Authors: Lee Goldberg
Tags: #Mystery, #Suspense
By Lee Goldberg
Copyright Â© 2009 by Lewis Perdue and Lee Goldberg
This novel is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or places or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book or portions thereof in any form.
Originally published in paperback as
.357 Vigilante #2: Make Them Pay
under the pen name "Ian Ludlow" by Pinnacle Books, June 1985
Special thanks to Jeroen Ten Berge for the cover art and Eileen Chetti for proofreading.
The little girl with pigtails scrambled onto Santa Claus' lap. Old St. Nicholas, stark naked, wrapped his arms around her and, with a hearty "ho ho ho," asked her what he could give her for Christmas.
Santa gaped joyfully at the girl sitting stiff backed on his fleshy legs. His heavy hairless chest lolled on the swell of his stomach, his pale skin flushed baby's-bottom pink. The girl stared blankly at the brightly wrapped empty gift boxes that cluttered the floor around them. Behind Santa and the girl, a Christmas tree strewn with blinking lights glowed against a wood facade paneled with red Masonite strips designed to look like brick.
"Don't leer so much, Santa," Wesley Saputo groaned, combing his hand through his brown hair and sharing an irritated smirk with Lyle Franken, the chunky cameraman. "We're looking for fatherly warmth here."
Santa squinted against the bright lights, trying to see Saputo in the darkness behind them. A bead of sweat rolled down Santa's cherubic face.
"Sure, I can do that," Santa sputtered, shifting uncomfortably in his seat, a splinter of wood from the hastily built throne pricking his butt.
The girl reflexively clutched at a roll of flesh on his stomach to steady herself.
"Good, good. That's why I pay you," Saputo said wearily. Then, more softly, he asked, "Okay, Cassie, how are you doing?"
The ten-year-old girl squirmed at the mention of her name. Her usual exuberance had been sanded down to shyness by her nakedness, the strange way the man in the Santa Claus beard and cap looked at her, and the heat and glare of the bright movie lights.
"Fine," she mumbled, toying with one of the red bows in her cherry red hair. "When do we get ice cream and go to Disneyland?"
"Not long, Cassie. Don't you want to be a star?" said the voice behind the lights.
"Okay," Saputo crooned. "Then let's do like I told you. Be nice to Santa the way I said."
Saputo heard footsteps approaching slowly behind him in the darkness of the warehouse. Glancing over his shoulder, he saw a tall figure wearing a long, dark blue U.S. Navy pea coat with the collar turned up against his neck. Saputo felt a tremor in his chest. Tice.
Saputo swatted Franken's side. Franken, who also doubled as production designer and throne builder, turned from the viewfinder and followed Saputo's gaze.
"Good afternoon, gentlemen," said the man, wiry and thin, as he emerged from the shadows and glided toward Saputo and Franken like the surf crawling up the sand.
"Shit," Franken groaned, turning back to the camera.
"Keep shooting," Saputo quietly told Franken and, with anxiety fluttering in his chest, approached Tice.
Tice always made Saputo nervous. It was Tice's face that did it. His features seemed to Saputo like sharp cuts of flesh carved by the quick, slashing strokes of a razor. Tice had narrow slits for eyes, a jagged scar for a smile, a needlelike nose, and strands of stubby black hair that coated the top of his skull like a thin layer of paint.
And it was the way Tice spoke. No matter how loud or hushed his voice, Tice's words always sounded to Saputo like a whisper. Yet it was always audible, never muted, stealthily enveloping any conversation. A vocal oil slick.
"Mr. Orlock is looking forward to more of your work," Tice said, looking past Saputo to the Christmas set. Saputo glanced back and saw Santa caressing Cassie's thigh.
"So am I." Saputo nodded.
"He wants you to know it's nice to have you back," Tice said emotionlessly. He apparently didn't share Orlock's enthusiasm.
"It's nice to be back," Saputo agreed.
It's nice not having my dong tied to some fucking penile plethysmograph, he thought. It's nice not getting electrocuted every time I see a sweet, hairless cunt and the machine tells some jerk-off shrink I've got a hard-on. It's nice being free.
Without Mr. Orlock's help, Saputo knew, he might still be in that gray nuthouse, where everything smelled like rubbing alcohol.
"He is expecting a lot of product in a very short time. You can come through, can't you, Wesley?"
"Sure, no problem. Just keep the money coming."
"But there is a problem, Wesley," Tice replied melodically. "You haven't been keeping up your side of the bargain."
Saputo's heart skipped a beat. "What do you mean? This picture will be done soon. It's on budget. What's the problem?"
"Where did you get the girl, Wesley?" Tice inquired softly.
Saputo saw Santa spread Cassie's legs apart. "A runaway. I . . . ah . . . found her cowering under the Santa Monica Pier," Saputo said in a matter-of-fact tone, watching the scene unfold in front of the cameras. He had taken her here for the night, and then, this morning, Saputo tied Cassie's hair into pigtails and took her to the International House of Pancakes.
While she ate her breakfast, a pancake happy face with a pineapple smile and whipped-cream hair, Saputo told her how he wanted to take her to the biggest, bestest ice cream parlor on earth. Then to Disneyland, where they would stay for days. All she had to do was be in a movie about Christmas.
You love Christmas, don't you?
he had asked her.
Santa Claus will be in it. He'll have lots of presents. All you have to do is have a good time and tickle Santa. Then you can have all the ice cream you want and then we'll play together for as long as you like.
She said it sounded fun and asked for a glass of chocolate milk.
"That wasn't wise, Wesley," Tice said, breaking into Saputo's thoughts. "You're not being very smart."
Saputo shrugged, shifting his attention back to Tice. "Got a better idea?"
Tice's gaze stabbed into him. "I'll get you the children, you make the movies. That's the bargain. It wouldn't be healthy for you to get caught again."
"Yeah, sure." Saputo held up his hand, pushing at the air between them, anxiety dancing in his chest again. "Take it easy, no problem. I don't want to go back to prison or the hospital again."
"That isn't where you'd be going, Wesley." Tice grinned and walked back into the shadows.
Saputo trudged back to the set.
The camera was still whirring, Lyle Franken's eye glued to the viewfinder. Franken's gaze narrowed on Cassie's pigtails . . . soft, tuggable pigtails that bounced with every movement of her head. Franken liked girls best when they wore their hair that way. And the girls sometimes liked him. They liked Franken because his short stature and his rolls of fat gave him the accordion shape of a cartoon character crushed by a huge boulder.
Franken saw Santa's eyes bulge with pleasure and wished he could be in that makeshift throne with Cassie buried between his legs.
Santa's Little Helper
, Franken was certain, was going to be a classic film.
Saputo stepped behind Franken and off to one side, sharing similar thoughts. But, unlike Franken, Saputo
get his turn. Oh yes, he certainly would.
"Great, Cassie, just great." Saputo grinned, his tobacco-stained teeth sticky with saliva. There were no fucking machines to zap his hard-ons away now.
"Cut," Saputo said heavily. Santa Claus held Cassie against his heaving chest. Her eyes were vacant, her face sickly pale.
Franken stepped back from the camera and patted Saputo on the back. "The lab boys should be able to get this off in three days. This is going to be a big one, Wesley. I can feel it in myâ"
"I know where you can feel it," Saputo interrupted, staring at Cassie, a grin spreading on his face. Franken's chirpy coughs of laughter spilled out in a rush as Saputo went to Cassie and picked her up off of Santa's lap.
She was dead weight in his arms. Pliant.
Saputo swallowed dryly. "Okay, boys, it's a wrap. You guys can clean up here."
Franken jealously watched Saputo head towards the warehouse door with Cassie. "Be gentle, Wesley."
"I always am." The door closed behind him.
# # # # # #
Sergeant Ronald Shaw had seen a lot of dead bodies. Not many made him cry. He struggled to keep his tears away from the half dozen other officers huddled in the pounding rain as they stood staring at the bloated corpse of a ten-year-old girl.
Even in death, lying in the mud beside the raging waters surging down the drainage canal, Shaw could see her beauty. Shaw looked at her vibrant red hair, caked with dirt, and saw her face, now a lifeless pearl white, and imagined the way she must have glowed when she smiled. Shaw couldn't stop staring. The water that had washed her up from God knows where lapped gently against her, tossing her tiny pigtails.
"Sergeant Shaw?" a voice from behind him ventured carefully. The black homicide detective, stirred from his thoughts, looked back, wiping his eyes with the back of his hand.
A snout-nosed man hiding under the biggest brown umbrella he had ever seen approached him. Shaw, no longer lost in the emotion of the moment, felt the stinging wetness of his rain-soaked clothes against his skin. In Shaw's rush to get here from the office he had left his umbrella drip-drying in the garbage can beside his desk.
The man offered his black-gloved hand to Shaw and held his umbrella over them both. "Sergeant Clive Barer, Sexually Exploited Child Unit, Juvenile pision. We've met once before."
Shaw reached out and shook Barer's hand, the leather glove slick in Shaw's wet grasp. "It's been a long time, Clive. Five years."
Barer shrugged. "I wish we weren't meeting again this way." He took a step toward the overpass that stretched across the canal a few yards away and offered shelter from the downpour.
Shaw followed, glancing back at the girl, her neck bruised a teal blue where crushing hands had choked the air out of her. The rushing water beside her charged along the cement canal south into the distant, stark industrial wastelands of Commerce and Southgate.
"Who found her?" Shaw asked, looking forward and trudging alongside Barer through the mud.
"A guy on the freeway lost a suitcase off the top of his car. It landed down here. You know, one of those Samsonite things," Barer said, lowering his umbrella as they walked under the overpass. "Anyway, he came down to get it and found her."
The roar of the rain drowned out the sound of the cars. Shaw could feel rumbling on the San Bernardino Freeway overhead. He shivered and wondered when he would see Noah's Ark sail down the canal.
"Do you know who she is?" Shaw asked.
"Yeah. Cassie Reed, ten years old, lived with her porced mother in West LA. A week ago Cassie's mother gave the kid a spanking for not doing her chores and sent her to her room," he replied. "She never saw the kid again."
Barer cleared his throat. "Did you see the kid's neck?"
"Familiar, isn't it?" Barer sighed.
"Yeah," Shaw said. "But I put Saputo behind bars. There's no way he could have done this."
Barer shook his head wearily. "He was released on parole two months ago."
Listening to the Bowel Movement made Los Angeles mayor Jed Stocker grimace. The tinny electronic sound and screeching lyrics blaring over the stereo speakers across the room made Stocker feel like he wasn't in his office but strapped into a dentist's chair having his teeth drilled.
An insistent pounding at the door, which at first Stocker thought was part of the song, gave him the excuse he needed to leave his desk and twist the stereo's volume down low.
"Come in," Stocker yelled gratefully, the last note of the song ringing in his ears.
Sergeant Ronald Shaw stepped in, closing the door behind him. "I got here as quickly as I could." He noticed the album cover for the Bowel Movement beside the stereo. It depicted a toilet, the open seat cover fanged like the mouth of a hungry shark, chasing a Ronald Reagan look-alike out of the bathroom. "I didn't know you liked that kind of music, sir."
Stocker removed the record from the turntable. "I don't. My son, Jed Jr., known as Faced to his fans, just became the lead singer of this new-wave group. This is their latest album. I decided to give it a chance. He told me the only way to enjoy it is loud."
The mayor flung the record like a Frisbee into the garbage can beside his desk and clapped his hands together. "I think I've just discovered the only way to enjoy that record."
Shaw chuckled. "Why does he call himself Faced?"
"It's shorthand for shit-faced." Stocker walked back to his desk and settled into his high-backed leather chair, the city's seal on the wall behind him. "And on that point, I'd have to agree with him. The kid has so much crap in his veins he never knows night from day." He nodded in Shaw's direction. "Sit down, Sergeant."