Eye of the Beholder
A/N: This chapter has mention of child abuse. It's in vague terms…but it is there. Please keep that in mind when reading.
Chapter 7: through the looking glass
The details are important. What is cryptic and unconnected now becomes the magnifying glass through which things become clear later. ~Harry Bosch as written by Michael Connelly
Johanna tossed her bag and the thick manila envelope in the passenger seat before she climbed in and slipped the keys into the ignition. She gave the bundle a thoughtful look before letting her hand fall away from the key. "Just a glance to see what we have," she lectured herself. "Boggs will have your ass as it is, idiot. You're gonna be so late." Decision made, she flicked the tiny silver clasp and withdrew a sheaf of time cards and employment records. "Thank you, Hazel," Johanna murmured as she thumbed through the pile. It was sorted neatly into individual bunches and secured with a paperclip. Glimmer Downs. Effie Trinket. Rue Matisse. Clove Matthews.
"Okay," Johanna muttered as she put each separate packet in a different spot on the dashboard or on the seat. "Did any of them work at the same time?" Pulling a pen from her bag, she located the proper area of the form (box) and scribbled the date down in her pad. To get her bearings, she took up the bunch belonging to Glimmer and fanned the pages. "Application, tax documents, ID, time cards, last interview checklist. Damn, that woman is organized." Johanna recorded the date Glimmer left the pub and then swiftly went through the others. "Effie, yes. Rue, no. Clove, no. Okay, we'll look at those two first."
According to the neatly written notes on the last interview, Effie left Abernathy's to open her own after hours club. She'd worked for Haymitch off and on over a two-year period. She'd taken a turn at every position…from dishwasher to bartender to waitress…during that time. She'd even done a stint as assistant night manager. From what Johanna could gather Effie had been an exemplary employee. Effie liked to mouth off. I don't think anybody but the old man could put up with her shit unless they were as fucked in the head as she was. "Well, well. Looks like we have something in common, Effie," Johanna chuckled softly. "He doesn't like me either." On a hunch, she climbed out and went back inside.
Hazel Hawthorne quirked a brow in surprise as Johanna entered but continued to speak softly to the curvy blonde from the other night. Delly. That was her name. Those sharp gray eyes shifted between the two women as Hazel handed the girl a slip of paper and waved her off. "Detective, was there something else you needed?" Her tone was polite but guarded as she crossed the room.
"I'm sorry to bother you again," Johanna apologized. "I was just curious about something and hoped that you could help me out."
"If I can," Hazel allowed, her head tilted inquiringly. "What is it?"
"I was just wondering about Effie," Johanna eyed the woman. "She's something of a character the way everyone talks about her but I noticed that she carried a lot of responsibility when she worked here. I was wondering if she had any problems with a customer or another employee. Like I said, she seemed to know her stuff but she wasn't exactly a people person."
Hazel laughed uproariously. "Not exactly a people person describes her perfectly. You wouldn't think she'd last five minutes in a place like this, but she did. The regulars loved her as much for her attitude as for her knowing their usual. The girls liked her. She knew how to stagger shifts to get everybody into a good tip slot and she didn't play favorites."
Johanna bit her lip, unable to keep disappointment from coloring her tone. "I see. Well, like I said before, I'm sorry I bothered you again."
"It's no bother, none at all," the woman admonished firmly. "I was just going to say that Effie didn't have any problems as far as I know. There were a few incidents where she wrote people up for one reason or another but nothing major."
A quiet alarm went off in the back of Johanna's mind along with the sense of puzzle pieces clicking together. She couldn't say why but something told her this might be important. "Do you keep records of that sort of thing? Maybe dates, names, things like that?"
Hazel motioned for her to follow and then led the way down a small corridor to the office in back of the bar. Once inside, she moved a stack of files to get to a scuffed leather binder. As she thumbed through the pages, Johanna took a quick turn around the office. She paid close attention to the framed photos adorning the walls. "Detective, here's the stuff you asked for. Effie was assistant manager for six months. During that time, she only did three write ups. The details are logged here while the hard copies are kept in the employee files."
Johanna leaned over Hazel's shoulder, her mouth moving silently as she skimmed the page. The first was a waitress named Cecelia who was caught doing shots while on shift. The second was a dishwasher named Thom who snuck out back for smoke breaks every twenty minutes or so. The annotation written in lime green ink stated that Effie let him finish his cigarette before telling him that she'd fire him the next time. The last one…Johanna's brows rose to her hairline. "Is this…" her voice cracked uncertainly.
Hazel's head tilted as she regarded the petite brunette. "That sort of thing happens in this business, Ms. Mason. People drink and it messes with them, makes them do things they normally wouldn't."
"Yeah, but he works here," Johanna tapped the book with her pen. "And drinking at work is a big no no, right? " She bent closer, her finger tracing the line as she read the entry again. "Wait. I read that wrong, didn't I? Glimmer was the one who was drinking. Effie pulled her off shift and called a cab to take her home."
Nodding, Hazel sat back in her chair and steepled her fingers. "That's why she was let go. Tyrus offered to drive her but she laughed in his face. Made a big deal out of it; put on a show for the bar. The boy held it together and Effie dragged Glimmer out by her pretty blonde hair. As far as I know, that was the last of it."
"Was that the first time she shot him down?"
"Your guess is as good as mine," Hazel's brow furrowed as she stared blankly at the wall. "He's quiet. Never bothers a soul."
"I'm beginning to wonder," Johanna mused. "Can I get a copy of this?"
Five minutes later, Johanna unlocked her car and pulled out her phone as she climbed in, dialing Gale's number from memory. The line buzzed and then clicked as the call connected. She jumped at a sudden knock on the glass. Her thumb found the end call button as she turned her head, light brown eyes finding a tawny gold pair looking back at her. "You scared the hell out of me," she yelped as she cracked the window. "Did you need something?"
His lips turned up in a sly smile as his eyes wandered over her insolently. "You've asked a lot of questions. Figured it was about time you got some answers."
She dropped her hand to her side where her gun rested and then froze when he waggled a finger. "You think you can clear things up for me, do you?"
"I can do a lot of things, Detective. No matter how many times they burn me down, I always come back bigger and better than ever. I'm a phoenix. Eternal. Untouchable. You're going to see the truth of that before we're done."
Her cell phone rang. Johanna lunged for phone but the snub nosed pistol Tyrus aimed at her head through the window brought her up short. "I'm a cop," she burst out. "You touch me and they won't stop until they take you down. Think about it. You don't want to do this."
Tyrus laughed low in his throat and motioned for her to scoot over as he opened the door. "They don't even know who I am. I'm a ghost, Detective, here and then gone before you can blink. We're going to have some fun, you and me. You'll smile just like the rest of them, a pretty little doll for me to play with. You'll beg to smile for me before I'm done."
Mockingjay Park by daylight was beautiful and serene. The little pond in the center was a tangled mire of willows and reeds. Katniss walked in aimless, endless circles just a few steps away from a small patch of the arrow-leaved plants that shared her name. "It's not real," she mumbled to herself. "It can't be." Her mind spun through a gamut of meaningless thoughts, unable to focus on anything but her unwanted revelation. Peeta Mellark was the Dollmaker. There was nothing concrete, no one set of facts that she could marshal which pointed to him unequivocally. What she had was a bunch of little things, when taken as a whole, made a twisted path to his door.
Her phone beeped, so she absent mindedly lifted it to her ear and mumbled, "Hello?"
Gale Hawthorne wasted no time with a greeting, instead going directly to the purpose of his call. "Where are you? Everybody's circled up to run the numbers but you and Johanna are holding up the works. What gives?"
I'm…uh…just trying to get everything straight in my head," Katniss answered reluctantly. "Got some new information that's gonna help us wrap this up. Can you get Boggs to push the meeting back? I need to talk to you."
Gale's tone lowered as his level of interest climbed. "I don't know. Paylor has us on a pretty short leash, Katniss. It might not be the best time for this unless you've got the magic bullet."
"I've got possible motive," She confided softly. "I've got background that's highly suggestive as to why he's adopted his particular method. I've got visual observation of the suspect disassociating in an emotionally charged situation. Is that enough?"
He swore under his breath as her words sank in. "Dammit, Katniss, what the hell have you been doing?"
"His sister, she handed it to me on a silver platter. The stepmother…Prim described her as a monster. She was murdered, Gale, choked and left in the bakery where he found her the next morning. We should be able to find the investigation file to corroborate the story."
"It's not enough. You know that. Paylor won't let us bring him in on that alone."
Katniss hissed through her teeth, willing him to keep poking holes in her story. "He knows the signature, Gale. He's been linked to two of the victims. The bakery supplies half the neighborhood which would give him access to others. Now we've got motive. It's enough. You know it and so do I."
"I know you have a big mess of maybe. As much as I'd love to haul his ass downtown, we need enough to make it stick before we make our move. Johanna and I found our common thread. All four worked at Abernathy's. She's getting the employment records so that we can nail a timeline down." His hand covered the receiver, his voice muffled as he asked someone a question. "She should have been here by now. Finnick just tried her phone but he didn't get her."
Something in his voice raised her hackles. "Gale," she asked worriedly. "Something going on I should know about?"
"No, it's a hunch, just a flicker of something that might turn out to be nothing. I ran a few names that keep cropping up. Figured it couldn't hurt. Beetee has the stuff but we were waiting until the meeting to see if it turned up anything. Come on in so we can get this over."
She hesitated, her teeth clicking audibly together as the silence drew out to an uncomfortable length. "I can't. Not yet. Not until I'm sure. I'm going back to the bakery to talk to him. If I don't like what he says, I'll bring him in."
"You can't," Gale bit out furiously. "Dammit, Katniss, just come in. You can lay it out for Boggs and the rest of the team. Fuck me, but you and Johanna are driving me crazy."
"I'll talk to him and then I'll go over to Abernathy's and see what time she left. Maybe she found something in those records?"
Gale swore under his breath, "No, go to the bar first. Grab Johanna so you'll at least have backup. Call me the minute you see her so I know what's going on. Fuck me; I don't know how we're going to convince Boggs and Paylor not to take our collective asses downtown."
Mentally crossing her fingers, she muttered inaudibly before hitting the button to end the call. "Sorry, Gale, but I've got to do this my way."
The conference room was quiet despite being filled to capacity. Dimity Paylor's dark eyes were weighing and measuring as she took a seat at the head of the table. Captain Boggs, sturdy and reserved, carried only a slim folder which he sat down before taking a seat opposite the Judge. The rest filed in, sitting down wherever they found an empty chair. Finnick plopped down beside Gale, offering up a twisted smirk as he extended a hand.
"Want a sugar cube? I'm guessing we're going to need a pick-me-up before this is done. They're sharpening the knives and readying the whips."
Gale shook his head and gave a quiet snort of laughter by way of reply. "We have leads. We just need time to follow the trail."
It was Finnick's turn to laugh loudly and boisterously, which drew every eye in the room. "Time. That's just it, Hawthorne. We don't have time. They want answers. They want results. Needing more time is the last thing they want to hear from us."
Paylor rapped imperiously on the table. "Alright, ladies and gentlemen, let's cut to the chase. Where are we on the Dollmaker case? I gave you seventy-two hours. We're a little past the halfway mark. What have you got?" Her gaze swept the room, coming to rest on Gale. "Detective Hawthorne, I don't see Ms. Everdeen here. Wasn't she told about this meeting?"
"She was, Judge Paylor, and she ought to be here soon. Both she and Detective Mason are following up on some leads essential to the case. You'll get a full report of their findings."
The judge didn't look pleased but she didn't comment. Instead, she gestured to Beetee who bustled to the podium and began fiddling with a laptop. Someone dimmed the lights as the projector flared to life. "We don't have a lot in the way of physical evidence," Beetee announced as he cycled through the first few slides, which contained a myriad of charts and formulas incomprehensible to many around the table. "The Dollmaker has left us very little to go on but we may have caught a break with the last one. Scrapes taken from underneath her fingernails contained traces of skin. We've run both PCR and STR analyses on the samples but didn't get a hit when we ran it through CODIS. That tells us that our perpetrator has managed to avoid detection thus far. Whoever he is, he's completely off the grid."
"What does this mean if we find a suspect, Dr. Beecham?" Judge Paylor inquired as she made careful notes on the pad before her.
Beetee cleared his throat, cycling through his slides until he settled on an annotated slide showing a number of incomprehensible blobs. "It will allow us to say with very little doubt whether the person was in contact with the fourth victim."
"Let's be very clear, Doctor. It is only suggestive that the person and the victim were close, yes?"
"Technically, that's what it says," Beetee conceded. "However, one has to consider how the sample would have gotten placed in the area. It's not generally done through passive contact."
"Meaning what," Paylor snapped impatiently.
Beetee didn't blink at her caustic tone. "Meaning she dug her nails in to the other person for whatever reason. It wasn't done through holding hands or brushing against someone in the hallway."
Paylor smiled tightly and again made a note. "Is that everything you have for us, Doctor Beecham?"
A cascade of light played on the plain white walls as Beetee tabbed through his slides. "We have the signature which has been identified as the Egyptian hieroglyph for a phoenix." The slide featured three symbols side by side. The first depicted the glyph. The second showed a similar mark etched on pale skin. The third was a photograph of a painting, bearing the now familiar symbol in the lower corner. "We don't know why he's chosen this particular mark. Traditionally, the phoenix is a symbol or rebirth. Perhaps he sees these murders as a way to transform into something else. Symbology isn't my area of expertise so I'll defer to those better qualified than I to decide whether our assumptions are correct." He then closed his laptop and made his way back to his chair, stopping to lay a manila folder before Gale. "Those names you wanted checked out," Beetee informed him softly.
Gale nodded his thanks and then slid a finger under the flap so he could remove the neat stack of papers. He listened with half an ear as he scanned the reports. Haymitch Abernathy came up clean. No big surprise there. Vick Hawthorne had one incident for public intoxication. Tyrus Coin. Gale's brows lifted as he read, Johanna's voice playing in his mind. I don't think he liked me at all. There was nothing on his sheet except two brief notes from a Dr. Aurelius just after the boy turned eighteen. These referenced a case number prefaced with the letter J.
An idea, unfounded and unformed, strobed in his mind as he stared at the sparsely worded page. It was right there, right in front of him but he couldn't put it in to words. "All the girls worked at Abernathy's Pub. Johanna went to get the employment records this morning. That's our common denominator."
Both the judge and captain eyed him, having noted his change in tone. "What did she find, Gale?" Boggs asked as he studied the younger man closely.
"I don't know, sir. I texted her to tell her about the meeting but haven't heard from her since. Katniss is supposed to meet her there and then they're coming in." His finger skimmed the page, coming to rest on the case number. "Judge Paylor, how hard would it be to spring a juvenile case file? Could you authorize it?
She gave a short nod, darting an inquiring look at Boggs. "Under some circumstances, I can order those records unsealed. What are you getting at, Detective? Is this about Peeta Mellark?"
Gale opened his mouth, and then closed it again as he tried to make sense of the vague hints trying to coalesce. Katniss and her shaky assertions that Mellark was the Dollmaker. I've got possible motive. I've got background that's highly suggestive as to why he's adopted his particular methodology. I've got visual observation of the suspect disassociating in an emotionally charged situation. Is that enough?
"Partly," Gale admitted. "We need to pull the file on his stepmother's murder. He found her body in the bakery. She was strangled." He hesitated but then forged ahead. "There's another person I'm interested in. Call it a hunch. Tyrus Coin works at the bakery and at Abernathy's. He has a tattoo of the symbol we refer to as the signature on his wrist. There's conflicting stories about the origin but one of them is that he designed it and then Peeta Mellark sketched it out for the tattoo template. He has a juvenile record. I'd like to know what's in it."
The judge sat back in her chair, tapping her lips as she studied him. "You're fishing again, Detective Hawthorne," she observed wryly. She then pulled a form out of her briefcase and scribbled a few lines before signing her name with a flourish. "But you have me curious. This should be enough to spring the file. Bring it to me when you have it in hand along with the case file for Mrs. Mellark."
Gale took the folded slip, giving Paylor a tight smile before he headed for the door. "Detective," Paylor's voice pulled him up short. "Let's finish this."
"Yes, ma'am," he answered. "That's the plan." He waited until she waved him out before leaving the room at a fast walk.
She stood before his door, frozen in indecision. How could she face him? How could she do what she needed to when everything in her rebelled at the thought? He was so gentle, so tender in the way he touched her. His hands created beautiful things. Were they also capable of the horrors the Dollmaker wrought? Katniss thought she knew the answer. It was all there…motive, opportunity, even the method he chose to kill. It was there but she couldn't bring herself to accept it wholeheartedly.
"Fuck, Katniss," she scolded herself and then knocked briskly before she lost her nerve.
His heavy footsteps echoed through the apartment and then the door opened. "Hi," Peeta's smile lit up his face as he drew her in and kissed her lightly. "I wasn't expecting you back so soon."
Katniss looped her arms around his waist, burying her face in the warm hollow of his neck. "I wanted to see you," she mumbled. "I'm sorry if it's a bad time."
He eased her back, eyes intent on her worried face. "You okay? You seem upset. Is something wrong?"
Katniss tugged her hands free and walked deeper into the apartment, coming to a stop before the fireplace. She stared at the painting for a full minute before speaking. "I came here because I need to talk to you. It's important. Please help me. I need you to tell me everything. Will you do that?"
He stilled behind her, shifting from foot to foot as he weighted her words. "What is it?" His voice was uncharacteristically hoarse and rough. "Go ahead, Katniss. What do you want to know?"
"What did she do? Your stepmother?" Solemn gray eyes turned toward him, anguish written in the taut lines of her face. "Prim told me a bit. She thought I knew, that you'd told me." She stepped closer, keeping her gaze locked firmly on his face. "Can you tell me now? Will you trust me, Peeta?"
His breath came in short, sharp pants as he looked past her to the painting. He trembled, hands clenched at his sides as he stared. "Trust," he mouthed the word, seeming to taste the syllables. "Is there anything more pure than the trust a child gives to a parent? They're supposed to love you, to protect you from all the bad things in the world. Isn't that how it's supposed to work?"
Katniss edged closer, one hand coming up to rest on his shoulder. It moved in small, slow circles as she tried to soothe him, offer him what support she could. "Yes, that's how it should be." She hesitated, fingers stilling as she turned him to face her. "But it wasn't, was it?"
He shook his head, tears making those blue irises shine in the dim light filtering through the blinds. "I can't talk about that, Katniss. I'm sorry. I won't."
"Prim called her a monster," Katniss used her sleeve to daub the resulting wetness from his cheeks. "She said you got caught in the rubble. Is that true?"
He caught her wrist, fingers like steel bands as he pushed her away. "You can't understand so stop acting like you can. What do you want me to say? That she beat me. That she told me I was nothing every single day of my life. That she locked me in a closet for hours in the dark. Do you want to know what she looked like when I found her?" His fingers tightened to the point of pain, bruises blooming on her arms like roses. "Do you want to hear that I was actually happy for a second when I saw her lying there? That all I could think about was that it was over; that she could never hurt me again. Is that what you wanted to know? I can't…why would you…how does this help a fucking thing?"
"Peeta," his name was a breathless whisper. "Oh, Peeta."
"I thought you'd understand," he echoed the words he'd said before. "When I saw you on the news the night they found that girl, I knew you'd lost somebody. It was written all over you. And then you came to the bakery. You seemed just as broken as I felt even though you try so desperately to hide it. I couldn't help myself. I wanted to make you smile, to see if we could protect each other from those devils in the dark."
"I want the same thing, Peeta," Katniss murmured as she wriggled her wrist to loosen his hold. "I want you to trust me."
He laughed bitterly before dropping her arms and taking a step back. "I didn't kill her and I didn't kill them. That's why you're here. You listened to everything my sister had to say and came to the brilliant conclusion that it was me, didn't you? Are you going to arrest me, Detective? Is that how this farce ends, with me in handcuffs?"
Katniss let out a shaky breath, and then shook her head. "No, Peeta." She dropped her chin into her chest, closing her eyes in relief. "That's not what happens now."
"What then?" He questioned harshly.
"I need to find Johanna and then get to a meeting downtown," Katniss folded her arms across her middle as she studied him. "I'd like to come back if you'll allow it. I did consider that it might be you. I admit that. Rather than take it to my bosses, I came here. To you. I couldn't accept that you could do something like that. It's not you. I know that."
"But you still considered it," he reminded her. "Despite what you're telling me now, you thought it. I don't know what else we can do. Where do we go from here?"
"I guess that's up to you," she climbed unsteadily to her feet and made her way to the door. "I've got to go. If you want to see me again, you know where to find me. "
It took an inordinate amount of time to find the file of one Tyrus Coin and have it delivered. To save time, Gale Hawthorne headed up to Judge Paylor's office and waited impatiently for her clerk to let the judge know he wished to see her. When the woman waved him back, Gale practically bolted through the door in his haste.
"What did you find, Hawthorne?" Paylor looked on in interest as he cracked the file open and skimmed through the contents. His muffled oath caused her brows to rise almost to her hairline.
"Son of a bitch!" He exclaimed. "How is this guy still on the streets?"
"Detective Hawthorne," Paylor commanded. "What did you find?"
Wordlessly, he proffered the file and watched as the judge read the pages hurriedly. "Shit," she blurted abruptly. "How the hell did this happen?"
"They moved," Gale stated somberly. "He came here with his mother when he was fifteen. He kept up with the counseling requirements the sentencing judge recommended. The records were sealed. Once he hit his eighteenth birthday, he stayed clean."
Paylor tapped her pen against the file as she considered. "It's enough to bring him in for questioning. Get a couple of uniforms out there and have him picked up."
Gale reached for his phone to make the call when it suddenly rang. Giving the judge an apologetic look, he turned aside and answered. "Yeah, this is Gale." His brow furrowed as he listened to the tinny voice on the other end. "Did anybody talk to Hazel Hawthorne to find out what time she left? No. Listen, don't worry about it. I'll call her myself. What's the number?" He jotted it down on the back of his hand and then hung up. Paylor shot him an inquiring look but waited as he hurriedly punched a series of numbers. "Mrs. Hawthorne, this is Gale Hawthorne with the Panem Police Department. I'm trying to find Johanna Mason. Can you tell me how long she's been gone?" His eyes flicked to the clock, a frown settling on his features. "And she hasn't been back since? Can you tell me if Tyrus is working today?" He slammed the phone down, raking a hand through his hair as he bit off a muffled oath.
"What is it, Detective?"
Gale's eyes were a curious mixture of anger and fear as he looked up. "Johanna left over three hours ago. She hasn't called in or shown up at the station. She's not responding to texts. Tyrus was supposed to work until 2pm but he's gone and nobody knows where he went or what time he left."
Paylor's lips thinned as she slowly stood, palms flat on the surface of her desk. "He took her, didn't he? He must have figured out that we were close." Gale nodded once, his hands clenching unconsciously at his side. "Any idea where he might have taken her?"
"No," he answered softly. "We don't have a fucking clue."
Judge Paylor dropped her head, her breath leaving in a rush. "Get going. Tell Boggs to use whatever resources he needs. Tear the damned place apart. Do whatever it takes to bring her home."
End part 7….