To traverse muddy waters, Dusty had to ask the right questions, and considered herself a pretty good judge of character;

Unfortunately, the questions had to be asked. To traverse muddy waters, Dusty had to ask the right questions, and considered herself a pretty good judge of character; it came from years of practice.  Dusty desperately required a timeline of who Jessica met – when, where, who last spoke with her, what her intentions were, where she was headed, who she planned on meeting…whether she was the type to run off without telling anyone, if she’d ever been involved in clandestine meetings, had a secret boyfriend…the list was endless.

Several days had passed since the disappearance of 18-year-old Jessica Markham.  The parent’s concern and worry hadn’t abated while fellow students’ edginess was also very apparent.  It was natural under the circumstances.  It was to be expected. 

As she went over the interviews again in her mind, she had concerns.  Jessica’s best friend Andrea Wallace had an appealing and beautiful smile.  To put her at ease, Dusty had asked about special times they’d shared, and that genuine smile lit up her face.  Then when she switched to the last day they’d been together, her smile became something else, something quite fake, she fidgeted and her eyes darted toward the door.  Her body language spoke volumes as she would either cross her arms, lean back and away; she was beyond edgy and clearly wanted out of the situation.  Dusty was sure she knew more than she was saying.  Determined to get to the bottom of the deceit, she devised a plan to meet her when she wasn’t expecting to, thereby catching her off guard and alone to see if she would respond and give her the information she’d been withholding. 

Andrea was heading home after class and Dusty cornered her out front of the apartment the two young women shared.  “Jessica, hi.  I have a few more questions.”

“I’m already late for an appointment.  Can’t this wait?”  the fidgeting became intense.

“Jessica, I believe you know more than your letting on.  If you don’t come clean and tell me everything, you’re impeding the investigation.  If something happens to Jessica as a result…” she let the sentence hang.

Jessica’s eyes filled with tears and she swiped at them quickly with her right hand.  “She said she was meeting a new man, someone off-campus, someone she’d met through work.  She wouldn’t tell me where but she said his name was Jerome.  I begged her to be careful.”  Jessica’s eyes beseeched Dusty for understanding.  “I didn’t say anything because I thought they’d hooked up or something.  She left me a text message a couple of hours later and mentioned they were going to the lake to spend the afternoon together.”

“Did she mention which lake?”

“No, just that they were going boating and had taken a snack along so not to expect her for dinner.  When she didn’t show I figured you know…”

“What time did she send you that message?”

“I don’t remember but I can bring it up.”  She fumbled with her cell and finally brought up the message in question.  “There!”  she pointed at the last communication she’d received.

Dusty read the message and noted the time.  “Is there anything else that might assist us in finding her, Jessica?”  Dusty’s gaze was very direct very pointed. 

“No, no that’s it.  Maybe one of the people at Ricky’s saw them leave together.  She didn’t say so but I figured they were meeting there.  She didn’t come home to change so she must have prepared in advance.”

“Thank you, Jessica.  I need to know what’s missing from her closet.  What she was wearing.  She’d have no doubt changed out of her work clothes.  Can you help me with that?”

“Yeah, sure.”  Her relief was palpable as she turned to unlock the apartment door. When it slid open, Dusty pulled her back and quietly indicated she was to stay put.

Dusty made her way slowly inside. The apartment had been ransacked. Gun in hand, she made her way systematically from room to room. It was empty.

She indicated Andrea could enter and asked if she could tell whether anything was missing.

“Ok, we wait outside until the other officers arrive. I want you to collect up a few items of clothing and stay with family or friends for the next few days.”

“You think this relates to Jessica, don’t you?”

“I’m afraid I do.”

“I should have said something…” she broke down into tears, sobbing.

“Let’s take it from here, shall we?”

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