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Pretty little things, p.29
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       Pretty Little Things, p.29

           Jilliane Hoffman
 

  ‘Ah, thirty, I think.’

  ‘He’s weaving into oncoming! He’s freaking nuts!’ Lou Morick barked. ‘It’s rush hour!’ ‘This guy’s gonna kill somebody!’

  ‘He just ran the light at Martin Luther!’ Morick yelled. ‘Just totally ran it! Where the hell are those marked units? We’re gonna need a roadblock. This guy’s not stopping for nobody!’

  ‘Bike down! There’s a black chopper in the intersection – he just spun out and he’s down!’ said Hicks. ‘Get an ambulance out here to MLK and Australian! Damn, I gotta stop! This guy’s pretty bad!’

  ‘That’s it.’ It was Kleiner. ‘Don’t take any more civilians with you, Lou. It’s four thirty in the afternoon, there’s too many of them. Terminate the chase. We’ll get units at Blue Heron and stop him there!’

  Australian ended at Blue Heron Boulevard, a mile or so up. But a left on to Blue Heron led to I95. The interstate was less than two miles away. It would be open road if the Lexus got on the highway.

  High-speed chases were against every department’s policy. Civilians or cops inevitably got hurt or killed, property got destroyed, lawsuits got filed. Anything higher than fifteen miles over the speed limit was generally considered high speed, and sixty-five miles an hour through a heavily trafficked commercial area definitely fit the bill. High-speed chases could only be approved by command staff. And they normally weren’t.

  But PBSO Lieutenant Lex Kleiner wasn’t in Bobby’s chain of command. He wasn’t even in his department. Rock beat scissors and FDLE trumped the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office. Morick dropped back. Bobby flew past him.

  At the sound of approaching sirens, drivers either pulled over to the right or just stopped where they were, like panicked deer. A crazed driver being chased by a symphony of sirens and flashing lights had turned the already thickening traffic on Australian into a steel obstacle course. Bobby weaved in and out of the cars and oncoming traffic. The Lexus was now in sight.

  ‘I’m right behind him; he’s not stopping at Heron,’ Bobby said as the Lexus blew another light and went right past a marked unit, turning on to Blue Heron. ‘He’s gonna go for 95. Have a swarm at both the on and off ramps. Do not let him get on 95!’ If they could block him in and force him to run, there wasn’t far for him to go. Just gas stations and businesses, and those could be locked down.

  ‘Who the fuck is this?’ barked Kleiner. ‘I said terminate. It’s too dangerous!’

  ‘I don’t work for you,’ Bobby replied.

  The Lexus suddenly shirked sharply to the left and went around a stopped FedEx truck.

  Bobby slammed on his brakes and went to follow, but then the world just exploded, right there in front of him.

  78

  Bobby heard it before he saw it. An incredibly loud bang that went on forever, the sound of metal ripping into metal, glass imploding. Then a thunderous, deafening boom that actually shook his windows. A twisted, thick column of heavy black smoke poured into the air in front of the FedEx truck.

  ‘Holy Shit!’ came a stunned voice on the radio.

  ‘I’ve got a fireball rising west of Australian at Blue Heron,’ Ronny reported. ‘Heavy smoke. I can’t see.’

  ‘Dees? Bobby?’ It was Zo, calling him over the radio. ‘Where the hell are you? I’m coming up on Blue Heron …’

  Bobby was already out of his car, running past stopped SUVs and pick-ups.

  ‘He hit a fucking tanker!’ It was Lou Morick.

  Gaping, shocked civilians stumbled out of their cars to get a look. Then ran the other way.

  ‘Oh shit! The truck must’ve pulled out of a station and he just, wham!’ Morick yelled. ‘He hit him head on! The tanker flipped! He’s on top of the Lexus! There’s another car, too, I think. He – God, he’s – they’re both in flames!’

  A wall of thick black smoke had engulfed the roadway. Bright orange flames licked at the sky, thirty feet in the air. The trucker, bloody and stunned, stumbled out of his overturned cab.

  The heat was intense, scorching, even ten yards back. Skin-melting hot. A loud pop sounded from behind the curtain of black, sending another fireball into the air. A marked PBSO unit pulled up. Sirens screamed from every direction. It was hard to see through the billowing smoke. Bobby ran around the scene, trying to see past the smoke.

  ‘Oh my God! Look!’ a lady screamed. ‘He’s alive! There’s a man in the car! He needs help!’

  The wind, kicked up perhaps by the FDLE ’copter above, thinned the black cloud just enough to see the twisted mass of metal and flames. The Lexus was all but gone. The tanker had T-boned and fallen on the sedan’s passenger side, completely crushing it. But there in the shattered windshield on what was left of the driver’s side, there was a bloody face. A hand was banging on the glass.

  Bobby rushed forward into the heat, but a body grabbed him from behind in a firm bear hug and pulled him back. ‘No way,’ Zo shouted in his ear. ‘No way! You can’t save him, Shep! You can’t do it!’

  Bobby struggled against the arms that held him tight and pulled him further away. The distorted face in the splintered glass got smaller and smaller, obscured by a veil of black smoke.

  ‘It’s going up, Bobby!’ Ciro yelled in his other ear. ‘Ya gotta get back!’

  Seconds later, the tanker did just that. Flames completely engulfed both car and truck. The screaming face disappeared.

  The rest of the LEACH task force and Special Investigations detectives were pulling up, spilling out of their cars now, staring at the inferno that blazed before them. No one said anything. The air stunk of fuel.

  ‘Fire/Rescue is responding. ETA two minutes. Are you requesting an ambulance?’ came the monotone voice of the dispatcher over the radio of the PBSO uniform who was standing next to Bobby and Zo.

  ‘Ho, boy. Ambulance? An ambulance ain’t gonna help that guy,’ Mike Hicks said with a chuckle of disbelief. He looked over at Bobby, Zo and Ciro and shook his head. ‘Our boy is toast.’

  79

  ‘Was it him?’ Mike Hicks asked.

  The entire county, it seemed, had descended on the Wendy’s on the corner of Blue Heron and Australian, using it as a staging area for emergency response units, Florida Highway Patrol, Florida HazMat clean-up crews, and investigators with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP). Commandeering the entire back section of the restaurant were the LEACH and Picasso task force members, and the PBSO Special Investigations detectives who had assisted on the now-deemed disastrous meet-and-greet. Reporters from every station, including CNN, FOX and MSNBC, buzzed around outside, held back by uniforms and yards of yellow crime-scene tape, which seemed to stretch the entire length of the block, where firefighters still worked to put out the tanker explosion, which had claimed another two cars. Mark Felding, of course, was first in line, somberly reporting the breaking developments with a pained look on his handsome face. He had even managed to find some ash and smudge it across his sweaty face, probably in the hope that viewers might think he had barely escaped the flames himself. His ratings would be through the roof.

  Natalie nodded her head slowly in response to Mike’s question. ‘I think so. I’ll have to say yes. Everything happened so fast. I was looking for a Beamer when he first pulled in, so I didn’t even go up to the car. But he stopped and stayed there for a while, parked. Then he lowered his window and called me over and we started to talk. The cruiser pulled in and he got real nervous all of a sudden. Real nervous, looking in his rear-view. Then he said he had to go. I tried to keep him, but then the cruiser put his lights on and that was it – the guy ran. Almost took my freaking foot off, too. Five minutes later, he’s dead. Whoo,’ she said, her voice cracking. ‘What a day at the office.’

  ‘Did he use the name Captain?’ Bobby pressed. ‘What about Zach? Did he use the name Janizz?’

  ‘We never got that far. He asked me if I was waiting for him, and I said, “Guess so.” And he said that’s real good, ’cause he’s been waiting on me all his life. He
said he was glad he waited, too, ’cause he wanted to have some fun. He asked me if I like fun, and I said, “What do you think?” He said, “Let’s find out.” I asked him, “You the Captain?” You know, teasing? And he laughed, like he was. Then he asked me if I wanted to go for a ride. That’s when he spotted the cruiser and things went crazy.’

  ‘What did he look like?’ Bobby asked.

  ‘He was white, a white guy between twenty-five and thirty, I think. Light brown hair, not quite shoulder-length. Wavy, I think. He was wearing aviator sunglasses, so it was hard to tell. I didn’t get the greatest look, to tell you the truth.’

  ‘What about the car?’ Bobby turned and asked Kleiner, who sat in the back of the booth, with his arms crossed in front of him. ‘Anything?’

  ‘The car’s gone. The tanker was carrying a full load of premium. The fire melted the road, it was so hot. We ain’t gonna get a VIN, even when whatever’s left of the Lexus does cool down enough for us to look at it. The tag came back to a 2006 black Benz C300, registered to a Silvia Montoya of Miami Shores. Car was stolen from her driveway on October second. No leads on that case.’

  ‘So we have no idea who the guy driving the Lexus was? Not a clue?’ Zo asked.

  ‘Nope,’ Kleiner returned with a shake of his head. ‘Not yet. Only thing we know is that he showed up at a scheduled meet, driving a car with stolen plates. And took off as soon as he saw a cop. Sounds like our guy to me. Whether he was your Picasso, I couldn’t tell you. That’s your investigation.’

  ‘Let’s get a sketch artist out to see if your decoy can give us a picture. Did you talk to the uniform?’ Bobby asked. ‘Why’d he light him up?’

  ‘He’d run his tag. Knew it was stolen.’ ‘Any reason he ran the tag?’

  ‘To be a ball buster. Saw the guy on Australian looking like a hot shot and gunning for lights. So he ran him. You never know what you’re gonna find when you do that,’ Kleiner answered defensively.

  ‘Hmmm … case in point. We may never know what we might’ve found if he hadn’t flipped on his fucking lights,’ Bobby mused sarcastically.

  ‘And if you hadn’t been such a hothead and kept up a high speed, we may not have needed a fucking sketch artist to put together a picture of what the guy used to look like. We might have caught up to him nice and easy without three people going to the hospital and one going to the morgue.’

  ‘Yeah, just like you had those units ready at Heron and Martin Luther. Nice and fucking easy. Maybe we should have just said please when we asked him to pull over the first time.’

  ‘OK, that’s enough,’ Zo spoke up, his hands raised, separating the two men. ‘So, Lex, if your perv – who’s now a stiff – was The Captain, and The Captain was really our Picasso, how the hell we ever gonna know that for sure?’ Zo asked.

  ‘When we don’t get any more paintings,’ answered Ciro.

  ‘Or bodies,’ Bobby said, running a hand through his hair. ‘Is there enough left of him to do DNA?’

  ‘They pulled him out first,’ Hicks replied. ‘But he’s mostly gone. Torso’s left – it’s like a rare steak. You can get DNA, though. If he’s been in the system and given a sample, then you might get an ID off that.’

  Convictions for certain offenses in the state of Florida, as in some other states, required defendants to donate a swab of themselves to the FDLE DNA bank. Those crimes included any sex offense, burglary, robbery, homicide and home invasion.

  Bobby nodded. ‘Someone’s gotta miss this guy. A mom, a sis, a girlfriend, a brother, a wife. Hopefully that someone will call up the local police department and report him missing. Once we have an ID, we’ll work from there to see if we can connect him to either The Captain or Picasso.’

  ‘OK. And if he is, or was, Picasso, what about …’ Ciro’s voice trailed off. He caught himself too late.

  But Bobby finished the thought for him. ‘The girls who are still missing? We find them. Fast. That’s why we need an ID. We’ll take apart the guy’s life, piece by motherfucking piece, until we can trace every step he’s made since he could walk. If there are any more alive – if Lainey and, well, any others are still alive, then he has them somewhere. And there has to be some sort of connection in the guy’s everyday life that will lead us there.’

  ‘I don’t know what’s a better scenario, then,’ Hicks wondered aloud. ‘To know Picasso’s dead and scattered wherever the wind blows and that the nightmare’s over before his body count got close to Bundy’s or Cupid’s, yet not know where he stashed the rest of his vics –’

  ‘Or to know he’s alive and kicking and laughing at us on the news,’ Zo finished, motioning outside the restaurant’s plate-glass windows at the media circus assembled in the parking lot, led by Channel Six’s latest and greatest star.

  ‘Some choice,’ Mike Hicks muttered, rising to leave.

  ‘Yeah, some choice,’ Bobby repeated quietly, watching as the Palm Beach County Medical Examiner’s van slowly navigated through the mess on Blue Heron, pausing at the red light just long enough for the throng of cameras to come running as it passed by on its way back to the office.

  80

  When Lainey was little, she never had any playmates. Not because she smelled or no one liked her or anything, but because after her parents divorced and before Todd and her mom had moved out to Coral Springs, she’d grown up mostly living with her grandma in her old-age condo in Delray and there were never any kids around to play with. Her mom worked and there was no time for play dates; Liza never wanted to play with her and she never wanted to play with Bradley. So usually it was just her and her Barbies and their Paradise Pool Playset out behind the condo’s clubhouse for hours on end, and that was fine. In fact, Lainey liked playing alone. And she liked reading alone, or watching TV alone. She never minded being alone, unlike some of her friends who always had to have somebody standing there next to them like a shadow.

  Now Lainey hated being alone.

  She was back in the small, smelly room again. He had put some more dog chow and water in the corner, but only a portion of what he’d left last time and she was hungry again. Even though she’d learned from the last time to ration, he hadn’t really left much at all – just a couple of handfuls of kibble. And he’d been gone a really, really, really long time. There was no way to tell for sure, but it felt like even longer than before. She had started to think that he might not ever be coming back. Or if he was, he wasn’t coming back for her. And like before, she had started to wonder what it would feel like to starve to death.

  More than food or Coke or milkshakes, more than sunshine, more than even her mom or Liza or Molly, right now, more than anything or anyone, she missed Katy. She missed talking to her, hearing her voice. She missed Katy making her feel like everything was gonna be OK. She missed her friend. And deep down she knew she’d probably never, ever hear her voice again.

  There could be a hundred rooms like the one she was in, a hundred walls with cold, horrible chains on them. A maze of dungeons and torture chambers, like the intricate labyrinth that existed underneath the Roman Coliseum that she’d just learned about in Social Studies. Like Katy had said, there were others – other girls – somewhere nearby. One, two, twenty – she had no idea how many. Sometimes she could hear their far-off, muffled screams or sobs, but there was no one in the wall next to her any more. No one to talk to or listen to. No one to help stop her from going absolutely crazy.

  And him … The Devil. The Freak. He hated her now. He wouldn’t talk to her at all any more – not so much as a whisper or a grunt – and he didn’t sit in the room watching her like he used to. That made her happy, but it also made her scared. She hadn’t heard from Katy since he’d apparently walked in on her and found the big hole she’d dug. And although she tried not to think about what had happened to her friend, banishing that thought completely from her mind just wasn’t working. Every time she laid her head down and closed her eyes, she saw the whole horrible scene play out over and over again in her mind: A pre
tty girl with dirty hands, her slim body slipping through a tiny, dirty hole into the bright yellow sunshine just on the other side, like Alice in Wonderland. With her legs already through, kicking on the green grass outside, she just had to squeeze her torso and head through and she would be free. But the Devil had found her, and he’d pulled her back into hell with his stubby, filthy, calloused hands, covered in wiry black hairs, that crawled over his fingers like a dozen Daddy Long Legs. And inch by inch, Katy slowly got pulled back in. She kicked and she screamed and she pleaded and she begged, but it was no use. The Devil was too strong and too angry. The hole just got smaller and smaller as she came back through, until finally the sunshine disappeared and blackness filled Lainey’s thoughts once again.

  He had been so mad after Katy was gone. Scary, scary mad. Screaming and throwing things about everywhere. What would happen if he got mad again? Would he do to her what he had done to Katy?

  Lainey didn’t want to find out.

  So she hadn’t dared take off the bandages on her eyes this time, no matter how long he was gone. And she didn’t dare dig another tunnel, no matter how close she might be to the sunshine on the other side.

  She had given up on superpowers and superheroes that didn’t exist. She just sat there, rocking herself in the darkness, missing her friend and praying for the nightmare to finally end.

  81

  The fallout from the Palm Beach sting was bad. If the director was looking for a reason to get Bobby out of Crimes Against Children and into pushing paper for the Fraud Squad, he’d found it with a high-speed chase that had ended in a death and three injured. Even though Bobby and everyone else out there on Friday – including Lex Kleiner and the LEACH operatives – knew that Bobby Dees chasing the bad guy an extra mile didn’t cause the accident, it was just the excuse Foxx needed. Call him what you will, Captain or Picasso or John Doe was gonna have that accident whether Bobby was on his tail or not, because he was gunning for I95 and he wasn’t gonna slow down till he made it on the interstate. But a reason was all RD Foxx needed, even if it wasn’t a good one. Bobby had immediately been placed on leave until after January 1. After that, he was probably out of CAC and he was most definitely not going to be a supervisor any more. Most likely he would be transporting governors for a year or two, or chasing down bad checks until Foxx ascended to some throne in Tallahassee and Bobby was released from purgatory by the next RD.

 
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