|Primary Characters:||Lilly, Scotty|
|Warning:||adult themes, murders|
|Description:||A case involving a serial child killer stirs up unpleasant memories for Scotty and hits Lilly just as hard in another way.|
Lilly Rush’s boss John Stillman waved at her through his open office door. She’d just arrived and was removing her coat and scarf, but she nodded to him and continued on, with only a smile at her younger colleague Scotty Valens.
“Sure. He was my mentor. Why?”
Lilly smiled at the memory. Mentor was one way of putting it. She’d always felt he was more of a father to her. The only one she’d ever known.
“His department is following up on a case from their jurisdiction. A guy who skipped parole and has been up to a series of new bank robberies. They were hoping we could lend some assistance. Make sure he doesn’t step on anyone’s toes.”
“Is he investigating bank robberies now?”
“Only in connection with another murder case. It seems the guy had a falling out with one of his accomplices. The other guy was found in a ditch beside the interstate.”
“I just thought I’d mention it to you, since I had a hunch you two knew each other.”
“Thanks. I haven’t seen him in almost seven years. It will be great to see him again.”
Stillman smiled paternally at Lilly, and reached for some papers which he’d been working on until he’d caught sight of Lilly. She got the message. The audience was over. They both needed to get on with their work.
Lilly got the message and pushed to her feet. She and Scotty were investigating a series of child killings, which seemed to have a long history. The first case they’d found was from back in the early 1990’s. Unfortunately, unlike most of their murder cases, this one was still open. It was only two weeks since the last little victim had been found, suffocated, like the rest of them.
Lilly always hated the cases involving child murders the most. There was something about them that just touched her more than others. The latest victim was a boy, but three years ago, two little sisters had been found lying with their arms around each other, as if they’d sought comfort from each other as they slowly suffocated. Lilly couldn’t help being reminded of herself and her sister at that age.
She really, really wanted to get the bastard who had done it. Scotty felt the same way, she knew that.
Her younger partner smiled warmly at her as she returned to her desk.
“So what did the boss want?”
“He told me my old mentor is coming here.”
“From D C?”
“You used to work there, right?”
“For a couple of years. I transferred back here, he stayed.”
“Is he from around here?”
“No. I think he said he was from the Chicago area.”
Lilly realized that they had never really discussed where Sam was from originally. He’d moved around a bit, but that was all she knew. On the other hand, she hadn’t been exactly keen on talking about her past either. They’d just instantly gotten along. He’d treated her like a daughter, or at least she liked to think so.
“So what’s he doing here?”
“They have a bank robber and killer who violated his parole. It seems he’s continuing his bank robbing spree here. We’re expected to cooperate.”
“We as in you and me?”
“Nah. Just the department. Stillman just told me about it because he’d heard about us being friends.”
“I see. Well, I guess we need to go out and talk to those parents, then.”
Lilly nodded, suddenly sober. That was one of the worst parts – talking to parents of young victims. Not that it ever was easy, even if the victim was adult. There were always emotions involved. Three days ago, they’d talked to the boy’s parents, today, they were going to see the parents of the little girls. Vera and Jeffries had dug up another little boy’s parents and Lilly and Scotty would get round to them later today or tomorrow, depending on how much they learned from the girls’ parents.
The parents of the latest victim had had very little to contribute. Lilly had the impression the killer wasn’t connected with the parents. He was an outsider who picked the children according to some criteria they needed to discover, or they’d never be able to get an outline of the case.
A psychologist was busy profiling the killer, but Lilly wasn’t too impressed with that sort of thing. You brought in three different experts and ended up with three different profiles for what was presumably the same killer. What was the use? She believed more in good old-fashioned police work. Most of her colleagues agreed, but they couldn’t afford to turn down any type of help, even from a psychic, if that was what it took.
She and Scotty got into the car and she drove off. After a while, she got the impression Scotty was looking at her sideways. She turned and caught his gaze. He smiled, looking quite unperturbed.
“What? Do I have something in my hair?”
“No. I was just thinking. What do you make of this case? What’s the motive?”
“Too soon to tell.”
“Ok. What isn’t the motive?”
“Hm. Good question. Revenge. I don’t think it’s revenge. There’s never been one common denominator between the parents, not so far. Not gain. No ransom demands, that we know of. None of the children have been sexually assaulted, so no sexual motive. What does that leave?”
“He’s doing it for kicks, but it’s not sexual?”
“Of course, it might be sexual anyway, even if he’s not assaulting them. Like I said, too soon to say.”
“But that’s all wrong. We should be able to get some idea by now. With so many victims, some patterns should have emerged.”
“I know. He targets children. Or she does. No reason this killer’s a man.”
“You’re right. A woman, who can’t have children?”
“Maybe, but how does she pick these kids? She’d see so many children every day, and yet she only picks some. It’s been over ten years, and how many victims do we know of? Five? Three girls, two boys. No gender bias. It doesn’t help much, does it?”
“Let’s see if the girls’ parents can tell us something.”
“Yeah. We need to make some progress. People are getting uneasy. Usually the killer waits at least a year between each victim, but one of the boys was killed only two months after one of the girls. For all we know, there might be another one waiting to happen.”
Scotty nodded agreement. There was no time to lose. If the public got the impression the cops weren’t doing enough, they might take the law into their own hands. ‘Odd’ neighbors might be killed for no reason, even innocent strangers might be targeted, all because of a primitive panic reaction.
At least they had the full use of Vera and Jeffries. Stillman had even discussed bringing in a few more officers as backup. He was being pressured from above to produce results as soon as possible. It would be quite easy to demand at least two more officers. Scotty hoped they got them. The thought of having a child killer – a serial killer at that – on the loose, was unnerving.
Lilly turned into the quiet suburban street where the bereaved parents were waiting for them. She parked the car and they got out.
The house looked so ordinary, and the garden too, behind its white picket fence. There was no outward sign that it was the home of two little girls who had gone out to play one Saturday afternoon, within sight of the kitchen window where their mother was doing the dishes after breakfast, and with their father mowing the lawn nearby, and still they had vanished without a trace, until someone had made the gruesome discovery almost a week later.
The tense expression on Scotty’s face told Lilly she would probably have to handle the interview herself.
“Is it the first time you’re working this type of case?”
“What? Yes. At least we never had to handle any kids this young when I was working Vice.”
“As you say. At least something to be grateful for. Ok. The othe day, I noticed that you had trouble talking to the parents. This time, I’ll handle it. You just observe and listen, unless you hear me goof up somehow.”
“You? Goofing up? Not likely. But thanks. I’ll be glad to watch and learn.”
Even after three years, it was clear that losing the little girls had crushed the parents. They would never get back to anything approaching normal.
Lilly noticed a large framed photograph of the little girls, sitting on what she assumed was the back porch, smiling at the camera, in front of a birthday cake. One of them had had a birthday. Judging by their age, Lilly assumed it had been the last one, for her, whoever it was. She forced herself to push on, ignoring her reaction.
Beside the photo, there were several smaller ones, depicting other family members, including two older kids.
The little girls’ father caught her gaze and turned to face her.
“Those are our older children.”
“I see. I didn’t realize you had other kids. Were they at home when it happened?”
“No. They were away at camp.”
“Right. I’m sorry to have to come here and remind you of what happened, but -”
“He’s done it again, right? That little boy who was found two weeks ago.”
“Yes, we believe there might be a connection.”
“Ask anything you like. All I care about is getting the bastard.”
His wife nodded grimly. If that was all that was left for them, Lilly pitied the older children, but she couldn’t blame the parents. How did you ever recover from such a loss?
She posed her questions and noted the answers. As the interview wore on, she kept losing hope that there would be even one single clue that might help her find the killer. It was clear that the parents hadn’t seen anything unusual. She got up to leave, shaking the parents’ hands. The interview had been a waste of time, but she decided to let Scotty canvas the neighbors, assuming they’d been around that day three years ago.
Even that turned out to be more or less useless. It confirmed the parents’ alibis, that was about all they could ascertain. It had all been in the original file. They hadn’t been able to add anything.
Lilly sighed. No lead so far.
“We’d better go and see the other boy’s parents now.”
“Is this guy invisible? How does he do it? This suburban neighborhood, the semi-rural area we were in the other day, and now the city. Why doesn’t anyone spot him? How can he fit into all those places and not stick out?”
“I don’t know. Let’s go. We’re not going to learn anything more here.”
They made their way back into the city center and were able to squeeze into a parking space about half a block away from where the parents of the first little boy lived. This wasn’t where the boy had disappeared. His family had moved away to start a new life, for all the good it would do them. This time, it would be no use knocking on the neighbors’ doors.
While Lilly made sure the car was securely locked, Scotty walked up the front steps and buzzed to be let in.
“I’m Scotty Valens. We’re here to ask you about your son Timmy.”
“Come on up.”
By the time the door was open, Lilly had caught up. They walked up the stairs where Scotty rang the door bell.
“Detective Scotty Valens. This is my partner, Detective Lilly Rush.”
The woman who opened the door was startlingly thin. Her complexion was unhealthily pallid and there were dark circles under her eyes. Her son had been murdered over ten years ago but it seemed she’d never been able to move on.
“My husband is at work. Please. Won’t you sit down? Can I get you anything?”
“No, thanks. We’ll try to be as brief as possible.”
“I’m not sure what I can tell you, officers. We told the officers in charge of the case back then everything we knew. Have you discovered anything new?”
“We believe that there’s a connection with a recent case. You might have read about it. Two weeks ago, another little boy was found dead -”
The woman gasped and put her hand over her mouth. Her eyes widened in horror. Lilly hated having to put her through this. Being reminded of her loss would have opened the wound again, if it had ever closed at all.
Lilly asked the same questions again, feeling the futility of the effort even as she spoke. She had a feeling they wouldn’t learn anything new here either.
As she was finishing up, her mind on the next step of the investigation, whatever that would be, there was a resounding bang from the hallway. The front door had opened and closed with a crash. A boy of about thirteen or fourteen rushed past them and vanished into a room off the corridor.
The woman smiled apologetically.
“That’s my other son. Billy. Excuse me.”
She got up and walked over to the door through which the boy had disappeared.
“Billy? What are you doing home from school this early? Are you sick?”
The angry shouts from inside the room told Lilly that the boy had most likely decided to cut classes. This really wasn’t their concern. She debated with herself whether she ought to just get up and leave, or if she should wait for the mother to return.
Scotty’s face had tensed up again, and she wondered if he found this interview as painful as the other two. Probably. As she knew, this never got any easier.
Now the boy’s screams rose to such a level, she knew any neighbors at home during the day must have heard them and been able to decipher the prophanity the boy directed at his mother. The woman seemed to give up and returned to her visitor, dejectedly.
“I apologize for my son’s behavior. Lately, he’s been – well, actually, it’s been difficult for a long time.”
“No need to apologize. Kids. It’s a difficult age. We don’t have any further questions for you, so we’ll just – Thanks for your cooperation. We’ll let ourselves out.”
On the way outside, both officers remained silent, deep in thought. There was a frown on Scotty’s face, making Lilly wonder what he was dwelling on.
“Nothing. I really don’t know what else we can do. What do we tell Stillman? Damn. We’re not doing much good, are we?”
“Poor kid. This must be rough on him too. No wonder he’s acting out.”
“Yes. That’s probably one of the reasons. Even if he doesn’t remember much about his older brother, he must have felt the strain, growing up.”
“I guess we need to take a look at the other crime scenes.”
“Yeah. Not the place where this boy was found though. It was torn down six years ago. There’s a parking lot there now. We’ll take a look at the others. Tomorrow. I’d like to get back to the precinct and go through the file again. There has to be something.”
On the way back, they grabbed lunch, but neither one of them had much appetite. Lilly stared in distaste at the sandwich, which strictly speaking wasn’t even junk food, and it still didn’t appeal to her. Only the thought of her deprived childhood, made her finish it. Scotty, who didn’t reflect on it, tossed his burger indifferently into a garbage can.
Lilly picked the file off her desk and opened it, but dropped it again, when she caught sight of a familiar face. Apparently, her boss, John Stillman, was just adding a few last words to a visitor. The man looked up and a wide grin spread across his features. Stillman noticed that he’d lost his audience and fell silent.
Lilly ran up to the tall, thin man and flung her arms around his neck. Vera and Jeffries stopped talking and stared at the unaccustomed emotional outburst.
“Sam. Good to see you.”
“Lil. Long time no see. How’s my girl?”
Scotty’s eyes widened when he realized that Lilly, his cool, superior partner, who he admired so, was being reduced to a gushing teenager, in front of his eyes. Quite a transformation. The corners of his mouth began to twitch and he couldn’t help smiling. He strained his ears to follow the conversation.
“It’s been ages. How have you been?”
“Busy. What about you, kid?”
“Your boss only had good things to say about you.”
“I guess all that excellent instruction I received from you finally paid off.”
“It must have. Good girl.”
To Scotty’s astonishment, the tall man ruffled Lilly’s hair, and Lilly, amazingly didn’t seem to notice the disarray his hands caused. This was quite a scene.
Stillman took back the initiative and recalled the visitor’s attention to the case they’d been discussing.
“I’m sorry I can’t let you have Lilly or her partner – Scott Valens.”
When he heard his name mentioned, Scotty got up and approached the others. Lilly’s mentor turned his gaze onto the younger man. There was a hard look in his eyes which made Scotty somehow uneasy. He was surprised Lilly had taken so to this man. The gaze which raked across Scotty’s face caused a chill to go over him. Of course, that was nonsense. He’d just always had a problem with authority figures. Except Lilly. The boss wasn’t so bad either.
“Hello, kid. You’re working with the best.”
“You don’t have to tell me that, sir.”
Stillman continued talking as if unaware of the undercurrents sensed by Scotty.
“As I was saying, we’re working on a case involving a serial killer, a child killer. Lilly, Scotty and Vera and Jeffries over there, are all tied up and actually, we need to call in some extra officers. However, we’ll let you have the full use of our facilities and you’re free to act within our jurisdiction, in connection with your case. When I can, I’ll let you use some of our other officers. I have two other men who are just finishing up another case.”
“Thanks. You’re very kind. I’m sure I’ll get my guy and I’ll be out of your hair in no time. Great to see you again, Lil. I should get going.”
“Great to see you, Sam. We should get together before you have to go back to DC.”
“Absolutely. How about dinner tonight? Oh, I forgot to ask. Are you seeing someone?”
There was an awkward silence, in which all Lilly’s colleagues were holding their breath. Finally, Lilly replied, sounding unperturbed as always.
“You could say that. But I’m free tonight.”
“Good. I’ll call you, kid.”
“Ok. Looking forward to it.”
The tall man walked out, leaving a speculative silence behind him. Stillman let his eyes roam across each of his officers, before returning to his office, nodding amiably.
Vera and Jeffries exchanged glances, then returned to their own conversation and their lunches.
Scotty turned to Lilly, smiling faintly.
“So that was the great man.”
“Oh, you have no idea. He’s absolutely brilliant and he was such a wonderful partner. Taught me everything I know.”
Somehow Scotty doubted that. He had a feeling more credit was due to Lilly than she was aware of. Besides, she’d done exceptionally well at the Academy, or so the talk went around the station.
That evening, Lilly went out to dinner with Sam Reardon. She was so happy to see him again, at first she merely sat in her chair drinking him in. Sam ordered dinner for both of them, causing Lilly to come out of her reverie with a start. Ordering dinner for herself was something she liked to do without help. Had she really accepted Sam’s decisions about everything, just like that?
As the evening wore on, she realized Sam had changed. He didn’t seem to be larger than life anymore. She was wondering if he was growing old. Judging by the way he looked, she’d have said he was about fifty. It occurred to her that he might be sick or that he’d just recovered from an illness.
Then it dawned on her that she was probably the one who had changed. She’d grown, Sam was the same. Despite the change, she was still delighted to finally be able to spend a few hours talking to her mentor.
“Now tell me more about this guy you’re dating. Is he a cop?”
“No, he’s the DA.”
“DA? I see. He makes you happy.”
That wasn’t a question, so Lilly assumed Sam was reading her countenance. She reflected on her relationship with Kite. Happy was a good word, but if it would last or not, she couldn’t say at this stage. In fact, she was glad to take one day at a time. Commitment for life still scared her and she needed more time to make up her mind. Still, Kite was a good guy. They had fun together. Perhaps he really was the one, and if he was, time would tell.
“So how have you been?”
“Busy. Work. Work. Work. You know how it is.”
She wanted to ask about his personal life, but somehow couldn’t bring herself to do it. It had always been that way. You didn’t ask Sam about his off duty hours. The general idea had been that he didn’t really go off duty. Sam Reardon never stopped working. He might sleep once in a while, but he never took time off. Perhaps that was it.
Lilly toyed with the idea of breaking her long-standing habit and ask Sam anyway, but she found she couldn’t bring herself to do it. Some things never changed.
“What are you smiling about, kid?”
“This. You. Us sitting here. You haven’t changed a bit.”
“But I think you have. You’ve grown up.”
Lilly giggled, caught herself doing it and stopped, embarrassed. If Scotty could hear her now, he wouldn’t have recognized her. Actually, though she had grown older, she had already been grown up when she had first met Sam. Fresh out of the Academy, as green as rookies came. She’d been lucky to work with Sam. No one could have been a better partner.
“And you still love your work?”
“Yeah. It’s rough, but – I can’t see myself doing anything else.”
Sam nodded thoughtfully.
“Tell me about this serial killer case. What have you got?”
Lilly frowned. She really shouldn’t discuss an ongoing case, not with an outsider, which Sam was, technically speaking. But this was Sam. Old habits die hard. She found herself listing the facts of the case.
“So in other words, you have nothing?”
“No. It’s a really tough case.”
“Tell me what you’ve tried so far.”
Sam sat back, listening intently. This was just like old times. Lilly expected him to come out with some excellent, uesful advice, but when she’d finished, he merely nodded thoughtfully. Eventually, he nodded again, but at what, Lilly couldn’t guess.
“How are you holding up?”
“Oh, you know, it’s a job. You need to detach yourself so it doesn’t eat you up.”
“That’s good, Lilly. Don’t get too immersed in it. What about your partner – that kid – Scotty -”
“It’s hard on him. He’s never handled a child killer case before.”
“He has to learn sometime.”
“Yes, but this one’s really sad. We talked to some of the parents today. Heartbreaking. The families fall apart, emotionally, if not in reality.”
“Yes. It changes them forever. After something like that, there’s no going back.”
Lilly nodded. That was how it had seemed to her. She wished she and Scotty and the others could nail the bastard, and at least get the families justice, even if their lost children would never be returned to them.
“Well, this was nice, kid, but I have to get going. I have to get started on my case.”
“It was great to see you. Do you think you’ll have time to see me again, before you have to go back?”
“I’m sure I will. I always have time for my girl.”
Lilly smiled contentedly and affectionately. Sam was a rock. She’d trust him with her life.
Sam’s asking about Kite had made her miss her boyfriend so Lilly went to see him the following day, during her lunch hour. Scotty had to go and check on Elissa, so she would have been eating alone, anyway.
Outside Kite’s office, she ran into a woman she’d seen him with before. The woman was very elegant and suddenly Lilly felt scruffy in her work clothes. Through the open door, she could hear Kite talking on the phone.
It was ridiculous, but seeing that woman, who she knew was a colleague of Kite’s, even though she knew there had been something between them, had made her change her mind. Kite would be busy anyway. Springing a surprise visit on him had been a bad idea. She’d see him when they’d agreed to meet – the weekend after the next. She realized that it had been several weeks since their last date. Was it really that impossible to find a time when they could both make it?
She returned to the station feeling vaguely dissatisfied. Perhaps it was just hunger. She hadn’t bothered to bring a sandwich, but she knew she had an apple lying in her desk drawer. Leftovers from another day’s lunch. The apple looked a little shriveled, but there were no brown spots, so she decided to have it anyway.
As she was about to bite into it, she heard footsteps coming from behind her. She turned and saw Scotty coming towards her. To her astonishment, he had a dark red spot on his cheek, as if someone had hit him. The look on his face didn’t encourage any questions, so she just nodded to him and bit into her apple.
After a while, Scotty began to glance at her surreptitiously, and eventually, he seemed to have snapped out of his mood, whatever the reason for it.
“Is that all you’re having for lunch?”
“What did you have?”
The look of self-consciousness on Scotty’s face told her he hadn’t had anything, and it was obvious that he’d forgotten about it until she asked.
Lilly opened her desk drawer again and found a candy bar, which looked a little worse for wear, but the wrapper was still intact. She tossed it over to Scotty who regarded it doubtfully, but he smiled anyway.
Though he didn’t seem enthusiastic, he tore open the wrapper and finished the candy bar in just a few brisk, almost angry bites.
Lilly was wondering if it had been Elissa who had hit him and if that was why he seemed so angry. She knew better than to ask, so after they’d both finished their improvised lunches, Lilly pulled out the autopsy reports.
Poor timing, but there was nothing to be done about it. Besides, an apple didn’t cause her as much nausea as a cooked lunch might have.
All children had been suffocated. They’d been found in wooden or metal boxes. How could anyone shut a child into a box and leave them there to die? It was simply inhuman.
The phone rang and Lilly picked it up. She nodded a few times but didn’t say much. At the end of the conversation she merely thanked the caller and hung up.
Scotty glanced inquiringly at her.
“What was that about? Our case?”
“Yes. That was from our colleagues in Baltimore. A guy named Ghiardello. They had a dead girl who fits our profile, maybe.”
“Another victim? From when?”
“From just after Timmy Aiken. About nine months later.”
“That long ago? Right. Why did you say maybe?”
“Because this girl didn’t die from suffocation. She had hit her head on something. The guy left her lying with a head wound.”
“What makes them think it’s related?”
“She was found in a box. He stuffed her in there after she’d died. And a couple of other things. They’re sending over the paperwork. Same MO, with the abduction. Could be our guy.”
“Then again, it might not?”
“Exactly. But it’s worth looking into. This means he’s not always worked around here. We should send out a nationwide inquiry. There could be other cases. Even earlier ones. We need to pin down this guy’s first victim. Then maybe we’ll be able to get to him. He’s done this too many times. Practice makes perfect.”
“Good thinking. I’ll do it.”
“Thanks, Scotty. When I get the paperwork from Baltimore, I’ll probably head over there to talk to the mother.”
“No. He’d died in a car crash before the girl disappeared.”
“Not really. Over a year before, apparently.”
“Ok. So maybe it’s not related.”
“I shouldn’t think so. The other kids had both parents.”
“If we find other related cases, we’ll see if there’s a pattern or not.”
“I don’t think it’s anything to do with the parents. This guy picks the kids for some reason. He doesn’t care about the parents.”
“No, I don’t think so either. But he picks them. How?”
“Could be. But why doesn’t he kill more often?”
“There has to be something that sets him off. Not all the time.”
“We might have to look into weather patterns, moon phases, all that mumbo-jumbo.”
Lilly nodded, a tired look on her face. To them it was nonsense. Unfortunately, some killers were motivated by what others didn’t even notice. They had to take every possible variable into account. After all their work, they still hadn’t come very far. Would she never catch this killer?
When the file arrived from Baltimore, by messenger, she pored over it eagerly. Perhaps the officers over there had seen something they had missed. Or their killer had slipped up there. She didn’t think there was much chance of that, but with every case they were able to study, the more factors became available. A pattern would eventually emerge. It had to.
The autopsy report showed bruises on the girl’s arms, indicating the killer had grabbed her. Had she tried to escape? That might explain the cause of death. She’d hit her head on something as she tried to get away. The killer had grabbed her so hard he’d bruised her arms, and the girl had lived long enough for the bruises to appear. Lilly was hoping she’d lost consciousness immediately. The thought of her lying there, in pain, scared to death of a strange man, who had hurt her, was just unbearable.
After going over the file thoroughly, Lilly decided to leave for Baltimore right away. If she hurried, she could still catch a plane and be there in time to interview the girl’s mother and hopefully catch another plane and be back before it was too late in the evening.
She preferred to get this over with as quickly as possible. Or who else would look after the girls? She didn’t know anyone who would take care of her cats. Kite tolerated them but didn’t exactly love them. She knew Scotty liked dogs, but even if he also liked cats, he had his hands full with Elissa, and his busy social life.
So she rushed out, waving goodbye to her colleagues, including Scotty, who was deeply immersed in an internet search. Whatever he’d found, seemed to have absorbed him completely. He didn’t even look up as she vanished.
This time, the victim came from a poor area. Slums, really. Drug dealers hung out on every corner and what was mainly black faces, turned and followed her progress up to the girl’s mother’s doorway.
Lilly saw no bell to ring, so she just walked up. The staircase smelled of urine – not just cat’s urine, but people’s too, if she wasn’t mistaken. The floor was broken in places and the walls were heavily stained and there was graffiti everywhere. Some of the tags were really artistic, but Lilly knew they stood for some macho idiot, who wasn’t just creative, but also a felon, most of the time, or heading that way.
On the fourth floor, she stopped and rang the doorbell on the side of the door. There was no sound of it ringing, so Lilly was forced to assume it was broken. She had raised her hand to knock, when the door opened anyway.
A hard-faced Hispanic woman stared hostilely at Lilly, as if demanding an explanation for her presence on her doorstep.
Lilly found her ID and showed it to the woman, knowing she didn’t have any jurisdiction here, even if Ghiardello had given her permission to come and interview witnesses, or in this case the victim’s mother.
“No se nada.”
“Mrs Hernandez, I’m Lilly Rush, from Philadelphia. I’m investigating a series of child killings. Your daughter, Yolanda, disappeared on -”
“You come to me now, to ask about Yolanda? Why? I told everything to the officer in charge of the case. Munch. Inspector Munch.”
“Yes, I’m sure you did, but now I’m investigating several other murders of children, in Philadelphia. We believe they’re connected to your daughter’s death. May I come in?”
The woman stepped aside, only enough for Lilly to manage to squeeze by her rather ample form. Lilly knew she was doing it to dissuade her, but she wasn’t going to let her succeed. If there was anything to learn from this early case, she’d find out.
“Mrs Hernandez – ”
Lilly was interrupted by the sound of a baby bawling. She didn’t think mrs Hernandez was of childbearing age, so this was probably a grandchild. Mrs Hernandez returned, holding a baby. Her dark eyes bored into Lilly in a way that was far from friendly. Lilly could understand that. It must have been rare for the police to show up here and with no intention of arresting someone.
“She was a good girl. Yolanda. She would never have gone off with a stranger. I saw her body. He’d hurt her. She’d tried to get away and he’d grabbed her and she hit her head.”
“I know. I’m sorry. My colleagues and I are trying to catch the killer and make sure he’s punished.”
“They couldn’t find him here. How can you find him in Philadelphia?”
“We’ll do our best. That’s why I need to know everything you can tell me about the day Yolanda disappeared.”
“She was looking after her little cousins. Outside. In the playground. I didn’t like her to go out, but it’s crowded in here and the children need fresh air.
Yolanda was my youngest. My baby. Her older sisters were already married and the boys were in high school. I was doing the laundry, but I would look out from time to time and I’d see Yolanda and the little ones.
At lunchtime, I called her inside and she and the little ones had milk and cookies. Then I had to help my neighbor mrs Rodriguez, with her sick mother. It was getting dark and I called out for Yolanda to come inside. Dinner would be ready soon.
She didn’t reply, so I went outside to check. The little ones were still playing in the sandbox, but Yolanda was gone. No one had seen anything. The little ones said something about a man, but they were so young, they couldn’t explain.”
Lilly asked the same questions she had yesterday, but again, she didn’t feel as if she was learning anything new. Just in case, she decided to ask around among the neighbors.
“Are there any neighbors still around? People who lived here back then?”
“Mrs Rodriguez on the left. The Johnsons, upstairs.. No use asking the Williams brothers. They would have been out all night selling – working.”
“Thank you. I’ll talk to them.”
“Do you think you can catch this man?”
“I hope so. We’re giving it our full attention. Other cases are put on hold. I’ll do my best to make sure you have justice, mrs Hernandez.”
“I’ll pray you are successful, just like I’ve been praying ever since.”
The neighbors didn’t have much to add, and Lilly was beginning to feel tired and dejected. There just didn’t seem to be anything to find. Would she never get the break she needed? She realized she wouldn’t learn anything more, so she began to walk down the stairs again.
Outside, she noticed a young African-American man staring at her. She recognized the look, so she just continued walking. When she heard someone following her, she turned and faced whoever it was. It was the same young man who had been staring at her, with those lecherous eyes.
“Hey, sexy. What are you doing here? Looking for a place to stay? You’re welcome to use my place. My bed is always -”
“Thanks, but I have a place to stay. Just passing through.”
She was about to start walking again, when the guy closed the distance between them. For a second, she felt alarmed. Though he wasn’t very tall, he crowded her, making her feel small and helpless. Maybe she shouldn’t have left Scotty behind. But the guy didn’t make a move to touch her. Instead, he glanced over his shoulder, as if he was afraid of being overheard.
“You’re a cop.”
It wasn’t a question, so Lilly didn’t reply.
“You’re asking about the little girl who was killed about ten years ago?”
“That’s right. Do you have any information for me?”
Lilly didn’t think that was possible, judging by the guy’s age. He was in his early twenties. That would have made him about eleven or twelve at the time, so she couldn’t rule him out completely. Kids that age saw more than you expected.
“I might. What’s in it for me?”
“A chance to do a good deed. That’s what all citizens should do.”
“You’re kidding. How about a date?”
“Do you know something or are you just showing off?”
“Fine. Never mind.”
“If you have some information, tell me. I’m guessing you wouldn’t have approached me if you didn’t intend to tell me.”
The guy appeared to think it over, then he nodded, making a sweeping gesture, as if commenting on her body. He was concerned about being overheard talking to a cop. Though she hated to do it, Lilly forced herself to adopt a ridiculous stance, which she knew from experience men found sexy. The guy grinned appreciatively, making Lilly want to slap his face. Still, she remained standing, looking like a dumb slut, waiting for what he had to say.
“I was here that day. Sitting around with – a bunch of my older friends.”
Lilly interpreted his statement as meaning he’d been hanging around some drug dealers, hoping to be cut into a piece of the action.
“A white guy came around. He looked at the kids, then walked straight over to the sandbox and said something to Yolanda. She got up and went with him.”
“How old was that guy?”
“I don’t know. Grown up. Not real old. Hard to tell with a white guy. Y’all look alike. Except for a hot babe like you, that is.”
“So what you’re saying is that the guy was somewhere between twenty and – what – fifty?
“That’s about it, yeah.”
“Ok. Did you know Yolanda?”
“Yeah, she was an ok kid. Nice family. I knew her brothers. Well, knew of them. They were older than me.”
“Would she just get up and walk away with a strange man?”
“You kidding? No kid from here would go off with a white guy. He was a cop, like you.”
“How do you know?”
“He flashed his badge at her.”
“Can you describe him?”
“I told you, they all look alike to me. Tall, I guess. Quite thin. That was all. Besides, it was getting dark. I was standing over there, by that building. You see the sandbox? That’s the one. Where Yolanda and those smaller kids were playing.”
Lilly looked in the direction he was indicating. Too far to really see the guy’s face, but not far enough not to have seen that gesture. So the man had used that ruse to lure the children to him. Of course. Most children wouldn’t hesitate to go with a man who claimed to be a policeman. How devious. At least she was now beginning to see how, if not why or who.
She looked into her informant’s face. He was about her height, and quite fat. She guessed that anyone taller than he was or less overweight would be labeled tall and thin. Scotty would probably qualify as tall and thin in this guy’s eyes. So much for the description.
“Thanks. You’ve done your duty as a good citizen.”
“Give me a break, babe. How about a kiss?”
“How about this?”
She flashed a brilliant smile at him, turned and walked away. When she glanced over her shoulder, she could see him staring at her ass, making her feel like a piece of meat. Even the smile had felt a bit too generous, but that wasn’t for him, it was for the information. At least she had learned one important fact today.
By the time she was standing outside her front door, turning the key in the lock, it was well past eleven pm. The girls would be starving. Lilly prepared to meet the accusing eyes of her two feline kids. They meowed so loudly, she was afraid of what the neighbors would say.
Hurriedly, she opened a can of cat food and scooped it into their dishes. The water dish was nearly empty, so she refilled it. After this, she knew that it would be a long time until they’d rub against her legs or sleep on her bed.
Briefly, she considered making supper for herself, or even grabbing some bread or a cracker, but she decided that she was too tired and turned out the lights, leaving her cats to finish their meal on their own.
She just dropped her clothes on the bedroom floor and got into bed. It had been a long day. In the morning, she’d share her discoveries with Scotty and the others. If she was lucky, Scotty would have turned up something useful as well.
When she walked into the office, she was startled to find Scotty already there, looking as if he’d been hard at work for hours. Was it possible that he hadn’t even left at all? Somehow, that seemed out of character for him.
Everything about her younger partner suggested a suave, elegantly dressed guy who was more at home in the trendy clubs downtown than anywhere else. Yet, today, he looked a bit disheveled. He’d loosened his tie and the jacket hung over the back of his chair.
Even that reply was long in coming. Lilly looked longingly at her coffee mug, then decided that Scotty seemed to need it more. She could always brave the coffee machine over by the wall. Anything would do, really.
“Here. You look like you could use it.”
His eyes looked bloodshot and bleary.
“Hey, have you been here all night?”
“What? Oh, no. I left for an hour or so to check on Elissa,”
“Scotty, I realize this is an important case, but you can take a couple of hours off to sleep.”
He smiled absentmindedly, and – or so Lilly thought – rather sheepishly, as if he was a little embarrassed about his zeal.
“Not that I’m complaining. Did you find anything?”
“Yes. There seems to be more cases, further west. One in the Chicago area – there.”
He pointed at a printout lying at the edge of his desk. Lilly picked it up and scanned the page. There was something that struck her as odd.
“What about that? This child was suffocated by some textile object. He must have used a pillow or a sweater or something.”
“I know, but everything else fits. Maybe he didn’t have a box.”
“Hm. Could be. Anything else?”
“Yes. One child he missed.”
“Apparently, if this is the same guy, he tried to grab a kid from a kindergarten playground, but someone came running and he let go and ran off.”
“Did this person, who interrupted him get a good look at him?”
“No. That’s just it. It was an elderly woman, who could hardly see at all. She just saw a blurred outline of someone standing over her grandchild, but she called out and well, the guy gave it up.”
“How do we know this was our guy?”
“We don’t, but he got another kid only a few days later in the same neighborhood, so I thought it was likely.”
“I agree. What about the kid? Boy or girl?”
“Boy. He was so young and from what I can tell, either not very bright or perhaps in a state of shock. All he could say was that a man came and grabbed him. Even the grandmother saw that.”
Lilly nodded thoughtfully. Too bad. For once they had a potential victim still alive, but the kid couldn’t tell them anything. She wondered if it might be worthwhile to try and follow up on the lead.
“Where was this?”
“This guy really gets around. Do you think it would be possible to go and see this kid and check if he remembers more today?”
“No. The family was from Australia, and they moved back there, so unless we really have to, I doubt if it’s worthwhile.”
“You said something about how this guy gets around. Do you think he could be a truck driver? Or a travelling salesman?”
“Wait. I forgot to tell you. Yesterday, I heard something that might explain why he’s having such an easy time snatching these kids. Are Vera and Jeffries around?”
Scotty glanced around the room, telling Lilly he hadn’t been paying attention to his surroundings at all. Their colleagues weren’t at their desks, and the door to their boss’ office was open, so it was clear that they weren’t in there either. She was about to tell Scotty anyway, when their two colleagues walked in.
Waving at them, she managed to catch their attention.
“Hi, Lil. What’s up?”
“I found out something yesterday, and I thought you guys might want to hear it. What have you been up to?”
“Just following up on a lead. It didn’t pan out.”
“Oh. Right, I found this witness who says our guy is passing himself off as a cop. He flashed a badge at the little girl he abducted and she got up and went with him.”
Lilly’s face looked rigid and pale, as she imagined the scene. If only someone had thought to challenge the guy, just like that Australian grandmother. Poor little Yolanda. Poor mrs Hernandez.
“A cop? Why didn’t we think of that. Those kids wouldn’t even be able to tell the difference if it was a clever fake or just some mailorder thing. If he didn’t show it to any adult, no one would know the difference.”
“I know. Scotty had an idea he might have been a truck driver or travelling salesman. That’s possible. He wouldn’t be a vagrant, because I’m guessing people – adults – would have found it odd that a bum was hanging around their kids.”
“At least now we know how he’s getting them to come along without making any trouble.”
“Yeah, but it doesn’t get us very far either.”
“I’ll continue searching. Maybe something else will turn up.”
Scotty’s voice held something so intense, Lilly took a closer look. What was it about this case that made him so – unusually passionate?
The case had gotten to her too, but she didn’t think she’d ever seen Scotty so worked up about anything, except maybe about the case where they’d been forced to interview a scizophrenic man. Of course, that must have felt more personal for him. Surely, it couldn’t be the same with this case? As far as Lilly knew, Scotty and Elissa didn’t have any children.
A wondering look from Vera told Lilly that her other colleague had taken notice too. Jeffries and Vera returned to their desks and Lilly got up to inform her boss about the developments.
“Scotty, I’ll just go and tell the boss. I’ll type out my report and then perhaps we could go and check out one of the crime scenes.”
She wasn’t even sure if Scotty was paying attention, so she just shrugged and walked over to her boss’ office. When she got back, she sat down and typed the report. Scotty was still completely absorbed in his search, so she decided to go on her own. Perhaps Vera and Jeffries were going out again, and she might hitch a ride with them.
In the evening, after work, Lilly met Sam and they had dinner again. Again, she was struck by the difference between her memories of him and the reality. It wasn’t all that striking, but she was amazed that she could have misremembered at all. She had been so sure she could recall everything.
On the other hand, she had changed. It probably wasn’t Sam so much as her perception of him that was different. She had never really noticed how – paternal he was. Perhaps her days at Homicide had taught her to rely on herself more than she had back then. In many ways their relationship had been like the one between father and daughter. If that was it, the daughter was now grown up.
Sam seemed to notice her precoccupation and smiled warmly at her.
“What are you thinking about? The case?”
“No. About you. About us. It’s so great to see you again. I’ve missed you.”
“I’ve missed you too, kid. So, tell me about this DA. When will you get engaged?”
“I don’t know. Maybe we won’t. Or if we will, it’s going to be a while longer. I’m too busy to focus 100 % on a relationship. So is he.”
“Perhaps you’re right. Maybe marriage and – children – wouldn’t suit you.”
Lilly thought about it. Some day she’d love to get married or at least live with a guy, and children – why shouldn’t that suit her? She didn’t bother mentioning that to Sam, though. Again, she wondered why he’d never married. Nothing about him suggested he was gay. Maybe he too was married to his job. Too many cops were.
The following night, Lilly decided to finally go and see Kite. To her relief, he was alone in the office, and looked as if he was about to pack it in for the day.
Kite smiled at her, in that way of his, which made Lilly feel both excited and unsettled.
“Bad time, huh?”
“What? No. In fact, you have excellent timing. I was about to call you and ask you out.”
“Oh. What’s the occasion?”
“Just a successful case. I thought we’d celebrate a little.”
“Great. Shall we?”
They walked out together, not discussing anything work related. Usually, when Lilly went out with Kite, there was a certain amount of tension. She just didn’t seem to be able to relax completely around him. This time, however, she felt quite good about the whole thing. She recalled Sam’s comment about how she might not be cut out for marriage and childbearing. Whether or not that was true, would Kite right for her? As a husband and as the father of her children?
“What do you mean?”
“You were looking at me so intently, I was beginning to worry I had something stuck in my teeth.”
“No. I was just thinking this was nice. I’m glad we did it.”
“Me too. We should do it more often.”
Lilly contented herself with smiling in place of a reply. Kite didn’t insist on an answer, he merely smiled back.
As they walked to Kite’s car, her cell phone rang. She could see how disappointed Kite was when she picked it up and took the call. He must have been hoping to be invited in, maybe to spend the night.
“Rush. Oh, hi, boss. What’s – Oh. Yeah, I’ll be right there.”
She terminated the call and put the phone away.
“Sorry. I have to go. Work.”
“I’m sorry too, but of course you should go. I’ll drive you.”
“No. Just drop me off at -”
“Nonsense. Come on. This will be much quicker.”
After a moment’s thought, she gave in. It was nice of Kite to offer, especially since he’d been disappointed about his visit to her home.
“Can you get someone to drive you back afterwards?”
“Sure. No problem.”
“Can you tell me what it is?”
Lilly sighed, as she recalled the somber note in her boss’ voice.
“You know about the serial killer case we’re working on right now?”
“The child killer? Yes. Oh.”
“A little girl’s missing. We think this is our guy.”
“Me too. We should have cracked this case a long time ago, considering how many children he’s killed already.”
“Sometimes it’s just really hard to get a break. It could take years.”
“It already has taken years. We’ve traced him as far back as ten, twelve years, and there could be more. It’s like he’s a ghost or something. And the bastard is using some kind of fake ID, to pass himself off as a cop. Can you imagine the nerve?”
“A cop? I see. It never occurred to you that he might actually be a cop?”
“No, of course not. What makes you say that?”
“Nothing. I don’t know anything about the case. It just occurred to me that it might not be a fake ID. He could be the real thing. You’d be surprised how many cops, attorneys or doctors who are really felons. Their position makes it easier to get away with it.”
Lilly nodded. Kite had a point. That hadn’t occurred to her, but she’d seen with her own eyes how many seemingly respectable citizens hid dark secrets.
She gave Kite the directions and soon she could see a number of police cars parked in a street where she knew Kite wouldn’t want to leave his car unattended even for a few minutes. This was an even worse slum area than the one she’d visited the other day, in Baltimore.
“Thanks. I’ll get out here.”
“I’ll call you tomorrow.”
“Ok. Thanks for tonight. It was great.”
“No, thank you. We really need to do this more often.”
“Ok. Good night.”
With her colleagues watching, she really didn’t want to kiss Kite goodnight and it seemed he understood. It was only the look in his eyes that communicated something more personal than the mere words.
To her surprise, even Scotty was there, looking even more zealous than he had in the past couple of days. She felt taken aback by the intensity she saw reflected in his eyes. There had to be something that was making Scotty take this case more personally than others. She had to ask him about it, but right now, their first priority would be to find the girl, alive, if possible.
Several uniformed colleagues had turned up and were canvassing the neighborhood. Stillman was talking to a young couple, who appeared to be extremely agitated. As she approached, Vera and Jeffries returned from whatever errand they had been on, and waited to report to the boss. Catching sight of Lilly, they walked over to meet her.
“Hi, Lil. So far, we’ve found nothing. It’s just like the other cases. Not a trace.”
“I’m sorry. Is Stillman talking to the parents? Right. I guess -”
Now Stillman had noticed her arrival and he walked over to hand out their assignments.
“Hi, Lil. Glad you could make it. I’ve spoken with the parents and I’m afraid we don’t have much to go on. We have men searching the neighborhood, and we can only hope we’ll find her in time. As you know, he usually picks some place nearby.”
“Yeah. Did you ask if anyone had heard anything about a cop?”
“No. We should probably keep that to ourselves if we can. Can you imagine what would happen if they lost their confidence in us?”
“Ok. What would you like me to do?”
“You and Valens could – hey, where did that kid go?”
Lilly realized that the kid in question was Scotty. Her partner seemed to have gone missing just like the child. He’d been there just a few minutes ago.
Stillman shook his head, then shrugged.
“Ok. You and I go back to the station and wait. No need to run around here. Vera and Jeffries, you stay put. If you see Valens, tell him to call in.”
“Did you bring your car, Lilly?”
“No, I was – someone drove me here.”
“So, you ride with me. There was something I wanted to ask you about anyway.”
Lilly got into the car and watched her boss start it up. He waited until he was well away from the slums before he turned briefly to catch her eye.
“Lilly, have you noticed anything odd about Valens’ behaviour lately?”
“Well, he has seemed unusually eager. It’s as if this case has affected him more than others.”
“That’s exactly what I meant. If there is something – personal about it, I’ll have to consider removing him from the case. I need everyone involved to keep a clear head.”
“Has he seemed – well – lately?”
“Yes. I haven’t noticed anything else unusual.”
“You don’t think there’s a chance he’s becoming too dedicated to his work? I mean, we wouldn’t want him to suffer some kind of breakdown. If he’s overworked or even burned-out, we’ll need to do something about it.”
“I don’t think so, sir. Usually, he doesn’t seem to have any trouble differentiating between work and leisure.”
“Good. You’ll let me know if that changes, won’t you, Lilly?”
“Of course. I haven’t had anything to complain about. We make a good team. He’s a good cop, and a nice guy. Nothing to worry about.”
Stillman nodded, as if reassured.
Back at the station, Lilly sat down at her desk, feeling a little unsure of what her next move should be.
Stillman went into his office and picked up a file someone had delivered for him while he was out. He opened it and began to read. What he saw, made the expression on his face turn grave.
“Lilly. Could you come in here, please?”
She glanced towards her boss’ office. There had been something in his voice which made her feel uneasy.
“I just got this. After I noticed how obsessed Valens was with the case, I sent for his file from Personnel. I also asked around a little and – well, I found this.”
Stillman handed over a photocopy of a newspaper page. Lilly scanned it quickly, then began to read more thoroughly. She couldn’t believe what she was seeing. There was even a blurry image of small dark-haired boy, seen from the side. She drew in breath. This was something she couldn’t have guessed.
The newspaper story told of how a nine-year-old boy had disappeared and how he was later found dead. Murdered. The MO was different from their serial killer’s and in fact, the killer was found, within a week or so of the crime. It wasn’t even a homicide, strictly speaking, but was ruled manslaughter.
What really caught her attention was the fact that the victim’s younger brother, a six-year-old boy, had been present when the body was found. Someone hadn’t been paying attention and by accident, he had seen his brother’s dead body. The name of the family was mentioned in the article. It was Valens.
“That’s terrible. No wonder – ”
Stillman studied her intently.
“Scotty and I were visiting the mother of one of the earliest victims, here in Philadelphia, and while we were there, the younger brother came in. He’d obviously cut classes and gone home early and he was – well, using rather strong language and slammed the door to his room. Scotty said something about how it must have been rough on the kid, growing up with that sort of background.”
“He must have been speaking of his own experiences.”
“Yes, it looks that way.”
This really did seem to explain why Scotty had taken the case more personally than most other cases. It must have reminded him of his own troubled childhood. Lilly didn’t find it at all odd that he’d devoted himself to solving the case, even working more or less round the clock. She found it touching that he’d been so absorbed in his work he even neglected his appearance.
“I’m going to call Vera and check if he’s found Valens yet. He’d better come back to the station right away. I’d like to ask him a few questions about this.”
Lilly wondered why the boss chose this particular time to question Scotty about his childhood, but she wasn’t going to argue.
“I’ll just go and check if Scotty’s found some new information.”
To her relief, Lilly realized that Scotty’s computer was still on. He must have left it right in the middle of a search. She thought she’d be able to get in anyway. Her partner hadn’t seen the necessity of hiding his password from her, just as she’d let him know hers. It was easier that way, if you forgot something and needed the information right away. You could call in and get it without having to check in at the station.
As it happened, Scotty had printed out quite a few pages, which now lay in a neat pile on his desk. She looked them over, but didn’t find anything immediately useful, except for one thing. There were new cases, or rather older cases, from across the country. At least three more, going steadily west across the map. Instead, she sat down in Scotty’s chair and began to scan the screen.
A vaguely familiar face caught her attention. It was an old photo and the man in it was young, but she had a nagging feeling she knew him, when he was quite a few years older. When she made the connection, she felt a chill go over her. No. There had to be some kind of mistake. As she read on, a hard knot formed at the pit of her stomach.
In California, in the early 1980’s, a young police officer’s two small children had disappeared. They hadn’t been found until almost two weeks later, dead. The killer had suffocated them, and left their bodies in two trunks in a basement, in the same neighborhood where the parents lived. There had been another case at the same time, involving a mayor’s wife, and it seemed police resources had been stretched thin at the time. At the same time, there had been rioting and looting in certain neighborhoods.
The young father blamed his police department for not prioritizing his children. He had protested bitterly and had left his job. Not long afterwards, his wife had killed herself. After that, the young policeman had left the state, and not been heard of again.
Another window, behind the first one, dealt with Sam Reardon’s background, as far as it was known. Scotty had noted that all the murdered children had been found somewhere not far from where Sam had been working at the time.
Lilly felt frozen, but she forced herself to type in Sam’s name in the search window. She noticed that he’d attended the police academy in the mid-eighties. There was no information about what he’d done earlier.
With hands that weren’t quite steady, Lilly clicked on to follow Sam around the country, from west to east, until he’d ended up in DC, where she’d been partnered with him. This proved nothing. It could still all be coincidences. Circumstantial evidence. Nothing here was enough to convict Sam of any crime.
Unfortunately, she had to admit to herself that she found it hard to believe in such coincidences. There was just too much that fit. Now, she recalled, with a chilling clarity, how Sam had questioned her about the case, without making any commment. He’d been pumping her, to find out how much she knew. Perhaps it was lucky for her that she hadn’t come up with anything.
She forced her mind away from her old friend. They had more pressing matters to attend to. If he was guilty, they’d found out. Now they had to find the little girl. She couldn’t just sit here, while a child was being murdered. And where was Scotty? He’d had this information when he left for the little girl’s neighborhood. What if he’d gone to confront Sam?
“What’s the matter, Lilly?”
Stillman had put his coat back on and was heading in her direction. She hastily printed out the information about Sam, then gathered the printouts and followed Stillman downstairs to the cars.
“Sir – I’m afraid I’ve found something else.”
“In connection with this case?”
“Yes. My – old partner – Sam Reardon – it seems he might be – our killer.”
Stillman fixed her with a steady gaze.
“Your former partner? From Washington?”
“Yes, sir. Scotty had just found this information when you were called out to the crime scene.”
“I see. Tell me about it.”
Lilly went over the relevant facts, then broke off, hoping that Stillman would tell her not to be silly. She waited while he digested the information in silence.
“That seems to be rather too much of a coincidence. In the case of Valens, I thought it was merely odd. When it comes to your old friend, it seems far more conclusive.”
Lilly stared at Stillman. Surely he hadn’t suspected Scotty? On the other hand, she could imagine what a clever DA, like Kite, could make of Scotty’s background. She wasn’t a psychologist, but the shock of finding his brother dead, couldn’t that have made him obsessed with dead children? Enough so that he took to reenacting his brother’s murder, over and over? If so, why kill little girls? No, Lilly couldn’t believe that.
When the call had come in, about the little girl, Scotty had just found the information about Lilly’s old mentor. He’d still been reeling from the shock, when he’d heard. There hadn’t been time to print out the information or call Lilly and warn her about it. Scotty couldn’t help sparing a thought for his partner. How would she feel when she realized that her old friend had hid this monstrous secret?
The minute he arrived, Scotty began to scan the neighborhood for any likely building for the killer – for Sam Reardon – to retreat to to finalize his plans.
Scotty turned and turned again, trying to process all the data his eyes were collecting. There. What looked like an abandoned water tower, seemed to fulfill all Reardon’s requirements. It was a little way off from the rest of the buildings. If it was abandoned, which seemed clear, it would be empty, but most of all, since it was windowless, it would keep him safe from any prying eyes. It would be a perfect place to hide a body.
If only he wasn’t too late. From reading the autopsy reports, Scotty knew that the children often lay for close to an hour inside the enclosed space of the box as the last of the air was used up. He clenched his teeth as he imagined how it must feel. Was she crying? Calling for her mother? Was she still hoping someone would find her in time?
It didn’t occur to Scotty to ask Vera or Jeffries for help. There was no time to stop and explain. He had to find the little girl now.
Up close, the water tower was more damaged than it had looked from a distance. The door was partially open and it was easy to push it further, so he could squeeze past. The place was dark, damp and smelled of cat’s urine and there were empty bottles and other garbage strewn across the floor. Scotty hardly noticed as he pushed on, further and further inside. Most of the inside of the tower was taken up by the water tank, but there was enough space to move around.
Scotty stopped to look around. He pulled out a flashlight and shone it around the enclosed space. There was a staircase winding upwards, to the top. Some instinct told Scotty the killer wouldn’t bring the child upstairs. There had to be somewhere else. He walked on a few steps and found a door. It was closed, but he managed to get it open, by kicking it viciously. When it swung open, hanging crookedly on the hinges, he saw a shorter staircase leading down.
He stepped cautiously onto the first step, testing it, to see if it would hold his weight. It seemed solid enough. The light from his flashlight revealed someone’s footstep in the thick dust. Someone had walked this way recently. If it was his killer, then the stairs would hold him. Reardon was easily as heavy as Scotty himself.
Scotty listened carefully, for any sounds of movement, but he couldn’t hear anything. If Reardon had already finished up and left – but his usual MO meant he’d leave the child to die alone. Was he squemish, at the end of it all? Didn’t he enjoy watching the child die?
Scotty hadn’t had time to consider the motive, but he had an idea that this wasn’t about the children, as much as about everyone else. Reardon’s own children had died, and as he saw it, no one had cared enough. No one had helped him find them before it was too late. Didn’t it seem likely that he wanted others to feel the same pain? But the motive wasn’t important right now. All that mattered was finding the little girl alive.
The stairs ended and he found himself in some sort of narrow storage space. It was just about high enough for him to stand up straight. Reardon must have had to bend over a little. Shining the flashlight around, Scotty caught sight of a wooden packing case standing by the outer wall. He kneeled before it and began to fumble with the lid. It was padlocked shut, but there was nothing else holding the lid down. He looked around for something to use on the padlock and his eyes settled on an iron bar, lying on the floor.
Using that, he managed to smash the padlock, and with hands that weren’t quite steady, he lifted the lid off. Inside, a little girl was lying, curled up, in the fetal position. She wasn’t moving or making any sound, and Scotty had a terrible premonition that he’d been too late.
He put the flashlight on the floor and reached inside the box. Gently, he touched the girl’s cheek. A hoarse shriek told him he’d been wrong. The voice was so cracked he knew the little girl must have been crying for a long time.
“Hey, honey. It’s ok. I’m here to take you back to your parents. I’m not going to hurt you. Let’s get you out of here, ok?”
He accompanied his soothing words with gentle stroking of her hair. After a while, the crying stopped, and he took that as encouragement to lift the child out of the box.
“There you go. We’ll go straight back to your parents. It’s going to be ok now. There.”
He picked up his flashlight, turned it off and put it into his pocket. After a moment, his eyes began to adjust to the darkness and he began to walk up the stairs.
“No. Turn the light on.”
“I can’t. We’ll soon be upstairs.”
“I want the light.”
It wasn’t long until he felt the concrete floor upstairs under his feet. He hesitated. They’d need the light on the way out. Balancing the child on one arm, he fumbled for the light again. After a moment’s consideration, he turned the flashlight on again and placed it in his mouth. With both arms securely around the child, he found his way outside.
He was greeted by the sound of several voices. At first he couldn’t make out what they were saying, but there was a definite touch of anger there. He pulled out the flashlight and holding the child on one arm, he looked around the crowd that had formed outside.
Suddenly, a man of about Scotty’s own age ran up to him and snatched the child away from him.
“You. Let go of my kid. Bloody pervert.”
“I’m a police officer and -”
“Yeah, the others told me the killer was a cop. You’re going to pay for this. I heard you’d killed dozens of other kids. We’ll put a stop to you, once and for all.”
There were shouts of encouragement from the crowd all around. Scotty felt his throat constrict.
“Listen to me, I’m not the one. I just found your daughter. She’s fine. I know who the killer is and we’ll -”
“Shut up, you sick bastard. I say we deal with him ourselves. No white cops are going to give us justice.”
“Yeah, let’s do it.”
Stillman’s car pulled to a stop and Lilly jumped out. Her boss was only seconds behind her. They caught sight of Vera and Jeffries and made for them, as fast as they could.
“Have you seen Scotty?”
“No, but there’s a crowd over there, by the water tower.”
Without waiting to see if the others were catching up, Lilly began to run. About halfway there, she caught sight of Reardon. Seeing that he’d been recognized, Reardon called out her name.
“Lilly? What’s going on? I just heard about the missing child and I thought I’d find you here. Any new developments?”
“I’ll fill you in later. Come on. We have to find my partner.”
Reardon appeared to be hesitating, but he saw the other three officers heading his way and followed them towards the water tower.
The scene they witnessed there would stay in Lilly’s mind for a long time. It took her a while to register it all. The belligerent faces, the woman clutching the little girl, who was crying, as if she was overtired, the five men who were standing around a man who was on his knees. Scotty.
Lilly reached for her gun, knowing that they were outnumbered ten or twenty to one, Guns wouldn’t help them now. She let go of her weapon and began to push and shove her way into the crowd. In the wake of her fierceness, many of the people gave way. She looked back and saw that Stillman, Vera and Jeffries were still with her. So was Reardon.
She felt a bitter disappointment that the man she’d trusted with her life hadn’t really existed. Not even the name she’d known him by was his own. None of what she’d loved and trusted and looked up to had been real. It had all been a sham. That didn’t make what she had to do any easier, but on the other hand, that wasn’t really the point.
“Stop. You’ve got the wrong guy.”
Her voice pierced through the angry murmurs and every face in the crowd turned towards her.
“Shut up. You’re only protecting your own. Back off and we’ll leave you alone.”
“No. I can’t let you do that. That man is innocent. Let him go.”
“Don’t listen to her. Just do it.”
“Wait. If you don’t believe me, ask the child. She can tell you who abducted her.”
“Leave my kid out of it. This sick bastard is going to pay for what he did.”
“Yes, the real killer is going to pay. Not that man. Ask your daughter.”
“Liam – don’t you think we should make sure?”
“We know the truth. Didn’t we catch him red-handedly?”
“I’m going to ask Rosalee. Baby, do you know who took you? Can you see the bad man here?”
A silence fell over the crowd. All eyes were on the mother and her child.
“Rosalee, did you see who took you away?”
The little girl nodded solemnly.
“Who was it, sweetie?”
She glanced around the crowd, catching sight of her father with Scotty. Her eyes moved again, searching the crowd of people.
Her father appeared to lose his patience and shook the kneeling man roughly.
“This is a waste of time. Rosalee is upset. Take her home and put her to bed.”
“Just a second. Baby, is that the man who took you? The one your daddy’s got over there.”
“No. He’s nice.”
“Then who was it?”
“An old white man.”
“Can you see him here?”
The little girl nodded, then buried her face against her mother’s shoulder.
“Point at him, baby.”
Rosalee obediently looked up and feeling reasonably safe, in her mother’s arms, she pointed at the older man, who was now being held firmly by three other men.
“It was him. He’s a policeman.”
Lilly forced down a sob, and raised her hand, holding the sheets of paper she’d printed out. She couldn’t bring herself to look at Sam.
“I’ve got evidence here, linking that man to the killings. Let my partner go. Now.”
The angry mob, began to move, in the direction of the newcomers. Liam let go of Scotty and without a second glance at him, he began to move with the crowd. Lilly pushed her way to Scotty’s side, dodging muscular guys, not interested in showing her any courtesy.
Finally, she was with him.
“Are you ok?”
“Yeah. I’m fine.”
Lilly held out her hand to him, and with some effort he was able to get to his feet. Her brief visual inspection seemed to confirm his statement. They turned and tried to shove their way back through the crowds. She could hear Stillman talking, but he was having trouble making himself heard above the angry shouts of the mob. As she got closer, his voice became easier to distinguish.
“If you let us take him back to the precinct, we’ll make sure he’s tried and convicted. You’ll have justice. You and the parents of the other children.”
Now Lilly recognized Liam’s voice again.
“No. We don’t trust you. When did you ever give us a fair chance? We want to see justice done now. No fancy lawyers or paperwork.”
The crowd greeted his statement with cheers. Lilly knew this could go either way. In any case, they’d never get Reardon out of here alive. She knew Stillman was beginning to see that and she was hoping he wouldn’t decide to make a desperate stand, only to bring a killer to justice. Reardon wasn’t worth dying for. She hadn’t saved Scotty’s life, just so he could be killed in a riot. This wasn’t the way she wanted to die either.
In any case, the decision was taken out of their hands. The crowd rushed Stillman and the others. When her field of vision was clear again, Reardon was gone, and Stillman was struggling to get to his feet again. Vera too, seemed to have been knocked over, and Jeffries was standing over him, helping him to his feet. Once they were clear of the mob, they ran for their cars. Stillman was calling for backup on his cell phone.
Lilly felt strangely detached. They would never get Reardon out of here alive. Whenever the backup came, it would be too late, but at least they were still alive and could drive away from here.
Once they reached the cars, Stillman turned to watch Lilly and Scotty anxiously.
“Valens? Are you ok?”
“Yes, sir, I’m fine.”
She knew he didn’t mean physically, but she chose to interpret his question her own way. What she felt inside was nobody’s business. In fact, she suspected there was a world of difference between what Scotty felt physically and emotionally.
As she got into the backseat beside Scotty, she noticed that he had a big scratch on his left cheek and it was still bleeding. She pulled a tissue from her pocket and pressed it against the wound. Scotty flinched but let her get on with it. As she held the tissue to his cheek, she scanned his face for further injuries. There didn’t seem to be any obvious ones. After a while, Scotty took the tissue from her, smiling self-consciously.
“Lilly, I’ll drop the two of you off at the emergency room. Make sure he’s ok before you come back. I’ll send someone to pick you up.”
Scotty drew himself up.
“Sir, with all due respect, I’m fine. I don’t need any medical attention.”
“That’s an order, Valens.”
After the shock he’d suffered, Scotty didn’t even try to protest.
After dropping Lilly and Scotty off, Stillman turned and drove back the way he had come. He didn’t expect to find Reardon alive either, but until the situation was resolved, one way or another, he couldn’t return to his office or go home.
Lilly tried not to think of what was going on out there, while she waited for the nurse to finish patching up Scotty. The doctor had pronounced him fit for work, but before he could return to the office, he needed to have his wound cleaned and seen to.
Lilly noticed that Scotty still had an effect on women. The nurse smiled at him with a flirtatious glint in her eyes, but at least this time, Scotty appeared oblivious to her. He merely submitted to her care, his eyes fixed on a point above the girl’s head.
When he was done, Scotty got up and Lilly followed him outside. Just as Stillman had promised, there was a squad car waiting to bring them back. The man behind the wheel nodded a greeting. Lilly eagerly turned to him for an update.
“Have you heard anything about the situation?”
“No. Nothing so far. Are you ready to go back to the station?”
They sat in silence all the way back. Lilly could tell that Scotty was more shaken than he’d admitted to. She knew she too, would cave in, if she allowed herself to think of what had happened. The events of the evening were still too painful for her to want to dwell on them. Instead, she decided to keep an eye on Scotty.
Upstairs, she herded Scotty to an interview room. At this time of night, it was empty anyway.
“Come on. They won’t need us for a while.”
Scotty took a good look at Lilly’s tense, white face and didn’t object.
They sat down regarding each other gravely across the table. Lilly was the first to break the silence.
“Scotty, I read about your – brother. I’m sorry.”
“About Tony? Why?”
“Stillman was worried about your – obsession with the case and he pulled your file. He also called and asked around about you.”
“I see. There was no need for him to be concerned. I was just doing my job.”
“I know. Only a bit too intensely. Stillman was concerned you might be burned-out. You must know that it’s his duty to make sure all the officers under his command are able to do their jobs.”
“You should have said something.”
“Why? It had nothing to do with this case.”
“You know it did. Your background made all this more personal than for anyone else.”
“It didn’t affect the way I was doing my job.”
“At least you did well. Great, in fact. I guess I haven’t had time to congratulate you. Well done. You saved that little girl’s life.”
“And you saved mine. Thanks. Oh, Lil, I’m really sorry about your friend.”
“Yeah. Me too. Scotty – when we were talking to Timmy’s mother – and his brother burst in – Afterwards, when we talked about him, you must have been speaking from your own experience.”
Scotty hesitated. This was something he’d never discussed with anyone. Did he really want Lilly to know about his worst nightmare? He’d known right away that Lilly wasn’t going to accept his sympathy about Reardon. This was just as painful for him. He could tell her he didn’t want to talk about it and leave it at that, but suddenly, he felt an urge to confide in Lilly.
Of all the people in the world, she was the only one he’d ever felt he could fully trust. Elissa knew, only because she’d known him since his teens. His parents had spoken about it to their friends and neighbors, but he couldn’t discuss it with Elissa. Anything upsetting might set her off again, and he didn’t want to add to her troubles. Lilly, on the other hand –
“Yes, I guess so. It was – I didn’t understand at first. I thought he was sleeping. My dad touched him and he didn’t move. My mom began to cry, loudly, and I’d never heard her cry. I’d never heard anyone grown up cry like that. Then the cops came. We were told to back off. I don’t remember anything else from that day. Just that the cops came and took care of things.”
Lilly could imagine what a dreadful shock it must have been, to find his older brother lying on the ground. Dead. Did a six-year-old understand the concept of death? Perhaps. She thought she might have, but boys were usually late developers. At least it was possible. If not, he would have grown to understand, gradually, over the months and years afterwards.
“It was as if our family wasn’t a family anymore. Tony was always better at everything. Smarter. Cuter. Kinder. Whatever I did, I knew I couldn’t live up to his standards. I missed him so much. He was my big brother. I admired him and he was always so good to me. Patient. Everyone used to laugh about how awkward little Scotty was. Slow to learn. Clumsy. Then after Tony was gone, it wasn’t funny anymore. I was all they had.”
“I’m sure they didn’t mean to make you feel that way.”
“No, I’m sure they didn’t mean to either. It was only natural that they missed Tony. I wanted to do my best to make it up to them somehow, and it hurt so much that I couldn’t. That I was such a disappointment to them.”
“Did they ever say so, or was it just what you thought?”
“I heard them say so, when they didn’t know I was listening.”
“I’m sorry. What about now? Surely they’re happy about you being such a brilliant police officer?”
“I don’t know. Tony was going to be a doctor. A policeman isn’t the same as a doctor. How can I compare to that?”
“It’s not fair. You were two different children.”
“I know. Very different.”
“That’s not what I meant.”
“If Tony had been alive, I’m sure Elissa would have fallen in love with him.”
“Scotty. Stop it. You’re as good he would have been. I know that.”
To Lilly’s alarm, she saw that Scotty’s eyes had filled with tears and he was trying desperately to hide that from her. She was wondering if she should try to pretend she didn’t notice or – Suddenly, she couldn’t bear it any longer. It had been so unfair. How could Scotty’s family have made him feel he was inferior to his brother? Without thinking, she reached out and pulled her partner into her arms.
Startled, he tensed up, but when he noticed that Lilly was sobbing, he returned the embrace, holding on to her, burying his face in her hair. The sound of her sobs drowned out the noises he was trying to suppress. If he was lucky, she wouldn’t notice he was crying too.
If she focused on comforting Scotty, maybe she wouldn’t recall how she had sold out Sam. Traded his life for Scotty’s. The fact that he’d been a ruthless child killer didn’t change the fact that she’d as good as killed him. She forced herself to remember that if she hadn’t, Scotty wouldn’t have been here, safe and unharmed. At least she’d accomplished that much. Sometimes, there was only so much you could do. It was over. Case solved. She had to keep telling herself that.