Barry Hoffman's HUNGRY EYES

Chapter One

Lamar Briggs was waiting when the driver left Deidre off in front of the townhouse on Tryon Street. He was chewing on a Milky Way candy bar, milking it, so to speak, as if it would be his last.

"You've come up in the world Ms. Caffrey," he said, not hiding his antagonism.

"And you must be on a diet," she retorted, looking at his ample gut. "You used to polish off those candy bars in two bites."

That Deidre and Briggs had never hit it off was no surprise. When she had been a reporter she'd taken the police to task often, and once almost cost Briggs his job. Five years before, two cops had chased what they thought was a burglar six blocks, finally cornering him and beating him to a pulp. The black youth turned out to be a track star at Ben Franklin High; an honor student with a scholarship all lined up, no less. A cops' worst nightmare. They'd planted a vial of crack and a throwaway .38 on him before calling for an ambulance.

One of the cops, Calvin Barfield, had been Briggs' childhood friend, and the detective did all in his power to run interference so his friend wouldn't take a fall. He'd fed the media misinformation, buttressed with just enough truth to send them scurrying in circles, looking for drug dealers who might have supplied the youth.

Deidre hadn't bit. She honed in on the boy and his family, finally getting an exclusive interview with the youth and his doctor. TRACK STAR WILL NEVER RUN AGAIN, the page one headline in the Daily News bannered the next day. "Honor student had kicked the habit, and was right on track," was the lead of the story about an inner-city family that had clawed its way out of the gutter.

Jeremy Townes' father had been a crack addict who'd hooked his son. Both had been literally saved by the track coach at Ben Franklin, who had seen a rare talent within the boy. With his intervention, both father and son had been clean for two years.

The day after the story ran, Deidre had received two calls: one from the burglar who told her where he'd fenced the jewelry; another from a witness who'd seen the cops pummel the kid and plant the gun and drugs.

Both cops were summarily suspended. Tried and convicted both did time in prison. Briggs' integrity had been called into question. There were innuendos Barfield had confided in him, and Briggs had purposely led everyone astray.

While Deidre never crucified Briggs in print, she knew he blamed her. She had made a powerful enemy. For while Briggs was like a punch drunk fighter on the ropes, all but out on his feet, as neighborhood groups calling for his head. In the end, though, he'd rebounded. He had, after all, come to the aid of a fellow officer, and while the brass pilloried him in public they backed him in private. After two years of keeping a low profile, he was back, and heading up the Vigilante investigation.

Their paths hadn't crossed since, but she now saw the simmering hostility in his eyes. Taking a big bite out of the candy bar, he smiled. "You in bed with the Mayor, girl, but you been to bed with him yet?"

"Look Detective . . ."

"Briggs to my friends . . . my friends in high places."

"We both have a job to do, detective," she said ignoring him, " and you will cooperate with me."

"Or what? You'll get my ass kicked off the case?"

"I'll recommend that Chievous or McCauley head the Task Force the Mayor is going to announce tomorrow. You can work under them."

He mulled her threat over for a moment.

"You got balls, lady. I still have no use for you, don't get me wrong. But if it takes cooperation to head the Task Force, you've got it."

"I knew we'd come to an understanding," she said, without a smile. "Now will you fill me in before I have to meet the press."

Briggs finished off his candy bar and ushered Deidre into a small, but expensively decorated living room. Briggs seemed to fill the room. A six-foot-four former linebacker at Temple University, he towered over her by a good nine inches. He was a good deal heavier than the last time she'd seen him five years ago. He seemed to have given up the battle of the bulge.

He was a dark-skinned black. She could imagine him becoming one with the dark on a moonless night. When she'd first seen him standing on the stoop, she'd thought he was balding. But up close she noted he'd shaved his head. It made him look even more formidable, if that was possible. She guessed his new "do" was intentional.

"Are you sure it's the Vigilante?" she asked.

"No doubt about it." He took out a pad and read from it. "Walter Grimes, 35 years old. Owned a print show on Chestnut Street. Copped a plea to one count of rape four years ago. Served seven months." He closed the pad.

"The killer left two polaroids. Two girls, one definitely a minor. Raped, beaten, either unconscious or dead, left in an alley. Our Mr. Grimes clearly hadn't been rehabilitated."

"The killer had to have been stalking him for awhile," Deidre said.

"Just like the others. Freaks who slid through the system, either freed on a technicality or given a ridiculously light sentence. If form holds, the photos are recent; just a few weeks separating each attack. Grimes' was probably on the prowl again when he was taken out."

"Any signs of forced entry?"

"No, and that's a puzzle. All the Vigilante's victims seemed to have let him in willingly."

"Any connection with the other four?"

"Look lady . . ."

"Call me Dee, seeing as we'll be working together. And, as one of your friends in high places," she said with sarcasm, "do I call you Briggs, or do you want me to be formal?"

"Briggs will do," he said with the barest trace of a smile. "We'll have to check out any connection," he went on as if he hadn't been interrupted," but if form holds, no connection."

"Tell me how he was killed."

"Just like the others. Sprawled naked on his bed, arms and legs tied to bedposts. For now the ME figures, like the others, his mouth was covered with duct tape so he wouldn't scream. He was blinded with acid. The killer pinched his nose, and he asphyxiated."

"Any struggle?"

"No. He was very cooperative."

"Why would they all let the killer in, and willingly allow themselves to be immobilized?"

"You're thinking a rogue cop, right?" He shook his head in disgust. "Still the reporter, huh."

"Cop. Parole officer. Or someone masquerading as one," Deidre said, ignoring his attempt to goad her, "to get a foot in the door. With a gun pointed at them, there'd be no struggle."

"It's a theory," Briggs said noncommittally.

"It's got to be someone with a police background," Dee continued pressing the issue. "Aside from getting in without the use of force, the killer had to be trained in surveillance. He followed his victims around for weeks or longer."

"Or a Vietnam Vet, Persian Gulf Vet, security officer . . ."

"Don't want it to be a cop gone bad, do you?" she said.

"To be honest, no. But more importantly, I've got to keep an open mind. What you say is all true. Our killer probably had training in surveillance, and very possibly used a uniform or badge to gain entry. But there are a lot of people besides cops trained in surveillance. Go to Macy's and try to pick out who's in security. They get damned good at becoming part of the woodwork. Hell, it could have been a reporter; someone trained to ferret out information on these freaks, with the experience to trail them without being spotted. Maybe even a former reporter working for the Mayor."

"Oh, am I a suspect?" Deidre asked, not certain if he was being serious or yanking her chain. Just how far would Briggs go, she wondered, to satisfy his hostility towards her?

He shook his head no. "My point is, with what we've got we shouldn't narrow our search to just cops. That doesn't mean I'll eliminate the possibility, either."

"I stand corrected," she said, still not willing to offer an apology. "Any way to target his next victim?"

"No. The first victim had just gotten out of prison; raped an eleven-year old within two days of his release, though we didn't know that at the time. Number two was acquitted when the girl he attacked cracked under cross-examination. Reasonable doubt bullshit. That was three years before he was killed. The third went after old ladies. Plea bargained and served a year-and-a-half. He'd been free for five years. And number four was never charged. According to his wife, molested his own daughter and she kicked him out. Went to live with two other relatives and each of them gave him the boot. He picked up his daughter after school one day, raped her and left her comatose."

"Still is, isn't she?" Deidre interrupted.

"Yeah, no telling when or if she'll awake. At the time, though, all we could do was question the bastard. The family wouldn't press charges. If it weren't for the way he died, we'd have concentrated on the family. If the Vigilante hadn't gotten to him first, I'd bet my pension they would have taken care of him, if you get my meaning."

Deidre shook her head, understanding completely. "No patterns, then?"

"Our killer's too smart. He's methodical in who he picks, so we can't get a bead on him." He paused. "Now I've got a question for you. Why is the Mayor's Media Liaison so interested?"

"The Vigilante's becoming a folk hero; a darling of the media."

Briggs smiled at that, but Deidre ignored the gibe.

"The Mayor fears a wave of vigilantism that could easily get out of hand. This bastard's going after scum, but there's all kinds of scum. Next thing, some citizen decides to blow away some crack dealer. Maybe he misses his target and kills a child. I've got to convince the media the Vigilante is as bad as those he kills."

"I don't envy you your job," Briggs said with a sly grin. "The media's got a bug up their ass that this guy is a hero, and it's near impossible to change their minds, if you get my drift. The Vigilante's becoming bigger than life. He sells papers, leads the evening news, and is the hot topic on talk shows. You got your job cut out for you. But having been one of them, I'm sure you'll figure a way to handle them." He laughed a deep rich baritone that resonated in the tiny living room.

At that moment two officers came down the narrow winding stairway carrying a body bag.

"Any chance I can see where he was killed?" Deidre asked.

"Nothing much to see." Briggs looked uncomfortable.

"Then no reason not to let me see it. Look Briggs, I work for the Mayor now, not a newspaper. I'm not going to be anyone's anonymous source."

He seemed to consider what she'd said, and nodded.

"All right. C'mon."

He trudged up the stairs, and narrow as they were Deidre feared he might get stuck. At the bedroom she looked briefly at the bed, noting the ropes that had held Walter Grimes defenseless, then swung her gaze to a mirror. Scrawled in lipstick were the words NO MORE HUNGRY EYES.

Deidre felt lightheaded and her knees turned to jelly as she fainted.

Follow this link to sign up for your FREE copy of "Guardian of Lost Souls"
and to learn more about Barry Hoffman and his writings



There have been 19,452