Cassie wasn’t quite as clear as she explained about her text and meeting with Brandon McNary, then the feeling that she was being followed on the way to her car. She held back, though, and didn’t admit to the missing hours in her life. Confessing to losing track of time or even blacking out would only open a door she’d prefer to keep firmly shut.
“And that’s it?”
“Yeah.” Cassie nodded tightly and the muscles in the back of her neck stiffened.
Why did the simple question seem like a trap?
Without another word, Nash pushed the masks to one side then reached into her file and came up with a glossy picture. “Is this you?” she asked as Cassie, her heart turning stone cold, stared at a photograph of herself behind the wheel of her Honda. She saw the timestamp, remembered the flash as she pulled a one-eighty in the middle of the street in order to follow the bus.
“Yes.” Cold dread congealed in her blood.
“So how did this happen?”
“After I left Brandon, or rather, after he drove off, I got into my car—”
“After feeling that you were being followed?”
“Yes. Anyway, I was starting to leave Portland and . . . and I thought I saw Allie. She . . . she was waiting for a bus, which came.” Cassie’s heart was pounding, and it was all she could do to remain calm. “I think she got onto it, but the bus blocked my view of the stop, so I made a U turn to follow it and hopefully catch up with her.”
“At one fourteen in the morning?”
“I don’t know what time it was, but yeah, that’s probably about the right time,” she said and tried not to panic even though it was evident the detective thought she was lying, that she was somehow involved in Brandi Potts’s murder. She should leave. Tell Nash she needed her lawyer with her, or just get up and walk out. But she didn’t. Because, damn it, she wasn’t guilty.
Upon questioning, Cassie managed to describe the bus, the advertising panel of a local real estate firm on the back end as it belched exhaust on the route.
Nash made a note. “So. Did you follow it? The bus?”
Didn’t she just say so? Be calm. Stay cool. “Yes.” For as long as I can remember.
“And was your sister on it?”
Cassie licked her lips. Had Allie been inside? “No. I don’t think so, but I don’t know. She wasn’t in the alcove of the coffee shop when I drove past, but the bus was lit. I could see inside.” She willed herself to remember driving and craning her neck, looking upward through the bus’s windows. “There were only a few riders.” Two twentysomethings in watch caps, wires from headphones running from their ears. An old man in a bulky coat . . . and . . . She didn’t realize it, but she was slowly shaking her head.
“You didn’t see Allie Kramer?”
Cassie knew how fantastic this all sounded, how unreal. “On the bus? No. Not unless she was lying down.” But then where had she gone? If she hadn’t boarded the bus, what had happened to her? Dear God, had she even existed? Cassie’s head began a slow, low throb, from the base of her skull. Not now! She couldn’t black out now!
“Do you remember where you saw her? Before she boarded?”
Cassie blinked. Stared down at the picture. “Right there!” She pointed to the photo of her, flashed by the traffic camera. “The coffee shop at that intersection and I already told you, she was there, standing in the doorway waiting for the damned bus!” Her voice had risen and she wanted to shake Nash to make her believe.
Making another note, Nash said, “And then what?”
“What do you mean?”
“After you followed the bus. What happened?”
There it was. The time gap. The black hole of her life where she had no idea what had happened. Had she chased Allie down? Driven aimlessly? She didn’t know. “Nothing,” she said quickly, her voice sounding strangled. Don’t let her get to you. Stay focused. Serene. You can do this. She said, “I drove home. I mean to my husband’s ranch.” It was all she could do not to squirm in her seat. But she did her best and wished to high heaven that Trent was with her. That, of course, hadn’t been allowed. He’d driven her to the station and was waiting nearby, probably going to be asked to confirm what he could of her story, but for now, she was on her own.
Just like always, her mind teased as she’d always felt a little out of step within her small family. Allie, the baby, had always been Jenna’s favorite, probably because she, during their growing up years, had complied while Cassie had rebelled. Their father, too, had been more interested in the younger of his two daughters with Jenna, but that, recently, was probably because of Allie’s star power and how it had reflected upon him as her producer. With Cassie shifting her interests to screenwriting, Robert had lost a little interest in her.
And how would you write this scene? You wanted to use Allie’s disappearance as inspiration for your next screenplay, so how do you think you’ll do it from a prison cell?
Cassie gripped the edges of her chair and forced her mind to the interview.
“There is something else,” Cassie said, and reached into her jacket pocket to withdraw her phone. “I left this in the car last night and this morning there was a text on it.” She scrolled to the cryptic message and handed it to the detective.