by Barbara Winkes
When her two-year-old niece is kidnapped, Major Crimes Detective Ann McCoy uses every bit of leverage she has with Agent Cal Davis to stay on the case. More children are missing. Their parents, like Ann’s sister and her wife, are desperate for answers. While the investigators look at the disturbing possibilities, a pattern emerges. They find an organization hidden in plain sight that has no boundaries when it comes to pushing their agenda- even at the cost of harming families and children.
The world has lost its colors, or so it seems to Chrissie in her medicated state. Voices, faces, emotions are all tinged in grey. She didn’t want to calm down or relax, fall for a treacherous illusion, but she just couldn’t stop shaking and sobbing. She’d seen the fear on Rachel’s face and that made her give in. She agreed to lie down for a bit, and Rachel stayed with her. Rachel is different. She doesn’t show a lot of emotion in a crisis, so when Chrissie realized how scared she was, for her, she let the doctor do his job. There’s no time to be scared for each other, when the fear for Rosie takes over every conscious thought. Chrissie doesn’t tell anyone she feels even worse in the cocoon of drugs, like she’s walking around in a nightmare that she can’t wake up from. She prays that the man who took Rosie won’t harm her. There will be a call, a demand for a ransom, they will pay it and get her back. Rachel’s Dad has contacted his bank, and they are ready to act, whatever plan the police have. When is the man going to make the damn call? Something springs to mind, and she sits up, looking at Rachel in alarm. “I snapped at her this morning! Why did I do that? What if we never see her again?” “You didn’t snap. Don’t do that.” Rachel brushes her hand over her hair gently, a tiny bit of comfort in a reality that has shifted in a disturbing way. “Rosie will be here soon.” “She’s scared around strangers.” “Yes, I know,” Rachel says, her arms tightening around Chrissie. “I’m so sorry.” “Chrissie, don’t. It’s not your fault. It’s nobody’s fault.” She can’t just lie here and wait. It’s not fair to Rosie, or Rachel. She needs to stay awake, alert, preferably without another nervous breakdown. It’s hard, because whenever Chrissie pictures what happened in the park, her eyes well up and her heart clenches painfully. She can’t be without Rosie, and neither can Rachel. “I want to get up and call Ann. Maybe she knows more.” “If she did,” Rachel says softly, “don’t you think she would have called already?” Reason is the last thing Chrissie wants to deal with right now. “Did we really think of all the parents from the center?” “I gave the police all the names. Not that I think any of them would kidnap a little girl.” “What if it’s a relative of one of them, someone who needs money?” Chrissie thinks it’s not such a bad theory, and she’s continually warming to it. They know all the parents who send their kids to the center. They are good people with whom she and Rachel have shared proud moments, worries and cookie recipes. By proxy, Chrissie is willing to grant any relative of theirs can’t be pure evil. It could be a glitch of reason, a desperate situation maybe that has driven them to commit a crime. Make no mistake–once they find the man, she still wants to kick him, hard, where it hurts the most. It seems only fair. “The police will look into that,” Rachel reminds her. “True!” Chrissie says with renewed resolve that’s somehow breaking through the drugged haze she’s been in. “They’ll go through credit records and stuff. If one of them has an SUV like Deb saw, they’ll find him real soon.” “I’m sure.” Rachel smiles at her, as they hold on to each other’s hand. Chrissie can tell how hard it is for her. “I love you,” she says. “I love you too.” Rachel leans forward against Chrissie’s shoulder, trembling. She’s crying quietly. If there’s anything that will get them through this, it’s this certainty. Rosie will be fine. That is all there is to say, or think.
The trace has been set up, but there has been no ransom call yet as time is ticking away. I don’t need anybody to tell me this is not good. There are dumb, small-time criminals who think a kidnapping is easy money. There are people so desperate to have a child that they break the law in order to try and have one. Then, there’s the snake-pit. Cal has been quick to set up a task force, and his people are all highly skilled professionals. Well, so are we at Major Crimes. There are cops out in the field to organize volunteers for a search. The media has been informed, and an Amber Alert has been issued. On the other hand, the colleagues at Chrissie’s and Rachel’s house are instructed to keep reporters away from them. They want to control what information is given out at this point. Cal’s already been in a shouting match with Rachel’s Dad, because he wants a TV appearance in order to appeal to the kidnapper. Here, within the core of the investigation taking place at headquarters, I’ve been stuck with a dozen others, mostly FBI. They don’t sugarcoat the possibilities. They’re talking all possible areas, pedophiles, sex trafficking networks. I want to shoot somebody. Cal’s look at me doesn’t quite say “You asked for this”, but it’s “I told you so” at best. I square my shoulders. He’s right, I asked to be here, and I’m going to do my job. “Are those theories, worst case scenarios, or do you have actual proof that any of those groups is operating in this area?” I ask, proud of how calm my voice is, not giving away the rage inside. Special Agent Martinez points to the map behind her. “Unfortunately, hard proof is lacking. What we do know is that there’s been an increase in missing children. We’ve been reaching out to informants and undercover agents to identify any new players–” I feel sick at her choice of words, even though I don’t blame her. If I didn’t know Rosie, the use of the same detached language would be instinctive. “No luck so far.” I struggle to make sense of her words. I know they have their statistics. Those numbers aren’t conclusive to determine that the criminal landscape has changed, is there? “How long until you know for sure?” “Hard to say.” She casts me an apologetic glance. “We’ve seen these numbers increase over the past two months, within a rather wide area. We don’t know yet what this means.” I feel lightheaded. Two months? No. We need results sooner than that. There’s no way–I stop myself. I’m a guest here, and I’m not invited to criticize their proceedings. “How many?” She points to the map again. “There were five in this area in a matter of weeks, children between the ages of three months and six years. Two were taken from their homes. Before you ask, there’s no relation whatsoever between these families. This is definitely orchestrated by professionals.” “The kindergarten teacher saw the kidnapper. I wouldn’t call that a pro job.” Martinez shrugs. “We’d appreciate it if they started making mistakes this early in the game.” The cop in me agrees. Never mind it was my first impulse to shake her. It’s not Martinez’ fault–she is doing her job. Words have a different meaning when a case concerns you personally, and I don’t like the word “game”. My sensibilities don’t matter here though. We’re on the same side. I press my hand against my forehead, feeling a massive headache building. Where can we go from this? I give myself the answer. Initial responses are in motion. We’ll have to wait, for a ransom, a witness calling in, anything. I recall the last time I’ve seen Rosie, only yesterday, about to fall asleep on my lap. She’s such a smart and happy child. Her family and the little group in the daycare center are her whole world. She must be terrified. Hell, I am terrified, because with each minute ticking by, I have to give up the idea that the person who took her will show any regard whatsoever for her well-being. Whatever happens, though, that person will have to answer to me, and there’s going to be hell to pay.