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Authors: Jonah Paine

Little Girls Lost

BOOK: Little Girls Lost
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CONTENTS

Title Page

Copyright

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

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

Afterword

LITTLE GIRLS LOST

Jonah Paine

Copyright © 2015 Jonah Paine

All rights reserved.

C
HAPTER
O
NE

The food court was mostly empty on Thursday afternoons, but not empty enough for the huddle of teenage girls who perched on green-painted chairs and sucked on their diet sodas.

Jasmine wrinkled her nose at a nearby table, where three heavy-set men were eating their lunch.

"Disgusting," she pronounced. "His fat ass is hanging almost halfway out of his pants. It's like, dude—buy a belt!"

Jasmine's trio of attendants twittered on queue. They were all on the cheerleading squad, and they were all pretty and popular, but Jasmine was the undisputed queen of their court.
 

"That is so gross," Brandi agreed, tossing her black hair. Brandi always made a point of being the first to agree with Jasmine. She thought of herself as the second in command of their little clique, and in her mind that meant she needed to be particularly ready to show her support for their queen. "I'm already having a hard enough day without seeing his disgusting body."

Tanika giggled. "You guys are so bad," she whispered under her breath. Tanika always made a show of being nice and sweet, but her blue eyes flashed with delight. She could never hide how much she loved making fun of other people.

Jasmine reviewed the girls at the table. "What do you think, Melissa?" she asked of the pretty brunette.

Melissa had been quietly sipping on her soda straw, and she looked up with a startled look in her eye. "What?" she asked a little desperately.

Jasmine smiled the way a cat might smile at a mouse. "I was wondering what you thought of Mr. Fat Ass over there. We're all talking about it, but you don't have anything to say. Maybe you don't approve of us?"

Melissa looked nervously at the other girls. "Oh, no. No. I'm not ... he is fat."
 

Jasmine continued to smile at her friend, wondering whether she should take it further. She could remember when they were all friends in grade school, and how they had played a cruel game with one another by which one girl was always on the outside and excluded by the others. Jasmine had been very good at that game. She had an almost instinctive knack for making sure that she was never the one on the outside. That game had taught her skills that had served her well, and for a time she considered—for old times' sake - playing it one more time and putting Melissa on the outside. It would be fun, and it would teach pretty little Melissa who was boss, but then Jasmine thought better of it. She would do it, but not today.

Instead she sniffed and turned away. "This town is so lame. Everyone's fat and ugly and stupid. I can't wait to get out of here."

Brandi leaned forward conspiratorially. "Did you get it? Did you get in?"

Inwardly Jasmine cursed. Brandi was asking about her application to USC, and no—she hadn't received the acceptance letter that she was sure she was going to get. Now she had to admit it, and she kicked herself for making herself vulnerable.

"I'm not sure film school is for me," she said archly, deciding to turn the bad into a good. "It seemed like it might be fun, but I'm not meant to be behind a camera. I should be out front."

"Totally!" Tanika breathed, her eyes wide with enthusiasm. Jasmine didn't miss the quick and dark look that Brandi gave the other girl.

"Honestly, I don't know that school—any kind of school—is really in my best interests. I need to get in front of cameras, not sit in a lecture hall and listen to some old man drone on and on."

Brandi snorted loudly. "That is too funny, Jasmine!"

Jasmine ignored her. She really couldn't stand Brandi and her constant sucking up. It wouldn't surprise her if the girl showed up one day with her hair bleached, just so she could look more like her idol. Jasmine knew that she should feel flattered, but mostly she just felt bored: with Brandi, with the rest of her friends, with this stupid food court in this stupid mall that they hung out in because there was nothing that wasn't totally lame in this ridiculous little town. She was so tired of it all that she thought she might actually vomit. Really, she couldn't get out of here soon enough.

Off to the side, outside the circle of tables and under the shelter of a potted palm tree, someone watched Jasmine. He watched her very closely. He watched, he waited, and he thought to himself: "Soon."

C
HAPTER
T
WO

Sam Patton had learned that mornings were something to be endured.

He moved through the dark and dingy kitchen mechanically, setting the coffee maker going and half-heartedly moving dirty dishes into the sink, where they joined the dishes he had collected the previous night before he went to bed. The entire house felt like it was filled with mud that he needed to force his way through, as if he had gone to sleep on Earth but awoken on some strange and distant planet where the atmosphere was thick and everything was difficult.

Behind him, he knew, sat Patty, and in the silence he could feel her eyes on his back. Sam knew from long experience what he would see if he turned around. His wife would be hunched over her coffee cup, the cup that he knew contained strong liquids that were not coffee, and she would not speak to him as he moved silently through the thickness of the atmosphere between them. Sam knew these things without looking, and he had long since ceased to look. If there was a shred of hope left in him, it was in the part that chose not to look too closely at his wife, particularly in the unforgiving light of morning when everything seemed so cold and clear.

When it came time to leave he came up behind her and awkwardly kissed the top of her head. "I'm off. I'll call you if I'm going to be late. Let me know if you want me to get anything at the store on the way home." Patty turned half towards him, which had become her way of saying goodbye, and he headed for the door. He tried not to feel too relieved when he was out the door and could breathe fresh air into his lungs.

Bud was waiting for him out front, in a car that reeked with the memory of a decade's cigarettes. Sam got into the passenger seat and exchanged nods with the driver.

He and Bud weren't friends, exactly, but they had worked together long enough to have moved into a special space reserved for those who knew each other too well to wonder whether they liked what they saw.

"Nice way to start the day," Bud growled as he pulled the car out into the street and headed south, towards the edge of town. "Not very considerate of whoever's responsible," he added.

Sam shrugged. "It will be about as bad as it usually is, I expect. Not much to do about it but go there and see what we can see."

Bud sighed but didn't say any more for a few minutes as he maneuvered through the morning traffic. Finally he looked over at his passenger. "And how are things?"

Sam looked at him. "Things?"

Bud looked back at the cars in front of him. "You know. Stuff. Patty. How's it going?"

Sam quirked a half-smile. It wasn't like Bud to ask about anything personal. "Patty is Patty, same as she always is. Things are things, and it seems like they'll stay things for the foreseeable future."

"Foreseeable," Bud said, sounding the word out as if he was testing its flavor on his tongue. "Fore-seee-able."

Sam scrunched down in his chair and stared out through the car window. "You don't like the words I use?"

"Half the time I have no fucking idea what you're talking about, is what I think. How did you end up a cop anyway, with the words you use?"

"Cops can use any words they want."

"They can, and they don't use words like 'foreseeable,' which is my point. And then there's you."

"And then there's me." Sam knew that something was up with Bud, but he was too tired and too short of caffeine to try to get to the bottom of it. It would come up soon enough, and he was willing to wait for it to surface on its own time.

As they drove the traffic gradually began to thin out, until they hit the edge of town and the urban landscape gave way first to strip malls, then to factories, and finally to the first long stretches of open farmland. Sam stared out the window at the fat cows scattered through the threadbare fields and wondered about the life lived out here. Was it nice, to wake to the daily rhythm of milking the cows and cultivating the fields, or were the farmers chained to their own private, shit-stained hells? The cows offered no answers, and eventually he could see a metal bridge stretching over the muddy river that was their morning destination.

C
HAPTER
T
HREE

If by some chance they hadn't known where they were going, the cluster of police vehicles and the ribbons of yellow police tape that clustered along the river and beside the bridge would have been a sure sign.

Once, years before, it had occurred to Sam that the investigators crawling over a fresh crime scene looked like ants on top of an anthill, and ever since he hadn't been able to get the image out of his head. If he thought too long on the analogy he began to feel slightly disgusted, particularly at the thought that the body that had been discovered early that morning was almost certainly swarming with real insects by now.

The crowd at the bridge was dominated by black-uniformed officers, but Sam's eye was caught by a man who didn't look like the others, decked as he was in a blue track suit and baseball cap. Crawling out of the car, he headed over to where the man was speaking with the officers. Nodding at the uniform cops he extended his hand.
 

"Good morning, sir. I'm Detective Patton. And you are?"

From where the man was sitting the sun was behind Sam's head, and he squinted as he delivered his response. "Bill. Bill Bailey. I was jogging here this morning when..."

"Where were you, exactly, when you saw the body? Details matter," Sam interrupted. Memory was a tricky thing, he knew, and this witness was reshaping what he remembered every time he told the story. Sam wanted to get the core of the story out of him before it was buried under embellishment.
 

Involuntarily the man glanced back at the bridge. "I was crossing the bridge, but I didn't see it at first. I smelled it." He grimaced at the memory.

Sam nodded grimly. He didn't need to ask what the man had smelled - it was filling his own nostrils at that very minute. "So you smelled something bad as you were jogging across the bridge. What did you do then?"

The man's face grew a little pale as he was thrown back into the stream of his memory. "At first I thought it was just roadkill, but the smell kept getting worse as I got closer to the end of the bridge, and I was really starting to wonder what it was. So I looked over the side of the bridge and I ... I saw her."

Sam looked to the uniform at his side to fill in the details. The officer looked through the pages in his notebook as he called out the details. "Woman, late teens, looks to have been in the river for some time."

"Cause of death?" Sam asked, knowing that there was unlikely to be a solid answer. A body comes out of the river filled with unanswered questions.

"The examiner is with the body now. He doesn't know yet if they're pre- or post-mortem, but there are several deep slashes that could be stab wounds."

Sam nodded. He knew that much already; he and his partner wouldn't have been called to the scene if it looked like some girl had too much to drink and accidentally drowned. Stab wounds meant criminal intent. They meant this was likely a crime of passion. They meant that somewhere there was a murder weapon, and they implied—though he couldn't be certain—that the victim had been killed somewhere else and dumped in the river after the fact.
 

BOOK: Little Girls Lost
4.77Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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