THE PERFECT VICTIM
Lee Ann felt herself falling, but he helped her land on the soft mattress. The room seemed toturn at odd angles. For the first time, she was worried, twisting her head around to see wherehe was standing. Her heart started to pound.
He chuckled and said, “Lay down. This’ll be fun.”
His powerful hand pulled her flat onto the bed, then jerked her arms over her head. A pincharound her wrists made her squirm to look over her shoulders. Now her stomach had a block ofice in it as she realized the guy had handcuffed her to some kind of hook in the wall. Fearwashed over her, making her head spin faster.
She tried kicking her legs, but they felt like cement as he secured her ankles with another setof steel cuffs.
Now he sat on the edge of the bed, writing in a small, blue journal. His eyes focused on theprecise movements of his pen.
“What are you doing?” She couldn’t form the question in her mind.
He smiled. “Just a few notes. All has to do with my pharmaceutical work. I think I gave youjust the right amount of Oxy and 200 milligrams of Anafranil, but I want to see what happens.”
Panic surged up her throat. “Right amount for what?”
“We’re gonna see how long I can keep you here quiet and happy and with me…”
THE PERFECT WOMAN
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.
To my agent, Meg Ruley. She never gives up.
Chapter Fifteen Chapter Sixteen Chapter Seventeen Chapter Eighteen Chapter Nineteen Chapter Twenty Chapter Twenty-one Chapter Twenty-two Chapter Twenty-three Chapter Twenty-four Chapter Twenty-five Chapter Twenty-six Chapter Twenty-seven Chapter Twenty-eight Chapter Twenty-nine Chapter Thirty Chapter Thirty-one Chapter Thirty-two Chapter Thirty-three Chapter Thirty-four Chapter Thirty-five Chapter Thirty-six Chapter Thirty-seven Chapter Thirty-eight Chapter Thirty-nine Chapter Forty Chapter Forty-one Chapter Forty-two Chapter Forty-three Chapter Forty-four Chapter Forty-five Chapter Forty-six Chapter Forty-seven Chapter Forty-eight Chapter Forty-nine Chapter Fifty Chapter Fifty-one Chapter Fifty-two Chapter Fifty-three Chapter Fifty-four
Lee Ann Moffit sprawled across the slick leather couch with a brown stain on the middle cushionand let her head slip onto the guy’s broad shoulder. Why not? It was a clean house, and he’dbeen nice to her all evening. He bought her a fried shrimp dinner at Popeye’s (the big shrimpdinner, not the snack meal), gave her a couple of Vicodin to keep her sane, and now he satquietly with her as she drank a Rolling Rock and watched some cheap rip-off of America’s Next
It had been awhile since she was someplace she could watch TV this time of night,Top Model.
especially a show like this. One of the few fantasies she still held was being a supermodel onthe cover of Sports Illustrated. Everyone at Sandalwood High had told her she was pretty enoughto model. She was convinced of it too until she scraped together three hundred bucks for a“photo-shoot.” She believed the tubby, bald photographer when he said she could be a star. Itwasn’t until she found out what kind of star he meant that her dreams came crashing down.
Now she realized that at an even five feet she was too short to be a model, even if God hadgiven her good cheekbones and an athletic body. Her high school career had been as successfulas her attempt at modeling. Aside from playing lacrosse, she didn’t accomplish a whole lot inschool. She was nice to people and loved kids, so why was it so important to find France on amap or know that President Reagan didn’t free the slaves?
She had fights with her mom and new stepdad that she now understood were useless. It was justher way of showing she was growing up. Her stepdad wasn’t that bad of a guy. Even her newstepbrother and sister didn’t seem so annoying. Lee Ann had to prove she was independent andknew what was best, so she moved out (her mom called it running away) at fifteen. She’d beenon her own for a few months when she was found dancing at a strip club off the interstate andsent back home.
Then, at sixteen, she moved out for good. Or so she thought. It was frustrating six monthslater when the same cop found her, bought her lunch, then took her back home to live. She evenknew the cop a little. She had played lacrosse in the same league as his daughter, and thatembarrassed her mom.
The third time was the charm. She was close enough to eighteen that her mom didn’t even bothercalling the cops. She’d moved out and was on her own. Now, Lee Ann didn’t like where she hadended up.
It felt like her luck was changing. The right guy might give her the chance to turn thingsaround. Lee Ann was working two different jobs. During the day she was a clerk at acopy/printing place. She liked the word “clerk,” and that’s what she told people when theyasked what she did for a living. It was nice to have a legitimate job. A couple of nights aweek she still worked as a dancer. The money was too good to ignore, and she no longer lookedat it like a lifetime job, what most people called a career.
She didn’t have a drug habit like a lot of the dancers at the Bare Belly Club. She only usedprescription drugs, because they were safe. A few painkillers a day, some Oxy when she had thecash, and then the Lunesta to sleep. It all helped and kept her drug-free. That was importantto her. She always bought her “safe” prescription drugs from the same two guys. One was afriend of hers named Malachi and the other guy, Ernie, was a sweet college kid who made sureshe only took pills that wouldn’t hurt her long term. He always stressed that she couldn’tget addicted to pills; that’s why he sold them instead of crack.
Now, in this pleasant house she felt a thick arm wrap around her bare shoulder. This guy wasquiet but smart, really smart. His whole house was wired with cool electronics and he used afew words she had never even heard. He was some kind of teacher in college and seemed just thatbrainy. The guy also worked at a pharmacy, and that’s what interested her. If she got a goodhookup in a pharmacy and introduced him to Malachi, things might get better for her. She toldMal she’d met a pharmacy worker, but he told her to play it cool for a few weeks before askinghim about supplying some pharmaceuticals or “Farm Aids.”
This guy was built too, with a hard strap across his shoulders and biceps she couldn’t fitboth hands around. She knew how much dedication it took to put on muscle like that. Her oldmanager, Jamais, who now went by his real name, Franklin, had the same kind of build, only a
“You okay, Lee Ann? Can I get you anything?”
She purred and gave him a peck on the cheek.
He held out his hand with a couple of Oxycontin pills.
She just nodded and he set them on the coffee table, then used the bottom of his glass to mashthem into a light powder. A black cat scurried past when he started to grind the pills.
The guy said, “That’s Mr. Whiskers IV. He’s a little skittish.”
Lee Ann smiled, scooped up the powder, then licked her hand to take in every grain of it. Shegulped her beer to wash away the bitter taste.
The room already had a hazy quality to it, and she felt a slight whirl. This was some goodshit. She reached for the green Rolling Rock bottle again and knocked it onto the throw rug ontop of the hard, cold terrazzo.
“I am so sorry.” She meant it, but the words sounded slurred. She hoped she hadn’tfrightened the cat even more.
He shrugged. “Don’t worry about it.” He stroked her face, then added, “You wanna go intothe bedroom?”
She didn’t really, but he’d been so nice. “Maybe just to lay down for a few minutes. Thisstuff is really hitting me.”
He stood and helped her to her feet. Earlier she’d stepped off the path to the front door andher left foot slipped out of her shoe into the decorative sand. Lee Ann was afraid she hadtwisted her ankle, but now with the Oxy in her system she couldn’t tell. Since then she’dcarried the shoes around the house with her. Now she discarded the clogs with three-inch heelsnext to the old couch and allowed him to lead her through the small house. She tripped twice onfunky little steps between rooms. It was weird that each room was on a different level. Shestumbled once more as they stepped through a doorway near the front of the house.
She paused as he flipped on the overhead light. The room was bare except for a mattress on thefloor. Her knees buckled and she lost her balance, but he steadied her. What a gentleman.
An empty duffel bag lay on the terrazzo floor next to the bed.
Lee Ann said, “I’ve never had Oxy hit me like this before.”
“That’s because it’s not just Oxycontin.”
She stared at him, but her eyes couldn’t focus well. She felt herself falling, but he helpedher land on the soft mattress. In an instant he had slipped off her tank top and was workingthe hook on the back of her bra.
Before she could protest, her breasts swung free as the room seemed to turn at odd angles. Forthe first time, she was worried, twisting her head around to see where he was standing. Herheart started to pound.
He chuckled and said, “Lay down. This’ll be fun.”
His powerful hand pulled her flat onto the bed, then jerked her arms over her head. A pincharound her wrists made her squirm to look over her shoulders. Now her stomach had a block ofice in it as she realized the guy had handcuffed her to some kind of hook in the wall. Fearwashed over her, making her head spin faster, like the whirly-wheel at the fair.
She lost track of where he had gone. Her jeans were unsnapped and roughly yanked off along withher favorite pair of panties. She tried kicking her legs, but they felt like cement as hesecured her ankles with another set of steel cuffs. Lee Ann thought she might vomit from fear.
Now he sat on the edge of the bed, writing in a small blue journal. His eyes focused on theprecise movements of his pen.
“What are you doing?” She couldn’t form the question in her mind.
He smiled, revealing strong, healthy teeth. “Just a few notes. All has to do with mypharmaceutical work. I think I gave you just the right amount of Oxy and 200 milligrams ofAnafranil, but I want to see what happens.”
Panic surged up her throat. “Right amount for what?”
“We’re gonna see how long I can keep you here quiet and happy and with me.”
Detective John Stallings scanned the front of the shitty old lime-green motel, nasty parkinglot, and the alley that led to the beach behind it. The low clouds and light drizzle gave thewhole image the perfect accent of grime, gray, and grit. Typical Jacksonville.
A behemoth in a cheap jacket standing in the front of the building was his main concern. Justsome guntoting crack dealer from Springfield hoping to stake out a new zone over here. He was amountain of “show” muscle, all chest and biceps, probably an ex-jock who used his gym time tolook scary but not necessarily to stay in shape. All street cops could tell the difference.Probably scared the damn hotel owner into silence and set up a stash in one of the roomsupstairs. That’s why a lanky kid in a Patriots hoodie was at the base of the stairs. If theymoved in too quick the whole place would know the po-po were on-site.
Hidden a couple of blocks north with his black Impala in front of them, Stallings twisted hissix-foot frame to stretch a kink out of his back, then looked down at his partner and said, “Ijust see the two assholes. The one that looks like a Jaguars lineman out front could cause someshit.” He had a good sense of danger. At least danger to himself. After sixteen years with theJacksonville Sheriff’s Office he trusted his judgment when it came to tactical operations. Ithad taken a few too many beatings, a knife wound, and a bullet in the leg to teach him that,but no one acquired knowledge without suffering or work. Sister Mary had taught him that hisfirst day in kindergarten.
Patty Levine nodded at his assessment, then said, “We should get narcotics in here for thesetwo, then check out room 2-B.” Her blond hair hung in a loose braid down her muscular back.Stallings thought she looked like a cheerleader who would kick your ass. And he had seen her doit on several occasions.
“No time for the street team. If she’s up in the room, we gotta move right now.” He didn’twant to get his younger, more ambitious partner in the shithouse with the agency, but this waswhat kept him going. Finding a young girl who had run away with some middle-aged jack-off gavehim the will to move in the morning and fall asleep at night. At least on the nights he sleptat all. Unlike most of his fellow detectives he needed work to give him a break from home oncein a while. And he needed lucky tips like this one to feel like he was doing all he could forthese kids. God knows he hoped some cop somewhere was doing all he could for his Jeanie.
Stallings had asked to be assigned to the missing persons unit. First time they had ever had adetective transfer in. Usually it was just a way for a patrolman to make detective, then moveon to the more interesting narcotics or high-profile homicide. For Stallings it was logical,after everything that had happened, to work in crimes/persons and handle missing persons. Evenif the other detectives called it the “runaway roundup,” he didn’t care. It meant something.It also gave him the schedule to see his family more, to coach soccer, and to help Lauren withher homework. Maybe he could correct the mistakes he’d made with Jeanie. He knew his partner,Patty, wanted to try robbery or homicide if she got the chance, but this was the only unit thatmade sense to him now.
They had the run of the county, and way out here in Jacksonville Beach, fifteen miles east oftheir main office, he had the freedom to make choices and do the right thing no matter whatpolicy said.
Patty saw his mind drift and smiled at him. “What is it you like to say? Is today the day?”
“C’mon, I know you went through the academy ten years after I did, but they had to still bepreaching it. ‘Is today the day that changes the rest of your life?’” He glanced back acrossthe two blocks to the monstrous crack dealer, with a neck like a spare tire, in front of the
hotel. When he was sure no one had moved, Stallings turned his attention back to Patty. “It’sa way to stay focused on the job. I’ve said it before every assignment, and it keeps mealert.”
Patty said, “What if I don’t want a change today? What if, and I know this sounds crazy toyou, we call for backup before we tangle with a drug dealer who looks like a brown IncredibleHulk in a cheap vinyl jacket?”
Stallings let out a quick laugh. Patty was a great partner: smart, tough, and knew when tocrack a joke or two. It had been hard to be around him the past few years, but she nevercomplained or let him down. He hoped he could return the favor. But right now he was on amission. Keeping his eyes on the mountain of dark flesh and the young lookout at the base ofthe stairs, Stallings untucked his shirt to cover his Glock and gold badge clipped on his belt.
Patty flipped over the cover of the battered gray metal notebook case she carried everywherethat stored all aspects of their work and her life, including her schedule, to-do lists, herfamily’s birthdays, and a complete schedule of the University of Florida’s sports teamsgames. She slid out a small photograph of a fourteen-year-old girl with bright orange hairholding a small black dog.
Stallings glanced at the photo. “I saw her picture before. If there’s a girl in that roomshe’s coming with us. I don’t care who she is.”
“And if there’s a man with her? We got no PC or warrant. Just a shaky tip.”
“Jail is the least of that creep’s concerns if he’s in a hotel with an underaged girl.” Helooked down the empty street again. They’d have to walk down there, because the Impala thecounty issued him was too obvious. “Can you handle the guy by the stairs?”
Patty gave him a sly smile. “No sweat.”
Stallings never had to worry about Patty having his back. She could kick just about anyone’sass and moved like a leopard in a fight. Her looks sometimes lulled men into thinking shewasn’t a threat. They were always wrong. He gave no more thought to the smaller thug by thestairs.
He was about to start walking when he saw someone at the base of the stairs of the littlehotel. Stallings paused, then slowly ducked back into his car and retrieved a small set ofBushnell binoculars with the logo for the Ponte Vedra Inn and Club on the side. He surveyed thearea under slightly more magnification and then said, “Shit, hold on.”
“What is it?” Patty held a closed ASP expandable baton in her small hand.
“A family is gettin’ ready for a trip to the pool. Looks like an Asian family with threelittle kids.” He checked again and saw one small girl holding a bright pink plastic tube asher mother bent to adjust her tiny suit.
“Who’d go swimming in this weather?”
“Let’s wait a minute. I don’t want to ruin these kids’ vacation if this is the only placetheir parents could afford.”
Finally, after several minutes of waiting, the little troupe moved down the walkway toward thepool at the rear of the building, and Stallings watched as Patty slipped down onto the beachacross the street to approach from another direction.
Stallings crossed the two-lane road and then started strolling toward the hotel and the giantsentry out front. He didn’t hurry; that way Patty had time to set up. He also didn’t wantthis monster to have any reason to suspect that Five-0 was in the area. This wasn’t downtown;he probably expected a more polite police force. That assumption would be shattered in the nextminute.
Stallings wasn’t cocky. He knew he could be the one on the wrong end of a fist or a cheappistol, but he had surprise on his side. He focused on the academy mantra: “Is this the daythat changes my life?” It really was something he’d said his whole career. The hell of it wasnow he really did need a change. He needed a miracle to get back all he had lost.
There were cops he knew who were quick to mix it up with a suspect. They liked the thrill andviolence. Violence accomplished a goal, whether it was an arrest or a lesson; physicalaggression was just another tool in a good cop’s bag of tricks. If you took it too far you hadto be prepared to explain yourself. He could admit, at least to himself, that he enjoyedconfrontation with the right thug. Bullies, pimps, and predators often didn’t understandanything but a good thumping. And sometimes he didn’t know how to deal with them except with agood thumping.
A Ping-Pong ball bounced around inside his stomach as he got closer to the hotel. He drifted tothe inside of the sidewalk so the bulky dealer wouldn’t see him until he was at the nextbuilding. His heart picked up a few beats as he nudged his pistol under his shirt and hoped hedidn’t have to use it. Through this entire ritual of checking his gear and his attitude hedidn’t lose sight of the mission: save the girl. He knew if he could grab her before anythingserious happened up in the room, he might not have to look for her as a runaway later. That wasthe key, identifying a problem early and acting. He only wished he’d been that smart for hisown daughter’s sake.
Now he was near the hotel and visible. A small smile crept across his face when he saw Pattystep up next to the skinny lookout near the stairs. The dumbass didn’t even know she wasbehind him. Patty was letting him focus totally on the giant man leaning on the battered andrusting chain-link fence. He was younger than Stallings, maybe thirty-five, and taller by atleast five inches. The monster had to go six-five and over two-fifty without as much fat asStallings had originally thought.
Stallings gave him a casual nod as he came closer but kept looking down the street like hisdestination was another cheap-ass hotel or maybe one of the ancient, beat-up condos that mostlyhoused aging snow-birds. That little maneuver allowed him to walk right past the man withouttelegraphing his intentions. Just in front of the giant man, he spun and threw an elbow under aprominent chin, then a knee into the side of his leg. The man crumpled as Stallings’s kneeconnected with the common peroneal nerve.
Stallings turned toward the stairway as the surprised lookout stood, prepared to rocket up thestairs and sound the alarm. Instead, Patty popped open her ASP with a flick of her wrist andtripped him as he started to take flight. She had a size-six Rockport boot on his chest beforehe knew what had happened. The twenty-eight-year-old detective looked like a big game hunterposing with an unfortunate antelope.
Stallings wasted no time with his man on the street, thumping his head against a metal fencepost, then reaching to his waistband to retrieve a Taurus nine-millimeter from the dazed man.
The dealer gasped, “I ain’t holding. You got nothing on me.”
“I got this gun, you dumb shit.” He tucked the cheap pistol in his belt, then shook the manby the collar to make sure he had his full attention. “This is just a warning. Leave thishotel alone and head back over to Phoenix Avenue or this shit will happen to you every fuckingday.” He wrapped his hand in the front of the crack dealer’s shirt and jerked the man’s faceup to him. “Are we clear?”
The crack dealer’s shiny head bobbed as he caught his breath and tried to regain somecomposure. The thug may have weighed more than 250 pounds, but right now he was looking up intoblue eyes that conveyed the threat of violent injury better than any pistol ever made by Smith& Wesson.
Patty led the other young man over, tugging him by his ear, then thrusting him into his cohort.She said to them both, “Give up your cell phones.” Her voice left no room for argument.
“What?” asked the skinny lookout.
She snapped her fingers. “Phones, hotshot. Then you can scurry off.” She paused and added,“If you behave.” She took the BlackBerries from the men, then casually dropped them onto theasphalt and crushed them under the heel of her boot.
There was no protest.
A few minutes later, Stallings and Patty were on the stairs ready to go into room 2-B. They hadallowed the dealer to call his partner in the stash room to clear out. Stallings thought it wasa good idea so they wouldn’t bother the hotel owner later. He knew the dopers had flushed agood part of their profits before they had piled into a tricked-out Escalade and fled back toJacksonville proper. He didn’t give a shit about the dope.
Patty leaned in close and said, “If there’s a man with her up there you can’t hurt him.”
He just stared at her.
“That’s not Jeanie up there. Nothing you do will change the past. We’re cops, notvigilantes. We need to hear the whole story.”
“Whole story! If there’s an adult male with a fourteen-year-old up there it’s a crime. Hecan’t even try the Roman Polanski excuse. Those days are past.” He dialed it down before hisvoice carried up the stairs and across the open hallway. Patty had a point. She always did. Butin cases like this she really didn’t understand. He would save the girl, but if he got thechance to teach this pervert a lesson he’d do it for every father in the country.
As they eased up the stairs, Patty stooped down and picked up two towels in front of 2-A. Shejust looked at him and smiled, then motioned him to the side of the door with a nod of herhead.
He knew she was street-smart, so he stepped to the far side of the door to 2-B, where he’dbeen told the girl was staying, and let his partner do her thing. She stood directly in frontof the door so anyone inside would see her standing there, holding towels like a hotelemployee, then knocked on the door firmly.
From inside he heard shuffling, then a man’s voice said, “What? Who is it?”
Patty calmly added a slight, Latin-flared accent and called back, “I got towels and a new TVremote for you.”
There was a pause. Patty turned and whispered, “No man will turn down a new remote.”
Sure enough the door moved with a chain keeping it from opening all the way. Once the man got alook at Patty by herself, he shut the door, removed the chain, and then opened it wide with apredatory grin still on his round face.
Stallings stepped from around the corner and shoved the man hard, back into the room.
“What the hell?” shouted the man as he steadied himself against the cheap dresser. He woreonly a stained, white towel around his waist and looked like he was in his early thirties. Hischubby body and touch of gray made it hard for Stallings to guess his exact age other than itwas old enough to get his ass kicked.
He looked around the room quickly, but didn’t see anyone else. He nodded for Patty to checkthe bathroom as he stepped up next to the startled occupant.
Stallings smiled and said, “Nice day, huh?”
“What the hell is going on?”
“C’mon, you’re not an idiot.” He lifted his shirt, exposing the gun and badge. “You knowwhy we’re here.” An old trick, but one that worked. Usually people started jabbering aboutwhat they were doing. Not this guy. He clammed up immediately.
Patty tried the door then knocked softly. “Hello?”
The man in the towel said, “I don’t know why you’re here. Why don’t you explain yourself,Officer?”
“It’s Detective, and I’d rather have your guest explain it.”
Patty jiggled the doorknob again and tried to force the door.
The man said, “I have no idea what you’re talking about. You just violated my civil rights.”
Stallings kept his cool and started to ease toward Patty. If this guy was alone he had someass-kissing to do and he wanted Patty out before the guy got her name at least. He stood nextto Patty and tried the door. He thought he heard a faint noise from the other side and slammedhis shoulder into the old, hollow wooden door. It popped past the lock and opened into theempty bathroom. Uh-oh.
He stepped inside and then over to the tiny open window. Glancing out he saw a young girl,wrapped in a towel, on the lower roof of the office below.
Patty slid in next to him and they both said, “Shit.” Then they sprang into action. But oncehe had gotten back to the main room he froze, because it was empty too. He turned and said,“You get the girl, and I’ll go after the man.”
Patty darted out of the room at least knowing the last location of the runaway. Stallings shotdown the closest stairway into the trash-strewn parking lot. Nothing. His head swiveled inevery direction as he dashed toward the street. He looked in both directions on the main streetbut only saw a few pedestrians and a couple of cars. The panic of a parent who’d lost theirchild at the mall built inside him. He didn’t want this scared runaway to screw up her life.He raced back toward the hotel and down the hallway between the one-story office and two-storyhotel. As he crossed a doorway to the covered parking area he slammed into someone like twotrucks on a highway.
Stallings dropped backward onto the ground, already apologizing and trying to see who he’d runinto. Then he froze as a smile washed over him. On the ground next to him was the pudgy manfrom upstairs, his towel unwrapped and blood dripping from his cut lip.
Stallings sprang to a crouch, but the man didn’t move. He stood slowly, making sure none ofhis middle-aged bones were broken, then looked down at the unconscious man.
From the end of the hallway Patty called out.
He looked up and breathed a sigh of relief when he saw her with the girl, unharmed and cryinglike she had just found her older sister. Patty wrapped an arm around her and said, “Let’s goget you some clothes.” She had worked in the unit long enough to realize how confused thisgirl was and the fear of being caught with an older man. It was not the typical detective’sassignment. Not cut and dried, guilty or innocent, but layered like a counselor’s job, withseveral sides to every story. For every kid that ran from abuse and neglect there was anotherwho left for reasons no one could ever explain.
A few minutes later, Stallings sat with the motel manager, a neat Pakistani man with a name tagthat said WOODY. He had asked for all the registration slips from the hotel and Woody hadpleasantly complied.
He waited while the little Asian family, who had rushed in from the pool after the excitement,checked at the desk to make sure everything was all right.
Stallings stood next to the manager like another employee and said to the father, “We’resorry for the inconvenience. We’ll be happy to give you your room free for three nights.”
This caused Woody to turn and stare at him in shock.
The Asian man beamed and thanked them as he turned with his kids in tow and headed out thedoor. The little girl turned and smiled at Stallings, who returned it. That felt good.
Now Stallings looked at the manager and said, “Relax, I’ll pay for the room.”
Woody said, “Forget it. Chasing away the drug dealers will help me more than milking that guyfor a few nights. Besides I charge sixteen dollars a day to park.” He winked at Stallings, butsaw the look on the detective’s face and tore up the parking card as well.
“How long have those jerk-offs been bothering you?”