Chapter 8:

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

Reads: 69

Ashley’s ride was ready so she had to go, which left Larson and Cooper still at the table to discuss this new information they had.


“I don’t know what I was expecting.” Cooper said feeling dejected. “When I first heard he would be receiving an award I thought that somehow it would be meaningful, but in hindsight…I don’t know.”


Larson didn’t say anything in reply, instead deciding to finish off his drink. Cooper didn’t like the fact that the charity angle was looking like another dead end, but there seemed to be no obvious connection between David’s disappearance and Houston Foster Aide.


“Well… maybe there’s a bright side to this. David was slated to receive the charity’s biggest award. That has to mean something. It’s possible someone was jealous he was receiving this award and thought that maybe if he wasn’t there they would give it to someone else. That’s motive to abduct the guy before the charity banquet.” Cooper said.


“That shouldn’t matter.” Larson finally decided to chime in. “The award is clearly just a lame attempt to give his story more press. It doesn’t mean anything. There is no reason for anyone to be jealous.”


“What about you? Do you have any theories?”


“I have another theory, but you might not like it.”


“Why won’t I like it?”


“Because it’s based on the premise that David ran away.”


Cooper face reflected the fact that she didn’t like his idea already. But she responded with, “Fine, let’s hear it.”


“When she told her story about getting ambushed, the first thought that came to mind was how fortunate she was that David was there.” Larson said. “What if he knew they were going to get ambushed?”


“You mean like what if he planned the whole thing? That makes no sense at all.”


“That’s not what I’m saying. I’m saying what if he knew?”


“I don’t follow.”


“He’s in high school. What if he pissed off one of his classmates and they decided to take it out on his foster sister? Ashley said that David had never walked her home before, and the only reason he was there that day was because she had to stay late after school--”


“But she said that he never walked her home because they weren’t that close at the time.”




“If they weren’t close, why would he decide to become her body guard on the off chance she got attacked?”


“I’m shocked.” Larson sarcastically responded. “You of all people should understand why someone who knows that a person might be put in harm’s way soon would try to do what they could to stop it.”


“Why didn’t he just tell an adult?” Cooper asked.


“I’ll explain my theory in full and answer your questions along the way.” Larson replied. “Hopefully with no interruptions this time.”


“Fine, you have the floor.”


“My theory is that David did something to one of his classmates. It doesn’t have to be big, enough to get them to retaliate by taking it out on Ashley. He can’t tell anyone because then he would have to explain what he did to make them mad in the first place. His only option is to stop the whole thing from happening.”


“I understand all that, but how do you get from there to him running away from home?”


“If you would just let me finish…” Larson said, giving Cooper an annoyed look. “He stopped the attack, but because the police got involved it became public. And suddenly he looks like a hero. Ashley thinks he saved her life. The charity is looking to give him their biggest award which means more recognition. But he certainly doesn’t feel like the hero, considering it was his fault to begin with. All of that guilt would make anyone want to run away.”


Cooper didn’t immediately respond. She didn’t like the idea that someone would run away, leaving people that cared about them behind wondering if they were even alive wherever they were. She wanted Larson to be wrong, but there was no flaw in his logic. His story took everything into account and explained what would have driven David to run away without telling Ashley.


 In the few days they had worked together she had discovered that despite being a cynical man that had no problem telling others what he thought of them, he was also someone who could take the every single detail and organize the facts into the simplest and most likely theory. Just because it was the most likely didn’t mean it was always true, thought Cooper.


“There’s nothing wrong with that theory, and I can look into the police report for that incident and see if I can find anything that supports it.” Cooper said. “But for now it’s just a theory.”


“Right now it’s our best theory. It’s our only theory. But for some reason you want to hold onto this unreasonable notion that he was kidnapped despite there being no ransom demand or no motive to abduct the kid. Because if he really did run away, he might not come back and that would make Ashley sad-”


“Shut up will you?” Cooper interrupted him. Larson’s comments stung, but it was the cold, emotionless way he said them that made it even worse. “I don’t want to give up yet, on the off chance that there is something going on that we missed. There is no reason not to, because all we have to lose is time, right?”


She was used to suspects, victims and coworkers intentionally making hurtful remarks, whether it was in the middle of a heated argument or during an interrogation. But it bothered her that Larson was able to make those same cutting remarks with the same matter-of-fact tone one would have in an ordinary conversation.


“I guess so. What’s next?” Larson wondered.


Cooper quickly sent Andre a text message asking if he would look into the leaders of Houston Foster Aide. Meanwhile next step for Cooper and Larson was asking the founder and President of the charity, Alan Woods, a few questions.


“Ok, so I’m thinking I should just do this by the book.” Cooper said. “Could you please not get me in trouble with the Lieutenant again by pissing this guy off?”


“I can’t make any promises.”


With that, the two of them approached Woods. They found him standing on the side of the room having a casual conversation with some of the attendees. He was wearing the kind of authentic smile that bordered on being completely phony. Neither Cooper nor Larson could make out the subject of their conversation because they stopped talking when they noticed they had company.


“I’m sorry to interrupt you, Mr. Woods. I’m Detective Cooper. If you have some free time I would like to ask you some questions.”


Woods looked really worried and confused. “What’s this about?”


“It’s about the disappearance of David Romero. Do you know who he is?” Cooper asked.


“Of course I do. He’s this year’s Right Choice recipient. What about him?”


“Is there any way we can talk in private?”


Woods nodded and pointed us towards a small private conference room on the far side of the building. He told us he had to grab a few things and he would meet us there. There was nothing special about this conference room. It was about the size of an office, and it was mostly empty with the exception of a long fold out table and chairs. Stacks of paper had been left by whatever organization had used this room last.


Moments later Woods appeared carrying a giant backpack slung over his left shoulder. His youth showed itself in the way he was able to casually wear the backpack. On stage in front of a podium with an expensive suit on it was much harder to tell, but now Cooper probably estimated his age to be late twenties to early thirties. Unusually young for someone in his position.


“So this is about David.” Woods said. He set his backpack down on the table and pulled out a huge binder from inside. Cooper wasn’t able to get a clear look at everything that was inside, but it seemed to be a multi-tiered filing system of the hundreds of foster kids that were involved in the charity.


“Yes.” Cooper responded, but then she noticed binder she added. “Wow, you really are organized. Is that everyone involved with your charity?”


“All the volunteers and all the foster kids that participate in the events. I keep an electronic version as well but I like to keep the original stuff with me.”


“What can you tell us about David?”


“I don’t know how much help I can be. I’ve never met the guy.” he flipped through the binder and pulled out a file to hand to Cooper. “Here’s everything I have on him.”


Cooper looked at the file. It detailed all of the events he’s been to, and then had records regarding his foster care. It was the sort of thing anyone could’ve gotten access to legally if they knew how. Nothing in there could’ve helped her.


“Can you think of anyone that might know anything or have a reason at all to want to see him disappear?” Cooper asked, almost in desperation.


“No one off the top of my head…”


She realized she had hit a dead end. Woods wasn’t going to be any help because he had no connection with the kid they were looking for other than the fact that he was the President of the charity that he participated in. Other than that, he couldn’t tell her anything. That meant it was time to go.


“Thank you for-” Cooper started to say.


“Cooper, I need to speak with you outside.” Larson interrupted her.


Cooper had no reason to deny his request, so she told Woods to stay put while she listened to what Larson had to say.


“Just a fair warning… I’m going to piss this guy off.” Larson said as soon as they were out of earshot of Woods.


“I thought we said we were going by the book on this one.” Cooper said.


“We are going by the book in a sense. This is sort of like good cop/bad cop.”


“Good cop/bad cop is an interrogation tactic, and this guy isn’t a suspect.”


“You don’t know that. Does he have an alibi?” Larson sarcastically asked.


“You are seriously considering him as a suspect? What’s his motive?”


“Oh, so when I’m pushing an angle, suddenly everything has to make sense. But when you want to pretend this isn’t a case of a runaway-”


“Why are you even asking for my permission here? That’s never stopped you before.”


“I’m not asking for your permission, just giving you a fair warning since you can’t actually prevent me from doing anything. There is nothing illegal about talking to a person in a public place.”


“I’m not here officially, he could tell the Lieutenant what I’m doing and get me in trouble. I could be looking at a suspension.”


“You don’t have to worry about that. It doesn’t look like Woods has an embarrassing secret for me to expose. The only reason Nate Parsons complained was because it would look like he was guilty in the eyes of his wife if he didn’t.”


Cooper still wasn’t okay with Larson’s plan, but it was either this or nothing. And he was right that she couldn’t stop him from talking to the guy anyway. So she answered with a simple “Fine.”


Larson re-entered the room and let the door close behind him. Woods was caught off guard at seeing just Larson come back. Larson had barely said a word the whole time, so he didn’t know what to expect. But this wasn’t an interrogation right? What angle could he possibly be pushing?


Meanwhile Cooper was listening in from just outside the door. She was a little worried Larson would cross another line and it would blow up in her face. At the same time, she knew she could take some solace in the fact that Larson got results, even if they came at a cost.


There was a lot of silence before Larson finally spoke. It was of course intentional. Driving the tension in the air between the two of them would favor Larson, with his indifferent attitude and ability to effortlessly push a person’s buttons. 


“You look pretty young to be the head of a major organization. You can’t be older than 30.” Larson finally said.


“I’m 29.” he admitted.


“College grad I assume?”


“Bachelor’s in Business from UT.”


“So how does someone with a business degree end up doing what you are doing now? Certainly starting a charity takes a lot of time and money.”


“It was rough at first. We had very little resources until I brought Jason Bennett in. I originally met Bennett while interning for his company back when I was getting my degree. We happened to run into each other and I told him about my idea and he was completely on board with it, so I made him Vice President. He was able to use his status in the business world to bring more donation money in.”


“How does that work? You talk about this like they were investing in a company.”


“If someone is moderately successful in business, it can be a good image booster to donate or even be involved in a charity. Bennett had a lot of associates that wanted to be a part of this in one way or another. His part in this charity has been vital to its current success.”


“And what about you?” Larson asked calmly. “Being the head of this charity must’ve raised your profile in the business world. You put on this act like you are making a difference but in the end isn’t it all about making connections with important people and improving your image?”


“You’re wrong.”


“I have to say I’m impressed. At the age of 29, you are basically set for life. Most people couldn’t rise to prominence that fast without being related to someone important. You basically did it on your own, and all you have to do is pretend to give a damn about foster kids while you are out in public.”


Larson had little patience for people that spent their entire lives pretending to be someone they weren’t. The world was full of people with ulterior motives and he took great joy in exposing them as often as he could. 


“I’m not in this for the fame.”


“Of course you aren’t.” Larson said. His words tinged with sarcasm.


“Do you know how many foster kids that don’t get adopted end up homeless as adults? At the age of 18 the state isn’t legally obligated to give benefits to these kids and as a result over 50% of them end up homeless. They do alright when they are kids, but as adults they just don’t know how to survive in the real world. My sole mission with this charity is to give them a shot at doing something with their lives when they get to that age.” Woods responded with a renewed vigor. “People like to just throw money at the problem and think it will go away, but that’s not how I do things.”


“How do you do things then?”


“I put programs in to help these kids succeed. You saw the college scholarships we gave out. There are also the free workshops we set up to give them important skills to take with them into the real world. We also pressured Texas legislature to pass laws making more strict guidelines on who can become foster parents. This charity isn’t just a façade meant to pump up my image, we’re the real deal.”


Woods spoke with a conviction and anger that he didn’t express before. Gone was the easygoing charity president that had nervously opened up the banquet today. He had been replaced by a more energetic man that was willing to defend what he believed in. As Cooper listened in from just outside the door, Woods’ speech reminded her of what she sounded like sometimes.


“That’s nice and all, but that doesn’t explain the cash grab banquet catered to rich professionals. Nor does it explain the commercial you played at the beginning that has been running for weeks on local TV stations. How does that help foster kids?”


“I’m not the only one with decision making power. The commercial was Bennett’s idea. He wanted to get our name out there. I was against it, but a vote amongst all the board members was cast and the majority of the people voted to do it. In an effort of compromise we insisted the whole thing be done in house. We didn’t hire a production team to shoot it, and we even had one of the board members play the guy in the commercial.”


“What about the Right Choice award? Was that Bennett as well?”


“No. That was me.” Woods explained. “People think foster kids are a bunch of thugs that come from bad backgrounds. That’s why some are reluctant to adopt. The whole point of the award is to get the message out that these kids are ordinary people that are capable of doing great things just like everyone else.”


Larson was in deep thought for a moment as he put the pieces together in his mind. Woods mentally braced himself for another round of questions, but apparently Larson was finished.


“Well, it was fun talking to you. Enjoy the rest of your night.” Larson said before turning around and moving towards the door.


“Ok...” said a confused Woods who didn’t know what to make of Larson’s sudden change in tone.


Cooper was still just outside the door, just as confused as Woods had been. Larson didn’t immediately say anything, he just smiled. Obviously there was something he knew that Cooper didn’t, and he wanted to enjoy that feeling for a little while longer.


“Ok, what is it?” Cooper wanted to know.


“Oh, I just love it when a plan works so well.” Larson answered.


“What do you mean?”


“Woods was too nice of a guy to tell us anything. So I attacked his character and put him on the defensive and as a result he ended up giving us an important lead.”




“You weren’t listening? Jason Bennett. He said the commercial was Bennett’s idea. Which means Woods is the idealist dreamer and Bennett is the business shark. That potentially gives him motive.”


Cooper was still confused. “I don’t follow.”


“Bennett could’ve made David temporarily disappear so that he wouldn’t publically see the award, basically undermining what Woods was trying to do.”


“But that doesn’t necessarily give him motive. He doesn’t gain anything by sabotaging the award ceremony.”


“I’m not going to pretend to know the lengths of pettiness that rich businessmen would sink to. Maybe you are right about the lack of motive. But we know based on my conversation with Woods that the two of them have opposing ideologies when it comes to running a charity. I wouldn’t put it past him to do this on principle alone.”


Larson of course loved a theory that proved high ranking members in the charity would selfishly sabotage the organizations efforts for pure personal gain. Perhaps the motive was weak, but it explained why he would run away for seemingly no reason. Cooper liked the theory for a different reason though.


“That means if we’re right, David might be coming back tonight.” Cooper said. “We can confirm the theory by talking to Bennett. That’s our next move.”

Submitted: June 04, 2013

© Copyright 2020 agentkirb. All rights reserved.


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