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Pretty little things, p.22
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       Pretty Little Things, p.22

           Jilliane Hoffman
 

  Just as he cracked open the drink, took a sip, and sat back up in the driver’s seat, he saw it – the quick-second flicker of light thirty yards off in the distance, coming from the target house. More like the reflection of a flicker of streetlight, he realized, bouncing off of the target’s glass side door just as it was opening. If Larry hadn’t looked up at that exact moment, he would have totally missed it. And then he would have missed the husky figure dressed in a hooded black sweatshirt and dark jeans slipping down the ficus-lined side of the house into the backyard of the neighboring duplex and disappearing out of sight.

  Larry wiped the sleep and surprise from his open mouth and started up the car. Without putting his lights on, he drove around the block to 115th. He cut the engine and watched as Todd LaManna emerged from the darkness and hopped into a car parked in the lot of a two-story apartment complex. He started it up and backed out on to the street. Larry ducked as he drove past. Then he got on his radio.

  ‘You better not be looking for company,’ Ciro answered with a throaty growl. ‘We just got the baby back to sleep.’

  ‘He’s moving.’

  ‘What?’

  ‘LaManna. He’s dressed all in black, driving a black Acura, heading north on Coral Ridge toward the Sawgrass.’

  ‘A black Acura? Where the hell’d he get that?’

  ‘He either borrowed it or he stole it. That don’t matter none right now. I just don’t wanna lose him. You’re a Parkland boy, which means you’re not far away. Get your ass up and get dressed. Let’s see where this asshole’s going in such a hurry at three in the morning.’

  56

  ‘Where the hell are we? Bumfuck?’ Ciro grumbled as he climbed in the front seat of Larry’s SUV. ‘Are we still in Palm Beach County? I didn’t even know Lyons Road went this far north.’

  ‘Me neither,’ Larry replied, peering through a pair of night-vision binoculars at the back of the dark gray, two-storied building across the street. ‘He went inside seven minutes ago, through a door on the far north side. Used a key.’

  ‘What is this place?’ Ciro asked, looking around at the deserted parking lots and string of hulking, mainly windowless buildings.

  ‘Looks like a warehouse to me.’

  ‘No shit, Sherlock. A warehouse for what, though? You see a name?’

  ‘The small sign in the front said “C.B. Imports”,’ Larry replied. ‘I just checked online at the Florida Division of Corporations. President is a David Lee, agent for service is Sam Rice. That’s it. The website doesn’t tell you what kind of business it is. Can’t see nothing through the front glass door except what looks like a waiting area with a couple of chairs and some cheap paintings. I can have Dawn run it in the morning.’

  ‘Fuck that,’ Ciro replied. ‘I’m up. We’re here. We’re going in there tonight.’

  ‘That’s what I was thinking.’

  ‘Bobby said it,’ Ciro remarked. ‘He said it would be some remote place, big enough to hold girls without anyone knowing.’

  ‘Ain’t nothing out here past 441,’ Larry said, putting the binoculars down. ‘Just some horse farms and a couple of sprawling retirement communities a few miles up. The adjoining space next door is for lease. He could have God knows how many girls locked up in there somewhere. They could be screaming right now and nobody’d ever hear ’em.’

  ‘So what do we do now? Do we get a warrant?’

  ‘We don’t need one,’ Larry answered as he unclipped his Glock and pulled the slide back to make sure he had one in the chamber. ‘He could be hacking girls up in there, Ciro. He could have hostages. If we wait around for a judge to sign a fucking piece of paper, it could be too late. Exigent circumstances, my man. We find out he’s cutting dope, not girls, then we secure it and call in the State and the suits.’

  Ciro nodded and looked back across the street. The Acura was parked about thirty yards from the back of the warehouse, near a green construction dumpster. Far from the door where LaManna had gone in. ‘Why the fuck did he park all the way over there?’ he asked.

  ‘Surveillance cameras for the glass company in the next building over, I’m thinking. He doesn’t want to be seen. He’ll go in, do his dirty work, and get out like a fucking ghost.’

  Ciro had a bad feeling in his gut. Going into any building in the middle of the night was a risky proposition. Going into a sprawling warehouse searching out a potentially armed serial-murder suspect sounded over the top. It sounded like a bad Saturday morning headline, is what it sounded like. He thought of the new baby he had just put to bed. Then he thought of what might happen if he and Larry didn’t go in. If LaManna did have those girls. He thought of the paintings that he had seen and the Boganes’ sisters crime scene. ‘What about back-up? SRT?’ he asked quietly. SRT was the Special Response Team, FDLE’s acronym for SWAT.

  ‘I thought you were my back-up.’ Larry cracked a smile. ‘Look, if we call in Lake Worth or PBSO and wait for a response, it’s another twenty minutes before we get an authority out here, and another cook in the kitchen, and we gotta deal with turf wars. If we call in SRT, you’re talking at least another hour before they’re here and set up. I just don’t think we have that much time to dick around.’

  Ciro nodded slowly. Sometimes you gotta just make a decision, his dad, a former police captain in Chicago, had once told him. That’s what makes the difference between a cop and a hero. ‘All right. Let’s do it,’ he answered.

  Larry drove across the street and parked next to the door he’d seen LaManna slip through just minutes before. He called in their position to Miami dispatch and requested uniform response from Lake Worth PD. That would mean at least more bodies on the way if something went wrong inside. Then they got out of the car and took up tactical positions alongside the metal door.

  Ciro tried the knob. Locked.

  Larry pulled out the Halligan tool, wedged it into the jamb and popped the lock. Ciro banged on the door with the butt of his Glock. ‘FDLE! Police!’ he called out, just as Larry kicked the door in and the two of them rushed forward into pure darkness.

  57

  ‘Lainey! Lainey! Did you hear that?’

  Lainey was dreaming again, wasn’t she? Or maybe hallucinating. Brad was in her room and he was trying to take her covers but she was so cold, she was shivering. She wanted to yell at him, but was too tired to form the words.

  ‘Lainey? Are you OK over there?’

  She tried to pull the covers back over her …

  ‘Lainey! Get up!’

  ‘I’m here,’ she managed with a whisper. She tasted the dirt on her lips from where they had been pressed up against the floor, and realized she had only been dreaming. It was the nightmare that was real. ‘I’m awake, I think,’ she called back into the darkness, wiping her mouth with the back of her hand. She had finally removed the bandages from her eyes, but Katy was right. It didn’t matter. She couldn’t see a thing anyway.

  Or could she? She blinked twice as she sat up. She could make out the faintest, dull outline, of … maybe her foot? There was light, coming from somewhere …

  ‘I can see my foot, Katy,’ she whispered. ‘I think that’s my foot.’

  ‘Someone’s here, Lainey,’ Katy called out. ‘I heard something!’

  He’s back. Oh my God, he’s back …

  Lainey began to tremble. It started in her core, and slowly worked its way out to her extremities until her whole body was shaking uncontrollably. Since he’d been gone, since she’d finished off the last of the water, and was down to only a few chunks of kibble, she had begun to wonder what it would feel like to starve to death. If it would take a long time. If it would hurt at all. If she would ever stop being hungry. The thought had completely terrified her. But now, just the thought of him coming back, opening that door with his heavy chains in hand and the stink of SpaghettiOs and old coffee on his breath, she realized, terrified her far more. She started to cry. This time she could feel the tears, wet on her cheeks. She pulled herself into a fetal p
osition and began to rock.

  ‘Lainey! Don’t! Stop! Maybe it’s someone else! I heard noises up above! Noises I haven’t heard before!’

  Lainey cried even harder.

  ‘No! Don’t cry! Maybe someone’s here to save us! And if we don’t make noise, they’ll leave and we’ll never be found. Yell! Yell with me, Lainey, so they can hear us! We’re underground somewhere, they won’t find us unless we yell! Help!’ she screamed.

  ‘Help …’ Lainey started softly. ‘Help!’ she shouted as Katy’s words sunk in. The only possible thing worse than starving to death was starving to death knowing you could have been saved. ‘Oh God, help us! Help! Help!’

  Katy started to bang on the wall with her fists and Lainey joined in. She heard it now. The loud clanging from somewhere not too far away. It wasn’t the clinking of the chains, it was more like a hammering sound. And the light was getting brighter. Maybe it was a flashlight! Maybe it was the police with a flashlight, looking under doors and into far-off windows for them. She banged harder. It didn’t matter that her hands throbbed. She could feel the skin begin to chafe and bleed. She wished her superpowers would start to work. ‘Help! Oh God, help us!’ she screamed till there was no voice left in her.

  The outline of her foot grew more pronounced. Lainey stopped pounding and stared at it in disbelief.

  ‘Hello?’ a voice called out from somewhere. ‘Where are you?’

  ‘We’re here! Oh God, we’re in here!’ Katy yelled. ‘We’re in here!’

  Then the door opened and the light poured in.

  58

  Ciro moved slowly along the wall of stacked cardboard boxes, his gun out before him at the ready. He turned a blind corner and shone his flashlight straight into the snarling face of a hulking werewolf, its yellowed fangs dripping with blood. He jumped back.

  ‘It’s like a fucking horror movie in here,’ Larry whispered, coming up behind him, and reaching over to touch the fur on the enormous werewolf mask that sat on a Styrofoam wig head atop a cardboard box. ‘Look at all this weird shit. It must be a Halloween outfitter or something,’ he said, his eyes darting in every direction. ‘I almost put a cap in the fucking Grim Reaper back there …’

  The narrow walkway they were headed down was lined with stacks and stacks of more boxes, precariously piled high atop one another, so that when each stack reached the ceiling, some twenty feet up, it leaned across the aisle to kiss the other, blocking the moonlight from the skylights above, and making it virtually impossible to see more than a couple of yards in front of you. Larry’s flashlight scanned the stacks of boxes like a searchlight. Stuck to the sides of some were modeled color pictures of the contents inside: Witches, vampires, sexy nurses, devils, cops, clowns. A little further up, Ciro could make out a life-size Santa sitting in a rocking chair set atop a box, and a shimmery, skinny silver Christmas tree beyond that. Along a rickety, metal shelving system was a pile of wreaths, stacked like tires at a Goodyear store. Plastic seasonal lawn decorations – from Rudolph and his gang of friends, to red and blue gnomes and pink flamingos – dotted shelves alongside plastic plants and palm trees. Everything looked more than a few seasons past its freshness date.

  The place smelled old and dirty, with an underlying hint of mildew, like it had been in a flood at one time and no one had fixed the water damage. It reminded Ciro of an ancient Woolworth’s that he used to work in as a stock boy when he was a kid in downtown Chicago. A faint slice of dull yellow light emanated from underneath a door at the end of the aisle, back by a far wall. They moved toward it. When they reached the cheap door, Ciro stopped and motioned for Larry to listen. Far off, as if it were muffled by something or someone, was the sound of someone screaming.

  Larry nodded. They took up positions next to the door. Ciro’s hands shook slightly, and the tip of his Glock tapped his chest. No matter how much training you got, you were never really ready for some things. They should’ve waited for back-up, is what they should’ve done. He turned the knob quickly and together they rushed into an empty office, which led out to another hallway. A half-empty cup of coffee sat beside an open Hustler. Ciro touched the cup. It was warm. The screaming started up again. It was louder – no, it was closer. It was still muffled, or maybe buried, but it was definitely closer.

  They stepped out the pass-through door and into another hallway, this one lined with more closed doors. Offices, most likely. Ciro counted four on either side, eight altogether. Lights were on underneath three of them.

  Which door? Which one do they pick? If LaManna wasn’t alone, and there was more than one bad guy, with more than one victim, busting in one door would signal the others. It could set off a deadly chain reaction. They’d have to hit each door quickly and quietly.

  Larry signaled to Ciro this time, to take up a position on the very first door. It sounded like the muffled screaming was coming from somewhere inside that room.

  It was too late to go back out. Too late to wait the stupid, fucking ten minutes for back-up to arrive. Ciro said a silent prayer and blessed himself. His heart was pounding and he could hear the blood rushing in his ears. He thought of his new baby girl, Esmerelda. Just an hour ago, he had been mad that, at six months old, she was still getting up in the middle of the night. Now he would do anything to be home in bed, wide awake and feeding Essie a bottle.

  His hand shook as he tried the knob. It turned in slow motion in his sweaty palm. God, he hoped Larry had picked the right friggin’ door.

  Then he pushed open the door, stepped inside and pointed his Glock right at the back of Todd LaManna’s head.

  59

  The light was not only blinding, it was painful. It felt as though someone had stuck a knife straight into her eyeballs. Lainey shut her eyes tight and scurried into a dark corner.

  And then it was gone.

  As quickly as it had opened, the door slammed shut and darkness enveloped her once again. Tiny white spots danced across a smoky black canvas. Before she could think about what had just happened, Lainey heard the screech of metal on metal, the sound of a lock turning.

  ‘I’m in here!’ she heard Katy shout. ‘I’m in here! Oh God! Thank God!’

  And then the heavy creak of a door opening.

  ‘It’s so bright … I can’t … I can’t see. He had my eyes taped …’ Katy was saying.

  There was a long silence. Too long.

  ‘You’ve been busy,’ replied the devil. ‘Very, very busy, I see.’

  He was back.

  ‘No, no, please …’ Katy whimpered.

  Lainey shut her eyes tight. She got on her hands and knees and frantically searched the dirt floor for the eye patches. Where were the patches?

  ‘Didn’t you know I’d come back for you?’

  ‘No, no … Oh God, no …’

  ‘You were trying to get away from me, weren’t you?’

  She found them on the floor, the thin discs of plastic and tape. She felt around her eyes for the track of adhesive where she’d ripped off the duct tape. She remembered what Katy had told her about the glue.

  ‘No …’ Katy said again.

  ‘Look at the mess you made,’ he hissed.

  Lainey put the patches back on her eyes and pressed the tape down hard, but part of the tape had stuck on to itself and much of the stickiness was gone. She could feel it lifting off her skin and she knew he would know. She wet herself.

  ‘You know what happens to bad girls, Katy.’

  ‘You know, fuck you, you freak of nature! Fuck you! I’m not gonna let you scare me any more! I’m not gonna be scared any more!’

  ‘Oh no?’

  Katy screamed then. A long, bone-chilling scream that Lainey feared might never, ever end.

  She rocked back and forth, her knees to her chest, her thumbs in her ears, her sweaty palms pressing down the strips of tape to her temples. She whispered the nite-nite prayer her mom had taught her when she was little. Over and over again. It was the only prayer she knew.

  Now I
lay me down to sleep.

  I pray the Lord my soul to keep.

  And if I die before I wake.

  I pray the Lord my soul to take.

  Minutes, maybe even hours, passed for all she knew. Hesitantly, Lainey pulled her thumbs out of her ears and listened to the deafening sound of silence.

  The screaming had finally stopped.

  Katy was gone.

  60

  ‘There’s a whole ring of pervs here,’ Ciro said to Bobby as he stepped out of his car. ‘Larry’s talking to one of ’em, some Dutch businessman who suddenly claims he don’t know English, even though we got him saying lots of interesting slang words on the video he was barking into. What a rush,’ Ciro added, holding his hand out to show Bobby. ‘Damn, I’m still shaking.’

  Uniforms from Palm Beach Sheriff’s Office and Lake Worth PD were everywhere. At least a dozen cruisers were in the parking lot, which was ablaze with red and blue flashing lights. ‘Where’d you find him?’ Bobby asked, as the two of them headed inside and through the towering maze of cardboard boxes. Even with the lights on full-blaze, the werewolves, vampires, Grim Reapers and old Santas waiting around every end cap were pretty freaky.

 
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