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All the little pieces, p.13
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       All the Little Pieces, p.13

           Jilliane Hoffman

  She started to tear up again.

  ‘Even if no one recognizes that sketch in the paper or on the news – or wherever the hell it is they put it – he will. Because he’s looking to see when he finally makes the papers. And he’s gonna know who helped the police sketch it. He knows there’re witnesses and now he knows they’re talking. Two witnesses: my wife and my kid. It won’t be hard for him to figure out the rest – name, address, phone number—’

  She turned back toward the window, crying again. ‘If you’re trying to scare me, it’s working.’

  That’s what he wanted to do. He’d wanted to scare her into admitting an answer to the question he was afraid to ask. He wanted to impress upon her how terrifying this whole thing was. How devastated he would be if he ever lost her to a madman. If he ever lost her, period. But the whole thing kept coming out wrong, like everything else he’d been saying for the past ten months.

  So he clenched the steering wheel even harder and stopped talking and he didn’t finish the most disturbing fact he had hoped to scare the truth out of her with.

  And that was that serial killers don’t like witnesses.


  Gemma Jones looked at the thumbnail-sized sketch that was on the front page of the local section of the Sun-Sentinel. She looked back up and peeked outside her cubicle at the young man seated in his glass-enclosed office down the hall. The blinds were closed, but the door was slightly ajar and she could see him talking on the phone at his desk.

  Damn it if that sketch didn’t look like Derrick.

  But Derrick Poole? No way. He was … too quiet. Too boring. Too smart. Too cute. Too … well, everything and anything that made up a normal guy who you might want to take home to your mother. Who you actually did want to take home to your mother – if only he’d ask.

  Gemma chewed on her pen cap. Wasn’t that how it worked out in true crime books? Wasn’t it always the quiet ones? The smart ones? The ones no one ever suspected? Bundy was a handsome law student. Rader was an usher in his church. Scott Peterson was a father-to-be and sold fertilizer for a living. She rolled the pen cap around in her mouth. Police seek ID of suspect in rape and murder of Palm Beach dancer.

  Killers don’t work at debt consolidating companies, do they? They don’t help people put their financial houses back in order. Gemma’s useless bachelor’s degree was in English, but Derrick – his was in accounting. Accountants weren’t murderers. Lawyers, doctors, postal workers – yeah, they could gut their own moms, but never accountants. They were too anal, too precise. They knew the odds of getting caught and found it too risky. Never wanted to make a mess. She chuckled to herself, because the thought of a neat, anal-retentive murderer somehow struck her as funny.

  Derrick was polite, sweet, quiet. If she thought he was a psycho, she never would’ve sat next to him in the lunchroom, wearing her nice perfume and her sexy blouses, hoping he’d ask for her number. She would’ve known there was something odd about him.

  But the one thing every true crime book she’d ever read made clear was – you never really do know. Two weeks ago, coincidentally or not, Derrick had shaved off that not-quite-a-beard-thing he’d been growing on the lower half of his face. His lunchroom explanation? ‘It just wasn’t working on me. My mom didn’t like it.’ Gemma had thought it incredibly endearing that a twenty-nine-year-old man still cared about his mom’s opinion. She tapped her pen on the thumbnail-sized sketch. The murder suspect had a beard. The dancer had been dead for a while, according to the article.

  She peeked over her Formica cubicle again. He was standing next to his desk, talking on the phone. Damn. And he was cute, too. Not in an obvious way, but more like a sophisticated way – like a painting that you look at for a while and realize the subject in it has nice features. You warm to it. You start to like it, appreciate it. And you wonder why it was you never thought the guy was hot at first glance, when it’s so bloody obvious now. Tall, Dark and Not Obviously Handsome – that was Derrick Poole. She watched him as he spoke on the phone. His easy smile, dressed in a crisp white button-down and shiny blue tie. With that gruff on his face and his long hair that he kept slicked back in a low pony, he had a rebellious, bad-boy look about him. Now he was clean-shaven, but even sexier. An accountant by day and a rock star when the sun went down. The dress shirt and tie came off and he jammed on a bass guitar shirtless, his carved chest covered in colorful tattoos, none of which said ‘Mom’. The fantasy made her smile.

  Or an accountant by day and a murdering rapist by night.

  Sad. There was no way she wanted him to ask her out now. Well, ask, yes, but she couldn’t say yes until she found out for sure that he wasn’t a murderer. She’d have to call the police. They’d do all their police things – background checks and fingerprint checks and DNA checks, she supposed – and either confirm or deny that he was the guy they were looking for.

  If he was a rapist, well, that made no sense, because she would’ve given it up to him without a fight. And if it all turned out to be a case of mistaken identity – which she was 95 per cent sure it would be – and Derrick had a doppelgänger out there with a mean streak and a taste for strippers, well, that was kind of sexy. Not that he was a murderer, but that her sweet, harmless Tall, Dark and Not Obviously Handsome looked a little bit more like a bad ass and a little less like … an accountant. He looked like a guy who was accused of murder, and that somehow made him tougher, heartier, meatier, sexier, manlier. Without, of course, being an actual murderer. It was like having the cake without all the damn calories.

  But first she had to make sure that was what he wasn’t. No sense in getting Momma Jones’s hopes all high when he might be headed to the electric chair. After the ribbing she took on the last loser she’d brought home, she wasn’t suggesting a Sunday dinner with the family until her badass accountant’s name was cleared. She’d have to try and keep her name out of this, too. No one else in the office was staring at him strangely, or doing double-takes at the morning paper. If Derrick should find out that she was the one who’d called the police and told them he looked like a murder suspect – well, she was pretty sure he wasn’t going to want to start a relationship. There would be some serious trust issues that would be hard to get past.

  Gemma folded the local section, tucked it under her arm and grabbed her cell off her desk. She smiled at Derrick as she walked past his office. He was still on the phone, but he smiled back. She could feel his eyes on her as she walked down the hall and stepped out of the building.

  It was all rather thrilling, she thought giddily as she lit up a butt. A little bit of workplace drama to make the day pass faster. She sat in her car and dialed the number that was in the paper.

  ‘Palm Beach Sheriff’s. Homicide. Detective Evans speaking. Can I help you?’

  ‘Yes. Um, Detective Nill, please. He’s Homicide.’ Ooh – that was fun.


  The line went completely silent. Not even elevator music. That made sense – you were calling a homicide unit; everything about it screamed serious. It’d be inappropriate to be caught humming along to Hall & Oates. Gemma flipped down the cosmetic mirror and checked her smile and her breath.

  ‘Homicide. Detective Maldonado.’

  ‘Detective Nill please.’

  ‘Can I ask what this is in reference to?’

  ‘The picture in the Sun-Sentinel this morning,’ Gemma answered, lowering her voice to a whisper even though no one was around. She tried to contain her excitement.

  ‘I can help you with that. Do you have information?’

  ‘Well, I work with a guy who looks a lot like that sketch. The one of the guy who murdered that stripper.’ She flipped the mirror back up and her heart stopped.

  Derrick Poole was standing outside her car window.

  And he didn’t look very happy.


  Leonard Dinks. Derrick Poole. Fred Hutchings. The Guy from My Gym. The Guy in the Mustang Next to Me This Morning. My Ex When You Look at Him
a Certain Way in the Bathroom Light.

  Detective Bryan Nill scanned the growing list of leads in Angelina Santri’s murder that Tatiana had left on his desk. There were 82 ‘persons’ already on it – some of whom didn’t actually have a name, only a vague description, like The Guy in the Mustang Next To Me, which, thankfully, also came with a tag number. Cuddy’s sketch, along with an article about the murder, had been published in the local papers from Orlando to Miami three days ago and the phones had been ringing ever since.

  Bryan sighed and dunked a cruller into his coffee. Even though Cuddy was PBSO’s best artist, kooky IDs were always a risk when you ran with a sketch or a blurry video surveillance shot. In a potentially high-profile murder like this, every lead needed to be followed – even the kooky ones – lest the killer actually turn out to be that guy in the Mustang and you failed to check it out and the nut goes and offs another girl. ‘Followed up,’ though, meant pulling DLs, running histories, doing interviews – slogging through time-consuming bullshit – even though 99.99 times out of a 100, what wound up happening was you wasted a lot of hours and manpower hunting down the guy in the Mustang that someone had sworn on the grave of their mother looked ‘just like’ the bad guy in the sketch, only to find he looked nothing at all like him.

  With four dead girls he had no time or manpower to waste. But with his only lead being an artist sketch based on the observations of a four-year-old and her cagey mom, he couldn’t afford not to follow up every tip. Unfortunately, while he saw the potential for high-profile here, the sergeant and the PBSO brass, to date, had not: there was no task force, no squad room full of detectives running down tips with a corkboard full of timelines, maps and crime scene photos on the wall behind them. It was him and Tatiana Maldonado and that was it. And he was lucky to have her – she’d moved from Special Investigations to Homicide two weeks ago. Rather than have her sit around and wait for someone to die and a new case to come in, after Santri’s body had been found his sarge had agreed to lend her out to assist with all the slogging and get her up to speed with the squad. Fortunately, she’d spent two years in the Crimes Against Children Unit of the Special Investigations Division and another two in the Financial Crimes Unit, so she had experience as a detective. Unfortunately, she had no real experience in homicide – only a couple of symposiums in forensics and legal procedure. But a warm body was a warm body, and the two of them got along just fine. In the mornings she brought him a cup of Dunkin’ Donuts and a cruller, which was very nice. And it certainly didn’t hurt none that she was only twenty-eight and easy on the eye, even though she tried her best to downplay that with boyish ponytails and minimal makeup. Sports jackets, slacks and buttoned-up blouses attempted to hide a nice figure. She went by the nickname ‘Totts’, which Bryan thought sounded dangerously close to ‘Toots’ and ‘Tits’ – especially in an all-boys squad, where most of the detectives were even older than him. He liked Maldonado, although it was a bit long. Maldy sounded too much like Moldy. For the time being he was sticking with calling her ‘Maldonado’, ‘Tatiana’, or simply, ‘Hey’.

  He sipped at his coffee and scanned through the file Tatiana had prepared for him on Leonard Dinks, age 47, from Deerfield Beach. She’d written notes all over it in neat, girly handwriting:

  Dinks, Leonard Christopher. DOB: 4/22/62. Truck driver for CF Freight. White male. 5'5". No priors. Wife is Susan Dinks. She says he wasn’t home the night of 10/18 and didn’t come home for a week after that. He was ‘evasive’ with her when she asked where he’d been, because he was supposed to drop his load and be back 10/20, but not home till 10/23. Said first thing he did when he stepped in the front door was wash his clothes and ‘the laundry room smelled real bad after that, like something had died in there’.

  Bryan looked at the DL. Lenny was too old and too bald to be a viable suspect, but hair grew, there were wigs, and everyone knew the people at DMV tried to take the most unflattering license photos possible. The guy could look younger in person. He might not turn out to be the Cane Killer, but the weird comments from the wife deserved a closer look, regardless. He put Lenny on the stack of remote suspects for Maldonado to handle. She could pull the rest of the crap that was missing, fill in the blanks, visit with Mr and Mrs Dinks, write the report and he’d clear it. If she turned up anything interesting in her investigation, he’d revisit.

  Bryan didn’t yet have a task force. Not even a corkboard. He had a large cardboard file box that contained the unsolved homicide case files of three women: Silvia Kruger, Emily Foss and ‘Jane Doe’. The bodies of Kruger, twenty-four, and Foss, twenty, both convicted prostitutes, had been discovered in the cane fields of western Palm Beach County in 2013. Kruger had danced, too, down at some dive in Miami and, for a time, at Mr T’s off Gun Club Road in West Palm. ‘Jane Doe’ was an unsolved 2012 homicide Bryan had stumbled on that actually belonged to the Glades County Sheriff’s Office, Palm Beach County’s ‘neighbor’ on the other side of Lake Okeechobee: the charred torso and pelvis of an unidentified female had been found in torched cane fields southeast of Moore Haven. He looked at the brown accordion file he’d started on Angelina Santri. Inside that were the gruesome crime scene and autopsy photos, the ME’s report, and Cuddy’s sketch, along with all the preliminary reports and witness interview sheets from interviews conducted to date with friends, family members, co-workers and Maggie and Faith Saunders. Angelina Santri’s murder brought the body count in the box to four.


  Bryan wasn’t 100% positive that the same man had killed each girl, but it sure as hell was looking like it – to him, anyways. He wasn’t sure when you got to officially call a spate of brutal murders the work of a serial killer. So far the powers that be at PBSO were holding off on any such designation. Bryan was thinking – hoping, actually – that Santri’s murder might be the one that forced his sarge and LT and the rest of the brass to see what he was seeing – that four dead, mutilated women all found in cane fields over the past twenty months was not some freaky coincidence. Twenty-three years on the force, seventeen as a detective, nine in homicide, and Bryan had never worked a serial killer. He’d handled multiple murders committed by gangbangers and husbands who went rogue on their families, a couple of serial burglars, and when he was in Sex Crimes, he’d worked two serial rapists, but no serial killers. It wasn’t just him – his department hadn’t worked any, either. Mark Felding, the serial killer known as Picasso, had held and killed some teenage runaways out in Belle Glade in 2009, but FDLE – the Florida Department of Law Enforcement – had worked that case with a task force that was out of Miami and PBSO had been there to offer assistance after Felding turned up dead.

  Contrary to what countless thriller novels and TV shows like Criminal Minds would have you think, serials were actually rare, although Miami had certainly had its share in recent years: Cupid, Cunanan, Picasso, Black Jacket, the Tamiami Strangler. But Miami was a pit – it attracted nuts. Andrew Cunanan had actually driven down to Miami from Michigan, killing four people on the way before he found Versace walking back to his SoBe mansion. Palm Beach County, though, was some fifty miles plus north of the pit. It was on the Treasure Coast and was known for its reserved affluence and old money. When people thought of Palm Beach, they thought of the Kennedy compound, Worth Avenue, and Mar-a-Lago. Polo ponies and socialites. The county’s median age was 41.7, although in some cities – especially during snowbird season – you’d swear that number was closer to 70. The median income was $52,806.00 – the highest of any county in Florida. In the tony town of Palm Beach, it was $174,889.00. That was income, not net worth. There were some really rough parts of Palm Beach, like Riviera Beach, Royal Palm, Belle Glade, and parts of Lake Worth, but, generally speaking, violent crime was manageable and murders were relatively rare outside those areas.

  Not that Bryan wasn’t busy: Riviera Beach had a gang problem and domestics didn’t only happen in bad parts of town. When his cell rang in the middle of the night there was a good chance it
would be because a drug deal had gone bad. Plus, with the Great Recession, desperate people did desperate things, and robberies and home invasions didn’t always end pleasantly. He was carrying a caseload of seventeen homicides in various stages of investigation and litigation, and they filled every minute of his forty-hour work week and then some. Most weeks he actually put in an extra ten or twenty, not for the OT his department wasn’t paying anyway, but because he was a bit of a control freak who hated loose ends. He had a fear of dropping dead on the way to work one day and the guy who had to take over his caseload bad-mouthing him to the boys in the squad at his funeral over the way he’d left his files. He took a long sip of his coffee. And he had no reason to go home at five nowadays, anyway.

  Seventeen homicides on his plate and only three unsolved: Kruger, Foss, and now, Santri; Jane Doe still belonged to Glades County. In March of 2013, Silvia Kruger’s nude body had been found in a cane field in Lake Harbor, a small town east of Clewiston, the sugar capital of the US. She’d been shot point-blank in the heart. She’d been identified through her fingerprints – her head was found in a nearby drainage ditch three weeks later. She’d been sexually assaulted, both vaginally and anally, and she had ligature marks on her hands, ankles and torso. Four months later, in July of 2013, Emily Foss’s partially charred body was discovered by migrants in a torched cane field off of Hole in the Wall Road, just north of Canal Point. She’d been stabbed multiple times and was missing both of her hands, one of which was found in a neighboring cane field a few weeks later. She, too, had been sexually assaulted. Emily Foss’s rape had been so brutal, both her uterus and large intestine had been perforated. After Foss’s body was discovered, Bryan did a search on ViCAP – the FBI’s Violent Criminal Apprehension Program database – and learned that the remains of an unidentified female had been found in September of 2012 in a torched cane field off SR720, just southeast of the county seat of Moore Haven in Glades County. Jane Doe’s torso had been burned so severely, it was impossible for the ME to determine cause of death or if she’d been sexually assaulted. The ME also couldn’t place a date on when she’d died, or even how long she’d been in the field. The rest of Jane Doe’s body, including her head, had never been recovered.

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