Barry Hoffman's HUNGRY EYES

Chapter Four

Hungry Eyes. The phrase resonated in Deidre's mind as she nursed a diet coke. Her apartment on the sixteenth floor of a high rise off Rittenhouse Square had few furnishings. It lacked those little touches that gave it a character of its own; that told something about its inhabitant.

When she'd sold her home on the Main Line, shortly her husband and son's death, a year-and-a-half before, she'd purposely taken little with her. She'd grudgingly acquiesced to her father-in-law and put only the most cherished items in storage, then sold the rest with the house. She never regretted the decision. She had to start fresh, she told herself, and that meant both disposing of much of the past and weaning herself off the buzz of alcohol.

She hadn't quite drowned her sorrows in booze; hadn't succumbed to alcoholism. No, she drank just enough to keep her in a mellow funk. One day her husband, who as a reporter had survived assignments in the Persian Gulf, Somalia and Bosnia, and eight-year old son were playing touch football in the backyard; the next she was burying them after their car had been rammed into by a drunken driver.

A six month leave of absence from the paper had passed quickly. Too quickly. She wasn't quite ready to leave the womb of her memories. Another month passed, then a second.

"No," she'd told her editor, "not yet. Give me a few more days, a week or two at the most. It wouldn't do you any good my coming back too early, have me go through the motions and basically fuck up, would it, Jack?"

Another month flew by and this time he hadn't called. Just as well, she told herself. I'm still not ready. Soon though. A few days, maybe a week or two . . .

Her father-in-law had slapped her out of her lethargy. A reporter himself, he'd grudgingly been dragged off the streets at fifty-five, and for the past five years had been on the editorial board of the Inquirer; allowed to vent his spleen twice a week with a column. Physically he resembled his son; tall -- six-foot-six -- gaunt, with a full head of straight hair he literally combed with his fingers. Where her husband's hair had been jet black, Jonas Caffrey Seniors' was snow white; had prematurely grayed, he'd proudly proclaimed, in his twenties. "Distinguished. Helped gain their confidence. Better than bald anytime."

She'd noticed some liver spots on his cheeks, forehead and hands in the last few years, deep lines like streams cascading down his face, with others forming, branching off a main tributary. He now walked somewhat stooped, where once he'd stood proud, and there was a slight tremor in his right hand. Stubborn to the core, he'd taught himself to write with his left hand rather than admit to the ravages of age.

But his mind remained razor sharp. Often gruff and irascible, she'd learned that beneath the rough exterior was a man of uncommon insight and compassion.

His signature, however, was his clipped, almost staccato manner of speaking. He didn't speak in sentences, but in fragments, as if extra words were a waste of time, if he could make his point without them.

Six weeks after her editor's last call he'd come by unannounced. That, too, she'd come to expect. "Call ahead, a waste of time," he said on more than one occasion. No one home, only my time I've wasted. Call first and you make a fuss. Then, I feel like a pain in the ass."

This time he'd used his son's key, when she ignored his persistent knock.

"Listen. Don't interrupt. I'll say my piece, and leave." He hesitated, the look on his face showing he was not about to take no for an answer.

"I lost a son and grandson. I grieve for them. Eight years ago I lost my wife. Wanted to bury my head in the sand. My Angela would have slapped me silly. You've mourned your loss and then some. Draw strength from their love. Time to get on with life. Tomorrow you'll get a call. A new beginning." He bent down and held her chin firmly in his right hand. She felt a slight tremor. "You're the daughter I never had. My son, if he knew you'd caved in, would be heartbroken. Disappointed, too. My son didn't marry a quitter. You want to honor his memory, you tell the man yes." He kissed her on the forehead and left.

The next day John Cabot called. His mayoral campaign was in disarray; a twenty point lead shrunk to five percent. As all politicians he had to find scapegoats. It couldn't be his fault, after all. He'd fired his Chief of Staff and Press Secretary.

Now he offered the job of Press Secretary to her, and she'd accepted. Took a drink as she hung up the phone, and decided she owed it to him to give it her best, which meant no more booze to dull the senses.

The campaign rallied, and she was appointed Media Liaison. A new beginning.

But tonight an even older memory tugged at her. A memory of a ten-year old fearful of Hungry Eyes that assaulted her dreams. A girl who had committed suicide, but hadn't. A girl, no, now a woman still apparently stalked by those eyes. In her heart, Deidre knew Renee Barrows had killed at least five, and would kill again. She had to find Renee and stop her, yet she couldn't go to Briggs. She could imagine his response.

"A girl who killed herself thirteen years ago is the killer. Your proof? The message on the mirror. Gimme a break."

She wouldn't have blamed him. She had proof all right; proof Renee hadn't died, hadn't jumped into the Schuylkill River after leaving a letter for her foster parents. She went to her desk. In the bottom drawer she took out a thick file. At the very end, yellowing at the edges was a postcard. "Thanks for caring." Postmarked three days after the child had plunged off the bridge. The police then, and Briggs now, would say the Post Office screwed up. A postcard falls on the floor and someone finds it four or five days later, and it's mailed. Renee had written and mailed it before she took the plunge, so they'd say. End of theory.

But Deidre knew better. Renee loved playing with Deidre's mind. She'd cared for Deidre, but used her just the same. In the end, she couldn't resist one last taunt. And it had bugged her for many a night. But she knew if Renee set her mind to vanishing, she wouldn't be found, so Deidre had finally put it to rest.

But Renee was back, and Deidre would find her. Deidre for once had the advantage. She knew Renee was the killer, yet Renee wouldn't know she was on her trail.

One of the perks of her job was it left her with a lot of down time. She had no set hours; she was at the Mayor's disposal when needed. And, he'd told her to stay on top of the Vigilante case.

Could she somehow make Renee come to her? Yes, she thought to herself. A retrospective series on Renee Barrows and the kidnapping that had made national headlines, and propelled her own career. It would grant her the opportunity to dig into the past. And maybe with some slight revisionist history, she'd anger Renee enough so she'd contact her.

She could feel the juices pumping. The past nine months hadn't been the new beginning she'd sought. She'd wrapped herself in a cocoon of comfort and lay dormant; functioning on automatic pilot. But dammit, she was a reporter, and here was a life and death story only she could tell. And maybe she could do something for Renee. Maybe she could atone for abandoning her thirteen years ago.

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