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Retribution, p.29
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       Retribution, p.29

           Jilliane Hoffman
 

  It was C.J. He rolled down the window.

  ‘Jesus. You shouldn’t sneak up on people. Especially those with guns in dark parking lots. Are you okay?’ He looked around the parking lot for her car, expecting to see it disabled with the hood up.

  ‘Is that dinner invitation from the other day still open?’ she asked with a strained smile. ‘Because I’m starving.’

  54

  It was now 8:00 at night and Lourdes Rubio still sat at her hard oak desk in her empty office, still staring at her law degree from the University of Miami, and still wondering how the day had gone so terribly wrong. Next to the law degree, the cream-colored walls were adorned with the miscellaneous community-service awards and plaques that she had received over the years from various legal and charitable organizations.

  She could still remember verbatim the oath she took as a lawyer when she was sworn in by old Chief Judge Fifler, and the horrible magenta suit with the quarterback shoulder pads that she had worn for the occasion. That had been fourteen years ago. Judge Fifler had since died, the purple suit burned, and the years had somehow flown by.

  Much to her mother’s disappointment, Lourdes had always wanted to be a criminal defense attorney. She actually wanted to uphold the Constitution and protect the innocent from having their rights trampled upon by the intrusive eyes and ears of bad big brother. All that shit that she had learned and taken for gospel in law school. Then she had hit the real world as a public defender and watched as her naïveté fell from grace.

  There was no place for the homeless, no help for the mentally ill. Lawyers wanted to make money and cut deals. Judges wanted to lighten their caseloads. Prosecutors wanted to build a name for themselves. For many, the justice system was nothing but a cruel revolving door. And still, she wanted to be a criminal defense attorney.

  Until today.

  She had coped with the shortcomings of the system by leaving the bureaucratic Public Defender’s Office and starting her own criminal law practice. As a Cuban female in a solo practice she had struggled for years to build a name for herself in a profession dominated by men, where she was surrounded by men, including her own clients. And after eight hard years she had made that name, playing hardball with the best of them. She was at the top of her game, one of the highest paid and most well-respected criminal defense attorneys in Miami. She had won the brass ring. Now she looked at her law degree with disgust rather than pride. She thought of her client with contempt, instead of compassion.

  How could she allow herself to get caught up in the cycle, in the very system that she despised and for years had claimed on a daily basis she wanted to change? How could she actually allow a rapist to confront his victim, allow him to use his crime against her as a legal weapon to gain his freedom? Because in this system, to win sometimes meant playing tough, at whatever cost, and she knew that his allegations would be a quick fix to this case. A fast victory.

  She began to put her files in her briefcase, to pack up and go home and fix dinner for her elderly mother and maybe watch a movie on HBO, but then she just as quickly stopped and put her head in her hands.

  She had mistaken victory for justice today, and for that she was truly sorry.

  55

  Chloe Larson. The cute little lawyer-to-be from Queens was now all grown up and playing prosecutor. Boy, had Father Time been rough on her. He had barely recognized her, what with that mousy hair and her grandma suits that covered too much of her once-tight ass and perky tits. But that face. Well, he could never forget a face. Especially one like Chloe’s. That’s why she had been chosen in the first place. Because she was not just pretty – she was exceptional

  And now he had found her again. Twelve years and he had found her, and they were reunited. The look on her exceptional face when his useless attorney had sprung the news on her was priceless. Simply priceless. Shock. Then fright. And finally, terror. She had been caught. Caught by her captor. Forced to look back in his face again with those pretty green eyes and admit she couldn’t play this game. She had failed at that, too.

  He picked his teeth clean with a cardboard notebook cover while he sat on the lumpy cot that smelled like old fish and piss.

  Shut up and sit down. That’s actually what his useless attorney had yelled at him. Shut up and sit down. Who the fuck was she? He had to rethink her part in all this. He had originally thought her to be a good choice as his attorney, but now… Then again, she had gotten the police reports for him from New York and that had made for some great bedtime reading. To actually read about what he had done, as recalled through the eyes of others. Particularly the dumb NYPD Blue cops who couldn’t find their asses from their elbows. It was pretty cool. And his useless attorney had helped him scare the shit out of Madame Prosecutor with her hereto fores and whereases and overall legalese. But now she said she couldn’t file the motion yet, that she had to do some more investigating. So now he was left to wonder if she could play ball with the Big Boys in the Big Top.

  Let me handle this. You are admitting that you are a brutal knife-wielding rapist. You want to say, ‘I did it then, but I didn’t do it now’ and get off by accusing the prosecutor, your victim, of wrongdoing. But understand this, Bill: Everyone will despise you even more, and they will take pity on her. It is a very delicate situation, and we can’t just level these charges. She is denying your accusations, and frankly, your word means nothing to the court – not over hers. You need proof.

  I’ll give you proof, alright. Although I’d hate to part with it.

  Outbursts like today’s are certainly not going to help your case. You look the part of a serial killer. You need to let me handle this in the way I think it should be handled. And you need to say nothing. Just shut up and sit down.

  She sure was scared, though. Now that Lourdes Rubio knew who she was dealing with, sitting next to in the courtroom, whispering with in the cellblock. And he didn’t know if she could be as convincing to a jury as before, when she actually believed him innocent. The trusting doe eyes were gone.

  Bill Bantling paced like a wild animal in his cage, locked away from the others in solitary confinement because he was a security risk. Bullshit. It was simply because, he now realized, Chloe, Beany, Madame Prosecutor, had known who he was all along, and she needed him contained for her own protection. For her own sanity. The more bars he was locked behind, the better she told herself she could sleep. But now he knew her game, and it was up. It would actually be fun watching her come apart.

  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.

  Oh, she talked a big act. But he knew that was because he was locked up in handcuffs and shackles and chained to a fucking table, and because of that she could actually say those things to him.

  He knew, though, that she was scared, scared out of her mind. And she should be.

  Because when he got out, he was going to kill her.

  56

  ‘I’ve become involved with Dominick Falconetti.’

  ‘When did this happen?’

  Greg Chambers was back in the role of therapist now. He sat quietly, his chair pulled conversationally in front of his desk. The late-afternoon sun streamed in through the wooden blinds, basking the room in a warm caramel light.

  ‘I guess it’s been happening. I’ve been trying to stop it, especially since Bantling’s arrest, but, it just sort of developed.’ He watched as she stubbed out one cigarette, only after lighting another. The smoke hung in the air, dancing on the beams of soft light. She exhaled slowly and pulled her hair back again off her face and behind her ears.

  ‘How do you feel about this? Is this something you want?’ His voice was soft, devoid of judgment or opinion. Anything but, and she would clam up, hold it all inside, where it would eat at the lining of her stomach.

  ‘How do I feel? I feel scared, nervous, happy, excited, guilty. All in one. All at the same time. I know I shouldn’t have l
et it get this far, but… God, he takes my mind away. Away from all of it. And that’s a good thing. That’s good therapy, Doctor. When I’m with him, I’m with him. I’m in a safe place. That’s the only way I can describe it. I can let this security fence, this radar that I have always going on, well, I can let it down. Turn it off. That psycho’s face is finally out of my head, for just a few hours out of my day, anyway, and I’m someplace else, and this invisible weight in my heart… it’s gone. It’s a feeling I haven’t had with any other man – one I don’t want to let go of.’

  She rose out of the blue wing-backed leather chair and paced nervously about the room. ‘But I’m also scared. Actually, I’m petrified. I don’t want to let him get too close. There are things he can never know about.’

  ‘Are you referring to yourself, perhaps? That you don’t want him to see the real you for fear he may not like what it is he sees?’

  ‘No. Yes. Emotionally, maybe sometime in the future I could totally let down my guard. Share myself, as you like to say. But, there are things, factual matters that, well, I can never share with him. Things that he would never accept. And I just don’t think that a relationship can be built on half-truths.’

  ‘Are you speaking about your assault, the rape? Facts you don’t care to share with him about that?’ he prodded. ‘Perhaps sharing those facts can make you grow together.’

  ‘No. Besides the rape there are other things, but I don’t want to get into them today. Not now.’ She remembered what was not covered by patient-doctor confidentiality, and that was future crimes. Withholding of evidence, tampering with witnesses, tampering with evidence, suborning perjury. All were criminal acts. She had to be very careful not to take this any further.

  ‘Have you become intimate with him?’

  The question made her a little uncomfortable. In the past, perhaps, these details would not have been difficult to share, but now Dr Chambers had a professional relationship with everyone concerned. Unconsciously, she moved behind the chair. ‘Yes,’ she said.

  ‘And?’

  ‘And it was’ – she paused for a moment, as if remembering something – ‘it was nice. It didn’t happen right away, though. We just went to dinner that night after… after, well, what happened at DCJ.’

  ‘After Bantling and his attorney confronted you in the jail?’

  ‘Yes. That night.’ She had shared with her therapist Bantling’s allegations that he was her rapist. She had not told him of Lourdes’s accusation that she had willfully withheld evidence. ‘I couldn’t go home that night. I needed him around me. I was scared out of my wits – everything rushed back as if it were yesterday, and I could not go home to an empty apartment. I know that shouldn’t be a basis for a relationship – fear – but, we didn’t sleep together that night. It was just dinner. It was company. It was something more that had started awhile back. I needed to be close to him that night. I can’t explain it.’

  She moved to the window and looked out on the busy Coral Gables street outside as it settled into rush hour. Busy people hurrying to and fro with their lives.

  ‘Anyway, it just happened between us. Slowly. Last night, actually. I haven’t been with anyone since that stockbroker a few years back, and frankly, I didn’t think it would ever be nice. But it was, and it was warm and it was sweet and it was nice. Even in the pitch-black darkness, I was terrified about the scars, what he would say when he touched them, what he would think…’

  She remembered her bedroom and Dominick’s warm hands, softly rubbing the small of her back as he gently kissed her, his tongue touching hers, those hands moving slowly to undo the buttons on her blouse, and to press his own shirtless chest against hers. And she remembered the instant, sobering wave of terrifying anxiety that had come over her, because she knew he would feel them. Maybe even see them once his eyes adjusted to the darkness, the ugly raised lines that haphazardly crisscrossed her chest and abdomen.

  They had had a couple of bottles of wine – too much wine – while watching the boats pass on the Intercoastal below. Wine and funny conversation. She had felt relaxed and comfortable and happy for the first time since she could remember. And when he had leaned over in his chair on the small balcony with the moonlit palm trees as a backdrop and kissed her, she did not resist. Instead she had moved closer and they had ended up in the blackness of her bedroom, his probing hands electrifying her body and terrifying her mind. But then her blouse, and then her bra, had come off and their skin had touched and he had said nothing. He hadn’t even paused. He just kept kissing her in the darkness, his body dancing slowly in time with hers to soundless music, as if nothing else in the world mattered. And that morning when she had awoken, he was still next to her, playing softly with her hair and the back of her neck.

  ‘… but he didn’t care,’ she continued. ‘He never said anything. I knew he must have felt them, so I told him I was in a car accident. I just blurted it out.’

  ‘And what was his reaction?’

  ‘He asked me if they hurt me now. He asked me if they hurt when he touched them. I told him no, but that it had been a very long time since I had been with someone. And then he made love to me. Very slow, very gentle…’ Her voice trailed off.

  ‘I shouldn’t be telling you this. It’s very intimate, and you know everyone involved. But you’re the only one who knows the whole story at play here, Greg – Dr Chambers. I know I am falling for him, that I may already have fallen for him. I need to know if I am a fool to see a future in this.’

  ‘Only you can answer that, C.J.’

  ‘I can’t even bring myself to tell him about the rape. He can never know about Cupid. There are so many secrets now, so many lies…’

  What about the motion to suppress? Didn’t you say it detailed your rape? Won’t he learn about your assault when the motion is heard?’

  ‘Yes, the draft of the motion that Lourdes gave me did detail the rape. But I guess after I talked to her outside the jail she must have had second thoughts. At least for the time being. The rape is not mentioned in the copy of the motion she actually filed a week later with the court. Chaskel is hearing the motion next Tuesday morning. Halloween, of all days. Of course, she may surprise me still and call Bantling to the stand. If that happens, I guess the world will then find out about my rape at the same time Dominick does.’

  ‘How do you feel about that possibility? Your inability to control these events?’

  ‘Everything is out of my control, it seems. But I can’t let go of this case; I won’t. And in the event that it does happen and I fall apart in front of the world, I was hoping that… well, that you might be there for support. Because if he does take the stand, I just might go crazy again.’

  ‘If you would like me there, then I will be there.’

  C.J. felt relieved; she would have at least one person in her corner should the world collapse in around her. You’d better come early to get a seat – it’s a hot ticket. CBS pitches a tent the night before, I’ve heard.’

  He laughed.

  She mused aloud. ‘Maybe Lourdes has a conscience in that pretty head of hers. Maybe she thinks her client is lying about the rape: Maybe she knows better than to raise this as a defense. I guess we’ll see on Tuesday.’

  He folded his hands under his chin and rested his elbows easily on his knees. ‘I’m glad you’ve decided to resume therapy, C.J. I really am. I would like to see you back on Wednesday evenings, at least weekly while this case progresses. I believe it will be more stressful than even you can realize.’

  She smiled. ‘Do I look as if I’m going crazy? Do my eyes roll? Do I sound coherent to a nonlawyer?’

  ‘Let’s not let it get to that point. You are not sharing these events with anyone else, and that is a factor to consider in returning to a weekly therapy schedule. It doesn’t mean I think that you are “going crazy” again, as you call it’

  She nodded nervously. If the metamorphosis did begin again, would she recognise the signs, or would someone have to
point them out to her?

  ‘I’m sorry,’ she began in a low voice, ‘about ending therapy the way I did last spring – without… without speaking to you first. I wanted to see if I could muddle through life on my own…’

  ‘Say no more. I understand. The important thing is that you’ve recognized that you need help, that you won’t go through this alone. Now,’ he continued, changing the subject and letting the awkward moment pass as quickly as it had come, ‘how is the case going otherwise?’

  ‘Everything else has fallen into place. The feds have backed off a bit. I think de la Flors is waiting to see how the motion goes. If I lose, he’ll hang me high and rush in like a hero with an indictment. If I win, well, he might just do the same. It depends how the political winds are blowing.

  ‘I just got Bantling’s medical records from that doctor in New York City,’ she went on. ‘The diagnosis, anyway. Chaskel took a look at the records in his chambers and said only the diagnosis was relevant since Bantling has not yet placed his sanity in issue. So I’ll get that and his meds into evidence. That will give me another link to Anna Prado, and a link to the other six girls that the ME has found haloperidol in. His doc had him on twenty milligrams of Haldol a day.’

  ‘That’s an extremely high dosage. Was he still being treated by this doctor?’

  ‘Dr Fineburg. Occasionally. Enough so that he kept writing him refills every three months.’

  ‘And what was the actual diagnosis?’

  She stubbed out her last cigarette and sighed wearily before rising to leave. ‘Borderline personality disorder with extreme and violent antisocial tendencies. In other words, he’s a complete sociopath. As if I needed a doctor to tell me that.’

 
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