Fritz was flipping through the sports channels checking Sunday's football scores. Brenda had called to tell him that DDA Garnett had requested to meet with her on a pair of missing witnesses who were needed for a trial but that he was late getting back from court. She was bringing dinner and his stomach was growling so he headed for the kitchen to find a snack. There was nothing in the fridge except Thanksgiving leftovers and he was sick of those. He poured himself a glass of cold milk and dug around in the cupboards looking for a package of cookies. He spied a package of Oreos, ripped it open, and grabbed a fistful. Then he headed for the sofa.
As soon as he had twisted one apart and his tongue had swept up the sweet, creamy goodness, the phone rang. He debated ignoring it but the caller ID said it was Brenda's brother, Jimmy. So he washed the cookie filling down with a quick swallow of milk and picked up the phone.
"Hey, Cali Bro." Jimmy was in his usual, cheerful mood. "Is my little sis home?"
"Hi, Jimmy. No, not yet. She called to say that she would be running a little late tonight. Can I take a message?"
"Did Dad say anything to you two about going to the Bahamas for Christmas?"
"I don't think so. At least Brenda hasn't mentioned anything about it."
"Well, he just called me this afternoon to see if Frank and I want to go so you'll probably hear from him tonight. It seems that a friend of Bobby's has a house in Nassau that they won't be using for Christmas and Bobby is borrowing it. So he, Joyce, Clay, Jr., all their kids, and Dad are all going there for Christmas."
"What about you and Frank? Aren't you going too?"
"No. They're trying their best to accept Frank but things between him and Clay, Jr. are still a bit chilly so we don't want to ruin our first wedding anniversary with family drama."
"I can't blame you there."
"So, we were wondering if your invitation to come out to LA on a vacation is still an option. We both have two weeks off at Christmas and we'd love to see both of you again."
"That would be great, Jimmy. Let me have Brenda call you when she gets home."
"Thanks. And if you decide to go to the Bahamas too, or if you have other plans, just let us know. "
"You bet. I'll have Brenda call you. Good talking to you, Jimmy."
"Same here. Bye, Bro."
Brenda walked through the door an hour later with dinner. All through dinner she complained about DDA Garnett. "He hasn't even lifted one finger to find out if that couple is even missin. He never wants to do a thang for himself. He wants everythin handed to him. I'm sick of him treatin my investigators like they're his servants and never even gettin a thank you," she grumbled.
"Have you talked to his supervisor?"
"I've tried. Calvin Newbern says he'll talk to him but I doubt he ever will."
"Are you going to talk to DA Corning about it, then?"
"I don't want to. That would be a last resort." Then Brenda completely changed course. "But I've complained enough for one meal. How was your day?"
"It was ok. Actually it was a little like yours. I was at Robbery Homicide this morning getting insulted by Ross and McHale because the head of a robbery ring apparently skipped town and they thought that somehow it was my fault."
"Hmm. I'd still like to squash that Detective Ross like a bug."
"And then I spent all afternoon getting a case record ready to send over to the U.S. Attorney's office. So I didn't have such a glamorous day today, either."
"Tell me again why we picked careers in law enforcement," Brenda sighed.
"It must have been for the money," Fritz replied wryly.
Brenda's tone matched his. "That must have been it. Cause it sure wasn't for the appreciation or the glamour."
It was Fritz's turn to change course. "Oh say, I forgot to tell you. Jimmy called earlier. Have you spoken to your father today?"
"No. Daddy called while I was with DDA Garnett so I had to let it go to voice mail. I haven't called him back yet. Why? Is anythin wrong? What did Jimmy say?"
"Everything's fine. He said that your dad and your other two brothers are all going to the Bahamas for Christmas and that your father is going to call you to see if we want to go too."
"Do you want to go?"
"I don't know. The Bahamas would be someplace different for us. I guess there's a lot to see and do there. But I doubt we'd get to do much if we went with your family. Anyway, Jimmy said that he and Frank aren't going and he said that if we're not going they'd like to come out here for Christmas. I told him I'd have you call him."
"Hmm. Even if we go, I suppose they could use our house if they wanted to come out here."
"Sure. But I think they really want to see us."
"Well, I'll call him back after we finish dinner. You know, our weddin gift to them was the promise of their airfare and a rental car."
"I remember. I'll get the tickets as soon as we get their plans."
As they were putting away the leftovers Clay called and extended the invitation to spend Christmas in the Bahamas.
"I don't know, Daddy. Jimmy called this afternoon and he and Frank are thinkin they might like to come here for Christmas. I get to see Bobby and Clay, Jr. every time I fly to Atlanta but I haven't seen Jimmy and Frank since last Christmas so…"
"I understand, honey. But if you change your mind, just book your flights and come on."
When Brenda hung up the phone, Fritz put his arms around her and said, "You know, now that I think about it, the Bahamas might be a great place to go for our fifth wedding anniversary."
"Yes, it would. If we wanted to do that I'd have to be careful about how much time I take off at Christmas, though."
"That's true. But if we've got company…"
"Oh, you don't have to worry about them. Jimmy is the most self-reliant person I know. And they would both understand if they had to sightsee on their own durin the day. Actually, since they're both so into art galleries, they'd probably prefer to do their own thang."
"So, is it settled? Are we going to ask them to come here for Christmas?"
"I will if you'll let go of me so I can call Jimmy back," Brenda smiled at him.
"If I must," Fritz grinned as he released her.
Brenda called Jimmy and told him that they'd decided not to go to the Bahamas for Christmas and invited them to come to LA. "But, both Fritz and I will have to work most of the time you're here so you'll be on your own a good bit of the time," she explained.
"That's ok. We can certainly get around on our own. Thanks, Bindi. I've been jealous of the time that Clay, Jr. and Bobby get to spend with you so I'm really looking forward to seeing you again."
"Oh, Jimmy. I can't wait, either. And we won't have to work all the time. We'll get to do thangs together. Give Frank my love and just let me know when you want to come so we can get your tickets, ok?"
"You don't have to do that. We can take care of it."
"No. It's your weddin present. Remember?"
"Ok. I love you, Bindi."
"I love you too," Brenda replied.
The next morning, Brenda's secretary poked her head into Brenda's office and said, "DA Corning would like to see you sometime this morning."
"Did he say what it was about?"
"No. Just that he wants to see you."
"Thanks, Linda. I'll call him now."
When Steve Corning answered the phone Brenda heard, "Thank you for returning my call so promptly. I'd like to meet with you about a personal matter if you have time this morning."
"Certainly, sir. I have a staff meetin in a half an hour but I can meet with you any time after that."
"Will 11:30 be convenient?"
"Of course. I'll be there at 11:30." When she hung up the phone, Brenda thought, I wonder what this is all about. He's never wanted to discuss anythin personal before.
Brenda adjourned her staff meeting a few minutes earlier than she'd planned and headed up to Steve's office. When his secretary saw her, she immediately buzzed her in and said "Ah, Chief Johnson, he told me to tell you to go right on in."
"Thank you, Miriam."
Steve rose when Brenda knocked and opened the door. "Come on in, and please close the door behind you. Have a seat." When Brenda was seated across from him he continued, "This is a family matter and it has to remain completely confidential."
"Of course, sir," Brenda nodded wondering if and why she was being drawn into some kind of family dispute. She didn't have to wait long to find out.
"My sister and her family live in Utah. They have one child, Becca. They've been having some typical adolescent rebellion issues with her. They have never approved of her boyfriend since he's been in some minor trouble and he's not a Mormon. They want her to attend Brigham Young University. She doesn't want to even apply there. That kind of thing."
Brenda nodded her understanding and he continued, "According to my sister, last week their fights reached critical mass. She came home late sporting a tattoo and a lot of hickies. She and her boyfriend ran away the next day and she's been gone ever since."
"Have her parents reported her as a runaway?" Brenda asked.
"Yes, but they were told that at sixteen they couldn't force her to return home if she didn't want to. But they took a missing persons report. Anyway, Becca contacted my daughter yesterday. She called and told my daughter that her boyfriend had abandoned her. She has no money and she's hitchhiking to LA. My daughter told her she could stay with us but she refused. I think she's afraid we would return her home."
"The LAPD's juvenile division might be able to help locate her if Utah would transfer the case," Brenda said.
"They really don't want law enforcement involvement," Steve explained.
"But I thought you said that they filed a missin person's report with the police."
"They did. But that was because the school informed my sister that if they didn't, the school would be forced to file a report with Child Protective Services."
"Of course. School personnel are mandated reporters," Brenda nodded. "But I don't see how I can help you."
"My sister and brother-in-law are coming to LA and I am hoping you'd be willing to meet with them to discuss their best options. You're an excellent investigator and since you're not a member of the family, my niece might be willing to talk to you."
"But, assumin that I could find her, I couldn't force her to return home."
"No, you couldn't. But you might be able to convince her. If nothing else, you could steer her away from some pretty bad influences."
"It sounds like you need a PI and I don't have a license."
Steve nodded and continued, "Another complication is that any assistance you could give my family would have to be completely outside of the DA's office. I know I'm asking a lot. If Becca wasn't putting herself in harm's way, I never would take this issue outside of the family. But I don't want to see her get hurt. Or swept up into something she can't get out of."
Brenda had never seen Steve so distraught and her heart went out to him. "Of course I'll meet with your family. But I'm not able to commit to anythin more right now," Brenda cautioned.
"I understand. And I thank you for being willing to hear my sister out. My sister and brother-in-law are flying in tonight. Would you be able to come to my home tomorrow after work?"
"Certainly, sir," Brenda said as she rose.
When Brenda got home that evening she told Fritz about Steve's request.
"Are you going to search for this kid?"
"Steve has been very good to me. If I can help him, I would like to. You should have seen the pain in his face, Fritz. The elephant in the room, of course, was that teenage girls with no other resources get forced into prostitution. And if my searchin for Becca could prevent that from happenin, I would do it.
"You can't force her to return home. You can't arrest her. So, realistically, what can you do?"
"I don't know. Before I decide anythin I need to meet with her parents."
"Ok, but if you're going to walk the streets at night looking for her I'm coming with you."
Brenda nodded, "It might come to that."
Brenda drove up to Steve Corning's palatial home in Beverly Hills. I wish Fritz and I could afford to buy just one wing of this house, she thought as she exited her car. When she rang the bell, the housekeeper ushered her into the living room where a group of people were chatting. As Brenda entered, Steve rose, thanked her for coming, and introduced her to his wife Maddy, their daughter Leslie, his sister Elizabeth Dakins and his brother-in-law Caleb.
Caleb also rose and moved to shake Brenda's hand and thanked her for agreeing to help them.
"Mr. Dakins, I'm not sure what I can do. I'm not a private eye and I'm no longer a police officer. But why don't we start with you tellin me about Becca."
Elizabeth and Caleb told her of a beautiful, smart girl who excelled scholastically and athletically, and who had lots of friends. They described her attachment to her boyfriend, Jay Reinhold, as worrisome in that, for the first time in her life, she could be negatively influenced and she was became increasingly defiant.
They had been concerned because he seemed to skip classes quite frequently and had been involved in some minor school vandalism. Becca insisted that he was just misunderstood. But they became alarmed when he was arrested for DUI with Becca in the car. Since his behavior was so risky and their religious faith does not permit alcohol consumption, they had forbidden Becca to see him again. But she had defied them by sneaking out and came home with a tattoo and hickies on her neck. There was another blowup and she ran away the next day.
Elizabeth withdrew a note from her purse and handed it to Brenda. "She left this when she ran away," she explained.
Mom & Dad,
I will not live in a home which does not recognize my right to make my own decisions.
Brenda read it and handed it back to her. "Mr. and Mrs. Dakins, I want to be very clear. I am not a private investigator and that places some legal restrictions on what I can do."
"But my brother says you're the best investigator he knows. Please help us," Elizabeth pleaded.
"If I agree to look for Becca, you both have to realize that because she is sixteen, the law cannot force her to return home. The most I could do would be to urge her to talk to you."
Caleb nodded his understanding. "Yes, Steve told us that. Please find her for us. We'll pay anything you ask."
"I can't accept any money, Mr. Dakins. And I have a day job so I would only be able to search for Becca at night."
"We understand," Elizabeth said. "But if Steve says you're the best, you're the person we want looking for our daughter."
"All right. I'll look for her. But first, Leslie, since Becca reached out to you, you may be the most important person in this investigation. So I'm gonna need your help. Can I count on you?"
"I don't want to be a snitch," Leslie hesitated.
"Do you want to risk something bad happening to her?" Maddy asked.
"No... " She dropped her head and her voice trailed off in her misery.
"Look, Leslie. Your mother is right. How would you feel if you held back some information which could have helped me find her and the worst happened to her?" Brenda's voice had turned hard.
"All right, I'll help. But please, if you find her, please don't let her know I helped you."
"I can't make any promises, but I'll try not to," Brenda voice had resumed its former, softer tone as she spoke. "She trusts you and we need to keep that trust goin. But right now, I need for you to tell me word for word what Becca said to you on the phone."
Leslie nodded and then said, "She said that she had a fight with Jay and that he drove off and left her on the side of the road, near Reno. She said he had taken all her money so she was going to hitchhike to Los Angeles. I asked her if she wanted to stay with us but she said that she was afraid my dad would force her to return home so she was going to find her own place when she got here. That was all she said."
"When was that?" Brenda asked.
"Three days ago."
"And that was the last time you heard from her?"
"Yes. I asked her to call me when she got to LA and tell me where she was staying so we could get together and she said she would, though."
Ok. Thanks, Leslie. I need you to call me immediately if she gets back in touch with you."
"Becca has never been in any trouble before, Ms. Johnson. She's not street-wise. We're so afraid," Elizabeth said, breaking down.
"I understand, Elizabeth. What is Jay's full name and date of birth?"
"All we know is Jay Reinhold. We don't know his middle name. He's eighteen, but I don't know his date of birth," Caleb said.
"I'll need a good quality recent photograph of Becca. And if you have any photographs of Jay Reinhold, I'd like those too, please. And you mentioned a tattoo. Can you describe it for me?"
"Here. We brought her school picture for you. It was taken in October," Caleb handed the photograph to Brenda. "The tattoo is a blue butterfly and it's just above her right ankle. She has a mole on her left cheek, right beside her mouth."
"She also has an appendectomy scar," Elizabeth added.
"Thank you. There is somethin else I need from you. I need a copy of her medical records and dental records."
Caleb blanched but nodded and said, "Yes, certainly. I'll get those for you."
He knows why I'm askin for dental records, Brenda realized.
"It'll save time if you can have them faxed to me tomorrow," Steve added.
"I'll make some phone calls tomorrow and start lookin for her tomorrow night," Brenda said.
"Ms. Johnson, are you planning to walk the streets of LA alone, at night? Surely that can't be safe."
"No, not alone, Elizabeth. I'm always armed, and my husband will be with me. He's a Special Agent for the FBI. Don't worry, I'll be safe," Brenda smiled.
To Be Continued…
A/N: And now, please leave me a present. Your review will do nicely. Thank you.