"Another missing girl? What is that, four in as many months?" Detective Carlin Bellwin, Carl to everyone except his mother, asked Fran, his partner. "How do these kids disappear without a trace?" His frustration clearly evident in his voice and the sour look on his face. "Meet you at the car in five. Just need to get rid of that cup of coffee."
Carl was a career detective who knew his way around Clarkesburgh and the criminal population that infested his city. He had a hard-on for anyone who hurt a kid, sold drugs, or took advantage of the elderly. Snatching a girl off the streets was one of the worst things for him. Prostitution rings were notorious for the cavalier manner in which they corrupted young boys and girls, but snatching and selling them into prostitution was one thing he could not tolerate.
Fran was in her usual spot, behind the wheel of their unmarked Ford reading over the missing person report. She looked almost as young as the girl in the file did. As the passenger door opened, she could feel the strength of the man who trained her and chose her as his partner, fold his tall frame into the seat next to her.
Clarkesburgh was a city with over half million people living within its borders. When the influx of working commuters was counted, that number increased to over three quarters of a million people. Though not as big as some neighboring cities, Clarkesburgh attracted its share of criminals, thugs, prostitutes, and drug dealers.
Carl made sure Fran understood why she was a detective. "There are people out there who think nothing of hurting others to better their own lives. It's our job to make sure that doesn't happen and whenever it does, to put these guys away so they can't do it again. Stay alert, ask lots of questions, and never turn your back on anyone. That may be the last time you do."
"What do we know?" asked Carl as he looked over the file Fran handed him.
"Only what's in the file. White, 16 years old, good student, works part time to help support the family, never in trouble before, no drugs, no record of any kind." She pulled away from the station, heading to the girl's home. She knew the drill, question the parents, find a reason for the girl to go missing. Then trace her steps for the past few days. Talk to teachers, friends, her boss at the dry cleaning store where she worked. She also knew they would come up empty handed. Everyone will say they had no idea what could have happened to her. Then the real work would begin.
"You never told me who was getting married," said Fran as she drove.
"My nephew Trent. He and his partner decided to go all the way and tie the knot." Carl leaned his head back for a rare minute of personal thought. Trent had moved to a suburb of L.A. to take a residency in emergency medicine at Lake Community Hospital. When a position at Amity General had become vacant, he applied and was hired. He moved back for the job almost two years ago.
"Isn't he the one who was shot by that lunatic?" Asked Fran looking at her partner. "If I remember what you told me, he was having dinner with his boy friend and his kids when a man shot him."
Trent was openly gay. He had the self-confidence rarely found in a young gay man and the body to support that confidence. When the homophobic father of the paramedic he was dating tried to shoot the man's two kids, Trent's quick actions saved their lives. Unfortunately, he was shot in the process.
"Yeah, that's the one. The bullet did a ton of damage but everything seems fine now."
"You've been looking forward to this ever since you got the invitation. Why are you only staying the weekend? God knows, you have the accrued time. Why don't you take a week or two and have some fun with the family?"
Carl gave Fran his 'are you kidding me' look. "What would I do for a week with my family? We talk all the time, so all the catching up will be done in an hour. What would I do for the rest of the week?"
"Relax, go out to dinner with friends, find a hot guy and get laid. You know, all the stuff normal people do on vacation," laughed Fran as she pulled the car up to the curb. The house was typical for this area of Clarkesburgh. It might have been a hundred years old, but looked well kept. Painted white with black shutters adjacent to the windows, the house looked as if the owners cared. The small lawn was recently cut and the gardens were free of weeds.
Carl took the file and his notebook as he and Fran walked to the door of the small house. It was refreshing to be in one of the nicer parts of town. Most of their work had them in the seedy, drug infested, gang hoods. But Carl didn't like this situation at all. A girl was missing and most likely, the parents were frantic with worry and fear.
Two officers, already on scene, acknowledged them as they approached the front door. "The parents inside?" asked Carl. One officer nodded and stepped aside to let Carl and Fran enter the home.
A little more than an hour later Carl and Fran walked back to their car. The girl's mother didn't stop crying long enough for any intelligent discussion. She was a single mother raising two kids on her own. The father vacated the scene years ago, provided no support either financially or in person. Not unusual for the city they worked in.
A neighbor was more help telling the detectives about the girl's schedule, hobbies, and other tidbits of information. Fran took copious notes as Carl asked questions.
At one point, when the mother stopped crying, Fran asked, "Does your daughter date anyone?" Both women in the room shook their heads. Fran didn't let them know her thoughts about how squeaky clean this girl seemed. 'She's just too clean.'
"We'll be in contact with you if we need any further information," said Carl as he and Fran left the home. The two uniformed officers had already returned to their normal duties. While it might seem cruel, there was too much to do and too few officers to do it, so the ladies were left to their grief.
"Something's not right," said Fran as she started the car. "They know something and are afraid to tell us." They drove in silence, each digesting the information they had just received. "Who will I be partnered with?"
The question brought Carl from his thoughts. He didn't want to leave Fran alone, especially on a case like this, so he asked Captain Syverson to assign another detective to her while he was at Trent's wedding. "Syverson will let you know tomorrow. Today you're stuck with me, at least until I leave."
They pulled up to the drycleaners and parked. Fran looked around as if trying to spot the criminal. Carl sat in silence, letting the vibe of the area sink into his bones. "I don't like this. There are too few people on the street, so stay sharp." He extricated his large frame from the car, keeping his free hand on the revolver holstered under his jacket.
The store was located in a less then friendly part of town. Years prior, this store probably had an upscale clientele, but the neighborhood declined as the more affluent moved away. Now the store probably provided the owner with a meager living at best. Fran rounded the car joining him as they entered the store.
An older, frail man stood behind the counter. His eyes grew wide as Fran showed her badge. "What is this about? I run a clean business here."
As with the others, he had no real information. The girl, Nadia, was nice to his customers, did her job well, and never caused any trouble. He seemed genuinely upset that she was missing. His frown said more than his words.
Fran had always been impressed with Carl's manner of questioning witnesses and suspects. He seemed not only compassionate, but genuinely concerned. Even suspects felt at ease around him. For a big man, he had an inner teddy bear that came out at the most perfect of times. "It seems that you know more than you are sharing with us, sir. Might that be because you, too, are afraid?"
The man seemed to wither deeper into his already withered skin. Shaking his head, he said, "I'm an old man and just want to live long enough to see my grandchildren. Please you must leave now." Carl nodded and left with Fran in tow.
"He is scared out of his whits," said Carl as Fran drove away. "You need to make sure nothing happens to him. Let's get back to the station. I hate to leave you on this one, but I have to get a move on."
"How long is the drive to Amity from here?"
"I'm staying in Monroe at the place Trent and Matthew reserved for out of towners. If I leave as soon as we get back, I should be there by 10 or so. Not looking forward to the drive, but I can't wait to see Trent walk down the aisle."
"You deserve as much. Are you just a bit jealous?"
Carl thought through that question. He had met two people in his life that could have become his lifelong partner, but neither could tolerate his hours. Both complained that he was always being called away, that they didn't have any together life, and they couldn't live like that. After the last episode ended over ten years prior, he decided to go it alone - at least until he retired. Then he could find that someone special and settle down.
"Sometimes it does bother me, but I made my decision and I'm not budging. After I retire, and only then, will I allow a man to get under my skin again."