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Cutting room the, p.31
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       CUTTING ROOM -THE-, p.31

           Jilliane Hoffman
 

  ‘We’ve no idea where he is. That should be enough of a reason to have left last night.’ He got out of bed and pulled on his pants.

  ‘That can’t happen. You told me to stop running.’

  ‘I meant from me.’

  ‘I know what you’re thinking,’ she said.

  ‘Good for you,’ Dominick replied, stopping to look at her. ‘Because I don’t even know what I’m thinking anymore. I’m thinking last night was—’

  She moved across the bed and over to him on her knees. ‘The way it should be. Don’t treat it like it won’t happen again. I meant what I said. I’m coming home. I’ll get help. I’ll never run from you again. But I am not going to race out of town because he might try and find me. All I need is a few days.’

  He shook his head. ‘You’ve made promises before, C.J. Promises like forever and always and death do us part. And that didn’t stop you from walking out the damn door. I don’t think I can do this anymore.’

  ‘One week, Dominick. That’s all I need,’ she said as he turned from her and walked into the bathroom. ‘Give me one week and I’ll show you forever again.’

  49

  The room moved in and out of focus. In and out. In and out. Her eyelids felt like they had weights on them. Daria closed her eyes again. She was so incredibly tired …

  Her mouth felt dry and pasty, her tongue thick, her throat parched. She imagined a big, cold Big Gulp cup of ice water being poured on her. Her mouth was open and she was lapping it up greedily as it splashed all over her, running down her neck and back. The cold water should take away her sore throat. It should make her wake up. Pull her out of this exhausted stupor.

  Her eyelids fluttered open.

  I must be dreaming, she thought as the unfamiliar room came into focus and then blurred again, like one might view the horizon on a bobbing ship. Up and down. In and out. She had to pull herself out of this dream. She had to. She was gonna be so tired for work today. She had to give a speech, right? That was today? No, she had court. She had a hearing, right?

  Damnit! Try and wake up, girl! Concentrate!

  Then she realized that her arms hurt. Her shoulders, in particular. Not just hurt — they throbbed. It was like someone was turning up the pain as they might adjust the volume for their favorite song on the radio. Her armpits burned, her back was all twisted. Her wrists — she couldn’t feel them. Just pins and needles in her fingers.

  She closed her eyes again and it started to rain. It felt good.

  And then it didn’t.

  ‘Let’s go. Stay with me now. Focus,’ said a voice she didn’t recognize.

  She jolted about, trying to get out of the rain. Her arms would not move — they were tied to something. They were tied to the ceiling. Her feet were on the floor, though, her toes sweeping back and forth. They hurt, too. Everything hurt. Jesus, everything throbbed.

  Her eyes opened and there was a shirtless guy she’d never seen before, standing in front of her, spraying water from a purple water bottle in her face. He slapped her on the cheek.

  ‘Let’s go, honey. Stay awake, now. How much shit did you give her?’ he asked someone behind him. ‘She’s fucking useless this way.’

  ‘I want her awake,’ someone else said. Voice #2.

  ‘What I always give,’ another voice replied angrily. ‘I know what I’m doing. She’s here, isn’t she?’

  Daria looked to where the angry voice was coming from. It was the guy from the hotel bar. The tourist with the tan. What was his name? He made movies or something? He was standing across the room, next to a sink, looking at the shirtless man with the purple water bottle. Then he turned his back to look at something else.

  ‘That’s what I’m paying for.’ Voice #2 spoke up again. ‘I can watch you fuck a doll or a dead one anytime; I want her awake and alert. That’s what I want.’

  ‘Don’t argue, please,’ someone else said. ‘Try some more water.’

  ‘Ooh, a wet T-shirt contest,’ cooed another.

  ‘Use the prongs, now. That will wake her up.’ And another.

  How many people were in the room? Where were they all?

  In and out. Up and down. It was impossible to see the horizon.

  The shirtless man walked over to the guy from the hotel and pushed him out of the way. Reid. Reid was his name. She saw the tattoo then, the archangel wings etched across his back in an array of colors, the lightning bolt the angel held in his hand, ready to throw. It was the tattoo on the man who had killed Patricia Graber. She remembered it on the video seized from Judge Lepidus’s house. When the killer flexed his back, the muscles made the wings look like they flapped. Her body began to shake uncontrollably. On the counter behind Reid was a laptop. The shirtless man reached over and hit something on the keyboard.

  In and out. In and out. Please stay out. Don’t come into focus. Stay unconscious. Go back to where you were, Daria …

  ‘They’re not supposed to tell me what to do. This is all me. They just get to watch, not direct, so mute them all. Got it? I don’t need someone who can’t get it up at home telling me what to do. You hear me?’ the shirtless man snapped.

  ‘It’s getting late. Too late. Everyone has been waiting for you to do what they linked in to see, so stop with the excuses,’ Reid replied. ‘This feed is over at seven. Listen to the man — use the prongs if you have to. Think Roman, and just give the people what they want. They’re paying enough for it.’ He hit another button on the keypad.

  Daria watched the two men argue. They were arguing over her. It felt like everything was moving in slow motion — their mouths, the hand gestures. Her eyes moved about the room, trying to take in what was happening. Trying to find a way out, to think her way out. But like everything else, her thoughts were moving so slow …

  Then she saw the monitors.

  Lined up against a wall, like a crazy, video line-up. On each monitor were faces. Faces of men. Above the monitors was a large multi-monitor TV screen. She counted them as her eyes moved down the line: one, two, three, four, five, six—

  ‘Hello, my little Lena,’ said monitor #6 when her eyes landed on his. It was the voice who had demanded she be awake. It was voice #2.

  Only now the voice had a name.

  ‘She looks terrible,’ said Abby Lunders with a sigh as her face moved on to the screen. Sitting on the arm of a chair, she stroked her son’s hair. ‘All she’s done so far is sleep. She was cuter in court. More feisty, too. This is a shame. I hate when they drug them down.’

  ‘You do look tired,’ a shirtless Talbot added and smiled. ‘I am too. We’ve been up all night, waiting for you to come round, Lena. But we’re running out of time, here. I gotta be in court in a few hours.’

  ‘Maybe they can do it tonight,’ Abby said. ‘Hold it off till then. We can celebrate your getting out.’

  Daria closed her eyes again and tried to play dead. She wished she already were, because she knew what was coming. Instead of seeing her life flash before her eyes, like they say in the movies, she saw her actual death before it happened. She thought about Manny’s words in her office some months back:

  It’s a forty-second clip, Counselor. Just imagine what we didn’t see. What footage ended up on the cutting-room floor.

  There was no need to imagine any longer. Her murderers were making the movie. She was in the cutting room.

  And then she saw the aftermath. Not the funeral and the eulogy and the flowers and crying friends and family members. No. Rather, she saw detectives and uniforms and ME techs gathered around her broken, naked body, stuffed under a pile of garbage, feasted on by rats and insects, a thin film growing over her open eyes. Surrounding her were the friendly, familiar faces of colleagues from the ME’s office, the crime lab, the SAO. Detectives she’d worked with countless times, crime-scene techs she’d put on the stand, fellow prosecutors she’d had lunch with — all were now picking over her body and ogling the naked crime-scene photos, which would go on to live in perpetuity on some police d
epartment’s computer and in their evidence room, maybe making their way up through the courts one day, too. And maybe on to the Internet.

  Oh, please, she thought as tears began to run out of her eyes, don’t let it be Manny who responds. Don’t let it be Manny who finds me in that dumpster …

  Manny. It was funny that the last thoughts she would ever have would be of him. How strange. She never would have thought that months ago, when he’d shown up in her office late for his pre-file. And he’d never know it, either. She wished they’d made up. She wished he’d forgiven her. She wished she could do over the last few months. She would never have taken this case. The one that was going to get her off the lifer list and rocket her to prosecutorial fame.

  ‘Remember this, honey,’ her dad had lectured her when she’d first moved up to felonies, after she’d missed a birthday dinner with the family. ‘Have you ever seen a tombstone that had “Was a great worker” or “Beloved by all her employees” etched on it? No. Put life in perspective, is all I’m saying. Remember what’s gonna matter when the lights go out.’

  All that she’d done for the past five years, all the late nights and wasted weekends and trials and motions and worry and stress — none of it was gonna matter a damn when the lights went out, would it? Criminals would be around long after they put her in the ground. She hadn’t made a difference or changed the world. And when she was gone, all those badasses she’d sent away would eventually get out, anyway. They’d see the sunshine again and kiss their babies and hug their loved ones …

  The shirtless man was coming back. She could tell even with her eyes closed. She could hear him walk towards her, his heels crunching on invisible grit on the concrete floor. She could smell his sweat. She could feel him watching her. Studying her. Calculating his next move.

  Don’t react, she thought. Play dead. Maybe they’ll leave you alone, like an animal would. Maybe they’ll skip all the horrible things in between now and death, because she was no fun to play with. Maybe they’ll make it quick.

  But then the shirtless man hit her with the prongs and the voices on the monitors went wild, like the adrenaline-fueled crowd at a boxing match, and she knew she would not be so lucky …

  50

  Judge Becker drummed her dark plum claws on the bench. The sound echoed in the mostly empty courtroom. She stared at Vance Collier. ‘Is the state ready to proceed or not?’

  ‘Your Honor, I have a problem,’ replied Vance, his voice tinged with anxiety and anger.

  ‘I see that. Or rather, I don’t. Tell me, where is Ms DeBianchi?’

  Joe Varlack checked his watch again and looked over at the state’s table. He was going without co-counsel today. Beside him was his client, decked out in a grey Hugo Boss suit, his sandy, once shaggy, blond locks now cut to his ears and respectably combed back. Unlike his lawyer, his face was devoid of emotion. Seated behind Talbot was a smiling Abby Lunders.

  ‘Your Honor, my office has been unable to reach Ms DeBianchi,’ Vance stumbled. ‘She, ah, was at a law enforcement conference in Orlando these past few days, but she hasn’t been in the office this morning. We’re trying to locate her.’

  ‘You do know that Mr Varlack has filed a speedy demand?’ the judge replied. ‘And that we’ve already lost considerable time due to the hurricane?’

  ‘My office has been swamped trying to get back up to speed after Artemis. It’s been very difficult.’

  ‘Quite frankly, Mr Collier, that is not the defendant’s problem. He’s here. He’s ready to proceed. Obviously, Ms DeBianchi is not doing hurricane relief work in Orlando. Perhaps she got lost at Disney World?’

  ‘Just so the court knows,’ announced Joe Varlack haughtily, ‘Ms Simmons will not be attending the hearing today due to an unexpected illness. But I am still prepared and ready to go forward. Even if the plane loses an engine, it should still be able to fly.’

  The courtroom doors swung open and George Schaible, the Chief of the SAO’s Legal Unit walked in, accompanied by Daria’s secretary. Gretchen looked real nervous. She stood at his side as he motioned for Vance to come over.

  Manny had just walked in the courtroom himself, late as usual but only by about fifteen minutes, and dressed in the navy suit he and Daria had picked out on a rainy Sunday afternoon. He was surprised that the party was not in full swing. That Daria was not glaring at him with those fiery peepers of hers while she smiled in relief that he’d finally showed up. He figured he would mess with her head this morning. They still hadn’t talked since she had drunk-dialed him. But now he watched as the frowning Chief of Legal shook his head at whatever Collier was saying and Daria’s secretary kept shrugging. Daria was nowhere to be found. A horrible feeling was building in his stomach.

  He had started out the morning being both angry and anxious to see her again. Over the past couple of days he’d thought about the other night far too often and had come to the conclusion that she was either fucking with his head or she really did love him and she couldn’t swallow that big fat Italian pride of hers to call and tell him it when she was sober. That made him even more mad. And really anxious. So he wasn’t sure what he was gonna do after the hearing — scream at her or pull her into a hallway and kiss her. But the anger was gone. Now he was just scared. He made his way up to the threesome in the gallery, as Vance turned back to address the judge.

  ‘Your Honor, we definitely have a problem and I am going to need a continuance till at least tomorrow,’ Vance said.

  ‘This is absolutely ridiculous …’ Varlack grumbled loudly.

  ‘Where is Ms DeBianchi?’ the judge demanded.

  ‘That’s what we’re trying to find out, Your Honor,’ answered Collier.

  ‘Is she hurt?’

  ‘We don’t know, Your Honor. We don’t know where she is. She was supposed to speak at a law enforcement conference in Orlando on Tuesday, but I have just learned that she did not. No one knows where she is at this moment.’

  Manny felt like he had been shot in the gut. He had the urge to run and do something, but he couldn’t move. He was frozen in place.

  ‘I would imagine that if she was in a car accident someone would have notified your office,’ continued the judge skeptically.

  ‘I’m not sure what we’re dealing with yet, Your Honor.’

  Judge Becker sighed. ‘I don’t mean to sound uncaring, but your office needs to get its act together. You have till two p.m. this afternoon, Mr Collier, to either find Ms DeBianchi, or handle this motion yourself. I’m not sure what stall tactics the state is trying, but I am out of patience, especially given Ms DeBianchi’s previous disrespect of the court and defense counsel with that Brady violation.’ She slapped the file closed on the bench and stood up.

  ‘Your Honor, that only gives me three hours,’ protested Vance.

  ‘We’re in recess till two,’ replied the judge coldly.

  Then she sailed off the bench.

  51

  ‘She checked in. She did not check out. Her suitcase is still in the room. But her cell, her car and her purse are gone,’ the Chief of Legal said somberly. ‘That’s all we know right now.’

  The four of them were standing in the hallway outside the courtroom: Gretchen, Vance, George and Manny. The door to the courtroom had been propped open slightly by Judge Becker’s bailiff, who was transporting boxes to the clerk and didn’t want it to lock automatically. Through the open sliver of doorway, Manny could see Lunders and his attorney joking and laughing with a couple of correction officers. Thank God the cameras had decided not to show up today. Even for blood-thirsty reporters, pre-trial motions were about as exciting as watching paint dry.

  ‘Have you checked the hospitals?’ asked Vance.

  ‘We’re on it now,’ said George.

  ‘Why are you only finding out about this now?’ demanded Manny. ‘What day did she check in? What hotel is it?’

  Gretchen nibbled anxiously on a thumbnail. ‘The Bonnet Creek Hilton in Buena Vista. She went up on Sunday.’
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  ‘That’s three days ago. She was supposed to speak yesterday and never showed up? When was the last time anybody actually saw her?’

  ‘Don’t know that, either,’ replied George.

  ‘Didn’t the damn maid figure out she hadn’t slept in her bed for three damn nights?’ asked Manny. His thoughts went to that voicemail she had left him Sunday.

  I’m at this conference, see, and it’s a hotel and I thought of the first time we were ever together …

  She hadn’t picked up when he’d finally called her back. And she hadn’t texted him, either.

  ‘There was a Do Not Disturb sign on her door,’ Gretchen responded. ‘The hotel just extended her room stay another night, since the SMART convention doesn’t end till this afternoon, anyway. So no one actually checked the room until this morning, when we called. As for speakers not showing up, that happens. The organizers figured she’d gotten wrapped up in something, so they just covered her part with another speaker who was on the sexual predator panel.’

  ‘I’m putting out a BOLO for her and her tag,’ Manny said, reaching for his cell. A BOLO was police jargon for “be on the lookout for”.‘I’ll have Fort Lauderdale PD go out to her house in Victoria Park. Maybe she came home. Maybe something’s happened with her family. I know her dad’s been sick.’

  ‘Was there a reason she would disappear? I know she’s been stressed out about this, but, damn she’s leaving us high and dry here,’ Vance said with a heavy sigh. He looked more pissed off than concerned, and that was pissing off Manny.

  Manny said nothing. All he could think about was that last phone call, how upset she sounded. How depressed. Alcohol and a broken heart don’t mix. Jesus … A thousand bad scenarios were running through his head: Maybe she went out for a drive and was drunk and drove into a canal. Maybe she purposely drove into a canal. No. No. Don’t think like that. Maybe she just got cold feet about the conference and the case and life in general and headed north on the Turnpike to see where it took her. Manny had thought about doing that a few times himself. Just up and walk out on everything, the way Dominick and C.J. had. And according to Dom, C.J. had gone and done it again.

 
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