Barry Hoffman's HUNGRY EYES

Chapter Seven

Deidre showered when she got home, needing to rid herself of the smell of disinfectant that clung to her like cheap perfume. She rewound the videotape of the evening news and watched herself at Agent Logan's press conference. While she'd been peppered with questions, this evening they hadn't used any footage of her. In the world of TV news, there was just so much you could fit into a two-minute report, and Logan was the "big" story of the day.

She did see herself next to him, and noted the strain and fatigue on her face. She felt every bit of it, and still had so much to do before she could even think of going to sleep. Renee's brazen foray that morning made her determined to prepare her plan of action. If Logan were right, Renee would strike no later than three weeks. From now on there would no time for procrastinating.

Showering, she recalled the first time she'd met Renee thirteen years before. The ten-year old had been missing for six days when neighbor Edward Costanzo, under intense police scrutiny cracked and led them to a remote cabin forty miles north of the South Philadelphia neighborhood from which Renee had been abducted. It was Deidre's first day on the story; the beat reporter having called in with the flu.

It was a summer day, oppressively hot, much like today, and dozens of reporters -- local and national -- were at the crime scene, hoping to get a photo of the child. Deidre had seen an ambulance parked a block away and decided waiting for the little girl to be brought out was a waste of time. She'd sauntered over to the ambulance, made small talk with a paramedic, and found out the hospital Renee would be taken to for an examination.

She'd left immediately, a plan formulating in her mind. At the hospital, she had found a nurses uniform and waited for the child's arrival. When Renee had arrived the hospital wasn't yet prepared for the onslaught of the media, and confusion reigned. After an examination, Renee was put in a private room and left alone, with one guard outside her door. Deidre carrying a soft drink was admitted, no questions asked.

Deidre had seen pictures of Renee Barrows; knew of her troubled past, but was still shocked at the gaunt figure all but swallowed up in the hospital bed. She looked like a child brought up by wolves in the forest; her long brown hair was a tangle of snarls, surrounding a face all bones and angles. Her eyes were skittish, following Deidre's every movement. She couldn't read anything in her eyes at all. No curiosity. No anger. Just watching her, as she observed the child. Deidre offered her the soda, which Renee accepted without a word and greedily wolfed down.

When she was finished, a tight smile tugged at her mouth.

"You're not a nurse, are you?

Instinctively, Deidre knew she shouldn't lie to the child. To do so would be to lose her for good.

"Why do you say that?"

"No name tag. All the doctors and nurses had a name tag. And your shoes. The nurses I saw wore those ugly white shoes. You're in heels."

Observant, Deidre thought, further confirmation she'd have to be straight with her.

"I'm a reporter. For the Daily News. Do you want me to leave?"

"No . . . I don't want to be alone."

"Can I ask you some questions?"

"No. How about I ask you questions. I'll interview you."

"Tell you what," Deidre said, sitting on the bed next to the youth. "You ask me a question and I'll ask you one. Fair enough?"

The girl shrugged. "Okay. When was the first time you had sex?"

Deidre was thrown for a loop momentarily, but quickly recovered. Again, she was reminded of her initial impression of the child. This was no ordinary ten-year-old. She'd had to fend for herself most of her life, and was street-wise beyond her years. This first question was a test. If Deidre failed to answer, Renee would dismiss her. So, she told the girl how she'd held out until her high school prom, though most of her friends had considerably more experience.

"Have you had sex?" Deidre asked.

"I've played around a bit, but I haven't gone all the way, yet."

Deidre didn't know whether to believe the first part of her answer, but decided not to press the point. Next Renee asked for details of the prom, which Deidre grudgingly gave. Then it was her turn.

"Edward Costanzo didn't have sex with you?"


"Did he touch you?"

"No, he looked, but he didn't touch."

"Not here," Deidre said pointing to her own breasts.


"Not here," she said, putting her hands in her lap, resting on her genitals.

"He looked, but never touched."

"You weren't wearing any clothes?"

"He made me take them off. I only had a blanket. He'd tell me to put the blanket down, and he'd look at me."

"Did he ever take his clothes off?"

"No. He touched himself, though, his hands in his pants when he looked at me." She stopped. "It's my turn now. Will you print everything I tell you?"

Without thinking Deidre countered with a question of her own. "Would you if you were me?"

"Yes. Everything."


"I should know when I'm talking to you that everything is fair game. Only fools tell reporters things they don't want repeated."

"Is it all so black and white?" Deidre asked, genuinely interested in Renee's response. It was like talking to an equal. "Maybe you'll tell me something that will hurt you or embarrass you. Shouldn't I take your feelings into consideration?"

"Pleeease," she dragged out the word, dripping with sarcasm. Her hands clasped tightly in her lap until then suddenly became animated; gestures punctuating every sentence. "Life is tough. If I'm a reporter I tell you if you don't want to see it in the papers, don't say it. I'm looking out for number one. I don't care about your feelings. I care only about the story."

"Your life has been that bad."

"I haven't met a hell-of-a-lot of people who've been nice to me. I don't tell anyone my secrets. Anyone." Her hands were balled up, pent up rage allowed to escape. "Tell someone a secret and it's not a secret anymore. I'd use it if I needed to. In school, if someone confides in me, fine. But it's not their secret anymore. As for me, I won't say something if I don't want it repeated."

Deidre decided not the press the point. She knew Renee had just given her permission to print whatever they discussed.

The give and take continued, and Deidre had her exclusive. Edward Costanzo had asked Renee to help her load groceries into his station wagon. She'd driven with him to the cabin. He was a neighbor, not a stranger to be shunned. And he'd always been friendly to kids. He had a pool table, ping pong table, and a VCR which were not common in her neighborhood. Kids were always around watching a film or TV, playing games and eating candy and junk food that never seemed depleted.

When he told Renee he had new games at the cabin, she took him at his word. Once in the cabin, though, he'd enticed her into the basement and before she knew it he'd picked her up and thrown her into a cramped cell, six feet long and four feet high. There was no bed, only a blanket. There was a TV, and a camera so he could see her when he was upstairs. There was an intercom, so he could communicate with her. And there was a pot in case she had to pee or take a crap.

Throughout Renee's recital Deidre hadn't taken any notes. She'd been blessed with a remarkable memory and learned in college that people were more comfortable when they just talk to you without your scribbling notes or using a tape recorder. Just as important, Deidre was not as interested in the words themselves, but what lay behind the words. With her full concentration on her subject, she caught little nuances those with pads or recorders missed.

Abruptly Renee decided the interview was over.

"I'm tired. I think I'll take a nap," she said, leaving Deidre still full of questions.

"Do you want me to sit with you?"

"So you can ask me more questions when I get up?"

Deidre smiled. "Got me."

Renee smiled, too. "You have enough for now. Write your story. Then maybe we'll talk again."

"I'm not going to press you, Renee, but I don't think the police will let me in again after reading my story. We both know I'm not supposed to be here."

"You let me worry about them," and with that she closed her eyes and feigned sleep.

Instinctively, Deidre kissed her on the forehead before leaving. Renee's eyes jerked open, and for a second the veil that had covered them almost lifted. Eyes that had been expressionless almost spoke to her. Just as quickly, the curtain descended again. Renee closed her eyes, but there was a smile on her face.

Deidre was brought back to the present by the ringing of her telephone. Naked, dripping water across the carpet, she reached it just before her answering machine kicked in.

"You looked tired today." It was her father-in law. As usual, no wasted greeting. She refused to play his game, though. "Hi Jonas, and how are you.?" He'd, of course, ignore the question.

"Come over for dinner. We'll talk."

Deidre was shaking her head no into the phone. She had too much to do. But before she could utter the words, she thought better of it. Jonas had been her mentor before and during her marriage. She had no secrets from him, and whether he believed her or not, knew she needed his insight.

"How could I turn down such an invitation?" She didn't wait for a reply. "Do me a favor, though. I know you've got a file on Renee Barrows. Take a look at it before I arrive. Okay?"

"Bring a dessert." A slight pause. "I'll have it read."

# # # #

They ate dinner in silence, as was their custom. No small talk. No shop talk. No fancy meal. Burgers rare, corn on the cob, and the seven-layer cake Deidre had brought.

Deidre had come from a typical white middle class home; her parents springing the full bill for college at the University of Pennsylvania. A journalism major, she first met Jonas Caffrey when he'd conducted a series of guest workshops at school. Most of the other students had been awed and intimidated by the Pulitzer Prize winner. Their questions were timid and insipid, they groveled and kissed ass.

Even then, Deidre saw the man beneath the tough exterior. As preparation she read dozens of his articles between classes until she knew what made the reporter in him tick. By the third session, she'd captured his attention, and that summer she became his intern at the Inquirer. His first and only intern.

Upon graduation, he'd helped her land a job at the Daily News. He didn't want her at the Inquirer where it would be perceived she'd get preferential treatment because of his sponsorship. He'd help her with advice, but she'd have to sink or swim on her own.

After six months of mindless features, she'd caught a break with the Barrows' case and had made the most of it. Now, over coffee, she asked if he had read the file.

"Some good writing. A lot of dreck, too; mostly the pieces about the child. Problem with you, girl, you always get too close to the victim. Protected them. Edited out the dirt. A lot of bullshit"

Renee had told her the same thing thirteen years earlier. After the interview at the hospital, Deidre had filed a story that had the populace setting up trust funds, sending her toys, and lining up to be foster parents, if her mother was denied custody. She'd told Renee's story . . . with certain omissions. The public wouldn't understand, she thought, the child's bitterness and "shit on you" philosophy. She felt Renee needed to know others cared, that the world wasn't filled solely with scum. So she softened the edges and painted a sympathetic picture.

That afternoon a Lieutenant Collins had called. "I should lock you up for obstruction of justice with the stunt you pulled at the hospital," he began.

"Flattery will get you nowhere," she responded, knowing she'd raise the ire of the police department and the admonishment was inevitable. But she wasn't about to apologize for doing her job.

"We've got a problem," he went on, ignoring her comment. "Seems Renee Barrows won't speak to us without you present. And . . . ," he hesitated, and she could feel his anger. "She demands, doesn't ask, but demands, mind you, that you have full access to her. Only then will she cooperate."

Deidre had to hand it to Renee. She had thought with today's story she'd be near the top of the police department's shit list, just below Edward Costanzo. No way, she had thought, she'd get a second interview, but Renee would not be denied. She decided to be conciliatory to win the officer's trust, if possible.

"Lieutenant, Renee needs a friend, someone she can trust. For whatever reason I've won her trust. I'll be up front with you. She's a tough kid, and she won't be intimidated by the police. I suggest you do as she asks. For my part, I promise I won't print anything that will compromise your case. Within reason, if you tell me something is off limits you won't read about it in the paper the next day."

He'd agreed and half-an-hour later, she was back in Renee's hospital room. Deidre had trouble negotiating her way through the room. Flowers elbowed one another for space. Toys, mostly dolls of every sort, lay in piles in their boxes. Renee was sitting on the bed, a stuffed Teddy Bear by her side, her hair washed and combed, a pink nightshirt replacing the hospital gown she'd worn the day before.

"Quite a haul," Deidre said eyeing the clutter.

"All due to your story." She sounded less than thrilled, Deidre noted to herself.

"You saw it?"

Renee put her finger in her mouth and made a gagging sound. "You laid it on kinda thick. The girl I read about wasn't me. You made me out to be weak and vulnerable. Someone to be pitied. I should be pissed."

"Then why do you insist on my presence before you'll talk to the police?"

"I'm a star," she said, her hands sweeping the room with all its gifts. "Or a freak. I'm not the naive child you make me out to be . . . and you know it. Sooner or later, I'll have to tell my story. This morning already three reporters tried to sneak in. I'm not going to be part of some circus. I trust you . . . sorta," she said with a smile. "We've got an understanding. Way I figure it, if I give you, what do you call it . . . uh, an exclusive," she snapped her fingers as she found the right word, "I keep them off my ass."

"I can live with that," Deidre said.

"Bet you can," Renee snapped. "I'll make you famous."

"I don't know about that."

Renee shrugged. "Just do me a favor. Don't make me out to be some wuss. If people want to give me money and clothes and toys and candy, who am I to say no. But, I don't want their pity. All my life those who've messed with me have gotten more than they bargained for."

"I won't make you into a wuss, but I don't think the public is quite ready for the real Renee. I'll give you to them in small doses."

"So they'll sympathize," she dragged out the last word derisively, then stuck out her tongue at Deidre.

"What's wrong with that? You've been screwed all your life. Now it's payback."

"Know what your problem is?" She didn't wait for an answer. "You can't go for the jugular.".

Deidre shook her head in astonishment. "Where does a ten-year-old learn about going for the jugular?"

"Not from school. I hang around with a lot of street people. Hookers, number runners -- people like that. They're my real teachers. They teach me about life, about going for the jugular. It's like this, if I get into a fight at school with a boy bigger than me, I kick him in the balls and scratch at his eyes. He may hurt me, but he won't mess with me again, and others gets the message, too. It's too much trouble. There are so many others to pick on who won't put up a fight.

"You're like those soft kids in your reporting. I bet you've had an easy life." She lay back on her pillow, her hands behind her head, a smile on her face. Deidre could tell she was enjoying making her feel uncomfortable.

Deidre was about to protest, but Renee ignored her.

"You don't go for the balls in your story. You write what you want others to think of me, and to hell with the truth. It's all bullshit."

" . . . bullshit," Renee had told her.

" . . . bullshit," Jonas told her now, placing one of the articles on the table.

As usual he had picked up nuances others missed. Edited out the dirt. She began to defend herself to Jonas, but he dismissed her with a wave of his hand.

"We both know your strengths and your failings," he said. "I'm not into that saccharin crap, but I've never condemned you. You got the exclusive. You told her story. Leastwise some of it. Enough of that. Why am I reading ancient history?"

Deidre told him her theory. He asked no questions, and his face betrayed nothing as she spoke. She saved Renee's morning visit for last, showing him the article of her suicide, and the CATCH ME IF YOU CAN challenge.

"Never bought the suicide, myself," he said as she finished. "Not the type."

While Renee's philosophy of life had remained hidden from the public, Deidre had shared it with Jonas. She'd used him as a sounding board, though she had for the most part ignored his admonitions about making Renee into a martyr. Until now, though, they'd never discussed the suicide.

"The question is what do I do?" she asked. "I'm not comfortable going to the police, even with this," she said holding up the paper she'd received that morning. "It'll be dismissed out of hand. It doesn't fit their profile. And even if they do believe me, I'm out of the loop."

"Still the reporter," he said, smiling for the first time. "Thought you'd gone soft on me. The mouthpiece of the Mayor." He spat out the last. He didn't have anything against the Mayor, just a disdain for politicians in general. It was ironic, since he had gotten her the job with Mayoral candidate when she had been in her funk. Now he just shrugged. "Flush her out."


"Make her come to you. Come to you pissed. She'll slip up. Give herself away, if properly goaded."

"And how do I do that?"

He held up the file he'd read with clippings of the kidnapping. "It's all here. Do a retrospective. Talk to the mother; the stepbrother, the kidnappers family. But twist the stories. Sympathize with them. She won't . . . can't let it lay. Open up lines of communication, then go for the kill."

"I like it." Then she shook her head in exasperation. "She still is in control, though. It's all fine and good to make her come to me, but I've also got to go on the offensive.

"I've been thinking of two lines of attack to try to locate her, in conjunction with the retrospective. Tell me what you think."

Her first suggestion was a real longshot. Trying to find out Renee's new identify by locating someone who may have taken her in when she ran away.

"Let's assume, since she's here now, she never left the area after her faked suicide. She had no friends, no contacts. She's on the street in Philly, an eleven-year old. No way she can live off the streets for long. Cops would have picked her up at some point. There must have been a shelter where she stayed or someone who took her in."

Jonas looked doubtful. "Waste of time, if you ask me." Then he shrugged. "Worth a shot, though. You can't do it. Too recognizable."

"I was thinking of Royce Timmerman. He's discrete, and could charm a farmer out of his prized bull."

Jonas nodded approvingly. "Good choice. Your other idea?"

"I want to use the FBI profile, but apply it to Renee." She told him of Logan's view the killer had to have access to police records not available to the public; that he thought to narrow the search to those with a military background, possibly a cop, and someone with a knowledge of computers.

"I think she's a cop or a secretary at the Roundhouse. It was just too convenient that she knew where to find me today before the location became public. I need someone to look for a woman who graduated from the Police Academy sometime within the past five years. Also those who enrolled, but dropped out and other women employed at the Roundhouse in that same period of time. Someone claiming to be twenty-three years old. Once we locate them, we eliminate those who couldn't fit her description. At that point, I'll have to identify her. What do you think?"

"That one I like. I know who can do the legwork."


"You're looking at him."

"Are you sure?"

"I'm chained to a desk at the paper. Two think pieces a week. Could write them in my sleep. I'm not dead and I'm not senile. I've got the time. Got some contacts. Or are you putting me out to pasture, too?"

"I was hoping you'd volunteer," she smiled. She yawned, looked at her watch and started. "Jesus, twelve-thirty already. I best be off. If I'm going to interview Renee's family, I've got a lot of raw data at home I have to review."

"Whatever. Get some sleep, though. Can't think if your mind's in a fog."

As Deidre left she could feel the adrenalin flowing. She hadn't felt so alive since . . . since her husband and son had been killed. She'd find Renee Barrows. What she refused to consider, at least for now, was what she'd do when she found her.

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