Chapter 38

Traffic on 95 North was not in my favor, but with a little luck and healthy disregard for the rules of the road, I figure I can just make roll call. Normally I kinda hate being late, especially to a meeting where I can’t get in un-noticed.  Even though Lt Giancarlo’s text said to report directly to him, (…at least I think that’s what it meant!),  I’m still an everyday patrol cop and that means be in the Squad Room  7:00 am sharp and listen to Sgt Flerherty tell all of us how to do our jobs safely and how it’s our duty to the citizens of the city of Providence and blah, blah.

I glanced at my phone and the text still showed: ‘Come in… G’    I started to grin,  goddamn! this just might be my shot at trading in my same olds for some real police work! Just gots to get to the station, and make that transition.

The Providence Police Department is located directly over the Providence Fire Station. Combining essential city services into one location seemed like a great idea in the late 1950s, when the biggest public safety issues were:  a) the next hurricane and b) keeping up with the dead gangster calls from Federal Hill. Square grey granite, the front of the building had an unlikely  splash of red  from the four overhead doors for the various  trucks and fire engines.  The police department was on the 2nd and 3rd floors. The Squad Room was on the 2nd floor, a 12 x 14 (probably big enough for the entire Department when the place was built) room furnished in ‘Elementary Modern’ school desks, (the kind with the solid plastic desk top that looked kinda like an apostrophe? )… now that I think about it, the room looks like most 1950s classrooms, right down to the greenish floor tile. Every day, before each shift, special assignments, notes, new APBs and general schedule bullshit was announced, gripes were solicited and we were all sent out on the street.  I’ve only been on the force 3 years, but my least favorite part of the job was these daily meetings, mostly because the old veteran cops, who for the most part thrived on the shift meeting, it gave ’em a chance to be ‘wise old timers’…  always plenty of advice for rookies, which to them was anyone who joined the force after Carter was President. Sgt Flerherty seemed to encourage this, sort of a ‘bad cop, worse cop‘ approach to management. He’d stand at the front of the room and listen to some of the most arrant nonsense come from these guys and would only interrupt if it looked like someone was getting pissed off enough to start something, then he’d say, ‘gentlemen!! save that shit for the street!’  At least until the ladies started to show up in uniform. Then even he had to change. And, while most cops hate change, a career Shift Supervisor like Flerherty abhorred change. He knew that women are totally suited to police work… in administration or, if especially gifted, maybe back-up Dispatcher. Beat cop? With a gun? On patrol? no, no and ‘faith ‘n begorra’ no!!  Story has it that it was a young cop on the rise back in the late 80s who managed to help Flerherty to accept modern police work.  That kind of help is as likely to breed resentment as it is gratitude.

“Campbell! it says here that  you’re off today’s roster, you’ve been re-assigned to Lt Giancarlo up in the Detective Division.” Sgt. Flerherty seemed more put out by the change to his patrol  schedule than anything else.  He ran the pre-shift meetings like a male nun, eyes glinting behind wire-rimmed glasses, looking for any deviation from ‘the right way to start a shift’.

Your uniform looks like you slept in it!  I’ll not be having any of my men disgracing the uniform, so get yourself a little more presentable before you go up to see them plainclothes,” the scorn in his voice when saying ‘plainclothes‘, spoke volumes about the career that Flerherty had worked to achieve. ‘The real cops,‘ as he always concluded the pre-shift meetings, ‘…are them out there not hiding behind fancy clothes and un-marked cars. Get out there and do your duty.

Flerherty made a check mark on his clipboard and without another word, started passing out the day’s shift assignments. The laughing started at the back of the squad room, where the old timers always sat.  I figured I had just enough time to change back to my civies and be only moderately late, so I ignored them.  As I walked up to the front of the room, Henries leaned over and whispered to his partner, Jacobson, “What do they call a 3 year patrol cop in plainclothes?” I stopped, the muscles tightening in my shoulders, which for me is never a good sign unless I’m about to subdue a prisoner or bust up a bar fight. As I started to turn, I felt a hand grab my right wrist.  Jackie Carleone, a 7 year veteran, and my training supervisor when I started,  looked up and shook her head. I smiled at her and continued up to the front of the room, past Flerherty, who was so engrossed in something on his podium that he didn’t look up.  As I got to the door, I  looked back, flipped off the back of the room, in the general direction of Henries and Jacobson.  Jackie was studying something on the desk in front of her, the movement of her shoulders the only give-away to her laughter.

A quick change into my comfortable dress clothes and I was heading up the staircase to the 3rd floor.

 

Where the fuck have you been?!” the voice came out of an open office door at the far end of the room. From where I stood, I could see the open work space with the standard green metal desks, made even older looking by the computer monitors on each of the six desks, four of which were occupied. The Chief of Detective’s office was clearly marked by the wall of frosted glass windows that divided his office from the rest of the room. It’s occupant, Lt Robert Giancarlo didn’t bother getting up from his desk, “My note to your Sargent said to send you up here as soon as you got in!

Sorry, I stopped to change out of my uniform” I projected my voice so he’d hear me in the his office,  but was more interested in the 4 Detectives at their desks in the main office area. Not sleeping for 24 hours tended to simulate my throw-shit-at-people reflex and so, I figured a little of the humble-new-guy apology might not be such a bad thing.  But no one seemed interested and so I kept walking past them and into the private office of Lt Robert Giancarlo, Head of the Providence Police Department Detective Division.

 

 

Chapter 37…

She was taking it in pretty well. I had to admire the self- control. Video footage of Jenn arguing with her daughter, probably over the boyfriend that only showed up when Jenn was out. Jenn arguing with the ex. The ex showing up when no one else was there and fervently searching for…what, exactly? That part was just sticky, gooey, creepy weird. He didn’t seem to find anything, but still kept glancing around as if he expected to be caught any second. If he could have come to know his wife a little better, he would probably have guessed at the camera system that now had documented his failure. And why did he even have a key to this place?

And he wasn’t alone in his endeavors. There was plenty of footage of the hooded guy who ran down the stairs and out the other day when I first got there- but he knew the cameras were there. Because he always kept his back to the cameras, even when going from room to room. And the hood was always in place. He had been there twice before in the last three weeks at least- that was all the recording the DVR could hold.

There sure are a lot of people rooting around in Jenn’s house. And they all seem to know when everyone else is there or not, which is extremely weird. I’ll bet they’re all after the same thing…

What the hell are they all looking for? And the only one who doesn’t seem to be looking is Janice.

And Bobby’s there, too. Arguing with Jenn, much as he had just done recently with Janice. Except she didn’t lose it, she actually clocked him right upside the head. He pushed her back into a kitchen counter, but didn’t take it any further. I wonder if he knows that Jenn has a license to carry.

Janice had another coffee, with a little Bailey’s to help it along. I just had the Bailey’s. Too much caffeine is often detrimental to my overall boyish charm and professional effectiveness.

” So with all that finally out in the open, feel up to a bit of a walk after breakfast? I haven’t been out on the wall in ages. Hate to see all that romantic imagery gone to waste.”

” It’s still going to waste, pal. But I’ll go with you anyway.”

“Ow. I guess nobody’s getting to your heart through your stomach…must be another entrance…”

Ow. As in OWW. She stabbed me in the shoulder with her breakfast fork.

Nothing stands out on Fifth Ave in Narragansett quite as much as a black Chevy Malibu with a uniform cop sitting in it, trying to be nonchalant. With FOP stickers on the bumper, for God’s sake. Why is it always a black Chevy Malibu? Just rent a freaking Hyundai once in a while. A white one.

We walked on the other side towards him, and as we came abreast, the car moved off quickly. It had been idling.

A uniform cop, not in a cruiser, just hanging out.

Sure.

” Hey, did you recognize that guy just now? In the car?”

” What guy?”

And that, folks, is why it’s always a black Chevy Malibu.

” So how long do you think they’ve been tailing you?”

Chapter 36

Don’t let the girl out of your sight‘, the text from Lt Giancarlo came up as I checked my phone, in the hope that I would find new instructions. 8 hours on stakeout, when the suspect goes into a house and doesn’t leave, is not the most challenging of police work.

Paying your dues’, I thought as I tried to stretch out my legs, the sun just beginning to show on the horizon, visible between the houses that lined the beach. Still in uniform after 3 years on the force, I didn’t ask questions when I got the text last night in the last hour of my shift. Competition for the next opening in the plainclothes squad was way too stiff to pass up on a chance to make the Chief of Detectives happy. So what if the guys in the squad room joked about,  ‘conflict of interest’ or ‘compromised jurisdiction’,  if he wanted this girl followed, I wasn’t gonna ask questions. I sat in my car and tried to figure how I was going to get some sleep before reporting for the 12 to 8 shift. At least she had a visitor show up at… 6:17 am, (checking my notes), that’ll give me something to report and maybe make an impression. Lt. Giancarlo’s reputation for rewarding those that helped him was almost as impressive as the stories about what he does to those that disappoint him. All the more reason to spend the night in a car, my full surveillance report in 7 characters. Maybe there’ll be a fire or a tidal wave.

The phone vibrated  on the dashboard….I caught it as it tried to hop onto the console. Another text. ‘Come in… G

I almost hit the A7 that appeared out of nowhere  as I pulled out into the lane of travel, heading back to the Station House.

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Chapter 34…

Cooking has always been one of the few things I do that actually seems to impress people, especially women.

I think it allows them to perceive what they see as a domestic feminine side to me that actually isn’t there.

Well, maybe a little. I just have never understood the concept of comfort food. Isn’t it all comfort food?

We could all just chew on dry dog food ( or the human equivalent, known as Fritos ) and stay alive, you know. But French Onion Soup has history, and you should always indulge a little when you indulge a little. Food is just so damned good.

So I actually followed her instructions. Got the groceries, drove to the address in Narragansett. Nice area.

Also threw a ball peen hammer in the bag so I could knock this girl upside the head if she didn’t start talking soon.

Because those security cameras had all kinds of stuff on the DVR. Both sisters, Jenn’s daughter, Jenn’s daughter’s boyfriend, Fucking Bobby, another guy who I presumed was Jenn’s ex- husband, and another guy who I couldn’ t place at all.

But I knew someone who could. So I made her some scrambled eggs with sauteed bacon and scallions, cornbread from scratch, mixed some pineapple juice with orange and split it with seltzer water. Eight O’ Clock  coffee ground from beans. ( Have Grinder, Will Travel.) Sweet potato home fries with a spot of maple syrup and brown sugared butter that goes with the cornbread nicely, too.

Pretty damned good. And for my client too, based on her finishing everything and then trying to chew the blue flowers off her Pfaltzgraff plate.  I served her seconds, and put a copy of the greatest hits of the security footage down beside her plate. I had already made a few extra copies.

” Let me get you another coffee. You’re not going to like this much. But it’ll be OK. As far as the legal ramifications go, I know a guy.”

 

Chapter 33

What the…I wriggled out from under the New England Patriots blanket I kept on the back of the couch. Hmm…soft, warm. I could lay here for…oh shit! What time is it? What day is it? I’m asking like there’s someone here to answer me. G zus.

Ow! How many times do I have to stub my toe on that damned coffee table! Coffee. Need it. There’d better be some in the cupboard. Bingo! Laughing, I couldn’t help myself. I started singing the old commercial – “Maxwell House, Good to the last…” oh shit! Roger! I forgot about him completely!

Where’d I put my phone? I hate when I leave stuff in strange places…where?…found it. Under the couch pillow. Exactly where I intentionally put it. Yeah, right. I really need to spend more time here. Then, I’d have some routines and I’d automatically know where I might have put stuff.

I stared at the phone. Thought for sure there would be at least one message from Roger. I gave him my number before we left his office. I’m certain of it….

And why do I think he should be calling me? Who hires a PD, takes him to her sister’s house, the scene of an apparent kidnapping, has a knock down, drag out with the cop dispatched to the scene and then runs out of the house, effectively stranding the guy without warning?! Wow. Saying it out loud, it does sound bad. Rude. And…odd. Better call him.

How am I going to explain why Bobby showing up yesterday was kind of weird? How do I tell him what I didn’t tell him but should have? How do I tell him I found Jenn’s journal. By accident. I found it, read it and…well, there’s stuff in there I’m still digesting. Stuff about Bobby. Her Bobby. My Bobby. Nope, he’s not going to like this one bit. Withholding evidence. Brilliant. What was I thinking?

Come on Roger. Pick up. ring, ring, ring… I know this guy didn’t have a hot date last night. Come on, pick up the damn phone! Do not make me leave a voice mail.

“Hello?”

“Roger. It’s Janice. We need to talk. Now. Take down this address.”

“Uh, Janice? You know what time it is? Wait! Not really asking you. It’s freaking 6:00 am!”

“Duh, Rog. I know. I told you. We need to talk. Stop off on your way, pick up some eggs, milk and bread and I’ll tell you over breakfast. And butter. I need some butter.”

“You’re kidding, right? Tell me I’m dreaming. Tell me my latest client didn’t just order me to do her grocery shopping and make a home delivery all before 7:00 am the morning after she ditched me at her missing sister’s house.”

“See you in an hour big guy.”

Just as I looked at the clock, I heard the sound of a car pulling into the driveway around back. Not 5 minutes later, a knock on the door.

“A little after 7:00 am. Pretty good PI Guy. You made it in just over an hour. And you got real butter! Wait…what are these?”

“Like we say in the biz, it’s your dime payin’ for the time. These, my dear, are scones. Surprised you don’t know that. You being a fancy, jet setting attorney and all.”

“Hmph. They look different from the ones I’ve had. In England.” I grinned widely.

Roger looked up, smiled. He can take it like he can dish it. Good. He’s going to get an earful as soon as breakfast gets underway. Hell, why wait…”Listen, Roger. I mentioned there was something I needed to tell you.”

“And you will, but not before you tell me where you keep your cooking utensils – saute pans and…plates. Plates would be good.”

“You’re cooking breakfast?” I asked incredulously.

“I didn’t buy this fancy spread hoping you knew how to cook Ms. DiFranco. I know I can cook. So yeah, in answer to your question, I’m cooking breakfast. Now step aside before I put you aside.”

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 32…

In the annals of romantic imagery, I’m sure many a poet has made reference to that most seldom- seen and  yet most highly coveted of all; the classically sculpted feminine hand cast against a field of azure blue, flipping the bird out of a car window as it drives off into the sunset… was it Sandburg, or Robert Frost? Not exactly Venus on the clamshell, but pretty damned romantic for North Smithfield.

Actually, I have always aligned myself with the lunatic fringe that claims it to have been a scallop shell, and not a clamshell at all. What Greco- Roman female would be seen arising from a clam, or given the local fauna, a quahog, for God’s sake. Any respectable chowder chef would attest to the inherent difficulties, and to several pertinent related facts; clam chowder is made from quahogs, not clams; Venus insisted on a scallop shell, being much lighter, easier to work with, and much more iridescent. Many lesser-known Greco- Roman models conceded to working with quahogs, mainly because Venus’ lawyer quickly filed a patent on the use of the scallop shell image.

He is also part owner of George’s and a few day boats out of Galilee. This is widely known as synchronicity.

I had the place to myself. My client and the investigating detective both drove off in different directions, swept up in what appeared to be truly spectacular hissy fits. He almost forgot that he had a couple of uniform guys with him, and they barely made it back to the cruiser before Fucking Bobby pulled away. Too bad. I might have shared a cab with them, maybe found out some about Bobby’s recent activities. But for now… I stood in the middle of Jenn’s house, wondering if this were actually a crime scene or not.

I decided to take another look for cameras, and hopefully find what I really needed…a computer that would have the IP address that I needed to access the playback software.

I found a desktop in her daughter’s bedroom, and spent a nervous half-hour trying commonly used passwords. Jenn12345 did the trick. I got the IP address, and called a cab. I locked the front door behind me, hoping that whoever came along next had a key. There had already been more people in and out of here today than Port Authority. I had found a total of six cameras, strategically placed so that most of the house traffic would be accounted for. I considered wiping some prints on the way out, but thought it would be better to have to explain why I was there rather than lose all the other prints that would be found along with mine.

And finally, back to the office, after paying for the cabbie’s kids’ first year of Brown University. We don’t need no stinking scholarships. Roland had apparently taken no messages, opting instead to sleep the morning away with his head stuck under his forepaw. I wished again that I could do that myself, but anatomy simply does not allow for it.

I had time in the cab to ponder some extremely odd phenomena, like why my client had bolted, where she may have gone, and why the local cop was acting so very strangely. And where the hell had he gone, leaving someone unattended in Jenn’s house?

He had really shown little interest in the missing sister, and I realized after the fact… he had not shown any interest in the physical setting whatsoever, as if he already knew the layout of the premises. Second nature. I had obviously wandered into the middle of some ugly, messy road- kill personal stuff… but I was invited. Actually, hired is the correct term. But again…who hires a PD and then takes off like that? I often quip that I’ve seen everything, but this was just weird. And she did have Jenn’s phone… I would really liked to have seen the call records. Why didn’t she show me that first?

Maybe I’ll ask her about that, once I ever find her again.

From my perspective, I suddenly realized that maybe I had two missing sisters on my hands?

The software loaded slowly, as it always does. Several error messages about bad addresses per usual, and then…voila. Not just six… ten cameras. Jenn had this place covered like it really was Port Authority.

Three weeks of back footage, and the only area that didn’t have any coverage was the bathroom. Thank God for small favors.

Time to put on the tea kettle and make a call to see if Caserta’s delivers. I hoped that this would turn out to be a very boring movie. For the most part.

Roland the Professional Lap Cat assumed the position, Caserta’s was twenty minutes out, and I pitched in to it.

 

 

Chapter 31

It felt like someone was holding me under water. My lungs screamed wildly for air, my last breath washed away under a wave of emotional turbulance. I felt the panic rising. Reaching desperately for the front door, I grabbed the handle. One turn, one push… returned to the banks of of the sane. Or so I hoped.

It felt good to get out of the house. Away from a crime scene, the crime scene. Did I really just say that? Life sure can get fucked up fast. Bobby… arrogant, secretive and at times, God help me, scary. How could I forget so quickly?

Half running, half walking, I got into the car just as Bobby swung open the front door. Please don’t let him follow me! Fumbling in my purse, I pulled the keys out and had the engine running just as he came sprinting down the driveway. I gave him the finger, as a visual to go with the sound of screeching tires.

Shifting gears, my brain fixated on the odds, that of all the cops on the N. Smithfield police force, Bobby would answer Roger’s 911 call. Did one of his cop buddies at the station recognize the address and call him?

They say good habits die hard. I feel bad I left Roger stranded, but it’s better to be the driver than the driven. Delia, tells me I’m a control freak. Maybe she’s right, but there’s nothing wrong with being able to leave a place when you want to leave. And right now, I was in a hurry to hit the highway.

The sky was quickly turning a toasty, burnt orange. If traffic’s not too heavy, I can make it to Narragansett in an hour. All I want right now is to… oh man, haven’t heard this song in forever… “gonna take a freight train down to the station, don’t care where it goes… gonna climb a mountain, jump off nobody gonna know, … can’t you see”…  I reached over, turned it up.

295 South stretched out before me. The right music, open road – better than all the hooch in the world. I’m always grateful when I get the opportunity to drive to business meetings. It doesn’t happen often. Record labels, their attorneys, their clients, not the most patient people when it comes to negotiating and signing contracts.

Feeling the home stretch. Just a few more miles. Instead of taking the highway, I decided to take the scenic, coastal route. Hanging a left at the Tower, the Hannah Robinson Tower, I shifted the car into neutral and let gravity wind me down Bridgetown Road.

Less than five minutes later I was on Rt. 1A. Driving parallel to the coast, it was now a straight shot to Narragansett and Ocean Road. The sun had long since set when I pulled in to the crushed shell driveway. I parked around back. In this neighborhood, appearances are everything. Opening the car door, the smell of ocean and salt and seaweed filled my nostrils. I breathed in deeply. The tide was going out.

 

Chapter 30…

I’m too old for this.

And getting older by the second. While the ranting continues from downstairs, I stand here desperately trying to determine how I can trace these cameras back to their source, and getting a little panicky about it. They have to be wondering what the hell I’m doing up here by now.

And then realize that I’m literally standing right in front of the damned answer. Hiding right in plain sight, as they say.

 There’s a 24- in. LED screen in the corner of the room, as a lot of bedrooms have, with a cable box on the shelf underneath it. And another cable box underneath that. Most people wouldn’t give this a second glance. It’s just another gizmo plugged into somebody’s TV.

Except this gizmo is an old GE Triplex DVR designed for security use. I’ve spent years wrestling with the damned thing, being widely used in general security applications. An operator’s manual obviously written by three blind, drunken Chinese engineers locked in a closet. I  can now clearly remember Jenn telling me years ago that she wanted to get one from her dad’s PI company to be able to track Aunt Mary’s nocturnal weirdness. She was  apparently busy hoarding canned goods, almost filling the garage with them. We joked at Aunt Mary’s expense, too, that she would be fully prepared for the Apocalypse. Because one needs to be able to offer the Four Horsemen a decent home-cooked meal, and Del Monte Creamed Corn is the perfect sidedish.

If only I could remember to follow the bread crumb trail. No, no…I stand here staring at a piece of equipment that I’m quite familiar with, wondering why it’s here at all. In the home of an ex- security account manager… who’s father ran a PI agency… that she got licensed through…

The bread crumbs are the size of golf balls nowadays. I am too damned old for this.

Next  row of crumbs… get the TV remote, get to the GE submenu, get the IP address to the DVR, and get the freak out of Dodge. Because I’ve still got the GE software suite on my laptop back at the office, from six years ago. Once a packrat…applies to software, too.

Thank you, Jesus. A breakthrough, finally. I just knew there would be one around here somewhere.

With a bit more luck, I’ll be able to watch this whole thing unfold in relative comfort back at the office. Just grab a six-pack of Guiness Blonde and some Orville Redenbacher on the way. This ‘ll be over in no time. And no, I will not share this information with the police presence downstairs. I have a strong hunch that ol’ Bobby is going to be all over this DVR.

And now to get back to Providence. Problematic, having ridden up here with someone who could still well prove to be up to her knees in this.

Way, way too old. Need rest. Need computer. Need faithful cat in attendance.

And, next time, try not to rely on possible suspects for transportation, dumbass.

 

Chapter 29

Really, Bobby? What is wrong with you?”

“I need to know. Who was she seeing? I know she was seeing someone.”

“And how do you know that? And why do you want to know? Tell me Bobby”

“Uh, gee, Miss “my shit don’t stink”, I happen to be conducting an investigation. As part of that investigation, I ask questions. Just trying to put a picture together. It wouldn’t be the first time an ex-lover went over the edge.”

“Then you’d better not take yourself out of the running”.

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“You know what it means Bobby. It means you never got over Jenn. You couldn’t stand that she shot you down. Not once but twice! Then, to put a little icing on the cake, her little sister turned around one day and did the same thing.”

“Don’t flatter yourself Jan. I got over you faster than a one night stand.”

“Classy, Bobby. Real classy. Should we take it outside? Huh? Away from curious co-workers, my private detective? Who, by the way, is upstairs no doubt doing all the things you should be doing.”

“I get it. Now I’m the total loser, bad guy. Watch many romance movies Janice? What’s next? You fall in love with the private dick, go off into the sunset and live happily ever after?”

“Get over yourself Bobby. I just want to find out what happened to my sister. I want to find Jenn. I want everything back to the way it was. You and me….we can do this some other time. How “bout you man up and we figure this shit out?”

“God, you could always piss me off Jan!”

“And stop calling me “Jan”. You know I never liked you calling me “Jan”.”

“Fine. Let’s call it a truce. I just want to go over it one more time. Give me the timeline from when you last saw Jenn to when you discovered her missing, her car in the driveway, the guy in the grey hoodie…the whole kittenkaboodle. Tell me when and how you contacted Roger and what the two of you have come up with so far. Anything and everything. I have to know it all.”

“You always were a tenacious son of a bitch Bobby. Got to give you that.”

Chapter 28…

“Gee, no I didn’t, Sherlock. I was just asking her why her bag was ringing when I called Jenn’s cell.’ Course, that could totally be a coincidence. Maybe you didn’t hear that while you were upstairs destroying the integrity of a potential crime scene. And you want to know what, now? About her love life? Really, Bob? There’s a direct threat to Jenn written on Jenn’s own bedroom wall, and you’re going to focus on what? How about this, Bob…you stay here and harass her little sister, and I’ll just go have a look upstairs. Maybe take a photo or two. Be back in a flash.”

The message had been scrawled in what looked like a sort of hurried fashion. Well, yeah…what did I expect? Calligraphy? In some sort of reddish lipstick…the letters all slanted upwards to the right, so almost certainly right- handed. So possibly there’s a tube-like container around, and it just might have a good fingerprint on it.

“Hey, guys, anyone spot something like a lipstick tube around the floor here, maybe? This doesn’t look like a marker or a Sharpie or anything.”

” Yeah, there was a tube of lipstick under the bed table. Bobby picked it up.”

Of course he did.

“Is it in evidence now?”

” No, we’ve just been poking around. Don’t really know what to call this yet.”

So someone scrawls the message, and drops the tube when they’re done? Maybe they were upset or agitated, and didn’t realize how dumb that was. Or maybe just the opposite. Or maybe just a big diversion. I would bet that the hoodie guy probably wrote this, which means he’s very directly involved…and if he had been interrupted when we pulled up, what the hell else had been going on?

” Has anyone checked the rest of the house? This may not be all there is.”

” Yeah, we’re just going to. Kind of a strange morning here.”

They went down the hallway toward the other upstairs rooms.

I stood looking at the message, and shot five or six photos on the phone. By stepping back, I realized that the guy who wrote this was probably about my height. There was a kind of evenness to the color of the lettering. He didn’t have to reach too far up or down to do it. A little frantic, but effortless.

I could hear voices coming up from the stairwell. Bobby was being aggressive again, and Janice’s voice seemed strained. Whatever was going on there…it sounded like it was completely between them. It didn’t have a tone that was about this missing sister thing at all. It was miles away from this…but could still be part of it. But the detective wasn’t acting much like one, and the concerned sister wasn’t acting all that concerned. Or, closer to the truth…very overly concerned…about something.

And Bobby probably grabbed the lipstick tube. Some kind of detective there.

I walked towards the top of the stairs, and the conversation changed from diffracted tonality to actual words.

And as I stood there deciding if I would give in to eavesdrop or not ( yes I would ), I  noticed something up in the corner of the living room.

Son of a bitch. A  tiny little security camera.

I had to smile. Even though I hadn’t talked to her in years, leopards don’t ever change their spots. Jenn was a tequila- drinking ninety- mile-an- hour rock and roll girl, but also a dedicated mom and absolute stone cold professional. And she might be in trouble right now, maybe in real danger, maybe even dead.

But she would leave a trail of bread crumbs. Hell, Jenn would leave a trail of club sandwich quarters by comparison. You just had to learn where to look. And if I had accidentally discovered one camera, there were almost certainly others.

I decided that I would certainly not mention this to Bobby. He showed every sign of being a terminal idiot, and did not deserve to know. I just couldn’t trust him. And he obviously didn’t know they were there, or he wouldn’t be downstairs right know trying to beat the stuffing out of Jenn’s sister. Figuratively, I hoped. Be she sounded like she was getting mad.

I found another camera discretely hidden behind two pair of sunglasses hanging on the corner of the dresser mirror. And I knew that I didn’t necessarily have to find all of them; I just had to trace one back to where they recorded to.

And yes, that was definitely an agitated and angry female voice wafting up the stairs.