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All the little pieces, p.34
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       All the Little Pieces, p.34

           Jilliane Hoffman
 

  ‘What are you talking about?’ Faith asked, jumping off the couch.

  ‘You don’t get it, do you? You really don’t. You are watched wherever you go. There’s a camera watching you wherever you go. It’s gonna be all over the news! Where’s the bottle?’

  She backed into the sliding glass doors. ‘I don’t have anything.’

  ‘You left her in the park by herself to buy yourself a bottle of booze. Now where is it?’

  ‘I didn’t drink it, Jarrod. I didn’t. I bought it, that’s right, but I didn’t drink it.’ She ran up, grabbed his face and breathed in it, then she kissed him hard on the lips. ‘See? I didn’t drink it! I swear! You’d taste it!’

  He backed away, his fingers to his lips. ‘I can’t do this any more. I can’t babysit you. You left her again. She’s five years old!’

  ‘But I didn’t drink it! I swear!’

  ‘Don’t swear. You’re not very good at that.’ He ran upstairs. She heard him in the closet, rummaging around. Then he moved across the hall to Maggie’s room.

  ‘Don’t fight, Daddy,’ said Maggie from somewhere upstairs.

  Faith paced the floors downstairs like a frantic tiger, trying to figure out what to do. Everything was happening so fast – there was no time to think. She heard him on the stairs again and looked up. He was carrying a large duffle bag in his hand and Maggie in his arms.

  ‘No! No! Please!’ she begged, running over. ‘I didn’t drink it! I’m sorry!’

  ‘Not in front of Maggie. Not any more. Please, Faith,’ he said as he walked past her and out through the laundry room to the garage.

  He walked out the garage door and put Maggie in the car seat while Faith watched from the laundry room door, holding onto the frame for support, trying to think what to do. She could hear Maggie crying. It felt like someone was sticking a knife in her heart.

  ‘Please, Jarrod! Please!’ she pleaded. ‘I’ll be good! I won’t drink! I won’t!’

  ‘I’ll be right back, sweetie,’ Jarrod said calmly to Maggie, handing her the Kindle Fire. ‘I’m gonna go talk to Mommy for a minute. Watch your movie with your headphones.’ He closed the car door and came over to where she stood in the doorframe.

  ‘Please …’

  ‘When you’re ready to get sober, we’ll be back. I’m sorry, I really am.’

  ‘Jarrod, no!’

  ‘You left her alone in the park,’ he said flatly. ‘I can’t babysit you – you’re a grown woman who makes her own decisions. Maggie is five – she doesn’t have that luxury and I have to protect her from people who keep making bad choices. I love you, Faith, I do. I’ll leave you with that. I don’t know if you believe it any more, or if you’ll ever believe it again. I do know I can’t make you believe it, and it doesn’t matter anyway. You’re gonna do what you want to do. I can’t watch though. I can’t watch you destroy yourself.’ Then he turned and got into the driver’s side of his Infinity.

  ‘But I didn’t drink it!’ she screamed. She raced up the stairs two at a time, stumbling on the last step, and scraping her chin on the carpet. In the master bedroom she frantically felt underneath the box spring and pulled the unopened bottle of Absolut from the hole she’d burrowed in it. She raced back down the stairs and pushed open the laundry room door with the bottle in her hand to show him, running out onto the front lawn as the garage door was closing, but he was already long gone.

  77

  ‘Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, have you reached a verdict?’

  Jarrod stared at his computer screen in his dark office. Outside in the hall he heard the rumblings of the office shutting down for the day. It was six o’clock on a Friday afternoon. Most of the office staff had gone, but anyone who hadn’t left yet was sitting in front of his secretary Annalee’s desk, watching exactly what he was watching – the live feed from courtroom 10F.

  ‘Is he here?’ someone asked out in the hall. A nod and a point at his closed office door probably followed.

  ‘Wow. What a crazy case. Is he still with her?’ someone else asked.

  A shake of the head probably followed. He had not told Annalee yet that he and Faith had separated, but the woman was very intuitive: she’d known about the affair long before everyone else had figured it out, including Faith.

  ‘Yes, Your Honor, we have,’ said a small voice off screen. The jury was not allowed to be shown on camera.

  ‘Madam Clerk, please publish the verdict,’ said the judge.

  The packed courtroom fell silent.

  ‘We the jury in the county of Palm Beach and the State of Florida, on this the fifteenth day of May in the year two thousand fifteen, so hereby find the defendant, Derrick Alan Poole, not guilty of the crime of murder in the first degree in the death of Angelina Santri …’

  The excitement simply could not be contained; the courtroom exploded in murmurs and not-so-shocked ‘Oh my God!’ whispers.

  Jarrod rubbed his eyes in his dark office. It was over. It was finally over. But he felt no relief. And it wasn’t anger or outrage that he was feeling because the jury had reached the wrong verdict. It was fear.

  He picked up the phone and called Vivian to tell her he’d be a little late picking up Maggie from her house. He had work to finish up.

  ‘Have you spoken with her?’ she asked.

  ‘No. I called and texted, but I haven’t talked to her. Have you?’

  ‘Not today. I spoke with her yesterday, but it wasn’t good, Jarrod. She was, ah …’

  ‘Drunk?’

  ‘I didn’t want to tell you. She’s had it so rough. But she has a problem and I don’t know how to get her to see it. She doesn’t want anything to do with me or Charity. She doesn’t want to come to the bakery. She won’t pick up the phone when the guard calls to tell her I’m at the gate.’

  ‘I called the rehab. They said she has to make the realization herself. That if she doesn’t want to face it yet, she hasn’t hit her bottom. They said some people never do. That they never climb out. How much longer can that be for her, Vivian? Do I have to wait till she drinks herself into a coma? Or I find her dead, asphyxiated on her own vomit?’ Now that Poole had been acquitted, at least there would be no more need for him to eliminate witnesses.

  ‘I’m sorry, Jarrod.’

  ‘I can’t watch this, Vivian.’ His voice caught and he started to lose it. ‘It’s so hard. So hard.’

  ‘Does she know about the verdict?’

  ‘I don’t know. I imagine she saw it too. I texted her to call me, but she won’t. She’s probably so far gone right now, or on her way, she might not remember watching it.’

  ‘Are you going over there?’

  ‘I don’t think so, Viv. I don’t know. Probably. Maybe. No. I don’t know. I’ll see.’

  He hung up and stared out the window of his office at the almost empty parking lot. Annalee knocked on his door about twenty minutes later to tell him she was heading out and to ask if he needed a friend.

  ‘No,’ he’d quietly told her through the closed door as he studied the cars heading toward the Sawgrass Expressway, heading home en masse to spend the weekend with their loved ones. ‘I’m not going …’

  Grief and jealousy overwhelmed him then, and he never did finish the sentence.

  78

  Faith watched as the courtroom went crazy. The analysts started talking, making voice-over comments, and on the bottom of the TV screen ran the newsfeed: DERRICK POOLE FOUND NOT GUILTY OF FIRST DEGREE MURDER.

  She turned off the TV. There was nothing else she needed to see.

  Her cell phone started to vibrate and ding. She turned the phone off. The house phone rang. And rang. And rang. Until she pulled the cord out of the wall.

  There was no one she needed to talk to.

  She closed all the blinds and drew all the curtains on every window in the first floor of the house and turned off all the lights. Then she headed upstairs and went room to room, doing the same thing.

  There was no one she needed to se
e.

  She headed into her bedroom and closed the door. The closet door was still open, the stack of suitcases that had tumbled off the shelf when Jarrod had grabbed his duffle bag still lay on the floor. His side of the closet still looked full – he hadn’t taken much when he left.

  He’ll be back for the rest soon, the voice of her old friend whispered in her head. Now that his case is over, he can be rid of you. He’ll be back to get the rest of his stuff. And Maggie’s, too. And you’ll be all alone. It’ll just be you and me.

  She put her hands over her ears to stop the voice, but it didn’t help. She crawled into the closet and pulled down the suits Jarrod didn’t take with him, making a soft pile. She pulled out her box of her dad’s things, fingering Sully’s old watch that he’d left her. She put it on her wrist. There was no need to hide a bottle in the box any more – no one lived here to hide it from. There was no need to pretend any more. She put on Jarrod’s sports jacket and closed her eyes. In one hand was the half-empty bottle of something she’d brought with her from downstairs. In the other was the handgun that Jarrod had also left behind in the locked box on the closet’s top shelf. She fingered the trigger. Maybe he’d left it behind on purpose.

  It’s just you and me, Faith, whispered her old friend as she huddled in the corner of the dark closet and raised the bottle to her lips. I’m always here for you, buddy.

  79

  Derrick mouthed ‘thank you’ at the foreperson. He hugged his attorney. Gemma leaned over the railing and kissed him.

  ‘How do you feel?’

  ‘What’s it like to be vindicated?’

  ‘Where is Ed Carbone? Have you heard from him?’

  ‘Are you angry with the state?’

  ‘How about the witness, Faith Saunders? Are you angry with her?’

  The bailiff yelled, ‘Order!’ and the crowd quieted for a moment.

  ‘Mr Poole,’ the judge said somberly, ‘the jury has returned a verdict of not guilty against you. You have been cleared of all charges. You are free to go, sir.’

  ‘Thank you, Your Honor. Thank you,’ Derrick replied humbly. ‘Thank you.’ He didn’t know if anyone actually believed him innocent, but the reporters were smiling and being chummy. Their loyalties changed quickly. They all wanted a quote or to snag an interview with him. Dateline had already been in contact, and they were filming here today. Rich Hartwick had told him that there had been calls about a cable movie on Lifetime based on him.

  This was a new beginning. He wasn’t gonna run like he was sure Profe wanted to. Run and hide and then take up together in a new town somewhere far, far away, like California. Derrick was gonna cash in on his fifteen minutes before he left town. Maybe write a book. The urges might not come back. Profe had been the one with all the ideas, after all. Ed brought out the best and the worst in him. They hadn’t spoken in months and they’d made no contingency plan where or how to meet up in the event something went wrong, because they were never supposed to get caught. Nothing was ever supposed to go wrong. It never had before for Ed. He was the one with all the experience. The only fuck-up ever was Derrick’s – letting the desperate housewife and her kid go. Ed would definitely hold that over his head forever.

  He knew Profe would want to get together again, and that it was only a matter of time before he got in contact. The guy was crazy. He loved doing sick shit, thinking up sick shit that no one had ever thought of before. And he loved showing off what he could do and all the crazy things he could think up. He would want revenge first, though. The guy didn’t let nothing go, like that dancer from Miami who he’d wanted to take out. She’d made the mistake of calling him a loser and he never forgot. She was the first one to go and Ed had enjoyed doing all sorts of sick shit with her, recording her screaming and then playing it back over and over again, making songs up with her screaming in ’em and using it for background noise. Derrick was no saint, but he wasn’t as bad as Ed. He didn’t want to be as bad as Ed. And the first person Ed likely would want to make a point with was gonna be Blondie and her little kid, and Derrick didn’t do kids. There had to be a line.

  Maybe the urges would never come back now. He’d maintained control for six months: Who’s to say he couldn’t be normal forever? That he couldn’t get that incredible high from something else besides watching someone die?

  ‘Are you going to sue?’

  ‘Are you going to stay in Florida?’

  Derrick smiled at the pretty reporters. Girls who wouldn’t have looked at him a year ago. Today wasn’t the day to think of tomorrow. Today was a day to celebrate.

  ‘Come on, Derrick,’ said Rich Hartwick, leading him through the mob into the congested hallway. Then down the elevator and into a lobby. He held Gemma’s hand as he followed his attorney through the crowd, ignoring the shouts and questions that came at him. He watched as bystanders stopped and pointed, wanting to know what was going on. He felt so famous. He felt so good. Helping the three of them make their way through the raucous crowd – along with some detractors, to be fair – were two uniformed officers. Derrick thought that was hysterically ironic. If the jury had convicted him, those same officers would have been escorting him to a death row cell in Starke right about now.

  Lightning lit the sky as they stepped outside the front of the courthouse. The air was cool and breezy. It was about to storm.

  Across the plaza, about fifty yards away, a black Town Car pulled up.

  ‘That’s ours,’ said Hartwick.

  Someone opened the back door. The officers pushed the press back.

  ‘Derrick!’ a woman shouted, moving along with the crowd.

  ‘Derrick! I’m Kathleen Hodge with New Times. Can we get an interview?’

  ‘Derrick!’ a girl squealed. ‘Can I get your autograph?’

  ‘This way, Derrick,’ said his attorney over the tremendous clap of thunder that had sounded. ‘Before it pours.’

  He felt like a celebrity. It was a high like no other he’d ever experienced.

  In fact, he thought, as he and Gemma moved to the waiting Town Car and the skies began to open, listening to a woman’s adoring shouts of adulation might be a better turn on than listening to her screams of terror.

  80

  Bryan Nill stood in the back of the courtroom with his mouth agape. He was stunned. Not so much at the verdict, because he could tell early on – after Faith Saunders’ cross – that the case was not going well. Elisabetta was climbing uphill everyday and the hill kept getting steeper. The dots no longer connected – they were just there – and that was all the jury needed to find reasonable doubt.

  But acquitted did not mean innocent. ‘Not guilty’ did not mean ‘didn’t do it’. It wasn’t the verdict that shocked him so much, because he had mentally tried to prepare himself for it. It was the reaction of the media that was so alarming. Jumping the fence at the first chance they had to ingratiate themselves with a serial killer and snag themselves an exclusive. Even the spectators seemed willing to move on already, like they’d come out of a movie theater and were going off now to grab coffee and discuss the plot. It was all a bit surreal.

  His cell buzzed with a text. It was Maldonado, who had popped out a kid a few days earlier.

  TM: Juries are stupid. You OK?

  He typed back a simple answer: No.

  TM: Come see what I made. He’ll make you smile. Till he cries … LOL

  And just like that, the world kept on keeping on. Tatiana had had a baby. He had a new gangbanger murder on his desk. His brother had asked him to come to Jersey for Memorial Day and he had to book the flight today. The twins wanted to know where they would be having graduation dinner. Within a few days, the acquittal would fade from the headlines. Within a week it would be gone altogether. Within a few months, no one besides the victims’ families and Faith Saunders would remember Derrick Poole at all. The world just kept on keeping on.

  He ignored a couple of calls for comment himself and walked into the courtroom’s well. The state’s s
ide was empty. Elisabetta was packing up her file box. ‘You OK?’ he asked.

  ‘Nope,’ she said, not looking up.

  Her co-counsel, Gareth Williams, had figured out to steer clear. He was at the other end of the table.

  ‘You gonna be OK?’

  ‘Nope,’ she replied again.

  ‘It doesn’t mean they don’t know he’s guilty …’ Bryan tried.

  ‘I just couldn’t prove it. Thanks, Detective. I feel so much better.’

  ‘We’ll find Carbone. You’ll have a second chance at Poole with the other victims.’

  She shook her head. ‘Good luck with that, Detective. Hope you find him before the two of them find each other again. I wouldn’t want to have to tell another mom how sorry I am that you fucked that up.’

  With that she took her file box and walked out of the courtroom, and for the first time since Bryan had known her, ignored all requests for a comment.

  81

  VERDICT IN LITTLE SHACK OF HORRORS SERIAL MURDER TRIAL:

  DERRICK POOLE FOUND NOT GUILTY IN MURDER OF PALM BEACH DANCER

  Ed pumped his fist in the air as he read the newsfeed on the bottom of the TV screen. ‘Yes!’ he said, probably a little too loud. The other four people who were in the dank, smelly old man’s bar looked over.

  Time to go. He didn’t look nothing like himself, but if this whole bullshit case had taught him anything, it was to take no chances with nosy people. Next thing ya know, someone’s on the phone with the cops hoping to score a reward or some face time for being a Looky-Look. It was a great day, though. A great fucking day! He’d be able to get with Derrick soon enough. It had been so damn long – man, that was gonna be some reunion. Then they’d take their show on the road. Get the hell out of Dodge. The band was back together!

 
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