***Monday morning, the diner, Sebida, TX***
Will tried to concentrate as the young woman poured his coffee. He knew she was Mercy’s friend, but damn, remembering all these names was not easy. What he did know was how troubled she was. It was not just the swollen, red eyes that her attempts to splash cold water on could not hide. There was a heaviness to the woman’s soul that weighed you down despite that smile. “Thank you.”
“Lizzie, I know it must be hard for you. Trying to remember all these new names and faces. Can I get ya’ll anything else?” Will smiled at her compassion and understanding. Maybe this place wouldn’t be such a bad place for them to put down roots after all?
Mercy looked up from shoveling food onto her plate, “No, I think this should do us.” When she saw the Ortiz hem-and-haw, insisting that coffee would be fine, his woman had taken over. She ordered something called the Texas Sunrise and five plates. The damned thing was a dozen eggs, a loaf of bread toasted, a bowl of home-fried potatoes and onions, and Will would swear half a damned pig in bacon and sausage.
When Lizzie brought it all on this colossal tray that was bigger than she was, Mercy had portioned it all. He had smiled to notice how much food was on Javier and his father’s plate. Damn, he loved this woman. Sometimes it almost brought tears to his eyes. He only wished that Etta Mae could have met her. His grandmother would have loved her tender heart.
A heart that had once more gotten them involved in goodness only knows what. But they would get to that once their guests were fed. Half an hour and two more cups of coffee later, buttons were ready to pop on everyone’s jeans. “Okay, Javier, Senor y senora Ortiz, tell me about your daughter. Why do you believe something has happened to Selena?”
Javier looked to his parents. Jimena clutched her husband’s arm tightly as the older man nodded to their son. “Would you prefer we speak in Spanish? I am fluent, and Will is darn pretty close to it. But I can translate anything he doesn’t understand.”
The older woman smiled and nodded. “Muchas gracias. Our children are US citizens. They were born in El Paso. We made certain they spoke perfect English. Because always we hoped they would go to school here.”
“When Selena was fifteen, she went to live there with her aunt and uncle. So, she could go to high school. She did very good. All As and she got a scholarship to UT. Then to law school. She is a good girl. No problems. No boyfriends or drugs. She does not even drink,” Jesus Ortiz added.
“My sister is very focused. Her education and career are what are important. She wants to succeed so she can help Mama and Papa. She would not just disappear like this.”
“So tell me about this internship. Javier, you said that she sounded different. How so?” Will felt the truth of these people’s words in his gut. And while he wanted to help them, a part of him worried more about Mercy and their baby. Because Will knew there was no way his woman was going to sit on the sidelines while he investigated. He knew Mercy better than that.
“Part of law school is to complete an internship, to work in a real law firm. Selena is top of her class. Her professors said she should go out of state, work in a big firm for the experience. Mama’s cousin lives in Los Angeles. So Selena could stay with them.”
Will nodded, “What’s the name of the firm?”
“Tyson, Turner, and Tyson, senor.”
“That rings a bell. I’ve heard that name before somewhere,” Mercy frowned.
“Go on,” Will encouraged; perhaps she would remember more.
“There is not much more to tell. Selena began her internship less than a month ago. From the beginning, something was different. I don’t know. I can’t describe it. But it was like my sister lost her spark. She was just not the same.”
“And you asked her about it? What was wrong?”
“Yes, she said she was just very busy.”
“Did you speak to your cousin, Senora Ortiz? The one that she was staying with.” Will begin to take notes on his phone.
“Of course, he said that they hardly saw her. She would leave their home before dawn to take a bus downtown to some fancy office. And she would not get back until late. He said she worked, even on Sundays. That is not like my daughter. She always went to mass. He said she was losing weight and looked sick.”
Will opened the web browser on his phone and searched Tyson, Turner, and Tyson. Their page was impressive. He clicked onto the People page and scrolled through the partners. “Do you know if she was assigned to any associate in particular? Sometimes they do that. Have one person mentor younger associates and interns?”
Senor Ortiz began to shake his head when his wife spoke up, “No, she did not say. But she did mention someone called Junior a few times.”
“That would probably be John Tyson II.”
“Give me that,” Mercy reached for his phone, studying it for a moment. “That’s where I heard the name before. Laura’s friend Jolene Monroe is a partner there.”
Will smiled at his soon-to-be wife, “Okay, could we get Laura to give her a call? Just feel the woman out.”
Mercy shrugged, “Probably. I know they have sort of stayed in touch. Jo hasn’t been back to Sebida since she got on the Greyhound bus in Madison for college. But whenever Laura was in LA, they would try to meet for lunch or drinks. I think they mostly email, though.”
Will made a note on his phone to speak to his future sister-in-law after Ryan’s swearing-in ceremony. “That’s a start.” He turned back to the others, “So, what about the police? You said they would not investigate because the GPS tracker on Selena’s phone was traced to known gang hangouts. Were you able to get those records for me?”
“Yes, senor, all of our phones are on a family plan. So, I can email those records to you. But there is something else that worries me…” Javier looked down as he toyed nervously with the last bite of food on his plate. The boy looked up, turning from his father to mother. Jimena Ortiz shook her head and gave her son a cautioning look.
“Please, I promise whatever is said here is confidential. But if you know or have any reason to suspect something else, I need to know.”
The woman reluctantly nodded before Javier began to speak again, “I like computers. That is what I want to study in college. And I am very good at it.” The young man bit his bottom lip and looked down for a moment, “I hacked into the LAPD’s files. I thought like you said about your cousin, there might be some clue there that the police had overlooked.”
“What did you find?”
“A 9-1-1 call from security at the office building. It was a few hours after Mama spoke to Selena for the last time. When my sister told Mama that she was coming home for a while after her internship was over. That she needed a break before going back to law school. That was the last time that anyone heard from my sister.”
“And what was the emergency? Why did building security call 9-1-1? Was it for police, fire, or ambulance?”
“Police. They said that shots were fired in the parking garage. Then they called back a couple of minutes later and said it was nothing. Just some kids with firecrackers. But when I hacked into their security camera, it had been erased.”
“What had been erased, Javier?” Will did not like the feeling that was burning in the pit of his stomach. He knew it all too well. And it rarely meant good.
“Two hours of video were missing.”
There it was. What Will had feared. “Of the garage?”
The young man shook his head, “No, the whole thing. The whole building. It does not make sense. Their system is state of the art, with solar panels on the roof as a backup if the power goes out. That should not happen. I looked through the rest of their files. There was nothing like it. No mention of it ever going down before that night.”
“I downloaded the files; all of them. They only keep things for thirty days or so until they get recorded over. I did not want to lose anything. But there were no other blanks, no other glitches in their system. Why then?”
“That is an excellent question, Javier.” And Will was not liking the answers that his gut was coming up with.
“So, will you do it? Will you take my sister’s case? Will you help us find Selena?”
Will wanted to say no; he needed to protect his family now. But he knew he could not. Just as much as him being there that day when Mercy shot Kerr, this was Fate. These people had seen that television interview, the only one that he and Mercy had given. And it had brought them to him. He could not turn his back on them or his destiny. As his Mercy said, this was his window. Finding missing women and children of color.
“Yes, we’ll see what we can do. But I need to be honest with you. Statistically speaking…”
“We understand, senor, you cannot guarantee that you will bring our Selena back to us. But please, we need to know what happened to our daughter,” Jimena Ortiz reached across the table and grasped his hands.
He felt it. All of it. Pain, fear, worry – a mother’s blight. One that was all too common in this world where it was not safe for a woman or girl at the bus stop, on the street, and sometimes even in their own homes. He knew that the world was not always secure or just for men either, especially men of color. But this…this was unacceptable. Bradley was right. It was time for change. And that change must begin the man in the mirror.