I’m a seafood frying mother, fish first, then shrimp, then oysters. As I finish batches, they go in a warm oven. Oysters last, best when just out of the fryer, drained a bit on paper towels.
Beer seems right with fried seafood, I have a dozen bottles of Sapporo chilling in the fridge, frozen mugs to pour it into.
Platters of seafood, I put out about half, the rest stays in the oven. Ketchup, horseradish, lemon wedges, mayo.
Elle, “Damn Chef, this is restaurant quality, five star restaurant quality.”
“Zatarain’s Fish Fry, coated over egg battered seafood,” I bite half a shrimp, “it does crunch nicely.”
Zoe C, “As do the catfish and oysters, beet salad is a nice offset, tangy.”
I slip Zelda a cooled oyster, which seems not much, I give her a shrimp too, “Okay girl, lay down and digest.”
Her signature groan, she’d eat the whole platter, lays between Zoe C and Elle with a long sigh.
Natalie giggles, “That dog is such a drama queen, as if she goes hungry.”
Elle, “Zelda is a great drama queen, and a sweetheart. Are you training her to attack?”
Zoe C, “Can’t make up my mind. I suppose I could, but she’s going to protect us anyway. Anyone she doesn’t know approaches, she moves in front of us and goes stock still, with her death stare.”
“Maybe leave it for now. She’s good with her commands, I agree with Zoe C, not sure I want her that aggressive.”
Zoe C, “Besides, this place is maybe not a fortress, but hard to get into. There are cams all over and if there’s an intruder that comes over the fences spotlights go on. Not to mention Zelda will pick up unfamiliar sounds outside and alert us.”
Natalie, “Then better to let her be, without the attack thing.”
I don’t bring up our arsenal. Elle knows we have guns, she and Zoe C go to Barstow to shoot regularly, I go maybe every other time. For our outside activities, we don’t need to be able to shoot tennis balls out of the air, we work up close most of the time. Well, except last time, but the scope makes hundred yard shots relatively simple. We probably wouldn’t try a distance shot in the rain or high wind.
Dinner concludes, I have enough left for lunch tomorrow, I get a breakfast idea too.
“Movie tonight is Winter’s Bone, anyone seen it?”
Heads shake no, I have but I can watch it again. Jennifer Lawrence does her usual stellar job.
Natalie is curled against me, Zoe C and Elle on the other end of the couch. Girls have white wine, I’m sipping a tumbler of Russian Standard over crushed ice with an olive. Movie ends, it’s ten thirty, I’m for bed and the girls swam, they’re yawning and making sleep noises.
Natalie sleeps with me, we settle for a cuddle, she backs into me, curvy tush against my tummy.
“Can intimacies wait until morning? I’m flagged.”
“Of course, I’m not feeling studley at the moment, despite oysters.”
She turns her head for a kiss, we disappear into the void until morning.
Which comes as usual, except I awakened by a soft hand working my man part, which does what it does. Natalie climbs on top and gives me a slow ride, her eyes closed, mine are fixed on tits so tight they don’t juggle when she moves. Bigger than an apple, small grapefruit halves maybe, ones with small nipples.
She gasps, a long deep groan and a shiver.
“Fuck that was good, thank you Chef.”
“I didn’t do much.”
“That’s what I’m thanking you for.”
I roll out of bed, to the bathroom, slip off the condom, it’s ribbed, she likes that.
Refresh and to the kitchen, the others aren’t up yet. Let’s see, caffeine first, start the coffee. Take out leftover catfish, turn on the oven to three twenty five, when it’s there, put the fish in. Lump crab out in a ceramic bowl, just a touch in the microwave to take the chill off to just warm.
Now make hollandaise sauce, egg yolks, lemon juice, salt, cayenne, whisk in melted butter until its smooth and creamy.
Girls appear, Elle, “Whatcha making?”
They sip coffee at the island and watch me work. I poach four eggs to firm white, liquid yolk. Take out the fish. One filet on each plate, poached egg on top, sprinkle lump crab and cover with Hollandaise.
Natalie, “It looks scrumptious, what’s it called?”
“Eggs St. Charles, a Brennan’s New Orleans dish.”
She cuts a chunk of fish, bit of egg and the sauce, “Oh shift, this is amazing.”
I take four glasses out of the refrigerator, “Goes well with a Milk Punch, milk, rum, vanilla and Splenda stirred in, sprinkle of nutmeg on top.”
They sip, based on the smiles, I figure I got it right, sip mine, yeah, I did.
“Probably early to mention lunch, but we have enough for shrimp-oyster poboys. I need to hop to the store and grab fresh French bread.”
Zoe C, “I’m stuffing myself with breakfast looking forward to lunch. How awesome is that?”
Elle, “How awesome is just being here.”
Natalie, “A hard man is good to find.”
Silence…then hysterics. Zelda pokes me on the leg. I get a shrimp from the refrigerator, she could care less if it’s cold, toss it…Snap! gone.
She stares at me, a small growl, like she’s clearing her throat.
“Okay, it was just one shrimp, have an oyster,” toss, snap, gone.
Her head twists to one side, “Forget it girl, find a spot and lay down…no, wait, your breakfast bowl,” which is the same thing she eats for her other meal, big dog dry food. She inhales that, slurps half a bowl of water and goes to the patio door.
Elle, “I got it,” she slides open the door, opens the screen, Zelda disappears to take care of other essentials.
“Just leave the door open, she knows how to push the screen door to let herself in.”
Zoe C, “And to let herself out. Next we’re working on the sliding door.”
Natalie, “She’s a smarty.”
“I’ve been surprised, she picks up on stuff really quick. After I trained her on the screen door, she hung around and played with it for a while. I think she likes having a little autonomy. She’s watched us go in and out a thousand times, never realized how much attention she paid.”
“How’s she do it?”
“Watch when she gets back.”
We’re just finished when she returns, “Okay check it.”
Zelda raises up one paw on the door jamb, the other slides the screen open enough to stick her snout in, pushes it wider, comes in.
Zoe C, “Wait.”
The mastiff turns, up on the jamb again, her free paw catches the handle and slides it closed.
Natalie, “Oh get out!”
Zoe C, “Come here girl,” lots of pats and scratches, a hug, “you are so smart.”
Zelda almost looks proud, but then she always looks self assured.
Elle, “You’ve done such a good job Zoe C, you have Chef trained, and Zelda.”
“Persistence and affection.”
“Hang out girls, beautiful morning, ocean is gorgeous. I’ll clear up and I need to hop to the bakery.”
Zoe C, “Get some of Luisa’s turnovers please.”
They go off, Zelda follows her friends.
When I return they’re in the gym, Zoe C is showing them Krav moves, basics, enough to hit quick and hard, then be gone.
I take on the heavy bag while they practice, they thump to the mat while I thump the seventy pound bag. I move to the treadmill. I usually run the property, but then I couldn’t enjoy the three girls learning to defend themselves, more importantly, to disable an attacker.
We’re a sweaty mess after an hour. The girls strip and head to the Jacuzzi outside with bottles of cold water. I haul the sweats to the laundry room, strip myself and shower. By the time I return, they’re taking turns under the pool shower, wrap up in big towels and come inside to dry hair and dress.
It’s quarter to twelve when we gather again.
They park on the couch, Zelda stretches out in front of them, Natalie clicks on the TV.
“No progress in the investigation of the shooting of Ignacio Ramon in front of the Oakland courthouse, or the shooting of his wife in their home the night before. Ramon was indicted for voluntary manslaughter in the death of his wife’s eight year old son. She was under house arrest as an accomplice. The community has been up in arms about the failure of Oakland Child Services to remove the boy after no less than six visits to the home. We interviewed neighbors, here is Mrs. Lucia Menendez with whom I spoke earlier.
“How can the social people come to a home seis veces responding to complaints. They knew the child was being beaten, we all know, we reported it, they do nothing and now the niñito ees muerto. How ees possible?”
“Both the stepfather and the mother are dead, shot by someone unknown, do you think it was a vigilante?”
“We all think whoever keeled them ees a hero, they were less than human persons, vicious. We only wish they hav keel before leetle boy dies.”
“Don’t you think the justice system should handle these things?”
Lucia stares into the camera, “This ees what we think of so-called sistema de justicia, “ she spits on the ground, “useless for poor people, no justicia, only for reech people. Now we will be sistema de justicia.”
The reporter turns to the camera, “The people of this community do not believe there is justice for them, the vigilante killer is a hero in this neighborhood, I’m Chloe Charles for CNN, back to you Frank.”
Frank, the network talking head, “And apparently a hero nationwide Chloe, we have comments from across the country.”
They run clips of half a dozen interviews, the response is overwhelming, boils down to the social services system doesn’t work and especially doesn’t work for kids. CNN promises and in depth investigation of domestic and child abuse. It gives them an ongoing hot button issue, they love it.
Natalie, “Fucking assholes, whoever took them out deserves a medal.”
After a fun lunch of shrimp and oyster poboys with chips, we’re a little flagged, good workout, heavier than normal lunch, nap time. Natalie in my room, she’s on her side, pillow on my shoulder for her head. We zone out, more than, sleep for nearly two hours. Natalie hasn’t budged. I stroke her face and kiss her cheek.
She blinks, smiles, sits up and stretches.
“It’s three thirty, when do you need to shove off?”
“About now, it’s an hour home, maybe less on Sunday. I have packing to do…I have a few minutes though,” her hand swipes the front of my pants.
A grin, “Somebody else has risen to the occasion, mind if I take advantage?”
“Be devastated if you didn’t.”
We have at it, I go down to warm her up, then we missionary nice and slow until she squirms and moans. Music to my ears, I go off as she’s winding down with a long sigh.
“That hit the spot, exactly the right spot, you’re familiar with my anatomy.”
“I lust after your anatomy.”
Roll off, to the bathroom, dispose of the condom, clean up. She comes in, parks on the toilet seat and pees, she’s never been shy.
When she’s ready, we go to the main room, Zoe C and Elle are outside sunning. Zelda is in the shade of the umbrella, it’s not hot but she’s a big girl with a thick coat. When she spots us, she rolls upright and comes over for required pats.
Natalie, “Got to run, get ready for New York.”
Zoe C, “Aw, coming next weekend?”
Natalie looks at me, “Up to Chef.”
“Nat, you don’t need permission, show up when you want to, whenever.”
“Then yes, be here next week, maybe Friday even, if Goldman hasn’t killed me.”
I have her valise, we walk to the RLX, stow the small bag. A lovely long kiss before she gets in, another quickie before she shuts the door. I watch her drive off.
Now I can look forward to next weekend.
Back to the patio, “We had a big breakfast and lunch, suppose I make finger food for dinner, like hors d’oeuvres?”
Zoe C, “Perfect, enough sun, I need to do the laundry.
They have a pool shower, give Zelda a rinse. Come inside to dress, Zelda is drying poolside.
Fish around the fridge, caviar, sour cream, smoked salmon, crackers. Capers and chopped onion for the salmon. I start four eggs to hard boil, another addition to the salmon. Cabot sharp cheddar, pre-sliced into perfect squares. Plenty. And there are turnovers I got from Louisa, nobody wanted them after the big lunch. I’ll set them in a just warm oven after we nibble, ready for whatever movie we watch later.
Salmon, cheese and crackers on a platter, bowl of caviar and the little spoon. Sour cream in another bowl. Eggs are ready, I drop them in a bowl of ice water to cool.
Champagne seems right, I open a cold bottle of Charles Heidsieck, pour myself a glass, sip, that’s the good stuff. Treat myself to a cracker, spoon of caviar over a dollop of sour cream.
Zelda comes in, nose in the air, I cut a slice of salmon and toss it to her. Fix her dinner bowl. She looks at the bowl, then at the island where the goodies are laid out, huffs and resigns herself to the dog food. With a dog her size, volume wins out over flavor.
After making a drippy mess drinking water, she lets herself out and trots off. A used dish cloth wipes up the water, bring it to the laundry room for later sanitizing.
The girls appear, geez they’re adorable, shimmery lotioned legs dangle out of t-shirts.
Pour two more glasses, a toast seems right, “To hot girls, long may they leg.”
Elle giggles, we clink and drink.
Zoe C, “This was a good idea, high protein, there’s something sensual about caviar and smoked salmon,” she stacks a bit of onion, capers and chopped egg on the salmon, “Damn this is just right,” sips her Champagne, “and this is just righter. Elle doesn’t have class until Wednesday, I convinced her to hang here.”
Elle, “Big convince, my little apartment or better than the Ritz Carlton, with a private chef.”
Zoe C, “We’re going shooting tomorrow, since Barstow isn’t around the corner we’re staying overnight and practice again on Tuesday. If we leave there at noon-ish, we can be home around four.”
“I’ll keep Zelda company.”
“No, she can take a ride, we’ll fix her up in the Hyundai, you and I will share driving.”
“Got a hotel?”
“Hampton, two king suites.”
“Maybe we leave early, skip the traffic bitch going through LA, once we hit San Bernardino it’s smooth sailing. I figure we get in a few hours, maybe bring lunch.”
It’s already seven, we finish our finger food dinner while we watch an old Ellen Page movie called Hard Candy. Ellen plays a fourteen year old who allows a thirty something to pick her up. He deeply regrets it.
We take a break in the middle to refresh drinks, have a turnover while we finish the flick.
Elle, “Damn, she took no prisoners, well, actually she did take a prisoner, my cliché don’t play.”
Zoe C, “Could you do it?”
“Get a perv’s attention, then torture him? Well yay-yah, they so deserve it.”
Zoe C leaves it there, I think I know what she’s up to, we’ll see how it unfolds.
Morning, I stop by Louisa’s for doughnuts and her delish conchas, the half grapefruit sized bread with baked on sugar, she has several flavors, we get cherry and vanilla, two of each. I have to have her sugar raised, and get three of the chocolate covered glaze. Three large coffees and we’re on the road, it’s five thirty.
Arrive in Barstow at quarter to nine, we aren’t stopping, cold cuts and drinks are in the cooler. Our property is a bit under twenty miles out in the desert nothing, a near invisible road off the two lane. We set up targets, I drag out the trap machine, the thing that flings clays for us to blast with the shotgun. We don’t use a shotgun in our work, it’s just fun to bang the clays.
Elle knows the Glock, and has worked the Ruger before. Zoe C has her shooting distance with the rifle. I’m spotting hits through the binoculars.
“You have the range and accuracy at a hundred, let’s go to one fifty.”
She’s been shooting prone, they switch to standing, no support. Zoe C is right on, every shot in a two inch group. Elle hits half, the rest go off into the backstop hill.
“Damn, what am I doing wrong?”
Zoe C, “Nothing, shooting without support is harder. Take your time between shots, chill and let the scope do the work.”
I go off with a Glock to plink the star. Must admit, I’m good at twenty five. At fifty, the star is winning half the time. The metal pans seem the size of checkers at that distance, and after the first shot, the things are in motion, the difficulty is exponential.
After we’ve banged away, we take a walk with Zelda. Our guns are suppressed, we don’t need ear protection and Zelda is untroubled by the pops. It’s kind of fun for her, first a long car ride, then new dirt to sniff around on. I assume coyotes and bobcats wander through, plus prairie dogs and rabbits, other kinds of wildlife, rattlesnakes for instance. She’s never had a leash, the property at home is eight foot steel rail fenced with only a four inch gap between rails. If there was no fence I doubt she’d wander far from her family anyway.
Elle, “Zelda is something, she’s out front just like at home, and she turns every so often to make sure nobody’s wandered off.”
Just then, a patrol car comes creeping up the road, only one cop, don’t guess he’s here to bust anyone.
I walk over, Zelda walks in front of me. About ten feet from the driver’s door, we stop, Zelda stands still as a monument. The cop rolls his window down.
“Jesus, that a dog or a pony?”
“She thinks she’s a bodyguard, and she is, a good one.”
“If I get out will she….?”
“Only if you approach too quickly, or make any aggressive moves.”
Have to hand it to him, he opens the door and steps out, he doesn’t approach.
“That is amazing, she don’t move, she don’t blink, and she don’t take her eyes off me.”
“That’s her job. How can I help you?”
“Got a missing kid, Captain thinks he’s a runaway, I don’t.”
“You know him, the kid?”
“Kinda, know his kin, no reason for the boy to run off, no abuse, no split up parents, no crazy girlfriend, heck, he ain’t but eight. Hispanic family, everyone is tight. Invite me over for barbeque sometimes, it’s beer and beef, good music. Seen the kid runnin’ with the others, playin’, no gangs. His daddy would put a gangbanger underground in a heartbeat.”
“Maybe that’s who took the kid, teach daddy a lesson.”
“What we thought, after the runaway thing got settled. Rousted a dozen gang members, they got no quarrel with the family. Good thing, the Reyes clan got more members than local gangs, go after one, you got no gang anymore.”
“What do you figure happened?”
“Perv, only thing left is perv. Reyes are good people, but they ain’t rich, probably why they’re good. I’m just here to ask if you seen anything, car and a kid, something that looks out of place, anything.”
“Just rolled in this morning, passed through Barstow but didn’t stop. Came up here to shoot.”
“Ah, you own the property?”
“Yeah, from the center, a mile in every direction. Our targets are up against the hills, the view is wide open. We’ve never seen anybody crossing, course we aren’t here but maybe once a month and I didn’t want to fence it because of the wildlife, it’s their land too.”
He nods, “Way I feel. Can you take a look at a coupla’ photos?”
“Sure,” I turn to the girls, “Officer wants us to look at photos, missing kid.”
Cop, “Um…the dog?”
“Hai Zelda,” she sits.
“She’s decided you’re okay.”
He walks over, “Damn beautiful dog, a mastiff, a big mastiff, can I pet her?”
“Only if you want a pal for life.”
He hands me a couple of photos, then stoops to pet Zelda, “Hey girl, do a good job protecting your family don’t you,” he scratches behind her ears, another stoke across her massive head, then stands.
“She’s got your scent, if you meet her in a dark alley, she’ll protect you, not kill you.”
“Wish ever-body had their dogs so well trained, some folks got their Dobermans and Rotties so vicious you never know who they gonna bite.”
“What’s your name Officer?”
“Carl, Carl Long.”
“They call me Chef, I’m Chris, this is Zoe C and Elle.”
They’re in loose jeans, which is a good thing, if they’d been in tight cutoffs Officer Long would be hyperventilating.
He actually tips his hat, ‘Ladies.”
I ask, “You have anything belongs to the boy?”
“At the station.”
“Where is it?”
He tells me.
“We’ll be over, let the dog have a sniff. If she comes across the scent, she’ll let us know.”
“All right then. You comin’ now?”
“Twenty minutes to clear the area, we leave it natural, no targets, no casings.”
“I’ll be there.”
The station is cop basic, Barstow doesn’t waste any money on frills. A concrete block building, parking lot, metal desks and green paint.
“Sir, this is Captain Barry, last name, Cap, this is Chris, his..um…associates Elle and Zoe C.”
Captain Barry doesn’t ask for the girls last names, we aren’t under arrest or even under suspicion, we’re here to help if we can. Zelda is being patient, but she won’t sit, not without the okay command.
Barry, “I understand your dog might be useful.”
“It’s a shot in the dark, we’re actually only here tonight and part of tomorrow, that can change if we can help. If you have clothing or something of the boy’s, let me have it for a bit, we don’t need to take any of it. Just let her have a sniff.”
Barry nods, Long goes off for a minute and brings back a plastic bag, pulls out a t-shirt and jeans.
“I don’t mean to be a pain, have they been washed?”
Barry, “No, in the boy’s room on the floor where most kids hang their clothes.”
I grin, “Good then. And which of your people handled the clothes, or even the evidence bag?”
While Zoe C lets Zelda have a long sniff, Barry thinks it over, “Me, Officer Long, the evidence clerk at least held the bag. I suppose the parents, probably mom, before the kid tossed them on the floor, you know, did the laundry, folded the clothes. Long, who touched the clothes at the house?”
“Only me sir, the forensic guys took the bag but hadn’t taken the stuff out yet.”
I say, “Okay, if that’s it, you and Long, holding the evidence bag doesn’t mean anything. Who do I call if anything turns up?”
Get the station number, I hand him the number of a corporate phone I tote around. It can disappear whenever, I keep zip on it.
I look at Zoe C, she nods, turn to Barry, “She’s got it, the scent. Now, where was the boy last seen?”
We follow Long to the parent’s house, nice enough place, middle class stucco, tile roof. Houses are pretty much the same, there are fences but nothing to keep an intruder out. More likely to keep toddlers and pets in.
Long, “He was on the corner,” he points to the corner across the street half a block down, “father at work, two other kids in school. Mom saw him up and down the block on a razor scooter. Then gone.”
“Why wasn’t he in school too?”
“His school had some teacher training deal, the other kids go to a different school, they older, twelve and fifteen.”
“We’ll start there then.”
“Want to meet the parents?”
“Seems like the courteous thing to do,” I turn to Zoe C, “Take Zelda to the corner and let her have a sniff.”
They go, I walk to the front door with Long, the door opens before we knock.
“Ola Señora Reyes, this is Señor Chris.”
“You haf found?”
“No ma’am, not yet.”
She points to me, “Who ees?”
“I’m a citizen ma’am, same as you. My dog is good with scents, we’re going to give her a chance, maybe she sends us in the right direction.”
She nods, a man comes up behind her, moustache, brown weather worn face.
The woman tells him what we’re doing, in Spanish, he looks at me, “Your dog can find my son?”
“I don’t know sir, I do know she can track the scent. Your boy was likely taken in a car, van, something. She’ll lose the scent then, we’ll try spots around town, we get lucky, she picks it up again.”
“And if they, or he, took him out of state?”
“Then we’re no good to you, it will at least become a federal crime, that puts the FBI in the search too.”
“And ju think the great American FBI will take time to find one missing Mexican boy?”
“No, but it will make the sentence longer when we do catch up to them.”
“Ju think two, or more?”
“I don’t know. The Amber Alert is out, but they don’t have a description of a vehicle, or the number of people. They will have your son’s photo, that’s a start.”
The woman says something in Spanish, the man says, “she’s worried about…you know, pervertido, violador de niños.”
I catch enough to get pervert and child rapist.
“Too soon to say señor. May I ask, any bad relatives? Someone not a relative have a beef with you?”
Long, “We went through all that, nothing,” he looks at Señor Reyes, “unless something else has occurred to you or your wife.”
“Thank you, we’ll get busy now, Officer Long has my number, something comes up, new information, or the off chance they call for ransom, please let him know.”
Juarez, “Ju don’t think it is a kidnapping,” I shake my head, “probably right, we are not rich, if they want more than ten or fifteen thousand, we don’t have more.”
“It isn’t a kidnapping for ransom.”
He nods, disconsolate, “Better if it was.”
I shake his hand, nod at the Señora, Long and I return to the cars.
Elle is waving at me, we walk down the block, across the street. Zoe C and Zelda are halfway down the cross street.
Elle, “The scent ends there, just far enough to be out of sight of the boy’s house.”
I look at Long, “Neighbors have been interviewed of course.”
He stalls, uh oh, “What is it?”
Long sighs, “We stopped with houses on the corner and the kid’s street, didn’t come down this far. His mother insisted he would remain close, so she could see him.”
“Okay, then let’s get busy, we can wait for more of your colleagues, or get going ourselves.”
“Better just us, people here have mixed feeling about cops, the attitude is once we show up we never go away.”
“Tell you what, let us do it, stick around but in your car. We can be concerned citizens.”
“What about the language?”
“We know enough Spanish to paste together what they say, if we need more we can ask one of the parents. Matter of fact, why not ask Mr. Reyes to come along?”
He thinks it over, “Let me call the Captain, he don’t like surprises.”
He does, then, “Go for it.”
“Okay, round up the Mister, time is wasting away.”
It’s only a dozen houses on either side of the street, Zoe C, I can take one side, Elle the other.”
“No, go together, we need Zelda to sniff around, particularly when they open the door. Señor Reyes, do these people know you, at least by sight?”
“Si, no es problema.”
We knock, well, Zoe C knocks, Elle just behind her, Zelda out front, it’s what she knows to do. Reyes is to Zoe C’s left.
After a few doors, dealing with explaining the dog, asking the obvious, see anything, a truck, a car a van just hanging out? Nothing on the left side of the street, we cross and work the right side.
They know Reyes, they know what’s going on, clearly they trust him, making us less suspicious.
Fourth house right, the woman who answers starts in with she didn’t see anything Her place is directly in front of where Zelda lost the scent. The blinds are down in the house, all except front left.
A girl, maybe ten, “Mama, I saw Pepe, he was on his scooter…right out my window. He was turning around, he does no usually come this far. He was on the sidewalk, a man came by with a dog, a little dog, a puppy. Pepe was petting it, then you called me for lunch, I didn’t see anything else.”
“Why was she out of school?”
“She goes to the same school as Pepe, they were off for teacher something.”
Zoe C squats down to Mariella level, it’s less intimidating for kids if you are their size, now towering over them, “And what is your name young lady?”
Dark eyes blink up, “Mariella.”
“Tell me Mariella, do you remember what kind of car?”
“The kind that looks like a box. With a door that slides open on the side.”
Zoe C pulls up a few pictures of vans, “Did it look like any of these?’
Mariella is intense, studying the photos, “That’s it, right there,” she points at a standard panel van, driver and passenger door, sliding door on the passenger side, no windows in the rear,
“Perfect Mariella, now, can you remember what color it was?”
“Half black, half grey, grey on top, black on the bottom.”
“Did you see anyone else, there was the man with the little dog, and Pepe. Anyone inside the van?”
Shakes her head ‘no, I no see anyone else’.
“Think hard, did you see anything else, it’s okay if you didn’t, you don’t need to make anything up, what you told us so far is super, a great bit of help.”
“The man had a blue cap, like they have in baseball. He was tall, as tall as that man,” she points to me,” and he had a jacket too, also blue.”
“Where there any letters on the cap, or on the jacket?”
“I think so, but I couldn’t see what it said, he was sideways. Then Mama called.”
“Thank you Mariella, you have been great, thank you..”
“You have to find Pepe, he ees nice boy, always happy.”
“We’re going to find him, and you are a big part of that.”
On the way out, the girl’s mother says, “I had no idea she saw anything, the boy doesn’t normally come this far. I think Mariella has gone to the end of the block and talked to him a few times. He never came to our house or anything, just two kids who knew each other from school.”
“Not to worry, she really was an enormous help, the police had nothing.”
“La policia often have nothing, even more often do nothing.”
I shake my head, “I get it ma’am, and I’m sorry. We are going to find Pepe, with or without the police.”
She looks dubious, “You are white, those girls are white, why do you care about a little brown boy?”
“He’s a lost human being, stolen and afraid, what else do we need to know?”
We part with Long, I’m not sure what he thinks but he’s let us go along and do a bit of investigation. Nothing we do now needs to include the Barstow police. They’ll go out with the van description, I don’t know about the cap and jacket. It sounds like LA Dodgers gear, caps are sometimes blue with white lettering, other times white with blue lettering. The extent of my knowledge, I’m not a baseball fan..
Cops have a decision, if they bulletin the cap and jacket, the abductor may find out and ditch the evidence. If they don’t, it’s possible some citizen sees the suspect but doesn’t register him as anything but a fan of the Dodgers. Hardly a secret society.
We’re driving around Barstow, aimlessly I confess, looking for a grey over black panel van.
Elle, “Suppose I was able to get CCTV footage of activity around Barstow?”
“Can’t hurt, you know someone?”
“Just me. It’s a hack, CCTV footage is 99% boring, they don’t protect it like state secrets.”
While we ride around, I’m trying to do quadrants, keep us from skipping streets, Elle is in back tapping away. Two hours and a large coffee later, we have zip, and it’s nearly nine, we’ve had a long day since we left Malibu at five thirty.
Elle, “I’m working the footage from nearest to where he was picked up, I assume the police are doing the same thing. So far nothing, no grey over black panel van anyway.”
Zoe C, “How could he get out of the neighborhood without getting on a cam?”
“Good point, he’s not stupid, he picked his route out to avoid cameras, but was he as careful when he went in?”
“So I should reset the time frame to before he was abducted.”
“Yeah, might be more nothing, still have to give it a shot.”
Zoe C, “Pull over someplace, Zelda needs a hike and a bowl of water.”
There’s a park, or at least a block square of nothing but grass and dirt, we stop, Zoe C gets out, I open the back hatch. Water first, Zelda empties the bowl, they go off so the girl can relieve herself.
When they return, Elle says, “Check this.”
We huddle around.
“See the black van crossing the intersection just to the south of the boy’s neighborhood? Now watch.”
Twenty minutes go by, then a grey over black van crosses an intersection that can’t be more than five minutes drive even at the speed limit.
“Stop it and check the license plate.”
She does, a state of Texas plate, three letters, four numbers, BCN 2246.
“Now check the plate on the black van,” she backs it up to the first video, California plate, a number, three letters, three numbers, 7DBM 445.
“No, different plates,” she zooms in, “see the ding on the left, like a small backslash? Now look,” to the grey over black, “Think two different vans have identical scratches?”
“Ah, he’s put something on the sides, must be easy to attach and remove, magnetic maybe.”
Elle, “He grabs the boy, takes a cam free route, stops someplace and takes off the colored panels, changes the plate.”
Zoe C, “Damn, so do we call the cops with what we have?”
“Well girls, it would be fun to find him ourselves, but we need as many eyes on the roads as we can get. We have to call in, or just go by the station.”
Zoe C, “Let’s do that, they’re going to want to see the video.”
Elle, “But I hacked the system.”
“Ummm, that does change things, suppose we call it in and don’t offer an explanation? I don’t know, they’re going to ask a lot of questions.”
Elle, “Okay, we go in and say we had an idea, but we need to see CCTV footage in the area. I know where to look, I can diddle around for a while, then come up with the discovery. It keeps my hack out of it, but gets them the information.”
I call Long, tell him what we’re thinking, and what we found out from the girl, Mariella. Fifteen minutes later we’re at the station, Elle is parked in an interview room with the CCTV footage. She waits a half hour, Zoe C goes outside to keep Zelda company, I chat with Long, Captain Barry appears.
“She still looking?”
“Yeah, at least Barstow isn’t full of cams, this would be forever in LA.”
Elle sticks her head out of the door, “Take a look.”
She has the same video, shows the black van, the altered van.
Barry, “And you think he’s changed the van, and the plates.”
“Have to put out the new information. I’m figuring this guy thinks he’s outsmarted the police.”
“Got to be our guy, the scratch is impossibly coincidental.”
“We need to see all the CCTV since te boy was abducted.”
Barry, “Going to take forever to wade through that, they run twenty four seven, boy’s been gone two days, you have almost forty eight hours of video from a couple dozen cameras.”
“You put out the, what do you call it…bolo?”
“Yeah, be on the lookout.”
“We’ll start in on the video.”
Midnight, Zelda’s been a trooper, Zoe C has walked her a few times, more water. She had her dinner around six, we had a cold cut lunch what seems like a month ago.
Elle, “Got him.”
We peer over her shoulder, she backs up the video, the black van rolls through an intersection, then is caught taking the access lane to I-15. Two minutes later he takes an exit for Highway 58 west. CCTV has no coverage that way.
“Crap, where does 58 go?”
“Thirty miles to Kramer Junction, could get the 395, or forty miles more and he could get off on 14. There’s a lot of dead space between here and Mojave, more dead space if he went north or south on 395.”
“Can you guys handle keeping after it? We can follow the path he took. If he’s on the road, the police will find him, but if he’s pulled off and parked the van in a shed, garage, even behind a building, the BOLO won’t mean much.”
Zoe C, “We can’t give up on the kid.”
I find Long and Barry, credit to them, they’re still in the station.
Long, “Every cop in California has been notified and we’re altering Nevada and Arizona.”
“We have the van exiting to 58 west, towards Kramer Junction. Based on the camera, it was a day and a half ago, about an hour after the boy went missing.”
Barry, “Sheesh, he could be anywhere. Still, we have an advantage thanks to you, we know what he’s driving and he doesn’t know we know.”
“We’re going to travel along 58 in the morning. I know he could be in Frisco by now, my friends don’t want to let it rest. Given what we think is a Dodgers hat and jacket, there’s some likelihood he’s more Southern California than Northern.”
Barry, “It’s your time.”
“If he takes 14 south from Mojave, he goes right to LA. We’re in SoCal, worst that happens for us is we’re home empty handed.”
We shake hands around, two bleary eyed cops and bleary eyed us.