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All the little pieces, p.12
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       All the Little Pieces, p.12

           Jilliane Hoffman
 

  That was the speck of dirt.

  Faith had sat on the stairs of her pretty house, looking at the family pictures that lined the walls, following them down into her living room, at the corner where she and Jarrod always put up the Christmas tree, at the couch where they’d made love dozens of times, at the front door, the threshold of which he’d carried her over when they moved in. Memories of the life they used to have before Sandra rushed back. It was a life she wanted to believe they could have again. A raw fear gripped her then – the realization that this could all be over. Forever. He’d walked away before. He’d taken up with that girl and emotionally left the marriage when things were perfect. Now, if they weren’t, if she wasn’t, why would he stay?

  Why would he stay?

  And she panicked.

  Faith wasn’t histrionic. She didn’t love Real Housewives, she didn’t like confrontations. She wasn’t like Charity. But Jarrod had never looked at her the way he’d looked at her today. It was a look that betrayed what he was thinking: I don’t know you right now. I don’t like you right now: what you did, what you didn’t do. You are not the person I thought I knew.

  He looked at her as though she were a stranger.

  Until the phone call that changed everything she’d never fretted about The End before. She and Jarrod had had fights over the years, but they were nothing major, nothing that would have readied her for that phone call. Jarrod was her first real love. He was her life. She would follow him wherever he wanted to go, not because he was the head of the house or the breadwinner, but because she thought he had all the answers for them both. She thought he held the secrets of their future together, and she trusted him implicitly with it, never doubting that he knew where to take them, how to invest financially to get them there. Even after Sandra, when she’d abruptly realized that her trust had been misplaced, that it could all end and that she’d have to take charge of life on her own, she … couldn’t. It was like she was a newborn, with arms and legs that were useless for all practical purposes: she didn’t know where to go, how to get there, how to do it on her own. And no matter how much she hated him for cheating, no matter how much she wanted to tell him sometimes to take his stuff and get out because he had ruined everything, she couldn’t. Because she didn’t know a life without him. She didn’t want to know a life without him, as pathetic as that sounded. So she’d decided to stay and try to forget all the disturbing, intimate things that her brain had imagined he’d been doing with that woman for months while she was at home playing stupid. She’d decided to hope it didn’t happen again.

  Maybe it was crazy, panicked thinking, but if she’d admitted there was a second man out there who had physically taken the girl into the woods, she knew Jarrod would never look at her the same again. For all intents and purposes, in his eyes, it would be as if she’d killed that girl herself and it would truly be The End of their marriage. If she could go back and redo that night, make different decisions, call the police, face the consequences of drinking too much at a party because she was upset – she would. In a heartbeat she would.

  But she couldn’t.

  So in a split second she’d made another decision, one that might prove every bit as stupid as the others. And that was to say nothing about the second man – at least nothing about him to her husband. It wasn’t a lie – it was just not telling him everything.

  It only officially became a lie a few hours later when they were at the police station …

  ‘Mrs Saunders, did you see anyone else on the street besides this, ah, this man dressed in black?’ Detective Nill asked, while Detective Maldonado took notes. The chair creaked under his girth as he swiveled to face her. ‘Any other possible witnesses?’

  She’d thought that they’d interview her and Maggie separately and without Jarrod. She really did. Just her and the detectives, like she’d seen on Law & Order. And she’d thought that at that time she’d tell the detectives about the Deliverance guy. She’d then let the detective know that she wanted to keep that information from her husband and why. The detective would understand, she could sit and look at mug shots for the second man and that would be it.

  But that wasn’t reality. That didn’t happen and, again, the best-laid plans went awry. The interview was conducted in the conference room with everyone present: the two detectives, Maggie, Faith and Jarrod. And it was recorded.

  She looked over at her husband, who was watching her intently from across the table, as the detective waited for an answer to his question. She was about to make it all official with an on-the-record lie. Not a dodge, or a half-truth, or a fudge, but a lie.

  Another one.

  Her hands were melting and her mouth went dry as cotton. She tried to think of the best way out of this mess, but the whole truth and nothing but the truth was not going to work. Not at this moment. She’d have to drive back up to Palm Beach tomorrow and make another report with the detectives. She’d have to explain her decisions to Detective Nill later, and she’d do whatever it was the detective needed her to do then: look at mug shots; work with an artist; make another recorded statement, detailing why she had not been completely truthful. But at this moment, at this very moment, her marriage – her whole life – was at stake. She had no choice but to lie.

  Faith had looked at Nill when she answered, avoiding Jarrod’s stare. ‘No,’ she said quietly. ‘I didn’t see anyone else out there that night, Detective.’

  26

  ‘Can I ask, Detective Nill, how did this Santri girl die?’ Jarrod asked as the five of them left the conference room and made their way to the lobby of the police station. ‘Has the autopsy been performed yet?’

  ‘The autopsy is set for this afternoon, Mr Saunders. I’m heading over to the ME’s in about twenty minutes.’

  ‘But it is a homicide, without question?’

  Nill nodded grimly. ‘Oh yeah. There’s no question.’

  ‘And the cause of death …?’ Jarrod tried again.

  The detective stopped walking, holding Faith and Jarrod back with his arm, while he motioned for Detective Maldonado to keep walking ahead with Maggie. ‘Angelina Santri’s murder was particularly gruesome, Mr Saunders. There was evidence that she was tortured. Without going into too much detail, her body was mutilated. As you well know, this is a story that is already generating interest with the press. I suspect it will soon garner even more.’

  ‘Why’s that, Detective?’ asked Jarrod. ‘Not because of Maggie?’

  Nill shook his head. ‘I’m sure the press is gonna want to be all over your adorable daughter, especially if we do nail a suspect because of her cooperation, but that’s not what I think is gonna set off a feeding frenzy.’ He lowered his voice. ‘This is not official, Mr and Mrs Saunders, and it is not for public consumption, so if it gets out before we’re ready to release it, I’ll know exactly who the source is. Let me be frank: for reasons I can’t yet discuss, I don’t believe Angelina Santri is this guy’s first victim.’

  Faith gasped.

  ‘First?’ asked Jarrod, incredulously.

  ‘There are others. As many as three other women, possibly. You and your daughter coming in here today, Mrs Saunders … well, it’s the first break we’ve gotten, I gotta be honest. Now we have a face to put out there, to see if the general public can recognize him. Maybe we’ll get lucky and get a name – hopefully before this psycho picks another victim.’

  Faith grabbed Jarrod’s arm.

  ‘Daddy!’ Maggie yelled from the doors that led to the lobby.

  ‘Mrs Saunders, tomorrow morning we’ll take that drive back through the vicinity where you say you were that night. It’s been several weeks, so I’m not expecting much in the form of evidence, but I’ll have a crime scene team go over the area once we identify where it is.’

  She nodded anxiously. Her face had gone the color of paste. She did not look well.

  ‘I’ll be going, Detective,’ said Jarrod. ‘I’d like to be involved.’

  ‘That’s fi
ne,’ he replied as they stepped through the doors and waded into a bustling PBSO lobby at lunchtime, filled with uniforms, lawyers, civilians and probably a few criminals, there to pick up reports or meet with detectives.

  ‘Thanks for coming in,’ Nill said, patting Maggie on the head. ‘You’ve been a big help on this, Little Lady. You’re a real hero; doing the right thing ain’t always easy.’

  Behind the detective was a glass case that ran almost the length of the wall. Inside was a corkboard full of posters from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE), the FBI, DEA, Customs, US Marshal’s. Some of the posters had mug shots, some had color photos of missing or endangered children. Some were murky pictures of suspects snapped by surveillance cameras, like bank robbers, and others were artist renderings. There were so many they were thumbtacked on top of each other.

  ‘Is this a bad man, too?’ Maggie asked, pointing at a sketch, then another. ‘And this one?’

  ‘Don’t you worry about those boys,’ Detective Nill said, turning her attention away from the case. ‘No sense in giving you more faces for your nightmares.’

  ‘Daddy, what’s a hero?’ Maggie asked coyly.

  ‘Don’t be silly. You know what a hero is.’

  ‘She’s someone who’s brave,’ offered Detective Maldonado. ‘And like Detective Nill said, she’s someone who does the right thing.’

  ‘Like Superman. Or a Powder Puff girl,’ explained Nill.

  Maggie made a face.

  Detective Nill feigned exasperation. ‘What? You never heard of them? They were the bomb when my girls were little. They used to fly around fighting crime in their little pink capes. “Just like you, Daddy!” my kids would say. I loved that. “Just like you …” How about Kim Possible? She was big, too. Her and her mole-rat friend saving the world from villains.’

  Detective Maldonado shook her head. ‘You’re showing your age, Detective Nill. Your girls are almost in college. Try Elsa and Anna from—’

  ‘Frozen!’ yelled Maggie.

  ‘Now we’re talking,’ said Detective Maldonado, holding the door open. ‘And it’s Powerpuff, Detective Nill, not Powder Puff.’

  ‘Ain’t that what I said? Time sure does fly,’ Nill said with a sigh as the Saunders family walked out of the station. Dad was holding the kid’s hand, while wife/mom/star witness was lagging three steps behind. The body language wasn’t hard to read: Faith Saunders had been the odd man out all day, even with her own kid. ‘Maldonado, you’ll be trying to remember your kids’ favorite shows one day, trying not to sound so old.’

  ‘That will be interesting, indeed,’ she replied. ‘Because the shows I’m gonna have trouble remembering haven’t even been made yet.’

  ‘You’re too young to be a detective,’ he scoffed.

  ‘You think we might have a face?’ she asked, watching the family herself as they stepped into the parking lot.

  He looked down at the folder in his hand that held Cuddy’s sketch. It was as detailed as a photo. ‘I do. I can only hope it’s good enough to get us a name.’

  ‘Do they know we’re looking at a serial?’

  ‘I told the parents. They’re pretty flipped. Mom went albino on me. She’s taking it hard.’

  ‘She doesn’t seem as cold as she sounds; I’m having trouble accepting why she didn’t come forward earlier. She’s holding back.’

  ‘Oh yeah. But she’s got a lot of shit on her plate,’ replied Nill. ‘Sounds like her and her kid were almost victims number five and six. That’ll shake someone up. And there’s trouble in paradise with her and the hubby, I think. Let’s cut her some slack.’

  ‘That kid really is brave,’ Maldonado said softly.

  He nodded, watching as the family got into an Infinity and pulled out of the parking lot.

  It would not be long before the whole world agreed.

  27

  There are others.

  Jarrod gripped the steering wheel hard and stared straight ahead at the back of the blue semi he was behind on I95. He tried to concentrate on the traffic, but he couldn’t get the detective’s words out of his head.

  Others.

  As many as three women.

  It was now hitting him exactly what the detective had been insinuating: this guy might be a fucking serial killer. A serial killer. His wife and his four-year-old had not just witnessed a girl fighting with her boyfriend – they had very possibly witnessed a girl in the clutches of a serial killer. And they might well have witnessed her final moments before she was … tortured. Before she was mutilated. Before she was murdered. That thought was making his hands shake, which was why he was holding the steering wheel so hard.

  Maybe we’ll get lucky and get a name … hopefully before this psycho picks another victim.

  Jarrod looked over at Faith, at the back of her head – she was blankly staring out the passenger window. My God, it could have been her, he thought. This guy might have gotten in the car and pulled her out – tortured her, too. Mutilated, was what the detective said. Mutilated. The word had many meanings, none of them good. Cut open? Dismembered into pieces? Disemboweled? Jesus Christ. The graphic images inundating his brain were making him nauseous. ‘Thank God …’ he said aloud, without intending to.

  Faith didn’t look away from the window. ‘What?’ was all she quietly asked.

  ‘Thank God,’ he repeated softly. ‘Thank God you didn’t open the door.’

  He could hear her sniffling and even though he couldn’t see her face, he knew she was crying. He reached over and awkwardly stroked her hair.

  And Maggie … Jesus, what would that man have done to a child? His brain couldn’t even go there. He had represented horrible people as a public defender in Miami. Mostly fuck-ups and drug addicts who made poor decisions because they were brought up in Shitsville with no role models and were beaten as kids and raised by gangs. But in those five years he had represented a handful of truly evil individuals – people who had no bleeding-heart excuse for being so fucked-up: psychopaths, sadists and sociopaths who enjoyed inflicting pain on others. Those people were why he got out of Miami, out of the PD’s office and out of criminal defense altogether. Being too good of a trial lawyer, going up against neophyte prosecutors who were still cutting their teeth in a courtroom, had resulted in him having an epiphany one day after celebrating another not guilty verdict with his home-invader/aspiring-rapist client: some people should never, ever be allowed to live in free society. Politically, morally, he opposed the death penalty, but quietly he acknowledged there were a few select people who deserved it. Scum that the world would be much better off without – human killing machines who, without conscience, hunted fellow humans for the thrill of it, not the necessity. Even a life sentence offered limited protection – anyone they were to come in contact with inside the system was at risk. And heaven forbid their sentences were ever reduced, thrown out, or commuted and they were released …

  The thought made his blood run cold.

  He checked the rearview, where Maggie sat in her booster, watching a DVD with her headphones on, remaining remarkably and uncharacte‌ristically quiet. The car ride home from the police station had basically been the same as the ride up: silent and filled with tension. Faith continued to stare out the window, thinking about God knows what.

  Yes, thank God she didn’t open the door. Thank God. But why hadn’t she called the police? Why hadn’t she told him what happened when she got home that night? The next morning even? He thought he knew the answer, but he suddenly wanted to demand she answer the question. That she say it aloud, admit that she had fucked up, that she had been driving drunk, so that he would know, like he might with a wayward teen or client, that she’d at least learned from all this. So that he would know there was a reason she hadn’t done anything for that girl. To know for sure she was driving shit-faced and was sorry for doing it would be strangely more comforting than believing she was apathetic.

  He looked over at her again. He wanted to ask her. Ask her i
f she was drunk. The pressure in the car might be relieved a little, just by asking the question. Maybe she’d answer him, and maybe they’d talk – actually talk. Or yell. He’d take that – hell, he’d even welcome an argument. He looked back at the semi. He noticed it was a different one than the one he’d been behind for the last ten miles. When had that happened?

  An overwhelming feeling of sadness mixed with shame came over him and he swallowed the confrontational question back down. Truth was, they didn’t talk much any more. They said words and exchanged pleasantries, and they definitely didn’t argue. All that was on him. It was the fallout from his mistake. He deferred to her on most everything and he didn’t argue, because he owed her that. Repairing a relationship after an affair takes time, a friend had advised him – a friend who should know. Rebuilding trust can take years and the slightest misstep – a sprinkle of doubt is all it takes – will crush whatever relationship you’ve managed to build up right back down. So be patient and be on your best behavior.

  He stared at her beautiful honey-blonde hair. It fell just below her shoulders, but it used to cascade down her back in beachy, sun-streaked waves. He used to bury his face in it when she was sleeping and her back was to him – to smell the Freesia-scented shampoo she favored, mixed with her perfume, Ms Dior, and … her. He used to love to smell her, to breathe her in, because he couldn’t seem to get enough. He shook his head. The pressure in the car was too much to take.

  ‘He’s still out there,’ he announced suddenly.

  Faith turned away from the window and looked at him.

  ‘This girl’s body has turned up and now that sketch is gonna come out with his face on it and he will put it together,’ he said quietly, matter-of-factly, as though he were talking to a client who he was strategically trying to get to cough up the truth – a truth that he could live with defending. ‘The detective is talking about three other murders they think this guy has committed, which makes him a serial killer, Faith. The detective is right – the press is gonna eat that up and that sketch is gonna be everywhere. And when the media finds out that a four-year-old is the eyes behind that sketch, Maggie and you will be everywhere. I don’t want it to happen, but it will. Because that’s the type of story that people are interested in.’

 
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