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Retribution, p.27
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       Retribution, p.27

           Jilliane Hoffman
 

  ‘Oh that’s just bullshit!’ groused an excited Bowman. ‘He’s not gonna sit in jail forever eating three square meals a day on my tax dollars after hacking eleven women to death, is he?’

  ‘Don’t be such a fuckin’ grump,’ growled Bear. ‘Counselor is not gonna let him walk. I’ve seen the size of her balls in court and I can tell you that they sure as hell are a lot bigger than yours, Bowman.’

  ‘Taking the death penalty off the table is not an option,’ said C.J. ‘But if he wants to save the state the time and trouble of trying him for eleven murders, I’ll certainly let him. He can argue to the sentencing jury in the penalty phase that he has found Jesus and his cooperation in pleading was a valuable asset. Valuable enough to spare his life. That argument didn’t work for Danny Rolling in Gainesville and I doubt it will work for Bantling, either.’

  She had her briefcase in hand and was headed toward the door. ‘I’ll let you know how it turns out. In the meantime, I’ve sent the feds enough paperwork to ticker tape all of Manhattan for a parade. When they’re done reading, I’m going to walk them through whatever evidence they want to look at on Friday. They’re getting quite antsy. So I’ll need a warm body to open up the evidence room and supervise. Any takers?’

  ‘Yeah. Bowman. He loves to baby-sit. Don’t you, Itchy? Maybe you can pass off some of those fleas to the FBI SAC.’ Bear laughed.

  ‘He don’t have much hair left on that shiny head of his for them to hide in, Bear,’ said Jimmy Fulton from the back of the room.

  ‘Now don’t be making fun of guys with no hair. Me and Bowman are pretty sensitive,’ said Manny sternly.

  ‘Fuck, you, Bear. I ain’t losing my hair,’ protested Eddie Bowman.

  ‘No. You’re fucking scratching it off your head, Itchy,’ snorted Manny.

  ‘We’ll just call you follicle challenged, Eddie. And I ain’t calling Bear nothing. He’s a hell of a lot bigger than me,’ said Chris Masterson.

  ‘I’ll walk you out,’ said Dominick to C.J. ‘Now behave yourself, kids. No spitballs.’

  Dominick and C.J. walked out the conference room doors and down the hall. Rain poured down outside the glass main doors that led to the parking lot. A big boom of thunder quaked outside.

  C.J. stood at the main doors. ‘Damn. I forgot my umbrella,’ she said.

  ‘Let me walk you.’ Dominick took an umbrella from the hall stand outside Dispatch. He led her outside, and they walked close together under the small umbrella in the driving rain to her car.

  ‘How have you been sleeping?’ he asked suddenly.

  She gave him a funny look, as if he knew something he shouldn’t have known. ‘What?’

  ‘You said you got almost no sleep last weekend after we went to Morgan Weber’s crime scene. I just wanted to know if you had caught up.’

  ‘I’m fine, thanks.’ She climbed into her Jeep. He held the door open with the umbrella still over his head, the rain pouring off the sides and soaking his pants. The palm trees in front of her car bent under the rain and wind – a typical vicious Florida afternoon thunderstorm in the height of hurricane season. Then Dominick suddenly leaned his whole upper body inside the car and into the front seat. His face was now inches from her own. The faint scent of his cologne tickled her nose. His breath smelled of sweet peppermint, and she could see the very faint lines that ran out like cracks from his soft brown eyes. She remembered his kiss from weeks ago and felt her breath suck in. The butterflies flew free.

  ‘When this is all over, will you go to dinner with me then?’ he asked.

  She stuttered, taken aback by his question, which she had not seen coming. When she finally found her voice a few long seconds later, she was surprised to hear her own answer. ‘Yes. When this is over I will.’

  ‘Good.’ He smiled and the faint lines spread, cutting deeper into his tan face. He had such a nice smile. When are you meeting with them? Bantling and his attorney?’

  ‘Day after tomorrow, at DCJ. I’ll call you and let you know how it went.’ She could not help but smile back at him, a warm, intimate smile. The butterflies danced.

  He closed the door and watched under his umbrella as she pulled out of the parking lot and drove off toward the expressway in the driving rain.

  50

  The mint green halls of the Dade County Jail smelled of bad body odor and urine and shit, an odor so offensive that it was hard to breathe. C.J. hated coming over to the jail. Whenever possible she had inmates brought over to either the courthouse or her office for depos or statements or plea negotiations, but because of the high security surrounding Bantling, that just wasn’t going to be possible. So here she was, behind the same iron bars as the criminals, walking past the peeling green paint under the bright fluorescent lights, trying to tune out the whistles and jeers from the inmates above her on the metal catwalks outside their cells. She silently prayed that nothing dripped on her head from above. Keep moving – it’s hard to hit a moving target.

  On the seventh floor, where the maximum-security cells were located, a corrections officer in a bulletproof plastic booth in the center of the floor directed her down a corridor to a solid steel door with a small, thick, bulletproof window at the end of the hall. When she reached it, a loud buzzer sounded and it slid open. She stepped inside and it instantly slid shut again with a thud, as she faced another short hallway with more peeling green paint, and a steel-bar door at the end. Three video cameras recorded everything from their mounted positions on the wall. From where she stood behind the bars, inside the room she could see a metal table and two bodies seated at it – one of whom she instantly recognized in his familiar red jumpsuit as Bill Bantling. Cupid. Just steps away from her. She sucked in her breath and exhaled slowly. Time for the show. She walked to the door and it, too, slid open automatically. She steadied herself and stepped inside. The doors slammed shut behind her with a loud clang: She was locked in.

  Bantling looked up at her when the door slid open, but C.J. kept her focus on Lourdes Rubio, who was seated at the table, directly to his right. She felt his eyes follow her as she walked across the room. But for the metal table and three chairs around it, the room was empty. The room was cold, and a strange and uncomfortable shudder ran through her.

  ‘Hello, Lourdes.’ C.J. took a seat across from the two of them and opened her briefcase and removed a legal pad.

  ‘Hello,’ Lourdes replied, looking up from a stack of papers in front of her. ‘Thank you for agreeing to meet with us this morning.’

  ‘You wanted to talk about a plea. Well, I’m here and I’m listening.’ C J. looked only at Lourdes.

  ‘We have some matters to discuss that will definitely factor in on any plea considerations, that is true.’ Lourdes sighed and after a brief moment, took a thick packet of paper and laid it in front of C. J.

  ‘What’s this?’ asked C.J., frowning.

  ‘My motion to suppress the stop.’

  C.J.’s eyes quickly scanned the motion while Lourdes continued on in a soft, resigned voice. ‘We have reason to believe your judgment is being clouded in this case, Ms Townsend. We are making a formal request tomorrow before Judge Chaskel to have you removed. I am also planning on personally calling the State Attorney to discuss the matter.’

  C.J. swallowed hard. A feeling of panic, one that an animal must feel when the trap springs closed around him, caging him in, rushed over her. She felt as if she had just been sucker-punched from behind and all she could manage to say was, ‘Excuse me? And just what makes you think that my judgment has been clouded?’

  ‘We have reason to believe… Well, we have come upon facts… ‘ Lourdes blinked twice and went silent. Then she looked down at her notepad, and an uncomfortable long moment ticked by. C.J. could feel Bantling’s eyes on her, never leaving her. She could smell his scent, heavy in the cold air. His long fingers picked the peeling green paint off the metal desk that he was handcuffed to; flecks of olive green fluttered to the floor. The corner of his mouth was turned up in a
sneer, as if he was about to laugh. He looked like a kid who knew something that no one else in the class knew. C.J. focused her attention on Lourdes, but underneath the table her knees began to shake.

  Lourdes spoke quietly, her eyes still downcast at the notepad. ‘I know that you have legally changed your name from Chloe Larson. I also know that twelve years ago you were the victim of a brutal rape in your apartment in New York. I have read the police reports.’ She hesitated and looked up at C.J. now. ‘I would like to say that I am sorry about what happened to you.’ She cleared her throat and repositioned her glasses on the bridge of her nose before continuing. ‘My client maintains that he is the one who raped you. He believes that you have recognized him. Due to the expiration of the statute of limitations, he can no longer be prosecuted for that crime in New York, and he believes that you are aware of that fact and are now on a vendetta. A vendetta against him. We believe that you are withholding evidence in this murder because you know that he is innocent.’ Lourdes exhaled deeply, obviously relieved to be done speaking.

  It was interesting, Lourdes’s choice of pronouns in her speech. Bantling was actually smiling now, and his head nodded up and down as Lourdes spoke, as if she were a preacher delivering a great sermon. His probing eyes moved purposely up and down C.J.’s body. She knew what he was thinking, and she instantly felt dirty: naked and exposed in a roomful of voyeurs. She sat completely motionless, stunned by the announcement. What could she say? What could she say? Her mind raced for an answer. Her face grew hot, and an awkward silence filled the room.

  Then he spoke. The voice from her nightmares, now no less than two feet in front of her.

  ‘I can still remember how you taste,’ said the voice. Smiling still, he leaned forward toward her across the table and opened his mouth, slowly licking his top lip with his long pink tongue. He closed his eyes, as if in a deep fantasy. ‘Mmmmmm, mmmm good, Chloe. Or should I call you Beany?’

  Lourdes sat up stiffly and yelled in his face, ‘Mr Bantling! This is not helping you. Shut up!’

  Chloe’s knees shook uncontrollably now and she lifted her feet slightly off the floor so that he could not hear her heels click on the cement. She felt as if she would vomit. A rush of sweat poured over her body, and she had an overwhelming urge to run. Just run. For she had been ambushed again.

  But she couldn’t move from her seat. She could not leave because now was the moment. The moment she had wanted; the moment she had dreaded.

  Speak now or forever hold your peace.

  C.J. found his eyes and held his vile stare with her own for a few long seconds. His lip was pulled up in a sneer and his eyes danced with excitement, and she struggled inside to find a voice. When it came, it was low, but forceful and determined; she was amazed to hear how strong she actually sounded.

  ‘I don’t know how you found out about the crime of which I was a victim, Mr Bantling – I really don’t. Police reports, I suspect. That was a long time ago. And your allegation is truly sickening, especially if, in your twisted little mind, you thought making it would give you some sort of advantage in this litigation.’

  Now it was her turn. She felt the anger inside her gain momentum, knocking aside the weak Chloe who wanted to run and hide. She leaned closer, holding his icy blue stare with her own. In those eyes she saw a flicker of shock, a hint of confusion. She lowered her voice to all but a whisper, but she knew he heard her. ‘But I can assure you that nothing, nothing will give me more pleasure then seeing them strap your scrawny little body on to a metal gurney and pump a needleful of poison into your veins. Your scared eyes will desperately search the audience of spectators called to lay witness to your death for someone, anyone, who can help you get that needle out of your arm, who can help you stop the poison that’s pulsing into your body, shutting it down forever. And you’ll find no allies in that audience. No, you won’t. But what you will find is me. And rest assured, Mr Bantling, I will be there to watch. In fact, I’ll be the one who puts you on that gurney. It’s just a pity that they don’t usually fry people anymore. It would’ve made it that much sweeter to see your whole twisted face melt off.’

  She smiled a dry, knowing smile at him and stood up, turning to address Lourdes now, who sat watching with her mouth open as the scene unfolded before her. ‘And as for you, Ms Rubio, that was the single most unethical display of lawyering that I have ever seen. I’ll be sure to advise Judge Chaskel as such when I get back to my office. Perhaps I will even address it with the bar.’

  Lourdes opened her mouth as if to speak, but C.J. shot her down, her voice shaking with anger and contempt. ‘In the future, don’t even think about communicating with me again unless it is through written motions filed with the court. There is nothing that you need to say to me that cannot be said in front of a judge. You are as despicable as your client.’ She grabbed her briefcase, headed to the iron bars, and buzzed for Corrections.

  Bantling had turned a frightening white, and droplets of sweat had begun to drip slowly from his forehead down his cheeks. Suddenly a loud, inhuman screech that sounded to C.J. like a cat being skinned alive bellowed out in the steel room.

  ‘Jesus Christ, Bill! Stop it!’ Lourdes shouted.

  C.J. kept her back to him, waiting for the door to open. The anger in his voice was all too familiar to her, and she began to silently pray.

  ‘I didn’t do this!’ he hissed. ‘You know I’m innocent! You can’t put an innocent man on death row!’

  The heavy bars slid open. C.J. stepped through them and tried not to run down the hall.

  Bantling stood up now, his metal chair slamming on the cement floor behind him, his handcuffs clanging against the metal leg of the table that held him in place. He screamed behind her. ‘You fucking dirty bitch! You can’t run from me, Chloe! Just remember that – you fucking tasty bitch!’

  The bars slammed shut, and she hit the buzzer to the outer steel door of the reception area. The guard looked up from his magazine in the bulletproof booth. Come on, come on. Open. Her legs were knocking together, and she could barely breathe. Air, she needed air. The door buzzed.

  He was screaming now, pulling violently on the table. C.J. wondered if anyone had ever actually pulled a table out of the floor before. Would he get to her before the guard put down his magazine and made it out of his booth?

  ‘Twelve years and you’re still running, Chloe! But I found you! I found you again, Beany! I told you I’d be back! I’m back for you now –’

  The scream cut off as the metal door slammed hut behind her. She reached the elevator bay and with shaking hands hit the Down button. It seemed like hours before the doors opened and she could step inside, alone at last. She knew, though, that video cameras still recorded her every move. Her legs felt like jelly, and she leaned against the steel walls for support. The doors opened and she walked quickly to the reception counter and signed out, her hand trembling violently under the pen. She held it still with her left hand.

  ‘You okay, Ms Townsend?’ The corrections officer was Sal Tisker. He used to work security at the courthouse bringing the inmates over for court.

  ‘Yeah, Sal, I’m fine. Just fine. It’s been a bad day, that’s all.’ Even her voice shook. She cleared her throat and took her purse from Sal across the counter. She pulled out her sunglasses and put them on.

  ‘Have a good day, Ms Townsend.’ Sal buzzed her through the last security door, and she walked out into the brilliant sunshine.

  She quickly headed across the street to her office, passing the same three hookers on the jail’s dirty cement stairs that she had seen on her way in. They were obviously waiting for their meal ticket to make bond. Boy, was he going to be pissed when he found out his best three ladies had taken the day off from making money on Biscayne just to fart around at the jailhouse. Everything around her in the sunshine seemed surreal now. She resisted the urge to bolt back at full speed to the safety of her office. Just act normal a little bit longer. You’re almost home. Then you can fall apar
t.

  From behind her a voice shouted out from the steps of DCJ. It was Lourdes Rubio. She sounded frantic.

  ‘Ms Townsend! Jesus, Ms Townsend! C.J.! Stop, please!’

  51

  ‘I have nothing to say to you.’

  ‘Please, please, just give me a moment. I’m sorry. I didn’t know he would be like that, that he would say those things.’ Lourdes trotted alongside C.J., trying to get her to look at her. ‘C.J., please, hear me out.’

  ‘Let me guess – you pulled strings and got the police reports from New York. You give a loaded gun to a madman and act surprised when he shoots someone? Give me a break, Lourdes.’ C.J. kept up her brisk pace.

  ‘He knew facts that were confirmed in those reports, C.J. I only let him read them after the fact.’

  ‘I was assaulted over twelve years ago, Lourdes. He had twelve years to read those reports before you were kind enough to order him his own set. Don’t be fooled so easily.’

  ‘C.J., the fact is, I’m sorry for how it came out, for how it was handled. I know this must be painful for you –’

  C.J. stopped walking and faced Lourdes Rubio with a look that would have frozen water. Her voice shook. ‘You have no idea. You cannot even begin to imagine. Imagine what it’s like to wake up in the middle of the night with your hands strapped to a headboard and a madman in a mask slicing your skin to ribbons with a jagged steak knife.’

  Lourdes closed her eyes and cringed, turning her head away.

  ‘Does hearing it make you uncomfortable, Lourdes?’ Her words were a low, contemptuous hiss now, and she spat them like venom at Lourdes. ‘You know, the word rape by itself sounds so neat, so clean. So easy. Okay, you were raped. So is one in every four women on college campuses across the country. Just get over it, already. The fact is, there is so much more to it than that. Like four hours of torture, of being raped over and over and over again with a penis, a bottle, a coat hanger. Of writhing under a man determined on pleasuring himself by cutting your skin open and watching the blood seep out. Of screaming so much in your head that you thought you would explode from the pain and from the pure fear. Maybe you didn’t read those reports you ordered for your client. Because if you had, you would have known that the man who raped me didn’t just leave a boo-boo. He left me sterile. A freak when the lights are left on. He left me to die on sheets soaked in my own blood. Now did you think that you could just come in and toss out your accusation and that it wouldn’t be painful or shocking or completely devastating? Did you really think you could do that? Who gave you that right?’

 
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