Last Witness, p.30Jilliane Hoffman
He placed her back on the edge of the front seat of her mangled jeep and knelt beside her. Gingerly, he moved her hair to touch the cut on her head. It was deep, still oozing red and dotted with fragments of glass. His fingers moved over her right arm, which she kept cradled in her stomach. The wrist looked broken. As did her cheekbone and maybe her nose. She might even have internal injuries, the way she was hunched over.
‘Where’s my ambulance?’ he barked into the Nextel. ‘I need that ambulance! 1350 Northwest 12th Street. In front of the State Attorney’s Office. 12th Avenue and 12th Street!’ He looked back at Chris Masterson’s body, which wasn’t twitching anymore. ‘I’ve got a man down. There’s an officer down.’
The words tasted bitter in his mouth. Officer down. The man in the road was not an officer. He was not worthy of holding the tide, of wearing the jacket.
He closed his eyes and tried not to think of what he himself had just done, of the many lines he had just crossed. The ones he could never erase, never cross back over again. And he thought of his father, and that dark moment in the kitchen so many years ago.
‘Why?’ she asked quietly, tears streaking her face, when she finally looked up at him.
He thought about the question. There were so many questions he could ask that of. Then he took her hand in his and held it tight, knowing he would never, could never, let it go again, as the sirens finally descended onto 12th Avenue and the blue uniforms all ran from their blue and white flashing cruisers to help.
‘Sometimes,’ he replied softly, his words a throaty, choked whisper, ‘I guess there is no why.’
‘You’re gonna need at least two engines if you’re going out into the ocean,’ said the salesman named Buddy with the rumpled tie and sweat-stained dress shirt. He squinted into the sun. ‘Don’t want to get stuck out there if one goes on you.’
Dominick nodded, looking around the bridge of the 26-foot Sea Ray Sundancer. The boat smelled like plastic and new carpet.
C.J. watched him from her spot on the stern’s bench. He moved about slowly, carefully looking at all the gadgets and high-tech equipment. ‘And this is the perfect place for you to entertain, Mrs Falconetti,’ Buddy said, finally addressing her. ‘Look, you can put your drinks right here in these cup holders. They’re built in.’
‘Ooh,’ she said, and stole a smile from Dominick. Over the past year, there hadn’t been too many of those. Maybe now there would be. The Broward State Attorney’s Office had finally concluded their investigation and released the close-out memo this morning on Chris Masterson’s shooting death. No charges would be filed.
In Florida, anytime an officer discharges his firearm while in the performance of his duties, it must be determined if the use of force was justified. Did the officer reasonably fear his own life or the life of another was in imminent danger? The State Attorney’s Office in the jurisdiction where the shooting took place conducts an investigation, no matter how justified it may look on the outside, and even if his bullet didn’t hit anyone. Because of the obvious conflict that had existed at the Miami SAO with Dominick’s shooting, at Tigler’s request, Broward had been called in, and a special prosecutor was assigned.
Over the years, C.J. herself had been asked to answer that same question in more than a few close-out memos. The police are given guns and instructed to use them if necessary. They have all the power. Average citizen does not. To ensure that the power has not been misused, as soon as the bullet is fired, the officer automatically becomes a suspect, and the investigation becomes criminal. If the use of force is deadly, the scene becomes a homicide scene. The police shooting team is alerted, the prosecutors and PBA lawyers are called out, and the sides are taken. The two allies – police and prosecutor – now become adversaries.
Dominick’s shooting was no exception. In fact, it had been much worse, given that the victim was also a police officer and the only other witness was his fiancée, who had since become his wife. The circumstances were automatically suspect. And while he had been able to keep on working at FDLE and continue to carry his weapon, she knew that the investigation itself had hung over him like a thousand-pound piano.
Today, though, he had shown up in her office, right after she had gotten back from court, with a smile and a copy of the memo in his hand. Then, without telling her where they were going, he had put her in the car and driven her here, to Marine Max, a dockside boat dealer in Pompano Beach. She’d read the memo during the car ride.
For all its fifty pages of facts and conclusions, C.J. knew that some questions just would never be answered, though, because there was no one left to answer them. Through IMPACT, Chris Masterson had been linked to both Angelillo and Lindeman. But the full dynamics of their relationships would never be known. Because the feds wouldn’t cut even a minute off any proposed plea recommendation for Roberto Valle, he, of course, refused to open up about his relationship – if any – with Chris Masterson. Based upon the totality of statements taken and evidence gathered, it was finally theorized that Masterson had been running money for the cartels, but no one with either Domingo Montoya’s North Valley Cartel or the Colombian FARC revolutionaries could be tracked down to actually verify that supposition. The roads dead-ended. C.J. knew they always would.
‘So what do you think, honey?’ Dominick asked. ‘Do you like it?’
C.J. looked at him, at the funny way he smiled at her. She knew the question he was really asking.
Buddy sensed a sale. ‘If you come down to the cabin, I can show you the lovely kitchen. It has a stove and a microwave, for cooking up some nice meals for your hungry fisherman.’
‘Why don’t you give my wife and me a minute alone, Buddy? I think I’ve surprised her.’
‘That you did,’ said C.J., after Buddy had finally climbed back down to the parking lot.
‘Are you ready for this?’ he asked, looking around the bridge.
‘I didn’t know you were ready yet.’ She had seen the stack of boxes in the back of his 4Runner on the ride over here, but hadn’t said anything. His entire desk, neatly packed up and hauled away. ‘Especially today, Dom. They just cleared you.’
He shook his head and said quietly, ‘I can’t go back anymore. I waited until today, but I can’t go back. There’s nothing for me.’
The people were the same, but for Dominick, the job was different now. The lines had blurred. He had waited a year to hear the final verdict, knowing all along that a finding of not guilty wouldn’t make him innocent. He had spent that year replaying a split-second decision over and over again in his head, knowing he must have done what was right, but finding himself still hitting the mental replay button on the drive home just the same. He didn’t want to do that anymore.
‘Fulton and I decided to give the snuff investigation over to Postal. They’re better with internet investigations, anyway,’ he continued. ‘Maybe they’ll get lucky.’
Nothing had turned up on the search of Masterson’s house or computers. He probably had a stash house, but fat chance anyone would ever find it. Chris was too smart to have ever let that happen. And, as he had told C.J., there were others out there, others who would want to ensure that never happened.
Dominick sighed and looked around him. ‘It’s time to move on. It’s been time.’
She was quiet.
‘This will take us to the Keys,’ he said, looking around the bridge again, then he nodded across the lot, out onto the dock, where the sailboats and boats big enough to be called yachts sat. ‘Those,’ he continued, ‘could maybe take us around the world. We could get something used. Sell it all and become nomads.’
Her eyes followed his to the marina. A new beginning. A fresh start. A way to leave the criminals and midnight beeps and bad dreams they both now shared behind. Dominick’s timing was not entirely coincidental. Bantling’s execution was scheduled for next week.
‘So, what do you say, Mrs Falconetti?’ he asked with a whisper and the hint of a smile, taking her
His hands felt so good in hers. To see him smile again was priceless. If this was what it took…
‘Yes,’ she said after a long pause. She put her head against his chest and looked out onto the blue water. ‘I think it finally is time.’
Down the row of empty cells, a faucet dripped with the incessant accuracy of a clock’s second hand. After almost a month in this dark, mildew-infested cement pit, Bill Bantling thought he would go crazy listening to it. Absolutely crazy. But, of course, that was what they wanted, wasn’t it?
They had come for him on Q-Wing about three weeks ago. The Governor had finally signed his warrant, and within a matter of hours, the prison was placed under Phase One of the watch, an execution date had been set, the press releases sent out. He was immediately brought down to the basement – to a holding cell next to the execution chamber itself, while security tightened and the prison readied for the all-important day.
In his years on the row, Bill had seen many men head downstairs. A dry erase board next to the guard station at the end of Q listed the name of every man on the row, and the specific crimes that they had been convicted of. A separate section on the board listed the names of those brought down to the basement. The ones on death watch. Some of those names had made it back upstairs, stayed at the last minute by an appeal or a sympathetic governor. Some were just erased.
Yesterday had marked the start of Phase Two. The final week. Sergeant Dick and the warden had staged a dry run with the team of COs who would work his execution. He had heard them down the hall all afternoon, fiddling with the different injection pumps that hung inside, checking the backup generator, and testing the phone line to the Governor’s mansion to make sure it worked. All the while making coarse jokes that he was sure they wanted him to hear.
Now he heard the familiar jingle of keys down the hall, footsteps coming his way. He felt a strange jolt of adrenaline rush his body: perhaps today was the scheduled dress rehearsal. He would tell them to go fuck themselves. Find a mannequin to practice on with their straight pins.
The jingle stopped. ‘Hands in the hole,’ barked Sergeant Dick through the bars. Three COs stood behind him. The sergeant’s eyes locked on Bantling’s and didn’t move. After a long moment he finally spoke again. ‘Must be your lucky day, asshole,’ he said finally, as he spat a wad of yellow onto the floor. ‘We’re gonna clear you out of here. Looks like you’re headed back down south. The Governor’s Office just called. They granted you your appeal. You’re getting a new trial.’
I would like to thank the following individuals for their invaluable assistance on this project, some of whom have been called upon many times before and yet still continue to pick up the phone – even when they know it’s me: Dr Reinhardt Motte of the Broward County Medical Examiner’s Office; Miami Beach Police Officer Bruce Songdahl and the Miami Beach Police Department; Sergeant Travis J. Baird and Lieutenant Andrew P. Smith of the Florida Department of Corrections, Florida State Prison; Special Agents with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, particularly Special Agent Ed Royal, Special Agent Chris Vastine and Special Agent Larry Masterson and ASAC Mike Mann; Esther Jacobo, Division Chief of the Domestic Violence Unit, Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office, Gail Levine, Sr Trial Attorney, Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office, Ivonne Sanchez-Ledo, Division Chief, Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office, John Perikles, Assistant State Attorney, Organized Crime Unit, Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office, Howard Rosen, Assistant State Attorney, Public Corruption Unit, Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office, and Priscilla Prado, Division Chief, Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office; Assistant Legal Counsel Marie Perikles, Office of the Inspector General, Miami-Dade County; Assistant Statewide Prosecutor Julie Hogan, Officer of Statewide Prosecution; Anita Gay, Assistant US Attorney, US Attorney’s Office, Southern District; Michael McManus, Chief of Operations Mexico/Central America, US Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA); Ed Hogan; and Rose Marie Antonacci-Pollock, Esq.
I’d also like to thank a few very special people who offered me their precious time and insight without hesitation or reservation, and for that I am particularly grateful: Lynn Broder, Esq., Marie and Julie and my brother, John Pellman, Jr.
I also need to thank my editor, Jennifer Hershey, for her hard work and tireless encouragement, and my agent, Luke Janklow, for his dedication and unwavering support.
And, finally, I would like to take this opportunity to thank all of my friends and family who have cheered from the moment I picked up a pen, especially my incredible husband, my children, my siblings and my parents, John and Thea Pellman. I am phenomenally lucky to have such an amazing and devoted support system – one that encourages me and inspires me on a daily basis, and one that I will never take for granted.
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Jilliane Hoffman, Last Witness
Last Witness by Jilliane Hoffman / History & Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes