By Trish Hubschman
She answered the phone.
“Mrs. Rhodes,” the caller began. “My name is Tracy Gayle. I’m a private investigator on the North Shore. I’ve been asked to look into a matter that took place nine years ago involving a missing child.”
Brittany froze. Her newborn baby, Jennifer Lee, was taken from the nursery at County General nine years earlier. Hospital security, and then the police, searched for two weeks, but were unable to find her. The case was labeled cold. “I’m not sure what you want, Miss Gayle,” Brittany said.”
Brittany glanced out the sliding glass door. The girls were chasing the dog in the backyard. Melinda was eight and a half. She had come to them six months after Jenny had been stolen. Melinda was adopted. Brittany and Mark had started the proceedings before they discovered Brittany was pregnant. They were excited about both children. Darcy was born two years later. Her husband, Mark, was grilling hamburgers for their dinner. Everything was perfect. Now this call from a private detective! What did this mean?
“I apologize for not clarifying myself,” the caller said. The casualness of her voice annoyed Brittany. “Let me explain. My clients adopted a baby girl nine years ago, a few months after your child disappeared from County General.” The caller rushed on. “Mrs. Rhodes, I assure you, there was no reason to connect the two at the time.”
“Are you making that connection now?” Brittany asked. Those six words were the hardest she’d ever spoken.
“It’s not conclusive as yet,” the caller said, again rushing on. “Recently, it came to light that the fingerprints on the birth certificate my clients were given upon adoption aren’t matches to their daughter’s.”
Brittany knew where this was going. “They’re Jennifer Lee’s?” she asked. Mark stood in the open glass doorway. He stared at his wife, concern on his face. She waved a hand.
“It appears that way, yes, Mrs. Rhodes,” the caller replied.
Something was happening inside Brittany that she couldn’t explain, a combination of excitement and terror.. “Who are your clients?” she demanded. Mark was beside her now. He tried to take the phone from her but she brushed his hand away.
“I’m afraid I’m not at liberty at this time to give you that information,” the caller said. “This is an ongoing FBI investigation into black-market baby sales. My clients have agreed to help the authorities. You may be contacted as well at some point. I’m not sure on that end. My role here is to see if you and your husband are willing to meet with my clients regarding their daughter.”
Brittany nearly sniffed. She longed to scream at the woman end that if what she said was correct then she wanted her baby back. She kept her voice as steady as she could. “How am I supposed to agree to meet with people I don’t know exist? I don’t even know their names. For that matter, how do I know that you’re not pulling my leg and playing a terrible trick on us?”
To Brittany’s astonishment, she was sure she heard a smile enter the caller’s voice. “Those are fair questions, Mrs. Rhodes.” Tracy inhaled. “Do you have Facebook?”
Brittany’s eyebrow rose. She glanced at Mark. “Yes, we do but what does that have to do with finding out the legitimacy of what you’re telling me?”
“I’m on Facebook, Mrs. Rhodes, Tracy Gayle, employed by Gayle Investigations. Look me up, please, then get back to me.” She gave her contact information and disconnected.
Brittany looked at her husband. “What do we do now?”
Mark was fishing his cell phone out of his pants pocket. “Exactly what she told us to do, check her out on FB.”
. . .
Mark whistled with appreciation. His head was bowed and he was staring at his cell phone screen. Brittany glanced up. She sat on the other bench at the redwood table next to Melinda. Darcy was on the same bench as her father.
“Where’s the baked beans, Mom?” Melinda asked.
Brittany glanced at her daughter. “Um, I forgot to make them, sweetie. I was on the phone before when Dad was cooking the burgers. I didn’t have a chance to throw the beans on.”
“Mom?” Melinda whined.
Darcy didn’t look up from the hamburger she was playing with.
Mark wasn’t paying attention to the family scene. “Some interesting stuff here,” he said, shutting off his phone and shoving it back into his pocket.
Brittany sighed warily. She was curious, yes, but, at the same time, she was too terrified to know. She had even less interest in the delicious burgers Mark had made. “I’m sure you’re going to tell me, so who is this Tracy Gayle woman? Is she really a private detective and was that who I was just speaking with?”
Mark’s smile was broad when he looked up. “Uh-huh,” he murmured. He nodded. “Not only does Ms. Gayle have excellent credentials as a private eye and with Gayle Investigations, she’s also engaged to one of the hottest rock stars in the country, Danny Tide. He was impressed!
Melinda sat up straighter. “He’s your favorite, Mom,” she announced.
Brittany glanced at her daughter, and then turned back to Mark. Under different circumstances, that would have blown her away. Right now, it didn’t have any impact on her. “Should I call the woman back?” was all she could think to ask.
It wasn’t as easy as Tracy Gayle made it sound. There were channels Brittany and Mark had to go through before meeting Diane and Jerome Castle. First, they had to submit to a DNA test.
“How are they going to find out anything with just that?” she snapped after a police physician completed the task. Her question was aimed at Mark. Mark shrugged.
It took six weeks but finally the DNA results came back. It was ninety-nine percent conclusive. Lisa Michelle Castle was Jennifer Lee Rhodes.
Three days after the DNA confirmation, two FBI agents appeared on their doorstep. Special agents Mike Daniels and Monica Wells asked Brittany and Mark a lot of questions. No, they had no idea who took their baby out of the nursery at County General Hospital nine years earlier. No, they had never given up hope that someday they would find her. Yes, they very much looked forward to meeting Lisa Michelle Castle. Yes, they would do whatever they could to assist the FBI in apprehending the black-market baby thieves and bringing them to justice. The questions kept going on and repeating themselves. Brittany’s head was spinning. She wanted to scream. She wanted to know more about her missing child and the couple that had been raising her. When the agents finished their questioning, they enlightened Brittany and Mark. Diane and Jerome Castle were British citizens. They’d resided in Manchester, England until six months previous. It was when they relocated to the united States, New York, that they discovered the possibility that their daughter’s birth certificate was fraudulent. “They felt it was their duty to look into the matter,” Agent Daniels said. “That’s when they hired Tracy Gayle, who has expertise in locating missing persons.”
“When do we get to meet this renowned private eye?” she shot.
The two agents glanced at one another. Monica Wells spoke. “Ms. Gayle travels with her fiance. She comes to Long Island occasionally to work cases firsthand. I believe she’ll be present at the arranged meeting between you and the Castle family.”
Brittany stared at the other woman. She was tempted to demand to know exactly when that arranged meeting was supposed to be. No one had clued her in on that. She said something else. “An on-the-road private eye? I never heard of such a thing! Can I follow her tour schedule on Facebook,” she spat.
This brought a not-too-common smile to the female FBI agent’s face. Agent Wells didn’t know how to verbally respond to, so she didn’t. This annoyed Brittany. She turned and glared at her husband. Mark shrugged.
. . .
“Why do we have to sign so many papers?” Brittany snapped. “I just want to go in there and take my baby home, but I have to sign these affidavits swearing I won’t do that?”
She and Mark were in a lawyer’s office. That was the arranged meeting place with the Castles.
Mark looked up from a document he was scrolling his signature on. “That’s not what we’re doing right now,” he affirmed. “We’re agreeing not to bring legal charges against them, Brit. They didn’t kidnap our child. They’re as much victims in this as we are.”
Brittany’s eyes widened. She was about to make a snide retort, but bit it back. “How about this one?” She picked up another document. They had to swear that they had not brought a court order with them and they would not start litigation to have the child removed from her present parentage. “But she’s our daughter,” Brittany exploded.
“She’s been with them for nine years, honey. It would probably be disastrous to her sense of security and self-esteem if we started an all-out custody battle,” he said. “I’m sure if they’re nice people and things work out we’ll be granted liberal visitation with the child.” He had spoken to a lawyer on their behalf, as well as, the private detective, Tracy Gayle. He was somewhat confident that things would be worked out.
She went on. “We’re not to go to the press with this?” She was incredulous. “I’m not a blabber mouth. I’m sure it will get to the press somehow.” She tightened her lips together. “Everything is sensationalized today.” From Brittany’s standpoint, this was definitely news worthy.
Mark nodded. “As long as it doesn’t come from us.”
All the papers signed, Mark whipped out his cell phone and told the attorney they were ready to meet the Castles.
Diane Castle was a pediatrician. Her husband, Jerome, was a mathematics professor, originally at Oxford, now with Columbia University in New York City. They were an attractive couple, older than Brittany and Mark. They were well-dressed and obviously had money. They were warm and friendly. Brittany liked them very much and that wasn’t what she wanted.
“Lisa’s in a lovely private school here in Queens,” Diane chimed. Lisa joined the adults a few minutes after the Rhodes sat down. She was a beautiful child. Tears came to Brittany’s eyes. Mark reached out and squeezed his wife’s hand. Lisa looked just like her little sister, Darcy. Both girls resembled their mother. “These are your natural parents, darling,” Diane announced.
“Pleased to meet you,” Lisa said.
“It’s very nice to meet you too,” Mark replied to the child. Neither one held out their hand. They just nodded to one another.
Lisa stayed close to the Castles, her hand on Jerome’s shoulder.
“It went pretty well for a first meeting, I’d say,” Mark said into the phone. He was talking to the private detective. She’d been unable to attend. “We’re picking Lisa up at the Castle’s home Saturday and taking the three girls to lunch and Adventureland. Melinda and Darcy are so excited.”
Tracy chuckled. “That’s wonderful, Mark!” she chimed. “How’s Brittany with all this?”
Mark inhaled deeply. His voice was mellow too. “It’s going to take time for all of us, especially Brit, but I honestly believe that everything will be okay.”
He looked through the glass sliders. His two young daughters were chasing the dog around the backyard. Brittany sat on a chair on the deck, her hands clapping. She was laughing. Yes, everything was going to work out just fine.
Trish is the creator of the Tracy Gayle mystery book series. Tracy is a long Island private eye. Her sidekick, Danny Tide, is a well-known musician from the band Tidalwave. To find out more about her books and the links to them, please visit: