Ma'am," Julio says into the cell phone, turning away from the strip mall behind him, "PSPD found Sharon Beck's car."
"Where?" Sharon tapped the button on her phone to put Julio on speaker so the rest of the team could hear his latest update.
The wind whipped in the background, "On Rio Blanco Rd, it's a street behind a local strip mall. We were headed to the Stroh house when the call came in. Patrol was in the area on another call when they saw the car," Julio shouted turning his face away from the head wind so they could hear him clearly.
The team shared a quizzical look trying to figure out why her car which was supposed to be in LA was still sitting in Palm Springs. Nothing was making sense to Sharon, and it was causing her frustration to build, she took a breath, "Do we have any idea why her car would be there?" She felt awful that she had no clue why it would be there, as though she was some how dropping the ball, that maybe Rusty told her something about his mother's activities or schedule before heading to LA and she was too distracted to give it her full attention. She tried shaking the evil thoughts of guilt from her head, from thinking that planning her wedding clouded her vision from what where now important facts.
"Not sure. There's a Mexican restaurant, a nail salon, a few other places, but there's not really much out here," he replied his own confusion spilling in his voice.
Tao quickly pulled up a map of the area for the team to see the exact location of the car in relation to the rest of the Palm Springs area and her home in Cathedral City. "Looks like it's near the airport," he reported loud enough for Julio to hear him.
Julio looked west, "Yes it's not too far. It's also not far from Cathedral City. I'm going to go with local PD to ask the businesses here if they've seen her. See if we can get any more information."
Andy leaned into the phone, "Any sign of disturbance in the vehicle?"
"No, nothing. It looks like it was abandoned," he replied grateful on one hand that it didn't appear to be the site of a crime scene and yet disappointed in the continued lack of leads in this case.
"Thanks Julio, let us know what you find out," Sharon said noting that there wasn't anything else to gain from that line of investigation at this point. Hopefully after the canvas they'd know more.
"Will do," he replied before hanging up.
Sharon walked up to the wide array of monitors in RACR and stared at the map Tao had pulled up, a star marking the site of the car, "Why not park the car in the parking lot?" She asked turning to the team, her finger pointing at the large lot in front of several shops, "There's plenty of space.
"Maybe she was going to the business behind the strip mall, what is it? A pool store?" Andy offered up, "Do Jim and Linda have a pool?" He felt bad that he didn't know himself, but Rusty had only been out there three or four times since moving his mom out last summer, and a description of the house was low on the conversation report. Everything in the last year had been baby this and baby that, so honestly he too had no clue why Sharon Beck would be in the area.
"Well, at least it explains why no one has been able to locate it here in LA," Provenza shrugged, he didn't particularly care why the other Sharon was there only that it continued to complicate matters in locating her and therefore Rusty.
Wes spun around, "So, do we think she caught a ride to LA?" "
Tao followed up, "Carpooling with a friend maybe?"
Wes quickly countered that notion, "Well if she did that would be news to the gal she was supposedly staying with, also how does that fit in with her saying she'd meet Rusty at Gus's apartment last night? If she didn't have a car?"
"Uber, Lyft, you don't have to own a car these days to get around," Tao state matter-of-factly the issue at hand wasn't so much that Sharon didn't get to LA, if she was indeed in LA, in her own car, but that no one had seen or heard from her in 24 hours.
"Mike, check her credit cards again and see if there's been any activity, specifically a ride-share service," Sharon was about to go on when her phone buzzed. She caught Andy's eye before stepping out to take the call.
"Right, so we stick on Sharon Beck and in the meantime where are we with the warrant for the uncle's place," Provenza asked turning the focus squarely back on Stroh.
"Still waiting for it to come through, the Feds don't seem to be have the same level of urgency as we are to get that approved," Wes gave an annoyed shrug and the beaurcpatic bull shit he'd been dealing with all morning.
"Maybe we should have Fritz call in a favor to his old buddies. He has a vested interest in all things Stroh," Flynn offered up the reasonable suggestion.
"And why are you still sitting here?" Provenza demanded.
"Right, if I don't get anywhere I'll call Deputy Howard," Wes spun out of his chair and exited RACR intent to get someone to authorize this warrant.
Once the room had cleared Provenza turned to Flynn and asked quietly, "Whose she on with?
"No, they're pretty much bombarding me at the moment for information, that's her mom," he tried to keep his voice steady in response. Her mother wasn't in great health and Sharon worried that the stress of all this would be too much for her, but like daughter, like mother she wouldn't hear any of it. She'd been better than the kids about respecting both her need for space and the dealings of the job, but still promised to check in regularly.
Flynn gave his chair back a pat and stepped out into the hall headed for Sharon's office. He caught her eye and gave a nod, he'd give her some space for the moment he could see that just talking with her mother was making her choke up again. As grateful as he knew she was for all the support he could tell that right now she needed the comfort of the cloak that the LAPD brought to her, she needed to focus on the job. He popped into the break room and fixed a cup of chai tea, it was her 'I don't feel like coffee, but need caffeine' tea choice. The warmth and spice would help fortify her for what he knew to be challenging hours to come. By the time he reached the murder room he could see Sharon wiping away the stray tears from her cheeks, the phone was on the desk signaling that they were done for now.
"Hey," he whispered as he entered her office, "Made you some tea."
She came to him straightaway and leaned into his chest, hard, almost knocking him off balance. He quickly set the tea down before it could spill on either of them, "Hey now." He spoke softly as he pulled her against him.
Sharon let the warmth of his arms calm her, as she listened to his silent breathing steadying hers into the same rhythm. She finally muttered, "Mom sends her love."
Her head shook slightly as his chest reverberated with laughter, "Sometimes I think your mom loves me more than you love me."
"If she wasn't so happily married to my father, I think I'd have to worry," Sharon replied softly carrying the joke.
He stood there holding her in silence for a moment, knowing that's all they had right now, "So what has you all upset," he dared to ask.
Sharon leaned her head back and looked at him briefly, "She says she and Dad are going to fly out here," then dropped it back onto his chest.
"Ah," it didn't need any further explanation. Flying was the last thing either one of them should be doing right now, but they'd do it for their daughter, to be by her side during the most difficult time in her entire life. That's who they are, and Andy couldn't fault them for that he'd do the same if the situation dictated.
"Yeah," she muttered and took a deep steeling breath.
Andy looked over Sharon's head and saw Mike approach the office and gave him a quick look, asking for just another minute with her. "Sweetheart," he made her look up at him, "we will deal with one thing at a time alright. Everyone means well, I know they do, but I get that it's just making you more worried. So I'll give you mom a shout in a little while and just ask them to hold off buying the tickets just yet. Let's focus on finding Rusty and then we'll go from there. Alright?"
Sharon sighed, she was so good at organizing her thoughts. Compartmentalizing this part of her life to be separate from that part but now it seemed like everything was leaking and streaking together it was making it hard for her to think clearly and to stay focused. She stared into her fiancé's eyes and could see his love and felt the strength he was imparting to her with each breath. She closed her eyes and then opened them, "Okay," she didn't need to do this all alone.
Andy gave Tao a nod letting him know they were done for now. The other man to his credit gave them another moment before quietly knocking on the door. Sharon had already taken a step back from Andy, but was still holding his hands when Tao stepped inside her office.
"Ma'am," he paused waiting for her to acknowledge him, that now was an okay time.
"Yes," Sharon brushed down her blazer and turned around, "Sorry, I need to take that call. Do we have something?"
He gave an understanding nod, "Yes, well maybe, he started to say." Andy gave him a little glare urging him to get to the point quickly, "Julio just called back in about Sharon Beck."
"Okay, we'll be right there," she responded picking up her tea that Andy brought and her phone while Mike quietly stepped back out of the office and went down the hall.
"You gonna be okay?" Andy asked placing his hand on the familiar spot on her lower back.
She nodded, "I'm not sure what okay looks like at this point Andy, but we better get on with it."
The pair walked out of her office and headed into RACR. As soon as the sliding glass doors opened she announced her presence, "Julio I understand you've got a lead?"
"Commander," Julio was always one to be formal, "it turns out Sharon works at a nail salon part time as a receptionist mostly in the evenings, she's new only started working there about a month ago."
"Explains why she was in the area," Andy immediately offered up, the news of her getting a job came as a bit of surprise to him and he could tell for Sharon as well. The baby was nearly a year old, it made sense that she might look for work, but she hadn't mentioned it to Rusty, or maybe he didn't know. He shook the confusing and most likely irrelevant thoughts from his head and focused on the case, "Do they require employees to park in the back?" It was the one oddity that still didn't make sense.
"Doesn't seem to be a policy, but she did lock up that night and may have parked there for convenience," Julio offered up the information with a quiet tone.
Provenza put his hands in the air before crossing them behind his head, surprised that this is the first they were learning of any of this."Why didn't anyone call it in when they saw her car there the next day? Hell, why didn't Jim tell us this on the phone."
Sharon gave Provenza a pointed look to calm down, she didn't know why the information wasn't shared sooner but people only gave you tidbits of information during an investigation. It was frustrating as hell, but they couldn't do anything more about it right now.
Julio continued, flipping through his notebook, "Apparently one of her co-workers did text her and she replied saying she had car trouble and was going to have a friend take her to LA and that she'd get the car fixed when she got back."
"Did they say who this friend was? Or when they got the message?" Andy asked wondering if they could cross-reference the names with any of her past associates, maybe she had started drifting back into her old lifestyle after all.
"Two days ago," Julio replied knowing it fit with their timeline, but didn't help them much, "and no information on who might have given her the lift."
Sharon let his words hang in the room for a moment. They were doing everything they could to track down Sharon Beck's whereabouts, but now they needed to focus on the real reason why Julio was sent to Palm Springs, "Okay, you've got the warrant to search Gwendoline Stroh's house for any signs linking back to Phillip and his whereabouts?"
"Yes. Palm Springs PD is going to come with me to serve the warrant. The place is about five miles from here. I'll check back in when we have more to go on," he answered walking back to his car and hanging up. He hoped there would be more to go on after he went through Phillip's mother's home. It was a long shot, but there had to be a reason why everything kept coming back to Palm Springs.
"Are you sure about this?" Amy laid into the manager Aiden. She couldn't stand the guy, and understood why Rusty was so suspicious of him and his behavior with Gus. It was obvious that he had a thing for Gus and despised Rusty, if they weren't stuck on Stroh for this she could see some kind of jealousy play happening.
"I went over the tapes myself," he started to say, "I didn't see anything unusual."
Amy lifted the picture, "And you're positive that you didn't see this man in your restaurant in the last week? It's possible he's changed his hair color or grown a beard."
The man started to shake his head no.
"If you cared at all for Gus you'd take another look at this," she demanded going for the jugular as she shoved the picture back at him.
He hesitated and Amy knew she had something. Aiden squinted at the two images Amy had of Stroh. One was of him several years prior to his arrest wearing glasses and his hair slicked back, the other was taken around the time of his escape. His hair had grown out some and he'd lost the glasses. He looked up, "It might be possible."
Amy knew she needed to push, it felt like they might be getting their first solid lead on Stroh in years. They had sightings and spotting galore but nothing concrete, "Show me." She headed towards the back room not waiting for Aiden to lead the way, there was no time to waste. She pushed open the door and looked back at him, "Now."
Aiden hurried into his office and slouched into his chair, clicking away at his computer as he brought up the surveillance video. Amy pulled out her phone and shot off a quick text to Provenza, "May have a lead on Stroh."
Aiden scrolled through the files until he found one from Tuesday night. Weekdays were notoriously slower, but this Tuesday seemed abnormally busy with customers. "We had a corporate party come in to our private dining area which meant Gus wasn't able to work in the kitchen that night."
"Is that usual?" Amy pressed.
Aiden spun around in his fancy leather office chair and gave a small shrug, "For him to wait tables, not too unusual he usually gets time in the kitchen Tuesday to Thursday night —"
Amy bit her tongue she could see the fond look in his eyes, he had him up front the other days, so he could be around Gus that much was clear to her, but she remained focused, "But this Tuesday that wasn't the case?"
"No, one of our waitresses Jessica was a no-show and with the last minute booking of the corporate group we were short-handed up front, so I had to pull Gus," his tone was devoid of any worry or concern that one of his staff was a no-show, but it tickled Amy's gut.
"Have you heard from Jessica since?" Amy's threat level was raised, this beginning to sound too well-orchestrated.
"No, actually, we had to let her go since she was a no-call, no-show for three consecutive shifts. Losing her and Gus—" he paused, "it's been hard." He lamented about his business, as though Gus just took another job and left him shorthanded on purpose.
"What's Jessica's last name?" Amy demanded clearly concerned by the fact that the woman hadn't been seen now for several days. It didn't mean it was connected, but it seemed like with this case everything was, everything meant something.
"Ferrera," he replied confused at her insistence to discuss a lackluster employee.
Amy pulled out her phone again and rapidly typed out another text, "Send someone out to check on a Jessica Ferrera, missing employee from Gwen. Last seen or heard from on Monday night." The returned her focus on the slime ball in front of her, "And this corporate group, you said it was a last minute booking?"
"Uh yeah, like I said Tuesday's aren't very popular especially for events, but I got a call that morning from some assistant saying that they were having a dinner for their board of directors and something happened with their other venue. I told her it'd cost extra but we could do it. She said money wasn't an issue," he leaned back comfortably in his chair as he spoke, bouncing his foot slightly more out of boredom it would seem than nervousness.
"How many people?" Amy pressed on with the facts.
"12 men in suits showed up at 7pm and were here until about 9:30," Aiden replied looking back at the event order details that were on his desk.
Amy nodded, it sounded reasonable, but she needed to see the video to be certain of anything, "Can you pull up the video from that night?"
"Sure," spun back around in his chair and pulled it up. He fast-forwarded until the large group arrived, "Here they are."
Amy took note of the men, they were all well-dressed in their mid 40s and looked genuinely like a group of corporate executives. "Okay, and where's Gus?"
He flipped the video from the private dining room and bar area over to the main dining room, "Here he was working tables 3, 5 and 7 that night. Our non-reservation tables."
"Is that where he normally would work when he's not in the kitchen?" Amy knew staff usually worked specific zones or areas of a restaurant and someone like Stroh might know that too, figured out where Gus would be working.
"Yes," he nodded still focused on the screen. He slowed down the fast-forward when they got to 8pm, "Here is the man I was thinking of when I looked more closely at the picture you showed me."
Amy looked at the time stamp, 8:07pm a single man, dressed in a nice suit walked through the restaurant following the hostess and sat down in Gus' section. His back was to the camera, "Can you rewind and show me his entrance?"
"Uh yeah," he switched camera angles and brought the time back ten minutes, "here's when he walked in."
He kept his head ducked down and body turned a bit sideways as he spoke to the hostess, clearly aware of where the camera were located. She wasn't going to get anything from this vantage point. "Okay switch back. Do we ever get a view of his face?"
He shook his head, "Not a great one, but here when he leans over to hand Gus the bill he turns his head slightly. I remembered him because it seemed like he was into Gus."
"I bet, that's why you remembered him," Amy stated sarcastically annoyed every minute she had to sit with this man, "Okay freeze it." Amy stared image it was a profile and a slightly low-res one but the man fit Stroh's build. His face was covered by a dark beard, but there was something in the eyes. Her gut was convinced, it had to be him. "Print this out, and get me a copy of the video from this day."
He pulled out a flash drive and uploaded the surveillance video while the printer churned to life and spat out a picture of Gus with the mystery man, most likely his killer and the man who was holding Rusty captive.
It didn't take long for Julio and the PSPD officers to make the drive up to the expansive homes east of downtown Palm Springs. The homes were large and spread far apart from one another, it was clearly a wealthy part of town. They drove up the long driveway to a mid-century style home. Julio noted the car next to the garage as he stepped out of the cruiser, the oppressively dry heat hitting him in the face. Two PSPD officers walked up the steps and knocked on the door while Julio stood behind them near a vast fountain. He wasn't sure what to expect, but the nurse who answered wasn't it.
"Hello?" The young woman in dark purple scrubs said with a question in her voice.
"Hello ma'am, we are from the Palm Springs Police Department, and we have a warrant to search the residence," the officer stated.
Julio stepped forward and handed the woman a copy of the warrant, "Is Ms. Stroh home?"
"Yes, she's in the other room," the young brunette nodded.
"Are there any other persons in the house?" The officer asked keeping a hand on the gun holstered to his belt.
She shook her head no and stepped aside for the officers. Julio followed PSPD inside, grateful for the cool air of the A/C blowing. He walked through the entry way, stopping at a photograph of a building he recognized. He snapped a picture a shot it off to Tao, "Isn't this the same place?"
Then continued down the hall before turning right into the room that nurse pointed to. Across the room he found a frail looking woman sitting in a chair with a pile of blankets on her lap.
"Ms. Stroh," he said softly not wanting to startle her, "Ms. Gwendoline Stroh?"
The woman made no response, and didn't bother to even look up at the source of the new voice in the room.
Julio stepped closer, "Gwendoline?"
Finally the woman looked up at him, "Are you the new gardener?" She asked.
"No ma'am. I'm with the Los Angeles Police Department, Detective Julio Sanchez," he flipped out his badge to show her his identification.
"Can you make sure you don't trim too much off my crepe myrtle trees this time?" Her head trembled slightly as she spoke, her white hair shaking with it.
"Ma'am, I'm here about your son, Phillip," he knelt in front of her as she was such a small woman he otherwise towered over her.
"Son?" She gave him a perplexed look, maybe even wistful.
Julio nodded, "Yes, your son Phillip Stroh."
"I don't know any Phillip," she paused and looked out the window and back at Julio, "Are you the new gardener?"
The nurse stepped into the room, "She has dementia."
Julio nodded, he was starting to gather that idea, "Does she get many visitors? Family?"
"No," she spoke sadly, "Her financial planner stops by once a week to help with the bills, and her stepson," the nurse added.
"Stepson?" This was news to Julio, and to the team they didn't know that Stroh might have any other family in the area.
"Yes, Hunt," she smiled, "I mean Hunter Sanford," she added for clarity.
"Does he live nearby?" Julio asked standing up from his crouched position, but remained near the elderly woman.
The woman lifted a pillow from the couch and brought it over to her patient, helping her lean for forward a bit, "He lives in Pasadena, but everything feels far away here with the traffic. He makes the drive out here at least once a month to check-up on her," she set the pillow behind the woman's back and then helped her settle back in.
"And his father? I imagine that would be her husband," Julio inquired noting very few pictures in the room which he thought was odd for someone with dementia. He'd heard that many people find it helps the person remember, but maybe with a kid like Stroh her memories were far too painful to want to recall.
"Jim, he passed away about six or seven years ago, massive stroke I think," the woman continued tending to Ms. Stroh.
Julio nodded and walked around in the living room, looking out the window towards the backyard which faced a golf course, "And how long have you worked for Ms. Stroh?"
"Only six months, the agency brought me in," she smiled, "I'm originally from Arizona."
The woman reached out for Julio's arm, "Please don't cut down my crepe myrtle's," she said interrupting the conversation.
"We won't ma'am," he said before rising realizing they weren't going to get anything useful from her. He left the nurse to tend to her and continued with the task of searching the house for anything that might tie back to Stroh, give them some idea where he might be holding Rusty.
Mike pulled out his phone and looked at the image Julio sent him and sent it up onto the monitors. It looked like an old photograph, but when he brought it up to the side by side of the uncle's ranch house it was clear, "It's the same place."
"What's that Mike?" Andy asked hearing him mumbling.
"Julio found this photograph," pointing to the image on the left, "At Stroh's mom's place. It's the same building as on the right. Looks like it was taken not long after it was built."
Andy stepped forward, "It looks like there might be people in it, any chance you can blow it up?"
"Give me a sec," Tao went back to the image Julio sent and zoomed it and tried to enhance it to counteract all the pixelation he was getting, "You're right it looks like an older man and maybe his son?"
"Could it be Stroh as a boy?" Andy shuddered at the disturbing thought of this sociopath as a young child.
"I suppose, the timing would be right, but whose the man?" Tao replied
"I'd guess the uncle, no one has an idea where his father is, or who he even is. The mom left it blank on the birth certificate, Stroh is her maiden name," Andy flipped through his file even though all of this was committed to memory at this point.
"She didn't change it when she re-married?" Tao rubbed his chin thinking it odd that she wouldn't want to shed the moniker after all that her son had been accused of, not wanting to be tied to his past.
"Guess not," he shrugged walking back to the screens staring at the picture. It looked like it was taken in the late 60s if the yellow tinted fade and brown stripped shirt the kid was wearing was any indication.
Wes stepped off the elevator and felt like running into the murder room, he'd practically ran from the courthouse across the street. Instead he took a deep breath and proudly held up the warrant, "The ink might still be wet," he exclaimed to an empty room. He looked around and noticed that no one was in Sharon's office either. With the wind fully out of his sails he trudged towards RACR.
"And you're back. Did you finally get the warrant?" Provenza asked before the glass doors could fully open for Wes to step inside.
"Ink is still wet. Got Hobbs—"
"Well it's about time!" Provenza shouted cutting off Wes from explaining.
Sharon gave her second in command another pointed look, asking him with her eyes to reign it back in, and then turned to Wes to continue.
"Like I was saying," he turned squinting his eyes at Provenza before returning his attention to the rest of the team, "I got Hobbs involved, she found a judge, a friend of the late Judge Schaffer—"
"That was underhanded, and brilliant, I don't know why I didn't think of that," Provenza let out with a chuckle.
"I think you were too busy being annoyed," Tao shot back under his breath.
Sharon folded her arms over her hips and shifted her weight, despite the lack of heels the impact was the same and the team settled down and Wes finally finished, "And after laying it all out he signed off on the warrant to search the ranch."
"Good, very good," Sharon replied feeling like they were finally starting to catch a break, "Let's get a team together—"
The doors slid open and Amy walked in, "I think we may have a link to Stroh and restaurant," she said holding up the image Aiden printed and then handed Tao the thumb drive. Amy handed the image over to Sharon.
"It's hard to say for sure it's him," Andy said remorsefully as he got as close to it as his eyes would allow for him to focus, from behind Sharon's shoulder.
"True, but the way he evades being seen by the cameras and the fact that he was seated in Gus' section on a night Gus wasn't suppose to work, feels like there's something there," Amy paused and turned her attention to Provenza, "Any word on Jessica the missing waitress?"
"Not yet, patrol was going to go by her apartment and do a welfare check. Her social media accounts have been inactive since Monday night," Tao leaned back wishing they had more, but for now it was for another department to follow-up on, they had enough on their plate as it was.
"Could be Stroh," she said when she caught a glimpse of the young blond woman's face on her Facebook profile.
Sharon hand the image over to Andy and moved back to the monitor to get a good look at this possible latest victim, "It could be, or it could be another dead-end. If it is Stroh he's going to want us sitting here spinning our wheels, chasing down leads that go nowhere."
"Is it just me or is it just a bit of a coincidence that the name of the place Gus worked was Gwen and Stroh's mom's name is Gwendoline," Wes said spinning around in his chair to face his Commander. Everything about this case felt odd and random, yet so clearly connected to something else. It was like there were invisible threads running throughout the city connecting one thing to another, but they couldn't seem to see them until they tripped over one. It was frustrating as hell, even more than biting his tongue during undercover work. He could play a role, pretend all day and night it turned out, but this was something he was struggling to come to grips with.
The comment fell in the room, there wasn't anything to say in response. It was a coincidence. Or maybe it wasn't. Arguably at this point it didn't matter, it was too late to draw any conclusion that would have made any kind of difference. It was too late to save Gus's life, and possibly to save Rusty.
Tao flipped the screen back to the ranch house, "It's clear this house holds importance to Stroh. He may have gone there as a kid, spent time with his uncle."
Sharon crossed the room and looked at the structure, it was possible, "Wes, Amy, why don't you coordinate with the Sheriff's office and the forest service and go search the area. It's the end of summer and the facility might not be in use by the Church or anyone else at the moment."
"Ma'am," Amy said waiting for Wes to get up with the warrant before she turned and said, "If he's there will find him ma'am, we'll find him."
Wes nodded in agreement and the two partners headed back to the murder room to grab their weapons and gear, it could be a hike up the hill to the house. The satellite details were sketchy as to its exact location. With all the fires that had swept through the canyons in the last twenty years it was also possible that it wasn't standing any more, but whatever was left they needed to check it out, to cross it off their list for certain.
"Sir, I think we may have found something relevant to your case," one of the Palm Springs techs called out.
Julio gave the spare room another look over before following the sound of the voice into the hall where he spotted the tech standing. She waved towards the room down an adjacent hallway, "This way, it looks like someone's office." From what Julio could tell the room was rarely used, most likely the only person that ever came in here now was the person helping with the books. Everything was too clean and organized for someone with dementia to be managing it on their own, "What is it?"
One of the other techs who was dusting for fingerprints held up several sheets of paper, "Monthly bill stubs for a storage locker."
He quickly took the five steps from the doorway to the desk, "Is there an address for the unit?"
"Not that I can find, just gives the account information and the size of the unit," the young man replied handing out the paper for Julio to take.
Julio quickly gave the last three months of invoices a once over, "How many months are there?"
"We could only find these three, it seems that's the way they handle all their bills," the female tech replied lifting up other invoices, "Electricity. Gas. Sewer. Everything goes back three months and that's it."
Julio nodded, it wasn't surprising, he didn't keep anything beyond the previous month himself, but this meant there was no way to tell how long she'd had the storage unit or even where it was located. It could be filled with the late husband's effects for all he knew. He stepped out of the room and pulled out his phone, "Lt, we've found receipts for a storage locker, but no Indication where it is. If I give you the account information do you think we could find out where it is?"
Tao quickly replied pulling out a sheet of paper to jot down the latest information Julio managed to find, "Sure thing, read me the numbers," he clicked his ball point to the ready.
"Alpha Charlie 9-0-4-6-1-1-7-9 Delta, and it's for Public Storage. Bill says it's a 10x10 unit," he replied flipping over the bill to see if there was anything else worth passing along.
"Gotcha, I'll check it out and let you know if it's in Palm Springs. Is it Stroh's?" He inquired hoping that they could get some confirmation on whether this might be a real lead to follow.
"Not sure," Julio sighed wishing he could give them more to go on then what he had at the moment.
"I'll see what I can find out and then fast track another warrant," Tao dropped the pen on his desk and looked across the room to Provenza who was listening into half the conversation intently.
Julio hoped that there was more positive news coming from Los Angeles, "Anything else on your end?"
"Still chasing down leads, It took awhile to get the other warrant. Amy and Wes are headed up to the ranch now," Tao replied the exhaustion and frustration ebbing from his voice.
Julio silently nodded his head, looking up towards God praying that his colleagues would have more concrete luck than he was having, "Ok, we'll keep searching here. Could be another few hours the place is huge," he looked out the second floor bedroom at the desert views. The sun would set in a few hours, he imagined it would be beautiful from this spot, beautiful on any other day that is.
"Got it, will keep you posted," Tao hung up and returned to his computer in the murder room to follow-up on this latest bit of news.
Provenza followed him out of RACR, "Was that Julio? Anything to go on?"
"Maybe, just going to look it up now," he waved the piece of paper with the account number on it. He plopped down at his desk and picked up his phone to call the Public Storage customer service department, "Yes, I'm trying to get some information on one of your storage lockers—"
Provenza looked around and felt the weight of the emptiness of the room upon him. Sharon and Andy disappeared off somewhere after Wes and Amy left. Julio was still in Palm Springs. Cami was headed back from County, with a whole lot of nothing. It was just him and Tao left. A shiver when down his spine at the feeling. He checked the clock and realized he might just catch Patrice on her way back from visiting her granddaughter. Pulling out his phone he stepped out of ear shot from Tao, to the space formerly known as the super cubicle and shot off a short text to his wife. He waited a few minutes to see if she'd respond before going in search of the Commander and Flynn. Whatever Tao was discussing was probably going to be significant and they needed to be ready for whatever this next thing would be.
"Are you sure I can't get you something more substantial to eat?" Andy handed her a napkin and returned to his chair.
"I'm sorry, I'm just not very hungry," she shook her head setting her late lunch back onto the table and leaned into the plastic chair in the break room.
"I get it, I really do. If I didn't have to eat for my blood pressure I probably wouldn't be either," he grumbled before taking another bite of his greek salad. It wasn't much, but it would give him a little bit of energy, hopefully enough to keep an eye on her, to keep everything together until they brought Rusty home.
She sighed and begrudgingly picked up her bowl and took another few bites of her chicken caesar salad, she tasted nothing, but knew it might help silence the stomach pains she felt roll through her body. Besides a banana nut muffin she picked at several hours ago, she hadn't managed to take in much. She was sure she'd lost five pounds already, and while she didn't mind trimming down just a little before the wedding, but this certainly was not her idea of dieting.
Andy looked up and caught her eyes as she nibbled and poked around for the last few chunks of chicken, "Thank you," he whispered.
Provenza knocked on the glass a moment later and gestured towards the murder room. Andy picked up their plates and wiped down the table, "Break's over." Sharon put her blazer of armor back on and waited for Andy, squeezing his hand as they walked back together.
"You're sure about that," replied excitedly before adding "Okay, thanks," then he hung up the phone and turned around to what was left of their group. He picked up his notes, "She's had the storage locker since 1992, it's across the street from MacArthur Park."
Flynn leaned up against Julio's desk and crossed his arms, MacArthur Park felt significant to him, in his gut this felt like something worthwhile, "Didn't Stroh go to USC for Law School around that time?"
"Yes," Tao quickly replied, "and we know Wade Weller operated in that same area too."
Provenza pulled the chair out from his desk and sat down, leaning back and looked across to his partner, "So Mommy Stroh has been paying for a large storage locker over a 100 miles away from where she lives, that is conveniently located near her son's alma mater, while he was attending said school. That feels too perfect, how did we not connect those dots sooner, hell even the FBI should have figured that out!"
It was a fair question, all of it seemed blatantly obvious and yet they never put any of this together at the time. They were so focused on his victims, on protecting Rusty, on his escape they hadn't bothered doing a significant deep dive into his past. Sharon picked up the copy of the invoices Tao must have printed out. It was clear, they didn't say Stroh. "The bills are being sent to a trust which is the step-father's last name, nothing with Stroh is ever completely tied to Stroh, that's how he's managed to stay one step ahead of us all this time," she set the invoices down and braced her hands against the pony wall behind Mike's desk and leaned her head forward down processing this latest bit of Stroh history.
Tao looked at Sharon and paused, wondering whether he should continue yet or not. He looked up to Andy for a cue, when he gave a silent nod Tao pulled up a map of the area, "It is in his hunting zone. Both Jessica Goodall and Lauren Clark lived in this area, and the hotel where Gweneth Adler's body was found isn't too far away, maybe everything centers here," he pulled out his laser pointer and circled the area.
Sharon pulled her head up and stared at the projection screen. Mike was right, that's where he operated back before the Chief started looking into him. His law school was his hunting ground it'd make sense that whatever was in that locker, in the center of it all would be important — especially if his mother was still footing the bill for it. They needed to get into that storage facility. She looked at her wrist, checking her watch, it was getting late, "Mike, call Hobbs put a request in for a warrant for the storage locker." Sharon turned towards Louie, "Lieutenant I'd like you to go check the area, see if there's any sign that he could be keeping," she paused, "keeping Rusty there. Once the warrant comes in I'll send Cami along to meet you and conduct a thorough search, there has to be something there that can help us figure out where he is, or what his next move might be."
"Will do," Mike picked up his phone and started dialing DDA Hobbs to ask for yet another warrant. He checked his watch and hoped that she'd still be in. He caught Provenza's eye as he opened his drawer and pulled out his gun and badge, clipping it onto his waistband. They shared a brief and silent nod, be safe. Sharon gave Andy's arm a squeeze and retreated into her office while he got up and followed Provenza out of the murder room.
They stopped at the elevators waiting for a car to come up to the 9th floor, "You keep an eye on her," Provenza waves his finger in his best friend's face.
"You don't need to tell me that, I'm keeping her here even if it means I need to duct tape her to that chair," he points to her office, "Stroh wants Sharon that's the next play and no matter what's happened to Rusty she doesn't need to see that, not ever,"
"Good, good," he pats Flynn on the shoulder, "We'll get him and bring Rusty home, you see."
"We better," Andy bowed his head down and looked back down the hall towards Sharon's office and then back to his friend, lowering his voice, "I'm not sure how she'll take it otherwise."
Provenza merely nodded in response, they all knew how it would crush her soul to lose one of her kids and he was determined to do everything in his power to avoid that outcome, even if it meant praying. He grabbed his coat, "Let me know when you've got the warrant, I'm not going to wait another minute."
"Will do," he paused as he watched Provenza step into the elevator, "Thanks for helping to look after my family Louie, but that includes you too so be safe."
The doors closed before either one could add a sarcastic remark to the tense and emotionally wrought moment. Andy stood at the elevators for another moment wondering if that might be the last time he would see his friend, the ground beneath their feet seemed like every shifting sands designed to keep you from being able to get your feet steady. He looked up and said a silent prayer, for whatever his words might mean to God, to bring his family back in one piece.
AN: Wow, long chapter I know. A few more long updates until the end. You'll have noticed by now that I've changed certain canon details to fit into the paradigm of my story. It'll become clearer when you reach the end why I've done this, and I hope you all can appreciate the direction I've taken. Lots of research has gone into these final few chapters and I think it really pays off, hopefully you feel that way too. Lots more action to come so hold on. I'll update as soon as life allows. Thanks to the loyal few.