Part 66

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66

When we arrived back at her house, it was immediately apparent that something was wrong. Her front door was slightly open. I knew I'd pulled it shut and locked it behind me when we'd left, yet now it was ajar.

I left Caitlin in the car while I looked over the fence into the garage. There were no cars there, but the back gate was wide open. I wanted to go around to the back of her house to investigate, but I didn't want to leave her alone and unprotected, either. Whoever had left her front door and gate open might still be here.

As if she'd read my mind, Caitlin called, "We should phone the police. I don't want to go in unless it's safe."

I glanced back at her, sitting in the passenger seat with the door open. Her feet were on the door frame, as if she was afraid to step out of the car. She hugged her knees to her chest, her face pale and her expression frightened.

She needs me. The house can wait until I have some help, I decided as I crossed the driveway to stand beside her, pulling my phone out of my pocket. I wanted to call one of our teams, or at least Navid, but I couldn't with Caitlin so close by. So, I did as she suggested and dialled the police. As the phone started to ring, I reached for her hand with my spare one.

I saw the glint of sun on metal as something fell from her hand and plinked to the paving. Her fingers cautiously grasped mine as I recognised the pocket knife I kept in the glove box, now lying open on the ground beneath the car.

When did she pull the knife from the glove box? How did she even know it was there? What was she going to do with it?

I stared at her for a moment, torn between panic and curiosity.

She looked up at me – so trusting! – and I had to drag my attention away from her to focus on what the woman on the other end of the phone line was saying.

We didn't wait long before a police car was in the driveway. Two male officers got out and approached the front door.

"Have you been inside yet?" he asked us and I shook my head.

The one who hadn't spoken pulled out a boxy item that I assumed was a Taser, but the other kept his hands free as he pushed her front door open with his shoulder.

Caitlin shivered, despite the warm day, as both police officers moved out of sight into her house. I crouched in the driveway and slid an arm around her shoulders. She leaned in closer to me, her eyes fixed on her front door, now wide open.

It was less than ten minutes before the police officers re-emerged from her house, but the wait felt interminable.

From the doorstep, the talkative one called out, "You can come in. There's no one else here," as the quiet one went around to the garage and through the open back gate, looking thoughtful.

Caitlin didn't move. She looked too stunned to protest, so I lifted her out of the car and carried her into the house. She closed her eyes as we entered the lounge room, but after a few seconds her eyes were open again, looking for some evidence of what the intruders had done.

I saw nothing different, so I put her down in an armchair before sitting in the chair closest to her. She kicked her shoes off almost immediately, bringing her knees up to curl into a little ball where she sat.

The talkative police officer pulled up a straight-backed dining chair from the next room and plonked himself down in it, across from us. Behind him, the smashed sliding door lay in pieces on the floor, except for a few jagged shards up the top. A brick that I'd seen by the back gate, presumably used to prop it open, sat on top of the broken glass.

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