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Pretty little things, p.25
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       Pretty Little Things, p.25

           Jilliane Hoffman
 

  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.

  How could one top kidnapping, torturing, murdering and dismembering two young sisters together? What could this psycho possibly do that would, as Christine Trockner warned just a few short days ago, ‘shock his conscience’?

  Bobby couldn’t even begin to imagine.

  66

  Tamarac wasn’t too far from Fort Lauderdale – just fourteen miles to the west. It took Bobby fifteen minutes from the time he pulled on pants, strapped on his badge and raced out the door. Of course there was no one on the road and he was doing eighty.

  The first thing he spotted as he pulled into the parking lot of the University Apartments wasn’t a cluster of cop cars with sirens sounding and lights ablaze. It was the WTVJ 6 news truck. His chest tightened. The truck must’ve just pulled in, because he watched as the driver and passenger – who were watching him back – scrambled to get out and grab their equipment. Just as Bobby pulled to the curb and stepped out, the uniform response he’d called in from BSO arrived in two cruisers.

  ‘Keep them down here,’ he directed a young uniform as the cameraman and his assistant hurried across the asphalt, frantically trying to make it across the finish line and into the elevator before they were tagged. They got as far as the Coke machine. ‘Unless they have a badge, no one goes upstairs!’ Bobby called out, heading for the outdoor staircase.

  At 304, he rapped on the door. ‘Felding, it’s Bobby Dees. Open up.’ A weary and worn Mark Felding opened the door. Bobby could smell the scotch on his breath before he even said, ‘Hey.’

  ‘Where is it?’ Bobby asked, walking in. Somehow Zo was right behind him, rushing down the hall.

  ‘You all right, guy?’ Zo asked Mark as he entered, looking around the apartment with a frown. He took a peek into a back bedroom and bathroom, to make sure no one else was hiding either with a weapon or a camera. ‘Your boys from Channel Six are downstairs. They said to say hello, but they won’t be coming up to join you. Tsk, tsk … calling them out. You know the rules.’

  ‘It’s my job, guys. I just called and told my producer that I had another one. You know, to be ready. I don’t know what he did or who he called with that information.’

  ‘Who’d you call first this time?’ Bobby asked sarcastically.

  ‘You,’ Mark answered wearily. ‘But the public has a right to know …’

  ‘Yeah, yeah. Where is it?’ Bobby asked again. Then he spotted the manila envelope on the kitchen table, next to a pile of magazines and mail. Pasted in small, bold-faced newspaper strips across the front was the name MARK FELDING. The top had been ripped open. Right next to it was a folded piece of canvas, lying face down. On top of the canvas was a small white place card, like the type you see at wedding receptions. Even from five feet away, Bobby could make out what it said in pasted letters cut out from the newspaper.

  FDLE SPECIAL AGENT SUPERVISOR ROBERT DEES

  The distinctive squawk and chatter of police radios was making its way down the hall, along with the sound of rushed voices. In just seconds, the room would be full of people.

  ‘Tell me you wore gloves when you opened this,’ Bobby said.

  Mark shrugged again and looked down.

  Bobby shook his head. He couldn’t even look at the idiot any more. ‘Zo, make sure they don’t touch the door. Have them secure the hallway and start looking for witnesses.’ He reached for the canvas.

  Mark looked up at him then, with bloodshot, tired eyes. He shook his head. ‘It’s bad, man …’

  Using gloves, Bobby carefully unfolded the canvas. He stomach tightened, as it did when he went on a roller coaster. The bad drop was always the one you didn’t prepare for, the one you never saw coming.

  Expect it to be even more brutal.

  Expect it to shock the conscience.

  ‘Bobby, we’re here, man. I’m gonna have Crime Scene start dusting …’ Ciro called.

  ‘There’s video on premises, but it’s broken in this building, go figure. I’m pulling it anyway, and the other buildings …’ someone barked.

  ‘Do you want to release a statement?’ another called out. ‘They’re already asking for one downstairs …’

  Dozens of voices chattered around him, but all Bobby heard was the whoosh of blood as it rushed to his head. He stared at the twisted image in front of him. Of the girl in the baby blue T-shirt and striped Abercrombie sweater, her chained hands raised up toward the ceiling, the slight fingertips whittled to raw, bloody stubs. Her eyes, like the others, were black, empty sockets. Her cheeks were dotted with teardrops of blood. Her mouth was contorted in a horrific scream. Long, dusty blonde hair spilled over her shoulders, some caught in the coils of shiny chains wrapped around her slight neck. Hanging right below them, resting on her creamy, white skin dotted with freckles was a shiny round silver pendant with a scripted K engraved in it.

  Bobby knew that necklace. He knew that dusty blonde hair, the T-shirt and sweater. He could smell her breath, still sweet with bubble gum, hear her melodic voice as it called out to him to watch her on the playground, watch her dive in the pool, watch her climb a mountain of cheerleaders to get to the top.

  Time stopped and everyone moved about him in slow motion. He watched as Mark Felding just shook his head back and forth, his red eyes tearing up.

  ‘Bobby? What is it?’ Zo asked quietly, walking up behind him, his hand on Bobby’s shoulder. ‘Shep? What’s the matter?’

  ‘Jesus Christ, Zo,’ Bobby replied slowly, his voice shaking. His knees felt like they were going to give way. He couldn’t tear his eyes off the macabre painting in his hands. ‘It looks like Katy …’

  67

  ‘OK. It looks like a cement floor here, so it’s a structure she’s either in or next to. But behind her, there are clearly flames …’

  ‘A furnace, maybe?’ Jeff Amandola offered.

  Don McCrindle, a detective with the Broward Sheriff’s Office, sipped at his coffee and scratched his head. ‘But over here it’s sunny. A furnace would be in a basement, right? And Florida don’t have no basements, right?’

  ‘Is he going out of state?’ Ciro asked.

  Larry piped in. ‘Doubt it. How the fuck are we gonna find her then? He wants us to find her, doesn’t he? That’s what the shrink said.’

  ‘Profiler,’ corrected Roland Kelly, a big burly homicide detective with the City of Miami. ‘So maybe it’s religious. Fire and brimstone,’ he offered.

  ‘You need to turn off the freaking televangelists, Kelly,’ quipped Don. ‘And stop giving them all your money. The world ain’t coming to an end now.’

  ‘Very funny.’

  ‘So where do you see flames and sunshine at the same time?’ asked Larry.

  ‘How about the Port? They’ve got incinerators?’

  ‘That’s real tight security, but yeah. We’ll check it out,’ Don replied with a nod. ‘I don’t know if they’ve got incinerators. And we’ll check out Port Everglades, too. Anything with smoke or fire.’

  The Crimes Against Children squad bay was still filled with bodies at three a.m. They surrounded the conference table, standing over the graphic portrait – now preserved in a clear plastic evidence bag – like surgeons working on a body, trying to save her with their questions.

  ‘You don’t need to be here,’ Zo had cautioned Bobby more than once. ‘You should go home. We’ll tell you if we come up with anything.’

  Bobby had nipped that idea right in the bud, the last time in the hallway of the University Apartments, before the task force headed over to the command center at MROC. There was no way he was abdicating control of this case. If, God forbid, it was Katy in that picture, he would make sure she was brought home proper. He would make sure justice was served. And he knew from experience that that couldn’t and wouldn’t be done wat
ching from the sidelines. So he stood at the head of the table, throwing ideas around with the boys, listening to their measured banter and all the while trying very, very hard not to look at the terrified painted face on the table in front of him.

  By four a.m., the consensus was to get back together in the morning, after everyone had had some rest. It took the coaxing of all nine men and an actual order from Zo to get Bobby to leave the building, though. Because all he wanted to do was figure it all out – in his office, in front of his computer, staring at his corkboard, like he had with hundreds of other cases over the years. He didn’t want downtime. He just wanted to find out for himself that it was Somebody Else’s kid in that painting. As horrible as it would be for someone else, he wanted it to be anybody else but Katy. Anybody else but My Kid. And he didn’t want to go home.

  But he didn’t have a choice.

  ‘You know what today is?’ he asked Zo as they walked across the empty lot to their cars. The sun was still far from coming up, but the birds had started to chirp in the palm trees overhead. At the far end of the lot were the administrative offices and Troop E station of the Florida Highway Patrol. Bobby could see a Christmas tree twinkling in the lobby through the front window. FHP troopers always started early in putting up the holiday decorations; it seemed every year they moved it up another week. Thanksgiving was just a week out. Exactly a year ago today was the last time he had heard or seen from his daughter.

  ‘Yeah, I know,’ Zo replied quietly.

  ‘You think its coincidence?’

  ‘In this business, nothing’s coincidence. He knows what buttons to push, though, Bobby, so I’m not gonna jump the gun. What she was last seen wearing was posted on the fucking internet, for Christ’s sake. Anybody could have seen it. He could very well be playing you, Shep.’

  Bobby nodded.

  ‘Let me drive you home …’ Zo offered.

  ‘I’m not drunk. I’ll get myself home,’ he said, climbing into his car. ‘I’ll see you in a couple of hours.’

  Bobby pulled out of the parking lot and swung on to the Turnpike northbound. The silence in the car was deafening, so he turned on the radio. But that didn’t help, either.

  ‘What was she wearing, LuAnn? Think.’

  ‘Um, um, she had on her blue T-shirt. The one she got from Abercrombie with the matching striped sweater. I just washed it. It covers her arms, that’s what I was thinking this morning, Bobby. I was thinking, “It covers her arms.” Oh my God …’

  ‘OK. I’ll get a description in right away. They’ll check the hospitals, bus stations, Amtrak, TriRail and airports. How much money does she have, Belle?’

  Um, I don’t know. A couple of hundred, maybe, from her birthday and confirmation and work? No, wait – what am I thinking? She’s working a lot. She’s been saving up for a car, so maybe it was more. No, it was more. She was looking at a car, so she had at least a thousand. Maybe she had more. I don’t know. I don’t know, Bobby!’

  ‘What about a suitcase? Did you check her closet?’

  LuAnn began to scream, banging her fists on the counter behind her. ‘No! She did not run away! No! You have to find her! You have to bring her back home, Bobby! You have to bring her back home to me!’ Tears streamed from her panicked face. ‘I want to say I’m sorry! I want to do it over! I want another chance!’

  He rubbed his eyes. How was he going to act normal in front of LuAnn? How was he supposed to not completely drop to his knees and fall apart? And if it was true, if it turned out that it really was Katy in that horrible portrait, how in God’s name was he ever supposed to tell his wife that?

  His mind raced, flipping between the alternate personalities of dad and detective. He tried his best to shut them out, but bittersweet memories flooded his brain. The last time he saw her, the last time he kissed her cheek, the last words she said to him … Much like how he would remember someone as he headed off to their funeral.

  He shook the images out of his head. Focus. Find her, whoever she might be. If it’s Katy, bring her home. And don’t think about what he’s done to her. Don’t go there, whatever you do.

  It was useless going home. Bobby sat at the kitchen table and drank more coffee until the sun finally came up. For all he knew, LuAnn was above his head, still wide awake and rocking with her hands wrapped around her knees. She knew something was up before he left. Call it instinct or a premonition or whatever, but she knew something was not right. She knew something was very, very wrong. And he didn’t want to walk into that bedroom and confirm her worst suspicions with just one look.

  He took a quick shower in the guest bathroom – Katy’s bathroom – grabbed some clean clothes out of the laundry room and headed back into the office somewhere around eight thirty.

  And, of course, he didn’t sleep a wink.

  68

  Bobby stood up from behind his desk and stared out the window at the endless stream of cars headed westbound on the Dolphin. The sun was just starting its slow descent into the Everglades and roadwork crews were packing up for the day, which only helped thicken the congestion. ‘Anything?’ he asked into the phone.

  ‘We combed every bay like we were looking for lice on Carrot Top’s head – nothing,’ Larry replied. Bobby, Zo, Don McCrindle and an army of BSO uniforms and Customs officers had spent the day at Port Everglades in Fort Lauderdale. Larry, Ciro, Veso, Roland and MDPD had covered the Port of Miami. Both teams had come up empty.

  ‘Ya know, all day long I’ve been thinking, trying to figure where it was I might’ve seen that scene before,’ Larry continued. ‘It’s been bugging the shit out of me, ’cause it looks familiar. And I was thinking, maybe Kelly’s right – maybe this guy is getting real profound, you know? Maybe the flames are symbolic and instead of leading us to a site, he’s maybe trying to send us a message.’

  ‘I’m listening …’ Bobby replied quietly, still staring out the window. Traffic looked the same as it did five minutes ago. As it did that morning. As it did yesterday. In fact, but for the Christmas trees strapped to the roofs of some cars, everything outside looked exactly the same as it did every day. Construction workers in T-shirts and sheikh caps packed up their coolers, smoking cigarettes and goofing off, while others finished up for the day expanding the same stretch of highway they’d been working on for the last couple of years. Down the halls of MROC, the same secretaries gossiped about the same people, the same agents worked at the same desks on the same cases. Everything looked and sounded exactly the same as it did yesterday or last month or last year, but with the simple unfolding of that canvas – with a quick sniff of nauseating oil paint – the whole world as Bobby knew it had changed once again. No longer did he have even the comfort of his imagination that his kid was fine and defying every cold, hard runaway statistic. No. Today his only child might be dead – the victim of a sadistic serial killer, perhaps kidnapped and tortured and raped all those days and weeks and months that everyone’s life on the other side of that window went on as normal. And now, as he looked out on Miami, wondering where the hell Katy was, he couldn’t stop the incredible anger that was swelling inside of him. Anger at Picasso, at himself, at every person on the other side of the glass. And he secretly wished – like he had for the past 365 days – that he was one of those mindless, faceless drivers stuck in traffic, banging on his steering wheel in frustration because he was going to be late for his kid’s recital or miss dinner with the family. He wished to God he didn’t have to feel the incredible pain he was feeling right now – a burning ache in every fiber of his being, as if he were coming apart at the very seams that held him together as a person. It was an indescribable pain that he could not imagine could get any worse, and yet he knew most definitely would, when and if his worst fear was finally confirmed – when the phone rang and the terrible words were finally spoken: ‘It’s her.’ Like a death-row inmate already living in abject hell who’d vowed he’d rather die than live his life out in a 6 × 8 cement box, Bobby stood waiting with anxious hope a
s the clock ticked its way down to midnight to hear if he’d won an improbable last-second, last-chance reprieve. He’d told himself since Katy left that the not knowing was the worst, but he knew now that was wrong. And as he listened to the warden’s footfalls slowly approach his cell with grim news of his appeal, he realized that living in hell was much better than the alternative.

  ‘… that’s when it popped into my head! I have some dope I’ve got to drop off in a case that closed out years ago, when I was in Narcotics,’ Larry was saying. ‘The guy pled to twenty and the two keys are just sitting there, waiting to get destroyed, right? I have the court order and everything, but it’s just freaking sitting there in the evidence room and I really have to get rid of it. Anyway, I’m driving across the MacArthur and I’m thinking about this dope and I’m thinking it’s a Broward case, so I’ll have to drop the dope up in Broward, and I don’t know when I’ll be there again. The last time I had to get rid of smack, it was at the dump. You ever had to dump dope, Bobby?’

  ‘No.’

  Zo walked in the office, a frown on his face. ‘You look like shit. What’re you doing?’

  ‘Thanks,’ Bobby replied, rubbing his temples. ‘Waiting for Larry to get to the point.’ He put the phone on speaker. ‘Zo’s here. You’re on the air.’

  ‘Hey,’ Larry answered. ‘So I haven’t been there in years myself, to the dump, but I start to think about it, Bobby. When you drop dope, you know, to destroy it, they have to burn it.’

  Bobby froze.

  ‘The burn pit, it’s outside. You can be standing in the sunshine while this sanitation worker’s getting high off your leftover nose candy. Now, I haven’t been there in years, so I call to see what time they’re doing burns, ’cause it used to be they’d only do it by appointment and only on certain days of the week. But they’re freaking closed! Like closed, closed. Now burns are done at the Wheelabrator facility off 441 and Interstate 595. The administrative facilities are still out there in the fucking Everglades, but the site’s been shut down for a couple of years, and the landfill’s been closed. That’s when I started thinking – shit! That might be it! The burn site at the dump!’

 
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