Barry Hoffman's HUNGRY EYES

Chapter Twenty Four

Deidre needed time to think, but if what Shara told her was true, she'd have to make a decision soon. She left her car and walked home, oblivious to all around her, trying to make sense of all she'd been told.

There was so much to digest. Worse, she couldn't rid herself of images of Shara, herself, that dogged her as she attempted to focus on what to do. There was the incongruity of the child she had known at ten with the woman she had seen today; her bared breasts undulating, as she danced seductively to the music. A woman who could have no relationship with a man, she made love to her music.

While watching, Deidre had wanted to chastise herself for not being able to take her eyes from the tattooed eyes on Shara's breasts; eyes which seemed alive, even if unseeing.

And she had to deal with the excitement she had felt within herself as she'd watched Shara. She didn't want to admit to herself she may have been sexually aroused. With so many more pressing concerns, she wanted to bury the implications of her feelings, at least for the moment. Yet, she couldn't deny the heat that radiated through her when they'd made contact. She had approached Shara in confrontation, getting so close her body had touched Shara's breasts. And then Shara had gotten even closer, when she'd whispered in her ear. This woman was not at all what she had expected.

The whole experience had a surreal quality to Deidre. Oddly, whenever she had thought of Renee, even though she had seen her briefly at the police station, it was as the child she had met thirteen years before. The girl, though, had become an alluring woman.

Deidre recalled friends telling her of the dread they felt when their sons or daughters went off to college. A chapter in their lives had ended. A stark reality had to be faced. Their children had grown up. It seemed like yesterday, they'd say, they were taking a reluctant child to his or her first day of school.

Now Deidre could relate to them. Renee was gone, forever. The child had become a woman . . . Shara. Deidre had to come to grips with this new reality, and what she must do.

Deep within, she knew she could never turn Shara in to the police. Shara might be certifiably insane and irretrievably lost, but she had just cause.

Of equal importance, Deidre was a reporter, not a cop. She had learned the answers to her questions, though she had no doubt that, as always, Shara had held something back.

Catch me if you can, Shara had challenged, and she had. She should feel vindicated. She had gotten the better of the street-smart woman. Beaten her at her own game. But a part of her felt empty; the chase was over. And, she felt no duty to betray her to the police.

By the same token, she couldn't allow Shara to kill again, if it was in her power to prevent it. Now matter how vile a creature Shara pursued, his death would forever stain her conscience if she sat idly by, an interested bystander.

A classic Catch-22.

Not really, though.

There was a way to avoid betrayal, yet protect the next victim. A way, because Deidre knew who the next victim was.

She had arrived at Shara's flat an hour before Shara had gotten home. There wasn't a whole lot for her to look through. Sadly, there's been no diary; something she had written to herself for herself in which she'd let her defenses down.

But there was the bulletin board. She saw news clippings on each of the killings, and photos Shara had taken while she stalked them. But there had been six, not five.

Under the sixth, was a name, business and home address, plus a terse description of the man's crimes. The name rang a bell and triggered memories. A child molester slapped on the wrist because all of the victims parents had refused to allow their children to be further traumatized by a trial. He had accepted a plea bargain and spent six months in prison.

He must have been at it again, Deidre reasoned, and she had to admit that if this were the case she had no real desire to see him go unpunished.

She mulled it over in her mind.

She'd strike a deal with Briggs. She would tell him Shara's next target in exchange for a promise of a thorough investigation into any molestation that may have taken place since his release.

She wouldn't be betraying Shara, for Shara had repeatedly told her anything she was told she was free to use. It was a simple leap that anything she found in her apartment, likewise, was fair game.

She thought it ironic that Shara would be caught as a result of her own life philosophy. Shara herself, she was certain, would find it fitting. She had railed at Deidre for her half-truths and sympathetic portrayal. She'd known Deidre would keep her word and not go to Briggs before she confronted her. Yet, now Shara would be captured because Deidre had learned who her next victim would be.

Once captured Deidre would write her tragic story; do all in her power to portray the woman as a victim who had gone over the edge, and ask for the public to demand hospitalization and psychiatric help, rather than incarceration. Her story would also dispel any notion there was a Vigilante safeguarding the public. Shara's own demons made her kill, not any sense at balancing the scales of justice.

Her decision made, she hurried home and called Jonas, asking him to pick her up.

# # # #

An hour later, she was in Briggs' office. She had told Jonas about her meeting with Shara, and knowledge of the next victim. Jonas had the look of a proud father, as Deidre told him her plan. He offered a few suggestions, and she had felt reasonably comfortable when she entered Briggs' office.

Seated, however, she felt a bit like a rudderless ship, making its way through a treacherous current. There were flaws, she knew in her cover story, and Briggs would badger her to reveal what she wouldn't.

Briggs, she could see, was in a foul mood, brought on by fatigue and mounting frustrations. While the municipal workers strike had briefly taken the heat off the Task Force, there was continuing pressure to show progress. To date, there had been none. No new leads had materialized from dozens of interviews with potential witnesses, and the list of people yet to be interviewed seemed endless.

The stories Deidre had helped shape to entice the Vigilante to use Wakefield as a go-between had produced nothing. Still more cranks had contacted the reporter, but the Task Force had quickly eliminated them as suspects.

And, so far, no one seemed to show the slightest interest in the three straw victims the Task Force hoped to use as bait to lure the Vigilante out into the open.

Finally, the list of suspects from the FBI profile was equally extensive. Background checks had been made on an A list of prime suspects, and a few had been brought in for interrogation, but as of yet, they had nothing to show for their efforts.

As with most cases, where a family member or neighbor was not the perpetrator, most of what had been done was drudgery and non-productive. Briggs not only had to deal with pressure from above, but he had to rally the Task Force itself, as the enormity of its task became apparent.

All felt, even if they didn't articulate, the frustration their work would be for naught. As was so often the case, the killer would eventually be caught by some fluke, and very probably by someone not involved with the investigation.

All in all Briggs looked worn down. Deidre having been gone the better part of two days hadn't helped. She saw in his eyes, he no longer viewed her a member of the team; just a representative from the Mayor's office who would come and go at the Mayor's behest. In a sense, she guessed he felt betrayed.

"What can I do for you, Dee," he said shuffling through papers, his stiffness showing his displeasure.

Deidre decided to toss out her elaborate script, and force him to take her seriously.

"I know who the next victim will be, and I'm reasonably sure the attack will occur tonight."

He looked up at her open-mouthed.

"And how did you come up with this information?" he asked incredulously.

Despite herself, Deidre was angry at his reaction. She was tired, too, and didn't want to deal with his condescending attitude.

"Look Briggs, you forgot that as a reporter I have contacts many just as or more reliable than your snitches. No matter what you may have said, I've been viewed as an outsider from the outset.

"You wanted me to handle the media and keep the Mayor off your back. I can understand your reluctance to make me an active member of the investigation. We come from different worlds. I'm looked on with suspicion, even hostility, by most of the Task Force members. I'm just not part of your little fraternity."

Briggs looked as if he wanted to protest, but Deidre shook her head in dismissal.

"I can understand their bunker mentality. Your asses are on the line. Regardless of your success or failure, I won't be covered with any of the shit if he kills again and it hits the fan."

This time he didn't protest, but let her continue.

"As a fifth wheel, I decided to do some investigation on my own, using my people, along with your FBI profile. I lucked out, plain and simple. Someone overheard someone who knew something." She passed a paper to him with the name, address and sketchy background over to Briggs.

"I literally found out about this less than an hour ago. The source is credible, and while I know nothing about the killer, I'm told the attack could be tonight."

Briggs scanned the paper, seemingly dwelling on each and every word.

"You won't tell me your source." It wasn't a question.

"You know I can't."

"Your instincts tell you this is the guy?" he asked skeptically.

"All I know, Briggs, is I've got a source who tells me this guy will be offed by the Vigilante. I'm not saying you can take it to the bank, but would you rather I ignored it?" she responded testily.

"Don't go ballistic on me. Look, it's a bit of a shock. You're gone two days, and then you walk in here and hand me the next victim. If you were in my shoes you'd be skeptical too."

"Then toss it."

"Right. And find him on his bed tomorrow with egg on our face. We obviously don't have time to adequately check this out, if the attack is tonight. So, we run with it. Just make sure the media doesn't get wind of it, if it turns out to be a crock."

"I'll handle the media. Hopefully, you'll have a suspect which will make my job relatively easy."

"All right. Let's get to it, then."

There was a renewed spring to Briggs' step as he left the room. Deidre could sense his excitement. He might not show it, but this was the first tangible break in the case. Briggs, a man of action, must have felt like he was trapped in a straitjacket having to sit back waiting for the next shoe to drop. With a lead, no matter how fragile, he was back in charge; on the offensive.

Deidre hoped he wouldn't be disappointed. She knew she had Shara. Yet, the only thing predictable about Shara was her unpredictability.

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