Pretty Little Things, p.17Jilliane Hoffman
‘Here’s to hoping you don’t need a bigger wall,’ Zo commented. ‘I see you think you have an ID,’ he added, nodding at the MEPIC flyers underneath the screaming blondes.
‘We’re getting DNA from birth dad out of Dayton, Ohio, but it looks like Roseanne and Rosalie Boganes, eighteen and seventeen, from Florida City. Two sisters who disappeared last August from their aunt’s house after their mother died of a heroin overdose. Dad’s getting swabbed as we speak. When and if we get a body – or bodies – we’ll at least have a genetic sample to compare.’
Zo shook his head. ‘Sisters? Never even heard they were missing. How do runaway sisters not make the freaking news?’
‘Runaway siblings aren’t all that unusual. Abuse in the home usually means more than one kid’s being abused. Or maybe Mom and Dad have drinking or drug problems and the kids want a way out besides being separated in foster care,’ Bobby replied.
‘Kids think there’s safety in numbers – you know, the “I’ll jump, if you will” mentality. Or maybe one sibling doesn’t want the other to be on her own. I call it the “Little Momma syndrome”,’ offered Larry.
Bobby nodded. ‘Both Boganes girls are habitual runaways, according to the aunt, who never wanted custody anyway. I talked to her today. She still thinks Rosalie and Roseanne hopped a freight train and finally went to Vegas, like they were always threatening to.’
‘Can Auntie ID if we get a body? Or rather, bodies?’ Zo looked over at the photos of Gale Sampson and thoughtfully rubbed the scruff on his face, obviously remembering the gruesome scene he had walked in on last week. ‘Probably not. So how do you figure it’s them? These sisters?’
‘Since last Thursday I’ve been combing through Clearinghouse photos and Dawn’s been compiling a list of South Florida kids that aren’t on MEPIC, trying to come up with some kind of comprehensive list of runaways to work with. Mark Felding had started making his own list, too, categorizing similarities in victims and disappearances. There are other missing sibs, but only two blonde sisters. The deciding factor was Rosalie Boganes was described as having a disfigured thumb in the Florida City police report. Daddy sliced off half of it when she was three, which is why he lost custody. Look here,’ Bobby said, pointing below the chained wrist of one girl in the painting. ‘Half a thumb.’
‘Shit.’ Zo exhaled a deep sigh. ‘Another whacko trying to give this city the reputation it deserves. Now this Felding. Talk to me. What the fuck’s up with that guy? I get to find out there’s another painting by watching the motherfucking news? What’s that about?’
‘Felding’s an asshole,’ Bobby replied. ‘Claims he got the package and was calling us when his producer walked in, saw the painting and went live at five. Says all he mentioned on air was that there was another breaking development in the Picasso murders.’
‘Yeah, and I about choked on my hot dog when he said that breaking development was another fucking painting of two dead girls that had been sent to him,’ Zo grumbled.
‘He’s a vulture,’ Ciro said. ‘They all are, every one of those reporters. Just ask a celebrity.’
‘Can we charge him with obstruction?’ Zo asked.
‘Don’t I wish, but no,’ Bobby answered. ‘The painting went to him. I don’t think we have any grounds. For whatever reason, this Picasso psycho has picked a washed-up Channel Six field reporter to be his mouthpiece to the world and the guy is doing a helluva job. He’s no fool – I’m sure he sees the potential career opportunities. He did eventually call and he did eventually hand the painting over. But I’m gonna ask Stephanie to try and have a judge gag him. It’s an ongoing criminal investigation that his antics are compromising.’
‘If a judge doesn’t wanna do it, tell Stephanie I’ll shove a gag in his mouth,’ Zo replied. ‘Anything on the package?’
‘Nope. Untraceable adhesive label. Dime-a-dozen Office Depot envelope. Prints everywhere, from the mailroom to the executive producer, I’m sure. It’s going to trace and serology. We’ll see what we get, but I’m not hopeful, unless they can pick up DNA on the label.’
‘Let me guess – your name was somewhere in this package?’ Zo asked Bobby.
‘Same as before. A string of newspaper clips glued together,’ Bobby replied.
‘Well, it’s obvious this guy wants your attention, Shep. After he makes the five o’clock news, that is,’ Larry commented.
‘Fortunately Felding didn’t broadcast the actual painting,’ Bobby said. ‘At least we have something to screen the loons.’ For some reason no one could ever rationally explain to him, high-profile crimes always attracted a large number of false confessions. Weeding out the nuts from among the leads could be very time-consuming.
‘If this is the same sort of deal as Sampson, then these two are already dead,’ Larry said. ‘Based on Sampson’s autopsy, she’d been held for a long time before he offed her. If he had her since she disappeared, that was five months. These sisters, how long you say they’ve been gone?’
‘August,’ Bobby replied.
‘That’s three. And that’s a helluva long time to be housing live girls, if that’s what he’s doing. Was there anything on Sampson’s body that might help us out in figuring where he’s keeping them?’
‘Everything on her person is going through Serology and Toxicolgy. You know that can take weeks, sometimes months if they don’t know what they’re looking for,’ Bobby answered with a sigh.
‘What the hell is bringing this guy out now?’ Ciro asked. ‘I mean, if he’s been keeping and offing girls without anybody bothering him, why is he coming out now? What does he want?’
‘Just what he’s getting – publicity. His face on the tube. Infamy.’
‘So where are they?’ Veso asked quietly.
‘That’s the million-dollar question,’ Bobby replied with a sigh, forgetting for the moment that the guy was still gunning for his job. He moved to the photo of the girls. ‘Here, out this small round window behind them is clearly blue water. And two boats sitting there. I had Forensics enhance the photo they took, here.’ He slid an 8 × 10 out of a folder and tacked it up on the corkboard. ‘It looks to me like he’s painted the beginning of a name on the boat. The Emp. Then it cuts off. And this here? Is this maybe the outside of a house? Looks real fancy. Maybe Star Island or Sunny Isles. Could be any real nice waterfront.’
‘Maybe they’re on a boat? Ya, know, the round window?’ Ciro said. ‘Larry, you’re the yachtsman. What does it look like to you?’
‘Could be a boat. If, like Bobby says, he’s painting what he’s seeing, he’s looking at those two docked boats and probably a house or restaurant. I don’t recognize it either.’
‘Search all registered boats from Palm Beach to the Keys to see if we can get a match, Larry,’ Bobby said. ‘And see if there’s a way we can find out about visiting boats. You know, those registered someplace else but holed up in South Florida during season.’
‘Done,’ Larry replied with a nod.
The room went quiet for a long moment. All eyes were on the corkboard. It was Bobby who broke the somber silence. ‘I think he’s put some other clues in here for us to find, guys. Very subtle clues. And that’s why I think it’s time for more than one set of eyes to look for them.’
Bobby pulled out another 8 × 10 and pointed at a necklace on one of the blondes. A bright neon pink heart within a heart. Then he pulled out an MEPIC flyer. ‘This necklace is seen on a picture of one of the Clearinghouse girls. Here – Nikole Krupa, a fifteen-year-old brunette out of Riviera Beach. It’s a very unique necklace, you know? And the Led Zeppelin T-shirt worn by the other sister matches the clothing description of another runaway, Adrianna Sweet. We also have the happy-face T-shirt that Gale Sampson was wearing that matches the clothing description of what Allegra Villenueva was last seen wearing. Then here,’ he said, pointing to the far-off corner of the painting. He pulled out a third enhanced 8 × 10. The top of a math textbook poked out of a khaki-and-pink book bag.
‘Looks like it,’ Bobby replied. ‘It’s a reference to line spoken by Edward Cullen, the vampire character in the Twilight movies.’
‘Didn’t that whacko mom say her daughter had a Twilight book bag?’ Zo asked.
Bobby nodded. ‘She did.’
‘He’s got the Emerson girl …’
‘Yup. He’s got Lainey,’ Bobby replied. ‘And I think there are others. I think that within these paintings are hidden clues. Like a Highlights magazine. Remember them? The “Can you see the hidden pictures?” puzzles? The T-shirts, the necklace, the different hairstyle on Gale Sampson. The two different DNA blood samples on the Sampson painting. Hell, we may not even recognize all the clues because we’re not looking for the victims. We may not even know they’re missing.’
‘Holy shit …’ Zo said, rubbing his stubble again.
‘He’s not just taunting us, guys,’ Bobby said quietly, staring hard at the painting. ‘He’s showing us his collection.’
‘What about the stepdad?’ Ciro asked as the room stared at the photos in silence. ‘I mean, if it wasn’t interesting before that he liked to paint pretty pictures in his secret room, it sure as hell is now. Now that we know there’s definitely a link between Lainey’s disappearance and this Picasso.’
‘Exactly. Only it’s a little too obvious, I’m thinking,’ Bobby replied. ‘If LaManna is Picasso, why would he send us a painting that potentially linked him to the disappearance of his stepdaughter? He already knows we’re looking at him for that.’
‘Could be he thinks it will throw suspicion off of him,’ Ciro mused. ‘Could be he thinks that if we think this psycho Picasso is the one who has his kid, then we won’t look at him no more. That we’ll go away, go looking in another direction, at other people. You know, reverse psychology? Like he’s duped us by putting up a sign with an arrow that says, “Bad Guy That-a-way!”’
‘I’ve interviewed the man and I just don’t think he’s that smart,’ Bobby replied. ‘But he might be that stupid. And I agree that we have to check him out. That means surveillance, twenty-four seven.’
‘Have you talked to his other kid? The older girl? Maybe she can shed some light,’ Zo asked.
‘According to Debra LaManna, she’s been continuously, quote, “unavailable”. End quote. Not sure if that’s with a little assistance from Mom – the family wagons circled after hubby became a person of interest. But Sis has a runaway history herself, so it is quite possible she took off and Mom is not reporting it so we stay out of her life.’
‘The kiddie porn on LaManna’s computer wasn’t enough to pop him, huh?’ Larry asked. ‘At least get him off the street while we look for more?’
‘He’s denying it’s kiddie, and the girls are not prepubescent,’ Bobby replied. ‘Finding an expert who’ll testify that they could be under sixteen will be difficult and will inevitably lead to another saying they’re not. That’s reasonable doubt. Stephanie won’t even consider an arrest on that. As far as the webcam, there’s no evidence he’s the one who sent the Trojan. Chris Turan can’t ID who sent it. The secret studio is what’s going to get us another search warrant and a much closer look at that house. I want clothes, paint, canvas, brush hairs, fibers – anything and everything that could possibly link him to these paintings. I also want to get in his car. He had to transport these girls from wherever he met them to where he kept them, to wherever he dumped them.’
‘And wherever he might be holding them still,’ added Zo. ‘If what you’re thinking is right, Bobby, if this pink necklace and the different T-shirts and DNA means he’s planting a clue garden and there are more victims – and, like Gunther speculated, this nut has been chaining them up for a while before he kills them – then that also means he has to have a place to be keeping them. Let’s pull whatever we can on properties that LaManna’s got access to. That includes relatives. We also have to consider that maybe this guy isn’t working alone.’
Bobby nodded. ‘Another reason why I don’t want him picked up just yet. If he is involved, if he is Picasso, then he can bring us to these other girls, who might very well still be alive. Gale Sampson was only killed a day or two before we found her. I’m not holding out much hope for the Boganes sisters, but I am for the others – if there are others. Whether LaManna is Picasso or it’s somebody else, the question we have to ultimately answer is the one that will lead us to his victims. Every indication so far is this guy is targeting runaways and throwaways – the kids nobody wants. How? How is he meeting them? And what kind of music is he playing to get them to follow him out of their houses like some Pied Piper in the middle of the night? If we find out where he’s hunting from, we might just find him.’ Bobby’s cell chirped just then. He picked it up when he saw the number. ‘Dees.’
‘Agent Dees, this is Duty Officer Karin Koehle with FDLE in Tallahassee. I’m calling to advise you that the juvenile you had flagged in the system was run this morning by the Coral Springs Police Department responding to a residential burglar alarm. Liza Ashley Emerson, DOB May 10, 1991, is being transported to Coral Springs, pending an interview and parental notification. Would you like me to contact the arresting authority on your behalf to advise them of the flag, or would you like the contact information yourself?’
‘We’ve been looking for you, Liza,’ Bobby said with a smile when he and Detective Bill Dagher opened the door and stepped into the detective’s office at the Coral Springs PD.
The thin, disheveled girl with the long, tangled brown hair squeaked, jumped in her chair and dropped her cell phone, which she’d obviously been busy yapping on. It hit the thin carpet with a thud and ricocheted into three different pieces around the room. ‘I … you … I didn’t hear you open the door. I thought you were my dad,’ she managed as she stooped down to pick up the pieces. She cleared her throat. ‘My step –’
Bobby picked up the battery and handed it to her. ‘Stepdad? No. But that’s who I want to talk to you about, Liza. I’m Special Agent Bobby Dees. I work for the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. I’m investigating the disappearance of your little sister, Elaine.’
‘Oh.’ Liza’s eyes darted around the room. She sat on the edge of her seat, like she was getting ready to run.
‘I’ve been trying to talk to you for two weeks now, but you’re not at home, you’re not at school. You’re not working at the bowling alley any more.’ He leaned casually against the edge of the metal desk in front of her. Dagher stood guard by the door. ‘What’s up with that? Are you in trouble, Liza?’
She looked down at her lap, where she was shredding a tissue. ‘No. No trouble. I just don’t want to be home right now, that’s all.’
‘Why?’ Dagher asked.
‘When was the last time you saw Lainey?’ Bobby asked.
She shrugged again. ‘Dunno. The day before she didn’t come home, I think. At breakfast.’
‘What’re your thoughts on your sister’s disappearance? Any reason she might not want to go home, either?’
Liza said nothing for a long while. She continued to shred the tissue into little white shards of fluff. ‘I saw the news at my friend’s house. I saw that there’s a guy killing teens, you know? Painting weird pictures of them dead and all. And that Lainey …’ Her voice broke. ‘Oh God, that Lainey might be with him, you know? Then my mom told me the police were at the house, taking things like the computer and stuff, and that they were interrogating Todd at the police station.’
Bobby nodded. ‘Well, I’m not at liberty to discuss everything with you, but we have a couple of investigations going, that’s true. And your stepfather has definitely been questioned about some things – some things I want to talk to you about.’
She turned red and looked back down at her lap. ‘There was no way I was going home after that, you know? With him still there.’
‘Tell me why.’
She shook her head and sucked in a sniffle. When she finally spoke her small voice was just above a whisper. ‘She’s a good kid, Lainey. A good sister. I didn’t tell her that. I thought she just left for a few days to get away from him, and all, you know? To get him to stop trying to come into her room. Like me – I didn’t take that shit from him, you know? The fucking perv. But then she didn’t come home at all and now he’s back at the house. And I’m not going back there.’ She started to cry finally. Full force. Bobby handed her another tissue from the box on Dagher’s desk. He said nothing while she tried to catch her breath.
‘So me and my friends, we just crashed at this house we thought was empty. You know, like the people couldn’t pay for it no more? I forget what they call that. We weren’t burglarizing nothing. I just didn’t want to go home, is all. He’s a creep and a fucking asshole and a perv, and … oh God, I think, I think he might have done something to Lainey …’
‘So you think this might be the guy, huh?’ Judge Reuben Sullivan said with a cocked eyebrow as he signed the warrant that would allow them to search Todd LaManna’s home once again – this time for evidence in the Gale Sampson homicide and the Boganes sisters’ disappearance. The judge had already signed one for Todd’s 2001 black Infinity Q45. ‘Picasso, hmmm? Is that what they’re calling him in the press?’
Pretty Little Things by Jilliane Hoffman / History & Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes