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Pretty little things, p.21
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       Pretty Little Things, p.21

           Jilliane Hoffman
 

  He lifted her face to make her look at him. ‘Don’t be crazy,’ he said firmly. ‘She left because she made a choice to leave. She wanted to be with Ray and she was doing drugs. She made the choice. It was never you. You’re the best mother. The best. And I’m not lying. Every time I saw you with her, whether it was walking her in a stroller or sitting on the sidelines, it was perfect. And until that piece of shit came into Katherine’s life, everything was good. She loved cheering. She told me she wanted to try for a scholarship. I asked her once if she wanted to stop, because of all the homework and stuff, and she said no. She said she loved it. So it wasn’t you.’

  There was a long silence. He closed his eyes as he rocked LuAnn in his arms, with her head against his chest, still kneeling beside her on the couch. ‘I should’ve seen that she was trying stuff,’ he began quietly, whispering into her hair. ‘ I know the signs. I should’ve checked her arms sooner, gone through her backpack or her drawers. I should’ve tested her. I’m the cop, LuAnn, I should’ve seen this, not you. I didn’t want to think she’d do it. I didn’t want to think my kid would do all the things I told her never to do. Things only bad kids do. Ray … goddamn it, I knew he was bad news. I knew he was a banger … I never should’ve let her work at the fucking Dairy Queen. I should’ve told her she didn’t have to get a job. I should’ve just given her more spending money. It was me, LuAnn, not you. It’s me who should be crying and asking you to forgive me for not doing my job.’

  She pulled his face down then, close to hers, her fingertips wiping away the tears that had welled in his eyes before they even fell. Then she kissed him on the lips, her warm tongue finding his, pushing deeper into his mouth. It had been a long time since they’d kissed. Even longer since they’d kissed passionately. LuAnn had the most beautiful mouth, with warm, full red lips that quivered slightly when she kissed you.

  He pulled her closer, his hands buried in the tangles of her long hair, pressing against her back. He wanted to feel all of her, all at once – her warm skin, the curve of her cheeks, the arch of her back. He wanted to touch all of it, take it all in, because he knew the next day it would all be over, and he had to savor every second of this feeling before it left him again.

  She didn’t move away. Instead, she pressed close to him, her hands moving over him as his did with her. She pulled his dress shirt out of his pants and ran her hands underneath it and over his back, her nails tracing his skin, moving to the front of his chest, finding his nipples, moving lower, over his abs. With both hands she pulled his shirt up and over his head.

  He looked at her lying on the couch before him, feeling a bit like a teen on a date that has just gotten the signal that tonight’s the night. He was excited, hungry to touch her, to feel himself thrusting inside of her, but hesitant, wanting to make sure this was the decision she wanted to make. Wanting to know that she was sure of the next step. As though she’d read his mind, she sat up on the couch and pulled her sweater over her head. Then she reached back behind and unhooked her bra. It slipped off on to her lap, exposing her beautiful, full breasts, her erect nipples. She reached out and took his hands and placed them on her.

  ‘Make love to me, Bobby. Please.’

  He had never needed her more. He stood up before her and undid the Velcro keepers on his belt that held his gun holster in place, and set it on the coffee table behind him. LuAnn reached over, undid his buckle and unzipped his pants, pulling them, along with his briefs, slowly down over his thighs till they fell on the floor. He stood there, exposed before her, his penis hard and erect.

  Then he climbed on top of her on the couch and did as she had asked.

  52

  When the sun came up, LuAnn was there, sleeping on his chest, where she had stayed all night. The painkillers they’d given her at the hospital had knocked her out pretty good, but, of course, that didn’t cure Bobby’s insomnia. In fact, LuAnn’s concussion was just one more worry to keep him up counting sheep all night. He’d made sure to check on her every two hours, to make sure her pupils were dilating, that she was responding to stimuli, that she was safely beside him, breathing on his skin …

  Now the morning was here, and they were still one beneath warm sheets, legs tangled together, wrapped in each other’s arms. It was a place he had not been in so long he could not remember the last time he was. He just knew that when things were good – before Katy left – he had taken for granted the feeling of LuAnn’s breath on his chest at night, the sweet smell of her hair under his nose, the curve of her waist in the palm of his hand. Even though they had gotten married relatively young – much younger than most of their friends and certainly younger than what their families would have liked – for almost seventeen years Bobby believed they had a great marriage. A lot of ups, a few downs when money was tight, but nothing that he ever felt was insurmountable. Nothing that ever made him wish for something better. Being a cop meant nine out of every ten friends were divorced, in the process of divorcing, or cheating. For a myriad of psychobabble reasons, unstable marriages and affairs seemed to just come with the job description. But not him and LuAnn. They were always so good together. And now that he had tasted again what he took for granted all those years, he didn’t want the morning to come. He didn’t want to go back to yesterday, although the choice, he realized, might not be his to make.

  He slid her head gently on to the pillow and left her sleeping while he went in to shave and take a shower. No matter the fragile status of his personal life, he had a young girl to find, two bodies to positively identify, and a madman to catch. It was barely eight a.m. and he already had ten messages on his cell, which he’d turned off for the first time in a long time last night. If it was bad enough, the right people knew how to find him.

  He watched her sleep while he quietly got dressed. Nilla had taken his spot, curling up beside LuAnn, her head on a pillow. The dog watched him back with her big brown eyes, while he clipped on his cell, slipped on a sports jacket, and then stood there for a long, long moment. He was unsure of his next move. If he woke LuAnn to say goodbye, the spell might well be over. She might look at him like a girl with a roofie hangover stares at the stranger smiling at her on the other side of the mattress. The how-did-I-get-here-and-what-did-we-do-last-night? look. Maybe it was better to just leave …

  Of course leaving and not saying goodbye was offensive. Then she really would have reason not to talk to him when he got home. He decided to take his chances. He sat on the edge of the bed and gently brushed the hair off her face. ‘I’ve got to go in. No work today; just stay in bed,’ he whispered.

  LuAnn opened her eyes and squinted at the sunlight that streamed in through the blinds. ‘OK,’ she said with a nod.

  ‘How do you feel?’ he asked.

  ‘How do I look?’

  Her left eye was black and blue and swollen shut, her scrape even more raw than last night. She looked as though she’d just gone a few rounds with Tyson. ‘Beautiful,’ he said.

  ‘Liar.’

  He smiled. ‘I’ll call you to make sure you’re OK. And you better be in bed. Doctor’s orders.’ He kissed her on the cheek and rose to leave.

  She touched him on his arm. ‘That’s it?’ she asked.

  He shook his head. ‘I hope not,’ he replied. Then he leaned over and kissed her on the lips. She kissed him back, her tongue meeting his, her fingers on his neck. He held her in his arms and she didn’t pull away. ‘Hold my spot?’ he whispered in her ear.

  She nodded.

  ‘I have to go catch a bad guy now. I’ll be back.’

  She nodded again.

  ‘How do I look?’ he asked as he rose, straightening his jacket.

  ‘Beautiful.’

  ‘Liar,’ he answered with a smile. Then he leaned over and kissed her one more time before he slipped out the door.

  53

  ‘Like I told you people already, the last time I seen them, they were going to a friend’s house, or whatever. They were bad kids.’ Gloria Leto bless
ed herself and looked up to heaven. ‘It’s bad to say things like that about the dead. God forgive me. But they had no guidance, you know? My sister, their mama – bless her soul – she was on the junk. It ate her bad. Her body, her soul – it took everything, right down to nothing but bones when she died. Before that asshole got her hooked on smack, she was a good mother, you know? Made a living, took care of her family, but … when she was on smack, she had no time for those girls no more. They went wild, you know? And the different men in that house every night …’ Gloria sighed and folded her arms across her chest. ‘I don’t know. I don’t want to say no more. It’s not right. But when my sister, when she died, you know, last year? When she died, I tried to take those girls in and fix them. Raise them proper, take them to church, teach them to be good girls. I sacrificed for them, you don’t know. But that Roseanne, she was always talking back. She didn’t come home at night sometimes. When she did, she brought boys back with her, snuck them into my house. Then Rosalie, the little one, she started shit, too. When I found the drugs – the baggies in their purses – I said, “Enough! I don’t want no crack whores in my house!” How could they do that junk after what it did to their mother? And I don’t know, maybe two days, maybe a week later, I can’t remember exactly – they left. Went out somewhere – they didn’t tell me – and they never come back. I took their clothes and I got rid of them maybe a month later, so I could rent the room. I just threw everything out.’

  ‘Ms Leto, did your nieces have access to a computer?’ Bobby asked.

  ‘I let them use mine. I let them borrow it a few times, you know, for school. Then when I found the drugs, I hid it because I was afraid they’d take it and sell it like a junkie.’

  ‘Can we see it?’

  She shook her head. ‘Someone broke into my house and took the stupid thing. Along with my TV and my jewelry. Everything – gone. All of it. Even the drink in the kitchen cupboard.’

  ‘I’m sorry to hear that,’ Zo said.

  She shrugged.

  ‘Well, thank you for your time, Ms Leto. And, again, we’re sorry for your loss,’ Bobby added.

  Gloria shrugged again and crossed herself. ‘I don’t have to pay for their funerals, do I? I’m not, like, responsible for the money, am I?’

  ‘I don’t know, ma’am. You’ll have to check with a lawyer about what your financial obligations are,’ Bobby answered.

  ‘That reporter said he didn’t have to pay me to talk to me, but that ain’t right. I mean, they pay people to talk to Oprah, don’t they?’

  ‘Did you speak to the press, ma’am?’

  ‘I thought he was gonna pay me. Wanted to ask me questions ’bout the girls and why they ran away. I said sure. But now I think I should get money.’

  Felding, probably. Or any one of the other camera-ready sharks out there chumming the murky waters for scoop. Time to bite back. ‘I agree, Ms Leto,’ Bobby said. ‘I don’t think you should talk to anyone from the press unless they pay you. Crime victims get paid big bucks to talk to the media. We’re talking thousands. You should hold out.’

  They left Gloria Leto pondering her finances on the front porch of her duplex and headed down the broken concrete path. Kids playing hula hoop and jump rope in the street eyed them suspiciously.

  ‘She’s a trip,’ Zo said with a shake of his head.

  ‘Was that Ciro on the phone before?’ Bobby asked.

  ‘Yup. He’s back from CarMax. Bob and Mary Bohner who own the house on Hendricks did buy the Buick in the garage in 2005 from CarMax Pompano. The salesman was a Karen Alfieri. Larry talked to her – she knows nothing.’

  ‘But we have a link to where LaManna works.’

  ‘Yes, we do,’ Zo replied, whipping out a cigarette.

  ‘I thought you were off those.’

  ‘Nope. I’ve officially failed at two things in my life: quitting smoking and quitting drinking. I’m out of the closet about it, too, so I don’t want to hear no more shit. I’ve already got Camilla yapping in my ear.’

  ‘I never thought the toothpick and patch thing was gonna work. You know, I’m still not convinced LaManna’s smart enough for this,’ Bobby said with a shrug. ‘But maybe I’m wrong.’

  ‘What about the two different blood samples on painting number one? The one of Sampson?’

  ‘We know for sure neither sample belonged to Lainey. As for them matching the Boganes sisters, I’m hoping the lab will say they both do. We should know by today. If not, then …’ Bobby didn’t finish his sentence. Both of them knew what ‘if not’ meant. More victims.

  ‘LaManna’s under surveillance, twenty-four seven. Let’s see what he does,’ Zo said.

  Bobby’s cell phone chirped just as they climbed into the car. ‘Dees.’

  ‘Agent Dees, this is Duty Officer Craig Rockenstein with FDLE in Tallahassee. I’m calling to advise you that the juvenile you had flagged in the system – Reinaldo Coon, white male, D/O/B July 7, 1990 – was run at 11:32 last night by the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office, terminal OR1 26749, Detective Greg Cowsert. Would you like me to contact the Palm Beach Sheriff’s Office on your behalf to advise them of the flag?’

  Jesus Christ, Reinaldo Coon. Ray Coon. They found Ray …

  He left Zo in the car and stepped back out into the street. ‘No, no. I’ll call,’ he replied quietly, trying hard to think through the train-wreck of thoughts piling up in his brain. His heart began to pound. Was he with Katy? ‘What’s the contact number?’

  His fingers shook so hard, Bobby almost couldn’t hit the numbers. A tense excitement was building in his chest. The only feeling he could equate it to was one he felt at Christmas as a kid – the adrenaline-fueled anticipation as you walked down the stairs, hoping you saw exactly what you’d asked for all year long under the tree. And the heavy, dread-filled fear that you wouldn’t.

  ‘Detective bureau. Richards.’

  ‘Detective Cowsert, please.’

  ‘Can I help you with something?’ asked the woman.

  ‘This is Agent Bobby Dees with FDLE down in Miami. Detective Cowsert ran a history on somebody last night that I had flagged.’

  ‘Oh. Hold on a sec. Hey, Greg,’ she yelled, obviously across a room, ‘FDLE’s on the phone.’

  Bobby listened to the background noise of the squad bay for what seemed like a lifetime. Choppy bits of conversation and snippets of laughter. Finally someone picked up. ‘Cowsert.’

  ‘Detective Cowsert, this is FDLE Agent Bobby Dees out of Miami. I had a flag set up on a subject that you ran last night, Reinaldo Coon. Is he in custody?’

  ‘I guess you could say that,’ Cowsert replied with a laugh. ‘He certainly ain’t going nowhere.’

  Bobby suddenly imagined Katy lying in a hospital bed, hooked up to IVs and tubes, unable to speak. Or maybe sitting dirty and disheveled in a jail cell, too ashamed to call her mom and dad. He ran a hand through his hair, trying to reign his thoughts in. He closed his eyes. ‘Why’s that? Was there an accident? Is he in the hospital or something?’

  ‘Don’t look much like an accident, Agent Dees. The kid’s got two bullets in the back of his head. Some boy scout camping out in Belle Glade found what was left of him. From the looks of it, he’d been there a while, too. I hope you didn’t need him for nothing, ’cause your boy Reinaldo is dead.’

  54

  ‘You OK?’ Zo asked when he stepped back in the car. He flicked his cigarette out the window.

  ‘Nope,’ Bobby replied, pulling away from the curb.

  ‘What’s up? Who was on the line?’

  ‘Palm Beach Sheriff’s Office found Ray Coon’s body last night.’

  Zo stared at him. ‘Ray Coon? As in your Ray?’

  ‘Yup.’

  Zo rubbed his jaw. ‘Jesus … Katy?’

  Bobby shook his head. ‘Don’t know.’

  ‘How?’

  ‘Shot in the head and dumped in Belle Glade. He’d been there a while, too.’

  ‘Shit. Suspects?’

&nb
sp; ‘He was a banger. Everyone wanted him dead. I sure as hell wanted to kill him. Palm Beach Sheriff’s Office is working it.’

  ‘I’ll get with them. We’ll take care of it, Shep. We’ll work it.’

  There was a long silence. The Grand Prix pulled up to a light. Across the street was a playground full of kids, yelling and screaming in the early afternoon sun as they slid down slides and swung on swings. Not a care in the world. Bobby stared off at it. ‘I thought she was still with him,’ he said softly. ‘They were supposed to be in New Orleans or San Francisco or LA, making it somehow. Maybe she was a grocery clerk or waitressing, you know? Maybe she was getting her GED. Maybe they were Romeo and Juliet and I was the asshole for not believing in the two of them. Maybe she had a baby and was embarrassed to come home, is all …’

  ‘Bobby …’

  ‘But now he’s dead. The one guy who was supposed to protect her is dead and she’s still not home and now we have a psycho out there who likes to cut up teenage runaways. So where the hell is she, Zo? Where the hell is my kid?’

  55

  Angelina Jolie shook out her gorgeous dark hair. ‘Have you been selling big guns to bad people?’ she asked the terrorist breathlessly. Even on the small portable DVD, her pouty red lips looked larger than life.

  Larry Vastine yawned and reached for his coffee, which was really liquid mud. His wife had made her normally bad coffee twice as strong for him, for moments just like this. Moments when even Angelina Jolie – decked out in black patent leather with a whip in hand and mounting a terrorist – wasn’t keeping the dreams from starting the second he so much as blinked. Larry’s clubbing days were years behind him – most nights he was lucky if he made it through all of The Tonight Show. It’d been a while since he’d done all-night surveillance on a target, and that was in Narcotics, where a lot of exciting things went down long after dark and you had no chance to get tired. But being the eyeball in suburbia at three a.m. was the worst. The bars and clubs all closed in Florida at two, so it was too late for the revelers to be out and too early for the commuters to be heading in. If he’d spotted three cars drive down the quiet, tree-lined street in the past hour it was a lot. Even Pauline’s sludge wasn’t cutting it. It was time for some real shit. Larry reached for a Monster energy drink from the cooler on the passenger-side floorboard. His son in high school drank the stuff like water, which meant Larry would probably be up till Christmas.

 
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