“You asking me or telling me?”
“What do you want me to say, Jess?”
His place was as neat and tidy as he’d always been. Clean-shaven, pleasant and polite, with just a touch of an edge. The occasional profanity or off-color joke, just enough to give the girls a low-voltage charge.
“I’m not going to jail.”
I let his declaration sit. “There aren’t many options. You are not walking free.”
“What’d I do so bad?”
Through our five interviews, Jess had pretended he didn’t understand. Me or the laws or the why behind the laws. It was pure bullshit. He knew exactly what was what.
“Those girls were special,” he said.
“You texted eight or ten girls at a time. How special is mass production?”
That silence again. His colorless eyes were full of it and his breath stank of it. This time the silence worked for me, grinding him down.
“They loved that I treated them special.”
On the table between us, I set down a printed text message. It was one of 28,492 I’d gotten from the subpoena. For more than a week I’d gone through them. Carefully. Slowly. Patiently. Looking for every clue to an identity, every sniff of a name or town or school, anything to identify all his victims.
I growled. “I should kill you here and now.”
“Would that be so bad?”
“Not for anybody but you.” I kept my voice low. “Maybe not even for you.”
I tapped a finger against the message. He scanned it slowly. Probably reliving it.
“’S not that bad. Doesn’t even mention sex.”
“You ask her to marry you, Jess. You say you want to date her. For fuck’s sake, you tell her it will probably hurt.”
“She’s 14, Jess.”
“And I stopped when she told me.”
“You’ve known her since she was five. You knew exactly how old she was. Think that’ll save you in prison? Bubba and Tyrone will eat you alive.”
“I’m not going to prison.”
“Real prison, Jess, not a few months in county lock-up. Real and brutal and bloody.”
“But I never had sex with them.” His voice touched the edge of hysteria.
“Bullshit. What about the 15-year old? What about the 16-year old Special Olympics athlete?”
He coughed. He hadn’t known I knew about those girls.
“But you’re right, mostly you didn’t have sex with them.” I watched him, predator watching prey but a different dynamic than he was used to. “It’s pathetic. You targeted broken girls from broken homes and still most of them wouldn’t have you. Didn’t get a nut off too often, but it wasn’t for lack of trying, was it?”
Getting dropped into this cesspool of human nastiness was my own fault. I’d asked for sex crimes. It was a cheap attempt to kill the monster that had stolen my sister so many years ago. Sure, I knew it was obvious psychology but I had no problem with that.
Because some monsters were worse than others.
“Two-time failure. Can’t have sex with regular women, but can’t seem to get into the pants of the young girls very often, either.” I shrugged. “Either way, you’re going to prison.”
“We going to have a problem, Jess?”
My grin dared him to make a move. We both knew he wouldn’t. He was a coward and we both knew it, but that cowardice actually made him more of a challenge.
“Let’s fight, then.” I stood. “But you’ll lose and go to prison sore. And a pretty guy like you? You’ll be a rock star. Bubba and Tyrone will be all over you. Day after day. Every single night. It’ll be a twenty-four hour party. But who knows? Maybe you’ll even get to pick who you get traded to.”
“You’re going to be somebody’s punch, Jess. No doubt. But, if you get lucky, maybe your owners will let you pick who they sell your sexual favors to.”
He swallowed, eyed my gun.
“Or you can jump me, take my gun. Or get my second weapon.” I nodded at my ankle-holster. “Kill me. Flee. Spend the rest of your life running. But someday a cop is going to stumble across you and kill you just for being a cop killer, before he even knows you’re a registered sex offender who couldn’t stop touching little girls.”
In his breathing, I saw him begin to make the mental leap. “Or I could kill myself. Be done with everything.”
“Maybe. Won’t have to worry about it anymore.” I nodded toward the front window. “Won’t have to sweat them, either.”
“Those local boys know you were in county lock up. They know I’m investigating new charges.”
“They’re fathers.” I paused. “If we don’t take care of this, they will.”
A tear slipped down his cheek but I didn’t give a shit. He never got around to sex with the 14-year old, but he had screwed young girls, and had sexted young girls across three counties. He would escalate and we both knew it. Ten years in prison was not going to end it.
Only the end of it would end it.
Breathing deep, he looked at his apartment. Then he glanced at my ankle holster. “Yeah.”
“No sudden change of heart, okay? Straight up…like a man.”
Sitting on the couch, he nodded.
Before I left, I pulled my drop gun from my ankle-holster. It was a banger’s .380 I’d confiscated dirty months earlier. I tossed it to him.
I was at my squad before I heard the shot.
On my personal note pad, his name was in the middle, the names above it already scratched off, the names below not.
I crossed his off and radioed dispatch that I was finished with my lunch break.
Trey R. Barker has published just about every kind of fiction imaginable. Most recently, he's been seen on or in ThugLit, Hardluck Stories, Crime Spree, and the antho On Dangerous Ground. His current books are the non-fiction The Cancer Chronicles and a collection of dark crime fiction, Remembrance and Regrets. Once upon a time he was a pizza cook, a karaoke salesman, a doll assembler, and reporter. He now patrols the back roads of northern Illinois as a deputy sheriff and also happens to be a crisis negotiator, though he has yet to experience a call-out quite like the one in this story. Visit him at treyrbarker.com.