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Last witness, p.26
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       Last Witness, p.26

           Jilliane Hoffman
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  ‘Shut the fuck up and move into the bathroom, and it won’t be so bad,’ Rico said, pulling out the pair of latex gloves from his pocket. Using the butt of the Magnum and the heel of his boot, he nudged LBJ away from the open door and into the small bathroom.

  But the badass with the reputation as a cold-blooded killer knew that it would be bad. He started to cry. ‘Shoot me, man,’ he pleaded.

  ‘No can do,’ Rico said. ‘Live by the sword…’

  ‘He said I would be safe here,’ he whimpered.

  ‘He lied,’ Rico said flatly. Then he closed the bathroom door and took out the special knife and the devil’s handiwork was begun.


  ‘Wake up, Sleeping Beauty. This is the Bigs calling,’ Manny said over the Nextel. ‘Welcome back to the game.’ Then he started to hum ‘Take Me Out To the Ballgame.’

  Dominick picked the phone off the dresser and spoke into it without ever opening his eyes. ‘Damn, I’m glad I don’t have to wake up to you every day. What time is it?’

  ‘It is 3:07 a.m. Do you know where your children are? I’m insulted. I thought I sounded sexy in the morning.’

  ‘Alright, I’m awake now. And now that I am, what the hell are you doing calling me?’

  ‘Listen up, ‘cause even I get confused. IMPACT’s money laundering strike force did a money pick-up tonight using a borrowed DEA paid source out of Colombia. Guess who this courier delivered two hundred thousand to? Freddy ‘Fat’ Mack with the BB Posse.’

  ‘Fat Mack?’

  ‘Sound familiar? Another fucking nickname is what it is. It’s the same Fat Mack who’s been running the club Maniac for Roberto Valle ever since his Posse bro Elijah Jackson decided to take that long swim with the fishes. The same Fat Mack we got up on wires running Valle’s operation right out the back door and dissin’ the Latin Kings. Six degrees of separation. Well, facing forty years now on first-degree money laundering charges and money transmitter charges, as well as a host of trumped-up RICO charges, big bad Mack ain’t so big and bad after all. He rolled, Dommy, right over the one person whose name and location might actually shave some time off his sentence, if he lives long enough to see a courtroom. Guess who he gave up when Masterson made him cry? Okay, this time you can guess.’

  ‘I am glad I don’t wake up with you,’ Dominick said again. ‘Roberto Valle?’

  ‘Better. America’s Most-Wanted Asshole, Dommy. LBJ. Lil’ Baby Jerome. Black Fucking Jacket. That badass cop-killer Posse brother who started this whole thing by taking out Victor Chavez. Then Fat Mack handed up operations at Maniac, told Chris where the books were and corroborated the wires. At that point he stopped and thought about how short his lifespan was probably going to be now, and started crying for a lawyer. We’ve got an address where LBJ’s at. Masterson’s sitting on it. It’s in Liberty City. Fucking Liberty City, Dommy. This pans out, and he’s been under our noses the whole goddamn time. Right down the fucking block.’

  ‘Who’s working it?’

  ‘Fulton called out SRT. But it’ll take them thirty to forty minutes to organize. I’m heading there and now so are you. I chirped Dorsett and Grim.’

  ‘Give me the address,’ Dominick said, rolling quickly out of bed now and heading for the closet. ‘I’m on my way.’


  Rico wiped the sweat off his face with the back of his hand, but it still ran down his head and neck onto his tee shirt, already soaked with perspiration. His nylon Nike sweatsuit was splattered with blood now. So much fucking blood. He looked back down once more at what he had done in the tub and swallowed hard. His tongue felt heavy, his mouth dry and coppery. He fought back the urge to vomit and wondered for a minute if the bitter taste that lingered in his throat would ever go away.

  In the windowless room behind him, Jerry Seinfeld said something funny and the studio audience laughed.

  There was no time left to think about what he had just done for money. That time had come and gone and he had ended up here, trapped in this hard moment forever, whether he liked it or not. He thought about the alternative – how it could have been his body lying in that tub. Then he flipped open the cell and made the call. ‘Done,’ was all he said when the line picked up.

  He made his way back through the kitchen, not bothering to close the door behind him, letting the light of the television illuminate the hall. He noticed that his hands still shook slightly, and he wondered how long that would take to go away. How long it would take for him to accept what he had done and move the fuck on. He pushed open the door and stepped back out into the black night, hearing it close with a thud behind him.

  ‘Freeze, motherfucker!’

  The light blinded him, pushing him up against the back of the house, and Rico raised his hand to his eyes and squinted hard. His head darted around, looking for a place to run to, but the blinding light made it impossible to see. The fingers of his other hand touched on the cold steel handle of the Magnum, stuffed in the front of his pants.

  ‘You heard me! Don’t fucking move! Police!’

  Rico knew then that he would never make it better. That his son would grow up without knowing his father, that he would never change history or beat a statistic. Just an hour ago he had thought $200,000 was a lot of money to kill for, but at this very moment he would give up every last penny.

  He heard Angelina’s wails, saw his mother’s disappointment as she stood shaking her head over his casket. And right before the hail of bullets tore through him, he silently prayed for God to forgive him all his sins.

  But, by then, even he knew it was too late for that.


  ‘Shots fired! Shots fired! Report shots fired in the vicinity of Northwest 58th Street and 5th Court!’ Jimmy Fulton’s words exploded over the Nextel. Then the radio sprang to life in Dominick’s car, the dispatcher sounding too calm and too composed for the words that she was saying. ‘All available units, there is a report of shots being fired at the location of 5750 5th Court. Repeat 5750 Northwest 5th Court at 58th Street, Liberty City. FDLE Officer requesting immediate assistance from all available units.’

  When a call comes that an officer needs help, everyone drops everything and goes. No matter what zone they were working or what speeder they might have been ticketing or what fight they were breaking up. Shouts erupted on Dominick’s Nextel and over the radio. From everywhere. Sirens simultaneously sounded around the city, cruisers racing down streets and highways with flashing blue lights.

  The front of the house became a mass of cop cars and confusion. Neighbors had begun to seep out of their houses to see what all the commotion was about. The presence of a cop car or two on their block was nothing to blink an eye over. The presence of fifty, with still more coming, meant something big. Uniforms spilled out of cruisers, guns in hand, radios squawking, looking for direction. Dominick spotted Fulton, barking orders into his Nextel, at the back of his car, a small crowd around him.

  ‘Where the fuck is the team? Where is SRT? I want in that house, now!’ he yelled, looking frantic. SRT was the FDLE Special Response Team.

  ‘What happened?’ Dominick said, rushing up and pushing past uniforms.

  ‘We got one DB on the outside.’ DB was a dead body. ‘No ID, but looks like Brueto, the gang-banger who heads up the Kings. Surveillance lost him tonight, thought he was tucked in safe and sound at home. He pulled a fucking Magnum! Masterson saw him coming out of the house and took him down. Don’t know what’s on the inside, but I’m not waiting anymore to find out. The City can go in with us.’ Years ago, Fulton had headed up the SRT, and he was damn good.

  ‘Alright. Let’s do it,’ Dominick said, nerves rushing adrenaline to his lungs and brain. Going into a house under hostile fire always caused you to stop and think. ‘Let me get my vest.’

  ‘I’ve got flash-bangs in my trunk,’ said Fulton. A flash-bang was a distraction device used by the Special Response entry teams.

  ‘I’ll take the back team,’ said Manny, who had just run up.
  ‘Alright, I’ll hit the front,’ said Fulton. ‘Have Dorsett set up on the north windows, Dom you’re on the south. Take five each. Have a uniform get that plywood loose. Dom will toss the flash-bang in on my count. Then we go in. No one comes out. Got it?’

  Less than three minutes later the bang went off, and flashes of bright light exploded under the plywood window coverings. The wood muffled the otherwise deafening boom.

  ‘Police! Police! Get down! Everybody down!’ Fulton and Manny both screamed as the teams moved through the house, calling and then clearing each room over the radio.

  ‘Living room! Clear!’

  ‘Kitchen! Clear!’

  ‘Bathroom, front hall! Clear!’

  Manny found the back room first. ‘We got life! Back room. TV’s on,’ he crackled over the radio. Then there was a slight pause before the yelling began as the team moved into the room. ‘Police, get down!’


  ‘Closed door!’

  ‘Right behind you, Bear.’ Fulton’s voice. ‘Take it!’

  Dominick heard the crack of wood over the radio and voices yell, ‘Police!’ at the same time. A sudden, eerie silence swallowed at least a second. ‘Oh shit!’ someone yelled. Another, ‘Jesus Fucking Christ!’

  ‘What’s happening? Someone talk!’ Marlon came over the radio.

  ‘Motherfucker,’ Manny said with disgust. ‘We got a mess in here.’

  ‘We found LBJ,’ said Fulton. ‘But apparently not before the Kings did.’

  ‘Oh, shit! Is he dead?’ asked Dominick.

  ‘Hold up. I think we just lost one to the sink,’ Manny said. Then he yelled, ‘Don’t fucking barf in here, man! This is a goddamn crime scene! Fucking go outside!’ He paused for a second then said in a quiet voice, ‘Dead just doesn’t describe it, Dommy Boy. I never seen so much blood. The fucker is staring at me from the tub wide-eyed and wearing a necktie.’

  ‘He’s been shut up,’ broke in Fulton. ‘Dom, get your ass in here. I think we might not have a case no more. We got a war.’


  ‘You gotta be kidding me, Andy,’ Dominick said, a week later. He followed ASA Andy Maus out of the courtroom doors of 4-10 and into the crowded hallway. Tour months of work and you’re just gonna let them take it?’

  ‘I have no choice, Dom,’ replied Andy, walking fast toward the packed escalator, probably hoping to get lost on it and end this conversation. ‘The feds have the right of way. They’ve got jurisdiction and they have a federal indictment. I won’t be able to try Valle now in state court until the feds decide to finish him up, and there’s no way Judge Surace is gonna let me languish on his overloaded state docket with a case that’s already being handled by a US District Court. You heard him in there. I can’t even get Valle back over to state court now to say as much as hello without a writ and a time limit and a host of federal marshals. The juice ain’t worth the squeeze, boys.’

  ‘So they get to cherry-pick the money laundering and RICO charges and the headlines and all we get left with is the dead bodies and a lot of reports to write?’ said Manny. ‘That just sucks.’

  ‘Why are you guys so upset? It’s not like you’re losing the case.’ As if on cue, Mark Gracker appeared out of 4-10, right behind the AUSA who had been sent by de la Flors to babysit in the back of the courtroom. The Cheshire cat smile was back, his eyes searching the hallway – probably for Dominick. He wanted to gloat. Dominick knew that some things were worth giving up his job for, and Gracker wasn’t one of them, but if their eyes made contact right now, there were no guarantees he wouldn’t snap. So he looked only at Maus.

  ‘It’s just going federal,’ Andy continued. ‘Money laundering and RICO charges are pretty good on a major player in the cartels. If he’s convicted, he’ll get slammed and he’ll probably go somewhere not so pleasant. They sent Gotti to Leavenworth on racketeering. Look, you almost got nothing. Who knows? Maybe Valle will talk. Maybe he’ll give up who ordered the hits. If he even knows.’ He stopped at the escalator and turned around, his face crinkled in frustration, either at them or at the situation. It wasn’t clear. ‘Listen,’ he said, his voice lowering a decibel. ‘Let me be frank, guys. Black Jacket is dead, as far as the investigation goes. Both Brueto and LBJ are gone and Fat Mack is no more since someone left him in the general population with a target on his head.’

  ‘Corrections was supposed to put him in solitaire,’ Manny began.

  ‘But they didn’t, so he’s dead. Thank God Masterson took his statement and you got the books to corroborate the wires, or Valle wouldn’t be behind anyone’s bars right now. I would have liked to have kept the state money laundering charges, but that’s the way it goes. There’s a bloody war on the streets right now and no one is talking. They’re shooting. Every single night. There’s no one left, no witnesses to take a stand. We’ve gone through the Dirty Lists, IA is sitting on every off-duty. We did what we could.’

  ‘That answer sucks,’ said Manny.

  ‘It’s the only one I have, fellows. Let Gangs work this, and pat yourselves on the back for getting Valle this far. No one else has been able to until now,’ he said, as the escalator carried him down. He turned and straightened his suit and gave a short wave, then almost ran to the next set of escalators below.

  Dominick could feel Gracker’s eyes homing in on his back across the crowded hallway, the smile spreading on his pudgy red cheeks. There was no way he was going to turn around and give the fat fuck the satisfaction. That would happen in federal court for the next goddamn two years while the feds worked out their deals. Gracker would get his, but like Dominick’s Italian relatives liked to say, revenge was a dish best served cold. The thought kept him sane.

  ‘Let’s get out of here, Bear,’ he said to Manny, following Maus’s exit down the escalator.

  It was on two that he saw her. Manny actually saw her first.

  ‘Counselor! Hola!’ he said.

  The only attorney Bear was ever happy to see was C.J. Dominick turned around on the escalator and suddenly there she was.

  ‘Hi,’ she said softly. She looked tired and rail thin, clutching an armful of file folders to her chest. Dominick knew that when the nightmares were at their worst, she simply refused to close her eyes, going weeks seemingly without any sleep and surviving on twenty-minute catnaps throughout the day. To relax her, he would put on her favorite funny movies and rub her back for hours.

  ‘Hey,’ he said back. Manny sensed the moment and took off.

  ‘I heard about the feds taking Valle,’ she said. ‘Sorry.’

  ‘You win some, you lose some, I guess.’ He looked up and met her eyes finally. ‘Are you sleeping?’ he asked.

  ‘Yeah,’ she lied, looking away and pushing her wireframed glasses back up the bridge of her nose, presumably to hide the dark circles. ‘I’m in trial. You know how that is.’

  ‘Again? Well, good luck.’ He looked back down at the fast-approaching lobby below.

  ‘I miss you,’ she said softly behind him.

  ‘Me too,’ he replied. Then he walked off the escalator and into the crowd, making his way to the front glass doors, and disappeared into the warm afternoon.


  C.J. walked slowly out of 6-7 to the elevator bay, dragging behind her another set of file boxes for another defendant on her metal dolly. The bailiff said goodnight and locked the doors behind her with a heavy click.

  The courthouse escalators had long since stopped running, the cleaning crews come and gone. She maneuvered her cart around a yellow WET FLOOR! sign, and took the elevator down to the lobby. She made her way out the back of the courthouse and down the handicap ramp, past the looming mass that was the Dade County Jail.

  Tonight she had convicted a 20-year-old of two counts of first-degree murder, and watched in an empty courtroom as the judge sentenced him to two consecutive life terms. Tomorrow at ten she had a next-of-kin meeting on another homicide and then all next week she had pre-files scheduled on an old murder
that the City of Miami had just solved with a cold hit from the FDLE DNA database in Tallahassee. The rest of her day timer looked the same for the next six months. Only the names changed.

  She nodded at the uninterested State Attorney security guard who sat reading his People magazine by the metal detectors in the empty lobby and made her way to the elevator bay. Her head ached and her shoulders sagged, heavy with the invisible weight she carried all the time now. It was almost 10:30 at night and she was the last one back again from battle, pulling another carcass behind her on her collapsible cart. Work had become her prison, but it was also her only refuge. It was her penance.

  She knew with a deadly certainty after Bantling’s outburst in court that no matter how much she wanted to run, she could never leave this job until his death sentence was carried out. She would devote her life to keeping him in, to finishing the job she had set out to do. And while she was at it, she would put some more bad people behind bars. This office defined her life now, it sealed her in, just fifty yards and a few steel doors away from murderers, rapists, thieves, drug dealers, burglars, batterers. Just fifty yards separating the keepers from the gray concrete, iron barred zoo across the street.

  The halls of the State Attorney’s Office were as deserted as the courthouse she had just come from. She made her way through the Formica maze of the Major Crimes secretarial pool, the motion-sensor fluorescents picking up on her presence and lighting her path sections at a time, awakening with a faint electric buzz. On Marisol’s little corner of the world, she spotted an eight-by-ten picture of Manny Alvarez on his graduation day from the police academy some twenty years ago. Apparently he’d never had any hair. Smiling across from him in another frame was a Glamour Shots photo of Marisol herself, feather boa and all.

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