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All the little pieces, p.36
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       All the Little Pieces, p.36

           Jilliane Hoffman
 

  The room was quiet. The other three men exchanged looks.

  ‘What happened to vigilante mom? Langtry was her name, right?’ asked Dunleavy.

  Bryan ran a hand through his hair. ‘She’s looking at first, because there’s no way to get around premeditated. But the State will cut her a deal because of the circumstances, I think. And she’s sick; she’s got diabetes and some other health issues. She’ll probably plead to second and get ten in prison, or something like that. If the ASA offers her more than that, she’ll probably plead NGI and let the jury walk her because we all know that any of us would’ve done the same if we were her and had a gun in our purse.’ NGI stood for Not Guilty by Reason of Insanity. Bryan stood up. ‘I have to go, boys. My twins are graduating from high school today and I gotta get there early enough to get a seat.’

  ‘You must be a proud papa,’ said Chuck. ‘Two almost off the Daddy Dole.’

  ‘Proudest Pop there is. Soon to be the brokest: They both picked out of state. I’ll be doling it for four more years.’

  ‘Then there’s graduate school,’ added Dunleavy with a chuckle.

  Bryan rolled his eyes. ‘Thanks. I feel better now.’

  Everyone laughed. Everyone stood.

  ‘You called me in here to ask for my opinion on this, Chuck,’ Bryan said thoughtfully, as he slipped on his sports jacket. ‘So here it is: There’ve already been too many victims in this case. There’s no more juice to be squeezed, no more careers to be made out of this one, boys. So just do the right thing, Chuck: Give Faith Saunders probation. Let her get the help she needs. She doesn’t need to be behind bars. None of us will be any safer for it.’

  ‘Thanks, Detective,’ said the prosecutor. ‘I appreciate your feedback.’

  ‘Like my dad once told me a long time ago,’ Bryan replied as he headed out the door. ‘“A clear conscience is a soft pillow.” Sleep well now. All of you.’

  86

  ‘You look handsome,’ Tatiana said as she and Bryan took their seats in the Boynton Beach high school auditorium. ‘Did I tell you that?’

  ‘Yup. But you can tell me again,’ he replied with a proud smile. ‘Thank you. It’s new. I cut the tags this morning.’

  ‘I could tell. Very spiffy. What size is that jacket?’

  ‘Forty-two.’

  ‘No way.’

  ‘Yes way. I’m down sixty-six and a half pounds, as of this morning.’

  She shook her head. ‘Damn! You’re an inspiration. I still got all this to lose,’ she said gesturing to her stomach. ‘It’s all there, like a big gloop of skin.’

  ‘You just had a person cut out of you. Stop being so hard on yourself – enjoy a donut. And you look smoking hot – trust me. See my ex-wife over there? She is pissed just looking at you. Let me borrow the baby. That’ll really drive a nail in it.’

  Tatiana laughed and handed Oscar over. ‘Watch his neck.’

  ‘Damn, I remember holding two of these not too long ago.’ He looked over at where Hilary and Hailey stood waiting to walk in with all the other graduates. This summer they would work at Coldstone Creamery and Chipotle. In August Hilary was headed to Penn State in Pennsylvania and Hailey to St John’s University in New York. Hilary turned to look over at him and made an ‘Awww!’ face. Then she snapped a picture with her cell. Bryan sniffed Oscar’s bald head. ‘You forget how yummy their heads smell.’

  ‘I think he just pooped,’ said Tatiana, laughing. ‘His face is all red. That’s what you’re smelling.’

  ‘Even his poop is cool. The little dude has cool poop.’

  Tatiana leaned over and kissed him then on the cheek. Her lips lingered a little bit longer than he was expecting and Bryan felt himself blush. ‘Let’s get her really pissed,’ she whispered.

  Bryan didn’t know where they were going, or even if it was headed in the direction he hoped it was. Tatiana had spent a lot of time at his townhouse over the past six months and he had some new furniture now. The house didn’t look or feel as empty. And it didn’t sound empty when she brought Oscar over. Bryan had been there during the birth, out in the waiting room, and he’d picked up her slack at work, making sure no one said anything to her about taking some time off. He was, for the moment, anyway, considered the resident expert in serial killers and that – even with the acquittal – came with a little bit of star status, which he was totally going to use to his advantage, because he knew better than anyone how fleeting and capricious fame could be. But he was happy. For the first time in a really long time, he was happy. And he was really happy to see that the seat next to Audrey was empty. ‘John Something’ would not be ruining the day that Bryan could not believe was somehow already here. Eighteen years had simply flown by.

  His phone beeped. An incoming message. It was an Instagram post from Hilary. He smiled. It was a picture of him and Oscar snuggling. She’d titled it: Dad and the boy he never had.

  The band began to play ‘Pomp and Circumstance’, which was always a tearjerker. Bryan grinned and patted Oscar’s back as the whole auditorium stood and his two beautiful girls made their way down the aisle past him to take their seats on the stage below.

  87

  Ed stared at the battered, oversized black wooden doors of the First Lutheran Church across the street from where he sat on a bench in the park. With shaking, dirty fingers he anxiously rolled and unrolled the paper ticket real tight, like he was rolling a joint. It was almost seven thirty, but the sun was still out, and there were people milling about in the park – some walking dogs, others stuffing their faces from the free food that Love Thy Neighbor had handed out to the homeless. Somewhere not so far off he heard the sound of little kids laughing.

  He felt so damn … lost. That was the only word to describe it: lost. Empty was another good one. Hollow. It had been weeks now since Derrick had died and he still had no … purpose. Every morning he got up and told himself that this was the day he’d get his ass back in gear. This was the day he’d know what to do and he’d finally do it. Do something. Do anything. Anything besides walking around like someone had taken a knife to his frontal lobe, sleeping in cars or homeless shelters or waking up on the beach watching with scorn as the sun rose all pretty once again in the sky. He knew he was practically begging to get caught, daring some copper to start asking questions when they told him to get off the beach or he got popped for pissing in a bush or diving through a Dumpster. Then it would be all over. Someone in a uniform would recognize him when they hosed off the grime from weeks of living on the streets. Or they’d run his prints and figure it out that way. Or his blood. Or a cheek swab. They’d get a good sample of him and put it in a machine and BAM! he’d be on the ground with a dozen guns pointed at his head. One of them coppers might get an itchy finger and the next thing you knew Ed would be looking at his brains pouring out of his head on the ground next to him.

  Just like Derrick.

  He wiped an angry tear away before it had the chance to escape. The fact that he even cared so much pissed him off. The fact that he felt lost and empty and hollow pissed him off. The fact that some part of him would actually allow himself to get caught pissed him off. The fact that he considered going out like Derrick a better alternative to this gut-wrenching emotional devastation pissed him off the most. It made him feel weak, like some crying-ass pussy – and Ed was no fucking pussy. He loathed this feeling so much it burned somewhere deep inside. What he needed to do was take this burst of anger and fan it internally till it spread into an inferno. Then he should harness the anger and focus it and use it so he could finally get up off this bench and out of this park and do what needed to be done and move the fuck on with life.

  He felt the paper uncurl in his fingers and he rolled it up tight again as he waited. People were starting to make their way into the church, one by one. Never in a pack. Never a cluster of individuals cozily chatting as they held the door for each other and exchanged pleasantries like you might see at Sunday services. Nope. Not here. Rather, each person loo
ked over their shoulder as they pulled open the large doors to make sure no one was watching them, before hurrying inside to spill their secrets behind those big black doors.

  Ed looked down at the rolled-up bus ticket to Houston that was coiled around his filthy fingers like a snake. He’d scored it from one of the homeless advocates at the shelter, after he’d told her how his mama was gonna put him in rehab back home in East End. That he had a job waiting for him when he got out of rehab and he was gonna be back with his family and his abuela and this ticket was gonna save his life and get him off the streets for good. Boo-hoo. Ed had always been a good storyteller – he was bawling himself by the time he’d finished telling the tale to the old lady with hair the color of margarine. He almost had himself believing there was somebody in Houston who gave a shit about him. That there was somebody anywhere that gave a shit about him, for that matter. But the old lady had looked at him funny when she handed him the ticket – like she either didn’t believe him, or maybe like she might have recognized him. He rubbed the ticket thoughtfully. Now he wasn’t sure if he should use it. He looked back up at the church doors.

  Or if he even wanted to.

  He’d hung around this town, this place for too long. Florida wasn’t his home, it had only been a stop on the journey, but so much had happened here. Derrick had lived here. Derrick had died here. His eyes welled again and he wiped it away and smacked himself hard in the head with both hands.

  How could he pick up and leave? Who would he ever be able to find that could replace Derrick? That’s what made him want to cry like a pussy. Would he ever again be able to find someone like Derrick? No. Not happening. No way. It had taken him a lifetime to meet The One. The perfect student. The perfect partner. How do you go about doing it again? Finding someone who thinks like you and acts like you and wants to learn from you? A person you could grow together with. This was not a relationship that was meant to come to an end one day. This was not some marriage where you say the words, ‘I do’ but don’t mean them when someone better comes along. It was so beyond that. It was on a different mental plane. What it was was a true partnership with a person who thought exactly like him. Thoughts that his mom had once branded ‘twisted’ after he told her what he’d done to the family dog. He missed the guy like he’d never missed anyone in his life. And now it was over and Derrick was gone and Ed felt completely, totally … lost.

  He punched himself in the head again to drive those melancholy thoughts out. He watched as the addicts walked into the church, so absorbed in their own set of problems that it took all the strength they could muster to pass through those doors and seek help for a problem that none of them really wanted help with, given a choice. He would bet every one of them at that meeting would like nothing better than to get loaded and have no one care that they did. Unfortunately, people did care, though. Ed looked at his watch. The meeting started at seven forty-five. Most everyone was early. They lived every minute of their lives for these meetings, clinging to the inspirational anecdotes and prayers uttered behind those oversized black doors like a lifeboat, to help get them through to the next day or the next meeting – imagining their existence would get better if they just took it One Day At A Time. That One Day would come where they wouldn’t still consider giving their right leg for a drink. But Ed knew from watching his own dad drown in a bottle that that day would never really come. The mythical Utopia that the lifeboat was headed for didn’t actually exist, but it was the only way to get a drunk in the goddamn boat, where you could hope they’d keep on rowing instead of figuring out the whole trip was nothing but a fantasy.

  The vengeful mom who’d offed Derrick was locked up tight for the moment. There was no chance in hell of getting close enough to her.

  Next.

  Girlfriend was long gone. The day after she’d left Derrick to die in front of the courthouse – before a cleaning crew had even hosed his blood off the sidewalk – she’d had a moving truck at her apartment and had hauled ass out of town.

  Next.

  And the prosecutor was off to New York to be a star. Even though her bid to kill Derrick didn’t succeed, it had all worked out for her in the end, hadn’t it? Derrick was dead and she was gonna be on TV, is what the papers were saying. How he would love to take her smug face back to that shack and show her exactly what he had done to those girls. Show her how she and the fat detective had had it all wrong – the things he and Derrick did were far, far worse than what she’d probably told that grand jury …

  The anger was back. Its hot embers were filling the hollow spaces inside of him now. Without Derrick he was just here. Here on this earth. Here in Florida. Here in this park. Wandering the streets like a zombie and biding his time fantasizing about taking revenge that wouldn’t happen now that everyone had moved on. The Prosecutor. The Girlfriend. The Vigilante.

  All but one, he thought, as he watched the slight, harried figure in sunglasses make her way up the street and into the church. She was no master of disguise – he recognized her right off.

  And she was leaving soon enough, too.

  He’d read in the paper that she was moving, that her house was up for sale. Once Blondie picked up and left town, he might never be able to find her again. And the sad reality would be that no one would pay for Derrick’s death.

  He looked around the park. Maybe it was time for him to move on, too. Getting caught doing something stupid wouldn’t do anybody any good. It was near impossible to get close to Blondie, she was such a social recluse. These meetings were his only shot. And, of course, he was all too aware that if he got caught now, if it all ended, he would never have a chance to become legend himself. He’d never have a chance to meet his Second Act, if such a person did exist out there for him. Five dead girls would barely get him a mention on Murderpedia.

  The bus ticket was for tomorrow morning. He had one last night to make up his mind. Twelve hours. He started to hum The Clash song: ‘Should I Stay or Should I Go?’

  Then he shoved the ticket into his raggedy jacket and headed across the street to the church. He knew that would help him decide.

  88

  The bible study room in the First Lutheran Church in Fort Lauderdale was really, really hot. Faith dabbed her forehead with the dry washcloth she’d brought with her and looked around at the others. There were people wearing sweaters. And a homeless looking man standing in the back had on an oversized coat. He tipped his curly head at her and it gave her the creeps. He looked familiar; she’d probably seen him before at other meetings. She looked away.

  It must just be her. She rubbed her sweaty hands together. She was so nervous. She wiped them on the washcloth and put it back in her purse. Then took it out again. The room smelled of freshly brewed coffee. It always did at these meetings.

  She looked over at Jarrod, who was seated beside her on a metal folding chair. He was rubbing her back.

  ‘You’ll be OK,’ he said reassuringly. ‘Whenever you’re ready.’

  They’d done this, her and him, a few times already. They’d come in and sat away from other people and listened to the sometimes tragic and sometimes inspiring stories of the others. Some meetings there were a lot of people in the room. At others there were only a couple. Each venue was different and Faith never liked to stay in one place, lest someone recognize her and say something. It had only been six weeks. People would forget and move on eventually. And even if they didn’t, she and Jarrod and Maggie were going to. It was time to leave South Florida and start somewhere fresh, for all three of them. Jarrod liked New York. He had to take the New York bar first, but he’d already spoken with some firms and they were very interested. Finding a new home for him should not be difficult. Faith had checked out the schools on Long Island; they seemed to have good programs for emotionally disturbed and developmentally delayed children. As for Sweet Sisters, it was time to start fresh there, too. Jarrod insisted that people in New York ate cupcakes, and when she got herself back together again one day maybe she wou
ld do another start-up. Or maybe she’d dust off that manuscript and try and rewrite it. Now that she had some experience with the legal system, it would give her crime fiction voice some authenticity. Or maybe she’d just be a mom to Maggie. Her girl needed her more than ever now. And Faith needed to be needed.

  She was required to go to AA meetings twice a week for the five years of her probation. Considering she should have been in jail, she was very grateful. The most she could do though, so far, was sit and listen. It was funny, because when she was at The Meadows, she could say the words they wanted to hear with ease, because she didn’t mean them. But now that she meant them, she couldn’t say them.

  Technically, Jarrod was not supposed to be here. He wasn’t supposed to attend AA if he wasn’t an addict. But no one asked questions and she’d noticed that there were a few other people who brought their emotional support blankets with them. The truth was, she couldn’t do this without him. She might one day in the future be able to, but right now she needed to know he was here with her. That she wasn’t alone. And that he really did mean it when he said he wouldn’t be leaving.

  ‘How are you feeling?’ she whispered in his ear. ‘You want to go?’

 
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