Pretty Little Things, p.23Jilliane Hoffman
‘Back here. We followed a light underneath the door that led to what we thought were back offices. Turns out they were playrooms. We found LaManna behind door number one, buck-naked with a whip in his hand and about to have his way with some screaming fifteen-year-old. Mind you, she don’t look fifteen. Lorelei Bialis. Told us at first she was eighteen, but when the first couple of names she gave didn’t check out, she finally came clean. Works for a fucking escort service, Tender Love.’
They stepped into the pass-through office. ‘This is where the bouncer from Tender Love was supposed to be,’ Ciro continued, ‘but he had stepped into the john, which is all the way in the back, when we came through. That’s why he didn’t spot us outside on the video surveillance.’
‘And the others?’ Bobby asked.
‘We found four girls and three pervs, inside these three rooms,’ he said, motioning to three open doors off the hall. ‘One of the guys doubled up. All of the girls are under eighteen. The pervs range from mid-thirties to Grandpa, a banking exec in his sixties. Haven’t verified names or exact ages on two of the girls – they’re not talking. Yet. One who is, is a Theresa Carbona, a fifteen-year-old runaway from Dallas. Hooked up with Tender Love through her boyfriend, a thirty-eight-year-old mechanic from Waco. It’s an underage prostitution ring, Bobby. You call in and order what you want, and they deliver after midnight every Friday and Saturday. The back offices are all outfitted to your personal, fucked-up fantasy: Chains and whips; videos and televisions; school desks and blackboards. And the girls are, from what we can tell so far, all consenting.’
Bobby stopped walking and shot him a look. ‘There’s no kid who consents to this shit at fifteen, no matter how hard they are. Pick a different word.’
‘Sorry. They’re prostitutes, Bobby. I meant to say none of them are drugged or forced here, or nothing. They show up at the escort service for work, and the company van brings ’em here. Customers park far away from the building and each other and avoid cameras. The operation’s been going on for some time – months, maybe even years. You gotta be screened first to be let in. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Fibbies were already looking at ’em.’
‘Lew Wilson, head of the bureau’s Miami office, is on his way,’ Bobby commented as he looked off at one of the rooms, closer to the end of the hallway. ‘He said he’s got guys up here who’re gonna work it with you and Larry. Should be here within the hour. It may be best to let the feds take it. If they have jurisdiction, they’ll get more jail time.’
He spotted three girls sitting on a ratty blue couch in a dimly lit room. Two whispered anxiously to each other, but the third sat off by herself on the end, her arms wrapped around her elbows, as if she were incredibly cold. She was dressed like a cheerleader, in a short skirt, tight tee and high-heeled white patent-leather boots, her long blonde hair up in curled pigtails. Black mascara streaks stained her fresh cheeks. It was, for a painful split-second, like looking at a ghost. ‘The word forced, Ciro,’ Bobby remarked softly, taking off his jacket, ‘is, again, a matter of interpretation.’ He walked into the room and handed it to the blonde. ‘Take this,’ he said when she looked up. ‘It’s gonna be OK.’ Then he walked back out.
‘According to his passport stamps, the Flying Dutchman has been to Miami six times in the past year,’ Ciro said, looking around uncomfortably when Bobby stepped back out into the hallway. It was too late to take off his own jacket, so he just buttoned it.
‘Looks like he’s a frequent customer, too,’ Ciro replied, heading back down the hall. ‘Claims this is where he was the night Lainey disappeared. After he left Tweedledee and Tweedledum in the Side Pocket Pub, he came here. The girl, Lorelei – aka Lori – confirmed it. That was her, the blonde. She’s a little fuzzy with actual dates, but they used the video room that night, so I’m assuming there’ll be a date/time stamp. Tape’s at Tender Love offices, which is in Palm Beach, and currently surrounded by PBSO. Like getting your picture taken at Disney: the snapshot’s free, but the actual picture’s gonna cost ya. In this case, the nookie’s five hundred, the tape’s double that. Todd hasn’t ponied up the ching yet, though.’ Ciro stopped in front of another office door. This one was closed. The red plastic nameplate stuck in the middle of it said THE BOSS.
Bobby pressed his hand against the door as Ciro went to open it. ‘You know coming in here by yourselves was stupid, Ciro.’
Ciro said nothing.
‘You’re shaking for a reason. Don’t let a good outcome cloud that judgment of yours. And for God’s sake, don’t ever fucking listen to Larry. That was your first mistake.’
Ciro nodded with a smile and opened the door to a back office, where a sweaty, tear-faced Todd LaManna sat handcuffed to a desk. He looked up when Bobby entered and started bawling.
‘I told you I didn’t do it, Dees! I told you it wasn’t me who took Lainey!’ He looked at Ciro. ‘You told him, right? You told him I have an alibi?’
‘Now we know where you were that night, Todd. We still have a problem with where you were from five to eight.’
‘Jesus Christ … you guys are …’ His voice trailed off. ‘I don’t know. I got something to eat, then met up with Jules at that bar I told you about. I just didn’t want to go home because then Debbie wouldn’t let me go out again. And I had, you know, paid half up front already.’
‘Is Lainey involved in this, Todd?’ Bobby asked, leaning against the desk.
‘No, no, no …’ Todd shook his head fervently. ‘Swear to God. I’ll take a lie detector, I’ll drink truth serum, you know, whatever. Anything. ’Cause I didn’t do it!’
Bobby looked across the hall, where crime-scene photographers were busy snapping pictures of the ‘video’ room. ‘You’re a pig, Todd, you know that?’
‘It’s a mistake! She told me she was eighteen! How the fuck was I supposed to know?’
Bobby shook his head. ‘You’re gonna swear to that, too? You’re a piece of work. Now, how am I supposed to believe anything you say?’
‘It’s on tape, man,’ Todd shouted. ‘I have an alibi on tape! Just look at it. Tender Love – Ricky, the owner – he’ll tell you I was here. I didn’t take Lainey and you all damn well know it!’
The blonde walked by then in Bobby’s jacket, along with her two friends, escorted by PBSO uniforms. Her head was hung low, but Bobby could still see the black stains on her pale cheeks. She didn’t look up.
‘You’re a pig, Todd,’ Bobby repeated, turning to leave. ‘And right now, the only thing I find comforting about having to sit and watch any part of that tape is knowing that it is gonna put your fat, twisted ass away for a few dozen years.’
It was a fucking shame. A real shame, the man thought. You weed them, you feed them, you water them and give them love, and in the end all you got left with was a thorny stem that wasn’t even pretty to look at any more.
Katy was his prize and joy, he liked to say. She was one of the very first. He had taken such a long, patient time to cultivate her. And when the time had come, as it had with the others, he simply could not bring himself to paint her portrait. He was never ready. There was something so intriguing about her. She was not like the others. In the beginning, she was more like … his Lainey.
But Katy had disappointed him more than any other. It wasn’t that he didn’t think she would try to escape one day, because he was definitely not that naïve, it was … well the ingratitude. She knew he favored her. She knew the others had not enjoyed the things that she had. She’d manipulated him into giving her privileges, like letting her have a little company when he was away on business. Or giving her special food. Or letting her listen to his sermons with him. With her pretty face and pretty long hair …
He felt himself growing hard and he brushed away the tears of anger from his face before they even had a chance to fall.
Are you pure in thought and deed?
I am not, Father. I am not pure in either thought or deed.
He chewed on the end of his paintbrush, till the ragged plastic stub cut his tongue. While it was now necessary to finish her painting, he was not happy about it. And that’s what was really making him so upset. That’s what he knew a shrink would tell him was the root of his incredible anger right now. Katy had forced him to do this. She had forced him to pick up his paintbrush, and he was just not enjoying it like he should. She had robbed him of that pleasure and made it instead a sad, laborious chore.
He mixed his pallet on top of the morning’s Miami Herald headline.
PALM BEACH CHILD PROSTITUTION RING BROKEN UP;
FATHER OF MISSING CORAL SPRINGS TEEN ARRESTED
He blended just a bead of ebony into the smoke gray. A drop dripped from his Filbert brush on to the face of FDLE Special Agent Supervisor Robert Dees. Didn’t he just look so smart? Grabbing headlines – no, hogging headlines – once again? Even the fat dimwit Dad who got arrested didn’t get his picture on the front page – he’d been banished to page 3.
He took his paintbrush and smeared the droplet all over Special Agent Supervisor’s headline-hogging face. He’d show the Herald and the Sentinel and MSNBC who should have the headlines once again. It was he who’d brought the local Hero Among Us into this fame game for a little sport, and it was he who could knock him right out. Right out of the fucking ballpark, he could. Because the truth was, Bobby Dees was in way over his handsome Special Agent head. And the whole fucking world would get to see that soon enough. For a second he almost felt bad for the man, for the pain that he was about to experience, but the feeling quickly passed. He smiled to himself and took his brush to the stretched, primed, white canvas. The rich smell of oils was intoxicating, the smooth feel of the brush handle in his fingers, heavy with paint, was cathartic.
‘Now sit still,’ he said in a sing-song to the ugly, thorny disappointment seated across from him. She had finally stopped pulling on the chains, and her head had lobbed perfectly to the left. The lighting was just right.
‘Just like that,’ he cooed. ‘Now, open that nasty little mouth of yours and let me see you scream …’
‘White male, between the ages of twenty-five to fifty. Probably employed in a white-collar profession,’ Christine Trockner, FDLE’s resident profiler said to the crowd of detectives and special agents gathered around the conference table in the Crimes Against Children squad bay. As promised, Miami-Dade PD and the Broward Sheriff’s Office had each sent over two Homicide detectives. The City of Miami PD had sent one. Together with Larry, Ciro, Veso and Bobby, the Picasso task force now officially had nine warm bodies. Ten if you counted Zo, who was seated next to Bobby. Technically, Zo was running MROC while Foxx was off rubbing elbows and jetting to Tallahassee to meet with the Commissioner; he wasn’t supposed to be involved in tactical squad operations or task forces. But while Zo might have passed his ASAC interview with flying colors, the stiff suit didn’t fit quite right. A squad bay was where he really belonged.
‘He might be working part-time,’ Christine continued. ‘He’s probably gone to art school or taken art lessons, given his work with oils, use of professional products, and advanced skills. But I think he’s a closet painter, meaning I don’t think he does it as a profession. He has a problem with how he relates to women, so he targets younger women, namely adolescents, before they can fully mature and reject him. He may be impotent. He may have been beaten or abused as a child, and probably has a bad relationship with his mother, if she’s still alive. He may be married, and if so, would be very submissive. My guess is that he’s single. He is likely to be a loner. No friends, isolated at work. Unsociable.’
‘Let me get this straight,’ Larry said slowly. ‘We’re looking for an unsociable white male between twenty-five and fifty who doesn’t like his mommy and prefers younger women? That’s supposed to narrow it down? Drop the art appreciation and you just described, well, all of us.’
The room laughed.
‘What did you expect, a picture and an address?’ Christine returned with a smile. ‘Profiling’s not a science, you know. It’s a psychological, behavioral analysis which might help you narrow down your pool of suspects. Have you looked at art schools? That’s a good place to start.’
‘Oh yeah,’ Bobby answered. ‘And art galleries to see if anybody can recognize maybe the style of painting. We’ve got an art aficionado with the FBI up in NY looking at high-resolution pictures of both paintings, too, to see what, if anything, he can tell us. But we’re kind of stuck, Christine. The paintings are evidence – graphic disturbing evidence – and I have to be real careful who I show them to; you’ve got to save a few things to identify the nuts and false confessors. And there’s the media. They sure would love to get a hold of those paintings and blast them all over the news just for kicks.’
‘I’m sure that Channel Six reporter – what’s his name? Felding? I’m sure he has pictures squirreled away on his laptop,’ Jeff Amandola, a Miami-Dade detective commented. ‘I bet Picasso is the best thing that ever happened to that guy’s career.’
‘I’m sure. That’s why we had him gagged,’ Bobby answered. ‘What about a pedophile history, Christine? Should we look for that?’
‘He’s not a pedophile,’ she replied with a shake of her head. ‘He targets teenage women who are physically developed. It’s the emotional maturity of an older woman that I believe he fears, but he doesn’t target young kids. And given the pictures you showed me of Lainey that you suspect she sent him over the internet, she certainly doesn’t look thirteen, either. Most likely she told him she was older. I don’t think you’ll find a history of pedophilia or even a sex offender history. This guy is very brazen, much more than any serial I’ve ever seen. He’s taunting you to find him, even going so far as to send you the evidence that he himself created, without fear that it could one day be used to find and identify him. So I don’t think he’s been caught before. In fact, I believe this guy’s been doing this for a long time. Like a killer who targets prostitutes, if you’re right in your theory, Bobby, he has purposely selected a very transient segment of the population – one that’s notoriously difficult to identify and track: teenage runaways. There are hundreds of missing teens in South Florida alone; hundreds of thousands around the country. Many more who are never even reported. So he has had a relative smorgasbord of victims to whet his appetite and experiment on. Perhaps even going back years. We know from the old contusions and chain marks on Gale Sampson that he’s restrained his victims for a period of time. We can surmise that if he has had them from the date of all three girls’ disappearances, that that time period is substantial – months, even. That means he has the facilities to restrain these girls, perhaps multiple girls at a time, and the confidence to know he can brutalize them. I also look at the fact that he is accomplished at torture, which means he’s done it for a while. As you well know, generally speaking, serials escalate in brutality, starting first, oftentimes with animals, and escalating to humans. With a sexual serial, often there is a Peeping Tom phase that escalates to home burglary, and then ultimately rape. From there he may escalate to kidnapping, so that he can have more time to play out his fantasies of torture and ultimately murder.’
The room was quiet. Bobby blew out a pent-up breath. ‘So that means,’ he said, pointing to the crime-scene photo of Gale Sampson splayed out on the bed, a knife through her happy-face T-shirt, ‘he’s done this before.’
Christine nodded. ‘He has other victims. Go back and look for unsolved homicides that perhaps involved dismemberment, although he might have recently escalated to that.’
‘We’re already doing that,’ Zo said. ‘But there’s more than a few Jane Doe cold cases on file with the police departments going back over the past five years. We’re talking at least fifty, and that’s just looking at four counties. And Picasso’s not the only bad guy in town, unfortunately.’
‘Don’t forget, he could be transient himself. He could b
‘Why now?’ Bobby asked. ‘Why has he come out now all of a sudden? And with two portraits in two weeks? He’s been at this a while under the radar, you’re saying, and he’s just exploded? Why? Normally there’s a downtime between crimes with serials.’
‘I think the fact that you haven’t recognized his crimes before is what has drawn him out. Many serials want to gain attention from what they’ve done. They want to fantasize about their crime, then finally act on it, and then relive it all again by reading about it and watching the news coverage on TV. Oftentimes serials will be one of the first faces in the crowd at their own crime scenes, because they like to watch others react to what they’ve done. It feeds them. But perhaps no one noticed this guy for a while, or his “accomplishments,” and so he is reacting now in part to the explosive attention he’s gotten from the press and national media. He doesn’t want it to end. That would explain the short time span in between sending the two portraits. Like I explained, his timeline between murders has already had an opportunity to escalate over months or perhaps even years of not being caught. Now he’s gotten cocky and has moved on to the next step – finding you and forcing you to recognize him.’
‘Why Bobby?’ Zo asked. ‘I get the reporter, because that gives him a jump start on the media fanfare, like you said. But why Bobby? Why has he directed the paintings to him? Left his name at the crime scenes? Should we be looking at enemies here? Guys Bobby has put away in the past? Should we focus on anything in particular?’
‘That’s a good question. He obviously has singled you out, Bobby, for a reason,’ Christine replied. ‘I don’t think it’s an arch enemy, necessarily, or someone who you put away, although that is a possibility worth exploring. I think it’s more likely a challenge.’
Pretty Little Things by Jilliane Hoffman / History & Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes