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Pretty little things, p.14
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       Pretty Little Things, p.14

           Jilliane Hoffman
 

  They were so young. He hadn’t wanted a kid yet. He was only twenty-three. LuAnn was only twenty-two. They’d only been married a few months. They had student loans to pay off and parties to go to with friends who hadn’t even gotten married yet. At her first doctor’s appointment LuAnn found out she had an enormous fibroid; the pregnancy was high risk. Everything changed. Every priority. Suddenly the focus became having this baby. They named her Katherine, after Bobby’s mom, this precious little perfect baby with pink skin and a full head of blonde hair. Two hours later, doctors rushed LuAnn into surgery. The fibroid had ruptured her uterus and she was bleeding to death. Bobby could remember sitting in that ultra-quiet hospital room, rocking this newborn life that he could no longer remember not wanting with all his heart and soul and praying to God to please save his wife. Praying that he wouldn’t have to raise this little girl all alone, because he just knew he’d screw it up. He knew without LuAnn it would never be good. Six hours later, someone finally came in to tell him that his prayers had been answered. LuAnn was going to live. But she could never have another child.

  He’d promised God he would do the best job any father had ever done. That he would never let Him down. But he had. Somewhere along the line, things had gone bad. The fairytale had changed endings.

  ‘You’re high, Katy,’ Bobby said as she started up the stairs to her room.

  ‘No. No, I’m not, Daddy.’

  ‘Don’t lie to me Katherine Anne. I’m a cop; I know high when I see it. What the hell are you on? What does he have you on?’

  ‘Nothing!’ Her bloodshot blue eyes suddenly flashed with anger. ‘It’s not about him. You always make it about him!’

  ‘This isn’t you!’

  ‘It is now. It is me. Deal with it.’

  ‘Look at you,’ LuAnn broke in quietly. ‘Your grades are plummeting, you’re staying out late, you’re not cheering any more. You’re talking back. You’re lying to us. You’re lying to yourself. This is not you.’

  ‘I’m going to bed. I’m tired.’ Katy pushed past LuAnn to go up the stairs.

  ‘Don’t walk away from your mother!’ Bobby grabbed her by the arm and pushed up the sleeve on the Hollister sweatshirt that she now wore every day – even in eighty degree weather. Katy squirmed and tried to pull away, but he held her fast. The tiny needle marks started just below the elbow.

  ‘Oh my God!’ LuAnn screamed. ‘Oh my God!’

  Bobby felt like someone had taken his heart and thrown it on the ground. He was so incredibly angry he feared he might throw her into the wall if he didn’t let go. ‘It’s over,’ he said quietly. He let go of her and fell back into the railing.

  Katy’s eyes filled with tears. ‘I hate you!’ she hissed as she marched up the stairs.

  ‘You can if you want,’ he replied, his eyes closed. ‘But it’s over, Katherine. This time, it’s over. You will never see that boy again.’

  Then the door slammed to her room and the yellow ‘bear crossing’ sign fell to the floor, tumbling down the stairs with a loud clang, until it finally stopped at his feet.

  Bobby rubbed the tears away before they started. He felt hands, then, warm on his neck, rubbing his shoulders. He reached up to touch them. It was LuAnn and she was staring at the flyer of Elaine Emerson alongside that of her own daughter.

  ‘You’ll find her,’ she said softly as she kissed his head. ‘I know you will this time.’

  34

  He was watching her.

  Even though Lainey couldn’t see him, she could feel him. He was somewhere very close by, yet far enough away that he didn’t think she knew he was still in the room. He liked to play games like that. He’d come to give her food, and unlock the metal cuffs that chained her to the wall. Then he’d sit and silently watch her while she ate God-knows-what, wiping her face when she was finished with a scratchy rag that smelled like a mix of mildew and old lady perfume. Then he’d lock her back up and take the food bowl away. He’d say goodnight or goodbye or whatever, and close the door real hard so that she would think he was gone when he really wasn’t. Instead, he would just stay and watch her, sometimes for what seemed like hours. Why, she didn’t know. Maybe he was waiting for her to do something bad, like rip the strips of surgical tape off her eyes, or move a creaky floorboard to reveal the escape tunnel he thought she might be burrowing. Or maybe he wanted to watch her go to the bathroom in the metal pot he had set up in the corner. Whatever it was he was waiting for, Lainey knew he was there. The freak had never fooled her. At least she didn’t think he had. She could still smell the faintness of his nauseating cologne, the dirt on his shoes, the musky scent of his body odor, mixed with … rain, maybe? The smell reminded her of the time she and Bradley had gotten caught in the thunderstorm at Mrs Ross’s and had run all the way home together. The smell of rain had stayed in her hair and on her skin even after she’d changed. She pushed the memory out of her head. It hurt to think of good times.

  She didn’t dare say a word. He didn’t like it when she pleaded or cried or tried to talk to him. He got very angry – embarrassed, probably, that she was on to his stupid Peeping Tom game and he wasn’t fooling anyone. Like the red-faced boy caught peeking through a hole in the wall of a lady’s bathroom wasn’t sorry that he did it, only sorry that he got caught, the best defense when you’re caught doing something bad, her mom liked to say, was a good offense. That meant no food or water for a really long time.

  So she said nothing and she did nothing while he watched her in the dark like some freak in a horror movie – his creepy eyes rolling over her, thinking horrible thoughts. But just because she couldn’t see him in the pitch-black world she now lived in, it didn’t stop her knowing he was there. She had other senses. Senses that had sharpened like a superhero’s since she’d been in this smelly, dank, cold room. She now heard every creak, every whisper, every little whistle of wind, or rustle of paper. Sounds she never, ever appreciated before. Sounds she was never scared of before. And her sense of smell was crazy good. Like right now. Never before would she have smelled dirt on somebody’s shoes, and yet without a doubt that’s exactly what she knew she was smelling. He’d tracked in mud on his shoes and the rich smell of earth, mixed with maybe a little dog shit, was as strong and familiar as the stink of gasoline at a gas station or popcorn at a movie theater. And the sound of his breathing, slow and measured through his mouth, was as loud and clear as if he were whispering right there in her ear. She could hear him, breathing heavier sometimes …

  Lainey liked to think she was becoming a superhero. That every day, every hour, every minute she was locked up here, chained up against her will, she was getting stronger. That her powers – powers she didn’t even know she had until this real-life horror movie began – were growing. Every time she recognized a scent from across the room or heard the wind blow under a doorjamb, she imagined she was morphing into a superhero – like Claire, the ordinary high school cheerleader who was anything but ordinary in her favorite TV show, Heroes. And just like Claire, one day her powers would fully come to her, and she would be able to break the chains that bound her to the wall. Then she would stand up and she would see again, and with her superhuman strength she would find him, watching her there in the corner, like that red-faced, snotty school boy, making his weird snorty noises as he thought bad thoughts. And he would be surprised at first. Really surprised. Because she had caught him. But then he would be scared. More scared than he had ever been in his whole horrible life. Because she had all her powers now. And she would fly across the room and beat him till he stopped making those noises. Till he couldn’t see any more …

  ‘Do you know I’m here?’ came the whisper in the dark.

  Her heart stopped. It was the voice of the devil and he’d just read her mind. She started to shake. ‘I want to go home, mister. Please. I want to see my mom.’

  He sighed, annoyed.

  ‘Please! I won’t tell anyone about you. Just let me go home!’

  She heard him get
up from the chair or the floor, or wherever he was. The joints in his knees popped. And he walked slowly over to her, the stink of him filling her nose and throat, making her gag. She tried to crawl away, but there was nowhere to go. Nowhere to hide.

  He knelt down in front of her and reached out, stroking her hair behind her ear. He leaned closer. ‘Time’s up,’ he whispered in her ear as he unlocked the chains on her ankles and wrists. His warm breath smelled like old coffee. He pulled her to her feet.

  It was time to die. She only hoped it wouldn’t hurt. ‘Please, mister,’ she pleaded as he pushed her forward, her arms outstretched, grasping at nothing. She had no idea where she was going, what was in front of her. If there were a flight of stairs or an open window. ‘Please! I’ll be good. I won’t tell anyone!!’

  A door opened with a creak. His hand was suddenly on the back of her head. He shoved it down hard and pushed her forward. She fell into a wall and then on to a hard dirt floor.

  ‘I know,’ was all he said.

  Then the door closed behind her, followed by what sounded like maybe the sliding of a bolt and turn of a key. She heard his footsteps cross the wood floorboards in the other room where she had been. Then another slam of a door, and the faint patter and creak as he climbed the stairs. She heard him walk above her somewhere. The heavy click of his heels on the creaky wood floors. The jingle of his keys. Then there was silence.

  The room or closet, or wherever she was, was really, really small. Her back was pressed up against a wall, and her feet practically touched the wall across from her. The ceiling felt really low, too. There was no way she could stand up. It smelled musty and earthy, like the crawl space under the house she’d lived in before her family had moved to Coral Springs when she was five. When she and Liza used to play hide and seek, Liza could never find her, because she would never look under the crawl space. She said there were bad things that lived under there, out of the light.

  She was so scared. She pulled her knees up tight against her chest and started to rock back and forth, back and forth. She needed her superpowers to happen right now. There was no more time to wait. ‘Mommy, mommy, mommy …’ she whispered in the dark.

  Then she heard the sound that made her breath suck in and her blood run cold. A faint scratching somewhere. Right next to her. Only inches from her, maybe. And coming closer.

  It was in the walls.

  Liza was right. There were things that lived in crawl spaces, far away from the light and the living. Horrible things. Rats or snakes or bugs. Or worse.

  Zombies.

  She’d never believed in vampires and ghosts and all the horrible freaks she’d seen in horror movies until she found herself living in one. Now she knew monsters did exist and even the worst things were possible. Like zombies, who scratched their way through walls with long yellow nails, their dead hands reaching to grab her and drag her back to hell with them …

  ‘Nooooo!’ she screamed, her hands over her ears. ‘Nooooo!’

  The scratching stopped. Lainey stopped rocking and held her breath, every muscle in her body frozen stiff with fear. Her ears strained to listen, to make sure the zombie was really gone and not in there with her, having broken through the wall while she screamed, now ready to come up behind her with his putrid breath and eat her alive …

  Time froze. For how long she wasn’t sure. It might’ve been hours that she sat there not moving, not breathing, praying that she was all alone in the dark.

  When the walls began to whisper, she knew she wasn’t.

  35

  ‘It’s Gale Sampson. I got a positive ID twenty minutes ago,’ Gunther Trauss said into the phone in between bites of his breakfast sandwich. ‘The DNA swab you got from her mom on Saturday came back. It’s definitely her.’

  ‘Damn. I had a feeling,’ Bobby waved at an FHP officer who was pulling out of the Miami Regional Operations Center complex just as he was pulling in Monday morning. ‘But she’s blonde.’

  ‘You know kids,’ Gunther returned. ‘They change hair color like they change belts. It’s just an accessory. I have a seventeen-year-old. She’s been every color in the rainbow. Her mother says it’s normal. I just nod and hope.’

  ‘I’ll go talk to the mom this morning. I have a charging conference at the State that’s gonna take up my afternoon. You have anything else for me?’

  ‘The contusions on the ankles and wrists are shackle indentations. They look like Wonder Woman cuff bangle bracelets that were put on too tight, but given how she was found and that there were matching contusions on her ankles, I’m going with restraints. If you get me the shackle, I can maybe match it. She also has rope burns on both wrists. Again, get me a standard and I’ll see what I can do for a comp.’

  ‘So she was held for a while?’

  ‘Looks like it. When did she disappear?’

  ‘June twelfth.’

  ‘That’s going on five months. A long time to be held by a nut. Poor kid,’ Gunther said. In the background somewhere Bobby heard the sound of a saw.

  ‘Can you step out of the lab for a sec, Gunther?’

  ‘That wasn’t me. That was Motte.’

  ‘Whatever,’ Bobby replied when the buzzing had stopped. ‘How old are the bruises?’

  ‘Can’t tell you that, but she’s had them for a while. At least a week or two. The burn marks take longer to fade. She could have had them a lot longer.’

  ‘Shit.’

  ‘And there’s more.’

  ‘G’head.’

  ‘Eyes were removed, like I said, postmortem. But she has adhesive on her temples, and on the only remaining section of left lid I found cyanoacrylate.’

  ‘What’s that?’

  ‘An acrylic resin better known as Krazy Glue.’

  Bobby immediately thought of the infamous Miami serial killer, Cupid, who would glue the eyes of his victims open before he cut their hearts out, forcing them to watch their own death. ‘What the hell? Why would he Krazy Glue her lids? Is he a Cupid copycat? A wannabe?’

  ‘Well, she still had possession of her heart, it just had a rather large hole in it. I have no idea why he would Krazy Glue any part of her, and I can’t tell you if he actually put the stuff in her eyes, because he kept the specimens. Just thought I would keep you advised. I told you that I expected your boy to be nasty. After twenty years of cutting people open, you get a feeling about the bad ones.’

  ‘Was she raped?’

  ‘What did I say on Wednesday? I repeat, you get a feeling about the bad ones.’

  ‘Damn …’

  ‘Good news is, it looks like he did that, too, after she was dead. But if he held her for a while, there’s no telling if he was so chivalrous the whole time he had her chained up.’

  ‘Damn … anything left?’

  ‘Nah. This guy’s too good to maroon any swimmers. Oh, and one last thing. She had what looks like dog food in her stomach. Kibble. I’ll call you when I get the rest of the results from toxicology. I had them test it, too. Maybe it’s a weird brand. You never know.’

  Bobby hung up the phone and sat in his car, staring straight ahead at the four-storied building that for years LuAnn had joked was his home away from home. For a number of reasons he didn’t want to go in there today, the first of which was he had a feeling Gunther’s good morning wake-up call was just the beginning of a day filled with more shit news and surprises. And then there was Trenton Foxx. The regional director was scheduled to be back from his week-long jaunt to Tallahassee, where he’d been palling with his very good friend, the FDLE commissioner. Bobby hadn’t seen him since he’d told him to fuck off last Tuesday.

  A loud bang sounded on his driver’s side window. It was Zo, looking spiffy in a suit and tie. He either had court or a meeting. It seemed the circus was coming to him.

  ‘You just gonna sit there all day, or you gonna do some work?’ Zo yelled at the glass.

  Bobby lowered the window. ‘Do I have a job?’

  ‘That I don’t know. But I h
aven’t heard them pull your number off the radio, yet. That’s good. The girls in dispatch will know you’re on the dole before you do.’

  Bobby grabbed his laptop and stepped out of the car. ‘I just talked to Gunther.’

  ‘I just talked to Lou Albott at the lab in Orlando. You first,’ Zo said as they started across the lot.

  ‘We have an ID: Gale Sampson, seventeen, out of Hallandale. The rest can wait till I’ve digested breakfast and have had lots of coffee. You go.’

  ‘Serology has the Picasso. Albott thinks he’s got a brand on the paint: Winsor & Newton Professional Artist. The bad news is it looks like it’s sold in every artsy paint store in the US.’ He held open the front glass door and waited till Bobby had waved at the duty officer and was committed to the elevator before dropping the next bomb. ‘Now for the bad shit. Remember the red smears on the girl’s hands and the red drops on her cheeks in the picture?’

  ‘Yeah,’ Bobby replied slowly as he hit the button for three. Darcy Mae, an elderly secretary, who was more of an office fixture than an employee, stared at them disapprovingly.

  Zo either didn’t notice or didn’t care. He’d never liked Darcy. ‘That’s not paint. It’s blood.’

  Darcy sucked in a breath.

  ‘After speaking with Gunther, notice how I’m not all that surprised?’ Bobby replied.

  ‘Well, now that we have an ID on Jane Doe, maybe one of the smears will turn out to be hers.’

  ‘One of?’ Bobby asked.

  ‘That’s the kicker, Shep. The DNA’s back and the blood droplets on the cheeks are different than the smears on the hands. It’s two different people’s blood.’

  ‘Maybe one of them is our bad guy. That’d be nice. It’d be even nicer if he’s already banked a sample in Tallahassee.’

  ‘No such luck,’ Zo said as the elevator opened. He smiled at Darcy as she walked past him with a disgusted scowl. ‘Both samples are female. That means we have at least one more victim out there.’

 
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