Robyn Pike suspected her daughter had run away from home in July when the teen-ager skipped her 9 p.m. curfew in Middle River.
What Pike did not suspect was that the 16-year-old had found a job -- as a stripper on The Block, where grown men called her "Baby Baby" and paid $20 to sip a watered-down drink with her at the bar.
Pike rescued her daughter -- a family acquaintance told her about the gig -- and went to the police. They filed criminal charges against the club manager, which ended with an acquittal, and an administrative complaint with the city liquor board, which levied an $8,000 fine and ordered Club Pussycat to shut down for five days.
Liquor board files are full of similar infractions at other Block clubs, but rarely, officials say, does a parent become so actively involved. Most cases have a background of tragic family histories and have equally calamitous endings. An underage dancer from a club recently developed a heroin addiction and committed suicide.
"Pike was to the point where she was about to lose her job over her daughter," said Sgt. Craig Gentile, a Central District vice detective. "But she's got her daughter on the right track. It's nice to see a mother who genuinely cares."
But the mother did not get full satisfaction. District Judge John M. Glynn found the manager not guilty on Oct. 26 of employing a minor at an adult club, concluding the state failed to meet its legal burden and prove the manager knew the girl was underage when she was hired.
"It was an ugly case," Glynn said. "It was one of those depressing cases where I thought I was obligated to follow the law rather than my feelings. I told the mother that I was appalled and disgusted."
Liquor board officials credit Pike with following through on her complaint and delivering stirring testimony that prompted the regulatory panel to find the club in violation of its rules despite Glynn's ruling that no laws were broken.
"Normally, the commission supports the decision of the courts," said Nathaniel C. Irby Jr., the board's executive secretary. "This time, they disregarded it."
Pike struck a nerve, Irby said, when she told board members that her teen-ager "could have been any one of your daughters."
The ruling has set up a new legal fight. The club's owner, William G. Wantland Sr., has appealed his fine and suspension in Circuit Court, arguing that a District Court judge had already "rendered a verdict that no violation of the liquor laws had occurred."
A court date has not been set, but the club has been dealt a setback. It was ordered to pay the fine into an escrow account, and was denied a stay of the suspension. Wantland -- allowed to close any five days he wants -- shut down Monday and is scheduled to close again tomorrow. If he wins his appeal, he will save only his fine and get his record cleared.
Weston A. Park, the Baltimore lawyer representing Club Pussycat in its appeal, declined to comment.
Pike said she will continue to fight the nightclub, to save other under-age teen-agers, who are just old enough to drive a car, from dancing naked on a stage.
"Baltimore Street is trash," said Pike, who has taken time off from work to help her daughter. "I'm not ready to give up."
Pike said she knew something was wrong in July when she returned home from work delivering auto parts and saw her daughter, whom The Sun is not naming because of her age, walking up the street with a female friend. Her daughter didn't return home that night.
The next day, Pike filed a missing-persons report with the Baltimore County Police Department and started calling her daughter's friends. She found one with ties to The Block who said she helped Pike's daughter get a job at Club Pussycat.
At first, Pike wanted to accompany police into the bar and "yank her off the stage." But the plan failed when her daughter didn't show up to work as scheduled. Pike then went to her daughter's friend's apartment and got her teen-ager. They went to the Central District police station -- a block from Club Pussycat -- and met with Sgt. Gentile.
Police found that Pike's daughter had used a friend's Department of Social Services card and a forged birth certificate to pretend she was 18 -- the legal age for dancing in a strip club. Liquor board rules state that only a driver's license or Maryland ID is acceptable to prove age.
A police report states that Pike's daughter had been assigned a locker, had a Club Pussycat business card -- with the name and cellular phone number of a bouncer scrawled on the back -- and two handwritten pay stubs made out to "Baby Baby," one for $73 and another for $308.
The police report says that the youngster was given a dancer's outfit consisting of thong panties and a lace top, and was first told to wander around and persuade customers to pay for the privilege of sitting with her. She later danced nude on stage.