Andy guided Sharon into her office and closed the blinds facing into the murder room. She wouldn't admit that she needed a break of course, that she needed to find a way to keep breathing. As a mother she wanted nothing more than to be driving the streets, knocking down doors to find her son. As a cop, as a Commander of the LAPD she wanted to hunt down the asshole that did this to her family. While the two parts of her weren't all that far apart from one another, reality dictates certain limitations on a person's ability to balance everything in a crisis.
The door closed quietly behind him, and he opted to leave only the one light in the corner of the room on. They'd been back to the station for hours now and the lack of sleep plus the emotional toll was beginning to hit them both hard. Sharon plopped down on her green sofa and lifted one of the pillows into her lap, instinctively pulling it close to her chest. She watched as Andy crossed the room, staring out into the brightly light Downtown LA skyline. She didn't need to ask what he was doing or even what he was thinking, she already knew. Somewhere out there Rusty was being held — or at least they hoped. She couldn't allow herself to think anything other than thoughts of his safe return. The cop part of her brain wanted to reminder her of the odds. The statistics were rapidly slipping out of their favor. No ransom had been made. Gus was killed. The person or persons that took Rusty, have no fear and likely want nothing more than to hurt her, which made for a dangerous combination. Meanwhile, the mother in her knew that even if she didn't carry Rusty in her own womb, that she was so tightly connected to him, that she'd know. She'd know if something had already happened to him. There was no stabbing in her gut, or her heart and so she held onto the hope that the team would figure this all out in time.
Andy's phone buzzed again. He could take three guesses as to who it was. Nicole. Emily. Ricky. They'd been taking turns text bombing him for the last several hours. All of them knew better than to hover over their mother, but Andy was fair game. It was fine, he was glad that they all felt they could come to him at a time like this, he'd spent a life time trying to become dependable again. This, however, wasn't the situation he wanted to be seen as the hero in. This wasn't a situation he ever wanted to have happen, let alone imagine.
He reached into his pocket and pulled out his phone, a smile flickered across his face. Sharon didn't miss it, "Which one?"
"All of them," he turned the phone around to show her that they'd decided to create a group text message chain in order to stay equally informed.
She chuckled lightly, "I see, well it must be the Flynn instigating things again. You know how those Flynn's can be."
"Wha-? No. It's two against one. As usual the Raydor clan is ganging up against us," he shot back glad that she felt a small amount of humor during such trying times.
"My kids are all perfect angels, only a Flynn can corrupt them," she stood up and leaned against him feeling his warmth behind the private blanket the closed blinds were affording them.
"You should know," he whispered into her ear with more affection than sarcasm. He pulled her close, placing a kiss to her hairline, "You should know," he repeated once more to the air more than anything.
There moment was interrupted by a soft knock at the door. It had to be Provenza, no one else would dare step into the safe solitude of the Commander's office right now.
"Come in," Sharon answered pulling away slightly from Andy, but still keeping a hand on his, needing to keep that connection to him.
"She was a no-show," Provenza grumbled, his frustration at the lack of progress clearly showing.
"We expected that," Andy knew it was a long shot, but tried to hide his disappointment from his fiancé, "Patrol staying on the apartment?"
Provenza shifted his weight, there was little else to do on the Sharon Beck front, "Yeah, we left a squad car there, but I can't see her showing up. I think she knows something is up, why else wouldn't she have gotten in touch?"
"I'm still in the she's using again camp," Andy scoffed, he was an addict and he saw it too many times. It didn't take much for a user to start using again.
Sharon turned towards Andy, "I'd hate to think she is, but we can't discount her past, not now, it's too important," she always tried to see the good in people but she was finding it harder and harder to see that in the other Sharon at the moment, "We've checked her old hangout spots?"
The Lieutenant drew a hand across his face, feeling like he was failing his Commander, his best friend, and his — Rusty, "Yes, nothing so far,"
"What about Gary? Has she been in touch with the baby daddy? Maybe we should ask him?" Andy had been chewing on the suggestion for a few hours, but was reluctant to go there, but it was time. Everything was fair game now. Sharon reluctantly nodded, giving the command to go question him.
"I'm on it," he turned glad to finally have something to do, or at least someone's skull to smash into a wall with good reason. He tapped the file folder he had in his hand on the door twice, and began barking orders to the team.
"Wes call up Avenal, I need them to send our friend Gary down here for a chat —" the rest of Provenza's words disappeared as Andy closed the door on their sanctuary and returned to his earlier stance, pulling Sharon back into his chest.
"Do you think we'll find him," her words came out so softly Andy almost didn't hear them, but it was the same question she'd asked him several times since they found out Rusty was missing. His jaw clenched as he bit down on his immediate response, knowing as well as she did that it was unlikely.
"Yes, sweetheart. We'll bring him home," his arms wrapped around her tightly and swayed gently to the rhythm of their hearts beating together.
Sharon wasn't sure how much time had passed, standing in Andy's arms always made her feel like time stood still. Never before had she felt such calmness in another's company, not even with her mother. Being with Andy was like standing in the center of a hurricane, the winds would calm, the rain would stop, and the clouds part for the sun to shine down. The rest of the world could be a swirling chaos, but together they could walk through anything — until now. She worried what this would do to their relationship. Those dark law enforcement thoughts seeped back into her mind, most couples break up, get a divorce over something like this, it ruins people's lives.
Andy felt a shudder roll down Sharon's back, "Babe?" He pulled back and looked into her eyes questioningly, searching them for her silent answer.
"Andy will we be okay?" She stared at him so intently, he thought perhaps she would bore holes into his soul.
He didn't need her to explain what she was talking about, he got it. In fact it was a thought that ran through his mind more than once too, he just didn't dare give voice to the fear. Now wasn't about them, their future together, it was about putting their family back together. Finding Rusty.
"I can't know for certain," he started to say honestly, "But I think so, I hope so." He could have given her a rosy answer, as he had with the notion that they'd find Rusty, but that's not what she needed to hear right now. He vowed to her honesty above all else when they started this relationship, and he wasn't about to skirt the line just because they were being tested beyond imagination.
"Me too," she let out with a deep sigh. She pulled him in tightly for a final hug, enjoying the last moment of silence and calm before stepping back into the murder room. They'd had their moment together, and she'd needed it more than she was willing to admit. But now, now it was time to find her son.
Andy watched her in awe as she gave her blazer a tug to straighten it, wiped any stray tears from her eyes and brushed her dark blue jeans of any imaginary dust. With a deep breath she straightened her back and walked towards the door. He thought back to how he tried to convince her not to get dressed up to come into the office, that she didn't need to wear a blazer, not tonight, but she wouldn't hear it.
"Andy, I need this, can't you understand, I can't be the Commander without it," her voice shook as she stepped into the closet to get her purple Armani blazer.
"Hon, you ARE the Commander. Right here," he placed a hand on her heart, "It's in you. Always."
"But tonight I need to feel that," she gave a small smile hoping he'd understand.
"Okay," he brought his hands down her black shirt to her bare arms, "Okay." He didn't quite understand, but if the suit of armor helped her then he wasn't about to argue. Whatever helped her get through the next several hours, or worst days, was welcome. He reached past her and grabbed his purple button-up.
She smiled as she watched him take off his polo shirt and slip on the shirt, "Thank you," she gave him a peck on the cheek and stepped out of the closet.
His hand ran down the front of his shirt, he almost felt naked without the tie. He knew Sharon appreciated it, and the suspenders, but he wanted to feel relaxed and both additions felt like they were choking him. Black jeans and a button-up shirt kept him respectable, comfortable, and more importantly comforting to Sharon.
He held the door open as they left the office, and watched as she immediately set to work, "What else do we have?"
Tao spun around in his chair, trying to hide his obvious look of surprise at the Commander's reappearance, "Well her phone seems to be turned off. I've set up an alert in case it goes back online, so we can trace it."
Sharon crossed her arms and widen her stance as she stood facing her whole team. "And in the meantime?" Her voice was demanding, insistent as it would sound on any other case that hit a roadblock.
"On the Sharon Beck angle," Provenza started, "Gary will be here inside 4 hours. At this time of night the drive down the 5 won't be too bad. We've sent officers to ask around at Sharon's usual haunts. We're also keeping officers at your condo, Gus's apartment, and the friend's house in case she shows up. A BOLO is out for her car and Cathedral City PD is keeping any eye on the Lewis'," there wasn't much else to do.
"Okay," she nodded acknowledging they were doing all they could on the Beck front, "What else?" She demanded, there needed to be more.
Wes walked up to the board, "Based on the new theory that all these crimes are connected," he pointed to the earlier murders they investigated, "we have officers going door-to-door at all the local businesses by all our crime scenes showing them pictures of Phillip Stroh, no hits so far."
"And homes?" She quickly followed up.
"Yes, the homeowners on the block where Anne was found are being questioned as well," Provenza responded trying to provide his leader with some confidence that they were thoroughly covering all their bases.
"Good," she nodded still running through everything in her mind. Trying to figure out what his game was, but she couldn't get a clear view of the whole picture. There were too many missing pieces to the puzzle, "What about at Gwen, has anyone spoke to the staff there?"
"We spoke to Gus' boss, the restaurant manager and the bartender, but the place was pretty empty when—" his voice trailed off not wanting to mention the attack, murder of Gus and abduction of Rusty.
"Wasn't the restaurant was closed during the abduction," Cami piped up filling the empty air space as she was often apt to do.
"Closed for patrons yes," Sharon started to say moving towards the front of the room, "but staff was beginning to arrive to do set up," she recalled Rusty explaining this to her once when he was headed out to give Gus a lift to work. He mostly worked in the kitchen which required him to arrive two hours before the restaurant opened to begin prepping vegetables.
"It's worth checking," Provenza spun around in his chair and looked to the detective at his right, the one that he hated five years ago, but had grown to love like a daughter, "Maybe someone unloading food deliveries that morning remembers seeing Stroh. Sykes, go back and ask around. While you're at it talk to the owner, I know Rusty never liked the guy, maybe something there."
Sharon nodded in agreement with Provenza's theory. The more she thought about it the more plausible it felt. She tried not to kick herself for not thinking of it sooner, but for once her motherly feelings had clouded her law enforcement instincts. She stepped forward moving between the desks, "Even if they didn't it's possible he was there another time. Stroh is a planner, careful, he could have dined there any night before the—"
Andy nodded and waved his arms in agreement, "Sharon's right, if it is him he would have done his homework," he shifted his weight back and forth on his feet, trying to get a feel for this latest theory. It had to be Stroh, but if it was, what part was Sharon Beck playing in all of it? His gut was telling him that they were missing something. For now though, this is what they had to work with and it was more than worth checking out.
"Got it," she grabbed her gun and badge, slipped it onto her belt and headed out with renewed purpose. Finally, it was beginning to feel like they were getting somewhere.
He heard the soft sounds of someone singing, but couldn't make out the words. His ears were buzzing. The ringing sensation wouldn't stop. Rusty tried to jam his fingers into his ears, wanting to silence the noise, the singing, the ringing all of it. He cried out when he tried to move his arm, forgetting that there was something definitely wrong with it.
Silence. He needed quiet to think, to figure out how he was going to get out of wherever it was that he was being kept. Biting down on the inside of his cheek to quiet the pain he tried to think, remember the last thing that happened. Gus. An alley. Blood. Nothing. He shook his head in frustration. Nothing. It was all fragmented pieces of a film that he couldn't splice back together. New plan, forget happened. Focus on opening your eyes. Figure out where you are. Get out. He repeated the words Get out to himself over and over again as he struggled to get his eyes to focus on his surroundings. Everything was a blurry mess.
Rusty tried to push himself up off the floor, using his good arm as leverage.
"I'm not sure if that's such a good idea," he heard a voice say but he couldn't make anything out the ringing in his ears hid any details for him to discern. It seemed like the person was concerned, but he couldn't tell. Maybe it was Gus, he hoped.
He tried to open his eyes again. He stared out willing them to focus, but it was useless. Whoever was talking to him was a blurry wash of colors, they might as well be a figure in a Monet painting for all he could tell. Feeling defeated he slumped back down on the ground, then felt a warm hand grab his. He had no idea who this other person was, but the feeling brought him comfort and for the moment he'd take it. Pulling whatever strength he could from the warm touch of another, he once more tried opening his eyes.
Julio stood up and moved to the murder board, "After Mike's discovery in the video surveillance we've updated our WANT for Phillip Stroh for the arson, and reached out to the FBI who've been leading the investigation. They faxed over this," he tacked onto the board, "These are two properties that have been found to loosely connect back to Stroh. This," he pointed to the first house that was more of a shack, "belonged to a possible Uncle. It's located in the San Gabriel mountains near a camp called Colby — a Methodist group owns it now. And this," he pointed to the second residence, "belonged to his mother."
Provenza laughed as the image of little Stroh and mommy Stroh popped into his head, "Is it hard for anyone else to imagine him having a mother?"
"I figured he just spawned from some primordial goo," Andy gave a shrug and smirked. It was a fair remark. It was never easy to imagine evil people as sweet tottering babies. Certainly it was important to remember the likes of Stroh were still people, but humanizing them like that didn't make the job any easier.
Sharon tried to ignore the joking, everyone had a mother, even pure evil came from somewhere, "Where is it?"
Julio looked to Provenza who gave a slight nod, "Palm Springs ma'am."
The team shared an immediate look of both concern and excitement. Palm Springs was next to Cathedral City. No one believed in coincidences in this line of work.
Andy became serious, all joking disappeared from his mind. Suddenly Stroh having a mother was an important detail. Based on past criminal behavior the idea that there could be mommy issues there or even perhaps some comfort zone, a place for him to return. It felt like critical knowledge, one that was missing before. More importantly though it raised the question of possible association between Rusty's mother and his would-be kidnapper, "Do we have any reason to believe that Sharon Beck and Phillip Stroh's paths could have crossed? I mean, I can't see Sharon working with him, but she's always been susceptible to a strong male influence. Maybe, he's got her convinced that they could be some big happy family together.
"Other than her connection to Rusty, no, she was in Reno when all that went down," Mike offered up as he ran through the facts and timeline of events nearly six years ago.
"Right, but if she was gone and had no clue what he looked like, hell we don't even know what he looks like now," Andy's voice raised in frustration, before he took a second to pull it together, "All I'm saying is that Sharon is an easy target. Women are prey to him. Besides, she fit his type, petite, Blond—" his voice trailed off as he watched the others start to draw their own conclusions from the connections he raised.
"But wouldn't Rusty have showed her a picture at some point, or maybe she'd Google the guy that was hunting her son? I mean he was all over the news after the escape," Wes argued not seeing how it would be possible for Sharon to mistake Stroh for a possible lover, father of the year, real family guy.
"She was in jail during all of that, then sober living. There was a whole year that Rusty and Sharon didn't talk and when they did it was all about trying to rebuild their relationship," Sharon said softly recalling those difficult months of trying to help Rusty through those challenges.
"She was in jail," Paige stated, partly as a question.
"Yes," Provenza replied sarcastically as if there was no way of thinking that someone like Sharon Beck wouldn't end up in prison.
"Yes, but they were both in County at the same time. Her and Stroh," Paige said excitedly feeling like she was on to something, a connection between their possible abductors.
Mike twirled and pointed his pen, "Different facilities, though."
"Right," Paige knew this, but couldn't shake the feeling that it could still be connected. At this point anything was worth checking out, they had no idea where the next lead might be, "but still, it could be something."
Sharon didn't disagree that it was an interesting notion, and based on past knowledge of how easy it was to pass information in and out of County — using Trustees and soon-to-be released inmates, even the medical department. County was a sieve everything passed through from contraband to hits. She didn't want to spend too much time on the theory though, "Cami, why don't you go down to County and talk to some of the officers and see if there's anything to your theory. Don't waste too much time though, if it feels like nothing is there come back."
"Understood," the younger woman nodded grabbing her things.
Sharon placed her hands on the back of Amy's empty chair and looked up at the board again. There was definitely something there. Palm Springs. There had to be a connection. She turned to arguably the most loyal member of her team, the one that would walk through fire and carry them all out to the other side. She trusted everyone on her team, but there was a deeper connection, sense of duty that he carried. Next to Provenza and Andy he was the best person to send out for this job. He could be not only her eyes and ears, but her gut, "Julio why don't you go out to Palm Springs. Talk with PSPD and see what you can find out."
"Yes ma'am," he spun up out of his chair and threw his tan blazer on. He paused and gave her a burning look, a look that said we'll get the bastard. She nodded in silent appreciation to her loyal solider.
Mike pick up his phone, "I'll call the FBI see if we can get warrants to search both residences. They've got more of a case on Stroh then we do," and began to dial over to his contact that could help expedite things. He looked up to Julio, "I should have it before you make it to Palm Springs," it was at least a two hour drive. Thankfully, the growing night hours meant clear roads and fast lanes.
"Good," Sharon said giving the chair back a squeeze and small thwack. For the first time since Rusty disappeared Sharon felt the rush of adrenaline, perhaps this was exactly the break through they needed.
AN: Thanks to those still hanging in there. Three more chapters to go.