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Retribution, p.33
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       Retribution, p.33

           Jilliane Hoffman

  One hand moved free and progressed down her stomach, ignoring the ugly scar lines, and finding the button on her pants. She could not extricate herself from his kiss, and in less than a second, the button was open, the zipper down, and his hand moved down lower, moving aside her panties, his fingers finding her warm and moist and waiting for him. Her black suit pants fell in a pool on to the kitchen floor. With the strength of his body, he lifted her buttocks on to the table, his fingers never leaving the inside of her, his penis pressed hard against the inside of her thigh through his slacks.

  She knew what was about to happen, and she forced herself to break from the kiss. She opened her eyes and saw the bright track lights on the kitchen ceiling above her.

  ‘Dominick, let’s go into the bedroom,’ she said in a whisper. His fingers moved faster inside her and she felt a tingling sensation erupt over her body.

  ‘Let me make love to you here. Let me see you, C.J. You’re so beautiful,’ he whispered back next to her ear, his tongue wrapping around her earlobe. His other hand moved from her breast and his fingers began to unbutton her blouse.

  ‘No. No. The bedroom. Please, Dominick.’ The tingling sensation from his touch was rushing her whole body now and she began to quiver on the table. Her orgasm was not far off.

  ‘Let me see you. I love your body. I want to see what I do to you.’ His hand had pushed down her panties, and they slid off on to the floor. Only the thin white silk of her blouse covered her, and he had gotten all the buttons open.

  ‘No.’ She shook her head. ‘Please.’

  He pulled back slightly and looked into her eyes. Without another word, he picked her up gently in his arms and carried her down the hall and into the dark bedroom, leaving the telling lights of the kitchen behind them.


  They lay together in the darkness, front-to-back, like two spoons from the same set. He watched in the dim red light of the alarm clock while she dozed, his fingers playing with her hair on the back of her neck, where the roots grew in blond. After they had made love, as she always did, she had quickly put on a T-shirt in the dark before getting back into bed to cuddle. He ran his hand now under the T-shirt, feeling her warm back against his palm, the slightness of her delicate bones, the definition of muscle covering them, and her soft skin. He watched as she slept, her body gently rising and falling with each breath under his hand.

  As they often did, his thoughts ran to Natalie, and in the alarm-clock light he saw the long whispers of her dark hair that rested on her shoulders and spilled on to her back while she slept. Natalie. His fiancée from years past, and the only other woman in his life whom he had felt as much for, whom he needed to be with as much. To just be near and to watch sleep next to him. He remembered how intense the pain had been when she slipped away, when he had finally lost her. His grief had been overwhelming. It had taken over him so completely that he felt as if a part of him had actually died with her, as if someone had punched a hole in his chest and physically torn his heart out. Her death had made him understand what the relatives of the victims on his cases had meant when they spoke to him of the enormous pain they experienced at the loss of a loved one. A pain so deep and so profound that it touched everything they did, every relationship they had – it touched their very soul. And then there was the final, brutal secret that this macabre club membership had let him in on: Time does not necessarily heal all wounds.

  He couldn’t go through that pain again. He remembered the torture of just waking up and looking around his apartment at each happy memory they had shared together encapsulated in a picture frame, or some end table they had bought together, or a favorite coffee mug. The daily agony had stretched on and on until it finally numbed him, and he had vowed he would never again get that close to a woman. He placed the memories far away, back in deep storage, but then the familiarity of a moment would trigger them, and they would tumble out, seeking to be reexamined. He would see Natalie’s bright face and her sweet smile before it turned before him into a cold and empty mortician’s stare.

  He lay next to C.J., his body touching hers, the scent of her hair driving him crazy. Against his better judgment, he found himself wanting more with her, wanting to know all there was to know about her and who she was, this beautiful, mysterious, troubled woman.

  He kissed her neck and felt her stir. She moved closer to him. What time is it?’ she murmured sleepily.

  ‘Twelve. You slept for about an hour.’

  ‘I hope I didn’t snore.’

  ‘Not tonight.’

  She rolled over and put her head on his chest. ‘I’m starving,’ she said and looked at the closed bedroom door. A sliver of light sneaked in through the bottom of

  the door. All was eerily quiet. ‘I wonder if the chicken is still out there.’

  ‘I never even fed them the chicken livers. I doubt there’s anything left of the chicken.’

  ‘It’s almost like a bad horror movie,’ she mused lightly, ‘when the sexy coed makes her boyfriend go get her a beer after they’ve fooled around. Nothing is left alive in the kitchen after the attack of the hungry pets.’

  ‘It’s a good thing I closed the door, or that fat cat might be in here with my gun demanding more. He’s the leader, you know.’

  ‘I think I have some frozen pizza. Maybe some soup. That’s about it.’

  They lay there in the darkness for a moment before Dominick spoke again. ‘What do the initials C.J. stand for?’ he asked suddenly. ‘I realized that I’ve never asked you that question.’

  Her body stiffened. She’d been taken off guard, and so found herself answering him. ‘Chloe,’ she said, her voice barely above a whisper. ‘Chloe Joanna.’

  ‘Chloe. I like that. It’s pretty. Why don’t you use it?’

  ‘Don’t call me that, please.’

  ‘I won’t if you don’t want me to, but just tell me why.’

  ‘I don’t care to get into it. It’s personal.’ She rolled away from him.

  He waited a moment and then with a sigh asked, ‘Why are you so full of secrets? Why won’t you let me in?’

  ‘That name is part of my past. Something I don’t choose to discuss.’

  ‘But the past is a part of you.’ Then in a low voice he added, ‘And I want to be a part of you, C.J.’

  ‘The past is who I was, not who I am now. That’s all I can give you, Dominick.’ She sat up stiffly in bed.

  He sat up also, and pulled on his slacks. ‘Alright, alright. Whenever you’re ready,’ he said, his voice resigned. ‘How about I whip us up an omelet? Do you have any eggs?’

  She waited a moment before she spoke. ‘Look. We need to talk, and I don’t want you to take this the wrong way.’ She sat still in the darkness at the edge of the bed, her back to him. ‘The trial is going to start in just a few days, and, during the trial I don’t think that we, well, that we should be together. I think we’re both going to be under a lot of scrutiny by the press and by our bosses and, I think my feelings for you are written all over my face when I’m with you. I think we should give ourselves some distance.’

  Her words hit him like a smack across the face. ‘C.J., what does it matter if people guess our feelings for each other? What does it matter?’

  ‘It matters to me. I can’t jeopardize this case, Dominick. I can’t. Bantling needs to go away for what he’s done.’

  ‘I agree with you, C.J., and he’s going to go away. I promise you.’ He sat next to her on the bed. ‘We’re doing all we can. We’ve got a great case. You’re an awesome prosecutor. He’s going to go away.’ He looked into her eyes, pulling her face toward his. Why has he gotten under your skin like this? What else has he done, C.J.? Talk to me, please.’

  For a long moment he actually believed she would tell him. Her lip trembled and a line of silent tears rolled down her cheek. But then she composed herself. ‘No.’ She wiped the tears away defiantly with the back of her hand. ‘Dominick, I really do care about you. More than you know, but we need
to have distance between us during this trial. I need to have perspective, and I need you to understand that. Please.’

  Dominick reached for his shirt and pulled it over his head. He finished getting dressed in silence while she sat on the edge of the bed, her back still to him. The door to the bedroom opened, and light rushed into the room. His words were distant and cool. ‘No. Don’t ask me again to understand it, because I don’t.’

  Then he grabbed his gun and his keys off of the coffee table in her living room and walked out her front door.


  The door to the judge’s hallway was flung open and Judge Chaskel hurried out, his black robe billowing in a puff of black behind him as he quickly took the bench.

  ‘All rise! Court is now in session! The Honorable Judge Leopold Chaskel the III now presiding,’ Hank the bailiff announced with a startled shout.

  The courtroom hushed to silence and the judge quickly put on his glasses and frowned as he scanned the jury pool sheet that Janine, his clerk, had left for him on the bench. The box was empty, as were all the rows on the entire right side of the courtroom, which had been blocked off with rope. That was where the prospective jury pool would be seated during voir dire. Trial watchers, and, of course, the press, covered the rows on the left. It was 9:10 on Monday morning, December 18.

  ‘Good morning, everyone. I’m sorry I’m late. I had a judges’ holiday breakfast that I had to attend. ‘Tis the season.’ He looked down over his bench and over his glasses to where Janine sat at her desk, which was directly in front of the bench. ‘Speaking of the season, no hats please while court is in session, Janine,’ referring to the pointy red-and-white Santa hat the clerk wore on her head. She sheepishly pulled it off and stuck it in her desk. He cleared his throat. ‘Now, we are here today on The State of Florida v. –’ he began, then stopped himself, looking around the courtroom. Where is the defendant?’ he asked, his brow furrowing.

  ‘On his way over from DCJ. They’re walking him right now,’ Hank said.

  ‘Why isn’t he here now? I said nine A.M., Hank. Not nine-fifteen. Only the judge is allowed to be late.’

  ‘Yes, Judge, but it seems he gave them a little bit of trouble across the street this morning,’ said Hank. ‘He didn’t want to cooperate.’

  Judge Chaskel, obviously irritated, shook his head. ‘Well, I don’t want the defendant being brought in by Corrections in front of the jury pool. That will taint them. Hold off on bringing them in until he gets here. How many potential jurors do we have downstairs waiting, Hank?’

  ‘Two hundred.’

  ‘Two hundred? This close to the holidays? That’s pretty good. Let’s start with the first fifty and see how we do. And I want a word with Mr Bantling before we try sitting a jury in this case.’ He looked down at Lourdes over his glasses. ‘Ms Rubio, your client is getting a reputation for being a troublemaker both in and out of the courtroom.’

  Lourdes looked embarrassed, as if the conduct of her client when out of her presence were somehow her fault. Last week’s status conference was the first time C.J. had actually seen her since Halloween, and like that day in the judge’s chambers, she noted that Lourdes would not look directly at her. ‘I’m sorry, Judge –’ she started, but was interrupted by the thud of the jury box doors being opened. Three beefy corrections officers walked into the room with William Bantling in shackles and handcuffs. He was dressed in an expensive charcoal Italian suit and white shirt with a light gray silk tie, also designer. Despite having lost what C.J. guessed to be about twenty pounds, he looked quite dapper, except for the left side of his face, which was red and bruising. The officers sat him down hard next to Lourdes, who, C.J. noticed, moved her chair ever so slightly away from his.

  ‘Don’t take off those cuffs, just yet, Officer. I need to have a word with Mr Bantling,’ the judge said sternly. ‘Why was he late being brought over here?’

  ‘He had a fit, Judge,’ the corrections officer responded. ‘He started cussin’ and screaming that he wasn’t going to the courthouse without all the jewelry he came in with. Called us a bunch of thieves. We had to restrain him to get him out of the cell.’

  Why can’t he have his jewelry?’

  ‘It’s a security risk.’

  ‘A watch is a security risk? Let’s not cross over into the absurd now, Officer. I’ll allow him to wear his jewelry here in court.’

  Judge Chaskel narrowed his eyes and looked at Bantling. ‘Now, listen here, Mr Bantling. I have seen your outbursts in this courtroom and I have heard about your tantrums elsewhere and I am going to warn you right now that I am neither a tolerant nor a patient judge. Three strikes and you’re out, and you already have two. If necessary, I will have you bound and gagged and dragged over here for court every day in your red jumpsuit if you do not conduct yourself properly. Do I make myself clear?’

  Bantling nodded, his cold eyes never leaving the challenging stare of Judge Chaskel. ‘Yes, Your Honor.’

  ‘Now, does anyone have anything else, or are we ready to pick a jury?’ Bantling turned his stare toward C.J. His secret dangled precariously over the open pit.

  Judge Chaskel waited a moment and then continued. ‘Okay. No one else has business. Let’s get on with it. Officer, remove those cuffs and shackles on Mr Bantling, and Hank, go fetch the first lucky fifty. I want to pick a jury before the week is out. Let’s not drag it on past the Christmas break.’

  Even as she felt her lungs constrict and the room spin nervously, C.J. met Bantling’s stare defiantly with her own. Ever so subtly, his pink tongue crept out of the corner of his mouth and moved across his upper lip, and then a slow, knowing smile spread across his face. His mouth glistened in the bright courtroom lights.

  She knew then that it would not be on this day that he would break his silence to the world. He would make her squirm with the waiting, with the not knowing. He would wield his secret like a lethal weapon, pulling it out when he needed it most, and striking quick and fast and hard and aiming right for the jugular.

  And she would never even see it coming.


  The jury of five women and seven men was sworn in on Friday afternoon at 2:42 P.M., exactly eighteen minutes before the courthouse closed early for the Christmas holiday. Juries are not sequestered in Florida, and so all were permitted to go home to their families. Four Hispanics, two African-Americans, and six Caucasians made up the jury of William Bantling’s peers. They ranged in age from a twenty-four-year-old deep-sea-diving instructor to a seventy-six-year-old retired bookkeeper. All lived in Miami, and although all had heard of, and/or read about, the Cupid murders, all stated that they had not yet formed an opinion as to the guilt or innocence of the defendant, and all took an oath that they could be fair and impartial to both sides.

  The courthouse was completely deserted by the time C.J. packed up her briefcase and files and headed back across the street. Even the press had gone home early, finding jury selection to be decidedly dull and uneventful.

  The State Attorney’s Office was no different. Tigler had closed the office at 3:00 also, but most people had gone home by noon. C.J. passed by the rows of empty cubicles in the secretarial pool, decorated with colorful cardboard Christmas decorations, their waste-paper baskets full of torn red, white, and green wrapping paper. A large pushcart, normally used for carting files from the vault downstairs, was left abandoned by the copy machine, overflowing with discarded plastic cups half filled with soda, and paper plates with half-eaten finger foods, all left over from the office Christmas party that she had missed. Most of the Major Crimes attorneys had left for their two-week vacations as early as Monday, trying to burn up unused leave time before they lost it, and their offices sat dark and empty.

  C.J. went through the stacks of mail that sat in her in-box, piled high after just one week in trial. After a couple of hours she packed up her files, the ones that she would need to help finish up writing her opening statement, and locked the others away in the filing cabinet. She grabbed
her coat from the back of her chair and her purse, her briefcase, and her pull cart, and she headed slowly to the elevator bay. She had often heard it said that more people committed suicide around the Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s holidays than any other time of the year. Not only was it the most wonderful time of the year; it could also be the loneliest time of the year.

  She walked out of the lobby into the now dark parking lot, and quickly buttoned her coat up. Even this far south in the Sunshine State, the night air can turn chilly with a cold front and a nasty December wind off the Miami River.

  Everyone else had plans for the holidays, plans to spend time with friends, with someone they loved. Not her. For C.J., there was no one this holiday season, and it would pass as the others had in a long string of Christmases – without the Joy of the Season or Peace on Earth or Goodwill Toward Men, or any other cliché saying that was fancied on a cheap store-bought Christmas card. Of course, there was always California and her parents, if flying to the West Coast for two days were even an option, but sad and nasty memories always hovered over their visits, a constant threat to any real conversation. Her mother would avoid talking about anything bad, leaving only the weather and musicals as topics of discussion for a week. Her dad would stare at her sadly, waiting for her to flip out again, she supposed. Once a year for a week in the summer was all she could emotionally handle, and definitely not now, not even for a holiday dinner. Bantling had taken those relationships from her, too. This year, she would stay home again with Lucy and Tibby and a homemade turkey. But this year there would be no Jimmy Stewart and It’s a Wonderful Life. Instead, in the solitude of her kitchen, she would be writing and rewriting and rewriting again her opening statement, preparing her direct examination, starting to word her closing argument, in a concerted effort to kill a killer.

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