Chapter 24

The dorm room was a complete mess. Books, papers and articles of clothing were strewn all over the floor. Drawers had been turned upside down, the closet emptied, mattresses and pillows sliced open and gutted.

“Someone jimmied the lock with what looks like a screwdriver. The tumbler is destroyed, which explains why the key wouldn’t fit,” Mario Sosa said.

Vince nodded his head in acknowledgment. Finding Hannah’s place had been thoroughly ransacked, he had immediately called the station. Mario and a two officers had rushed right over.

Hannah sat next to Vince on what remained of a bed, staring off into space through puffy, bloodshot eyes in shock.

“Vince, if you’ll excuse us, I need to ask Hannah some questions,” Mario said.

Vince got up to leave, but Hannah caught him by the arm, imploring,“ Can’t he stay? Please? I don’t want to be alone.”

Mario considered the request, gave his approval, and Vince sat back down.

The detective pulled up a chair. “What time did you leave this morning, Hannah?”

“Around a quarter to nine.” She dazedly repeated the facts regarding her move, which Vince had heard earlier.

“That was Officer Collins who called, at my request. San Diego PD gave the go-ahead for you to occupy the room late last night,” Mario confirmed. “And you didn’t return earlier in the day? Didn’t notice anyone lurking about?”

Hannah absently shook her head.

“I was on the floor several times, looking for Hannah,” Vince attested. “I didn’t see anybody either.”

Mario made a steeple out of his hands, brought it to his mouth and blew through the center, thinking. After several moments of careful consideration, he said to both of them, “This has to remain strictly confidential. It’s not to leave this room. Understand?” They nodded solemnly. “Courtney’s parents took care of all her expenses. Going over her bank statements, there’s $10,000  they can’t account for.”

Vince looked at Hannah. The disclosure succeeded in reviving her; she sat up straighter, becoming more alert. He asked Mario, “Can’t you trace the check or something?”

“We could, if there was one. Ten thousand dollars is the sum of several cash deposits she made during the last month. Did Courtney ever mention this money to you, Hannah?”

“No, never. She was excited about a part she’d landed in a play, over at the Griffith Playhouse. Maybe that’s where the money came from.”

Mario shook his head. “The pay was nominal and on the books.”

“Ten thousand dollars is an awful lot of money for a college student,” Vince murmured thoughtfully. No job he knew of paid that much for a month’s work. He could think of several illegal ways of making it – dealing drugs, stealing, blackmail – none of which fit the profile of a prima ballerina honor student. Then again, it might explain why Courtney was killed. Fast money is very often an invitation to violence.

“The reason I bring it up is that maybe somebody assumed Courtney gave you the money for safekeeping,” Mario proposed to Hannah.

“Why would anybody think that?” she asked, her hands beginning to tremble. Knowing Hannah a little, Vince could sense the pressure building up inside her.

Mario glanced around the room. “Somebody broke in here, looking for something.”

Hannah appealed to Vince. “I don’t know anything about $10,000.”

Vince placed a hand on her wrist reassuringly.

“Well, if the intruder wasn’t after money, it must have been something else,” Mario said. “You told the police Courtney’s computer was missing, right?”

“They asked me if Courtney owned a computer, and I told them she did. A laptop,” Hannah answered, her voice cracking from tension. “I didn’t notice it was gone until they asked me about it. Courtney usually left it open on her desk.” She pointed to the spot. “I said she probably took it with her the night she died.”

“It’s never been recovered,” Mario said.

“Maybe the person who killed her ran off with it,” Vince suggested.

“Or maybe Courtney hid it before she was murdered,” Mario countered, “wanting to keep whatever was on it a secret. Whoever is out there could still be looking for it.”

The possibility was too much for Hannah to bear. She flew off the bed and cried hysterically, “Why is this happening? I don’t know anything! Why won’t they leave me alone?”

Pledging to protect her, the two men managed to quell her fears, and she eventually calmed down, collapsing on the bed, exhausted. Mario and Vince communicated silently through eye contact, and they were both of the same opinion.

“I think that’s enough for now,” Mario said. “We’re going to have to alert San Diego PD about the break-in, since I believe it’s related to your roommate’s murder. Detective Wexler, the officer in charge of the investigation, will probably want to question you. Meanwhile, my men have gathered fingerprint evidence from around the door, and we’ve put in a request to facilities for a new lock and furniture. Someone should be here within the hour.” He smiled supportively.

Huddled up in ball atop the bed, Hannah barely managed a nod.

“I’m going to stick around to help clean up,” Vince stated.

“Good man,” Mario said, and gestured for Vince to follow him. At the door, he whispered, “Monitor her, would you? If she gets any worse, don’t hesitate to call Counseling Services.” They glanced back at Hannah, lying still on the bed. She was nearly catatonic. “This might be more than you can handle,” the detective summed up grimly.

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