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DUSTY MILLER DIED in the spring, on a day sweet with redbud and dogwood, blossoming with late daffodils and early daylilies, with the sky as soft and blue and innocent as a newborn baby's eyes.
I was there not as a member of the Major Case Squad, but just because a patrolman had radioed, his voice breaking with emotion, for the closest female officer--fast.
I was twelve blocks away, and I got there as fast as I could, with a flashing blue light magneted to my dash, my headlights flashing high, low, high, low, and my siren wailing. But I wasn't quite fast enough. When I pulled into the parking lot I could see the girl they told me later was Dusty Miller perched on a high-rise windowsill, all alone, dusty blond hair flying about her face. But she could scarcely see me, down on the ground, and she probably couldn't hear me no matter how loudly I shouted. I needed to talk with her privately if I expected her to listen. It took me a while to get up the elevator and reach her apartment, and before I even found the right door, standing open to the thick-carpeted hall, I heard a patrolman yelling incoherently over the radio, screaming for an ambulance, as if that was going to do any good. I ran past the patrolman, who was still yelling into his radio, past a well-dressed, ashen-faced woman standing with her back to the wall with the knuckles of her left hand pressed into her mouth, past the young girl in pink who was standing alone in a hallway, and pushed at the closed bedroom door, reaching my arm above the head of another patrolman, who was working on the lock with a fingernail file.
"Move over," I said, and he did. It was an easy lock; I could only assume that thispatrolman had not yet had any children lock themselves into the bathroom, as all toddlers do at least once. Seconds later, when the door sprang open under the blade of my pocketknife, I could see the dainty, white embroidered organdy curtains swaying gently in the breeze that came through the open window. But Dusty was no longer sitting on the windowsill. She had gone out the window.
Out the window, and fourteen stories down. Her pale pink sleeveless sweater and pale blue glacier-washed jeans now were a pastel blur, obscured with red--red--red. Her bare left arm bent where arms don't bend, and her head tilted much too far back, off the hood of the waxed blue Corvette on which she lay. Already people, official and unofficial, were swarming around her, and EMTs were running toward her carrying the stretcher to get her into the ambulance that I knew would take her to the morgue, not the E-Room.
I turned back out of the bedroom, back to the living room, where the crying mother was being comforted by the patrolman who had been yelling into the radio. Andersen, his name tag said. The other, whose name tag said Woodall, was writing in his notebook, a great sadness visible on his face.
A man who must have been the victim's father came in then, yelling, "Where is that stupid little bitch? I'll teach her not to make threats like that. Get the police called in--"
The mother turned to look at him. "It wasn't a threat," she said dully. "She jumped. She's dead, Seth. Dusty's dead."
"Well, hell," the man said. "Why'd you let her do it, Ellen?" The only identifiable emotion in his voice was anger.
The young girl in pink--I'd guess her to have been about ten--continued to stand in the hallway. The mother went toward her and began to hug her, but the girl jerked away and ran down the hall. I could hear her door slam, hear the lock click.
The father sat down on the couch and said, "Damn it." The mother sat down then, too, on a chair about as far from him as she could get and still be in the living room.
In these few seconds I'd seen half a dozen reasons for suicide. But which one was the proximate cause? Which one was the trigger?
How at risk was the little girl in pink?
The Dusty Miller case started out as my own personal vendetta, to try to find out what could have caused a lovely, talented sixteen-year-old girl to volunteer for that long dive--to try to find out, and to do something about it.
But before it was over I had involved not only the Major Case Squad but a lot more people besides.