Barry Hoffman's HUNGRY EYES

Chapter Sixteen

Deidre was in her office at five minutes to eight, working on her third cup of coffee, when Briggs walked in. He had a haggard look, as if he hadn't slept the entire weekend. He had a cup of coffee in one hand a Milky Way candy bar in the other. He studied her a moment before speaking, looking slightly bewildered.

"You look like shit," he said, foregoing any small talk. "I've got an excuse, what's yours?"

She smiled. Another sign he'd accepted her as part of his team. He wasn't watching his tongue around her, and for this she was grateful. A part of her regretted not confiding in him, but she already knew he'd dismiss her out of hand. She ignored his question.

"You're looking pretty good yourself. You'll make a fine impression on the Mayor when he pops in at ten."

He choked on his coffee. "What the fuck . . ."

"Kidding, Briggs. You won't catch his holiness down here until you've got your suspect in custody. He wants to draw as little attention to the Vigilante as possible. So, any progress?"

Now he ignored her question and opened up the newspaper to her article: THIRTEENTH ANNIVERSARY OF INFAMOUS KIDNAPPING APPROACHES. He tapped the article with his finger, as if she hadn't seen it.

"A great time for you to be moonlighting. What does this have to do with our case?" he asked accusingly.

"Coincidence, Briggs," she lied. "I'd been planning the series for a while. My job with the Mayor is not exactly taxing. Nor stimulating. Kind of like if you were put behind a desk. With nothing to do with most of my day, I thought researching a retrospective would help fill the empty hours."

"You couldn't delay it? Or better yet, drop it all together. I need you living this case; using your perspective to ask questions we as cops wouldn't think of. Everyone has dropped cases they were deeply involved in. I expected the same of you," he said with an edge to his voice.

"You flatter me, Briggs, but say what you want, I'm little more than window dressing here. Don't get me wrong. I'm not complaining, but I'm totally out of the loop. Hell, you didn't even ask me to write the story to bait the Vigilante to confide in me. Anyway, most of my research was already completed. I could write this series in my sleep."

He didn't look mollified. "Sorry, but I don't have time to massage egos. I've stepped on more than a few toes the past few days. I'll just add you to the list." The bluster was gone. Briggs took another swig of coffee. "You couldn't have written the piece to get him to contact you. You're too closely tied to the case. The Vigilante would know it was a plant. But, you're right, I should have consulted you. It's your field of expertise, and . . . " He paused. "I'm learning I'm not great at delegating authority. I'm an investigator, and heading up the Task Force calls for administrative skills I may not possess."

"Briggs, you knew this case was going to be a ballbuster when you took it on. Chievous or McCauley could have led the Task Force, but no, you wanted to run the show. You know catching a serial killer is as much luck as it is police work. And you know things will probably get worse before they get better. The article's water under the bridge, okay? And, you're right, I'm not the one who should have written the article, if it makes you feel any better. So, tell me, any progress?"

"Precious little. Phil Wakefield's story ran yesterday. We tried to push all the right buttons. Question his manliness, say he was no better than those he hunted. Went on about his playing God." He paused. "Why am I telling you this? You read the story, right?"

"Yeah, but if I'm such an integral part of your team, you should have run it by me before you ran it. Wakefield's good, but he's not privy to all I am. As you said, this is my area of expertise, and you bypassed me." Now it was her turn to sound irritated.

"Point taken. Look, I fucked up. You have every right to be pissed. Next time, I'll think with my brain, not my ass."

"Apology accepted. So, any response?"

"Plenty, though not what we hoped for. The article hit a nerve. Wakefield's phones been ringing off the hook. You wouldn't want to be in his shoes, believe me. Most are just cranks calling him an asshole for missing the bigger picture: judicial system gone awry, criminals back on the street with a license to rape, pillage and burn with no consequences.

"We had three crackpots call saying they were the Vigilante, but none knew enough about the crimes. Two stayed on the phone long enough for us to run a trace. The third wanted to meet with Wakefield to give him proof he was the killer. We brought him in, as well as the other two. Crackpots, like I said.

"We'll run another story tomorrow. Really lay the guy out. Matter of fact, I'd like you to provide a rough outline, including phrases that might provoke him. I'll take them to Wakefield, and make sure he incorporates them in his story."

"You're good, Briggs. Tired as you are, you were about to exclude me again. Not purposely. You just don't have a niche for me yet. I'm an afterthought. Look, I'm not pissed, just laying it on the line. I'm on to you, big man, so you best be on the top of your game when you deal with me."

"Yeah, well catch me when I've had a few hours of sleep and see if you can put anything past me," he said gruffly, but his eyes betrayed him. He'd been caught with his pants down, and wasn't really upset that she had noticed.

"So, what about the decoys?"

"We can't rush it. We ran one story in the Inquirer yesterday. The News has the second today. The third will be in tomorrow. No bullshitting, now, you take a look at them and tell me if you can spot the decoy. I don't expect anything to happen right away. This guy's too smart. Personally, if Logan's right, and we have less time than between the last two killings, I think our boy already has his target.

"Between you and me, the best we can hope for is one of these three will go to the top of his list for a future hit, which means there's got to be at least one killing before he gets to these."

"A real comforting thought," Deidre said.

"If we're lucky, on the other hand, maybe he'll check out one of these three while he stalking his next victim. Kind of doing some advance work. If so, we can pick up his scent before he strikes. But I'm not holding my breath."

"What are the others doing?"

"Starting from scratch. Reinterviewing the neighbors, and anyone who might have seen our boy. Checking out relatives of victims of recent sexual attacks. It's grunge work, but with the FBI's profile we're asking different questions, hoping to get lucky. And we're checking the military angle; someone with expertise in surveillance."

"I don't envy you," Deidre said. You're in a no-win situation. The public and the mayor are clamoring for answers, and it looks like you could be in for the long haul; weeks and weeks and still come up dry."

"That's where you come in. You have to be the buffer between us and the Mayor and the media. Tomorrow, Wednesday at the latest, you'll have to brief the press. Obviously Wakefield and the three plants are off limits. Try to come up with some angle that will make it look like we're making progress."

"What if we bring Logan back for the briefing? Kind of have him give his stamp of approval on your approach, reassure the public everything's being done by the book, but these things can't be rushed."

Briggs smiled. "I like that. We got diddly, but we're going by the book. A pat on the back from Logan will buy us time. I'll get on it."

"Anything else?"

"They'll be a briefing at nine. I'd like you there, but don't expect much. You'll see a bunch of tired men and women, waiting to be told to keep on keeping on, impatient to be on their way."

"How are the cops from the burbs?" Deidre asked.

"Capable. Better than I expected, actually. They're fitting right in."

"And Chievous and McCauley?"

"As much as I hate to say it, they're team players. Maybe they feel their asses are as much on the line as mine. I can tell you this. They no longer covet my job. I'm sure they're giving the Chief an earful, but they're pulling their weight. If I fall, one of them is next in line, and I'm not sure either one wants the grief."

Briggs rose. At the door he turned, as if not too sure if he wanted to say what was on his mind.

"Tell me to kiss off, if you want, but in my opinion I thought you were a little soft on the mother in your story today. I feel sorry for the lady, losing her daughter and all, but if she was any kind of mother her daughter would probably be alive today."

"Then I guess you won't be thrilled with tomorrow's piece on the kidnapper."

He looked puzzled. "Not going soft on me, Dee, are you?"

"Just putting things in their proper place. Everything seemed so cut and dried then, but a lot was just a knee-jerk reaction to a kid being kidnapped. Some of the stories printed were full of inaccuracies. And with Costanzo's confession there was precious little follow-up by the police. It's all hindsight, but looking back, I've got a lot of questions that need answering. Unfortunately, the victim and the prime suspect are both dead. I'm just trying to set the record straight. Good to know you read the story, though," she said with a smile.

He waved and left, his mind back on the case.

Deidre felt good. If Briggs noticed her sympathetic portrayal of Loretta Barrows, Renee surely would seethe. No doubt she'd be getting a phone call tonight. She was looking forward to it. She'd be prepared.

Her phone rang. It was Jonas.

"Called in some favors," he said in response to her asking how he was. "Got six possibilities fitting your description. I can have photos on your desk in an hour. Just give me the word."

"Sounds good, Jonas," she said, trying to remain calm, as anticipation welled within her. "I may be in a Task Force meeting. I'll leave word to let you into my office. Maybe we'll get lucky."

"Don't get your hopes up too high. The fall's worse."

"Love your optimism, but thanks anyway. Let's have a look at your six, and decide what to do then."

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