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"Makes for good fiction," he said with a wink. "Pull up a chair and give these a look," he said holding up a handful of photos.
Deidre's heart skipped a beat, and she felt her pulse quicken.
"Narrowed down to six," Jonas continued. "Started with a long list. Cut out minorities, those too tall, those too heavy, those too old."
He laid them down one at a time, and Deidre's heart sank. They could all be Renee, or it could be none of them. She looked at them quickly to see if any registered instinctively, as was her habit, then gave each a careful inspection.
Jonas had done his job well, she thought. All six could be peas from the same pod. She cursed herself. Had she given the messenger more than a cursory glance and not focused on the mole and scar, she could at least eliminate a few of the faces that stared blankly at her.
"Try this," Jonas said, when Deidre shrugged in resignation. He now laid out the same women, but with blond wigs, a scare and mole. "Friend of mine added the hair and features."
Still nothing. She sighed.
"Don't give up yet." Next he produced six sheets of sketchy biographical data; one on each of the six. He shrugged as she looked at him in disbelief. "Got lots of friends. Maybe there's a clue only you could sniff out."
Deidre read each cursorily, then a second time, highlighting an item here and there.
"Robert Bracken. Renee Barrows," Deidre said, out loud, as much to herself as to Jonas. "The initials are the same. Coincidence? Probably, but worth a second look. Three are still on the police force. Hmmm, Sheila Jeffries. The name rings a bell. Just can't place it."
"Big narcotics bust last year," Jonas supplied the answer. "An up and comer. Not in narcotics, per se. Warned off a case she'd stumbled onto. On her own time found a connection with new suppliers in town. A lot of initiative. High profile."
"And probably not Renee," Deidre added. "She couldn't risk a high profile. There'd be digging into her past as she rose through the ranks. Let's not eliminate her, but she's not at the top of my list."
Deidre scanned another of the bios. "This Shara Farris. She's too old. Renee's twenty-three. This girl's twenty-nine."
"Says twenty-nine," Jonas said, but in the photo looks no older than the others."
Deidre looked at the photo carefully. "You're right. Renee assumed someone else's identify. She might not have had much choice. Well, we can't eliminate her solely on age." She smiled at Jonas. "You're not making things any easier."
He smiled back, shrugged and let her go on.
Of the remaining three, one worked in security at the Board of Education, one had married and no longer worked, and the last had dropped out of the Academy, gone back to college and now worked for a computer company.
Deidre had her doubts about the married woman, especially one with an infant to care for, but still couldn't eliminate her on those grounds alone.
Deidre shook her head in bewilderment. It would have been too easy to just be able to pick her out of a stack of photos. "Assuming one of these is Renee, do you have any suggestions how to proceed?"
She saw the gleam in his eye. A beat reporter thirty-years removed, he hadn't lost his touch, nor his desire.
"Mulled over some thoughts this morning."
Deidre laughed. "I bet you did. Shoot."
"First, tail them. We both have people on the streets; good as any cop. Second, call each one with a solicitation offer. Tape the voices. You've spoken to her. Can either identify or eliminate. Last, search their homes when they're at work for evidence.
Deidre shook her head in awe. "Mulled over some thoughts this morning, my ass. You've got everything planned. All right. I like the phone solicitation the best. No risk involved. Let's try that first. And, if you want, you can start planning the tails. We'll wait, though until we get the results from the phone calls. I don't want to spook her. I don't know what she'll do if she gets onto us. A tail can be spotted. Remember, she's either on the police force, or has had surveillance training. As good as our people are, she might spot a tail in a minute." She held up a hand to stop Jonas from protesting.
"I'm not ruling it out. Let's just not be hasty. She could vanish. Hell, she's done it before. But I want to be ready.
"For now a search is out. Much too risky. Let's try to eliminate some of the possibilities first. If we narrow it down to one or two, a search might be in order. Agreed?"
"Agreed," Jonas said, but without much enthusiasm. He gathered the files and photos without a word. Deidre knew he didn't want to discard the search, but knew better than to argue with her when she'd made up her mind. He'd come back to it, she knew, depending on the outcome of the calls and tails. He was always so much more gung-ho than she. She was the cautious one. Both got results, but she knew if they'd ever been partners for an extended period working on a story, they'd have crossed swords.
He'd taught her to be aggressive, and she had become much more so due in great part to his urgings. She felt, though, at times being overly assertive was both reckless and needless. This time it was her call, and as the consequences involved lives she'd go with her instincts.
"Got lots to do," he said. "Got a friend . . .," he started and smiled, "actually does phone solicitations. We'll start tonight around dinner time. I'll line up tails, too. I'll drop by a little before midnight, and you can see what I've got."
He gave her a peck on the cheek and was at the door.
"Jonas," she called.
He turned to look at her.
He gave her a wave of dismissal. "More fun than I've had in years." And he was gone.
If only it was one of these women, she thought to herself. A voice on the phone might be all she would need. She'd have her then. It was still a longshot. She would have to go ahead with her series; anger Renee into tipping her hand.
With a sigh, she got down to work for Briggs. She had a two o'clock appointment with the Sheffields', and wanted everything out of the way before she left.
# # # #
Deidre had finally gotten in touch with Timms just as she was ready to leave the office.
"I'm hard at work on it girlie," he'd said brightly. "The word's out. I should have something by tomorrow, if there's anything to be had."
Deidre hadn't expected any miracles, and unfortunately hadn't been disappointed.
She was at the Sheffields' half-an-hour-later.
The Sheffields' owned a two story corner house with a decent-sized front lawn off one of the many winding side streets of Springfield.
After several miscarriages, Anna Sheffield had been told she'd never bear children of her own. She and her husband had become foster parents, eventually adopting two of their charges. A township cop in his mid-forties when Renee was kidnapped, he'd immediately requested the child join his brood of four upon her release. With the media in a feeding frenzy and the potential for an ugly confrontation with Loretta Barrows, it was decided having Renee in the home of a cop might buffer her from both. Having friends on the Philadelphia force hadn't hurt either.
Paul Sheffield, now fifty-five, had recently retired, yet the first sight Deidre saw, as she pulled into their driveway, was the man chasing an obviously happy six or seven-year old across the lawn in a game of tag. Lifting the boy over his head, with the youth urging him on, he gave Deidre a big smile, and told her to go around to the backyard.
The Sheffield's backyard was filled with playground equipment; from the looks of it much of it built from scratch by Paul Sheffield.
A petite woman of twenty-four or twenty-five was watching Anna feeding an infant when Deidre entered the yard.
"Ms. Caffrey?" the older woman asked, and when Deidre nodded affirmatively, she gave the child to the younger woman.
"This is my daughter, Heather, and my grandson, Sean," she said with obvious pride. "Pardon me for not getting up. I fell and broke my hip a few years back, and don't get around as well as I used to."
At that moment Paul Sheffield, sweat glistening from his marine-styled crew cut burst into the backyard. A large man, he did nothing quietly. Deidre could picture him a stern taskmaster, yet there was a cuddly monster quality about him. It was apparent he commanded not only obedience, but adulation.
He was also not one for idle small talk. He took out a copy of the Daily News from his back pocket, and his expression hardened.
"A crock of shit, this story about Loretta Barrows. She conned you, Ms. Caffrey. Fortunately, she had less success with the authorities thirteen years ago."
There would be no bullshitting Paul Sheffield. Deidre had to show equal toughness to hopefully gain his respect and cooperation. She had seldom resorted to duplicity, and now knew why. She didn't believe a word of the story she had written, but she'd had no choice. Yet this was the second time today she had been called to task for it. It was not something she could dwell on at the moment, however.
"I'm not going to apologize for allowing Loretta Barrows to tell her story. Actually, that's why I'm here. I'll be more than happy to run your rebuttal. At the same time, there's still the nagging question of Renee's suicide."
"Ms. Caffrey . . . ," Paul began, but Deidre put up a hand to stop him.
"I don't mean to be rude, but please let me finish."
"It's I who was rude," Paul said. "Go on."
Deidre smiled, but she felt like she was being circled by a hungry shark. "I spent a lot of time with Renee before she was placed in your care. I decided against seeing her once she was placed permanently, primarily to keep the media off your back. As long as I had access to Renee, there were those who felt I'd go on milking her for stories. You know, Renee's adjustment to a family where she wasn't the mother; Renee's progress at her new school, and so on. It was a painful decision, and I don't know if Renee understood I wasn't abandoning her.
"I even blamed myself in part for her suicide. Would it have made a difference if I'd continued to see her, as a friend and confidant, and allowed you to deal with the media fallout? In researching this series I realized I knew next to nothing of Renee's adjustment. I'd hoped you could fill in some of the missing pieces, but if you'd rather I leave . . ."
"Don't be so sensitive," Anna Sheffield interrupted. "My husband's never been too high on reporters. Don't know a cop myself who has much good to say about those in your profession. But Renee trusted you like a sister, and she was a damn fine judge of character. We both decided as a friend of hers we'll tell you anything we can. Paul just wants you to have to work for your story." She winked at her husband, who answered back with a sheepish grin.
"There goes my advantage," he said with good humor.
"You won't need any advantage with me, Mr. Sheffield. So, tell me, just how difficult was Renee's adjustment?"
"You realize, of course," Paul began, "that Renee came from a household of no rules. She knew her place, and what was expected of her, but she set her own hours, and as long as she did her chores had no one to answer to.
"Here, for the first time there were rules to follow and consequences for violations. We set a daily routine, something Renee had never experienced. A part of her responded well to someone taking responsibility for her care. Another part tested the limits we set. She was always pushing the envelope, but we only had to tell her once when she crossed the line."
"Can you give me an example?"
"She was foul-mouthed, from her life on the streets. Expletives were part of her everyday vocabulary, but we had three other children with us at the time, and we weren't about to expose them to gutter language.
"We told Renee her language wouldn't be tolerated, and she responded. There was an occasional slip, maybe intentional to test us, but she knew the consequences, and accepted punishment when she let loose."
"And what was the punishment?" Deidre asked, showing more hostility than she wished.
"You really were fond of her," Paul said, before answering, obviously surprised at the revelation. "A part of us thought you'd used her to advance your career. Tough and street smart though she was, Renee was still a child. Forgive me for saying, more than once I thought you'd pulled the wool over her eyes. But, maybe I was wrong. You cared for her. Still do."
He paused, as if this shed new light on how he perceived Deidre and what he'd divulge.
"As to punishing her," he finally went on, "we didn't believe in the spare the rod, spoil the child philosophy. I never raised a hand to any of our children. If I had Anna would have laid me out. Renee's punishment for cursing was a time-out period in her room. Usually an hour. We had one television in our den, so time-out meant coming to grips with yourself or reading a book. Then either Anna or I would come in and we'd discuss the infraction. It usually ended in a hug. Renee didn't pout or hold grudges."
"Then the adjustment went well, generally?"
"At home, yes. There was some give and take. Her room for example. She didn't take to it at all. We'd tuck her into bed at night, only to find her on the floor with only a blanket covering her the next morning. We put up posters of popular rock groups before she arrived, and she tore them down. We offered to let her choose posters herself, but she wanted her walls bare. She didn't want to be looked at by the eyes from the posters. What with the trauma she'd been through, this was perfectly understandable. We let her know her room was hers to decorate anyway she chose."
"What about all the dolls and toys she received at the hospital?"
"Didn't want anything to do with them. Again, the dolls had eyes. Hungry eyes, she said. She gave them to the our other children. There were so many a lot went back to the children's ward at the hospital."
"Did she ever talk about the kidnapping?"
"No. We told her we were here if she wanted a shoulder to lean on, but we wouldn't put her through any third degree. We, of course, took her for therapy, but she was uncommunicative. In the end we stopped. Decided to give her time and space to make the adjustment." He paused.
"But as a cop I observed her. She read voraciously all the accounts of her captivity, her family background, and disclosures about Costanzo. She did so, though, as if from the outside looking in. Never made a comment. She watched reports on the news, too. What got me was her emotional detachment whenever she saw Costanzo. The psychologist who knew her best said it was shock, possibly denial, but I never bought it. It was almost like she felt sorry for the guy."
"How could she feel sorry for someone who, well . . ."
"Raped her with his eyes, at the very least," Paul finished for Deidre. It's a puzzle. I've dealt with more psychologists in my line of work than I'd care to admit. Get a dozen psychologists in a room and you get a dozen different opinions. Renee held no grudge against Edward Costanzo. I'll believe that to my dying day. There was something she kept hidden. Maybe that's what led to her suicide. I wish I could be more definitive. I'm just giving you my observations."
"And that's what I want. Like you said, it's a puzzle. Did she bond with your family?"
Here, Anna spoke up. "She never got close to any of the other children, but they got along. She was like someone who'd been in an accident, and had to learn everything from scratch. She had no social skills, and was afraid she might do something to alienate the other children, or worse, us. I guess she thought we'd throw her out. Abandon her. So she kept a distance emotionally.
Now it was Deidres's turn to be impressed. "You two have remarkable insight. In my line of work, I hear too many horror stories about foster parents. Those who don't give a damn."
"It's just like with reporters, isn't it," Anna said. "There are the good and the bad.
"Now where was I? Oh yes, when she saw the other kids all had chores, she wanted to do her part. We were aware she'd had more than her share of housework, but we decided to treat her no differently than the others." She paused, as if in thought.
"She did seem to bond, or at least identify, with Paul to some extent. She told me one day she wanted to be a cop. That was her word, not a policeman, a cop, so she could protect others from going through what she did."
"I'm a bit confused," Deidre said. "The picture I get is a child who knew she was loved. Obviously things weren't perfect, but . . ."
"Why the suicide?" asked Paul. "We've asked ourselves that question since the day it happened with no satisfactory answer."
"School?" Deidre asked, clutching at straws."
"School didn't go so well," Paul said, "but I can't believe that's a significant factor. There were a lot of mood swings at school. Kids being, well, kids, some naturally teased her, but you'd never know what set her off. She would come home some days and tell us the kids were taunting her, and just shrug it off. Other times when they bothered her, she'd fly off the handle."
"You mean fight?"
"Remember, she spent a lot of times on the streets," Paul said in her defense. "The few times she fought, the other kids got by far the worst of it. Anna and I would be called in. The school's policy was to suspend all offenders regardless of circumstances when it came to fighting. But, she took it in stride. She broke the rules, and had to suffer the consequences. But, you see, there was no pattern to what would set her off. I guess it was to be expected. There must have been days when she felt herself back in that cage of Costanzos' and at those times the smallest incident would be magnified in her mind."
"What about visits from her mother? I understand Loretta Barrows petitioned the courts, and she was allowed supervised visitation."
"They weren't traumatizing, if that's what you're getting at," Anna said. "There was a social worker present, but I kind of eavesdropped," she said with a conspirational look in her eyes.
"I would have done the same," Deidre said with a smile.
"I was curious at to how Renee would react to seeing her mother," Anna continued. "I think she genuinely loved her, although I get the feeling her mother's desire to visit had more to do with possible financial gain, if you know what I mean.
"Anyway, I don't know if Renee loved her mother as a person, but she was her mother. There were never arguments or recriminations. She never asked that the visits be terminated."
"Did she say she wanted to go back? I know Loretta Barrows was seeking to regain custody."
"She wanted to remain with us," Paul said forcefully. "Renee was a smart kid. She may have loved her mother, but she knew what awaited her at the Barrows' household. She took to the structure we provided, and told us she didn't want to have to become the mother again. Those were her exact words -- the mother again."
"One or two more questions, if you don't mind. Something's just not right. We're both in agreement Renee was not suicidal, yet she killed herself. Did anything traumatic, even something a bit unusual occur just before she took her life?"
Paul and Anna stared at one another; a married couple's silent communication at work. Finally Paul cleared his voice.
"Nothing traumatic occurred. But, on the last visit Loretta brought Renee's half-brother. It was a bit eerie." He smiled a bit guiltily, then looked at Anna.
"Oh Paul, nothing to hide. I was eavesdropping again. I'd gotten into the habit, and well . . . Anyway, Renee hadn't seen her half-brother in six months. She was surprised when her mother brought him. Oddly enough, they never said a word to one another. They sat on opposite sides of the room. I could see the boy scrutinizing her. You know, trying to silently penetrate this shield she'd erected. Have you spoken to him yet?"
"Not yet, but I plan to," Deidre said. "Go on, please."
"Well, for the first time Loretta talked about the kidnapping. She didn't seem comfortable. Kept looking at her son. Maybe she felt it was something he shouldn't have been there to hear and felt guilty. It didn't matter. Renee clammed up. Slowly the boy began to relax, and then sat there the rest of the afternoon with a smirk on his face."
"Did she say anything to him?"
"Nothing," Anna said. "But she was fidgety.
"Is that it?" Deidre asked, disappointed.
"Not quite. Renee was fine until bedtime. A bit quiet, but we'd come to expect that after visits from her mother. It was her mother, after all, and for all intents and purposes Renee had rejected her. She must have been torn; felt guilty on the one hand, but knew what would happen if she let her guard down and agreed to go back to her.
"At bedtime she insisted on having her light on. She'd done that the first few nights here, and we'd indulged her. As we thought, pretty soon she dimmed the lights, and within a week turned them off completely. Now, all of a sudden, she wanted them on for no good reason."
"Did you deny her request?"
"Oh my God, no," said Anna. "We were quite flexible with Renee. We knew there would be some rough times. You know two steps forward, one step back. We'd had plenty of experience with our other children. All had faced traumas, so this wasn't anything new. We weren't pushovers, but providing love was the our overriding concern."
Now Paul took over. "As a matter of fact, we had reason to believe she might be upset around that time. It was then that Edward Costanzo was sentenced. There was the psychiatric review after his guilty plea, then the five to fifteen year sentence. We thought it was a delayed reaction on Renee's part, her wanting the lights on. She also started talking about hungry eyes again. Irrational ravings. So, yes, we allowed her to keep her light on, but she didn't sleep much it at all that night. She had circles under her eyes the next morning. The same the next two nights. The school called and told us she'd fallen asleep in class, and woke up screaming.
"We decided to put our foot down. Lights were off that night. We were determined she get a good nights sleep. The next morning, we found her cowered in the corner, her nightgown discarded. She was covered only by a blanket. And it seemed she hadn't slept a wink. We kept her at home the next day. Maybe with Costanzo in the news again, kids were taunting and it was preying on her mind.
"The Renee I knew was such a tough kid, it's hard to think of her reacting as you say," Deidre said.
"Obviously, we were both sick with worry," Paul continued. We allowed her in our room the next night; something we'd never done with Renee. She seemed to respond to our presence. At least she slept, if only fitfully.
"Without her knowledge we made an appointment with the child psychologist she'd seen earlier. She was furious; like we'd betrayed her. Said she had nothing to say to any damn stranger. Told us she just needed time, and it would go away. Again, her words, it would go away. Two days later she was dead."
They were all silent for a few moments, each lost in thoughts of Renee.
Deidre had one more thing to show Renee's foster parents before leaving. She'd thought it out on the way over, and while it sounded lame, she hoped she could pull it off.
She took out the six pictures of the woman Jonas had shown her. He'd made a number of sets. She fingered them in her hand now.
"I'm going to ask one more favor. If it in any way upsets you, just tell me, and I'll forget it. We had an artist do some renderings of what Renee might look like if she were alive today. Something that might go with the articles. I wonder if you might look at them, and tell me which you think looks most like her?"
Paul eyed her suspiciously, but shrugged. "It's up to Anna. I don't want to upset . . ."
"What's the harm, Paul," she interrupted. "I mean, I'm curious how she would have looked if she had lived. With today's computer enhancements, maybe I can see what she would have become."
Deidre laid the six photos on a table in front of Anna. Paul came around and looked at them, then fixed her eyes on Deidre. "Damn realistic enhancements, if you ask me." Then he deferred to his wife. "Anna, what do you think?"
Anna was clearly captivated. "Any one of them could be her, I guess." Her eyes had misted up. "I mean a ten-year old fills out. Not just the body, but the face. I was a teacher, and some kids would visit years after they'd had me. Some I'd recognize immediately. Others had changed so much they appeared total strangers. Any of these could be her. Now if I saw them in person, then I'd know. My goodness, what a foolish thought,"
she said, looking guiltily at her husband.
"I'm sorry to have upset you," Deidre said, quickly gathering up the photos.
"Please dear, you haven't," Anna said. "It's just that I hadn't thought so much about Renee in a long time. Such a waste. She was such a special child. I didn't see the pain she was going through . . . " She began to weep silently, and Paul led Deidre out to the front.
As Deidre was about to get into her car, Paul put a restraining hand on her arm. She looked at him. The smile was gone from his face.
"What the hell was that about?" he asked.
"What do you mean?"
"Those weren't computer enhanced photos. There'd only be one. Each of those women had distinguishing features, some totally different bone structures. They were six different women. And dead or alive, they were photos of real women." He put up a hand, as Deidre began to shake her head that he was mistaken.
"I was a cop remember. Still spend a lot of time at headquarters. I've seen enhancements. You're not dealing with a hick, young lady. Now what gives?"
Deidre bit her lip. Could she . . . should she confide in him? Would he think her mad or be so angry he'd contact Briggs, and make her look more the fool. But she saw he would not be placated, nor fooled with anything but the truth, so she threw caution to the wind.
"What if I told you Renee hadn't committed suicide?"
She was surprised he wasn't taken aback.
"Why would you think that?"
She wasn't yet ready to take the plunge with this man. She couldn't read him like most she'd interviewed. He was an enigma, yet she didn't know why.
"Her body was never found," she said lamely.
"Bullshit," he parried. "You're not out her showing us Renee at twenty-three because her body was never found. Be straight with me. I'm not going to chew off your head, no matter how daft you sound."
He'd tried to sound friendly, Deidre thought, but she had the distinct feeling if she didn't tell all she knew, she wouldn't leave unscathed.
"I received a postcard from Renee postmarked two days after her death. I know what you're going . . ."
"We did, too," he interrupted. "Six months after her disappearance." He took out a worn wallet, extracted a postcard folded once, and handed it to her.
"It's not your fault," it started. "I wanted to stay, but he wouldn't let me alone."
It was unsigned, but printed in the same style as the card etched in Deidre's mind. And with a Philadelphia postmark, she noted. Maybe Timms wasn't on a fools errand, after all, she thought to herself.
"What does it mean?" Deidre asked. "Who was she so afraid of, she had to make her disappearance look so final?"
"I'd assumed it was Costanzo," Paul said. "He'd been sentenced shortly before. Been all over the tube, and the whole episode had been replayed, rehashed, and like dirty laundry hung out to dry in public view. It had to be humiliating for her. She had trouble enough at school, as it was. Now her classmates were hearing on television that this beast kept her chained naked, naked except for a blanket; probably fondled her, possibly raped her. It was the first time the full details had come out."
"Renee didn't liked to be embarrassed," Deidre agreed.
"Kids being what they are, there would be snickering, teasing and taunting. When Renee disappeared, neither Anna nor I believed she'd committed suicide. It wasn't in her nature. She'd tough it out. We were devastated because it was so unlike her. "But when I received the postcard, it made sense. She wouldn't kill herself, but she might run away. She wanted a fresh start, totally out of the limelight. If everyone thought she'd killed herself, there would be no new media onslaught. You know, a retrospective on the first anniversary of her kidnapping," he said with a wry smile. "No `Where is she now' pieces five years later. Costanzo haunted her even behind bars. The media was in full fury for a few days after the staged suicide, but after that, until now, not a word. In a perverse way, I admired her logic."
"Why didn't you go looking for her? You were a cop, and it was mailed from Philadelphia. How hard would it have been to locate a ten-year old with all your connections?"
"Believe me, Anna and I agonized over it. In the end we grudgingly decided it was in Renee's best interests to let her remain dead. Imagine the media circus if it got out she hadn't died? Think of the stories if she'd been found. And just as important, there was always the possibility her mother would regain custody. She may have fooled you, though somehow I doubt it, but that woman was pure evil. Better Renee begin a new life no matter how hard than to go back and live with that woman."
"Did she ever contact you again?"
Deidre could see a tear forming at the corner of the man's eye. He brushed it way.
"No. That's why we were so certain she was dead. Living on the streets is no easy task. Too many runaways end up in the morgue or worse. And, we were certain she would contact us again to let us know she was all right if she were alive . . ."
He shrugged, unable to go on. A moment passed. "Why do you think she's alive?"
"I've spoken to her. By phone," she added. "Twice since Friday."
Deidre could see the hurt in Paul's eyes. He and his wife had taken her in as one of their own, and she had contacted a virtual stranger instead of them.
"She only called me because she sensed I was a threat."
Paul turned away for a moment, snapping his fingers. He'd done it once before in the backyard. A look from his wife made him stop. Then talking, as much to himself as to Deidre, he spoke his thoughts.
"You're the Mayor's Liaison to the Task Force investigating the Vigilante. They think it's Renee?" he asked incredulously.
"No. I know it's Renee. She's told me, herself. But, I haven't told the Task Force. They'd never believe Renee could be alive. They're certain it's a man.
"I knew it was Renee when I saw the message she'd scrawled on the mirror of her last victim. NO MORE HUNGRY EYES. She knew I knew it was her, after she saw a statement I gave on television. Renee's the Vigilante."
Paul, she could tell, was quick to put two and two together. "Then your story about Loretta Barrows as a victim is an attempt to flush her out." It was a statement, not a question.
"And the photos?"
"I used the FBI profile, with the knowledge I had, and honed in on someone who'd been at one time at the Police Academy; the most logical place a woman could learn the skills, and gain access to information on the victims. You know as well as I do that the media is only privy to what the police want them to be in such a case. There is no way the Vigilante could choose some of his, or in this case, her victims without a certain background. The six women I showed you all were at the Police Academy at some time in the past few years."
"But why these six women? How did you narrow it down?"
"Mr. Sheffield, Renee visited me shortly after I arrived at the Task Force headquarters. She was disguised, and I was preoccupied. She left a note, `Catch me if you can.' While I didn't get a good look at her, it was plain she was short and definitely not on the heavy side. The women I showed you most closely resemble the woman I saw."
"Let me see the photos again," he said curtly; all cop now. He leafed through them once quickly, then a second time, given each a thorough examination. He shook his head several times and handed four back.
"Unless she'd had plastic surgery, these two can't be her. The bone structure doesn't match. Of the other four, I can't conclusively rule any of them out."
"What's your instinct?"
He looked at her admiringly. "You'd make a good cop. Why should I help you catch Renee?"
"Because what she's doing is wrong. Because she's sick and needs help. Because, if I find her, maybe I can work out a deal to get her the help she needs. If the Task Force gets her first, she's just one more serial killer."
"And what if they never catch her?"
"You can't be serious," she said. "They will, although it will be by chance, not design. Meanwhile, she may kill another two or three people; maybe some innocent who sees something he shouldn't or gets in her way."
"I don't think so, but I won't tell you I haven't considered the possibility. She wants someone to chronicle her story, just as I did thirteen years ago."
She paused a moment to let it all sink in. "Mr. Sheffield, I didn't plan on interviewing you for the series I was writing. Renee sent me to you. Told me it was a clue to her identity. I don't know if she really wants me to find her, but she wants to give me the chance. Do you know why she'd send me to you?"
"Does she know about the photos?"
"No. The way I see it, the clue you'd provide was her desire to become a cop; to help protect those like herself. She didn't know I was already looking for someone who'd been at the Police Academy."
"You sure she wasn't sending you on a fool's errand?"
"That's crossed my mind too. Renee is a great one for games. But she didn't know about the photos, so her sending me to you may have backfired on her. You want to tell me which you think is Renee?"
"One condition. If you do find Renee, you tell her Anna and I want to talk to her. You don't tell the police until she's had a chance to contact us. We want to speak to her before the media crush."
Paul took the four photos back, and handed her two of them.
"If any of these women are Renee, it's one of these two, assuming she hasn't had plastic surgery. Shape of the eyes, fullness of lips, and any number of other little things only someone who'd spent a lot of time with Renee would know disqualified the other two. That, and as a cop, I was trained to observe. You spent a lot of time with her, but you didn't commit certain features to memory like I did. It could be one of those two, if Renee doesn't have you running in circles chasing your tail."
"You've been more help than you know," she said as she got in her car. "I'm really trying to help Renee."
Deidre started the car, but Paul wasn't finished.
"Miss Caffrey, be careful. The Renee we knew thirteen years ago may not be the same Renee you encounter now. God only knows what she's been through since she disappeared. Cornered, she may lash out, even if it's not her intention. She's obviously emotionally scarred and unstable. If you want, I'll back up your story that Renee is alive. Then the Task Force will have to take you seriously."
"I appreciate your offer, but I promised Renee I wouldn't involve the police. I've operated on trust my entire career, and I can't betray my principles now."
"Principles are fine when you're dealing with a rational human being. But I've got the feeling Renee has counted on you following the rules of the game, and it's a very dangerous game you're playing."
"I share your concern, but Renee won't harm me. You've got your instincts, and I've got my own sixth sense."
"I hope you're right. You will keep in touch. You will keep your promise to me."
"You've got my word, Mr. Sheffield, I'll give Renee a chance to contact you before I take any action."
Driving off, Deidre felt a huge weight lifted from her shoulders. The postcard proved Renee had not strayed from Philadelphia. Timms might yet get a lead. And if Paul Sheffield was right, her quarry was either Roberta Bracken or Shara Farris.
Bracken, she recalled, was a beat cop with an undistinguished career to date, her three years on the police force. Shara Farris worked in records; had daily access to police computers and the files they held. With any luck, Jonas' voice tapes of the two would eliminate one.
Paul Sheffield had made a keen observation, she had to consider. With his confirmation, she could march into Briggs' office, lay her hand on the table and have a bunch of professionals track Renee down. Was her word to Renee more important than the life of the next victim? Deidre shook her head. No, that wasn't it. She wanted Renee for herself. She wanted to confront Renee face to face before deciding what to do. It had nothing to do with principles. To the police Renee was a serial killer plain and simple. They couldn't understand -- didn't care to understand -- what demons drove her to kill. She had come this far on her own. She wasn't about to cut bait and turn everything over to the police.
She knew she was being selfish, but she wanted to be the one to bring Renee to ground. Let Briggs dismiss her then.
"I'm close, Renee," Deidre said out loud, "and you haven't got a clue."
# # # #
As Deidre entered her apartment at 6:30, she instantly knew something was amiss. A creature of habit, she had turned off all the lights before she had left for work, yet now her apartment was lit up like A Christmas tree. As her eyes grew accustomed to the light, a chill ran down her spine. If she didn't know better she'd swear this wasn't her apartment. It certainly wasn't the apartment she had left that morning. What little furniture she had in the living room had been rearranged. The television, a recliner and couch were all on opposite sides of the room than they'd been when she had left.
A burglar was her first thought. Was he still here? She backed up instinctively, banging into the door.
Get a grip on yourself, she thought. This was no burglar. Burglars took, they didn't rearrange.
Renee. It had to be Renee. With the thought her terror was even more palpable. If Renee had gotten in once, she could do so anytime. This time she had been at work, but what if she came at night, when she was asleep. She had never felt physically threatened by Renee, but the woman was sick, and , as she had been warned more than once, was it healthy to operate under the assumption Renee wouldn't harm her?
Then Deidre spotted her fishbowl. Besides it lay Leon, her lone goldfish -- dead.
Before going off to Bosnia, the day before her birthday, her husband had presented her with Leon and a small bowl. Leon was to keep her company nights when he was gone. Her son had been mesmerized for several days by the fish who swam in circles seemingly going nowhere. Soon though he'd grown bored.
But everytime Deidre watched Leon traversing the bowl always ending where he started, she knew her husband, traveling hither and yon, like Leon, would return home.
She had considered giving the fish away when she had moved, but couldn't. Unlike the inanimate furniture she had gladly rid herself of, Leon was alive. Of all his gifts, most far more expensive, she had treasured the goldfish most, and would never part with him.
Now he lay dead; an abject lesson how little Renee valued life of any sort.
She knew it was her story about Loretta Barrows that had driven Renee to this. Was it a warning, she wondered, what might happen to her if she got too close, or followed up with her stories on Angela Mendino or the Sheffields'?
Shaken as she was, she wasn't about to back down. She would have to be more cautious, but at least she knew she had struck a nerve.
She dwelled on that last thought as she put her furniture back in place, and disposed of Leon, flushing him down the toilet.
She'd just made herself some instant coffee and settled in the recliner when the phone rang. Jonas? Timms? No way. As she picked up the receiver, she knew it was Renee, calling to gloat, and this only angered her more.
"What do you want?" she asked before Renee could speak.
"Expecting me, were you?"
Deidre thought Renee would sound smug, but she could feel the woman's fury reach across the phone line, and she instinctively moved the receiver a few inches from her ear.
"What do you think you're pulling?" Shara continued. "Acting like a real reporter, aren't you now, Dee."
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"Facts be damned. You wanted to provoke me, so you wrote all that sappy bullshit about my mother. And as people's memories are so terribly short, a lot will believe the lies you've spread. How dare you?"
"I don't know. Speaking with her, put events into a new perspective. She wasn't the bitch you made her out to be. My mistake was relying so heavily on you in the past. I wasn't a reporter then. I was your mouthpiece. Maybe it's time to correct the injustice.
"New perspective, my ass."
"Have you seen her lately?"
"I don't have to," Shara said. "I lived with the woman for ten years. I was constantly reminded I was a mistake; that my father could have been any of a number of men, and I was lucky she didn't abort me. But, none of that appeared in your puff-piece, did it?"
"Is that why you trashed my apartment? To get back at me for the story?"
"I didn't trash your apartment," Shara said. I just . . . "
"You killed my goldfish," Deidre interrupted. "You son of a bitch, to get back at me you killed a defenseless animal."
"It's only a goldfish, for God's sake," Shara said, but Deidre could tell she sounded flustered.
"Leon may have only been a goldfish to you . . . "
"You gave it a name?" Shara interrupted this time. Deidre
could tell she sounded amused. "What kind of name is Leon for a goldfish, anyway?"
"It was a gift from my husband. My son named it," Deidre said trying to keep her memories at bay.
Shara was silent for a moment. "I didn't know. I'm sorry," she said finally.
Her pity further fueled Deidre's anger. "Sorry! You're a fraud, Renee. You talk of exorcising your demons by killing those who prey on innocents, but you have disdain for all life. You're out of control. Am I next on your list?
"No. Never! Your story. I was angry. It won't . . . "
" . . . happen again," Deidre finished for her. "I wonder, Renee. I really wonder."
Deidre hung up, afraid if she stayed on the line she would say something in the heat of the moment that might drive Renee away for good.
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