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Retribution, p.32
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       Retribution, p.32

           Jilliane Hoffman
 

  ‘I agree,’ C.J. said, ‘but there is one thing that a continuance would have bought us and that would have been more time.’ She stopped deliberately for a moment before continuing. ‘Tigler called me this morning. De la Flors is taking the Siban murder and the robberies before the grand jury next week. If we lose on Prado, he’ll whisk Bantling out the door and downtown to Club Fed so fast we won’t even get to say boo. Then we’ll have to wait our turn in line while he tries Bantling on each federal indictment.’

  ‘That should buy him enough time and attention then to get that federal judgeship he wants,’ said Dominick.

  ‘Exactly,’ said C.J.

  ‘Well, then, why don’t we beat him to the punch and just indict on the other murders, Counselor?’ Manny asked. ‘We’ve got plenty of time so that speedies won’t be an issue now. Not with you going to trial next week.’

  ‘Because other than the fishing line found at Morgan Weber’s scene, there’s still no direct physical evidence linking him to the other victims, and the fishing line is not enough. And I don’t have a conviction yet on Prado.’ She turned to Dominick. ‘I need those hearts. I need you to find his trophies.’

  ‘I thought you said we didn’t need to find those to convict?’ asked Manny.

  ‘We don’t. But you saw how Victor Chavez was on the stand in that motion to suppress. He comes off evasive, cocky, arrogant.’

  ‘An asshole,’ Manny interrupted.

  ‘Right. He’s a horrible witness, but I can’t proceed without him. I just don’t want him to turn the jury off so much that they buy into Bantling’s defense that he was framed. Then, if they let Bantling go on Prado, I don’t even have a murder conviction to Williams Rule in. The judge might not even let the next jury hear about the facts in Prado. We’ll have nothing.’

  ‘C.J., we’ve looked everywhere,’ said Dominick. ‘We’ve talked to three hundred witnesses, analyzed hundreds of pieces of evidence. I don’t know where else to look.’

  ‘Maybe his shrink in New York would know what he did with them. Have you talked to him, that Dr Fineburg?’ asked Manny.

  ‘No. Bantling is not pleading insanity and that’s final, according to Lourdes. I can’t look at his records. I can’t have him examined by the state shrinks. My hands are tied, and any info that he told his psychiatrist is confidential and privileged. He won’t talk to you even if Bantling buried the hearts in his own backyard.’

  ‘What if Bowman was right, and this guy pulled a Jeffrey Dahmer and ate them?’ said Manny. ‘We may never know.’

  ‘I don’t think so, Bear. I think C.J.’s right. I’ve worked serials before. They always keep a trophy. It fits that it’s the hearts. He wants us to look for them, I think. Bantling is teasing us, taunting us to find them. He went to such great lengths to horrify us all by taking them, he wants to horrify us again when we find them.’

  ‘Go over all the evidence again. Look at his records. Maybe we missed something,’ said C.J. ‘Some otherwise insignificant storage receipt, a locker key. I don’t know. Let’s just try. We have probably three weeks of trial. If I can indict on the others by then, then no judge will let him leave for Club Fed until I’ve tried him on the murders.’

  ‘Three weeks of trial, huh?’ Manny sighed. ‘Well, Ho-Ho-Ho and a Happy Fucking New Year, too. I guess there will be no trip to the North Pole for any of us this Christmas. No matter how good we’ve all been.’

  66

  Manny waited until C.J. had left to go back to her office until he said, ‘I like the Counselor, but I think she’s crazy thinking we can maybe find those hearts this late in the game. Unless Bantling has them in a freezer someplace, they are probably decomped.’

  ‘Alright. Let’s find the freezer, then.’

  ‘Ever the optimist. How long have you and the Counselor been an item?’ said Manny suddenly, looking coyly up at Dominick between bites of his pastelito.

  Dominick blew out a breath. ‘I wouldn’t call it an item, exactly. Is it obvious?’

  ‘To me, your good buddy. I like to think I can read women, Dom. And I can read that the Counselor has a thing for you.’

  ‘You can, can you?’

  ‘Yep. And that you have a thing for the Counselor. So how long?’

  ‘Just a couple of months.’

  ‘And?’

  ‘And, that’s it. I don’t know. I like her, she likes me. She won’t let me get too close. We’re kind of at a standstill, I think.’

  ‘Women. They want a relationship, a relationship, a relationship. You give ‘em one and they don’t want a relationship. That’s why I’ve been married three times, Dom. I still can’t figure them out completely. But no matter how many times I’ve sworn off them, I always go back for something hot and spicy. Then, just like picadillo, they give me indigestion and I wonder why I tried it again.’

  ‘Well she doesn’t want this out, so keep it between us, and tone down those sharp instincts of yours. She’ll get spooked if she thinks people suspect anything. She’s worried about Tigler and the press.’

  ‘Mum’s the word. No smooching in the squad car, though.’

  ‘I do think she’s right, though, Manny. I really do,’ Dominick said slowly, wondering if he should utter his next thoughts or keep them to himself. He looked around to make sure no one was listening in, but the Pickle Barrel had pretty much emptied out and they had the back of the cafeteria to themselves. In a low voice he continued, ‘I’ve been thinking, Bear, looking over the crime-scene reports, the photos. Looking for what we’ve been missing all this time. Why is it that there is nothing physical left behind? Because Cupid doesn’t want us to find it? No, that doesn’t quite fit because if that was the case, he wouldn’t even have left us a body to pick over. I think it’s because he’s too smart, Bear. He took so many chances with those girls. Walking them right out of those clubs, past security guards and right past their own friends. He took his time killing them, setting the scenes, playing with the bodies, arranging them in death. It’s all very controlled, very calculated.

  ‘He wants us to see what he’s done, Manny. He wants us to know what he did to them before he killed them, with that drug, Mivacron. He wants us to be horrified, mesmerized, amazed at how smart he is. He can be this ruthless and open, and we still can’t catch him. Every crime scene, with the exception of Anna Prado’s, was planned out. Planned out for when and how he would kill his victims and planned out for when and how we would find them. Down to the positioning of their fingertips.’

  ‘Okay. So he’s smart. He planned everything, even how he wanted us to find them. Where are you going with all this? What’s the link?’ asked Manny.

  ‘Think of Marilyn Siban, in that abandoned army base. I think he knew cops trained there. He knew cops would find her, and that the scene would make the most hardened among us rethink our careers. Nicolette Torrence. Found by those kids in that abandoned crack house. A crack house that coincidentally was the subject of forfeiture proceedings by South Florida IMPACT and the Coral Gables P.D. for drug violations. Hannah Cordova. Found in an abandoned sugarcane factory that had been raided by U.S. Customs on a heroin tip four weeks earlier. Krystal Pierce. Found in that abandoned supermarket where a triple homicide had happened not six months earlier. That one was investigated by Miami-Dade P.D. Almost all the crime scenes have some remote connection back to a police department, law-enforcement agency, a task force.’

  ‘So what are you saying, Dom? You think Bantling’s a copycat? You buy his “I’ve been framed!” bullshit? That police crap could very well be coincidence. Hell, according to the bleeding hearts at the ACLU, almost everyone in Miami has had their house searched by cops at one time or another. And God knows the feds are like cockroaches when they’re looking for dope. The bodies were not found in the most savory of locations, Dom, but bodies generally aren’t.’

  ‘I don’t think Bantling’s a copycat, Bear. I think he’s the original. The cuts on the torso across the sternum were in the same location, the sa
me order as the others. Anna Prado had the same drugs in her system as the others. A copycat wouldn’t have known to do that, wouldn’t have known about the drugs. I do think there is a police connection, though.’

  ‘Like maybe Bantling’s a wannabe cop and we missed that, or his cat was killed by a cop? There’re a lot of reasons people take on cops, Dommy Boy. We’re everyone’s scapegoats.’

  Dominick nodded and slowly sipped at his cup of coffee before continuing his last thought. ‘Maybe. As for Anna Prado, I think Bantling had other plans for her, though. Plans that we interrupted perhaps by catching him prematurely. If we can figure out what those plans were, we may be able to figure out where his trophies are.’

  Manny was shaking his head. ‘I don’t know, Dom. A cop connection. If there is one, how would Bantling have known about the raids, the searches, the training, all that shit you just said?’

  Dominick was silent.

  Manny picked up on his friend’s thoughts and blew out a low whistle under his breath. ‘Oh shit, Dom. You think there’s another one, don’t you? You think that this guy has a partner out there somewhere who’s just laughing his head off right now. And you think he may be one of us?’

  67

  Five days. C.J. had just five days before the biggest trial of her career began. She had lived, breathed, slept with this case for over a year, and as a lawyer, she knew she was prepared in almost every way one could prepare. She knew the witnesses, she knew the evidence, she knew the victims. Inside and out. Backwards and forwards. She had rehearsed a closing statement in her head on almost a daily basis ever since she had been assigned to the task force, updating her closing with every new fact that had emerged, each new body that was discovered, and finally, last September, she’d been able to add a name to accuse. To point at from across the crowded courtroom, to hang high in front of an angry, vindictive jury.

  But now the accused might just become the accuser. It had been six weeks since she had laid eyes on Bantling in that crowded courtroom, when he had sought to stand up and point at her, to hang her high in front of her peers in the court of public opinion. Judge Chaskel, unwittingly, had restrained him, his attorney had soothed him, and the moment had flared, but not erupted. For six weeks since he had remained silent, and almost daily C.J. had wondered to herself when the phone call would come from Judge Chaskel’s chambers, when the mail-room would deliver another motion, when the front page would blare the news: Prosecutor Raped by Cupid! Her Plot for Revenge Foiled! How much longer could Bantling be contained? Voir dire? Opening statements? Chavez’s testimony? Dominick’s testimony? The ME? Closing arguments? Or perhaps, the big bang would come when he decided to take the stand in his own defense. Not to deny the accusations against him, but to accuse his accuser. Every day in that courtroom would take an eternity to tick by, the pressure in her head and chest mounting with his daily staredown, the licking of his chops with that long pink tongue, until, she supposed, her heart finally ruptured from the stress.

  And she knew that was exactly what he wanted. With a beautiful white smile, he dangled his secret over an open black pit while she sweated profusely trying to grab it back. He had total control over her in this regard, and he relished it. It was a mind game that he could play even from his jail cell, behind iron bars and steel doors, where she could not hear him or see him.

  She had to win this case. If she did not, he would walk. Maybe not right away – maybe the feds would get him for a while to try out their Hobbs Act robberies on him, but there was no more physical evidence linking him to a robbery than there was to a murder. And then he would be free, and she would not know where he was. Until he showed up maybe as her neighbor in her condo building, or on the escalator at the courthouse, or at the restaurant where she ate dinner, the diner where she ate lunch. Just like in New York, when he could be everywhere, anywhere – he would be again. Only this time would be different, because even if she saw him, there would be nothing she could do. She could scream and scream and scream on a busy street as he walked past her, on the bus as he took the seat next to her, at the restaurant as he held the door open for her, and there would be nothing that anyone could do, not until he touched her again. And by then she knew it would be too late.

  The gray glow of the computer screen in the dim room forced her to squint at the words as she finished up the first draft of her voir dire, the questions that she expected to ask potential jurors during jury selection. She now kept her blinds closed when in the office alone at night, to protect herself from the watchful, prying eyes of her neighbor across the street. Spread out on the desk were the first three drafts of her opening statement. Each draft was different, depending on if and when the volcano decided to erupt and spew its molten lava. And depending on if Dominick and the task force could locate the additional physical evidence she wanted. The answer was out there somewhere, she knew it, and she would not stop looking for it until…

  What if Bantling was not the killer?

  She really did not believe that, but, what if? What if they could not find the hearts or any additional evidence because there was none to be found? What if it was someone else? Someone who, while she struggled to keep the devil across the street behind bars, was sharpening his best knife and waiting for another opportunity to emerge from a darkened alley? What if he had struck again, but they didn’t know because they weren’t looking anymore? Her mind refused to go there, to play that treacherous game. Every piece of evidence that they had collected pointed irrefutably to Bantling, with only one exception.

  C.J. fingered the cassette tape in her hand gingerly, before she popped it in the boom box on top of her file cabinet.

  ‘Nine-one-one. What’s your emergency?’

  ‘There’s a car. A late-model black Jaguar XJ8. Right now he’s headed south on Washington from Lincoln Road. He’s got two kilos of cocaine in his trunk, and he’s headed to the airport. He’s going to take the MacArthur to MIA, just in case you miss him on Washington.’

  ‘What’s your name, sir? Where are you calling from?’

  The hum of a telephone line going dead.

  She had listened to the tape at least thirty times since getting a copy from the MBPD. The voice was muffled, as if the caller had placed a cloth over the phone. But it was deep and definitely male. He was calm, not rushed or hurried. In the background the faint sound of soft music, an opera perhaps, could be heard.

  Why would someone call in a fake tip that the car was carrying dope? Who would want the Jaguar pulled over, the trunk searched? An angry fellow motorist who sought revenge because he had been cut off? The deep, calm voice on the phone did not sound angry or upset. It did not sound like a car’s cell phone. There had never been any evidence ever found to suggest that Bantling even did illegal drugs, much less dealt them.

  Who would want that trunk searched?

  The only other possible answer left made C.J.’s blood chill.

  Someone who knew the gruesome contents the police would find inside.

  68

  The smell of roasted lemon pepper chicken and hot buttermilk biscuits rushed her when she opened the front door. Lucy scrambled to find the source, trying desperately to dash through C.J.’s legs into the hall, but C.J. caught her with her feet. Tibby II found the person holding the goods and coquettishly rubbed his body up against Dominick’s calf, purring incessantly, as if he had not seen food in a week.

  ‘I see you brought dinner,’ she said.

  ‘Hey, we can’t powwow without food,’ said Dominick as he made his way into the apartment. ‘Don’t be too impressed, though. It’s Publix. Although I did spring for extra biscuits.’ He whipped out a bottle wrapped in a brown paper bag from behind his back and handed it to C.J. ‘And, what fine dining would be complete without a bottle of Kendall Jackson Chardonnay?’

  Then he bent down and found Lucy’s head. ‘Hey there, Lucy, old girl! That mean momma of yours hasn’t fed you yet? Well, have I got a surprise for you!’ Tibby mewled loudly. Et t
u, Brute? ‘And for you, too, Tibby. Of course.’ From behind his back he pulled out another plastic Publix bag. In it was a container of cooked chicken livers. Lucy howled with delight. Tibby almost jumped on Dominick’s head. ‘Let’s get you both a bowl.’

  C.J. watched the show from the kitchen table while she put out the roasted chicken and biscuits and wineglasses. ‘She’s gonna howl now for twenty minutes. She’s also going to have to go out again tonight.’

  ‘That’s okay. I’ll walk her later.’ Dominick walked into the kitchen and, reaching for the wine, came up behind C.J. as she set the table. ‘I’ll get that,’ he said as she turned to face him. He pressed her up against the table and kissed her softly on the mouth, his hand finding hers and moving over it with his fingers. ‘Now, who needs food?’ he said lightly.

  ‘Okay, Casanova. Show me those muscles and open the wine.’

  ‘No sweat.’ But he didn’t move. With his body still pressed to hers, backing her up against the table, he reached his arms around behind her and found the wine bottle and corkscrew. Then his mouth found hers again, his tongue sensuously wandering to touch hers. She ran her hands up over his polo shirt, feeling the hardness of his chest, the strength of his shoulders, the curve of his muscles, until they were wrapped around his neck. Through her thin silk blouse she felt the cold wine bottle on the small of her back, dripping condensation as it hit the heat of her body, and causing the silk to moisten and mold to her skin. The cork popped free of the bottle, but their kiss did not end. Dominick put the bottle on the table and pulled her blouse out of her pants and away from her back, replacing the wet silk with his own hands, made damp and cold by the wine bottle. They ran up her back with a delicious chill, over her bra straps, stopping to caress her shoulders. Then they moved back down and unhooked her bra, and the fingers feathered out over her ribs until they finally found her breasts. He moved her loose bra out of the way and his fingers delicately moved over her, massaging her firm breasts, feeling them heave under his touch as her breathing became heavier.

 
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