Rick hears his neighbor’s cat on his front porch.
But that’s not what he finds when he looks outside.
Sunday was a quiet day. We ate breakfast, and then I took Adam to downtown Walnut Creek. We wandered around and shopped at Old Navy and visited the Amazon store.
I decided we should have something different for lunch. I picked a vegetarian restaurant, Veggie Grill. Adam seemed tentative about going to a vegetarian restaurant, but we went ahead anyway. I ordered their version of a ‘BLT’ with avocado. He ordered the vegetarian ‘chicken’ sandwich with a bowl of pea soup, a large glass of strawberry lemonade (which he refilled twice; refills are free), and a chocolate chip cookie for dessert. He ate every bite and commented that maybe vegetarian food, at least what he had for lunch today, actually tasted good. He wanted to return in the future.
Monday morning, I dropped Adam off at school then went to my Pleasant Hill office. I planned to stop in to say hello to Jared and thank him for getting Brian and Adam together and talking to each other, but he wasn’t in his office. When I got to my desk, there was a message for me from Linda Taylor at the Butte County CPS office asking that I call her as soon as possible. I placed the call.
“Rick, I’m so glad that you called so promptly. We encountered a problem here.”
“With Ted Loaming?”
“Yes, but also and more importantly, with June Rios. We sent Jeff Richardson, one of our field agents, to the Loaming house this morning. He was there to serve June Rios with the emergency protective order for Adam Rios. He arrived at about eight a.m. and knocked. A woman opened the door. Jeff introduced himself and asked her name. She said she was Barbara Loaming. Jeff asked if June Rios was there. Barbara Loaming immediately turned and called out, ‘Ted! Someone’s asking about June’ and a man — who when asked by Field Agent Richardson said his name was Ted Loaming — wanted to know ‘What the fuck do you want?’ and we know that’s what he said because Jeff’s voice recorder was on, as required of all of our field agents.
“Jeff said he was a Field Agent for CPS there to see June Rios about her son Adam Rios. He asked Ted Loaming if June Rios was there. He said, ‘I don’t know where she is. We had a big argument, and she took off.’
“Jeff asked when she left. Ted Loaming said, ‘Thursday morning. She got in her car and drove off. I haven’t heard from her since. Don’t care if I ever hear from her ever again. Ya oughta check her house in Walnut Creek.’ He closed the door.
“Jeff left the Loaming residence and returned to our office.”
I was surprised. “I assume that you tried to reach her cell phone number.”
“Yes. We tried it several times during the day. Each time it went directly to voicemail. At this point, there’s not much we can do. What’s the status of Adam Rios?”
“He’s temporarily under the protection of CPS. I’ve activated my emergency fostering license, and he’s staying with me. At this point, I’m waiting for June Rios to call or to try to get into her house. I had the locks changed, and Adam Rios changed the alarm code himself.
“We did this because Ted Loaming had removed a lot of the furniture from the Rios’ house in Walnut Creek this morning when he had the original key and entered the original alarm code. That makes me very curious about his statement that June Rios had left his house in Chico on Thursday, the day before he moved the furniture out of her house.
“With the approval of Adam Rios, the garage door has been secured and cannot be opened from the outside. The garage door opener has been unplugged, so the original remote cannot be used.”
“Sounds like we’re at a dead end. You’re currently fostering Adam. How long do you expect that to last?”
“It’s temporary but, as you know, temporary fostering licenses can go on for as long as necessary. Adam is fourteen. He’s a nice kid and smart, too. He’s a straight-A student at Lincoln High. It’s fun having him living with me.”
“Have you reviewed all of this with legal?”
“Absolutely. Jared Wong activated my license and assigned the fostering of Adam Rios to my license. That was the first thing I did so I could take legal responsibility for him.
“If June Rios doesn’t contact us within ten days, and we cannot contact her, I’ll talk to the Walnut Creek police about reporting her as a missing person.”
“That makes sense. I’ll keep you informed from this end. I might make a periodic phone call asking for June Rios at the Loaming house and on her cellphone number. I’ll leave messages if I can’t connect with someone. Sometimes that kind of pressure can move things along with recalcitrant parents. It might help in this situation.
“Once you’ve reported her as a missing person in Walnut Creek, let me know, and I’ll report her as a missing person in Chico.”
“I’ll do that. I hope that’ll be a big help. I guess that’s it.”
“Yes, hopefully only for now. So long, Rick.”
“Bye, Linda, and thanks again for the information.”
The phone call was over, and the status of June Rios had become a problem. It was something I wouldn’t tell Adam yet.
I went through my phone messages and my email and text messages. Finally, I took care of a few open items.
I heard a knock at my open office door and looked up. It was Jared.
“You have a few minutes, Rick?”
“Sure. Come in and sit down. And thanks for having Brian talk to Adam. He’s the happiest now than I’ve seen him, and that started after they talked. Now he’s going to sit at the wrestlers table during lunch.”
“You’re welcome. Brian told me that Adam is a friendly kid.
“Rick, I have an update on what’s going on with June Rios. I received a disturbing message from the police department in Paradise. That’s a small town about a half-hour east of Chico. A resident said he was walking his dog on Saturday, and the dog ran off and began barking. A car had run off the side of his road — it’s a private road to the resident’s home and three others — and it appears that the car had been abandoned. He called the Paradise police.
“The car is registered to June Rios. Inside they found a notepad, and on the top sheet, there was a hand-written note that read, ‘call Rick Decker about Adam’ and our Pleasant Hill office phone number. They called this morning before you arrived, and I took the call. The Paradise police are trying to locate June Rios. Do you know why she would be in that area?”
“Only that her boyfriend, Ted Loaming, lives in Fairfield. But it appears that he’s living with his sister, Barbara Loaming, who lives in Chico, which is the largest city that’s close to Paradise.
“June Rios’ neighbor, Ruth Billingsley, told me that early Friday morning Ted Loaming and another man removed most of the furniture from the Rios’ home in Walnut Creek, including all of her clothes. He now claims that June Rios walked out on Thursday, and he hasn’t seen her since then. I know that’s a lie because it was on Friday that I spoke to her on the phone. That conversation is in my report, and I have the recording as well.”
“Are you certain you spoke to June Rios?”
“No. It could have been someone pretending to be her. I have the recording; let’s listen to it now.”
I played the recording.
“It sounds authentic. Is there someone we can ask to listen to it to confirm that it’s her? Maybe her son, Adam?”
“There’s someone better. Her next-door neighbor here in Walnut Creek, Mrs. Ruth Billingsley, would recognize her voice. I’d rather that Adam not hear what she says about him on that recording.”
“You’re right. Hearing that your mother in essence threw you away isn’t the sort of thing any kid should hear. Can we have Mrs. Billingsley come in?”
“I’ll give her a call right now.”
“Mrs. Billingsley, this is Rick Decker with Child Protective Services.”
“Hello, Mr. Decker. Is there something I can do for you?”
“We are trying to locate June Rios. I have a recording that I made when I called her about Adam on Friday. I’m looking for someone who can listen to that conversation and confirm that it’s her voice. Could you come to the CPS office in Pleasant Hill and listen to that recording?”
“Certainly. But why don’t you have Adam listen to it? He could recognize his mother’s voice.”
“She says some things that aren’t appropriate for Adam to hear.”
“Oh. Well, I can’t say that surprises me. When would you like me to come in?”
“Are you available now?”
“Yes. What’s the address?”
I gave her our address. “Just ask for me when you arrive. It shouldn’t take more than a few minutes. It’s not a long telephone call.”
“Alright. I’ll leave right away. I’m willing to do anything I can to help Adam. He’s such a wonderful boy.”
“Alright, I’ll see you when you arrive.”
After the call, I thought of something. “I’m going to have the Butte County office send me the recording they made when they sent an agent to the Loaming house to serve June Rios the emergency protective order for Adam. Barbara Loaming, Ted Loaming’s sister, greeted the agent, and we have the recording that he made. I’d like to make sure that she wasn’t pretending to be June Rios when I called on Friday.”
“That’s a good idea. While you do that, I’m going to get back to some other things. Let me know when Mrs. Billingsley arrives.”
I phoned Linda Taylor in Chico. She said that she’d email me the audio file that field agent Jeff Richardson made when he went to the Loaming house. It arrived in about five minutes. I listened to the recording. All I needed was the first few seconds when Barbara Loaming answered the door. The rest of the recording was with Ted Loaming, and I didn’t need to play that part.
Mrs. Billingsley arrived about twenty minutes later. I greeted her, then asked Jared to join us.
“Mrs. Billingsley, this is Jared Wong, the attorney for CPS assigned to the Pleasant Hill office. We’d like to record your identification of June Rios’ voice and tape your response, if that’s alright. There are two recordings.”
“Yes, that’s alright.”
I turned on the voice recorder.
“This is Robert Decker. I am with Jared Wong, the attorney for the Pleasant Hill CPS office. We are asking Mrs. Ruth Billingsley to listen to two recordings and tell us if she can identify the person who is speaking in each recording.”
I opened and brought up the audio file I’d recorded when I’d made the call to Adam’s mother.
“This is the first recording. It’s a telephone call I made to June Rios on Friday. When it’s finished, please tell me if you recognize her voice. Please be aware that what is said at the end of the recording may be disturbing. What I would like you to do is listen to the entire recording and afterward tell me if this sounds like her.”
I played the recording to the end.
“That is June Rios. Did you notice how she often drops the ‘g’ when she says a word ending in ‘ing’? I would say that it is June Rios who is speaking. I’ve been her next-door neighbor for about eight years, so I’m quite familiar with her and can identify her voice.”
“We have a second recording that I’d like you to listen to. This one is short.”
I played the recording, only the part where Barbara Loaming spoke and not the rest of the recording.
“Do you recognize the woman who is speaking?”
“No, I don’t.”
“Thank you, Mrs. Billingsley. You’ve been very helpful.” I turned off the voice recorder.
“Mr. Decker, how is Adam doing? When I heard what June said, all I can say it was a terrible thing for her to say about Adam. He’s such a nice boy.”
“The bullies who’d been bothering him are suspended through this week, and we have agreement from the administration that they will take immediate action if any bullying of Adam recurs. He’s very bright and is a straight-A student.”
“I’m glad to hear that. Now, I have some information for you. Ted Loaming was at the Rios house again today and tried to get in. He was livid when his key didn’t work, and the clicker for the garage door didn’t work. He pounded on my door, and I didn’t bother answering. He and another guy drove off in the same pickup truck that they used the last time.”
“It’s a good thing you didn’t open your door. Ted Loaming seems like someone who could easily get out of control.”
“I’ll keep that in mind. One thing that worries me is where June might be. Do you know where she is?”
“No. Unfortunately, her car was found. It had run off the side of a private road near Paradise. That’s a town east of Chico. There’s no sign of where she went.”
For the first time, Jared spoke up. “We’re going to contact both the Walnut Creek police and the Paradise police and report her as a missing person. Since Ted Loaming removed the furniture from the Rios’ house in Walnut Creek, and he’s no relation to June Rios, we’re going to report what he did as burglary. It’s going to be a little problematic because we can’t prove what he removed from the house.”
Mrs. Billingsley grinned. “I can help with that. I have photos of every room in the Rios’ house with the furniture. The reason is that a year ago, June came to me saying she was thinking of moving to a townhouse so she wouldn’t have to do the yard work. She knew that I’d been a professional photographer before I retired, so she asked me to take pictures of the interior and exterior that she could give to a Realtor. I have the digital files of everything, and I can send them to you. All I need is your email address, Mr. Wong.”
Now Jared and I were both grinning. “You’re amazing, Mrs. Billingsley,” Jared said. “Here’s my business card. It has my email address. Send me those pictures. I’ll send them to the police in both jurisdictions if and when it’s appropriate.”
“I assume that since you’ll be contacting the police, please feel free to give them my name. I witnessed Ted Loaming stealing the furniture on Friday morning and then trying to break into the house again this afternoon.”
“Thank you, we’ll do that,” Jared told her. We said goodbye, and Mrs. Billingsley left.
Jared looked at me and grinned. “Amazing. Now we can call the Walnut Creek police. I’ll start with that, reporting the burglary of furniture from the Rios’ house and the attempt to break in again this morning. I’ll identify Ted Loaming as the perp and that Mrs. Billingsley as a witness. I want to tie him up, and that’s the fastest way.
“Then we need to report that June Rios is a missing person. I’ll start with the Walnut Creek police once we have an active case against Ted Loaming for burglary. Once the Walnut Creek police have a missing person bolo issued for June Rios, I’ll call the Paradise police and ask them to issue their missing person bolo and coordinate with the Walnut Creek police department.”
“And a bolo is?” I asked.
“It means Be On the Look Out. In this case, it means the police will try to locate June Rios.
“Rick, there’s one other thing because she’s missing. You and Adam will have to go to court and get a judge to certify you to have the non-related legal guardianship responsible for Adam’s rights and property. That’s because you‘re fostering him, and there is no known relative to assume responsibility for him until June Rios is located. I’ll need to talk to Adam and make sure this is okay with him. When can I do that?”
“I’m going to pick him up at school at three-thirty, so I’ll talk to him on the way back to the office. Should I tell him what we’re going to do or wait until you talk to him?”
“Please tell him briefly what it means and why we are doing it, and that I’ll answer any questions he has. I’ll give him more details, including that it’s to protect his interest in the house and any money June Rios has in bank accounts in case she isn’t found alive. The reason I want him to tell me that he agrees is so I can go to the judge and say that I received Adam’s approval. We’ll also need him to agree to go to court with me to answer the judge’s questions. I can talk to him about all of these things.
“There is one thing. You’re going to have to tell Adam that his mother is missing.”
“Okay. I’m not sure how he will react to the information about his mother.” I shook my head. “This bullying situation has certainly turned into a lot bigger deal, hasn’t it.”
“You’re not kidding. Okay, I’m going back to my office now and get things started with the Walnut Creek Police Department.”
He got up to leave, and my phone rang.
“Mr. Decker, this is Ruth Billingsley. Ted Loaming returned, and he has a lock company, and it looks like he’s trying to get them to pick the locks to get in.”
I called out, “Hey, Jared!” and he returned.
“Mrs. Billingsley, please call 9-1-1 immediately. Tell them that someone is breaking into the house next door, and the residents are not there. I’ll be there in a few minutes.”
“I suppose you heard that. Ted Loaming is trying to break into the Rios’ house again. This time he has a locksmith with him.”
“You’re going to go there?”
“Yes. I’ll talk to the police. I’ll let you know the status.”
I ended the call and left immediately. By the time I got to the Rios’ house, the Walnut Creek Police were there and had Ted Loaming, and another man I hadn’t seen before, in handcuffs and ankle restraints and laying face-down on the lawn. There was no sign of the locksmith Ted Loaming had hired.
Mrs. Billingsley saw me and rushed over. “The police will want to talk to you. I told them that June Rios is missing, and her teenage son has been assigned to CPS. Was that okay?”
“Yes, that’s fine. Which police officer is in charge?”
“That would be Lieutenant Brian Jackson. He’s the tall black man next to that police car.”
There were two police cars; a good response by the Walnut Creek police. I walked over and introduced myself to Lieutenant Jackson and gave him one of my cards.
“Ted Loaming claims he’s married to the owner of this house, June Rios,” Lieutenant Jackson said.
“I doubt that he was married to June Rios. He just was her boyfriend. Did you ask Ted Loaming if he has the marriage license?”
“That’s one of the reasons that he’s in cuffs. He hemmed and hawed and said he didn’t know where it was. Then he said it was in the house. Then he changed his mind and said they got married in Mexico, and the Mexicans don’t use marriage licenses.” He chuckled. “I happen to know that is not correct. I told him unless he proved he was married to June Rios, the owner of the property, he was guilty of attempted burglary.”
“Was he able to get into the house?” I asked.
“No. The neighbor, Mrs. Billingsley, reported an ongoing attempted break-in and that she had seen the same two men also enter the house on Friday morning, and that they removed furniture and other items. Ted Loaming admitted that’s what he did, but that he had the key and the alarm code, so he was able to get in because he’s married to June Rios. He said someone changed the locks, and that’s why he called the locksmith. Because he didn’t have any documentation to prove that he was an owner or had other rights to the property, the locksmith refused to unlock the door and left. Then Mr. Loaming tried to leave, and we told him to stop, that he was being held until we completed our investigation. He and his buddy, Ricardo Ardella, decided they didn’t agree with that by attempting to fight with the arresting officers. That’s the other reason Ted Loaming and Ricardo Ardella are in cuffs and why they have ankle restraints as well. They appeared to be high on something, and they didn’t smell of alcohol, so we decided to arrest them for a DUID — that’s a Driving Under the Influence of Drugs offense.”
“June Rios is a missing person now,” I said. “Her car was found driven off the side of a private road in Paradise. That’s a small town twelve miles east of Chico. She wasn’t with the vehicle, and her current location is unknown. Our attorney is going to report that she’s a missing person to the Walnut Creek and Paradise police departments.”
“How is CPS involved in this situation, Mr. Decker?”
“June Rios’ son, Adam Rios, a fourteen-year-old student at Lincoln High School in Walnut Creek, is under the protection of CPS, and he is being fostered for the time being. Our objective is to protect Adam Rios.”
“I hate it when kids get involved in situations like this. I appreciate what CPS is doing for the Rios boy,” Lieutenant Jackson said.
“Thank you. What’s going to happen with Ted Loaming?”
“He’ll be taken to Martinez and be booked into the county jail. They’ll do a drug test, and then the District Attorney will review the charges and the result of the drug test and determine if he’ll be charged in court. If he’s charged in court, he will either be granted bail or if the district attorney doesn’t agree to bail, there will be a bail hearing, probably on Monday or Tuesday next week. Then he’ll be arraigned, and the charges will be presented, and he’ll be brought to trial.”
“What about the furniture he stole from the Rios’ house last week? We have pictures from Mrs. Billingsley showing what was in the house before Friday.”
“Mrs. Billingsley already emailed those pictures to me. We want to take pictures of the house after the furniture and other items had been removed.”
“Will you need access to the Rios’ house?”
“Adam has a key and the alarm system code. I can give you access when you need it.”
“When can you do that?”
“How’s Saturday morning around nine? I’ll meet you here.”
“That works for me. It’s going to be a big help. I’ll bring our photographer. From the pictures, we’ll try to locate what was removed, working with the Chico police department and possibly the Butte County sheriff’s office. You said June Rios’ car was found in Paradise?”
“Then I’ll contact the Paradise police department and find out if they’re considering June Rios as a missing person, and if so, we’ll coordinate our cases.”
“Who should I contact at the Walnut Creek police department to find out the status as this process proceeds?”
“You can call me,” Lieutenant Jackson said. He handed me one of his cards. “When someone from the Contra Costa County District Attorney’s office is assigned to the case, I’ll send you their information so you can contact them.”
“Thank you. That provides what I needed to know for now. I’ll see you here at nine o’clock tomorrow.”
“Okay, see you then,” Lieutenant Jackson said.
Mrs. Billingsley was standing on her front porch, so I thanked her for calling 9-1-1 and informing the police who arrived on the scene so quickly.
“Mr. Decker, I think the police have done an excellent job restraining Mr. Loaming and his partner in crime.”
“Is this ‘partner in crime’ the same man, Ricardo Ardella, who came on Friday morning and helped Ted Loaming move the furniture out of the Rios’ house?”
“Yes. I took several pictures of them, and this man matches the man in my pictures.”
“Thank you for being so vigilant, Mrs. Billingsley.”
While we were talking, I saw Ted Loaming and Ricardo Ardella being placed in separate police cars to be taken to the county jail in Martinez.
I said goodbye to Mrs. Billingsley and promised to bring Adam by to see her. I also told her that I’d be letting Lieutenant Jackson and the police department photographer into the Rios’ house tomorrow morning. They would take pictures to compare with the pictures she gave them of the rooms with furniture so they could begin the task of locating what had been removed.
I phoned Jared and gave him the status report. “I’ll be preparing a written report when I get back to our office,” I told him.
“Thanks, Rick. Are you on your way back?”
“Yes. It’s noon, so I’m going to stop and grab a sandwich at Morucci’s and bring it back with me. You want me to get you something?”
“Yes. A number zero roast turkey with Swiss cheese, tomato, and lettuce on sourdough bread, please. Oh, and ask for some extra pickles, and get me a small bag of plain potato chips.”
“Got it. I’m going to order the same thing for myself, except I’m going to include sliced avocado.”
“Okay, get mine with avocado, too.”
When I returned to the office, I gave Jared his lunch, then sat at my desk eating mine as I wrote my updated report on Adam Rios and June Rios and turned it in. I checked my email, returned calls, and followed up on some minor fostering problems. Then I clearing my schedule for a final court appearance on Tuesday, January ninth, to permanently remove the Rodriguez fostering license.
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