"Evening, Hamilton," Perry said as he stepped into the D. A.'s office. His friend was staring at something on the desk and didn't respond until the greeting was repeated.
"Oh. Evening, Perry." He sat back in his chair with a sigh and rubbed the bridge of his nose. Perry recognized the symptoms immediately.
"You could say that. I was just talking with Mr. and Mrs. Karsten."
"Oh." No further explanation was necessary. The papers had been full of the case for about a month now – twin six-year-old girls found dead, mutilated, up in the hills. As yet there had been no report of an arrest. "Any progress?"
"Some. Not enough. I think Andy and his men have worn through an acre of shoe leather tracking down phone tips and wild leads, without much to show for it." He picked up a pencil and tapped it a few times on the desk's edge. "This one is keeping him awake nights."
"Not just him, I think," Perry said with a pointed glance. The D. A. quirked a corner of his mouth up but didn't reply. "What about dinner – are you still coming?"
"I don't think so. I doubt I'd be very good company."
"Well, that's not unusual." The dig got no response. Hamilton didn't seem to be paying attention anymore; he just watched the pencil as it turned slowly in the fingers of his right hand. Perry's teasing smile faded into an expression of concern. The last time he'd seen his friend this disturbed by a case was during prosecution of a father who'd beaten his nine-month-old son to death while the mother watched with minimal concern. Even Tragg had lost sleep over that one.
"Did something happen with the Karstens?" Perry asked quietly, seating himself on the edge of the desk. Hamilton sat forward in his chair and twisted the pencil in both hands for a few moments before replying.
"Back when this all started, the homicide men borrowed a picture of their girls to use in the investigation. I offered it back to her just now. She almost got hysterical." His voice was steady, but he gripped the pencil a little harder. "He said that we should keep it. That she can't even look at pictures of their girls anymore. And neither can he."
Perry winced at this, but knew there must be more. "And?" he prodded.
"And?" The D. A. gave him a bitter, incredulous glance. "Perry, this man took two girls, two children, who were too naive to know that they should run, too young to get far if they did, too weak to hurt him if they fought. He took them and he did... things to them for his own sick pleasure. But that wasn't enough, Perry. Oh no." Hamilton's voice was far from steady now. "He wasn't satisfied with destroying their innocence and their lives and their futures. He went after their parents too. Their lives and their hearts. And their home. And their memories. He left them less than nothing." He stopped to take a deep breath which seemed to have more grief in it than air. "Perry, even if they catch him, even if I convict him – there's no way to get back the first part of what he's taken, no punishment on Earth that could erase the pain he's caused. But I'm the one who has to give justice to those two... those four... somehow... " His voice broke and he trailed off into silence, looking down at his too-empty hands.
Perry fought down the lump in his throat and leaned over to place a gentle hand on his friend's arm. "You can give them something else," he said quietly. Hamilton looked at him in some confusion. "Everyone in Los Angeles knows about this case. Help the Karstens establish a memorial fund at Children's Hospital in their girls' names. I'm sure the newspapers will give it plenty of publicity. After that, enough money should come in to help a lot of little girls - and boys - who really need it. And to make some new, good memories."
Hamilton stared at his friend in genuine awe and admiration. "Perry, you're a genius."
"Then I'm a hungry genius," he replied with a grin. "Come on – dinner's waiting."