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All the little pieces, p.26
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       All the Little Pieces, p.26

           Jilliane Hoffman

  Jarrod reached for her hand. ‘Don’t worry,’ he repeated.

  They walked out of the courthouse, heading to their car in the parking lot three blocks over without saying a word, although he still held her hand and she held his. After her breakdown with Detectives Nill and Maldonado, Jarrod had come to her and apologized for the affair. On his knees he had sworn to her that Sandra meant nothing to him, that he didn’t know why he had let it happen, that he hadn’t seen her since they’d broken it off, that he wanted to move forward, not always look in the rearview, because he couldn’t change anything back there. It was the perfect opportunity perhaps for her to get on her knees and join him, confess her rearview had a lot of shit in it, have a good cry together, followed by great makeup sex, and everything would be fine.

  But that’s not how life works. Not every fairytale gets a happy ending.

  Like a frightened bird that senses a cat lurking nearby, Faith’s eyes darted in a dozen different directions, trying to take in the unfamiliar surroundings of the Broward County Courthouse as they walked to the parking lot. The sidewalk was crowded. There was a long line out the entrance doors of people waiting to go through the metal detectors. The bail bondsman storefronts on 6th Street were busy with customers, as were the coffee shops and luncheonettes. The jail, as she knew, was right around the corner. There were criminals in plainclothes all around them, watching them. She felt like they were studying her. Why? Maybe they recognized her as one of them. Maybe she bore the signs of a defendant now, fresh from arraignment court. Or maybe they sensed how frightened she was, that she would make a good victim. There were so many strange faces; even walking down the street felt surreally dangerous. Derrick Poole might be under twenty-four-hour surveillance, but his partner was not. As far as she knew, detectives did not know where to find the man who they’d advised her used to be Poole’s teacher. He could be anywhere, clean-shaven and in a snappy suit, his eyes hidden by sunglasses. He could be right here, walking amongst the other criminals, watching her as she obliviously ambled straight toward him. With his hand in his pocket, he could be secretly thumbing the sharp edge of a tool he’d already used on one of his victims as he approached. Then, without missing a single step, he would simply plunge the blade into her in the stomach as he casually walked on by.

  She tightened her grip on Jarrod’s hand as the same white van that had passed before passed a second time. She thought she might have seen it this morning when they parked. And maybe hanging around the bakery. She looked behind her, to her right, to her left.

  ‘You OK?’ he asked as they turned the corner into the lot.

  She nodded.

  ‘I know you’re overwhelmed, but Jack will handle everything. He knows what he’s doing. It’ll be OK.’

  She got in the car, wanting to say a thousand things, but opting to remain silent and study the cars.

  When he was on his knees before her, asking for forgiveness, she had told him she understood, even though she still didn’t. He had asked her to go to an AA meeting and she’d politely said she would think about it. Of course, inside she was thinking, ‘Now? You want me to quit drinking now? When there is a pair of serial killers out there who know where we live? Who would love to see your daughter and me dead? When this horrible case is just beginning and I may have to testify? When I know that our marriage is treading into “irretrievably broken” ground? When I may have to go to prison myself? You think it’s a good time to throw away the lifeboat as the ship begins to sink and everything gets sucked down with it?’ But she didn’t say any of those things, because he would never understand, just like she would never understand how he’d ‘let something happen’ with the intern. They were stuck at an impasse, with each telling the other to go ahead, but neither was moving. She might very well have a drinking problem, or she might understandably be stressed out of her goddamned mind, but this was not the time to try quitting something that helped stop the anxiety, soothed the shakes, took away the pain. It wasn’t the time to quit and it wasn’t the time to ask. She would cut down, yes. Like smoking, she could limit herself to a drink a day, which is what the rest of the world drank, so no one should complain. She’d done it before – when drinking became part of everyday solutions – she could do it again.

  He hadn’t brought it up again and she hadn’t gotten bombed since. She didn’t drink or smoke in front of him. To outsiders they still looked like a couple. But the emotional distance between them had grown into a chasm, with Jarrod on one side and her on the other, each watching the other pull further away as they held hands on the crater’s rocky ledge. There were only two possible outcomes that she could see: either they both lost grip and were pulled apart, or one yanked the other over to their side at the last minute. Actually, there was a third scenario, she thought as Jarrod turned on the radio and the radio personality started talking about the breaking news coming out of Palm Beach.

  One pulled the other off of their ledge, trying to bring them to their side, but couldn’t hold the other’s weight, and they both dropped into the black abyss below.


  ‘On my radar tonight is a disturbing case coming out of Palm Beach, Florida,’ began the talk show host with the distinctively thick Southern accent.

  Faith sat on the edge of the bed in her bedroom and stared at the TV. She knew she should turn it off, walk away and read a book to Maggie or do the laundry or rearrange the shoes in her closet – anything but listen to the news tonight. And then she should go down the hall and into the office and unplug the computer to avoid the chatter that was possibly erupting on Internet news sites and over social media at this very moment. She should turn off the WiFi on her phone and cancel her subscription to the Sun-Sentinel. But she didn’t do any of those things. Instead, she sat there transfixed, watching the train that was coming straight at her. Detective Nill’s ominous warning sounded over and over again in her head.

  People are having a real hard time understanding why you didn’t call no one. Once this gets out, if the media interest keeps up … Joe Public is gonna have a hard time understanding it, too.

  The news of Derrick Poole’s arrest had been making the rounds all day, on both local and cable news channels. Many local stations broke into their programming to go live to this afternoon’s press conference, held at the State Attorney’s Office. Present at the podium were the sheriff of Palm Beach and the state attorney of Palm Beach, along with the pretty assistant state attorney that Faith had seen at the lineup – the one who was on a first name basis with Jarrod – Elisabetta Romolo. Standing behind the three were the sheriffs of two other counties, Detectives Nill and Maldonado, and a bunch of other people who wore dark suits and somber faces. The media interest had seemed to gain momentum throughout the day, as details of the investigation leaked out, the affidavit in support of the search warrant was made public, and accounts of the macabre brutality discovered inside the shack that had not previously been disclosed became known. Putting the word ‘serial’ in front of the word ‘killers’ apparently had the effect of pouring gasoline on a spark. The media’s interest had indeed been ignited, and the eager reporters were busy fanning the flames trying to get the fire to jump to Joe Public.

  Putting her head in the sand and not listening wouldn’t stop people from saying what it was they wanted to say – it would mean she wouldn’t hear it. As news of the arrest spread, Faith reasoned that she’d be better off knowing what the general temperature was before she opened her front door and stepped outside the safe confines of her house to mingle with Joe Public. At least she’d know what to wear.

  ‘Yes, we’re back in Florida, again, home to Monster Mom, Cupid, Picasso, Cunanan, Bundy, Rollings. I’m leaving some names out, because there’re already too many. Now let’s add a couple more. That’s right – two more names. Police in Palm Beach County earlier today announced an arrest in the Little Shack of Horrors investigation – that’s the torture chamber in the Everglades that the police found ten days ago, whe
re it is believed multiple women were brutalized and then murdered. Twenty-nine-year-old Derrick Alan Poole of Boca Raton, Florida was arrested on first-degree murder charges in the death of Angelina Santri, the nineteen-year-old mom who disappeared after working her shift at a nightclub in Loxahatchee, Florida. Police also announced they are actively hunting for a man they believe was his partner in the murders: thirty-six-year-old Eduardo Carbone of Okeechobee, Florida.’

  Video ran of a handcuffed Derrick Poole being escorted by Detectives Nill and Maldonado and surrounded by uniforms into the Palm Beach County Jail. His head was down, his face obscured by the suit jacket that he had pulled over his head. They had arrested him at work in front of his co-workers.

  ‘Serial killers. Two of them, abducting, torturing and slaughtering women in Palm Beach County for over a year and no one seemed to notice. As the bodies piled up in cane fields out in western Palm Beach, no one sounded the alarms and said, “Hey! This might be the work of the same guy!”? Now we’re learning how the pair was finally discovered and it is shocking, folks. It took the courage of a four-year-old, who had apparently witnessed the abduction of Angelina, to come forward and tell her daddy, after she saw Angelina’s picture on the news when her body was discovered in a cane field. This is where I am just outraged, folks.’

  It was happening. The train was wrecking right in front of her and she couldn’t turn away, even though she knew she was going to get crushed. New Orleans crime reporter-turned-CNN talk show host Loni Hart had arguably, single-handedly, transformed the murder of two-year-old Caylee Anthony in Orlando, Florida from a local tragedy into a national news sensation. She had made the public hate her accused mother, Casey Anthony, referring to her derisively throughout the case as ‘Monster Mom.’ Faith always knew the media was powerful, that they could make a case or an issue spin one way or another, depending on the angle that they saw it keeping interest. They could take a case like the murder of Nicole Brown Simpson and make it all about race when it wasn’t – it was about domestic violence and the murder of a woman and her friend by a jealous ex-husband. Faith held her breath.

  ‘This little girl was in the car with her mother, who’d apparently gotten lost in a bad storm in the middle of the night, and pulled over to wait it out. That’s when Angelina came knocking on the window begging for help. Not only did mom not help, but mom did nothing. Nothing, from what we are being told. I don’t know who to be more angry with: The police for not noticing that women were going missing and for not forming a task force much earlier; this mom who couldn’t be bothered to help or even call the police; or the men who tortured her, raped her, caged her, brutally killed her and then dismembered her. I’m really at a loss.’

  A photo of Noelle Langtry appeared on the screen in the upper right corner, sharing the screen with Loni.

  ‘Now there’s a possible fifth victim: seventeen-year-old Noelle Langtry’s body was found a few days ago in a cane field in Hendry County. She’d gone missing right after Angelina’s body was found, but before either Poole or Carbone were on the radar of Palm Beach detectives, thanks to that mom. It makes you wonder if Noelle’s death could have been prevented.’

  A picture of Faith replaced Noelle Langtry on the screen and Faith sucked in a breath. It was from the cover of last October’s Our Town News, the local community paper for businesses in Coral Springs and Parkland. They’d run a photo of Faith and Vivian, dressed in aprons, spatulas in hand, under the headline, Cupcake Queens of Coral Springs: A Sweet Business, Indeed. Vivian had been taken out of the shot, though, so it was just of Faith, smiling confidently for the camera.

  ‘That mom: Faith Saunders of Parkland, Florida. She’s a business owner – she owns a bakery – and she’s a mom herself. Now, let me say that there’s no law that requires someone to be a Good Samaritan. But there are laws protecting people who act as Good Samaritans from being sued later on down the road because they tried to help. That’s because as a society we want to encourage people to help one another. But that’s not what we have here. We have the ultimate Bad Samaritan: a woman who didn’t help and didn’t call the police and now two women are dead. Thank God her four-year-old had the courage to say something, or the body count might have been even higher.’ Loni shook her famous red head. Her perfectly styled hair didn’t move. ‘It’s a developing story, folks, and one I intend to stay right on top of.’

  First came the reporters reporting the news of the arrest and the details of the case as they trickled out. Then the legal commentators and analysts and talk show hosts would each peek out of the comfort of their fortified stations and test out an opinion, trying desperately to find the pulse of the American news junkie and exploit it. Loni Hart had been the first to open the discussion – there would inevitably be others if the fans were working and the flames were spreading accordingly.

  Faith lay down on the bed, and pulled her trembling body into a ball. This was the first time her name had been mentioned. Either the press had found it or the detectives had provided it. Detective Nill had already warned her that both her and Maggie’s names would not be protected, as there was no provision in the law preventing the media from naming witnesses – even those who are children. It felt like someone had secretly videotaped her in a compromising position behind closed curtains when no one was supposed to be looking in, and uploaded it on YouTube for the whole world to see. Should she be judged by one lapse in compassion? By one mistake that she’d wished from the moment she’d made it that she could go back and undo?

  Loni Hart had paraded her out on national television to be judged by the public, feeding her viewers a few select facts to whet their appetites and their anger. It was now up to the crowd to decide what should be done with her. If the people looked favorably upon her, she would be pitied: a frightened mother without a cell phone who had stumbled into a bad situation and had tried to protect her child by keeping silent. She would be viewed as another victim, who should not be condemned for the murderous acts of another.

  If, however, the crowd expressed disfavor, she would be demonized like the murderers themselves, shunned by her peers, and cast out.

  Faith wiped her eyes. She wished she were not alone tonight. She wished it did not feel as if the world was about to launch a war against her. She should be relieved, knowing Derrick Poole was finally behind bars. Instead, she was filled with dread at how the world outside her door was going to react come morning.

  Loni Hart had cast the first stone.

  Who would be next?


  ‘Mommy? You OK?’ Maggie stood next to her bedside in the dark room. She was tugging on her arm. The light from the TV lit her worried face, but the sound was muted.

  Faith sat up and wiped her face with the tissue she still had clutched in her hand. ‘I’m fine, honey. What are you doing up? Are you feeling OK?’

  ‘You cry a lot, Mommy.’


  ‘I heard you crying. Why you crying?’

  ‘I was thinking of something sad, is all. There’s nothing for you to worry about.’

  Maggie climbed on the bed and curled her tiny little body into Faith’s, like a puppy. ‘I’m cold,’ she said.

  Faith lay down and pulled her in close, rubbing her arm to keep her warm. She could feel Maggie’s breath on her chest, where her head rested; her eyelashes tickled her skin when she blinked. She stroked her long, blonde tendrils, curling her fingers around the ends as she softly sang Sully’s favorite Irish folk song, ‘When You and I Were Young, Maggie’. She used to sing it as a lullaby when Maggie was a baby.

  I wandered today to the hills, Maggie, to watch the scene below

  The creak and the creaking old mill, Maggie, as we used to long ago

  She buried her face in Maggie’s hair and inhaled: The baby years were lost now, but underneath the scent of raspberry shampoo she swore she could still smell the sweet, indescribable perfume of a newborn.

  Faith wanted to bottle this moment – lock it up
in time and put it in a room where she could go back and experience it whenever she wanted, because it was so rare. Maggie was not an affectionate kid. She never had been. And since they’d gone to the police that awful day, she’d been even more distant with Faith, understandably, and Faith hadn’t pushed for more, hoping that if she gave her space, she would come back around to trust her, like a frightened animal might. Even when she was an infant, Maggie never liked to be snuggled, preferring to be held on her tummy. Before she became mobile, rather than be carried, she liked to sit in the stroller or in the playpen. When she grew older and learned to walk, she had no time for cuddles and affection – she was too busy, her restless mind racing at all the things she could be doing, her body always rushing to the next activity.

  At least that’s what Jarrod said it was: Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), or the result of whatever Dr Michelson’s catchall ‘developmentally delayed’ meant. But Faith had always felt responsible for her and Maggie’s lack of … closeness. All the other mommies made having a relationship, a connection, with their child look easy. When she wrote her articles for Parenting, Faith, too, had made bonding sound natural, magical, instantaneous and eternal. The underlying message being, if a mother experienced anything different, she must be doing it wrong – including the author, herself.

  She traced the outline of Maggie’s ears with her fingers. She had Sully’s ears – they stuck out a bit from the sides of her head.

  The green grove is gone from the hill, Maggie, where first the daisies sprung.

  The creaking old mill is still, Maggie, since you and I were young.

  Jarrod and she hadn’t been trying for a baby; that was supposed to come much later. She was shocked when she first found out she was pregnant, which, thanks to irregular periods, wasn’t until she was four months along. She knew that a lot of things had happened in those sixteen weeks when she was making arms and legs and organs and brain cells. She had mistaken morning sickness for a hangover a few times. Excitement followed shock, but worry remained a constant. She didn’t touch another drop for the rest of the pregnancy.

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