All the Little Pieces, p.18Jilliane Hoffman
‘No! No!’ she screamed as he picked her up and slung her over his shoulder.
‘Ain’t no one gonna hear you, darlin’. No one. You’re all the same, you know,’ Ed groused as he headed back up the creaky steps and kicked the door open.
‘I’m sorry! I’m sorry! I won’t say anything!’
‘Can’t trust the lot of you. But this time I did the lying, so don’t feel too bad, darlin’. You see, I was gonna kill you anyway,’ Ed said as the door closed behind them and the blackness enveloped them. ‘I was just gonna make it hurt less.’
Bryan felt like he’d been summoned to the principal’s office.
With her brow furrowed and her lips pursed, Elisabetta Romolo, the Palm Beach County Chief Felony Assistant secretly nicknamed Maleficent by the defense bar, was either listening intently to what he was telling her or she was growing increasingly annoyed at what she was hearing. She wore chic eyeglasses that matched her dark eyes, and a pantsuit that was a lot more expensive than the average prosecutor could afford. Bryan didn’t know labels, but her glasses said Prada and her purse had that Burberry plaid that Audrey used to salivate over when they went shopping at Sawgrass and passed the outlet. Her long black hair was pulled into a pony that hung like an accessory over her shoulder. Most men would say Elisabetta Romolo was pretty – unless that man was charged with murder and she was his prosecutor. Or that man was the lead detective in a murder case and she was the prosecutor.
‘The hairs in the trunk are Santri’s. Labs came back yesterday. The fibers in the car match the patch of fabric found at the scene in Pahokee,’ Bryan continued when she hadn’t said anything. ‘But we can’t find the shirt or clothing where the fibers came from.’
Elisabetta blinked twice. ‘And you have two witnesses that place Poole with your victim: Faith Saunders and her daughter.’ She looked down at the police report in front of her. ‘Her four-year-old daughter.’ She sighed. ‘I hate kids. As witnesses,’ she added after a second.
‘Yes. It’s circumstantial, and I wish we had a murder weapon, but taken all together, I feel it’s powerful.’
She tapped on the ME’s report with a long red fingernail. ‘But that’s all you have in that trunk, Detective. Considering the violence that was committed to Angelina Santri’s person, one would expect more. From her person and in that trunk.’
Bryan nodded. ‘Maybe she wasn’t placed in the trunk after she was dead. Maybe it was before. Maybe he knocked her out then transported her to Pahokee in the trunk before she was bloodied up. She escaped, saw Faith Saunders sitting in her car, was led away on foot and then was taken to where she was killed.’
‘Wasn’t her body found in Belle Glade?’
‘Well he didn’t force her to walk to Belle Glade from Pahokee. So how did her body get to where it was ultimately found? It was transported. And by that point she would have been a muddy, if not bloody, mess.’
‘I know what you’re getting at. The body was likely tarped or wrapped, that’s why there’s no other trace evidence,’ he replied testily. It felt like he was being grilled by Poole’s defense attorney.
‘Or she was transported some other way or in some other car, Detective. Don’t get me wrong, I like the hairs. They’re strong, and they place her in his car. But a perfect case they don’t make. I have to be honest, the strongest evidence you have is also your most troubling – your witnesses. Now let’s talk about this mom who you described to me as skittish, Detective. Why did she wait two weeks to come forward? And only after her kid spoke up? That’s not encouraging. That tells me – no, that tells a jury – that either: a) the interaction that she saw between Poole and Santri was nothing to be alarmed about, which doesn’t bode well for our case and doesn’t jive with what her kid said; b) she’s a cold-hearted bitch who had better things to do than call the police and help this woman; or c) she’s covering something up.’
‘How about d? She was scared shitless of this guy and worried he was gonna come find her.’
She nodded thoughtfully. ‘With good reason. He did.’
‘That was no accidental meeting in Publix, Elisabetta.’
‘Of course not. It’s very disturbing. But there’s not enough for tampering.’
He shook his head. ‘I can’t arrest a guy for shopping in the same store as a possible witness against him in a case that hasn’t even been filed. He told her to watch where she was going with her cart. The message worked, though: I think the lady’s close to having a breakdown.’
‘Understandably. He knows where she shops; he surely knows where she lives. Your sketch worked, Detective – your case has caught the eye of the media. Soon enough everyone will know who Faith Saunders is.’ She sighed again and tapped on a gory crime scene photo. ‘Still, waiting two weeks to open her mouth makes me skittish about her, Detective. That means a lot is riding on this little kid. It’s not just me who doesn’t like them – sometimes a judge won’t even let them testify. They notoriously make unreliable witnesses. Which makes me ask you: Why didn’t you get a positive ID on Poole with Maggie Saunders?’
‘I thought we may want to do a live lineup with her. I didn’t want to confuse her with mug shots of other men and an outdated picture of Poole. I realize the mom is weak.’
‘You know that if the kid doesn’t ID Poole, you’re screwed, right? That’ll be hard to recover from, especially with a mom who we can both agree doesn’t make the best witness. The hairs? Poole will argue they transferred to his jacket when he hugged the Santri girl goodbye – who, heads up, he’s gonna argue was a willing prostitute. Then he put his jacket in the trunk and headed home himself. There are too many innocuous explanations, Detective.’ She paused for a long moment. ‘Or more insidious ones. Maybe he’ll argue you planted the hairs – make the suspect fit the crime.’
Bryan felt his face grow hot and his temper flare. He pointed at Poole’s juvi report that she’d had her fingernail on. ‘You’ve seen his history,’ he replied quietly. ‘You know what we’re dealing with.’
‘Inadmissible, but interesting. Let’s talk about those other murders you were telling me about. Do you have anything that connects him to those? Anything at all?’
He shook his head. ‘Like I said, same victim typology, same general dump area. Different manners of death, but mutilations in three cases. And all the bodies were clean: no trace evidence.’
Elisabetta nodded thoughtfully. ‘The four-year-old as a witness is what makes the Santri case newsworthy, and with the case in the news, there’s a chance you might get some more people coming forward with information. Of course, the frightening suggestion that there might be a serial killer at work in Palm Beach will get the phones ringing, too. But I don’t think that’s a good angle to go with if it can’t be proved, Detective.’
The principal had just reprimanded him.
Bryan did not like Elisabetta Romolo, even if she was one of the best ASAs in a courtroom. They’d worked together on a robbery case years ago, back when she was just starting at the State Attorney’s Office and a lot more humble and easygoing than she was now. He couldn’t remember the particulars, only that she was quiet and sweet and had nice legs. Then, as the rumors told it, she got married to a rich, dickhead defense attorney, was cheated on, and turned evil. She took half of the dickhead’s riches in the divorce – which was how she could afford to dress so nice – and the dickhead lost his half to the IRS once he went to prison for tax fraud after an anonymous birdie called in a tip about his offshore accounts. Bryan knew it wasn’t easy to be a woman in law enforcement, or a prosecutor working alongside a male-dominated defense bar and judicial bench. But once it’s proven you can play ball with the big names, there was no reason to be a bitch to everyone with a penis, including the very detectives who were supposed to help you make your case.
Without another word, Elisabetta stood, walked over to the door and opened it. He doubted she would be the one leaving her own office, so he ga
‘We’ll do a live lineup with the kid. Let’s see if she IDs, too.’
‘OK. If not?’
She shot him a look over her chic glasses. Her fingers were wrapped around the door that she held open for him, her talons impatiently drumming away on the wood. She nodded at his file box. ‘Then perhaps Poole is not your man and there’s a reason you can’t find additional evidence to link him to one murder, much less four, Detective. Because there isn’t any.’
‘You’re sure that’s him? The man holding the number five?’ Bryan asked gently. Inside he was jumping with excitement. The little girl hadn’t even hesitated. The whole thing had taken two minutes.
Maggie nodded and rubbed her nose. ‘Yes. He made the lady cry,’ she relied softly, staring into the glass at the five dark-haired, clean-shaven men dressed in black, who he’d feared would look too much like identical brothers to a nervous kid.
‘OK,’ Bryan said into the phone. ‘Five can step back.’
‘He can’t see me? Because he’ll be mad,’ Maggie said quietly.
‘No, honey,’ replied Tatiana. ‘None of them can see you.’ She patted Maggie’s back. ‘Good job, honey.’
‘Good job coming in here today and being so brave,’ Bryan quickly added. Derrick Poole’s attorney lurked in the back of the room somewhere, quiet enough to be momentarily forgotten, which was what he wanted. ‘Why don’t you and your dad head over to the vending machines by my office and I’ll catch up with you all in a few minutes?’ he said, ushering Maggie and Jarrod to the door. Jarrod, being a former PD, knew enough about the rules to say nothing. He took Maggie’s hand and they walked off together down the hall.
‘You told her she was picking the right guy,’ Richard Hartwick, Poole’s attorney, began to complain when they had left. He had the eyes of a basset hound – they sort of sagged into his long face and long mouth. Even after an acquittal, the man looked overwhelmed with sadness.
‘Please, Richard,’ Elisabetta curtly answered. ‘She’d already picked the right guy. And you’re pissed because that makes not one, but two witnesses who have positively identified your client.’
‘Please, Elisabetta,’ Hartwick snapped back, picking up his briefcase. ‘One of them is four. And identified him doing what? Hanging with a girl who later ended up dead? Your victim was known for engaging in consensual extracurricular activities both at work and outside of it. Let’s just say maybe she decided to do that with my client. They had their fun and he sent her on her merry way and never saw her again. That’s unfortunate for her. My client was shocked to learn of her demise.’
‘Really? Then why, Richard, has he suddenly decided to grocery shop at my witness’s local Publix, where he coincidentally ran into her the other day with his cart? Do I look stupid?’
‘I know you would love to pop him on something, Elisabetta. So I know it’s killing you that he didn’t threaten your witness, so you could at least have the pleasure of arresting him today. But he didn’t and you can’t and so we are both going to walk out of here now. Call me when you have a case.’
‘What the hell were they doing in Pahokee, Richard?’ she called out as he walked toward the door. ‘Please. Joyriding in a tropical storm? That’s a little far from Boca and Riviera Beach, don’t ya think? And how long was their little consensual tryst? Two days?’
Richard turned back around. He was slightly taller than Maleficent but despite that and the angry words that he was saying, he looked rather small beside her. ‘Your problem, Elisabetta, is that your witnesses aren’t witnesses to a crime,’ he snapped. ‘They didn’t see your victim being forced anywhere. They didn’t see a weapon. They didn’t see him brutalize her. If they did, it’s not in those reports. And if they did, it would be in those reports.’ He turned to look at Bryan Nill. ‘I know that you might be trying to make a case against him for some other random homicides you got out there, Detective Nill, hoping to package him up like some wireless bundle, thinking your case will sound better that way, but that ain’t happening either. You have nothing but random homicides, so don’t go trying to alarm the Palm Beach natives by yelling serial killer at the TV stations because, be forewarned, I will be ready to respond with a defamation suit.’
‘Don’t tell me how and what cases my detectives should investigate,’ warned Elisabetta sharply before Bryan could start yelling himself. ‘That threat only rouses my ire more.’
Hartwick scoffed and headed back for the door.
‘And you still have those unanswered questions that a jury is going to want an answer to, Richard. What the hell was he doing in Pahokee?’ she yelled.
‘I’m not going to help you make your case, Elisabetta,’ he fired back, his hand on the door. ‘You get to figure out the whys, the whos, the wheres, and the hows. All I can offer are words of advice before you let that famous temper of yours get the better of your prosecutorial judgment: remember that your standard of proof is beyond and to the exclusion of every reasonable doubt. Good luck meeting that.’
‘Are they going to arrest him now?’ Faith asked anxiously, looking across the parking lot at the glass double doors of the police station. Every time they opened she held her breath until she saw the face of the person walking out. He was in there somewhere. The frightening question was: Was he coming out?
Jarrod sighed and shook his head. ‘I don’t know, Faith.’
They were standing between her Explorer and his Infinity, back by the trunk in the far end of the lot, near where the cruisers parked. Maggie was already strapped in her booster in Jarrod’s car with the AC running and a DVD of her favorite movie, Frozen, so she couldn’t hear them. Detective Maldonado had given it to her today as they walked out.
Faith absently stroked her hair. ‘There’s something you’re not saying, Jarrod. What did the detective say after Maggie identified him? She did identify the right person, right? Derrick Poole?’
‘They don’t hold up signs with their name on it, honey. Detective Nill did indicate she picked the right person. I spoke with Elisabetta after. There are problems.’
‘Who’s Elisabetta?’ Faith asked flatly, trying hard to rid her voice of the sudden surge of jealousy at the familiarity with which he said another woman’s name. A woman she did not know.
‘The prosecutor: Elisabetta Romolo. I knew her from when I worked in Miami. I had a client with a case in Palm Beach, as well. She was his prosecutor.’
‘Oh. What did she say about this case?’
‘She thinks she needs more.’
‘What? They have her hair in his trunk, that’s what the detective said!’
‘Yes, but the hair strands in and of themselves are not enough. They can be explained away. They have these black and red fibers that they found in the car also, that they’ve linked back to a piece of material found at the scene in Pahokee, but the DNA they pulled on the fabric doesn’t match this guy Poole.’
‘But we saw him there with that girl! Maggie and I both!’
‘It’s not the ID. They believe that it was this guy that you saw out there. Problem is, you didn’t really see him do anything bad, is what Elisabetta said. You didn’t see him hit her or brutalize her or drag her off. You didn’t see a weapon. She said “Help me”, and she was crying, but then he kissed her and she walked off with him. His behavior in and of itself is not incriminating. You yourself said you didn’t think he was going to hurt the girl, that’s why you didn’t call the police. That’s how Elisabetta knows the defense will spin it. Being the last person seen with a stripper-slash-prostitute who ends up dead isn’t enough for a murder conviction – you still have to prove he’s the one who killed her. And once they arrest him, the speedy clock starts to tick, so they only have one hundred
‘So he’s gonna walk out today?’ she asked, staring tearfully at the door.
‘Until they get more, or Elisabetta has a change of opinion, I’m afraid so.’
For some reason it felt like he stuck a pin in her heart when he said her name. Jealousy was the last ingredient she needed to add to the problem right now and she was mad at herself for even feeling it.
‘It’s a matter of time before they find something more on this guy,’ he added when she hadn’t said anything. ‘They’re not giving up on him, Faith; I’m sure they’re gonna pick everything in his life apart to find the smallest bit of shit they can to use against him. And listen, I’ve seen prosecutors try and make a case with less, sometimes successfully, but because of the other murders he’s suspected in, I’m sure they want to exhaust every investigative lead before they rush into charging him. And if they can’t find anything else, they might still go forward. They did it in Miami with the Lynne Friend case – took them almost twenty years to seek an indictment against the husband and they didn’t even have her body. Proving murder when you don’t have a body is a lot tougher than what they have here.’
All the Little Pieces by Jilliane Hoffman / History & Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes