Even if he couldn’t tell the Sanderses who’d killed their daughter, he let them know it mattered to him. Mercy knew they’d spent years believing no one cared. It’d broken them. Truman offered the first comfort they’d had in ages.
She listened as Truman gently guided them through the few weeks before Jennifer was murdered. They learned Jennifer had been frantically searching to find a roommate, worried she’d have to move back home with her folks. The rent was simply too much for her to handle on her own.
“Was she only considering female roommates? Did she advertise for a roommate?” Mercy asked.
“She didn’t advertise,” said Arleen. “She was asking everyone in town for leads, but she’d never live with a male.”
Mercy wondered if Jennifer would refuse to live with a man, imagining them knocking on her door after hearing the attractive woman was looking for a roommate.
“No special man in her life at that time, right?” asked Truman. Both he and Mercy knew this was true on the basis of reports and Mercy’s talk with Pearl.
“Not that we knew of,” said John.
“She would have told me if she was dating anyone,” Arleen said firmly.
Because mothers and daughters share everything.
Mercy’s lungs contracted at the thought of the mother she hadn’t spoken with in fifteen years.
Arleen hasn’t spoken with her daughter in the same amount of time. Look what it’s done to her.
She wondered if her mother’s eyes looked half as haunted as Arleen’s.
I’m not dead. A big difference.
“Was Jennifer friends with Teresa Cooley?” Truman asked, and Mercy straightened a fraction, interested to hear the Sanderses’ opinion of Teresa.
The couple looked at each other. “I don’t remember that name, do you?” Arleen said to John. He shook his head. “Is she a suspect?” Arleen asked Truman.
“No. Just a woman who had a relationship with your daughter we’re trying to understand. If you don’t remember her, then their friendship must have been casual.”
“I knew all of Jennifer’s friends,” Arleen stated.
Mercy wondered if Arleen truly believed that. “Did you notice anything missing from Jennifer’s things after the murder? I know there was money and weapons missing. Did you discover anything later?”
The couple looked at each other, frowning as they tried to remember. “You said you couldn’t find that photo of Jennifer in her prom dress,” John finally prompted Arleen.
She turned back to the investigators. “That’s right. Jennifer’s prom photo was missing. She’d kept it on her dresser for years. It was a lovely picture. She told me she liked it because she looked skinny.” She leaned forward to Mercy and said in a hushed voice, “She put on some weight after high school.”
Mercy didn’t know how to answer that and simply nodded.
“Who was her prom date?” asked Truman.
“She didn’t have one. She and several girlfriends—your sister included—went in a group with some boys. I thought it was a good way to do it.”
“The picture was of the whole group?” clarified Mercy.
Arleen nodded, staring off into the distance. “I remember your sister Pearl and Gwen Vargas were there, even though Gwen was younger. They allowed all high school grades to go to the prom, not just seniors. I can’t remember any of the boys who went.”
And Gwen Vargas had a photo album missing. I wonder if it included the same photo.
“Was anything else missing?” Truman asked. Mercy had felt his intensity increase when John mentioned the photo.
The couple gazed at each other again and finally shook their heads. “The prom photo could have simply gotten lost before she was killed,” said Arleen. “Or maybe the frame broke or it got ruined somehow. I don’t know why anyone would take it.”
Truman and Mercy asked a few more questions. They simultaneously came to the conclusion that the Sanderses had provided all the information they could. They said their good-byes, gave more condolences, and left their cards behind.
Mercy checked her e-mail as they got in Truman’s vehicle. “Eddie spent the evening talking to some of Enoch Finch’s relatives. Remember how they cleaned out his house after his death? Eddie doesn’t think he got any useful information. None of these relatives had spoken with Enoch in over six months.”
“But they were quick to claim his belongings. Or sell them.”
Mercy snorted. “In this e-mail, Eddie calls them scavengers.”
“What did you think of the Sanderses?” Truman asked as he focused on the road.
“They make me sad. How awful to only have pictures of your daughter for memories. The missing prom picture was interesting, but like she said, it could have been destroyed and disposed of before the murder.”
“My sister kept her prom picture for at least ten years,” said Truman. “How about you?”
“I didn’t go. I’m surprised Pearl got to go. Our parents kept a pretty tight handle on us girls.”
“Not on your brothers?”
“No. They were men . . . able to defend themselves.”
“Tell me about it.”
Silence filled the vehicle, pressing on Mercy’s lungs, making her wish she were anywhere else than next to this overly observant man.
“That was a gorgeous view out at the lake today,” said Truman. “It does me good to see sights like that. Makes me thankful for where I live.”
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