Pretty Little Things, p.13Jilliane Hoffman
‘Like I told Agent Dees, I believe that injury was, mercifully, inflicted postmortem – after she died.’
Zo shook his head. ‘OK. So she’s dead and he takes her eyes out. Obviously it’s not ’cause he’s worried she’ll ID him, then.’
‘I was going to be a psychiatrist before I decided to go into pathology, so I’ll give you my opinion, for whatever it’s worth,’ Gunther replied. ‘The mutilation is symbolic. In the picture you showed me, he painted her without eyes while she was still alive. Rather than hoping she won’t ID him, he doesn’t want her to see him. He doesn’t want anyone who looks at that painting to see him. By taking out the eyes of the one witness who was in the room with him, he’s showing you what happened in there, but making a statement that no one will be able to see it but him, and only through his eyes, the way he wants you to see it. The whole scene is very controlled. The guy probably hates how people see him. Probably hates himself, if that means anything. He could be physically deformed. Anything more than that, go get yourselves a good profiler.’
Sil opened the black body bag. ‘What do you want me to do about the knife, Dr Trauss? She’s pinned.’
‘Excuse me,’ Gunther said as he turned back to the body.
‘We could have a real psycho on our hands,’ Zo said with a low whistle as he looked out the window that faced southwest, on to the skyscrapers of downtown Miami. All three levels of the famed CenTrust, aka the Bank of America building, were lit purple for Saturday’s macabre holiday. ‘ ‘She was right where you said she’d be.’
Gunther carefully pulled the carving knife from Jane Doe’s chest and bagged it.
‘Our guy knew it was you who was gonna find her, too,’ Zo added as he fingered the clear evidence bag in his own hand. Inside was the folded white 8 × 10 piece of paper that had been found at the foot of the mattress when they first entered the room, propped up for all to see between Jane Doe’s legs, like a place card at a fancy dinner. He handed it to Bobby. ‘Looks like you’ve got yourself a secret admirer, Shep.’
Bobby took the invitation meant especially for him. Glued across the front were thin strips of newspaper that, once again, spelled out only one name.
FDLE SPECIAL AGENT SUPERVISOR ROBERT DEES
Ever since he was a kid, Mark Felding wanted to be a TV reporter. Not a Katie Couric or a Tom Brokaw pretty-faced anchor, but a trench-coat-wearing, notepad-toting, porkpie-hat-accessorized field reporter, like Edward R. Murrow was for newspapers back in the day. Reporters were always in the middle of everything, just as it was happening – fires, wars, shootings, terrorist attacks, hurricanes, presidential elections, coups. Reporters were the first to know the scoop, and the first to tell the whole shocked world about it while they sat in their living rooms, chomping on fingernails and wondering what the hell to do next. Now tonight it was him. Mark Felding, Channel Six investigative reporter. The man who’d finally landed the Story Everyone Would Be Talking About in the Morning. And boy, had he landed it! He’d landed right in the fucking middle of it! Standing on the sidewalk, anxiously gossiping with the rest of his kind in front of the condemned Regal All-Suites, he felt giddy with excitement, but sick to his stomach with nerves, like a kid who knows a really juicy, bad secret. It was a completely different reaction than he thought he’d have at this critical point in his career, because for once he knew more than his colleagues – big names from rival stations who waited for a nibble of news from inside, a bone of information that could help them shape ‘The unbelievable story that’s unfolding here in downtown Miami!’ For once, it was investigative reporter Mark Felding who had the answers everyone was looking for.
‘My source said he heard it’s a gang shooting. They’re keeping it off air because Miami PD has him cornered up there. They don’t want to start a war tonight,’ said a voice in the crowd.
‘They’re up there high. Maybe it’s a jumper.’
‘It’s bullshit when they keep it off the radio. Waste of my fucking time to stand out here and pick my fucking nose for a jumper. Who the hell cares?’
‘I think it’s a kid. Someone said that FDLE’s in there. Bobby Dees does Crimes Against Children. He’s been in the news lately. Maybe it’s a dead kid! Matter of fact, Channel Six did a piece on his case the other day. Hey, Mark!’ someone called out. ‘Felding! You know what’s going on?’
Even though he was the man with the ultimate scoop, Mark wasn’t saying a word. Not a single one. And when the Miami-Dade County Medical Examiner’s van pulled past the chain link fence and disappeared into the parking garage below, he resisted the incredible urge to go live with all he knew. Not long after, his cell rang.
‘Mr Felding, this is Bobby Dees.’
Mark instinctively looked up at the blob of bright lights coming from a section of the thirteenth floor. ‘I’m in front of the building,’ he answered, with a short, nervous laugh. ‘It’s funny, I got a call from my producer asking me what the hell was going on at the Regal and if I was covering it.’
‘You didn’t say anything, did you?’
‘No, no, of course not. I mean, I said I was here, but I didn’t say anything. I … I saw the coroner’s van pull up,’ he blurted.
Bobby said nothing.
‘Is it the girl?’
‘We need to meet, Mr Felding. I’d like to talk to you about some things.’
‘Yeah, yeah, sure, sure.’ Mark pulled his hand through his thick hair. ‘I need a drink, though. Bad. Can we talk in a bar? Is that OK? Or does it have to be, like, in your office?’
‘A bar’s OK with me. No cameras, no mikes, no one else. It’s not a press conference. There’s a dive on First and Flagler. The Back Room. I have to finish up here. Let’s meet up in an hour or so.’
‘What do I report down here?’ Mark said, looking at his clueless colleagues.
‘Have I told you anything?’
‘Well, I guess there’s nothing to report.’ Then he added after a second, ‘Your photo op’s coming out of the south garage in about three minutes.’
It was past one by the time Bobby finally got to The Back Room. Aside from the bartender and the lone drunk swigging Jack on a corner stool, the place was dead. He found a disheveled Mark Felding nursing what looked like a scotch in a back booth, puffing a Cowboy Killer and spinning an oversized pack of matches on a heavily shellacked pub table that was dotted with cigarette craters.
‘I thought bad news was good for your business,’ Bobby commented as he sat. ‘You look worse than me.’
Mark glanced up from his drink and crushed out his cigarette. He managed a strained smile. ‘Long day.’
‘Yeah? Me too.’ Bobby grabbed the spinning matchbook. ‘That’s distracting.’ Then called out to the bartender, ‘I’ll take a Bud, Chief.’
‘I’m not a virgin, Agent Dees,’ Mark said quietly, ‘but, well, let’s just put it this way – I’ve never been involved before. Forgive me. It’s almost two in the morning and I’m waiting for the happy juice to finally find my brain and numb it. But I’m already on number two, and unfortunately it just ain’t happening. I’m still seeing that girl’s face from that painting. Or lack thereof.’
‘It’ll take more than two drinks to not see that any more. Hope you’re not driving. Thanks,’ Bobby muttered, when the bartender dropped off his beer.
‘Was it her? Was it the girl in the picture?’
‘It was a girl. But we don’t know who she is. She was wearing the same happy T-shirt, though.’
‘Is it Elaine Emerson?’
‘Did she look like she did in the painting? I mean … how’d she die?’
‘It’s an open investigation. Suffice it to say it was bad. Bad enough that I’m sitting here in a bar with an asshole reporter whose throat I wanted to rip out just the other day, asking for help.’
Mark just stared at him. ‘Me?’
‘You see any other asshole reporters in here?’
‘Looks like you got yourself a headline now.’
‘I’m sorry. Again. About your daughter. I hope we can be … friends.’
Bobby sipped at his beer. ‘You have no idea what it feels like to hear her name.’
‘Is there anything new? I reported on it when she –’ Mark caught himself. ‘When it first happened. We – everyone – we were all hoping it would just be a kid thing, you know a couple of days and then she misses home.’
Bobby shook his head. ‘We’re not going there tonight. Nope.’
Mark reached for another Marlboro. Bobby slid the match-book across the table. It had a picture of an old house on the cover and the words, ‘For a little taste of home … and a little taste of Grandma’s cookin’!’ The bottom was stamped THE HOME SWEET HOME INN. It made Bobby think of the little bed and breakfast that he and LuAnn had stayed at in Vermont on their honeymoon. It had snowed so much, they’d stayed in bed for two straight days ’cause they couldn’t get out.
‘Kids are tough. No doubt about it. They’ll break your heart,’ Mark mused.
‘You have any?’
‘A girl. she’s eight. Lives with her mom back in LA. But, like you said, let’s not go there tonight.’
Bobby tapped his finger on top of the matchbook, which Mark had begun to spin again. ‘For some reason, this guy sent this portrait to you, Mr Felding. I don’t know why. And it had my name in there. The obvious connection is the story you ran the other night.’
‘Please call me Mark. Look, I don’t want to be a part of this, Agent Dees. I always thought I would, that I would love to be in the middle of a big story, but I don’t want to climb the ladder this way. It feels wrong, exploitative.’
Bobby was quiet for a long while. ‘I appreciate that. I really do. But it’s too late. And … I think there’s more here. More than just the one girl.’
Mark downed the rest of his drink just as the bartender announced last call.
‘I need your help, Mark,’ Bobby said quietly. ‘I need that list.’
The first step in working a homicide was to identify the body. Once you ID’d the victim, you worked backwards and found out the last person she spoke to, the last places she went, where she was living, who she was dating, where she was working, who her friends were, who her enemies were, etc. In practically every criminal investigation, starting with the victim eventually led you back to a suspect. When you had a dead body with no personal ID and no one actively looking for them, like Bobby did, the normal course was to turn to a list of open missing person’s investigations and work from there. The real problems started when either a) the person was never reported missing, or b) was reported missing from a jurisdiction other than the one you were looking in. It was a big country with a lot of missing people. The three counties that comprised South Florida alone had more than twenty different police departments.
FDLE’s Missing Endangered Persons Information Clearinghouse (MEPIC) was supposed to be the central repository of information for all of Florida’s missing children. The MEPIC website, intended as a resource for both law enforcement and the public at large, broke down missing persons into various categories: Missing, Endangered/Involuntary, Disabled, Parental Abduction, Disaster Victim, and Runaway. Of the hundreds of names and faces posted on the site, the great majority fell under the category of Runaway. Most were teenagers. Some had been missing for hours. some for years.
Bobby knew that the MEPIC website was only as good as the information that went into it. Hundreds, possibly thousands, of missing kids never made it on to the website because nobody gave a shit when they didn’t come home. Especially teens in the foster-care system. Estimates put the number of throwaway children around the country to be as high as two million. Then there were the runaways who were reported missing to law enforcement, but not to the Clearinghouse. It took an affirmative act by a cop to not only enter the kid in NCIC as a Missing Juvi, but then pick up the phone and call MEPIC. For a lot of cops in a lot of jurisdictions, that was just too much effort for a kid who a) nobody gave a damn about anyway, and who b) was just gonna run off again if and when she did get her ass home. At the end of the day, a cop on the beat couldn’t fix all the reasons why a kid took off. sometimes, the view simply was, he or she was better off on their own anyway.
That meant the list on the MEPIC website was flawed.
Flyers and police reports covered Bobby’s dining-room table. Jane Doe matched none of the outstanding runaways on MEPIC. Of course, the girl was missing half her face, she’d started to decompose and the descriptions on MEPIC were limited, to say the least. Recognizing that the MEPIC list was not comprehensive, Bobby had had the squad analyst, Dawn Denaro, download all of the current MEPIC runaway flyers from just Broward and Miami-Dade County and put them into book form. There were 127 names – 79 of which were female. Most had pictures on their flyers. some did not. Late this afternoon, Dawn had begun the painful process of collecting the hundreds of missing-person reports from every police department in Broward and Miami-Dade going back one year. Each report would then be cross-checked against both the NCIC Missing Juvenile entries and the MEPIC website, to make sure that every kid who had been reported missing to the police had either been found and reunited with family, or was entered into the MEPIC website. It was a tremendous amount of work, and it still wouldn’t yield a full list of every missing teen, since it wouldn’t account for throw-aways, but at least it was a start. Because as he stared at the mess that was his dining-room table, the one thing Bobby knew for certain was that, without an accurate list of potential victims, it would be impossible to ever identify Jane Doe. And without a confession, physical trace evidence, or a miracle it would be impossible to find her killer.
Sitting beside his now very cold cup of coffee was Mark Felding’s list. The ‘revealing’ list the reporter had begun to compile for his Channel Six investigation. Emphasizing it was still a work-in-progress, Mark had taken the 127 names of Broward and Dade runaways from the MEPIC website and, through Public Records Requests, had already obtained the individual missing-persons police reports for about 70 of the names. The reports offered much more detail than the MEPIC postings. Mark had then broken the information about the victims in the reports down by race, religion, age, criminal history, family background, identifying body marks, clothing descriptions, location of disappearance and circumstances surrounding the disappearance. Obviously, the intent was to prove a discernable pattern of discrimination by law enforcement against certain victim types – a charge that would be sure to make a lot of noise on the news.
Bobby had spent most of the weekend at his dining-room table, carefully combing through each police report and MEPIC flyer looking for details or a description that matched the dead girl at the Regal. He hadn’t found Jane Doe, but he had found something weird. Allegra Villenueva, a sixteen-year-old from Hialeah who’d been missing since August, was described as ‘last seen wearing a yellow happy-face T-shirt and blue jeans’. At 4′11″ and 145 pounds, Allegra sure wasn’t Jane Doe – even if she’d lost a ton of weight in the three months she’d been missing, she sure wasn’t gonna grow four inches. And there was no indication of any tattoos on her body. Was it just coincidence then that Jane Doe had on the same unusual T-shirt? Then there was Gale sampson. seventeen years old, missing from Hallandale. She did have a butterfly tattoo on her right ankle, and at 5′3″ and 115 pounds, she matched Jane Doe’s physical description, but in her picture she was blonde. The picture of another girl, Nikole Krupa from Riviera Beach, had a streak of blonde running down the center of her dark hair like Jane Doe, but she had four tattoos.
He leaned back in his chair and rubbed his tired eyes. Besides being one of the more gruesome murders
It was time to try and get some sleep. As the laptop shut down, he gathered together the crime-scene photos of Jane Doe. That was the last thing in the world LuAnn needed to see when she came down for breakfast. That and pictures of missing teenagers. She was already living on a ledge. This just might push her over. He shoved the crime-scene photos into his briefcase, and his eyes fell on Katy’s flyer, right there in the middle of his dining-room table. Photos of her filled every wall in the house, but this was the one that forced him back in his seat as a wave of nausea threatened to bring him to his knees.
He remembered the day he found out LuAnn was pregnant. She’d come out of the bathroom in their tiny one-bedroom apartment in Whitestone, a look of complete surprise on her flushed face. In her shaking fingers was the stick with the big pink line through it that Bobby could see from five feet away.
Pretty Little Things by Jilliane Hoffman / History & Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes