"The phone rings, but its just going to voicemail," Nolan slammed the phone back on the hook and shook his head annoyed that something that should be so easy was proving to be anything but. More importantly he wanted to be focused on finding Rusty, not on getting ahold of his bio-mom.
"Try texting?" Paige offered up, as she continued to go through license plates.
"Sent two messages, but no response yet," Nolan double-checked the phone for the fiftieth time, "Maybe we should have the Commander call her?"
Provenza walked into the room in time to hear Nolan's suggestion and felt the blood boil in his veins, "No, we aren't going there. The Commander has enough to deal with, to worry about then chasing down Sharon Beck."
The team shared a look of concern at the Lieutenant's outburst. It was clear that Paige and Nolan being new to the team couldn't follow his emotional reaction to Sharon Beck's current state of silence.
Julio gave a silent look to the younger pair as he sensed the frustration rising, "Has anyone tried calling the house in Cathedral City, Jim and Linda's place?"
"Not yet, we wanted to wait to hear from the Commander on that," Sykes replied recalling her conversation with the Lieutenant a few hours earlier.
"I think it's time," he collapsed in a huff in his chair and swirled around to look up at the board behind him. There was nothing there. Plenty of things scrawled across the white board, but they had nothing to go on. He knew that Sharon had cleaned up her act over the last 18 months or so, but it didn't make up for the years of pain she brought down on her son. In his mind letting her know that Rusty was missing was a courtesy, one that she only tenuously deserved.
Julio took the silence that followed, Provenza's millimeter of defeat, to go ahead and place the call. Saving himself the time and trouble of searching for the number online he pulled Rusty's phone out of the evidence bag and pulled up his contacts. There just below the Law Library phone number was the information on the Lewis's. He lifted his phone to place the call, but Provenza shook his head and held his hand out. Julio scribbled the number down on a post-it note and handed it to him, with a silent look of concern. Provenza gave a slight shake and began dialing the number in Cathedral City.
"Hello?" The voice of an older man, grumbled through the phone.
"Yes Hello, is this Jim Lewis?" Provenza asked, knowing it most likely was.
"Yes it is," Jim replied in a formal tone.
"This is Lieutenant Provenza from the LAPD and we are trying to get in touch with Sharon Beck. Is she available?" He smoothed out his tie, looking for something to keep his idol hands busy.
"No, she's not home at the moment. What's this about?" His voice hitched up with a note of concern.
Provenza ignored his question, "Do you know when she'll be back?"
"We aren't expecting her to come home until Monday. She's in LA visiting her son," he replied.
Provenza gave a look around the room as everyone listening in heard the surprising details, "Oh I see, and did she bring the baby with her?" He tried to keep the conversation casual, not wanting to ring any alarm bells.
"No," Jim's voice became concerned as he paused, "Natalie is here with us. Sharon thought it would be good to spend some time with just her and Rusty, without the baby. I think he's still getting used to the whole sibling thing." He paused again before becoming a bit demanding, "Now can I ask what this is about?"
Provenza remained calm and nonchalantly stated, "It's regarding her son. Do you happen to know where she was going to stay while in LA?"
"At a friend's house, she used to housesit for her. Eagle Rock I believe. I could go look for the address she wrote down if you'd like," the man seemed to calm down some, but it was clear that he wasn't sure what was going on.
"Yes we'd appreciate that, thank you," Provenza leaned back in his chair, at least this was something that they could follow up on, although he was still in the why are we bothering camp with all of this.
"Ok just give me a second. My wife put it on the fridge," rustling sounds filtered through the speakerphone, "Ah ok, her name is Jennifer Davis and the address is 5854 Neola Place."
"Great, thank you Mr Lewis," He pointed at Sykes to pull up the address and get the homeowner details.
"Not a problem. Is everything okay with Rusty?" He seemed genuinely concerned about Rusty which came as a surprise to Provenza, he didn't think there was much of a relationship there.
"Yes, we just need to speak with her and can't reach her on her cell," speaking the words and feeling them were to different things when he knew that everything was not okay.
"Oh well I know she has spotty reception at the house, but she texted this morning checking in on Natalie, so maybe you'll have luck calling the house," the new information caused the entire team to glance at one another, surprised to hear that Sharon had been in touch recently when they had been trying her all morning.
"Ok great, thanks for the information Mr. Lewis," Provenza hung up and looked at the rest of his colleagues whose eyes had grown large at the revelation that Sharon Beck was possibly ignoring the LAPD's calls.
Paige in her filterless way of communicating was the first to speak, "Why wouldn't she respond to our messages?" It was the question that was on everyone's minds. "And if she was in LA visiting Rusty how is it that she hasn't come to us asking where he is?"
The room fell silent, no one had an answer to either question, but it was damned odd all of it. As the late Chief Taylor would have said there were far too many coincidences stacking up to not be related in some way, but Provenza couldn't see it and neither could anyone else.
Nolan bounced his leg up and down, nervous about making the suggestion, "Should we try using Rusty's phone?" He tried to gauge the expression on his colleagues faces, "Maybe she'll answer if she recognizes the number?"
Mike shrugged, "It's a risk, but not a bad idea."
Provenza thought about it, on one hand he thought he should run it by Flynn or even the Commander, using the phone of her missing son to reach out felt low even for him, on the other she wasn't making life any easier on them or herself for the matter.
"Do it," Provenza commanded.
Julio opened the evidence bag containing Rusty's phone and typed out a generic message, hoping to come off sounding like Rusty.
RUSTY: Mom give me a call when you're free.
As Julio sent the message Provenza stood up to address the troops, "Okay, in the meantime let's get over to Jennifer's house and see if we can locate Sharon Beck. Amy, you and Wes have had the least amount of contact with Ms. Beck, so it's probably best if the two of you drive over there, take a patrol car with you just in case there's any funny business going on." He knew with Sharon Beck, there could be any number of not good reasons why she wasn't responding least of all falling back into old habits.
Nolan stood up and gathered his gun from the drawer while Amy typed the address into her phone, "Of course, we'll let you know what we sort out," Amy replied as she got up from her chair and put on her coat.
Now that all this business with Sharon was sorted, Provenza was eager to get back to work on more important matters like finding Rusty, "Do we have anything to go on? The Commander is going to want an update when she arrives."
Mike spun around in his chair, "Julio and I went through some of the video this morning in and around Gwen LA and there's nothing suspicious. We wrote down the license plates of every car that drove down the adjoining streets to see if we get a hit on anything."
"So far," Julio turned around, "We've got nothing. Plates have come up clean. No stolen vehicles. No hits to violent offenders."
"Is there anyway this is related to what Rusty used to do for a living," Paige asked with as much delicacy as elephant walking through the forest.
Julio and Mike both shot her a dangerous look before averting their eyes. Provenza spun around quickly to face his young protege, "What did you say?"
"Well, I mean," she tried to backpedal a bit, "couldn't it be possible."
"Rusty hasn't been involved in that lifestyle in nearly six years," he gritted out.
"I understand that, he's turned his life around and I think that's great, but is it possible that some former John saw Rusty and Gus together and I don't know got upset. It wouldn't be the first time someone got jealous over a prostitute's other Johns."
"First, you'll never refer to Rusty as a prostitute again. He was sixteen. And your theory makes no sense, why after six years would some guy get pissed because he saw Rusty and Gus kissing in the street?" Provenza's hands shook as he waved them aggressively in the air.
Mike decided to jump in before either Provenza had a heart attack or Paige dug herself into a deeper hole, "We still have another 40 plates to run, so something might turn up. In the meantime we're using that new social media program to scan through images that people may have taken around the area to see if someone accidentally caught something on one of their phones."
Provenza took a deep breath, trying to calm himself down, "Good, that's good. What else?" There must be more, they weren't going to find Rusty sitting on their asses, "We need—"
A loud ding filled the room. Julio picked up the phone, "Sir, a text just came in on Rusty's phone. B-Mom: Can't call right now, I'm hanging with Jennifer. On for tonight?"
Paige started to say something, but wisely kept her mouth shut after catching a look from Mike. Julio glanced up to Provenza after reading the message aloud, "What do we write back?"
"Nothing for now, let's see if Sykes and Nolan can reach her at the house in Eagle Rock," he said sitting back down in his chair, "We have more important things to chase down. Let's get through these plates."
Wes and Nolan pulled up to a beige colored bungalow. It looked a bit old, clearly hadn't been remodeled or torn down to have a new modern home built in its place. Original LA. They took a good survey of the neighbors and other cars in the street. Sharon's car wasn't out front and it didn't seem like it was anywhere on the street.
There was a brass knocker on the outside of a craftsman style door, Wes reached up and gave it a gentle tap three times. It didn't take long for the door to swing open presenting a brunette woman in her mid-40s.
Wes did his usual bit, turning on the charm with a large disarming smile, "Hello I'm Wes Nolan and this is Amy Sykes we are Detectives from the LAPD, are you Jennifer Davis?"
The woman pulled her cardigan across her chest, "Yes, what's happened? Is it Sharon?"
Wes and Amy shared a quick look before asking a follow-up question, "Why would you say that?"
Jennifer gave a shrug, pulling her arms tightly across her chest, "Well, she was supposed to come stay at my place for a few days. She was visiting her son who lives in LA, but she never showed up."
Amy nodded, she could hear the concern in the woman's voice, "When is the last time you heard from her?"
"She sent me a text two days ago saying she didn't think she was going to make it, Natalie was sick and she didn't want to leave Jim and Linda to take care of her," her voice quivered at the mention of the baby, "But then I got another message yesterday saying she was coming to LA after all, but had made arrangements to stay with her son."
None of this was lining up with what Jim told them about Sharon's plans. The detectives were developing their own level of concern for the continued odd behavior that was being described.
"Can we see those messages," Amy asked gently, hoping they wouldn't need to get a warrant.
"Here," she handed her phone over to Amy, "At first I was happy to hear that because I know her relationship with her son has been pretty rocky over the years, but then I remembered that he doesn't have a spare room in his apartment so it just seemed strange." Wes gave Amy a curious look, as far as they knew Rusty never had an apartment. Maybe she was talking about Gus's place. Jennifer continued, "So I texted her back to say she was always welcome to stay here and I'd love to see her if she had the time, but never heard back."
Amy took a few screen grabs of the text messages, noting the day and time of those before emailing them to herself. "Okay, thank you for the information," as she handed the phone back over to Jennifer.
The woman's eyes grew as she began to realize that having two detectives show up asking for Sharon wasn't a positive sign, "Something happened didn't it?"
"We have no reason to think that at this time, we just needed to speak with her about another case and couldn't reach her," Wes smiled and replied in a calm, gentle voice, "We'll be in touch."
The woman nodded, but didn't appear completely convinced, "Please do."
As the pair walked back to the car Amy called Provenza, "Lieutenant, she's not here. Never showed up."
"Shit," he muttered not expecting this turn of events, "how long ago?"
"I'm sending the messages to the team now, we'll need to get a warrant to pull her phone records to confirm, but our best guess is that she was supposed to be here on Thursday - the day before Rusty went missing," she said climbing into the car with Wes, "We're heading back to the station now. Do you want me to keep a patrol car here in case she shows up?"
"Yes," he said nodding to himself, "So with the exception of the message Jim and Linda got this morning, and the reply we got off Rusty's phone, no one else has seen or heard from her in more than two days."
"That's where we're at sir," she felt disappointed in herself that they didn't have more on this case, even though there wasn't anything she could or should be doing differently. But this was Rusty that was missing and that hit home for everyone.
Provenza ran through the list of possibilities, she couldn't be with Gary since he was serving a life sentence for the third strike parole violation. It was a long shot and he hoped he was wrong, "Go check the motels and alleys where she used to get high, maybe the pressure of being a mom to a newborn drove her over the edge."
"Will do," she gave a nod to Nolan as he started the car, "Lieutenant, do we think there's a chance that Sharon has Rusty?" It was a shot in the dark, but one she couldn't help but consider after everything that happened between mother and son that she might be trying to take back her family.
The theory shocked Provenza, not because of how crazy it sounded, but because he hadn't thought of it himself, "Amy you could be right about that. Between post-baby hormones and falling off the wagon, she could have gone off the deep-end. It doesn't explain Gus, but maybe she has someone helping her."
"We'll go check-out her old haunts and let you know if we come up with anything," she said before hanging up the phone. Her theory was just that, and the best way they could run it down is to keep looking for Sharon Beck.
Provenza put his head in his hands and leaned onto his desk as he pondered Amy's notion. It had merit.
Julio was the first to ask the obvious question, "What do we do about the text now?"
"Well we know that's a lie, Sykes said the woman hasn't seen or heard from her," Provenza replied it was obvious that something wasn't right about any of this.
Shrugging in his chair, Julio turned to face Mike, "Maybe she did fall off the wagon."
There was no denying the possibility Mike thought as he pushed his glasses further up the bridge of his nose, "Lying is certainly the trait of an addict."
"What do we write back?" The question was posed to the entire room, Julio was at a loss for what to even suggest at this point. The idea that Sharon could have "taken" Rusty while not far-fetched was still hard to swallow. He knew the woman was unstable, he'd seen proof of that in the videos of their county jail visitations, but killing Gus that seemed a stretch even for her.
After keeping quiet for the last several minutes Paige chanced opening her mouth with a suggestion. It seemed best to pick a place that would be scene as neutral ground for Sharon, it felt in poor taste to send her to the home of a dead guy, but it was the only card she could think to play. Either she was involved and wouldn't come because she knew Gus was dead already, or she would and they'd get some answers about her suspicious behavior. Paige hoped for the team's sake that she was just another lousy drunk, "Let's just say, sure meet at Gus's apartment at 6. That way we can be there when she shows up - sober or not."
He was loathed to agree with anything Camilla said at the moment, still fuming over her accusatory theory, but she had a point now. Provenza sighed and merely nodded a yes to Julio giving him the go ahead to send the message. He didn't stay to watch Julio type out the message, he doubted they'd get a reply right away - possibly no response at all. His coffee mug had long since been devoid of any rich black coffee and he found himself in need of both the bitter taste of caffeine and a break from all of this.
Walking into the break room he pulled out his cellphone and dialed a familiar number.
"Anything," Andy immediately asked when he saw Provenza's name pop up on the caller id.
"Still no sign of Rusty. We're running license plates from cars in the area from our kidnapping window, nothing yet," he said as he used his free hand to fill the empty coffee pot with water.
"What about Sharon Beck? Sharon's been asking whether or not we've reached her yet," he asked stepping out onto the balcony to have the conversation.
"She wasn't where she told the Lewis' she'd be. She won't answer her phone. We tried sending a message from Rusty's phone and she did reply a few hours later. She said she was with her friend Jennifer, but we know that was a lie because Amy and Wes were there the whole time. We just replied to her message suggesting she meet at Gus's apartment. I'm sending Amy and Nolan down to pick her up at 6, assuming she shows up," Provenza poured the water into the top of the coffee maker and slid in a package of fresh grounds and pushed the brew button. Sounds of coffee percolating filled the break room and for the first time in several hours a tiny bit of pleasure came to Provenza as he knew soon he'd be getting a pick-me up cup.
"Well, Rusty told me a few days ago that his mom was coming to town, so that wasn't a lie. I remember asking him if she was going to be staying at the Best Western down the street from the condo, it's the closest," Andy replied leaning against the railing looking down at the city line trying to spot the motel from his vantage point, as if he could spot her.
"Hmm," Provenza hummed into the phone is thoughts drifting back to Amy's suggestion.
"I know that sound, what is it? What are you thinking?" Andy asked suddenly turning his attention back to his phone.
"Maybe a lead, or a theory really," Provenza kicked his feet on the floor as he watched the coffee drip into the pot, not really sure if he wanted to share the idea with Andy.
"Provenza, spit it out," his voice dipped low and gruff, demanding his friend give him something, anything to go off of.
He paused and decided that it was better to tell him, he would never stop hounding him for it if he didn't, "Something Amy said after meeting with Sharon's friend. Is it possible, could Sharon Beck have fallen off the wagon, or gone hormonal and thought she could take Rusty and bring him home and with the baby have her family back. Could this all be a delusional attempt to put things back together?"
Silence. Andy said nothing. After a few seconds Provenza spoke up, "It's just a theory—"
"A good one. Rusty thought that she might be having some postpartum depression after Natalie was born. He talked to me about his concerns that she could start using again, self-medicate. Given her past it isn't as crazy as one might think," he let out a deep sigh as his brain started to run with the theory.
"We aren't sure how Gus fits into all this yet, maybe she had help, someone that she used to hang out with before or after Gary," he offered up as he poured a cup of the finally finished coffee and took a sip of the hot liquid before heading out of the break room.
"It's definitely worth looking into," Andy said pushing the slider back open and stepping into the living room.
"We're on it. Either way we'll have a better idea whether it has any merit at 6 tonight. I'd suggest bringing the Commander in then," his feet echoed along the hallway as he made his way to his desk.
"Right," and let out a low groan he was doing everything he could to keep Sharon out of this case. "I'm not sure how much longer I'll be able to keep her away from the murder room. She's managed to stay busy with contacting Gus' family and starting to make arrangements for his funeral — to be with Mariana—," he knew that she wanted to be looking for Rusty, but she couldn't argue with the rules she needed to maintain a certain amount of distance from the case. He and Sharon needed to think about the state's ability to prosecute the bastard that took their son. Andy wasn't naive he knew she was texting the team constantly asking for updates, offering up suggestions, he wouldn't be able to keep her away forever. To be fair he was surprised he managed to keep her away from the office for the last 18 hours. Once they left the morgue she'd collapsed, crying in his arms for Gus, for Rusty.
"Andy?" Provenza prodded.
Andy, "Sorry, what were you saying?"
"Has she told the kids?" He asked waiting to finish the call before turning the final corner to his desk.
"She called them this morning, they wanted to fly out but we've convinced them to stay put for the time being. We don't need to extra distraction and worry. I let my kids know of course, Nate doesn't really know him very well but Nicole is pretty upset. The boys adore him, they were just hear hanging out with him a few days ago," it was clear that he was crestfallen, no one could question the love he had for the Kid.
"We'll get him back," Provenza said with as much confidence as he could muster.
"Yeah, alive?" A fair question, but one everyone was afraid to answer. There was no need to reply, heads silently nodded as the pair hung up.
When Provenza opened the door he heard his colleagues throwing out ideas. The growing frustration was evident in Julio's tone, "Can't we just pull her phone records?" He shuddered the thought of Scary Sanchez making an appearance when they finally found the asshole that did this. They might as well place the call to IA now.
Always the level-headed one of the team Mike shook his head no as his eyes remained trained on his computer, his fingers feverishly typing away as he simultaneously ran plates and scanned video files. "She's no longer a parolee, she did her time, until we have something more to go on we're stuck," his hands went up in his own expression of dissatisfaction with the way the case was goin.
Julio passed Paige another stack of negative plates and moved onto the next, "I can't imagine her actually showing up. Can you?"
"Either way it'll tell us something, Julio. Either way," he looked up at the murder board as he spoke muttering either way to himself one final time.
His fist pounded the wheel, "Did we really expect to find her sitting in an alleyway shooting up?" Nolan shouted.
"No," Amy replied softly trying to calm her partner, but it was a valid point. The chances of spotting her were slim at best. They'd shown her picture around to some of the locals, most said that they hadn't seen her in a long time, figured she was back in County. Everyone else was too strung out to say or do anything useful. "We'll head over to the apartment and sit on it. It's 5 now, I don't think we can worry about her being early."
Nolan snickered, "Right," and turned the car in the direction of Figueroa.
"I think I found something," Mike shouted, his eyes transfixed to his computer as he quickly re-ran the information in his mind. When he finally looked up he saw Sharon and Andy walking into the murder room, "Oh, Commander—"
Provenza gave a silent nod to his partner and Commander before turning his attention back on Tao's update, "Well get on with it already, not getting any younger." Everyone slid forward in their seats, eager to finally have something useful, something concrete to work from.
"Is it the plates," Andy asked as he crossed the room with Sharon by his side.
He shook his head, "No, those are still coming up empty. But Julio took over the few remaining ones we had to run so I could focus on all the video files. I've been going back through all the footage that we collected from Buzz's camera and I've had one of techs going through the rest of it. It was very interesting —"
"Tao, so help me god," Provenza brought his hands to his face rubbing them in an effort to keep himself from shaking Mike for delaying this with his techno-babble. His tolerance for it was low on a good day, and today it was at zero.
"Right," Tao murmured turning back to the computer, "well the image is blurry, but here," he points at the computer image, "you can see someone turning around and walking away just seconds before the explosion goes off. Based on the distance and the height of the propane tank our guy is between 5-10 and 6-3."
"It's hard to tell but he looks white, maybe brown hair? Black?" Julio threw out as he squinted at the image, trying to get his eyes to focus on the important details.
"That's what we're speculating," Paige replied, causing everyone to turn for once she'd gone previously unnoticed in the corner of the room as she listened in on the update she and Mike had been putting together.
Sharon's mind quickly shifted gears, remembering they had more than one case to work on right now. Her focus was clearly and undeniably split, but she pushed her maternal thoughts aside for the moment and let the cop take over, "Okay, so we have a rough idea of who this guy is, and at least now we can confirm the fire department's theory that this was a deliberate explosion. What else do we know?"
"This isn't the only thing we found. Look at these," Paige pulled out stills from the other crime scene videos in evidence, "We see the same size man here and here. Walking in the crosswalk—"
Andy cut her off as he thought he recognized the buildings in the image, "Is that down the street from where Anne's body was found?"
"Yes, two hours after the party Gabriel attended this man walks across Franklin," she took the two print outs and brought them up to the murder board to tack them on for everyone to see.
Mike leaned back in his chair, "It's dark and this video is more grainy than Buzz's, there's no way we can say that's the same man." He wished there was more he could do to enhance either image, to get the guy's face but for once there was no tech fix, no magic for him to work.
"No," Paige said spinning around to face the team, "but the height and build fit our arsonist—"
Mike got out of his chair and picked up another print from the printer, ignoring the requisite printer fee and adding it to the others on the white board, "And then there's this, down the street from Gwen LA the night before—"
"Same build, same height," Sharon could see it as she walked up to the board and gave a close look to the three images from the three crime scenes.
Spinning around in his chair, Provenza scanned the images, "It's even the same blue or maybe black ball cap."
"It seems like a stretch," Andy gave voice to the pessimism laying beneath the surface of the evidence, "I'll give you the image in Buzz's video it definitely puts him there at the right time, but the other two they're hours from our other crimes."
Sharon tried not to let anyone see her shoulders slump, Andy was right. It was a coincidence, but one they could have been looking for as they grasped for any straw to find Rusty. Sharon moved behind Mike to get a closer look at the monitors, "Have we picked him up on any other surveillance video?"
"No," he said returning to his desk, "he's been pretty careful and frankly I'm surprised we even noticed him in these two. If it weren't for the image Buzz happened to capture I think we would have missed it entirely."
Good, this was something Sharon thought as she looked over the images the team was taping to the board. She looked at her watch, 6:34pm, time wasn't on their side and then wasn't much to go on, but it was more than they had an hour ago. "Any word on Sharon?"
Provenza shook his head, "Not yet, our guys will wait there for another hour and if she doesn't show they'll leave a patrol car there just in case."
Rusty brought a hand to his head, it was pounding violently. He tried to open his eyes, but the light was too painful.
"Ah," he cried out as he shifted on the hard concrete floors, his other arm collapsing under his weight most likely broken.
"Shh, it's going to be okay Rusty. I'm here," a familiar voice whispered out as he felt a warm hand touch his cheek, "I've got you."