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Lost and Found
The most distinct memory Jake has of his mom Eleanor is the way she would fidget with her hair whenever Jake got in trouble at school or brought home bad grades.
Time flies Jake. Before you know it, you won’t have a chance to turn your life around, she would say, nodding her chin towards Todd, Jake’s dad, who was usually on the couch, almost always with a beer in hand, and forever looking for work.
But at a young age, Jake already knew his mom was wrong about time moving quickly. Time certainly didn’t seem to fly when Jake would tightly grip his seatbelt as his mom - with tears streaming down her face - sped her way to the Rodriguez family’s house after yet another ugly argument with Jake’s dad.
Jake was classmates with Matt Rodriguez which was how their moms became best friends. Whenever there was a particularly nasty argument between Jake’s parents, Jake and his mom would end up in the Rodriguez family’s house where the two moms would whisper in hushed tones in the kitchen while Jake and Matt were left to their own devices.
This was unfortunate because Jake disliked Matt who, as far as Jake could tell, was absolutely perfect in just about every possible way. Matt ran the fastest lap around the soccer field during P.E. class and was maybe the only student who read for fun outside of school. If there was a multiverse - like some of those superhero movies seemed to suggest - Jake thought that Matt would probably just be different types of perfect in each universe.
Do you know what Matt was able to get on this test, Eleanor would ask when seeing yet another subpar test score from Jake. There’s so much you can learn from him.
Frustrated by the constant comparisons, Jake resolved to not be like Matt. Homework assignments were completed but not turned in. Test questions were understood but left unanswered.
Jake thought that if he caused enough of a stir, his mom and dad might get distracted from their arguments and realize just how unhappy he was. Maybe they would even apologize, and if they did, he would accept the apology, no questions asked.
They wouldn’t even have to take him to the arcade to make up for it, Jake thought, as long as they promised to stop fighting so often.
Apologies and trips to the arcade, however, were few and far between, so Jake’s frustration manifested itself in him keeping his distance from his peers, including Matt.
“You sure you just wanna sit there on the couch?” Matt would ask Jake.
“How about ping pong? I’ve got a table in our gara -”
“I’m ok just sitting here.”
But as much as Matt could frustrate Jake, some of his best memories as a kid - of which there were admittedly few - took place in the Rodriguez household. These memories started the moment Jake and his mom stepped into the Rodriguez home and were greeted by the rich scent of buttery pie crust being baked in the oven, mixed with the sweet scent of some caramelized seasonal fruit.
When Jake’s parents cooked, the kitchen air became heavy, weighed down by oil and grease. The Rodriguez family kitchen, on the other hand, exuded warmth, cinnamon, and Christmas, given how Matt’s mom Paola sold pies out of their house as a side business.
“Vanilla ice cream with the pie, Jake?” Paola would always say once the pie was out of the oven.
Jake wasn’t sure that there was a question he liked hearing more.
Unlike most food, Jake took his time with the pie, taking care to portion each and every bite with just the right ratio of melting vanilla ice cream. By the time Jake was done with his slice, he would lean back against the living room couch satisfied, having forgotten what it even was that mom and dad were arguing about.
During one of these visits to the Rodriguez family home, the two moms will notice Jake in his post-pie state and laugh at just how satisfied Jake looks on the couch with his eyes closed and hands clasped around his belly. Eleanor, at Paola’s insistence, will take a photo of her son.
Eight years later, once Eleanor’s lost all contact with Jake, it’s this photo of him that she holds gingerly - as though it might disintegrate - when she says her evening prayer, asking God for one thing and one thing only.
Brian Wolf, whose face was plastered on billboards across Los Angeles, liked to say that anyone lost had already been found - you just needed to holler at the Wolf.
Given Brian’s stern look, flecks of gray in his hair, and camo gear attire, drivers in Los Angeles - like Jake’s mom Eleanor - could be forgiven for thinking that Brian was a former Green Beret, Navy Seal, or Marine, whichever one neutralized more threats to the United States.
In reality though, Brian studied marketing in college and would have only fired a gun to shoot himself in the foot before a deployment.
Given his background, Brian realized that he could make a name for himself regardless of what business he went into, given that he could sell just about any brand. If Brian put his mind to it, he could have even turned the public around on OJ.
When Brian was just starting his practice as a private investigator, he met with several other private investigators like Chuck Peralta to offer them a deal.
“So let me get this straight,” Chuck grumbled. “You want Peralta PI to subcontract for you, a guy who’s got no background in law enforcement, the military, or anything remotely close to being a private investigator?”
Chuck didn’t know whether to laugh or kick Brian Wolf out of his office. Chuck’s dad, a former police officer, would have rolled in his grave if his son had even considered demoting Peralta PI to a sub-contractor role for some business-school type of whiz kid.
“I’m just offering you clients,” Brian said, shrugging. “Didn’t seem like there was much of a wait to meet with you so I thought you’d be interested.”
“More clients for me? Sure. I’ll take that. But if I need to pay you to bring me clients while I do all the dirty work of PI, then I’ve got nothing else to say to you.”
Chuck didn’t know it then, but this moment ended up being the death sentence for Peralta PI. A few years later, business will slow to a trickle and Chuck will close the doors of Peralta PI for one last time. Surprisingly, he’ll feel a sense of relief. At least his dad wasn’t alive to see this day, Chuck will think as he locks the doors one last time.
Within a few months of Brian’s meeting with Chuck, the website for Wolf Investigations will jump to the top of every relevant search query on Google, thanks to the influx of positive reviews for Wolf Investigations. Naturally, most of these reviews were made by bots with the help of Brian’s friend from B-school who made a living by artificially beefing up reviews for various businesses.
By the time Brian’s competitors had realized how far they were behind the curve, it was much too late. Brian, as he liked to tell anyone who would listen, had wolfed down the market.
Given the large case volume at Wolf Investigations, Brian didn’t have much of a reason to remember Eleanor and the case of her missing 18-year old son Jake. It seemed to Brian like a classic case of a strained mother-son relationship resulting in the son running away shortly after coming of age. Brian must have handed off dozens of these cases over to his sub-contractors.
But with this case, Eleanor had obtained security footage from the airport, showing Jake boarding a flight to Manila, the capital city of the Philippines. This was the last known sighting of Jake.
“Is this something you can help us out with, Mr. Wolf?” Eleanor asked after blowing her nose. Eleanor had already shared her case with a few other private investigators, but no one wanted to take the case. At Peralta PI, Eleanor had talked to Chuck nonstop about her son Jake, from his love of sad sounding rock to his obsession with baking pies, until Chuck had told her that Peralta PI didn’t do international investigations.
Given the popularity of Wolf Investigations, Eleanor highly doubted that Brian Wolf had the bandwidth to take her case, so she initially hadn’t bothered to schedule an appointment. But now, Wolf Investigations seemed like her only option.
“Well, we do have quite a backlog of cases,” Brian said. “And just to be clear, this will require a trip to the Philippines most likely, yes?”
“Yes, that’s right,” Eleanor said nodding.
“Hmmm,” Brian said. “I’ll see what I can do.”
Given the absolutely abysmal industry-wide success rates on locating missing persons in foreign countries, Brian knew that there wasn’t much that his sub-contractors could do in situations like this.
Brian Wolf, however, wasn’t like other private investigators. He was made of different stuff.
And so, much to Eleanor’s relief, Brian accepted the case and took it upon himself to conduct the investigation personally.
“And how do you plan on locating him? I read on Wikipedia that there’s thousands of islands and over 100 million people in the Philippines,” Eleanor asked. Chuck Peralta had raised these objections to Eleanor when turning down her case a few days ago.
Distracted, Brian mumbled some company line about the Wolf family’s connections and resources not being constrained by national borders.
Eleanor was about to press for more details, but noticed that Brian was distracted by his monitor. Given how lucky she was to get her case taken up by Wolf Investigations, Eleanor decided not to press her luck, so she thanked Brian profusely and left his office.
Brian, meanwhile, hardly noticed Eleanor leaving. He was fully engrossed in choosing between a variety of all-inclusive resorts on Boracay, the Philippines’ most popular island for tourists.
Chuck Peralta initially told friends and family that the move to the Philippines would be an extended retirement vacation, but his wife Beatrice was having none of it. She insisted on sending an email to set the record straight.
Given the growing cost of living in Southern California and the closure of Peralta PI, we will be moving to the Philippines so that we don’t have to bag groceries in our old age.
P.S. Contrary to what you may have heard, this is not just an extended vacation. As proof I have attached screenshots of our 1-way tickets to the Philippines.
Chuck’s best friend Randy called the moment he read Beatrice’s email.
“Cmon now Chuck, it’s about 3 months too soon for April Fool’s.”
“You know Beatrice doesn’t joke around about this kind of thing.”
“Wow, you guys really aren’t kidding then,” Randy said. “You know, there’s other work out there yall could do. I hear -”
“I’m 64 and Beatrice’s 62. We aren’t gonna break our backs in some warehouse for some billionaire. We’re too old for that Randy.”
“There’s really nothing you guys could do to make this work? Maybe downsize or move to another city? Or maybe stay with us for a bit while you get your bearings together.”
Chuck and Beatrice went through many calls like this, and each time, they had to explain that they had done the math and the math was clear. Given debts from Peralta PI, the mortgage, and some remaining credit card debt, social security simply wasn’t going to cover their retirements.
Also, the Philippines really wasn’t all that different from the States when you think about it, they would tell people. Everyone spoke English, went to church, and liked the same kind of sports. They would be locals in no time.
But when Chuck and Beatrice are met with sweltering Philippine humidity as they step out of Manila International Airport, they look at each other, wondering if they really couldn’t have worked things out back at home.
To stretch out their social security as much as possible Chuck and Beatrice don’t move into Manila like most American ex-pats but into Santa Maria, a city of 300,000 just outside the capital. In an effort to stay busy, they also sign a lease for a storefront along one of the busiest roads in town. With Beatrice’s shrewd negotiating skills, she was able to get a fairly affordable rate on rent, even by Philippine standards.
But when she and Chuck shared the details of the lease with their neighbor Ding, they’re surprised to hear him laugh.
“You know why that road is so popular, eh?” Ding said, rubbing tears out of his eyes.
“Well, there are a lot of shops around there, right?” Chuck said.
“Right,” Ding said. “Santa Maria is known for selling fireworks and for the fires that start from these firework shops - the shops right next to your future store.”
Ding’s face suddenly lights up in recognition, and he pulls out today’s paper from his back pocket. “See! Sabi ko na eh, there was a fire there just yesterday!”
Simultaneously, Chuck and Beatrice look at each other, wondering once again if they really couldn’t have just worked things out back in the States.
But with Ding’s help and a whole lot of palm greasing, Chuck and Beatrice are eventually able to break their lease and find a new storefront, one that wasn’t a year-round fire hazard. Yet, there was still the question of what exactly Chuck and Beatrice are going to do with the commercial space.
“I’m telling you Beatrice,” Chuck said over a breakfast of longanisa and eggs. “We can make Peralta PI work here. Dad always did say that if there isn’t a PI firm in a 10-mile radius, then -”
“You’ve had your turn at running a business,” Beatrice said definitively. “32 years worth of turns if we’re counting.”
“Fair point,” Chuck said as he put his fork down, sighing.
“You’re not gonna finish that?” Beatrice asked, nodding towards Chuck’s remaining longanisa sausage.
“I’m just tired of the sweetness in the meat here,” Chuck said. “I’d give anything for an old fashioned burger.”
Beatrice put down her utensils and stared at Chuck.
“What?” Chuck looked at his wife quizzically.
Beatrice leaned across the table and excitedly grabbed Chuck’s hands. “Honey, I have an idea.”
Beatrice’s Burgers opened up within a year of the Peralta's move to the Philippines. Within six months of opening, it was one of the most popular restaurants in Santa Maria.
Sure, part of the restaurant’s popularity was due to the strangeness of an older white couple opening up a restaurant in the rural outskirts beyond the sprawling metropolis of Manila.
But over time, even as the novelty of Beatrice and Chuck behind the counter wore off, people kept coming back for a hefty half-pound burger and crispy, crinkle cut fries. To add some Filipino flair to the restaurant, Beatrice also added ube and calamansi shakes to the menu.
One day, a customer from the nearby town of Bocaue asks Chuck if he knows the owner of Pietisserie, a popular restaurant not too far away.
“Nope,” Chuck says as he slaps American cheese on a couple burgers. “What’s to know about this guy?”
“Ah he’s also from the States, kasi. He makes the best American pies. Maybe you two can work together sometime.”
Chuck wipes his hands on his apron and takes out his phone. “Haven’t had a pie from home in too long of a time. What’s this guy’s name? And you know the place’s number?”
When the customer responds, Chuck tells him the burger’s on the house.
Don’t worry Dad, Chuck thinks as he smiles to himself. Maybe Peralta PI hasn’t closed just yet.
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