Day 2: Conflict of Interest

Visiting for the first time? You can read day one here

Dan doesn’t look happy to see us when we walk back into his office.

“I thought you were losing my card.” I feel my shoulders stiffen and shoot him a sarcastic smirk. 

“Good to see you again, Dan.” 

I take one of the seats in the corner and wait for Jasper to start talking. 

“We ran into each other as she was walking out,” Jasper explains. “I thought she was Juniper and…”

“…did you need me for something?” Dan interrupts. “I hate to be short but I have a meeting with the district attorney.” He takes a look at his watch. He looks bored and we haven’t even said anything yet. Jasper tenses and I clear my throat.

“And maybe you remember me saying that I am not leaving until I find my sister,” I say, pulling my feet underneath me and getting comfortable. I spread my hands out wide and grin widely. “Surprise! This means you get to deal with me until we really figure out what happened.” I flick a finger toward Jasper. “He also had something he wanted to tell you and I wanted to be here.” 

Dan glances at me before rolling his eyes and turning his attention to Jasper. I study the two men, noticing a vibration of energy that rolls between them. There’s a familiarity here I don’t understand. Both men are avoiding the other’s gaze with laser like precision.

“As you know, I worked - work - with Juniper at Sacred Heart.” 

“That’s right,” Dan says. “We questioned a lot of her coworkers. Nothing came up. In fact, according to our report, no one really knew her. She stayed to herself, never got involved, left early on occasion….”

“…that’s not entirely true.” It’s Jasper’s turn to interrupt. “I knew her. We were - are - friends. I don’t think she would have hurt herself.” He pauses. “And you didn’t talk with me when you asked around at the school. She was quiet, sure. But she was new — and you know the teachers at the school. They’re tight. They’re not the easiest group to get acclimated with once you join staff. It took your wife how long once she got a position? I remember conversations we had where she struggled to feel as though she belonged.”  

Dan’s neck goes red and my eyes go wide. Ah. That explains the tension in the room. These two know each other. And based on his reaction, Dan didn’t really want me finding out that his wife works at the school where Juniper teaches.

“Your wife works at Sacred Heart?” 

Dan sniffs and stands, putting his hands in his pockets and glancing out the window. He doesn’t even acknowledge my question. He’s so done with this conversation. With this investigation. Any second now he’s going to walk around his desk and open the door to his office, inviting us to leave. He looks at Jasper. 

“Wait.” I hold out my hand, demanding attention. Something isn’t adding up for me. Jasper and Dan know each other, because Jasper and Dan’s wife work together? At the same school Juniper is a teacher? There has to be a conflict of interest here. I zero in on Dan.

“Your wife works with my sister, and now Jasper is saying that the investigation at Sacred Heart might not have been as complete as you initially told me.” I look at him with suspicion. "Did you just speak with your wife about this? You told me you exhausted all avenues of possibility. You told me you spoke with everyone who ever interacted with Juniper.” I jut my chin at Jasper. “He knows her. Why didn’t you speak with him?” 

Dan adjusts his tie and sits against his desk, nearly knocking over his coffee. He grimaces and stands up straight. “There’s a lot there, Lavender. Yes, my wife Tracey does work at Sacred Heart but she’s not in the same department as your sister. She’s Dean of Students.” 

“Well that’s convenient,” I mutter. 

Dan ignores my comment and continues. 

“We visited the school. We focused our attention on those who might have been in contact with her the most.” He waves his hand dismissively. “But I didn’t get much more out of the teachers to change my mind about what I believe happened to your sister.” He studies Jasper. “Unless you have something relevant.”

“I do.” He leans forward in his chair and rests his elbows on his knees. “I overheard a conversation a few weeks ago. It was between Juniper and a student.” 

Dan leans against his filing cabinet and crosses his arms. “I would assume teachers speak with their students all the time. What was different about this conversation?” 

“They were talking about the capstone project due next week — him asking for an extension and Juniper refusing. They’ve had the entire year to work on this and we always get the stragglers at the end who want an exception. But then he said something I thought was strange. I walked in on the tail end of his comment so I don’t have the full context, but I wanted to share just in case.” He goes quiet for a second and turns to look at me, “he told her she couldn’t ignore him forever.” 

I frown. “What does that mean? She was talking with him. Why would he think she was ignoring him?” 

“I don’t know. She ended the conversation pretty quickly after that because she saw me walk in the door.” 

Dan sighs. “Thanks for letting me know. I’ll keep in touch if I have any other questions.” 

Jasper slaps his thighs and leans back into his chair like he’s just getting settled in rather than preparing to leave.

“Well, there’s more to the story. Before Juniper ended the conversation and walked away, he slipped a note into the pages of the book she was holding.” He pulls something out of his pocket and drops it on Dan’s desk. It’s a folded piece of paper. I jump from my seat and grab it before Dan can get his hands on it.

 

I liked the blue sweater better. 

 

My blood runs cold before I can even understand the implications. Dan reaches for it and I move my hand away from his. “No. You don’t get this.” 

He holds out his hand. “If it’s evidence, yes, I do.” 

I take a deep breath and hesitantly pass it over, watching Dan’s reaction. He’s so stoic and I feel my face heat up with anger. 

I look at Jasper. 

“Did you take this?” 

He shakes his head. “She found it. We were at a coffee shop later that night working on some stuff for the gala and she pulled it out and read it — freaked out — asked me to get rid of it and ran to the bathroom. When she came back to the table she wasn’t wearing her sweater anymore. It was just the button up underneath.” 

“Was it blue?” I ask.

“No. It was red,” Jasper says. I remember because I asked her about it. She brushed it off as nothing, but she couldn’t finish the meeting. Her hands were shaking the entire time, she was distracted, kept looking around like she was expecting someone. She left early.” 

I sink back down into the chair. 

“Dan….do you have the other note? The note that you found in Juniper's car?” 

He looks at me for a moment before responding. 

“I don’t. But I have a picture of it.” He turns to open up a drawer in his filing cabinet. After a few moments, he pulls out a folder and rummages through it before finding what he’s looking for — a single piece of paper with the picture of the note photocopied on top of it.

“You guys don’t use digital files?” I ask, surprised.

“Oh we do. This was just easier to find — the file name on my computer would be something innocuous and confusing.” 

I reach for the paper and study the note. 

 

I can’t take it anymore. 

 

A stone lodges itself in my throat as I start making connections. It may be nothing, but at the very least I’ve effectively thrown this note out as a possible suicide decree. I hold the paper up for Dan to see. He leans forward and squints to see what I see. I point to the picture and then to the note in his hand.

“Same handwriting. This student was writing my sister notes.”

Posted on April 4, 2018 .