Dennis flicked on a flashlight as he descended the cellar stairs. It was pitch black once he hit the bottom, since all the cellar windows had been blocked as soon as Griff had set up his special rooms. Dennis clamped the flashlight under his chin and began to work on the lock. He had the face plate off in less than a minute and clipped in a power supply, then punched in the security code Griff had given him. He'd been prepared to break into the room if he had to, but it served his purpose better if there were as few signs of forced entry as possible.
The lock buzzed and Dennis kicked the heavy door open and flashed the light around. There was an emergency flood set up in the room and Dennis killed his flash, happy for the break. He eyed the computer on the desk, and prayed that Griff hadn't booby trapped it somehow. If it had its own emergency power supply, it might trigger something that would somehow wipe the hard drive. It was possible, he knew. It was a gamble though; but out here in the country, winter power outages were hardly an unknown. Heavy ice built up on old tree branches that snapped, taking down wires with them. Dennis wanted as much information as he could get on Griff and his activities. If Griff decided to hold information back, the hard drive might yield extra help. By the end of the night, Griff's machine would be in the hands of someone skilled in computer forensics.
Dennis eyed the shelves in the room: row after row of CD-ROMs in plastic cases. He inspected a few and saw that they had dates on their labels, nothing more. There was a stack of cardboard file cases in a corner of the room, and Dennis tore open the first: still photographs, and, judging by the hair styles at least twenty years old. He opened another - old magazines. All of them featured nude boys, most but not all in their early- or mid-teens, but some younger. A few were simple nude studies; most were more graphic. Many of these featured adult men having sex with the boys.
The tall man slumped back on the desk, rubbed his eyes and shook his head before opening up another box. The third was loaded with small metal cans and he snapped one open. These were reels of Super 8mm movies, something nearly extinct since the advent of the VCR and later DVDs. Griff apparently collected antiques.
Dennis tested a few of the disks he'd found and dropped them into the laptop drive. After a quick scan of three, he finally found something he could use. He rerouted the printer to the laptop, plugged the printer into a battery pack and began to run off some color prints from selected images he'd pulled off the disk.
There was a low whistle and Dennis spun around. Javier was standing in the door, eyeing the shelves of material.
"Is he talking?" Dennis asked casually, tossing his small stack of prints into one of the boxes.
"Singin' like a bird," Javier said with a smile. "Neil didn't even have to start up the saw again - our buddy couldn't wait to give up the info."
Dennis nodded grimly. "They know to get names, right? And addresses, phone numbers, the works. I want him to name as many of his friends as he can, tell us what they like and where they get it. Pump him dry."
"No sweat," Javier said. "From what he was sayin' when I left, there's some kinda network, and he was namin' names." He looked around the room again. "What are we gonna do with all this stuff?"
"Make sure you keep those latex gloves on if you touch anything - I don't want any prints showing up. We're going to load up everything but these boxes," Dennis said, jerking his thumb at the file cases. "I was going to sort through it a little, but…" he shuddered, gesturing to a handful of magazines he'd tossed on the desk. "I'll let someone else check this stuff and sort it out. I don't have the stomach for it."
Javier picked up one called The Boy's Best Friend. On the cover was a German Shepherd next to a bare-chested, dark-haired boy with big, frightened eyes, maybe eight years old. He guessed it dated back to the sixties, judging by the age of the paper and the cut of the boys hair. Javier flipped the magazine open, checked two pages and dropped it with a shudder. "Jesus. They made a kid do that with an animal?"
"They're all animals," Dennis said sharply. "That's why I don't have any sympathy for that guy upstairs. Leave this old stuff in the kitchen… it can't screw up the lives of anyone that's in 'em anymore, but just the possession of shit like this is illegal, and that'll get the ball rolling. But the rest of it has to go, and someone else is gonna cull through it. Nothing's getting passed around unless there's an adult in it, or at least that's what we're hoping. The last thing I want is any of these kids put through any more shit than they've already been through. If a kid wants to speak up and come forward… well, that's up to him."
Javier started gathering up disks and packing them into an empty box. "It ain't like anyone can tip names."
Dennis snorted. "Don't be too sure of that… Remember the Kobe Bryant case? Some radio announcer got the victim's name and broadcasted it, claiming his rights under the first amendment. Right behind them will be the lawyers from both sides hoping to make a career out of a high-profile case like this - standing on the courthouse steps, waiting for the news cameras, insisting that the names be released and the victims scrutinized. Then there's the television boys themselves… entire `news' shows devoted to critiquing and going over who said what and what they actually could have meant… And meanwhile, everyone starts to forget what these kids were put through because they're caught up in the so-called `drama'. You can bet on the politicians rushing in for a piece of the action. Can't you see the Governor twisting this around for his own purposes? He's got his eye on Washington, and this'll play good for the right wingers he sucks up to, and he won't be alone. State reps to congressmen will be jumping into the feeding frenzy. In the end they'll all make speeches, gain lots of attention… then pass some half-assed law that has almost nothing to do with the actual facts because it'll serve some other agenda they've got." Dennis' voice trailed. He looked at one of the pictures and shuddered.
"One of these days some ambush-journalist asshole at a newspaper or a TV station is gonna make a first amendment bitch about the public's right to know and start dropping names in cases like this, whether they're minors or not. It almost happened during that Catholic Church fiasco in Boston - one of the lawyers started referring to victims in the press by first names until a judge slapped him down. Like I said; let these kids decide for themselves if they want to talk. Just like some talked when they found out about Cardinal Law's shell game with pedo priests. The pictures of these guys with a kid is enough to get a conviction, but they're gonna be copied and sent around to a few places."
"The Essex County District Attorney, for starters," Dennis said grimly. "Plus the Massachusetts' Attorney General. There's federal laws about this stuff, so the U.S. Attorney in Boston gets a piece. And just to make sure nothing get hushed up by some bureaucrat who wants to cut some deal to `catch bigger fish' or save someone's ass, there'll be some distribution to the local rag and the big Boston papers. Maybe one of the national scandal sheets, too. None of the guys involved with this mess is gonna slither out of this bust. We're gonna make sure everybody knows their names."
Javier chuckled. "Hey, just like Cheers, right?"
Dennis gave the man a withering look. "This ain't anything to joke about."
Javier hoisted the first case and headed for the door. "Huh. Bob was right - he had you pegged for a cop. And we all just assume your name ain't Dennis, either."
"Never mind what my real name is. And I'm a state trooper," Dennis said, picking up the computer and following. "I'm running a traffic detail now, but I used to work with a special investigative unit… until a case got blown by a prosecutor who was tossin' out immunity like it was confetti and I stepped on some toes. And by the way, I always figured `Bob' and `Neil' weren't real names - it was just too good to believe. I figure you're not Javier, either."
"Just the name on an old shirt I bought at a second hand store," Javier said grinning as they climbed the steps. "But it'll do."
Outside at the lead truck they loaded in the first of the materials and Dennis dug out a load of box flats and another role of duct tape. "Just remember something, okay?" Dennis told the man. "In case we ever run into each other… professionally? Today is something special. Once we split up, we don't know each other," he said without any animosity. "No matter what."
Javier nodded, taking no offence. "It was always understood," he said simply. Today was a well-paid favor for a man of influence with many connections, a man to whom even a witness protection program meant nothing. He was a good friend to have… and a very bad enemy to make. Silence was also a part of his personal code, and silence was understood.
* * * * *
It was past dusk, and Lou Sciuoto was sweating as he helped off-load the last of the boxes from the pick-up and into the blue van with `Amici Carpeting' stenciled on the side.
"Thanks, guys," he said, nodding to the four strangers. "Just park the equipment over there," he said indicating the crane with a big claw. "I was told to tell you all… you're all owed a favor."
Javier tipped his cap and the three of them split off to take care of the old pickups and the shredder, leaving Lou alone with Dennis. Dennis leaned back against the side of the van waiting for the rest to get out of earshot. "Listen, Mr. Sciuoto," he began in a low voice. "If you talk to the old… gentleman, tell him I said thanks, but I can't accept any favors. When he called me - well, I almost hung up when I realized who it was. This was… well, I dunno how to explain it. Special circumstances."
"I understand, and my friend told me to expect that," Lou said nervously, eyes following the three men. He waited for them to park the trucks, get into the Ford Explorer they'd arrived in and drive off through the open gate on the far side of his salvage yard. Lou pulled out a remote control, pressed a button and watched the gate swing shut. "But he wanted it made clear: if you ever need anything, all you have to do is ask. He believes in paying debts, and he's in yours. He says you can go through me if you want to, because he'll never put you at risk by contacting you again."
Dennis paused, looked around for a sign of anyone watching… not that it made any difference. He was well aware of the state of modern surveillance equipment. Someone could be looking down from any of the buildings nearby, and listening to every word they said. God, he thought with a shudder. If this is some kind of set up I walked into… "I never heard of your name linked to those people, Mr. Sciuoto, and I used to be in a position where I would. I don't know what your connection is, but…"
Lou shrugged. "The only connection was him and my father grew up together and they were friends," Lou said, wiping his hands on a rag. "Not business associates, just good friends in the neighborhood. Papa was never involved with their… interests." Not like I'll have to be from now on, Lou thought ruefully.
Dennis nodded, shrugged. "Guess that's it, then," he said holding out a hand that Lou shook. "Don't suppose we'll be meeting again."
"Probably not," Lou said with a smile. "And thanks. Thanks for more than you'll ever know."
Dennis smiled but said nothing. He'd recognized the last name easily enough. He understood a lot more about Lou now, just as he understood more about the man's nephew David and two scared boys in his wife's office named Randy and Martin. He knew what the likely stakes in this for Lou were, and decided he respected the man. Admired him, even, after a fashion.
Lou escorted him to the main entrance, unlocked a small door to the right of the big gate. Dennis walked briskly to his car, parked in a lot three blocks away. Unlike the men in the Explorer, his plates were legitimate… and he didn't want them noted down.
Lou went over to the trucks and siphoned the gas tanks, then started the engines to burn the last of the fuel. He hated losing his old International, but it was too risky and it was a small sacrifice. He knew by rights he should have torn out the seats and all the other non-metallic parts of the vehicles as well as drained the oil, but he didn't want the equipment in identifiable shape, through the weekend, just in case something went wrong and everything blew up. Besides, it wouldn't be the first time something went out of a scrap yard that wasn't exactly EPA standard, nor the last. Besides, Lou almost never played games with the regs. If some inspector caught him, he'd bitch but that would be about it.
Lou dropped the first vehicle into the maw of the machine along with the wood chipper, and waited patiently for the crusher to complete its cycle. When the conveyor cleared what was left and a neat cube of metal rolled out, he dropped in the second truck, cycled it through and shut down the machinery.
Lou pulled out the pre-paid cell phone he'd picked up and made a call. It was answered on the first ring.
"Yes, Louis?" said an old man.
"It's done, Uncle Victor. Everything's in the van."
"Good, good," the old man said. "I'll see that the rest is taken care of, don't worry. Now go home, Louis. I'll send a young friend for the van. No need for you to meet."
"But the gate…"
He heard the old man chuckle. "Believe me - your gate won't be a problem for my young man. Go home, Louis. Kiss your nephew and hug your brother for me, okay? Oh… and you don't need to worry. Your father was my first friend; he always stood by me. There's no long strings attached to today - this is just a favor. Good bye, Louis. Think of me some time, and maybe light a candle at St. Sixtus' every now and then for a sick old man."
The line went dead, and Lou let out a deep sigh of relief. He shuddered to think of what Uncle Victor could have asked for… and he'd be obliged to do.
Lou called David next, then tossed the phone in after the truck. He flipped the switch, and watched the pickup turn into a second metal block.
Comfortably seated in an old yellow Cadillac, a happier Lou Sciuoto drove through the streets of Everett. Just north of Boston as he sped down I-93, he felt like a weight had lifted from his chest, and by the time he reached his exit to Andover he caught himself actually humming to one of the seventies songs playing on his radio, tuned into one of the oldies stations. He'd never talk about that Saturday, even to David. And he never wanted to live through another day like that again. It'll be like it never even happened, he thought to himself.
* * * * *
Griff Robinson felt the stiffness of the dry tears on his face, and his mouth was taped shut again. Though he was sure it wouldn't do any good, he tried jerking his arms - but the handcuffs wouldn't give. They were wrapped around the heavy mahogany rail of his headboard, and that wasn't about to give either. He was a prisoner, arms suspended over his head.
It was pitch dark in the room too, so it was night. But that was all he knew, because when the men had left, they never bothered to turn the power back on, and his bedside clock was blank. Laying naked on the bed, the only view Griff really had was of the shadow of the door to his empty safe, etched out by the pale moonlight.
But at least he was still alive… and that's more than he thought he'd be when the whole mess started. Still… how long could he last like this? Before they left, Dennis had patted his belly and laughed, then said with all that flab, Griff could go for a few weeks. And that goddam spic - Javier? - the spic had left a jug of water on the night stand. Of course, Griff couldn't reach it with the handcuffs.
Shit, he thought, as the realization hit him. How long before anyone noticed I was gone?
No neighbors would check on him; after Haverhill, he'd made a point of never making any contacts with neighbors, since he didn't want anyone snooping. He had friends, but most of them were scattered during the summer, and unless something was announced, few of them ever checked in with one another.
Work was his main hope, but… Griff tele-commuted from his office a lot of the time; no had pushed him to punch a time clock for years, and those days were long gone. And in the computer business, eccentricities regarding work hours was more of a rule than an aberration. It might take a few days of no reports before anyone at his company started to wonder where he was. They might even assume he'd been sent out into the field again… but he didn't want to think of that. He focused on how long they might wait before they'd start to check around. They'd call him and get a disconnected line, so most likely they'd realize something was wrong and call the police. But how long before the police started to check? Two days? Three?
The police. They weren't a good choice for Griff. If they decided to search the house… he shuddered, fought the idea back. He had to get free, somehow, and get himself on the run.
Money. They screwed me out of my money.
There was a glimmer of hope… Never having had money in his youth, Griff was careful with it in adulthood. The safe... well, that was cleaned out, but the safe wasn't the only thing he kept. He had four separate accounts in four separate banks, each opened with exactly nine thousand, five hundred dollars… safely under the ten thousand mark that automatically set off bells at the IRS. He had the bank cards tucked away, safe. No one knew about them. And the accounts themselves were listed in another name, with another social security number, just in case anyone else went looking. In the electronic age, it was getting harder and harder to do, but Griff Robinson grew up in one of the poorer of the southern states, and at an early age figured out that one day he might have to hit the road. Twenty-five years ago he'd remembered just enough of the details of a deceased cousin to get the right paperwork from the file cabinets of an almost defunct township in West Virginia. That yielded a social security number and combined with a birth certificate, he'd gotten a second driver license and kept it current. All the proper documentation to secure a passport, issued in Charleston. Thirty-eight thousand dollars wasn't a fortune, but if he had to run…
Griff had to get into those bank accounts, had to start converting funds. Then he had to run. Run and not look back, at least until he knew exactly what was going on. Maybe his personal credit cards were gone, but there was still plenty of corporate plastic he could use, for no other reason than to set up a trail of red herrings.
Jesus Christ, he thought. What countries doesn't the US have extradition with?
Griff almost lost it and wanted to scream, but with his mouth taped all he could do was moan.
He had to get control, not panic. His friends… he had a lot of well-connected friends, and he'd done them all plenty of favors. Not to mention the extra insurance he'd taken out with his secret videos - assuming Dennis and his men hadn't done anything to them. Why the hell had he given up his lock pass?
'Cuz it didn't make any difference, you idiot. The man was right - you put a vault door on a cracker box. Then again, the only reason he did all that was to keep Danny from poking his nose in. He'd had the damn lock left over from a project; that was the only reason he'd used it. Griff was careful, clever. The last thing he ever expected to have happen was getting his house tossed. What alerted them?
Griff thought of him, and his mind formed the words he couldn't give voice to. Danny. The little bastard must have betrayed him. There was no way anyone could have found him otherwise. Still, if it was Danny, then why would they need all that information from Griff? Danny could have told them who his friends were, where they lived. Danny could have given them anything they wanted.
Was Danny dead?
Serve him right if he was, Griff thought. Worthless piece of street trash… and after everything I did for him.
His arms ached and Griff jerked at the cuffs again.
He felt the pressure on his bladder building. He'd already wet himself once, and didn't see the point of fighting it back now since there was no telling how long he'd be caught like this. He slumped down and let nature take its course.
He heard birds outside the window, knew that dawn wasn't far away. In fact, wasn't there more light in the room now? Griff hoped so. Then again, it wouldn't make much difference. He'd still be stuck here. Just be able to see the room.
Griff felt the tears again, picturing himself chained to the bed for days more to come at least, maybe even a week, before anyone found him.
Or worse, if they ever found him.
The tears stopped as the `if' built up in his mind.
I could die like this, he thought. Or maybe my arms will get gangrene, stretched up like this over my head.
He hadn't thought of that. Griff could die manacled to his own bed in the middle of an upscale suburban town, dying of either of thirst or starvation. Which would come first?
How long would it take?
Griff remembered a trap he'd come across once, when he was a boy. An animal had gotten caught, and actually chewed its own leg off to get free. Griff had been fascinated at the sight, then. Now… he shuddered. Then sort of laughed, or much as he could laugh… his mouth was taped shut, so he couldn't even chew.
It was getting brighter in the room. The sun was nearly up, and he could make out the shadows of his furniture at least. Not that it would help.
Griff heard a noise. Was there someone in the driveway? His bedroom faced the back of his house, but… he couldn't be sure. The windows were closed, but he thought he'd heard something for sure. Griff strained, even held his breath hoping to pick out some noise that wasn't just the house. He heard knocking, definitely knocking. He jerked his body around on the bed, hoping if he could rattle it enough, whoever was at the door would hear the thumping of the headboard against the wall. He tried to scream, but all that came out was a weak, high-pitched moaning behind the tape
Dammit, that front door is reinforced with steel, and it's set in a heavy-duty frame. But who could it be? Not a thief, no thief would knock. Griff decided he didn't care who it was, and hoped they'd break the windows if they had to.
"Hello?" a voice called from the front room. "Mr. Robinson? We're the Boxford Police. Hello?"
Griff flailed around as best he could, threw his legs over the side of the bed even though it put more stress on his wrists and began pounding his feet, trying to create as much noise as he could in his throat. He heard heavy footsteps down the hall and the bedroom door flew open. Griff couldn't see a face in the still shadowy light but he could only make out a form, caught a glint of light off a silver shield on the man's chest.
"Christ," the cop said, shocked, and lunged forward, trying to help Griff back onto the bed. "Kevin! I've got him in here! Down the hall!" he shouted over his shoulder and turned back to Griff. "Take it easy, Mr. Robinson," he said apologetically. "I can't help it, sir - this is gonna hurt." He reached down and tried to remove the tape as carefully as possible.
Griff was past caring. The only thing he wanted more than getting the tape off his mouth was getting his wrists free. Twisting around and off the bed had put his full weight against the tempered steel and it was torture for him. "Wrists," he managed to croak out. "Please - release my wrists. I've been like this for hours."
"Take it easy, the cop said in a soothing voice. "It's all over, Mr. Robinson. They got a call at the station, said something was wrong out here. Sorry it took so long, but we were on the other side of town." He struggled with the turnkey and got the left hand loose, and a grateful Griff slid his arms down by his sides. There was a fierce throbbing in the muscles of his shoulders, almost as bad as the pain in his wrists where the skin had chaffed away. He gasped for breath, tried to sit up. The policeman pulled a blanket up from the foot of the bed so the man could cover himself, save himself some embarrassment.
"Home invasion," Griff muttered, rubbing his wrists, fighting to get his story straight. "They… they grabbed me Saturday morning. I've been a prisoner…"
A second figure had appeared at the door. Griff still couldn't make out a face and a flashlight hit him in the eyes and he jerked his head away. The man was about the same height and build as the young man kneeling in front him and Griff assumed it was the cop's partner. "Uh, Alex? There's something out in the kitchen you should get a look at. It's… important."
"Yeah, yeah," Alex said over his shoulder and then turned back to Griff. "Look, Mr. Robinson - are you okay enough to get dressed?"
"Need a phone, and I… I wet myself. Could I…"
"I'm sorry," the young man said. "you probably shouldn't take a shower or anything, but the least we can do is let you get some clothes on, okay? Get yourself fixed up, and I'll put in a call to the department. Your lines are out - they tested the phone lines from the station before they dispatched us and it came up as a disconnect. And from the looks of things outside, they didn't just cut your power - they yanked the damn meter, cable TV, everything. But we'll get you down to the station, sir… I know the evidence guys are gonna want to have a look, and the detectives will have to talk to you. Let me go see what Kevin's got, okay?"
"Yeah," Griff grunted, getting to his wobbly legs. He stumbled into the dresser, swore, and Alex tried to steady him. "I'll be okay," he said unevenly. "Go… go ahead. See what your partner wants."
He desperately wanted the cop to leave, hoped his visitors hadn't found his hiding spot in the closet. The bastards thought they were smart, but he was a better planner. It was a Sunday, and he couldn't get more than a few hundred dollars in cash from an ATM, but it was better than nothing. The credit cards might leave a trail, but… well, he'd have to make do if the shit hit the fan.
"Be right back, Mr. Robinson," Alex said, and patted the man firmly on the shoulder.
As soon as he was out, Griff staggered forward into the closet and fell to his knees. He yanked on the molding against the left side of the closet; he had the four bank cards lined up there: safe, sound, and out of sight.
Except, they weren't. The bastards knew about everything. How? How could they know about these?
"Mr. Robinson?" he heard from behind. Griff whirled around and rose unsteadily from his knees. It was Alex again, but this time his stance was stiffer, and the voice a lot colder. And his hand was on his gun. "Get dressed Mr. Robinson. And we're going to have to put cuffs back on you. You're under arrest for possession of child pornography, suspicion of multiple child molestation, and suspicion of multiple instances of rape of a minor child."
Griff felt the pressure in his chest again and his throat went dry. "It's… I don't know what you're talking about. Someone planted that stuff."
Alex raised an eyebrow. "There's a case of porn mags and still pictures in your kitchen," broke in Kevin, the second cop. "Of course we can't be sure it's all yours, but the fingerprint guys can determine that. But there's not much doubt about the other stuff. There's pictures of you with a half dozen different boys, from a computer printer. Your face is quite distinct. As for the kids… well, if they're eighteen, then …" his voice trailed, and he dug in his pocket for a card and started reading Griff his rights, while Alex called into the station.
By seven o'clock, someone woke up an assistant Essex County District Attorney, who called in the county forensics squad on the basis of what the Boxford Police Chief told him. By eight, word had gotten out to the local press, and by ten, a van showed up from one of the Boston TV stations, quite coincidentally just in time for the two officers first at the scene, the Assistant DA, and the Boxford Police Chief to display a disheveled Prescott Griffith Robinson on his first Perp Walk.