Pretty Little Things, p.33Jilliane Hoffman
‘Some of what Felding shared about his life was true. We talked to his ex out in LA. She was real. The daughter shit was a lie. They had no kids. Wife knew about the Belle Glade home. She said that years ago Felding’s crazy mom had talked about restoring it to a B & B and hosting murder-mystery parties there. She thought the old lady was nuts then, because she had been to Belle Glade once and, like most visitors, never ever wanted to go back. Then her and psycho divorced and she didn’t talk to him about the house again. In fact she never talked to him about anything again because, lucky for her, he dropped out of her life and out of sight. Felding’s life in a nutshell: Crazy, possessive Mom. Social loner. Met wife working at a Friendly’s in Fresno. Went to some BS broadcasting school in LA. Tried to be a success for a few years out West, both in LA and San Fran, flopping around from network to network mostly bringing coffee to the cameramen. Got a few gigs, but none lasted. Two years ago, he pulled up stakes and showed up here in Miami. We’ve found a string of teenage disappearances that look a lot like ours happening in and around San Fran about the time he was reporting there for CBS5. In fact, turns out he interviewed the moms of two of the missing girls, just like he interviewed Debbie Emerson and Gloria Leto. We’re getting those tapes as we speak.’
‘That’s sick,’ LuAnn said quietly. She clenched Bobby’s hand tighter.
‘Pretty warped, is right. Gets his jollies off on asking the mothers of the kids he’s whacked how they feel. He’s a psychopath – he was a psychopath – if ever I’ve seen one. And a narcissist, too. But that is maybe the one thing we have going for us. He did not attempt to contact you when Katy first went missing. Her disappearance made local headlines, even national ones, if you consider an update in People national news. Felding could have definitely exploited that, both to move forward in his career and to feed his sick fantasy, but he didn’t. So if the body we found in the dining room isn’t Katy’s …’ Zo shrugged before continuing. ‘Well, maybe he never had her. We’ve got cadaver dogs out working on the Sugarland property. So far, nothing, and I think that’s good, too.’
‘But what about Ray Coon? The picture he sent me?’ LuAnn asked.
‘Well, that’s interesting because we matched the .44 caliber slug found in Ray’s head to the Magnum used in a home invasion in Lake Worth last week. Suspect in that, a Trino Calderon, gave it up yesterday to PBSO robbery detectives. The meeting in the park in Belle Glade in November was a drug buy. Ray tried to stiff him on an ounce of heroin and Calderon wasn’t having it. Calderon claims he never met Felding, didn’t know him from Adam. Looks like Felding maybe spotted the blurb about Ray’s murder in the Palm Beach Post, thought about you, Bobby, and decided to take the opportunity to freak you and LuAnn out. For some reason that we will never know, Mark Felding was obsessed with you. Maybe like that profiler said, he felt you were a challenge. But as far as we can tell, the fact that Ray was offed in Belle Glade was a matter of pure coincidence. Some of Ray’s Mafia Boy homeys live up near Glades Correctional. He was probably crashing with them, running his drugs closer to his peeps.’
‘And Katy?’ LuAnn asked bitterly. ‘If Ray was back in town, living with friends in Belle Glade, what happened to her?’
Zo shrugged. ‘No answer for ya, Lu. I wish I did.’
The painful silence was back again.
‘What about that sex offender who you thought was Picasso?’ LuAnn asked finally.
‘Roller? Yeah, he had me all, right,’ Zo replied with a laugh. ‘Perfect background for it, including the young victim and a stint as a teen working in an art store. But coincidences being what they are, it looks like Roller was just eyeing the undercover in the tight clothes ’cause he thought she was cute. He never actually called himself Captain or her Janizz or mentioned their online chat. What he was gonna do with Natalie once he got her in the car is anyone’s guess – maybe he just thought he’d score easy, maybe, given his background, it was more sinister. But we’re thinking that Roller was just in the wrong place doing the wrong thing and running from us at the wrong time. From what Ciro has learned, the guy was selling dope to get by. Might have had some samples in the car and knew that, if he was stopped, he’d be going back to prison on a parole violation. That’s why he ran. We never found nothing else that would link him to either Felding or support the theory that he was The Captain. Felding was Picasso. Felding was The Captain. Felding was ElCapitan, and Felding was Zach Cusano.’
‘Could they have been acting together?’ LuAnn asked.
Zo chuckled. ‘You should’ve been a cop, Lu. Maybe it’s been you whispering how to work cases in Bobby’s ear all these years, and he’s just been taking all the credit. Listen, if Roller and Felding were in it together, then that’s a secret the two of them just took to their graves. Lainey Emerson is saying that, as far as she could tell, there was only one captor, but she couldn’t see who that captor was, so take that for what it’s worth. Now, I’d better go. I still have to get through the third degree with Camilla about my visit with you today, and my throat is already hurting from talking too much.’
Bobby nodded. ‘Thank you,’ he whispered.
‘Please. Stop. It’s painful. You’re welcome.’ Zo rose to leave. ‘I’m leaving before this becomes a Hallmark and we all cry. Oh, and another thing. Veso still owes me for the group flowers, but he’s headed back up to Pensacola. Your job’s still yours whenever you get back. Even Foxx has had a change of heart – thanks, I’m sure to the barrage of “Save Bobby Dees’ Ass from Forced Early Retirement” phone calls his office has been flooded with. I personally called twice,’ he added with a wink as he kissed LuAnn and headed for the door. ‘So when the docs here say you’re not full of hot air any more, Shep, we’ll all be waiting on you to come back.’
Lainey sat up in bed shaking, her body drenched in sweat, her heart pounding in her chest. She anxiously looked around her brightly lit room for the clock. It was 12:10 a.m. She tried to calm herself like Dr Kesslar had told her to: Check your surroundings, take deep breaths, realize you have been sleeping, realize you are safe, recognize it’s just a nightmare. It’s just a terrible nightmare. You’re home now. He can’t hurt you any more.
She watched, her breath catching, as the red numbers on the clock changed to 12:11. She was up to forty-three minutes. That was an accomplishment, she supposed. Just last week, she was afraid to even close her eyes. Sleep, when it did come, was only in ten-minute cat-naps.
Lainey looked around her newly decorated bubblegum-pink bedroom, with its pretty white sleigh bed, dresser and desk set, funky checkered beanbag and cool Robert Pattinson and Taylor Lautner posters. It looked like a bedroom right out of a Pottery Barn furniture catalogue, all the way down to the heart-shaped throw rug and cool crystal chandelier. The only thing missing, of course, was a computer. The makeover was courtesy of the generous donations of hundreds of strangers all over the world who were apparently moved by her ‘shocking’ story. Channel Six had made the biggest donation of all, but her mom said they weren’t allowed to touch that unless and until she went to college.
Everything looked so picture perfect all around her, yet Lainey’s life was anything but. Here she was in her pretty bedroom with every single light on, completely terrified of what was outside her windows or down the hall, her heart beating so hard she thought she would die – afraid to cry out, afraid to lie back down, afraid to so much as move. Every time she closed her eyes, she saw his face. Zach. The man in the car. The Devil. Laughing, smiling, yelling, cursing, preaching. It had been weeks and she was only up to forty-three minutes. At this rate she might get a full night’s sleep when she was thirty.
‘Lainey? You OK?’ It was Liza, standing in the doorway of her room, a cell phone in her hand, a frown on her face.
Lainey shook her head.
‘Just go back to sleep. You’ll be fine. Nobody’s here. OK?’
Lainey nodded, wiping the tears from her cheeks, clutching the pillow to her chest.
Of course, Liza hadn’t been down in the crawl space.
Her mom was still at the answering service, pulling another shift until one a.m. ‘Doing what I have to do,’ as she explained with a sigh to Lainey, ‘to put food on the table.’ With Todd in prison, there was only one income now, she liked to remind everyone when she was around. Even though Lainey hated being alone – her biggest fear ever – it was better when her mom was working, when it was just her and Bradley and Liza. Because when her mom was home, she was constantly hovering – hanging around every corner, in every room, asking Lainey what ‘that man’ had done to her, or asking her what she’d seen ‘down there in the dungeon’. Questioning her if there was any way she could have escaped when she wasn’t tied up – any way at all. And always silently blaming her, Lainey figured, for getting into the horrible mess in the first place, making all of their lives flip completely upside down forever.
She could never tell her mom what The Devil had done to her. Never. She could never tell anyone. All she wanted to do was forget, not remember. She hugged the pillow tight to her chest and tried hard not to see his face in the window – a face she had never really seen, a face her imagination had twisted into a terrifying red-eyed, SpaghettiO-breathed monster, with pale pock-marked skin and big coffee-stained teeth. She never wanted to see clippings of him on the news. She never wanted to see what Mark Felding really looked like because then she could never face anybody ever again. She could never go out. She could never trust anyone. It was better to see The Devil as the distorted monster he was in her head, better to believe that the next time she would be able to see evil coming, rather than fear it living and breathing beside her in every crowd, on every train, on every street corner, grinning at her through a ‘normal-looking’ smile and perfect blue eyes.
Next time. She couldn’t get her mind away from that thought. She rocked back and forth on the bed. Normal. What a word. When would it all be normal again? When would she feel right? The kids at Sawgrass had treated her like a freak when she went back, so she’d switched over to Ramble-wood, but Melissa and Erica and Molly all treated her differently now. Nothing was the same anywhere. No one was the same. Especially Lainey. And she didn’t know how to bring it back to normal. How to shift her worries to scoring tickets to a Jonas Brothers concert like everybody else her age, instead of being completely paralyzed by fear when she walked into the computer lab at school.
Give it time, Agent Dees – her hero – had told her. It won’t get better for a long time, but then one day it will. It will be a little bit better.
She grabbed her cell phone and dialed the number. ‘Brad?’ she asked while it rang, reaching for him at the foot of the bed. Her little brother stayed with her every night now, sleeping head-to-toe. She made him, but he didn’t complain. Brad grunted. Lainey took his hand and held it fast in hers.
‘Hey there, little Lainey,’ a sleepy-sounding Agent Dees answered on the second ring. ‘You doing OK, kiddo?’ He was used to this; Lainey called every night.
One day it will be a little bit better.
Lainey shook her head and bit her lip. ‘Not tonight,’ she whispered. ‘Not tonight …’
The Picasso task force headquarters at FDLE was no more. The conference table was gone – moved back down the hall – as were the corkboards, dry-erase board, and growing montage of disturbing crime-scene photos. In their place was a small, fat silver Christmas tree, decorated to the nines with ornaments, flashing lights and gold tinsel. Colorful wrapped presents and gift bags overflowed from under the tree. The Crimes Against Children Squad’s Secret Santa gift exchange would take place later this morning, followed by the MROC office Christmas party on the first floor. The whole building already smelled like roasted pig and Cuban coffee.
At the Monday morning weekly SAS meeting led by Zo, everyone had joked at the impeccable timing of Bobby’s return to the office on Christmas Eve. No one in government actually worked the week before Christmas, the week of Christmas or the week after Christmas. In fact, pretty much from Thanksgiving to the New Year, nobody did much of anything. There were live bodies in the office, for sure, but since most judges cleared their calendars till January and prosecutors went AWOL scrambling to use up accrued leave time, nothing really went down at the courthouse. Crime still happened, but solving it and prosecuting it took a back burner for a couple of weeks while everyone visited family and drank eggnog at the almost constant happening of Christmas parties, holiday luncheons and festive happy hours.
On the day before Christmas the halls of MROC were definitely thinned out, and that was why Bobby decided to come back today. He’d been out for four weeks – the longest he’d ever been away from the office – and he wanted a chance to catch up on things without being hammered with questions come January 2 from people who now suddenly needed answers two days before the statute of limitations on their cases ran out.
He set the box full of wrapped presents that LuAnn had picked out for everyone from the new Regional Director to the Crimes Against Children squad analyst out under the tree and headed into his own office, ducking as he did under the low-hanging strands of green garland that decorated his doorway. Without supervision, someone had gone a little crazy with the holiday decorations this year. Like the halls of an elementary school, cardboard dreidels and Santas were scotch-taped everywhere.
But for the six or so bottles of wine on his desk – presents from agents and support staff personnel already set out on their mad holiday treks around the country to see family – the office looked the same as when he left it, five days before Thanksgiving.
‘Hey there, Bobby,’ Larry said with a big smile, walking into his office. ‘Good to have you back, man. What a freaking story you got to tell! Holy shit! Glad to hear you’re feeling OK.’
‘Good as new. Only I can’t make February’s Ironman Triathlon.’
Larry laughed. ‘That sucks. Come work out with us at McGuire’s. Ciro and I will get you back in shape.’ McGuire’s Hill was an old Irish bar in Fort Lauderdale and a frequent haunt of Larry’s.
‘So that’s what keeps you so trim, eh?’ Bobby returned with a smile.
‘Listen, I heard from Zo about the ID on the body found in the Sugarland house. You must be feeling relieved. That’s great news it wasn’t your kid.’
Bobby nodded. Great news for him. Not so great news for the grandmother of sixteen-year-old Shelley Longo of Hollywood, Florida. Two days shy of her seventeenth birthday, dental records had matched her to the corpse found in the charred ruins of the house in Belle Glade.
And not so great news for the mom of seventeen-year-old Katy Lee Saltran of Anaheim, California.
Forensic facial reconstruction of Jane Doe #1 had finally led to an identification of the body found at the Broward dump site. Ironically, it had been a follow-up article on Bobby in People magazine where Sue Saltran – sitting in a beauty parlor in Long Beach, California – had seen the reconstructed, two-dimensional sketch of her daughter’s face, Katy Lee. Katy, as she called herself. An aspiring singer, eight months earlier, Katy had told friends she was sneaking off to Orlando to meet up with a guy she’d met online who was going to introduce her to Jay-Z. Katy’s new friend’s name was T.J. Nusaro, but his stage name was El Capitan. A search of the airlines showed Katy Lee had made her American Airlines flight, but no one had heard from her since. Last Saturday, Sue Saltran had flown in to pick up her daughter’s remains and fly her back to California. Bobby had paid for the ticket.
‘You headed down?’ Larry asked, moving back to the door.
‘Yeah. In a little. I gotta look at some things first. I’ll meet ya down there,’ Bobby answered as Larry
Bobby turned and looked out the window. Even on Christmas Eve the traffic was still stopped up as far as the eye could see. The road crew was back out there, but it was down to only two or three guys, who were sitting in a City Works truck drinking coffee. Everything looked and sounded exactly the same as it did the last time he’d stared out this very window – down to the Christmas trees of some late shoppers strapped to the roofs of their cars – but once again, the whole world as Bobby knew it had completely changed.
That’s great news it wasn’t your kid.
But was it really great news? Bobby looked at the flyer of his daughter stuck prominently on the corkboard of the missing in his office. While it was true that he didn’t have to bury a child, he already understood their intense pain. He had buried his own daughter twice in his mind over the past five weeks – only to discover it wasn’t her. Only to discover that he had no idea where she was. Left to wonder again what terrible things might have happened to her. Was she drugged out? Was she dead? Was she a prostitute? There would be no healing for him. Ever. So while he was thankful that dental records had proved his daughter was not dead, his life existed once again in a terrifying emotional limbo, because those records couldn’t prove that she was still alive. Or that she was healthy. Or happy. Or not scared. And he would forever remain in that state – putting off vacations and cross-country moves with LuAnn – wondering, waiting, hoping, fearing, until the day they put his own body into a casket.
Pretty Little Things by Jilliane Hoffman / History & Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes