|U/C - Abducted
Saturday, 2:35 am
The small sound that woke the ten year old girl seemed ordinary enough at first. However, when she saw the man the little girl’s eyes widened, her pupils dilating until her enormous green eyes turned almost black. They darted back and forth in the pale moonlight streaming into her bedroom.
The man held his finger up to his lips. “Shhh… Be quiet! Your daddy asked me to come.” The man smelled of sweat and stale tobacco.
Saturday, 7:03 am
I lifted my head from the case-file I’d been studying and glared at the ringing phone. It’s too damn early for calls. I need to finish reviewing this file so I can take Brianna to the lake this afternoon. We had planned a family picnic. I’d spent Friday night making a potato salad and an applesauce and raisin cake with dark chocolate frosting, my daughter’s favorites. Saturday afternoons were our father-daughter special time.
I’d gone into the station at daybreak to work on a case that had me puzzled. Worse than puzzled, stumped! My partner, Eddy James, and I had worked it for over nine months and come up with nothing. Every person of interest alibied out. I felt in my gut there had to be some clue we’d missed. The case had begun as a teenage runaway, soon developed into a missing person, finally turning into a possible homicide. There was this matter of blood from a secondary scene. Too much to be an accidental cut. Too many inconsistencies in the testimony we had from friends, neighbors, and persons of interest. And not enough evidence. Even the FBI hadn’t been able to help. We didn’t have a body, or a weapon. My partner had given up six weeks earlier.
He’d told me, “You’re never gonna solve it. It’s a fuckin’ dead end case, Tony. Put the sonofabitch in a drawer. Ya gotta move on, man!”
I still need to teach Eddy about persistence.
I picked up the phone on the fourth ring. “Petrocelli.” I could feel a frown creeping across my face and tried to hide it from my voice. I disliked being interrupted, especially when I came in early on a day off to get work done. Work I couldn’t get my partner to do with me. Damn malingerer.
“Sorry detective. Since you’re the only one here I really think you need to take this call.” The desk sergeant’s voice was tired.
“What’s the story, Casey?”
“Nine-0ne-one forwarded the call here. Little girl’s missing. Father’s on line two—”
“Hey, Case! I came in early ‘cause I have stuff to do you know. Can’t the uniforms take care of this?”
I started to put the receiver down. The sergeant continued, “This has to be yours, Tony. It’s not just the girl that’s gone. Her blanket and favorite doll are missing too. Looks like it might be somethin’ serious, not a runaway. ‘Sides she’s only ten, ‘bout the age of your daughter. We both know ten year olds don’t run away unless somethin’s really bad at home. Line two, man.”
I thought of Brianna and resigned myself. “Got it.”
“Want me to send a car out before you get there?”
“Yeah, send ‘em.” I punched the blinking number two button as I took a deep breath and thought once more of my daughter, asleep and safe, at home.
I said, “Detective Petrocelli, how can I help you?”
Male voice. “Thank God. Somebody to talk to. My little girl… our little girl, Ashley, is gone.” The man sounded desperate, panic in his tone.
“Calm down sir. I need to get some information from you, then I and my partner will be out to your home. Will that be ok?” I wanted to talk a while, engage in some conversation to help calm the father, and give me time to get control of the situation. I grabbed a pad and pen while I propped the phone to my ear with my shoulder.
“Yes! Yes! Just hurry. Please!” The terror still evident in his voice.
“Let’s start with your name and address, and then you can tell me a little of what happened. All right?”
“Yes! Yes! I’m… I’m David Gibson. My wife is Shannon. We live at 5684 Mollie. Up where the street terminates.” The words were chopped, hurried, and too precise. He still sounded frightened.
“Is that Mollie Lane?” I needed to slow him down.
“Yes. Yes. Mollie Lane. When we got up this morning we called the kids. Ashley is an extremely early riser. Her brother Josh… Josh is fourteen and prefers to sleep in. You know how teenagers can be. Ashley was not in her room. She was here last night when we retired. In fact I checked on her to make sure she was adequately covered. She tends to drag her covers up into a ball when she’s asleep. This morning she was gone. Her blanket is gone! Her doll is gone! She is not here. You have to help us find our girl.” The man sounded like he was crying now, big hacking sobs into the phone. “Help me find my baby!” Part of what I heard sounded to me like a speech, something being read. The other part, the giving in to emotions, was either real or a great act.
“Sir! Sir!” Come on, man! “David, you need to get hold of yourself. Take a minute. Breathe deep.” This wasn’t going well. This phone interview was headed for the tank. I needed to call my partner, Eddy, so we could visit the family and interview them. Eddy’s better at handling people, especially people who are upset, even if he is a friggin’ goldbrick. “Can your wife give me some details?” I looked at my scrawled notes. “David! Can Shannon talk to me?”
“Detective?” A husky voice responded.
“Yes, Mrs. Gibson. This is detective Petrocelli.”
“Can you tell me a little of how you discovered Ashley was missing? You know, run me though the events briefly.” I hoped she would be calmer than her Mr. Gibson. Almost anything she says will be more productive than her husband.
“Well last night when we left…”
“You left last night?”
“We were invited to a party. I guess it was a little after nine. We put Ashley to bed before we left, and Joshua, that’s our son. He’s fourteen. We left Joshua up – he was watching TV and then going to play video games until he went to bed. Everything was fine then.”
“When did you and Mr. Gibson get back home?”
“I think about one or so this morning.”
“And did you check on the children then?”
“Joshua was asleep in the family room. The TV just had a menu screen because he hadn’t turned his X-Box off. I got him awake enough to go to bed, turned off his game, and the TV. David, that’s my husband, went upstairs to check on Ashley. He said she was fine, curled up with her Pooh blanket.”
“Do you think it’s possible she ran away?”
“Oh, God, no! She’s only ten.”
The two stories seem to jibe. Mr. Gibson’s speech patterns seem a little stilted. Maybe rehearsed. Maybe something else. Are the two of them working me in concert? I’ll have to find out. This still might be a runaway, or an abduction. Or, God forbid, something worse. You never know in this crazy world. I need a lot more info. The only way to do that is roust Eddy out of bed and go to the Gibson’s.
I thought of what I still needed to do and the problems I would probably encounter. We had to handle this one right; couldn’t let it turn into the next JonBenet. At least in Southern California houses didn’t usually have a basement. I’d have to get a CSI team there this morning, and contact the phone company for a trap and trace in case we got a ransom call. Eddy was going to be the problem. Eddy was easy going, good at digging out answers, and arriving at the real story, but also a party animal. A married party animal. He would probably be sleeping off the effects of too much sex, compounded by too much tequila.
“Just one more question, Mrs. Gibson, and then my partner and I will be right out. Have you received any ransom notes or calls?”
“No. No we haven’t. But the—” Shannon Gibson seemed calm, maybe too calm, and David Gibson’s crying in the background had stopped.
I needed to cut this short. “Okay. Don’t answer the phone. Trust me, if she was kidnapped, they’ll call back.”
“They always call back. We need to record anything they say. It could be very valuable in finding Ashley. My partner and I will be there as soon as possible. Are you okay now?”
“Yes, just hurry. Please!”
“Some uniformed officers are on their way to your home. They should arrive any minute. I’ll be there with my partner as quickly as possible. Bye now.”
“Thank you. Please hurry.” The line clicked dead.
That voice. I couldn’t get Shannon’s voice, and the image of Lauren Bacall, out of my mind. It happens when you’re addicted to classic film. I knew, though, I was no Marlowe, at least not with the ladies. I was a damn good detective, maybe almost as good as Raymond Chandler’s characters. In the six years since getting my shield I never had an investigation end up in the cold case files. I wasn’t about to start now. I needed Eddy with me to dig for information gently and quietly. Hopefully sober.
Saturday, 7:16 am
On the eighth ring Eddy’s wife, Brooke, gave me a sleepy “Hello… Uh… Who’s this?”
“Hey Brooke, it’s Tony. Is Eddy still sleeping off last night?”
A yawn, then a whispered voice. “You’re like the world’s best psychic, maybe even the world’s best detective. Why do you need that bum so early on Saturday morning?”
“I don’t.” I tried to play it light. “I just wanted to talk to you.”
“Made my day! Thanks lover. He’ll sleep till like noon if I let him. Just come on over.” She dropped her voice a half octave. “We can use the spare bedroom.”
“Okay. Enough! You’ve had your fantasy. I’m coming over. It’s work. I just took a call on a missing girl. Could be a kidnapping… or who knows.”
“Oh, Jeez, Tony.”
“Brooke, I want you to get him in a cold shower and pour a pot of strong, hot coffee in him. I’ll see you in ten minutes, fifteen outside. I really need him Brooke.”
“Don’t you— Shit! I shouldn’t even think that.” A beat while she caught herself. “He’ll be up, Tony.” She hung up before I could say thanks.
Eddy and I had been partners for four years, ever since Lakeside opted out of using the San Diego County sheriff’s department to provide law enforcement. Before that I’d been a detective with the County. Eddy came from the San Diego PD. I understood his strengths and weaknesses. He tended to be lazy and a womanizer, drank and gambled too much, but great with handling people. Eddy would never do anything dirty, unless you counted getting a freebie from a hooker. That probably stemmed from working vice in the city. I knew I could count on him to always have my back. Sometimes I thought he still needed to learn about persistence and the dogged pursuit of clues. Right now I needed one of his strengths to interview the Gibsons.
I rang the bell at Eddy and Brooke’s house. A one-story cream colored ranch with a brick walkway to the front door. The lawn needed mowing and the planting beds were in dire need of weeding. From the street it looked like the other homes on the block. The day had started to warm already. Unseasonably hot for early June. I knew Brooke would be out later in the day, pushing the mower and pulling weeds. Eddy thought that bringing home a pay check and boffing Brooke was enough to keep the home fires burning.
The door swung back. Brooke wore a pair of denim shorts and a red print cotton shirt over a white scoop neck tee. She had knotted the shirt at her waist. She wore just a touch of makeup and had pulled her long blond hair into a ponytail. “Come on in,” she said. When I stepped through the door she gave me a kiss on the cheek. “Eddy’s in the shower. I’ve got, like, one cup of coffee in him already.”
“Thanks, Brooke. You are truly a wonder.”
She looked down, in an aw shucks sort of way, as though my faint praise had embarrassed her. “What’s a girl gonna do when her husband’s a cop? You want, like, some coffee, while he’s getting ready?”
“Thanks. Sounds great.”
She headed toward their kitchen. I followed.
“You know…” I said as I sat at the breakfast table, a mug of steaming, black coffee before me.
Brooke sat down across from me, nursing her own half finished cup. She nodded for me to continue.
“When I called you this morning you stopped mid-sentence. Said you shouldn’t even think something. That half finished sentence got my curiosity up. I know sometimes I stick my foot in it. If you want me to drop it, I will.” I waited.
Brooke looked down at her coffee. Said nothing.
I knew I’d poked a button. “Forget I even mentioned it, okay?”
She raised her head and looked at me. Her eyes glistened. She blinked a couple of times. “No, Tony. I think I need to talk to somebody, ‘cause I’ve got all this, like, mixed up crap going on in my head. What I didn’t say to you on the phone was, don’t you ever quit? I mean, it’s like you’re devoted to your work, your job. You’re, like, this Italian bull-dog. And Sophia thinks you’re, like, off chasing other women instead of working a case. When the four of us get together I try to tell her that you’re just a hard working cop.” She looked me square in the eye before continuing. “You’re too devoted to your job, but she doesn’t get it.” Brooke paused, took a breath, then plunged ahead. “Now, my Eddy. He’s a piece of work. I know half the time he’s not working. He’s a good cop, but he’s not devoted to it; not obsessed like you are. Instead he’s off drinking, gambling, or screwing some skirt.” She sighed.
I knew there was more, so I waited.
“I love the bum. I really do. But it’s just not friggin’ fair! I don’t know how long I can keep it up. How come the decent people marry the scum?” By this time a lone tear had slid down her cheek. “Am I crazy, or mixed up, or what? Tell me Tony. What in the heck can I do?”
Should I tell her to see a shrink? My shrink? I shook my head. I heard the soft footsteps of my partner coming through the living room. “Let me think on that, Brooke. I’ll get back to you. Okay?”
I looked at Eddy standing in the doorway.
“Sure Tony.” Brooke looked at Eddy. “Hi honey. Another cup of coffee before you go?”
Eddy had a sullen look on his face. “Fuck, yes. Why not.”
Saturday, 7:49 am
Once we were in the car and headed to the Gibson’s Eddy said, “What the fuck was that about?”
“What?” I said.
“You an’ Brooke was talkin’ ‘bout something. What was it?”
“Oh that. She wanted me to bring Sophia over for a bar-b-que next Sunday. I didn’t know if we could. Last night Sophia mentioned about going somewhere. Ensenada, or maybe Rosarita. I don’t know. I knew I’d have to talk her into going over to your house. I just told Brooke I’d have to get back to her. That’s all.”
“You’re not shittin’ me? She never said anything to me about a bar-b-que.”
“What is this Eddy? No, of course I’m not shitting you. Are you sore I got you out of bed for a little work? Would you rather Sophia and I not come over next weekend for steaks and beer? If we do get together and you’d rather, I could do my beer battered fish tacos.”
“Let me think on that one.” Eddy loved my beer battered fish.
I let a little silence hang between us as I drove across town to Mollie Lane, and made a mental note to clue Brooke in later.
Do I tell her about my shrink? That’ll mess with the tough cop image for sure. I’d first visited a psychologist on department orders when I’d been involved in a shooting during a drug bust. A small girl had been killed by a stray bullet from one of the cops involved. Brianna was only two then. From that point on I knew I’d do anything, go to any lengths, to protect my marriage and my daughter, even if it meant seeing a shrink.
When I thought it safe, I changed the conversation. “Now, we’ve gotta focus on this family we’re going to interview.”
“Yeah, you’re right. What’s the deal?”
I filled him in on what I knew.
Suddenly Eddy was all cop. “Give me your take. Just what you heard on the phone. Think either of the parents had anything to do with it? Maybe the kid?”
I shook my head and turned up Mollie Lane. “I honestly don’t know. It’s always a possibility. Look, the dad’s speech was weird. I mean, what he said seemed rehearsed. The mother was almost too calm. My gut tells me all is not quite normal in that household. Something we’ll have to rule out… or in.”
I did a U and pulled up behind a black and white parked at the curb.
After we exited our vehicle and started up the front walk, Eddy whispered under his breath. “Show time, partner. Let’s go play truth or consequences.”
Saturday, 8:06 am
The Gibson’s neighborhood screamed wealthy wannabes. Mollie Lane, a long serpentine street, wound into a hillside cul-d-sac. The Gibson home sat five from the end. All the houses were two story with shades of ochre or salmon stucco and red tile roofs. A no imagination upscale tract of the late eighties, early nineties in San Diego county. The lawn at the Gibson’s was neat, trimmed, and too green. Shrubs and a group of three Queen Palms dotted the front yard. A large bed of flowers, red, white, and blue, planted in precise rows, Disneyland style, lay between the flagstone walk and the fake cobble driveway. I figured a gardener kept everything trimmed neat and full of eye appeal. Eddy pushed the doorbell. Chimes rang inside.
A tall woman opened the door. Eddy did a double take. Ten years older and five inches taller, but other than that, she looked like an identical twin to his wife, Brooke. The same eyes, the same luscious lips, the same silken hair the color of ripe wheat, with sun bleached highlights, hanging well past her shoulders. No makeup, except a hint of blush on the lips. God, does she ever look like Brooke. When she spoke, I knew the similarity would vanish.
“Thank God, you’re here! You’re the detectives?”
“Detective Petrocelli? And I would assume this is your partner?” A deep, husky voice, but with a hint of smoothness. Or was it seduction? Something she’d cultivated, the result of Mother Nature, or too many cigarettes. No matter. It proved captivating. She remembered my name and she seems awfully calm. I wonder.
“Please come in.”
Eddy couldn’t take his eyes off her. She wore white tennis shorts, tan leather sandals, and a loose fitting camisole top with some doo-dad design embroidered on the front. I knew it wasn’t her long tanned legs or the ample cleavage that captivated Eddy. It was the similarity to Brooke he saw in her face.
“Yes, right on both counts,” I said as I stepped through the doorway. “This is my partner, Eddy James.” I gave him a quick look, then an elbow, to bring him back to reality.
“Eddy, this is Mrs. Gibson.”
“Shannon, please.” She smiled.
I noticed the red rims of her eyes.
“Come in. The officers you sent said they would stay till you arrived.” She nodded across the foyer and into the living room.
I spotted Coulter and Leonard, just getting up from their chairs. I caught Sara Coulter’s eye, gave her a nod and a quick smile. Good old Casey. You sent two females. If it didn’t slip my mind, I’d have to compliment him on his smarts. I’d learned the hard way, women almost always did a better job of calming troubled parents.
Shannon Gibson led us down two steps into the spacious living room. Eddy followed, like a puppy dog. He still hadn’t found his voice.
David Gibson, stood from his chair and extended his hand. Detective Petrocelli, I presume?”
I nodded and shook his hand. Warm, strong, and in full control. His manner bothered me.
“Thank you for coming,” he said. “Please accept my apologies for my lack of decorum on the phone. I’m sure you have a lot of questions. Have a seat, won’t you?”
“No apologies are needed, Mr. Gibson.” I noticed his eyes still had a tinge of red around the rims, like his wife’s. But the whites were clear. I wondered. A cold washcloth and Visine?
“If you don’t mind I’d like a word with the two officers first. Let them get on their way.” Without waiting for an answer I walked to the other side of the room and met with Coulter and Leonard. I kept my voice a whisper. “Did you take a look around?”
“Upstairs in the girl’s bedroom. Looks normal except for what the parents say is missing. We checked the Cabaña out by the pool. Didn’t find anything. Shell took notes so we can do our report.” Sara seemed antsy to get back out on patrol.
“Michelle, did you interview the parents? Or the brother?” I nodded toward an obviously sullen teenager, long hair covering his face, slumped in a corner chair.
“Just the cursory stuff. Names, ages, and tell me the story… you know.” I’d get a county-wide bulletin out on the wire as soon as I got back to the station.
Sara was bouncing on her toes. She said, “Casey told us to resume our assigned patrol as soon as we could.”
I knew she wanted to get out of there. I said, “When you two get back to the station could you leave me a copy of your report… and your notes too? Eddy and I can handle it from here.” I looked at my watch. “I hate to ask, but first, could I have you canvass the neighborhood, say up to the end of the street and then about four or five houses down? See if anyone noticed anything out of the ordinary over the past few days. You know. Strange cars, or people, that sort of stuff. Don’t worry. I’ll clear it with Casey.”
I watched Coulter and Leonard let themselves out. I heard Eddy’s soft voice, schmoozing both Mr. and Mrs. Gibson across the room. I could depend on him to put them as much at ease as possible. The tough questions would come soon enough
© 2006 robert white