Sex Story: Chapter 1 - I'm Winter Jennings, 32, former police officer, current private detective. A now-single mother with a horny son, a friendly-enough ex. My father is about to retire as a respected homicide captain here in Kansas City, Missouri. My work is usually routine, mostly computer-driven. Except when it isn't. Revenge porn, a cult, a wife beater, insurance scams, pimps. A particularly nasty psychiatrist. On a personal front, everyone who knows me well, knows I like sex. A lot.
The Hugo Blenheim episode doesn’t give me nightmares, not exactly. But I’ll sometimes jerk awake out of a sound sleep. Wide awake, heart pounding.
I’m Winter Jennings, single mom (Walker, 14), private detective (after three years on the Kansas City, Missouri Police Department). At 32, I’m smart, confident, professionally accomplished. This is, thank god, not a typical day. I will end up scared half to death because I unmask a monster.
Two other players in this particular incident report: Hugo Blenheim who is not a wife-beater, he’s a wife torturer. And not just wives either. Anyone who strikes his fancy. Then there’s my main guy, Skip Taylor. Gayer then springtime, he’s known as Bear because he stands six feet eight inches tall and clocks in at 320 pounds of burly muscle.
I hate domestic battery, hate how the wives and children suffer. But I love taking down the scrotes who are responsible. Going after these assholes on my own, using ‘creative’ methods, is one of the advantages of not being in the bureaucratic KCPD. Oh, I do have a code of ethics, of conduct. It’s a working protocol that all private investigators agree to. On paper.
But in my case, there is no one above me, checking on me, disciplining me. Over my five years in private practice, I’ve developed a bit of a local reputation here in Kansas City. I’ll work to help a battered woman when the official process has failed her. Warnings to the husband or boyfriend have no effect. A restraining order is routinely ignored. A supposedly safe, hidden location, isn’t.
I know one of the social workers in three different women’s shelters in town. Professional, caring, practical workers. Who trust me. Pragmatic enough to call me when the system simply fails.
Most of my pro bono work comes via referrals from these three shelters.
The case I’m currently working on is that of a particularly brutal sadist named Hugo Blenheim. He doesn’t need to get drunk, get high. No, he simply enjoys hurting people, these days it’s his common law wife, Margie Carson.
What is particularly insidious is that Blenheim knows how. How to inflict maximum damage in an almost effortless way. Margie is, literally, afraid for her life. Blenheim doesn’t get drunk and ball up his fists. He sizes up his victim cooly, knowing precisely how to have her screaming at a touch.
Margie doesn’t know if he becomes sexually aroused. The pain is so excruciating it blocks everything else out.
Blenheim was kicked out of the Marine Corps while still in boot camp. That’s how fucked up he is. My father, a captain in the KCPD homicide division, told me it’s difficult to get kicked out of the military that early. They want to keep you in, straighten you out, mold you to their specs. In Blenheim’s case, and I researched the fuck out of him, he was kept in a special discharge unit for seven months before they finally gave up and discharged him. Dishonorably.
He had been expelled from middle school, high school, a brief stint at military school. He ended up in the Marines courtesy of a judge who had run out of patience. Who gave him a choice, Marines or jail. The judge was a former Marine and had a recruiter waiting in the courtroom when Blenheim reluctantly agreed to go the military route.
He’s not a large man, only 5 feet 9 inches and around 145 pounds. But he is abnormally powerful. Thin, but extraordinarily strong hands and fingers. He delighted in bringing much larger fellow Marines to their knees, screaming, begging with tears in their eyes for him to let go of a shoulder, a bicep, a wrist, a hand.
Margie doesn’t have a chance.
She’s living, in hiding, in a safe house in Grain Valley, east of Kansas City. But she needs her salary, needs her job. Needs, more than anything, to be free of Blenheim.
Mrs. Gleason from the Safety Net Shelter had called me. This was my third battered wife call from her. I took down all the Blenheim particulars. The one I cared most about was the address where he and Margie lived.
When I first qualified for my PI license five years ago, it was easy. Three years on the Job gave me the experience. The 75 exam questions from the state of Missouri seemed ridiculously easy. $80 and I was licensed.
For my first domestic violence case, I called my friend Bear to go with me.
The subject, the fucking wife beater, was a usually mild guy named Gus who turned savage after 10 or 12 PBRs. He hadn’t started on his two sons yet, they were two and four.
Yes, his wife was fat. No, she didn’t keep the house very clean. Terrible cook. The whining kids always had runny noses. Blah blah. She’d been hospitalized twice, broken bones both times. Collar bone and wrist bone. Separated shoulder. Gus jerks her around violently while he’s punching her. She told the admitting nurse that she fell down the stairs. Of a one-story house.
Bear doesn’t hate bullies the way I do. I guess, given his size, he’s never been bullied. But he understands the mentality. A stern talking to won’t do, not for long anyway.
The wife bundled the kids up at 4 in the morning and snuck away, just as I’d told her to. She went to another safe house, one her cunt husband hadn’t yet found.
Bear and I went in the unlocked door and found the bedroom right where she said. I flipped on the light and Bear grabbed an ankle, pulling the asshole out of bed and onto the floor. Gus wasn’t anywhere near awake when Bear punched him in the gut.
I knew Bear had held back, otherwise the guy wouldn’t have been been able to catch his breath. Well, we had his attention now.
I said, “You’re a wife beater. Now you’re going to learn what a real beating feels like.” I’m usually not the vindictive type. But bullies have always annoyed me. More so than ever once Walker came into my world.
I don’t know if my words actually registered with Gus, he was still blinking himself awake, staring up at a mountain of a man. Bear waited patiently, just another day at the office.
I said, “Are you going to hit your wife again? Ever?”
“No. No ma’am. It was an an an accident. Misunderstanding.”
He’d needed a shave several days ago. Serious BO. Wife-beater and baggy boxers.
I said mildly, “I don’t believe you.” And stepped on his balls with my heel. Not with everything I had, not very hard. I wasn’t in a rage, I held back.
Gus screamed and lunged at me with both claws, Bear forgotten. Until Bear said, “No,” and chest-punched him. Again holding back, otherwise it would have been fatal.
I sighed and nodded at Bear. Who administered an almost thoughtful beating. Not breaking any bones, not inflicting serious organ damage.
Driving away, Bear said, “That won’t stop him. Might slow him down for a while.”
“I know. But it’s a start.”
Well, I was wrong. His wife ended up back in the hospital for the third time.
This time, Bear still restrained himself but ended up beating the crap out of the weasel. Then went back a month later and the month after that. Never gave Gus time to recover fully from the previous dance.
Those last three beat downs were enough. The divorce came though and that particular loser moved away, destination unknown.
That was early in the game for me. I no longer call Bear for domestics. For someone like Blenheim. I handle these pukes on my own now.
Early this morning, this Blenheim morning, my son did a double take and stared at me. At the top I was wearing. At my boobs. Walker tried to make a small joke, “Manny will like that outfit.” Manny, our fry cook at the Town Topic diner.
But Walker knew this was my hunting uniform. No bra. The sheer white cotton V-neck was skin tight. Almost transparent. Nipples clearly visible.
He swallowed nervously. Partly from the sight of my tits. But mostly because he knew the type of ogre I would be going after. He said, “Another domestic?”
“Yeah. The nasty kind, loves hurting. Gets off on it. Creep.”
I pulled on a black linen jacket to hide my boobs while we were at breakfast. Sorry, Manny. It also hid the .38 on the left side of my wide leather belt. My Taser X26P was in my green leather shoulder bag. On top, fully charged.
After breakfast, Walker broke his no-hugging-in-public policy and squeezed me tightly. Whispered, “Be careful, Winter.”
“Always. How do my tits feel?” He’d gotten interested in the female form a couple of years earlier.
Cheeky little sod grinned, reached up and put both palms on me for a second. “Great.”
“Remind me to blister your little butt when I get home.”
Now I could keep Walker in the dark about some of my work. I used to do that. But he’s old enough to process most of the realities of life. He hears things at school, browses online without any restrictions. Kids know more and know it earlier, with each passing generation.
Blenheim gets off work at 6 AM. Night shift at one of the few meatpacking places left in town. I have eyes on him thanks to one of my informal fieldworkers, this one a college student with mostly flexible hours named Sarah Cunningham.
Sarah’s a senior at Rockhurst University majoring in politics. Which Kansas City has a rich history of, dating back way before Boss Pendergast.
I have Sarah stationed across the street and two houses south of Blenheim’s rental house in the 8700 block of Holmes. I had canvassed the neighborhood and found a woman who would let Sarah keep watch from her living room window.
For $100 a day, negotiated down from $300. It is pro bono after all.
I told Sarah, “He should get home around 6:45 or 7:00 in the morning. Don’t sweat it if he doesn’t. I don’t know his habits yet, that’s what you’re here for.”
She nodded, her brown ponytail bobbing up and down. She is a pretty girl in a plain way. I know, that doesn’t make any sense. But her vibrancy, her bubbly personality, somehow they shine through.
I told her, “Wait until Walker leaves for school, then call me when Blenheim’s home.”
After a week of observation today’s the day.
Scruffy yard, newspapers and flyers littering the front stoop. Oil stains up and down the driveway. His battered Chevy Nova is parked nose-in, facing the closed garage door.
I take off my jacket and fluff up my nipples. With the jacket off, I change my mind about my pistol and take the .38 off my belt and place it in an outside pocket of my green shoulder bag. Unzip the bag. Yep, taser right on top. It’s the fourth time I’ve checked this morning.
I park my red F-150 across the street from his house and stride across his front yard. In a sort of cosmic irony, it’s a beautiful sunny morning and I’m about to turn ugly on a repulsive asshole.
I tuck my white top in tighter. Look down, yes my puppies are doing what they were designed to do.
The doorbell doesn’t work so I open the screen and pound the hollow core door. It echoes loudly and the door flies open. Blenheim is scowling. But the frown disappears when he sees my headlights.
Still staring, “Yeah?”
“Last four digits of your Social are 8664?”
Frown back, “So?”
“I’m Ms. Roberts from Commerce Bank. There’s been a security breach. It affects only about 600 customers, but I’m afraid you’re one of them. May I come in?”
When he shuts the door behind me, I zap him before he is fully turned around. I’ve used my taser three times, Blenheim is number four. It still amazes me to see big men convulsing on the ground.
Not that Blenheim is that large. He isn’t that much taller than my own five feet seven inches and probably has only 30 or so pounds on me. But he has that freakish strength. I know that if he ever gets his hands on me, I’m finished.
So I stay nine or ten feet away. Give him another 5-second reminder jolt. If necessary, I’ll hold the trigger down for as long as it takes for me to feel safe.
He pisses himself. Good.
As he recovers from the shock, I become more scared than I’ve ever been in my life. A hissing noise is oozing out from between his lips, an almost reptilian sound. There is no light in his hooded eyes as he stares at me, unblinking.
Blenheim is different from the other three guys.
His hands are gnarled claws, opening and closing as if he couldn’t wait to have me in his lethal grasp. I pull the trigger a third time. He spasms, but it seems to bother him less than before. It’s like he willed himself to overcome the pain. He starts to get up off the floor. Holy shit.
I aim down at his face with my Bling Sting pepper spray. My hands are shaky and I miss his entire head the first time. I steady myself. His enraged howl at the sudden excruciating pain in his eyes seems to contract the small living room. I move further away.
Blenheim struggles to his feet and charges blindly around the room, arms outstretched and waving, trying to find me. He crashes into walls, furniture, trips over the coffee table, all the while making that eerie, reptilian hissing sound.
Not taking my eyes off him, I call Bear, “Help.” And immediately move to the other side of the room. I’m trying not to breathe, not to give my presence away.
While I no longer use my pal for this kind of work, I always tell him where I’ll be when I’m going after a beater, a hurter.
Four minutes later, Bear bursts through the door. I almost tear up. My best boy had been in the neighborhood. Just in case.
Bear knows the backstory, knows of Blenheim’s legendary strength. He casually yanks out the taser wires and tosses him a ratty towel from a bathroom. Bear waits a few minutes as Blenheim works furiously at his eyes.
Then Bear holds out his hand to the supine man. Blenheim eyes him suspiciously. As would any rational man, given Bear’s size.
But Blenheim has had a lifetime of applying brute power, superior strength, on people. Not just women. Those Marines. Others I didn’t know about.
I set my bag on the carpet once I have my .38 aimed at Blenheim. I hold it in both hands. Tomorrow I’ll go shopping for something with more stopping power. More range too. Maybe an Abrams tank.
Blenheim stands up before lunging for Bear’s hand. Better leverage, maybe, than lying down. Moot point though.
I can see the strain in Blenheim’s facial muscles, in the way the cords of his neck stand out, as he squeezes Bear’s hand with all his might. Bear cocks his head as he studies the man, curious.
The expression on Blenheim’s face goes blank as he realizes that he was having no effect on his giant opponent. He tries pulling his hand away, out of Bear’s grasp.
Without changing expression, Bear starts squeezing. I can hear, clearly hear, bones snapping. Blenheim howls like a cornered animal. He shits himself. His legs buckle, but Bear holds him up by the hand. Casually.
My heart is pounding annoyingly. I’m not quite the cool girl I pride myself on being.
Blenheim is pawing franticly with his left hand, trying futilely to break Bear’s grip. Bear takes that left hand in his own and starts squeezing. It looks like some obscure form of a secret society’s crossed-arms handshake. A secret handshake known only to insiders.
The bone crushing sounds are audible even over the inhuman screams coming from Blenheim.
I put my .38 away and call Sarah. “Go home, don’t come back here.”
Blenheim has passed out and Bear lowers him gently to the stained carpet.
Bear walks me to my truck. I whisper, “Jesus.”
Bear shrugs, probably already thinking about today’s upcoming lunch crowd at his restaurant.
“He won’t hurt anyone again?”
“Not with his hands.”
A few blocks away I call 911 from one of my prepaids. Whisper to disguise my voice. Take out the battery and throw everything away.
At least I hadn’t pissed myself, about my only accomplishment that morning.
Weeks later I contrasted that innocent, sunny day with the damp, fetid climate inside that Holmes Street house. I asked Bear if he had noticed the unhealthy atmosphere, but he just shrugged. Blenheim was already a fading memory to him, a small favor to a pal.
Should this be my calling? My career? Well, I didn’t piss myself, that’s something. Probably a worthy epitaph for this not-so-cool girl. ‘Winter, she didn’t piss herself.’
It’s early Monday morning and our usual start to the weekday. Routine chaos. My 14-year old, Walker Jennings, and I live in the Crossroads district of Kansas City, Missouri. ‘Crossroads’ was one of those marketing labels attached to a once dreary section of the city south of downtown. A lot of old buildings, a lot of them abandoned.
And guess what? It worked. Led by artists looking for cheap spaces. The Crossroads is filled with live-work spaces, art galleries, studios, photographers, restaurants, bars, apartments, lofts, condos. It’s a scene now. ‘First Friday’ draws thousands of nighttime visitors who stroll from gallery to gallery, sipping wine and soaking up the vibe.
I’m Winter Jennings and my upbringing, education, work experience, have somehow led me into the improbable life of a private detective.
But it’s still Monday morning and I still have to jump-start our day.
Walker and I live in a refurbished Crossroads hotel that’s over 100 years old. It’s on a previously seedy stretch of Main Street a few blocks south of downtown Kansas City. It’s near Union Station and traveling salesmen once frequented the six-story Wrigley Hotel. Now why it’s named for a Chicago gum company and ball park is lost in the mists of history.
In any case, a friend of my father’s -- more about homicide captain, Dave Jennings later -- remodeled the fifth floor of the hotel into a New York-style loft for Walker and me. Gene Austin is a kind, generous man, a fill-in father figure for my son.
Ah, Walker. He’s basically a good kid. Even at 14. In fact, about my only oversight duty, my sole maternal responsibility these days, is to get him up and moving in the morning. After that he’s on his own as we go our separate ways.
He has one of the two private bedrooms, each of which comes with its own bath. Walker was in his usual little-boy, dead-body, sprawl. Right arm hanging down off the side of the bed, right leg cocked up, left leg straight. Sheet at waist level. I lifted the sheet. Yep, nude again.
Sometimes he wore his boxer briefs to bed, usually not. I slapped his little butt, none too softly. He’s a sound sleeper though. He frowned and grumbled, still out of it. I glanced at my watch, almost 6, and went into full mom tickle-mode.
This did it. It always did. My slender, blonde son, moaned and squirmed and grumbled and then his brain caught up with the physical sensations. “Hey!” “Okay, okay.” “I’m up.”
I stood back, arms crossed. One of the hundreds of implied contracts we have with each other is that he has to be physically standing on the floor before I leave. Yawning wider than seemed humanly possible, stretching to his full length, he slowly came floating into semi-consciousness.
Then, yawning again, he stood beside his messy bed and gave me a mock salute.
I left for my shower and later presented myself to my three-sided, full length mirror for my daily inspection. The mirror reflected a 32-year old natural blonde, with a short, asymmetrical shag. With my thick hair, I think it looks sassy and sexy. Last year I wore it medium long, but I grew bored with the purposely disheveled look, no matter how on-trend it was.
I’m slender except in the boobs department, a source of quiet pride for me ever since I was Walker’s age. Well, younger than that, actually. My older sister Autumn and I were early developers.
I keep my favorite little pussy freshly waxed. I prefer the bald look even though some of my friends have moved on.
Good cheekbones, generous mouth. Large blue eyes without the aid of contacts.
My most distinctive physical feature however, is my year-round tan. An hour a day, three days a week in Wendy’s salon. She also does my hair, top and lower. For some genetic reason, I don’t burn. Instead I have a natural looking, healthy looking, golden glow.
I wear a bikini when I tan. I like the contrast when I’m naked.
At five feet seven inches I’m tall enough to carry my boobs without looking like a silicone Barbie. Very much shorter and I’d seem out of proportion. I haven’t had breast augmentation and I don’t want to look as if I have.
Walker and I met a few minutes later by the front door. Walker looking almost awake in his Pembroke Hill school uniform. I was dressed in my usual -- skinny jeans, a tucked-in T-shirt, blue today, and a pale linen jacket which covered my Smith & Wesson .38 Special and speed holster on my left side.
With only a 2” barrel, it wouldn’t be of much use for anything other than close-up work. But I didn’t plan on getting caught in any shootouts. In fact the only time I fire it is at the practice range. Because of my law enforcement connections (Daddy) I am able to use the police facility in a former National Guard Armory that’s located south of the Crossroads on the same Main Street where Walker and I reside.
As my son and I do several days a week, we walked to Town Topic for breakfast. For some reason there is a second diner with the same name a couple of blocks further west. We go there sometimes for a change of pace. Same menu though.
The other Town Topic is open 24 / 7 and does a steady business once the bars close for the night.
Juanita smiled and winked at Walker, “Baby, when you gonna make me a happy woman?”
Manny was already grilling our breakfast. Bacon and eggs for Walker, sausage and eggs for me.
Walker tried out his lower register voice, “Will you marry me, sweetheart?”
A decent enough Bogart imitation, we both adore some of those old black & white movies.
Juanita, around 50, plump, missing two front teeth, “Manny! He finally asked me.”
Manny grunted. More talkative than usual today. He cleans the grill furiously after every order. Using a two-handed scraper, he road-grades the grease and debris to a gutter at the back of the grill. Which he keeps clean enough to ... cook on. Duh.
There are a few stools at the counter that faces the grill. A few more stools facing the other way -- looking out at the sparse traffic on Baltimore. Walker and I take one of the few red vinyl booths. It’s a small diner, Town Topic.
After breakfast Walker gave me a discrete fist bump goodbye. He no longer accepts hugs in public. Then he was off, heading back to catch the Main Street Max, a bus ride south that would be followed by a short walk to his private school.
Now how does a private eye pay for a private school? A $20,000 prep school? Nepotism. Daddy, Captain Dave Jennings, spoke to the woman in charge of the Policemen’s Scholarship Fund. Walker is the only grandchild in our family.
Dave Jennings, known city-wide as The Captain, is revered in this town, in that department. More than once he has turned down a promotion to Major because it would put him behind a desk almost full time. He told me when I was 7, “There’s enough fucking paperwork for a Captain. Fuck Major.” Then added, “Cocksuckers,” which I understood to mean those faceless bureaucrats who were Daddy’s career-long bane.
He’s been planning to retire every year since he reached his 20. My mother pretends to believe him.
Fresh and fed, I secure my bright red F-150 from the Wrigley parking lot and head north, through downtown and over those fucking freeways that ripped the city apart, toward my office in the Livestock Exchange Building. Another century-old joint. But, like the Wrigley, it’s been fully updated. There’s a modern health club and the Exchange’s cooling and heating system is first rate. Large windows that actually open. Clear maple flooring.
Everything’s up to date in Kansas City.
The Exchange is located in the once bustling stockyards area, a couple of minutes north of downtown KC. And, this huge office building on Genessee is usually fully occupied.
There are several restaurants right outside my office that take all of 30 seconds to walk to.
But, as charming as the neighborhood is, it’s an odd place to hang a private shingle. But said shingle could really be anywhere, I don’t rely much on walk-in traffic. About 90% of my business is referral. At first almost all of those recommendations came from police officers.
I had spent three hectic years on the police force. Then I was allowed to resign before they fired me. Did not play well with others. Actually, I do get along with people, it was that same fucking bureaucracy that my father hates that I couldn’t stand. When you’re a rookie, everyone is your boss.
I somehow lasted those three rocky years with the KCPD. I was fresh out of the John Jay College of Criminal Justice back then. Since the college is in New York City, I knew I was hot shit. I was already calculating how long it would take me to become Chief of Police.
Naive as I was, I knew better than to mention my pipe dream to anyone. Especially another cop. After two months on the Job I recalculated my personal Police Chief calendar. Moved the marker from x number of years to Never. After three years, I closed the establishment calendar once and for all.
Now, after five years in the private sector, reasonably satisfied clients sometimes spread the word about me. So I enjoy civilian referrals as well.
My office in the stockyards isn’t very grand, only around 600 square feet. There’s a small reception area off the hallway should I ever feel the need for a bored receptionist. Not many people visit me. I do like the floor plan though. Should an unfriendly seek me out, he’d have to go through the outer hallway door and then the second door into my actual office.
I read an article on home offices and figured it could apply to my space as well. Thus, various accoutrements -- printer, fax, landline, file cabinets, espresso machine, etc. -- are located on side tables so I have to stand and walk a few feet throughout my day.
I also have a portable contraption, cleverly designed, that fits on my desk and converts it into a standing work station. I will not get office butt.
I do keep my MacBook Pro and iPad in front of me. On a pretty slick Nelson Swag Leg Desk from Design Within Reach.
The one office luxury I have is a private bath, one of the main reasons I signed my first two-year lease, five years ago. It’s just a sink and toilet, but that’s fine. Like most sentient folks, I don’t like public bathrooms. There’s a mirror above the sink for quick touch-ups.
Sipping my third cup of joe, I was, as usual, startled when my office phone rang. I answered in a posh Oxbridge accent, “Jennings and Jennings, how may we direct your call?”
My Junior Year Abroad hadn’t been completely devoted to boys, booze and blunts.
“I’m terribly sorry sir, Ms. Jennings is in conference. May she return your call in 45 minutes?”
Sounds phony, doesn’t it? Hell, it is phony. There is only one Jennings here and I certainly wasn’t in conference. Unless I was muttering to myself. But the front sometimes pays off. Especially when it’s a company, say insurance, looking for outside, confidential, discrete work. The British accent implies efficiency and the patter falsely suggests staff.
I try to meet some of my potential corporate clients in their places of business. As good as I look, which I immodestly think is considerable, as handsome as my office is, it’s still just a one-woman game.
Then, my life was turning into Times Square this morning, there was a knock at my inner door. An unscheduled visitor? Not unprecedented, but rare. I had already discretely opened my right hand desk drawer that now housed my .38 when I heard the hallway door open.
The woman was, first of all, elegant. Refined. Around 40, with clear, intelligent gray eyes. Trim, clad in a deep blue Armani suit. Brunette, with a medium-length chop. Lightly textured blunt ends. She was slim and graceful. Tan, but not so tan as I am.
“I’m Rebecca Montgomery, my attorney heard good things about you.”
From Rebecca’s appearance and polished accent, I guessed Mission Hills or Sunset Hills, depending on which side of State Line she preferred. If she were in one of the gated communities in southern Johnson County, Kansas, I doubt that she’d come all the way to the stockyards.
Instinctively I knew it was Rebecca, never Becky.
As women do, we automatically sized each other up. Looking at me standing beside my desk, drawer now closed, Rebecca saw a slender 32-year old blonde. As I had done with her, she took in my casual outfit in a glance.
I reached out my hand, “How may I help you, Ms. Montgomery?”
She sighed as she sat in one of my two red leather Barcelona chairs. Distinctive client chairs from Hive. Posture perfect, knees together. “My daughter is missing. She’s 15, almost 16. She’s rather ... sad these days. Moodier than usual. Mindy. Miranda but everybody ... she’s Mindy now.”
Rebecca smiled, but it was an effort.
I quickly established that her attorney, Robert Ewing III, was a personal attorney, not connected to the criminal justice system. He had asked a Jackson County prosecutor for suggestions and was put in touch with Sergeant Louise Finch of the KCPD.
Louise is ... well, I admire her. A 52-year old woman in a macho world. A black woman in a white province. The fact that she gave me the opportunity to resign before she fired me was another mark in her favor.
“I’m so sorry. How long has Mindy been missing?”
Rebecca looked down for a moment, than back at me, “Six days. It isn’t the first time, Mindy usually ends up at a girlfriend’s house. But this is the longest she’s been gone. And she hasn’t been going to school.”
“Tell me about Mindy.”
Sometimes part of my job is similar to that of a psychiatrist. Talking about the problem can help some clients in a cathartic type of way. And the more Rebecca talked, the more I learned.
Mindy was a good girl who got into very few typical kid scrapes. Lively, intelligent, doing well in school. Not Miss Popularity, but not a loner either. Then, around two years ago she started going through a gradual personality shift. It became more than adolescent moodiness. Mindy grew angry, hurtful, sometimes upset at everyone and everything. It was intermittent though. Until it wasn’t. Recently she had simply closed down.
“It was like a light inside her was switched off.”
I try not to leap to conclusions, I try to use the rigor of scientific analysis. One thing I learned at John Jay was not to grasp at the obvious. Forensic clues are a good example.
For example, “Silence of the Lambs” and “CSI” gave us vastly overrated opinions of what could be learned at a crime scene. The specialists pictured in books and on the screen were wise, thoughtful, almost omniscient.
In real life, we’re all flawed, jump to conclusions, make mistakes. Everything can get fucked up. Initial impressions and analysis. Chain of custody. And we are learning how inept, sometimes even how corrupt, police laboratories are across the country.
Even the famed FBI Crime Lab in Quantico is mistake prone. Founded in the 1930s, continually updated, this supposedly state of the art facility has one major flaw -- it is staffed by humans.
What the so-called forensic scientists do is ignore context. They go by percentages and their previous experience. They eliminate far too many potential suspects. Far too soon. To compound that, they jump on clues, physical clues, that fit the pattern expected for the type of suspect they’ve decided on.
The assumptions, prejudices, wrong guesses, take on a momentum of their own and reinforce the original, and often incorrect, hypothesis. Unfortunately, this applies all the way up the ladder from first responders to techs to investigators to prosecutors to judges and juries. Juries are especially prone to believe a scientist with multiple degrees and good people skills. Even more so when he delivers a slick Keynote presentation.
So I didn’t ask Rebecca if she thought Mindy might have been sexually molested. That would be one of the obvious conclusions. I’ll wait, listen, and possibly learn something worthwhile.
Rebecca and I talked for almost an hour. I had agreed to look into her daughter’s disappearance and she had agreed on my fee of $1,250 for every full day I put in. Plus expenses. Many of my clients are insurance companies and the money I save them on, say, debunking false disability claims, makes me worth the even heftier fees that some corporate clients pay.
I turn down some civilians who can’t afford me or want me to do divorce work. Once in a while I take on a pro bono cause, particularly if it involves domestic battery.
Rebecca Montgomery drew a large envelope out of her Gucci case, with its familiar red and green stripes. “Here’s everything I can think of for Mindy. Photos, friends, teachers, transcripts, online passwords.”
It was a thick packet, I put it aside to read later. I wondered if there were other passwords unknown to the mother. Probably.
Rebecca opened her red leather checkbook. She didn’t use a fountain pen, rather a Tiffany T-clip ballpoint. She was fashion conscious, brand aware, but not ostentatious. I’d seen that same pen at the store on the Country Club Plaza for around $70.
I’m a Bic girl myself.
She wrote out my $5,000 retainer. I thanked her and walked her to the elevator, “I’ll be by around 2 to check out Mindy’s room.”
I took the missing child file with me to lunch at a fairly new addition to the scene, the West Bottoms Kitchen. My back to the wall, I started going through Mindy’s life as interpreted by her mother.
The blackened meatloaf, hold the too-sweet bar-b-que sauce please, was fork-tender and I kept reading as I ate.
Mindy, in her official school photograph that is, by law I think, unflattering to everyone, looked like a pale imitation of her vibrant mother. Recent screenshots from Facebook showed an even less animated girl. Apparently the light had been switched off. Or at least the dimmer switch had dialed it down.
Before lunch I had reached out to my unofficial assistant, the teenage daughter of the owner of the Wrigley, Gene Austin. Cathy is 17, a high school senior, and is fascinated with the snoop side of my profession. I pay her $10 an hour to do scut work for me.
She’ll call every hospital in the metropolitan area to see if a girl matching Mindy’s description had been admitted. In addition, she’ll call three shelters where the social workers know and trust me.
I’ll have to visit the other shelters in person with photos of the missing girl. And the morgues. Plus I’ll go see Sergeant Louise Finch too. She’ll pave the way for me to talk with Missing Persons without Rebecca’s having to file a formal report. That may come later, and it would involve the Kansas police as well since Rebecca lives in Mission Hills, west of the state line.
Rebecca Montgomery and her husband Phillip might not reside in the largest house in town, but the sprawling brick tudor was nowhere near the smallest. Forbes had named Mission Hills the third richest town in the country, so money probably wasn’t going to be a problem for the Montgomery family. A missing teenager was.
Nevertheless, I’ll have Cathy run the financials on them. I background all my clients, personal and corporate.
Phillip, dressed casually in pleated ivory slacks and a dark red polo, looked like Rebecca’s husband would look. Tall, stately, impressive. Around 50 with graying black hair. Tasseled loafers with no socks. He was senior vice president of the largest bank in town. I was prepared to dislike him on principle. I do have a few insecurities that I’m working on.
Instead he was pleasant, cordial, and clearly worried about his daughter, their only child. He echoed his wife, “She just changed. Night and day.”
Her room looked antiseptic. Too clean, too neat, a ‘nobody lives here look.’ Bed made, books arranged neatly, digital stuff tidy. No posters of hip hop stars, no pictures of girlfriends. No dust bunnies under the bed, although that was probably the maid’s doing. No hidden diary that would miraculously point me toward Mindy’s whereabouts.
The stuffed animals from Mindy’s childhood were arranged on the Avery bed from Serena&Lily according to size. I looked in all eight rattan storage baskets that were in a custom storage area beneath the mattress and above the beige carpeted floor.
I was intimately familiar with this particular bed because I had purchased an identical one for Walker when we moved into the Wrigley. His has a powder-coated blue steel frame, Mindy’s is white.
The baskets, full of neatly folded winter clothes, didn’t tell me anything useful. Except that Mindy was either an exceptionally tidy teenager, or someone had recently cleaned everything up.
I spent 20 minutes in her bedroom, not anticipating that I’d find a single clue. My expectations were fully met.