Tom slowly rolled their unmarked police vehicle along Vaucluse Boulevard, La Jolla as they scanned the properties for number 1428; the home of the bus stop witness who earlier contacted police.
‘Some of these numbers are hard to find,’ Frank moaned.
Tom pointed across Frank. ‘That’s 1422 there…so that one there, three doors up with the hedge fence should be 1428,’ he calculated.
He parked the vehicle directly out front of number 1428. After alighting from their vehicle they paused momentarily on the street, passing an assessing glance over the property.
The neat and tidy single story red brick home had contrasting fresh white window frames and roof fascia. It appeared well maintained. With manicured lawns and flourishing garden beds, trimmed shrubs and shaped hedges, the front yard would be the envy of its neighbors.
Frank knocked on the door. The response was quick.
‘Can I help you?’ A woman’s voice answered through the closed fly screen door.
The woman was short and although it was difficult to discern by looking into a darkened house through the fly screen door, she appeared to resemble the lady they saw in the bus video footage.
‘Good afternoon ma’am. I am looking for Mrs Jasmyn Perry?’ Tom asked.
‘It’s Ms…Ms Jasmyn Perry. That’s me. And you are…?’
‘My name is Detective Tom Carter. We spoke on the phone a short time ago. And this is Detective Frank Williams.’
The screen door opened. ‘Yes, of course, come in please gentlemen,’ she said pushing the screen door outwards towards the men. Tom caught the door and waited for Frank to enter first.
As the men entered they were instructed to continue walking towards the back of the house to the rear sunroom.
The end wall of the north facing sun room was lined with picture windows to take in the northern sunny aspect, but also to capture the tranquil view of the landscaped rear yard.
Upon entering the room and noticing the outlook both men were drawn through the room to the windows overlooking the back yard. Both were rendered speechless at the beauty and serenity of the magnificent Japanese style garden they overlooked. Their eyes flicked from feature to feature as they absorbed its splendor.
Japanese Black Pines and Japanese Maples artistically shaped into traditional Bonsai trees of varying heights was the first to captivate.
Japanese stone lanterns and ornate statues rose up from garden beds of Azaleas flourishing with sprays of pink and red, cleverly planted to contrast the abundant green landscape.
Large stepping stone rocks bordered by white raked gravel and tiered timber decking provided pathways through the manicured trees, shrubs and hedges.
An arched timber bridge with distinctive red iron hand rails crossed over a flowing stream that cascaded over landscaped rocks into a small central pond surrounded by hundreds of large river pebbles.
Although they stood in silence, Tom was amazed at how the magic of the garden evoked the relaxing sounds of Japanese flute music playing in his conscious mind, while he appreciated the tranquility.
‘Beautiful isn’t?’ Ms Perry said, noticing how captivated her guests were.
‘I have never seen anything like it before,’ Tom complimented. ‘It is simply stunning.’
‘It is,’ Ms Perry agreed. ‘I wish I could take credit for it though, but it was like this when I bought the house. The previous owner was a professional Japanese landscape gardener. I think he used his yard as a showroom or something for prospective clients…Now, can I get you gentlemen a tea or coffee.’
Both men accepted the offer for a coffee as they moved to sit in the three seater sofa awaiting their host’s return.
After a brief wait, Ms Perry returned carrying a tray with three cups, a small milk jug, a sugar bowl and a plate of cookies. She placed the tray on the coffee table in front of the men and handed each man his cup of coffee.
‘I’ll let you milk and sugar your own,’ she said moving to sit in the lounge chair opposite.
Tom took a sip. ‘Mmm, that’s a nice coffee,’ he said.
Shuffling forward in his seat to place his cup onto the coffee table, Tom paused mid-way while he noticed Frank take a cookie from the plate. He smiled as he watched his partner bite into the treat, all the while not realizing he was being closely scrutinized.
He couldn’t possibly be hungry Tom thought. With a grin and a slight shake of his head Tom placed his cup onto the coffee table. He flicked open his folder and slid out the photograph of Felicity Chapman.
‘You mentioned on the phone that you think you recognized the photo of the young girl on the news…’ Tom began.
‘That’s right. I did.’
‘Is this the girl you think you recognized?’ Tom showed the photograph.
Ms Perry took hold of the photo from Tom and examined it. She nodded. ‘That’s definitely her.’ She handed the photo back to Tom. ‘I can’t believe she is dead…I mean…I didn’t know the poor girl, but I was only just talking to her Sunday night…she seemed so lovely,’ she said as her eyes fell to the floor.
Tom and Frank exchanged a glance. ‘So, you actually spoke to her on Sunday...?’ Tom clarified.
‘That’s right. I was sitting at the bus stop on Grand Avenue waiting for the 101 to catch home and she came and sat beside me.’
‘Where had you been Sunday evening?’ Tom asked.
‘I was at my daughter’s place in Pacific Beach. She’s a mom with three children aged two and under. She has a two year old boy who is a real hand full, and newborn twin baby girls. Whenever her husband works afternoon shift I go down and give her a hand. My daughter picks me up and we usually have lunch together and visit a park with the kids, then I go back with her and help her with the night time routine. But because her husband takes their car to work, I catch the bus back home. It’s not that far and I don’t mind.’
Tom nodded. ‘You said you spoke to this young girl…’ He indicated the photograph on the coffee table.
‘That’s right. She sat down beside me waiting for the same bus. She was so chatty. She said she was going to…’ her eyes lifted to the ceiling. ‘Del Mar to visit her boyfriend. She seemed so excited about it too.’
‘So why didn’t she get on the bus with you?’
‘How did you know she didn’t get on the—?’ Ms Perry cut herself off. She had a knowing grin across her face. ‘Doesn’t matter...’ she said. ‘I don’t need to know….I understand…secret police stuff,’ she said. Both men smiled at her quirkiness.
‘We were waiting for the bus together, just the two of us,’ Ms Perry began. ‘And a car pulled up in front of the bus stop.’ Ms Perry flicked her finger at the photo. ‘She certainly seemed to know the driver coz she smiled when the car pulled up and she quickly jumped up, a little excited like, and walked over to the car. She leaned on the window sill talking to the driver through the open passenger side window.’
‘Did you get a look at the driver?’ Frank asked on behalf of Tom, who was in between sipping his coffee.
She shook her head. ‘No, she was standing in the way and it was too dark to see inside the car anyway.’
Tom replaced his cup onto the coffee table, ‘Could you see if the driver was male or female?’ He asked.
’I couldn’t see, I ‘m sorry.’
‘Do you know what make of car it was that she climbed into?’ Tom asked.
Ms Perry smiled. ‘It was a dark color...possibly brown.’
Tom scribbled down the color. ‘Did you happen to get the make…?’ He asked.
She shook her head. ‘I don’t know much about cars…I’m sorry. It was just a car to me, that’s all I can tell you.’
Tom’s shoulders slumped slightly. He flicked a quick sideways glance of frustration to Frank who returned his brief gaze. ‘Did you happen to see a license plate..?’ Tom asked hopefully.
She shook her head. Her mouth straightened. ‘I just thought…how lucky she was that someone she knew drove by and gave her a ride. Better than the bus.’
‘Lucky…?’ Tom exhaled with raised eyebrows and a single shake of his head. ‘You said she knew the driver…what made you think that?’
‘She was sitting beside me at the bus shelter when the car pulled up. She jumped to her feet, all smiling and happy and moved over to the car like she recognized the driver.’
‘So what happened then?’
‘She jumped in and they drove off. Her window was still down from when she was standing outside the car talking to the driver…when she sat in the car she had a huge smile across her face, so she was definitely happy with the offer for a ride.’
Tom drained his cup and placed it on the coffee table. He lifted the photograph and slipped it back into his folder. Both men stood to their feet. Ms Perry followed.
‘Thank you for taking the time from your day to speak with us Ms Perry. You have been most helpful,’ Tom said. They started to move towards the front door.
‘Would’ve been better if I knew my cars though, right?’ she said.
Tom nodded. ‘That…would certainly have been valuable, but…what you have told us is still of great assistance.’
Walking to the front door Tom noticed a framed professional portrait of a male Army Officer hanging in the hall. ‘Who is the person in all the army photographs that you have around your home?’ He gestured to the portrait.
She smiled. ‘That’s my son Brandon…He’s a Captain in the Army. He loves it. He’s doing his second tour of Iraq at the moment,’ she said proudly.
Tom admired the portrait. ‘Good for him,’ he said. He pointed towards the rear sunroom. ‘There was also an older gentleman – also an officer in some of the photos out the back…’ Tom said as a question.
Ms Perry rolled her eyes. ‘Oh, that’s my ex — Brandon’s dad. He’s a Colonel in the Army.’
Tom nodded his understanding. ‘Well, we won’t take up any more of your time. It was a pleasure meeting you, and thank you once again for the lovely coffee,’ Tom said as they exited the front door.
As he walked to the street Tom looked back over his shoulder towards Ms Perry who stood at her front door watching her guests leave. ‘Still can’t get over that back garden,’ he said.
Ms Perry smiled at the departing compliment.