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Head of Tacoma Police Department’s Special Assaults Unit, Sergeant Ryan Stidham sat at his desk, which overflowed with folders and reports. His detectives investigated cases with a sexual motivation, child molestation, elder abuse, and computer crimes. With an abundance of frustration, he ran his hand through his close-cropped black hair. The urge to throw everything on the floor bubbled up inside him, along with the craving to only handle the pages that landed face front. The thought dissipated as the phone on his desk rang. “Stidham.”

“Sarge, it’s Bob Dennis. I’m at Harmony High School. Uh, we have an expanded issue on that sexting case.”

Ryan rolled his green eyes. “Expanded issue?

“We’ve traced the original text to a computer in the prin- cipal’s office.”

A weight sagged his shoulders. Eight o’clock, and the day was going to hell. “Don’t touch a thing. Keep the principal out of his office. Safeguard any security tape. And DO NOT talk to the press. Who’s there with you?”


“Good, I’ll call patrol, crime scene and send two bodies your way. I should be there in fifteen minutes.

“Sexting,” he mumbled, walking to the parking field. “Whatever happened to girlie magazines? I’m thirty-nine; I can’t be that ancient.” 

Shifting the unmarked car into drive, he headed to the school.

The six-foot, four-inch-tall former SEAL was an intimidating wall of a man. The secretary startled when he cleared the office door. Spotting his detectives, he moved past her. “What do we have?”

“Boss, two days ago, Eric Nolan’s mom dragged her fifteen-year-old choir boy in by the ear.” His expression oozed sarcasm. Within a calculator program, the savvy lady found a series  of  naked  photographs-individual  shots  of  a  group  of the school’s cheerleaders, leading a whole new cheer. We are still trying to identify all the girls, but we are not getting much cooperation. A more graphic photo of Macey Horvath was disseminated from the IP address associated with the computer in Principal Marvin Lacey’s office. Here’s the kicker: he’s Macey Horvath’s uncle,” Bob Dennis said.

“Bob, bring him in for questioning. Where is Macey?” Ryan’s lips pressed into a white slash.

“The attendance office reported her absent today,” Victor Gunnerson said.

“Address? Call me on the phone if more comes up. Victor, you’re in charge here.”

The path to the front door of Macey’s North Tacoma home was steep and clogged with vines. Weeds overgrew terraced flower beds. The thought of body-snatching plants popped in his brain, and a deep bark followed his knock. “Police Department,” he announced himself.

After his third try, a woman in her thirties with a Botoxed brow greeted him. “Sergeant Stidham from Tacoma PD. Are you Macey Horvath’s mom?”

Despite her frozen brow, she frowned at him. “I am.

What can I do for you?”

“Ma’am, may I come inside?” As he stepped out of the sun’s glare, Priscilla Horvath leered at him.

“Mmm, Sergeant, come sit. Can I get you something to drink?” She wrapped a manicured hand around his elbow to lead him into a living room with twelve-foot ceilings bordered by carved moldings and fine art-covered walls.

He chose an armchair a distance from any other furniture. “Mrs. Horvath, is Macey home?”

“Yes, she’s in bed. She wasn’t feeling well this morning.”

“Detective Dennis spoke with your husband yesterday. Did he discuss the issue with you after the detective left?”

“You mean the photograph of my daughter cheering?” she asked, devoid of emotion.

A chill ran down his spine. “Did he explain to you that Macey was naked?” Ryan opened the file and removed the print of the shot. “I would like to speak with her.”

Priscilla Horvath examined her fingernails. “Macey, get downstairs!” she yelled.

Instead of Macey, a huge Labrador bounded into the room, hopping up on Ryan’s lap. “She’s gentle. She knows prime when she sees it.” She licked her lips.

Ryan resisted rolling his eyes at the woman’s girting. “Sit, girl.” The massive animal lay at his feet, coating his black slacks in white fur. At his insistence, Priscilla left in pursuit of her daughter.

Five minutes later, Macey walked into the room with her mother. “Hi, Macey, I’m Sergeant Stidham. Your mom gave me permission to speak with you. How are you today?”

“I have a headache,” she said.

“Macey, a detective spoke with your dad yesterday. Did your dad speak with you?”

“He took my phone and grounded me,” she huffed.

“Did he mention why?” Ryan’s hands sat in a relaxed, open posture.

“He said a photograph of me was being texted around school.” She lowered her voice to a whisper.

Ryan swallowed hard. “Here’s the picture, Macey.”

Macey shook. Her hand covered her mouth, and she ran to the hall bathroom. The sound of her retching drifted toward them. Macey’s mom sat, unaffected by her daughter’s reaction.

On her heels, Ryan crouched beside her. He dampened a hand towel and passed it to the teen. “Macey, tell me about the picture.”

The sixteen-year-old girl vomited again. Ryan radioed for a female detective and an ambulance. He triggered his phone to record. “May I record our conversation? I don’t want to push you to repeat what you mention to me.” Ryan sat beside her in the small space, visible from the hallway.

“Yes.” She pressed her head against the porcelain. A few tears became a deluge. “They made me. Said the picture would bring in a lot of money.”

Rinsing the cloth, Ryan handed it to her again. “Who, Macey?”

“My mom, dad, and Uncle Marvin.” “Marvin Lacey?”

“Uh huh.”

Ryan’s toes coiled in his shoes. “Macey, did anyone pres- sure you to do something else?”

“Uh huh,” she sniffed.

Detective Diane Barnett arrived at the bathroom. “Ryan, I walked in. No one answered my knock. The woman inside didn’t acknowledge me.”

He pulled Diane into the hallway. “That’s Macey’s mom. Macey, this is Diane.” He leaned into his detective and said in a low tone, “I need Macey to go to Harborview for an exam. Parents and uncle are involved.”

“Tacoma Fire,” a male voice said. “Hey, Detective, what do you have?”

“Hey, guys. This is Macey. She’s not feeling well. She needs to go to the Center at Harborview. But before you go, could you check out her mom? She’s in the front room.”

The medic returned. “She denies anything is wrong. Denies she is taking anything. She even signed the refusal. Something is off. We’ll take care of Macey, Detective. Who’s riding with us?”

“Diane, I’ll see you at the hospital.”

The assistant district attorney in the Special Victims Unit placed him on hold. He was not leaving the home until he had a search warrant and arrest warrants for sexual exploitation and abuse of a child. Warrants en route, he requested a unit to help him arrest Priscilla Horvath.

Silver handcuffs clashed with Mrs. Horvath’s gold bracelets. It was noon before Ryan could head to the hospital. 

On the way, he made a call. “Dean, it’s Ryan. Do you have time for me?” A special investigations detective, Dean Fonseca was the Tacoma PD’s liaison to the FBI’s missing and exploited children’s taskforce.

Copyright © 2021 R.L. Dunn.

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