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Retribution, p.18
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       Retribution, p.18

           Jilliane Hoffman

  Dr Neilson hit the ‘B’ button, and the metal doors closed with a thud. The elevator car descended to the basement.


  Anna Prado’s body was laid out on a metal gurney, the eyes closed. Her skin, which Dominick remembered from her family picture on The Wall to be a creamy white, was now ashen gray, the light sprinkle of freckles across her nose barely visible because of the skin’s sallow pallor. Her long blond hair was fanned out underneath her head, framing her neck and shoulders. Some of the ends had fallen off the edge of the gurney, stuck together in clumps and tinged black with dried blood. She had a crisp white linen sheet pulled up to her neck, covering the mess underneath.

  ‘When you called yesterday and told me about the haloperidol that you had found at the suspect’s house, I ran some more tests, the results of which came back this morning.’ Dr Neilson stood next to the body, his hand casually touching the protruding slender fingers that hung over the edge of the gurney. Dominick noticed that the fingernails were long and unkempt. The pink polish had chipped off of most of the nails.

  ‘Haloperidol is a very, very powerful antipsychotic drug that is prescribed to manage delirium in psychotic or schizophrenic patients. The brand name it is sold under is the better-known Haldol. It’s a strong depressant. It relaxes and calms a patient, and brings auditory hallucinations or delusional episodes under control, makes even violent psychotics manageable. For extreme cases, it can be injected into any muscle mass for immediate submission. If it’s given in a high-enough dosage, it can bring about catatonia, unconsciousness, coma, and even death. Are you following where I’m going with all of this, Detectives?’ Dr Neilson’s eyes blinked rapidly several times. ‘Now – here’s the kicker on haloperidol – our standard toxicology screens that we run on every autopsy won’t pick it up. You have to go looking for haloperidol to find it.

  ‘so while it was suspected that Nicolette Torrence and Anna Prado both had some form of depressant in their system because of the weight of their lungs in the autopsies, we didn’t know what it was, or even what to look for, past the standard list of depressant narcotics, such as Valium, Darvocet, or Hydrocodone. We even initially tested for rohypnol, ketamine, and gamma hydroxybutryic acid or GHB, better known on the street as Roofies, Special K, and Liquid Ecstasy. Nothing. We couldn’t identify the narcotic in their systems.

  ‘But, after you called me yesterday, Agent Falconetti, I began to think that haloperidol would fit, it definitely would. It’s a very strong depressant. And I got pretty excited. So I ran some more tox screens and… Voilà!’ He tapped his hand against a brown clipboard that held a yellow piece of paper from the lab. ‘There she is! Haloperidol! Then I looked back at the stomach contents on Ms Prado to see if maybe I missed something. Nope. Nothing. But that doesn’t mean too much because haloperidol has a half-life of maybe six hours, so if death came within the six-hour half-life period after taking the drug, we would find levels in her tissue and blood, even if complete digestion had occurred.

  ‘so I began to run through some theories in my head. And just indulge me for a moment, Detectives, and see if this would fit into the fact pattern of your cases. The prescribed amount of the haloperidol in the bottle that you seized was twenty milligrams twice a day. That is an extremely powerful dosage, even for a large man who has developed a tolerance to it. For someone who has not, and who has a low body weight, even one twenty-milligram pill would be enough to completely incapacitate her. If your suspect administered just one pill to your victim in, say, a beverage, or sold it maybe as “X”, within fifteen minutes of ingestion, she would be demonstrating the same clumsiness, slurred speech, depressed motor skills, and slow reaction time consistent with someone under the influence of alcohol. Her thoughts would not run coherently. She could be easily subdued.

  ‘But as I was telling you before, haloperidol is also injectable. Its effects then are immediate. And they are easier to maintain with injection. In fact, for patients who are not good at taking their meds, haloperidol can be given in time-released injections. One injection can work anywhere from two to four weeks. So I went back and looked at the body for the answer.’

  Neilson held his now-captive audience at bay with a breathless, dramatic pause. Then he pulled down the white sheet from Anna Prado’s body the way a magician would a magic cape at a stage performance. Manny half expected him to yell, ‘Abracadabra!’ There was no white rabbit underneath, though. Instead, Anna Prado’s naked, violated body lay flat and still on the cold steel gurney. As if he were a used-car salesman trying to point out the model’s features, Dr Neilson rolled Anna on to her side and showed the detectives her buttocks.

  It was obvious that she had been killed while lying flat on her back, because the blood had pooled under the skin of both buttocks, and under the elbows and knee joints as well. After her heart had stopped pumping and she had died, gravity took over and settled the blood that had once coursed through her veins to the lowest points in her body at that moment. It was called lividity.

  ‘Now look at this!’ he said to Manny and Dominick, handing them a magnifying glass. A small piece of skin and tissue had been removed from the area. Next to it was a small pinprick-sized impression, otherwise invisible to the naked eye.

  ‘There were two such pinprick markings. I missed the bruising because of the lividity that had set in in the area. Plus, I wasn’t initially looking for what I found. I cut out the layers of skin that you see missing to examine the blood vessel damage in the area. Both of those pinpricks, Detectives, are consistent with markings of an injection having been given at that site. I believe an injection of haloperidol.’

  Manny wasn’t quite buying it. Now Dr Death was Quincy the Super Sleuth ME. ‘Wait a second, Doc. These women were all tortured before they died with all sorts of strange shit. Couldn’t those pricks also be from this nutcase sticking straight needles into them just for kicks? What makes you so sure now they are injection sites?’

  Dr Neilson almost looked hurt by Manny’s rejection of his hypothesis, but he quickly recovered. With a slight smirk that read I know something you don’t know, he continued, basically ignoring Manny’s question. ‘Well, Detective, after I found that, I did a little more hunting and found something even more interesting.’ He turned Anna Prado back on to her back and rolled out her right arm, away from her body. Her arms were bruised, most severely at the wrists where she had likely been tied up with a cord or strap. Dr Neilson pointed to a small, purplish mark at the inside of her elbow. ‘This is another mark, also consistent with an injection. But it is not just an injection site. This is a vein that has had an intravenous line put in it. He must have made a few attempts at it, too, because I also found two other blown veins, one on the other arm, and one on her ankle.’

  ‘An IV? What the hell?’ Dominick was confused now. ‘so you think he injected her with the Haldol and then gave her an IV of it? Why do both? That doesn’t make much sense.’ He thought about the Hillside Stranglers, two murdering cousins in California who had injected Windex and other household cleaners and substances into the women they had kidnapped, just to see what would happen when they did.

  ‘No. No, that wouldn’t make any sense at all.’ Dr Neilson was getting increasingly irritated. There was no time for this. He tapped his foot on the tile, gritted his teeth, and continued. ‘so I went looking and I ran some more tests and I found something else. Something I never would have thought of looking for before. Something that would definitely explain the use of an IV!’

  ‘What? What the hell is it?’ Manny sounded grumpy. He didn’t feel that this was either the time or place for the tension or enthusiasm of Alex Trebek and his Final Jeopardy question.

  Dr Neilson focused his attention on Dominick now. ‘I ran another tox screen and found another drug in her system,’ he said quickly. ‘Mivacurium chloride.’

  ‘Mivacurium chloride? What’s that?’ asked Dominick.

  ‘The brand name is Mivacron, and it can only be administered i
ntravenously. It’s a skeletal muscle relaxant and that’s all. Originally, it was developed as an anesthetic and muscle relaxant for use during surgery. But then it was quickly discovered after a trial run on some patients in Africa that while it indeed was an effective muscle relaxant, it unfortunately had no anesthetic or analgesic effect. This problem, though, was not realized until after the surgery and after the muscle relaxant effects had worn off and the patients were actually able to speak again. Those who lived through the surgery, anyway. Because that was when the patients told them that they had indeed felt pain during the operation. The entire time.’

  ‘But they just couldn’t say anything…’ Dominick’s voice trailed off as he began to understand the enormity of the conversation he was having.

  ‘That is correct. Their tongues and facial muscles were paralyzed, and they could not speak.’ He waited a few moments for them to fully absorb the information he had just given them. From the looks on their faces, they did. Finally, he had stunned both Starsky and Hutch. Then he said rather brightly, ‘I must say, what an ingenious sadist you have captured!’

  ‘How much did you find in her, can you tell?’

  ‘I can’t give you an amount. On the haloperidol, she had some pretty decent levels. I think he was maintaining her on that to keep her subdued for a while before her death. On the mivacurium chloride – enough to have paralyzed her completely, I suppose. But remember, Mivacron has no effect on consciousness, so she would have been awake, but unable to move. It is a very short-acting drug, and doesn’t last long, which is why it must be administered intravenously and has a very short half-life after death, so she probably expired while she was still hooked up to the IV line. That explains why the bruise is so fresh. It happened right before death.’

  ‘So this psycho – and he really is a psycho, I guess, being on this haloperidol –’ Dominick began, anger cutting his words. Anger at the whole incredible sick picture that was starting to form now in his head. As if the death of this young woman wasn’t tragic enough. Or violent enough. Look, folks, there’s more to come! Stay tuned! He stopped his thought in midsentence to ask, ‘What does that mean, anyway, Dr Neilson? Was he a schizo, or a manic-depressive, or a psychopath? What does that mean, the fact that he was prescribed this Haldol?’

  ‘I’m not a psychiatrist, Agent Falconetti. I can’t give you a diagnosis off the cuff. Haloperidol is prescribed for several different psychiatric conditions.’

  ‘Oh shit. Here comes the NGI,’ said Manny. NGI stood for Not Guilty by Reason of Insanity. A plea of insanity was a virtual shoo-in for a defendant with a proven history of mental illness, particularly if it involved paranoid schizophrenia or manic depression or previously substantiated psychotic breaks. If it could then be shown that a defendant was so demented as to not understand the nature or consequences of his actions or discern right from wrong, then the State Attorney could stipulate to the court that he was NGI or a jury could find him NGI. No one wanted that. Skip the Go Directly to Jail card and head for the local feel-good looney bin instead. There was no minimum sentence. He could not be locked up necessarily for life. If he regained his sanity, he could be released. It was as simple as that. With a little luck and enough money to buy a few favorable psych exams, one just might be able to buy oneself a ticket back home to suburbia in ten years or so.

  Dominick began to play out in his mind the final minutes of poor Anna Prado’s short, pretty life. He remembered how her blue eyes stared out at him from the trunk, the terror that they had witnessed in their final moments forever caught in those eyes. Now it was he, not just Manny, who felt sick to his stomach. He stammered for a moment, trying to collect his thoughts, to comprehend the incomprehensible, slowly vocalizing the scenario that played now like a scene from a horror movie in his head.

  ‘So this psycho gives this girl the Haldol that was originally prescribed for him. It knocks her into a catatonic sort of stupor and he then just ushers her right out the door of Level. Right under the noses of a hundred witnesses, half of whom are probably either coked out or drunk themselves and wouldn’t notice if their own date was a serial killer. Once he gets her out of there, he keeps her stashed somewhere in la-la land for a while, hooked on that crap through injections or pills, while he just fucks with her. And after he’s had his fun for a few days or maybe even a few weeks, and played his games and probably raped her sixteen different ways from Sunday, he lets her wake up and come around again for the grand finale. Then he hooks her up to an IV and gives her a good dose of a drug that completely paralyzes every muscle in her body, but it unfortunately doesn’t render her unconscious and she can still feel the excruciating pain while he slices her chest open with a scalpel blade, cracks her sternum, and cuts out her heart. Goddamn it. This one sounds even worse than Bundy or Rolling.’

  Dr Neilson piped up again. Fortunately his voice no longer had the same bubbly enthusiasm it did five minutes earlier, or else even Dominick would have hit him, or at least held him down for Manny. ‘I also found evidence of an adhesive residue on her eyelids, and many of the eyelashes were stripped from both of her lids.’

  ‘What does that mean?’

  ‘I believe he taped her eyelids open as well.’

  ‘So he made her watch him while he did it? While he tore her heart out? Jesus-fucking-Christ.’ Dominick shook his head, trying to force that very last image out of his head. ‘It’s a good thing we nailed this guy, Bear.’

  Manny looked down at Anna Prado’s naked, broken body. She was someone’s daughter, someone’s sister, someone’s girlfriend. A girl who was once pretty enough to have been a professional model. Now, industrial-strength black thread held the skin on her chest back together from her navel to her neck and then under her breasts, forming a zigzag black cross, and covering the hole where her heart had been.

  ‘I hate the fucking ME’s office’ was all Manny could manage to say.


  134–05 Dahlia Street, Apt. 13, Flushing, Queens County, New York.

  There it was in black and white. Right there in front of her on the AutoTrack that Dominick had given her last night. William Rupert Bantling’s address as it appeared on his New York State driver’s license from April of 1987 to April of 1989. A bus ride away from St John’s, a ten-minute car ride down Northern Boulevard to her apartment on Rocky Hill Road, and exactly one block away from the Bally’s on Main Street and 135 th where she used to work out.

  C.J. leaned back in her chair and exhaled a deep breath. Even though she had known deep down in her gut that it was Bantling from the moment she heard his sick voice in the courtroom, she now felt a strange sense of both relief and validation at having been right. To know she wasn’t going crazy again. That the voice was real and she wasn’t acting paranoid. The connection she had found was more than just coincidence; it was corroboration in black-and-white print.

  He had lived just a few miles from her house, just one block from her gym. She remembered his words to her that night, his snicker of delight as he whispered them in her ear.

  I’ll always be watching you, Chloe. Always. You can’t get away from me, ‘cause I’ll always find you.

  And he had said that because, she realized, he physically could watch her. Probably at the gym. Maybe on the subway. Maybe at the Peking House, her favorite Chinese restaurant in Flushing, or Tony’s, her favorite pizza place on Bell Boulevard in Bayside. It could have been anywhere, because he was there, just down the road, the whole time. Her mind raced back in time twelve years to remember the face she now knew – somewhere, anywhere, in her life, but she still drew a blank.

  A loud thud and jingle sounded at the door, and before she could say ‘Come in’, the door was flung open and Marisol appeared in the doorway. The jingle was from the seventeen gold bracelets that she wore on her wrist.

  ‘You wanted to see me?’ she asked.

  ‘Yes. I want to go over the prefiles that need to be scheduled all of next week on the Cupid case.’ She handed her Bantl
ing’s pink arrest form. Next to each of the officer’s names, she had noted a date and time for their prefiles. She had scheduled Dominick toward the end of the week, even though he was the lead investigator on the case and would normally go first. She had made yet another decision today since her session with Dr Chambers. The first was to go forward on this case to the best of her ability and prepare it for prosecution, one step at a time. And the other was that this was not the time in her life for a relationship with anyone, especially the lead agent on a high-profile case with a defendant who was much more than just a defendant. She needed to get some distance back between them, retreat to professional ground only. No matter what her feelings were for Dominick, no matter what they could be for him, there were too many secrets that could never be shared. And a relationship based on deception and lies is just like a house of cards in the end. Eventually it all comes tumbling down.

  We’re running on a tight time crunch, Marisol, and we’ve got a lot of witnesses.’ She figured she would try the team approach. ‘We’ve got to take this before the grand jury in two weeks. I’ve noted the dates and preferred times for each officer. Set me up for forty-five minutes with each officer, and three hours with Alvarez and Falconetti.’

  Marisol reached for the arrest form. ‘Okay. I’ll set them up. You need anything else? It’s almost four-thirty.’

  That’s right. The fleeing hour. C.J. had almost forgotten. Come hell or high water, Marisol did not work past 4:30.

  ‘Yes. I have a ton of research to do for the next couple of days. In fact, I’ll probably be here pretty late tonight doing it. I need you to reset tomorrow morning’s next-of-kin meeting on the Wilkerson case, and the pretrial conference with Detectives Muñoz and Hogan on the Valdon case in the afternoon. We still have two weeks on Valdon before trial. Reset them to next Friday. Oh, and I would really appreciate it if for the next few days, unless it’s the State Attorney himself or the building is on fire, you could just take messages from anyone who calls.’ She smiled, wondering if she could actually get Marisol to laugh.

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