Officer Brecky. The plump woman placed a call and told us to sit and wait.
An agonizing three minutes passed before Officer Brecky walked out from somewhere in the maze of desks and offices in the back. We stood as she approached.
“Mrs. Booth,” she greeted, giving me a nod. “You brought the key?”
“Let me get my partner. You two can follow us back to the residence.”
“Okay.” I nodded, and she returned to the labyrinth of personal office space.
I hated waiting again while precious minutes slipped by. What if Cassie was hurt? Or worse? Every minute counted. Even those five that it took Officer Brecky to return with her partner.
“Mrs. Boothe, you remember Officer Carwahl?” Brecky re-introduced me to her partner, reminding me of his name.
“Yes. Officer Carwahl.” I shook his pudgy hand.
Brecky was good. She knew I wanted this over with. “Let’s go,” she said.
Dominic and I followed the cruiser back to Cassie’s house. My heart raced in my chest, terrified of what we might find. Or not find. Trying to calm myself, I closed my eyes and took measured breaths, concentrating on the in-out-in-out of the act.
When we got to the house, everything seemed the same. The officers made Dominic and I wait on the porch while they checked the perimeter again. Then Officer Brecky held out her hand and asked for the key.
Having dug it out of my purse while they were checking the yard, I dropped it onto her palm. The late afternoon sun shone on the silver, and glittered in the scales of the tropical fish keychain.
“You should wait out here until we make sure it’s safe inside,” she said in that lip gloss tone.
Nodding once, I sat on the blue floral cushion of the porch swing while the officers first knocked, then called, then announced their intent. The door opened with the key, and they stepped inside. Hands on their weapons.
Carwahl’s scratchy voice called into the silence that oozed from the gaping door. “Ms. Wade? This is Summerville police.”
Brecky tried a friendlier approach. “Cassie?” she called. “Cassie, there are some people here who are worried about you. If you’re here, we need you to come out so we know you’re all right.”
Again with the waiting. It felt like hours before the two officers finally came out again. I stood so fast, the swing bounced on its chains and whacked the backs of my legs. I stumbled forward, but Dominic caught me before I fell on Brecky.
The woman sighed. “We didn’t find anything. No sign of forced entry or violence at all. No Cassie.”