"Did you see how brought in the envelope?" Leslie questioned Constable Markham. Markham was manning the station front desk and seemed more occupied with filling in a bunch of
forms than he was with Leslie's line of questioning.
"Um, what envelope was that again?" he asked, still not lifting his eyes from the piece of paper in front of him.
"Listen to me. A man's life is at stake. So tell me, who gave you the envelope?" Leslie thrust the envelope in front of the constable.
Markham frowned. "It was a guy, brought it just at the start of my shift," Markham shrugged, clearly not impressed by Leslie's anger.
"What did this 'guy' look like? Young, old, black, white? Anything?" Leslie asked, suppressed fear fueling her exasperation.
"I didn't get a really good look," Markham replied. Leslie had had enough. She grabbed the sheet of paper that had Markham so captivated and pulled it away.
"Hey!" the constable protested.
"Concentrate. What DID HE LOOK LIKE? Leslie asked, punctuating each word.
Markham screwed up his face in concentration. "Oh yeah, some homeless looking guy."
"And?" Leslie asked, feeling like tapping her foot in impatience.
"Young I guess. Caucasian, reddish hair, I think. I mostly only noticed the smell. Guy hadn't had a bath in months," Markham said uncertainly. "What's so important about this
"Never mind,"Leslie said, not willing to waste another instant talking to Markham. She would just have to pull the surveillance footage from the station entrance, but if Markham
was right, the guy delivering the envelope might just have been a homeless guy paid by someone to do the task. Still, he might be able to give a description presuming she would
ever find him.
With her not officially back on duty yet, it would at least give her something to do that had a chance, however slim of helping her find Jake. The helplessness was the worst as
far as she was concerned. She was stalking back to the office, when she saw the inspector coming down the hallway.
"Sergeant Bennett, a word please?"
Great, Leslie thought, just great. No doubt the inspector was going to tell her to go home and take it easy.
"Of course, sir," Leslie replied out loud and followed the inspector into his office. When she entered she was surprised to find the superintendent sitting in the visitor’s
"Sir," Leslie acknowledged him, trying to hide her surprise. Sure, she had bent a few rules in the last couple of days, but she hadn't thought it warranted a dressing down from
the super himself.
"Sergeant Bennett, take a seat please," the super gestured to the second chair. The inspector took a seat behind his desk.
"Does the name Sydney Parker ring a bell?" the inspector asked. Leslie was taken aback. She had expected criticism, maybe even a reprimand, not questions about her personal
"Yes," she replied, "He's a young man I met a few days ago."
"No need to be so modest sergeant. From what I hear you saved that young man's sisters life after the young lady by the name of Jocelyn Parker lost control of her her and went
over a cliff two days ago. You dove into the water aftr5e her, pulled her out of the car and performed CPR, keeping her alive until the paramedic arrived."
"Yes, that's true, sir," Leslie admitted, still not knowing where this was going.
"It's a very good thing that you did," the super went on, "Jocelyn Parker is the daughter is Mervin Parker, who as you might now, is a big figure in human trafficking. Now, we
have never been able to pin anything on him, but we have his eyes on him. His son Sydney Parker, the young man whom you've met is said to be his father's right hand. Rumor had
it that the old man's health is declining, and Sydney is starting to take over most of the day or day business. He's a slippery customer like his father, but he isn't as
paranoid as his father. Nor is he as smart. If there was ever a time to get close to the Parker crime family, it is now." The super paused, looking at Leslie. "You are our best
chance of achieving that."
"You want me to go undercover?" Leslie asked.
"Right now, Parker is in your debt. He is very attached to his troubled daughter. You saved her life and from what we know, you have already been invited to meet the old man, am
Leslie nodded. "That's true, sir." The brass had to have Sydney Parker's phone tapped and god knew who else's.
"I haven't accepted the invitation yet though," she added.
Leslie had forgotten all about Sydney Parker. She had been too preoccupied with first the attempted murder of Jake and then with his disappearance.
"We think you should accept the invitation," the inspector said, "Parker runs an investment firm he uses to launder money from various illegal activities including human
trafficking and prostitution. Basically, the whole lot. Having someone inside that company would be invaluable. With the appropriate back story and references, we think you
could get you inside."
"Now, don't let Sydney's charm fool you, he's a dangerous mam to say nothing of his father. The assignment hence is not without some substantial risks. No one will order you to
do this, but we want you to seriously consider it at least. "
Leslie didn't need to think about it. "I'll accept the assignment," she said. "I know there are risks, but I'm ready for it," she added.
"Good," the superintendent fairly beamed at her with satisfaction. "Inspector Manners from organized crime will brief you on the details of your assignment, as well as your
cover story. You'll be working with his people on this. I'll set up an appointment with him for you this afternoon."
Feeling rather dejected after his visit to Hood at the station, Mal decided that he needed to take his mind off things. The best way to do that he knew of was to bury himself in
work. Healthier than drinking at any rate, plus he might just get paid for his troubles. He first drove to Emily Hirsh's place, but no one appeared top be home. If he was honest
with himself, his motives for wanting to visit her hadn't been entirely selfless. She had had a vision about Jake once that had turned out to save his life, maybe she would be
able to help again?
But the point was moot for now and anyways, Mal thought, if she had gotten anything new on Jake, she would probably have contacted him already.
After coming up empty at Emily's, he decided to look up Ellen's mother. It stood to reason that she would know more about the circumstances of her daughter's disappearance.
Ellen's mother lived in a nice up-scale neighborhood, not exactly the kind of place he usually visited in the course of his investigations. The villa stood back from the roads
in its own grounds, and both the house and surrounding area seemed in immaculate condition. The lawn was perfectly mowed, the shrubs trimmed and the rose bushes seaming the
gravel drive leading up to the house were in full bloom. He rung the bell and patiently waited for an answer. Everything reeked of money, but there was a certain underlying
artificiality that made the whole scene seem cold and impersonal.
Mal had started to think that no one was going to answer, when the door was opened by a middle aged Latino woman. Based on her dress - a cheap light pink polyester blouse and
long navy blue skirt - and the fact that she was carrying a feather duster, Mal was certain that she wasn't the mistress of the house. Most likely hired help. People living in
this neighborhood didn't do their own cleaning.
"Hello, I'm looking for Louisa Hayden?"
For a seconds, she looked at him in puzzled surprise, then her face cleared.
"Oh, you mean Mrs Steel. She isn't in right now but if it's about a donation, you can find her at The Safe Place. That's the charity she runs," the woman added.
Mal thanked her and walked back to his car. A quick search on his phone revealed the main offices of The Safe Place to be in an office building downtown. From what he could
gather, The Safe Place was a charity dedicated to helping teenage runaways.
It had taken some creative talking to be admitted to see Mrs Steel.
The woman herself however greeted him cordially enough, asking him to take a seat opposite her in her office.
"We're always delighted when someone considers leaving a bequest in favour of The Safe Place. It's a big decision to make and if there are any questions I can answer, pleas let
Mal cleared his throat. "Actually, I'm here on a slightly different matter. I'm investigating the disappearance of your daughter Ellen."
There was a moment of stunned silence between them and the Mrs Steel's expression seemed to freeze before settling into stunned surprise.
"Are you with the police?" she finally asked, still visibly shocked.
"No, I'm a private investigator. Still I would appreciate anything you can tell me, both about your daughter and about the day she disappeared?"
Mrs Steel laughed bitterly. "A private investigator! What can you possibly hope to discover that the police haven't already?"
"As far as I understand, the police investigation came up empty," Mal remarked quietly.
"You're right there, Mr..."
"Doyle, Malachy Doyle," Mal supplied,.
"All right, Mr Doyle. I'll tell you what I know. I'm sure it won't hurt if you took another look at the case. God knows I have been petitioning the police to reopen the case for
years. I eventually just gave up. I mean, you have to move on eventually. Life goes on whether you want it to or not. I have no illusions, I know that Ellen is long dead." She
hesitated. "But I do want to know what happened to her. Not knowing is the worst, they say and they're right. So ask me whatever you want," Mrs Steel told him.
Mal could tell that her composure was hard won. He couldn't imagine what it was like to lose a child at such a young age, but he could resonate with her pain. What if he never
found out who had taken Jake? What if his son wasn't coming back this time? He ruthlessly shut out the questions and turned his attention back to Mrs Steel.
"First, can you tell me a little bit about your daughter?"
"Ellen was a lovely child. Very outgoing, friendly to everyone. Maybe a little too trusting, I sometimes think now. She wanted to be friends with everyone. And everyone liked
her, too. She had plenty of friends at school. We had this big party planned for her tenth birthday, she wanted to invite all her friends," Mrs Louisa Steel's face which had
taken on a nostalgic look as she talked about her daughter, sobered. "But she never got to have that party. She disappeared less than a week before her birthday. That was on
18th May 2000. I remembered it was a Thursday. She left for school in the morning and that was the last time I ever saw my daughter."
"She did arrive at school that day?" Mal asked to make sure that what Emily had told him was at least factually true.
"Oh yes, she attended all of her classes. But after she got off the bus two blocks from our house, she simply vanished. At least that's what it seemed like. The police never
found any trace of what happened to her after she got off the bus."
"There were no witnesses?" Mal asked, somewhat surprised.
Mrs Steel shook her head. "The bus driver confirms that she got off at the usual spot, but he didn't remember seeing anything suspicious. The police searched the whole
neighborhood, we even went on TV, but no one ever came forward who had seen Ellen after she got off the bus. You known that is something I never understood. There had to be
someone who saw her. A little girl can't just vanish into thin air!"
Jake was cold. He had come to some time ago - how long ago he didn't know for certain, lying shivering with cold on a bare concrete floor. He had managed to work himself into a
sitting position with considerable effort, but while this reduced his contact with the cold floor, it didn't do much to stop the shivering. He couldn't even wrap his arms around
himself for warmth as his wrists ere still tied securely behind his back. His ankles too had been tied while he was unconscious, plus, he had been robbed of his jacket. Shame
really, he had been quite fond of that leather jacket, Jake thought idly. A cursory examination of the room, as well as he'd been able had yielded nothing. It was a low-
ceilinged room with concrete walls and floor. There was a single steel door. It was locked, as he had been able to determine in painstaking effort. The exertion had left him
breathing hard and aching, but at least it had made him feel somewhat warm for a while. Now, he was back to sitting on his ass, on the freezing floor, waiting for developments.
For a while, he had amused himself by cataloging his injuries. The shoulder was a no-brainer. He could feel its throb loud and clear. Glancing down on himself, he hadn't been
surprised to see a bloody stain on his shirt over the site of the wound. He must have torn the stitches at some point. At least the bleeding seemed to have stopped now, as the
stain was already drying and didn't seem to be growing. At least he wouldn't bleed to death, Jake thought grimly. There were more blood stains on the shirt, maybe from a
nosebleed, he couldn't be sure.
It puzzled him somewhat that he was still alive at all. His captors must think that there was some advantage to be gained by keeping him alive and locked up. It couldn't be for
money, no one on their right mind would hold him to ransom. That left two other possibilities that he could think of. One, they were holding him for blackmail but were after
something other than money. The possibilities here were nearly endless, still nothing particular came to mind. If this were simply about eliminating witnesses, then they could
have just shot him after forcing the car off the road. Problem solved. The second reason for keeping him alive was far less appealing if one could use the word at all in his
present situation: they were holding him to make him suffer first and then kill him. While he undoubtedly had made some enemies in his life, he couldn't see anyone vindictive
enough to go such lengths.
When he suddenly heard the sound of a bolt being pulled back, he stiffed slightly, not sure what to expect. A man with a masterful air strode into the room.
"Jake Doyle, private investigator," he said slowly.
"Yes, that's me, Jake replied. "And you are?"
"That's none of your concern," the man replied carelessly.
"Just seems a little unfair," Jake remarked. "You already seems to know a lot about me, but I don't even know your name."
That comment earned Jake a backhand across the face.
"That's all you need to know," the man said, regarding Jake with contempt. He put two fingers in his mouth and gave a shrill whistle. This appeared to have been a signal as a
moment later two burly men stepped into the room. One of them looked somewhat familiar, maybe the man from the hospital parking lot? Jake couldn't be certain, but if this was
Alonzo Sanchez, one of his suspicions about what all this was about was confirmed. He still didn't know why he was still alive though.
"He's all yours," the man told them. "Don't forget to take another picture when you're done," he handed one of them a small pocket camera. "I'll be waiting for your report."
With that the man strode from the room, closing the door behind him.
"I'm Jake, and you are?" Jake said, sounding more upbeat than he felt in view of the unpleasantries he was pretty sure would be inflicted on him in short order.