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Hermosa Beach
Boardwalk 1615 hrs

Benny Ray stood leaning against the side of a red two-story brick building, waiting. His fingers twiddled with a matchstick, kin to the one he was chewing on.

Christmas was only a week away and he knew he wasn’t going to get to see his kids again this year. Mary Ellen was taking them to see her parents. He had felt lost when she’d told him she was taking the kids away. For the last couple of days he’d been like a lost puppy and Margo had seen it. Today she had dragged him down to the shelter. When she had the time Margo volunteered to help with the homeless and runaways. Benny Ray had reluctantly agreed to help. He hadn’t wanted the constant reminder that he was going to be alone again this Christmas. Seeing these poor bedraggled figures had only driven the loneliness home.

And today he’d had enough. The lonely men, women and children inside the shelter had painfully reminded him of what he’d lost. Margo had seen that pain and shooed him outside.

He stared out across the sand watching the sun as it slowly sank behind the horizon. The rosy sky was beautiful but his heart was barred from seeing it today.

His eyes caught and held those of a little girl as she slowly followed in her mothers’ footsteps. The woman’s body was hunched over and Benny Ray got the feeling she had totally given up on the world. He watched as she walked onto the beach and sat in the sand. Her hand played absently with the sand picking it up she slowly let it run through her fingers. It seemed to him that her life was slowly draining away like the sand as it slid between her fingers.

The little girl, suddenly standing in front of him startled Benny Ray. He hadn’t realized she had walked away from her mother. She couldn’t have been more than seven or eight years old. All silver and gold she was dressed in pale yellow dress her golden hair waved gently in the ocean breeze. But her eyes startled Benny Ray, silver gray they held the weight of the world as they sadly looked into his.

“Hello,” she whispered, her soft voice was lyrical and compelling and it pulled at Benny Ray’s heartstrings.

“Hello,” he returned sliding down to get on eye level with her he smiled deeply trying to put her at ease.

As he reached out the little girl stepped back but didn’t run.

“I’m Benny Ray,” he told her, “Do you and your Mom need help?”

The child looked up and Benny Ray got the feeling she had seen deep into his soul. She must have liked what she saw because the little girl smiled. Benny Ray gasped at the radiance of that smile. Her eyes glowed with pleasure and he basked in the light of her. “My brother is lost,” she whispered, “Can you help us find him?”

Without hesitation Benny Ray smiled and said yes.

A light touch on his shoulder alerted Benny Ray to Margo’s presence. “Hi,” Margo said smiling down at them, “this looks serious can I help?”

“It seems our little friend here is looking for her brother.” Benny Ray answered. “That’s her mom over there. Are you still willing to help,” he asked?” Turning to Margo he reluctantly broke eye contact with the blonde haired child.

“Sure,” Margo replied.

As they walked over to the woman sitting in the sand Margo looked closely at Benny Ray’s face. It was alive like it hadn’t been since he’d found out he wouldn’t be spending Christmas with his children. He had a purpose now and Margo was not going to get in the way. She just hoped they would be able to find the lost boy. LA was a big place and there were thousands of runaway children. Most of them were part of gangs or got hooked up with the baser criminal elements in town just to survive. Finding anyone who didn’t want to be found was going to be a challenge.

Dropping to the sand beside the woman, Benny Ray winked at the little girl. He caught a glimpse of her radiant smile before he turned to her mother.

“Can I help you,” he asked quietly.

The woman slowly looked up; her cheeks were wet with tears her eyes bleak and lost.

Desperately the woman reached out and Benny Ray caught her hand. “My son,” she whispered as tears streamed down her dirty face. “I have to find my son.”

Gently her reached up and brushed the tears from her face before asking. “I need to know something about him,” he whispered. “His name, a description, a picture if you have one.”

“Oh Yes!” She whispered. Pulling several pictures from her pocket she handed one to Benny Ray the other to Margo. “His name is Brian and he just turned nineteen last week,” she said, her voice cracking. “He’s tall, close to six foot,” she relayed proudly. “He looks just like his father.”

Margo and Benny Ray studied the picture seeing a young man, his laughing gray eyes so like his sisters stared out at them. His darker sandy blonde hair was short in the front but hung down to his shoulders in the back. It was a trusting, smiling, open face and Margo had to wonder what had caused him to run away.

Beside her the woman spoke again. “It’s all my fault, I drove him away. I accused him of some terrible things.”

Gulping back the tears the woman continued. “Six months ago he and my daughter were in a terrible accident. They were taken to the hospital my daughter was in critical condition. But my son received a slight concussion, minor cuts and a broken wrist. Yet he had no memory of the accident.”

“I didn’t think, I just lashed out accusing him of reckless driving and even drinking. I was hurt and angry and I took it out on him, I struck him. God help me for the first time in my life I struck him across the face and told him I hated him.”

“He left that day,” the woman folded in on herself wrapping her arms across her chest as racking sobs shook her body. Through the tears she continued to speak. “When I got home the next day his things were gone. I haven’t seen him since. I have to find him, I will find him,” she cried.

The woman seemed to shrink as she tried to brush away the tears. “I was devastated when I found out it wasn’t his fault. The next day a man turned himself in. He had swerved to avoid hitting a deer and hit my son’s car. The man was scared and ran. My son hadn’t been able to control the car and hit a tree. It was truly an accident!”

Margo held the woman tight as the wracking sobs shook the woman’s thin figure.

It was several minutes before she could pull herself together. “I’ve looked everywhere,” the woman murmured sadly. “I filed a police report but they haven’t found him. I even hired a private detective. I don’t know what I’m going to do if I don’t find him,” she cried burying her head in her hands as tears coursed anew down her cheeks.

Reaching down Margo enfolded the woman in a warm hug, trying to comfort her. “Come,” Margo said, “we’ll get you cleaned up and see what we can find out about your son.”

“No I have to keep looking,” the woman cried pulling away she got to her feet. “I won’t stop until I find him. My address and phone number are on the back of the picture.” Her voice was low and held little hope that she would succeed. “Thank you,” she whispered gently brushing a kiss across their cheeks.

Margo wanted to protest but the woman had already turned away, the little girl walking beside her. The child’s eyes were shining silver stars as she turned to look at Margo and Benny Ray.

A sweet lyrical voice carried on the wind reached their ears, “I believe in you,” they heard. The little girl blew them a kiss before turning away.

Both of them stood silently watching as the woman and child walked away.

Silver Star Hotel
Hermosa Beach CA. 1845 hrs

The bar was quiet as Margo and Benny Ray walked in. Behind the bar Debbie waved to them as they came through the door.

“Is Matt in his office,” Margo asked.

Debbie giggled before saying. “Sorry, he left about an hour ago didn’t say where he was going or when he’d be back.”

“Thanks,” Margo replied. “Is anyone else around?”

“Nope, just little ole me,” Debbie giggled again. “Can I get you anything?”

“Coffee please,” Benny Ray piped in smiling at the bartender.

Debbie blinked in confusion. Benny Ray rarely turned that breathtaking, heart-wrenching smile on her and like many women before her she stopped breathing for several seconds before shaking herself back to reality.

Taking the pot of coffee, Benny Ray followed Margo down the stairs. The ops room was steeped in shadows as they stepped into the room. Margo flipped on the light switch, which set the room to glowing. Taking a cup from the counter Margo filled hers and Benny Ray’s cup before walking over to her computer.

Benny Ray picked up the phone and began to dial. He had many connections in town, some on the police force and a few private investigators that might be able to help him find the boy.

Fours hours later Benny Ray had a list of gangs and groups that might be havens for the troubled boy. A second list was abandoned building where homeless children camped out.

Picking up the cup at his elbow her grimaced in pain as the awful taste of the cold coffee struck his tongue. “Damn, that’s bad,” he grumbled thumping the cup back on the table.

“How about a beer mate,” echoed around the room as CJ, Nick and Chance stepped into the room?

Behind them Matt and Deke stood on the last step and grinned at the look of distaste on Benny Ray’s face.

“Ho Ho Ho peeps,” Deke bellowed with a huge grin on his face.

“And what, my fine feathered friends is going on here,” Matt asked.

“We’re on a mission Sir,” Benny Ray answered.

Coming to attention Matt asked. “What mission, did Trout call?”

“No Matt,” Margo chuckled, “Trout did not call, but we do have a mission. Benny Ray and I ran into a woman outside the shelter this afternoon. She’s looking for her son.”

“And your gonna help,” Nick quipped.

Ignoring Nick, Matt shook his head in bewilderment as his gaze traveled between the two. “What,” he groaned, “did I hear you right, you’re looking for someone’s son.”

Deadpan serious Benny Ray answered. “Yes Sir! A runaway in fact!”

“Now I know you’ve gone off the deep end,” Nick sniped. “How are you going to find a runaway kid in a city full of runaway kids? You’ll never find him.”

“We’ll find him,” Margo squeaked as she grabbed Benny Ray’s arm preventing him from pulverizing the New Yorker.

Turing a baleful glare on the Nick, Benny Ray growled deep in his throat. “And you Amigo are going to help us find him?”

Chance chuckled as he stepped in blocking Benny Ray’s view of Nick. “I’ll help,” he said seriously, “Just tell me where you want me!”

Across the room Nick looked around and shrugged saying, “I was only joking, I’ll help, ya know I’ll help. Just tell me what ya want me to do!”

“Forget it Nick,” CJ chuckled. “He’s just messing with you like he always does and you fell for it again.”

“Hey,” Margo yelled, “We have work to do here, so why don’t we get to it.”

Matt rolled his eyes but waded in to the fray. Taking a look at the information they had gathered he groaned at the vast array of names and groups on the list.

Handing Chance a piece of paper Matt said. “You and CJ take the west side and see what you can find out. Matt eyes brimmed with laughter as he handed a list to Benny Ray saying, “You and Nick take the east side. Deke and I will take the beaches. Margo I want you to stay here and keep plugging away. I’ll call Trout and see if he can come up with anything.”

Nick walked away grumbling to himself as he glanced sideways at the sniper.

Clapping his friend on the shoulder Matt stopped Benny Ray. “Take it easy on him my friend. I want him back here in one piece.”

A mischievous smile entered the sapphire blue eyes of the sniper as he stood beside Matt. “I’ll take it easy on him Major, you can count on it!”

Margo choked back laughter as Nick grabbed his bag and scurried up the stairs.

The clear night was lit by a full moon as Nick and Benny Ray walked the streets looking for the lost boy. They had been at it for nearly five hours and Nick was beginning to whine. “We’re never going to find him like this.”

“You have a better idea, Nick?”

“Yeah, as a matter of fact I do. We need to get closer. None of these kids are going to trust us unless we get on the inside.”

“And how do you propose we get on the inside Amigo,” Benny Ray asked skeptically?”

“Leave that to me my friend.” Hailing a cab Nick jumped in with Benny Ray beside him giving the cabbie his address.

Less than an hour later Nick and Benny Ray were back on the street, dressed in a dark brown silk suit, ginger colored shirt and gold tie. Nicks’ whole demeanor took on a new appearance. His eyes were hard his voice deeper. He looked the part of a mafia crime boss about to go into battle

Benny Ray’s jaw dropped in amazement at the change. Standing beside Nick, Benny Ray was dressed in a black pinstripe suit complimented by a dark gray shirt and black silk tie. Twin Glock 21’s rested beneath each arm; a dark pair of sunglasses covered his bewildered eyes. “Muscle Benny Ray, I’m the crime boss and you’re da muscle.”

“How the hell is this going to help Nick?”

“Hey, just because I work for Matt doesn’t mean I gave up my old day job. I know the seedy side of this city like the back of my hand. Just pay attention and learn Amigo,” Nick smiled haughtily before stepping out the door.

In the street in front of his apartment a sleek Black Viper stood waiting. The doorman held out the key and saluted as Nick walked by. “Thanks Tony,” Nick grinned as he passed the man a twenty-dollar bill.

“Where the hell did you get that,” Benny Ray asked in amazement.

Chuckling Nick answered, “Came with the clothes.”

Monroe Club
Hollywood 1100 hrs

Benny Ray shook his head but easily slipped into his new role as muscle to Nick’s crime lord persona.

Twenty minutes later Nick pulled the Viper up in front of a club called the Monroe. The Monroe was owned and operated by a crime family out of Chicago looking to spread their sphere of influence into LA. It was also a gathering place for many homeless boys and girls looking for work. Most of them were used as mules, used to carry money or drugs across the city. How Nick knew these people Benny Ray didn’t want to know. It was enough to note that Nick was welcomed with open arms. He stood back and watched as Nick sailed into the club greeting and shaking the hands of most of the cities seedier crime elements. A dawning respect grew in Benny Ray’s mind as he followed the man around the room.

Stopping in front of one table a tall black haired black-eyed man gave Benny Ray an assessing look, “So, what’s with the muscle Nathan, you expecting trouble?”

“No trouble Joey, just a precaution, you know how it is these days, everyone’s looking to cause trouble. Me I’m just trying to get along!” Nick grinned, his New York accent growing more pronounced as he exchanged quips and greetings with people he knew.

The place was loud and people moved frantically about the room not wanting to miss a thing. It was grating on Benny Ray’s nerves and his eyes grew harder his body more rigid as the night grew longer. It all began to blur one face into another when his eyes spun to a golden glow hovering on the stairs leading up to the second level, silvery eyes shown lovingly down on him. He shut his eyes and rubbed them hard. Opening them he saw a woman in a golden dress coming down the stairs. Had he imagined the little girl standing on the stairs? “You’re loosing it Riddle, totally gone this time,” he mumbled to himself.

It was nearing 2am before Nick got his first bit of information about their missing boy. Several of the guests at the club recognized the boy and gave Nick a few clues as to where the teenager might be hiding out.

It was late and Nick opted to call it a night.

Unwilling to stop the search Benny Ray argued but somehow lost.

“I’m tired, you’re tired and we need to let Matt know what’s goin on. So give it up,” Nick whispered.

Glaring at him Benny Ray gave in knowing his intimidation act wasn’t going to work this time, at least not with this particular version of Nick, maybe the clothes did make the man, he thought. He growled deep in his throat not wanting to let Nick off the hook too easily.

Sliding into the soft leather seat Benny Ray leaned back and released the tension running through him.

“So what’s got you so worked up about finding this kid, do you know him or somethin?”

“No,” was Benny Ray’s only answer.

“So what?”

“I don’t know Nick. Maybe it was the look in his sister’s eyes, or the tears running down his mother’s face. All I know is, I have to find the kid before Christmas.”

“Christmas,” Nick mumbled. What does Christmas have to do with? Personally I think your going soft in the noggin.”

“Maybe,” Benny Ray answered.

Silver Star Hotel
Ops room 0310hrs

The team had gathered to discuss their evening’s findings. Everyone was tired but Nick’s information brought them back to life.

Margo searched the city databases as Matt called Trout, gloating over the fact that he had dragged the man out a sound sleep.

It was nearly an hour later when Matt called a halt. “All right people let’s knock it off for tonight. We’ll meet back here at noon and continue the search. Get some sleep and that,” Matt stated looking at Margo and Benny Ray, “Is an order!”

Abandoned Building
Warehouse district Santa Monica

The building was cold and drafty, the broken windows covered with wood and plastic as the occupants tried to keep out the ever present ocean breeze. The wind whistled through the cracks as young men and women huddled together for warmth. The night temperature had dropped below sixty but the darkness made it seem colder.

Brian was one of those teenagers. Beside him a sixteen-year-old girl lay cradled in his arms. He had found her in an alley three days ago where two men were in the process of beating and trying to rape the starving girl. Brian’s blood had boiled. Growing up Brian had been fascinated by martial arts and his parents had allowed him to take lessons. He was good, damn good and the girls’ attackers were no match for him.

He had tried to take her to a hospital. She barely spoke and had shied away from him when he first tried to help her. He had soon calmed her fears and coaxed her into laughter as he played his antics on her, like he had on his little sister. Andrea was her name and she had come to trust him but no other.

God he missed his little sister. Brian ruthlessly wiped away the tear that rolled down his cheek and pushed away all thoughts of his family. His own mother had accused him and in his heart he had begun to believe that she was right.

For six months now he had been living on the street. The first month he had nearly starved. What little money he had was soon gone. No one would hire him. With nowhere to go and no place to stay he had fallen in with a rough group of teenagers bent on having fun. Only their idea of fun was harassment and destruction. He soon realized they were not just a bunch of young teenagers but a gang whose leader was hardly ever seen but his presence was always felt. It had only taken him a week to realize he couldn’t live that kind of life. He watched as storekeepers were beaten their lively hoods, their stores destroyed. He wanted to do something but he didn’t know what or how.

One morning two weeks after first falling in with the gang Brian found himself sitting on a park bench in front of a police station. He wanted to go inside and tell someone what was happening but he was frightened. Frightened of the men who ran the gangs and frightened that the police wouldn’t listen or arrest him for being part of it.

He jumped when a tall dark haired man sat on the bench beside him. His face was kind his hazel eyes open and questioning as he turned his gaze on Brian.

“Hi,” he said smiling and holding out his hand. “I’m Mike.”

Brian pulled himself together and mustered up a smile wiping his hand on his pants before shaking the man’s hand. “Brian,” he offered.

“Haven’t seen you around here before is there something I can help you with?”

Brian turned trying to assess the man beside him. He liked what he saw but wondered if he could trust the man. “Are you a cop,” Brian asked?

“Yup,” Mike answered, pulling out his badge. “Lieutenant Mike Handley, 35th precinct.”

Brian knew he could get up and walk away, but something told him to stay and trust the man beside him.

“I…” Brian stopped unsure how to tell Mike about the people he was with.

“Take your time Brian, I’m here to listen and help if you need it.”

Brian took a big gulp of air and began his story.

Mike’s eyes grew wide. His department had been trying to crack the gangs for nearly a year now. But the bosses were smart and the street kids wiley. So far they hadn’t made any arrests or even made dent in the crimes happening in that part of the city.

Mike knew the kid would be in danger but he swore to himself that he would do everything he could to protect him.

It took them another two weeks to capture the gang. To protect Brian Mike hade him picked up and jailed along with the others. The operation was a success. The SWAT team had even managed to capture the gangs’ immediate leader. Though the police knew he was only a small potato in a much bigger pot they were satisfied with what they had for now. The gang was split up and Mike made Brian a proposition.

“Why don’t you come work for us Brian?”

“You mean like be a cop,” Brian scoffed.

“Yeah, that’s exactly what I mean. “Your pretty good at this undercover stuff, you handled yourself pretty well and beside that we need you!”

Brian was overwhelmed by the suggestion, but his heart yearned to belong somewhere and Mike was giving him that opportunity. It only took a minute to decide. Breaking into a huge smile Brian agreed. “So where do I start!”

Mike had worked out all the details. Brian had been hauled out of the station in handcuffs and taken to the police academy. In a little over two months he was back on the streets undercover. Mike was his contact and together they were slowly making a dent in the street crimes.

Nearly a month ago Brian had uncovered a car theft ring. There were about fifteen teenagers involved with the ring and Brian was one of them. A lot of high priced cars had gone missing and Mike wanted it stopped. Brian had worked his way inside the organization and managed to feed Mike information on where the teams would strike next. Several of the teams had been caught in the act and were now behind bars. He also knew that several of the rings, “Management Personnel” were out of Chicago.

Brian sat in the dank dusty building cradling Debbie in his arms. Rumors had been flying around that the big wigs were coming into town. No one knew why! The whole team was supposed to gather tomorrow around 2pm. Brian was a little apprehensive about the meeting but knew Mike was counting on him for information and Brian vowed not to let him down.