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Retribution, p.28
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       Retribution, p.28

           Jilliane Hoffman
 

  ‘He’s my client, C.J. And he’s looking at death row.’ Her voice was a choked whisper, the words pleading for understanding. But there was none to be found.

  ‘And your client tells you that he’s a monster. That he viciously raped a woman twelve years back, and that woman just so happens to be his prosecutor now while he stands accused of raping and then butchering eleven women to death. How convenient. And without thought as to the consequence, you actually toss out those accusations to a woman you know has been raped while he is sitting right there. Now I don’t know how your client found out about my assault, I really don’t, but I will tell you this much – my conscience is clear. And if by some chance he should walk, if he should get out of jail someday, and rape and torture and kill some other innocent woman, which he will inevitably do if given the chance, I know that I can face that woman’s family and truly say, “I’m sorry for your loss.” I can live with myself, Lourdes. Can you?’

  Lourdes was silent. Tears rolled down her cheeks.

  ‘Now you do what you feel you have to do for your client. And I’ll do what I know is right. I have an appointment.’

  With that, C.J. turned and crossed Thirteenth Street, leaving Lourdes Rubio crying on the sidewalk just outside the Dade County Jail.

  52

  ‘C. J. Townsend. State Attorney’s Office.’ C.J. flashed her credentials at the dispatch officer.

  ‘Who do you need to see, again?’

  ‘Special Agent Chris Masterson.’

  ‘Yeah, hold on, he’s coming down.’

  C.J. nervously paced the reception waiting room at FDLE headquarters, her heels tapping softly on the white tile. Commendations and plaques decorated the walls, along with an enormous detailed color photograph of a gold Special Agent’s badge. On yet another wall, plastered practically on top of each other inside a glass case, were missing-person flyers. C.J. glanced over the photos on the flyers. Most named teenagers who had either run away or children who had been abducted by a noncustodial parent, but there were a few others who had simply vanished under suspicious circumstances. Those were labeled ‘endangered’. A flyer remained in the case until the person was found or the case was solved. The new additions were thumb tacked alongside the older ones, so that the more dated flyers were caught underneath. C.J. spotted the black-and-white photograph of a smiling Morgan Weber, her flyer half covered by the freckled face of a teenage runaway. They had not yet removed her flyer from the case.

  The door opened, and Chris Masterson walked in. ‘C.J. How are you doing? I’m sorry it took so long. Dominick didn’t tell me you needed to get into the evidence room today, so it just took me a minute to set everything up for you.’

  ‘I was going to go through it Thursday, Chris, but I have a depo set then and I’m walking the FBI through it all on Friday. So I need to get in there now. Thanks for taking the time to set it all up.’

  ‘No problem.’ They walked down several twisting hallways until they reached the locked conference room. Task force headquarters. Chris opened the door. The long conference table was stacked with large cardboard boxes. On the side of each box was scribbled Cupid, with the FDLE case number. ‘I left you the inventory sheets from the search warrants on the table. Everything’s marked in order. Just make sure you sign out when you’re done and let Becky know that you’re through. She’s the evidence custodian across the hall. I have an interview in an hour, or else I’d help you out. In fact, just about everybody’s out this afternoon.’

  ‘No. There’s no need. I just want to take a peek at what we’ve got. I won’t be too long.’

  ‘Dom’s on the Beach doing interviews, I think. I don’t think he’s coming back here tonight. Do you need me to raise him on the radio?’

  ‘No. I don’t need any help. Thanks, anyway.’

  ‘Alright, then. Good luck. I’ll leave you to your work.’ He closed the door behind him, leaving her alone in the dimly lit room. It was already almost five, and the light outside was beginning to fade as the sun set. The dead girls on The Wall stared down at her as she lit a cigarette with shaking hands and carefully read through the sixteen pages of inventory sheets on the table. She didn’t know exactly what she was looking for, but she knew that if it existed, this was where she was going to find it.

  Lourdes was on a fishing expedition on the pc issue – either that, or her motion to suppress was incomplete. Lourdes had given her a copy of the motion that would be filed tomorrow morning. She’d read it over carefully three times and there was no mention of, or hint at, the anonymous tip. The motion was based solely on Bantling’s protestations that he was not speeding, that his taillight had not been broken, and that the search was without consent or probable cause. And to be sure that neither Chavez, Lindeman, nor Ribero had talked to either Lourdes or one of her investigators, or anyone else for that matter, C.J. had also called the sergeant himself at MBPD, almost giving him a heart attack with news of Bantling’s accusation that the search had been devoid of pc. No one had talked to anyone, Ribero had assured her. A boilerplate motion: an arrested defendant’s words against that of an esteemed police officer. It was not hard to see in that instance who would win the war of words.

  But while she may have breathed a sigh of relief, it was short-lived, for the second half of the motion was devoted to the allegations Lourdes had made in DCJ. That C.J. was raped, that Bantling was her rapist, and that C.J. was now actively involved in a fraud and a cover-up to conceal that fact. And C.J. knew that Bantling may just have something in his possession to prove that true, to elevate this past just a boilerplate war of words.

  The inventory sheets listed every piece of evidence seized from Bantling’s house and cars, and assigned it an FDLE exhibit number. She purposely passed over boxes containing swatches of carpet, bedding and linens, kitchen utensils, and personal hygiene items and moved to a set of three large boxes marked Exhibit 161A, B, and C. The top of the inventory sheet was marked ‘Personal Effects’, and then listed on a separate line the evidence seized in that category: ‘photos, misc.’; ‘photo albums numbered I through 12’; ‘black VHS unlabeled videotapes numbered I through 98’; ‘books (44)’; ‘magazines (15)’; ‘CDs numbered I through 64’; ‘clothing, misc.’; ‘shoes, misc. (7 pr)’; ‘costumes, misc.’; ‘jewelry, misc.’ It was this box that interested her.

  She looked at each photo album, every photograph, and, finding nothing, then moved slowly through the box of miscellaneous clothes seized from Bantling’s house. There was nothing. The books were mainly contemporary novels, except, appropriately, for a few tides from the Marquis de Sade and Edgar Allan Poe; the magazines ranged from soft – to hard-core porn – Playboy, Hustler, Shaved. The CDs were all popular music, and her office had already been forwarded a copy of all the videotapes, which she had watched in their entirety in one hellish, long weekend. There was nothing there, either.

  FDLE Exhibit Number 161 C, Item 11: miscellaneous costumes was handwritten on a white evidence receipt and taped directly to the top of a blue plastic storage container in the last evidence box. There was no other detailed description noted anywhere on the inventory sheet. C.J. opened the lid, which had not been taped shut, and drew in a breath.

  There, resting on the top, with its bloodred smile and shaggy polyester eyebrows, was a ghoulish clown mask. C.J. instantly recognized it. Her blood ran cold, and she trembled uncontrollably as memories rushed her like ghosts freed from a closed-off attic. That face at the end of her bed, glowing white in the electric flashes of lightning that escaped into her bedroom. The sound of his breath as it hissed through the rubber mouth slit. She felt his gloved hands on her skin, the tickle of the polyester hair on her legs and stomach. She smelled the latex and his old coffee breath and tasted the dry silk of the panties on her tongue, her throat gagging with the memory. After a few dizzying moments, with her own gloved fingers she picked up the mask by its fuzzy red hair, holding it far away from her person, as if it were a dead, putrid animal. She knew what had
to be done. Then she stuffed it into a waiting black plastic bag and closed up the lid on the storage container.

  The final evidence bag in exhibit 161C was a clear plastic bag stapled with a white inventory receipt marked FDJLE 161C Item 12: jewelry, miscellaneous – upper-left-hand bureau drawer, master BR. She laid the bag on the conference table and spread out the jewelry inside, looking at it carefully. A TAG Heuer watch. A gold cuff bracelet. A gold rope bracelet. Necklaces. Cuff links. A man’s black onyx ring. Several mismatched earrings.

  And then she saw it. The gold double-heart diamond pendant that Michael had given her for their anniversary twelve years before. Tears flowed down her cheeks, but she quickly brushed them away, and delicately sliced under the red evidence tape that sealed the bag, careful not to disturb the initials of C.M., the officer who had bagged the jewelry as evidence. Probably Chris Master-son. She removed the pendant, fingering it flatly in her fingers as she had the last time she had seen it, when it was around her neck. She remembered Michael’s words to her that night.

  I had it made special. Do you like it?

  A one-of-a-kind piece – and the only thing that could incontrovertibly connect her with Bantling. The ghosts rushed her again, tackling her and leaving her breathless and drained. She remembered the knife as it angrily sliced the pendant from her throat. His labored coffee breath as it hissed harder and faster from the mouth slit. She couldn’t go crazy again. She couldn’t. It took too long to come back last time.

  The earrings and maybe the bracelets and necklaces were probably taken from Bantling’s other victims: maybe the bartender from Hollywood, or the UCLA student from L.A., or the nurse in Chicago. Tokens, trophies taken from each conquest. How many times had Bantling looked at that pendant and thought of her? Remembered Chloe and who she used to be? Got himself off thinking of her dying on those sheets? She slipped the pendant in the black plastic bag next to the mask and she shoved the bag in her purse. Then she carefully resealed the evidence bag and placed it back in the cardboard box. She had found what she had come for. Now the playing field was again level. It would be his word against hers. And she knew who would win that battle.

  She had become a thief, a criminal. She had become one of the bad guys.

  Yet another small sacrifice for the greater good.

  53

  She had packed up her briefcase to go when the door opened suddenly. She jumped in her skin and caught her breath. Dominick stood in the door frame looking at her quizzically.

  ‘Hey, what are you doing here?’ he said. ‘I came back to get my laptop and saw the light on from the parking lot. I thought you might be Manny.’

  ‘You scared me. I didn’t hear the door,’ she said, holding her hand over her heart.

  ‘Sorry. I didn’t mean to scare you. You do look a bit pale.’

  ‘Chris let me in. I needed to get familiar with the evidence. I’m walking Gracker and the FBI through it all on Friday. I didn’t want to be surprised,’ she said quickly.

  ‘Well, keep an eye on him. He just might take a few things when you’re not looking. ‘ Dominick looked around the conference room. ‘Where’s Chris now?’

  ‘He had an interview.’

  ‘Where? Upstairs?’

  ‘No. I think in the city.’

  Dominick looked upset. ‘He shouldn’t have left you with the evidence. He needs to sign it in and out of the evidence room. He should be here.’

  ‘He told me to sign out with Becky.’

  ‘Becky left at five, along with everyone else. The building is deserted. I’ll need to sign this stuff back in and secure it. Let me open up the evidence room.’

  ‘Sorry.’

  ‘It’s not your fault. I’ll get with Chris in the morning about it. Did you find everything you needed?’

  ‘Yes. I’ve seen everything I needed to see.’ She helped him carry the boxes down the hall to the evidence room and watched anxiously as Dominick logged each exhibit back in. Her palms were in full sweat as she watched him check off the items on the last exhibit, namely the bag of miscellaneous jewelry and the costumes box. She breathed a sigh of relief when he finally stood and double-locked and secured the evidence room, set the alarm, and signed out.

  ‘How did your meeting go today with Bantling and his attorney? It was this afternoon, right?’ he said as they headed back down the hall.

  C.J. bit the inside of her lip. Other than Chris Master-son and Lou Ribero, Dominick was the only other person she had spoken with since all hell broke loose at DCJ. She didn’t know if she could have this conversation right now without falling apart. She felt her eyes well up, and she looked down at her purse on the long cherry table. ‘Okay. Not much to tell.’

  ‘Does he want to cop a plea?’

  ‘No. No plea. He’s filing a motion to suppress the stop.’

  ‘A motion to suppress? On what grounds?’

  ‘No pc for the stop. That Victor Chavez, the Beach cop who pulled him over, was lying and didn’t see Bantling speeding. He just used that as an after-the-fact excuse to justify the stop. He also says that the taillight wasn’t broken, and that excuse was bullshit, too. He says, basically, that Chavez is a rogue cop looking to make the big time using Cupid as his pole jump. ‘ She purposely left out the second half of the motion, the real reason she was called down to the jail today.

  Dominick remembered the broken piece of taillight that he had picked up at the scene and slipped into his pocket the night Bantling was arrested. It certainly wouldn’t be the first time that a cop had taken matters into his own hands with an asp or flashlight or his foot. Make the facts fit the crime.

  ‘That’s just great, ‘ he said shaking his head, trying to shake loose the image he now had of Chavez tossing pieces of taillight off” the MacArthur Causeway. Right in front of the Miami Herald.‘You prefiled that cop. What do you think about his story? ’

  ‘He’s a rookie – he lacks experience. But I think he’ll be okay.’ C.J. was feeling more than uncomfortable now. She was not good at lying. Avoiding, maybe, but not lying. ‘If I could have picked someone else to have done the stop, I would have, but that’s not possible, so we go with what we have. I’m working with him.’

  ‘I don’t get it. Rubio asked you down to the jail to file a motion to suppress? That doesn’t make much sense. She could have done that in court. She didn’t need to drag you into that shit hole. Was Bantling there, too?’

  ‘Yes.’ She started to shake slightly.

  ‘Anyone else?’

  ‘No.’

  ‘Just you, Rubio, and Bantling in a lockdown cell?’ He watched her face drain with every question. Why?

  She knew he was reading her, looking for an answer and at this very moment, she was an easy read. She reached for her purse and held it close to her side. ‘Dominick, please. It’s been a long day. He’s a freak. I don’t want to get into it.’

  ‘C.J., what has he got on you? Why does this case upset you so much? What is it? You can talk to me. Maybe I can do something…’

  God, how she wished she could talk to him. How she wished he could make this whole nightmare go away, maybe hold her in his arms and make her feel safe the way he had that night in her apartment four weeks ago. Safe and protected and warm. Now, more than ever before, she needed that feeling, because her life seemed to be spinning furiously out of control yet again, and she’d been left desperately grabbing at strings to pull it back in and hold it together. ‘No, no. As I said, he’s a freak, that’s all. I’ve got to go home. It’s late, and I’m exhausted.’

  He watched her as she picked up her briefcase. ‘Is the motion good?’

  ‘No. It’s boilerplate. Shouldn’t be a problem.’

  ‘Can I get a copy?’

  ‘It’s at the office,’ she lied. She knew that the press would be all over the facts in that motion once it was actually filed with the court and became public record. Her rape would be all over the news, analyzed by some twenty-something reporter trying to make a name
for himself on MSNBC. She would relive it again and again and again until the public wasn’t interested anymore. And even though it would not be grounds in and of itself for her removal on the case, she knew that Judge Chaskel would not be happy that she had not disclosed it. She also feared that Tigler would remove her and assign another prosecutor: one who didn’t carry allegations of impropriety and bias with her as baggage into the courtroom. She knew she should give Dominick a heads-up before the allegations came out, practice denying them without crying every two seconds, but not tonight. Tonight she couldn’t.

  ‘Alright. Let me walk you out.’ He knew not to push her; it would just drive her further away. So he decided to change the subject. ‘I’m gonna try to raise Manny and see if he wants to get some dinner. I just spent my whole afternoon club-hopping on Miami Beach, and it’s really no fun in the middle of the day.’ He locked the conference room and waved at the duty officer alone in the dispatch room on the way out.

  They walked to her Jeep in silence, and she climbed in. It would not be a sweet send-off like the other day. ‘Thanks, Dominick,’ was all she said.

  ‘Good night, C.J. Call me if you need me. Anytime.’

  She nodded and pulled away.

  He turned and walked to his own car. In the dark, deserted parking lot, he sat thinking for a few moments about what had just transpired, about C.J.’s quirky reaction yet again to the mention of Bill Bantling’s name. He left a message on Manny’s cell and then checked the voice messages on his own cell phone. The faint tap on his window more than surprised him.

 
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