Barry Hoffman's HUNGRY EYES

Chapter Five

Much as she wanted to get on with her own investigation immediately, Deidre didn't have much time the next day. Briggs called her at seven, and told her to meet at the old 9th Precinct Station on 19th and Tasker Streets.

In a move to reorganize, a euphemism for cost-cutting, two districts had been consolidated into one; the building at 19th Street abandoned two months before.

It looked like it had been vacant for years. The graffiti had been covered with graffiti, more than a few suggesting the police have sex with themselves. Every window had been broken, and as Deidre approached, the smell of urine and human feces assaulted her nose.

Briggs met her at the booking desk, and took her to what would be his office. The heavy smell of industrial disinfectant greeted her, and she was glad she'd had only a bagel and coffee for breakfast. A cleaning crew had their work cut out for them. In the ultimate of ironies, it looked like the station had become a crack house. Briggs must have sensed her unease.

"They were supposed to tear it down weeks ago, but you know how the bureaucracy runs. Seems the cops were so pissed at leaving, they purposely let it go to hell. I hear Superfresh bought the property. Few months, it will go down; next year the area will have a much needed supermarket." He saw Deidre staring at him. "Rambling, am I?"

"You look like shit. You haven't been up all night, have you?"

"Course not. Caught a cat nap at six. They woke me up to call you at seven." He pointed to a cot in the corner. "All the creature comforts of home."

"You haven't solved the case yet, behind my back, have you Detective," she said with a smile."

"Cute, Dee. Spent the night setting up the Task Force, least a good portion of it. Truth is, we never should have announced the damn thing yesterday. I should have had three or four days to organize, then announce it to the press. But your boss got antsy and mine's got no balls."

"Why here?" Dee asked, noting the room contained a desk, two chairs, a filing cabinet, the cot Briggs' mentioned and little else.

"The ambiance." He laughed, and despite the bags under his eyes, he seemed to be getting a second wind. "Seriously, we can't afford leaks, and while the Roundhouse is the logical place for the Task Force, you'd need a dam to plug the leaks."

The Roundhouse, Deidre knew, was a modern state-of-the-art, relatively speaking, central police headquarters. Problem was, every beat reporter had several sources within the building. If Briggs took a piss, someone would be on the phone about it.

"By the end of the day," Briggs continued, "except for some additional personnel, we'll have everything we need: communications, computers, maybe even electricity."

"So what were you up to last night?"

"All the minutia. The Task Force will consist of eleven officers, not including me. I knew four men I wanted right off the bat. After a short meeting we'd added three more; including one woman, in case your friends in the media are interested. We'll be adding two from the suburbs today. The Chief will send over the last two. Hopefully, they'll be able to do more than just answer the phones."

"Don't have much faith in your boss."

"Nah, just don't like the politics. Whoever they are, regardless of what I'm told, they'll report directly to the Chief. They're not exactly the enemy, but let's say they won't have my best interests at heart.

Two uniforms knocked on the door. It was more a formality. The glass was broken. They didn't have much privacy.

"Where do you want these files, sir?" a light-skinned black asked. He way young, probably barely out of the Academy, Deidre thought. She noted the starch in his uniform and boots like mirrors.

"In the corner, for now, with the rest of them."

When they'd left, he sighed. "Where was I? Let's see. We spent part of the night assembling the team. I had files on the cases, and we went over those. What you see in the corner is the raw data; you know all the interviews of witnesses and shit like that."

She could sense he was becoming more comfortable around her, as he didn't apologize for his profanity. She wondered if she'd become one of the guys. Or maybe it was he was too exhausted to care.

"At about three, the dude from the FBI shows up. He's only going to be with us for the day. We'd already sent him most of what we've got. He's going to brief us at . . . ," he looked at his watch, "nine-thirty, then tell the press not to expect any overnight miracles, and return to Washington. We'll update him, of course, and he'll provide feedback, but after he's given us their profile on the guy he's not much use to us."

"Then you got some sleep?"

"Almost," he said with a weary smile. "Had to fill out a few dozen forms so we'd be functional; from plumbers so the johns work to staff to man the phones and computers. Besides the detectives, we'll have another dozen assorted personnel on the premises by noon."

"What's my role in all this?"

"Mainly to keep the press off my ass, so I can do my job. You'll be at the briefing at 9:30. Then you'll brief the media at four; in time for the TV people to get on the early evening news, not enough time to ask too many questions." He smiled.

"You're getting the hang of working the press."

"I've spent my whole life working with one kind of vulture or another, no offense. I've always known how to work the press. Just not too good at making speeches. That's where you come in. You'll be my liaison, as well as the Mayor's. The question is just where do your loyalties lie? I mean, just how much of what you hear goes back to the Mayor?"

Deidre shrugged. "What can I say. I work for the Mayor, but I'm not here to spy on you. As you said, he'll have two members of the Task Force as his eyes and ears. I was never all that close to the Mayor. I wasn't with his campaign from the get-go. He has his inner circle, and I'm certainly not part of it, nor do I wish to be. My future plans do not include politics. I'm to act as liaison between you and the Mayor's office, not spy on you. Take it for what it's worth."

It was Briggs' turn to shrug. "I can handle that. I basically need you for damage control. If anyone asks, I'm ass deep in pursuing leads the FBI provided. You might want to work up a press kit, giving background on the victims, where each was found, etcetera. You know the routine. I figure that after today things will quiet as we plod along. You tell your friends that we'll advise them when we have something newsworthy. No regular briefings. You present our FBI agent, and he tells them we've got days, maybe weeks of legwork before we develop any leads. Basically, tell them to fuck off and let us do our jobs."

He stood up and stretched, a piece of glass crunching under his foot. He handed Deidre a thick manilla folder labeled "Confidential."

"You might want to familiarize yourself with all the victims before the briefing. Don't take this wrong, but the `Confidential' on the file is not ornamental. We tell the media as little as possible," he said with a wry smile. "Before anything goes out it gets cleared by me.

"Now c'mon, let me take you to your office. Use the phone at the main desk for now, if you need to. It's the only one functional for the next few hours. Order whatever your need." He pointed to the left as he walked. "We'll meet in the squadroom at 9:30. Any questions?"

"Like you're in the mood for any?" she said.

He stopped, and put his hand on her arm. "Dee, you're part of my team now. You got questions, ask. We've had our disagreements in the past, but I'm going to need you to run interference for me. No, more than that, I'm going to need your advice and expertise so we can get the media on our side for a change. If I wanted you out of the way, believe me, I could do it. I could have you giving individual briefings to each paper and every station. I could keep you out of my hair. So when I say you're part of my team, I'm not bullshitting you. Okay?"

"Thanks. Really, I mean it." She was about the broach the subject of their earlier alienation, but she decided against it. For now she'd take him at his word. If necessary, she'd confront him if all he was spouting was so much hot air. At the moment, she'd go with the program.

"At the moment, no questions. After the briefing, we'll see. Just point me to my new digs and you get back to work. Better yet, rest. You need it."

"Yes, mother," he said with a smile and showed her to her office. That "office", painted institutional green was all of four walls a desk and chair. A legal pad and assorted pens adorned the grey metal desk. The heavy smell of disinfectant told her Briggs had earmarked it for cleaning before she arrived. She could picture it a few hours before, and it made her skin crawl.

She opened a window to rid herself of the stench, but it was already oppressively hot outside, and wasn't likely to do much good. She hoped one of the forms Briggs had filled out was for fans.

With forty-five minutes to kill, she opened the folder he'd given her. Before she had a chance to immerse herself, there was a knock on her door.

A blond woman in baggy overalls was precariously holding an armful of supplies.

"Sorry to disturb you," she said with a heavy South Philadelphia accent, kind of like a female Sylvester Stallone in Rocky, "but where do you want these?" The woman looked around the room, then laughed. "Pretty stupid question. There's the desk or," she paused and smiled, "the desk."

Deidre laughed. "I guess it's the desk, then."

The woman was short, and her overalls completely obscured her figure. She seemed to swim in them. Your basic one size fits all overalls some companies ordered in mass quantities. Her face was thin, pretty, but with two distinguishing marks that screamed for attention. She had a mole on the left side of her chin which sprouted hairs as if it had a life of its own. It looked like a bug, Deidre thought. A parasite, not caring at all how it marred the looks of its host.

Then there was a prominent scar which ran from the her left eye to the corner of her mouth. It was rough and fibrous, as if stitched by an inebriated intern or not stitched at all, but left to heal. From the way the woman carried herself Deidre thought she must have got it in a fight as a teenager. A cat fight over a boy in high school, in all probability.

The woman was talking, but Deidre was so engrossed in her fantasy she missed the words. She had a bad habit of creating elaborate personas, of sorts, for strangers she met, and often found more than a kernel of truth in them when she learned more about the person. She noticed the woman had put the supplies on her desk. "Excuse me, I'm sorry."

"I was just saying, I like what you done to the place, you know. Understated, but conducive to work. Nothing to distract you."

Deidre laughed again. "I just moved in," she said defensively. "I mean literally just moved in."

"Well, I wish I could stay and chat, but you've got work to do," she said gesturing to the file in Deidre's hand. "Be seeing you around. Have a good day, now."

"You too," Deidre said to the woman's back. A quirky sense of humor, Deidre thought. While born, bred and indoctrinated with middle-class values, unlike some of her fellow reporters Deidre did not look down on the working class. Cleaning ladies and janitors would stop by her desk to chat, and as Deidre was never condescending, she seemed to get better service simply because she didn't consider them invisible nonentities. While she couldn't envision becoming friends with the woman who was now leaving, she liked her instantly.

Enough, already, she chastised herself, time to focus on business at hand. She glanced quickly at the supplies: rubber bands, legal pads, a box or pens and pencils, a stapler and staples and a single file folder. Curious, she thought, but it reminded her of the folder in her hand.

# # # #

Shara walked two blocks to where she'd parked her car and drove back to work. On the way, she slipped out of the overalls, removed the blond wig and peeled off the mole and scar.

Her bowels had turned to jello when she had knocked on Deidre's door, but the woman had shown no recognition. Not that she should have, but she'd taken a risk. She had thoroughly enjoyed the charade. What she'd give to be a fly on the wall when Deidre saw what was in the single folder she had left.

The idea had come to her around four in the morning. She slept in fits and starts, as usual. Always a light sleeper, it had become exacerbated when she'd been kidnapped. Literally caged, she was entirely at his mercy. Afraid he'd sneak up on her while she slept, she dozed, a part of her alert to every sound. Worse were his eyes, mentally raping her. She'd unconsciously claw at her genitals to rid herself of them, until she was raw, and even going to the bathroom was painful. She felt his eyes on her when he wasn't in the room; knew deep down within her being he could see her through the mirrors that covered the room. When she let her guard down, that was when he'd enter.

Set free, she was still his prisoner. A prisoner of his eyes. Her body had adapted to her psychological needs. She got no more than four hours of sleep a night, supplemented by a short nap after work. Even this was unnecessary when she stalked her prey. She'd go days on just catnaps, then sack out for as many as eighteen hours on a Sunday. Even the eyes cooperated with her at those times, assaulting her while awake, but allowing her to regenerate.

The night before she'd seethed at the thought Deidre had tried to bait her; had almost succeeded. Such arrogance demanded payback. A face-to-face meeting; a little chat.

Instantly awake, she tapped into her computer and found where the Task Force would be working. She noted work orders and requisition forms.

Computers. Wonderful tools in the right hands. So many businesses, the police among them, so dependent, they weren't even aware how vulnerable they were to interlopers like herself. There was so much information that could be easily obtained by anyone with the knowledge of how to look.

Deidre would be at the Task Force headquarters that morning. Yes, a visit was in the cards.

Shara had gone to work; the 6AM to 2PM shift that gave her the freedom she needed for her other work. At eight-thirty, complaining of cramps, she'd gotten a fellow worker to cover for her while she supposedly went to the drugstore for a prescription and took a short nap.

Instead, she'd donned her disguise. She was especially proud of the mole and scar. She'd learned from her many talks with uniforms how witnesses had a terribly difficult time describing anyone with any sort of deformity. Scars, burns, anything unnatural and hideous either attracted the eye from the rest of the face, or so revolted the looker that nothing else registered. The mole and scar would occupy Deidre. Just in case, though, she'd taken the precaution of adding hazel contacts. It wouldn't do for Deidre to see her eyes. They were as identifiable to Deidre as fingerprints to the police.

There was that one moment when she'd thought she'd lose it. Her natural nervousness, the adrenalin flowing mixed with her first face to face encounter in thirteen years.

Deidre hadn't changed a bit. Aged to be sure, her eyes showing a haunted quality, but recalling what had happened to her family it was understandable. She remembered how Deidre, to gain her trust years before, had confided in her how hard she worked to make herself look attractive. Looking at her now, Shara had to agree that Deidre was rather plain, with no one distinguishing feature. But the sum was definitely better than the individual parts. She'd also exuded an aura of self-confidence in her manner which surely caught other's attention. With her deft use of makeup to accentuate her better features, she'd turned herself into a good-looking lady.

Shara smiled inwardly as Deidre scrutinized her without an ounce of recognition. Drawn, she was sure, to the mole and the scar. The heavy accent hadn't been planned. Dressed as she was, with the gaudy blond wig, and particularly the mole indicating a lack of self-esteem, the accent came naturally.

It was a shame she had to go back to work. But it was part of the facade she had carefully constructed; patterns that must remain unbroken. Besides, she didn't know when Deidre would notice the single folder, open it and realize she'd been face to face with the woman she talked to via the TV the night before. Shara planned on calling her at home anyway. Meanwhile, today she'd start stalking her final victim. That would keep her occupied; her mind off Deidre for the time being.

# # # #

Deidre opened Briggs' file and began to read. As always, when she did research, she skimmed first to familiarize herself with the big picture, putting checkmarks next to particularly relevant items, jotting down a question or notation or two as she went along. Then she'd go through the entire file a second time, noting similarities and differences in each of the killings, trying to look at each victim through the eyes of the killer. In this case, since she knew it was Renee, it gave her a perspective she was sure none of the others possessed.

The first killing was the sloppiest. Evan Grant had clearly put up a struggle, but had been quickly subdued. He had an abrasion on the left side of his head and swelling on his forehead. The report surmised he'd been knocked out, then tied up. Whatever resistance he'd put up had been feeble; there was no skin under his nails.

Deidre also noted he had only been out of prison six months. He wouldn't have felt complacent. Grant was guarded, not yet cocky. And he was clearly dangerous. Deidre wondered if Renee picked him out to start with on purpose or found she'd erred, and chose the others more carefully.

She'd scarcely finished getting filled in on the Grant killing when Briggs knocked at her door. He pointed to his watch. "You'll be late," he chided. "No way to impress the boss," but he was smiling.

Deidre returned the smile. "I got so immersed in the file you gave me I lost all track of time. Thanks for fetching me. Get any rest?" she asked as she rose.

"Tried to. Sat down and cleared my mind of everything. Only problem, some corner of my mind wouldn't shut down; the part that dealt with minutia. Kept thinking of little things that had to be done. Requisition to repair windows on the doors; another for the clocks. I can see where that'll come in handy. Just things you need when you move into a new office. Only, in this case I don't have days or weeks to complete the job, and I'm moving an entire squad, not just one person." He abruptly shifted gears. "So, tell me, the report give you any insights? Raise any red flags?"

"In forty-five minutes? Give me a break." She put her hand on his arm and stopped him. "Briggs, can I be an active participant at the briefing, or do you want me to take notes and keep my mouth shut?"

He didn't answer immediately, but seemed to ponder the question. "Look, I made a mistake before. I said the Task Force consisted of eleven. Actually, it's twelve. You're not a cop, and won't take part in the actual investigation. As far as I'm concerned, though, you're every bit the investigator they are, though you come at your work from a different perspective. I want your input. Don't feel intimidated in there. You'll feel out of your element, but go with your instincts.

"C'mon now, they'll start without us."

The squadroom was as bare as the rest of the station; the pungent odor of disinfectant the telltale sign it had been cleaned during the early morning. Three large fans recirculated hot air. Without being told, Deidre knew which members of the team Briggs had chosen, which were from the suburbs, and those who were the Chief's eyes and ears. Her assumptions were confirmed as Briggs introduced the group.

Briggs' seven were comfortably dressed. They'd been at the station most of the night, had gone home for a shower, some rest and a decent breakfast. They had returned prepared for the adverse working conditions, obviously with Briggs' blessing.

Five were black, two white, one female; a light-skinned black. They sat together, like a clique in a high school class. Six ranged in age from thirty to thirty-five; Briggs' contemporaries. The seventh stood out from the others. Skin as dark as Briggs, his body was lean and chiseled from daily workouts. She guessed he was forty-five. She couldn't tell by his face as it was surrounded by a thick wiry beard; now more gray than black. His short-cropped hair was gray as well. He looked like a drill Sergeant and she guessed he was Briggs' mentor; his rabbi, she'd heard cops call those who'd taken officers under their wings. While Briggs spoke, Lucius Calvin, as he was introduced, like a bird of prey searched the faces of the others.

The two men from the suburbs sat next to one another; the two outcasts of the class. Both white, both in their early forties, both wearing light-colored cotton suits that were already stained with perspiration.

The final two also sat apart from the others, but they had a haughty air about them. They were the Chief's men; one black, the other white, both in their mid- to late-forties, both dressed in dark suits in silent defiance to Briggs' handpicked crew. They both looked at Briggs with disregard, even contempt. Deidre knew them, and was certain they'd wanted to lead the Task Force. Deidre had kiddingly mentioned them to Briggs the day before; Chievous and McCauley. They'd be hoping Briggs would fail, and each would be first in line to take his place.

Deidre branded them worthless, and wondered how Briggs would handle them.

The only other person in the room, sitting alone in the front row, had to be the FBI agent, though he looked more like a college professor. He was fortysomething, medium height, but about twenty pounds overweight. He wore a navy sports jacket and faded bluejeans. His horn-rimmed glasses constantly slid down his nose. He dabbed his forehead with a handkerchief while readjusting his glasses.

After introductions most of Briggs' comments were directed to the men from the burbs and the Chief's henchmen. He'd already brainstormed with his chosen seven. He clearly considered Chievous and McCauley irritants, and he would gauge the competency of the other two later. Deidre wondered if it were wise to antagonize Chievous and McCauley. She doubted, though, if there was any way to mollify them. They already had their knives ready to plunge into Briggs' back.

"I apologize for our working conditions," he said, his eyes darting back and forth between the four interlopers. "With the exception of the air conditioning, which may or may not be possible to repair, we should be fully operational by the end of the day. After lunch we'll review the files you've each been given, and I'll hand out assignments. First, however, I have the privilege to turn over the meeting to Special Agent Harold Logan, from the Behavioral Sciences Center at Quantico. The FBI has worked up a profile on our killer." He nodded to the man in the front row. "Agent Logan."

There was a smattering of applause, and Logan looked self-conscious as he got up to address the group. Before talking he dabbed his forehead with his handkerchief, readjusted his glasses, removed them and then put them on again. Then like a professor he gave them a little background about profiling methods that had been developed, explained how they'd helped break two recent cases most of his listeners were familiar with, and then got down to the business at hand.

He'd clearly won over his audience with his description of how FBI profiles had solved two seemingly hopeless cases. Deidre could tell it was all cleverly calculated. There'd been a lot of squirming, some daydreaming, and a few with heavy eyelids, ready to close at the outset. But with stark grisly details of cases that had made national headlines he'd brought them back to attention. They waited on his every word now. He'd tell them who the killer was and how to track him down. A quick capture would mean promotions for all of them.

Logan opened up a manilla folder, and only occasionally glancing at his notes gave them what they wanted.

"Now to get down to cases. We believe our killer is a white male, 25-34 years of age. He was probably physically and/or sexually abused as a child. It's possible someone close to him has been molested recently. That could have been what triggered him; the straw that broke the camel's back, so to speak."

He paused, and took a sip of water, again wiping his forehead and adjusting his glasses.

"Our man is methodical. The pictures he's left indicate he must validate his suspicions before he passes final judgment. Also of significance, he seems to derive less satisfaction with each killing. It's a classic scenario. At first he savors each killing, relives them and can lead an otherwise normal life. However, with each subsequent killing there is less gratification. The need to kill gnaws at him like a cancer.

"In this case, between the first and second killing there was a three month delay; two months with the next, then seven weeks and five weeks with the last. We can assume, then, he'll strike within three to four weeks."

As he was talking he took a picture of each victim, cut out in the form of pieces to a jigsaw puzzle, and pinned it to the board next to him. The last piece contained a large question mark.

Throughout his discourse Deidre felt a certain detachment. She knew the killer. She was, however, fascinated by his technique, and the rapt attention of those he lectured.

"Our friend gets his thrills by stalking; accumulating proof the scum he's selected has gone on committing heinous crimes after thwarting justice. We believe he's a veteran of the armed forces with training in surveillance, as well as computer technology. Or he may have learned about computers before or after leaving the service.

"This guy's egotistical. To the extreme. He gets off, to use Ms. Caffrey's words, on being a hero; an avenging angel." He looked at Deidre as he said this, letting all know he was totally on top of the case.

"The kill itself has little meaning to him. It's the hunt, the discovery, followed by intense media scrutiny that makes it all meaningful for him. We can use this, hopefully, to make him come to us before he dispatches his next victim." He slapped the paper with the question mark with the palm of his hand to accentuate his last point.

"We want to entice him to contact the media. Detective Briggs and I have agreed that we'll approach a reporter, and suggest a series of negative articles; questioning the manhood of the Vigilante, his motivation, etc. It's possible he'll become so incensed he'll contact the reporter directly. His perception by the public is critical to him. An attempt to get the public to turn against him might bring him to us.

"We've also discussed setting up an elaborate trap, hoping he'll bite. We'll feed the media the names of three rapists and child molesters who have evaded punishment or received a slap on the wrist. Two will be real, one a plant. Our man's no fool, and this is a real longshot, but if we can choose his target, we've got him."

McCauley tentatively raised his hand, like a child in school not sure if he was going to make a fool of himself. "Isn't that unethical, Agent Logan? We're putting two citizens at risk without their permission."

Logan answered like a teacher lecturing a wayward child. "Unethical? We're after a killer here. We're not on a level playing field. Right now we're playing his hand. We have to try to get a look at his cards. To assuage your guilt, we have evidence the two we've selected are repeat offenders." He raised his hand to cut off McCauley who was about to interrupt.

"We don't have enough evidence to bring charges, but these are not law-abiding citizens we've chosen. Hopefully, we'll make our plant the most attractive, but it's impossible to determine just how he selects his victims."

He paused now, taking off his glasses, as if to punctuate his next point. He slowly surveyed his audience, then settled on McCauley.

"I want you to understand the problem I believe we're facing. This man is fast becoming a folk hero. In a free society, we can't muzzle the press. Unfortunately, the picture the media is painting is one of an avenging angel. It's just a matter of time before copycats crawl out of the woodwork. Just a matter of time before someone gets sick of seeing a dealer pushing crack on kids while the police seemingly do nothing. Even if it means putting someone at risk, we must take the chance for the greater good. Do the ends justify the means, you're asking? In this case, you're damn right. Now any questions?"

He fielded a number of questions before Deidre felt confident to broach what was foremost on her mind.

"You keep referring to the killer as `he'. Is it possible we should be looking for a woman?"

"Anything's possible," he said without hesitation. "Women are committing an increasingly higher number of violent crimes. Women are seeking empowerment and crime empowers. The talk shows are abuzz with women coming out of the closet admitting they were victims of incest and other sexual and physical abuse as children. Oprah and others of her ilk are telling them they can no longer turn the other cheek. Women who have been repeatedly beaten by their husbands are striking back, killing their spouses, and the juries are setting them free. I personally believe we'll see women serial killers ten or twenty years down the line. But for now the statistics tell us woman are killing close to home: their children, their spouses.

"And looking at the facts of this case, two of the men were physically strong, and not to be sexist, I believe even taken by surprise they could easily have overpowered a woman."

Deidre could feel the gaze of the others on her, at this last statement, but kept her attention focused on Logan.

"Lastly, we have to use a process of elimination, of sorts, or we'd be investigating the entire population. The profile I've provided comes from hundreds of interviews with serial killers. It narrows the search to reasonable proportions, which is why we were called in. That profile, Ms. Caffrey, excludes women, in this particular case."

Deidre nodded. She'd already known, but needed confirmation, her suspicions would be dismissed out of hand. She'd have to look for Renee on her own; and to be perfectly honest with herself that's the way she wanted it. She'd made the effort, at least, and assuaged her conscience.

There were a few more questions, which Deidre only vaguely heard, and then Logan sat down.

Briggs told everyone to take a break to digest what they'd heard. They'd reassemble in an hour to brainstorm. Then assignments would be made.

Deidre would meet with Logan and plan the afternoon press conference. She felt a bit like a fifth wheel. Logan certainly didn't need her expertise. He'd told the Task Force who the killer was, and how to smoke him out. Until they came up dry, they'd follow his lead without question.

She'd sensed a palpable fear among members of the Task Force, including Chievous and McCauley. Even Briggs wasn't immune. The enormity of their quest was just dawning on them. And there was the fear of failure; of careers put irretrievably on hold if they didn't succeed. They were drowning, grasping for a life preserver, and Logan was offering the best hope for success. No one was about to question his assumptions, conclusions and suggestions . . . and he knew it.

Logan would tell her how to handle the media. She, too, would do as she was told, though not for the same reasons. Only she knew he was wrong.

For her own investigation, she'd enlist her own troops; the equal to any on the Task Force, whose loyalty to her was beyond question.

# # # #

Back at her office, Deidre saw more supplies had been delivered in her absence; the most welcome a fan, telephone and radio. She began putting the supplies in her desk, when she came to the single manilla folder on top of several legal pads.

Absently, she opened the folder and some papers fell out. She picked up a yellowing newspaper article and immediately recognized the photo of 10-year old Renee Barrows, next to Deidre's page three story in the Daily News: "SUICIDE CLAIMS ABUSED YOUTH." It was more a human interest story than a straight news report.

"Renee Barrows committed suicide today, apparently jumping from the Falls Bridge into the murky depths of the Schuylkill River."

Despite her unease, the writer in Deidre cringed at the overly melodramatic opening. A great writer she hadn't been thirteen years before.

"What could drive a ten-year old to so abhor life as to throw it away? Of all the members of the media, this reporter knew Renee Barrows best. That she would commit suicide is incomprehensible, for this feisty youth was a survivor; a child who been to hell and back more than once, yet seemingly had never succumbed to despair. Placed in a foster home that for the first time gave her structure, and, most importantly, love, she appeared to be on the mend."

The story went on to describe the many horrors that had been visited upon Renee Barrows; from her stepfather's death during an aborted police drug bust, to her becoming the family maid, at age eight -- if not a slave in her own home -- to her kidnapping when ten. Now, six months later, her life apparently taking a turn for the better, something had driven her to suicide.

In the article, Deidre had attributed the cause to constant harassment of the media, the innate cruelty of peers who at best shunned her, at worst teased and goaded her into numerous confrontations, and a mother who refused to give up her quest to get her child back. Lastly, she placed blame on herself.

"I had long since abandoned the impartiality of a reporter. I had become her friend. More than that, her confidant. Yet, like so many before, I'd abandoned her, though not by choice. It was necessary to protect her from further prying by the media. As long as I maintained any type of association with Renee, I was perceived by some of my peers as privy to inside information; able to scoop the competition. To protect her, I had to distance myself from her, and though she said she understood, I obviously misread her. I was like all the rest. I used her and now abused her. For this I can never forgive myself. Renee Barrows committed suicide today, and I could have prevented it."

Deidre stared at the photo of the child; a school picture of a gaunt youth with flowing brown hair. As always, she was drawn to the eyes. Even in the black and white rendition, they hid the hurt that marked her existence. Renee had long ago pulled down shades behind her eyes and wouldn't open them for anyone.

Glancing down at the floor, Deidre saw a second piece of paper jutting from under her desk. In block letters, cut from a newspaper: CATCH ME IF YOU CAN.

Deidre felt the walls close in on her; the oppressive heat a blanket that threatened to smother her. Renee had delivered the supplies, and this folder that morning.

Anger and self-recrimination welled within her, throwing off the nausea. She'd been face to face with her that morning, and all she'd seen was a mole and a scar.

She tried to form a mental picture of the woman and drew a blank. "Dammit to hell," she said aloud, knowing she'd been set up. Renee had walked right into the lions den, offered herself up, and Deidre had been done in by a mole and a scar.

As a reporter Deidre had taken pride in not only quickly measuring those she met, but photographing in her minds eye their appearance; able to commit the description to words to bolster a story. It was unlike her to draw such a total blank. Maybe she'd been out of practice, what with a job that demanded so little. Maybe, she'd been preoccupied, ironically, with the knowledge Renee was at the center of the storm that was the basis for the Task Force. Maybe it was the oppressive heat mixed with the sickening disinfectant.

Regardless, the eyes should have been a dead giveaway. Deidre picked up the picture with the photo of Renee at ten. No mole, no scar, nothing could keep her from recognizing those eyes. They'd haunted her from the first day she'd met Renee at the hospital until they stared at her from the newspaper detailing her suicide.

She'd barely noticed the eyes of the woman who'd visited that morning. Could it have been someone else? Someone Renee had sent to deliver the folder with its challenge? No, the Renee she knew, even at ten, would not have involved another. And she was certain Renee wanted the face to face meeting; the danger inherent in being recognized, the challenge in duping an adversary. It had been Renee, if only a facade, for Deidre was sure it was all a clever disguise: a wig, surely, the baggy overalls to mask her shape, and the damned mole and scar. The mole, she knew was fake; the scar she couldn't be sure.

More importantly, how did Renee know she was onto her? It must have been the press conference the day before, she reasoned. Maybe the barbs she had tossed of the previous day had succeeded beyond her wildest expectations. Somehow she'd communicated with the woman, and Renee wanted her to know.

And, oddly enough, Logan had been right. Renee wanted to be understood, wanted to communicate with the media. Wanted to communicate with her. Whether she wanted to go public or not, was something she was sure she would learn in due time.

Deidre pondered whether she should show Briggs the article and message, but quickly dismissed the thought. Renee didn't fit the profile, and neither the article nor the challenge proved she was alive. No, this was between she and Renee. She promised herself, though, that from that moment on she'd be on her guard. Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me, she recalled the admonition she'd heard more than once in her career. She had to be at her best or Renee would continually outmaneuver her.

Though thoroughly distracted, Deidre put Renee out of her mind to concentrate on finishing the folder Briggs had given her. She had to look at each of the killings through the eyes of Renee to gain and edge.

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 20,246