Strickland stared at the cheap little Boom Boom charm. He knew this could mean something. It could mean everything to Rhea.
Or… “It could be nothing.” He reminded her.
“Boom Boom is two doors down from Joe’s–!” Rhea nearly yelled, hating that she was getting emotional.
“I know where it is.” Strickland broke in. “But not every kid that goes missing near Boom Boom was snatched—”
“One was.” She reminded him.
“All I am saying is, you know how this goes– we’ll follow the evidence, but–”
“You need me on this.” She interrupted, emboldened.
“As soon as Dr. Gallows clears you.”
“Eighteen, Strickland. The guy was eighteen–”
“He’d been eighteen for four days.”
“Still… Legal.” She pointed out. Not for the first time. “And this is my case.”
“It’s the Department’s.” he corrected her.
“No pay.” she bargained with him, “The department won’t have to pay me. I’ll stay on unpaid leave and just work this-” Rhea gestured toward the dead girls. He saw the urgency in her eyes and the clarity. He knew she’d be an asset to the case. He knew he probably should let her back on the squad. But she’d messed up. Finding her with some teen going down on her in the back seat of her car set a bad example. Yeah the kid was eighteen and she’d hadn’t paid him – yet – or officially broken the law but Strickland was pissed at her. And hurt. Why she chose barely legal boys was beyond him. He’d invested so much in her. He’d taught her everything he knew about life. About being a cop. He knew he didn’t have a chance of influencing her romantic or sexual choices but he sure as hell was going to make her pay for her bad judgement.
“Go home.” he told her, trying to usher her out of the room.
“I’ve stopped– I promise. OK?”
He turned away as they heard cars drive up. He walked toward the door. She followed.
“Go home.” He told her again as he held the door open for her to leave.
Outside, Rhea crossed over Chavez and sat on a cement bridge railing.
She watched as three of her colleagues walked into Domingos: The CSI tech, the ME and smarmy Detective Dawson. It was hard being outside. She was burning with anger. This was her case. And what if–? What if it led to what happened to her sister outside Boom Boom twenty two years ago? Maybe she should go to the chief – tell him she’d been wrongly probated– But she knew he’d only listen to Strickland. Man she was hungry. She wondered if nearby Guisados was open. She wondered what young men were hanging out at Tommy’s or Torung or Alegria, eating Dim Sum and Phad Thai and French Fries and how nice it would be to eat an onion ring off of one of them. She shook her head to get those thoughts out of it. She forced her mind back to the scene and waited. She looked over the bridge, below it the 101 and the 10 freeways converged. She watched the streaks of red tail lights pouring into LA. This was nearly the exact same spot she was at on her first night in LA., completely alone at seventeen. Twenty plus years later and here she was again, still looking for her sister. What a fucking failure.
She sniffed the air, then sniffed her clothes. She pulled the last Barragan’s taco out of her pocket. The napkins it was wrapped in were blotched with grease. She ate it. It was cold and flattened but still pretty good. She opened her phone notepad. She typed a few words: sausage, ancho, warm night, dollar.
Half an hour later, the ME gently carted three small body bags out. He glanced across the street as he closed the back of the morgue van. He saw Rhea. He raised one hand in a small, inconspicuous wave. She did the same, acknowledging the solidarity. He was the only one who contacted her after her back-seat bust by Vice nine and a half weeks ago and her subsequent temporary expulsion for “indecent behavior”.
Another twenty minutes later, Strickland and Detective Dawson left Domingos and headed four and a half blocks to Main Street Headquarters downtown.
Rhea got in her car and followed. She parked her LeBaron outside and waited for Strickland and Dawson to come out. She was impatient. She took out her phone. She went to an INFO app she used to find addresses and looked up Domingos’ address. She got the name of an owner. She looked him up. He owned a furniture warehouse on Palmetto near Fourth. Just under twelve blocks away. “Furniture. Well hmmm–” she thought. She started her car and took off, heading south, toward Fourth Street.
Inside Headquarters, on the sixth floor, Strickland was online, using department software to find who owned Domingos. He loved that the internet sped all this up. Twenty years ago, he’d have to wait for “business hours” and then call around and visit the various records departments. But back then, they almost had a handle on child exploitation, child trafficking and kid porn. They were almost closing in on it; it felt like they could see an end. But now? No way. The internet was a sickos playground and there were millions of sickos in the world.
Four minutes into his search, he had a name: Leland Hays.