Pages 7 and 8 of the paper were missing. National news section. Specifically, national crime stories. Decker laid the thin sheets down, his stomach in a tight, wet knot. "Rina, where's the rest of the paper?"
Rina continued to scramble eggs. "It's not all there?"
"No, it's not all there."
"Yes, I've checked."
"Maybe Ginger got to it," Rina said casually. "You know how the dog loves newsprint. I think she uses it for a breath freshener -- "
"Rina -- "
"Peter, could you please distract Hannah from the dishwasher and get her seated so I can feed her? And take the plums out of the utensil basket while you're at it."
Decker stared at his wife, got up, and lifted his pajama-clad two-year-old daughter. She was holding a plum in each hand.
"You want a plummer, Daddy?"
"Yes, Hannah Rosie, I'd love a plum."
"You take a bite?" She stuffed the fruit in her father's mouth. As requested, Decker took a bite. Juice spewed out of the overripe plum, wetting his pumpkin-colored mustache, rills of purple running down his chin. He seated his daughter in her booster and wiped his mouth.
"You want a bite, Daddy?"
"No thanks, Hannah -- "
"You want a bite, Daddy?" Hannah said, forcefully.
"No -- "
"You want a bite, Daddy?" Hannah was almost in tears.
"Take another bite, Peter," Rina said. "Eat the whole Plum."
Decker took the plum and consumed it. Hanna offered him the second plum. "Honey, if I eat any more plums, I'll be living in the bathroom."
Rina laughed. "I'll take the plum, Hannah."
"No!" the baby cried out. Her face was flushed with emotion. ""Daddy" take the plummer."
Decker took the second piece of fruit. "Why do you keepbuying plums?"
"Because she keeps asking for them."
"That doesn't mean you have to buy them."
"As if you can resist her requests? I noticed the other day she was playing with your gold cuff links -- "
"She likes shiny things," Decker interrupted. "I like how you skillfully changed the subject, darlin'. What happened to the newspaper?"
Rina set a dish of eggs in front of Hannah and poured her orange juice. She shrugged helplessly. "What can I tell you?"
Decker felt nauseated. "Bastard struck again."
Decker said nothing. But Rina could see his jaw working overtime. She said, "Cindy called this morning. She asked me to hide it from you. I shouldn't have done it. But she sounded so desperate for an ally. She couldn't handle you and her mother's hysteria at the same time. Besides, there's nothing anyone can do -- "
"What do you mean, 'There's nothing anyone can do'?" Decker snapped. ""I" can do something. I can bring her back home "out" of that hellhole."
"LA's not a haven from crime -- "
"It's better than New York."
"Not all of New York is like the area around Columbia, Peter."
"Well, that's just fine and dandy except Cindy happens to go to Columbia." Decker got up from the dining-room table and walked into the kitchen, staring out the back window at his acre's worth of ranchland. The riding corral was now a foot-deep mud pit; the stables had been battered from the recent storms. Behind his property line stood the foothills bleeding silt. His house was fine so far, the gunk at least five hundred yards away. But who knew? He had plenty of garbage to deal with here. He didn't need problems three thousand miles away.
"Did you talk to her at all?" Deckerasked.
"For a few minutes," Rina answered.
"How's she doing?"
Rina glanced at Hannah. "You want a video, muffin?"
The little girl nodded, licking egg-coated fingers. "Mickey Mouse."
"You've got it." Rina slipped the tape into the VCR, then walked into the kitchen. To her husband, she whispered, "How's she doing? She's shaken up, of course."
"Goddamn "police"! This is the third one and they don't seem one ounce closer to finding this maniac. What the hell are they "doing"?"
"That's an odd thing for you to say."
"I know incompetence when I see it."
"So what do you propose to do, Peter? Go out to New York and handle the investigation yourself?"
"I've seriously thought about it. I was in sex crimes for over a decade -- "
"Peter -- "
"Maybe I'll call the principal investigator -- "
"You don't have enough work at home?"
"It's been a slow month."
""Baruch Hashem, "" Rina said, blessing God.
""Baruch Hashem, "" Decker repeated. "Besides, this is my daughter we're talking about. I want to make sure everything possible is being done."
"I'm sure they're working overtime. Just like you'd be doing."
"Right. Overtime on doughnuts." Decker grimaced. "I know I'm not being fair. Frankly, I don't care."
Rina sighed. "Peter, why don't you go visit Cindy? I'm sure she'd be thrilled to see her six-foot-four detective father. She and all the other girls in the dorm. But go out as a protective "father," not as a cop."
Decker drew his hand across his face. "Son of a bitch! Preying on young girls like that. God, I swear, Rina, if I come face-to-face with that sucker, I'm gonna shoot off his you-know-whats." He looked at his wife. "Was the latest one hurt? Of course shewas hurt. I mean, was she beaten or anything?"
"No. Same MO."
The MO. Bastard sneaked up on the girls, brought them down from behind, placed a large paper bag over their heads, and raped them from the back. The victims had described the violation as strong and painful but mercifully fast. Before they could utter boo, the monster had been upon them.
Summoned to investigate the murder of a high school prom queen, LAPD detective Sergeant Peter Decker is immersed in a rootless world where young lives are punctuated by mindless sex, illicit drugs, and tenuous links to reality. When a prime suspect is identified, Decker has the feeling that the case has not been exhaustively covered--certain facts just don't add up.
The cruel and bizarre slaying of a beautiful teen leads Detective Decker into the dark heart of an exotic subculture: the seamy, sometimes violent world of Southern California's rootless, affluent youth. But even the confession of a disturbed kid with cold "killer eyes" cannot soothe Decker's inner torment. For he knows in his gut this crime goes much deeper and higher than anyone expects -- and that true justice, brutal and complete, has yet to be done.