Missing scene from "Livegirls.net"

CHAIN OF EVIDENCE

by Londa Pfeffer

(Jimmy's girlfriend, Kristin, is a model who is kidnapped as part of an internet sex slave ring.)

My heart hammered as I approached Kristin's building. She always made me react like that. Had from the day I met her. I couldn't fight back the grin. The lady was gorgeous, intelligent and made me feel like a prince. It'd been a long time since any woman had done that. Hell, been a long time since I've let any woman in that close.

Kristin had something different. I'm not exactly sure what. All I know is that I really like the lady. And she definitely seems to like me.

My stomach rumbled, reminding me I'd been so busy I'd skipped breakfast. We'd agreed to go out to lunch today. Good thing, too, I couldn't help thinking. When we had lunch here, we didn't always get around to eating.

As I approached her door, I slowed. It stood ajar. Now that was odd. Even though she'd been expecting me, I didn't think she'd leave the door standing open. I knocked and called her name. No answer.

Heart pounding for a totally different reason now, I cautiously stepped into the apartment. No sound of anyone. After checking all the rooms, I knew something wasn't right. All her photographs were gone. All the knick-knacks she'd collected. Gone.

Uncertainty curled around my stomach as I entered her bedroom last. I kinda suspected what I'd see when I opened her closet doors. Being right didn't give me any satisfaction. All her clothes were gone. What the hell did all this mean? Why would she just leave with no word?

Then a sparkle from something on the floor caught my eye. Bending down to take a closer look, I realized it was Kristin's gold cross necklace. As I picked it up, my memory replayed last night's conversation where she'd told Rolf she never took it off, not even to shower. I clutched it tight, as much to stop the trembling in my hand as anything. She was in trouble. No doubt about it now. Pushing to my feet, I tucked the necklace into my pocket.

Switching into cop mode, I went over the apartment once again, now looking for anything else out of place. Anything that might give me information as to what happened. But I found nothing. Hissing in frustration, I realized I needed help. For one thing, I knew I was too close to the situation to be really effective. I needed someone who might see something I was missing. Striding over to the door, I pulled out my handkerchief and stepped outside, being careful not to touch the doorknob as I shut it behind me.

Walker. I had to find him. He'd help me sort it out.

I stood in the bright sunlight for a few seconds before I could pull myself together enough to walk to my car. Climbing inside, I started the engine and pulled into the street.

Luckily Walker had a set routine on our days off, something he seldom varied. If he ran true to form, as I hoped he did, he'd be at the DPS gym, working out.

Later, if someone asked me how I got to the gym, I wouldn't have been able to tell them. I guess I drove on autopilot.

God knows how long I'd been holding my breath, but when I saw Walker's truck parked in the lot, I sucked in air like a dying man. Letting the air out slowly, I parked in the next space and hopped out. I brushed past a couple of guys from my old station, barely responding to their greetings. I couldn't spare the time. Later I'd find them and apologize. After I'd found Kristin.

"Hey, Walker," I called as I approached him.

"Hey." He took a close look at me, stopping his workout and sitting up with a frown. "Something wrong?"

I don't know what he saw in my expression. For a man whose own face is often like stone, he's got this uncanny ability to read others.

I told him about Kristin being gone when I'd gotten to her place. I think he misunderstood at first. It annoyed me for a second, but I can't say I blame him. After all, my track record with relationships is lousy. But when I insisted there was more, he took me seriously, trusting me enough not to write me off as a jilted lover looking for another reason. I think handing him the necklace clinched it. Walker is more sentimental than most people realize. As he fingered it, I watched his expression change to concern.

It came as no surprise when he said he had an idea and told me to meet him back at the office. Some of the tension eased. At least with Walker on my side, we'd be a step closer to finding the answers.

As he entered the office, Walker instructed me to log on to the models' site I'd accidentally hit the day before. When I asked why, he said he'd had a hunch.

The hair on my neck prickled. Much as I hate when he does that, it usually leads to the answer. Trying not to think about it, I accessed the site. I scrolled through the first three without recognizing them. And then the screen shifted again. Kristin! "Oh my God." I turned to look at my partner. "Kristin's on there now."

He nodded. "That's what I was afraid of."

There are times he takes the Cherokee to extremes. "How the hell could you have guessed that, man?"

Walker strode over to his desk, picking up a stack of missing persons reports. "These just came in this morning. When I was looking through them, I thought I recognized one of the girls. Took me a while to place her, but we saw her yesterday on this site. She was also a model."

I thought I saw the connection now. "And you figured because Kristin was a model, and also missing . . .

Nodding, he said, "That the two might be related, yeah."

I felt numb. This can't be happening! It's a nightmare -- I'm gonna wake up and it'll be morning, time to pick up Kristin in a few hours. But I knew it wasn't. Unable to sit still any longer, I got up, pacing over to the window and back a few times. Walker finally planted himself in my way, preventing me from going further. In a rare gesture of support, he reached out, gripping my arms.

I looked up, meeting his eyes. The determination I read there warmed me as much as the words that followed.

"We'll find her, Trivette. That's a promise."

Impossible not to believe Walker when he uses that tone. And yet I also knew the reality. Kristin was one of many women who'd disappeared every year. We had no idea who had her, where she was, or how to reach her, except the web site.

I found I had to clear my throat before I could answer. "I'm gonna hold you to that, partner."

He nodded, releasing me with a final pat on the arm.

Going back to the computer, I sat down and began tapping out commands on the keyboard. Sensing Walker behind me, I explained, "This is some kind of code. If I can crack it, maybe we'll get a break."

"Good idea. If anyone can do it, you can."

I couldn't help a snort of laughter. There were times I felt I'd end up being remembered as the Ranger with the best computer skills.

Neither of us paid much attention to the comings and goings of the office around us. That is, until a familiar female voice said with amusement, "I heard a rumor you two were here. What's the matter? Your time off got too boring?"

Alex must have seen something in my eyes when I turned to look at her. Her face reflected her concern as she quickly glanced from me to Walker and then back.

"What's wrong? Jimmy?" When I didn't immediately answer, she said, "Would somebody please tell me what happened?"

Clearing my throat, I said, "Kristin's missing, Al. I went to pick her up for lunch and she was gone. So was most of her stuff." Meeting her eyes, I saw her shock. To be honest, I half-expected her to make the same assumption Walker had. Then again, we'd hardly be at the office if it was just a case of me being dumped by my latest girlfriend.

Then she saw my computer screen. With a frown, she asked, "What's her picture doing on the internet?"

"That's what we're trying to find out," Walker said.

Staring glumly at the monitor, I muttered, "Yeah, if only I can find a way to crack this damned code we'd have a better chance." I turned in my chair to face Walker.

Moving around the desk to stand at Walker's side, Alex said, "Jimmy, you and Walker are the best. Together you'll find her."

She meant to be encouraging, I know. But at the moment they were just words, empty promises, just like Walker's. Fear gnawed at my gut as my imagination supplied all kinds of reasons for Kristin's photo showing up on the Web. I'm a cop, y'know? I've seen what happens to gorgeous ladies who go missing.

"Jimmy?" Alex's soft, concerned tone brought my attention back to the present. "What about Kristin's apartment? You said her stuff was gone? What. .. like her clothes? Personal items? Were there any signs of forced entry or a struggle?"

I have to give the lady credit. She's tenacious when she needs to be. It's what makes her such a good ADA. I often find myself glad she's on our side. Knowing she expected answers, I said, "There was no sign of a fight. No busted windows or doorjams, either." Giving it a little thought, I continued, "It just looked like someone had gone through in a hurry, taking what she'd need most."

"Okay." She took a moment, obviously planning something. "Walker, why don't you get a forensics team over there? See if they can find anything. I'll call and see if I can get information on her recent phone calls and check on the status of her lease. Maybe we'll find something that can point us in the right direction."

"Right." Relieved we finally had a focus, I continued, "While you guys are busy with that, I'm gonna get in contact with a friend at the CIA, see if he can send me their latest encryption software."

"Do we have that kind of time?" Walker looked confused.

How's he ever gonna cope with the 21st century? I asked myself that question all the time. Still, it made me smile, even if just a little. "That's the benefit to the Internet, Walker. Takes just a few minutes to send stuff that would take days through regular mail delivery."

He smiled. That really rotten grin he reserves for special occasions. And that's when I knew he'd suckered me into the explanation.

Alex tactfully hid her snort of laughter behind a cough, trying to spare me. But I didn't mind. I knew Walker had done that to break some of the tension. As usual, it worked. That's the best thing about being friends as well as partners. We know when the other is having a hard time coping and can usually find a way to help blow off the steam.

Walker squeezed my shoulder briefly. "Hang in there, buddy. We'll let you know if we find anything."

"And while you work on that code, I'll have my secretary access the site and print out the photos of the other women," Alex said. "Maybe we can find something on them that will help." Turning to Walker, she offered, "You can make the call from my office if you want."

He nodded, gesturing for her to go first.

I watched as they left together to attack their assignments. Together. It was something I'd just been starting to feel with Kristin. Something I hadn't felt with a woman in God knows how long. And now she was missing.

I closed my eyes as my gut tightened again. How had Walker ever coped? All those times Alex has been threatened or in danger. I shuddered, remembering LaRue. That could be happening to Kristin this very moment, and I had no way of knowing, of finding her.

Cut it out! You're not doing her any good like this. Concentrate, Jimmy. Get John on the phone and see if he can send the software. Every second counts right now. Kristin knows you'll look for her -- you can't let her down!

With my mind back on the task in front of me, I reached for the phone. Dialing the number for the local CIA office, I bit back my frustration at the layers of security I had to wade through. Then finally a familiar voice answered.

"John! It's Jimmy. Listen, I need a favor. It's important. The life of someone close to me depends on this. Yeah, that serious." Quickly I explained what I needed. "Thanks, John. I owe you one. If this works out, I'll bring her over to dinner, okay? Yeah, I'll call."

I hung up the phone then sat back to wait for my terminal to signal that a new message had been received. As a way to pass time, I pulled out the gold chain and cross. I hadn't noticed earlier if it had been damaged or not. To my relief, the cross looked fine. But the chain was definitely a goner, fashioned in an intricate weave that would be impossible to fix. Idly, I wondered what a new one would cost. I'd have to check.

A beep from my computer startled me. Gently tucking the necklace back in my pocket, I accessed the message and downloaded the software. Now we were in business.

Hang in there, Kristin! I won't let you down...