Pretty Little Things, p.24Jilliane Hoffman
‘A challenge?’ Ciro asked.
‘Your reputation, Bobby, precedes you. You’ve garnered national attention on missing children and abduction cases. You’ve been the recipient of many prestigious awards; your cases and your work have been on the cover of every paper and magazine from the New York Times to the Enquirer. And most recently, People magazine wrote a special-interest article about how you are a hero and how you are nicknamed the Shepherd by colleagues because of your outstanding work in solving the most baffling abductions and bringing these victims home. Cases like this. In Picasso’s eyes, it’s like David challenging Goliath to a duel. He’s challenging you.’
‘Any idea when he might strike again?’ Raul Carrera, another Miami-Dade detective asked. ‘What we can expect?’
Christine stopped packing up her stuff. ‘Oh, I would imagine he has already struck again. Unless something or someone is preventing him from acting out his disturbed fantasies, he’s just going to go and pluck another victim out of his storage unit, wherever that might be, and paint you a picture of his latest and greatest accomplishment. Expect it to be even more brutal. Expect a shock to the conscience. This guy has tasted infamy, gentlemen, and like a genie, it’s going to be impossible to get him to go back inside his bottle. He likes what he does way too much to ever stop.’
Around the Palm Beach headquarters of LEACH – Law Enforcement Against Child Harm – veteran Sheriff’s Office Special Investigations Detective Mike Hicks’s nickname was ‘The Dick Magnet’. And for good reason. Nine times out of ten, within just a few minutes of logging on to the internet and entering a chat room, pervs were on Mike like flies to shit. His record was forty-five seconds for a full-on proposition, faster than any other computer decoy on the LEACH task force.
At 5′10,″ 211 pounds and forty-nine years of age, Mike certainly didn’t look the part of a fourteen-year-old girl who LOVED Joe Jonas, the color fuchsia, M & Ms, rainbows, Weimeraner puppies (soooo cute!) and riding roller coasters all day and night. Or, for that matter, one who HATED all things Miley Cyrus/Hannah Montana (go away now, PULEEZ!!), Social Studies (who really cares WTF happened 500 years ago??? Talk to me about TODAY ), smelly guys (Get AXE. Use it!), and plastic people who didn’t even know HOW to tell the TRUTH. And he looked absolutely nothing like his perky, long-locked, brunette, blue-eyed MySpace profile picture.
When LEACH was formed almost ten years ago in response to the then-nouveau crime of internet trolling by innovative sex predators, the computer age was already up and running, but, like most befuddled middle-agers with a new-fangled gadget that technologically changed every two weeks, Mike wasn’t. Looking back, he probably would’ve been content just marveling through the next few decades at what a cell phone could do, but Mike had two really pretty girls who just so happened to turn into teenagers in 1999. Unable to vote, drink, smoke or even swear, at twelve and thirteen, Sherry and Lisa already knew far more about how to work the foreboding lump of metal and disk drives that sat on a desk in the family room than he did. And what really bugged him was that they knew it, too. They knew the secret acronym text jargon, and had AOL Instant Messenger accounts before he even knew what the hell Instant Messenger was. Because he was a cop and because he vividly remembered all the shit he’d done as a kid that his parents still knew nothing about, when his own offspring became teens, he’d vowed he would never be so willfully ignorant. So when LEACH formed and requests for techie decoys made the rounds through the Palm Beach Sheriff’s Office, he signed up for the war without even knowing what OMG stood for. It was supposed to just be a short stint to get him up to speed and through the rest of adolescence. Ten years later, here he still was. His kids were grown and long gone, yet every year he seemed to get a little bit younger. Eleven was the new thirteen. But of course, no one could’ve imagined back then that farty Mike Hicks would be a more believable teenager than he was a middle-aged cop and soon-to-be Grandpa.
Today his name was Janizz, but her friends all called her Skittles. She was almost fourteen – blowing the candles out on December 16! – lived in Riviera Beach and loved to meet new people. Janizz entered the hot tub, a local South Florida chat room on TeenSpot.com. The topic of conversation was simply, ‘Have fun and relax in the hot tub. Everyone’s welcome.’ There were thirty-one members chatting.
Janizzbaby: what up all?
Within seconds, a half-dozen responses erupted at lightning speed on the screen. Mrpimpin16, lowtone, sykosid, drinkpoison, nastyboy, zzzzho. And within a minute, a small gray window opened at the top.
TheCaptain is requesting a person to person chat with you: … what up there? Long time, no c Janizz. where u been?
The Captain. Mike knew that screen name. He’d chatted with him in a few rooms before, under different names, of course. The guy was pretty aggressive, if he remembered right. He checked his log. Sure enough, Janizzbaby had chatted with TheCaptain before, too. He clicked the chat button.
TheCaptain: sux. Y?
Janizzbaby: tell me bout it. came home at midnight.
TheCaptain: bad girl.
Janizzbaby: no. usually im really good ☺
TheCaptain: oohh. Good girls gone bad. 12AM How old r u again?
Janizzbaby: 14. Blowing the candles out in december. U?
TheCaptain: 17. Blew them last month. ur bad-12AM W/AO special?
Janizzbaby: I wish
TheCaptain: they call me the dreammaker
Janizzbaby: where u been? Waiting on me 2 come back 2 the tub?
Janizzbaby: at least ur honest
TheCaptain: kiddin! I wuz missin u … now that I know ur looking 4 s/o special …
Janizzbaby: I never said that
TheCaptain: didnt need 2. U shudnt b out by urself @ nite. psychos r everywhere
Janizzbaby: oohh. Do I look scared? Jus having fun
TheCaptain: I seen ur pix. hot. Psychos b looking 4 u!
Janizzbaby: thanx. I think
TheCaptain: ur hot, is all im saying. U need 2 b protected.
Janizzbaby: and who’s gonna do that?
TheCaptain: im looking 4 work ☺
Janizzbaby: hmmmm …
TheCaptain: ill make sure u don’t get in no trouble. Have u home and in bed rt on time. Mom will luv me ☺ All moms do
Janizzbaby: F* her. there r others?
not if I got u. im a 1 woman guy.
It was an interesting, delicate dance of words. To successfully prosecute a person under the Computer Pornography and Child Exploitation Act for luring or enticing a minor to engage in sexual conduct over the internet, certain magic lingo had to be said and it couldn’t be said by Mike. The number one defense to an 847.0135 charge was entrapment. In simple terms, the ‘Boo-hoo! I wouldn’t have said all those nasty things, but for the coercive, manipulative undercover cop making me say them!’ defense. Mike knew to be careful. And patient. No inducing, encouraging, soliciting, persuading. The invitation to hook up had to come from the bad guy. Thirty minutes and a whole lot of BS later, it came.
TheCaptain: have 2 meet u ☺
Janizzbaby: what u want?
TheCaptain: u 2 b mine
Janizzbaby: thats it?
nope. TTA. Being honest again.
TTA was text for ‘Tap That Ass’, which was street slang for ‘I want to fuck you.’ That qualified as magic lingo.
Janizzbaby: im a virgin
TheCaptain: even better
Janizzbaby: maybe not. Im a good girl, remember?
TheCaptain: I could turn u. its amazing what my hands can do
Janizzbaby: u could try ☺
TheCaptain: Thursday. I gotta meet u
cant. Gotta babysit
Being too available or too pushy might spook him. It could be a tip-off Janizz was a cop.
Janizzbaby: have track till 4
u @ PBLHS, rt?
PBLHS stood for Palm Beach Lakes High School. He had obviously found Janizzbaby’s profile.
MCD on Australian @ 45. That by u?
MCD stood for McDonald’s.
Janizzbaby: I know it
TheCaptain: ill b in a new black bmw. 4:30
Janizzbaby: ooh – dinner. You have to do better than MCD
TheCaptain: I will. I got a special place we can get to know each other.
Janizzbaby: wheres that?
TheCaptain: they change the sheets.
Janizzbaby: I’ll wear s/t nice
TheCaptain: not 2 much
Janizzbaby: ur bad. got 2 b home by 9. No joke there
TheCaptain: plenty of time
Janizzbaby: im a virgin …
TheCaptain: ill be gentle, like I said ☺ nice and slow
Janizzbaby: GTG. TLK-2-U-L-8-R.
TheCaptain: r we on?
Janizzbaby: yeah. k. U better not bring no friends, though
TheCaptain: jus me
Janizzbaby: no cameras, either
Mike left the chat room and notified the rest of the task force about Friday’s set-up on McDonald’s. He subpoenaed the registration info for TheCaptain’s screen name from TeenSpot.com, but didn’t expect much. More often than not, cyberpredators used a fake email with an untraceable ISP address; the only way to find them was to lure them out into the light and catch them red-handed. But a live catch also helped refute the ‘it wasn’t me on the computer saying all those vile things’ defense. It also helped nix any entrapment defense, because showing up to meet the fourteen-year-old virgin pretty much demonstrated independent thought. As he wrote out his report, Mike got to wondering who this Captain might be. Just who might step out of that new beamer Friday afternoon? He’d seen just about every walk of life pull up in every car imaginable – from Ferraris to jalopies – and nothing and no one ever surprised him any more. Just a few years ago, it was the Miami TV weatherman, Bill Kamal, arriving at a restaurant with a smile and a glove compartment full of condoms to pick up the fourteen-year-old boy-toy he thought he was meeting for a romp in the hay. A couple of months back, it was a federal prosecutor from northern Florida who showed up at the airport in Michigan to meet a five-year-old with a Dora the Explorer doll and a jar of petroleum jelly in his pocket. Mike knew it could be anyone on Friday, from his own lieutenant to a bank CEO.
He finished his report and went to navigate out of TeenSpot. In another chat room, he watched as the sexually charged, drug-referenced acronyms flew back and forth. No one was who they said they were. One guy, makeitfit12, just kept asking for single hot girls who liked to party hard to respond – ‘The younger the meat, the sweeter the flesh.’ There was no beating around the bush. Not even a little friendly word-foreplay. Even sexting – sending sexually explicit text messages and pictures in the hope of hooking up – was becoming more and more impersonal.
He popped back into the hot tub to see if TheCaptain was still there. He wasn’t. But a new name, babygurldee, had logged into the chat room. Mrpimpin16, drinkpoison, and sykosid raced to say hello.
Like flies on shit …
Mike sure was glad his girls were all grown up.
A few weeks back Mark Felding was a nobody. He could say that now. He’d been trying to hold on to a career that had been slipping through his grasp for years – shuffling from station to station, begging for airtime with fluff pieces, and feeling like he was just one Friday away from a pink slip. And socially … well, Mark had found that, just like in LA, nobody in superficial Miami wanted to date someone who was almost a name. Why waste their time on a has-been when they could have the latest and greatest model? The girls were all hot, tight and young in South Florida, but they wanted to be arm candy for someone who could either match them in the looks department, or if not, could buy them whatever they wanted to compensate. Mark’s looks were pretty good, no doubt, but hair dye wasn’t smoothing the wrinkles, and a few hours in the gym every week wasn’t carving a six pack into the love handles. No matter what he’d tried, Father Time kept slinging the wrecking ball, and while aging might be easier for a guy than for a girl, it was still South Florida and anything less than perfect was defective. As for compensating with his charm and a fully charged wallet, on Mark’s salary he was lucky he could still take himself out to dinner, much less wine and dine an aspiring supermodel to her heart’s content.
What a difference three weeks had made.
Today in Walgreens someone had come up to him and said, ‘Hey! Aren’t you that guy from, from … oh, yeah! From the news!’ while he stood in line buying toothpaste. The masses were beginning to recognize him. It was a rewarding feeling. It wouldn’t be long before all those hot, tight, young wannabe supermodels dumped their sugar daddies and took a second look in his direction. With the amount of national publicity he’d been generating, he’d be weekend anchor soon enough.
Of course, he owed his recent success to another. He tapped his fingers on the yellow envelope on the dining-room table. On the front of the mailer was a thin strip of newspaper with his name on it. His covenant with the devil.
Mark wiped the sweat off his upper lip with the back of his hand and sucked down another shot of Crown Royal. Then he picked up the phone. Given their acrimonious recent history, he didn’t expect Special Agent Robert Dees to pick up, though.
He was right. ‘Agent Dees,’ Mark said at the tone, straining to keep his voice calm. ‘This is Mark Felding with Channel Six. I know it’s late and I know that we’ve had, well, issues recently, but it’s time to make peace, because I have another package here. Here, as in at my house. I just returned from the studio to find it under my door. I’m calling you because … well, you know why – you’re running this show. And I’m thinking that it’s pretty fucked up that this guy knows where I live. Call me as soon as you get this.’
The dark apartment was perfectly still. The only sound was the kitchen clock a full room away, loudly ticking off the seconds like a game show. Mark finished his scotch at the dining-room table, poured himself another and just waited for the phone to ring.
Bobby looked over at the cell phone on the nightstand, his right arm wrapped protectively around a sleeping LuAnn in the darkness. He spotted the name Mark Felding on his caller ID.
Why the hell would that asshole be calling him at almost midnight? Was he drunk?
Bobby thought back to that night in the bar after the grisly finding of Gale Sampson’s body at the Regal All-Suites. Mark Felding had been pounding down the hard stuff before they’d met up. It was entirely possible he was drunk and dialing Bobby’s digits in the middle of the night just to harass him with some question or a new ‘theory’ of the case. A madman’s seemingly random choice of a washed-up field reporter to be his messenger boy had not only revitalized the guy’s career, but had also emboldened the idiot into thinking he was the next Bob Woodward. It was as if he were competing with Bobby to solve the case. He stared at the phone, waiting for it to do something.
Why the hell would he be calling at this hour?
Maybe he had something important to tell him. Maybe there was another painting.
Bobby closed his eyes. Another victim. Please no …
It was late. Another mailing would have come to the TV station a lot earlier than midnight, right? So it must be the midnight ramblings of a drunk, or Let’s All Play Detective time.
Bobby rubbed his eyes. Please let that be it. Let the madness end …
The phone blurped, indicating a new message.
‘You better get that,’ LuAnn whispered in the dark. She was wide awake,
Bobby nodded. ‘Let me check my voicemail. It may be nothing.’
‘Who is it?’
‘You don’t want to know.’ They both knew it was never good at this time of night, no matter who was calling. He sat up on the edge of the bed and went to his voicemail.
This is Mark Felding with Channel Six. I know it’s late and I know that we’ve had, well, issues recently, but it’s time to make peace, because I have another package here. Here, as in at my house. I just returned from the studio to find it under my door. I’m calling you because … well, you know why – you’re running this show. And I’m thinking that it’s pretty fucked up that this guy knows where I live. Call me as soon as you get this.
Bobby stood up and walked to the window.
‘I heard,’ LuAnn whispered, her soft voice shaking. ‘I heard what he said.’
‘I have to go out,’ he replied, dialing the number back. ‘Try and sleep.’
‘That’s not going to happen.’ She sat up in bed, her arms wrapped around her knees. He knew what she was thinking. He wanted to comfort her, but he couldn’t. He still hadn’t told her about Ray. So he said nothing.
‘It’s Dees,’ he said when Felding picked up on the first ring.
‘I was about to call 911. He’s been to my home, Agent Dees.’
‘All right. I’m on my way. Where are you?’
‘In Tamarac. At the University Apartments on University and Hiatus. Um, 304. That’s apartment 304 in Building C.’ He paused for a split second before adding, ‘It’s bad. It’s really bad …’
‘Don’t touch anything, Mark! Don’t open it.’
‘It’s too late for that. I saw. I had to see.’
‘Just put it down and leave it wherever it is right now! Just leave it. I’m on my way!’
He hung up the phone and rushed to get dressed while he chirped Zo and the rest of the task force.
Pretty Little Things by Jilliane Hoffman / History & Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes