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Pretty little things, p.30
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       Pretty Little Things, p.30

           Jilliane Hoffman
 

  Zo was now heading up the Picasso investigation, assisted by SAS Frank Veso, who was officially numero uno in line for Bobby’s job come January 1. But when Foxx found out that Zo had allowed Bobby to stay on Picasso after realizing that Bobby’s missing daughter was a possible Picasso victim, the shit had really hit the fan. Zo’s future status as a Miami ASAC was now in question. Talk was going around that once Picasso was officially closed, he would be demoted to an SAS and sent to Tallahassee for a year or so to do penance. Even though he insisted he didn’t give a shit, Bobby knew he did. And for that he felt bad.

  But the worst form of punishment, Bobby quickly realized, was being sent home to do nothing. Nothing at all. The wait for any scrap of information was agonizing, the inability to run leads or interview witnesses beyond frustrating. There had been no further contact from Picasso and the identity of the subject in the car that had tried to pick up the Palm Beach under-cover officer was still unknown. That was all the information he got, and it wasn’t enough. Because Bobby, of all people, was acutely aware that somewhere out there might be the undiscovered victim or victims of a madman, crying out for help and hearing no reply, and there was nothing whatsoever he could do about it. Bobby could now sympathize with how the parents of the victims on his cases had felt all these years – helpless.

  Five days of hell later, on Thanksgiving Eve, of all days, the phone call he’d been waiting for finally came.

  ‘We got a DNA match on our barbequed pervert.’ It was Zo, calling on his cell.

  Bobby stepped into the living room and out of earshot of LuAnn, who had just gotten home. She’d bought a turkey from the supermarket for the holiday, but had spent the past ten minutes just staring at it blankly in the kitchen. ‘What? When?’ he asked.

  ‘Don’t run for the car, Bobby. Ciro, Larry and Veso are already at the guy’s house. Stephanie Gravano walked the warrants through. Kelly, McCrindle, Carrera and Castronovo are picking apart the neighbors and employers. Everyone’s working here. You’re off this. I’m telling you what’s going on as a friend, because I don’t want you sitting around thinking we don’t know nothing. That we’re not working it. Counting the ticks on your kitchen clock like it’s a bomb. So I will keep you informed, because you are a brother and if the roles were reversed I would want to know … I would expect you to tell me.’

  ‘Who is he?’ Bobby asked.

  Zo sighed. ‘Name’s James Roller, a twenty-eight-year-old white male from Royal Palm Beach. He’s got two adult priors: Burglary of a Dwelling in ′99 and an Attempted Sex Bat in ′02, for which he spent about eighteen months in state prison. The victim in that case was fifteen. He claimed consensual, the victim didn’t agree, and the postal worker who pulled him off of her in the deserted alley apparently got there just in the nick of time. The victim had a spotty past, so the state pled him out. He was released from Raiford in early ′04. He gave swabs on both crimes, so he popped up in the database as soon as they put him in.’

  ‘I want to –’

  ‘I know what you want to do,’ Zo interrupted. ‘You’re on leave right now, so you’re not gonna do shit. Everyone is working on this. Everyone. We’ll find her if we can. The boys are picking apart his duplex as we speak and interviewing his baby mama. By five we’ll know all there ever was to know about this guy.’

  ‘What does he look like?’

  ‘Just like the undercover described: brown hair, brown eyes, five-ten, a hundred and eighty-five pounds.’

  ‘What did they find at the house? Anything yet?’

  ‘He lived alone. So far there’s just mayo and beer in the fridge. No computer at either his house or the girlfriend’s, but we think he might’ve surfed the web at the local library – which is around the corner from his crib. Or, the more likely scenario was he used a laptop, and that laptop was in the car with him and it’s now melted into the asphalt.’

  ‘Paints? Pictures? Was he an art student? Who the hell is this guy? There’s got to be more, Zo.’

  ‘We pulled up a work history and he worked at a Pearl Paint in Fort Lauderdale back in the late nineties. But give me till five to get you answers. Nothing screams Picasso yet, but nothing eliminates him, either. We’re building it up, one piece at a time. He probably had a whole secret studio someplace. We’ll find it, Bobby. If it’s out there, we’ll find it. And if he has Katy, we’ll find her, too.’

  Bobby hung up the phone and punched the wall hard. Unfortunately, the pain in his hand didn’t do anything to ease the pain in his heart. And now he had a hole in his living-room wall. LuAnn stared at him from the doorway that led into the kitchen.

  ‘They have a name,’ Bobby said quietly, knowing from the look on her face that she’d heard everything. ‘He’s out of Royal Palm Beach, up in Palm Beach County. James Roller. He’s twenty-eight. He’s a sex offender.’

  LuAnn sucked in a breath and her body started to shake. The coffee cup she held in her hand spilled large drops on to the wood floor. ‘Are you going in?’ she whispered.

  ‘I’m on leave. I was told to stay away.’

  ‘You’re not going to stay away, are you? You’re going to finish this, aren’t you?’

  ‘Yes. Yes, I am.’

  He crossed the room and hugged her. She buried her head in his chest and started to cry, something she’d done an awful lot this past week.

  ‘I need to know for sure,’ she whispered. ‘I don’t want someone to just think it was him. I need to know for sure …’

  ‘Ssshhh,’ he answered, stroking her hair. ‘I’ll find out, Lu. We’ll know. Either way, we’ll know.’

  ‘I can’t, I just can’t … I need to get out of here, Bobby.’

  ‘If it is him, the boys out front will be sent home and you can go out.’ Since the flower delivery, there’d been a BSO uniform assigned to watch their house and LuAnn twenty-four hours a day. Even Foxx in all his vindictiveness had not pulled the detail. ‘You can go back to work, get back to normal.’ The word sounded strange. Nothing would ever be normal again.

  ‘If they find her … if she’s … dead …’ LuAnn said, swallowing the word. ‘I want to move. I don’t want to be here any more. Here. Around this.’

  Bobby wasn’t quite sure how LuAnn meant that. Six weeks ago, he would’ve thought that ‘here’ definitely included wherever he was. Things had been better between them since LuAnn’s concussion, but now, listening to her, he wasn’t so sure she felt the same way. He looked at her. ‘Don’t go there.’

  ‘I have to. I … it’s a year she’s been missing. A year. This Picasso has killed four girls. I have to be prepared for what I know is coming. And even if you don’t find her body, I can’t hope any more. I’m through with it. It tears me apart. And I can’t be around,’ she paused and looked around the living room, ‘this any more.’

  He nodded slowly. ‘Does “this” include me?’

  She shook her head softly and he held his breath. Everything was collapsing around him. His life was falling apart and there was nothing he could do to stop it. His job, his career, his daughter … It was only fitting that his marriage would end here and now, too.

  ‘Just you and me,’ she whispered. ‘I want it to be us again. I want it to be the way it was before everything went wrong. I want to start fresh. I can’t look at the pity faces any more – at work, on a jog, at the grocery store. I can’t look at her room any more. All I see are ghosts, Bobby.’

  He clutched her to him, feeling her warm breath on his neck. He kissed the top of her head. There was nothing left to keep him here, either. ‘We’ll make it right again, LuAnn. I’ll make it right.’

  His cell rang. He didn’t recognize the number, but picked it up anyway. ‘Dees.’ LuAnn walked back into the kitchen, wiping her eyes.

  ‘Agent Dees, this is Dr Terrence Lynch from the Broward County Medical Examiner’s Office. How are you today?’

  Loaded question, so he ignored it. ‘Yes, Dr Lynch. What’s up?’

  ‘I wanted to discuss the f
indings on the fingernail scrapings of Jane Doe that I just got back. In addition to what was found under the nails, there was also a fair amount of debris embedded in what remained of the fleshy pads of her fingertips. I was intrigued by your suggestion that her injuries were self-inflicted – a result, perhaps, of her digging her way out of something or someplace. You expressed that time is of the essence – that your Picasso may be holding other victims, and that the information from Jane Doe could potentially prove very valuable in finding them – so I walked the tests through myself. As you know, lab and toxicology results can sometimes take months to come back.’

  ‘I appreciate that,’ Bobby replied.

  ‘You were correct, Agent Dees, the debris was soil. But that’s not a one-size-fits-all definition. Soil has many different characteristics, as you can imagine, depending on where it’s from. These characteristics, including texture, structure and color, are all examined to determine what classification order the soil falls into. I know this is a bit involved – soil study is, believe it or not, a science unto itself. Suffice to say, a specimen was rushed to the Soil & Water Science Department at the University of Florida, which classified it as a histosol – a soil comprised primarily of organic material. Wabasso fine sand, in fact. A sandy, siliceous, hyperthermic Alfic Alaquod.’

  ‘You’re losing me.’

  ‘With a high phosphorus and nitrogen content.’

  ‘You’re still losing me.’

  ‘Phosphorus is a fertilizer typically used in sugar-cane production. Sugar cane, as you know, is a big business here in South Florida. US Sugar alone farms some 180,000 acres in Palm Beach, Hendry, and Glades counties. Throughout the state, various sugar companies farm over 400,000 acres. That amount of ground to cover wasn’t going to help you very much. So I thought to look for pesticides. Or I should say, I had Dr Annabelle Woods, our chief toxicologist, look for pesticides that are peculiar to sugar-cane farming. While it did require Dr Woods to bring along a pillow to the office for a couple of late nights, cane is pretty hearty and so there are not too many pesticides that are commonly used. And she found just what I was looking for. Carbofuran and cyfluthrin – two chemicals that remain present in soil for a substantial period of time after application.’

  ‘How substantial?’

  LuAnn came back in the living room with an icepack and a towel and carefully wrapped his hand, which had started to swell.

  ‘Studies show it can take up to five years for either chemical to break down in histosol. The muck quality of the soil traps the chemicals, not allowing them to flush out.’

  ‘There you go again with the fancy words.’

  ‘The good news is, usage of either of these pesticides must be registered with the Environmental Protection Agency. So I checked with the EPA for you. Carbofuran, which is used to control wireworm infestations, was applied to approximately 2,000 acres of sugar-cane crops last year in the state of Florida.’

  Dr Lynch just moved to the top slot of favorite MEs. ‘So Jane Doe was being held on a sugar-cane farm?’

  ‘Or where the run-off was for a sugar-cane plant. Finding out which 2,000 acres were treated was apparently a much more involved process for the assistant at the EPA, so you’ll have to call them yourself for that. But 2,000 acres is far better than 400,000 acres, I think.’

  ‘Much. You’re quite the detective, Dr Lynch.’

  ‘Just trying to help out. How’s your investigation going?’

  Obviously, either the doctor didn’t read the papers or he was too polite to ask if the headlines bashing FDLE and its handling of the Picasso investigation were true. ‘We’re looking at a suspect in Royal Palm Beach,’ Bobby replied.

  On that note, LuAnn quietly disappeared upstairs.

  ‘Well, you’re in the right area, I suppose. Clewiston is the headquarters of US Sugar, and that’s just west of Royal Palm on the Palm Beach–Hendry county line. I believe there are a lot of farms out there. So, where do you want me to fax this report?’

  Bobby gave him his home fax and hung up. Then he called Lynch’s contact at the EPA to try and track down which farms had the chemicals carbofuran and cyfluthrin applied to them in the past five years. The doctor was right. Specific farm information required searching through certain records – some of which were in storage – by hand. Even with a priority rush, it could take days to get that information.

  He looked out the window at the BSO cruiser stationed prominently in front of his house.

  I can’t look at the pity faces any more – at work, on a jog, at the grocery store. I can’t look at her room any more. All I see are ghosts, Bobby.

  Belle Glade. Sugar-cane crops. US Sugar. Royal Palm Beach – where Zo said the suspect James Roller resided – was only a half-hour east of Belle Glade. It was all beginning to come together as a picture. An ugly, horrible picture.

  He grabbed his car keys off the coffee table and headed out the door. Like he had promised LuAnn, he was going to finish this. He was going to bring his little girl home.

  And he wasn’t going to do it sitting on his couch.

  82

  Outside of those who lived in the county, when people thought of Palm Beach, it was images of opulent oceanfront estates like Lago Mar and the Kennedy Compound that immediately came to mind. Maybachs, Bentleys and hundred-foot yachts. Socialites bejeweled in necklaces that were worth more than companies, shopping along ritzy Worth Avenue, or hobnobbing with other Vanderbilts and Astors at charity functions and debutante balls. Picturesque downtown West Palm, its gleaming high-rises nestled right beside the bright blue Atlantic.

  West of the relatively small but famous slice of pricey real estate that ran along Florida’s Treasure Coast, there existed the rest of Palm Beach County. And the further west you traveled on Southern Boulevard, the more removed you became from the socialites and their trail of champagne and caviartoting assistants. In fact, once you passed the upper-middle-class equestrian village of Wellington, there was nothing. Nothing but acres and acres of farmland. Green beans, lettuce, celery, sweet corn, sugar cane. Lots and lots of sugar cane. And, courtesy of nearby Glades Correctional Institution, an occasional chain gang.

  Eventually Southern Boulevard turned into SR 441/Route 80. After thirty miles of seeing nothing but green stalks of sugar cane and fields of corn waving in the breeze, Bobby finally spotted life. He had entered the blink-and-you-might-miss-it town of Belle Glade – population 14,906, not counting either the 1,049 inmates housed down the road at Glades Correctional Institution, or the illegal migrant farmworkers who had ditched the census-takers back in 2000. Located on the southeastern shore of Lake Okeechobee, at one time Belle Glade was branded with the not-so-distinguished notoriety of having the highest rate of AIDS infections in the United States, and more recently, the second highest violent crime rate per capita in the country. A weathered brown-and-white sign welcomed Bobby to the city that in 1928 had been blown off the map by a monster hurricane.

  WELCOME TO BELLE GLADE. HER SOIL IS HER FORTUNE

  How ironic, Bobby thought, fingering his cell phone, hoping it would ring. It just might be a few grains of her Wabasso fine sand – a siliceous, hyperthermic Alfic Alaquod – that would fortuitously bring home the victims of a madman. That might finally lead him to his own daughter. Pam Brody with the EPA had called him back to say that a preliminary record check of the past two years showed a wireworm infestation concentrated in and around farms located near South Bay, South Clewiston, Belle Glade, Vaughn, and Okeelanta. That was still a lot of farmland to cover, but it was also far better than the potential 400,000 acres-plus that stretched across central and southwest Florida. Now he was waiting on the call back with the actual farm names and locations that had registered to apply carbofuran. He knew it wouldn’t be a complete list – some companies and farmers ignored EPA guidelines and used pesticides without registering – but it would definitely be a start. Bobby still wasn’t sure where he was going, or exactly what he was looking for – he just knew that
out here in the sugar-cane fields he was one step closer to finding it. And it made him feel like he was at least doing something … that he was no longer quite so helpless.

  If quiet Belle Glade had ever enjoyed a heyday, it was probably in the forties or fifties. Tired, dated buildings, fast-food restaurants and half-century-old gas stations abutted Main Street, which ran straight through the center of town. He spotted a few folks on the porch of the local convenience store, sucking down a few Milwaukee’s Best’s, chatting the day away, probably like they did every day. Down side streets, Bobby could see rundown duplexes, apartment complexes, and single-family homes. FOR SALE signs littered more than a few front lawns. More than one business had shuttered, and besides the convenience store, most of the open ones looked dead.

  He drove to the Belle Glade Marina and Campground where Ray Coon’s body had been found under a banyan tree. If he hadn’t had a police report to guide him to the exact location Ray’s lifeblood had drained out of him, he never would have known where to look. It was a peaceful spot. Through a tangle of trees, you could see the lake in the distance. Remote enough for a romantic picnic or a brutal murder. Bobby thought of Jane Doe’s bloody fingertips. She’d been clawing herself out of someplace. Out of her tomb, as it turned out. Far away from a scenic lake and a shaded banyan tree. And she had been brutally tortured in the most inhumane ways before her murderer finally strangled her with the chains he hung her from. She didn’t get a merciful shot through the back of the head. Ray Coon had been a drug dealer and gangbanger with a criminal record. He carried brass knuckles and had bragged to his buddies in the Mafia Boys that he would take out a cop if he was asked to, knowing his own girlfriend’s father was an FDLE agent. The anger that swelled within him left a bitter taste in Bobby’s mouth. As much as he wanted to exact revenge on Ray Coon for taking his daughter from him, the boy’s blood was long gone, his bones sent back to his mom for a proper burial. There was nothing left to see here in this pretty park, and, unfortunately, no satisfaction to be gained by seeing it. Meanwhile, Jane Doe sat in cold storage back in Broward, waiting for someone to claim her. For someone to even notice she was missing. Neither life nor death seemed very fair.

 
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