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Retribution, p.17
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       Retribution, p.17

           Jilliane Hoffman
 

  ‘How do I pass this to another prosecutor without everyone flipping out? Especially at this late stage of the game? You tell me! Everyone knows how much I wanted this case – shit, I worked at it for a year! I’ve seen every single bloated, decomped body, met every family member, seen every autopsy photo ever taken, read every lab report, practically written every warrant – I know this case. How do I suddenly tell the office and the media that I don’t want it? Short of being diagnosed with a terminal disease, everyone who knows me knows I wouldn’t give it up. And even then I probably wouldn’t.

  ‘So bring on the “whys” and the “how comes” and the “what happeneds”, because they will be next. And the media will dig and dig and dig until they find something, anything. And someone will find out about the rape, and hence the conflict that was never revealed but should have been, and I will see that same schmuck from Ocala come down to try my rapist, my serial homicide, and I’ll get to watch him fuck it all up and watch Bantling walk. Only I’ll get to watch it on the TV at home since I won’t be a lawyer anymore because I’ll have been disbarred. So you tell me, Dr Chambers, how I can do it and I’ll do it, but only if I can have a guarantee that he’s going to get convicted, that he’s going to pay for what he’s done. Nobody, nobody can give me that. So if this case is going to get screwed up – I’ll be the one taking the blame, thank you. No one else.’

  ‘What are you saying, C.J.?’ She could see he was being careful with her as he chose the next question. ‘I’ll ask you again, what do you want to do?’

  She sat silent for a few minutes. Tick-tock, tick-tock goes the clock.

  Her words sounded deliberate, determined, as if she had just thought of an idea and was testing it out, but liked the way it was sounding. I have to indict within twenty-one days, or else file a felony Information within twenty-one. Either way, the witnesses all have to come in and give a statement, the reports have to be gathered, the evidence reviewed… ‘ She paused, and then her voice was even more determined. ‘I think it’s too late to change pitchers now. I have to finish out the inning. So I think that I should at least take it through to indictment. Then maybe I’ll bring someone else on board, maybe Rose Harris, to try it with me. If all goes well, I’ll quietly hand the reins over to her and bow out with a mysterious sickness when I feel she’s up to speed and can handle it all. When I trust her. When I know that she can and will do the right thing.’

  ‘What about the office’s conflict of interest on this one?’

  ‘Bantling was so busy trying to save his own ass in court that he did not even recognize me. It’s almost ironic, considering everything he’s done, he barely even managed a glance in my direction,’ she said quietly, then continued. ‘He has probably fucked with so many women that he’s lost count. They don’t even have a face anymore. And God knows I don’t look anything like I did back then.’ She smiled a wry and bitter smile and pulled her hair back behind her ears. ‘Only I know what he did. And if it comes out later, I can just say I wasn’t sure that it was him. That I didn’t know. He can’t be tried in New York anyway, so it’s not as if I am sacrificing my own case by saying I can’t ID. I don’t have a case to make in New York anymore anyway.’ Her voice had conviction now.

  ‘C.J., this is not a game. Besides the obvious ethical problems that it poses, do you really think you can emotionally handle prosecuting this man? Hearing what he did to those women? Knowing what he did to you? Reliving it every day, every time you hear another gruesome fact, see another picture?’ Dr Chambers shook his head.

  ‘I know what he’s done to those women. I’ve seen it. And yes, it will be tough, and I don’t know how I’ll get through it, but at least I’ll know it’s being done right. I’ll know where he is every minute of the day.’

  ‘What about your law license? Keeping this conflict from the courts?’

  ‘Only I know there’s a conflict. No one can prove I knew there even was a conflict. I would have to admit that I knew it was him all along. I can live with myself if I deny that.’ She paused for a moment and thought of yet another thing that she should have thought of before. Quietly she said, ‘Does this put you in an awkward position, Dr Chambers? Do you need to report it or something?’

  As a doctor, he had a duty to disclose to the police a patient’s intent to commit a future crime. Everything else said in session was considered confidential. C.J.’s failure to disclose a conflict was perhaps an ethical violation of the Canon of Ethics that a lawyer has a duty to uphold, but it was not criminal.

  ‘No, C.J. What you’re considering doing is not criminal. And what is said in this room between us is, of course, confidential. It need not be disclosed. But I personally don’t know if it is a good idea for you, either therapeutically as a patient or professionally as an attorney.’

  She absorbed what he said for a moment. ‘I need to get some feeling of control back in my life, Dr Chambers. Haven’t you always said that to me?’

  ‘Yes. Yes, I have.’

  ‘Well now it’s time. I have the control now. Not some tired detective from New York. Not some idiot from Ocala. Not the Clown. Not Cupid.’

  She paused one final time and rose with her purse to leave. The tears were gone, and anger had replaced the desperation in her voice. ‘Me. I have the control. I have the power. And I’m not going to let that son of a bitch take that from me this time.’

  Then she turned and left the sanity of the pretty blue-and-yellow-flowered office behind her, waving a silent good-bye to Estelle over her shoulder on her way out.

  32

  ‘Medical Examiner’s Office.’

  ‘Agent Dominick Falconetti and Detective Manny Alvarez to see Dr Joe Neilson. We have a one-thirty appointment.’

  ‘Yes. Dr Neilson is waiting for you in the lobby.’

  The mechanical gate arm swung up, and Dominick pulled off of busy Fourteenth Street and maneuvered the Grand Prix into a parking spot marked POLICE VEHICLES ONLY directly across from the glass front doors of the two-story redbrick building. And right next to a late-model black hearse.

  Manny slowly opened the passenger-side door and stepped out into the parking lot. He had been unusually quiet on the ride over to the ME’s from the task force at the FDLE Miami office. When Dominick didn’t get out right away, he leaned back in. ‘You coming, Dom?’ His voice had a nervous-sounding edge to it.

  ‘Yeah. Give me a few minutes, Bear, and I’ll meet you inside. I just have to make a quick call first.’ Dominick had pulled out his cell and held it in his hand. He obviously was waiting for Manny to get lost before he dialed.

  Manny Alvarez looked at the redbrick building and grimaced. He hated the medical examiner’s office. It was the only part of being a homicide detective that still made him queasy, even after sixteen years and hundreds of dead bodies. It wasn’t the dead bodies in cold storage in the basement that got to him, because he could look at a dead body all day long at a crime scene and never be bothered. Even the rotten ones, or the ‘floaters’ that were found missing an eye or a body part and seemingly surfaced on a daily basis in any one of the four thousand canals, lakes, and ponds that existed in and around the city of Miami. Not to mention the ones that bobbed up next to the fishermen in the Miami River or freaked out the surfers in the Atlantic. Those never got to him, unless of course it was a kid, because he didn’t like child victims – those were always hard. No, it wasn’t the bodies that did him in, but the autopsies, the whole purpose of the medical examiner’s office.

  Autopsies were part of his job, and, as a lead detective on a homicide investigation, he had to attend them on a regular basis. To find out which of the thirteen bullets that tore through the victim’s back actually took his life? What stab wound was the fatal blow? Was it murder or was it suicide? So Manny had seen his share of autopsies, and he wasn’t going to quit over them. But the act of the autopsy, the coldness of the whole procedure – that was what he hated. He always had, and time had not made it any better. The human-sized
refrigerators, the freezing-cold white-tiled room, the steel gurney, the bright lights, the organ scales, the buzz saw and rib crackers, the black thread they used to sew everything back up when they were finished. In an autopsy, the dead weren’t victims anymore; they were now cadavers – specimens – to be studied by a bunch of freaks who actually liked cutting up dead people – who had chosen this as their profession and looked forward to coming to work every day to do it. In the freezing-cold white room, the dead bodies lay naked and exposed on the steel gurney for everyone to ogle, from the interns to the cops to the janitors, while some doctor with a power tool cut off the tops of their skulls just to see what was inside and how much it weighed. It was all too clinical for him, and he just hated it. Plain and simple. And he thought that medical examiners on the whole were weird. Why would anyone pick a career of cutting open dead people and playing with their intestines? Of course, the same could be said for anyone wanting to become a homicide detective. Maybe it was because he pictured himself on that steel gurney one day, naked and cold and completely undignified, the whirr of the buzz saw by his ear while some medical examiner and his intern snickered over how big his dick was and how much fat he had in his gut.

  Today, he and Dominick were here only to meet with Dr Neilson and ask some questions about yesterday’s autopsy on Anna Prado’s body. Still, just going in the building, knowing what was going on in the basement below them while they chatted over coffee and a Krispy Kreme, brought on heart palpitations. And he certainly didn’t want Joe Neilson to be the one working on him when he dropped of a heart attack on that cold, white-tiled floor.

  Manny looked back into the open car door and shot Dominick a look that read, Don’t fucking do this to me, amigo.

  ‘ Neilson gives me the creeps. Big time.’ The Bear looked nervous, puffing away on the last of his Marlboro.

  ‘Every ME gives you the creeps, Manny.’

  ‘Yeah, well…’ He looked back at Dominick, who was still holding the phone in his hand and waiting patiently for Manny to disappear behind a palm tree. ‘Alright, alright. I’ll tell you what, you make your phone call and I’ll wait for you by the front door. Outside, that is.’

  ‘For a big, bad detective, you sure are a chicken-shit, Bear. Okay. I’ll meet you by the door. Just give me a sec.’

  Manny walked off and out of immediate sight. When he was gone Dominick tried C.J.’s office again, hoping to hear her voice pick up the phone, but instead, only getting her voice mail. He left a brief message. ‘Hey, it’s Dominick. I’m with Manny at the ME’s. I’ve beeped you, but you must not be wearing your pager. I thought you wanted to meet with Neilson. Give me a call on my Nextel when you get this. 305-776-3882.’

  He held the phone in his hand for a moment and stared out the window at the disheveled-looking old man in the driver’s seat across from him who was eating a sandwich and drinking either a Coke or a beer out of a brown paper bag in the front seat of the hearse. Given the choice of profession, Dominick assumed it was a beer he was downing with his tuna salad.

  He knew he probably shouldn’t, but he was getting more than a little anxious about C.J. He had left a message with Marisol that morning about the 1:30 appointment with Neilson, and he knew C.J. had gone into the office. But when she hadn’t called him back to confirm she was coming, he had beeped her a couple of times and he still hadn’t heard anything, which was not like her. At least he wouldn’t have considered it like her before yesterday. Something definitely was up with her since the Bantling hearing, even though she was denying it. He had seen the fear in her eyes, watched her body language in that courtroom when she had gone white as a ghost and blanked out in front of Judge Katz. And then last night, when they were talking about Bantling again, she had turned that same pasty, drawn color and quickly sent him on his merry way to the front door. Dominick was no rocket scientist, but it certainly didn’t take one to see that C. J. Townsend, the prosecutor with the reputation for having balls of steel, was scared to death of something. But what could she be that frightened of? And what did it have to do with William Rupert Bantling?

  He was still trying to sort out his own confusing feelings about yesterday as well. When he had seen C.J. that way – in the courtroom, in her kitchen – looking frightened and worried and vulnerable, he had felt this sudden compulsion to just protect her. To wrap her up in his arms and just protect her. It was very strange. A very strange feeling. Very unlike him, he thought. He knew that they had flirted back and forth for the past few months, and he knew that he liked her. Even more important, he respected C.J. He liked her spirit, her independence, her willingness to take on a system with more holes than solid flooring. She was a victim’s dream: a champion for her causes and a fiery zealot in court, almost as if she had something to prove not just to the twelve members of the jury, but also to herself. It was great to watch her give a powerful summation or argue a complicated motion to suppress against some of the best and most egotistical, narcissistic male defense attorneys in Miami and win. He liked that about her.

  Over the past few months when they had chatted together at the task force or at her office or casually on the phone, he had come to realize that they had more in common than just defendants and judges and defense attorneys. Before Cupid, he had respected her as an attorney. Since Cupid, though, he had begun to like her as a person, as a woman. He couldn’t deny that. He had thought about maybe asking her out to dinner, or a movie, but for the past ten months, the Cupid case had him working sixteen-hour days, seven days a week, and he never seemed to have had the time. Or, he had never made the time for other reasons. Probably those same psychobabble reasons that the police psychologist told him he needed to come to terms with five years ago after Natalie died. But he had put aside those reasons last night, whatever they may have been, consciously or subconsciously, and had given in to his compulsion at her front door. Now he regretted that he had. Maybe he spooked her with that kiss last night.

  The guy in the hearse had finished his sandwich and must have realized that since Dominick was parked in the POLICE VEHICLES ONLY parking spot he must be the police, and the brown paper bag was now nowhere in sight.

  Dominick climbed out of the car and headed up the cement steps to the front entrance. A woman he recognized as one of the young receptionists at the office stood outside smoking a cigarette under the overhang, chatting with an ME investigator twice her age, who Dominick knew as a former Miami-Dade detective who had jumped ship to the ME’s for a better pension and fewer hours. They were having too much fun to be talking about a case, so Dominick passed them by and didn’t bother to say hello. He looked around. Manny was nowhere to be found. Either he had totally chickened out and was hiding around the bushes by the handicap ramp, waiting for Dominick, or he had been pulled inside alive by the evil Chief Medical Examiner Joe Neilson. As he approached the glass front doors, he saw it was the latter.

  Joe Neilson had Manny backed up against the 1970s turquoise sofa with maroon pillows in the lobby, and there was nowhere to escape to. Neilson was dressed in his green scrubs, and his hair was covered by a disposable mint green cotton hair cap. Dominick could see he was talking excitedly, waving his hands up and down right at Manny. From the looks of his outfit, it was quite obvious that the good doctor had been in the basement immediately prior to his ascension to the land of the living. Fortunately, though, he had remembered to remove his latex gloves before coming upstairs and shaking hands with Detective Manny Alvarez, who by this time was looking kind of pasty and in need of either a cigarette or a barf bag.

  Dominick stepped inside and tried, with an outstretched hand and a smile, his best attempt at a rescue operation. ‘Hello, Dr Neilson. I hope I haven’t been keeping you. I just needed to make a quick phone call.’

  Dr Neilson walked toward Dominick, freeing Manny up and away from the sofa that held him prisoner, and vigorously shook Dominick’s outstretched hand. ‘No, no not at all. I was just asking Detective Alvarez how the investigation was goi
ng. I also told him that I was excited to see you both because there’s something very interesting I need to show you downstairs!’

  Joe Neilson’s unbridled enthusiasm for his job was one reason why he made Manny Alvarez uncomfortable. He was a tall, super-thin wiry fellow with sunken eyes who, Dominick thought, must have had ADD as a kid because this was one man who could never sit still. His hands, his mind, his feet, his eyes. Something was always moving on him. If you kept him in any one spot for too long, his weight would shift from foot to foot, his eyes would blink repeatedly, and his nose would twitch. It was almost as if his head were going to explode.

  ‘Great. Is it Prado, or one of the other girls?’

  ‘Well, right now, I’ve just reexamined Prado. But I’ve pulled the files on all the others and I think I’m going to have to take a look again at each of them, now that I know what I’m looking for. Shall we get started, Detectives?’ Dr Neilson’s eyebrows were starting to rise and fall, rise and fall, and he began to blink fast. They had run out of time. The train needed to leave the station. Right now.

  Manny looked awful. Just awful. He was actually green.

  ‘Manny, you okay? You want to sit this one out?’ Dominick asked.

  ‘Of course he doesn’t want to sit this one out!’ Neilson interjected excitedly. ‘Come on, Detective. I’ve got a fresh pot of coffee on downstairs in the lab. That will wake you up!’ Dr Neilson headed for the elevator.

  ‘Yeah, I’m coming. I’m coming. Right fucking behind you,’ Manny said, sounding resigned.

  The elevator doors opened, and all three stepped inside the steel box that was long enough to hold a gurney.

  ‘Dr Neilson, the prosecutor from the State Attorney’s Office wanted to meet us down here as well. I just left a message for –’ Dominick began, but the doctor cut him off.

  ‘C.J. Townsend? Yes, yes. She called about a half hour ago. She can’t make it. She said she’ll have to come over by herself tomorrow or the next day, for us to go ahead. She’s tied up in court or something.’

 
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