SISTERS UNDER THE SKIN - NAOMI JOHNSON
“Tiffany, where is your daughter?”
“I told you, I left her with the sitter.” Her eyes shifted away and down.
”I told you.”
“Tell me again.” For the tenth time, I thought. Because I just love it when killers lie to me.
“On Thursday. No. Friday. No, Thursday. Thursday. It was a Thursday.”
Christ, it was like pulling teeth but I knew she couldn't hold out much longer. We'd been at it for hours now. I'd done this before; she never had. I stood up, stretched, walked around behind her and leaned in close.
“Help me out here, Tiffany. Which Thursday? What sitter? Where does she live?”
“I told you already. I told you and told you!” Her voice took on a high pitch. “I'm so tired, I need to sleep. I can't--”
“Stop whining!” I shouted, and slammed my fist on the table. “Your daughter, your beautiful Karla is missing. She's been gone eight fucking days. I don't want to hear how tired you are, I want to know what you've done with Karla!”
I dropped to a squat next to her, looked up, let my anger drain away. You have to balance the anger and intimidation with a little empathy. Timing it right is hard, though.
“She's so little, Tiffany, so helpless. And we're all tired and we could all go home if we only knew where she was. If we could only be sure that she wasn't frightened.” She lied, I could lie, too, right?
I saw her mouth tremble, her eyes fill with tears. Close, I was close. I took her hands, held them between mine.
“See, Tiffany, here's what I think happened. You tell me if I'm wrong. I think you were tired. And Karla, well, she's only three but she's a handful, isn't she? Maybe you spoiled her a little, huh? You were too good to her.”
Abusers loved to think that about themselves.
“And she wanted something she couldn't have, a toy maybe or a piece of candy?” A picture snapped into my mind of a toddler's tantrum. Tiffany's hands trembled ever-so-slightly. Or maybe it was me.
“Or maybe she didn't want something. Didn't want to take a nap, didn't want to pick up her toys. Started that bawling, hollering and screaming maybe, but not really crying. You know how kids carry on when they aren't hurt but they aren't getting their way? And you were tired, you didn't mean to do it, you would never hurt her, not Ka -- not Karla. No one could love their little girl more than you love her. But she just wouldn't shut up and you couldn't help it, could you? Nobody could blame you, it wasn't your fault. But she wouldn't stop and you had to make her stop, didn't you? You had to make her be quiet. She needed to know who was the boss. You couldn't help it, you put the pillow over her and held her down until she stopped. You weren't hurting her, you just wanted her to be quiet.” It all rolled through my mind like a silent movie, but I could feel her parental rage, out of control; the child shrieking, thrashing. Her silence.
The tears rolled down Tiffany's cheeks and she drew a breath that rattled in her throat, like she was having trouble breathing. “Yes,” was all she said.
“Yes, Tiffany? You'll help us take care of her now, won't you?” Images of a little girl wrapped in her favorite blanket, face covered, fogged my vision.. “Help us bring her home.”
She nodded and drew herself up, as if collecting her thoughts. And the whole story poured out between mounting sobs and hiccups. Fourteen hours of badgering, coaxing, pressuring and pleading, and finally she told it all. Especially the excuses, there were a lot of those. There were always plenty of those. Tiffany was going to feel a lot better in a few minutes, very peaceful and calm, when she got it all out. Maybe even sleepy, I'd seen that happen.
I was exhausted, too, but I wasn't going to feel better. Fact was, I felt worse already, really wobbly, and I left Patterson and Seaver to nail down the details of her confession. Uniforms would get the call shortly to start the search for a body. I headed for the restroom but I'd left it a little too long. I felt my legs go all rubbery and I sagged, shoulder to the wall. Breathing took an effort.
The pictures were in my head now, clicking past like a rapid-fire slide show, Youtube on acid, one after another after another: Newborn Karla, toddler Karla, then Karen, my Karen; Karla crying, then Karen in chorus and the pillow over her face, her short, round legs kicking and then limp, not kicking anymore. And putting the little body into the trunk. No, in a box, then in a trunk. DNA, you know? Tiffany should have thought of that. I did. Opening the trunk again, under a half moon amid the whine of mosquitoes and the distant splash of a 'gator. The Everglades, the best place. She'll never be found there. Never. The little bundle had slipped into the water so quietly, sank gently. Wish I'd put her favorite doll with her, but that wouldn't be right. She'd had so many dolls, but that one always made Karen laugh. A kidnapper wouldn't know about that funny little doll. Only a mother would know that, right? But Karen was a long time ago. A lifetime ago. Think about Karla instead. Karen was gone forever. Karla would come home again even if it was only for her funeral.
From around the corner I heard one of the county cops say, “That was really something, the way she got in that woman's head. Kind of creepy. I've never seen anything like it.”
“You never will, God willing.” That was my boss, Captain Delancey. ”How many cops do you know who've had their own baby girl disappear?”
I held my breath, pushed hard against the wall like I could just slide through it and vanish.
Don't. Think. About. Karen.
I started, jumped, as a heavy hand landed on my shoulder, spun me around. Captain Delancey. His expression was grim but he had the light of victory in his eyes. I shuddered, guilt sweating from my pores.
“Good work, Angie. I know this was a bitch for you. Square away your paperwork and take some time off, okay? You did a helluva job, you're a shoe-in for a commendation.”
I nodded, pulled away. Delancey was a good guy, and he cared about his people. But maybe some night I'd take the commendation out and throw it in the 'Glades. I knew just the spot for it.
BIO: Naomi Johnson is a retired financial analyst with an unused degree in Criminology. She lives in Columbus, Ohio. Her friends deny all responsibilty.
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