About a quarter to ten, Sally, Lily’s mother, came out the front screened door, holding young Lily’s hand. The child was now dress with a coat and patent leather shoes. The mother’s other arm was wrapped around a small stack of manila folder files. It must be time for one of her court hearings. He had overheard enough to know she was in some kind of dispute with her husband that involved Lily. They walked up to the barely usable rust-spotted Shelter van. “Jump up inside, Sweetie,” the counselor who at one time had been a Shelter resident, said to the little girl.

As they got settled, and the van chugged and complained, he slipped out through the tall, uncared for hedge and loped toward the bus stand. As long as he got the weekly list of maintenance tasks done, no one paid any attention to where he was or checked up on him. He was sure he could get there before the hearing was over, given the normal pace of court proceedings. The ponderous wait there was worse than when he got treated at the free clinic, but he had learned the wait could be worth it. He felt the old, familiar satisfaction of the hunt come upon him.

He got to the courthouse before eleven and hurried up the steps as fast as he dared without drawing attention to himself. He found the right room and the heavy, real wood doors polished by thousands of hands over time were closed. The hearing was still in session. He wished he’d taken time for a cigarette - the adrenalin was pouring through his veins. He had done a lot of research on the best ways to acquire prepubescent girls. Most offenders did research. Like most serious crimes, it was a rare situation that a chance just presented itself and was exploited on the spur of the moment. It took talent and planning to be a successful at most things, including being a predator.

In the last month, he had twice bought kiddie porn in the prostitution district on the rundown south side of the river. This eventually gave him an entree into a small group of men who enjoyed this particular type of excitement. Just like cops and jocks have bars they favor together, there was a place in the district called Linden Tavern that attracted Lolita-loving men who liked to share their conquests and mementos once you became known to them. It was there he learned that, of all places, the local courthouse was considered a fine place for “tot trolling.” The interminable court proceedings meant that small children often had to be taken out of the room to settle them down or to go to the bathroom while the parents were making their cases before a judge. If the attending adult was preoccupied or sloppy, opportunity presented itself. Another helpful aspect was that you could quietly stick your head in the hearing room door and scan the room for potential targets, like you were looking over the wall menu at McDonald’s. You wouldn’t normally be noticed, because everyone was facing the judge, with their backs to the door. He softly pulled the right door ajar and could look to the right while staying out of sight of even the judge. Lilly’s mom was sitting at a desk with a man who was probably her pro bono attorney. Lilly sat by herself in the first row behind the railing just behind the desk. Good; the bailiff was a man.

He walked slowly down the hallway toward the restrooms, listening to the steps of the walkers who wore hard-soled shoes that clicked on the slick, dark marble floors and reverberated off the barren granite walls. There was no unisex restroom in the antebellum courthouse. He sat on a hard maple slat bench, where someone had left a newspaper. He picked it up and held it as if he were reading it while he waited for the clicking of heels and the movements in his peripheral vision to subside. When they did, he jumped quickly toward the door that said “Women” on it and went inside.

The room had a vanity with two sunken washing basins on the left and above it a large, flat, metal trimmed mirror stretching the length of the counter. An ancient crank towel dispenser hung to the side, nearer the door. At the far end was a cloudy glass window covered with a bolted on, heavy mesh screen. On the right were four stalls with thick, heavy-grained wooden doors and simple slide locks. He stepped into the last stall. If he locked the door, that would signal it was occupied, so instead, he left the door slightly open. He wanted no one who entered to have a clue that their destiny might lie only a few feet away.

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