Sins of the Father
Detective Peter Chamberlain of the Missing Persons Unit suppressed a sigh as he looked at the worried-looking couple seated across from him. "Folks, I know you're worried about your daughter but -"
The distraught woman opposite leaned forward, still clutching her husband's arm. "Please don't tell us we need to wait twenty-fours hours to report her missing. She's a good girl. She never stays out all night without telling me where she's going." She slumped back in her seat, mopping at fresh tears with a tissue. "I'm her mother. Mothers know. She's in some kind of trouble."
Chamberlain handed her a fresh tissue from the box on his desk. "Mrs. Collins, ma'am, I'm not suggesting you wait twenty-four hours. I'm happy to take the information now. All I'm saying is, with the number of reports of missing kids we get everyday, unless we have some kind of evidence that your daughter may have come to some harm, I don't have enough manpower to send a team out looking for her right now. If she hasn't returned home in a day or so, I'll put my people onto it. In the meantime, you can help me out by checking with all her friends, see if you can find out where she was last night -"
"We've spoken with all her friends," Ray Collins said. "A couple of her girlfriends were with her at Rainier until about 4 yesterday. She said she was going straight home. She didn't arrive and nobody's heard from her since."
"Did you argue with her about anything lately? Maybe she's just angry and wants to teach you a lesson." Chamberlain smiled a little. "My daughter's done that to me once or twice. A few hours later, she's turned up, safe and sound, all full of apologies and begging me not to ground her."
"She's a good girl," Ray insisted. "Sometimes, my wife thinks I'm too strict with her but these days..." He shook his head. "It's just not safe out on the streets for a young girl."
"I agree with you," Chamberlain said. "Did you argue about that?"
"A few times," Collins admitted. "The other night she wanted to go to a concert with her friends. It was out of town and on a school night. I said no. We argued and I took away her computer for a week for backchatting me. She wasn't very happy about that but I thought things were okay between us now."
"Okay." Chamberlain picked up a pen and pulled a report form toward him. "Let me get all the details down. I promise you if she's not back by tomorrow morning, I'll put someone right on it. You keep checking with her friends. What's your daughter's name?"
"Marissa. Marissa Collins."
Chelsea Brown turned away from her whispered conversation with her friends when Daryl walked into the cafeteria. "Daryl! Did you hear about Marissa?" she squealed.
Daryl frowned. "Who?"
Chelsea rolled her eyes. "Oh, don't try the innocent act on me. We all know you've been acting like a lovesick puppy every time you see her."
Daryl felt his cheeks burn. He shrugged. "So?"
"She's missing!" Chelsea stood and walked around to face Daryl. "Her folks called me this morning. She didn't come home last night. Personally, I think she ran away. Her folks were just so controlling. They wouldn't let her go with us to the concert last week and when she argued with her dad about it, he took away her PC. What a drag."
Daryl felt his heart pounding in his chest. Oh God! He'd warned her! He thought back to the night before, trying to remember the young man standing by the van but he'd been so absorbed in his own feelings of rejection at the time, he hadn't really looked. Tall, lanky, about the same age as he was, dark skin, short-cropped hair. Looking like about a couple of hundred other black guys in Cascade.
"Are you sure she's missing?" he asked. "I mean, she could be home by now."
Chelsea shook her head. "I just phoned her mom to see if she was back. They've just put in a missing person report with the cops. Hey, your dad's a cop. Why not ask him?"
Daryl shook his head. He put his tray down on the table behind him, his appetite gone. "Different department. Besides, we don't talk about his work stuff much." ‘Don't talk much at all lately.’ He waved a hand vaguely at the exit. "I gotta go."
He didn't wait for her response, hurrying out the door, almost knocking down several students in his rush. What now? He should tell his dad. Tell him what he'd seen... but he'd promised Marissa. But what if she was in danger? What if she was lying somewhere, hurt or raped... or dead?
His stomach churned violently at the very thought and with his mind made up, he ran for his car and headed toward the PD.
"Dad?" Daryl tapped on the partly open door of his father's office. He gave Jim and Blair a nervous nod when both men turned in their chairs and smiled at him.
His father looked up from perusing the papers on his desk and didn't quite hide his irritation. "Thought you had a class this morning, son. Can it wait? We'll be done in about ten minutes."
Daryl took a step into the room. "No, it can't wait. It - It's about a girl who went missing last night. Marissa Collins. I think... I think I might have seen something."
Simon gaped at him, the report forgotten. "What girl? What are you talking about?"
Daryl felt a hand on his arm and realized Blair was standing beside him, ushering him into a seat. "Sit down, man, before you fall down. Then you can tell us about Marissa."
Daryl nodded and allowed himself to be pushed into Blair's vacated chair.
Jim leaned forward and rested a hand on Daryl's knee. "Start from the beginning, Daryl. Who's Marissa?"
"She's this girl from Rainier. I... I like her. I've seen her a few times around the university and at the library. Last night, I ran into her at the coffee shop." He looked at Blair. "You know, Marty's."
Blair nodded and glanced at Jim, then Simon. "It's a local hangout for the new kids. Less threatening." He looked back at Daryl. "Go on."
Daryl looked down at his hands, twisting them in his lap. "I asked her if I could buy her a hot chocolate and we talked for a while but then she said she was meeting someone."
"Who?" Blair asked.
"Just someone she met in a chatroom. She left with a guy in a van."
"Why didn't you try to stop her?" Simon's voice boomed through the room and Daryl jerked in his seat.
"I tried but she wouldn't listen."
"Why didn't you tell me about this last night?" Simon asked.
Daryl shot him a glare. "Because she made me promise not to tell anyone. She said her parents are real strict and I know how that goes." At the taken aback look on his father's face, Daryl deflated somewhat. "Because we don't talk much about anything lately and I figured you wouldn't be interested."
There was a heavy silence in the room then Simon spoke again. "You're right, Daryl, and I'm sorry." He walked around his desk and squatted down in front of Daryl, reaching out to pat his shoulder. "You okay?"
Daryl nodded, his throat closed up and feeling close to tears. "What if -" He broke off and cleared his throat before trying again. "What if she's hurt... or dead?"
"Let's not jump to conclusions until we see what we have, son." Simon stood and looked at Jim and Blair. "You two, get down to Missing Persons, see if there's a report on this girl then see what you can come up with."
"Yes, sir." Jim led the way to the door then stopped and looked back at Daryl. "Daryl? Think over last night and the other times you've talked to Marissa. Tell your dad everything you can remember. Even the slightest detail could be important."
"I'll get a description of the kid she met and the van," Simon added.
Jim was silent on the way down to Missing Persons and Blair knew the thoughtful look on his partner's face indicated Jim had a hunch about something. "You going to share?" he asked as they stepped out of the elevator and headed down the hall.
"Huh?" Jim looked puzzled for a moment then nodded. "Just something about this case - and, remember the girl who went missing last week?"
"Yeah. And?" Blair prompted.
Jim shrugged. "It'll come to me. Three girls missing up to last week. I keep getting the feeling there's a common thread there, if we can find it."
Blair sat back in his chair and removed his spectacles before rubbing at his temples. They'd been going through every minute detail of all teenaged girls who'd gone missing from Cascade in the past year. Some had already turned up safe and sound, some had been discovered alive, but refusing to be reunited with their parents. Several were living on the streets, using drugs and turning to prostitution to feed their habits. The whole picture created in his mind's eye was making his stomach churn. There were twelve girls still unaccounted for and Blair was sure that somewhere in that list, there had to be some consistencies that linked at least some of them together.
He'd set up a profile sheet and was now cross-referencing the reports on each girl but it was slow going and he was beginning to develop a headache. He felt a strong hand massage the nape of his neck and he sighed in pleasure, working his head back and forth to increase the benefit of Jim's nimble fingers. "Thanks, man. That feels great."
"Time to finish it up for tonight," Jim said. "Maybe we'll find something tomorrow when we're fresh."
"Yeah, you're probably right," Blair agreed. He stared down at the reports scattered over his desk, disappointed. He leaned closer then snatched up his glasses and put them on. "Wait a minute." He glanced over at Jim, grinning. "Wait a minute! I think I might have something here."
Jim leaned forward, scanning the reports on Blair's desk with keen eyes. "What?"
Blair was already heading for Simon's office. He turned back momentarily to Jim, holding up one finger. "Hold that thought for just a second."
Tapping on Simon's door, Blair opened it and stuck his head in without waiting for the invitation to enter. He gave Simon a wry, apologetic smile when the captain looked up and frowned at him. "Sorry, Captain," he said, "I'll remember one day." Without waiting for Simon to respond, he rushed on. "Didn't Daryl mention something about the Collins girl being interested in the Net, specifically chat rooms?"
Simon nodded. "Yeah, he did. Daryl said he tried to warn her not to go with the guy alone but she wouldn't listen." He shook his head, looking guilty. "Poor kid's devastated. He thinks he should have done more."
"Nothing he could have done," Blair said. "Did he get a good look at the guy?"
"Not really... Nothing to raise his suspicions at the time. He did get a partial of the license plate though."
Blair grinned. "Like father, like son, huh?"
The frown returned. "Don't start putting ideas in his head again about becoming a cop, Sandburg."
Blair held up both hands in a placating gesture. "Not going there, Captain." He held out one hand for Daryl's statement. "I'll get started tracking the license plate."
Walking out to his desk, Blair gave Jim a thumbs-up. "I think we have a link to at least five of the missing girls." Tapping the missing persons reports with his finger, he said, "Check it out. Hobbies - likes chatting on the Internet with friends."
Jim quickly scanned the pages then gave Blair a smile. "Good work, Chief. It's a small break but it is a break."
Blair groaned and rubbed a hand over his face. Jim looked up from perusing the missing girls' reports and glanced over at him. He reached out and squeezed Blair's shoulder. "Come on, Chief. It's almost two AM. Let's call it a night."
Blair looked longingly at the computer screen then sighed and nodded. He powered down the computer and pushed back his chair. "Do you realize how many white vans there are with the partial plate that Daryl got?"
Jim hazarded a knowledgeable guess. "Hundreds?"
They grabbed their jackets from the hooks and headed for the parking garage. Inside the truck, Blair made himself comfortable by curling up on the seat, his head pillowed against the window.
"Don't get too comfortable, Sandburg," Jim said. "I'm not carrying your skinny ass up in the elevator."
Blair nudged him with an elbow. "Skinny ass? That's not what you say when we're in bed."
"You're right. It's a very fine ass." Jim smiled. "Maybe I could check it out tonight, see if it's as fine as I remember."
Blair tried to stifle a yawn and failed. "Raincheck?" he suggested. "I want to go back in early and get started on the license numbers again."
Jim caught Blair's yawn and nodded. "Definitely raincheck."
Marissa shied away as a plastic plate of congealed food was placed in front of her. The man who’d put it there sidled closer to her.
"Eat up, girlie. You're gonna need your strength." He licked his lips while his gaze traveled lasciviously over her lithe young body.
"I'm - I'm not hungry. Can I go home now?"
The man shook his head. "Not for a while. Besides from what you've been saying to Brett, seems to me you'd be glad to get away from home."
Marissa's eyes filled with tears. "That's not true! I want to go home - right now!"
"Shut up!" The man raised a hand and Marissa flinched back against the grimy wall of the cellar she was in, her hand coming up to shield her face.
"Dad!" Brett hurried down the stone steps and rushed over to grasp the man's arm. "Leave her alone!"
His father's hand clenched into a fist, striking Brett hard across the cheek and sending him to the floor. Scrambling back, Brett stared wide-eyed at his father. "What are you doing? She said she wants to go home. I'll take her." He stood on shaking legs and held a hand out to Marissa. "I'm sorry. I'll take you home."
Marissa went to stand but Brett's father rounded on her. "Sit down!" He whirled back to glare at Brett. "You! Get upstairs. I'll deal with you in a minute."
Marissa's heart pounded as Brett sidled along the wall toward the stairs. "Please!" she begged. "Don't leave me here."
Brett's eyes were wide, his face a mask of shock and fear. "It'll be okay," he said in a broken whisper. "I made a mistake. I'll explain it to my dad and then I'll take you home."
Brett watched anxiously as his father paced the small, grubby kitchen. "I'm telling you, I was wrong. She said she hated her parents. I thought she really wanted to get away, like the other girls." He looked pleadingly at his father. "It'll be okay. I'll just take her home and I'll make her promise not to tell anyone."
Harry Mathews rounded on Brett, his eyes flashing, his mouth set in a grim line. "How dumb are you?" he sneered. He took a swig from the bottle of scotch in his hand. "Always said you were stupid. You think she's gonna go home and pretend like nothing ever happened?"
"She will," Brett vowed. "If I ask her to."
Harry's hand raised again, ready to strike but he overbalanced and fell against the table, sending a plate and a coffee mug to the ground. Glaring at the mess, he cursed. "Clean it up. I'm going to bed."
"What about Marissa?"
Harry stared at Brett for a long moment, his eyes narrowing. "Tell you what," he replied, the softness of his tone, a stark contrast to his anger a moment before, "if she still wants to go home in a few days, I'll take her myself."
"Tomorrow?" Brett bargained though he shrank back, staying out of range of his father's wayward fist. "Tomorrow, okay?"
His father didn't reply, instead, weaving his way unsteadily toward the bedroom in back. "Dad? Those other girls... You took them to Canada, right?"
"What do you think?" He turned and pointed a wavering finger at Brett. "Just you remember, anything comes of this, you rounded these girls up in the first place."
With his heart in his mouth, Brett waited until loud snores could be heard from the bedroom he shared with his father, then he crept back down the steps to the cellar. Marissa sat, huddled into the corner, sobbing quietly.
She jumped when he whispered her name and plastered herself against the wall, her hands held up in front of her. "Leave me alone, please! I want to go home."
"I'm taking you home," Brett said, "but you have to be real quiet."
"Why?" Marissa wiped at her eyes. "Why did you do this?"
"I thought -" Brett scrubbed a hand over his face. "You said you hated your folks, that you wanted to leave -"
"I didn't mean it."
"I didn't know that," Brett protested. "My dad worked out a way to get girls who wanted to leave home up to Canada, where they can make a new life. When you said what you did about your folks, I thought this is what you wanted."
"What other girls?" Marissa asked.
Brett shrugged. "I met this girl in a chat room. She was having it tough at home. Her father was raping her, her mother didn't care. I got her out of there and my dad took her to Canada."
"Are you sure that's where she is?"
"Yeah, he told me."
"Then why won't he let me leave? If you really believe that, why are you sneaking me out of here?"
Brett's uncertainty surged. Had he really believed his father at all? Had he just been turning a blind eye to what was really going on, out of fear? "Let's go," he said as he helped her up. "Stay quiet."
They were halfway up the stairs when Harry's shadow loomed from above. "You little shit!" he roared. He was barreling down the stairs before the two teens had a chance to react. Brett knew there was nowhere to go. Harry's meaty fist flailed out and caught him on the side of the head as he turned and tried to push Marissa back down the stairs ahead of him. His head snapped back and his vision grayed. He felt himself falling, heard Marissa's terrified screams as he hit the stairs and bounced against the wall. He was unconscious before he reached the cellar floor.