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All the little pieces, p.31
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       All the Little Pieces, p.31

           Jilliane Hoffman
 

  It had been a week since she’d gotten out of rehab, and Faith wasn’t quite sure herself what the answer to the million-dollar question was. It should be: ‘Great! I’m all better now, thanks to a restful three months at The Meadows in picturesque, serene Arizona. I have a tan and my spirit has been cleansed; I’ve learned coping mechanisms and I’ve picked up Tai Chi.’ But if she was all better, she didn’t feel like it. It wasn’t like recovering from the flu or appendicitis, where the infection is gone or the diseased organ has been removed and you’re back to feeling your old self again. The truth was, sometimes she felt worse, like a part of her was missing. Physically she felt … frail. And a lot older than her thirty-two years. Emotionally, an old, familiar friend had died and she wasn’t allowed to even mourn her passing. Rather, she was supposed to be rejoicing with the others that that Faith was finally gone. She missed not being able to drink any more – she missed the taste and the smell and the soothing effect that simply raising a glass to her lips had had over her, even before the alcohol hit her bloodstream. Because, like popping a pain reliever when you have an excruciating headache, she knew that everything would feel better in twenty minutes. It was the euphoric state of calm she missed that Tai Chi could not replace – although she didn’t dare share that thought with anyone. Faith couldn’t say she felt better, even though she wanted to say it and she knew that’s what people wanted to hear. So she nodded and said, ‘I’m OK.’ That about covered the feeling.

  She smiled at Detective Nill. ‘I’m OK. Wow. I almost didn’t recognize you. Has it been that long?’ she asked. Embarrassed by her own question, she felt her face go red. Then she looked over at Detective Maldonado’s pregnant belly. ‘Yes, I guess it has.’

  The room laughed lightly.

  ‘Bryan’s a magic act – he’s disappearing right before everybody’s eyes,’ said the lieutenant.

  ‘And with Totts, the state gets two brains for the price of one,’ added Detective Minkhaus.

  ‘As you may or may not know, Faith,’ Elisabetta began, her serious tone cutting off the light banter. ‘Derrick Poole has filed a speedy demand, so I have a limited window with which to try him. Mr Williams and I will be picking a jury starting Monday. I suspect it will take us three to four days, although that depends on the pool of jurors we get. The case has received substantial publicity, as you well know.’

  Faith’s cheeks went hot again and she looked down at her lap.

  Elisabetta thoughtfully tapped her pen on her notepad before continuing. ‘It will be difficult to find fourteen people – twelve jurors and two alternates – who have not heard of this case, much less who haven’t formed an opinion. The defense’s motion for a change of venue was denied, so we’re staying in Palm Beach. You’re here today, Faith, so we can go over what you’ll be testifying to. As you know, your testimony is critical. You place Angelina Santri in the company of Poole after we assert she’d already been abducted. And you are the only one who can identify the second suspect, Eduardo Carbone, and place him at the scene.’

  ‘I’m very concerned about that, Elisabetta,’ said Jarrod. ‘Faith is back in town now and Carbone is still out there. He knows who she is; he knows where we live. He followed her – they both have, him and Poole. Carbone already tried to get at her once—’

  ‘We don’t know that, Jarrod,’ replied Elisabetta. ‘The identity of that man who Faith left the Cubby Hole bar with that night has not been established.’

  ‘I know it was him,’ Jarrod replied testily. ‘I know it.’

  ‘I didn’t leave with him,’ Faith started to quietly say. Everyone looked at her. ‘It wasn’t like that. I didn’t go with him. He put something in my drink.’

  ‘Was it Ed Carbone?’ asked Elisabetta, wryly. ‘Was it the man you saw in the woods with Poole?’

  ‘I didn’t look at his face. And then … well, I don’t remember anything that happened in the parking lot.’ Faith wished she hadn’t said anything at all. Elisabetta Romolo looked at her, read the invisible nametag on her shirt, and drew her own conclusion about what had happened that December night.

  ‘Let’s keep the people who know you’re back in town to a minimum,’ Detective Nill offered. ‘And I’ll talk to Parkland police about keeping an eye on your place. You’re in a gated community, though, right?’

  Jarrod raised an eyebrow at him.

  ‘It’s another level someone has to get past, is all I’m saying, Jarrod. It’s a deterrent. I’ll talk to the association to make sure they keep vigilant. But we believe Carbone has left South Florida. There has been no trace of him since he left the scrap yard. Interpol is looking for him in Mexico; he has family there.’

  ‘That’s why Hartwick wants a speedy trial,’ added Elisabetta. ‘Before we find Carbone. You were a PD, Jarrod, so you’re very familiar, I’m sure, with “The Other Guy” defense. Poole is going to claim that the other guy did it – the “one-armed man”, or in this instance, the unshaven, pot-bellied, Yankee fan waiting in the woods. Without Carbone in custody we can’t test his DNA so we can’t say for sure that that’s who the Yankee fan was, and so we can’t prove the connection at Orange Youth between Ed Carbone and Derrick Poole. The only way we can get that in is through you, Faith. You can visually ID him, and you can identify his photograph on the stand. That, in turn, will allow us to show that Ed Carbone knew and stalked the first murder victim, Emily Foss.’

  ‘But Poole’s not charged with Foss’s murder – only Santri’s,’ said Nill. ‘Won’t Hartwick argue bringing in her murder is inflammatory and prejudicial?’ He looked at the other detectives apologetically. ‘I try not to think like a lawyer too often, but it does happen. I’d rather be prepared for bad news than surprised by it.’

  ‘Yes,’ replied Gareth Williams. ‘But if we prove that it was Carbone in the woods by Mrs Saunders’ visual identification, and then that Poole and Carbone knew each other from the time that Poole spent in juvi, then we can establish that they were working in concert and refute “The Other Guy” defense. Both Poole and the unidentified DNA have been indicted for Santri’s murder as co-defendants, although only Poole is being tried right now. Poole can’t get away from what we found in that shack. Besides Santri’s, blood from Foss, Kruger, and Langtry was also found there. That’s prejudicial, but if we establish the connection between Emily Foss and Carbone, that will support Mrs Saunders’ visual ID of Carbone and thus the argument Poole and Carbone were working in concert. It’s legal bootstrapping.’

  ‘You make the dots connect, Faith,’ said Elisabetta. ‘As such, your credibility is crucial. I hate to be the one to say this, but here it is: you’re not the best witness. You failed to come forward after the incident. Then you failed to divulge that there was a second suspect out there with Mr Poole. You’ve been arrested yourself and you’ve recently gone through rehab for a substance abuse problem.’

  ‘Can you cut her a break, Elisabetta?’ asked Jarrod. ‘She’s been home a week and she got help. That says a lot. The press has been brutal to her. You don’t need to be.’

  ‘If you think I’m tough, Hartwick is going to be ruthless, Jarrod,’ said Elisabetta. ‘He’s got a lot to work with. I’m sorry if that hurts feelings, but it’s true. He’s going to pounce on every lie, fabrication, or misstatement. He’s going to claim Faith was drunk as a skunk out there and no one should believe anything she has to say.’

  ‘She never wanted to be a witness.’

  ‘Well she is,’ Elisabetta said icily.

  ‘What about Maggie?’ Faith started, looking at Jarrod. He’d told her about Maggie’s meltdown in court the day before, but he also said the judge hadn’t ruled yet. She suspected he’d held back on the details of how bad it really was: Maggie had a huge cut on her forehead that had required fifteen stitches.

  ‘Judge Guckert issued his ruling this morning,’ Elisabetta replied. ‘Maggie has been found incompetent to testify. Don’t take that personally, Faith. As your husband can explain to you, it’s a legal ter
m. She broke down on the stand and it’s clear she can’t testify. I hate to play the bitch here, and I wish I could tell you, Faith, that if you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen, but I can’t. This man is a serial killer. He will kill again if he gets out, whether or not he hooks back up with his partner, because it’s in his nature. It’s who he is. And I won’t have that on my conscience. You are my case, Faith. It’s that simple and it’s that complicated. It’s all on you. So let’s all get to work, let’s all get along, and let’s put this guy on death row where he belongs.’

  69

  ‘How are you doing?’ Charity asked in an overly peppy voice, like one might talk to a patient in a nursing home, as she stepped into the back office of Sweet Sisters. ‘Laurie told me she thought she saw you come back here.’

  ‘I’m OK,’ Faith said, looking up from her desk. ‘Who’s Laurie?’

  ‘Laurie? She’s new. Started a month or so ago.’

  ‘Oh. Well, I was gonna check on the purchase orders and inventory. You know, see what I missed and get myself back up to speed. I’m going a bit crazy at the house.’

  ‘I did the POs yesterday.’

  ‘You’re doing the ordering now?’

  Charity nodded and grinned. ‘Yeah. And I learned payroll, too.’

  ‘Wow. I’m so impressed, Char. The place looks great. It really does.’

  ‘Thanks, Faithey; I really appreciate that you noticed. Things have really worked out here, so I hope you didn’t worry too much while you were gone. I love Viv; we’ve gotten real close.’

  Faith bit the inside of her lip. ‘Good. I’m happy to hear that. I thought I might go into the kitchen and bake today, you know try something new. Maybe something that screams spring, right? Strawberry cupcakes with a lemon cream cheese and poppy seed frosting.’

  ‘Ooh. That sounds nice. Buster is back there now with Al. Have you met him yet? Buster? He’s great. Really creative.’

  Faith shook her head. ‘Maybe something with blueberries, then …’ She looked at her desk. Mixed in with pictures of Maggie were pictures of Kamilla, Kaelyn and Kourtney.

  Charity sipped her coffee. ‘I saw the opening statements this morning on TV. Are you allowed to watch?’

  ‘No. I’m not allowed in the courtroom until I testify. Not that I would want to be. Or that I’d want to watch.’

  ‘Oh yeah, yeah. That makes sense. I had it on while I was getting ready for work. Are you nervous about testifying?’

  ‘I’m OK.’ There was an awkward pause. The whole conversation felt forced. Usually her and Charity could pick up right where they left off, but not today. ‘How are things with Nick?’ Faith asked.

  ‘Who?’ Charity smiled. ‘I thought he’d be more involved, you know, Faith? I thought he’d want to see his kids and be down here in my face, trying to bring me back, but I haven’t seen him. I don’t even hear from him. So I got a lawyer.’

  ‘Yeah?’

  ‘Vivian helped me with that. I’m filing papers. It’s over. Really, this time.’

  Faith nodded. ‘Good for you. Jarrod said you signed up for a class at Broward College?’

  ‘Yeah. I gotta get up to speed on the computer. Even the baby knows how to work an iPad and play games. Kamilla, you know, is almost a teen. I gotta keep an eye on her; she lives on that computer. I think I’m gonna go for my associate’s. It’ll take forever, but that’s OK.’

  Faith nodded. The awkward, painful silence was back.

  Charity headed for the door. ‘I should get back out there. Anything you need, Faithey, let me know.’

  ‘Thanks.’

  She could hear the laughter and buzz through the walls. Three o’clock used to be slow, now it was packed. Lunch hour blended into Caffeine Happy Hours – another idea of Charity’s – and then there were book signings and game nights in the new part of the store, annexed from the Feeling Lucky boutique next door that had gone out of business while Faith was away.

  A lot of things had happened while she was away. One hundred and twenty days could have been three years. Maggie had learned how to ride a bike. Jarrod had won a big case. The staff – her staff – had turned over. Now it was a bunch of bakers she didn’t know and baristas she didn’t recognize. With Vivian’s help, Charity had done the impossible: untangled herself emotionally from Big Mitts and filed for divorce. She’d started college and learned payroll and ordering. She and Vivian had become super close. The bakery had expanded and changed into a full-on café. Sweet Sisters didn’t even look like the same store.

  Faith chewed on her lip. It was almost as if things were better since she left.

  Maggie, though, was still struggling. Her forehead was raw and ugly a week after the incompetency hearing. It would probably scar. She’d been very cautious around Faith – ‘removed’ was how the therapists at The Meadows had explained what Maggie’s emotional reaction to Faith’s long-term absence might be. For a little girl who’d always been detached, this was tantamount to taking ten giant steps back in the affection department. It was like they were distant relatives living together, not mommy and daughter. And Faith didn’t know how to change that, to even get it back to where it was. Give it time, the therapists had advised. Approach it slowly and get her to trust you again and trust that you won’t go away again. She’s scared. Kids are resilient; she’ll come around. But the therapists in Arizona didn’t know Maggie. They didn’t know her … circumstances … her difficulties bonding to begin with. Faith didn’t know if she’d ever ‘come around’, or if there would be more permanent scarring to come.

  She went through her desk to see what else had been replaced while she was gone and found a picture of her and Jarrod on vacation in the Bahamas, having piña coladas poolside. She could remember the moment the British tourist had snapped it. The very moment. Jarrod had leaned in to kiss her and she was laughing. She’d buried it in the drawer herself after he’d cheated. She ran her finger over the glass. He’d been at the facility to fly her home, a bouquet of flowers in one hand and a suitcase filled with new clothes in the other. The recovery program called for limited contact with friends and family, but Jarrod had called every night to say goodnight. And he had come out to Arizona for family week. He’d been trying. God knows he’d been trying. She wasn’t sure, though, if his actions were motivated by guilt or obligation or a true desire to fix what was broken. There were many nights where she’d stared out into a vast, black Arizona desert and worried that he would turn to Sandra, or perhaps someone new, for companionship while she was gone, but she’d taken the flowers and worn the pretty new clothes and she’d leaned on him emotionally, nonetheless, in the limited way she knew how.

  She looked at the desk calendar, now in April, with memos written in someone else’s handwriting and Vivian’s weird, funny doodles drawn for Charity, not her. She fought back the wave of jealousy and rubbed her stinging eyes before the tears had a chance to fall.

  It was almost as if things were better since she left.

  She felt like a ghost, floating around a few weeks after her funeral to see how life had carried on, and had surprisingly found everyone was doing quite well. Thriving, actually. And she thought, then, of her old friend, the one she wasn’t allowed to grieve or mourn or miss. Four months in rehab and therapy and the only real revelation she’d had by the end was that she wasn’t like the other people in there. She wasn’t an alcoholic. She might say the word, because they made her say it, but she wasn’t like those people. Her situation was altogether different from everyone else’s in group therapy. She had not been molested as a child, or abused by her parents. She’d never drunk herself homeless or into prostitution or out of a job, or woken up wondering where she’d been for weeks. She could control herself and being part of a program of dysfunctionals had made her see that. Given her current situation, anyone would turn to drink or popping pills to cope. All she had to do was get past this trial, focus on Maggie, and work on her marriage. Once the stressful situations that made her want to
drink had passed, she’d be OK. Until then, it was all willpower and self-control.

  Her cell phone rang.

  ‘Hey, Faith. It’s Detective Tatiana Maldonado. I’m calling to let you know that Detective Nill will be taking the stand late this afternoon. The prosecutor expects to call you on Wednesday. I wanted to give you a heads up, you know, to prepare you.’

  Faith nodded. She put the picture of her and Jarrod back in her desk.

  ‘Faith?’ the detective asked when Faith hadn’t said anything. ‘Are you doing all right?’

  ‘I’m OK,’ Faith replied quietly, closing the drawer. ‘I’m just OK.’

  70

  ‘Do you swear to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, so help you God?’ asked the bailiff.

  Faith raised her right hand. ‘I do.’

  She took her seat as the jury and the spectators in the packed courtroom looked on. She’d seen the news trucks parked in front of the courthouse when she and Detective Minkhaus had pulled up, but fortunately the detective knew an alternate way in so that they didn’t have to walk through the throng of cameras and reporters hanging around outside. He’d reassuringly told her they were probably there for the Goodman case, which had some hearing that morning, too, but Faith thought he was trying not to stress her out. When the elevator doors opened on nine, she knew for sure that was the case: questions had assaulted her from every angle as she walked into the courtroom, a dozen mikes were thrust in her face. She’d always believed that, unless you were a celebrity, those sort of dramatic scenes with roving packs of attacking reporters shouting questions at witnesses, defendants and attorneys, were manufactured for television. Now she knew they were not. The phone calls from the media had started after Maggie had been found incompetent, and the legal analysts and talk show hosts were back to dissecting everything about the State of Florida vs. Derrick Poole over their morning coffees – including, and especially, anything about her. The excitement of the crowd was palpable, even though the judge had ordered that the courtroom remain silent – there was an electric buzz in the air. All that was missing was popcorn. It was surreal. She was not the victim here, she was not the defendant. She was just some random, reluctant witness who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time and saw something she wished she hadn’t. And it had turned into … this. She took a deep breath and reminded herself that this was just a situation; it would not – it could not – last forever.

 
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