Pretty Little Things, p.27Jilliane Hoffman
He heard her crying, trying hard to control her breathing. She was hysterical.
The fear was right back.
‘He’s dead!’ she yelled. ‘Oh my God, Bobby, he’s dead!’
‘Who’s dead? What the hell are you talking about, LuAnn? Is it your dad –’
Sirens exploded in the background as emergency vehicles made their way up the rotting, winding Florida mountain.
‘Ray!’ she screamed. ‘Ray Coon! He’s dead! Someone shot him!’
Bobby closed his eyes. How was this happening now? He’d known it was only a matter of time before the news of Ray’s murder eventually made the rounds back to her. He should have expected this call. He should have told her. ‘Lu –’ he started.
‘And now someone’s sending me his picture! His picture, Bobby!’
‘What? Who’s sending you Ray’s picture?’
‘On a tombstone!’ LuAnn screamed.
Zo came over. ‘What’s happening?’
‘It came in the flowers,’ LuAnn said between sobs.
‘What flowers? What are you talking about?’
‘I don’t know! Someone just sent me flowers. I thought it was my sister or maybe the girls at the hospital …’
‘Jeannie wouldn’t send you flowers,’ Bobby started. None of this was making sense.
‘Roses. Red and white roses. This enormous bouquet of fucking flowers, Bobby!’
‘Who? Who sent them?’ he demanded. ‘Who the hell would send you flowers today?’
‘I don’t know!’
‘LuAnn, this is making no sense. Help me out here. Someone sent you flowers today, along with a picture of Ray on a headstone – was there a card?’
‘It wasn’t signed. The picture of Ray was in the card with a news article that said he died last week – that he was murdered!’
‘What exactly did the card say? Anything?’
‘It said “Happy Anniversary. Hope it’s memorable.”’ She started to sob again. ‘Who would do this? Who would send this to me?’
Bobby looked at Zo. ‘LuAnn, how long ago did these flowers come?’
‘I don’t know … five minutes ago, maybe.’
‘Where are they from? What store?’
‘I don’t know. It doesn’t say on here. It doesn’t say anywhere.’
‘What did his truck say? Did you see his truck?’
‘It wasn’t a truck. It was a regular car, I think. I don’t know! I don’t know!’
‘What did he look like, LuAnn? What did the deliveryman look like?’
‘I don’t … um, he was your height, I guess. And I think he was blond. He had a cap on. That’s all I remember! I wasn’t looking at him.’ She paused, for just a second. ‘You knew about Ray, didn’t you? Didn’t you, Bobby?’
‘LuAnn, lock the door. Don’t answer it for anyone. I’m coming home.’
‘Why? Bobby, what is happening? Tell me, goddamn it!’
‘Get a car out to my house!’ he commanded Zo.
‘Tell me!’ LuAnn shouted.
‘What’s happening?’ asked Zo.
He held his hand over the phone so she wouldn’t hear. ‘He was there. Five minutes ago,’ Bobby yelled. ‘At my mother-fucking house!’
Radios erupted again.
It would only be a matter of minutes. Just three minutes for a car to be there. Less, if one was in the area. Please God, let there be a car …
‘Who was it? Who sent them?’ LuAnn screamed.
‘LuAnn, listen carefully. This case, this Picasso case I’m on … I think it’s him. I think he was the one who sent those flowers,’ Bobby said as he climbed into his car.
She was sobbing. ‘Oh my God … Katy …’
He turned the engine on and threw it in reverse. ‘And I think he just hand-delivered them to you.’
Then he raced back down the winding road with his lights and siren on, headed for home at a hundred miles an hour.
The man hummed as he sat in the traffic that had pulled over to the side of the road, watching as the police cars whizzed by him, one after the other, lights flashing and sirens blaring, like a scene from an action movie. He knew just where they were headed in such a hurry – if he sat where he was long enough, he could wave at the Super Special Agent as he whizzed by himself. But he would most likely be too busy to wave back. He was, he imagined, in a Super Special Agent rush to get home. Boy, would Ricky have some ’splaining to do when he walked through the door tonight!
Something told him that the Hero Who Walked Among Us hadn’t yet let his wifey in on the recent and very substantial development in the case of their missing daughter. Like the fact that the sleazy, gangsta boyfriend was now officially out of the picture. Whew! Wasn’t that a relief?
Only he wasn’t so sure the little woman was gonna take it that way. Not after her Hero told her exactly what he’d been up to today at the office, in all its graphic, glorious detail. Not after he spilled the beans about the striking, uncanny resemblance to their pretty little missing daughter in Picasso’s latest and greatest masterpiece.
But there was no such thing as coincidence, was there? And the great detective knew that better than anyone. Soon enough his wife would know that, too. No, there was no such thing as coincidence.
SUPER SPECIAL AGENT ROBERT S. DEES
Everyman’s hero The Shepherd
… Nicknamed The Shepherd by his colleagues in law enforcement, SAS Dees has worked over two hundred missing children/abduction cases around the country since his career with FDLE’s Crimes Against Children Squad began nearly a decade ago. Of those, only five remain unsolved (see box). While not every case ends happily, Dees has persisted in ‘bringing home kids who should never, ever have been found’, Marlon Truett, the Assistant Director of the FBI, told People. ‘Dead or alive, he brings them back home to their families, which is a great comfort. People want closure. They need it. And Bobby Dees – he won’t ever stop. He’s like a shepherd, and he will see to it that every last one of his flock is found. He’ll never stop looking. That’s just the way he is.’ A recipient of the prestigious Officer of the Year Award for Missing and Exploited Children, and Florida’s Law Enforcement Officer of the Year, Dees says the faces of the missing – the ones he hasn’t yet ‘brought home’ – haunt him every day of his life. ‘I could only imagine, if that were my child, how I would feel.’
The man rolled the worn, chewed magazine up and tossed it on to the seat beside him. Less than a year after that glowing piece had been written – before dust even had a chance to collect on all of those pretty little awards – Super Special Agent’s own daughter had vanished into the dark night.
The man smiled.
A good shepherd lays down his life for his sheep. He who is a hired hand and who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf catches them and scatters them.
John 10:11–18. Right out of the gospel …
The real lesson to be learned? Just like People magazine so eloquently put it, there’s not always a happy ending to every story. In fact, just like the in the Bible, most stories end tragically. The good shepherd either dies or he runs when he sees the wolf coming. Either way, the poor sheep are doomed.
So as much as he was sure Mr and Mrs Dees wanted to forget this momentous occasion, he knew it was only right to help them celebrate it. He just wished he could be a fly on the wall of their pretty little house tonight. He wished he could hear their screams. Listen in on the anguish. He closed his eyes and imagined for a second just what the little woman’s mouth would look like, open and lush, twisted in pain into an eternal black grin. He thought of how the brush would feel in his hand, heavy with paint, the fragrant smell wafting like a perfume through his secret labyrinth …
His hand fell to his lap.
Are you pure in both thought and deed?
He wiped the sweat from his f
The wolf was on his way. The story was finally coming to an end.
Then he flicked on the radio and waited for the news to come on.
‘It’s a hairpiece,’ Dr Terrence Lynch, the Broward County ME, said with a smile full of oversized teeth. He held up the long blonde wig, stroking it with his stubby gloved fingers, as if it were a cat. Short and stuffed, his pale skin bathed in the reflection of the old mint green tiles that covered the examining room of the Broward County ME’s office, the pathologist looked a lot like Dracula’s assistant, Renfield. A recent import from upstate New York, Bobby hadn’t worked with Lynch before, but for once in his career, he was missing Gunther.
Zo shook his head and looked across the gurney at Bobby. ‘An ME who likes his job – go figure.’
‘Mmmmm …’ Dr Lynch murmured, returning the hairpiece, which was matted in places with dried blood, to the clear evidence bag. ‘It’s not expensive. The fibers are synthetic; the make is cheap. I have a young daughter, and it looks strikingly similar to the Hannah Montana mop she parades around in. Maybe there aren’t too many Miley Cyrus fans in South Florida. We can run it through fibers and see if that’ll narrow down our search.’
‘I think we’ll find out there are more fans than we feared,’ Zo replied.
‘Do you have an ID yet?’ Dr Lynch asked.
‘Her prints aren’t in AFIS,’ Bobby answered with a shake of his head. AFIS was the Automated Fingerprint Identification System. ‘She doesn’t match a description of any of the missing juvis we’ve got on our list. At least, we don’t think she does.’ He tried hard not to look down at the young girl on the metal gurney who just yesterday he thought would turn out to be his daughter. A crisp white sheet covered her torso and legs. Thankfully the autopsy was over.
‘I understand you had quite a scare, Agent Dees,’ Dr Lynch said as he washed up. A tech came over with a large spool of black nylon thread in hand and a large stitching needle. ‘I’m glad it didn’t turn out to be what you had feared.’
Bobby was too, but it seemed wrong to agree while he was standing over the mutilated body of a girl with no name, who had no one waiting outside to even claim her body. So he just nodded and moved over to make room for the tech.
‘Your Picasso was particularly brutal,’ the doctor continued. He dried his hands and turned back to face Bobby and Zo. ‘Besides the obvious missing eyes, she’s also missing her tongue. Both injuries were inflicted pre-mortem.’
Bobby had seen many things in his career. Many horrible things. Too many things. Some cruelty, though, was beyond even his comprehension. ‘How can you tell?’
‘There was bruising in the skin, muscle and surrounding soft tissue,’ Dr Lynch said, gesturing toward Jane Doe’s black sockets. ‘The dead, gentlemen, do not bruise. So the injuries were inflicted while her heart was pumping blood and she was still alive.’
‘This is like Cupid all over again,’ Zo muttered.
‘I’ll screen for anesthetics and analgesics,’ Lynch added. ‘Maybe he showed a little compassion and numbed her up first.’
‘What’s with her fingers?’ Bobby asked, looking down at the slender gray hand that lay on the side of the table, protruding from underneath the sheet. The fingertips were black, the nails broken and jagged, the skin severely abraded.
‘The skin is beginning to slip and decompose, which accounts for some of the discoloration. But the tips – the pads – they are also severely bruised and scraped – almost ground down to the bone. I thought perhaps an animal had gnawed at them postmortem, but the injuries, it appears, were inflicted, like the tongue and eyes, before she died. I X-rayed the fingers – they’re not broken.’
‘In the portrait Picasso sent us, the fingertips were covered in blood, too. What the hell would he do to her fingers and why?’ Zo asked. ‘Is he trying to tell us something?’
Dr Lynch shrugged. ‘I don’t have an answer for you.’
‘Maybe she did it to herself,’ Bobby answered softly, gently taking Jane Doe’s hand in his own gloved palm and carefully looking at it. ‘Maybe she was trying to get out of wherever it was he had her held. Maybe she was clawing her way out. She still has nail beds, Dr Lynch. Make sure she’s scraped. Look for rock, clay, dirt, pesticides – anything. Screen whatever it is you find. Maybe we can figure out where he held her.’
Dr Lynch nodded. ‘Done. I took samples of everything. The screens take a while, but I’ll try and get a quick return.’
The problem with multi-jurisdictional serial homicides was consistency. Three bodies in Broward and one body in Dade meant multiple police departments, multiple crime labs, and multiple medical examiners. ‘Can you get with Gunther Trauss in Miami and see what he’s come up with so that we don’t duplicate efforts?’ Bobby asked. ‘Time is of the essence. We need results yesterday, if you could.’
Dr Lynch nodded. The horse-toothed smile was back, which was definitely disconcerting. He slid his hands into his lab-coat pockets. ‘So, how long do you want me to hold her, guys?’
There was no ‘Potter’s Field’ in Broward County – no graveyard for the indigent and unidentified like there was in Miami. The bodies of the destitute and unclaimed were simply bid out to the local funeral homes for disposal. The lowest bidder won the prize, which, for economical reasons, inevitably meant cremation and a scattering in the local dumpster of whatever was left. Unidentified homicide victims were handled a little differently: their bodies were boiled down and the bones kept in a box on a shelf at the ME’s until, barring a screw-up, someone, somewhere came up with a name. The hope was that, along with that name would be a family, someone to claim the bones and give Jane or John Doe a proper burial.
‘Give me time. I’ll get you a name,’ Bobby said quietly as he and Zo headed for the elevator. ‘Whatever happens with this case, she’s not going to auction, Dr Lynch. I’ll take care of it.’ If they couldn’t find a family to go with that name, Bobby would make sure that she was buried proper. No kid should leave this earth unnoticed. Unmissed. He nodded goodbye and the doors closed on the oversized elevator.
‘The blonde wig, the different sweater. Picasso’s fucking with you, Bobby,’ Zo remarked quietly as the car started its creaky, slow ascent out of the basement.
‘It’s working. I’m fucked up,’ Bobby replied, rubbing his eyes.
‘You shouldn’t be here.’
Bobby shot him a look.
‘You shouldn’t. You look like hell. Have you slept at all in the past few days?’
‘I don’t sleep anyway. You think I’m gonna start now?’
He shook his head. ‘Medicated. Hopefully she won’t have to wake up till after I’ve found this guy. The ballistics report’s back on the bullet that was found in the tree next to Ray Coons’s skull. It’s a .44 caliber Magnum, left-hand twist.’
‘Big gun,’ Zo commented as they stepped out into the hall just past reception. He stuck his head out the back-door entrance and looked down the long driveway, checking for media; they seemed to be everywhere and anywhere now. Besides being the top story on every channel in South Florida, news of the Picasso murders had made its way overseas as well, peeking the interest of the international media. A flamboyant, twisted serial killer with a taste for young runaways had attracted as much attention as the Cupid serial homicides in Miami had a few years ago. And that had been a complete and utter circus. The parking lot was clear, though.
‘It’s a gun that a lot of people like,’ Bobby said with a sigh, slipping on his sunglasses as they headed down the drive and then across the lawn to the lot behind the Broward Sheriff’s Office’s Tactical Services building. ‘Particularly gang-bangers. Autopsy report says he was dead at least a couple of weeks.’
‘We’ve been all over the str
‘What the hell was he doing in Belle Glade?’
‘That’s anybody’s guess right now. Remember, Bobby, this guy is working you. Don’t go crazy thinking Ray’s a Picasso victim. We don’t know that. And we don’t know that Katy is related, either.’
Bobby stopped walking. ‘He came to my house, Zo. My house. He talked to my wife. He’s sending these sick portraits for my attention and leaving place cards with my name at crime scenes and he wants me …’ He took a breath. ‘He wants me to believe he has my daughter. Why?’
Zo didn’t have a response, so he said nothing. When they reached their cars, he said, ‘You’re done today. You need to go home and sit with your wife. I don’t want you back at the office. At least for a few days. And when you come back, I don’t want you on this case.’
‘Fuck that,’ replied Bobby. As if on cue, his cell rang. ‘Dees,’ he answered.
‘Bobby, it’s Ciro. I just got off the phone with a buddy who works Computer Crimes up in Palm Beach with the Sheriff’s Office. He’s doing a call-out today that the Sheriff’s Office is working with LEACH – you know, the internet computer kiddie crimes task force? They’re setting up on a perv this afternoon who’s supposed to do a meet-and-greet with a fourteen-year-old girl at a Mickey Ds. One of the PBSO Special Investigations detectives who does decoy caught this fish last week sometime, and they need tactical help to reel him in. Nothing new there, right? Happens every day. Now there’s no guarantee this guy’s even gonna show – he’s a ghost – and the decoy hasn’t heard from him in a few days, so it might be for nothing, but my buddy thought it was real interesting when he found out this morning at briefing the screen name the perv was using. Real interesting, considering he and I were talking about the Emerson case just last week, and this particular info hasn’t been released to the public.’
Pretty Little Things by Jilliane Hoffman / History & Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes