Chapter 7:

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Mystery and Crime  |  House: Booksie Classic

Reads: 63

Cooper followed Larson home so that they could carpool to the next lead that Cooper had, or rather the only lead she had after Nate Parsons’ alibi took him off the suspect list for now. The car ride there was completely silent. Larson didn’t feel like telling Cooper about her day, and Cooper didn’t really have anything to say either. But eventually Larson broke the silence, though, when Cooper exited the freeway towards downtown.


“We’re going downtown? Where does this guy live?” Larson wondered.


“We aren’t going to his house.” Cooper said.


“Then where does he work?”


“The person we are going to interview is the head of a charity that David was connected with.”


“Well, if you are headed to his office, the business district is the other way.”


“We aren’t going to his office, either.”


“Where are we going, then?”


“George R. Brown.”


 Cooper was referring to the George R. Brown convention center where the charity banquet was going to be held. She could almost hear the gears turning in Larson’s mind as he put the pieces together.


“So there is some kind of charity event we are going to?” Larson asked.




Cooper went on to explain what she had learned from Andre earlier today, that David was receiving some kind of award at this banquet. Admittedly Cooper knew that this lead could very easily be nothing, but just the fact that he was receiving an award for something meant that the head of this Houston Foster Aide charity most likely knows of David. At the very least he should be aware that he’s missing because he’s not going to be there to receive the award tonight.


“I guess it can’t be helped.” Larson calmly said as his expression grew dim to reflect the disappointment he was feeling.


“Is that a problem?” Cooper asked.


“It’s not. But I just don’t like big social scenes.”


Cooper thought back to every interaction she had with Larson. First the night before when he accused Nate Parsons of cheating on his wife. Then only an hour ago seeing him play a cash game in the back room of a bar where he used the guise of being completely wasted to taunt another player into raising an inferior hand. Now that she considered it more, Larson was exactly the type of person that didn’t like following social ‘rules’.


“What don’t you like about ‘big social scenes’?” Cooper asked.


“The ‘big’ and ‘social’ part.”


Cooper parked and walked to the convention center. The building was pretty huge and easy to get lost in if you didn’t know exactly where you were going. But fortunately there was a volunteer at the door to direct them to the correct room. They found out at the door that they had to purchase a meal ticket to get into the room, so Cooper purchased a ticket for the two of them for a dinner plate.


As they walked through the doors, Cooper was a little overwhelmed by how big the place was. She had been to awards ceremonies and other banquets before, but never on this scale. There were easily more than one hundred people in the room. And judging by the way they were dressed, it seemed like they were all somewhat wealthy people. But then again these types of charity events always drew the rich crowd.


Larson saw something completely different. He saw all the fake smiles that people were wearing as they made small talk with complete strangers. He saw the charity representatives giving their sales pitch to individuals that might donate money, and then trying their hardest to appear interested in what those potential donors had to say. He saw all the fancy make-up, jewelry, and clothing that these people wore like a mask to hide what type of person they really were.


The event was catered by El Torro’s, a Tex Mex restaurant chain that had a few locations on the south east side of Houston. On one side of the room a line formed where the food was located, although it wasn’t that long and soon Larson and Cooper were at the front were they got to choose between various assortments of tortilla, cheese, meat and vegetables. Larson filled his plate with fajitas while Cooper went for the quesadillas.


“I’ve never been to one of these events before. Usually too expensive for my taste.” Cooper stated.


“You could’ve used your badge to get in.”


“I’m trying to keep a low profile. If word gets around that a cop is poking around in here, that news could get to the wrong people and they’ll be ready when I show up asking questions, instead of caught off guard.”


“As long as you are buying, there’s no problem here.” Larson said with a smirk, drawing an annoyed look from Cooper.


As she ate her food, she couldn’t help but take in the surroundings. A guy wearing a volunteer badge helped people to a seat at the nearest empty table and showed them where everything was. He had a smile on his face, satisfied that another member of the audience tonight was where he was supposed to be.


“It always gets to me how there are people out there willing to spend some of their free time helping in the smallest of ways. This event took a lot of work to set up, but with out the help of these volunteers this banquet wouldn’t happen.”


“They certainly did a swell job showing us to an empty table.” Larson sarcastically said. “I couldn’t have found one with out them.”


“It’s more than that. They had to be here to help put everything up, and they’ll probably have to stay late and take everything down. Sure, it’s a small job, but its hard work. It is more than the volunteers too. The people that organized this event probably weren’t getting paid by the hour to get all of their ducks in a row. Think of the impact that just this one night could have on the foster kids around the city.”


“I guess so.” Larson said. The negativity in his body language was clear for Cooper to see.


“What has you so glum?”


 “A bunch of rich people in a room all competing for attention. What’s not to like?”  Larson stated in a sarcastic tone.


“Why is that a bad thing? Are you put off that they are rich? Or is it because they want to attend a charity event and maybe do something for the community by donating money to a good cause?”


“If it was really all about donating money, they could just write a check and be done with it. But they come to events like these so that they can be seen writing a big check to this organization. Giving money away relieves them of their guilty conscience and makes them look better in the public eye. The generous act only proves how selfish they are.”


“What about the people that donate money in private, but come here so that they can support the charity they gave money to?”


“No one does that. There are two kinds of people here: the type with loads of money that wants to better their image and the type with less money that want something from the people that have it.” Larson explained. During the back and forth between them he wasn’t even making eye contact with Cooper. Instead he was staring off to the side at two people having a conversation. He motioned to them and said “Take those two over there for example.”


Cooper glanced in the direction Larson was directing her to. It was an older gentleman in an expensive suit having a conversation with some lady that might’ve been in her thirties. They were both eating and talking with one another.


“What about them?”


“The lady is a surgeon at a local hospital. The man is clearly someone with connections, and-”


“How do you know the woman is a surgeon?” Cooper interrupted him. She was perplexed that he would jump to surgeon that fast. He could’ve been vague and said she was a doctor, and with this crowd she estimated probably a third of the room were either doctors or connected with health care in some way. He would’ve had a better chance at being right.


“Look at the way she handles that knife. Putting just enough force on the back of the blade to cut through her food yet not too much to lower the freedom of movement with it. She’s either a surgeon or a serial killer.”


 “Point made.”


“Anyways, the two of them are a perfect example of what I was talking about. You have someone with money and connections, and someone that might be looking for a better job and wants to get her name out with people that can help her career advance.”


“Why do you always assume everyone has an ulterior motive? Why can’t people just be here because they want to support a good cause? Maybe you are right and there is a little networking going on at the same time, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t also good people that want to do something positive for their community.”


“Because the reality of the world is anything that people do is done with their own interests in mind. Notice how it’s nothing but rich people here? Do you ever see someone struggling to live pay check to pay check willing to donate a part of their earnings to help a charity? If you are running late for work and see someone broken down on the side of the road, do you take the time to help them?”


“I would.” Cooper defiantly answered.


She might not be that big of a help fixing someone’s broken down car on the side of the road, but she’s run into her fair share of people with dead batteries that need jumped started and she’s run late to work because of a problem that someone else was had that she helped solve.


The conversation was interrupted by someone taking the stage. The lights dimmed and the room got quiet as most of them averted their gaze to the man standing in front of a podium.


“Thank you for joining us today for our 3rd annual charity banquet. My name is Alan Woods, and I’m the founder of Houston Foster Aide as well as the President.” the man on stage said.


Woods looked uncomfortable on stage, but he probably thought as such an important member of the organization it was necessary for him to say a few words. Some people in this world just don’t have the stage presence to jump in front of a large audience and talk as if it were completely natural. He didn’t even try to hide the fact that he was reading a pre-written message. Fortunately he wasn’t on stage that long. As soon as gave his first opening remarks, he cued the media people to play a video clip and he left the stage.


The video was an extended version of a commercial that appeared on TV the past couple of months. It started off with a man sitting on a bench reading a newspaper article with the headline ‘Foster Kids Need Your Help’. The song ‘Save The World’ by Swedish House Mafia faded in as he was reading the article, and the man seemed to become inspired. The next few clips was the same man driving around in his car running errands, delivering clothes to houses, helping kids with homework, playing catch, and doing helpful things in general all within the course of one day.


The same man was sitting on a bench the next day reading the next day’s paper and this time the article headline was ‘Foster Kids Still Need Your Help’. This seemed to get the man down as he had done everything the night before and the headline didn’t change because he was the only one helping. So this time he had an idea.


He called up a bunch of friends, and each of those people called a bunch of friends. One scene had what looked like one hundred people gathered in one place and they were organizing who was going to take what tasks. Then all at once they split up and got to work.


The video switched from the obviously fake world to the real world where they had apparently recorded the actions of Houston Foster Aide volunteers over this past year. There were the same types of actions that were in the video from before, but this time it was real and there were far more people than just the one guy. As the scenes kept playing, the song kept playing, and the tagline at the bottom said: Together we can change the world, one child at a time.


As the video played, Larson glanced over at Cooper to see her reaction. He could tell that she was completely into it. The whole idea behind the video clip was working together to make a difference, which was something that was right down her alley.


The video clip ended and afterwards the audience applauded as the next guy came up. As he addressed the crowd, it was obvious that this guy was more of a natural speaker, unlike Mr. Woods from before. This person didn’t give out his name or state his connection to the charity, so he was most likely just a presenter.


He announced a few college scholarships, and the kids that won them for having good grades came on stage and were congratulated by the audience all at the same time. The rest of the event was more of the same. Different speakers came up and either recognized certain kids for various achievements, or presented other things regarding the charity.


One speaker came up and showed a slide show of different community gathering events that were held at a nearby park. They did these once a month and usually to a lot of foster kids it was an excuse to play around. The foster parents got some time to themselves and for the charity it was just another way for them to take donations and get their name out there.


Cooper was wondering when they were going to get to the part where David would receive an award. Her answer finally came when they presented the final award.


“And last but not least, the Right Choice award for this year goes to David Romero.” said the speaker. The audience clapped just a little louder seeing as this was the last part of the show. “David was unable to make it to this year’s banquet. So accepting the award for him is his foster sister, Ashley.”


The crowed renewed their applause and Ashley’s familiar face jumped up from the front row and walked to the stage quickly. Cooper and Ashley made eye contact briefly and they both waved to each other. She received the small trophy from the presenter and held it up graciously as the crowd cheered.


“That’s all for today’s festivities, but the party isn’t over. We have a dessert table set up as well as top Houston Foster Aide representatives in the back who will be available to take donations and answer any questions you may have. Thank you.”


Most of the audience sitting at the tables began to get up and walk around. A few people got in the forming dessert line on one side of the room. Some went to a table on the other side of the room to hand over their donation checks and speak with charity representatives. The ones that were left in the center of the room mingled with other people that attended the event.


Cooper felt uneasy about the way David’s award ceremony was handled. The presenter didn’t mention him mysteriously disappearing two nights ago. All he said was that he ‘was unable to make it’. She still didn’t know what he was getting an award for. The only new information was that it was the event’s most prestigious ‘Right Choice’ award.


As she contemplated her next move, Ashley sat down next to Cooper, directly across the table from Larson.


“You made it!” she said.


“I did!” Cooper replied in that voice that was usually used when talking with children. “It was great that you got to accept your brother’s award for him. You looked great on stage. I think you stole the show to be honest.”


“Thank you.”


“Did your parents say anything after we left last night?”


“I don’t think my dad likes you. I could hear him yelling from my room.”


“Yeah, there was a misunderstanding.” Cooper glanced at Larson. Technically it wasn’t a misunderstanding, and Cooper was briefly worried that he would make a comment in defense of himself. Larson instead just stared at his drink. “Fortunately we already asked all the necessary questions so you probably won’t see us show up at your house unexpected anymore.”


“Are you any closer to finding my brother?”


“That’s part of the reason why we are here. We thought that maybe this charity has something to do with his disappearance. That award you accepted on his behalf, do you know what it was for?”


“Yeah. I was there when it happened.”


“When what happened?”


“This was a few months ago. I had to stay after school one day, but when I left he was there to walk me home.”


“How far is your house from the school?” Cooper asked.


“Not too far, but I guess he was worried because it was about to get dark. Halfway back we ambushed. David quickly handed me his cell phone and told me to run and dial 911 from a safe location.” Ashley said.


“Were you able to identify them?”


“They wore those bandit masks.”


“Ski masks?” Cooper corrected her.




“Were you hurt?”


“No, I ran away and David was able to hold them off until the cops arrived and arrested them. David had to go to the hospital but he was fine. The story made the newspaper and he was kind of treated as a hero.”


 “Does he normally walk you home after school?” Larson decided to join the conversation for the first time.


“No.” she answered. “His high school is in the other direction.”


“What about other times you had to stay late?”


“No, that was the only time. Before that we were never close. We had only lived in the same foster house for a little under a year. But after he stuck up for me like that things changed. In all of my life I had never had an older brother or sister that cared about me as much as he did.”


That certainly explained why she went to the lengths she did to get Cooper to help her find her brother. It wasn’t just that she wanted him back and was worried about him, but also the fact that after the lengths he had gone to keep her out of harm’s way, anything less than her best effort wouldn’t be enough to repay him for being there for her. It was actually kind of sweet, Cooper thought.

Submitted: June 04, 2013

© Copyright 2021 agentkirb. All rights reserved.


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