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All the little pieces, p.33
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       All the Little Pieces, p.33

           Jilliane Hoffman
 

  72

  ‘When Angelina Santri was banging on the window asking for help, it was because you had hit her and broken her leg and dislocated her shoulder and broken her wrist and you were now trying to drive off, wasn’t it?’ demanded Hartwick. Now he had pictures out from Angelina’s autopsy. Grisly pictures of her leg and her hands and her shoulder.

  ‘No! I had the accident earlier, back in the cane fields,’ Faith cried. ‘But there was nothing there, I swear it.’

  ‘And when you tried to drive away, she was very upset, wasn’t she?’

  ‘Yes, but not at me. At him!’ she screamed, pointing at Poole.

  ‘She had fractured her femur. You fractured her femur with your three thousand pound car and you were going to leave her there. Just leave her there in the middle of nowhere.’

  ‘No …’ Faith whimpered.

  ‘You didn’t even call an ambulance or anonymously report your accident. Was that because you were afraid she saw your license plate and could tell the authorities?’

  ‘No!’

  ‘No wonder she was screaming and crying.’

  ‘No, it wasn’t like that.’ She looked over at the state’s table for help, but Elisabetta had stopped objecting.

  ‘Not that you can remember, right? Considering all the alcohol you admittedly had consumed …’

  ‘No! No! I didn’t hit her. There was nothing there.’

  ‘Nothing caused $1,200 worth of damage that you asked Lou Metorini to not put through insurance? In fact you paid him extra to finish the car before the day’s end so your husband wouldn’t find out, isn’t that right?’

  She looked around the courtroom. The tornado had picked her up and was spinning her around in the storm. She was no longer just a witness on the sidelines: she was part of the madness. She was being accused.

  ‘You were hospitalized in December, Mrs Saunders, after you collapsed outside a bar in Fort Lauderdale. You blacked out at that time and had your stomach pumped?’

  She shook her head. ‘Yes.’

  ‘You have a history of blacking out. Of conveniently not remembering things, don’t you?’

  And so the questions kept coming, picking her apart piece by piece, each one more and more confrontational, more and more personal, until her credibility was completely shredded. The room spun, everything around her spiraled round and round in the tornado. It was complete, controlled, perfect chaos in the courtroom and she was at the center of it. She was the only one who wanted to stop it.

  There was no rehabilitating her. Elisabetta and Gareth scrambled as best they could, but the jury knew the state had been caught by surprise, and so any effect the ‘Lance Armstrong’ treatment might have had was rendered worthless. In fact, it had backfired. Now the jurors likely didn’t trust anything the state had to tell them. And there was still a whole case to put on.

  At the end of the second day of testimony, she was finally released, although warned to remain available, because she could be called again on rebuttal. She stumbled down off the stand, feeling like a victim herself, and made her way through the gallery filled with unfriendly faces who looked at her as if she were the defendant.

  They had killed her, all right. The problem was, somewhere along the line they had stopped trying to save her and had left her up there to die.

  73

  Jarrod had not been in the courtroom when she testified. ‘The rule’ had been invoked by both the state and defense, which excluded potential witnesses from the courtroom. Since he’d been listed as a witness for both the state and the defense, he was not permitted to hear her testimony and the judge had banned him from watching the trial live on TV or the recaps on the news. He’d also instructed both her and Jarrod not to discuss their testimony with each other. So she didn’t know exactly what he knew, but she’d figured out that he knew it hadn’t gone well: the bar in the family room had been cleaned out before she came home from rehab, but now the mouthwash was missing from every bathroom and the travel-size Listerine was gone from the toiletries bag. Same with cold medications. Even the rubbing alcohol was missing from the first-aid kit. Like she would ever drink rubbing alcohol …

  She wanted to find her old friend. She did. She’d never wanted anything so much in her life. She wanted to resurrect her from the dead and find a bar and sit quietly in the corner and enjoy her company – think about old, fun times they’d had together, long, long, long before the nightmare that was her life now. She didn’t want to talk to anyone else, but she did need to be around other people, anonymously absorbed into the décor like a picture, because it would keep her honest. It would keep her clean. She was afraid that if she got a bottle and invited her old friend in for a drink, that would precipitate the fall. She had never really feared ‘rock bottom’ because she didn’t believe she was an alcoholic. That term defined someone who could not stop their descent because they had no control over it, and she always knew she had control. Until now. Now she feared she had no control over anything, and she feared that if she cracked open a bottle by herself at this moment, she would guzzle the whole thing until the last drop was gone. If she let that happen, she feared she would find herself in an ugly place that others might call ‘rock bottom’. A place where rubbing alcohol might just be the drink of necessity.

  She had enough control of herself at this very moment to know to prevent that descent, and recognize that the pressure that was coming at her from every angle was the result of a situation. A situation that could not last forever. A situation that would ultimately pass, no matter what the jury decided about the fate of Derrick Poole. Eventually everyone would forget about him and this case and hopefully her, and the situation would be resolved and she wouldn’t feel this crazed panic in her chest. She wouldn’t hear the ticking of that damn time bomb strapped to her chest. Once the situation had passed she could trust herself again.

  From the moment Detective Minkhaus had dropped her at the house after she’d testified, Jarrod had been with her. He’d been waiting on the front steps with a can of Coke in his hand while Maggie rode her bike in the street when the detective pulled into her driveway. It was a beautiful spring day, the lawn was green, the sun had set the sky on fire. It looked like a Norman Rockwell painting: Mom Home from Court. At that very moment, Faith was so very, very happy that she lived in a gated community, safe from the cameras and reporters that might have tried to camp outside in the street where Maggie was trying out her new bike, screaming, ‘Watch, Mommy!’ She’d been so overwhelmed by the apparent normalcy of the moment that she had cried. For the zillionth time that day she had cried – at what she was coming home to, and at what she might not be really coming home to. She didn’t know if Jarrod knew then, at that very moment, as he stood on the steps, smiled and waved at the car, but she knew he eventually would find out about the latest lie. The judge’s order wasn’t going to last forever.

  Inside she’d found the Listerine and Nyquil gone. But he hadn’t asked what had happened during the trial and she hadn’t volunteered. They had dinner and watched movies and caught up on Breaking Bad and The Walking Dead. He had stayed with her in the house for the next two days. They cooked, watched movies, baked while Maggie played in the backyard. They didn’t turn the TV on and they didn’t answer the phone. She didn’t climb out a window and hop the guard gate to find a local watering hole.

  Then Elisabetta texted him: it was his turn.

  She sat on the couch after the front door closed and all she could think of was how badly she needed a drink. She tried to remember what the therapists had said. How she should handle her feelings, how she should channel her energy away from the overwhelming compulsion that ate at every rational thought. She smoked cigarette after cigarette and paced the backyard until her footprints had carved a path.

  It’s over, anyway, whispered a sad voice in the back of her head. It was her old friend. He’s gonna know about the car. He’s gonna find out that you lied again. He doesn’t trust you. He was only doing this help
ing thing out of guilt. To get you on your feet again so he could leave you. You made it easy for him, Faith. You made it easy for him to walk away. You gave him his reason, and that is exactly what he’s gonna do when this trial is over: he’s gonna walk away anyway.

  She screamed at the voice to shut up. She paced the halls of her nice house. She walked around the backyard some more. She turned on the TV only to see it was all about the Poole case. It was all about her. How her husband was about to take the stand. How the state’s case was falling apart …

  Then she took Maggie for a ride.

  74

  ‘I think it’s time we consider medication, Mrs Saunders,’ Dr Michelson said quietly, rubbing the back of Maggie’s head as she scribbled on paper at the child-sized desk in his office. ‘She’s five now and coming up on kindergarten in the fall, and it would be good to find the right medication to help her cope with all the changes that are going to take place then. I know you’ve been resistant and so have I, but I think if we focus on her anxiety issues now and the hyperactivity, that may lessen the aggression and the tantrums. The tantrums are, as you know, born out of frustration. She feels helpless in certain situations and so she breaks down. Part of the reason she feels helpless is because of the hyperactivity. She didn’t understand what was asked of her, or she didn’t hear it or she wasn’t focused enough to do what was asked of her. The Adderall will help her focus so that she is not so easily distracted, and so she doesn’t get frustrated.’

  Faith nodded. ‘Yes. I want what’s best for her. If you say medicating her will help her, then I agree.’ Right now, at this very moment, what she loved most about the kind doctor was that he hadn’t mentioned the Poole case other than to ask how Maggie had handled testifying at the competency hearing and what her behavior had been like since. He hadn’t asked Faith about her stint in rehab or why she hadn’t helped the Santri girl or why she’d lied on the stand. He smiled at her and behind his glasses his soft blue eyes didn’t seem to judge her.

  ‘Good. I’ll write up the prescription, give you some samples and meet you outside,’ he said as he walked her and Maggie out of his office and into the waiting room.

  Maggie immediately ran over to the play area and Faith sat down in a chair. She’d totally forgotten about today’s appointment with Michelson. She’d strapped Maggie in her car seat and gotten behind the wheel, determined to find something to quiet the paranoid whispers in her head, when the alarm on her cell went off, reminding her of the three o’clock appointment. It was a sign, she knew. A message from God. She wasn’t religious, but she needed to be right now. She needed to believe in signs. She’d passed Lefty’s Tavern and Falafal Wine Bar and the Publix Liquor Store and drove straight to Dr Michelson’s, ignoring the angry, thirsty creature that was still shouting for her to turn into a strip mall and get her a goddamn drink.

  ‘Mrs Saunders?’

  She walked up to the checkout desk. Janet, the office manager, handed her a bag full of samples and two prescriptions. ‘The doctor wants to see Maggie back here in ten days. Make sure you follow the instructions and call us if there are any problems.’

  Faith nodded. She thanked Janet and tucked the prescriptions and samples in her purse and went to gather Maggie from the Supermaze table.

  ‘No wonder her kid’s messed up,’ said another mother who had walked up to check in. She was not trying to whisper. ‘Her mother’s a lying drunk.’

  ‘Mrs Opitz,’ Janet replied in a hushed voice. ‘Please.’

  ‘Have you watched the trial? It’s incredible. Have you listened to her? They should take her kid away from her. She’s a horrible example of a—’

  Faith took Maggie and rushed out. Ten minutes later she was at Westview Park. Maggie was surprised. And happy.

  ‘Yay! The park! I want to play, Mommy!’ she yelled, pressing her face up against the window. ‘Watch me on the slides!’

  As they approached the playground she let go of Maggie’s hand and watched her rush into a crowd of kids. She emerged a few minutes later alone, going down the slides, then looping through the jungle gym and crawling through the tubes. Faith walked over to the benches, far away from the other moms and nannies.

  The creature inside her had added a new voice to her argument. It sounded like the nasty woman at the doctor’s. And there was Loni Hart and Sunny Hostin. A hundred voices had joined the chorus. Directly across the street was Evan’s Fine Wine and Liquors in the Ross shopping center. Was it a coincidence that she had pulled into a park with a liquor store next door? Or was it fate?

  She was so tired. So very, very tired. Tired of fighting. Tired of resisting. Tired of pretending words didn’t hurt and judgmental looks didn’t condemn. She watched as Maggie made her way through the network of tube tunnels, all alone in a crowd.

  Then she got up and walked across the street.

  75

  Ed stared out the window of the stolen Ford minivan watching the little kids play in the playground. He made sure he parked it in front of a strip mall so people wouldn’t think he was a kiddie pervert and call the cops. And he made sure he didn’t stick around too long. Just long enough to get a glimpse of her.

  Her. El problema. He sucked on his cigarette. Dumbass Derrick had really fucked that one up. They should have taken care of Blondie and her emotionally fucked-up kid a long time ago. They should never have let the two of them drive out of that rinky-dink town, with Derrick practically yelling ‘Drive safe, now!’ at the Explorer as it hauled ass on home. He should never have let Derrick bully him into letting her go, and he’d beat himself up about that every day since – even before Derrick’s picture popped up in the papers and on the news, back when the dumbass was smug enough to actually say that he knew best this time.

  No, no, fuck no. He was the professor and Derrick was the fucking student. It was always like that and it would always be. When the student starts thinking he can run the class better, then school’s out. So even though Ed was pissed off and worried once it became clear that Blondie had yapped to the cops, he was happy to watch Derrick’s dumbass, dumbfounded face try and figure out what had gone so wrong with his plan. Like Ed’s dead mama used to say, ‘It don’t do me no good to say “I told you so” when life bites you in the goddamn ass ’cause you didn’t listen to me, but it sure as hell makes me feel good.’ The professor had to come in and save the day, give Derrick an alibi and get the coppers off of dumbass’s back. Taking that young, hot, little dancer from Sugar Daddy’s had been fun, although not as fun as the others, when he and Derrick had been together.

  ‘Well look at you,’ Ed muttered aloud as he took in a deep drag and watched Blondie leave the playground and head across the street, right toward him. Damn she looked tired. Spent was a good word. Haggard. Used-up. Like a frail little thing whose insides had been sucked out, walking around in fancy clothes that don’t fit right no more. All he might have to do here, he thought, as he watched her come at him, is open his door and dinner would be served. Can’t get much easier than that. He licked his lips. Come to Papa, baby. Come over here, Looky-Look. But she veered right – right into the liquor store.

  Even though Blondie had everyone hating on her in the paper and shit, calling her a bad mommy and a horrible person, and even though Derrick’s attorney was kicking ass in the courtroom so good that he’d probably get the dumbass off with an apology from the jury and the stuck-up prosecutor, Ed still wanted to kill the skinny bitch. Just for being her. Just for being out there that night. Just for getting away. Just for not listening. Just for blowing her God-given second chance at living. He hadn’t actually talked to Derrick in months, since the shit went down, but he knew the dumbass would tell him: ‘Let it be, Profe. It will all resolve itself. It’ll make the ending more interesting, is all.’ But Ed was old school. Ed wanted revenge so bad he could practically taste it when he ran his tongue over his chapped lips. He wanted someone to pay for the past wasted six months, for the shit life he’d been leading since his face started
showing up on the news. Living in tents and under bridges. Hiding out in abandoned homes, waiting for Derrick to get out and life to get back to being what it used to be. But he was a wanted man himself now, thanks to Blondie. That was one more really good reason to want to cut her tongue out for blabbing.

  Ed flicked his cigarette out the window as the door to the liquor store opened and she came out with a bag in her hand. No one’s gonna miss her, he thought, watching her in his side view. Nope. She’s a self-professed drunk and he’d seen it himself. Nothing more disgusting and unladylike than a girl who can’t handle her liquor. Her testifying days would be forever over. She won’t be identifying no one no more.

  He started up the car as she hurried back across the street to her brat. He could see the little girl standing there alongside the monkey bars, desperately looking round and round for her mama who’d left her all alone to go buy booze. What a sight. Once this case was over he’d make his move – he’d go pay her a visit at her fancy house or maybe just wait till her liquor cabinet ran low on supplies and she went out bar-hopping. Unlike last time, this time there would be no mistakes.

  He watched the emotional reunion take place on the playground. Mommy on her knees hugging sad-eyed kid. Boo hoo. He turned out of the parking lot. Fuck Derrick and his selective conscience that had gotten them into this fucking mess. You can’t have one of those if you’re gonna do what they do.

  Of course, that wasn’t completely true, Ed thought with a dry smile as he pulled out into the road and watched the emotional Mommy–Daughter scene play out in his rearview, the figures growing smaller and smaller until they finally disappeared from sight.

  After all, this time he was gonna let the kid live.

  76

  ‘Where is it?’ Jarrod demanded as he walked into the living room. He tossed aside the cushions of the couch, pulled out the end table drawers. ‘Where is it?’ He moved into the kitchen, checking underneath the sink and in the cabinets. Then on to the bathroom.

 
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