Pretty Little Things, p.9Jilliane Hoffman
Location: Jupiter, Florida.
Profile Updated: October 18, 2009
Bobby scanned the webpage, set against a backdrop of an animated Rolling Stones tongue logo that kept licking provocatively at the computer screen. Although the profile was public, like Lainey’s, which meant anyone could see it, unlike Lainey’s, the personal info was pretty scant. His name was Zach, he lived in Jupiter and he played high school varsity football, basketball and baseball. He also played bass. That was it. Musical tastes, gauging from the album covers that dotted a corner of his page, ranged from Nine Inch Nails to The Fray. Most kids spilled their guts on their MySpace. This looked like the one kid who’d actually listened to warnings about personal data going out over the internet …
Who was this Zach? That was the question that Bobby’s gut still demanded an answer to. That and where the hell Todd LaManna had spent last Friday night. The used car Salesman of the Month was definitely a creep and he was definitely holding back. Whether that had anything to do with his missing stepdaughter or the prospective demise of his marriage had yet to be seen. As far as finding out more about the lone boy on Lainey’s friend space, even with a subpoena, Bobby wouldn’t be able to get the email registration info from MySpace corporate till probably Tuesday or Wednesday at the earliest. Unless it was an absolute emergency, even favors took a few days. But with a little ingenuity and help from the World Wide Web, he figured he could maybe beat out the lawyers and find the kid himself.
A few searches on Google led him to Jupiter high schools and the Jupiter High website. From there it was on to their Athletic Programs and then a click on Football. There was no player roster, but there was a launch on to a Palm Beach Post internet news article about high school football stars.
And there he was. Zachary Cusano. #17. A Jupiter High Warrior to Watch. Position: Wide Receiver, Team Captain. Class: Senior. A 6′1″, 190 pound, blond-haired, blue-eyed, smiling All-American Warrior. Bobby then Googled ‘Zachary Cusano basketball Jupiter High School’. And there he was again – #17, saving the day last January when the Warriors basketball team romped the Boynton Beach Tigers. Another search under baseball found Zachary Cusano, a pitcher, expected to start this spring for the Warriors. An accompanying interest article named some of Zach’s favorite hobbies besides sports. Jamming with his band on bass guitar was first up.
Same description, same picture. Same kid.
No wonder Lainey was taking sexy pictures of herself. The kid was good-looking, no doubt. There was also no doubt he was seventeen. Bobby wondered if the star high school football player knew his cyber pen-pal was jailbait.
He ran an Autotrack using the kid’s name and birth date and … voila! Zachary M. Cusano, son of Violet and Thomas Cusano, residing at 124 Poinciana Lane, Jupiter, Florida. Social security number, school records, driving history, and a very brief employment history that consisted of a two-month stint at CVS Drugs popped up on the screen. No accompanying juvenile criminal history. That was good.
He printed everything out, including the pictures from the Palm Beach Post article, and slid them into the Emerson folder. He’d still subpoena the kid’s MySpace registration info, but at least he had something – someone – to start with, if necessary. If Lainey didn’t come home.
With his briefcase in hand, he headed out the door. Dinner was probably past cold and LuAnn beyond pissed. He’d pick up flowers and a bottle of her favorite wine from Publix on the way home. Maybe a couple of glasses would help bring him down from the Red Bull. At The Board he stopped, raised a finger to his lips and then ran it over a picture in the center of the sea of flyers. Over the beaming, beautiful young girl with long, straight, dusty blonde hair and baby blue eyes, and a smile that took over her whole face. KATHERINE ‘KATY’ ANNE DEES. D/O/B: 08/13/1992. MISSING FROM: Fort Lauderdale, FL. DATE MISSING: 11/20/08. AGE AT DISAPPEARANCE: 16 years, 3 months. The red-inked caption on the top of the flyer read MISSING CHILD / RUNAWAY.
Bobby kissed his little girl goodnight, flipped off the lights and headed on home.
‘Phone’s dead,’ Clint Fortune, the FDLE tech agent said. ‘Dead or off.’
‘Her mom says she never charges it,’ Bobby replied into the Nextel as he pulled up to a light.
‘That makes sense then. It’s dead. It can’t pick up a signal from the cell towers.’
Bobby took a slug of coffee. ‘When was the last phone call? In and out.’
‘Um, hold up,’ Clint replied through clenched teeth, his lips obviously wrapped around a cigarette, which they always were. There was a rustle of papers in the background. ‘OK. Last call out was twenty-third October at five thirty-one p.m. to a 954-695-4229. Lasted forty-five seconds. What was the twenty-third? Friday?’
‘Last incoming was from 954-914-5544. That was also on the twenty-third. Came in at 5:15 p.m., lasted two minutes. I have back to October second, which was the end of the last billing cycle.’
‘How about texts?’
‘Yup. Sheets of ’em. Good luck on that. You’ll need to hire a fucking teenage girl to help you translate all the BFFs and OMGs into sentences.’ Clint laughed so hard he started to cough.
Bobby closed his eyes. It felt like someone had just punched him in the chest. ‘Yeah.’
‘What’s this kid? A runaway?’
‘Looks like it.’
‘Well, I told Candy, my contact at Verizon, that it was a possible abduction. Real urgent. That’s how she got me this shit so fast. Probably gonna bitch if she doesn’t see something on the news tonight.’
‘I appreciate the help, Clint. I just didn’t wanna wait a week or two. And anything’s possible. I did put a Missing Child Alert out on the kid.’
‘I thought you said she was a runaway.’
‘Probably is, but some things just aren’t sitting right with me.’
‘You go with that, then, Shep.’
Shep stood for Shepherd, an old, old nickname that Bobby didn’t want to hear any more. But it was hard to tell people that without opening up another can of worms. ‘Thanks, Clint.’
‘Any word on your kid?’
Damn. The can was open and wriggling all over the fucking floor. He should’ve expected that question; he heard it at least every couple of days. ‘Nope. Nothing new. Thanks for asking.’
It was hard to believe it was almost a year since that miserable Friday afternoon when Katy hadn’t come home from school. The rainy day a week before Thanksgiving when life stopped having meaning. Every day he relived every second of the fight he and LuAnn had had with her the night before she left – what he could have done differently, what he should have done differently. Why he hadn’t. Clint had pulled cell records for him that night, too. And for months after, just in case Katy turned her phone back on.
‘Hey, you need me to do anything for you, Bobby, I’m right here for ya.’
‘Yeah. I appreciate that, Clint. Look, I’ll swing by the office this afternoon to pick up the rest of those cell records.’
‘Isn’t that new guy from Pensacola, Veso, working with you now? I can give them to him if you’re gonna be seeing him today. He’s a shortie, man. Wears his pants too high, too. Hope he don’t have one of those Napoleon complexes.’
‘Haven’t met him,’ Bobby replied quietly. Obviously yesterday’s little heart-to-heart with Zo hadn’t meant shit – Veso was still hanging around looking for something to do. ‘I wasn’t planning on it, either, Clint. Just leave them on my desk.’
‘I promised Candy a subpoena.’
‘On second thought,’ Bobby replied, as he pulled into a parking space, ‘tell Veso to get you that subpoena. That’ll give him something to do.’
Clint laughed again. ‘Will do.’
Sawgrass Springs Middle was so close to the Everglades, Bobby half expected to see a few gators running around the lawn with the hundreds of kids that were pouring off of buses and out of cars, lethargically making the
Mr Cochran in Guidance had the school records ready and waiting for him. All fifteen hundred students were alphabetized by their first names and organized by grade and class. One hundred and seventy-four Carries, Carlas, Courtneys, Karens, Katherines, Kristys and Christines. Seventeen were in Lainey’s classes. All of them were called to the front office. Only four of them even knew who she was. No one had gone to the movies with her.
Next were the teachers. Elaine had attended all her classes Friday. No one had noticed anything strange. She had made no new friends that the teachers could see. No boyfriends in the halls or lunchroom. She also had no enemies. A loner. Underachiever. Sweet. Lazy. Unmotivated. Shy. Invisible. One sour-pussed teacher’s observation was ‘troubled’, but couldn’t or wouldn’t say why. All were saddened by her disappearance. None were all that surprised.
Bobby thanked each of them for their time, put the records in his briefcase and a half-hour later pulled into the Ring-A-Ling Answering Service parking lot in Tamarac. It was a little after twelve. He waited in the reception area for almost ten minutes until Debbie LaManna could officially take her break and join him outside under the concrete overhang. The cement patio where they stood was littered with cigarette butts and gum stains.
‘I don’t know. Could be any of these. Did you talk to them all?’ she asked, exasperated, as she combed through the list of Sawgrass students and puffed away on a Marlboro.
‘We talked to the ones who Elaine had classes with. No luck.’
‘Well, talk to the others.’
‘Do any of them pop out at you?’
She shook her head.
‘What’s your husband’s cell phone number, Debbie? I spoke to Todd yesterday at work, but I have some follow-up questions I’d like to get with him on, and I’m betting he doesn’t want me asking them at the dealership again.’
She took a deep drag of her cigarette and her eyes narrowed. ‘He told me you were there. He said you told him I didn’t know where he was on Friday. That I told you to ask about him and Elaine, how they got along and all.’
‘You don’t know where he was on Friday,’ Bobby replied.
‘That’s none of your business, though. I’ll handle that.’
Bobby sighed. ‘What’s his cell, Debbie?’
She blew out a plume of smoke. ‘It’s 914-5544,’ she answered, begrudgingly.
He didn’t have to look at his notes. He remembered the numbers Clint had spewed over the phone this morning. The outgoing call Lainey had made at 5:30 was to Molly Brosnan’s number. He’d recognized that right off. The incoming call fifteen minutes earlier was from one Todd Anthony LaManna. The same person who had said he hadn’t seen or spoken to his stepdaughter for two days before she disappeared.
‘So where was he?’ she asked finally.
‘Don’t know yet. Did Lainey ever talk to you about their relationship?’ Bobby looked at her hard.
Her eyes narrowed. ‘Todd told me you’d try that, you know, try and bring in the time he was arrested. Todd’s not like that. He wouldn’t do that stuff, you know, with kids.’ But she hesitated before she made the last statement.
Bobby folded the list from Sawgrass back up and slid it into his pocket. ‘OK. I’ll be back in touch,’ he said, as he started toward the car. ‘I still haven’t heard from your other daughter, Liza.’
‘She said she doesn’t have any idea where Elaine is or who her friends are.’
‘I still need to hear it from her.’
‘That’s it? That’s all you’re gonna do?’ Debbie yelled after him as he crossed the parking lot. ‘I called that detective from Coral Springs, you know. He said Elaine’s a runaway. Said if I want her home, I may want to hire a fucking private detective!’
Bobby turned and looked back at Debbie LaManna’s drained face, her hard, tired eyes. How do you tell a mother that there just wasn’t enough time or manpower to look for all the troubled kids who didn’t want to be found? That the grim runaway statistics he was so intimately familiar with said that if her kid’s not back home in thirty-six hours, then there’s a frightening reality she’s not ever coming back? That with every passing hour her daughter’s on the street she’s more and more likely to become a victim of sexual exploitation, prostitution, child porn? And how do you tell a wife who doesn’t want to hear it that there’s a chance her latest husband just might like her adolescent daughters a lot more than he likes her? That maybe, just maybe, he’s the reason they don’t want to come home?
You don’t. Not yet.
‘I’ll be in touch when I have something more,’ he replied.
‘Damn cops!’ Debbie barked. Then she flicked her cigarette at the ground by his feet and marched back inside.
Bobby pulled up the drive of a palatial, apricot-colored, Tuscan-styled house. Massive stone lions greeted him as he passed through a dramatic arched entry, covered in plum-colored bougainvillea. Under the porte-cochere sat a black BMW and a Land Cruiser. Hand-painted Spanish tiles above the doorbell confirmed he was at the right place: 124 Poinciana Lane. He rang the bell. Through the beveled glass and wrought-iron doors he caught the bright-colored flashes from a TV playing somewhere in the house.
A tall, good-looking teenager with sun-streaked blond, wavy hair that just kissed his shoulders answered the door. He was dressed in jeans and a Warriors T-shirt. The kid was built like a truck. ‘Zachary Cusano?’ Bobby asked.
‘Yeah,’ the teen answered.
‘I’m Special Agent Robert Dees with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement,’ Bobby said, holding up the gold badge that dangled around his neck. ‘I’d like to ask you a few questions, son. Are your parents –’
‘Mooommm!’ the kid yelled.
Two seconds later, mom arrived from the kitchen decked out in an apron. As soon as she spotted the badge, she stopped dead in her tracks and yelled, ‘Tom! There’s a police officer on the porch!’ with the same fear and reproach as if there had been a roach on her carpet.
Dad hurried in behind her, fresh from the office, wearing a five-hundred-dollar suit, drink in hand. ‘Officer? What’s all this about?’ he asked, quickly ushering Bobby into the house and out of sight of the neighbors.
‘I wanted to talk to Zachary about a girl he’s been communicating with on his MySpace, Mr Cusano. Her name is Elaine Emerson.’
As soon as the door closed, Dad handed Bobby a business card. Thomas T. Cusano, Esq., Cusano Whitticker Levinsky, Attorneys at Law. A lawyer. How convenient.
‘Zachary?’ his mother asked.
‘I don’t know any girl named Elaine,’ Zach started.
‘Hold on, Zach,’ Tom Cusano barked, holding up his hand to stop his son from talking. ‘What’s the matter? What happened to this girl?’
‘I didn’t say anything happened to her, Mr Cusano,’ Bobby replied.
‘I’m assuming something happened, or you wouldn’t be standing in my living room.’
‘She didn’t come home after school Friday.’
‘Zachary?’ his mother asked again, the pitch higher.
‘I don’t know any Elaine!’ Zach protested.
‘Maybe you know her as Lainey, then,’ Bobby offered. ‘Or LainBrain.’
The hand was up again. ‘Zach, hold on. Don’t answer that.’
‘Zachary?’ Mrs Cusano was furiously wiping her flour-dusted hands on the apron.
‘I don’t know what this guy’s talking about, Da
‘Do you have a MySpace?’ Bobby asked.
‘Yeah,’ Zachary answered slowly.
‘Why don’t you pull it up so we can look at it?’
‘Zachary?’ Mrs Cusano’s screetchy pitch threatened to shatter the crystal.
‘Mom! Stop! I don’t know this girl!’
‘I don’t think so,’ said Tom Cusano, shaking his head. ‘I’m not liking where this is going. No computer. No way. If you have some sort of proof my son knows this missing girl, then let us know. If not, I think we are done here.’
Lawyers always messed up everything. ‘Listen, Mr Cusano,’ Bobby replied, his tone polite, yet firm, ‘you’re right. It’s not going anywhere. But it will. We can either do this here in the privacy of your living room, or we can take an hour-and-a-half ride down to Miami to look at the computer in my office. The choice is yours. Remember, I’m here because I’ve already seen Zachary’s MySpace.’
Zachary didn’t wait for his father to answer. He ran into his room, grabbed his laptop and brought it into the dining room. With shaking fingers, he clicked on to MySpace. ZACH’S PAGE appeared in green block letters over a screen filled with dancing surfboards. A running blog took up over six pages, as did pictures of partying teenagers. He had 285 names in his Friend Space; over 65 in his top.
‘Who are all those people?’ Violet Cusano asked, confused.
‘I dunno, Mom,’ Zach replied with a shrug. ‘Kids from school, people I met online. Friends, you know.’
Bobby quickly scanned the Web page. There was no Lain-Brain. No reference to an Elaine or Molly or Liza or any other name that had crossed Lainey’s MySpace. No pictures of Lainey or her friends. ‘Is this yours, too?’ he asked with a frown, as he clicked on to the Rolling Stones profile of the Zach from Jupiter who played football, basketball, baseball and guitar.
‘No,’ said the kid, with a shake of his head. ‘It’s not mine and I don’t know this guy. Or that Lainey girl you were talking about.’
‘Where were you Friday night?’ Bobby asked.
Pretty Little Things by Jilliane Hoffman / History & Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes