Discretion

By M.C. Herrington

I was sure I’d seen the face before. The illustration looked like a police composite, maybe hand drawn in pencil, maybe computer generated– I couldn’t tell which from the TIF. I received at least fifty new illustrations for the magazine each week, and I had a slush pile of a few hundred, so it was possible I’d seen the art itself before, not the person it represented. But still. It nagged at me, and of course my boss walked in while I was staring into space.

“Wishing you were somewhere else, Freda?” Bidwell asked, stroking his pointed chin. “Cause we can arrange that.” He leaned over my shoulder to see what was on the screen– and what was below my collar, which was nothing he could see, since I knew better than to give him anything to drool over.

“Just reviewing artwork, Stan.

”He held out his empty coffee cup. “Pot’s empty. Go practice the art of making coffee.”

Bidwell was an ass, but I liked Ravi, his second-in-command, and I used my best magical thinking to position him for a promotion. If I don’t buy this six-pack of Hershey bars, Bidwell will get squashed by a falling piano. If I go to yoga class every day for a week, he’ll get flattened by a hijacked prison bus. If I avoid the urge to put arsenic in his coffee, he’ll–.

And that’s when it hit me: The woman in the illustration was Molly Street, whose body had been found in the crawlspace of the sprawling ranch house where she’d operated a foster care racket for thirty years.

I carried Bidwell’s coffee to his office, only to learn he was gone for the day. “Went to see a man about a dog,” his secretary said, and then went back to studying the help wanted ads on Craigslist. Since doing real work was no longer a priority, I hunted up the email Street’s likeness had been attached to. The subject line was “Art.” The sender’s address was generic, which suggested “jdoe” used an anonymous email service. The email had been sent on the sixteenth, but the TIF itself had been created on the fourteenth. I did a quick Internet search. The police found Street’s body on the sixteenth, two days after she’d gone missing.

Which meant the artist had made the composite drawing on the day Street disappeared.

I was enough of a jerk to feel grateful jdoe hadn’t sent me the illustration until after Street was dead, since it meant my not seeing the email sooner wouldn’t have saved her. (If I’d wanted to save her: As a former ward of the state myself, I had no sympathy for people who gamed a system meant to serve kids when they’re most vulnerable.) But I knew there might be something in the email that could help the police track down her killer. Since I also knew Bidwell would want to milk the situation to promote the magazine, I checked to see if I’d received other emails from jdoe.

I had: One about six months ago and one today.

I opened the newest attachment. It was another composite, this time a man with a bulbous nose and a pointed chin, his eyes frozen in the mindless squint of orgasm.

I’d know that face anywhere.

I turned to look at Ravi, who was at his desk, of course, clicking away at his keyboard, of course, finessing another true crime story for the magazine. And then I shut my computer down, figuring this was a good day to head to my yoga class a little early.


Bio: M. C. Herrington writes about women who save the world, one hard case at a time. Her work has appeared in publications such as Boulevard, The Penn Review, and The Year’s Best Fantasy.

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