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Retribution, p.15
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       Retribution, p.15

           Jilliane Hoffman

  ‘Yes, I love it. I’ve been here about five years now. It’s small, though. Only a two bedroom. But then again, there’s only me and Lucy and Tibby, so I don’t need much more, I suppose.’

  ‘Lucy? Tibby?’

  ‘That’s Tibby rubbing white hairs all over your nice black slacks.’ As if on cue, Tibby let off a long, woeful meow at his feet. Dominick rubbed the fat cat’s head and Tibby purred pitifully, as if he had never known love before.

  ‘… and that’s Lucy. My baby.’ Lucy, having smelled the contents of the open refrigerator, had just scuffled into the kitchen, sniffing at the air. She found C.J.’s outstretched hand and snuggled over for a pat and a scratch behind her long ears. ‘She doesn’t hear too well anymore, but that’s okay. Right, girl?’ C.J. put her face down close to Lucy’s and Lucy gave her a happy little howl. Her tail wagged back and forth.

  ‘It’s quiet up here, too. Different pace than Miami.’

  ‘I like it quiet. Like any big city, Miami’s got too many nut jobs. I see it every day, I work with them all day long. I don’t need to live with them, too. Not that Fort Lauderdale is the epicenter of normality, but it’s definitely more reserved. Plus I don’t work in this town. And you know what they say you shouldn’t do where you eat…’

  ‘You like your anonymity?’

  ‘Definitely. It’s worth the thirty-five-minute drive to work.’

  ‘I’ve been in Miami too long. It’s in my blood, I guess. I can’t be more than twenty minutes from a good Cuban midnight sandwich.’

  ‘The Broward-Dade county line is only fifteen minutes away. They have black beans and rice in Hollywood and Weston, too. They’re just more expensive.’

  ‘That’s true. Maybe a transfer to the FDLE field office in Broward. Next thing you know, I’ll be driving a minivan undercover, chasing truant kids who didn’t show up for home ec class.’

  ‘Now I know you’re exaggerating. This isn’t exactly Boringville, Iowa, up here in these yonder parts. I wish it were. Lots of bad things happen over that county line. More and more each year.’

  ‘I’m only kidding. Broward County has its own share of problems, and those are definitely growing. Even the nut jobs breed and need a place to live outside the jurisdiction of their court-mandated stay-away orders, but still within a fifty-mile radius of their probation officers.’ He paused for thought and ran his hand over his goatee. ‘I just like Miami, I guess. I’m used to it. I like getting used to things. I’m actually a very comfortable type of guy.’

  ‘Good. That’s good to know,’ she said softly.

  They both said nothing for a moment and just sipped at their wine. She looked tired, drained. Her hair was pulled back with a clip into a soft bun, and strands had fallen out, framing her slightly tan face. Her glasses were off, something he had rarely seen. Even without makeup, she was pretty. Very pretty. She had a natural beauty about her that a lot of women didn’t. Funny how she always seemed to try to hide it. But the criminal justice system could be a man’s world sometimes, particularly south of that Mason-Dixon line, and even in a city as metropolitan as Miami. It was still filled with chauvinistic male judges, cops, and defense attorneys. In his thirteen years with FDLE in this city, he had seen many women struggle to be respected in court, to be taken seriously by their peers, by the bench. And C.J. was always taken seriously. Always. She was probably the most respected attorney in that office. Even more so than that dippy boss of hers, Tigler. He saw her gray jacket draped over the kitchen chair and noticed that she hadn’t changed out of her suit yet.

  ‘I thought you left work early today.’

  ‘I did. Why?’

  ‘’Cause you’re still in your suit.’

  ‘Yeah, I did some work out of here. I just haven’t had a chance to change yet.’ She changed the subject. ‘How did the warrant go? Did you find anything?’ She glanced down and saw that he was simultaneously petting both Tibby and Lucy under the table.

  ‘Yeah. We found a lot. I’m surprised Manny didn’t call you to let you know.’

  ‘He beeped me before and I called him back and left a message on his cell. He hasn’t called me back again, and that was about two hours ago.’

  ‘Well, they just wrapped up over there about forty-five minutes ago. I came straight here. We found blood this afternoon in a shed out back behind the house. Not much, three drops, but enough. Preliminary tests came back about an hour ago. It’s human. We’ll run the DNA and match it with Prado’s to see if it’s hers. That will probably take a few weeks.

  ‘We also might have a murder weapon. Bantling apparently liked to stuff animals in the shed – you know, what do they call that?’


  ‘Yeah. He had a few birds hanging from the rafters in this shed. But he also had about six different scalpels. One also has what may be blood on it. Neilson is going to call in an expert on knife patterns to see if we can match the scalpel with the chest incisions of the girls – those that weren’t too decomped – and we can get a microscopic skin tear match.’

  C.J. shuddered. This was hitting too close to home now, and she didn’t know how much longer she could hold this conversation together tonight.

  ‘So we boxed and shipped everything to the lab and the ME, and we are just waiting for test results. They luminolled the house. Nothing. No blood anywhere inside.’

  ‘What about the shed that you mentioned?’

  ‘Lit up like a firefly. He must’ve tried to clean it up but he missed a few spatters on the lower part of the wall. But there was blood everywhere. Even the ceiling glowed, with a splash pattern that looks like Prado might have been killed while lying on this metal gurney he kept in there. The aorta would have spurted blood up like Ol’ Faithful when cut. We’re getting Leslie Bickins, the blood spatter expert from FDLE in Tallahassee, to come down tomorrow and take a look. Of course, the problem is that he also liked to cut up dead animals and stuff them in that shed, so whose blood is whose is the question of the day.’

  ‘Anything else?’

  ‘Yeah. I found a prescription for haloperidol that Bantling had from a doctor in New York. You might know it as Haldol – it’s an antipsychotic drug. They administer it to manage delirium. So apparently Bantling has a history of mental problems, too. That would fit the pattern, and would make sense in light of the viciousness of the murders.

  ‘He also had a trunkful of homemade sadomasochistic porn videotapes. Different women, some looked real young, our victims’ age. We haven’t looked at ‘em all, because there’s got to be over a hundred altogether. From the tides, a lot of them seem to be blondes, too.’

  C.J. had turned white.

  ‘Are you okay? Jesus, you look like you did in court this morning!’ He reached across the table and touched her arm. Her hand clenched the wineglass stem with tight white knuckles. The same look of worry from that afternoon was in his eyes. ‘What’s wrong, C.J.? What is it? Maybe I can help.’

  ‘I’m fine. I just think maybe I’m coming down with something. That’s all.’ The words were stammered, distracted. It was time to end the conversation. End it right here before she completely fell apart tonight. She stood up, pulling her hand out from underneath his, moving away from him yet again. Her eyes were cast down, toward the table and away from him. ‘Thanks for bringing this tonight. I’ll definitely look through it.’ Her voice sounded far away. She fingered the AutoTrack on the table and looked back at Dominick. ‘And thanks, too, for making the trip all the way up here. You didn’t have to.’

  He stood and followed her back to the front door. He noticed that there were about four different locks on it. And an elaborate alarm system on the wall. What was she locking out, up here in her tower in nice, quiet Fort Lauderdale suburbia, with the yachts and the party boats?

  She went to open the door, and Lucy rushed to get out. ‘No, Lucy. No. I’ve already let you out for the night.’

  C.J. looked back up at Dominick. He saw the fear in her emerald eyes then as pla
in as day. ‘Well, thanks again, Dom,’ she said quietly. ‘I’ll see you tomorrow, I guess. Call me after you speak with Neilson. Maybe I’ll meet you over there. And I’m sorry that I’ve been… distant, I just-’

  His hand found hers on the doorknob, and he grasped it and held it tight. His face was close now, and she could feel his warm breath on her cheek. His breath smelled sweet and cool, like peppermint and Chardonnay. His eyes were serious, but they were also soft. He looked down into hers.

  ‘Don’t talk,’ he whispered. ‘Don’t say anything else or this might not happen.’

  His lips touched her cheek then, and gently, softly, brushed against her skin, until they reached her mouth. The gruff stubble of his goatee tickled against her face and chin. To her surprise, she found her own lips were already parted slightly, waiting for his mouth to meet hers. She wanted to feel his kiss, to taste his sweet, peppermint tongue on hers.

  His lips met hers finally, and she shivered slightly. His mouth moved gently, his tongue probing, exploring hers. Their bodies touched, pressed up against the back of the door, and even through the clothes they both wore, the heat was intense. She could feel him, hard against her thigh. His hand still held hers behind her back on the doorknob. He let go now and ran his fingers up the length of her arm, caressing her shoulder lightly through her silk blouse, then down her side, gently moving over her ribs and the curve in her waist. His hand then slid behind her, where his warm palm fit across the small of her back. His other hand held her face, his thumb surprisingly smooth and gentle on her cheek. Their mouths were still one, and the kiss grew more intense, more passionate. His tongue pushed deeper into her mouth, his strong chest pressed heavily against hers, so close she could almost feel his heartbeat.

  She did not move away from him this time. Instead, her fingers hesitantly wrapped around his neck, feeling the short thick hairs on the back of his head curl under her fingers, and she pulled him even closer. The tips of her fingers ran across the top of his back, feeling the definition of muscle through his dress shirt. A surge of emotions surfaced that she had long since buried and left for dead, and the moment completely overwhelmed her.

  He felt the hot tears as they ran silently down her cheek, meeting his. The kiss abruptly ended and he pulled back, away from her. She kept her head down, ashamed of herself for letting him see her this way. She should never have let this happen tonight. But then his warm, calloused hands came and held her face, cupping her chin and tilting it upward again, toward his own. She saw again the worry in his eyes and, almost as if he had read her mind, he simply whispered, ‘I’m not going to hurt you, C.J. I’m not.’ Then his lips softly kissed away the two rivers of tears on her cheeks. ‘And we’re both going to take this slow. Real slow.’

  He kissed her once more softly, gently on the lips. And for the first time in a long while, she felt safe, right here in this man’s arms.


  She was at her desk, coffee in hand, by 7:00 in the morning, leafing through the piles of papers that had managed to accumulate in just one afternoon out. Despite the sweet good-night kiss, sleep had not come last night without dreams – horrible blood-soaked dreams. The clown’s mask was gone – replaced with the handsome, chiseled smile of William Rupert Bantling. It was his face that laughed now at her, his Rolexed hand that slashed her skin to ribbons. She was not even sure if they were dreams she had experienced or maybe it was that she had never even gone to sleep at all, and these tortured images in her head were simply memories come back to play a midnight encore. One thing she’d known for certain was that when she finally opened her eyes, she would not make the same mistake twice and close them again that night. At 4:00 A.M. she wandered out on to her balcony and sat, her body wrapped in the thin sheet from her bed, and watched as the sun came up over Fort Lauderdale and Pompano Beach.

  After Dominick had left last night, she’d tried to think. To think about what she could do, should do with the Cupid case. Should she tell Tigler that she had a conflict, or perhaps silently hand the case off to another prosecutor without explanation? One final solution played again and again in her mind that she knew would probably be impossible: Should she go forward and say nothing?

  If she told the State Attorney, then the whole State Attorney’s Office would have to conflict out of the prosecution and give it to the State Attorney’s Office of another circuit, who would, in turn, assign a new prosecutor. That could be very bad – especially in a case so complex and one that was centered all on Miami. Other circuits were not as seasoned as the Eleventh, and so neither were their attorneys. Some circuits had only three or four prosecutors altogether, and had never had a serial homicide even occur in their jurisdiction. And in those old Florida circuits, Miami was considered the armpit, the black sheep of the circuits that no one wanted to visit, much less work a case there.

  On the other hand, C.J. was familiar with the facts of each murder. She had been to practically every crime scene, had seen every body, had interviewed every girl’s parent, friend, loved one, had spoken to the medical examiner on each case, and had written all the warrants. She had lived, breathed, and worked this case for a year. No one knew the facts as well as she. She doubted anyone could.

  If she handed it off silently to another Major Crimes prosecutor in her office, she still had the problem of the new prosecutor not being up to speed with the facts of all the murders. Then she had the added problem of explaining her motivation for doing so. Why would she suddenly give up the most career-defining case of her life? A case any other lawyer only dreamed of getting? The act would raise more questions than she cared to answer. Ever.

  As for the last solution, she could go forward for the time being and say nothing. Nothing until she verified beyond a shadow of all doubt that it had been Bantling in New York. Until she made completely sure that it was him. She still had to speak with McMillan from the Cold Case Squad in New York. Maybe by some weird chance someone had looked at her case in the past ten years since she had stopped calling the detectives every day. Maybe they had retested her sheets, her pink pajamas, her panties, her rape kit from that night and found bodily fluids where none had been found before. Maybe they had by some fluke then indicted Bantling by his DNA strand. Maybe. Maybe. Maybe.

  She wanted to do this right, but she wasn’t sure what that meant. She wanted to bring Bantling to justice. She sighed and looked out the window of her office down on to Thirteenth Avenue, where street vendors were already setting up their umbrella carts of Sabrett sausages and sodas when it was barely 9:00 A.M. On another, fresh mangos, papayas, bananas, and pineapples dangled from the underside of a red-and-white umbrella, its owner moving to the beat of the Latin music that played on his boom box as he set up his cart.

  So last night she had sat on her balcony and thought all these thoughts over in her head a million times. And, of course, she had thought about Dominick. Of all times in her life, this was not the moment for romance or passion. But here it was, and she had not turned it away. She raised her fingers absently to her lips, and remembered what his mouth had felt like on hers. She could still smell the sweet peppermint of his breath, and see the deep concern in his eyes. He had simply held her by the front door, his hand caressing her back, his breath warm by her ear, and the feeling of being safe, of being protected, if only even for five minutes, was an amazing feeling.

  She had not been with a man in a long time. The last one had been in a drunken stupor with a stockbroker named Dave whom she had dated casually for a couple of months. She thought he was funny and sweet until he stopped calling. Which happened, coincidentally, right after they had finally slept together. When she asked him why the relationship had ended so suddenly, he only said she had ‘too many hang-ups’. That had been a few years ago, and she hadn’t looked back. Intimacy with a man frightened her, and it presented too many issues, opened too many wounds. So in the time since, there had been a few dates, but nothing serious and definitely nothing intimate. Dinner out and a kiss here an
d there.

  But then there was last night, and there was Dominick.

  It had only been a kiss, nothing more, and he had left when she asked him to. But she couldn’t stop thinking about what he had said, and how he had said it. He sounded so sincere, and she wanted so much to feel safe again, even for just another five minutes. But he was too involved in this case to be told the truth, and how far could a relationship go without the truth? How many thin stories and lies would she have to tell to keep him from it? And even if the truth were a possibility, could she ever even bring herself to tell a man about that night? About the reason her body looked the way it did when the bedroom lights were turned on?

  The stack of pink phone messages on her desk was enormous. She was going to have to have the Public Information Officer for the State Attorney’s Office return the calls from almost every newspaper and television station in the country. On the top one Marisol had scribbled in large uppercase letters: ‘THIS IS THE 3 MESSAGE!! WHY HAVE YOU NO CALLED HIM?!!’

  The wooden in-box on top of her desk was full of new mail. In addition to the Cupid case, C.J. also had ten other murders she was handling, two of which were set for trial within the next two months. She had a crucial Motion to Dismiss set next week, depositions scheduled through the next two weeks, and next-of-kin meetings. None of these could be neglected just because of Cupid. She would just have to juggle them all and hope she didn’t drop anything.

  She stared at the back of Bantling’s three-page pink arrest form. The names of about twenty-five people, all of them cops, were listed. First initial, last name, department, and badge number. Witnesses. The cop who pulled Bantling over, the first cops on the scene, the K-9 units, the cops who did the search of the trunk and found Anna Prado’s body, the investigating detectives, Special Agent D. Falconetti, FDLE #0277.

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