PROLOGUE <

CHAPTER 01 <
CHAPTER 02 <
CHAPTER 03 <
CHAPTER 04 <
CHAPTER 05 <
CHAPTER 06 <
CHAPTER 07 <
CHAPTER 08 <
CHAPTER 09 <
CHAPTER 10 <
CHAPTER 11 <
CHAPTER 12 <
CHAPTER 13 <
CHAPTER 14 <
CHAPTER 15 <
CHAPTER 16 <
CHAPTER 17 <
CHAPTER 18 <
CHAPTER 19 <
CHAPTER 20 <
CHAPTER 21 <
CHAPTER 22 <
CHAPTER 23 <
CHAPTER 24 <
CHAPTER 25 <
CHAPTER 26 <
CHAPTER 27 <

EPILOGUE <






Barry Hoffman's HUNGRY EYES

Chapter Twenty One

Shara had dozed and was in the throes of a recurring nightmare.

She was back in the basement of the house Costanzo had taken her. The man, uttering words of apology, had placed a rag over her face and she had blacked out. She'd awakened in a cell -- a cage -- her clothes gone, a blanket by her side. She covered herself and waited for him to return. She had been caught by surprise, but she was confident she could handle Edward Costanzo. Twenty minutes passed before she was aware of eyes on her.

He was staring at her, then telling her to toss the blanket aside. She was surprised and confused. And a bit frightened. He made his demand again. She resisted, and he smiled. He approached the cage, a metal stick-like object in his hand.

"Know what a cattle prod is? Bought it from a mail order catalog. Tried it on a cat. Killed her. Hair flayed out in all directions, first, though. You such a little-bitty thing, it might kill you, too. Now be a good girl and toss the blanket."

She'd pulled the pea green army blanket around her tighter, ignoring its coarseness.

She saw from his eyes he was amused, even pleased that she had resisted. She didn't know what to do. If she tossed the blanket aside without a struggle, she was weak and he'd push her further. If she refused, he'd inflict pain, and enjoy that as much.

She froze, her mind unable to decide which course to follow.

He touched her with the prod and an electric current shot through her. Every nerve ending in her body seemed to respond to the touch. She was on the floor writhing uncontrollably, her body in spasms; her brain failing to respond to the overload of sensory messages it was receiving.

She must have passed out. When she awakened, she was on her back; the blanket in the corner of the cage. He was staring at her body, his eyes probing her flat chest, inching down to her genitals. She could almost feel his eyes inside of her, examining her sex. She covered herself with her hand. He lifted the prod.

"You don't want to do that."

And she didn't. One more taste of the prod might kill her, or worse, leave her a brain-damaged vegetable. She'd seen druggies on the street who'd OD'd. Not enough to kill, just enough to make them walking zombies. And she wanted to live. She would not die in this cage. She would do whatever was necessary to survive, and kill him for what he was doing to her.

So she did as she was told. Stood up with her hands behind her back, so he could take her picture. Touched herself at his command, tears welling in her eyes in humiliation.

He'd leave, only to reappear without warning half-an-hour later. She was his to command. He staggered his appearances. Sometimes he wouldn't return for hours. Other times he'd leave and pop back in within minutes. She knew it was to keep her constantly on edge. But the knowledge didn't help.

Her body tensed at every sound. He'd come during the day. He'd come at night. Bring her food, then tell her to smear it on her body. So much tension brought on spasms of stomach cramps. There was a pail for her to pee and defecate. Whenever she relieved herself, he'd return, taking pictures. If she tried to get up, he'd yell at her, tell her if she made a mess on the floor she'd have to lick it up. So, she sat on the pail while he took her picture.

On a television with the on/off button ripped off, she saw news stories about her disappearance. Her tearful mother. Bullshit. Her frail grandmother. Even Edward Costanzo, who admitted to being the last one to see her before she disappeared. She screamed at them one and all, as if they could hear her through the tube.

She would turn from the television and see him watching her, that crooked smirk on his face. He seemed to enjoy the embarrassment she felt, as her fear was exposed. He took more pictures, sometimes allowing her to keep the blanket that was her shield wrapped around her.

Finally, except for raping her or killing her, there was nothing more he could do. And oddly enough, her final surrender turned out to be her salvation. He'd come, and she would shed the blanket without his asking; her face drained of emotion. She would prance around the cell, get on all fours and growl like the caged animal she was. She ran her hands down, over and into her body without his having to ask.

He would yell obscene commands, and she'd obey immediately. But she shed no tears. She had none left. A robot, an automaton, he soon lost interest. He sometimes yelled at her to resist. He would tell her to touch herself, and yell when she did, demanding she exhibit pride. She ignored him.

Soon he became bored. His visits were less frequent, and finally stopped all together on the fifth day of her captivity.

She had unwittingly learned the most important lesson of her life. One must adapt to survive. One can always adapt if ones' survival instinct is strong enough.

Still, the price was excruciatingly high. Even after her release his eyes refused to let her be.

And thirteen years later those same eyes sought her out.

One to go, and she'd finally be free of their voracious gaze.

Or was she merely fooling herself?

# # # #

The alarm interrupted the nightmare.

Sweating profusely, she smiled.

Once again, she'd taken his best shot and survived. And survival was all that counted.

She called Deidre, her fingers caressing the unseeing eyes on her breasts that had helped ward off his hungry eyes for yet another night.

Deidre mumbled something unintelligible upon answering the phone, apparently dropped the receiver and then retrieved it.

Good, Shara thought, she'd wakened her from a deep sleep. Her anger escalated as she recalled Deidre making her feel so guilty for killing her fool goldfish.

"I can get to you whenever I want, you know," she said without preface.

"Wha . . . , oh shit." There was a pause and Shara heard some fumbling in the background.

"It's three in the morning."

"So?"

"Don't you have to go to work tomorrow? Don't you sleep?"

"Sleep? Precious little. I can sleep all I want when my work is done. You, though, I wouldn't sleep so soundly if you continue to write that shit like you did yesterday."

"Really bugged you, didn't it?"

Shara could tell Deidre had recovered.

"It angered me at the time, but in hindsight I could care less. And it's not going to get you anywhere.

"But you do care, Renee. You care or you wouldn't have paid your visit."

"You misunderstand. It was just to let you know how vulnerable you are."

"Believe what you want, Renee, but we both know its infuriating you to see your childhood distorted. Makes you want to strike back at me. Maybe even kill me."

"Never kill you, Dee. I'd never kill you. You've gotta believe that."

"Wish I could, but even you don't know if you can control yourself." She paused, but Renee didn't respond. "By the way, I interviewed your foster parents today," Deidre finally said, further throwing Shara off balance.

"Don't you dare write anything that would hurt or embarrass them. If you do . . . ."

"What, you'll hurt me? Control, Renee. You're losing it. Don't worry, though. They're good people. I won't hurt them, but they provided me with a lot of juicy tidbits about you."

Shara remained silent. She did want to hurt Deidre, and the revelation frightened her. Deidre was talking again, but Shara had trouble concentrating.

". . . you promised a clue, and you sent me on a wild goose chase. That wasn't part of our bargain."

"You got your clue," Shara said, sounding irritated, "if you're the reporter you think you are. Don't go playing me for a fool, girlfriend."

"They knew you were alive. At least, they know you didn't commit suicide. I thought I was the only one."

Another curve from out of leftfield, Shara thought. Careful now. Let her do the talking. "And how's that?"

"You don't remember the postcard you sent them?"

Damn, Shara thought to herself, she had forgotten. Not really forgotten, but it was so long ago. But it surely couldn't lead Deidre to her. Unless. No, she thought, Paul Sheffield wouldn't help Deidre. Would he?

"I didn't want them to blame themselves for something that wasn't their fault," Shara said, finally getting a grip on herself.

"Then whose fault was it?"

No answer. Shara wanted to see where she'd go with this line of probing.

"Were you afraid your mother would get custody of you?"

Shara smiled. Not even close.

"What's with it with you tonight, Dee. You're jumping all over the place. Is it fatigue, or are you hoping to trip me up?"

"You're not going to give me anything, are you? Then I'll give you something. The Sheffields' know you're alive. I told them everything, and they're cooperating with me. Remember, Paul was a cop, just like you wanted to be."

"That was a pretty shitty thing to do." Shara was thinking if any damage had been done. Again she wondered whether her foster-father would help Deidre? More important, could he help her? She had to think, but Deidre wasn't about to let her. She was talking, and again Shara had missed part of what she'd said.

" . . . shouldn't have sent me out there, then. Paul Sheffield's sharp. I'm working with the Task Force. I'm doing a retrospective on you. He knows you didn't kill yourself. He put two and two together. What was I to do? If you hadn't sent them the postcard . . . ," Deidre stopped, as if not needing to say the obvious.

"My mistake. I never could pull the wool over their eyes. Good people. Might have made something of me . . . " Now it was Shara's turn to let the thought drop. The memories of what could have been were painful.

"So why did you leave?"

"It's not time, Dee. It'll all fall into place for you, but not yet."

"Why haven't you contacted them since? You went to the trouble of letting them know you were alive, then let them worry about what's become of you."

"I wasn't Renee any longer. Not the child they took in. I didn't contact you either, and you knew I was alive."

"But they loved you, like a mother and father. Look, why not call them now? Paul asked me to pass it on to you."

"I can't. Not now. Not yet. Maybe not ever. Soon, though, Paul will put it all together. Unless, that is, you can catch me before I strike next."

"Oh, I will Renee. You can make book on it. Look, I'm bushed. Try calling earlier tomorrow."

"Who says I'll call tomorrow?"

"Read my article. Maybe you'll want to issue a rebuttal."

With that she hung up.

Shara began pacing the room. Smug. She had been too damned overconfident. Sending Deidre to her foster parents had been a mistake. How could she have forgotten about the postcard? If Paul was helping her, there was no margin for error. They probably hadn't thought about her in years, but after Deidre's visit, she knew Paul would let every moment she was with them fester in his mind until he figured out what had caused her to fake her suicide. And he was good. He might well figure out the reason, and that could be her undoing. She didn't fear being caught. Worse than capture was not completing what she'd set out to do. She'd have to move her timetable up. There was no reason not to.

As much as she had enjoyed her parries with Deidre, it was now becoming a nuisance. Not only had she provided a clue, but a valuable resource to the reporter. Was she slipping? Was Deidre a more worthy adversary than she had counted on? And seeing the past dredged up in the papers was grating, too. She didn't want to think of her mother, but the abuse intruded upon her thoughts. And the thought of that woman getting sympathy riled her to no end.

She'd set a fox loose in the chicken coop, and had to take responsibility. No more clues for Deidre. Soon enough she'd have all of her answers, and slap herself, for it had all been staring her in the face.

She was again sweating fiercely as she recalled watching Bobby -- yesterday, it was now. She'd taken up her customary spot in the lot across from the gas station after work.

Bobby's routine was unchanged. He worked in the garage. He was no gas jockey. A mechanic. But he kept an eye on the gas pumps. He'd take a break whenever a young girl stopped by.

He was brazen. Teeny bopper would stop by with her mother, and he'd flirt with her. Parents today, she thought. None of them seemed to give a damn. But, then again, all Bobby did was look. Might have seemed innocent enough to the mother, if she even gave it a second thought.

He worked until closing -- eleven, then went home, no stops on the way. This must be his weekday routine. She would confirm it again today.

She hung around until midnight. At eleven-forty-five his lights went out, but he didn't. He was staying put.

Tomorrow she'd strike.

Her breasts ached something fierce. Always did when the decision was made. She looked in the mirror. There was one space left on each breast, directly above the nipple. The tattoo artists wondered why she wouldn't allow him to work there. She'd told him it was for something special. Soon she'd be complete; whole again.

Still, she began to shiver, which only made her sweat more. What if she were wrong? What if Bobby's death didn't chase away his eyes. What if they craved more?

She went to the tape deck and played her song.

"I want to make a million dollars

I want to live out by the sea.

Have a husband and some children

Yeah, I guess I want a family."

Normal. Could she ever live the semblance of a normal life? She danced to the music, until dawn, the ache in her breasts slowly subsiding as the music took hold.

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