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Pretty little things, p.15
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       Pretty Little Things, p.15

           Jilliane Hoffman


  ‘Bobby, you got a minute?’ Chris Turan, the resident FDLE computer geek extraordinaire popped out of his office on his rolling chair as Bobby and Zo passed. ‘I got some info for you on your case.’

  The day kept getting better and it wasn’t even nine. ‘Is it on Emerson?’ Bobby asked.

  ‘That’s the one. The runaway.’

  ‘Follow us to my office,’ Zo said with a nod. ‘I got a chief’s meeting in a half-hour, but I wanna hear this, too.’

  ‘It’s just like you figured, Bobby,’ Chris said as the three of them walked down the hall. ‘Somebody tried to erase files from the hard drive. Good thing for you it was a somebody who didn’t know what they were doing.’

  ‘Talk to me,’ Bobby said, waving at Zo’s secretary, who was busy cursing the copier in Russian as the three men stepped into Zo’s office.

  Chris closed the door. ‘You know, just hitting delete doesn’t erase a file completely. I ran a REDS program. It goes back over computer files that once existed. It’s like looking at a blank piece of paper on a notepad. There are no words, but if you shade it in, you can detect the words that were written on the piece of notepad paper before it. The impression of the words still exists. The only way you get rid of those words is to either destroy the whole pad or keep writing over it enough times that the impression is no longer readable.’

  ‘I love my job,’ Zo said with a smile.

  ‘So when this guy tried to erase files on the twenty-fifth, it told him they were deleted, but they weren’t,’ Chris continued. ‘The impression was still there. And it was not written over enough to be unreadable. The point is, I got back what it was he was trying to erase.’

  ‘The twenty-fifth was what? Last Sunday? That’s interesting,’ Bobby remarked. That was the day he’d talked to Todd LaManna down at the dealership. ‘You keep saying “he”. You know who he is?’

  ‘I’m pretty confident it’s a he. And my money’s on the dad. I found lots of porn jpegs. He also forgot to delete his cookies. This guy’s been to all sorts of bad sites.,,,, to name a few.’

  ‘Who’s your daddy? What the fuck?’ Zo snapped.

  ‘Hence the jump to dad,’ Chris said.

  ‘You got anything else?’ Bobby asked. ‘It’s not enough to know that someone went to those sites, I need to know who. The computer was in Lainey’s room, under her care and control. His argument’s gonna be that it was his step kid’s curiosity that stroked the wrong keysites. Or her inquisitive little brother. To pin that on the scumbag stepdad, I need something more than just’

  ‘OK. He used a prepaid card to pay for access, but he linked into the site through the email account [email protected]

  You didn’t need to be a detective to figure out the double entendre. Or that the initials TAL following it stood for one Todd Anthony LaManna. This changed everything. ‘Bastard,’ Bobby muttered. ‘I knew the guy was a creep.’

  ‘He’s a used-car salesman, isn’t he?’ Zo asked.

  ‘With an L & L on his résumé.’

  ‘Nice,’ Zo commented.

  ‘Is the porn kiddie?’

  ‘You’d have to get an expert to give you an official opinion. They look like teens, but it’s hard to say how old. Sometimes these slugs dress up a twenty-year-old in a Catholic school plaid mini and put her hair in pigtails. Tracking down the girls is impossible. But, no, there are no real young ones.’

  ‘It’s enough to bring him in for a chat,’ Zo offered. ‘Let’s see how he tries to talk himself out of it.’

  ‘He also forgot to mention the blowout that he and his missing stepdaughter had the night before she disappeared. Or that he was the last person to call her cell phone that Friday evening.’

  ‘Alzheimer’s?’ Zo asked with a raised eyebrow.

  ‘Selective,’ Bobby responded.

  ‘Did they have a convo?’ Zo asked.

  ‘Don’t know. The call lasted two minutes, but there were no messages on her cell. She could have talked to him, or deleted his voicemail. She’s not here to tell us.’

  ‘What does he say?’

  ‘He’s been busy ducking me. And I’ve been busy with Jane Doe – Gale Sampson. I was beginning to think there was a connection between the two, but maybe not.’

  ‘Or maybe yes. Maybe he decided to take his fucked-up fetish outside the family,’ Zo offered. ‘A mutilated body of some other kid would take the heat off his stepdaughter’s disappearance.’

  Bobby nodded. ‘I’ll bring him in. I have to talk to Sampson’s mom first. I want to find out her story. Maybe she can give us a connection to Todd LaManna.’

  ‘There’s one more thing, Bobby,’ Chris said slowly. ‘Something I think you might find interesting. I found a Backdoor Trojan.’

  ‘What’s that?’ Zo asked.

  ‘A virus, usually “wrapped” in a program or sent through email,’ Chris answered. ‘It’s called a Backdoor Trojan because it comes in through a wrapper that’s disguised as a desirable program, like the “Whack the Mole” game, or through an innocent email, from what the recipient believes is a trustworthy source, but it’s really a Trojan horse. Once the program is running, it tries to hide itself in the applications. It doesn’t show any icon or indication that it’s running. It just sits and listens on a port until the computer –’

  ‘Connects to the internet,’ Bobby finished, nodding slowly. ‘It allows the person who planted it to control the recipient’s computer over the internet. So whenever she’s on, he knows it.’

  ‘Control? Like how?’ Zo asked.

  ‘Record keystrokes, move the mouse, view files, open and close the CD Rom. Whenever the computer is on, the Trojan rider has almost complete control over the computer and the recipient never even knows he’s there,’ Bobby replied.

  ‘Well, this Trojan was customized,’ Chris said. ‘Whoever sent it to your missing teen definitely liked to watch.’

  Bobby and Zo stared at him.

  ‘It operated the webcam.’


  Bobby sat across from Todd LaManna at the small table in the interview room, his fingers tapping the folded manila folder in front of him. He let a fraction of the disgust he felt bleed into his words. ‘We already know you like to watch, Todd.’

  ‘That’s not true,’ Todd said, shifting in his seat. Tiny beads of sweat had suddenly sprouted all over the top of his head, shining under the bright lights through the thinning strands of hair he had left. He looked around the room for a friendly face, but there were none to be found. Zo stared at him, arms folded across his chest, as if he’d just peed on the carpet.

  Bobby waved a computer printout in the air. ‘I’m looking at an arrest for Lewd and Lascivious. Twenty feet from a playground, Todd. A playground full of kids.’

  ‘That was a mistake! I already told you I was taking a piss!’

  ‘And now we have Lainey’s computer, Todd. Tell me, before we start talking about all the dirty pictures we found, is that gonna be a mistake, too? Just like the cell phone call you made to her the day she disappeared that you forgot to mention, or the fight you had with her two days before?’

  The color drained from Todd’s face.

  ‘We have the phone records. What did you talk to Lainey about the very day she disappeared, Todd?’

  ‘Nothing. I never talked to her,’ he stammered. ‘She, um, she didn’t pick up. I forgot I even called her.’

  ‘Two minutes is an awfully long connection for someone who didn’t pick up. Try again.’

  ‘I don’t know – I didn’t talk to her, I said. Maybe the phone didn’t hang up right or something.’

  ‘What did you want to talk to her about, Todd?’

  ‘Can’t remember.’

  ‘Maybe you wanted to apologize for trying to bust in her room the night before?’

  Todd shook his head. ‘Yeah, we know about the fight. And we know you tried to era
se the websites you’ve been to. And we know you tried to erase the dirty pictures. Before you tell me it’s all a mistake, that it didn’t happen – we know, Todd. We already know.’ There was a long pause. Bobby opened the folder and slid three pictures across the table. ‘They sure look young to me. I’m betting that they’re no older than fifteen.’

  Todd looked up at him, his eyes as wide as saucers. His hands were shaking. ‘They only make them look that way …’ he mumbled.

  ‘And you like to look at them young, don’t you?’

  ‘You’re twisting this.’

  ‘ I don’t think I’m twisting it. Then we find the Backdoor Trojan you put on your old computer that you gave to Lainey, the one that operated the webcam. What? So when Lainey wouldn’t let you in her room, you could watch her from the computer down the hall? Or at work? Maybe on your iPhone, as she’s getting dressed in the morning, you could get off in your Rice Krispies?’

  Todd’s eyes looked like they were gonna pop out of their sockets. He stood up and pounded his fist on the table. ‘I never did nothing to her, man! I never put nothing on that computer!’ he yelled. ‘I swear it! I swear to God! Oh my God, oh my God, oh my God … OK. I had some pictures. Big fucking deal. Ain’t nothing wrong with that. My wife, Debbie, she doesn’t look like that no more,’ he said, pushing one of the pictures back at Bobby. ‘Let’s face it, guy, Madonna may look good for fifty one, but she’s still old. She doesn’t look like that, no matter who’s stuffing and stitching her back up. Nothing wrong with using a picture to fantasize. Playboy – ya know, Heffner – he built an empire doing that. It’s OK to look at young, pretty girls. So fuck you, is what I’m saying. I know my rights.’

  ‘Not when they’re underage, Todd. Then it’s a felony. For every single picture.’ Bobby paused deliberately for a long while, but never broke his probing stare. ‘Where’s Lainey?’ he demanded.

  ‘What the fuck?’ Todd said, pulling his hands through the two thick tufts of brown hair left on the side of his head. ‘You think I took my stepdaughter? That I did something to Lainey? That’s sick … Oh my God, oh my God …’

  ‘Enough with the “oh my Gods,” brother. Where were you the night of the twenty-third?’ Zo asked.

  ‘We already know you got off work at five,’ Bobby added. ‘Lainey was meeting somebody at five thirty. Coincidence?’

  ‘You fucking guys … I was with a girl, OK?’

  ‘What girl?’

  ‘Lori. I don’t know her last name. I met her at a bar after work. With the boys, you know? And we, you know, shot some pool and drank and fucked around in my car. And then I went home. I swear it. I should’ve told you last week, but I didn’t. I thought Lainey would come home again, like her sister always did.’

  ‘You’ve been doing a lot of that, Todd. Swearing,’ Bobby said, shaking his head. ‘Then I catch you and you swear it’s something else. Lori No-Last-Name is not good. You’re gonna have to do better.’

  Todd looked around the room again. ‘I want a lawyer,’ he said, reaching for his cigarette pack in his windbreaker. ‘I need a lawyer.’

  ‘There’s no smoking in here,’ Bobby replied, swiping the Marlboros from his hand. He slid them into his pocket and walked out.

  Stephanie Gravano, the Miami-Dade Assistant State Attorney, was across the hall in the MROC monitoring room, watching the show on closed-circuit TV. She shook her head when Bobby walked in. ‘There’s not enough. What’d they find at the house?’

  Bobby sighed and slapped the wall. ‘This is such bullshit …’ As if on cue, his Nextel chirped. ‘I guess we get to find out,’ he said to her as he clicked in. ‘What ya got, Ciro?’

  Ciro Acevedo was a CAC agent in Bobby’s squad. One of the best. ‘We’re still here, Bobby. Chris burned the hard drive on the other computer. He’s been looking, but no matching program that would work the Trojan on step-pop’s Dell. More pictures, though. The guy’s into hardcore, ya know? But I don’t know how old the girls are, which is the next question I know you’re gonna ask me. We’ll have to get an opinion from McBride.’

  Damn. Bobby didn’t need Chris or Ciro or Stephanie to point out what he knew already. Without a victim to testify she was a minor when the picture was taken, to make a child pornography possession case, the kid had to look ten minutes out of diapers. Any older than that and you had to get an expert to look at the pictures and render an opinion on age based on the physical development of the child that he or she was under the age of sixteen. It was impossible to make an exact call, so if the photos were of a developed teen, you were pretty much out of luck. If she looked fourteen or fifteen, the foreseeable defense argument was going to be she very well could be seventeen, and that makes possessing a picture of her in a sex act not a crime. Bobby could hear yelling on the other end of the phone. ‘Who the hell is that?’

  ‘That voice you hear screaming behind me is the witch, Wifey Dearest, going off on Chris. She’s none too happy that you’re chatting up her good-for-nothing husband. She must’ve told me ten times already how she’s gonna own my badge when the day is done. I feel like I should just give it to her with the inventory and copy of the warrant when we leave,’ Ciro chuckled. ‘No wonder your car salesman went looking someplace else.’

  ‘Did she give you his uniforms?’ The Friday Lainey disappeared was a workday. If it was Todd who picked up Lainey, he’d most likely still have been in uniform. If things went bad, if Lainey was dead or hurt, he’d have some trace evidence on him possibly. Bobby had found DNA in the cuffs of a jacket before, and blood spray in between the links of a watch. You had to sometimes think out of the box. But because the new search warrant was based on the porn found on Lainey’s computer, agents were limited in what they could look for – which was, namely, more porn. Or equipment to make, manufacture or transmit more porn. Getting the uniforms was only going to happen via permission from Mrs So-Far-Uncooperative.

  ‘Done. And the shoes. Don’t ask me why she said yes, but she did. Nothing noticeable that I can see, though. Chris is taking the computer out to the truck now. He says he’ll pick it apart back at the office. But while I was looking around in this guy’s closet, I found something else, Bobby. It’s not named in the warrant, but I thought you’d find it mighty interesting, considering you’re working Picasso, too, right?’

  Bobby turned and looked back at the pudgy car salesman on the closed-circuit TV. An uneasy feeling began to spread through his bones. Always expect the unexpected, a veteran NYPD homicide detective had advised him many years ago. A rabid dog doesn’t always look dangerous and a madman doesn’t always look mad. ‘Yeah. What’ve you got?’

  ‘I found a back room, like a pass-through door that must have been part of the garage before somebody converted it. I opened it up and took a peek. Found a whole friggin’ studio. And a bunch of, get this – paintings. Trees, flowers, street scenes, that sort of shit. Asked wifey who the artiste is. And she says she can’t even draw a stick figure. That’s when Junior blurts out it’s his daddy. Says he likes to paint on the weekends. Says it relaxes him.’


  ‘The body of a young woman discovered last Thursday in the abandoned Regal All-Suites Hotel in downtown Miami has finally been identified. Our own Mark Felding, who has become personally involved in this bizarre story, reports,’ said the perky blonde in the tight blue sweater with the big tits.

  ‘Andrea, the identity of a young female found by agents with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and the City of Miami police in this condemned hotel last Thursday remained a mystery until just this morning, after DNA testing identified her as seventeen year old Gale Sampson of Hallandale, a troubled teen with a troubled history. One reason why the identification took so long? Well, while officials with both FDLE and the City of Miami won’t comment, sources who were at the grisly scene confirm the body was mutilated beyond recognition. And you are right, Andrea. This case is certainly one for the bizarre books. Although I have vowed
to cooperate with police and not compromise their investigation, this mutilation that’s been described to me by sources would seem to match the injuries inflicted on the subject of the gruesome painting that was sent to me at WTVJ 6 just last week. In fact, this piece of art seems to be the work of Gale Sampson’s killer. Sampson, described by officials as a habitual runaway, had been living in the foster home of Guy and Tootie Rodriguez when she disappeared last June. She wasn’t reported missing to DCF, though, till September sixteenth, almost three months later, when a truant officer contacted the Rodriguezes to find out why she hadn’t been in school. Now we’ve been out to the Rodriguez residence, but no one is answering the door. And as you know, Andrea, agents with FDLE are also investigating the recent disappearance of another troubled South Florida teen, thirteen-year-old Elaine Emerson of Coral Springs who went missing after school on October twenty-third. Elaine has been listed on the FDLE’s website as a runaway, but now authorities are trying to determine if the disappearances of these two young women might somehow be related. Let’s hope not. I’m Mark Felding. As part of my ongoing special investigative report into the troubling, dark world of South Florida’s runaways …’

  The man looked down at his J & B and swirled it around the cheap glass. He couldn’t help but smile as he listened to the news on the bar’s overhead flat screen, but it would be really, really bad for anyone to see him doing that here, now. It would be inappropriate, to say the least. So he bit down hard on the inside of his cheek till blood filled his mouth. It didn’t really hurt, but he knew it would stop him from smiling. A bloody vampire grin would definitely attract attention and raise some eyebrows.

  Finally he was getting some face time. He was getting noticed. Even though it threatened to expose him, even though he was officially living out there on the edge now, it felt good. For too long he’d been all alone with his strange thoughts, doing things that even he sometimes thought were … not right. But now, the decision to show the world who he was and what he was capable of was strangely liberating. And the danger, even here in this bar filled with strangers, listening with them, alongside them as they learned of the horror he was capable of inflicting … it was, well, exciting. He was not a homosexual, but if he were, he imagined it would be a similar feeling to coming out of the closet. Or at least deciding to come out of the closet. Especially if he were, say, a famous ballplayer or a rock star, wrapped up so tight in a handsome, masculine, commercial package it was suffocating him – just the decision to be who you really were, no matter the consequence, would be … well, cathartic. Even if you never actually stepped out beyond that closet door and into that pink poofy new world, just the decision to do it was a heavy weight off your shoulders.

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