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Retribution, p.19
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       Retribution, p.19

           Jilliane Hoffman
 

  Apparently not. ‘Fine’ was all Marisol said before plugging back down the hall to her desk, all the while mumbling Spanish curse words that C.J. could hear even through the door that Marisol had closed behind her with a very loud thud. Of course, C.J. doubted that Marisol would bother to tell her if there really was a fire in the building, such was the price of their rocky relationship, but as far as she knew the smoke alarms worked and it was only a two-floor jump anyway. So much for the team approach.

  She sat alone now in her office, in her fake burgundy leather chair, and stared out the window, across the street to the courthouse and the Dade County Jail, or DCJ as it was known, where right now her rapist was being held without bond, a prisoner of the State of Florida, a guest of the Department of Corrections. She sipped on her cold coffee and watched as prosecutors returned from court for the day, some with files in their hands, others dragging boxes behind them, pulled on collapsible dollies. After her session with Dr Chambers today, the thick, blinding fog that had enveloped her thoughts for the past forty-eight hours had begun to clear, and things were again making sense, coming back into perspective. She felt a purpose now, a direction to follow, even if it later proved to be the wrong way.

  Although she knew that it was probably fruitless, she called the Cold Case Squad again in New York, to see if the impossible had happened. She was not surprised to find out from the squad secretary that DNA indictments were considered experimental and, to date, had only been done so far in five cases in that squad. C.J.’s case number was not one of the five. And so it was final – prosecuting Bantling in New York would not be an option.

  What she needed was answers. Answers to the many questions that had gnawed at her on the Cupid case for the past year. Answers to the questions that she had asked herself over and over again for the past twelve years about her own assault. She felt a compulsion, an overwhelming need, to know everything and anything there was to know about this stranger, this monster, Bill Bantling. Who was he? Where was he from? Was he married? Did he have children? Family? Friends? Where had he lived? What did he do for a living? How had he known his victims? Where had he met them? How had he chosen them?

  How had he known Chloe Larson? How had he chosen her?

  When had he become a rapist? When had he become a killer? Were there more victims? Victims that they perhaps did not know about?

  Were there more victims just like her?

  And then there were the whys. Why did he hate women? Why did he butcher them, torture them? Why did he take their hearts? Why did he kill? Why had he chosen them?

  Why had he chosen her? Why had he left her alive?

  More than a dozen years and a thousand miles separated her rape and the Cupid murders, yet she found it difficult now to distinguish the questions that needed to be asked. The lines had suddenly become blurred, the questions inextricably intertwined, the answers they demanded the same.

  Where had Bantling been hiding for the past twelve years? Where had he played out his sick, disturbed fantasies? She knew from her own experience as a prosecutor of serial rapists and pedophiles, and from the countless seminars and conferences that she had attended over the years, that violent sex offenders don’t just happen. Nor do they just stop. Rather, their crimes usually represent the gradual escalation and ultimate realization of their own distorted sexual fantasies. Sometimes those fantasies will take weeks, months, even years to develop in the mind before they are acted upon, and for all outside appearances, the offender will be a regular Joe Good Guy, the best neighbor, the best coworker, the best husband, the best dad. It is only inside his head, where no one can see in, that the hideous, corrosive thoughts boil and bubble, finally overflowing in his brain, like lava, consuming all in its path, until the fantasy is realized. A ‘harmless’ Peeping Tom becomes a burglar. A burglar becomes a rapist. A rapist graduates to murder. It is just a matter of taking the next step in the fantasy. And with every crime he commits without detection, the offender becomes more and more brazen, the once-forbidden boundaries disappear, and the next step becomes that much easier to take. And serial rapists do not stop until they are stopped. That means jail, a physical disability that actually prevents them from committing the crime, or death.

  Bantling fit the classic profile of a serial rapist. He was also a sadist, a person who derives pleasure by inflicting cruelty and pain on others. She thought back again to that stormy June night twelve years in the past, remembering the minutes that passed like hours. He had planned it all perfectly, from beginning to end, even bringing along his ‘bag of tricks’ to live out the fantasy. Raping her had not been enough. He had needed to torture her, demean her, violate her in every way possible. Her agony had set him on fire, sexually aroused him. And yet, the most powerful weapon that he had used lay not in his bag, or in the jagged knife he wielded, but rather in the very detailed information that he had possessed about her. The intimate, personal facts about her, her family, her relationships, her career – from her nickname to her favorite shampoo – that he wielded like a sword, cutting away her trust in others, shattering her confidence in a future. Chloe Larson had not been selected at random that night. She had been chosen. She had been hunted.

  So if Bantling was, in fact, a serial rapist who had since escalated to serial murder, as she believed was the case, where, then, were his other victims for the past eleven years before the Cupid abductions began in April of 1999?

  Her newest neighbor across the street had lived a lot of places: New York, Los Angeles, San Diego, Chicago, Miami. She had scoured the criminal histories from every state that he had ever lived in, but there was nothing, not even as much as a traffic ticket.

  On paper, Bantling appeared a model citizen. Could it be that he had lain dormant for more than a decade, bottling his anger and his fantasies deep inside, finally exploding with a merciless and savage fury as Cupid? She doubted it. The careful, meticulous planning of her assault probably meant that she was not his first victim, and his brutality with her demonstrated little self-control. He would have had difficulty controlling his fantasies, his anger, for the few months it probably took for him to stalk his next victim, and there would be no way he could have controlled himself for a decade. C.J. was not even sure if she herself was supposed to have been a murder victim, but instead had survived. Or had he left her alive on purpose?

  She knew that the task force would be ripping Bantling’s life apart, piece by piece, looking for answers as well. They, too, already had a history from every state and local jurisdiction that Bantling had ever lived in. In a matter of days, detectives would be sent all over the country to interview ex-neighbors and ex-bosses and ex-girlfriends, with the hopes of finding that Bantling had been an ax murderer in California before becoming a scalpel-wielding psycho on South Beach. His name and a description of the Cupid murders had already been run through the FBI VICAP database and Interpol, the International Police Agency, to see if any similar unsolved crimes had occurred in any other jurisdiction or country. Perhaps a sudden rash of young women disappearing in the cities that Bantling had visited on business? But there was nothing. Of course, though, the task force would be looking for a murderer.

  Using Westlaw, the on-line legal research company subscribed to by the State Attorney’s Office, she began her search for answers. She started with a search of old newspapers in the cities where Bantling had lived since 1988, beginning with L.A., where he had spent the majority of his time, living at two different residences in the city from 1990 through 1994. She began with the Los Angeles Times, first entering search terms for that period fitting the Cupid murders: blond, women, disappeared, dismembered, mutilated, murdered, attacked, knife, tortured. Twenty different words in twenty different combinations. She even asked the Westlaw service representative on the phone for help on how to best word the search, but there still was nothing. A few missing and murdered prostitutes, as well as several unrelated domestic incidents, and a few runaway teenagers, but nothing like Cupid. There we
re no missing coeds or models that looked to be related, no unsolved ritualistic murders, no severed hearts. She ran the same search in the Chicago Tribune, the San Diego Times, the New York Times, the Daily News, and the New York Post, but, again, there was nothing. Then she tried a new search, once again in the Los Angeles Times. But this one had only five search words: women, raped, knife, clown, mask.

  Three articles came up.

  In January of 1991, a female college student at the University of California at Los Angeles awoke at 3:00 A.M. in her off-campus apartment to a stranger in a rubber clown face standing over her bed. She was brutally raped, tortured, and beaten for several hours. The rapist was not identified and escaped through her first-floor window.

  In July of 1993, a female bartender who had just gotten off her shift at 1:00 A.M. was surprised in her Hollywood apartment by an unidentified man in a latex clown mask. She, too, was brutally raped. She also sustained several knife wounds from her attacker, but was expected to recover, according to the article. Her assailant was not caught.

  In December of 1993, a college student in Santa Barbara was found in her first-floor apartment, the victim of a heinous rape and assault by an unidentified man who had broken in through a window in the middle of the night. The perpetrator had worn a rubber clown mask. He had not been identified or captured. There were no suspects.

  Three articles. Three assailants with a rubber clown mask. The same MO for all: ground-floor apartments, masked strangers, brutal rapes. It was the same rapist. She expanded her search criteria and found another case farther up the coast in San Luis Obispo with the same MO, but this rapist wore a rubber alien face mask.

  Four victims. And she had just started to look. They had happened three years and four counties apart in probably three different police jurisdictions, and so no one had made the connection. She continued to search the Times, but found nothing that linked the cases together. Only one small two-paragraph blurb appeared as a follow-up on the female bartender from Hollywood. It ran about four days after her rape and reported that the unidentified woman had been discharged from the hospital and was recuperating with relatives. It also said that, although the police were still investigating, there had been no arrests made yet and no suspects had been identified. The public was urged to call the LAPD with any information. The Times had not bothered doing follow-up articles on the other three victims.

  She ran the same search in the other cities Bantling had lived in before arriving in 1994 in Miami. She found a rape with the same MO by an assailant wearing an alien mask in Chicago in September of 1989, and another with a clown mask in San Diego in early 1990. Now there were six. And those were the ones that had been reported. But was it Bantling, or merely coincidence? She MapQuested Bantling’s old addresses in Chicago and San Diego that appeared in his AutoTrack with the addresses of the rape victims in the two articles. He had lived no more than ten miles from each. She held her breath and checked the South Florida papers since 1994: the Miami Herald, the Sun Sentinel, the Key West Citizen, and the Palm Beach Post, but there was nothing.

  She flipped through Bantling’s passport, which had been surrendered to the court. Brazil, Venezuela, Argentina, Mexico, the Philippines, India, Malaysia. Bantling had traveled extensively throughout the world on business with Tommy Tan and before that, Indo Expressions, another upscale furniture design house out in California. Business trips that lasted anywhere from two weeks to a month at a time. The furniture-manufacturing plants and galleries that Bantling had visited, according to the list provided to her office by Tommy Tan, seemed to be located in poor towns on the outskirts of big cities where it was easy to remain anonymous. He had made repeat visits to many of the cities. Could he have victims overseas?

  C.J. flipped through her Rolodex and found the number for Investigator Christine Frederick with Interpol Headquarters in Lyons, France. Christine and she had worked together a few years back on a murder suspect who had killed his whole family with a shotgun in a hotel room on South Beach. He had fled to the mountains of Germany where Interpol and the German police found him eating schnitzel in Munich, and Christine had helped with the extradition back to the States. They had struck up a friendship in the months that it took to finally get the guy back to Miami. It had been a long while since they had spoken.

  On the first ring she got Christine’s voice mail. In French, German, Spanish, Italian, and, fortunately, English. C.J. looked down at her watch. It was already 10:30 at night. She had totally lost track of time. With the time difference between them, it was barely sunrise in Lyons. She left only her name and number and hoped Christine would remember her.

  It was dark out, the sun having set behind the Everglades hours ago, and her office was lit only by the banker’s desk lamp with the pull-chain cord that her father had given her. The bright office fluorescents made her eyes hurt after a while, and she liked the intimacy and coziness of her desk lamp. The halls outside her closed office door were black and long since deserted. She would have to call security in the lobby downstairs to have them escort her to her car.

  She turned once again to her office window and DCJ across the street, where lights burned on every floor in the building. Strange, desperate people milled about just outside the chain-link fence topped with razor wire, waiting for their boyfriend or their girlfriend or their pimp or their business associate or their mother to get booked in, or get released. Cop cars flanked the building, bringing in new criminals to replace the ones who could post bond. And in that dirty gray building of steel doors and iron-mesh windows, behind the razor wire, in the custody of the Department of Corrections, sat William Rupert Bantling. The man she had been running from, hiding from, for the past twelve years was now directly across the street from her, no less than fifty yards away. If he was near a window, he could be watching her at this very moment, just as he had promised her he always would. The thought made her shudder, and her skin went cold.

  She turned her attention back to her desk to pack up her briefcase and head home. The light from her computer screen glowed brightly in the otherwise-dim office. On the screen was the last newspaper article that Westlaw had pulled up in her search. The state searched was New York. The paper was the New York Post. She stared at the words, but it was not necessary for her to read them. The date read June 30, 1988. And although the twenty-four-year-old rape victim’s identity was not being disclosed by the paper, it made no difference. C.J. knew who she was.

  She quickly pulled the chain on the banker’s lamp and turned off the computer. Then she put her head in her hands, and in the darkness where no one could see in, she started to cry.

  35

  By ten minutes of eight on Friday morning, she was back at her desk once more. Sleep had again been fitful and completely unproductive, filled with screaming, familiar nightmares. So at 5:00 A.M., she had finally stopped staring at the red numbers on her clock and had gotten out of bed and gone to the gym, before heading back down I-9 5 into work.

  In addition to the two messages on her office voice mail that Dominick had left for her yesterday, she had another one waiting for her last night on her answering machine at home. He wanted to know why she hadn’t shown up at the ME’s yesterday, and if everything was alright with her. Apparently, they also had some new developments in the case after speaking with Dr Neilson, and he had asked her to call him when she got in.

  It was so strange. Here it was, after so many years, that she had finally met someone who could be special in her life. Whom she could talk to, relate with, maybe even eventually allow into her cubbyhole life. When she talked to Dominick, the words came easily. There were no strained gaps of silence. No fluffy conversation. It was all real, every word she had shared with him in every conversation they had had, even when the subject matter was inconsequential. And it sounded silly – juvenile, perhaps – but she felt this anxious excitement just listening to him when he talked, wondering what he would say, what he would tell her. Each word, each fact, just another p
iece of the big zillion-piece puzzle to finding out who this man was, what he was thinking, what he was about.

  She had never been physically attracted to cops. For the most part she found that too many of them were controlling, on their own personal power trips, such was the nature of their work. And C.J. was not one to be controlled. So it struck her as almost odd how different Dominick was from other cops. He was strong, but not in an overpowering way, and he was in control of every situation without being controlling. He headed a task force that under someone else’s command could be full of egos, but under his they were a unified front – even with all the lights and cameras on them for the past year. She also noticed that Dominick listened before he spoke – another trait that was not too common in cops, or many men for that matter. Over the past ten months she found that they actually had a lot to say to each other outside of defendants and pretrial conferences. And, if they had been given the chance, they could have explored all the things they had discovered that they had in common – biking, traveling, the arts.

  She hadn’t wanted to know that much before with any man, not even Michael. With Dominick, she realized that she had almost craved that knowledge. And now that he had shown his feelings for her the other night, she thought that maybe he felt the same way about her. That perhaps he wanted to know every drop of her as she did him. And she just might have let him in, too. That’s what was so hard. To sacrifice all those intense feelings and emotions before experiencing their full potential, always left to wonder what could have been. Because she just might have let him into her heart, and now that was impossible. He had become another victim in the game.

 
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