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Cutting room the, p.25
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       CUTTING ROOM -THE-, p.25

           Jilliane Hoffman
 

  The investigation into Masterson’s death had taken almost a year, but at the end of it Dominick was exonerated. That very same day, he drove her out to the marina, led her aboard a 26-foot Sea Ray Sundancer and suggested that they sail away and leave it all behind. What he’d really meant was run.

  The plan had worked for a while. Until both of them realized they were far too young and life was far too complicated to spend the rest of their lives doing nothing. Within two years they’d settled in Chicago and Dominick was hunting criminals again as a detective with the Chicago PD, while C.J. tried to step away from the bad guys and the violence by volunteering at hospitals and working with troubled kids. But it wasn’t enough. She dipped her toe back in the water as a victim advocate with Cook County and said yes when they offered her a position as a prosecutor. She supposed she was drawn to the bad guys as much as they were to her. And Chicago certainly had their share.

  It was almost noon by the time she got back to her grandmother’s house. The sun was shining, the cloud cover had lifted. Apart from the blob of black storm clouds that lingered over the mountains, far, far away, it was a beautiful day. She checked her watch. She’d run twenty-four miles in a little over five hours.

  Dominick would be proud of her: this was the farthest she’d ever run. She was only a couple of miles from completing a marathon, something he knew she’d always wanted to accomplish. He’d promised her he’d be on the other side of Manhattan waiting for her at the finish line, no matter how long it took her to cross it. She pictured his face across the kitchen table, his brown hair messy from sleep, a grin on his bronzed, handsome face as he told her she could do anything she put her mind to. He still had not sent back the papers. She thought again of calling him. Then she remembered that sorry would never be enough …

  Even with the extra miles she had run, for some reason the run had not worked its magic today. The Clown, Bantling, Cupid, Chambers, Black Jacket, Masterson, the Others … The demons from her past were still hot on her trail. A feeling of foreboding hovered over her, like the storm clouds hovering over the distant mountains, a persistent sixth sense that something ominous was closing in on her. And it would keep closing in, slowly, steadily, until one day she would turn around and it would be on top of her. And she would never see it coming.

  She shook off the unsettling thoughts, picked up the Sunday paper, waved at a neighbor and headed up the walk. Her case against Richard Kassner was wrapping up. Closing arguments could come as early as next week and she was going to spend the rest of the day preparing.

  It was time to clear another level of the game.

  PART THREE

  38

  The panic had begun to spread days earlier, starting with the old people. They had run out — or more appropriately, walkered and wheeled and hobbled out — to get their prescriptions filled and to stockpile more bread and milk than they could possibly consume in a month. It took a couple of days after that before the panic caught on with the general population. That was when water, formula, canned and packaged foods began to disappear from store shelves. Lines at gas stations and Home Depot were longer, and sales of flashlights, batteries, canned foods and candles were up. There was a nervous, excited, polite camaraderie that existed between people as they chatted while waiting on lines that were longer than usual.

  By this morning that had all changed.

  Overnight, the National Hurricane Center (NHC) had officially placed Miami under a Hurricane Warning: tropical storm force winds were expected within the next thirty-six hours. By the time Manny woke up at seven, store shelves were empty, gas stations were rationing or closed altogether, Home Depot and Loews were out of plywood, generators, water, batteries, chain saws, and, of course, flashlights. No one was nice to anyone anymore. Tempers were short. The entire county sounded like a construction zone. Power saws buzzed, drills whizzed, and constant loud banging filled the air.

  As the hours wound down, and the rain bands edged closer to shore and the reporters and their cameramen in their shiny yellow slickers set out for their strongholds on the beach to preach about last-minute storm preparation and prattle on ad nauseam about the devastation that was coming, anyone who hadn’t already left town was scrambling to board up what they could and get as far inland as they could.

  Manny was one of those anyones.

  He sat down on the stoop of his two-bedroom bungalow in Miami Shores to catch his breath and suck down a bottle of water with a beer chaser. It was a thousand degrees out. If you didn’t know there was a monster storm heading this way, you’d grab a six-pack and head for the beach, because the sky was as blue as a Crayola crayon. He’d been putting up his damn hurricane shutters since ten in the morning and had so far punctured his thumb and put a nice gash in his right thigh. Manny had forgotten how heavy and cumbersome the metal planks were. And how many of them there were. That’s why he’d waited — along with his fellow citizens who were similarly in denial — till the last possible second to get ready for a storm he’d been watching slowly cross the Atlantic for the past eight days. Because there was nothing more frustrating than sitting in a pitch-black house nursing a bad back and waiting for a hurricane to come and justify the three months of rehab you were now going to need, only to discover it was yet another false alarm.

  This time, however, Manny would have preferred to be complaining about an achy back and bitching about another hurricane no-show. With only a few hours left before the first rain bands were expected to start swirling through and bending his palms to the sidewalk, it looked as though Miami was going to be hit. And hard. Manny had lived through Andrew back in ’92, and the only thing he could hope for now was that the storm would shift a degree or so north or south. Better that it levelled Homestead again, or even Palm Beach, than a direct hit slamming Miami.

  He sucked the blood off the tip of his thumb. It was still sunny, but not for much longer. The sun had begun its descent into the Everglades — melting into a citrus-colored sky — while over to the east, gray clouds were looming over the Atlantic. The wind had already picked up. Manny watched as a blustery tropical gust sent a rogue garbage can from the foreclosed house two doors down rolling out of control along the block. Sturdy thirty-foot tall Royal Palms shed their fronds like a stripper, sending heavy six-foot branches tumbling down from the sky into his front yard. It was a little taste of what was to come — the trailer to a disaster movie in the making. In twelve hours the city would be under siege. The full force of Artemis would strike under the cover of darkness, in the middle of the night. Fucking great, thought Manny.

  His thumb was gushing now; he’d caught the damn thing with the drill and almost taken off his nail. He sucked down the rest of his beer and stood up to get himself a Band-Aid before he bled out all over the last of the shutters. One more window and he’d be done. Then it would be a matter of hoping it all held together. If his cute, handyman-special house would be there in the morning when he returned. If anything would be left, not just of his house, but of his cute neighborhood. It was one thing to be the least expensive house on the block; it was another to be the only house left on the block.

  Rufus greeted him at the door with an intense bark, but it took a few seconds for the wag to kick in. Even Rufus knew all was not right with the world. The pooch had been acting wiggy for two days, hiding toys all over the house and pacing back and forth like an expectant father. Manny was planning to take him over to his OCD step-sister’s house in Miami Lakes tonight and he didn’t need the dog flipping Carolina out any more than she already was. Rufus needed to be as low-key and inconspicuous as a ninety-pound bomb-sniffing pooch with a nervous condition could be. Carolina and Rufus didn’t see eye-to-eye at the best of times, by virtue of Rufus being a dog and Carolina having been almost eaten by a pit bull when she was five. It didn’t matter much that she’d brought it on herself by yanking the dog’s tail until it turned and tried to rip her face off. With the rest of Manny’s family camped out on the couch — includin
g their elderly mother, who got nervous when the doorbell rang and she wasn’t expecting it — Carolina was sure to be running short in the patience department. Almost as if he’d read his master’s mind, Rufus jumped up and barked full-on in Manny’s face. Maybe he’d slip the pooch some Benadryl; Carolina could be a cold-hearted bitch when she wanted to, and if she got pissed-off enough, she’d put both Rufus and Manny out on the front stoop with an umbrella to fend for themselves. Her house wasn’t his first choice of evacuation accommodation, but, like him, Daria resided on the wrong side of the Federal Highway in an evacuation zone, and Carolina was the only family member who didn’t live in a trailer. Plus, his mother had asked him to.

  Manny was grabbing a treat for Rufus with his good hand and a dish towel for his bad when his cell rang. It was a number he didn’t recognize off the bat, and one he normally wouldn’t answer, but nothing was normal today. His phone had been buzzing all morning, with a lot of calls coming from his department.

  ‘Alvarez.’

  ‘Detective Alvarez, this is Sergeant Jose Castano down at Miami-Dade County Corrections. I hate to have to call you, sir, particularly with, you know, a storm bearing down on us and all. I know you’re probably very busy …’ He sounded young. And nervous.

  ‘It’s a little crazy round here. I’m sure it’s the same where you are. What seems to be the problem?’ Manny’s chest tightened. It sounded as though the man was going to tell him his momma had died. Except, of course, Corrections wouldn’t be the department calling to tell him that. They had on occasion called him when one of his defendants offed themselves or got into a fight. And they had called when one of ’em was ratted out by another. But this call didn’t have that intimation. And with the clock ticking down to Doomsday, chances were nobody would be calling him about either of those situations right now.

  ‘Well, there’s been a misunderstanding. A mistake, actually, Detective, to be honest. It’s being investigated as we speak, so you know.’ The sergeant cleared his throat. ‘But we felt it was only right for you to know and for you to perhaps initiate the proper security protocol that might be involved on your end. You know, sound the alarm, so to speak. Notify the feds, maybe. And we are doing all we can at this time internally to locate the defendant, so you know.’

  ‘What the hell are you talking about, Sergeant? And who the hell are you talking about? Let’s go, spit it out.’

  ‘The inmate that you had transferred down here to DCJ was, well, it looks like he was released by accident. He was placed on the wrong evacuation bus and, well — we can’t locate him, sir. It’s been complete chaos, here, sir. Not that that’s an excuse, but it has, what with the evacuations and all. I’ve never seen it—’

  Manny cut him off. ‘What inmate? I didn’t have no one transferred down here. Not recently, anyhow. I do have a couple of murder suspects sitting in DCJ and Metro-West. Let’s see — Herrera, Hoslem, Wilfredo Lemar. Who you talking about?’

  ‘None of those names, sir. I’m calling about the inmate from Florida State Prison that arrived here several days ago.’

  Manny sat down at his kitchen counter. His fist was clenched so hard, blood from his injured thumb oozed through the fingers and down his wrist, dripping into a small puddle on to the white stone. ‘Again, I didn’t transfer nobody. You must have the wrong detective.’

  ‘Well, it had your name, sir, as the arresting officer on the intake sheet. You and an Agent Falconetti with FDLE as original arresting officers. I just assumed you’d authorized the transfer. Maybe the judge ordered it, but you should still be notified if it’s your prisoner, I would think. Maybe I’m wrong, sir.’

  Manny stared out the kitchen window. On the windowsill was a framed picture of him and Daria on South Beach. Across the street, his neighbor was teetering precariously on the top rung of a ladder while drilling a plywood sheet across his second-story window. Any minute he was going to come crashing down, and, ironically enough, it wasn’t going to be the damn monster hurricane he was preparing for that did him in. It would be his own stupidity. His own misplaced trust. The ladder rocked. Like Manny, the guy only had a few seconds left before his world changed for ever. He closed his eyes.

  ‘Who was it that was released, Sergeant?’ Manny asked, although he already knew the answer.

  He opened his eyes.

  The ladder tipped. His neighbor flailed his arms, trying to keep his footing on a ladder that was no longer there. His body seemed suspended in mid-air, like a cartoon character who has just walked off a cliff.

  ‘Um …’ the young man swallowed hard, as if he himself did not want to hear the name. ‘William R. Bantling, sir.’

  And with those words, Manny’s world came crashing down, just like his neighbor’s.

  39

  When Hurricane Andrew devastated Miami, Daria was eleven and living in the same modest three-bedroom house in Cooper City that her parents still lived in today. She didn’t remember much about the days leading up to Andrew, except watching the news — which was on every single channel without commercial break in the twenty-four hours before the storm made landfall. And no matter who was talking, in the bottom-right corner of the screen on continuous replay was the time-elapsed picture of the white swirling blob with the small hole in the center that was slowly but surely making its way across the Atlantic to Florida. While Marco and Anthony had helped their dad nail heavy, cumbersome sheets of plywood over the windows, Daria’s job had been to make sure that every room in the house had a flashlight with fresh batteries. Their mother had completely panicked — screaming out longitudinal and latitudinal coordinates every five minutes like they made sense while she made vats of marinara sauce in the kitchen.

  Daria could remember being both scared and excited as the storm approached on the TV map and the hours counted down to Doomsday. There was a secret part of her that wanted the hurricane to hit them dead on, like all the news channels were predicting. She wanted to see the devastation — flipped cars, torn-off roofs, downed trees and stop signs — from the safety and comfort of her bedroom, because of course nothing would happen to her house. When she suggested to her mother that a hurricane would be a lot of fun, Lena had smacked her in the back of her head with the wooden ladle she was using to taste her marinara. Hot red sauce went everywhere, splattering the floor and cabinets and white kitchen walls. In fact, when her dad heard her screaming and rushed inside, he took one look at the scalding red sauce running down her cheeks and neck and thought Daria had split her head open. When he found out what had happened, he blamed the incident on the tensions of the hurricane, which didn’t explain away the other beatings he’d walked in on over the years, but it made both him and her still-shaking, screaming mother feel better for the moment. She remembered her brothers standing in the entrance to the kitchen as she explained what she’d said that had sent their mother over the edge, watching wide-eyed as their dad covered the parts of Daria’s body that had been splashed with sauce in frozen pea packs. Neither of the boys said a word. Daria knew they, too, were wishing for Hurricane Andrew to pick up their house and fling it harmlessly into Miami, like in The Wizard of Oz, but after what had happened to Daria, neither dared mention their fantasy out loud. There were three pots of sauce still simmering on the stove.

  Fast-forward nineteen years and the prospect of a major hurricane had Daria worrying about factors that hadn’t occurred to her when she was eleven. Economic and environmental devastation. Days, maybe weeks without power in 95 degree heat. No AC, no refrigerator, no hot showers, no cooking. Probably no water or phone service either. Brutal traffic because streetlights and signs and trees would be down. No eating out at restaurants. Increased pain-in-the-ass crime, like looting and contractor fraud that would clog dockets. Domestic violence would go up too as the stress of the storm and its calamitous aftermath exerted its pressure on families. And then there was the worry about how her apartment would fare — if she would even have an apartment to return to. Everything she owned in the worl
d besides her car was in that townhouse. The thought of it all blowing down Federal Highway was too awful to contemplate. She understood now why her mother had prayed over her spaghetti for Andrew to spare them.

  Absently touching her cheek where the faded scar from the sauce incident still lingered, Daria stared out the window of the Miami-Dade Emergency Operations Center in western Miami-Dade County where she would be spending the next twenty hours, minimum. The center was built to withstand hurricane-force winds topping two hundred miles per hour and would operate as a central command station for multiple police agencies during the storm. Downstairs, a contingent of emergency responders, dispatchers, cops, technical personnel were waiting out the wrath of Artemis. Daria and two other prosecutors from the State Attorney’s Office would be assisting the cops and judges, and dispensing legal advice for all the post-hurricane crimes that would be sure to ravage a crippled metropolitan city. Most of the assembled crew — at least the legal team — were not so much dedicated as they were homeless. Daria herself had nowhere to go besides her parents’ house — where Anthony was camped out in his old bedroom, since he lived on the beach in Pompano — or Marco’s three-bedroom insane asylum in Coral Springs, neither of which was an option.

  Because Daria herself lived east of US1 — the north–south coastal thoroughfare that ran the length of the state of Florida — she was in an evacuation zone and was supposed to go to a shelter, the closest of which was Arthur Ashe Middle School in Fort Lauderdale. Double ugh. A thousand scared people jammed into a gym eating peanut butter sandwiches and lying on sleeping bags. That was also most definitely not an option. Manny had asked her to stay with him, but he, too, lived in an evacuation zone in North Beach, and was only blocks from the beach. The idea was cozy and romantic enough, but with a storm surge of twenty-three feet or higher possible, not only would the hotels and homes directly on the beach exist no more, neither would anything a mile or so inland — at least that’s what the cheery meteorologist on Channel 6 was saying. There was also the very real chance Manny would either be called out by the City, or go off and volunteer himself to some entity, task force or in-need friends, leaving her with not only the storm surge to worry about but Rufus too, his shoe-loving pooch who got nervous when the door on the dishwasher slammed shut. Images of the catastrophic March tsunami wiping out coastal Japan filled her head. No, thanks, she’d said. Besides, if she volunteered her services and worked the phones at the EOC, she figured she’d at least get some goodwill points from the State Attorney and Vance Collier. And in the event of a complete catastrophe and the end of Miami society as everyone knew it, she’d also be surrounded by trained people who could help dig her body out of the rubble, instead of a bomb-squad drop-out who would swim for shore before he’d risk his furry neck to help his master’s girlfriend. So she’d called her mom, Marco, and Manny and told them all: Thanks, but no thanks. And that afternoon, after the cops had given up driving through her neighborhood warning everyone to get the hell out, she’d said goodbye to her house, packed a suitcase with her one and only pair of strappy Manolos that she’d gotten on sale at the Neiman Marcus outlet, locked her doors, and driven off down her deserted street. Back into a city that, like a creepy, apocalyptic horror movie, everyone and anyone with a brain was scrambling to get the hell out of.

 
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