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Cutting room the, p.3
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       CUTTING ROOM -THE-, p.3

           Jilliane Hoffman
 

  Reid must have read her mind. As he kissed her, he raised both of her arms above her head. She felt him wrap the smooth silk scarf around and around her wrists. It was very erotic. Then he slipped the ends through something that must have been hanging on the ceiling — a rod or ring or beam, Gabby wasn’t quite sure — and he pulled tight, so that she was almost suspended from the ceiling, although her feet were still touching the floor. It hurt a little, but the loss of control over the moment was both frightening and unbelievably sexy. She wanted him more than ever.

  ‘Oh,’ she murmured, surprised.

  He unbuttoned her blouse and opened it, exposing her lace see-through Victoria’s Secrets bra. The lights were still on and all Gabby could think was thank God she had put on nice underwear this morning. He ran his warm palms over the lace. ‘Do you like that?’ he asked when her nipples got hard.

  She sucked in a breath and nodded.

  He pulled his own shirt over his head and tossed it on the bed. His chest was hairless and muscular. Not body-builder cut, but defined. Especially his pecs. Then he bent down and starting from her ankles, ran his hands over her legs and up her entire body, pulling her skirt up as he did, so that it rested on her hips, exposing her sheer panties. He slowly pulled down her pantyhose, leaving her panties on. ‘I said, “Do you like that?”’ he repeated, his voice sharper. ‘I want to hear you say it, Gabriella. Tell me you like it. Tell me you want me to touch you.’

  She nodded again. She couldn’t believe she was doing this, but it felt so good. ‘Yes,’ she said aloud. ‘Yes, I like that, Reid. I like it a lot. I want you to touch me.’

  He kissed her again and then he pulled away. In one fast motion, he took the pantyhose and tied it around her mouth, knotting it in the back. Her tongue was trapped and she couldn’t speak. Her heartbeat quickened. A feeling of fright pulsed through her body. ‘That’s all I wanted to hear,’ he whispered.

  He walked over to the wall of curtains and pulled back the first curtain. Behind it was a video camera set up on a tripod. Flanking the left side of the video camera were three computer monitors sitting on metal carts. He opened the other curtain, revealing another three monitors on the right — six computers in total. The carts looked like the audiovisual carts teachers used to wheel into classrooms in elementary school when they wanted the class to watch an educational movie. Behind the push carts and video camera was another wall of black curtains. The monitor screens were all on. On each monitor Gabby saw a different person.

  ‘Hello, Gabby,’ said a man on one of the screens, leaning into the camera.

  ‘Good evening, pretty,’ said another.

  And another. ‘Hey there, Gabriella. That’s a real sexy name you have. I like your hair.’

  The man on the first monitor laughed. ‘He likes naturals.’

  Gabby’s eyes grew wide with fear. She tried to speak but the gag wouldn’t let her. She pulled hard on the scarf above her, but it only tightened on her wrists, twisting her hands around and around in mid-air. She tried to kick out, but there was nothing to use for leverage. She spun uselessly, her feet barely touching the floor.

  Reid turned his attention away from the screens and back to her. He’d put on a tight, black mask that covered his face. Besides an opening for his mouth, the only part visible was his eyes. The flecks of gold in them that Gabby had found so intriguing a few hours earlier danced excitedly.

  Gabby tried to scream but couldn’t. She just twisted helplessly around and around, her suspended body jerking about. She thought of her mom and dad and sister in Bloomfield, sleeping in their beds, dreaming nice dreams. She wondered how they would react when they found out she’d been raped by a strange man she’d willingly gone home with. Her mom would break down and cry and scream and probably blame everything on the evil city of New York till her Dad told her to stop. Her Dad, though, would secretly blame Gabby for being a slut and hooking up with someone she’d met in a bar. The tears streamed down Gabby’s face. Then a cold fear stopped her heart as she looked at the excited faces on the computer monitors watching her. Gabby knew then that as sure as the sun would rise in the morning she would never again see it. And she would never see her family, or have to witness her mother scream out in pain, or feel her dad silently condemn her judgment over the next Thanksgiving dinner. Because at that moment she knew she was going to die. Off in the distance, behind the wall, she heard the whir of what sounded like a motor, but it wasn’t a car engine. It was more like a blender. Or a buzz saw. Scenes from every horror movie she’d ever watched flashed through her head.

  ‘Gabriella, baby,’ Reid said, as he slowly approached her, flashing his model-perfect smile through the mask’s black slit. One arm was outstretched, the other hidden behind his back. ‘You’re about to become so very famous. You’re going to be a star, Gabby. A star. And now I’d like to introduce you to some of your biggest fans …’

  PART TWO

  4

  Miami, May 2011

  City of Miami homicide detective Manny Alvarez chomped on a greasy beef empanada and sifted through the awful pictures that covered his squad desk. The crumpled body of a young woman dressed in just a pair of black panties lay inside a dumpster, her long blonde hair tangled in the mound of garbage she’d been found buried in. Only her face was visible in the first series of photos, peeking through piles of rotting food, trash bags, discarded paint cans, and broken furniture, her terrified brown eyes open wide, staring up at what was, ironically enough, a perfect, blue Miami sky. What was left of her lips was twisted into the most grotesque smile Manny had ever seen. The fingers of her left hand, the nails painted pink, reached out from her fetid grave. When Manny had first arrived at the scene with the rest of the crime-scene crowd and the pack of technicians from the Medical Examiner’s office, his first thought — standing on a ladder over that filthy Dumpster, surrounded by blue uniforms and onlookers straining for a peek, sweating his cojones off in the ninety-degree heat — was that it seemed as if something or someone was beneath the poor girl, like in that horror flick, Drag Me to Hell. Pulling her back down into the garbage, back into hell, by her pretty blonde hair while she desperately reached out for someone — anyone — who could help her.

  But no one had.

  Her name was Holly Skole, her case number was F10-24367, and she was the thirty-fourth homicide of 2011 in the city. Her body had been found by Esteban ‘Papi’ Munoz, the owner of Papito’s Cafeteria, who’d apparently discovered Holly while disposing of spoiled trays of last night’s special. Clutching at his chest, the old man had staggered back through the parking lot towards his restaurant — and straight into the path of an SUV that was pulling into the lot. Fortunately, the two ribs he’d cracked on the fender of a Lexus hadn’t killed him. Unfortunately, the heart attack that was most likely brought on by seeing a dead body in with his leftovers had. It was only after the ambulance had come and carted off the grandpa of sixteen to the hospital morgue, the reports had been written, the rubber-neckers had dispersed, and the tow truck had hauled the Lexus off to impound that someone finally thought to take a good look around and see what had gotten the old abuelo so freaked out. A rookie traffic cop with twenty minutes on the job was the one who’d ultimately lifted the dumpster lid — only to spend the rest of the morning throwing up his Cheerios.

  Manny washed down the last chunk of his lunch with a slug of crappy coffee from the machine down the hall as he flipped through the pictures and reviewed his reports. Dumped bodies were never good. Not that he relished a gory domestic or a gang-banger shootout, but usually with dumpers by the time you found them they were in a progressed state of decomposition and they stank and looked terrible. The real crime scene was missing, along with vital evidence. Plus, there was something tragic about a victim who’d been used up, right down to their last ounce of dignity, then their remains tossed away like a piece of trash. It was especially disturbing when the body being thrown out was that of a pretty, nineteen-year-old college coed with her
whole life in front of her.

  Clipped to the top of a Coral Gables PD missing persons report was a photo of the vivacious University of Miami sophomore from Connellsville, Pennsylvania, with the creamy complexion, infectious grin and honey-blonde hair. A communications major on a partial dance scholarship, Holly had vanished without a trace from the hardcore nightclub Menace after celebrating a friend’s twenty-first birthday back in April. Her body was found nine days later across town in the Design District — a gentrified part of the city that bordered the crime-ridden and infamous suburb of Overtown, the birthplace of Miami’s 1982 race riots.

  It hadn’t taken long to get an ID. Holly’s purse, along with her wallet full of cash and credit cards, had been thrown in the dumpster alongside her. Thanks to her distraught mom, who’d flown in from Pennsylvania after Holly was reported missing by her roommate, pictures of Holly had made the rounds on all the local news stations, and Manny had known right away who it was he was staring down at from atop that ladder. In a cardboard box under his desk now sat the stack of family photos that Cookie Skole had given to him after her daughter had been pulled from the garbage and the investigation had officially changed course from missing persons to homicide. He hadn’t needed more than one picture, seeing as the girl was dead, but it was hard to tell a bawling parent, ‘One photo of your murdered kid’s enough,’ so he’d taken the whole box. Inside were pictures that started with Holly’s birth and ended with her opening presents next to the Christmas tree the last time she’d come home for winter-break. They didn’t exactly match up with the micro-miniskirts and mesh tops he’d seen Holly sporting on her Facebook page.

  Although she’d been found more than a week after disappearing, unfortunately, Holly hadn’t been dead that long. In fact, her body had likely been in the dumpster only a matter of hours, and according to the Medical Examiner, rigor mortis — a condition of joint and muscle stiffening that a body goes through in the first seventy-two hours after death occurs — was still in effect. That meant Holly hadn’t been dead very long at all when she was found. And that meant someone had kept her somewhere for a long while before finally putting her out of her misery …

  She had chemical burns on her feet, hands, and face, bind marks on her wrists, and a strange burn wound on the nape of her neck. Toxicology reports indicated that she’d been injected with copious amounts of diphenhydramine and dextromethorphan — the active ingredients in Benadryl and Nyquil, respectively — both of which, Manny knew, induced hallucinations when given in high enough doses. She’d been raped and sexually abused with an object or objects. The cause of death was asphyxiation. The most disturbing injury for Manny was the smile. Or lack thereof. Her lips had been melted with sulfuric acid, exposing her teeth and gums, so that it looked, from a distance, like she was grinning. As Manny figured it, Holly’s killer had actually wanted her to be found. He’d wanted everyone to see the Joker smile he’d put on her face before it could be blamed on hungry rats or decomposition had taken the rest of her flesh with it. No wonder poor Papi had dropped right after he opened that lid on the dumpster — he’d peered down into hell, only to find it grinning back up at him.

  Twenty-three years as a cop in Miami — eighteen of them spent working homicides — and some things unfortunately still shocked even Manny Alvarez, on rare occasions leaving the usually unflappable, physically intimidating six-foot-five, 280-pound detective unnerved. Because the way he saw it, murder usually had a point. You got mad at someone and you lost your temper and you pulled the trigger, or lashed out with a knife, or hit the gas pedal. Or maybe you exacted revenge on someone who’d wronged you, or stole from you, or cheated on you, or failed to fork over all the dope you’d arranged to pick up. Or you needed money and the gun went off while you were trying to take it. Or you didn’t want to leave witnesses. Even with gang shootings that were committed solely to intimidate others, or gain initiation into a gang — as perverted as those reasons might be, slayings committed in their name had a point. But every once in a rare while a case landed on Manny’s desk that defied reason. Any reason. A life taken by someone simply for the purpose of taking it. Perhaps to satisfy a morbid, primal curiosity, or worse — for sheer amusement. Manny stared at the final picture of the coed’s abused body, taken on a steel gurney at the ME’s office. The macabre smile, bind marks, burns, chemical injections — all were obvious signs of sadistic torture. And her killer had held her captive for several days, undoubtedly to play with her, experiment on her, terrify her, before finally strangling the life out of her.

  The suspect in custody whose bond hearing he was preparing for was not a boyfriend or an ex-lover, or a co-worker or a frenemy of Holly. He was not related to her, or mad at her, from what Manny could tell. In fact, it appeared that Holly had only met her murderer that night, as fate would have it, while she was trying to have a good time. She was not robbed; her car was found in the parking lot of Menace, right where she’d left it. There was no withdrawal from her bank accounts, or unauthorized charges on her credit cards. There was no evidence of a drug deal, no gang involvement. The rape in and of itself did not explain the overt use of torture or the violent sexual abuse. In fact, the injuries inflicted on Holly were way outside the psychological confines of what was considered ‘normal’ behavior for a rapist. Even a murdering rapist. Without any further explanation from the perp, it was a murder that simply defied any reason, and the most terrifying rationale for Holly’s death was that there was none; her murder had no point.

  Manny glanced at his watch. Shit. It was already almost 2:00. Time to head over to the courthouse. His hearing was with an uptight, well-heeled prosecutor who probably really meant 1:30 when she said it — though Manny knew there was no way the case would be heard before 3:00, since it was Slow Steyn on the bench today and the man never returned from lunch before 2:00 and his calendars were always the size of a Harry Potter novel.

  As he finished the last of his coffee, Manny stuck the photos and reports into an accordion folder that was already tearing at the edges. It was time to move up to a box. Or boxes. After enough years in the trenches, you developed a feeling for which cases would be ‘quickies’ — plenty of evidence, cooperative witnesses, a damning confession — all leading to a fast-tracked plea bargain. Then there were the headaches — sloppy scene, no witnesses, circumstantial evidence, and a closed-mouthed, cocky, SOB defendant. Not to mention the years of BS appeals if you did get a conviction. The State of Florida v. Talbot Lunders unfortunately fell into the headache pile.

  Crumpling up the remains of his empanada in the deli wrapper, Manny pitched it across the room and over the head of the only other detective currently in the squad bay and not out to lunch. It landed in the overflowing wastebasket next to the copier, causing an avalanche of paper down one side. Mike Dickerson, an ornery fixture as old as the building itself, shot Manny a dark look over his black spectacles. ‘Watch it, Bear,’ he grumbled, shaking the sports section of the Miami Herald in Manny’s direction. ‘You ain’t no Josh Johnson.’ Then he buried his head behind the paper and carried on gumming his sub.

  ‘I coulda been, Pops,’ Manny said with a heavy sigh, as he crumpled up the paper bag lunch had come in and chucked that, too, across the room. This time he hit the copier.

  ‘Yeah, yeah. I don’t know what you was throwing those ten minutes you spent in the minor leagues, boy, but I’ll tell you, your aim is for shit now.’

  ‘Took your piece off.’

  Mike’s hand shot to the top of his head.

  ‘Don’t have a heart attack, Pops. I’m just busting balls,’ Manny said with a hearty laugh. ‘It’s still there.’

  ‘Bald fucking Yeti.’

  ‘You should go natural, Mikey. It beats the rug. The missus would love it, rubbing her hands all over your smooth, silky melon.’

  Manny had shaved his head the day he joined the force and worn it that way ever since. But he did let hair grow everywhere else it naturally wanted to on his body, including his
arms, hands, back and chest — thus earning him the nickname Bear. He wore a five o’clock shadow by noon and a thick, wiry, black mustache 24/7. The decision to go bald wasn’t solely motivated by vanity, though. It kept him cool, for one thing. And as a hulking, over-sized, olive-skinned, bald Cubano with a thick mustache and dark, full eyebrows that were perpetually furrowed, he looked menacing. Most defendants thought twice before trying to fuck with him. And confessions came faster for him than they did for most of the other guys. Plus, the ladies seemed to like it. Considering he’d been married three times already and hadn’t had a hair on his head when he met any of his exes, being bald certainly didn’t hold him back.

  Dickerson snorted and shook the paper again. ‘Don’t you have some murder to solve, Manuelo?’

  ‘Heading to court right now,’ Manny replied, pulling a sports jacket on.

  ‘Where’d you dig up that thing?’

  ‘What?’

  ‘The coat.’

  ‘The prosecutor asked me to get all fancy. You don’t like?’

  ‘Are those patches on the sleeves?’

  ‘Very funny. Ain’t no patches, Pops. This is a genuine …’ Manny peered at the label on the inside of his jacket, ‘… Haggar. I bought it at the Aventura Mall.’ Manny shrugged. ‘I can’t find my good suit. It must still be in the cleaners’ from my last trial.’

 
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