Read The Body Box Online

Authors: Lynn Abercrombie

Tags: #Fiction, #Thriller

The Body Box

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She woke in darkness. When she had been younger that used to happen, and she would be afraid and scream for Mommy. But not anymore. Now she was bigger.
But something was different today, something about the place she woke up in was not like her bed. It was hard, for one thing.
She moved uneasily, rising out of sleep, stretched out her arm. Her fingertips brushed a hard, rough surface. Like the wood her daddy used when he made shelves for Mommy's sewing room. She reached to her other side, nervous now, and her fingers jammed into something else. More wood. Now she was afraid. She pushed out with her feet and they banged into something hard, driving her body backward so that her head hit the wall.
“Mommy?” Her voice was high and shrill. “Mommy! Daddy!”
She called four or five times, but the sound was dull and flat and didn't seem to carry at all. In a panic now, she tried to stand, but her head banged into a sort of ceiling. She felt it with her hands. It was the same rough wood as the walls around her. She began to wail and pound the wood, lying down after a while, then kicking until she was exhausted. But it did no good at all.
Her name was Jenny Dial, she was six years old, and it was her first day in the box.
When I saw the Chief breeze out of his office wearing a bulletproof vest and a blue nylon coat that said POLICE on it in big yellow letters, I knew we were in for a full dose of primo media shamaganza foolishness.
I was sitting in the Admin bullpen on the fourth floor of City Hall East, where the Atlanta Police Department has its headquarters. As usual I was doing nothing. Truthfully? I was literally filing my nails.
The Chief stopped, scanned the big room. Chief Eustace V. Diggs, Jr. was a middling sized black man with very light skin. Nothing much to look at. But he was kind of a ham, good at assuming whatever pose he needed for the situation he was in at the moment. Right now he was wearing his Denzel Man-on-Fire face. For about half a second I wondered why this particular pose. But then I saw the two camera crews trailing him, and I didn't needed to think through the subject for another second. His eyes settled on me. “Mechelle!” he barked. “With me.”
“Sir?” I said. Getting a sinking feeling. I've never been big on the sort sham police work the Chief is so well known for.
“Get your gun, get your badge, get your vest, and come with me.”
“Sir, as you may recall, I'm on administrative—”
“Until further notice. You recall that phraseology? Hm?” He snapped his fingers impatiently. “Consider this to be further notice. With me. Pronto.”
I hadn't worn my badge or gun in over a year. “Yes,
!” I said.
Thirty minutes later, the disaster had begun to unfold.
There were six of us riding in the back of a white van. Me; Chief Diggs; his special assistant, an outlandishly beautiful brother named Captain Goodwin; and three other cops of similarly photogenic qualities (one a blond surfer-looking white boy, one a Hispanic kid, the other an Asian woman).
“Great,” I whispered to the Asian cop. “Rainbow coalition to the rescue.”
She just looked at me.
“Today,” Chief Diggs said, “the department is in the process of serving warrants against an unprecedented number of child pornographers and pedophiles in what we believe to be the largest sweep of its kind in the nation. We are simultaneously raiding the homes of over forty pedophiles and sexual criminals. Normally I would delegate such a job. But today we face a shortage of personnel qualified to handle this matter—”
You don't need to make a speech, sir,
I was thinking.
All the media is in the other car.
Trailing behind us in another van were a photographer and a reporter from the
Atlanta Journal
, two TV producers with their pretty girl crime reporters, two cameramen, and a stringer for CNN.
“—and therefore I have elected to direct this particular raid myself.”
Forty raids at once! It was ridiculous. The force was not big enough to stage forty decent raids at one time. There just weren't enough experienced cops to handle it. I assumed that whoever we were raiding had been specially chosen by the chief for his passiveness and unlikelihood of putting up resistance.
Still, a raid—even a sham raid—gets the blood pumping.
According to the Chief, the intel on the perp we were going after was that he was a pedophile who might or might not have had a kid in his house. A kid in the house? And the Chief was going to raid the place with this pack of amateurs? It was ludicrous. No doubt, the Chief hoped we'd get lucky, stumble across the girl who'd gone missing the other day, and he'd get his face on the national news. What was her name? Jenny Something?
The first sign that things had not been sufficiently planned was that we ended up driving around the block four or five times trying to find the right house. It turned out to be a neat little brick ranch with a neat little yard, a row of pretty orange ditch lilies blooming along the sidewalk.
We screeched to a halt, piled out of the van, stacked up at the front door. It was the Hispanic kid carrying the door basher, me on point, Diggs behind me. Capt. Goodwin, the surfer, and the Asian girl were taking the back door.
“Go ahead, Mechelle,” the Chief whispered in my ear. The Hispanic kid bashed the door, I lobbed a flash-bang into the front room, and then we charged in yelling.
We found the perp—Delwood James Anderson—sitting at his kitchen table, a watercress and chicken sandwich in his hand, his mouth open slightly so that you could see the half-masticated meat in his mouth. He was a slight man with a thin mustache and thin little arms and thinning blond hair, sitting in a Hawaiian shirt and a pair of white boxer shorts with pictures of the Power Rangers printed on them. He began screaming as soon as he saw me.
“Down on the ground!” Chief Diggs yelled. “Down on the ground!” He was pointing his weapon at the perp—an MP5 submachine gun with a suppressor on it, the sort of thing that Navy SEALS might carry when parachuting into the palace of some third-world dictator. It was well past ridiculous, the Chief in his vest and nylon jacket, all kinds of grenades and knives and truncheons hanging off his belt, waving the silenced submachine gun. Which, I noticed, he had forgotten to take off the SAFE position. Just as well; that way he was less likely to shoot me by accident.
“Clear!” yelled the Asian woman.
“Clear!” yelled the Hispanic kid.
“Clear!” yelled the beautiful deputy assistant.
“Anybody find a kid?” Diggs shouted.
“No sir!” came a chorus of voices.
“Detective,” Chief Diggs said to me, “secure Mr. Anderson for his own protection while we search the premises.”
“Won't take much of a search, Chief,” Captain Goodwin said. “Found a nice little stash laying out in plain view in the back bedroom.”
Detective! The Chief had just called me “Detective.” I hadn't been a detective for a year and a half. My current title was Acting Community GLBT Liaison. Which was a joke for a variety of reasons, not least of which was that I was neither gay, lesbian, bisexual, nor transgendered. At least as far as I knew: after six months on the job, I had yet to be entirely clear on what constituted a transgendered person.
Mr. Anderson, the perp, was still screaming. He had his hands pressed over his ears and his mouth was open, screaming and screaming and screaming—just like that guy in the painting.
“All the rooms clear?” I called out.
Captain Goodwin said, “I believe your area of responsibility is getting that gentleman to shut his mouth. Mm? Miss Deakes?” The Chief may have promoted me back to detective in his mind. But apparently the Captain had not.
“The house
clear?” I said.
“I just told you,” he said.
“Bathroom, attic, basement? Sometimes these kind of people have funky little attic hideaways, false-backed closets, sometimes—”
The beautiful Captain Goodwin gave me a long, cool stare. “Are you going to take care of this?” he said, pointing at the screaming Mr. Anderson. The perp was continuing to howl and press on the sides of his head, his mouthful of chicken and watercress on full display.
I turned to the perp, put my face up about six inches from his, and yelled, “Boo!”
The perp blinked, then made a noise like “Oop!” And then he stopped screaming.
“There,” I said. “Problem solved.”
“Was that intended to be humorous, Miss Deakes?” the Captain said to me.
“Well, I must admit I thought it was a moderately funny.” I holstered my Glock, grabbed the perp's skinny white arms, and put them behind his back. He was as meek as a lamb.
As I cuffed the scrawny little perp, the Chief set his silenced MP5 on the coffee table, dusted off his hands, then walked out onto the front porch to greet the media people who had just materialized on the neat little postage stamp of a lawn. I could see him through the screen door, holding up his hands to calm the masses.
“Y'all all spooled up and ready to shoot?” the Chief said. “Is my light okay?”
The media people assented.
Chief Diggs's tone modulated suddenly and went into what I call Official Black Man—deep, somber, with just that little melodious whiff of Martin Luther King. “Precisely six minutes ago,” Chief Diggs said, “the Atlanta police department began serving warrants against an unprecedented number of child pornographers and pedophiles in what we believe to be the largest sweep of its kind in the nation.” I realized he'd been practicing his speech on us back in the van before the bust. “This department is simultaneously raiding the lairs of over forty pedophiles and sexual criminals. Normally I would delegate such a job. But today, due to our current shortage of qualified personnel and budgetary shortfalls, I have elected to direct one of the raids myself. We have just arrested one of these dangerous sexual predators.”
Captain Goodwin said, “Give me the perp. I'm walking him out now. We need a visual while the Chief is speaking.”
” I said.
“Kack,” the perp said. “Gick. Ock.”
The Captain stood our miserable little perp up and prepared to walk him out the front door. The perp looked at me with wide, desperate eyes, his head bobbing up and down.
“Uh, Captain?” I said. “I don't think that's a good idea.”
The Captain blinked once, twice. “I'm sure when I desire your input, Miss Deakes, I'll ask for it.”
“Okay, whatever, sir,” I said, shaking my head sadly.
“Kick! Ook!” the perp said.
Outside one of the hard-looking blond TV reporters said, “Chief Diggs, is this roundup intended to distract people from the disappearance of Jenny Dial?”
“While we are certainly cognizant of the unfortunate situation with regard to that poor young girl you're referring to, this is an independent law-enforcement action. I resent the implication that we would rush into a sweep of this magnitude, representing thousands of investigatory hours, simply because of the publicity surrounding one case. I would never authorize such a thing.”
Yeah, right
, I was thinking.
“No, the message which we are sending—to this community and to this nation—is that the city of Atlanta is no place to be if you're a sexual predator.”
The Captain and his charge made it through the screen door and about two strides down the steps before Delwood James Anderson collapsed and started seizing, his shriveled blue weenie flopping out of his Power Ranger underpants. When I had said “boo” to him, he had inhaled a piece of chicken. I had been trying to tell the Captain that Anderson needed a quick Heimlich before he got the perp walk. But the Captain hadn't been in a listening mood.
I noticed the other members of the rainbow coalition had been drifting outside to stand behind the Chief. Now they were all crowding around the jerking, bucking little perp while the cameras rolled.
Since I had no interest in getting my face on TV, I decided to take another sweep around the house.
It was a typical midtown Craftsman bungalow. Three bedrooms, one bath, kitchen with breakfast nook, gloomy living room. The living room had plastic slipcovers over the upholstery, and there were framed pictures on the walls of the perp's family, most of them circa 1965. Over the mantel of the fireplace was a typical family portrait, retouched a little to smooth out the bad skin, the funny-looking moles: Mom with her bouffant hairdo and her polyester church-lady dress, grimacing at the camera. Dad with his Brylcreemed hair and his cheap suit. Stiff little Delwood in his miniature suit and bow tie, looking like he was afraid of doing something wrong. Dad's arm rested on the shoulder of little Delwood Anderson, one finger idly brushing the boy's cheek. It looked innocent enough—unless you knew what Delwood Anderson had turned out to be. In which case the picture took on a sinister tone.
I walked down the hallway to the bedrooms. One bedroom was frozen in time, again circa 1965, a little boy's room. Blue wallpaper, model airplanes hanging from the ceiling. No sign anybody had been there recently, though. The next room was a sterile guest bedroom, everything covered with plastic. The last bedroom had slightly more modern furniture. There was a bottle of hand cream on the bed, a box of Kleenex, photos spread out in neat rows.
I picked up a picture. A naked girl, seven years old at most, cringing, tears running down her face. It was crudely printed, the pixels visible—obviously pulled off the Internet and printed from his printer. I leafed through the photos. Some were harmless enough—arty shots of little naked girls, bathing suit commercials. But most of them made your blood run cold: little girls being forced to do things that no child should ever have to do.
Suddenly I stopped. The grainiest, worst-quality photo lay at the end of the bed. I picked it up and stared. The department had circulated a picture of the missing girl—Jenny Dial. Was this her? A small blond kid with a dirty face, wide eyes, the photo taken through a slot in the wall of some kind of box or cage. The quality was not good. Maybe it was her, maybe not.

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