Barry Hoffman's HUNGRY EYES

Chapter Twenty Three

Shara walked up the stairs to her flat at three. Though it was hot as ever outside, she wasn't sweating. It was like this whenever she had made her decision to rid herself of the eyes. A calm enveloped her like a protective blanket. The stalking over, her body was in harmony with her mind.

There had been one errand she had run at lunch. She needed the pictures in Chattaways' mother's house, yet she knew the woman would be there. Try as she might, she couldn't think of a way to induce her out of the house without raising suspicions.

So, she donned her blond wig, scar and mole, along with a generic service uniform she had purchased over a year before.

Just before one, she knocked on Loretta Barrows' door.

"Phone company, m'am," she'd answered in response to an irritable demand to know who was intruding on her. Solicitations were common in this neighborhood: from girl scouts selling cookies to Amway salesmen peddling vitamins. Apparently Loretta Barrows discouraged such unbidden callers.

"We received a call your phone's out of order. We couldn't fix it from the office. I'd like to check it, if you don't mind."

Loretta opened the door after several moments, and Renee, despite herself, allowed the woman a long hard look at her.

"Ain't nothing wrong with my phone. You're not trying to sell me nothing, are you?"

"I'm not selling, m'am. Your line's been busy all morning, and the only way I can fix it is by checking your phones. But, if you'd rather I leave . . ," she let the rest hang.

"Won't cost me nothing, will it?"

"Not a thing. Just have to check each extension."

"Well, all right, but I'm watching one of my shows, and I don't want to be bothered."

"You just go about your business. You won't know I'm here, and I'll be done in no time."

The rest had been easy. She went upstairs, ostensibly to check out the extension in Loretta Barrows' room, but went to her son's instead. Having searched the room in his efficiency, she had a pretty good idea where he kept the pictures she needed. Sure enough, she located the loose board under a throw rug without a problem. She took less than half of the photos, putting them in an empty supply case that supposedly carried her tools.

Downstairs, she found Loretta Barrows glued to the tube.

"Found the problem," she said. "Want me to show you."

"Hush," the woman hissed, and Shara waited three or four minutes until a commercial came on. What a waste, Shara thought as she observed the woman. She hadn't changed a bit in thirteen years; her fat ass planted in an easy chair for the greater part of the day. Then, while watching her shows, she'd bellow out orders, when her daughter had returned from school. Now she just had the screen for company.

What would happen, she thought, if she said, "Mother, it's Renee, your daughter." She'd bet the woman wouldn't even turn around. Focused on her show, it wouldn't register.

While she'd told Renee she hated the woman, strangely she had no desire to harm her. A killer of five, already, she could easily kill the woman if she wished. No, she didn't hate the woman. She was just nauseated by her. This wasn't her mother. This person had borne her, and done little else. She'd been a stranger most of her childhood, and was merely a stranger now.

Finally, a commercial came on and Loretta turned her head towards Shara, without getting up. "It's all fixed then?"

"Just a minor glitch. I can show . . . "

"No need. I won't be getting no bill, now, will I?" she asked suspiciously.

"No charge."

"You can see yourself out, if you don't mind," she said, as her show resumed.

# # # #

As Shara opened the door to her apartment, she detected a foreign odor. There was someone waiting in the room. Shara smiled.

She was particularly sensitive to smells. Always had been. Loretta Barrows that morning had smelled of decay.

She'd get a jolt, in particular, when she could detect the smell of fear when she confronted her victims. She felt a rush before they died when she smelled the collapse of their resolve.

At work, she could close her eyes and know who passed by, even if there were two or three people.

And there were her own smells, of course. Her body excreted one odor when she was particularly susceptible to the tormenting eyes. There was a totally different odor when she stalked. And, another odor entirely when the decision was made to strike. Finally, an odor after the deed was done, and another set of eyes could no longer hound her. That last odor had stayed with her a good while at the beginning. Lately, though, it lasted just a short period of time, and when the eyes returned so did the first odor.

Hunting Bobby, she'd noticed a subtle change to the odor that normally accompanied her stalking. Tracking normally held no fear for her. But hunting Bobby had been something different all together. Thrust it out of her mind all she wished, she was afraid. It wasn't fear of being discovered. Just the terror of being near him. The odor had been magnified when she'd driven to the service station where he worked. So close to him, she had trouble breathing, her own stench was so strong. So much like an animal of prey. Fear, and the odor with it, mounted, as she wondered if he could smell her. But he had ignored her. Not young enough. The smell, though, had clung to her the rest of the afternoon and into the evening, as she watched his movements.

Now, in her room, there was the odor of only one person. A woman with a smell she remembered from the distant past. She didn't turn on the light. With the shades drawn, she could just make out the outline of a figure seated in the only chair in the room; the one by her desk.

"So you found me, Dee. Congratulations are in order."

"How did you know it was me?"

Shara could detect a trace of disappointment in the woman's voice. She imagined, Deidre thought she'd be surprised, upset or stunned that she'd been discovered. Though she was surprised, she wasn't about to show it.

"You're wearing the same perfume," Shara said, but even without the perfume, Shara could identify Deidre's unique scent.

"Turn on the light, Renee, and stop playing games."

Shara turned on the light, and approached the reporter. "It's Shara. Renee's long gone."

"Really," Deidre said. "Is it Shara who's the Vigilante? I don't think so. Shara would have no reason to kill, but Renee would."

"Point taken," Shara said. "Renee's the killer, but I've been Shara for seven years. Indulge me, won't you?"

With the light on, Shara saw Deidre was scrutinizing her. "It's really you," she said, as if talking to herself.

"In the flesh."

"The eyes," Deidre said. "It's the eyes. I could pick you out of a room of a hundred. How could I have missed it the day you visited the police station?"


Deidre laughed. "Should have guessed." She shook her head in acknowledgement. "I've played the scene over dozens of times. Even with the mole and the scar, there was something wrong. I would have picked up on the eyes. Without the contacts I would have had you then."

Shara shrugged. No use in arguing.

"So what now?" Shara asked. "Do we call the police? Reminisce about the good old days?"

"You made a promise. I catch you, and you tell me all. No more playing games, Ren . . ., Shara. I want to fill in the blanks, dot the i's and cross the t's. You owe me that."

"Then what?"

"We'll cross that bridge later." Deidre looked around the room. "Let's start with this," she said, her hand sweeping the room. "No bed, precious little furniture. The mirrors."

"I slept in a cage for six days. I was never able to adjust to a bed after that."

"The mirrors?"

"For two years I danced at a strip joint. Do you know about the first Shara?"

"Enough. Older than you. Took you in. Worked at the club you danced at. Died, and you took her identity. We can fill in details on her later. The mirrors?"

"I took the first Shara's place at the club. There were eyes all about me, scrutinizing my every move." She went to the tape deck, and turned on the music. Tina Turner sang:

"You don't think of them as human

You don't think of them at all.

You keep your mind on the money

Keeping your eyes on the wall."

She unbuttoned the blue police shirt, and flung it across the room; unbuttoned her bra and let it drop to the floor, all the time dancing for the eyes that peered at her from the mirrors, yet saw nothing.

"I need to see them to make sure they can't see me," Shara said.

Deidre let out an audible gasp when she saw the tattoos on her breasts. "What's happened to you, Renee?" she asked, a hint of fear in her voice.

Shara noticed a change in her smell. Yes, Deidre was afraid of her. So be it.

"Renee died in the Schuylkill. No, that's a lie. Renee died the six days she was held captive," she hissed. "Renee had been slowly dying years before. Traces of Renee remain, but soon, very soon there will be no more Renee."

Deidre shook her head, apparently not accepting the explanation. "What you told me of those six days wouldn't have killed the girl I spoke to in the hospital. Something's happened since."

Shara sat on the floor, her back against one of the mirrors. "You don't understand at all. And why not. There are gaps you know nothing of. But even without them, you can't understand the scars I bear. I saw my stepfather shot in the head at six. I lived with a woman who spent every waking moment reminding me I was a bastard; the unwanted product of her screwing anyone with pants. And after I was born, she ballooned, and that was my fault, too.

"I had no childhood. Had no friends. And then to be kidnapped, and held captive in a cage for someone to gawk at, not knowing if each day would be my last.

"Scarred, Dee. Scarred for life. What did you think became of me when I disappeared? Thought I became a frumpy housewife who abused her own kids? It's happened to others, so I'm told by Oprah and Sally Jesse and the rest.

"I didn't take that route," Shara continued. You've created an image of me that doesn't exist."

"But I do know you . . . Shara. You poured your heart out to me in the hospital and after, until . . ."

"Until you abandoned me, like the rest."

"I had to, to protect you," Deidre said, her voice rising.

"I never poured my heart out to you," Shara replied petulantly.

"Bullshit, Shara. Say what you want . . ."

"I told you only what I wanted you to know," Shara said, her voice full of exasperation. She was on her feet now, pacing the room.

"You don't get it. I told you anything I divulged you could print. Even then you sanitized what I told you, painted this sympathetic picture to shield me from the world. But I never told you everything. Why would I trust you when I'd never trusted anyone in my life? I told you as much. I know how much it upset you to hear someone so young be so cynical, but you never really accepted what I'd told you. You thought I'd finally found someone to confide in. Bullshit. Maybe I trusted you more than anyone I'd known till then. No, I did trust you more, I'll admit it. But the only one I've ever trusted completed and unequivocally was the first Shara. And, I didn't trust her completely, until we'd lived together for over a year. I'm not proud of it, but it's me. A secret's only a secret if you don't confide in anyone. Why would I confide in you, a stranger, just because you were sincere and kind?

"So believe me when I tell you I told you what I wanted and no more. And I lied to you. I used you to convict an innocent man."

"What are you talking about?"

"Eddie . . . Edward Costanzo, he drove me out to the cabin, so you can say he abducted me. And he put me in a cage, and chained me like an animal. But that's all he did. And he didn't plan that. He did what he was told, because he was scared."

"Scared of what? Of Who?"

"Eddie's world revolved around children. He couldn't relate to people his own age. He provided kids like me with toys and games so we'd have the childhood he'd been deprived. He lived through us vicariously.

"Once, and as far as I know, only once, did he ever do anything of a sexual nature. He was like an adolescent, experimenting with his sexuality. Even then he was maneuvered. He touched a boy, played with his genitals, like two kids playing doctor. Only the boy threatened to expose him if he didn't do his bidding.

"So, Eddie bought that cabin, and the built the cage because he was told to. He took me there because he was told to. And then he left; didn't come back for six days until he was told to. Come back, he was told, and tell the police nothing, or the boy would dime on him; say he was a pervert who had molested him, and then did the same to me."

Deidre looked stunned. "Who, then, did all those terrible things to you, or were they all a lie?"

"Everything I said happened and worse. It wasn't Eddie. It was my half-brother."

"Your half-brother? Why?"

"He was a sick son-of-a-bitch. I don't know why, but he'd been looking at me for a year or two, photographing me when I showered, when I took a shit."

"Did he rape you at the cabin?" Deidre asked incredulously.

"Rape me? Only with his eyes. I wish he'd tried. I would have scratched his eyes out or died trying. What he did was far worse. He forced me to do vile things to myself while he took pictures. If I refused, he would shock me with a cattle prod. Rape me? He raped me a hundred time with his fucking eyes. Eyes that have haunted me ever since. He fucked my mind, that's what he did, which is worse than anything he could have done to my body."

"Why didn't you tell the police what he did?"

"Bobby's a psychopath, or sociopath or both. I'm not up on psychobabble bullshit, but he was one or both of them. Had no conscience. Had no sense of right or wrong. Played by his own set of rules.

"He told me if I said anything, the police wouldn't believe me. The day Eddie Costanzo came back, Bobby had him tell me his confession. He was too humiliated to implicate Bobby. He didn't want the world to know he'd played with another boys' privates. He knew he was in big trouble. It was bad enough to be a kidnapper, and labeled a pervert, but a faggot to boot." Renee shook her head. "Bobby had him by the balls . . . literally and figuratively.

"Tough and street smart as I was, I was only ten. If I had to do it over again, I might have taken the chance. If I knew I wouldn't go back to my mother, I might have told the truth. Eddie would have cracked under intense police questioning. At worst, Bobby would have been separated from me until the truth was known.

"But I was ten, dammit, too young and too scared to be logical. So I let Bobbby use me like he used Eddie. In exchange, he promised never to bother me again. How was I to know I'd be separated from my mother once I was freed? I thought we'd both be under the same roof. He could have done with me what he wanted. So a promise to let me be seemed like a good deal at the time.

"I only saw him once more . . ."

"At your foster parents house," Deidre said, as if she had had a revelation. "You faked your suicide just after he visited with your mother."

Shara shook her head yes. "As long as I was alive, or he thought I was alive, I could never escape him. He had my mother grill me that day about the kidnapping, looking for a chink in my armor. He knew he still terrified me, but that my life had changed with the Sheffields'. He knew that, and feared me, I could tell. Would I tell the Sheffields' what really happened as I became more comfortable with them? That fear meant he wouldn't let me rest. To escape him, I had to die."

For the next twenty-minutes, Shara answered Deidre's questions: life on the streets when she ran away; meeting the other Shara; assuming her identify when she died; getting her GED and enrolling in a computer training program; and finally going to the Academy and joining the police force.

"Paul had a profound impact on me the six months I lived with him. He was the only man I'd ever gotten close to. He instilled me with discipline, tinged with a healthy dose of love and self-respect. I kinda had a crush on him; idolized him. I wanted to be a cop like him; someone who got the bad guys off the street.

"But after I graduated from the Academy, I knew I couldn't go after a high profile position. I was a fraud, a woman with an assumed identity. With any notoriety would have come scrutiny. I couldn't chance that."

"Why the killings?"

"Two reasons. First, I'd become disillusioned with the judicial system. I saw men as bad as my half-brother getting off with a slap on the wrist, and no one seemed to give a shit. It ate at me. Ate at me so much, I began to dream of Bobby's eyes raping me again. I won't kid you, I snapped. I felt the only way to get rid of the eyes was to punish those like Bobby.

"And it worked . . . for a while. With each killing, I was freed from their stare." She turned towards Deidre, so she could see her breasts.

"Each tattoo symbolizes eyes that can no longer see. They comfort me when the hungry eyes attack. I dance for hours looking at the eyes in the mirror, knowing they can't see me, and the terror recedes.

"One more, Dee. One killing for each day of captivity." She pointed to the lone bare spot on each of he breasts. "One more and the puzzle will be complete. One more and his eyes will go away. One more and I'll be whole again."

"How do you know that?"

She shrugged. "Instinct, maybe. You have it as a reporter. My body, my mind is telling me what must be done to heal me."

"And if you're wrong? If the craving returns?"

"Not a craving to kill. The eyes, Dee. I must get rid of the eyes. I hardly sleep, fearful of their return. I have no appetite. And you know I have no real life. If they return . . ." She paused and shrugged. "If they return, when I commit suicide this time, they'll find my body."

"And I'm supposed to let you kill again to meet your sick needs?"

Again, Shara shrugged. "You do what you must. You found me. I'm in your hands."

Now Deidre was on her feet, face to face with Shara, her blouse brushing against Shara's bare breasts.

"You're so damn infuriating. You think you know me. Good old soft Deidre Caffrey. Someone victims could pour out their innermost secrets, knowing I wouldn't humiliate them. Well, maybe I'm starting to get cynical. I've lost a husband and a son. I've been told the cornerstone of my career was a fraud. I'm a lot tougher now."

"Then tell the world about me. I don't have to give you permission. My philosophy hasn't changed. Whatever I divulge is fair game."

"And you wouldn't give a fuck if I did, would you? Maybe I won't write about the trauma that drove you to kill. Maybe I'll just call the police and be done with you for good. When will you learn you can't manipulate me anymore. Maybe you don't know me as well as you think."

Shara drew even closer, her mouth within inches of Deidre's ear.

"But I do know you. That's what so infuriating, isn't it? You really haven't changed. You have your code, and it guides your life. Break it, and you free fall. You're no longer on solid ground. You invalidate your entire career. Can you take the risk?

"Dee, you still don't have the balls to go for the jugular. I know it and you know it. I chose you thirteen years ago and I chose you now. You'll tell my story, maybe dispassionately, but you won't turn me in."

"You didn't choose me, Shara. I got into that hospital. I befriended you. I earned your trust, so you'd confide in me.

"And it made your career. Deep down you feel grateful. Without me, you'd have been nothing, just another reporter. I gave you a purpose. I gave you direction. Look at the types of stories you're most associated with. I do read the papers, you know. Victims, especially the young, gravitate to you. Why? Because of the series you did on me. Because of that fool sympathetic picture you painted that must have infuriated my mother.

"And, sorry to say, I did choose you. You got into my hospital room, but I didn't have to tell you squat. I decided what to tell you, and what to delete."

Deidre was shaking her head no. "You were ten. No way you could be so conniving, especially just after you had been rescued."

"I was ten going on thirty. And I began planning what I would tell the police on the way to the hospital. The police peppered me with questions on the way, but I remained mute. Then you came in and I led you step by step. Remember when I interviewed you? It was a technique you used to get information out of me. But it also told me what I needed to know about you. We used each other, Dee, face it. I don't begrudge you your success. It's to your credit you understood how to parlay your stories with me to get close to others. At the same time you allowed me to avoid the scrutiny of the media. Insulated, I was able to feed you what I wished."

"What would you have me do, now?"

"I won't make it easy for you. You know my plans. One more and soon. Tonight, Dee. And if I'm wrong, I'll call you before I take my life. You'll have a real exclusive.

"Or you can go out that door and tell your Detective Briggs where to find me. You'll still have an exclusive; an even better story. You found the elusive Vigilante while the cops set up traps I ignored. Oh, I know about them. So transparent. Like I'd go after one of the those guys the newspapers all of a sudden are talking about. Or, contact that reporter who's trying to turn the public against me. We both know I don't give a fuck.

"We've both kept our end of the bargain. You didn't tell the cops about me, and I've filled in all the gaps. You do what you have to, and so will I."

Shara went to the tape deck and turned on the music again, and dismissing Deidre began to dance to her audience of unseeing eyes.

She was unaware when Deidre got up and left.

Glancing around and seeing her gone, she merely smiled and again let the music take hold.

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