Chapter 8

Two o’clock in the morning and she still wasn’t home.

Julie picked up the small digital alarm clock, which she’d been watching change numbers nonstop for the last hour, and hurled it at her pillow out of frustration. Now she understood what her parents must have gone through the night of the Bishop High School Senior Dance, when she’d stayed out two hours past her curfew, without so much as a phone call home to let them know she was all right. Julie remembered wondering at the time why they just hadn’t gone to bed, instead of remaining perched by the front door in their robes and pajamas, “sick with worry” and “going out of our minds.” Sitting down on the edge of her bed, Julie tapped the toes of her terrycloth slippers together and took stock of her rampant emotions. Yep, that pretty much summed up how she felt. Payback.

News of the dead girl in the woods had spread like wildfire across the campus via text messaging and good, old-fashioned word-of-mouth. Julie had gotten wind of the incident while brushing her teeth in the community bathroom, shortly after midnight, from Stacey and Nicole, roommates in 5C. Out of idle curiosity, nothing more, Julie had inquired whether the girls knew the victim’s name; they hadn’t, and she’d wandered back to her room, mildly titillated by the headline gossip, but far from concerned. It was sometime later, between 12:45 and 1:30, after “worried” and before “insane” on the anxiety meter, that Julie became convinced the victim was Chloe.

She leapt off the bed and began pacing Switzerland, as she called it, the neutral area between her side of the room and Chloe’s. Many roommates opt to combine their personal belongings and University-issued furniture (a twin bed, dresser, desk, and bookshelf) to create a comfortable, cozy living space. Not them. Upon meeting, the decision to divide the twenty-by-thirty room down the middle had been pretty much a given. Conflicting personalities aside, unpacking, it had been immediately apparent their styles wouldn’t meld anyway. Julie’s furnishing taste bordered on colorful Bohemian: washed silk bed linens, crushed velvet throws, beaded lamps, mosaic boxes, rock crystal candleholders and a collection of worn favorite books. Conversely, Chloe was a minimalist who preferred modern to vintage, and neutral tones to color. Stark, tidy and utilitarian, her portion of the room was virtually void of any personality, except for the eclectic collection of modern art prints and museum postcards pinned, side-by-side, to the wall above her bed. Julie had always found the display of primarily black and white sketches, and cold, graphic treatments to be somewhat suffocating, sucking the life out of the room like a big black hole, instead of livening it up, as she believed art should. Julie surveyed the decorated wall and wondered whether, all along, the morose montage had foreshadowed Chloe’s ultimate fate.

Enough was enough, Julie decided. It was time she took some action. She picked up her phone and punched in the number.

A woman answered after two rings. “University Police Department.”

“Yes, hi. My name is Julie Lawson. I’m a freshman, living in Baxter Hall, and my roommate hasn’t come in yet.”

There was a short pause, followed by a tentative, “Yes?”

Julie held out the phone and glared at it irritably. What was wrong with this person? Didn’t she get it? Julie was flummoxed that she had to connect the dots for her. “Well, she could be that girl they found in the woods.”

The woman on the other end seemed unimpressed by the possibility, replying rather lazily, in Julie’s opinion, “Can I have her name, please?”

“Chloe. Chloe Verdirami.” Julie spelled it for her. She expected the operator to gasp, shout out, put her on hold so she could issue an all-points bulletin, or whatever they did in this type of situation. The woman did nothing of sort; she merely wrote the name down.

“Thank you,” she replied afterwards and appeared to be on the verge of hanging up.

“Wait!” Julie exclaimed. “Have you identified her yet? Is it Chloe?”

“We can’t release the victim’s identify at this time,” the woman answered robotically.

Julie thought of one last opportunity. She probably wouldn’t appreciate having her name bandied about, but what the heck, Julie figured. Maybe she’d change her mind about wanting Julie to work for her, when word got around the UPD that the new C.S.O. was a raving, paranoid lunatic. It could actually wind up working out in her favor. “Excuse me. I don’t think you understand,” Julie said, trying her best to sound authoritative. “We haven’t met yet. I’m Officer Sparks’ new assistant.”

“Good luck with that,” said the woman and hung up.

Dejected, Julie replaced the receiver. Obviously her new position didn’t carry any clout. The woman hadn’t even taken her seriously! From her careless attitude, you’d think she’d been trying to score back stage passes to a concert, instead of investigating a missing person. Now what?

She had to do something to put her mind to rest. What if Chloe stayed out all night? She’d never get to sleep until she knew whether her roommate was dead or alive. Julie wondered if there was somebody else she could call, a friend or, hard to imagine, a boyfriend. She looked over uncertainly at Chloe’s desk across the room. Did she dare?

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