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Cutting room the, p.20
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       CUTTING ROOM -THE-, p.20

           Jilliane Hoffman
 

  ‘That was convincing,’ a gruff voice said behind her when she’d hung up. She cringed. So much for a sneaky exit and dealing with the fallout in six months or so …

  ‘Good morning,’ Manny said with a yawn. ‘What time is it anyway?’

  ‘Nine thirty.’

  ‘Whoops.’

  ‘Do you have to work?’ she asked.

  ‘Nah, I’m okay. I’ll make a couple of phone calls.’

  She gathered her purse and blouse and turned to face him. ‘Well, I have to get back, so I thought that maybe—’ She sighed. ‘I was gonna rent a car.’

  He sat up in bed and leaned against the headboard, a crooked smile on his face. ‘Rent a car? What? Why?’

  ‘Because of this.’

  ‘This?’

  ‘Yeah, what happened. What shouldn’t have happened.’

  ‘Says who?’

  ‘Says me. It was the alcohol, Manny.’

  He rubbed his head and smiled full-on. ‘I don’t know about that. You seemed pretty happy. I never heard a scream like that before.’

  She turned bright red, picked up her panties and headed toward the bathroom. ‘It was a mistake.’

  He grabbed his cell phone from the nightstand. ‘Damn. Seven new texts. Hasn’t everyone figured out I don’t do texts? Shit … and this looks important, too.’

  She walked over to his side and picked the cell out of his hands. ‘It’s simple. Hit this button and read them. Don’t be so damn old. When you want to reply, hit the reply button, type a message and hit send. It’s not rocket science.’

  ‘Thanks,’ he said when she headed back to the bathroom. ‘I just wanted to watch you walk over to me wearing nothing but my shirt. I know how to text. I don’t do it, is all. My fingers are too big and those damn buttons are too small.’

  She stared at him.

  ‘Listen, I think mistakes happen for a reason, Counselor. I like you. I think you like me. Why don’t we just see where this goes? Stop trying to control everything, including what you should or shouldn’t be feeling, and relax.’

  ‘Don’t tell me what I should or shouldn’t try to control,’ she snapped in a hoarse voice. ‘You don’t know what I’m thinking here.’

  ‘I can see the wheels spinning in your pretty, red head. “He’s not my type. He’s my lead on this. He’s older than me. I’m so short and he’s so handsome. We argue a lot.” Driving next to me for three hundred miles in your own rental car seems a little extreme, though. I don’t bite.’

  He was right. Now that he was awake and talking to her, running away in front of him sounded stupid.

  ‘You do, though,’ he continued with a sly smile. His hand touched his throat. ‘I think I have a hickey.’

  Her face lit up once again and she turned away. ‘I’m so embarrassed.’

  ‘I’ve seen your body. There is absolutely nothing to be embarrassed about. If I had a body like yours, I’d walk around naked all the time.’

  ‘Now I’m even more embarrassed. This is not me, Manny. I would never do something like this.’

  ‘Okay. It’s not you. You’re a good girl, if it makes you feel any better to hear that. You were a virgin until a couple of hours ago, if that’s what you’re saying. Whatever. But you have today off and I have today off and we’re both sober now. Hungover, maybe, but sober. And I still like you. A lot. A real lot. I have since I met you. Even when you’re mean and grumpy, I still like you. And we’re in a hotel room, coincidentally. And you’re practically naked …’

  She looked around the room. ‘Absolutely not. This isn’t going to work between us, Manny. Jesus, I have to get back. I have to. I have court to prepare for, cases that need my attention. Attorneys I’m supposed to be supervising. I can’t be having sex in a cheap motel room with my lead detective! What the hell is fucking wrong with me?’ she yelled.

  He held his hands up. ‘Okay, okay. Don’t flip out on me, Counselor. I’ll drive you home and that’ll be that. I won’t see you different and we’ll pretend this didn’t happen and you don’t have to worry about how to ditch me in the courthouse when you see me coming. Is that what you want?’

  She said nothing and stared at a spot on the floor.

  ‘Let me get dressed. We’ll hit a Mickey D’s for coffee and be on our merry, or not-so-merry, way.’ He sighed heavily. ‘I guess I’ll be needing my shirt back. That just sucks.’

  She closed her eyes. What was happening to her? Who was this girl? She slipped the shirt off her shoulders and stood before him.

  ‘That’s mean … doing that to me,’ he said softly.

  She dropped the shirt on the floor and opened her eyes. He was staring at her. She grabbed the Days Inn cup off the nightstand and took a swig of tequila.

  ‘I don’t know what I’m doing or why I’m doing it,’ she said. ‘I don’t know anything this morning. But, well, if you want your shirt back, you’re going to have to come here and get it, Detective. And you better hurry up before I change my mind …’

  29

  Life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans.

  Quasi-religious bumper stickers covered the back of the beat-up mini-van in front of Daria. She was tailgating to read them all.

  Jesus is coming. Look busy.

  WTFWJD?

  I plan, God laughs.

  The last one got her thinking. Wasn’t that the truth? For the past however many years she’d been dating, searching for her Mr Right, or at least her Mr Okay, I Can Probably Fix You — and nothing. Internet dating, real-life dating, social clubs, nightclubs, bars, coffee shops, friend fix-ups, work hook-ups. Weekend after weekend, happy hour after happy hour, blind date after blind date, she’d put herself out there only to be continuously disappointed. Ever since college it was as if a drought had hit the dating pool. With each passing year the water level continued to fall. The good fish had long been caught and tagged. The only thing she was catching lately were the throwbacks — the bottom feeders and slimy eels nobody wanted to begin with. The computer tech with the wandering eye who still lived with his mother. The former ballplayer with not one but two ‘crazy’ baby mamas. The swim coach who consistently forgot his wallet when they went out to dinner. She could only hope that down there, somewhere in the blackness, were left one or two good catches. Maybe even a throwback who didn’t measure up for someone else’s dinner plate, but would work out fine on hers. That romantic sort of nonsensical thinking was what kept her casting her rod. But at almost thirty it’d gotten to the point that the only relationship Daria wanted to be in was the one she had with work. If she had to choose between staying late on a Friday and happy hour, she always picked the office. Because with that relationship she knew that, if she put the time in, it would eventually pay off.

  Daria didn’t think she was being difficult in her demands for a soul mate. In fact, she always thought she knew exactly what she wanted in a guy and what would make her happy — down to what he would do for a living, what he’d look like, and what he’d sound like. Mr Right was made easier to envision when she checked off the boxes on her eHarmony application. As she got older, more self-assured, and less patient, she’d narrowed her tastes down further, not wanting to waste precious time on someone who was obviously — even without all the bullshit that people put on their online descriptions — not her type. She wasn’t being picky; she was being honest. She deserved someone who could make her happy. And she, of all people, knew what made her happy and what didn’t.

  It turned out, maybe not so much.

  It turned out maybe being alone all this time was her own stupid fault. That perhaps she’d gotten it wrong. That her list was flawed because she’d checked off all the wrong boxes. Blond? Yes. European? Yes. Financier? Yes. Doctor? Yes. Cop? Never. Snorer? No way! Divorced? Next, please. Manny Alvarez would never have made it on her list — even his zip code didn’t fit. He was too tall, too bald, too hairy, too loud, too funny, too old, too ethnic. Not only did he work in law enforcement — a general no-no
with limited exceptions — he was a homicide detective, a notoriously dark and twisted breed, complete with a warped sense of humor and a distorted perception of reality. He’d been married several times before, which meant he was a throwback who other women found difficult to deal with, and he was always late. If it hadn’t been for a bottle of Patron and a great Irish rock band, this relationship she found herself in would never have come to be.

  But weeks later, that was what they were still in — a relationship. Neither had declared it. Neither had denied it. It just was. They no longer bothered to preface the first few minutes of their conversations with work-speak. They had dinner together most nights — pizza, burgers, Thai. Steak and lobster. She knew about his crazy Cuban family; he knew about her whacked, abusive mother, overprotective brothers and sick dad. She called him and he, on occasion, texted back. She was surprised that they never ran out of things to say. And the sex … well, that was mind-blowing. Daria had been with men before who were younger, better-looking. Sculpted, confident, well-endowed guys who had to fight off the women. Forget that dating someone with those kind of looks could make even the most self-assured woman insecure and jealous — the raw truth was, none of them compared with her Cuban teddy bear in the sack. How crazy was that?

  Daria knew she was falling for him, which bothered her. A lot. One of the things she should be able to control in this world was having romantic feelings for someone who, on paper at least, she should be completely incompatible with. Yet here she was, heading home after a crazy day at the office, disappointed he hadn’t called before she left, anxious to know the reason why, wondering like a teenager when she was going to see him again. It was completely bizarre. Her workaholic self didn’t want to work so late at night anymore, or on the weekends. She was betraying that relationship. Weaning herself off it to be with him.

  So here she was, sitting in traffic behind a mini-van owned by a religious nut with a sense of humor playing junior psychiatrist and trying to analyze herself.

  Maybe it was the taboo of dating Manny that excited her — dating against type, a clandestine work relationship that no one could know about. Oooh … that was the plot of many a bad bodice-ripper she’d read over the years. Maybe she was craving some drama herself, a pre-middle age crisis. A say-goodbye-to-my-free-loving-twenties-’cause-oh-shit-now-I’m-thirty-and-everything-matters-and-my-mother-keeps-reminding-me-my-clock-is-ticking crisis. So far she’d successfully managed to keep their affair under wraps. She’d sworn Manny to secrecy, and even Lizette — who was first to know everything in the office — hadn’t quizzed her about why she was spending so much time with her lead. Maybe it was clandestine because no one would ever suspect her and Manny as a couple. Of course one day, if it kept up, people would eventually find out. That was equally troubling. What then? Would the drama be gone? She liked to think she didn’t give a shit about what people thought, but what would people think? Would their incompatibility be as glaringly obvious to others as their height difference? And why did that possibly bother her? Would she be proud to be with him? Or was her anxiety an omen?

  She pulled a hand through her hair and blew out a measured breath. And of course there was Talbot Lunders to consider. While relationships between prosecutors and cops weren’t forbidden by office policy or even necessarily by ethical constraints — theirs would certainly raise eyebrows. It would appear improper. The irony wasn’t lost on her that she herself had questioned the relationship between C.J. Townsend and Dominick Falconetti, C.J.’s lead detective on the Cupid case. It was even more ironic that it had been that very same night that she’d ended up in bed with Manny.

  She looked at the cute guy in the convertible next to her, smoking a cigarette and chatting on his cell. He smiled at her. She looked away.

  On the seat beside her, her purse buzzed to life. Al Pacino, a.k.a. Tony Montana, started yelling Scarface lines at her in a thick Cuban accent.

  It was him. The Cuban Teddy Bear. She exhaled.

  ‘Where you at?’ he asked when she picked up. ‘I’m downstairs looking for your car, and you’re nowhere to be found. What do ya think, you work for the government, you can just go home at, what? Seven at night? Jesus, is it really seven?’

  She smiled. ‘Stalker. I’m on I95 heading home. When you didn’t pick up I figured you were working or something.’ Or something. She wasn’t about to get into all the ‘or somethings’ her mind had wondered he was doing. The prickle of anxiety she’d felt thinking about them had made her mad at herself. The BS dating rules and mind games were now in full force. The switch had been flipped. The control freak in her was to the fore. Think three steps ahead. Don’t you dare let him think you’re jealous. Or that you care. This is a stupid, dumb fling, that’s all this is, right? It makes no sense. You’re acting out, Daria, that’s all.

  ‘I was. Damn dead bodies,’ Manny said. ‘They have no respect for anyone’s schedule. I got called out at four this morning. Gangbang in Liberty City. It’s been a day, I’ll tell ya,’ he finished with a yawn.

  ‘You sound tired.’

  ‘Not so much.’

  ‘We can talk tomorrow. No big deal.’

  ‘You called before?’ he asked. ‘I never got it. I was locked in a warehouse. A/C wasn’t working, neither. Damn, they stunk.’

  ‘They?’

  ‘It was a triple. No matter. Each of ’em had a record the length of my arm. Nobody but their mommas will be missing none of ’em tonight. Maybe not even their mommas. So you called?’

  ‘Only to tell you Lunders is on for report tomorrow afternoon. No big deal,’ she repeated. Remain aloof. Detached. Don’t let him in.

  ‘Do I need to be there?’

  ‘No, it’s nothing but a status conference to see if he’s bluffing about wanting a trial in the fall.’

  ‘Is he?’

  ‘I’ll find out tomorrow.’

  ‘Are you hungry?’ he asked.

  ‘You’re tired.’

  ‘Not so much.’

  ‘You probably smell like dead body.’

  ‘I got a fresh shirt in the trunk. And some Vicks, if you need it,’ he said with a laugh. Vicks VapoRub was an old cop trick. Rub a little under your nose and you couldn’t smell decomposing flesh. Homicide detectives and MEs used it all the time at smelly crime scenes and autopsies.

  ‘I’m almost home,’ she replied.

  ‘Turn around. There’s a new rib joint just opened in North Beach.’

  She was quiet for a minute. ‘Ribs, huh?’

  ‘I can take you for steak and lobster, if you want. That’s always fun. The cleaning lady came today, so my house is respectable. And Rufus misses you. He says he’s sorry about that flashy red pair of Stuart Weitzman’s. They were delicious. I’ll have to take you shoe shopping and make it up to you.’

  She smiled. ‘You sound exhausted.’

  ‘I want to see you, Counselor,’ he said quietly. ‘I do. I need to. Turn the car around.’

  ‘Okay,’ she answered.

  It’s a stupid, dumb fling. You’re acting out.

  You miss him today, but tomorrow is another day …

  She shook her head at that last thought. You miss him today. A lot. You miss him every day. There’s no reason why. There’s no planning around it. There’s no getting out of it, Daria. It is what it is.

  Although she was already at Hollywood Boulevard, a few miles from her own exit, she got off and turned around.

  Just as he had asked.

  30

  The second she saw Justice Joe’s face at the defense table, Daria knew something was up. Then his head turned red and he opened his large mouth and started bitching on high volume and she knew she was screwed.

  ‘This woman looks almost identical to Holly Skole, down to her hair color, body type. Jesus, even their underwear matches, Judge!’ he barked. Once again, the well-heeled Anne-Claire Simmons sat quietly beside him at the defense table. ‘And there are others. There’s no doubt the state’s holding back on us; t
his is Brady material and a clear discovery violation and Ms DeBianchi damn well knows it!’

  Daria stared at the wood grain that ran through the state’s podium, biting the inside of her cheeks to keep her mouth from popping open like a broken trunk. So much for a routine status report. She’d been blindsided. Joe Varlack knew about the video and apparently so much more.

  ‘And the method of torture inflicted on the female in the video is almost identical to how the state describes Holly Skole as being brutalized: household cleaners, bondage, S&M. Coincidence? I don’t think so. And neither does the state, which is why they’ve spent a lot of time investigating the murder of this other woman and developing suspects in that case. In every way these two victims match, down to the manner of their deaths.’

  ‘You seem to know an awful lot about a video you supposedly didn’t know anything about, Mr Varlack,’ Judge Becker remarked, frowning. ‘State?’

  ‘Judge, I thought this was on for report and to set a possible trial date.’ Daria tried to collect herself. ‘This is the first I am hearing from Mr Varlack of a Brady violation, so I’m not really prepared to respond. I think Counsel should file a written motion—’

  ‘Nonsense. We’re all here,’ interrupted the judge with a shake of her head.

  ‘State knows exactly what video I’m talking about. And she knows what other suspects I’m talking about, too. We also believe the state has identified additional victims of this same murderer. That changes the game quite a bit, Judge. And considering the case against Talbot is purely circumstantial, it casts even more doubt on his guilt. The defense is entitled to a copy of the video, the names of the victims who have been identified, and the names of any suspects. I find it absolutely incredible that all this time the state has been sitting on information that could very well exculpate Talbot. Incredible, unethical, outrageous! All while Talbot languishes in a jail cell, denied bond!’

  ‘State? Is there such a video?’ asked Judge Becker.

 
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