Rochelle stopped where she was and almost dropped the briefcase from her left hand. Her backpack was hanging by its strap on her right hand, frozen on its way to her shoulder. The blue and red lights on the roof of the white car parked near her driveway were unmistakeable. Peering through the back window she could see the tops of the front seats and apparently no heads. The car was empty.
Rochelle had no doubt they were here to see her. The possibility that they were not here for her at all didn’t occur to her currently over-paranoid state of mind. Were they here about Ruby? Or possibly the false report of her being missing? Or could it be for another reason she hadn’t considered? Whatever the reason, she had to face the music — if they played it. She took a deep breath, hitched her backpack all the way onto her shoulder and began walking toward her home.
She reached the police car just as two officers emerged from her driveway. She tried not to look startled or alarmed at their presence but she couldn’t stop the butterflies. She hurried past them without making eye contact and continued down the driveway, half relieved that they hadn’t acknowledged her, and half still expecting them to bail her up and throw her into the back of the police car.
Instead she made it all the way to her front door, unlocked it and walked inside. Had she looked out before shutting the door she would have seen the two constables walking back down towards her. Moments after she put her backpack down and hid the briefcase at the back of her wardrobe, she heard the dreaded authoritative knock at the door.
Rochelle considered pretending she wasn’t home but they obviously knew she was here. Crap! What do they want? Can’t be good news. She opened the door confidently to deny the officers any reason to suspect her of wrong-doing. “Good evening, officers!” The officer she spoke to yesterday at the station was not among them.
“Hello, Ms. Summers?”
“Yes, what can I do for you?”
“You reported a missing person yesterday at the station. We’d like to ask you a few more questions. Would you please come with us?”
Oh, no! What could have happened? Did she ever get back to the police about Ruby’s phone call? “Er, of course, just let me get some things.” Rochelle inwardly groaned that she would have to lug the damn briefcase with her to the police station again and hope to not have to answer any questions about it.
* * *
Ashley felt uneasy and slightly thrilled at the same time that this Rochelle woman was stalking him. He had no idea where she came from and how she knew him. That she turned up at the dress shop exactly a day after their first encounter couldn’t be coincidence. It bugged him more than he cared to admit and apart from that briefcase incident, they had no links to each other. He was disappointed they’d gotten off on the wrong foot back at the shop the previous day. Both days, really. Ignoring her strange interest in him, he would have liked to have approached her in more traditional way. Maybe there was still a chance at that.
Last night he was out playing indoor soccer and didn’t get the opportunity to find out what he could about her. Tonight he managed to get on the internet and start doing some research. She’s not a bad looker, fairly confident, so she must be fairly active on social media, he figured. A quick search on Facebook found her but she had her privacy settings locked up tight so he could only see her friends list and nothing else. Perhaps that was enough.
He searched Twitter and a few other places first and come back to her. Twitter showed up nothing, as did MySpace. YouTube had nothing in her name but everyone seems to use false names on there anyway so there was little point looking harder. Where else could she be online? Instagram? Pinterest? No dice. So she’s only on facebook. Unusual for a nice looking girl like Rochelle Summers.
Back to Facebook, then. There she was, that was her picture alright. And a rather modest friends list of just 120. Now, what did she say her girlfriend’s name was? Tina, that’s right. Ashley searched for Tina amongst Rochelle’s friends and found three Tina’s. One profile picture showed a girl’s head bent down while she held a cocktail, her dark hair could have been similar enough but he wasn’t sure. The second showed a toddler playing in a sandpit with a toy bulldozer, obviously not her and probably not her child either. The third was a very average looking woman and certainly wasn’t the girl he met yesterday with Rochelle at the dress shop in the city. Maybe Tina wasn’t her real name. Had she led him up the garden path regarding this girlfriend of hers? Maybe they weren’t lovers at all. Interesting thought but irrelevant. Or is it? It suddenly occurred to him that one of Rochelle’s friends might have her listed as a partner.
He started with the three Tina’s he found. Cocktail Girl and Bulldozer Boy had no listed partners or relationships. The one with an average face had a husband. No luck there. He clicked the Cocktail Girl and saw that her time line was visible to everyone. What has she been up to lately? Nothing exciting by the looks. A few game awards, lame statements about the weather, vague whines about work, and social life, a few people asking how she’s going. Nothing apparently from or about Rochelle. He bookmarked the page for future reference and allowed his mind and his browsing to wander.
* * *
Friday evening and Tina was relieved that the week was over. It was a tough work week and the drama with Rochelle hadn’t helped make it any easier. Taking Thursday off resulted in a nightmare of a Friday where Tina was forced to catch up on two days worth of work before she left at 7 PM, causing her to miss gym again.
She raced home, zapped and scoffed down a heat-and-eat meal and realised she had nothing to do for the night. Nothing exciting, anyway. She had her dress sorted for the following evening and everything else for the weekend. She decided to jump onto Facebook and see what her other friends are doing. She wrote a quick vague status update about looking forward to Saturday night, wondering how many people wouldn’t resist asking her what she had planned. She then went off to do the washing she’d been putting off, feeling excited about the following evening’s date with Anthony and Jake.
She wondered, no, she was sure Rochelle would like him. Jake was just her type: a tradie, therefore tanned and reasonably muscley, good looking, and from what she could tell from the one time she was with him a couple of weeks ago with Anthony, he knew how to laugh. Surprised to learn he was single and looking, Tina immediately thought of Rochelle and suggested a night out with the four of them some time. Tomorrow night was the night and everything was falling into place nicely. With a bit of luck Tina wouldn’t have to hear Rochelle moaning any longer about not having a man of her own. The briefcase seemed to be the price she had to pay for the privilege.
* * *
After some random web-surfing, Ashley decided to check back on Tina’s page before switching off to watch the evening movie. He noticed a new post on her time line by some guy called Anthony. “Hey Gorgeous! Still up for Crown tomorrow night? Is your sexy friend still coming? Need to let Jake know cya!”
Who is the sexy friend? Rochelle could fit that description quite accurately, especially if she wears that flimsy red dress she bought on Wednesday. And they’re going to Crown. Interesting! That narrows it down quite considerably. Rochelle’s dress definitely matches the venue. He could go and stake out the place and find out some stuff. Watch from a distance and see who this Rochelle really is and perhaps find out how she knows of him.
Tina hadn’t replied to the query yet. He made a note to keep an eye on it throughout the evening to see if anything interesting popped up.
* * *
The briefcase was again the elephant in the room and Rochelle was acutely aware that the policeman was dying to ask about it but perhaps couldn’t find a reason to justify the question. Instead he got straight to the point.
“Okay, so yesterday afternoon, you and your friend… Tina Cadelano, reported your neighbour, Ruby, missing, correct?”
“And you believed she was kidnapped but refused to provide information on why you believed this to be true?”
Rochelle hesitated while holding his gaze. “I didn’t think the reasons were relevant, I guess.” That was an impressively deep hole I just dug with one sentence. “At the time”, she added, quickly.
“At the time”, the constable repeated, holding her gaze.
Rochelle could feel the blood flooding her cheeks but said nothing more.
“Okay, we’ll come back to that.” Long pause. “How long have you known Ruby?”
“I moved into my unit about three years ago when the whole block of units was built and she moved in about a month later. She came and introduced herself the day she moved in. I helped her arrange some of her stuff in the house. She had removalists deliver it all so they did most of the work. Anyway, we just hit it off, I guess. She said I could call on her whenever I needed her. She was always on the lookout for me and the whole neighbourhood, I guess.”
“Okay. Does she have relatives visit often, that you know of?”
“None that I know of. She’s mentioned a son who lives interstate but I’ve never seen him.”
“Is he the only relative she has?”
Rochelle shrugged. “As far as I know.”
“Okay.” Long pause while he examined some notes. “So it was about 3 PM when you and your friend realised she was missing and you presumed kidnapped?”
“And you went back to Ruby’s place, alone, later that evening?”
Rochelle couldn’t recall telling the officer that little gem of information and wondered how he knew. Her eyebrows rose but she said nothing, slightly dumbfounded.
“What were you doing at Ruby’s?”
“Checking the locks”, Rochelle mentally smacked herself for speaking before thinking. She had decided it was safe to talk about Ruby’s phone call and got to the point a little hastily. She quickly elaborated. “Ruby called me on my mobile last night, after I reported her missing, to tell me she was fine and that she thought she forgot to lock up. She asked me to go around and check the front door, side gate and the back door and they were all locked.”
“How did you check the back door if the front door and side gate were locked?”
“The side gate doesn’t need a key. She told me how to open it. There’s a trick to it.”
“Okay. And all the doors were locked properly?”
“Okay. Did she say where she went and when she expected to return home?”
“Yes, said she went to visit her son for a few days and would be back by the middle of next week.”
“Okay, why didn’t you call us back when you heard that Ruby was safe and well?”
“I planned to call first thing this morning but I just got too busy at work.”
“Okay. Did you speak to any of your other neighbours about Ruby when you arrived home yesterday afternoon or after you checked the locks?”
“Did you see any strange vehicles or people in the area when you got home?”
“Okay. So getting back to your reasons for believing she was kidnapped, tell me what prompted you to report her as kidnapped.”
Uh-oh. Here we go. Just avoid mentioning the note, Rochelle. “It’s just unusual behaviour for her. As long as I’ve known her she has never gone anywhere without letting me know. And she’s never gone and stayed with her son before as far as I know.” Weak, Rochelle. Weak.
“But you didn’t know that at the time. Ruby called you later to tell you that.”
“Okay. Let me tell you something Ms Summers. Someone has seen lots of strange activity in the vicinity of the block of units where both yourself and Ruby live. Activities involving a number of men coming and going, and a mysterious light brown briefcase.” He paused to look down at the briefcase Rochelle had with her. “Activities that make this person very uncomfortable.” His eyes locked on hers.
Rochelle was wide-eyed and frozen.
“Tell me, Ms. Summers. What is in that briefcase?”
* * *
Tina eventually came back to the computer to find the message on her time line from Anthony asking about the date not long after her own post about the weekend. Maybe it was a little to vague for him, too, or he would have responded directly to that. She replied with a quick “She’s coming” and hesitated about logging off for the night. She clicked on Rochelle’s profile just on the chance she actually updated something. As usual, no change, nothing posted for weeks. If that girl learned to use the thing she might find she’d have a lot more fun. Ah well, her loss.
A notification. A response to her reply which said, “Cool. Pick you both up at your place @ 7?”
Tina almost typed an immediate reply but decided against looking like she was sitting there waiting for his answer. She got undressed and ready for bed, brushed her teeth, went to the loo, removed her make-up and sat back at the computer with her nail file, scratching away at a few roughed up nails. Then she typed “No, make it 8”, logged off and went to bed.
* * *
Ashley noted this with great interest. He made sure he had Tina’s Facebook in his phone before logging out. He sat and surfed the net for a couple more hours, content in the knowledge that he was close to finding out who this Rochelle Summers really is. Roll on Saturday night at Crown, was all he could think. If he played his cards right he might even find a way to get in between the two doofusses and the girl and maybe even win her over. Time will tell.