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Pretty little things, p.26
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       Pretty Little Things, p.26

           Jilliane Hoffman
 

  He’s taunting you to find him, even going so far as to send you the evidence that he himself created. He’s challenging you.

  It made sense. Where the police dumped and burned their evidence, Picasso would dump his. It would be very symbolic, like Roland Kelly had suggested. Bobby looked at Zo. ‘Larry, is every burn site like Broward? You know, Miami, Palm Beach?’ he asked.

  ‘I don’t know. I only had to get my stuff burned in Broward. I would think there’s at least a procedure in each county, because you need a court order. Checks and balances, you know? To make sure we don’t take it home and smoke it ourselves,’ he laughed. ‘Or sell it. Now that’s capitalism.’

  It would also be symbolic to get rid of that evidence in the county in which it was seized. Bobby lived in Broward.

  Bobby was already on the radio. Within minutes he had uniforms from a half-dozen departments responding to secure both the current and closed narcotic evidence burn sites in Miami, Palm Beach, Monroe and Broward counties.

  ‘You’re not going,’ Zo said quietly as Bobby grabbed his sports jacket.

  ‘The hell I’m not.’

  ‘You didn’t sleep last night.’

  ‘Neither did you.’

  ‘Maybe. But this is way too much.’ Zo hesitated, as if he’d almost said the wrong thing, and closed the office door with his foot. ‘Listen, I want to say I’m sure it’s not her, I want to tell you that, but I can’t. And neither can you. Today’s one year since she ran away. This psycho’s addressing these portraits to you, and the clothing in the painting matches Katy’s description to a T. If Larry’s right and he’s dumping the evidence at that site …’ Zo trailed off and lowered his voice. ‘It’s just not looking good, brother. And I don’t think you should be there to see it.’

  ‘That’s exactly why I am gonna be there, Zo. It isn’t looking good. I know exactly what it looks like. It looks like this is gonna turn out to be my daughter. And if it is, well, I’m gonna be the one to find her, and I’m gonna bring her back home.’ He willed both the tears and the fear back as he opened the door and stepped into the squad bay. ‘And then I’m gonna find the sick fuck that did this to her, and when I do, when I’m through with him, he’s gonna be begging me to fucking kill him.’

  69

  LuAnn knew something was wrong. She felt it in every joint in her body. She felt it in her gut, and she felt it in her heart. Something was wrong. Something was very, very wrong.

  Bobby was holding out on her.

  At first she thought it was another woman. And that made sense. She’d been away from him for so long – emotionally, physically – that she’d often thought one day he’d decide he’d had enough and go find someone else. Or someone else would find him. At times during the past year she’d actually wished it would happen – so that it would be over with, so that she could finally be completely alone in the world, so that nothing and no one would matter any more. She could stop silently blaming him, and he could stop silently blaming her and it would be done – their lives could go in different directions, without even the bond of a child to bring them back together at a future graduation and wedding. She could just curl up into a ball, and wallow in self-pity until life was over. And the waiting for it to happen – to finally find out about the affair, to confront him, to see her marriage end, to watch him move out and start a life with someone new, to find herself completely alone – well, the waiting was too exhausting. She’d just wished the inevitable would happen already.

  So it was no doubt unfair of her to think that a few nights together might close the expansive emotional void that had grown between them, no matter how great or tender the sex was, or how much she might will it to be so. No matter how close they’d seemed for a few days, or how much it felt like the ‘old days’ of their marriage, when everything was normal and people called them lucky. She’d made a mistake shutting him out for all these months, she knew that now, but she was finally ready to heal. She was finally ready to come back. But should she expect him to still be there waiting? The truth was, no. A year was a long time.

  The past few days had been, in a sense, worse than the previous eleven months: The void seemed now a chasm, but it was Bobby who was shutting down this time. When the midnight phone call came that he uncharacteristically didn’t answer, she’d laid there beside him in bed, her heart pounding, thinking, ‘This is it. This is how I will find out. And no matter how much I thought I wanted it, I’m not ready to know. I’m not ready to watch everything I had unravel, and at the end of it all blame myself. I’m not ready for him to leave …’

  She’d pretended to be asleep, lying there, waiting for him to sneak downstairs and call his mystery lady back, and wondering what she should do next. Should she hire a PI? Or, perhaps get the number from his cell and call the woman back herself and confront her? Bobby hadn’t moved, either. She could hear his heartbeat quicken, she could feel his body tense. But when he played back the message in the dark bedroom, and she heard the panicked whispers of that reporter on the other end, she knew it wasn’t another woman that she’d lost her husband to – it was this case. This case that had consumed him from the second he’d picked it up. It was too close to home. For both of them. It was too close to Katy.

  He had rushed out and she had waited up all night, trying to shush the horrible thoughts that were now running unchecked in her brain, only to hear him finally come home, but not come to her. She knew there was a reason, but she wasn’t sure she wanted to know what it was, and so she’d stayed upstairs, waiting. Waiting for him to come. Waiting for him to leave. Waiting for the day that had just begun to finally end.

  They had not spoken about today – there was no note on the fridge to remind either of them of the significance of the date. But of course neither of them needed a reminder. November 19 was an anniversary LuAnn had never expected to pass. One last Thanksgiving, Christmas, or Mother’s Day, she could never imagine having. An anniversary. For couples and jobs and tragedies, an anniversary was the mark to make. Wow, it’s been a whole year! Look where we are! More than just the passage of 365 days, it was the symbolic turning of an event into a permanent part of time – a day of remembrance. And LuAnn wanted no part of it. Ever. Before the concussion that had laid her up now for almost a week, she’d volunteered to work a double.

  She could only imagine how hard the day would be on Bobby. Like a firefighter who’s called to put out a blaze in a downtown Manhattan skyscraper on September 11, he had to focus on the emergency while the world held vigils and the ghosts of fallen comrades screamed in his head. After her husband had quietly slipped back out of the house when the sun came up, she’d turned on the TV for company, only to shut it right off. Bobby’s case was already all over CNN, Fox News, MSNBC. Another brutal painting. Another possible teenage victim. Another runaway. Another Miami serial killer. Another frantic manhunt underway.

  So she’d flipped on satellite radio and wandered about the house all day, doing busy, mindless things, like watering plants and dusting bookshelves and mopping the floors. She almost welcomed the distraction when the doorbell rang, tempered by the fear that it was a neighbor who perhaps had marked the date on her calendar and wanted to make sure LuAnn was OK with a plateful of cookies, a sad face and a few intrusive questions.

  All she saw when she opened the door, though, were flowers. Red and white roses and white lilies – an enormous bouquet of flowers.

  ‘I have a delivery for Mrs Dees,’ the deliveryman said, passing a clipboard to her.

  ‘From who?’ she asked as she signed the receipt and watched as he placed the vase on the hall table. There were at least two dozen roses in the bunch …

  ‘Don’t know, ma’am. There’s a card, though.’

  She stared at the flowers, but he stood in the foyer and didn’t leave. ‘Oh,’ she said after a moment, digging into her pocket for a couple of bucks. ‘Here you go.’

  He smiled. ‘Sure do appreciate it. Have a nice day, now.’

 
; ‘Thank you,’ she said absently as he headed down the front walk. Normally she hated the short days of winter, but today she welcomed seeing the setting sun and the long shadows of afternoon. She flipped on the front light and turned to head back inside. The heavy perfume of fresh roses already filled the living room, and the smell was making her nauseous. This was not the day for flowers.

  Who the hell in their right mind would send her flowers on the one day of the year she would most like to forget?

  ‘Enjoy them, ma’am,’ the deliveryman called out just as she closed the door. ‘They sure are pretty. Just like you.’

  70

  There were no hills in South Florida, so the two-hundred-foot mound of green grass rising out of the sawgrass to the west of Interstate 75 stood out like the Statue of Liberty on the Hudson. An inconspicuous and almost impossible-to-find entrance off of US 27 led to a forgotten paved road that wound through the heart of twenty acres of what was once the South Broward County SWT Landfill and Incinerator #8, aka the Dump. A ten-foot-high chain-link fence with a rusted, broken lock surrounded the property. A sign warned that trespassers would be prosecuted.

  One wouldn’t think that the dump would get a lot of trespassing, but as the cliché went and as fans of Antique Road Show could attest, one man’s trash could very well be another’s treasure. Everyone wanted to discover that diamond ring in the rough, even if it meant wading through twenty stories of garbage with a metal detector to find it.

  The dump was completely deserted. Even the scavenger birds that at one time feasted by the hundreds, if not thousands, atop the refuse were gone. Removed from the expressway by more than a mile, and set far back from any community, the parking lot was eerily quiet. And no matter how old it was, or what chemicals the city used, or how much they tried to insulate it with tarp, the air still stunk like garbage.

  ‘I’m going in with Larry and McCrindle,’ Zo said, as he walked around the back end of his Taurus and over to where Bobby stood with Larry, BSO Detective Don McCrindle, and three uniforms in front of a cement rectangular building that looked like a 1970s double-wide trailer. Boards covered every window. He looked at Bobby. ‘Don’t even try to fucking argue with me. I’m a fool for letting you come here.’

  ‘The incinerator pit was out in the back,’ Larry said. ‘You had to show the order to the clerk inside, then get your shit inventoried and get a receipt. Somebody would escort you through to a secured area outside where they’d burn it in front of you. If you stood close enough, you’d feel no pain for a week or so.’

  Zo looked at the uniforms and nodded toward Bobby. ‘Make sure he stays at the car. You got light?’ he asked Don.

  Don nodded and waved his flashlight.

  ‘All right. Let’s do this.’

  Within a minute they were in. Flashlight ribbons sliced like light-sabers through the inky darkness. Bobby stood by the front end of his car, counting down the seconds with the cooling tick of the engine, holding his breath, praying this was another dead end. Praying for good news from the warden, whose footfalls had finally reached his cell …

  Moments later, radios crackled to life.

  ‘I got her,’ Zo said.

  Time stopped. Bobby held the radio up to his face with two hands. ‘Zo?’ He could feel the cold fear racing through his body to his heart, threatening to shut it down. ‘Zo?’ he asked again. ‘Dias?’

  Zo came back out the door, a handkerchief to his nose. Radios erupted all around him, everyone chattering at once. He heard Don McCrindle call for Crime Scene and the Medical Examiner.

  ‘Is it her?’ Bobby asked, rushing over to his friend on legs that threatened to betray him.

  Zo held his hands up like a stop sign. ‘You’re not going in there.’

  ‘That wasn’t the deal.’

  ‘Is it her?’ It was Ciro, calling in on Zo’s radio. Zo didn’t respond.

  The fear hit its target. Bobby shut his eyes tight to stop the world from spinning. A weird line from the Godfather suddenly popped into his head, from the scene where Vito Corleone goes to the funeral home after his son has been shot.

  I want you to use all your powers and all your skills. I don’t want his mother to see him this way. Look how they massacred my boy …

  ‘Is it her?’ he asked again.

  ‘It’s bad, Shep, I ain’t gonna lie –’

  ‘Don’t fucking call me that!’ Bobby shouted. ‘Is it her?’

  ‘I don’t know!’ Zo shouted back. ‘She’s staged, she’s – it’s bad. You don’t need to fucking see it, is all!’ He grabbed Bobby by the arm. ‘I don’t know what we have. He’s fucking with your head here –’

  Bobby pushed past him, running up the cement steps of the double-wide, through the front door and into the murky darkness that reeked of garbage and death.

  The warden had finally arrived. And he could tell just by the pained look on his face that the news wasn’t good.

  71

  LuAnn closed the door and stepped over to the vase. Stuck deep down into the heart of it was a white card clipped tight to a plastic holder.

  Was it Jeannie? Would she have sent it?

  Her baby sister was well-intentioned, but could be thoughtless. Sometimes LuAnn wondered when she went on and on about her own kids and their piano lessons and school plays if she remembered that Katy was still missing.

  The girls from work?

  Maybe it’s a belated get-well bouquet. Maybe they didn’t realize the significance of today’s date …

  Who the hell would do such a terrible thing?

  She reached down into the bouquet and found the card. People always thought they were saying or doing the nicest things during a life-altering event, but sometimes those were the words or deeds that left the deepest cuts.

  ‘She probably left to get her head clear, Lu. You know? Stretch her wings a little!’

  ‘Maybe you were too tough on her. I always say I’m not going to be Lauren’s friend, but it’s so hard nowadays to get them to tell you anything … I guess you have to be tough, though.’

  ‘Being a parent isn’t easy, LuAnn. None of us knows if we’re doing it right. Don’t be too hard on yourself. Did I tell you that Jonathon just got into FSU? He’s so excited!’

  Now the same well-intentioned friends were sending her roses on the anniversary of her daughter running away. Then they would go home tonight and talk about their great deed over dinner with their own kids, and everyone at the table would gossip about how it’s been a whole year already, and why it was they supposed Katy left in the first place, and the current suspected state of LuAnn and Bobby’s marriage. The smell of the flowers was beyond nauseating now. All LuAnn wanted to do was throw them out. Shred the petals and throw the fucking things out …

  She turned on the hall light and opened the card.

  What words of comfort could someone possibly say to her today?

  She slid out the small white card with the yellow happy face emblem at the top. A piece of paper fluttered to the ground.

  She stared at the words in disbelief.

  Happy Anniversary!! Hope it’s memorable!

  Then she looked down at the floor. At the small, black-and-white picture of a smiling Ray Coon from his high school yearbook, right there on her floor. His eyes had been blacked out with magic marker. She knelt down and picked it up. It was pasted on to the picture of a tombstone. Taped below the tombstone was a small, two-sentence police blotter cut from the Palm Beach Post. It was dated November 14.

  BODY FOUND BY BOY SCOUT IN

  BELLE GLADE IDENTIFIED

  The decomposed body of a young man found shot to death late last week by a boy scout and his father in Belle Glade Marina and Campground has been identified as Reinaldo ‘Ray’ Coon, 19, of Margate, Florida. No suspects in the slaying have been identified.

  LuAnn dropped the clipping and watched as it fluttered gently back down to the floor.

  It landed face up, still smiling at her.

  72

/>   The first thing he saw when he rushed into the small back storage room was the criss-crossing beams of light from Larry and Don McCrindle’s flashlights. It was catching on something shiny and reflective off the floor.

  Then Bobby saw the chains.

  They were wrapped around the ankles of the slender body that hung from the ceiling, spooling below her into a polished, silvery pile, like the coils of a snake. He turned his own flashlight up. Her back was to him. Long dirty blonde hair was caught in the chains that were wrapped around her neck. More chains tethered her thin arms above her to a pipe in the ceiling. She dangled there, facing a window that looked out on to the long-closed burn pit that Larry had described. Someone had removed the boards from the window so she could face out.

  Bobby circled around the body and beamed his flashlight up past the thick necklace of chains.

  No one said anything. Nothing moved.

  It wasn’t Katy.

  The body was fresh, a day or two old at the most. Most likely she had been killed somewhere else. Her eyes, like the others, were missing, and decomposition had started, but she was still recognizable. At least to Bobby.

  It wasn’t Katy.

  Zo was behind him. Bobby shook his head and took his first breath in a minute. He felt like a thousand pounds had been lifted from his shoulders. ‘It’s not her,’ he said in a small voice. Then he stumbled back outside to wait for Crime Scene. The tears he’d been holding back, reserving for the worst news, came anyway.

  His cell phone rang just as he stepped through the front door. It was LuAnn, calling from the house. He let it go to voicemail. There was no way he could talk to her now. No way he could tell her what had almost happened. No way he could tell her how incredibly relieved he was, without telling her just how scared he’d been. But then it rang again. And again. Which meant it was more than important – it was an emergency. He walked over to his car, wiped his face with the back of his hand and tried his best to sound normal. ‘Lu?’

 
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