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Retribution, p.24
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       Retribution, p.24

           Jilliane Hoffman
 

  ‘See, Jerry? That’s exactly the sort of thing that I was talking about. Our office has the resources and the experience to handle this media circus.’ He shook his head and dropped his voice a few octaves to a more personal whisper that could still be heard by all in the room, and he looked straight at Tigler, who was squirming uncomfortably in his fake-leather high-backed chair. ‘Can we be honest here, Jerry? This case is a political firecracker, and we all know it. One drop, one mess-up, and the whole thing can explode. Right in your face. Right in an election year. And I know how rough it can be to keep the opinion polls friendly and the voters turning out on election day chanting your name. I was a state judge once; I know how it works. And the polls don’t lie, Jerry. They haven’t been happy with how your office has handled this case from the get-go. Eighteen months before a suspect was arrested, and he’s only been indicted on one of the murders. The other victims’ families are all screaming bloody blue murder to every reporter who will listen. And they are all listening, Jerry – they are all listening.’

  As if on cue, the FBI’s Miami SAC, Mark Gracker, chimed in. ‘The FBI is prepared to assume the entire criminal investigation. We will, of course, need all evidence obtained to date by the Cupid task force to be submitted to the FBI crime lab for reexamination.’

  De la Flors paused for a moment to let what had just been said sink in. Then he leaned back in his chair and in a resigned voice that sounded to C.J. strikingly similar to that of a father who has just had to reprimand his child, continued on. ‘The U.S. Attorney’s Office is prepared to go forward on all the murders, Jerry, not just Marilyn Siban’s. I think it would all just be smoother if we could agree beforehand and save each other a lot of unnecessary bickering in court.’

  C.J. sat in her chair doing a slow but steady boil, listening to the thinly veiled threats escape de la Flors’s mouth through his perfect white teeth and slick smile. She wanted Tigler to get up and slug him, but knew that he would have to find his balls first, and that could take years.

  Tigler looked around the table and squirmed again in his seat at the helm of the long table. Finally, after a long moment, he cleared his throat and found his voice. ‘Well, Tom, I appreciate your concern. I do, but I think at this stage of the game we have things under control over here. C. J. Townsend is one of our finest prosecutors, and I’m confident that she can handle this case.’

  Jerry Tigler looked out of his league. His brown suit was frumpy and outdated, and his hairpiece had shifted across his head during the meeting due to the nervous buildup of sweat underneath. He was no match for the diamond-smiled, Calvin Klein-wearing, former judge and now larger-than-life, appointed-by-the-president, U.S. Attorney Tom de la Flors.

  ‘I’m not so sure you understand, Mr Tigler,’ Gracker started in again. C.J. watched as he jabbed his pudgy little finger on the conference table, an attempt to command more attention to his small self. ‘The Bureau has worked hundreds of serial homicides. We have the resources available to work the murders of all eleven victims.’

  That was it. C.J. could take it no more. ‘That would be ten victims, Agent Gracker. So far we have only ten bodies, so unless the FBI knows the location of Morgan Weber’s remains, we have ten victims. And perhaps I can explain why we have not prematurely arrested or indicted on the other nine murder victims. To date, there is no physical evidence linking Bantling to the other nine women, and our office thought it prudent to go forward only on the case that we can actually prove at this time.’

  ‘This is not a slam against you, Ms Townsend,’ Tom de la Flors began, but C.J. cut him off.

  ‘Oh, yes it is. It’s a slam against me, my prosecutorial judgment, and this whole office, Mr de la Flors. And even, assuming the state did hand over the prosecution of all ten murders to the U.S. Attorney’s Office, under what legal theory would you have jurisdiction? Only Marilyn Siban’s murder occurred on federal land.’

  De la Flors looked stunned. He hadn’t expected any backtalk from the prosecutor, and only minimal whining from Tigler himself. It took him more than a moment to recover. ‘I believe each victim was found with the controlled substance haloperidol in her system, Ms Townsend. Presumably, that substance was administered by their captor, namely, William Bantling. Mr Bantling has thus engaged in a continuing criminal enterprise under the United States Code.’

  Tom de la Flors had picked the wrong day and the wrong person to try to bully with his interpretation of the law. ‘The drug information is correct. However – and correct me if I’m wrong – I believe for a CCE you also need five or more conspirators to form the enterprise. Again, if the Bureau knows of additional suspects in this case, we’d love to listen to what you have, but to my knowledge, Bantling is it. So we’re four suspects short of a CCE. And of federal jurisdiction, I’m afraid.’ Well, there it was. She could now kiss off any future at all within the federal government, particularly one as an esteemed federal prosecutor. De la Flors glared at her from across the table.

  Well, I’ll have to look into it more closely, Ms Townsend, but that was only one legal theory I was throwing out to you. There’s also the Hobbs Act.’ He turned his attention to Tigler now. ‘We have used it before, successfully, to prosecute tourist robberies, right here in Dade County.’

  ‘Yes. But that was only on the robberies,’ C.J. continued. ‘That’s still not going to give you jurisdiction on the murders.’

  De la Flors was more than a little annoyed now at the pesky gnat that was C. J. Townsend. He was a politician, not a prosecutor. He probably hadn’t even seen a courtroom or a copy of the United States Code in the four years he had served as U.S. Attorney, and was not prepared to argue subtle nuances in the law. He raised his voice up the few octaves that he had given to Tigler earlier. ‘If it’s part of a robbery, it will – or it will at least make for a great argument, I can assure you. But if your office does want to fight us on jurisdiction over this, we can always just go forward on each robbery.’

  ‘What robbery are you speaking about, might I ask?’ Tigler the Timid spoke up again in a meek voice.

  ‘You might, Jerry. Each victim was found nude and missing a heart, correct? Including Ms Prado? Then they were each robbed. And on that the case law is quite clear, Ms Townsend. We do have federal jurisdiction. So we can just tie Mr Bantling up in federal court for a few years trying him individually on each robbery. It’s better than what your office has managed to do till now. And when we’re done you can have him sent back from Leavenworth for whatever state cases you have finally managed to indict him on. Assuming, of course, Jerry, that you’re still the State Attorney and can still make those kinds of decisions.

  ‘But you think it over and let me know if we can maybe work this from a team approach before I move forward to indict. In the meantime, I have a warrant and a court order from U.S. Magistrate Carol Kingsley authorizing us to have access to Bantling’s house and cars and any evidence seized pursuant to a previously issued state warrant.’ He tossed a thick document on to the conference table.

  C.J. never took her steely eyes off de la Flors. ‘I’ll get you a copy of all documents seized, Mr de la Flors. I will personally walk you through the evidence stored at FDLE and, as for evidence at the lab, I will get you a report on everything tested. Any more than that, and we can both pay a visit to Judge Kingsley, because as much as I would love to cooperate, I have a murder to prosecute, and from the sound of the threats in this room, I’d better hurry before I have to file a habeus motion to get my murder defendant back from the Neverland of federal court where he’s to be tried for robbery.’

  She stood up and grabbed the warrant off the table. ‘Now, if you’ll excuse me, gentlemen, I need to get started copying all the documents you requested in your court order.’

  Jerry Tigler looked envious of all the things C.J. had said, wishing he had been the one to say them. Nonetheless, he sat up an extra two inches taller in his frumpy brown suit and smiled as a frustrated and furious Mark Gracker and Tom de la Fl
ors stormed out of his conference room.

  44

  C.J. felt the maddening flutter of butterflies in her stomach as she made her way through the courthouse to Courtroom 4–8 where the 1:30 Arthur Hearings were being held before Judge Nelson Hilfaro. With each floor she ascended on the wobbly steel escalator, her heart raced a bit faster, and the butterflies fluttered their queasy wings about like bugs trapped in a jar, until she was pretty sure she would be physically sick. And although her hands dripped with nervous perspiration on the handle of her oversized leather briefcase, still, her face remained stone. The raw fear that grasped her belly and reached up around her throat was invisible to all around her; she made sure of that. To the rest of the world, she was the strong, confident prosecutor. Only inside was she afraid that she would fall apart.

  She must have handled over two hundred Arthur Hearings in her career. Probably closer to three hundred – maybe more. They were routine in her cases. Every defendant who was charged with a nonbondable offense punishable by life in prison or death was entitled to an Arthur, and while they could be time-consuming, generally speaking, if you had a good case and a competent lead detective they were only that. But this was no ordinary case.

  It had been almost three weeks since she had laid eyes on William Bantling in Judge Katz’s courtroom. Three weeks since her mind first realized the horrible truth that had since become her living nightmare. And while the initial shock wave may have passed, and her brain may have come to accept the facts that she had force-fed it in the time since, she had not been made to sit in a room with him across from her, his ice blue eyes upon hers. She could hardly bear the thought of his breath mixing with hers in the same air – his scent, his presence, everywhere – with no escape short of running out of the courtroom with a string of reporters in tow and an angry judge blasting her from the bench. How would she react, coming face-to-face with her assailant just steps from her seat? Would she freeze, the fear in her throat closing in on her, choking for a gasp of air, as she had at the First Appearance? Would she break down and cry, as she had every night in the weeks since? Would she stand and scream at him and point, as if he were a creature from some late-night horror movie? Or would she simply grab her steel letter opener from her briefcase and with a cold smile stab him straight through the heart before any corrections officer could stop her? That was what was so frightening, and why the butterflies danced their maddening, sickening dance in her stomach. She did not know what she would do. And she didn’t know if control was even an option.

  She flung open the huge mahogany courtroom doors and, with a deep breath, strode into the packed courtroom. There were seven cases set down on the Arthur Hearing calendar and none of the prisoners had yet been brought over from the bridge. The jury box – or box, as it was known, where all the defendants scheduled for an Arthur would be seated, shackled to one another in chains – was empty. C.J. felt an enormous weight lift off her chest and was happy to find that she could breathe. At least for the moment. Up ahead in the gallery next to the state’s table she spotted the bald head of Manny Alvarez. At six five, he was not hard to miss, towering above the prosecutors and detectives who had all nervously milled about at the table to look at the court calendar and avoid the prying lenses of at least a dozen cameras that were set up around the courtroom. Her eyes took in the rest of the room quickly, searching for Dominick’s familiar shoulders, black hair, and salt-and-pepper goatee, but there was no sign of him. Then, from behind her she felt a heavy hand, warm on her shoulder.

  ‘Looking for me?’ It was him. He was dressed in a crisp white shirt and dark blue suit, a midnight-blue-and-silver tie tied around his throat. His hair was brushed back off his head, but one piece had managed to escape, curling delicately on his forehead. He looked very neat, very professional. He looked very good.

  ‘Actually, yes, I was. I see Manny is here,’ she said. His fingers felt warm on her shoulder as he ushered her protectively through the crowd toward the gallery.

  ‘Yeah. You can’t miss him, alright. He even brought a jacket and tie in case you needed him to testify. But, before you get too impressed, I have to warn you that the jacket smells like mothballs and the elbows have brown suede patches. I haven’t seen the tie yet. You may want to wait for an emergency to break him open.’

  ‘Thanks for the warning. I think I’ll start with you, then. You look dapper. They must be paying you well at FDLE. Nice suit.’

  ‘Only the best for you. Only the best. What number are we?’

  ‘On the calendar we’re number six, but I don’t know if Judge Hilfaro will go in order today.’

  They found Manny leaning against the state’s table, chatting with a young prosecutor. Female, of course. When he saw C.J. he smiled broadly and shook her hand, his huge hairy paw swallowing up her fingers. ‘Counselor! Hola! Long time, no see? How you been? Keeping out of trouble?’

  ‘Hey, Manny. Thanks for getting all dressed up. You look good.’

  ‘Yeah, Bear,’ said Dominick. ‘You look nice, alright. Just don’t raise your arm without your jacket on when you swear to tell the truth, buddy.’

  ‘Damn. You’re kidding me, right?’ He raised his arm and looked at the dark sweat stain at the armpit. I just can’t get those pit stains out.’

  ‘You need a good cleaners,’said Dominick.

  ‘Nah . I need a good wife. You know anyone cute, Counselor?’

  ‘No one cute enough for you, I’m afraid.’

  What about that secretary of yours?’

  We’re not going there now. I still want to respect you at the end of the day. But don’t worry about the jacket, Manny, I’m only going to put Dominick on the stand.’

  The jury box door opened just then, and in walked three corrections officers in dark green suits. Following them came a stream of handcuffed and leg-shackled defendants, chains clanking together as they filed into the two rows of the box. Most of the inmates wore street clothes, which they were allowed to wear for court appearances. Nothing fancy, and usually, for most prisoners, it was just the same clothes they had been arrested in, recycled for every court appearance until their defense attorney finally borrowed a donated suit jacket from some charity for their trial. But there, in the second row of seats, separated and seated apart from the rest, sat a handsome blond man in a lone bright red jumpsuit, a corrections outfit assigned to identify those ‘special’ defendants – the ones charged with capital murder. C.J. felt the room begin to spin, and she quickly looked away.

  ‘There’s our man, now,’ Dominick said, turning his attention for a moment to the box.

  ‘Hmmm… I don’t think jail is agreeing with him, Dom. He looks a bit gaunt. Must be the food. Or maybe the entertainment.’ Manny laughed.

  Dominick looked back carefully at C.J. again, but she had her head buried in her briefcase and he could not see her face. ‘Speaking of the devil himself,’ Dominick said, ‘that grand jury came back pretty quickly on the indictment, didn’t it? Even I thought it might take them at least an hour, and I’m an eternal optimist.’

  ‘Yes, Yars told me you did a great job on the stand. The consummate witness, which, of course, I had always expected.’ She inhaled a deep breath and looked up from her briefcase, carefully keeping her back to the jury box, her eyes straight ahead and focused on Dominick. She fought down the creeping, paralyzing fear that worked its way relentlessly out of her belly up into her throat, reaching up into her crazed mind, trying to force her to turn around and look into the eyes of madness. Not yet. Not until she was ready. She knew Dominick was watching her, waiting to see her reaction, so she was careful not to give him one. ‘But that reminds me, Dom, I need to talk to you about something else that happened around here on Wednesday, just in case you hadn’t heard yet.’

  ‘Heard what?’

  ‘About the visit Jerry Tigler and I were paid from our friends downtown.’

  ‘Oh no. Friends downtown? You mean the feds, don’t you?’

  ‘None other.’<
br />
  ‘Who? The Bureau?’

  ‘Yes. The Miami SAC, a short, pudgy guy with a bad attitude by the name of Gracker, I think. Mark Gracker. And he was accompanied by none other than his majesty, the U.S. Attorney himself.’

  ‘Tom de la Flors?’

  ‘That would be the one.’

  ‘You’re kidding me. What did they want?’

  ‘In a word – Cupid.’

  ‘All rise!’ barked a loud voice next to the bench, and the courtroom fell silent. The heavy double doors to the judge’s chambers swung open and the Honorable Judge Nelson Hilfaro waddled his way in and up to the bench, his black judge’s gown trailing after him on the floor.

  ‘I’ll have to tell you the whole sordid story later,’ she whispered.

  ‘Can’t wait,’ he whispered back.

  ‘Be seated,’ commanded the bailiff, and everyone in the courtroom sat.

  ‘Good afternoon, all,’ began Judge Hilfaro, clearing his throat. ‘Given the rather, um, special case that we have set here today which, apparently, most of you present are here for’ – he nodded in the direction of the press, which packed the ten rows in the courtroom – ‘I have decided to call the matter of The State of Florida v. William Rupert Bantling out of turn, and take it as my first case, so that we may clear the courtroom, after which I will call the rest of the calendar and proceed as usual. State, are you ready to proceed?’

  C.J. was a bit stunned. She’d thought that she would have had at least the calendar call and a case or two to ready herself emotionally. But, then again, maybe it was better to dive right in without too much thought. She stepped up before the judge to the state’s podium.

 
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