Dragnet: Missing Persons
This is the city: Los Angeles, California. Nearly four million people live here. A quarter million of them are between the ages of fifteen and nineteen. Sometimes one of these children disappears. That's when I go to work. I carry a badge.
The story you are about to read is true. The names have been changed to protect the innocent.
It was Wednesday, May 1. It was hot in Los Angeles. We were working the day watch out of Missing Persons. The boss is Captain Grey; my partner is Bill Gannon; my name is Friday.
It was 12:35 PM when the call came in. A teenaged girl had disappeared. She was the fourth student from Hemery High who had disappeared in the past month. I suspected that drugs were involved. Bill and I rolled on it.
We arrived at the home of Alexandra Clarke at 1:07 PM. The house was in an upscale neighbourhood, populated by middle class professionals and their families. I rang the doorbell. The door was answered by a maid who spoke with a Spanish accent, most likely an illegal immigrant, but I didn't have probable cause to ask to see her green card.
I identified myself as a Los Angeles Police Force Detective, and showed her my badge. The maid took us into the living room where Mrs. Clarke was waiting. She was an attractive, middle-aged caucasian woman, dark hair, in curls, dyed to cover the grey. She was five feet, four inches tall, and approximately one hundred forty pounds. She was looking distraught, but still trying to put forward the image of a perfect hostess. She directed us toward a couple of comfortable chairs. Bill and I sat down, and Bill took out his note pad, and a pen. "Would you gentlemen like any coffee?" she asked us.
"No, thank you, ma'am," I told her. "We prefer to get right to our investigation. You reported that your daughter, Alexandra, didn't come home last night?"
"That's right," she said.
"What time did you last see her?"
"It was about seven o'clock," said Mrs. Clarke. "She went out right after dinner."
"What was she wearing?" asked Bill.
"Um, blue jeans, a red blouse, and a yellow leather jacket that she'd borrowed from her friend Diamond."
Bill wrote down the description. "Did she say where she was going?" I asked.
"She was going to meet a friend."
"What was the friend's name?" asked Bill.
"Did she say where?" I asked.
"They were to meet at the school."
"Why?" asked Bill.
"She was helping Muffy with her homework."
"Does Alexandra do that sort of thing often?"
"Yes. She's a good student. Top of all her classes. She often helps her friends with their homework."
"Have you spoken with Muffy?" I asked.
"No, I called her home at about eleven o'clock, but her mother said that Muffy wasn't home yet."
"Has Alexandra ever stayed out all night before?"
"She's stayed with friends, but she's always called before."
"Does Alexandra have a boyfriend?" asked Bill.
"I don't think so. She's been on a few dates, but nothing serious."
"I have to ask this question," I said, "but is your daughter involved with drugs?"
"No! She's a good girl! She's never been in any trouble! She wouldn't do anything like that!"
I looked at Bill, and nodded. The parents are always the last to know.
We got permission from Mrs. Clarke to examine Alexandra's room. It looked like a typical teenager's bedroom, for a teenager who had a maid. Everything was neat and tidy: the bed was made, and there were no clothes on the floor. An expensive portable computer was sitting on her desk. I let Bill look at it, I knew next to nothing about the newfangled machines; Bill had taken a course in how to use them. I searched Alexandra's drawers, paying special attention to her underwear drawer. That's where teenage girls tended to hide things from their parents. I didn't find any drugs, even after searching it three times.
Bill found nothing on Alexandra's computer either: some half finished homework; a diary that intermingled the usual teen gushing about boys with more serious entries on the state of the environment and the plight of the homeless; an address book with the names of her friends. Bill printed off a copy of that last item: we'd want to talk with those people, maybe one of them was her drug connection.
Bill also opened Alexandra's email. Here, at last, it looked like we'd hit pay-dirt. Half of her incoming mail seemed to be offering prescription medications, or information about all sorts of perverted sex acts. I knew it! This girl had been lured into the seamy underworld of sex and drugs, and her parents didn't have a clue! She must not be very satisfied with her boyfriend either. Half the drugs she was interested in were for enlarging his penis, or improving his stamina.
Bill didn't seem to think that this was important though. "It's all just spam, Joe."
"What does a canned meat product have to do with sex and drugs?"
"So why did you say this was spam?"
"That's just what it's called."
"What what's called?"
I shook my head. Bill was a great partner, but some days he just made no sense at all.
We got Mrs. Clarke's permission to take Alexandra's computer with us. I wanted the lab boys to have a look at it. Maybe they could trace back to where all those sex and drug messages were coming from.
Bill and I arrived at Hemery High at 3:12 PM, shortly after the end of classes for the day. We checked in at the school office and were told that we would likely find Muffy Winters at cheerleader practice in the gym. A secretary escorted us to the entrance to the girls' locker room, and pointed out Miss Winters to us as she approached. Muffy Winters was about fifteen years old, blonde caucasian, approximately five feet, two inches tall, and weighed about one hundred pounds. She was sucking on a lollipop.
I produced my badge. "Excuse me, Miss Winters? My name is Sergeant Friday, this is Officer Gannon."
Miss Winters looked startled, and pulled the lollipop from her mouth. "Huh? What?"
"We'd like to talk to you about Alexandra Clarke."
"What about Alex?" asked Miss Winters. "Is she in trouble?"
"I hope not. She's missing."
"Really?" asked Miss Winters. "Since when?"
"Since last night."
"So, what's this got to do with me?" asked Miss Winters. "I haven't seen Alex since yesterday afternoon."
"Her mother said she was supposed to meet you last night." said Bill.
"Oh…right…yeah, uh…something came up, I never saw her."
"What came up?" I asked her.
"I…uh…met this guy," said Miss Winters.
"What guy?" I asked.
"Just a guy. He took me to a cem— uh, a club."
"Uh…Club 5, over on Alverada Street," said Muffy.
I looked at Bill, and saw that he had written down the club name. I knew it. It was a popular hangout for teenagers in this neighbourhood. "Did anyone see you there?" I asked.
"Sure!" said Muffy. "Lots of people!"
I could feel that she was lying, but I didn't have any proof, and I doubted if anyone from the club would contradict her story. I expected that Muffy was a regular there. Even if she hadn't been there last night, there would be people who would swear that she had been.
Girls started coming out of the locker room. "Hurry up, Muffy!" one of them told her. "We have to get our routines down!"
"Uh…If you guys are done, I have to get changed," said Muffy.
I looked at Bill. He shrugged at me. We were done for now, but I expected that I would have more questions for Muffy Winters in the future.