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Pretty little things, p.8
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       Pretty Little Things, p.8

           Jilliane Hoffman
 

  ‘Veso just showed up,’ Zo said, popping his head back into the room from the hall, where he’d disappeared for the past ten minutes. ‘Fucking numb-nut got lost.’

  ‘Obviously a great detective,’ Bobby replied, not bothering to look up from the screen.

  ‘Be nice.’

  ‘Fuck that. You be nice. I don’t need a pet. Or an understudy.’

  Zo shook his head. Diplomacy was a tough tightrope to walk, and he was a shitty acrobat. ‘You almost done here?’ he tried. ‘I got tickets to the Dolphins game at four.’

  ‘Just writing down a few things. I’m gonna try talking to some of these friends while I’m out here. And the step, too. See what the hell’s up with him.’

  ‘OK, bro. You’re the expert.’

  Bobby couldn’t resist. ‘Can you tell your boss that, please?’

  Zo stepped into the room and closed the door behind him. He waited a long moment before he finally spoke. ‘I don’t know how you deal with,’ he started, looking around, ‘this shit every day. Every fucking day. Let me be honest with you, Bobby, my friend. I don’t know how you do it. Especially after Katy. I don’t know how you can fucking function. It’s like you’re locking yourself in a freaking torture room every second of every day and forcing yourself to look at all the shit on the walls. It ain’t healthy.’ He sat down on the edge of the bed and waited till the pregnant silence caused his friend to finally look over at him. ‘None of these cases, none of them, have a happy ending, man. None of them. You know that better than anyone. You bring ’em home, Shep, that’s true, all these … these kids. Dead or alive you bring ’em home, but what kind of life is that? I mean, what kind of career is that? ’Cause it’s never a happy ending, even when it’s supposed to be. And you know it. It’s just the beginning of years of therapy for those who do make it home. I’ve worked a lot of squads, you know, in my years, a lot of different cases. Violent Crime, Terrorism, Narcotics, Organized Crime. You name it, and I’ve probably worked it. And I’m not saying they’re easy, but you know, when you’re working something like homicides – it sucks, there’s blood and brains and bad shit – but at least you know the guy you’re working for is dead. I mean, there’s never any hope of finding him alive. It’s depressing and all, and it’s a dead body, yeah, yeah, yeah, but you never get that fucking hope ripped out of your chest, like you do in these kid cases. Over and over and over. What I’m saying is, why don’t you look at the changes Foxx wants to make as a way out? As a long-overdue, I don’t know … vacation? A chance to move on? Ain’t nothing wrong with pushing some paper and taxiing governors around when they come to town. I know you don’t want it. Hell, we all know – the director included and every suit in Tallahassee, too, as well as the freaking Fibbies – we all know that no one else can do this job as good as you. You’re the best at what you do, Shep. But – well, fuck the Vesos of the world and Foxx if you think they’re trying to squeeze you out – but, for LuAnn, for your own sanity, let someone else try, man.’

  Bobby said nothing. The whoops and hollers from the skateboard contest filled the strained silence. ‘Look, you brief the guy if you want to,’ he replied finally. ‘I already know he’s a fuck-up and I don’t want him in here.’ Then he turned his attention back to the screen.

  Zo let out a slow breath. ‘Whatever. I’ll meet you outside when you’re done.’

  After Zo walked out, Bobby leaned back in the desk chair and rubbed his tired eyes.

  Not all of them. I don’t bring them all home, Zo. And that’s the problem. That’s why I don’t sleep any more. I don’t bring them all home and we both know it …

  He flipped open his cell and dialed.

  ‘Missing Children Information Clearinghouse. Travis Hall.’

  ‘Hey there, Travis, it’s Bobby Dees down in Miami.’

  ‘Hey, Agent Dees. I haven’t heard from you in a while. I thought you wasn’t working these cases no more, after, you know, well, after what, um, happened …’ Travis’s voice had slowed and stumbled off, like he’d just gotten the memo that it wasn’t such a hot idea to be saying what he was saying.

  ‘Don’t believe everything you hear, Travis.’ Bobby sat up. ‘I’m still alive and well down here in the Conch Republic.’

  ‘Glad to hear it. You doing OK, Bobby?’

  Bobby ignored that question, because any idiot with half a brain and knowledge of the hell he’d been through the past year wouldn’t have asked it in the first place. ‘Listen, Travis,’ he said dismissively, fingering the two pictures of Elaine Emerson he had printed out on the desk. Before and After. The Geek and the Lolita. Stretch or not, he’d learned over the years to listen to his gut. It was the one partner that never let him down. ‘I’m gonna need you to put out a Missing Child Alert on one Elaine Louise Emerson. White female, date of birth 8/27/96 …’

  17

  ‘So you don’t have any idea where she might be?’ Bobby asked the skinny girl with the mop of wet, dark blonde curls. Just past the sky-blue foyer where he stood, an arched entryway led into the home’s kitchen. Plastic grocery bags were piled on the countertop and he could see something was boiling on the stove. The house smelled like meatloaf and onions.

  ‘Nuh-uh,’ the teen replied, rubbing her head with a Scooby-Doo beach towel. The mirror image standing next to her in the same exact bathing suit and shorts just shook her head.

  ‘Her mother called here last night at almost eleven o’clock looking for her,’ Mrs Weber added with a frown. ‘I told Debbie I didn’t think the girls had seen Elaine in a couple of weeks. They were at their dad’s all weekend and they had a swim meet this morning. They just got home.’ She rubbed the shoulders of either Melissa or Erica. Bobby couldn’t tell the difference. ‘Do you think she ran away? Is that it?’

  ‘Do you think that might be the case?’ Bobby countered.

  Mrs Weber shrugged. ‘Elaine’s mother parents differently than me, let’s just say that. Her older sister is a mess, you know. A mess. Drugs and boys. That’s why I don’t like the girls over there. There’s no supervision. Elaine is very sweet, but …’

  Bobby waited.

  ‘The apple never falls far from the tree, is all I’m saying.’

  ‘Mom! Lainey’s not like that!’ one of the girls protested.

  ‘Mo-o-mm!’ Mrs Weber said mimicking her daughter. ‘We’ll see,’ she added softly, casting a skeptical glance over at Bobby.

  ‘Well, give me a call if you or the girls or their friends hear from her.’ Bobby handed her a business card. ‘Or if you come into any ideas on who this Carla or Karen might be. Any at all. My cell’s on there.’ He turned to the twins. ‘Before I forget, do you two email with Lainey?’

  They even nodded in unison. It must be weird to have two girlfriends who are identical in every way, Bobby thought. It might be a grown man’s fantasy, but a little overwhelming on a kid; you were always outnumbered. ‘Can I get her address from you? Her mom didn’t know it.’

  Mrs Weber rolled her eyes.

  ‘Sure. It’s [email protected],’ the one with the towel said.

  ‘Thanks. Your other friend, Molly – I stopped by her house, but no one’s home.’

  ‘Her grandma died. She’s in New Mexico,’ Scooby-Doo offered.

  ‘Nebraska,’ her sister corrected.

  ‘Nuh-uh. It’s New something.’

  ‘New York?’ Mrs Weber asked. ‘New Jersey?’

  The first one shrugged. ‘Maybe. She’s there till Monday, I think. Or maybe Tuesday.’

  ‘Does she have a cell?’ Bobby asked.

  ‘Yeah, but she got caught texting in science lab on Friday. Mrs Rohr took it and she can’t get it back till she does detention next Wednesday.’

  ‘What’s that number?’

  Mrs Weber’s eyes rolled once again.

  ‘It’s 954-695-4229.’

  ‘One last question. Does Lainey have a boyfriend?’ Bobby asked.

  Both girls giggled, embarrassed. ‘No.’

  ‘An
other last question, then: Does she like boys?’

  ‘Well, yeah, she’s not a lesbo or anything.’

  ‘Erica …’ Mrs Weber scolded.

  ‘But she doesn’t have a boyfriend. The boys we know are idiots. She likes Robert Pattinson,’ finished Melissa.

  Bobby slid the notepad into his jacket pocket. ‘All right. Thanks for your time, girls.’

  He’d no sooner stepped out the door when it closed behind him with a thud. Amelia Weber wanted to keep whatever bad germs Bobby was carrying far away from her kids. A cop at her door on a Sunday afternoon inquiring about her daughters’ friend was not in the parenting plan.

  He climbed into the Grand Am and looked at the dashboard clock. It was 2:24. Almost fifteen hours since Elaine Emerson had been reported missing, and more than fifty-four hours since she’d been dropped at the corner to wait for the school bus by her mother. If she didn’t surface by tomorrow morning, he’d visit Sawgrass Middle, talk to her classmates and try and track down every Karyn or Carla on the register to see who Lainey might’ve gone home with.

  But right now, it was time to go car shopping. He slipped on his sunglasses, and pulled away from the curb, as Lainey’s identical friends, standing side by side, watched expressionless from the living-room window.

  18

  Even though Bobby had never met the guy before, or even seen a photo, he already had an idea what the CarMax Regional Salesman of the Month looked like. Maybe it was the used-car profession that had him drawing mental pictures, or Todd LaManna’s choice of a spouse, but stocky, short, temperamental and balding were the first four adjectives that came to mind.

  Bobby stepped through the automatic glass front doors, and there he was: Stocky, short, temperamental and balding, dressed in a blue CarMax polo shirt and khakis, a clipboard in hand and a slippery smile on his ruddy, full face. Like a shark to chum, he rushed over to Bobby before one of his clipboard-carrying brethren could get there first.

  ‘Hey there, guy!’ Todd called out in a booming voice. ‘Thinking about helping out the economy today?’

  ‘Todd Anthony LaManna?’ Bobby asked, reaching for his badge.

  The apple cheeks deflated. Even if he wanted to, he couldn’t deny it. There was a big ‘Todd LaManna’ patch sewn on his polo. ‘What’s this about?’ he asked, the self-assured boom reduced to a decibel above whisper.

  ‘This is about your stepdaughter, Elaine, Mr LaManna. Do you have a moment?’

  ‘Not really,’ he replied, looking around. Besides salesmen, there was no one else in the showroom. ‘I’m kinda busy.’

  ‘Make one.’

  They stepped into a glass-enclosed cubby that looked out on to the showroom. It was a room where deals were made. Where sales managers, in full view of the anxious customer back on the sales floor, but without the sound effects, finally ‘gave up’ their lowest price after bullshit haggling with the tenacious Salesman of the Month. It’d been a while since Bobby had bought a car, but the games were always the same, whatever dealership you were in or car you were buying.

  But there was no dealing today. ‘I guess she’s not home yet,’ Todd said quietly as he closed the blinds.

  ‘And I’m guessing you’re not too worried about that,’ Bobby answered.

  ‘Oh, man, don’t make this about me. Debbie said she’s at a friend’s house. She’s probably having a good time, is all, and doesn’t want to come home and do shit around the house all day. I know I wouldn’t.’ He chuckled. ‘Why do ya think I work weekends?’

  Bobby didn’t laugh back. ‘Any idea where Elaine might be?’

  Todd shrugged. ‘She’s Debbie’s kid. She told her mother she was going out with some girl from school. I don’t know who her friends are; I don’t ask. I tried getting involved with the other one, Liza, ya know? To be a good parent and all. Lot of good it did me. That little –’ he cut himself off. ‘She’s constantly getting in trouble and me worrying about her don’t do no good. She doesn’t listen to anyone. I’ve had the cops in my life ever since the first time I caught her smoking weed.’

  ‘When was the last time you spoke with Elaine?’

  ‘I’ve been working a lot lately. I haven’t even seen her since, I don’t know, like maybe Wednesday? It’s gotta be, I’m thinking here, maybe Wednesday morning before she went to school. That’s when I talked to her. Told her to clean her friggin’ room up.’

  ‘What’s your relationship with Elaine?’ ‘What?’ Todd replied, his face crimson. ‘Fine, great. Normal.’

  ‘Normal?’

  ‘I’m feeling trapped here. Like you’re asking me questions for a reason.’

  ‘There’s no reason to feel trapped,’ Bobby replied. ‘She’s a teenager. Just trying to figure out what kind of relationship you two had. Why she might have gone running, if that’s what she did do.’

  ‘Well, you said it. She’s a teenager. It was, our relationship was, well … normal. She was pretty busy with school stuff and friends and she was, ya know, a real bitch sometimes, but aren’t all women?’ He laughed uneasily. ‘You know, when they get on the rag.’

  Bobby looked at him a long time. ‘I don’t think so.’

  ‘Whatever. I don’t want to say no more.’ Todd shook his head.

  ‘I ran your name through a couple of systems, Todd,’ Bobby began. ‘And guess what? I caught a fish. Domestic battery. Solicitation. And a really interesting arrest just last year. L & L. You know what that stands for, Todd?’

  ‘That was dropped to a fucking disorderly, man!’

  ‘Lewd and lascivious conduct,’ Bobby continued.

  ‘I was, you know, peeing against a wall when this dike-cop walked up! That’s all it was! I was taking a leak!’ Todd ran his hands through the few strands of hair he had left on his head. His round face was shiny with sweat.

  ‘Less than twenty feet from a playground?’

  ‘I’m no child molester, man! They overcharged me! It was a disorderly!’

  ‘Where were you Friday night?’

  ‘What? What’s that got to do with anything?’

  ‘Where were you Friday night?’

  Todd began to tap his shaking hand against his thigh. ‘I was, I was, well, out with the boys, ya know? We went out for a beer.’

  ‘Your wife doesn’t know where you were. Not a clue, Todd.’

  ‘Fuck this! I don’t need this shit. When the – when Elaine gets her ass home her mother can deal with her. I don’t need this bullshit from any more of her fucking kids!’

  ‘I’ll need the names of those boyfriends of yours. And the name of the bar,’ Bobby paused deliberately, ‘or other fine establishment you were holed up in.’

  ‘If I’m not under arrest, then I’m going back to work,’ Todd declared as he headed toward the door. ‘I know my rights.’

  ‘I’m sure you do. I’ll need those names, Todd.’

  The cubby walls shook as the glass door slammed behind him and an angry Todd LaManna stormed back out into the showroom.

  19

  The FDLE Miami Regional Operations Center – a three-storied, cluttered, chaotic maze of squad bays, secretarial pools, Formica cubbies, and conference rooms – was normally bustling with activity. Home to more than fifty Special Agents – plus analysts, lawyers and support staff – there was always a handheld squawking, a cell phone ringing, or a meeting being held somewhere in the building.

  At eight o’clock on a Sunday night it was empty.

  Bobby looked up from the stack of crap on his desk that never seemed to get smaller and out his open office door into the deserted squad bay. Ten metal desks, each stacked with their own case files and clutter, sat abandoned in the darkness. It was so quiet, he could hear the traffic buzz by outside on the Dolphin Expressway. The light from his office spilled across The Board, the montage of Missing Children flyers that covered a corkboard on the far back wall.

  He was supposed to be ‘flexed-off’ till the first of the month – meaning he had already worked his 160 hours
for October and since FDLE didn’t want to pay overtime for any more, he was on involuntary vacation till November started – but the Emerson girl had given him a reason to drop in, write a report and finish up a few things. Once that happened, he couldn’t just ignore the stack of case files on his desk. Even when command told you to go home because the state was too broke to pay overtime, you were never really off, anyway. He had a charging conference Friday with the State Attorney’s Office on a multi-agency child-porn investigation, a depo on an upcoming murder trial, and a complicated search warrant to walk through Legal. Whether FDLE paid him or not, each case had to be attended to. So a thirty-minute stop-in had slipped into a four-hour-and-counting layover. He rubbed his eyes and downed the rest of his Red Bull. Guaranteed to have him pacing floors at four a.m., but he didn’t want to nod off on the drive home. Insomnia was a vicious cycle: dog-tired when you couldn’t afford to be, wide-awake when the rest of the world shut it down. He logged out of AIMS, the Automated Information Management System he was working in, and shoved the stack of files into his briefcase. Then as the computer started to shut down, a thought came to him. He logged back in, hopped on the internet, and clicked on to Elaine Emerson’s MySpace. She still hadn’t logged back on to her profile. He went to her My Friends space and clicked on the icon with the Miami Dolphins logo. The only friend that was missing a picture.

  *ELCAPITAN*

  Headline: JETS SUCK!

  Orientation: Totally Straight

  Here For: My Peeps and Bettys

  Gender: Male

 
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