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Deidre looked at the headline of the Daily News. The Task Force, under McCauley's lead had sifted through every shred of evidence, interviewed and re-interviewed any and all witnesses, and had come up dry.
That they plodded on was due to the fear that when they least expected it, when they'd dropped their guard, the Vigilante would strike again.
Though Deidre was no longer on the inside, she had been told sources close to the investigation speculated the Vigilante himself may have been injured or killed. Anyone who'd died or been admitted to city or area hospitals since Robert Chattaway's death was probed. Any of a dozen cadavers could have been the Vigilante. But no concrete evidence was located.
There was even conjecture the Vigilante may have fallen prey to his next victim, and was decaying in a ditch or a wooded area. Some felt he had moved on, having generated too much heat for himself in Philadelphia. But, he hadn't surfaced anywhere else yet. Psychiatrists interviewed on the news didn't feel he had the power to stop the killing.
In the end, inertia alone could not sustain the investigation. The Mayor and police merely sighed in relief as each day passed uneventfully. In this case, no news was good news. The last remnants of a bad memory were all that remained, so the Task Force was disbanded.
The news was greeted with a big yawn.
Briggs, Deidre was glad to see, had already bounced back. As week after week dragged on without a single break in the case, Briggs' failure was put into proper context by his superiors. Deidre had seen his name surface, recently, in several high profile cases.
She had called him on a whim a week earlier. They'd skirted around the case most of the conversation.
"Maybe it was a blessing you got relieved," she said finally. "At least you've been able to get on with your career."
"You wouldn't be feeling guilty, would you, Dee?"
"You know something, don't you. Your anonymous source. Was it you, Dee?"
"Do you really want to get dragged back into the case?" she said, avoiding his question.
"Thought so. I'm no fool, Dee. If I wanted to, really wanted to, I could put it all together. Focus on your activities. Your retrospective, to be specific. Funny how the last victim was related to the child who committed suicide. If I hadn't been relieved I would have had something to explore. You lucked out, girl. They wanted to cover their asses. Good soldier that I am, I let it rest."
"Off the record, want to satisfy my curiosity?"
"You got some imagination, Briggs. Let's let sleeping dogs lie."
He was quiet, and she was about to hang up.
"Dee. I shouldn't have underestimated you. If I'd played my cards right, well . . . "
He didn't have to finish. Like Jonas, it was as close to an apology as she would get.
# # # #
Deidre, herself, had given notice to the Mayor the day she had left Shara. Confused, disillusioned, distraught, she needed time to come to grips with what she had learned. This time, though, she didn't withdraw into herself, as she had when her family was taken from her. This time she wrote a book; albeit one that would never see the light of day.
A book about a loss of innocence, about victimization, and its consequences. A book where the media merely regurgitates facts, and slithers away when the story loses its appeal. A book that delved into the consequences of victimization. When she was done she showed it to Jonas. His reaction:
"Pity you won't publish it. Raises unsettling questions about all the victims that pass through our lives each day, doesn't it?"
Deidre smiled. "My thoughts exactly. The day I left Shara I hated her and loathed myself. Pitied myself. She had chartered my career, and I saw it as a sandcastle. Everything I believed in swept away by one wave. God knows, I was tempted to call Briggs and turn her in. In the end . . . ," she shrugged. "Who was I to judge?"
"But, could I ever trust again? Should I ever again get so caught up in stories, as I had for eleven years? Or, should I become the dispassionate reporter; spewing out facts so as not to chance being manipulated?
"The truth was staring me in the face all the time. My future lay in the past. If Shara was so warped by what had happened to her, what of the others? I remembered her asking whether I'd thought she had become a housewife who beat her kids. I hadn't given it much thought. But, the truth is too many of my stories beg for closure."
"So what have you cooked up?"
"A series of `What happened to . . . . ' I'll start with stories I've worked on, and focus on what's happened to the children. The father who attempted to kill his entire family and then himself, yet a seven-year old managed to survive. What the hell's happened to him? The class held hostage by a former student. Shot a teacher who gave him a failing grade, terrorized the class for two days, and then shot himself in the head. The woman who randomly shot and killed five people at a mall. Two killed were parents at the mall with their children. The kid's witnessed their parents death. What's become of them? Remember when I was sent to Florida in the wake of the killer hurricane?"
"You came back a wreck. It really got to you."
"Kids lost homes, schools, friends -- all that was familiar. They were traumatized then. Had nightmares. What about now? Have they recovered? Some, but I'll bet not all.
"There are so many others. I covered a story of a boy teased so often he shot himself to death in front of his class. I remember the guilt they felt; both those who taunted him daily, and, worse, those who allowed it to happen without saying a word. Are they normal . . . ? "
"What is normal?" Jonas cut in. "Divorce, alcoholism, sadomachoism, cheating on your husband or wife?"
"That's part of the whole story," Deidre said excitedly. "I want to reexamine each story. I'll let the outcome of each speak for itself. This won't be a scientific study.
"Tell you what I think, though. There are more than a few Sharas' lurking out there. Kids, who as adults, have gone off the deep end. Not just the victims of incest, like you see on Oprah! The kids spared at a McDonalds' where a sicko went on a rampage, killing dozens, and then blew himself to smithereens. Can that one episode create a Shara?"
"It could be dangerous."
"So can crossing the street. Dammit, I've hidden in my safe cocoon all my life, and what do I have to show for it? A wall of awards, and a dead family."
"You're being too hard on yourself."
"And what if I am? I have no death wish, Jonas. I'm not going to walk the subway concourses at night waiting to be mugged, so I can identify with victims of society. I'm going into this with my eyes open. Better than that, I'm going to look at these victims through Shara's eyes. I'm going to push buttons. I'm going to manipulate, if need be. Shara will be with me wherever I go. My barometer. My eyes."
As she spoke she looked at the fishbowl on a small end table next to the couch. A goldfish circled the bowl. Paul Sheffield had brought it to her, saying only Shara hoped it would soothe any hard feelings.
Jonas smiled. "Do it, then." He paused. "Good to see you alive again."
"It's good to be alive again."
# # # #
Shara lay soaking in a hot bath. Paul had been true to his word. She had been hired as a deputy, in this relatively small town, and been accepted almost immediately. While she spent more time tracking down runaway dogs and cats than kids, she wasn't stuck behind a desk, watching her life waste away.
Paul and Anna had visited twice, already. Her family.
She had worked with some troubled teens, and had even considered becoming a foster parent.
She couldn't have been happier.
She looked down at her breasts, and Bobby Chattaway's eyes stared wide-eyed back at her. Only for an instant, and then they were as unseeing as they had been since she'd had the tattoo applied.
But her breasts now ached ever so slightly. Despite the warm water, she shivered. Was it over? Could she begin anew, or had she created a monster who would now devour her?
She wondered if she would sleep that night?
She wondered if the urge would return?
She wondered if she could keep the promise she had made to herself, if it did?
Since her arrival, she had slept each night with her gun under her pillow; to protect herself from herself.
She wondered if she could use it if Bobby returned?
She wondered . . .
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