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Last witness, p.10
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       Last Witness, p.10

           Jilliane Hoffman
 
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  C.J. felt her heart stop.

  Another voice. ‘Everyone worked Cupid.’

  The New Yorker piped back in. ‘Damn straight. I put in so much OT on that case, I bought me a new boat!’ Laughter.

  And another. ‘I was tracking FI cards, following up on all that shit.’

  ‘You must have done more Cupid bullshit than us, Carl,’ said another voice.

  ‘Night and day. That’s what I’m saying. Everyone, every department worked on Cupid. It’s no surprise that Sonny did.’

  ‘How long was he with the Beach?’

  ‘Only a year or so. Couldn’t take the administration. Or the midnights. So he left for Miami. And when does he get it? On a fucking midnight shift.’

  ‘I’m doing midnights.’ A thick Cuban accent. ‘They asked me if I want to ride with somebody now. I said fuck no, I don’t need no babysitter. That safety in numbers shit is for my five-year-old. Just let that fucking Black Jacket try shit with old Papa here. I’ll blow his fucking head off faster than he can smile.’ A collective murmur of agreement sounded.

  She crushed out her cigarette and hurried back past the group to the front of the church.

  The loud electronic whoop of a police siren sounded. Down Sevilla, a motorcade of at least thirty police motorcycles, riding together in two straight rows, their blue and red lights silently flashing, led a black hearse, followed by a trio of limousines, to the curb in front of the church. Somber, reverent silence immediately descended upon the crowd. Some took it as their cue to enter the church, others turned to watch as the back of the hearse was opened, the shiny pine casket revealed. The distinct whir of helicopters was heard overhead. The press had no respect for the living and certainly none for the dead, and choppers from five different news agencies hovered up above, having followed the processional block by block from the funeral home.

  C.J. again found Dominick and Manny in the crowd. The others apparently had already gone inside. Dominick looked at her for a moment, then smiled softly – a knowing smile – nodding his head slightly as a sign that he understood, then turned his attention back to the hearse. She immediately felt guilty. Breath mint and perfume notwithstanding, he knew.

  The doors on the three limousines opened. From the first one a young woman in her early thirties – obviously the wife – exited; even her dark sunglasses could not hide her complete devastation. Family members that had spilled from the other limos helped her up the walkway, but she continued to turn back, as if looking for answers through the open hearse door, where her husband lay inside. She was ushered into the church, so close C.J. could see the dark streaks of mascara that trickled down like black rivers from under her sunglasses.

  Another young woman followed, an infant in her arms, along with several men. All wore a similar desperate, confused expression. Back by the hearse, C.J. spotted a little girl, whose hand was held tight by an old woman.

  ‘Damn. A wife and two kids. Can you believe that shit?’ Manny said in a low voice, shaking his head.

  C.J. felt her stomach churn. Her eyes remained glued to the little girl who passed before her, clutching her grandma’s hand.

  She heard the small, unsure voice. ‘Nana, is Daddy in that car?’

  The old woman paused. ‘Yes, Lisa,’ she whispered, ‘but that’s only his body. Daddy’s in heaven now.’

  The little girl whispered back in that tiny voice, ‘I don’t like heaven.’ Then they both walked into the church, and the heavy glass and wrought iron doors of the cathedral closed with a dull thud behind them.

  Unfortunately, though, the day didn’t end there. After an emotional eulogy and draining two-hour church service, a police motorcade escorted a miles-long processional to the graveside services, where the Honor Guard in full dress blues met Sonny’s flag-draped casket with a 21-gun salute. Officers took turns stoically remembering not just Sonny, but others who had fallen in the line of duty.

  C.J. stood on the lawn in the hot sun flanked by Dominick and the FDLE command staff. A hand tapped her then on her shoulder. ‘Ms Townsend?’

  She turned and faced Lou Ribero. C.J. remembered the Miami Beach street sergeant as, Dominick had once called him, ‘full of piss and vinegar.’ Now he looked small and uncertain. It was apparent that he – like her – had questioned the coincidence of both Chavez and Lindeman’s deaths at the hands of the same killer. He was the only other person who knew of the dark secret forged under the fluorescent lights in her office some three years ago. Or so she thought. His face was pale and drawn. He stared at her for a long moment, his eyes now searching hers.

  While they had run into each other at the State Attorney’s Office and periodically at the courthouse over the past three years, they’d both avoided conversation. Neither ever needed to discuss again the lie that had forged their permanent bond. A rookie – his rookie – had screwed up a simple stop, but they both knew that fact did not make a guilty man innocent.

  She expected him to say something now, to demand an explanation or an answer for the paranoia they both so obviously shared. But he said nothing, her troubled eyes confirming to him that she, too, had no answer.

  ‘I’m sorry,’ she said after the moment had passed. It was all she could say.

  He looked disappointed that there would be no comforting words, only confirmation of his own anxiety. He nodded absently. ‘Me, too,’ he said, his voice final and flat. Then he just walked away, lost in thought.

  Under the ten code system used by many police departments, ‘10-7’ means ‘out of service.’ When an officer 10-7’s his number over the radio, it signifies to dispatch that his shift has ended and that he is now off duty. On the portable steel dais, City of Miami Chief Bobby Dees, a line of blue officers in salute behind him, bowed his head as he pressed the button on the sound system. A grainy recording of Sonny Lindeman’s voice, identifying himself with his badge number, crackled over the speakers. It was simultaneously broadcast over police radios across the country.

  ‘Miami, this is 1720,’ he said.

  ‘1720?’ replied dispatch in a monotone.

  ‘I’ll be 10-7 at home.’

  ‘1720, I’ll show you 10-7 then, at 0700.’

  ‘Have a good morning, Miami.’

  Then sound clicked out and Sonny Lindeman’s number was forever placed out of service.

  28

  ‘Miami leaked. Gracker and his boys hit Roberto Valle up this morning,’ said Dominick, just as Manny walked in the door. It was barely 10:00 a.m., and already the faces gathered around the task-force conference table were looking grey. A simple cast-status meeting had become a full-blown powwow.

  ‘I hope you brought some for us,’ Jimmy Fulton said, referring to the plastic shot cup of café Cubano that Manny held in his hand. It had taken Manny his first two days on the task force to make nice with the homely, crotchety secretary in Public Corruption. Now she brewed a special pot of the stuff just for him each morning.

  ‘Get the fuck out,’ said Manny, bewildered by the news. ‘As for this,’ he said – throwing back the shot with a big ‘Aaahh’ – ‘you’re all on your own. Make sure you compliment Marta’s hair, though, if you want her to make it just right.’ He made it into the room and took a seat next to Fulton at the other end of the long conference table. He opened the window beside the Please, No Smoking! sign and lit a cigarette. ‘When did this happen?’

  ‘The leak or the chat?’ quipped Marlon Dorsett.

  ‘Both.’

  ‘The City was leaking like a sieve before Lindeman’s body even got cold,’ said Dominick. ‘The press knew he was on the Dirty List two days before he got hit. But Valle’s name was off-limits to everyone. Only a select few in the departments knew his name had come up, and all were warned to shut up. He’s a touchy subject.’

  ‘No one wants to get scratched off his Christmas list just yet,’ scoffed Manny. Roberto Valle may have been suspected for years of laundering illegal money through his many nightclubs and hotels, but all that was s
omehow forgotten and forgiven when someone needed a new cancer wing. The checks didn’t just go to hospitals, either. The Fraternal Order of Police had used a few to help establish a scholarship fund. ‘At least not until he’s actually indicted.’

  ‘Someone didn’t listen,’ added a tired-looking Ted Nicholsby, who had earned the nickname Grim for a reason.

  ‘I think gums were flapping at the funeral,’ Dominick continued. ‘Elijah Jackson’s prosecutor has been trying to get in with the feds as an AUSA for the past year.’ An AUSA was an Assistant United States Attorney, a federal prosecutor. An esteemed position that paid far better than the State for what was bitterly viewed by some as fewer hours and less work.

  ‘And Valle was the key,’ said Fulton.

  ‘I think so,’ Dominick said. ‘We’ll see if Jackson’s prosecutor hangs a “for rent” sign on his office door at the State Attorney’s and gets a longer acronym before his name next week.’

  ‘The Enquirer will find the source before anyone in command coughs up a name. Especially that wimp, Tigler, who’d have to find his balls first. That’s a tough job for a State Attorney who’s a eunuch,’ Manny said. ‘What’s the damage now?’

  ‘From what I hear,’ said Dominick, ‘Valle pretty much called Gracker a fat piece of shit and told him to pound sand until he had a warrant signed by one of the many federal judges here in Miami who Valle himself helped get appointed. Or, alternatively, a state warrant from one of the many state judges Valle’s ultra-generous contributions helped get elected. Then he kicked him and his Mutt and Jeff friends out of his very well-appointed So Be penthouse.’

  ‘Ouch,’ Manny chuckled. ‘That I would’ve liked to have seen. I bet Gracker’s whole fucking bald head turned red.’

  Everyone looked at the Bear quizzically for a moment.

  ‘The difference is, boys, I ain’t losing it. I shave,’ Manny said, defensively rubbing his own naked scalp.

  Dominick nodded skeptically. ‘Still, in a short five minutes, that asshole has managed to fuck up any future informal sit-downs we might have had with Roberto Valle.’

  ‘So what’s next, Dom?’ asked Manny.

  ‘Elijah Jackson ran the floor at Maniac, Valle’s club on Collins where Lindeman worked an off-duty more than a few times last year. No club experience besides tipping back a few on the weekends, just friends with the right people. Namely Fat Mack, a top gun with Jackson’s own former Boy Scout club – the BB Posse, whose members in the past three years alone have collectively been charged with trafficking over 200 kilos of cocaine in separate arrests. Jackson himself’s got three priors for possession, one for sale. One withhold and three walks. Before he met his maker, he bragged Maniac was pulling in well over three mill a year in revenue. Perhaps I’m being cynical, but methinks Jackson earned his salary more for what he did off the books than on.’

  ‘Or what he did to them books,’ added Manny. ‘Isn’t there some law that says that if you want to keep your liquor license, you can’t employ felons? If not, there sure as hell should be.’

  ‘Jackson was never adjudicated. No conviction,’ said Marlon.

  ‘So he was supplying dope?’ asked Manny.

  ‘Three million is a lot of money. Money that perhaps needs a good bath first,’ said Dominick. Money laundering went hand-in-hand with drug dealing. And of course, there was a value to cleaning money.

  ‘That’s why they pay you the big bucks, Dommy. You have an evil mind. If you’re right, Valle could be scrubbing a lot of soap on a lot of Colombian backsides all over town.’

  ‘His six nightclubs and three hotels on the Beach brought in over eighty million last year.’

  Manny let out a low whistle. ‘And you found out that figure how?’

  ‘Miami isn’t the only leak; the feds have equally big mouths. I have a friend, believe it or not, at the Bureau, and he owes me a favor. A look at Valle’s personal tax return for 2001 opened my eyes to just how severely underpaid I really am. Don’t fret, the warrant is snaking its way through the federal system to deliver me official copies of his 1040 and 1120s.’

  ‘What did the City of Miami do, Dom, with all this sordid information in the past twelve days since Elijah handed them Valle’s name on a platter?’ asked Fulton.

  ‘Met. They met and had meetings and then more meetings to discuss the meetings with Maus, the City, IA and the Chiefs to figure out exactly what should be done.’

  ‘In other words, nothing,’ finished Chris Masterson.

  ‘That is correct,’ said Dominick.

  ‘So no surveillance on Lindeman, Valle?’ asked Matt Lobelsky, a detective with MDPD.

  ‘They were getting around to it. No one thought of a connection to the Black Jacket slayings, because nobody wanted to give up their poker hand before a monumental national news-making arrest. Letting the task force know about another dirty cop on an off-duty never occurred to Miami IA. Or so they say,’ said Dominick.

  ‘Eighty million is a lot of dinero,’ Manny said. ‘If Vale is operating a few laundromats, then I’ll bet he’s got some grateful clientele. Unless you think he’s running the drugs himself, bringing in a little something for Fat Mack and friends to pick up at the Port of Miami and distribute to the needy.’

  ‘It’s possible. But, to borrow a phrase from my favorite hot dog company,’ said Dominick, ‘I think Valle answers to a much higher authority. Nighclubs make for the perfect cleaners, and there are some powerful people in this world who have an awful lot of laundry to do.’

  ‘Okay. Then assuming Chavez, Angelillo and Lindeman were dirty muscle and knew what was going on, why would Valle have them killed and risk attracting attention? What purpose does it serve?’ asked Marlon.

  ‘All three cops worked at different Valle hotspots. Maniac and Place were under the thumb of Elijah Jackson and his ex-friends from the BB Posse. But Channel is a frequent stomping ground for Ricardo Brueto. At least it was until his pal Victor Chavez stopped showing up for work,’ said Dominick.

  ‘I see where you’re taking this. The mantra for effective capitalism – eliminate the competition?’ said Manny.

  ‘Eighty million is a lot of money. Maybe Jackson or Brueto didn’t want to share,’ added Chris.

  ‘So LBJ kills Chavez not just because he’s a prick and owes him money, but so BB Posse can move in on Channel and move out the Kings?’ asked Manny.

  ‘Channel brought in almost five million last year. The fee for running that kind of cash through the washing machine is well into seven figures, and a cut to the Posse would net some serious six digits. That’s worth killing for. And that’s just Channel. Brueto’s got three other clubs in his pocket, with some mighty majestic-sounding names on Valle’s payroll,’ theorized Dominick.

  ‘So we’re back to a gang turf war?’ asked Manny.

  ‘Funded by a big fish,’ said Chris.

  ‘And I think that big fish himself is sitting in the stomach of a large whale,’ said Dominick.

  ‘Namely?’

  ‘Chris and Jimmy have the experience in narcotics. And according to them, only a couple of names come to mind.’

  ‘Let me guess. Cali and Medellín. The cartels are funding a war. Oh, fuck.’ Marlon let out a low whistle. He had worked homicides on the Beach for ten years, and while drugs were involved in a lot of his cases – because either the defendant or the victim was buying or selling or using or had used – the cartels didn’t figure prominently in most of his equations. None in fact. Those types of investigations were handled by the feds: FBI, CIA, DEA, US Customs, Border Patrol. And that was a good thing, since drug wars could get very nasty and very personal.

  ‘Since Pablo Escobar was taken down, Medellín is no more,’ said Chris. ‘And Cali faces extinction with the fate of the Ochoa brothers. We’ve seen a change in how the cartels operate. In ‘97, Colombia finally signed on the bottom line of the US extradition treaty, and now the fear of being shipped back to the States has forced the giants to subcontract some of the shippin
g and laundering to minimize their risk.’

  ‘They’ve lost control, so maybe someone decided the time is right for a hostile corporate takeover,’ said Fulton.

  ‘Now the North Valley Cartel and Domingo Montoyo are making a power play to take over where Escobar left off. And with the help of FARC, the Colombian revolutionaries who provide security for the fields and transportation, Cali is still alive,’ said Chris.

  ‘This has been in the making, then, for some time,’ sighed Marlon.

  ‘Those neckties were no coincidence,’ said Chris. ‘Gang-bangers don’t just learn that shit on the streets.’

  ‘But which one is it? Who’s the supplier?’ asked Manny.

  ‘That, my friends,’ Dominick said, ‘is the question of the day.’ He slipped several thick manila folders marked SOUTH FLORIDA IMPACT – CASE-SENSITIVE MATERIAL across the conference table.

  IMPACT was a multi-agency task force, that for the past ten years had worked exclusively on major money laundering and narcotics smuggling operations in SOUTH FLORIDA from an undercover Miami location. FDLE was a member of IMPACT, and, by legal agreement, transferred their statewide jurisdiction to other task-force members while working on an investigation.

  Then Dominick looked down at the table. ‘So, gentlemen, start your reading.’

  29

  ‘I just don’t have the time right now, Jerry,’ C.J. said, watching as Jerry Tigler slumped down even further into his high-back burgundy chair. ‘I’ve got a full caseload as it is and Black Jacket would just be too demanding.’ She had practiced this speech a hundred times in her head before making it and was sure she had a reasonable excuse for every frantic plea she knew the State Attorney would throw at her.

  ‘We can make the time, C.J. We can lighten your caseload. Why don’t you give the Frison case to Bernie? He doesn’t seem to have enough to do. I’ve watched him go home at 4:30 for the past month.’

  ‘Jerry, Frison is a triple homicide set for trial in four weeks. I can’t just pass it off on someone.’ Especially not Bernard Hobbs, a fellow Major Crimes prosecutor, who actually had been heading home early for a lot longer than the past month. The only reason Tigler was on to him now was because someone had probably handed him a clock and told him to look out the window as Bernie’s crimson-colored Honda Accord zipped off into the sunset with the mad rush of secretaries whose days ended at precisely 4:30 p.m.

 
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