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Pretty little things, p.28
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       Pretty Little Things, p.28

           Jilliane Hoffman

  ‘Talk to me,’ Bobby said, looking at Zo and waiting on Ciro’s next words, his body frozen in place, suspended halfway into the car.

  ‘They’re waiting on The Captain.’


  It was almost comical that in the day and age of sophisticated law-enforcement computer systems and instant communications available via the internet, email, fax, texting, and cell phones, the left hand still didn’t know what the right was doing. The first thing Bobby had done after seeing the Boganes sisters’ portrait and realizing that Lainey Emerson was probably linked to Picasso, was send out a BOLO (Be On the Look Out for) teletype via FCIC/NCIC, alerting law-enforcement agencies nationwide to contact him if they had a cyberpredator using the screen name Zachary, Cusano, ElCapitan or any combination or modification thereof. Of course, just from the number of BOLOs his own analyst received on a daily basis, chances were his BOLO had been printed out, pinned on to a crowded board in a busy squad bay and promptly ignored.

  No department liked their territory pissed on – which was exactly how the Palm Beach Sheriff’s Office Special Investigations Unit and LEACH task force members viewed the arrival of FDLE special agents at their tactical briefing in the back parking lot of the 45th Street Flea Market, a couple of blocks from the McDonalds where the meet was set to take place. There was no, ‘Thank God the Cavalry is Here!’ open-arms, high-fiving welcome. Then again, Bobby hadn’t expected one. The Feds, and more particularly, the FBI – famous for conveniently stealing thunder and claiming jurisdiction on high-profile cases after all the work was done – had made everyone in law enforcement suspicious. And just like the Rock-Paper-Scissors game, as much as it might burn the locals up, the truth was FDLE trumped County, City and Municipality, and every ranking officer in that parking lot knew it. So there was definitely reason to be nervous about a hostile takeover. But Bobby didn’t want to commandeer a LEACH investigation. He didn’t want the glory or the headlines. What he wanted was to end this nightmare and find the bastard as quickly as possible. And so far, the screen name of ElCapitan was the only thing anyone had that might lead somewhere.

  Or not.

  Like Ciro had said, and as anyone who worked ICAC cases – Internet Crimes Against Children – could attest, there were no guarantees. You never knew who or what would show up at these illicit meets. Or if anyone would show up at all. Many cyberpredators were well-seasoned; they had multiple victims and a lot of off-line experience before they were finally tagged in a chat room. Most could smell cop a mile away.

  Although Bobby tried his best to quash it, tensions between the task forces remained high even as everyone took up positions for the meet. Heightened anxiety, though, wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. It was like realizing that the porcelain vase you were carrying across the tiled floor was a priceless urn from the Ming Dynasty – you were definitely more anxious, but also much more careful, because you knew the devastating consequences if you screwed up and dropped the thing. Picasso had made horrible headlines in every county, and no one wanted to be responsible for letting him make another.

  A petite, brunette undercover PBSO narcotics detective named Natalie, who looked all of fifteen, was set up inside the McDonalds. At four p.m. she would come out and wait on a bench in front of the restaurant and next to the check-cashing store for the approach. Undercover eyeballs were set up both in the restaurant and in the parking lot behind the McDonalds, which was shared with a strip mall that included a Winn Dixie supermarket, a Family Dollar and a host of stores, like a Little Caesar’s pizzeria and a laundromat. With all the businesses, the parking lot was constantly jammed, constantly moving. Across Australian was a Sunoco gas station and pawn shop; diagonally opposite to the restaurant was a park. Bobby and a couple of LEACH operatives sat in their undercover cars waiting in the Winn Dixie parking lot; Zo and Ciro were set up on the Sunoco and in the park. An FDLE helicopter was on stand-by at Palm Beach International Airport, just a few miles away.

  It was 3:55. Bobby settled down low into his seat and stared out past the traffic on busy 45th. Without binoculars, it was impossible to see inside the restaurant from his vantage point. And it was impossible to use binoculars without calling attention to himself. The strip mall was bustling with activity. Moms, toddlers, seniors, businessmen, teens. Men, women. All makes and models. All shapes and sizes.

  That was the problem. He could be anywhere. He could be anyone. And everyone looked suspicious, Bobby thought, watching as a young guy unloaded three grocery bags full of nothing but laundry detergent into the back of his SUV. Three rows up, a greasy, middle-aged man sitting in a Ford F150 sucked down what looked a lot like a beer while talking on his cell phone. And, of course, he thought, turning his attention back to the McDonald’s, they could all be sitting on a dead end. Wasting time while a madman was miles away, painting yet another portrait.

  Bobby tapped the steering wheel and looked at his watch again – 3:59. There was nothing left to do but wait.


  The man took a deep breath, letting the fresh, unseasonably warm air fill his lungs. His whole body was tingling, every sense was on high alert, like a hungry, wild animal who hears the soft bleating of lunch far off in a distant meadow. He’d tried dust and acid in high school, but this – this was a natural rush that no high could ever come close to. He sniffed at the air. A dozen scents filled his nose – car exhaust, pine, gasoline, burning leaves, body odor, frying meat, urine. Call him crazy, but he thought he could also smell her. Somewhere out there. Sweet and lovely, probably spritzed down with PacSun’s Nollie and sprinkled with a little bit of baby powder. Her freshly washed, dusty brown hair fragrant with Herbal Essence’s Red Satin Raspberry.

  Janizz. The name was either the product of a kooky, non-conforming mother or a teen who hated the boring old-fashioned name of Janice. A girl who wanted to be different, like the Parises and Cocos and Demis of the world.

  He was thinking door number two. A girl who wanted someone to finally notice her. He smiled. I can’t wait to notice you, sweet Janice. I can’t wait to shower you with attention.

  Janizzbaby. Even her name had a lilting melody to it. He hummed a bar to himself. Slow and sexy it would be, like an H-Town R & B tune. He rubbed his sweaty hands on his pants. Like the Oscars, the anticipation was both the best and worst part of the evening. Would she show? Would she look like her picture, or was she just a fake? Would she come willingly, or would she get spooked for some reason?

  It had never happened before – he had never had a problem getting them in the car. But there was always that worry. There’s always a first time for everything, his mom liked to say. So be ready for anything. And he was. He looked in the backseat at his special black bag. It had everything he needed. All he had to do was just get her in the car. Once she was in, she was his.

  His hands were dripping now. Of course, she might not show at all. That had happened before. And that’d made him really, really angry. It took a lot of careful preparation to get the house ready for a new arrival. And when it was all for naught – when he was taken for a fool – it took him a long time to trust again.

  He stared at the glass front door of the busy McDonald’s. Like a freaking revolving door, it was. Lazy mommies and their screaming kids hurried in for another balanced meal of chicken nuggets and fries. Fatties pondered the picture menu like they’d never seen a Big Mac before. Was she inside? Was she looking out that front door, watching for him, wondering what he looked like? Was she as excited to see him as he was to see her? Was she wearing something special, like she’d promised? Was she nervous? Was she afraid? His sweaty hands shook like crazy. He lit a cigarette to try and calm his nerves. She would be spooked if he couldn’t control himself. If he shook like a Parkinson’s patient when he saw her, then she might run. No, she would run. And that would be bad. Really bad.

  He wondered if and when anyone would notice little Janizz missing. Now that he was all over the news, making headlines in countries he’d never even heard o
f, he wondered just how long would it take for someone to make the quantum leap that Janizz was a victim of foul play. And how long it would be before she was known as Picasso’s Latest Victim. He smiled. How long would it be before people locked their doors at night just because of him? Or had security walk them to their cars in dark parking lots?

  He licked his dry lips, his eyes glued on that glass door, sniffing at the air for the first real scent of her. His little lost lamb.

  The door pushed open. A tiny thing – barely five feet, it looked like – walked out and over to the bench by the sidewalk. A sparkly bandana held her long, chestnut-colored hair back off her face. A single streak of vibrant purple ran down one side, just like in her MySpace profile picture. Dressed in a short denim mini and a tight black tank top, she had the stocky, muscular build of a gymnast, and her shapely legs were accessorized with a pair of wedge sandals. She looked all around the parking lot like she was waiting on somebody, but she didn’t appear nervous at all. After a minute, she lit a cigarette, and started to text away on her cell, without a care in the world. It was obviously Janizz. From the looks of her, he doubted he was the first boy she’d met up with from the internet, although he was quite sure he would be the last.

  His hands went crazy at the sight of her. He wiped them one last time on his jeans and rolled on antiperspirant. It would be difficult to handle her properly if he had no grip.

  Just like the little lamb that’s wandered far away from the flock to graze by itself in the meadow, sweet baby Janizz was completely oblivious that just a few steps away the ravenous wolf watched and waited from his hiding spot.

  He flicked the cigarette out the window and smiled. It was time to begin the hunt.

  It was time to introduce himself.


  ‘What the fuck are you doing?’ Bobby asked, tapping hard on the driver’s side window.

  The window slid down. ‘Obviously the same thing you’re doing,’ a red-faced Mark Felding answered with a slow smile.

  ‘Are you kidding me?’

  The reporter shook his head. ‘It’s a free country. Can’t stop the press.’

  ‘Are you fucking kidding me?’ Bobby repeated. He ran his hand through his hair. ‘I can’t believe this.’

  ‘I’m not doing anything illegal, am I? Just following a lead to see where it takes me, is all. Just minding my business, Agent Dees. Just trying to catch some news as it’s made. You don’t like to return my phone calls unless I got something for you, so seeing as there’s no quid pro quo with information, I have to do what I gotta do.’

  ‘How did you know?’

  ‘Do you think your boys can walk around without anybody caring any more? Face it, you’re famous, now, Agent Dees. You’re free game, like Brangelina.’

  Bobby tried hard to control his anger. It took every bit of restraint to not reach inside that car, take Felding by the throat and toss him across the parking lot. It wasn’t that he didn’t want to do it, he just knew it would draw attention, which is the one thing he couldn’t have happen. ‘What the hell is more important to you people? Getting your face on the TV or stopping this guy before he gets his hands on another girl?’

  The guy didn’t even hesitate. ‘Frankly, both. And I know you don’t like to hear that.’

  Bobby looked at his watch: 4:07. ‘You and your camera are going to fuck this up. Get out of here.’

  ‘Look, I don’t want to fuck this up for you. I don’t. I want to see this guy caught. Just let me sit here, I’ll be quiet. I’ll be good. I won’t even pick up a camera,’ he begged. ‘Only if he shows. And only if there’s an arrest. Fair? If anything goes down – just let me have the story. That’s all I want. The story. If it’s over tonight, I want to be the one who gets it. He started it with me, it should end with me. It’s only fitting.’

  ‘I am not making deals with you.’

  ‘Can you give me a name? Details? What you know about him?’

  ‘Your face is on the news every night. If he sees you, Felding, it’s over.’

  ‘Only if he watches Channel Six,’ Mark added with a smile. ‘And apparently, need I remind you, our psycho has a thing for you as well, Agent Dees. If he sees your face, I would imagine it’s over, too.’

  ‘Get the fuck out of here. I won’t tell you again –’

  The radio crackled to life. ‘Possible subject approaching. Black four-door Lexus.’ It was the LEACH eyeball.

  ‘ES,’ came the response. It was Lou Morick, another LEACH operative. ‘It’s a Lexus ES. Maybe ′03, ′04.’

  LEACH, PBSO and the Picasso task force members were all on the same surveillance channel, so there was no need to go through dispatch or talk radio-to-radio. Chatter came fast and furious.

  ‘Tinted windows. Can’t get a look at the driver. Moving slow through the parking lot. Can you get a tag, Mike?’

  ‘Florida tag. X-ray, Seven, Zebra, Delta, Three, Seven. Can’t read an expiration date from here.’

  ‘OK, 1622, run that,’ Kleiner, the PBSO Special Investigations Lieutenant who was running ops from the NW corner, ordered.


  Shit. It was happening now and he was babysitting. ‘You move from this spot, you pick up a camera and I will arrest you for obstruction. This isn’t Cops. This isn’t some fucking TV show.’ Bobby called in. ‘FYI. I’ve got a reporter sitting here in front of the Family Dollar.’

  ‘What the hell?’ It was Kleiner.

  ‘Who’s that, Bobby?’ Zo asked. ‘It ain’t that weasel Felding, is it?’

  The eyeball broke in. ‘Natalie’s approaching the passenger-side window. 10-23.’

  10-23 meant stand-by.

  ‘She’s not miked, so watch for the signal,’ Morick cautioned.

  ‘This better not be on the news,’ Mike Hicks grumbled over the air. ‘This ain’t Dateline.’

  ‘Passenger window’s coming down. Still no visual.’ ‘She’s talking to the subject.’

  ‘Plate’s back. It’s a stolen tag. Comes back to a black Benz.’

  ‘OK. Wait for the signal,’ Kleiner ordered. ‘If he runs, stop him, but until then let’s see what he does. Let Natalie do her magic.’

  ‘I’ve got a marked PBSO unit turning off westbound 45th into the McDonald’s parking lot,’ reported Ciro.

  ‘Who’s that? Is it one of ours?’ asked Hicks.

  ‘She’s playing with her bandana,’ said the eyeball.

  ‘That’s the signal.’

  ‘Is it off? She’s supposed to take it off,’ said another.

  ‘Oh shit, the cruiser just lit him up! What the hell?’

  The cruiser had pulled up behind the Lexus and put on his lights. It looked like he was doing a traffic stop.

  ‘Who the fuck is that?’ Hicks yelled.

  ‘Perv’s gone! Subject just high-tailed it out of the lot and is fleeing eastbound on 45th!’

  ‘Shit! All units engage! Do not let this one get away!’ Kleiner shouted.

  Bobby ran back to his car, yelling into his radio as he ran. ‘Ronny, get in the air! Subject’s eastbound on 45th in a black Lexus ES. PBSO, 10-9 that tag number!’

  All he could see was Katy’s face.

  ‘X-Ray, Seven, Zebra, Delta, Three, Seven. Copy?’ repeated the eyeball.

  Her sweet face on the mutilated body of Jane Doe.

  ‘Copy that,’ came Ronny Martin, the FDLE copter pilot. ‘I’m going up.’

  Lying on the metal gurney, chains wrapped around her throat.

  ‘He’s turning northbound on Australian …’

  ‘Don’t lose him!’ shouted Bobby into his radio as he reached his car. He hopped into the Grand Prix, threw it in drive and spun out of the parking lot, barely missing a screaming lady pushing a baby in a shopping cart. He joined the undercover units that were racing down 45th and Australian, lights and sirens blaring. The police cruiser must have called into PBSO dispatch for assistance; he could hear sirens approaching from every direction.

coming!’ Hicks barked over the radio. ‘Damn it! FYI boys, gate’s down! I just made it through. If you ain’t over the tracks now, it ain’t happening! Lou’s right behind me – we’re gonna need marked units to meet us on the north side at Michigan or Martin Luther King, if this guy keeps heading north and don’t stop!’

  Bobby could see the red-and-white crossing gates some three hundred feet ahead. They were down. If he didn’t make it across the tracks now, he’d never catch up. If it was a CSX or East Coast Railway freight train, it could be five minutes or more before all the cars passed and he finally got through. And if Hicks and Morick didn’t get the guy to stop, or he got on to I95 …

  Rush hour was here. A thick line of cars had already stopped at the gate. He crossed into the southbound lanes of Australian, which were empty, thanks to the closed gate. He could hear the deafening train whistle, warning of its imminent approach.

  Do not let this one get away. Not this one.

  He cut in front of the Ford Explorer stopped at the gate. He could see the train coming upon him on his right. It was maybe fifty feet off. Maybe less. There was no time to question his decision and no time to turn back. There was no time to even say a quick prayer. With his blue lights on, he gunned the gas. He could almost hear the collective gasp of all the drivers lined up at the crossing.

  There was also no time to marvel that he’d made it across. He wiped the sweat out of his eyes. The approaching train had thinned northbound traffic, but he had lost time. Morick and Hicks were a block or more up.

  Hicks came on the radio. ‘He’s clocking sixty-five!’

  ‘What’s the limit?’ Kleiner asked.

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