Divided - By Jennifer Sights


“Ms. Ronen, I need you to help me find my daughter, and I’ve heard you’re the best.” Alexis Carmen pushed a photograph toward me across my office desk. A pretty young girl with strawberry hair that matched her mother’s smiled out of the photo.

“Please, call me Elena.” I wanted to put Ms. Carmen at ease. Her brow furrowed, dark circles shadowed her honey brown eyes, making her porcelain skin look ever paler. A strand of hair strayed from her neat ponytail, which she absently tucked behind her ear.

“Elena. Courtney ran away two weeks ago.”

“Have you contacted the police?” I asked.

“Yes, but because she is of legal age, they won’t do anything.”

I reflected on the few years I had spent on the force, and could imagine how frustrated Ms. Carmen must be. Eighteen is such an arbitrary age to be considered an adult. Some eighteen-year-olds are completely incapable of taking care of themselves. Others - like me, when I was younger - are more mature than many in their thirties. “How old is your daughter?”

“Nineteen.” Her voice cracked, but not a single tear fell from her shining eyes. “The police referred me to you, actually. They said very good things about your ability to solve a case. Do you work with them often?”

“No, but I used to be a police officer.”

“Why did you quit?”

“I didn’t like all the red tape. I’d rather get something done than fill out stacks of paperwork.” I stood. “Would you like some coffee, Mrs. Carmen?”

“Ms. And yes, thank you. Black.”

The lack of sugar or cream matched the fit body beneath her slightly rumpled yet expensive looking business suit. I poured two cups of black coffee and handed her one. “Is there no Mr. Carmen?” I asked.

“No. But why does that matter?” She narrowed her eyes.

“Anything that can provide insight as to why your daughter might have run away could help. I’m sorry if it’s a painful topic.”

“I understand. I was always very focused on my education, but made one mistake that almost cost me my MBA. Do you have any idea how hard it is to complete graduate school while raising an infant?”

“I can imagine. Do you resent that hardship your daughter caused you by her birth?” I sipped my coffee and studied her reaction.

“Of course not!” Ms. Carmen straightened her shoulders and shook her head from side to side.

I raised an eyebrow.

“I admit it wasn’t easy, but I wouldn’t give up my daughter. I love her.”

“Do you have a good relationship with your daughter?”

“I did, for the most part. But then she started attending St. Louis Community College. That’s when the fighting began.”

“What do you mean, ‘for the most part?' "

“I was very strict with Courtney, and she often resented me for that, but she used to confide in me.”

“What did you fight over?” I made note of the name of the college.

“Her degree. I wanted her to do something that would pay well, but she’s always loved art. I know firsthand how important it is for a young woman to not have to rely on a man, and I don’t want my daughter to struggle. I was an art major, and ended up working fast food when I graduated. After a year, I went back to school for a business degree so I could make something of myself. I tried to tell her what I endured, tried to convince her to do better for herself, but she insisted on enrolling in the art program. And then she made new friends.”

“What kind of friends?” I expected her to mention alcohol or drugs.


I sat back in my chair, inadvertently putting more distance between myself and her.

She quickly glanced at my metal filled ears and the tattoo peeking from the sleeve of my scarlet blouse. “Forgive me. I mean Goths. I - I’m not used to - “ she stammered, looking down into her lap and biting her lower lip.

I sighed, having mostly gotten used to remarks about my style long ago. “Forget it. So you didn’t like her friends.”

“No, and she changed. She dyed her hair black, started wearing tons of dark makeup, dressed like a vampire.”

“So you fought about that as well?” I guessed.

“Yes. She started skipping classes. Her artwork became darker, more sinister. Then she ran away.”

“How do you know she ran away? Could she have been kidnapped?”

“No, her clothes were gone, as well as her art supplies.” She finally took a sip of her coffee, holding the mug in both hands.

“Have you contacted