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Retribution, p.23
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       Retribution, p.23

           Jilliane Hoffman
 

  ‘That all being said, a vehicle may also be stopped for any traffic violation that the driver has committed in the officer’s presence, such as excessive speed or an illegal turn, or for any mechanical infraction that the officer sees, such as a broken headlight or taillight or blinker.

  ‘Officer Chavez has informed me that on September nineteenth at approximately eight-fifteen P.M. he was in his marked patrol unit on Washington and Sixth in South Beach. That at that time he saw a late-model black Jaguar XJ8, license plate TTR-L57 proceeding southbound on Washington toward the MacArthur Causeway with a blond white male thirty-five to forty-five years of age in the driver’s seat. The car passed him at a speed he approximated to be higher than thirty-five miles per hour in a posted twenty-five miles per hour zone. Officer Chavez proceeded down Sixth Street to Collins and then back west up Fifth Street and on to the MacArthur Causeway, heading westbound. He again spotted the black Jaguar XJ8 with the license plate, TTR-L57 and the same white male in the driver’s seat. He stayed behind the vehicle for approximately two miles on the causeway, at which time he also noticed that the Jaguar had a broken taillight and he observed the vehicle do an illegal lane change without signaling. At that point, Officer Chavez decided to conduct a traffic stop. He activated his lights and siren and pulled the vehicle over.

  ‘He asked the driver, subsequently identified as William Rupert Bantling, for his license and registration. Mr Bantling appeared nervous and jittery. His hands shook as he handed the license to Officer Chavez, and he failed to maintain eye contact. On his way back to his patrol car, Officer Chavez stopped to look more closely at the broken taillight. At that time he observed a substance on the bumper of the vehicle that looked like blood. He returned to the vehicle to give Mr Bantling back his license and registration, at which time Officer Chavez also thought he detected an odor of marijuana in the vehicle. He asked Mr Bantling for permission to search the vehicle and was denied. Based on the totality of the circumstances, the substance on the bumper, the smell of marijuana, and Mr Bantling’s actions, Officer Chavez suspected that the vehicle contained contraband and so called for a K-9 unit to respond. Beauchamp with the Beach responded and his dog, Butch, alerted on the trunk of the vehicle. The alert gave the officers the necessary probable cause to search the trunk, at which time they discovered the body of Anna Prado.’

  She looked at the two men for a long moment now. ‘Is that what happened, Officer Chavez? Did I understand you correctly?’

  ‘Yes, ma’am. You did. That was exactly what happened.’

  She looked at Ribero. ‘Is that how the incident was reported to you, Sergeant?’

  ‘Exactly.’

  ‘Very well. Why don’t you finish up your coffee with Officer Lindeman, Sergeant Ribero, and then I guess I’ll see him for his prefile at twelve o’clock.’

  Ribero stood to leave. ‘Thanks so much for your help on this, Ms Townsend. We’ll see you, I’m sure, for the depos.’ He nodded grimly at C.J. and then threw a glare in the direction of Chavez. ‘Let’s go, Chavez.’

  The door closed behind them and that was it. The deal was done. The secret pact had been made with the devil, and there would be no turning back for any of them.

  41

  For the first time in her career, C.J. had compromised herself on a case. It was for the greater good, she had told herself. The small sacrifice of her professional integrity for the greater good. To put away a monster, to slay the dragons, even the good guys sometimes had to play dirty.

  The stop was bad – there was no way around it. Legally, there was no probable cause to support it, and so the search was bad as well. She just wished that Chavez had been a better liar so that she wouldn’t have to know what it was she now knew. So she wouldn’t have to play the part that she was now forced to play.

  Without the search, there was no body. Without the body, there was no case. If Chavez didn’t clean up his story, Bantling would walk. It was as simple and horrible as that. No matter what evidence the police had found at his house that had connected him to the murders, everything would be thrown out, because without the illegal stop and search, the police would never even have known William Rupert Bantling existed. They would not have searched his house. They would not have found the Haldol, the blood, the probable murder weapon, the sadistic porno tapes. Such was the way the law read.

  The phone rang at her desk, pulling her out of the fog.

  ‘C.J. Townsend.’

  ‘C.J.? It’s Christine Frederick with Interpol. Sorry it’staken me a few days to get back to you. I had to run the information that you gave me through a few systems.’

  ‘Did you find anything?’

  ‘Did I find anything? Yes, well I think I found quite a lot for you. I think your suspect may have a home in a few other countries when you’re done with him. The MO hit in all three South American countries: rapes in Rio, Caracas, and Buenos Aires, Argentina. White male with a mask. He likes to cut and tickle. The mask changes, though. I have an alien, a monster mask, a clown face, and a couple of latex faces that the women did not recognize. I then found a similar BOLO in the Philippines, where they had four rapes matching that MO, but those ran from 1991 to ‘94. Nothing there since. The wanted sheets from the eighties are mainly inactive and outdated, so I couldn’t find anything that far back, and there was nothing in Malaysia. All in all, it looks like maybe ten victims, four countries. But this is all off of the wanteds. I haven’t called any of the consulates or police agencies to confirm. I figured you’d want to do that yourself, if this guy matches the pattern, which it looks like he does. Let me fax you over the wanted sheets and you can see for yourself.’

  Ten more women. She didn’t even need to read the wanteds that Christine faxed over to know Bantling was the one. He was a serial rapist, a serial murderer, a sexual predator of women. He had raped and tortured more than seventeen women. He had killed another ten, probably eleven – maybe even more.

  Without Chavez, there was no case. Bantling would walk on the Prado murder. The time had run on the rapes in the U.S., so he would walk on those as well. She knew that the rapes in the foreign countries would neverbe prosecuted. The scenes were the same – there was no physical evidence, and the criminal justice systems in poor South American countries were not to be trusted, to say the least. He would walk on those, too. William Rupert Bantling would walk away a free man. Free to hunt and stalk women. Free to rape and torture and kill again, which is what he inevitably would do. It was simply a matter of time.

  A small sacrifice for the greater good.

  There was no getting off this case now, or ever. Only one question remained. One that she could not ignore, but did not think she could ever answer.

  Who had called in the tip?

  42

  ‘You’ve been avoiding me.’

  In the door frame of her office stood Special Agent Dominick Falconetti, a Dunkin’ Donuts bag in one hand, a black leather briefcase in the other. He was sopping wet.

  She tried her best to look shocked at his accusation and opened her mouth to protest, but then quickly closed it again and leaned back in her chair. Guilty as charged, Officer.

  ‘Don’t try to deny it. You have. In the past week, you have stood me up at the Medical Examiner’s office and dodged at least six of my phone calls. You call Manny back, but not me, and you schedule my prefile last.’

  ‘You’re right. I guess I have been avoiding you.’

  ‘Now I want to know why. Why do you like Manny better than me? He’s definitely more irritating. And he smokes in your office when you’re not here.’ He came in from the doorway and sat down in front of her.

  ‘Along with Glocks, don’t they issue you guys umbrellas?’

  ‘It’s a Baretta and no, they don’t. They don’t care if I get soaked and sick, just as long as I can still fire off a shot if necessary. Don’t change the subject.’

  ‘Look, Dominick, this, this thing between us… it should be professional. And nothing more.
You’re my lead on this case and it’s not a good idea for us to, well, get involved. I guess I just didn’t know how to tell you that.’

  ‘Sure you did. You obviously have been rehearsing what you were going to say to me in your head for over a week now.’ With his palms on her desk, he leaned over close to her face. His wet black hair curled against his forehead and small drops of water trickled down his temples in zigzag lines, on to his neck. He smelled like Lever soap again. She watched the droplets run down his neck, disappearing into his blue dress shirt, which clung to his chest from the rain. ‘Maybe I’m being arrogant, but I don’t believe you. I thought we…’ He hesitated for a moment and she watched his mouth as he searched for the right thing to had something going there. That maybe there was something between us. And I was pretty sure from that kiss that you thought so, too.’

  She felt her face flush and she hoped no one had chosen that moment to walk by her door, which was still open. She looked down quickly, away from his probing brown eyes.

  ‘Dominick, I,’ she stammered, trying to collect her thoughts. ‘I… we need to keep this professional. My boss… the media would have a field day if they knew –’

  He sat back in the seat in front of her desk. ‘Oh, the media wouldn’t give a shit. Maybe for two minutes. And even if they did, who cares?’ He reached into the Dunkin’ Donuts bag and pulled out two containers of coffee. He handed her one over the desk. ‘One sugar and cream, right?’

  She smiled weakly and nodded. ‘Yeah. One sugar and cream. Thank you. You didn’t have to.’ There were a few minutes of strained silence between them while she stirred her coffee. The rain was pounding hard against her window. It had rained nonstop now for three days. Outside, you could not see the other side of the street, and the parking lot looked flooded. Tiny figures tried desperately to run to the courthouse, taking large galloping steps through the puddles. Someone had lost a file, and white papers were everywhere on Thirteenth Avenue, cemented by the driving rain to the pavement.

  In a low voice she broke the silence in the room. ‘Then you understand where I’m coming from?’

  He sighed and leaned toward her desk again. ‘No. No, I don’t. Look, C.J., let’s just put this out on the table. I like you, I do. I’m attracted to you. And I was pretty sure that the attraction was mutual. I thought that maybe we could take this somewhere, to another level, but I suppose not now.

  ‘I do know this much, though. Something has gotten to you since Bantling was arrested, but I don’t know what it is, and I don’t think it’s the media. Or your boss. So if you want me to accept what you’re saying – fine, I accept it. If you want me to understand it, then I can’t help you.’ He ran his hand through the top of his wet hair, slicking it back off his face again.

  ‘But, whatever. I’m here for my prefile. Friday at two P.M. Right on time.’ His voice was resigned now, and he put his briefcase on the chair next to him and opened it. ‘Oh, and I forgot one other thing… ‘ He reached back into the Dunkin’ Donuts bag. ‘I brought you a Boston Cream. I threw my body over it so it wouldn’t get soggy.’

  Only the first twenty minutes of his prefile seemed awkward, and after that the tension in the room lightened, and for a while, the conversation even felt comfortable again, like putting on old slippers. She knew he was mad at her and that he was hurt. It was ironic that after promising that he wouldn’t hurt her, she had been the one to hurt him. And that was the last thing she wanted to do. She wanted to tell him how she really felt, how she wished it could be as he said, taken to another level. But she swore him in, took his statement, and said nothing. Chalk up yet another small sacrifice for the greater good.

  The Chief Assistant, Martin Yars, had the case set to go before the grand jury on the following Wednesday, September 27, just a few days before Bantling’s scheduled arraignment date on Monday, October 2. Dominick would be testifying before the grand jury, presenting the entire investigation into Anna Prado’s death in the hope that they would return an indictment against Bantling for capital first-degree murder. On the surface, in all the reports, the case was strong. They had a mutilated body, and although DNA wasn’t yet back, the blood in Bantling’s shed matched Anna’s blood type, O negative. It also looked like they had a murder weapon. The scalpel SA Jimmy Fulton had found also had trace amounts of blood on it, and the narcotic drug haloperidol, found in her system, matched the prescription found in Bantling’s house. It all made for the perfect case, except for Chavez and his troubling revelation on Monday. Nevertheless, she fully expected an indictment would be issued and that it would be for capital murder. Before the grand jury at this stage of the prosecution, only the state gets an opportunity to present its case, not the defense; there is no presiding judge, and hearsay is totally admissible. So as C.J.’s criminal law professor at St John’s once pointed out, the state can pretty much indict a ham sandwich if it wants to.

  C.J. did not tell Dominick about the bad stop. No one else could be brought into that dark coven, even though the question of who had called in the anonymous tip still burned in her mind without an answer. After careful consideration, C.J. had finally decided that it must have been a coincidence. There were a number of black XJ8 Jaguars in SoBe – maybe Chavez had pulled over a Jag other than the one the caller had tipped about. Or maybe Bantling had shot someone the bird out the window and pissed off some idiot who thought it would be neat to call in a false tip. To question it any more than that would be like leaving open a door to a room you wanted no one to enter.

  It was still pouring rain outside when they ended their prefile some three hours later and Dominick rose to leave. The wind whipped sheets of water against her window, and she reached into her desk and pulled out an umbrella.

  ‘You just now got dry. Save yourself. I’ll have security walk me to my car with theirs.’

  ‘Security? Ha. It’s after five on a rainy Friday. Security went home hours ago, along with the rest of your office, I think. Thanks, but no thanks. I’m a tough guy. Water runs right off me.’

  ‘Suit yourself. Don’t catch cold, though. You’re needed in front of the grand jury on Wednesday – and oh, I almost forgot. I just got notice today of the Arthur Hearing. Go figure, Bantling wants a bond. It’s set for one P.M. next Friday, the twenty-ninth. I’ll need you for that, too. Can you make it?’ An Arthur, as it was known, was much more involved than the preliminary First Appearance, where the judge simply read off the arrest form to find probable cause. Even if an indictment had already been issued by that time, C.J. still would need to prove through witnesses that ‘proof was evident and presumption great’ that Bantling had committed first-degree murder, which meant, at the very least, calling her lead detective to the stand. Hearsay was again admissible, but, unlike grand jury testimony, all witnesses now would be subject to cross-examination. Defense attorneys often used an Arthur Hearing as a discovery tool to see what kind of a case the state had, and how good their witnesses held up under cross, knowing full well that there would be no way the judge would grant them a bond. C.J. suspected that to be Lourdes Rubio’s goal in this case.

  ‘Are you handling it?’

  ‘Yes. Yars only handles the grand jury. It’s all me from here on out.’

  ‘Then how could I say no? Of course we need to keep this strictly professional, so you better send me a subpoena anyway.’

  She felt her face go hot again. ‘Very funny. Thanks for, um, understanding, about keeping this – our friendship, that is – professional between us.’

  ‘I never said that I understood. I said I accepted it. Big difference.’

  She walked with him past the deserted maze of the secretarial pool to the security access doors just outside the elevator bay.

  At the door he turned to her. ‘Manny and I are meeting for drinks at the Alibi to go over some things. You’re welcome to join us if you’d like. All three of us can remain professional over a couple of beers.’

  ‘Thanks, but I’d better not. I’ve got lots of thin
gs to finish up.’

  ‘Alright, then. Have a good weekend, Counselor. I guess I’ll see you on Wednesday, after the grand jury.’

  ‘Stay dry,’ she called out just as the elevator doors closed, leaving the dark office hallway deserted once again.

  43

  It took the grand jury less than an hour to indict William Rupert Bantling on first-degree murder in the death of Anna Prado. And it only took them that long because they had ordered lunch during deliberations and the bill was on the state only if they ate before they finished with the case.

  Within a matter of minutes after the indictment was handed down, the media hordes had descended on the news and devoured it, and then instantaneously regurgitated the information on the pristine marble steps of the Dade County courthouse through dazzling white smiles, analyzing ‘what it really meant’ for captive TV audiences around the world.

  C.J. had not expected a decision to be that quick. In fact, she was in a hushed meeting with the State Attorney himself, Jerry Tigler, when one of the secretaries ran into the conference room with the news and turned on the TV. C.J. and Tigler, along with the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District, and the FBI’s Miami Special Agent in Charge all watched on live television as a flustered and red-faced Martin Yars, Chief Assistant for the Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office, painfully stumbled through even the simplest of words on the courthouse steps, ineptly trying to satisfy the insatiable questions of the dozen or so press corps who had nailed him unexpectedly for interviews on the way to his car. It looked bad. It sounded worse.

  The impromptu meeting at the State Attorney’s Office had been called at the joint request of both the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the U.S. Attorney’s Office. It seemed the feds wanted Cupid, and they didn’t want to share. All eyes in the room were silently glued on Yars, who had chosen now, of all times, to develop a bad stutter. After a few more difficult moments, blessedly, even Channel 7 took pity and went to commercial. Tom de la Flors, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District, broke the uncomfortable silence in the room.

 
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