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Pretty little things, p.19
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       Pretty Little Things, p.19

           Jilliane Hoffman
 

  He lit his butt, then held out the flame in front of him to see where he was going. He was standing in the middle of a living room, with chairs and a coffee table and a dining table, too. Off behind him was a galley kitchen. So far, so good – and no monster bugs. If he opened a couple of windows he could probably get rid of the stink. What a life. To have enough money to own a house you don’t use and a forty-foot boat you don’t sail. He walked a little further, down a few more steps and opened the door right in front of him. The one that led, presumably to the sleeping quarters. The flame went out and he shook the lighter and flicked it again, squinting in the darkness to see what was in front of him.

  When he saw the two bodies sitting up in the middle of the round captain’s bed, their arms wrapped around each other, his first thought was that his hunch had been right – someone else had gotten this great idea long before him and he’d just walked in on two people doing the nasty. He mumbled ‘sorry’ and took a step back, but he stumbled, catching himself with the edge of the bedding and pulling it with him. The bodies tumbled forward on the bed. The flame went out. And no one said a word.

  That’s when Wally realized that the bad, rotting smell was all around him and the two people he’d just walked in on in the inky darkness were very, very dead.

  46

  ‘Larry, what’ve you got?’ Bobby started as he walked into the CAC squad bay Tuesday morning. ‘Anything on Lori No-Last-Name?’

  ‘No luck on the girl,’ Larry replied, looking up from his laptop. He picked up files, following Bobby into his office. ‘I did find the two losers Todd LaManna met up with the night of the twenty-sixth at the Side Pocket Pub: Jules Black and Alex Juarez. They work in CarMax service. Both say Todd hooked up with them about eight and left about eleven with a lady nobody knew. Some brunette. Best description is she had a rack on her and looked to be more than of age. They didn’t know her name. She just talked to him at the bar and they walked out together a few minutes later. It’s not the secretary, ’cause she’s a redhead and we checked, although he was banging her, too.’

  ‘Anyone know where he was from five to eight?’

  ‘Nope.’

  ‘That’s not so good for our boy.’

  ‘What about the lab?’ Ciro asked as he walked in, coffee cup in hand. ‘Anything back yet?’

  ‘The car was clean,’ Bobby replied. ‘No blood, but they did find three strands of Lainey’s hair in the trunk.’ He waved a piece of paper in the air. ‘Lab report – hot off the fax.’

  ‘In the trunk?’ Ciro asked.

  ‘They pulled hairs from the brush we seized in Lainey’s room and matched them. Is that fresh?’ Bobby asked, nodding at Ciro’s coffee.

  ‘Kiki just made some. It’s a little strong, but you know, she’s Cuban. So things are really not looking good for our boy.’ Ciro shook his head. ‘Scumbag. How do you think they got there?’

  Bobby shrugged. ‘Could be he threw her in the trunk. Could be from the beachbag she threw in the trunk six months ago. Impossible to say where or when or how, and it’s potentially explainable. But there is more news: the manufacturer is a match on the paint. Winsor & Newton. We just can’t ID an actual color match, because both the Sampson and Boganes portrait paint was blended. The lab can’t differentiate pigment colors once they’re blended. Canvas is white stretched linen, no discernable weave. Untraceable.’ Bobby picked up his empty Mickey Mouse mug and fingered an oversized ear. It was a gift from Katy years ago for his birthday. ‘I think I’ll see if Kiki wants to share.’

  ‘So we got one sis saying Stepdad’s a fucking octopus and that the younger one, who’s now missing, was busy trying to fend him off. He ain’t got no alibi for the time his step goes AWOL, and her freaking hairs are in his trunk? Oh, and the paint’s a match,’ Larry said, scratching his head. ‘When can we move on him, Bobby? I mean, we can pop him for L & L on the older kid – at least get him off the street.’

  ‘I don’t want him off the street, Larry. We have at least one missing girl that we know for sure is still out there – his stepdaughter. If he’s working alone and he’s popped, who the hell’s gonna take care of her?’

  The twisted facts of a case out of Kentucky a couple of years back that Bobby had verbally assisted on immediately came to mind. Chad Fogerty was a suspect in a series of disappearances of at least ten girls. Kentucky police figured Fogerty’s victims were long dead, so they trumped up some charges just to get him off the street while they tried to make a case, thinking they had potentially saved another parent a heartbreaking tragedy. When the trumped-up charges fell flat some three months later and Fogerty finally got out of jail, persistent detectives followed him to a remote farm outside of Bowling Green. A farm nobody ever knew he had. In the underground tornado shelter, shocked detectives found the caged bodies of all ten missing girls – girls who had slowly starved to death while Fogerty was sleeping peacefully on a cot in the county jail. No way was Bobby gonna let that happen in this case. He’d never forgive himself. Even though he still wasn’t completely convinced that LaManna was Picasso, he wasn’t taking any chances with a kid’s life.

  ‘If she’s still alive, Bobby,’ Larry tried.

  Bobby shook his head. ‘I want to see where he’s going. Zo did some checking. Found relatives in Tennessee and LaManna’s mother in Port St Lucie.’ Port St Lucie was a small, super quiet city on the eastern shore of central Florida, about an hour and a half south of Orlando. It was a haven for retirees. ‘I’m gonna head up to see Mom tomorrow. I’ll have the Chattanooga police check on the other relatives. What about the boat angle, Larry? Anything?’

  ‘There are eighty-nine boats registered in Miami and Broward Counties that begin with the words “The Emp”. And the Coast Guard doesn’t track boats registered in other states that come to sail our blue waters – they only keep tabs on boats coming into the country.’

  ‘Shit,’ Bobby replied. ‘All right. Eighty-nine is doable. Let’s start with that. We’ll divide each county and each take twenty –’

  Frank Veso stuck his head in the CAC squad bay. ‘Hey, Bobby,’ he called, obviously out of breath. ‘You need to turn on a TV. Looks like your case – our case – is on! Put on Six.’

  Bobby could feel his chest tighten. He flicked on the portable behind him, just in time to see WTVJ’s Mark Felding standing in front of a pink house, the sails of a large sailboat rising over the roofline behind him. Blue and red lights from more than one police cruiser spun all around him, visible even in the bright sun. Uniforms crawled on the lawn, which was sectioned off with yellow crime-scene tape. Underneath Felding ran the bold-faced graphic: BREAKING NEWS: TWO BODIES FOUND IN BOAT IN FORT LAUDERDALE BELIEVED TO BE MISSING MIAMI SISTERS …

  ‘… no one knows more than that, or at least they’re not telling us, Andrea,’ Felding was saying, trying hard to control the tinge of mounting excitement in his voice. ‘But from speaking with sources who have interviewed Walter Jackson, I’d say this could well be the work of the very dangerous killer known so intimately, unfortunately, to both myself and the police as Picasso. And if, once again, if these are the missing Boganes sisters, which has yet to be confirmed – well, Andrea, all I can say is that law enforcement has previously classified these two girls as runaways, just like they have with missing thirteen-year-old Elaine Emerson, and that could very well mean that a serial killer is operating right here in South Florida. Right here, Andrea. Right in our own backyard …’

  47

  A smug Mark Felding stood on the side of the Channel Six news van, smoking a cigarette and yukking it up with his chubby cameraman and a pair of Ft Lauderdale uniform cops. ‘Are you fucking kidding me? Do you want to go to jail?’ Bobby yelled when he spotted him.

  A surprised Felding held his hands up as Bobby rushed towards him, probably to defend himself from the punch he thought was coming. ‘You had me gagged, Agent Dees!’ he started. ‘No discussing what I saw in the paintings that were sent to me and any future paintings that are
delivered to me. I got it, I got it. But nowhere in your gag order does it say I can’t talk about the news, thank you very much. You see, that’s my job. I’m a reporter. That’s what I do. Sorry you didn’t like my report.’

  The cameraman and uniforms backed away. ‘You go live with this sort of bullshit before I’m even called out? Why the fuck didn’t you tell Fort Lauderdale PD I was working it?’

  Felding’s eyes grew dark. ‘That’s not my job, now, is it? To tell people what your job is? It’s not my problem if the left hand doesn’t know what the right’s doing. I’m here to get information to the people. That’s what I do. That’s my job.’

  ‘Bobby!’ Zo called.

  Bobby turned and walked away before he hit the man.

  ‘What about the car in the garage?’ Felding yelled after him. ‘A records check shows that it was purchased at CarMax. Is it true there may be a link between this scene and Lainey Emerson’s stepdad, Todd LaManna? Are you gonna arrest him soon?’

  Bobby turned around and charged back over. The uniforms scattered. He brought his hand down over the ENG lens, lest the cameraman get any ideas that it was a good time to frame a shot. ‘Listen, Sherlock,’ he snapped at a suddenly pale-faced Felding, ‘I know you really want to be a cop. I can feel it. You couldn’t cut it in the academy, maybe didn’t pass the background check, whatever. But I know your type. And now this is your one really big chance to make a name for yourself and prove to everybody who thought you were a loser that you should’ve been the detective on this. But let me tell you – you don’t know shit. You are a two-bit, dime-a-dozen field reporter who for some fucked-up reason was singled out to be a madman’s messenger. You’re not a real reporter. You’re not a great detective. You’re nothing but a puppet in all this, and you are in way over your head. So do what the nice judge has ordered you to do and shut the fuck up, or so help me, Mark, I will come down on you like I should’ve weeks ago – with an iron fist and no mercy.’

  He turned and walked past Zo and the yellow crime-scene tape that cordoned off the driveway and strode up to the house. As he passed the two chatty uniforms that had scampered off, he shouted, ‘Anyone gives that little shit so much as the time of day, you’ll be on midnights till you retire. Got that?’

  In the backyard he found what looked a lot like chaos. Crime-scene techs were everywhere, as were uniform – crawling like ants all over the boat, stomping all around the backyard. Supervising the offload of a single black body bag from the sailboat was a jumbo-sized detective sucking on a death stick, dressed in khakis and a sweat-soaked white dress shirt with yellow pit stains.

  ‘Detective Lafferty? I’m Agent Robert Dees, FDLE. We spoke on the phone.’

  ‘You got here quick,’ Lafferty replied, exhaling a plume of gray in Bobby’s face.

  ‘That’s a good thing. Didn’t I ask you not to remove the bodies before I got here?’

  ‘You did. But these boys can’t wait around all day.’

  ‘It’s been twenty minutes. Do you mind?’ he asked, walking up to the body bag and unzipping it before the detective had a chance to respond. The picked-over face of what was once a human being stared up at a cheerfully blue sky. Almost completely skeletonized, only chunks of decomposed black flesh clung to the skull and neck, like a chicken wing nibbled down to the bone and left out in the hot sun beside a park trash can. Thick pieces of long blonde hair rested underneath her skull, where her scalp had slipped off. Around her neck was a bright neon pink heart within a heart necklace, which lay against the collar of a black Got Milk? T-shirt. Bobby looked down. Bony fingers rested at the body’s side, but the thumb on the right hand was missing its tip. He zipped her back up. Overhead, he could hear the buzz of a helicopter approaching. It was a news chopper. With a telephoto Bobby knew they could catch the tonsils in the back of his throat if they really wanted a picture of them. ‘Don’t move the next body,’ he said to Lafferty.

  ‘Now don’t be telling me what to do, son,’ Lafferty began in a testy voice, following Bobby’s stare and looking uneasily up at the sky.

  ‘This is an FDLE investigation now. I won’t need to tell you what to do any more, because you’re to do nothing but type up your report on how you fucked up my crime scene.’ He turned to the ME techs, who stood there looking uncomfortable. ‘Put her in the truck. Don’t transport her till I tell you. And don’t move the other one.’

  Zo walked up just as Lafferty stormed off under a date palm and had a hissy fit on the phone with his chain of command. ‘Now that’s how you win friends and influence people. I’m sure glad I’m the boss.’

  ‘Who leaked it?’ Bobby asked.

  ‘Don’t know. It was all over the radio. It didn’t take a genius to pick it up off a scanner. To be fair, no one figured it for Picasso till your friend and his camera crew showed up.’

  ‘Did you call?’

  ‘Yup. Miami-Dade’s in and so is BSO. Two guys each. I think you can kiss off Fort Lauderdale, but the City of Miami is contributing one man, too. You officially have got yourself a task force, Shep.’

  48

  Years before NBC and handsome George Clooney romanticized the ER, Denzel Washington and Howie Mandel were making rounds on St Elsewhere. That was when LuAnn Briggs, a young and impressionable teenager in search of an exciting career after high school graduation, decided to become a nurse. And not just any ‘stick your tongue out and say “ah!”’ hand-holder in white, but a nurse that made a real difference every day – saving lives and running central lines and riding gurneys, pounding hearts till they started to beat again. Even back then, she knew that there was no way her daddy – who was watching the same medical drama she was on the same couch in Shreveport, Louisiana – would send her to med school, even if he could afford to. Her grades were stellar, but being a doctor was no job for a woman. Nursing, on the other hand, was a respectable profession and the best she should ever hope for. Except LuAnn didn’t just want respectable. She wanted exciting. She wanted death-defying. She wanted thrilling. She wanted to be one of the nurses in Boston’s St Eligius, hanging with Howie and Denzel as they smoothly and courageously put the humpty-dumptys back together again. So she picked emergency medicine and she picked crazy New York City to practice it. A city she had never even been to. Ten days out of Northwestern State University she found herself in the middle of hell.

  Gunshot wounds at Jamaica Hospital were commonplace; stabbings were routine. There were no funny, tension-relieving jokes being exchanged inside the ER when things went from bad to terrible. No cute, young, carefree doctors hanging by the coffee machine. The patients weren’t nice and the hospital administration wasn’t forgiving. But for the two-year commitment and sign-on bonus, LuAnn would probably never have lasted even the week.

  But then she never would have met Detective Bobby Dees.

  Eighteen years had passed since that horrible night when Bobby had been wheeled into her ER on a blood-soaked gurney with a fading pulse, accompanied by about two dozen frantic NYPD officers. It was a twist of fate that had her working a double that day, another that sent a terrible rainstorm to prevent her from going out on break for a cigarette, and yet another that steered her future husband into her trauma room. LuAnn hadn’t expected the first real love of her life to come searching for her on a stretcher, covered in blood, his brachial artery shredded by a drug dealer’s bullet. She hadn’t expected that it would be she who had to save him. But maybe it was because she had met Bobby this way, maybe because something so powerful and so good had come out of working a double shift in hell that rainy day, that LuAnn had passed on the zillion opportunities since to go into other less pressurized areas of nursing.

  Now, more than ever, she was thankful that she’d stayed put. Now the high stress of working in a chaotic Level 1 Trauma hospital thirty minutes outside of Miami was a welcome distraction from the rest of her life. And as selfish as it would sound if she said it aloud, right now she needed to be around people whose lives were more tragically devastate
d than her own.

  So she worked as long and as hard as she could, and then signed up for double shifts and holidays – drowning herself in emotionally exhausting work, much as an alcoholic would with a bottle of booze. And just like a drunk the morning after a binge, she, too, felt bad. As if she had let everyone down once again. First her daughter had run away from the very home she had created, and now she wasn’t even looking for her every waking second of every day, like her husband was. Instead she was working again, pulling another double. But the truth was, she couldn’t do what Bobby did. In fact, LuAnn tried her hardest during the day not to even think of Katy, although she’d never tell Bobby that. Because to think about her only child, the little girl who once wanted to cheer for Florida State and go to vet school, and wonder under what bridge she might be resting her head at night, what crap she was shooting into her arms, what vile things she might be doing for money – it was just too painful. So she didn’t. Instead, like the lush with a bruising guilt hangover who heads for an open bar, LuAnn sought solace in accepting another shift and fixing somebody else’s tragedy.

  She tossed her latex gloves and blood-splattered gown cover in the biohazard bin, finished up her cold coffee and stepped out into the packed waiting room. ‘Elbe Sanchez?’ she called. A frail-looking older woman stood up in the back of the room and, with the help of a walker, began to make her way over. On the overhead waiting-room TV that usually blared Judge Alex or Dr Phil or the girls from The View, LuAnn saw the news was on. She would never have paid it a second’s attention, but for the fact it was that same reporter from the other night on the TV, the one who had gotten Bobby all upset. Felding was his name. Mark Felding. He had reported on the runaway teenager from Coral Springs.

 
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