Careful little eyes an a.., p.16
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       Careful little eyes: An addictive, horrifying serial killer thriller (7th Street Crew Book 4), p.16

           Willow Rose
 
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  “Would you? That would be awesome. I also have a picture of the kidnapper. It will be more likely that he has been seen in a bar somewhere than the boy.”

  She smiles. “You might be on to something there.”

  “If you give me your number, I can text the photos to you,” Joey says.

  The bartender grabs his phone and creates a new contact. She taps on the phone, then hands it back to Joey.

  “What kind of a name is Robbie, anyway?” he asks. “I mean for a girl?”

  She laughs. “I knew you couldn’t remember it. You didn’t do a very good job hiding it. Robbie is short for my real name which I will never tell you, since I have hated it since birth.”

  Joey chuckles. Being born Joseph, he himself knows all about not wanting others to know your name, and not being able to identify with it.

  “Robbie is just fine for me,” he says, then sends her the two photos. While she posts them, Joey realizes Mary has called him three times and he calls her back.

  “Thank God, Joey. Where are you? We have to go.”

  “I’m downstairs. Go where?”

  “Chloe found an address. She tracked the Facebook post and found an address where Blake might be. I’m coming down.”

  Chapter Sixty-Four

  November 2005

  “She has to go back to her mother.”

  Robyn stares at the woman in front of her. The woman isn’t even looking at her when the words fall. They are sitting in a small cubicle in a big office. The air is tight. It’s extremely hot, and there is constant noise from people tapping on keyboards.

  “What?” Robyn says. “Didn’t you hear what I said? She was beaten up. Her face is all bruised.”

  “I need to se the girl. I can’t take your word for it. You’re not family; you’re not her teacher or doctor.”

  “She didn’t dare to come. Suzy is scared of her mother, and she feels guilty for reporting on her. She is terrified that her mother will be mad at her.”

  “Well, as long as you have her against her mother’s will, it is kidnapping. You have to turn her over to us so we can evaluate her. We have to make an assessment of the conditions in the home. We have to observe her with her parents and the conditions of the home,” the woman behind the desk says. “She needs to go home, and then we’ll send out someone to evaluate them. We can’t just take the word of some neighbor, who barely knows the family or the circumstances. We have our rules to follow, ma’am, and you’re breaking all of them. The girl must go back.”

  “And then what? When will someone come out? This week? This month? And what is Suzy supposed to do while she waits? Get beaten up again?”

  “According to the rules, DCF has to send someone out there within ten days if it is not an emergency.”

  “And you don’t think this is an emergency?” Robyn asks.

  “How am I supposed to know when you won’t bring me the girl? I don’t, no. Even if she is bruised like you’re telling me, she could have gotten hurt by accident on the playground or have fallen. I need to speak with her myself. She could be angry with her parents and trying to blame them. I see many of those types of cases. Or maybe the mother beat her up and tells the kid to blame the dad to get custody in a divorce. You’d be surprised how many cases aren’t what they look like. I have to stick with the rules and they tell me you can’t keep the girl against her mother’s wishes. If you don’t want to risk doing time for kidnapping, you better send that girl home.”

  Robyn scoffs. How does anyone become that cynical? Since when is it all about the rules and not about the child? She grabs her purse and gets up. The woman finally looks straight at her.

  “Listen, I understand you just want to help the girl. And we’ll do whatever we can do, but we have to play by the rules. Had you been a teacher or a family member, it would be different.”

  Robyn nods. She gets what the woman is saying, then storms out of the office and rides her bike back to the house, where Suzy is sitting in her bedroom upstairs, watching TV.

  Suzy casts one glance at Robyn’s face, then says. “I thought so. It was the same last time.”

  Robyn sits down next to her. “You mean you have been in contact with DCF before?”

  “Sure. They have been out a couple of times. Always tell me they’re here to just take a look around. But my mom always tells them I am clumsy and then she talks to them using her sweet voice. They never come back.”

  “But she told me that if I had one of your family members report it or maybe your teacher, then it would be different.”

  Suzy laughs. It is not a happy laugh. “You really think that they wouldn’t have done that by now?”

  The bitterness and distrust of people is just too much for her young age. It makes Robyn so incredibly sad and she wants to prove her wrong. There must be people who care about her out there. Of course there are.

  “I’m going to try anyway,” Robyn says. “I will make sure you don’t have to go back there ever again, if it is the last thing I do on this earth.”

  Chapter Sixty-Five

  July 2016

  It is dark out when the doorbell rings at Peggy’s house. She is sitting in her office staring at the blank page on her computer when she hears it. For hours, the thoughts have been circling in her mind, but now she finally thinks she might have a sentence and starts to type it.

  “Honey?” she hears her husband yell from the living room.

  The doorbell rings again, but Peggy doesn’t get up. She taps on the keyboard and not one but two whole sentences appear on the white paper. She feels the joy of seeing her words emerge once again and doesn’t want to stop. Finally, she is getting something down. She has this idea and she doesn’t want to let go of it now. The doorbell sounds again and she looks up from the screen, annoyed.

  “Richard! Get that, will you, please? I’m writing!”

  She can hear Richard grumble as he gets up from his recliner and walks to the door. Peggy concentrates on what she is writing and soon she has written an entire paragraph. She hears voices talking and tries to block them out. She wants to focus on what she is writing. Richard can take care of everything else.

  “Peggy? Honey?”

  Argh! Can’t he just take care of it for once? Do I have to do everything around here?

  “Peggy?”

  “WHAT?” she yells at the closed door.

  “Could you come to the front door, please? There are some people that want to talk to you.”

  Peggy grumbles and moans, wondering if she can just tell them to go away.

  “It’s important, Peggy,” Richard yells.

  What can be more important than my writing?

  “Peggy?”

  She sighs and gets up. “All right. I’m coming,” she says. She slams the door open and walks to the front door, where she sees a young couple standing in the doorway.

  If it is Jehovah’s Witnesses or some other religious mumbo jumbo, then I swear I’ll scream.

  She forces a smile. “What is going on, Richard? What is so important?”

  “This nice woman and her husband here are looking for someone, for their son, and they want to show you a picture,” Richard says.

  “Oh?” Peggy says and puts on her glasses to better see the small picture on the phone that the man is showing her.

  “This is our son, Salter,” the woman says. “He has been gone for three months. We have reason to believe he is somewhere here in New Orleans.”

  Peggy stares at the picture, then shakes her head. “No. I don’t recall having seen that boy.”

  The man swipes the screen and another picture appears. “How about this man? Have you seen him?”

  Peggy looks at the screen again, then shakes her head. “I’m sorry. I really am. But I haven’t. We keep mostly to ourselves. We don’t go out much.”

  The woman exhales deeply. Peggy can tell she is on the verge of breaking down. “We really thought he would be here,” she says, looking at the man Peggy assumes mu
st be her husband. “We got the address by tracking something from the Internet, something he has written, and it led us to this address. You don’t have any tenants or anything, do you?”

  Peggy shakes her head and takes off her glasses. “No. It’s just the two of us.”

  The disappointment is hard to shake for the woman. Her shoulders slump and she bows her head.

  “I’m sorry that we couldn’t be of more help.”

  “That’s okay,” the man says. He puts his hand on the woman’s shoulder. The woman hands Peggy a card with her name and number on it.

  Mary Mills. Where have I heard that name before?

  “If you hear or see anything, give us a call,” Mary says, seconds before they walk down the stairs from the porch. Peggy stays in the doorway for a little while, watching them get into their car and drive away.

  “Poor people,” Richard says behind her. “Must be absolutely awful to not be able to find your child like that. Who in their right mind would steal a child from its mother?”

  Chapter Sixty-Six

  July 2016

  “Damn it, Salter! At least drink some water.”

  Blake is trying to lift Salter’s head up to the glass, but the water just spills down his shirt and neck. The boy is still burning hot and Blake is starting to get anxious. Salter needs to be well for his plan to work. Blake is starting to think he might have to change his plans, alter them, and it annoys him. He hates it when things don’t go as planned. He really hates it.

  “Try again. Come on.”

  Blake lifts the glass of water again, and some water finally makes it into Salter’s mouth, and he swallows it.

  “There you go. Now try and rest.”

  Salter moans and lays his head down on the pillow. Blake turns on the TV and finds some show. The one with the bear talking to the moon. That used to make him happy as a kid. He doesn’t know what a kid Salter’s age likes to watch. Probably not this. It’s mostly for young kids. Blake is about to change the channel, but realizes Salter isn’t even looking; he’s halfway asleep.

  Blake leaves him and walks to the living room of the suite on fifteenth floor. He sits by his computer and goes through his emails. When there is nothing interesting, he takes out the small box of old letters he always carries with him. He opens one of them and reads it thoroughly, his heart beating fast in his chest.

  He walks to the minibar and grabs himself a small bottle of gin, which he enjoys while reading the rest of the letter. The words in it makes him feel happy and good about himself. Once he is done, he returns to his laptop, when he suddenly hears Salter cry out from the other room.

  Blake gets up and walks in there. He spots the boy on the bed. He has untied him ever since he got sick, since Blake figured he wasn’t going to run anywhere when feeling like this.

  “What’s going on?” he asks. The boy is crying and moaning, tossing, his eyes rolling back in his head.

  Oh, my God, is he having a seizure or something?

  Blake runs to him. “Salter? Are you all right, Salter? Answer me, boy, answer me, Salter.”

  The boy’s entire body is shaking heavily. Blake grabs his hands and tries to hold him down.

  “I don’t know what to do, Salter. Please, don’t die on me, please. It was never the plan for you to die. You’re my nephew, for cryin’ out loud. You never harmed me. You’re the only one I really like from this family. Please stop rolling your eyes at me, please come back to me.”

  Blake grabs Salter’s body and tries to get him to sit up, but his body is so tense and shaking so wildly he can’t hold on to it. Blake feels helpless and is certain he can see froth coming from the boy’s mouth.

  Do something, Blake. Do something, anything. You can’t just let the boy die like this.

  “But, what do I do?” Blake says to himself.

  Salter’s body is arched in a bow now, shaking badly before it finally relaxes; his eyes roll back once again, but this time they don’t return. Salter lets out a deep moaning breath, and his body settles back in the bed, completely lifeless.

  Blake grabs his hand in his. “Salter? Salter? SAAALTER?”

  Chapter Sixty-Seven

  July 2016

  “I don’t understand. I was so sure,” I say and hit the palm of my hand on the dashboard of my car. When it doesn’t help my frustration, I do it again. And then again. “Chloe traced the address to here, in Carrollton, to this exact street and number. There aren’t other houses with the number three-hundred and seven, are there?”

  Joey shakes his head. “It’s not that big of a street.”

  “Let’s drive up and down just to check,” I say desperately, clinging on to anything right now, clinging to any hope. I keep looking at the small white house with the porch and rocking chair in front. It’s not very big. Doesn’t look like they would be able to have more people living there. No extra rooms to rent.

  “Could Blake somehow have tricked Chloe?” Joey asks. “I mean I don’t know anything about computers and stuff, but could he have used the wrong IP address, or whatever it is called, somehow?”

  “I don’t know,” I say, wondering how I could have been so stupid as to get my hopes up before we left the hotel. I really genuinely thought we would find Salter and Blake here. We hadn’t really talked about what we would have done if we had come face to face with Blake, but I carry my gun in my purse and wouldn’t have hesitated to use it.

  Where are you, Salter?

  I feel like crying as we drive up and down the street a couple of times. I push it back, then call Chloe and explain everything to her, my voice breaking as I do.

  “He’s too clever,” she says. “I taught him everything, remember? He knew we would try and trace him. He knew exactly what my next move would be. He tricked us. I just don’t know how, yet.”

  “So, you don’t think he is out here?” I ask with a sniffle, my stomach hurting from thinking about poor sick Salter.

  “Nope. It was a diversion. Go back to the hotel. I’ll call you later.”

  “All right.”

  I hang up and tell Joey to head back to the hotel. We are quiet for a long time, until Joey suddenly speaks.

  “I know I have said this before, but what if Blake isn’t The Axeman? What if it isn’t him?”

  “So, you’re thinking we had the address right and that old man or the woman is The Axeman, is that it?”

  He shrugs, then stops at a red light. “I don’t know. I’m just thinking out loud. Something doesn’t quite add up.”

  “You’ve said it before, and now I will say the same again. You don’t know him like I do. This has Blake written all over it.”

  “Does it?” Joey asks. “I am struggling to see how.”

  “As I said, I know him better than you. Don’t start this again, Joe. Don’t argue with me about this again. I can’t take it right now. Okay?” I say and look out the window, trying to get him to understand I am not in the mood for discussing this further. I don’t understand why he keeps fighting me on this.

  “We have wasted a lot of time chasing this Axeman,” Joey says. “I want to get back to looking for my son. My son who is sick somewhere, who has a fever somewhere in this town. I want to be able to help him, to hold him, to take him to the freaking doctor.”

  I look at Joey. He is tearing up. He has a hard time holding it back. It makes me want to cry as well. I can’t stand the thought that we’re back to square one again. How is he constantly a step ahead of us?

  I put my hand on Joey’s shoulder. He looks at me quickly, then back at the road.

  “I want all of that just as much as you do, Joe. And trust me, if I knew of any other way of looking for our son, I would. I would do anything, Joe. I know he might not be The Axeman. I know. But it has been our only clue so far. We have done all we could do.”

  I sit back with a sigh, anxiety rising inside of my body once again, when Joey’s phone makes a sound. I grab it and look.

  “You’ve got a text,” I say.
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  “Who from?”

  “Someone named Robbie? Who’s Robbie?”

  “That’s the bartender from the Carousel. You know from downstairs,” he answers.

  “The one you…”

  “Nothing happened.”

  “So you keep saying, but you reeked of her perfume. You don’t do that after just shaking someone’s hand. Why is she writing to you? Did you give her your number? Why? Why would you give her your number, Joey?”

  “Could you just please read the text?”

  I open it and read. Then my heart stops.

  “What is it? What does it say?”

  I look up at Joey. “Someone just called for a pediatrician to come to the hotel.”

  Chapter Sixty-Eight

  November 2005

  “Where are we going?”

  It is early in the morning when Robyn wakes up Suzy. She has packed a suitcase with the most important clothes and some stuff she has bought for Suzy. Suzy is sitting up in the bed watching her as she grabs her teddy bear, which was originally meant for Robyn’s own son, but that she has now given to the girl. She hands the teddy bear to Suzy and she hugs it. The two of them have been inseparable the past several days, while Suzy has lived with Robyn.

  “We have to go before the sun comes up,” Robyn says.

  Suzy blinks her eyes. “But why? Where?”

  Robyn has been up all night thinking about her situation, knowing she has to do something now, before it is too late. She spent the entire evening after her visit to the DCF, talking on the phone with first Suzy’s grandmother, then her aunt, and finally her teacher. She asked them for help. Told them how she had found Suzy in her house, bruised up, beaten, and crying. Robyn tried hard to play on their emotions, letting them know how badly the girl has been neglected for a long time. How her mother uses drugs and that she has now found a fiancé who is dragging her even further down in the mud and they’re both taking Suzy with them.

 
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