New Arrivals
Author-Lynne Rogerson
Titles

The Value of Family
Part 1
by Lynne Rogerson

Disclaimer: Don't own any of the characters from The Sentinel, but I do claim kinship with a couple of the others...

Thanks: Many thanks to Colleen Higgins, my beta reader, for her thoughtful critiques and insightful requests. Her ideas made this a much better story.

Dedication: This is my first attempt at fanfiction. This story is dedicated to the oldest of my younger siblings. Lisa would have been thirty-one years old on March 24, 1999. She died on Tax Day, April 15, 1992, sometime after 8:30pm. Her murder has never been solved. Her killers never brought to justice. She was a teacher of special needs children, of first communion classes, of summer camp arts and crafts. She held laughter in her blue eyes and in the bounce of her curly head. Everyone who met her was better for the privilege. She was the best of us all.

The day they found her body it snowed.

That in and of itself would have been insignificant, but after four days of steady April rain and dead ends, it seemed fitting. The strip of woods the body lay in was a dense combination of bare-limbed trees and scraggly brush. Approximately 500 feet across, it stretched back from the road for a couple of miles, separating two adjacent neighborhoods like a wall. An access road cut through the middle, ruts deep and water drenched from the weather. Not even police vehicles had been allowed to enter the crime scene; the area was left as unblemished as possible. Uniformed officers gingerly patrolled the woodland perimeter, alternately looking for evidence and pressing curious onlookers back to a safe distance. The crowd had grown quickly, escalating from a few to almost one hundred in less than thirty minutes. Captain Simon Banks, of Cascade PD's Major Crimes Division, scowled darkly around his unlit cigar and tersely ordered two uniforms to waylay the camera crew walking steadily towards him.

The reporter, a petite, dark-haired woman, tottered uncertainly as her high-heeled shoes sunk into the soft ground. She glanced at her shoes with a mixture of disgust and acceptance, then smoothed her skirt, and combed her fingers through her hair. Her eyes expertly scanned the busy crime scene and her voice snapped across the clearing with well-trained clarity. "Phil! My microphone, and set up the camera to get a shot of this!"

Banks got a quick glimpse of her face and groaned. Serena Hollis, pain-in-the-ass reporter from KDCE. Great. She was like a damned dog with a bone.

"Captain Banks! Captain Banks! Do you know who it is? Is it the missing girl?" She glared at the officers as they tried to politely turn her around and lead her team back to the road. Determined to ask more questions of the head of Major Crimes, she shoved her microphone through the detaining officer's arms. "Captain Banks! Is it Risa Landaux? Is she dead?" She looked up furiously as an outstretched arm blocked her view. "Get your damn hands off of me officer, before I slap you with an assault charge!" The officer in question took a step back and lifted his hands above and away from his body. He turned a raised eyebrow to Captain Banks and Simon could feel his teeth grinding together. This was proving to be a very long day. "Was she raped, Captain? Has the family been notified? Does it appear to be a cult? Was she mutilated? Could it be the work of a serial killer? Captain Banks, the people have a right to know!"

"That is it! Hollis, your questioning is over! Son, you had best turn that camera off, now!" Banks was seething with anger. Her arrogance could be compromising his investigation. Her holier-than-thou attitude was unacceptable. Her insensitivity was just plain rude. "Sergeant McCabe!" he barked to a large man with short red hair, "Escort these people back behind that tape! And keep them there! If she resists, arrest her! This is a crime scene for God's sake, not a rally! I'll talk to them when I'm damn good and ready!" Banks eyed the officers around him narrowly and shouted, "And what imbecile let them through!" No one answered him; not that he had been expecting anyone too. Ms. Hollis shot him a furious look and yanked her arm out of Officer McCabe's firm grip. Simon removed his cigar and flashed her an exaggerated smile. The smile became genuine as she turned on her heel and walked awkwardly towards the street, her cameraman trailing behind. He scowled again as he watched her thrust her microphone into the face of a young boy standing on the outskirts of the hovering spectators.

Damned reporters! Anything for the five o'clock... he thought, his large, black hand unconsciously crushing his cigar. "Shit!" he hissed, angrily thrusting the crumbling remains into the pocket of his dark brown overcoat. He turned to watch his detectives, determined to refocus on the investigation. Brian Rafe and Henri Brown were working on a casting of the only visible tire tread they had been able to find. Joel Taggart was questioning the man who had reported the body, calmly petting the owner's large shepherd. Inspector Megan Connor and Medical Examiner Dan Wolf stood to one side, talking with their heads bent together, waiting for the body to be loaded into the Coroners Wagon.

Captain Banks scanned the area where the young woman's body lay covered with a brown tarp. He watched as Detective Jim Ellison walked over to the body and then slowly away from it, in an ever-widening circle. Occasionally Ellison stopped and picked something up from the ground, then shaking his head he would put it down again, muttering to himself. Simon thought his friend seemed tired, and was rewarded for his scrutiny when Jim yawned suddenly and scrubbed a hand over his eyes and through close-cropped hair.

Jesus, I hope he doesn't have one of those zoneouts that Sandburg's always harping about. Simon searched briefly for Jim's partner, Blair Sandburg, and located the young man shuffling nervously by the Coroner's wagon. The police observer's hands were thrust deeply in his pockets and his shoulders seemed slumped, but his eyes were focused intently on Jim. Banks nodded knowingly. Close enough in case his Sentinel needed him, and far enough away to refrain from throwing up whatever breakfast he had eaten that morning. Had it been more pleasant circumstances, Simon would have chuckled at the concentrated look on Blair's usually animated face. But it wasn't pleasant circumstances; it wasn't pleasant at all.


Risa Landaux lay flat on her back, to the left of the tire tracks, her longish brown hair plastered against her scalp. It would have been curly, but the rain, snow, and mud had matted the fine tendrils into a ratty nest. Pale blue stones glowed dully in her small ears, and a wide silver chain graced her ravaged neck. The wounds there were gruesome, but the constant rain and morning snowfall had washed away the blood that would have stained her skin red. In fact, the only evidence that there had been any blood at all was mixed like so many fingerprints with the mud on the broad collar of her white blouse. Her hands were as petite as her ears, bare except for a single stone on her right ring finger, the same pale blue as her earrings. The right wrist was encircled by a delicate bracelet of silver bells that tinkled lightly whenever her arm was moved. The residue of tape still clung to her wrists and her cheeks and her hair, stark reminders that she had not willingly left the gift shop where she worked nights.

She would have been beautiful; had been, if the pictures in the department files did her any justice.

Detective James Ellison closed his eyes briefly and scrubbed his face with one hand. He could tell from the hard creases in the fabric that the young woman's skirt had not always rested so demurely over slender legs; that must have been Connors' doing. He checked the soles of her brown suede boots and could find no evidence that, even with his keen eyesight, she had walked into these woods before she died. He shook his head grimly as he re-laid the tarp over the body.

"Happy f**king Easter," Detective Henri Brown muttered to himself as he passed Jim. Ellison watched as he ineffectually rubbed waterlogged hands together, the wet plaster making the normally warm brown skin a chalky white.

Everyone's mood was discouraged and sullen. After so many days of intense searching, one man, walking off a large holiday dinner with his dog, had dashed everyone's hopes. Not that Sherman Fickle was responsible for the disappointment that they were all feeling. The Landaux woman had already spent four graceless days in the company of raccoons and squirrels; his discovery had regained some small measure of the dignity that her murderer had stolen.

Ellison was not immune to all the frustration. The whole case had been frustrating from the beginning.


Four Days Earlier Thursday Morning, 9 a.m.

"Ellison!!! My office!" The loud declaration was punctuated by the slamming of the captain's office door. A roomful of sympathetic eyes turned towards the subject of Simon Banks' bellow.

Blair Sandburg raised an eyebrow at his partner. "I do believe you have been summoned."

"Gee, how could I ever ignore such an elegant request?" Jim Ellison rolled his eyes and stood, "You coming, Chief?"

The curly head shook emphatically. "No way, man! You didn't hear Simon ask for me, did you? He didn't say "Ellison and Sandburg! My office!", did he?" Jim shook his head no, trying not to smile. "That's right. No. Then there is absolutely no way I am following you into the lion's den. I believe I have already fulfilled my weekly 'Blair gets yelled at by Simon' quota. It's way past your turn, Jim. I'll just sit here and finish working on these reports."

The detective heaved an exaggerated sigh. "I thought I could count on you, Sandburg. I thought you were my backup. Through thick and thin. And Simon. If you really wanted to you would..."

"Don't even finish that statement, Ellison, or you'll be eating veggie burgers and bean sprouts for a week!"

"Then here," With a grin, Jim held out a large file folder. "Return this to Sylvia in Robbery. I promised to get it back to her today."

"Sylvia, Jim? The Sylvia? The one who pinches my cheeks and tells me I'm 'cute as a bug'? That Sylvia?"

"Got it in one, Junior."

"Aw, Jim..."

"You got a choice, Sandburg. Simon. Or Sylvia?"

With a huff, Blair hit the save button on the computer and snatched the folder from his grinning partner's hand. "Some choice, Jim." he muttered as he headed for the bullpen door, knowing the sentinel was listening. "Yelled at by Simon or slobbered on by Sylvia. Man, I'm gonna need a bath when she's done with me!"

Jim couldn't help but laugh. It had been a good morning. A Wednesday morning, in fact, and a rare occurrence that had his grad student partner in the bullpen and not at the university. The efficient young man had helped him clean up the files on his desk in record time. The Saunders case was closed, the report finished and neatly stacked in the upper right hand corner of his desk. The files he'd borrowed from Robbery were being returned, and he had even discovered his missing Jags cap under some papers in his desk drawer. Yep, things were looking good. Hopefully, the captain's request for his presence wasn't going to trash the rest of the day.

He reached out with his hearing, listening for Simon's heartbeat. A little elevated, but that could be >from his five cups of coffee this morning. Maybe this won't be so bad.

Jim knocked and opened the door without waiting for an answer. Banks was sitting at his desk, scanning through the contents of a new manila folder.

"Sir?"

Simon glanced up. "Ah, Jim. Just the man I need to see."

"You did call me, Simon." The detective responded dryly as he shut the door.

"I've got a new case for you. A missing person." Simon held up his hand before Ellison could protest. "I know. This one came from the top. I got a call >from the commissioner's office. He wants us to handle this quickly and quietly. The nature of the young woman's disappearance could cause panic. The facts appear to be a little unusual. Like maybe something you need to investigate."

Jim didn't miss the less than tactful stress on the word. "Unusual, Simon? Unusual how?"

"Not quite sure. Young lady, mid-20's. A Miss Risa Landaux. Works the night shift at a gift shop called Katie's Kuriosities. Co-worker shows up this morning and finds Landaux's car in the parking lot, the store open, keys and pocketbook on the counter, even some of her schoolwork, but no sign of Landaux. No one's heard from her." Banks shuffled through the papers in the folder and pulled out a color glossy. "Here is a fairly recent picture of her from the Reslin Elementary School. She teaches there during the day. The school contacted her mother this morning when she didn't show for class. This thing is going down now, Jim. I need you at that gift shop. Where's Sandburg?"

Jim took the photograph. It was a fifth grade class picture, full of smiling children and one obviously giggling adult. She was very petite, in both height and weight, and her youngish face made her appear more like a student than a teacher. Riotous chestnut-colored curls had escaped the holder at the back of her neck and Jim could see the light blue of her eyes. He stared at her face first, committing it to memory. Every line on her face, every wrinkle in her skirt, every button on her blouse. Jim eyes drifted back to her face, to her eyes, to her blue, blue eyes...

Jim? Jim?

"Jim? Jim!!" Simon hissed. "Jesus, man, snap out of it! Get your ass back here from wherever the hell you are, before I have to yell for Blair and embarrass both of us!"

Rough hands on his shoulders slammed Ellison back to reality. He took a deep, gasping breath. His returning sight focused on frightened brown eyes. He felt an unexpected swell of panic and abruptly handed the photo back to Simon, no longer wanting to hold it in his hand.

"You okay, man? Christ! You just took ten years off of my life!" Jim nodded absently, and Simon steered him to the couch. "Dammit, Jim. Sit down before you fall down! Do you need Sandburg?"

He shook his head again, this time a no. He leaned forward, his elbows on his knees, and held his head in his hands. He could feel the beginnings of a headache and rubbed at his temples.

"What the hell was that, Ellison?" Banks growled. "Has this happened before? More importantly, is this going to happen again?"

"Not in a long time, Simon. I guess I was just concentrating to hard or something. No problem."

"No problem? You weren't breathing, Jim! No problem my ass!"

"I'll talk to Sandburg later, sir. Just not right now okay?"

Simon let out a quick gust of air. "You've got until tomorrow. Then I tell Blair myself. Understood?"

Jim nodded without lifting his head. "I hear that."

Simon almost grinned at the distinctive 'Naomi-ism.' It wasn't the time for laughing, but under better circumstances, Blair's new-age mom was definitely worth smiling about. Her visits often left behind a mixture of calmness and chaos, and her favorite phrases had stuck with several of the Major Crimes detectives. He eyed this particular detective critically, noting the lines on Ellison's forehead. "You alright to handle this case? I really need you on this, Jim."

"I had a small zoneout, Simon! It didn't affect my brain!" Banks raised his eyebrows in disapproval, but said nothing. Jim had the grace to look embarrassed. "Sorry."

"I think we're gonna need the kid on this one, Jim." Simon grimaced around his cigar, "I can't believe I just said that."

Already on edge, Jim's hackles rose at Bank's insistence. "Why Sandburg, sir? What does he have to do with anything? I'm sure this zoneout problem was a onetime thing."

"Relax, detective, that wasn't the reason I want Blair on the case. Although I don't want you to mistake my concern on that issue."

"Does it have something to do with the university?"

"No. The co-worker, um," Simon scanned the folder in his hand, "Delilah Masters, she's the one who dialed the 911."

"And what does that have to do with needing Sandburg on this particular case?"

"She's a very good friend of the missing woman, and pretty shaken up."

"And, what, she needs a date..." Jim prompted his captain.

"You're gonna make me say it aren't you, Ellison," the captain growled. "Fine. Here's the reason -- Blair is nicer than you are. He won't piss anyone off. You happy now?"

"Nicer, sir?"

Simon sighed in frustration. "Jim, you are, without a doubt, one of my best detectives. I have no qualms that you will find the missing young lady and solve this case. However," he held up his hand when Jim opened his mouth to interrupt, "However. You sometimes have a tendency to get...overzealous... and I do not want our only link to this case filing harassment charges against the department. So take the kid with you and use his charming personality to find out what the hell is going on!" He held out the folder in his hand. Jim rose from the couch and grabbed the folder, heading for the door. "Don't forget, Jim. You have until tomorrow to tell the kid."

"I said I'll take care of it, sir."

"See that you do."

Jim closed the door with a little more force than necessary and stalked over to his waiting partner. "Let's go, Sandburg. We got a crime scene to get to." He put his Jags cap on and muttered, "So much for a good day." He headed out the bullpen door.

Blair knew better than to say anything. He shrugged at Brown's quizzical expression and grabbed his jacket and backpack.

"You coming, Sandburg, or are you growing roots?!"

"Well, this is going to be a great day." The young police observer ran to catch up with his irritable friend.


Thursday Morning, 11 a.m.

"My God! It's like a damned circus!"

Blair Sandburg saw the crowd milling around outside Katie's Kuriosties and had to agree. The uniformed police were easy to spot. They had stationed themselves at the entrance to the store and around what was obviously the missing woman's car. Plainclothes detectives, identified only by the badges hanging on chains around their necks, were moving carefully in and out of the store, and talking with onlookers. Blair noticed Brian Rafe crouched down next to an obviously distressed young woman with long, black hair. Her hands were twisting nervously and luminous blue eyes wandered continuously over the crowd and back to the store.

"Who's Rafe talking to?"

"There's our 911 caller, Chief. Simon wants you to talk with her, see what she knows."

"Me?" the grad student yelped.

"Yes, you. Seems you have more finesse than I do." There was no mistaking the sarcasm in Jim's voice. "Simon thinks you'll handle the interview more delicately."

"Simon?"

Ellison turned to see his partner staring at him with huge, surprised eyes. He couldn't help but chuckle. "You look at her like that and she'll think you're addled." It wasn't Blair's fault that Simon didn't want him to do the interview. He gave his partner a small push. "Go on. You're a teacher. This should be a snap. Just try to keep it professional. Phone numbers are for the reports, not your little black book."

The red face that the grad student turned to the detective was almost horrified. "Jim, you don't think I..."

"Joke, Sandburg. Relax. It was just a joke." He cuffed his friend lightly on the side of the head. "Go on. Find me inside when you're done. And tell Rafe to come see me."

"Not funny, man. I would never..."

"I know."

"You don't honestly believe that I could..."

"I know, Blair." Jim interrupted quietly. "It really was supposed to make you laugh."

"Am I that bad? You know? The whole table leg thing?"

Jim was getting exasperated with his partner. "Chief, I apologize for the comment. Can we get back to the investigation now? It was supposed to relax you and slow down that steam train you call your heart beat."

"You gotta work on your delivery. You're gonna give me a heart attack."

"The interview, Teach. Go run the interview."

"I'm going, Chuckles."


The store was small and quaint. Located in the middle of a busy mini-mall, there was a bowling alley on one side and a Laundromat on the other. A brightly colored flag flew next to the open door and the windows were covered with Easter-theme decorations. Officers McNally and Todd nodded tersely and moved aside to let the Major Crimes team enter the store.

As the primary, Jim immediately set precedence and assigned each detective to a task. Henri Brown was their best fingerprint man. The side entrance had a screened outer door that might have been forced open. Ever present leather cap set backward on his head, the meticulous detective was busy dusting the door, the door jam, and all the surrounding merchandise. Ellison left Taggart outside with Blair and the onlookers. Joel Taggart's bigger bulk and generous smile kept the family and friends more relaxed and less likely to impede the detectives investigation. Megan Connor was busy tracking down the shop owner, one Mr. Jeremy Stacks. Jim was convinced she'd have the man rounded up in less than two hours. Brian Rafe had taken two uniformed officers and was conducting store to store interviews. Someone must have seen something.

Satisfied that he had all the immediate bases covered, Ellison scanned the inside of the store with a practiced eye: shelves stacked haphazardly with collectibles, wall racks covered with greeting cards, balloons weaving airily in a far corner. There was only one large picture window in the front of the building. A front door and a side door into an alley. The office, storage room, and bathroom were all located in the very back of the store. He turned to the checkout counter, directly across from the front door, quickly dismissing the merchandise on the counter and focusing instead on the personal items piled in the center. Pulling latex gloves from his jacket pocket and slipping them on, Jim carefully checked through the small black purse and larger portfolio. Wallet, photos, makeup, aspirin, birth control pills. Nothing out of the ordinary in here, he thought as he returned the items to the purse. Opening the flap of the portfolio he peered inside and leafed gingerly through a dozen half-finished drawings.

"She commissions drawings on the side."

Startled, he let the flap drift closed and threw an irritated grimace at his partner. Jim wasn't sure which annoyed him more; the fact that Blair had snuck up on him, or the fact that he had information Jim had no knowledge of. "What are you doing sneaking around, Sandburg?"

His partner wrinkled his brow in concern. "I didn't know I was capable of sneaking around you. Is everything okay, Jim?"

"One hundred percent, Sandburg. Everything is just fine."

"Are you sure that..."

"How did you know about the drawings?"

Two points for redirect. Very smooth, Jim. "I talked to the witness. That's why I'm here right?" Blair pulled a battered envelope from his jacket pocket and began reading from the hastily written scribbles. "Um, let's see. Ms. Masters came to open the store at 9am. Said she wasn't surprised to see Risa's car in the parking lot. They had had a previous conversation and Ms. Landaux was supposed to come in and help with the Easter balloon orders. She did that quite often during the holiday seasons. Ms. Masters implied that Risa was the same way about her fifth grade class. Gave up a day at the beach with Ms. Masters and Risa's sister Adelaide to show her kids The Outsiders. Sounds like a pretty responsible young woman. Doesn't seem likely that she would just wander off."

"Just stick to the facts, Sandburg."

"I'm just pointing out that..."

"Not now, okay Chief?" Ellison rubbed his temples and felt the building pressure of a headache. Again. He knew his partner had made a good observation, but the inexplicable urgency he felt to get some answers made his manner more abrupt than usual. He tried to placate the disappointed look on Sandburg's face. "I'm sure that what you're saying is perfectly valid, but it's an observation and we can't taint the facts. Let's wait until we get them all down, okay?" Blair nodded and looked back at the envelope. "We'll go over all your theories tonight, just not now."

Blair's acceptance came in the straightening of his shoulders and the professional manner in his voice. "Right. Ms. Masters became concerned when she noticed that the cash register drawer had not been emptied out >from the night before."

"The money was still there?"

"Apparently. She said that she would have to check over last nights receipts, but all the big bills appeared to be in the drawer." Jim wrinkled his forehead in thought as the grad student continued. "Ms. Masters didn't go any further than the cash register. She called out for Ms. Landaux, but got no answer. She says she got scared and ran across the street to the delicatessen and asked them to call the police. An off-duty police officer just happened to be in the deli and secured the site until Cascade PD showed up. That's it."

"Anything missing?"

"Nothing that she could see from the front door. They completed a spring inventory two weeks ago. The owner should have the list. So, do you think whatever happened, she went willingly?"

"And leave her purse and keys behind? Don't think so, Chief." He clapped Sandburg lightly on the shoulder. "Good work. Would you mind seeing if Joel came up with any witnesses out there in that crowd? I want to have a look around in here while it's still relatively quiet." Unconsciously, he rubbed the bridge of his nose and let out a sigh.

"You sure you're okay, man?" Blair grabbed the sentinel's wrist where it lay on his shoulder and searched his friend's face. "Do you want me to stay here with you?"

"Nah. Just a little headache is all. Been fighting it for a couple of hours. It's just making me kind of sensitive. I'll be fine."

"You sure?"

"Out there, I wouldn't be so certain. In here where it's fairly quiet? I think I'll be okay, Sandburg."

"You'd tell me if anything was wrong, wouldn't you?"

Guilt made Jim's heart jump. "It's a headache, Sandburg. Back off with the mother hen routine, would you?"

"Right, Jim." Immediate denial always made the guide wary. "I'll be outside when you need me." With a firm squeeze to Jim's wrist to make his point, Blair let go and headed for the door.

"Hey, Chief!"

Blair turned and barely caught the notebook Ellison had tossed at him.

"You'd think with the amount of writing you do, you'd carry something other than a used envelope." The Sentinel was smiling tentatively, an offering of peace.

"Thanks."

"Thank you." He willed his guide to see that he was fine. "Okay?"

"For now. We are gonna talk you know."

Damn his guide was stubborn. "I know." The warmth in Blair's answering smile lessened his headache almost immediately.


Detective Ellison stood in the small office-like room in the back of the gift shop, and surveyed the messy desk and paper strewn floor. He looked intently at the areas where the paper seemed crushed almost flat. A spot of red in all that white caught his eye. Jim crouched down to get a closer look. He was so focused on those one or two brick red spots, that the shrill ring of his cellphone startled him out of another zoneout with a jump and a gulp of air. Jesus. Now that's twice. What the hell is going on? He angrily punched the send button to silence the small phone.

"Ellison." he barked.

"I'll take that to mean you don't have any answers yet?" The dry baritone of his captain cut through his irritation and Jim rubbed his forehead again.

"Sorry, Simon. No nothing yet. Sandburg interviewed the witness like you asked."

"And?"

"And so far it seems like Ms. Landaux was a genuinely nice, stable young woman. No reason to suspect that she just wandered off."

"Kidnapping?"

"Looks like. Hold on, sir." Ellison stuck his head out the office doorway and bellowed for forensics. Saint James Terk, one of Dan Wolf's new assistants, came running. Jim liked the prompt way the slim, dark-haired young man responded at crime scenes. He acted as if everything was important and priority; just the way Jim did. The fact that 'SinJin' was friendly with Sandburg helped too. The detective pointed at the mess on the floor with his phone. "Terk, I need you to bag those papers. Test the red spots. I'm pretty sure that they are bloodstains. If I'm right, see if you can get a blood type on them."

"Right away, sir."

"Thanks." Ellison uncupped his hand from the mouthpiece of the cell phone and brought it back to his ear. "Okay, Simon. Sorry about that."

"Got something?"

"I'm not sure. Not much in the way of struggle is evident. Some crushed paper in the office. What could be blood spots. Only one or two." Jim wandered from the office, scanning the rest of the store. "Some cards in a rack by the side door seem to be out of place. There's a team working on fingerprints right now. Other than Ms. Masters noticing the cash register, you would be hard pressed to think anything was wrong."

"The cash register?"

"Yeah, Simon. No money was taken. The drawer was never cashed out. Why would someone leave the cash behind?"

"Obsession maybe?"

"Maybe. Right now, I just don't have a clue. Listen. Sandburg's coming back inside. I better go see what's up. I'll check in with you after we've talked to Ms. Landaux's family."

"Right, Jim. Good luck. And Jim?"

"Yes, sir?"

"You still feeling okay?"

Ellison bit back another wave of irritation. "One hundred percent, sir."

"Don't forget to talk to Sandburg tonight."

"As if he'd let me." Jim muttered, turning to watch his approaching partner.

"What was that, Jim?"

"Yes, sir."

"That's what I thought you said."

"Yes, sir."


Thursday Afternoon, 1 p.m.

The Landaux's lived in an unassuming white cape-styled ranch on Linden Street. The front yard was meticulously groomed, purple crocus just beginning to bloom in the front beds. Three cars rested in the driveway, a grey Blazer and a red Chevy Cavalier on the right, and a white Grand Prix on the left. Jim pulled his pickup in behind the Grand Prix and parked. As they walked up the driveway towards the front door, Blair self-consciously pulled out his hair tie and resecured the escaped locks.

"What are we doing here, Jim?"

"We need to establish Risa Landaux's character, Chief. Is she the type that could have taken off with no notice? Is she stable? On medication? Boyfriend? Any troubles with the boyfriend?"

"And how is that going to help?"

"Well, it will eliminate possibilities. Right now the scenarios are endless. By talking to the family, we can narrow down the number of directions this case can take. Establish possible motives."

Together they climbed the front steps, but before either could knock the door opened. A solemn-faced young woman stood on the other side of the screened door. She didn't say a word, just pushed open the screen and stood to one side to let them in.

A slight woman stood in the short hallway between the front door and the living room, nervously stroking her long braid of silvery gray hair.

"Detectives? Please come in and sit down." She led them into a modestly decorated living area. A long, blue, overstuffed couch stood on one wall and a matching loveseat and recliner stood on the other.

There was a man sitting in the recliner and he jumped to his feet as Jim and Blair entered the room. Dark brown hair waved haphazardly all over his head and light blue eyes scanned the partners intently. He thrust out a large hand and introduced himself.

"Oscar Landaux. Risa's father. Do you have any news?"

Jim shook the man's hand solemnly and sat down on the couch where the older woman had directed him. Blair followed suit and soon all five people were seated. "My name is Detective Ellison, sir. This is my partner, Blair Sandburg. I'd like to ask a few questions."

Oscar returned to the recliner, sitting ramrod straight on the very edge of the cushion. His posture was stiff and rigid; his gaze clear and intense as he captured and held first Sandburg's eye then Ellison's. Emily Landaux, Oscar's wife, sat on the love seat with the young lady who was most obviously her daughter. Only slightly bigger than her mother, the young woman wore her brownish hair cut very short, and the same color eyes peered anxiously from behind wire-framed glasses. The two ladies held hands, waiting.

"Is this the whole family, Mrs. Landaux?" the detective asked.

Emily shook her head, panic at war with concern. "No our youngest, Samantha, is still at school. She goes to Cascade High. And Maxwell is away at college in Florida." She stood up, still holding her daughter's hand. "Should I go get Sammi from school?"

"No, no. School is out at 2:30. Unless you see a specific need to get her right now, you can wait until she gets home to let her know what's going on. You may find it easier to talk to her if she is at home in a safe environment."

"Of course you're right, Detective Ellison. This is all so upsetting..." Risa's mother sat back down.

"At this point we are treating your daughter's disappearance as a missing persons. According to a Ms. Delilah Masters," Jim held out his hand and Blair handed him the mornings envelope. "Your daughter works at Katie's Kuriosties nights during the week. Is that correct?"

"Risa has been working there since it opened two years ago." Answered Emily in a soft voice. "She and Del usually work Saturday mornings together."

"And weekdays she teaches at the Reslin Elementary School?"

"That's right."

"Do you have any reason to suspect that Risa could have just wandered off? Any reason she might leave her car and take off for a few days without telling anyone?"

"My daughter is an extremely reliable employee, Detective Ellison. She would never have left the store open. We didn't raise her that way." Blair could tell that Oscar Landaux was struggling to remain calm.

"I understand, sir." Jim returned politely, "However, we have to conduct this interview by the book, and investigative procedure indicates that we need to ask you certain questions."

The harried father pinched the bridge of his nose. "Fine. Let's get them over with."

"Thank you." Ellison turned slightly to his partner, "Chief, you take the notes." Blair nodded and pulled out his pad of paper and a pen.

"Does your daughter have any history of drug use?"

"Risa's never had anything but beer." Emily frowned at her daughter's comment. "Oh, c'mon ma, she's 24!"

"Adelaide..." her father warned.

"Nothing stronger?"

"Not that I've ever seen. Just beer. She doesn't do drugs!"

"How about a boyfriend?"

"Daniel. Daniel Bastin. He's a friend of mine from high school."

"How long have they been dating?"

"About three years."

"Do you have a telephone number where we can get in touch with him? Maybe an address?"

"I'll get it." Emily rose from the loveseat and headed for the kitchen

"Any history of violence between them?"

"Daniel?!" Adelaide let out a quick laugh, "Not likely."

"Daniel is a good boy, detective." Emily said stoutly as she handed Blair a piece of paper. "He doesn't have a mean bone in his body."

"I appreciate your feelings, Mrs. Landaux, but we need to check every possibility. Okay?"

Emily looked stricken and nodded.

"Do you know of anyone who would want to harm your daughter? Did she ever complain of someone bothering her at work, or following her around?"

"You think someone hurt, Risa?" Adelaide said, frightened and surprised.

"I don't know, Ms. Landaux."

"But you're talking about drugs and violent relationships and stalkers. My sister couldn't have anything to do with any of those things!"

"Adelaide?" Blair spoke up gently and she turned to him. "I know this is scary and these questions seem really harsh, but we need all the help we can get. Detective Ellison needs to ask you any questions that he thinks might be important. Some of them may seem unnecessary right now, but they might make all the difference later. Okay?"

"So long as you know she's a good girl." Oscar put in gruffly.

"Oscar, please. Let the detective get these questions over with."

Adelaide sighed tiredly and looked directly at Jim as she answered his questions. "Risa never complained about anyone following her around. She never mentioned feeling uncomfortable or threatened. I was with her for a while at the store last night. She seemed fine."

"What time were you at the store?"

"I got there around 5:30 or so. I went across the street and got her a large diet coke and we chatted for about an hour."

"Do you remember what time you left?"

"Actually, I remember glancing at the clock in my car when I backed out of the parking lot. It said 6:17." Adelaide wrinkled her brow in puzzlement. "I can't believe I remembered that."

"Was anyone in the store while you were there?"

"Actually, an older woman was buying some Easter cards. I remember because I tried to catch Risa's attention through the window when I left, but she was still waiting on the woman."

"That's good, Ms. Landaux. Thank you." Jim turned to his partner. "Chief. Make a note to check the time stamp on the register tape. Find out what time the last customer was in the store."

"Got it, Jim."

"Mrs. Landaux, do you have a recent picture of your daughter that we could take with us? I promise to be careful and return it."

"Certainly, detective. I have some from her birthday this past March."

"I'll get them, Emily. You stay here." Mr. Landaux stood and walked quickly from the room.

"Ms. Landaux..."

"Please," the young woman said with a slight smile, "Just Adelaide."

Jim nodded, "Fine. Adelaide. Can you tell us what she was wearing last night?"

"She had on a brown flared skirt with a tan blouse, brown suede boots and a tan and light blue scarf."

"Any jewelry?"

"Aquamarine stud earrings and a matching ring. And a bracelet made of tiny silver bells."

"Anything else?"

"Oh! Daniel gave her a silver chain for her birthday. She never takes it off."

Oscar Landaux returned and handed Jim a small stack of 4x6 pictures. Jim thanked him and gave the pile to Blair.

"A few more questions and we'll be through. Just some general statistics. Risa's full name?"

"Risa Elena Landaux." Emily answered.

"Date of Birth?"

"March 2, 1975. She just turned 24 last month."

"Height?"

"Five foot one."

"And a half." Adelaide added.

Blair looked up from his writing and arched an eyebrow.

"My sister is short, detective. She believes that every little part of an inch counts."

Blair grinned and added the one half.

Jim managed a slight grin too. "Hair and eye color?"

"My daughter's hair is curly brown, a little looser than Mr. Sandburg's. And her eyes are blue."

"What about glasses?" Blair asked.

"She owns a pair, but prefers to wear contacts."

"Adelaide," Jim said. "Was your sister wearing glasses or contacts last night?"

"Contacts. She only uses her glasses at night, before she goes to bed."

Ellison stood. "I think that does it." He addressed Blair. "Anything else we missed?"

"What about birthmarks?"

He nodded at the grad student approvingly before turning to the family. "Any distinguishing marks?"

"No, nothing."

"One more question and we'll be through. Does Risa live at home?"

"No." Adelaide answered. "She's been living at the Hilltop Apartments for almost a year. Unit 7D."

"Do any of you have a key?"

"Dad, Risa gave you one, didn't she?"

Oscar stood and pulled a keyring from his pocket. He threaded off a brass-colored key and handed it to Jim.

"Thank you, sir. We will probably send a unit over to have a look around. It's just routine."

"Where do you think she is, detective?" Emily's eyes begged for reassurances that Jim couldn't provide. Blair winced inwardly at the question and saw his partner flinch. Only someone who knew the sentinel as well as Blair did, knew that the question had struck a nerve. Jim Ellison was about to make himself personally responsible for the welfare of Risa Landaux. The big detective stood a little straighter and the Ellison jaw clenched tightly in determination.

"That's what we are going to find out. Thank you all for your time. I promise we will call as soon as we hear anything more."

The Landaux's followed the partners back to the front door.

Adelaide stood leaning against the hallway wall, arms crossed tightly across her chest. "What happens now?" she asked quietly.

Jim ushered Blair out the door as he stopped to answer her. "Now, Mr. Sandburg and I head back to the police station. I have a meeting with my captain and the rest of my investigation team. Once we get all of our information together, we'll plan a course of action. I know that this will probably be impossible, but try not to worry. We are going to do our best to bring Risa home."

Continued in Part Two...