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Retribution, p.30
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       Retribution, p.30

           Jilliane Hoffman
 

  57

  Halloween morning was hot as hell. A warm front had come in and sat over Miami for two days, cursing it with 88-degree temperatures, 95 percent humidity, and nasty afternoon thunderstorms. Dominick stood outside the Graham Building, his dress shirt already sticking to his chest under his suit jacket. It was a quarter of ten in the morning; he’d barely made it.

  He had cut short his meeting on the Cupid case with RD Black and the FDLE Commissioner because he knew he had to be here. Even though she had not asked him, and would probably never ask him, he knew he had to be here. He had witnessed her anxiety at the mere mention of Bantling’s name enough times; and he had seen her strange, tense reaction when she was forced to be in the same room as him. Her eyes full of fear, her body trembling slightly, uncontrollably. In the past few days as she prepared for today’s motion to suppress he had watched her become more withdrawn, definitely more stressed. And she did not want to discuss it with him, instead blaming her mounting stress on the pressures of trying a capital murder case where the stakes were high if she failed. Too high. He still did not know what it was, but he did know it was more than the stress of a murder case that drove the fear in her eyes. And he knew that he had to be here now, even if she protested, to escort her into the courtroom through the mob of nosy and pushy and completely obnoxious reporters, the curious onlookers, and those who silently prayed behind a smile for her downfall. To, if nothing else, sit behind her, while she struggled with the unseen, untold demons before her.

  The glass doors of the Graham Building opened. She stopped when she saw him, a look of surprise on her face that he could detect even behind her dark sunglasses. She was dressed in a sharp black suit, her dark blond hair pulled into a soft bun. With her heavy briefcase on her shoulder, she towed a pull cart of three file boxes behind her.

  ‘I just figured I’d give you a hand with those files,’ he said finally.

  ‘I thought you had a meeting with Black,’ she replied slowly.

  ‘I did. But this seemed more important.’

  It was still so new, this relationship they had fallen into. Even though they had spent the night together last night, it felt awkward between them at that very moment. He wasn’t quite sure where they were headed, where he even wanted them to go, but right now what he did know was that she was worried about appearances. Their appearance together. So he kept a comfortable distance as they walked across the street to the courthouse in silence side by side, with him carting the enormous box of files behind him.

  58

  Victor Chavez was nervous. Hell, he was sweating bullets what with all those damned reporters buzzing about like vultures inside, waiting for a chunk of meat to fall from the bone so they could take it back to their nests and pick it over. Waiting for someone to fuck up in this case so they could be the very first to report it. He sat on the bench just outside Courtroom 2-8 waiting for his turn on stage to be called. Everyone was here. Everyone was watching. His sarge, his lieutenant, all the boys downtown.

  It wasn’t as if he’d never testified before. In fact, this was his third felony arrest that he had to come in on, and he thought he was rather smooth on the stand. But of course, nothing was like Cupid. And, of course, he hadn’t totally fucked up those other cases. And now he was being called as a witness for the defense in this stupid motion to suppress. Suppress his stop. His search. Guy drives around Miami with a dead girl in his trunk and it’s a bad stop? What the fuck was that about?

  Sergeant Ribero hadn’t let him out of his sight, practically, since it had happened. Shit, he had to report taking a fucking leak when he was on duty now, and it was damn annoying being baby-sat, no doubt. But he knew it would be much worse if he fucked it up now, at a crucial motion to suppress, on the record with the lights and cameras on. Not only would he be out of a job; he would also become the subject of a criminal investigation himself. And of course, that fucking nut job would walk. He had to remember the story down to the last letter.

  That was the hard part. Remembering every fucking detail, just as the prosecutor had said, in the order that she had said it. That’s the problem with telling a tale, his mother had always said. You often can’t remember exactly what tale it was that you told. Especially since he was always being asked by somebody what had gone down that night, how he had caught Cupid on the causeway. Not just downtown, either. It was everyone, it was everybody, it was everywhere. His neighbors in the building. High-school buddies. Strangers on the street. Girls at the beach. Girls by the pool. Girls in bars. Girls on patrol. He was a regular celebrity now, The Cop Who Caught Cupid, and even though his Sarge had told him to shut up unless he was in court, it wasn’t Sarge that the girls wanted to blow to hear him tell his story. How he, Victor Chavez, while still on probation, basically single-handedly and on intuition, had caught the most notorious serial killer in America.

  But now was the midnight hour, and he had to make sure every detail was right. Every single one. They ran together in his head like a garbled tape.

  He sat on the bench in his MBPD uniform, his sweaty hands clasped together, just waiting his turn to walk the plank, when the mahogany doors swung open and in a loud, deliberate voice the bailiff called out his name.

  59

  Bantling was already seated in his red jumpsuit at the defense table next to Lourdes when C.J. walked in the courtroom. She felt his eyes move with her as she crossed the gallery before the bench to the prosecution’s table and, with Dominick’s help, unpacked all the files. Even though she could not see him, she knew he was smiling. She could feel it . Focus. Focus. Just like any other case.

  Dominick took a seat with Manny and Jimmy Fulton behind her in the front row. Chris Masterson and Eddie Bowman had shown up late and had to badge their way into a seat in the back row next to Greg Chambers. On the other side of the courtroom, still in their black suits, dark sunglasses tucked into their pockets, were the Blues Brothers, Carmedy and Stevens, and the band-sleader, Gracker. Although she had not seen him, she was sure de la Flors was here, or had at least sent two Assistant U.S. Attorneys in his place, probably readied with a federal indictment in each hand, in case C.J. lost. As usual, every network was here, their cameras set up all over the courtroom. And then there were the newspaper reporters who were present from every major paper in the country. It was a packed house.

  Lourdes had not looked at her when she walked in, instead keeping her head down, purposely focused on reading the paperwork before her. C.J. still did not know what to expect from her today, and her heart was definitely caught in her throat. The door to the judge’s hallway swung open and Hank the bailiff quickly shouted, ‘Court is now in session. The Honorable Leopold Chaskel III presiding. Be seated and be quiet. No cell phones. No beepers.’

  Judge Chaskel took the bench and wasted no time with speeches or announcements to the anxious crowd; he appeared not to notice they even existed. With ten years on the bench and another twenty as a prosecutor, he had seen it all, and seeing his name in the papers was no longer a thrill. It was simply an irritating part of the job. He turned to Lourdes and started in right away.

  ‘Well, Ms Rubio, we are gathered here today to hear your motion to suppress the stop and subsequent search in the case of The State v. William Bantling. I’ve read your motion, so go ahead and entertain us. Call your first witness.’

  60

  Since it was the defense’s motion to suppress, the defense also bore the burden of proof. They had to prove the stop was bad; the state did not have to prove the stop was good. And the only way to prove that the stop was bad was through, of course, witnesses who had themselves observed the stop. Lourdes’s first witness was Miami Beach Police Officer Victor Chavez.

  Chavez walked calmly in through the double doors of the courtroom and nodded somberly in the direction of Judge Chaskel before taking a seat in the witness box next to the bench. He straightened the tie on his uniform and cleared his throat, and a hush fell over the courtroom.

  Lourdes
finished shuffling her paperwork and jotting notes and after a few long seconds stood from her seat next to Bantling and approached the witness box. That was precisely when a cold fear gripped Victor Chavez’s belly and his mouth suddenly went dry, and right then and there he knew that he was fucked.

  A few weeks back he had been out on SoBe with his brother. In fact, they had gone to the Clevelander, the same bar that Morgan Weber, the last Cupid victim found, had disappeared from. And as always, when word got out that he was there, The Cop Who Caught Cupid, women were everywhere, all over him, wanting to know how he had done it. Wanting to know if he was packing now. And where. Wanting to know if they could see the back of his squad car. It was incredible. There were always enough women left over for his brother, too. And that night was no exception.

  As soon as he had sat down, this cute redheaded chick with a tight pink shirt and her dark-haired friend had sat next to him, asking if it was true, if he had caught Cupid. He had had a few drinks before hitting the Clevelander and then there were some more and before you knew it, he was feeling pretty good. His brother was totally screwed up, barely able to walk, if he could remember right. And this redhead was getting so hot – falling all over every fucking word he said – he’d known it would be another night of easy pickings.

  Now he sat in the hard-backed wooden chair with every eye in the crowded courtroom on him and the cameras rolling, and he knew he had totally fucked up. Sweat rolled off his forehead and down his temples. He could feel it run down his neck, and he rubbed his dry lips together.

  The defense attorney who stood before him in a conservative gray suit, her arms crossed in front of her slight frame, was the dark-haired friend from the Clevelander.

  And he knew she had heard everything.

  61

  What had he said? What had he said? The same garbled words streaked in front of him. A thousand tales, but which one had he told? which one had she heard? There was so much liquor that night, he’d barely been able to remember his name when he got home.

  ‘Please state your name for the record,’ she began.

  ‘Victor Chavez, Miami Beach P.D.,’ he stumbled. Easy, easy. Take it easy.

  ‘How long have you been an officer with the Miami Beach Police Department?’

  ‘Um, since January. January two thousand.’

  ‘So we can cut to the chase, Officer, you were working the three-to-eleven shift on September nineteenth, two thousand, the night my client, William Bantling, was arrested. Is that correct?’

  ‘Yes. Yes, I was.’

  ‘In fact, you were the officer who initiated the stop of his vehicle, were you not?’

  ‘Yes.’

  ‘What events had transpired that led to Mr Bantling’s vehicle being stopped?’

  Chavez looked around dumbly, perhaps for an assistant from the shadows to run up and whisper the answer in his ear.

  ‘In other words, what happened that night, Officer Chavez?’

  Chavez looked down at his reports, but Lourdes stopped him. ‘In your own words, from memory, if you would, Officer.’

  C.J. rose from her seat. ‘Objection. The witness is allowed to review documents that may refresh his recollection.’

  Judge Chaskel leaned over and looked skeptically down at Chavez. Well, he has not yet told this court that he needs his memory refreshed, Ms Townsend. Besides, Officer, I would imagine that this was the biggest night of your short career in law enforcement and that you would remember practically every minute of the evening. Why don’t we try it first without the reports and see how we do?’

  C.J. exhaled slowly, trying not to make eye contact with the desperate-looking officer.

  ‘I was on patrol. Down on Washington, when I saw this Jag, um, Jaguar, license number TTR-L57, go speeding past me southbound, toward the causeway. The MacArthur Causeway. So, I took off after him. I followed him on the causeway for a while, just watching him. And then he made an unsafe lane change – he didn’t signal – and I saw one of his taillights was out. So I pulled him over. I approached the vehicle, right in front of the Herald building, and asked him for his license, which he gave me. He looked kind of nervous, you know, sweaty, jittery. I took the license back to my car and stopped at his bumper to look at the broken taillight. That’s when I saw what looked like, um, blood. Right there on the bumper. I gave him back his license and when I did, I thought I smelled marijuana in the vehicle. I, ah, I asked him, Bantling, if I could look in his trunk and he told me to get lost. So I called K-9 and backup. Beauchamp with MBPD showed up with his dog, Butch, and Butch went nuts on the trunk. Excuse me, he alerted on the trunk. So we popped it open and found the girl’s body.’

  ‘Were you alone on duty, or with someone else?’

  ‘I was riding by myself that night.’

  ‘What speed was Mr Bantling traveling at when you first observed him?’

  ‘Um, approximately forty miles per hour in a posted twenty-five-mile-per-hour zone.’

  ‘And you clocked his speed using a radar device?’

  ‘No.’

  ‘Oh. So you were following behind him and observed that on your speedometer he was traveling at a speed of forty miles per hour?’

  ‘No.’ Chavez twisted in his seat uncomfortably.

  ‘Where were you then, Officer Chavez, when you first noticed this excessive speed violation? This fifteen-miles-over-the-speed-limit bandit in a new Jag, zipping down Washington?’

  ‘I was on Sixth Street. Sixth and Washington.’

  ‘What direction were you facing?’

  ‘My car was facing east. I was out of the car.’

  ‘Out of your patrol car? So that I am straight up to this point, Officer, you are not using radar, you are not following my client in your patrol car, you are not even in your own patrol car, you are standing on a street corner when you see this car go by you, barely breaking the speed limit?’

  ‘Yes.’

  ‘And with your naked eye, just nine months out of the police academy, you were able to determine that this black car was traveling approximately fifteen miles over the speed limit?’

  ‘Yes. Yes, I could. He was weaving in and out of congested traffic. He was proceeding in an unsafe manner.’ Right out of the manual.

  ‘And what were you doing out of your patrol car at that time?’

  ‘I was breaking up a fight between these two kids who’d had some words.’

  ‘And you left this fight where people presumably were in danger of being hurt, jumped in your patrol car, which was facing the opposite direction of Washington, and did what?’

  ‘I, ah, followed your client on to the causeway.’

  ‘How did you get back on Washington to follow my client on to the causeway?’

  ‘I went up Sixth over to Collins and then up Fifth, past Washington on to the causeway.’

  ‘So you first went down Sixth, and lost sight of my client in his speeding car, I presume?’

  Chavez nodded.

  ‘Please speak into the microphone, Officer Chavez, because the court reporter can’t record when you nod your head.’

  ‘Yes. That is correct. I lost sight of him. I found him again, though. Right away. The same car with the same tag TTR-L57 five seven, on the causeway.’ Chavez was not only becoming noticeably uncomfortable under this questioning; he was obviously beginning to despise Lourdes Rubio. His answers were terse, cutting.

  ‘Was he speeding then?’

  ‘Um, yes. Yes, he was. He was doing about sixty to sixty-five in a fifty, if I recall.’

  ‘But you did not pull him over right away, did you?’

  ‘No’

  ‘Approximately how many miles passed on the causeway before you decided he posed such a safety risk to the citizens of Miami he needed to be pulled over?’

  ‘About two. I pulled him over by the Herald, before I lost jurisdiction on him.’

  ‘Hmm. And did he pull right over?’

  ‘Yes.’

  ‘He didn’t try to fl
ee?’

  ‘No.’

  ‘And you say he was jittery, sweaty, nervous when you approached him?’

  ‘Yes.’

  ‘Kind of like you are now, Officer Chavez?’

  The courtroom tittered.

  ‘Objection.’ C.J. rose again.

  ‘Touché, Ms Rubio. Move on,’ said Judge Chaskel.

  ‘And then you stopped at his bumper to examine this broken taillight that you had suddenly noticed two miles into this pursuit?’

  ‘Yes. I had noticed the broken taillight when I first caught up to him on the causeway.’

  ‘That’s when you saw the blood on his bumper?’

  ‘Well, it looked like blood. It was a dark substance. It turned out later that it was blood. That girl’s blood.’

  ‘What time of night was it, Officer?’

  ‘It was approximately eight twenty-five P.M.’

  ‘Did you have a flashlight with you?’

  ‘No, not on me. I had one in the car.’

  ‘And at eight twenty-five at night with the whiz of busy traffic rushing by all around you, you observed a dark substance on this man’s bumper that you automatically assumed must be blood?’

  ‘Yes. There was enough light from the causeway lights and the buildings off the causeway. I could see. It was dark and sticky. It looked like bloodstains.’

  ‘And you then approached Mr Bantling to give him back his license?’

  ‘Yes.’

  ‘Did you draw your gun?’ ‘No.’

  ‘You observe bloodstains. You say my client was nervous and jittery. You suspect something’s amiss, and yet you did not draw your gun?’

  ‘No. Not at that time. I did when I found the dead girl in his trunk, though.’

  ‘You’ve already reminded this court that there was a dead body in his trunk, Officer. Several times, in fact, and that issue is not in dispute.’

 
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