What’s in the briefcase, he asks. Rochelle simply returned the officer’s gaze, regardless of how guilty it might make her appear. After all she couldn’t possibly answer the question. Obviously she doesn’t know what’s in it and she can’t reveal that to the police. If she says she doesn’t know they will simple ask to open it and she would have no reason to stop them and her instructions strictly forbade opening the briefcase. She could make up something but again, he’ll want to make sure. No, she must steer the questioning away from the briefcase, it was a no-brainer.
She put up a defiant front in the hope of forcing the officer to retreat from this line of questioning. The thought of Tina and their agreed use of the word Amsterdam came to mind but she doubted it would have the same affect in this case.
His eyes not leaving hers, the officer prompted her. “Well?”
Rochelle chose her words carefully. “This has nothing to do with Ruby’s disappearance which has now been explained. So if I need to formally retract my report then I will, but I will not answer any questions about the briefcase.” She hoped her determined look was enough to reinforce what she said.
“I will remind you that there has been at least one report of suspicious behaviour in the vicinity of your home, Ms. Summers.”
Probably only one. “You asked me here to talk about the report of Ruby being missing, not the briefcase.” She could feel the thin ice cracking beneath her feet as she spoke.
“We have reason to believe the two are related. And we only have your word that your neighbour is safe.”
Oh, no. What does she have to do to prove it was true? Her mobile’s call log will prove she received the call but it could be anybody. Can the police trace a number? It was a mobile number which doesn’t prove it originated from interstate. Would she dare let the police call the number? Suddenly she wondered if Ruby had a mobile phone. She’d never seen her with one and she did have a landline, as most people, especially elderly folks, did.
“I can call her now, if you like.”
“Please.” He sat back with his arms folded across his chest, patiently waiting.
Rochelle, pulled her phone out and scrolled through the received calls log, found the number that had called her and called it back. Two rings, then, “Hello, Dear! Is everything alright?”
“Hi Ruby, yes everything is fine”, Rochelle caught he officer’s eye as she spoke. It said explain yourself. “I’m just at the police station because I hastily reported you missing yesterday and didn’t get around to telling them you called last night to say you were fine and just left in a bit of a rush — hang on.” She paused at the officer’s hand gestures to pass him the phone. She handed it to him.
After selecting loudspeaker, he spoke. “Good evening, Ms. Ruby. This is Senior Constable David Willoughby. I’m just following up on Ms. Summers’ missing person’s report and if you could just tell me your name, address and date of birth, I’d be happy to cancel this report.”
“Oh, certainly. My name is Ruby Prendergast and I live at unit 7, number 7, Wicklow Court and my date of birth is the fifteenth of June 1934.”
Willoughby eyebrowed Rochelle for confirmation, she nodded. “Okay, thank you Ms. Prendergast. I won’t keep you any longer. Have a good evening.” He handed the phone to Rochelle you finished up the call with Ruby.
“Okay, Ms Summers. I’m satisfied she is no longer missing so I will cancel the missing person’s report.” He made no motions to get up from the table. “However I must stress the importance of being certain that someone is actually missing before you go making what turned out to be a false report.”
He eyed her a few moments longer in silence. She simply returned the gaze, unsure how to respond. “Okay, I think that will be all for the evening. Thank you for your cooperation.”
Rochelle gathered her things, her backpack and briefcase, and stepped outside as Willoughby held the door open. “How will I get home?”
“The constable here will take you. ”
“Oh, thanks.” Rochelle almost asked about the briefcase again, namely why he brought it up and but decided it was better to let sleeping dogs lie.
“Oh, Ms Summers. Look after that briefcase. You wouldn’t want it to go missing.” His face revealed no humour.
Rochelle only held his gaze again, suddenly suspicious of his interest. Was there really a neighbour who was worried about it and the mysterious activity around her place? What did he mean by the statement? Was he in with the goons trying to steal it or was he trying to warn her? Whose side is he on?
* * * *
Rochelle’s bedroom was bright, indicating a cloudless sky in the east as the sun penetrated its way around the curtains and beneath the bed covers. Surprised at how well she slept she took stock of what was on for the day. Usual household stuff: washing, drying, cleaning etc. Better do a gyn-sesh, at some stage before tonight’s date. She smiled, knowing there were no more sleeps to go before she met the mystery man her best friend had teed up for her. Could she relax now that this day had arrived? Or would she still have to lug that silly briefcase around. She considered leaving it buried at the back of the wardrobe underneath all her miscellany. Best place to hide a plant is in a garden, right?
Yes, but you can’t hide a gum tree in a fernery. Ah, she’d figure it out later. First things first. Sitting on the loo, she allowed the other concerns to enter her thoughts. Ashley Cedric. He said he would find out how she knew him. How and when did he plan to do that? He knows where she lives and there’s been no sign of him since lunch time Thursday. Maybe, hopefully, he’s lost interest or given up trying.
What else was on her mind? Tina. Was Tina still angry at her? She left in a bit of a mood the other night. Probably sick of the briefcase caper. You and me both, girlfriend! Is she over it yet? Who knows? Assuming no news is good news, and she hadn’t heard from her friend since, any gripes must have blown over. Roll on tonight!
Rochelle contemplated leaving the briefcase at home while she went to the gym but wasn’t in a risky mood at the moment, (wait till later, wink, wink!), and given she had no trouble last time, decided to bring it with her again. Being a weekend was a different story. It turned out, and she scolded herself for not realising, that Saturdays attract a different crowd than weekday evenings and some from this crowd were apparently interested in the strangely unfashionable light brown case beside Rochelle’s treadmill.
There were some Saturday regulars who Rochelle had seen here often enough, was on speaking terms but no friendlier than that. Luckily they only smiled at Rochelle’s apparent lack of fashion sense and the weird fact that she had the briefcase in here. Rochelle nervously continued exercising, wary of anybody’s attempt to take off with the thing. If that happened, God knows what she would do. She’d have to get it back. But… why stress about it now, girl? It’s not happening, they’re just ribbing you.
The hunky guy with a particularly unusual chin using the treadmill beside her was conspicuous in the way he continually peered from Rochelle to the briefcase and back again from the moment she claimed the spot. Over and over. It was rather unnerving.
He finished up and Rochelle realised he was with the girl one treadmill over because she finished up at the same time. He took one last look at Rochelle and said, more to his girl than to Rochelle, “Cool bag, Sweety! Better make sure no one steals it.” They both walked off, laughing. Another couple sniggered, too.
If she finished up now she’d have to share the changing room with that woman. Best wait a few minutes. She ran another kilometre to kill time and hopefully avoid the girl. Her mind wandered and she forgot to watch out for the two of them leaving.
Rochelle grabbed her gym bag and towel, and the briefcase, and headed for the showers. Only one other shower was in use, down the end. Rochelle picked one near the middle, not close to the end and not too close to the entrance. She set the briefcase on the small bench seat near the cubicle door away from shower splash, the gym bag beside it. She hung the towel on the hook opposite the bench, started the shower and let it run hot. Then she stripped off her gear and stepped under the flow.
Rochelle finished, turned off the taps and listened. There were no other showers running. As the last of the water dripped from her leaving no sounds at all, she stood in the silence wondering of anyone was out there listening for post-showering sounds. She had better make some. She grabbed her towel and dried off, dressed and then grabbed her stuff and opened the door. Rochelle nearly gasped before trying to pretend nothing was wrong. The woman with the odd-chin guy was leaning against the door frame of the toilet stall directly opposite her shower cubicle.
“Hi”, she smiled.
“Hi”, Rochelle replied, making moves toward the door.
“I was wondering where you got that cool briefcase. Could you tell me? I’d love to get one as a present for someone.”
Was she for real? Rochelle thought she did a great job sounding genuine, but she must be mocking her again. Bitch. Not too smart, though. The girl actually fed Rochelle the perfect answer to her own question. “Actually it was given to me as a present so I don’t know where it was purchased, to be quite honest.”
“Oh, that’s disappointing. I was really hoping to get one for my grandmother.”
“It’s got a really unique style. What’s it like inside? Can I see?” She started reach for the case and Rochelle instinctively pulled it away as if it was her newborn baby.
“No! It’s…” what? “None of your business.” Lame, Rochelle. Lame.
“Oooh! Protective, aren’t we?” Her face took on a menacing look and she lunged for the case again just as the door opened and another woman entered. The woman was older, perhaps in her forties and carried an aura of authority, although she didn’t appear to be gym staff.
“I really have to be somewhere. I’ll catch up with you soon!”, Rochelle smiled at the would-be case snatcher and hurried out the door, straight to her car.
* * * *
Rochelle sat in the driver’s seat for a moment without starting the car. She reflected on the woman’s behaviour which was typical of a teenage girl. This woman was fit and toned and obviously had been looking after her body for many years but she was easily in her late twenties. Why was she acting so immaturely? The thoughts were just too uncomfortable to deal with.
Suddenly a rapping on her window made her jump out of her seat. It was the woman who entered the women’s room as she was leaving. Rochelle hit the window-down button on the door and when nothing happened because her keys weren’t in the ignition, opened the door instead.
“Go, she’ll be coming out shortly”, the woman said in an urgent tone. Rochelle didn’t argue. “Be careful”, she added.
Rochelle didn’t miss the woman’s eyes shift briefly toward the back seat where the briefcase lay. Rochelle failed to conceal her surprise but it didn’t matter. The woman continued walking through the car park. Rochelle found her keys, started the car and drove home without any more hesitation.
At home she hid the briefcase again in the back of the wardrobe under all the stuff that wouldn’t fit on hangers. She quickly texted Tina to make sure the date was still on. She had an hour before her hair appointment. What to do for an hour? Tina didn’t text back for a few minutes so she must be busy.
Facebook. Rochelle had been hassled by her friends about not using it often enough when people leave her messages she doesn’t look at and doesn’t respond to. She blames her phone for being too hard to use for web surfing and doesn’t use it at work. At home she doesn’t get on it much because there’s always something else to do.
And here she was with some spare time. She fired up the laptop and logged in to find Tina had been on earlier that morning. She had a message saying “Tonight is still on if you’re still up for it. The guys are still keen! 😉 Pick up time 8 pm my place.” She was quite sure they were keen. Typical. She checked Tina’s page and saw the chatter between Anthony and herself. “Hey Gorgeous! Still up for Crown tomorrow night? Is your sexy friend still coming? Need to let Jake know cya!”, one post read. Sexy friend, huh? Oh, this Jake guy is already looking good!
* * * *
The rest of Rochelle’s day was rather uneventful. Her hair was set, she made a salad for lunch and pottered around the house for the rest of the day, taking care not to mess up the new do. At 5:30 she began the arduous task of doing her make up and slipping the sexy backless red dress on, ensuring everything up top was held securely in place. She was thankful the evening was still quite mild, allowing her to remove the jacket when she liked and not be visibly cold.
It was 7:30 PM when she took one final look in her full length mirror and nodded to herself with satisfaction. Not too shabby at all, Rochelle. She checked the wardrobe one last time to ensure the briefcase was well hidden, closed it, grabbed her hand bag and set off for Tina’s place. She wanted to get there well before the guys arrived to pick them up.
In the car she had the music up loud and bopped away to the beats. She vaguely registered her phone signal a text and ignored it for the moment. She’d get it when she pulled up at Tina’s place.
Fifteen minutes later she drew the car to the side of the road in front of her friend’s place. Too excited about the evening before her, she forgot about the text, grabbed her bag and rushed inside to greet her friend and see what she was wearing.
“Ooh! That is lovely!”, Rochelle gushed at Tina’s blue dress, not as revealing as her own but still not too conservative either. It did have a back.
“I love your hair! It goes so well with that dress. You should pin it up like that more often”, Tina said.
They both were startled when Tina’s phone on the table buzzed an incoming text. Tina picked it up just as Rochelle remembered her own. She fumbled in her bag for her phone, read the text and almost dropped it. “Shit, Tina! I have to go back home. Can you come with me? This isn’t good.”
Tina looked up from her phone. “The guys are running ten minutes late. Why what’s wrong?”
Rochelle showed her the text. “Get the briefcase now! Team B is back on @ 20:00 hours.” 8 PM. 10 minutes away. 15 minutes to get back. When Tina said nothing, Rochelle prompted her. “Come on, please! I’m sure Team B are the dudes who took us on Wednesday night. They’re obviously after the briefcase. I think they’re coming after the briefcase again at 8 o’clock. We have to get it and take it with us.”
“What about Anthony and Jake?”
“Get them to meet us at my place. Let’s go!”