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Retribution, p.31
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       Retribution, p.31

           Jilliane Hoffman
 

  Chavez tried a more civil tone. ‘I again approached Mr Bantling in his car and that’s when I smelled the marijuana smell in the car.’

  ‘The car was thoroughly searched that night, was it not, Officer Chavez?’

  ‘Yes.’

  ‘And no trace of marijuana was found in the car, was there?’

  ‘He was obviously smoking it, ma’am. For all I know, he ate the roach before I gave him back his license.’ Chavez was irked. She was making him look like a complete fool.

  Lourdes Rubio stared at the rookie for several moments. Then she turned and looked directly at C.J. while she asked her next question.

  What did you really think you would find in that trunk, Officer Chavez?’

  ‘Drugs, weapons – I wasn’t quite sure. Butch sure knew something was up, though. He damn near tore that trunk to shreds with his paws.’

  ‘Isn’t that what you suspected you would find in there all along, Officer Chavez? Drugs?’

  C.J. felt her hands begin to tingle.

  ‘No. I pulled him over for excessive speed. Traffic violations. As it turned out later, there were additional facts that led me to believe he was concealing contraband in that trunk. The dog alert confirmed it.’

  ‘Let’s be honest here, shall we, Officer? Didn’t you think from the moment you saw that Jag on Washington that he was carrying dope?’

  ‘Objection,’ C.J. said. ‘The question has been asked and answered.’

  ‘Overruled. The witness may answer,’ said Judge Chaskel.

  Chavez remembered what he had told the redheaded chick at the bar, but it was too late to turn back now. He was backed in a corner. His whole career as a cop rested on the right answer. ‘No. I pulled him over for speeding.’

  ‘What would make you stop breaking up this fight, get in a car, and chase down a speeder? What would your gut instincts tell you might be in that trunk? What had someone else told you might be in that trunk?’

  She knew about the tip. C.J. sprang to her feet. ‘Objection! Asked and answered!’

  ‘Overruled. Let’s get through this, Ms Rubio.’

  ‘He was speeding. That was it. There was nothing else.’ Chavez was not going to budge, and it would be war between them. Unless she had proof. ‘It just so happened that when I did get to look in the trunk, ma’am, your client had a dead body in it.’

  ‘Fucking liar,’ Bantling suddenly said in a loud voice from his seat.

  Lourdes Rubio left Chavez and turned toward her client.

  ‘Mr Bantling, do not interject during testimony. And that language will not be tolerated by this court,’ said Judge Chaskel sternly. He had heard about Bantling’s antics during the First Appearance, and he simply wasn’t going to allow it here – not in his courtroom.

  Bantling stood in his seat, his leg shackles clinking. ‘I am sorry, Judge, but he is a liar. They all are. Just look at him.’

  ‘That’s enough, Mr Bantling. Sit down.’

  ‘I want to speak, Your Honor.’ Bantling looked over at C.J. and a slick smile bloomed on his face. ‘There is something this court needs to know.’

  C.J. felt the room spin again, and she clutched her pen tight in her hand. She looked away from Bantling, straight at the judge. The moment had finally come when it would all come crashing down. How would it feel to stand accused in front of all these people? She held her breath waiting for Bantling’s next line.

  ‘Anything the court needs to know, your counsel will tell me. Now please sit down or I will have you removed. Ms Rubio, is there anything further?’

  Lourdes Rubio watched as her client was sat back in his chair with the help of two burly corrections officers. All the while he stared at the prosecutor, a look of contempt and pure hatred painted on his otherwise-chiseled and good-looking face. He enjoyed this mind game he was playing with her, this cat-and-mouse, this I know something you want no one else to know game. Well, Lourdes wasn’t going to let him play it. Not today. Not with her.

  ‘Nothing further, Your Honor,’ Lourdes said abruptly, and sat down.

  62

  C.J. sat at the prosecution’s table for a long while after the hearing ended, letting the courtroom empty out behind her. She had caught Lourdes’s eye briefly as she packed up her briefcase at the table next to hers, but there was nothing there to be shared between them. Lourdes had rushed out just as soon as Corrections had carted off her obviously unhappy client back to his maximum-security jail cell.

  Chavez was an idiot. A horrible liar. A buffoon. And Lourdes had had him dead to rights. But then she’d backed off suddenly. Why? She also knew about the tip. But how? And then there was the rape. She had never even mentioned Bantling’s allegations to the court, even though Bantling had practically pushed her through that door after opening it up himself. Was that simply case strategy or was there more to it?

  An enormous, anxious wave of guilt rushed over C.J. Before Bantling, she had actually liked Lourdes. They had worked together over the years on two other murder cases, and she always found Lourdes to be straight-forward. Not whiny or unscrupulous like most of the defense bar. And now, she knew that Lourdes was compromising herself. And for that, C.J. felt bad. But since that day in DCJ, C.J. had also grown wary of Lourdes, and now she wondered if perhaps Lourdes was taking this opportunity to throw her off and plan a more effective time to explode with her damning information? Perhaps right after a jury was sworn and double jeopardy had attached? Because once jeopardy had attached, should Lourdes make her allegations in court and the judge declare a mistrial for prosecutorial misconduct, Bantling could not be retried. Ever. And he would walk away a free man. C.J.’s thoughts returned to that day in the jail, when a smiling, gleeful Bill Bantling had sat at the side of his once-scrupulous attorney, while she fired her deadly bullets across the table directly at his victim. Lourdes had known before that day that her client was a madman. He had told her as much himself, showed her the proof in the police reports. And Lourdes had still allowed herself to be used as his pawn, as his conduit. She had arranged for C.J. to look into the eyes of her attacker in a lockdown cell. Just for effect. Just to win a motion. And with that last thought, C.J.’s guilt was gone.

  With Bantling out of the room, and the mob of reporters focusing their energies on task force members and FBI agents outside, she felt as if she could breathe, at least for the time being. After a while, she didn’t know exactly how long, Dominick sat down next to her in the empty courtroom.

  ‘Good job,’ he said quietly.

  ‘I didn’t do much of anything,’ she replied.

  ‘You won the motion; that’s enough. With no help from that cocky SOB from the Beach. Someone needs to fine-tune him before he gets before a jury.’

  ‘He doesn’t tune very well. I’ve tried. So has his sergeant.’

  ‘Maybe we’ll have Manny work on him. He has a way with words.’ He paused for a moment, trying to find her eyes, which were still staring at the files on the table. ‘I know you’re worried, but the case is strong, even with Chavez trying his best to screw it up.’

  ‘Let’s hope so.’

  ‘And Bantling doesn’t help his case any, either. I think Chaskel is going to wind up letting Cupid attend his own trial from closed-circuit TV across the street if he doesn’t shut up.’

  C.J. said nothing.

  ‘I liked your summary argument.’

  ‘Thanks. It’s been a day.’

  ‘Yeah. The spooks are definitely out today. By the way, Happy Halloween. Can I help you back to your office?’

  ‘Is everyone gone out there?’

  Yeah, pretty much. I think only Manny and the boys are out in the hall, with your secretary.’ ‘Marisol’s here?’

  ‘She came to cheer you on, I think.’

  ‘I doubt it.’

  ‘She stayed the whole hearing. Now she’s talking to Manny outside. Interesting outfit she’s wearing.’

  ‘It always is. Okay, then. I’ll take the help.’

  He lift
ed the files off the table and placed them on the pull cart, one on top of the other. With one hand he pulled the cart behind him, and in the other he held her heavy briefcase. They headed together to the courtroom doors that led to the main hallway.

  ‘How about dinner tonight?’ he asked.

  ‘That would be nice,’ she said. This time she didn’t hesitate. Not at all.

  63

  Lourdes Rubio opened the bottom drawer of her desk and pulled out the amber bottle of Chivas Regal, the good stuff that she kept on hand for celebrations, favorable verdicts, acquittals. Today, though, it would serve a different purpose. Today she would drink it to get good and drunk and calm the nerves that rattled her whole body.

  She poured herself a glass and looked down at her desk, which was covered with grisly crime-scene photos. Anna Prado’s butchered, bloody body lay, wide-eyed and terrified, staring out from the trunk of her client’s new Jag.

  She hated herself. Hated herself for what she had said in court. For what she had almost said. For what she had not said. There was no winning for anyone. No celebration or victory party today.

  She knew her client was a rapist. A sick, sadistic, brutal rapist. And she knew that he had raped that prosecutor, and that he was not at all sorry for what he had done to ruin her life. Lourdes also suspected that he had raped other women, although he had not admitted that to her. Not yet. Bill Bantling admitted facts to her only on what he felt was her ‘need to know’ basis. There was no surprise in that; most clients enjoyed that same trait.

  Was he a killer?

  In the beginning, when he had first retained her, she would have adamantly said no. It must be a cover-up, a frame job, a mistake. There was no way this man was a rapist, a killer. No way that he could possibly be Cupid. He had fooled her completely, and that was a rarity. Especially as a criminal defense attorney, where you know and accept that most clients hold back and lie, even to the person they’ve hired to save their ass. But Bill Bantling was not most clients. He was a successful businessman, good-looking, charming, sincere. He was her friend long before he was even arrested, jogging with her on SoBe on Saturday mornings and sharing a cappuccino at the bookstore sometimes on the weekends. She had bought his whole story, and now she saw that she had been fooled. Completely blindsided by a smooth-talking psychopath. That was what stung the most.

  And then there was C. J. Townsend, a prosecutor whom she had always respected and admired. One who didn’t play bullshit political games or offer nasty back-stabbing pleas that only served to make her office look good. Lourdes knew C.J. was lying, too, and although her motivations might be more justified, they were certainly not honorable. She had reviewed the inventory sheets left behind when the police searched her client’s house and cars. She had looked through the boxes of evidence seized with those warrants. There was nothing there. Nothing that, according to her client, should have been. Another blind side. It was now at the point that Lourdes could not trust her own judgment of people any longer.

  She downed the first drink, still staring at the gruesome pictures. Where was the justice for Anna Prado? Where was the justice for her client, whom she had taken an oath to zealously defend? What the hell did justice even mean anymore?

  She had dropped the ball as his attorney today. She’d had that cop running right into a brick wall with his own words and she stopped. She’d stopped because she knew her client was a rapist, and in that moment in the courtroom when he had stared down his victim, with no remorse or pity, with nothing but hatred and loathing in his eyes, she knew he would do it again if he could. And she could not let herself be the one who made it possible for him to do it to some other woman. She herself was a champion for women’s rights in the Cuban community, this community where she lived and worked and played. In fact, she was the chairwoman of La Lucha, helping immigrant Hispanic women who are victims of domestic violence seek shelter and safety from their abusers. How could she call herself an advocate for women and in the next breath use her talents to let a brutal rapist walk free? She had seen firsthand the damage he had done to one victim; she knew what he would do to the next.

  Lourdes downed the second scotch, and this one was much smoother. It was easier to swallow. It didn’t burn as much. Perhaps the same analogy could be drawn to her own participation in this charade. Perhaps each step would be easier to take as she helped walk her client into the death chamber. Perhaps it wouldn’t burn as much when she watched them stick the needle in. An accomplice to her own client’s murder.

  Because she really did not believe that he was a killer. And she knew that she could get him off, that she could have gotten him off today. She knew all about the strange, anonymous tip that had been phoned in to the Miami Beach Police Department on September 19. That stupid cop, drunk and hoping to get laid, had shot his mouth off last month to her and her intern at the Clevelander, and she knew that was why he had really pulled over the Jag, even though now he chose to sing a different song. He thought he could deny what she had heard in that bar, just deny it and it would all go away. But things don’t ever work out that way, do they?

  She flipped the cassette tape that she had ordered from the Miami Beach P.D. over in her hand. On the outside was scribbled 9/19/2000 8:12 P.M. 911 tapes were routinely held for thirty days before they were erased. Fortunately, she had gotten her copy on the twenty-ninth day.

  The scotch was working its magic, making her light-headed and dizzy and pain-free. Lourdes stared at the pictures of Anna Prado and poured herself a third.

  This one just slid down her numb throat.

  64

  He watched the scene play out before his eyes in the packed courtroom. It was even better than he had ever expected it would be. To see the different players interact off each other, with each other. Emotions running high, the tension so thick one could cut it with a knife. The breathless, nail-biting crowd nibbling on their proverbial popcorn and taking their pictures as a cheap tourist would, while they watched with him, alongside him. He melded into them. He was one of them. This game that he himself had set in motion was spinning quite nicely now into subplots, and the suspense of just how it would turn out was killing him.

  But he needed more. It had been months now that he had contained himself, and he could wait no longer. The feeling inside him was akin to that of a desert man in search of water. An insatiable thirst, a quenching for life. For death.

  He could not risk ruining the drama that unfolded now, calling into question the innocence of the guilty. He needed to break away from what police liked to call his ‘modus operandi’, his ‘method of operation’. It would cast suspicion if he should choose another blond-haired vixen, no matter where he selected her from. And, of course, unlike the others, she could never be found. For what he would do to her body was simply unmentionable. And what he would do to her mind before that was unthinkable. If only they knew of the horrors in store, they would think William Bantling a timid rabbit.

  Yes. A dark-haired beauty. Someone with hair as dark as ebony and skin as white as snow and lips red as the rose. His own little Snow White to play with. He could only hope to win her heart.

  And then the killer known to police as Cupid rose with the others in the crowded courtroom and followed them out into the hallway, down the escalators, and into the hot Miami sun, where he left them in search of his next true love.

  Part 3

  65

  C.J. found Manny and Dominick downstairs in the Pickle Barrel nursing their cafés con leche. She grabbed her own cup of coffee from the self-serve urns and pulled up a chair.

  ‘How’d the status conference go?’ asked Dominick. Today was December 13, Bantling’s report date before Judge Chaskel. At a report date, the attorneys met with the trial judge to discuss the status of the case, plea negotiations, and finally, to firm up their trial schedules for the following week.

  ‘There was no request for a continuance. It looks like I’m picking the jury on Monday morning.’

  ‘N
o shit?’ said Manny. ‘I could’ve sworn that nut was gonna come up with a hundred and one excuses why we shouldn’t move to fry his ass before the holidays. Well, good. Let’s get this thing over with.’

  ‘I have to say I’m surprised, too,’ said Dominick, cautiously. ‘Two months’ prep on a capital case, here in Miami, the land of defense continuances and wishy-washy judges? No depos, no discovery? Not even an attempt at a change of venue? That’s not going to cause a problem later on down the road, is it C.J.?’

  ‘You mean as a basis for an appeal? No. It’s Bantling who wants the quick trial, not Rubio. And it’s Bantling, I think, who wants to keep it here in Miami, rather than risk having it tried in some northern county where the median age is sixty-five and whatever a cop says is gold. It’s not ineffective assistance of counsel either. Judge Chaskel has had Bantling state on the record all along that he knows he has a right to discovery and that any waiver of that right is done with his full knowledge and consent and can’t be used as a basis of an appeal after he’s convicted. You know, the “But, Judge, nobody told me!” defense. And Chaskel has pretty much made me give him everything anyway, because he doesn’t want to see this case come back. Lourdes hasn’t taken on any new clients since Bantling. She’s a well-respected attorney who has six capital cases under her belt, so she’s experienced at what needs to be done, and I don’t think she’s been rushed. She’s handled cases before without discovery, and sometimes a defense attorney will try to use it as a tactic: “You don’t show me yours, maybe, but neither do you get to see mine.” Maybe she wants to surprise us. I hope not.’

  ‘What’s Bantling in such a rush for? Does he really think he’ll get off in time to finish up his Christmas shopping?’ asked Manny.

  ‘Hey, it’s better for us if he wants it quick. I hate when these things linger in purgatory. Witnesses forget, evidence gets lost, all sorts of bad shit happens,’ said Dominick.

 
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