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All the little pieces, p.15
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       All the Little Pieces, p.15

           Jilliane Hoffman
 

  ‘So whatta ya want to do?’

  ‘A photo lineup with mom. If she IDs, we build a solid case against Poole. Then we do a live lineup with the kid if we think she’s strong enough to handle it.’

  ‘Do you think mom will ID? She’s definitely holding something back about that night.’

  Bryan put the report into a manila folder, slid it into Santri’s accordion and put the whole thing into the file box. ‘Maybe she’s just feeling guilty because of the outcome, what happened to Santri,’ he replied thoughtfully. ‘Maybe she’s got a few reasons of her own why she didn’t come forward till her kid spoke up. I think she’ll ID, though. Because now she knows what happened to this guy’s last victim. I’m sure she doesn’t want to be responsible for what happens to his next.’

  32

  Even though Faith knew detectives were planning on running the sketch in the papers from Orlando on south, she was still startled to see it staring back at her from the front page of the Sun-Sentinel’s local section, right underneath the headline:

  POLICE SEEK ID OF SUSPECT IN RAPE AND MURDER OF PALM BEACH DANCER.

  And even though Jarrod had predicted that the case might grow larger than the local section, she wasn’t prepared to see that same sketch on the news. Or hear the reporter inaccurately portray a ‘thirty-two-year-old Parkland woman and her four-year-old daughter’ as witnesses to Angelina Santri’s abduction and murder. While they weren’t specifically named and there wasn’t a map to their house appearing on the screen next to the sketch, she immediately thought of Jarrod’s frightening admonition: He knows there’re witnesses and now he knows they’re talking. It won’t be hard for him to figure out the rest – name, address, phone number …

  She took a long sip from the flask that she’d filled with Ketel One and stared blankly at the Cupcake Wars supplemental application on the computer screen that she’d been working on for over an hour. She had three lines completed so far. It was hard to concentrate on anything. But she hadn’t been to the bakery since Angelina’s body was found and things were piling up and she couldn’t leave everything on Vivian’s plate. Without knowing what was going on, Vivian had been very understanding, telling Faith to take as much time as she needed, but that tolerance couldn’t – shouldn’t – last indefinitely. They had a business to run. A growing business, actually. The realtor had called yesterday to tell Faith that he’d found the perfect location in Fort Lauderdale near the beach for Sweet Sisters’ second shop. She was supposed to head out there this afternoon to take a look at it with him.

  She felt like a sneaky teenager, drinking on the sly in her office at ten in the morning on a Thursday. She knew how it would look if anyone found out. But no one had any idea the pressure she was under. Her nails were bitten to the quick, her hair was coming out in the shower. She was smoking almost a pack a day, even though she told herself she was still trying to quit. To calm what felt like every frazzled nerve in her body, she reasoned that a shot of something to take the edge off was better than popping a fistful of Xanax, like a lot of ladies on the car-pool line did on a daily basis. It was just less accepted.

  A girl was dead and she was responsible. No matter how many ways she’d tried to talk herself out of that accountability before Angelina Santri’s body had been found, it wasn’t working any more. The horrifying realization was slowly wearing away at her paralyzed conscience and physically breaking her down, much like waves can reduce a rock to sand by crashing violently and continuously into it. Piece by piece, her life was in danger of falling apart. Then there were all the lies she’d told. And the ill-thought-out lies that followed to cover up the lies that got her in trouble in the first place. Guilt had invaded her sleep, manipulating dreams into nightmares – even when she couldn’t remember the dream itself, she’d wake hearing the girl’s raspy whispers for help. And her makeup-streaked, crazed face somehow managed to appear in every dream she could recall, even if it was only a face in the crowd. In last night’s nightmare, Faith had reached to open the car door, only to hit the lock purposely with her hand, watching as the girl screamed and the Deliverance man pulled her out of sight. She’d woken up screaming herself, feeling his mutton chops scratching against her cheek, his breath smelling like sodden earth, his arms wrapped around her own body, pulling her back into the abject darkness with him.

  It was actually Jarrod, though, trying to hold her as she thrashed about in their bed, punching out at invisible demons. He was trying to comfort her, to tell her it was only a nightmare, that it wasn’t real. He’d asked her to tell him what the dream was about, to tell him what was going on with her, but she’d pushed him away and gone into the bathroom. She couldn’t tell him. It was too late.

  It was too late.

  The plan had been to tell Detective Nill everything when they went out to the scene: the presence of a second man in the woods, the fact that she had been drinking and feared getting a DUI – even the accident. She would tell him everything. She would explain why she was so reluctant to come forward: first for fear of being arrested; and then second, for fear she would lose her husband and her family. That was the plan. But Jarrod had come along. He was in the car with her and the two detectives as they drove down streets that looked much less threatening than they had that night. The cane fields that had menacingly towered over both sides of the roadway, claustrophobically boxing her into a dizzying asphalt maze, had been cut and burned in some stretches; the road signs that she couldn’t seem to find in the driving rain were seemingly everywhere. Then they had found the town – Pahokee. It had two stoplights and definitely had seen better days in years past, but with people milling about and businesses open for business, it didn’t look so much like the small, creepy, Stephen King town she remembered it being. And the modest houses they passed that fed off Main Street – one after the other, with cars in the driveways and swing sets on the front lawns. She hadn’t seen them that night. It was a neighborhood she had driven through. Small, yes – concentrated within a few short blocks – but it wasn’t a completely abandoned city like Chernobyl, infested with zombies. In the daylight, the reality of it all was jarring: she only felt more ashamed of her inaction and insecure of her perceptions. And Jarrod was right there beside her and the detectives the entire time – listening, jotting notes, asking questions, taking pictures alongside crime-scene techs. It was almost like he was a PD again, working up a case for one of his defendants. The plan was aborted at the last minute: she’d swallowed the confession that was going to make her feel so much better.

  She heard Vivian’s jingling jewelry and the clicking of her heels down the hall. She quickly poured a shot of the Ketel One into her coffee and tucked the flask in the bottom of her desk under a pile of junk. Vivian probably wouldn’t care, but since she didn’t know what the hell was going on, she just might.

  The door opened. ‘There you are!’ Viv began with a broad smile. ‘Linda told me you were back here! Where’ve you been, girl?’

  She tried to smile back, but the tears had already started. She put her head in her hands. Jarrod and she had both agreed not to discuss ‘the incident’ with anyone. Maggie, too, was instructed not to say anything to her classmates, cousins, or teachers. Until they knew how the case was going to play out in the courts, in the press, it was best to keep silent. But the weight was suddenly too much to carry.

  ‘Faith! Honey! Oh my God! What’s the matter? Is it Maggie? Is she OK? Is it Jarrod? Are you guys OK?’ Vivian was on her knees in front of her, embracing her in a huge hug.

  ‘I have to tell you something,’ Faith started. ‘It’s really bad, Vivian. It’s … oh my God, so bad …’

  ‘Is it cancer? Is someone sick?’ Vivian asked, hugging her even tighter. ‘Tell me, Faith!’

  There was a knock on the office door. ‘Mrs Saunders?’

  ‘Not now!’ Vivian yelled impatiently. ‘Whoever that is, not now! Go away!’

  ‘I’m sorry, Mrs Vardakalis,’ replied the young voice ruefully. ‘I
m really sorry to bother you, but there’s ah, there are detectives out here. And they want to talk to Mrs Saunders.’

  33

  ‘We think we have a suspect,’ Detective Nill said after his partner had closed the door to the office.

  Faith stared at him. She was seated at her desk. The Cupcake Wars app was still on her computer, waiting to be completed. The purchase orders in the folder underneath her coffee cup had yet to be placed. Her legs began to shake. She thought of that time in the hospital. Another Life Before moment was about to pass. Everything, she sensed, was about to change. ‘Already?’ she asked, taking a long sip of her coffee.

  ‘I want to show you some pictures,’ began Detective Nill, pulling up a chair in front of her desk. He looked carefully over at Vivian, who had backed away from the conversation and was standing in a corner.

  ‘Faith, what’s this about? Should I call Jarrod?’ Vivian asked worriedly.

  Faith slowly shook her head.

  ‘Maybe you want to do this alone?’ asked Detective Maldonado.

  ‘No. She can stay. I’m just gonna look at pictures, right?’ Faith said, smiling weakly, her eyes locked on the folder in Detective Nill’s hand, the one he was about to open.

  Detective Nill shrugged. ‘As long as …?’

  ‘Vivian Vardakalis,’ answered Vivian.

  ‘That’s a mouthful,’ quipped Detective Nill. ‘As long as Ms Vardakalis doesn’t say anything while you’re looking at the photos.’

  Vivian shook her head and backed further into the corner.

  The detective then opened the folder and placed it in front of Faith on the desk. ‘I want you to take your time and look at them carefully and tell me if you see the man who was with Angelina Santri that night.’

  And everything changed.

  Six 3×5 close-up photographs of different men – perhaps mug shots or driver’s license photos – were lined up next to each other. All slim, white males between the ages of twenty and thirty-five with dark hair. She recognized him right away. She felt her chest tighten and her heart start to race. She watched her trembling finger point at the middle picture, top row. ‘Him. This guy.’

  ‘This is the man – you’re sure? Number three?’

  ‘Yes, that’s him. His hair was longer, and he had that facial gruff I told you about, but that’s his face. That’s him.’

  ‘Who is that guy?’ asked Vivian apprehensively from the back of the room.

  ‘Are you going to show this to Maggie, too?’ Faith asked. Underneath the desk she clenched her hands together to get them to stop shaking.

  ‘Maggie?’ Vivian whispered, confused.

  Detective Nill looked over at Vivian before answering. ‘We may do a live lineup with her at a future date.’

  ‘Is this the guy, though?’ Faith asked, her voice cracking. ‘Is it him? Is this your suspect? Or is it one of the other ones? Did I pick the wrong guy?’

  ‘Does the name Derrick Alan Poole mean anything to you, Mrs Saunders?’

  ‘Derrick … Poole? No,’ she replied.

  ‘He’s from West Boca. Lives off of Yamato in The Shores of Boca Raton. Are you familiar with that complex?’

  ‘No. Well, yes, I know where it is, but … West Boca … that’s right here … that’s right here …’ she murmured. West Boca was a large, unincorporated community west of the City of Boca Raton. The Shores of Boca Raton was a housing development off Yamato and 441. It was north of Parkland by maybe five miles. The fact that this man was living only five miles away from her was not just a disturbing coincidence – it was a terrifying one.

  ‘It’s not too far from here, that is correct.’

  ‘Did someone see the sketch and recognize him?’ Faith asked.

  ‘Oh my God! The guy who killed that dancer in the cane fields!’ Vivian exclaimed. The name Angelina Santri had meant nothing to her, but she obviously knew the story everyone in town was talking about this morning – the story that had everyone speculating about the identity of the two Parkland residents who had witnessed the poor young mother’s abduction and murder.

  Detective Nill ignored Vivian’s comment. ‘We’ve gotten several tips from people who think they recognize the person in the sketch. We’re investigating them all.’

  ‘So what happens now?’ Faith asked. She took another long gulp of her coffee. ‘Will you arrest him?’

  The detective was slow in replying. ‘We’re still conducting our investigation.’

  ‘But I’ve identified him – so you’re going to arrest him, right?’

  ‘We don’t have probable cause yet to arrest him for murder. Further investigation has to be done to tie him specifically with Angelina’s death.’

  Faith dug her ragged nails into the chair’s arms. ‘Wait … this is crazy. So he’s out? He lives, like, twenty minutes from here, you’re telling me, and he’s free? And he’s gonna stay free? That’s crazy. That’s just crazy. What about the murders of those other girls you were telling me about? Can’t you arrest him for those?’

  ‘Other murders! Oh my God!’ cried Vivian. She tried to cover her mouth with her hand, to take the outburst back in, but it was too late.

  Nill looked over at Vivian, then back at Faith. ‘Like I told you before, Mrs Saunders, and I’ll advise you, as well, Ms Vardakalis, that information is not being made public yet. I’m not at liberty to discuss what stage of investigation we’re at with possible related cases.’

  ‘So he’s just walking around until you do that? What about me and my daughter? My family? Does he know about us?’ Faith asked frantically, looking at Detective Maldonado, hoping for a different answer. She was trying not to lose it, but her voice was rising.

  Vivian hurried over and rubbed Faith’s shoulder. ‘It’s gonna be OK, honey.’ But she didn’t sound very sure of herself.

  ‘He told me not to say anything, so I didn’t,’ Faith muttered. ‘He warned me with his finger. I was scared, so I didn’t say anything. Now … now … oh, God. He’s gonna know who I am, where I live! Who my daughter is!’

  ‘I don’t believe Mr Poole is aware that he’s a subject of an investigation yet, Mrs Saunders,’ replied Nill somberly. ‘He obviously doesn’t know that you’ve identified him, yet. The tip that came in about him was anonymous. I doubt he knows he’s being looked at as a possible suspect.’

  She thought of Jarrod’s warning once again. She heard the reporter’s excited voice in her head from last night’s newscast, recklessly reporting that there were actual witnesses to Angelina Santri’s abduction and murder. The reporter was a breath away from saying her name. She looked off at a spot on the wall. ‘But he will, Detectives. I’m married to a former public defender; I know how the law works,’ she said jadedly. ‘He’ll have a right to know the witnesses against him, and that will mean he will know my name and my daughter’s name. And you’ll have to give it to him. Isn’t that right, Detectives?’

  34

  Bryan Nill put down his binoculars and thoughtfully stroked his chin. Through the front window of the townhouse, he could still see the bright flicker and flash of colors emanating from Derrick Poole’s living room TV, although without the binoculars he couldn’t make out the faces on the screen any more. Or the expressionless face of Derrick Poole, who sat on the couch like a lump, watching it.

  Just like he’d done every night for the past five nights.

  Except for work, the guy never went out. No one ever came over. He microwaved dinners and did bills on his computer. He played video games, watched primetime network TV every night and went to bed before the news at eleven. He didn’t have a dog, or if he did, he never walked it and Bryan never saw it. He didn’t play loud music. He took his garbage out on Thursday mornings and put the can back in the garage that night. He drove a tan Honda Accord and didn’t go over the speed limit. If the past five days painted an accurate picture, from the outside looking in, Derrick Poole was as uninteresting as you might think a number cruncher would be.

  The p
ositive ID by Faith Saunders was huge – but it wasn’t enough for probable cause on a murder charge. Just being the last person seen with a girl before she turned up dead, in and of itself wasn’t a crime. It was really interesting. It was thought provoking. And it might be damning in the court of public opinion. But it wasn’t enough to slap cuffs on the guy. In order to do that Bryan needed more, which was why he was sitting outside Poole’s house with a burger in a bag, a six-pack of Red Bull and a pair of binoculars.

  The ID was probably enough, though, to obtain a search warrant for Poole’s townhouse and car. Once inside, of course, the hope would be to find boxes filled with damning evidence, a closet converted into a torture chamber, and body parts from the other three women who’d turned up dead and missing a couple of their original pieces – but the chances of that happening were pretty slim. The chances of finding much of anything, Bryan feared, were pretty slim. If the guy was a serial killer, he was smart, calculating, and organized. He had successfully abducted and murdered three women over the course of a year without anyone noticing and without leaving so much as one scrap of trace evidence behind. His head-scratching screw-up on the fourth was not disposing of two accidental witnesses. Chances were a killer that disciplined was going to be very careful about not keeping a treasure trove of evidence around his pristine, attached townhouse in posh West Boca that would implicate him in jaywalking, much less murder – especially seeing as he knew he had left witnesses out there. Chances were he had a secret place many miles away from here where he’d held his victims and done his evil deeds. A kill spot that was sure to be filled with damning evidence.

  That’s what Bryan really wanted to find.

  Rather than jump in and get a warrant right away and tip Poole off that they were looking at him, Bryan had decided to set up on the townhouse and gather intel for a few days before the guy had any idea he was a suspect. The hope was that Poole might unwittingly lead him to where he was hunting his victims from, or where he had stashed the missing body parts, or where he was actually keeping that torture chamber of his that Bryan feared truly did exist. He didn’t have much time – probable cause to believe ‘the object of the search was likely be found at the place to be searched’, i.e. the townhouse, had the potential of growing stale the longer he waited and a judge might not issue a warrant. And, of course, once Poole knew that he was on law enforcement’s radar, any of the intel Bryan had hoped to gain through surveillance – Poole’s habits, routes he travelled, places he visited, and the people he associated with – would be corrupt and of little or no value.

 
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