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Retribution, p.34
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       Retribution, p.34

           Jilliane Hoffman
 

  It had been exactly one week since she had heard from or seen Dominick, and she wondered how he would be spending his Christmas. Family? Friends? Alone? She realized at that moment how very little she knew about him, but at one time had hoped to learn. She wanted to think that maybe when this case ended they could go back to what they had started, but deep down she knew that was probably impossible. He had been too final when he left, when she had let him walk out that door.

  Chalk up yet another sacrifice for the greater good. But this one wasn’t small.

  She reached her Jeep and loaded in her files and briefcase, waving that all was okay to the security guard who stood watching from the warmth of the brightly lit lobby of the Graham Building. Then she drove off toward Fort Lauderdale and turkey for one, never once noticing the familiar face in the shadows who stood silently watching.

  Watching. And waiting.

  72

  ‘If I were to remain seated and say nothing, just sit here and not say one word – you would think him guilty, although the law has told you he is not.’ Lourdes sat still in her chair, as she made her opening statement. She faced the judge_’s bench, and spoke to the jury as if she were voicing her own private thoughts aloud.

  C.J. had just sat back down in her seat after delivering what she thought was a good, solid, to-the-point opening that left no room for speculation, to the hushed crowd of spectators and camera crews. And now it was Lourdes’s turn.

  Lourdes allowed moments to pass in silence, and then she turned finally in her seat and faced the jury with a mixed look of disbelief and disappointment. ‘You all look at my client now as if he were a butcher. You are obviously frightened and sickened at the very vivid, very gory picture that the prosecutor has just painted you for the last hour. Without question, Anna Prado was a beautiful young woman, brutally mutilated by a madman. And you think him guilty, as if the prosecutor’s words were enough to lead you to that conclusion. And you want to be frightened and sickened at the very sight of William Bantling as well, although common sense tells you this good-looking, well-educated, successful businessman certainly does not warrant that reaction.’ She put her hand casually on Bantling’s shoulder and rubbed it as a subtle sign of her support. Then she shook her head.

  ‘But what the prosecutor has offered you in her opening statement is not proof, ladies and gentlemen. It is not evidence. It is not fact. It is assumption. It is conjecture. It is speculation. It is an assumption that the evidence, the facts, that she hopes to present in this case, that she believes will be presented, that those facts, when loosely strung together will make a damning chain. She wants to force you all to come to the conclusion which she has already drawn for you: that my client is guilty of first-degree murder. But I caution you, ladies and gentlemen, that things are not always what they might seem. And facts – no matter how vile and bloody they might be – when strung together don’t always make a chain.’

  Lourdes rose now and stood before the jury, scanning their faces. Some jurors turned their eyes away, ashamed of themselves at having drawn the very conclusions that Lourdes now accused them of, of disobeying the oath that they had only last Friday sworn to uphold.

  ‘All movie producers are the same, and their goals are the same. The ultimate goal is that they want you to see their movie. Their multimillion-dollar over-budget movie that they have spent months to create. And, in this endeavor, they will try to sell you on how great their movie is before you even walk in the theater. They want you to run around awed simply by their two-minute trailers, telling your friends and family, “This is a great movie!” even though you have not even seen it. They want you to buy the posters and the T-shirts and the merchandise and cast your vote for best actor all before you have even taken your seat. And many will, even without having seen the movie. All because of the exciting two-minute preview that assured them the movie was going to be great. It was going to be fantastic. The next “Best Picture” at the Oscars. And Ms Townsend has certainly done her job well here today, ladies and gentle-men. She has filled her trailer with action and blood and grisly details and lots of special effects. It looks great. It sounds great. But, I caution you, don’t buy your ticket just yet. Because just as a string of terrific-looking scenes run together in a magnificent trailer by a very talented producer’ – Lourdes turned and deliberately faced C.J., subtly pausing for effect – ‘won’t necessarily make a good movie, neither will a bunch of gory, vicious facts strung together make a very good case. No matter how many special effects that they throw at you to impress you. A bad movie is still a bad movie.

  ‘My client is innocent. He is not a killer. He is not a serial killer. He is a talented, successful businessman who has never before gotten so much as a traffic ticket.

  ‘An alibi? Mr Bantling was not even at his home during the hours the medical examiner will tell you that Anna Prado was supposedly killed in the shed out in the back of his house. And he’ll prove it, although he is under no obligation to prove anything.

  ‘The murder weapon? Mr Bantling is a renowned taxidermist, and his projects are on display at various local museums and establishments. The scalpel found in his shed is actually a tool he uses in his craft, not a murder weapon. The microscopic blood traces found on it are animal in nature, not human. And he’ll prove it, although he is under no obligation to prove anything.

  ‘The blood? The blood smears, as Ms Townsend vividly described for all of us in her opening, that were detected “all over the inside of his shed” by the chemical luminol are again, animal in nature, not human. Let me point out that three’ – she raised three fingers up before the jury and walked slowly before them, watching their faces closely, never losing their attention – ‘count them, three, microscopic bloodstains matching the DNA of Anna Prado were found in that shed, a shed that the state alleges was actually sprayed with Anna Prado’s blood when her aorta was severed, but where only three microscopic drops were found. Found, ladies and gentlemen, by a desperate FDLE special agent who has needed a name and a face for the serial killer Cupid he has hunted for over a year. An agent whose whole career rests precariously on finding that face, naming that name.

  ‘The trunk? The Jaguar had been left at a repair shop for two days prior to being picked up by Mr Bantling on September nineteenth. It was out of his care, custody, and control. He never even looked in the trunk before tossing his overnight bag in the backseat and heading to the airport on scheduled business that night. And he’ll prove that, too, although he is, again, under no obligation to prove anything.

  ‘Please note that not one single fingerprint, hair, fiber, scratch, stain, or substance has been found on the body of Anna Prado that links her death to Mr Bantling. And although he is not on trial here today for the murders of any other women, and has not been charged with any other crime, let it be known that there is absolutely no physical evidence linking Mr Bantling with even one of those other ten women. Not a fingerprint or hair, not a fiber, not a stain, not a scratch. Not a drop of DNA. Not one shred of physical evidence to those women. Not one.’

  ‘Objection,’ C.J. said, rising in her seat. ‘The facts of any other investigation have not been made part of this case. They are irrelevant.

  ‘Sustained.’

  But the damage had already been done. Lourdes had made sure that the jury knew that there was nothing connecting Bantling to those other murders. Nothing at all.

  Lourdes caught the eye of one woman who had before turned away from her prying stare. The woman was now nodding ever so slightly at Lourdes’s words, while looking Bill Bantling over curiously. C.J. could practically hear her thought spring from her head: He doesn’t look like a serial killer. Bantling smiled slightly at the woman and she smiled back, sheepishly looking away.

  ‘The damning chain is not so damning now, is it, ladies and gentlemen? The movie is not so good. So don’t be so amazed by special effects and bloody evidence and the evil words serial killer on the front page of the Miami Herald. Remember the
oath you took as jurors, and… well, don’t buy your ticket to this movie just yet.’

  On those words, Lourdes sat down in the silent, stunned courtroom. Her client covered her hand with his in a sign of his appreciation, while a perfectly staged crocodile tear fell from his eye.

  And C.J. realized that her case was in big trouble.

  73

  ‘Jesus Christ, how could you not have known, C.J.?’ Tigler paced her office, nervously running his hand over the top of his head. ‘We look like a bunch of fucking law students in moot court doing their first trial!’

  ‘Jerry, I didn’t know. He didn’t engage in discovery. We thought we had it all locked down; obviously not.’

  ‘The man’s car was in a garage for two days before the murder and the special task force, a task force of highly experienced detectives, mind you, could not have found that out unless someone told them to make sure to look?’ Tigler’s face was red. C.J. had never seen him this angry before.

  ‘Just the fact that it was in a garage before he drove it does not make him innocent. He was still driving his car with a dead girl in the trunk.’

  ‘No. But it does make us look like bloodthirsty prosecutors who’ll skip out on doing their homework just to nail a name on a serial killer and throw the terrified public a scapegoat. We look like amateurs and I don’t appreciate looking like an amateur, especially in an election year.’

  ‘I’ll work it out, Jerry. I’m meeting with Detective Alvarez and Agent Falconetti in ten minutes. I’ll work it out.’

  ‘I hope so, C.J. Because even the feds won’t touch this guy now. Tom de la Flors backed off the indictment when he heard the news. He feels the case warrants further investigation before a potentially innocent man is indicted on circumstantial facts.’ He stopped his pacing and wiped his hands on his pants. ‘Damn. We look like fools.’

  ‘I’ll work it out, Jerry.’

  ‘I trusted you with this case, C.J. You had better work it out, that’s all I can say.’ He straightened the toupee on his sweaty head, and reached for the doorknob, ‘And we better be doing all we can to make sure that we don’t put a needle in the arm of an innocent man.’

  The door closed behind him with a loud bang. A few seconds later a light tap sounded, and the door opened again. Manny stuck his head in.

  ‘Your boss looks like shit. I think he’s gonna drop, C.J.’

  ‘That’ll make two of us.’

  Manny walked into the room, followed a few seconds later by Dominick. Everyone looked at each other for a few seconds.

  ‘What the hell happened, guys?’ C.J. finally said, her hands spread on her desk, her voice exasperated. ‘How did we not know about this auto-repair place? Where exactly was he during the ten to fourteen hours before Anna Prado’s body was found?’

  ‘C.J., you know he never talked to us. He screamed for his lawyer before we even got off the causeway. No discovery, either,’ Dominick said in a low voice, obviously trying hard to control his temper. ‘We’ve talked to three hundred people. He wasn’t with any of them on September eighteenth or nineteenth. And there was no reason to think the Jag would be at a garage – it’s brand new.’

  ‘He’s planned this all along. To get us to this point and

  then make us look like fools in front of the jury. I should have seen it coming, because it’s been Lourdes’s MO in the past – trial by ambush. I just didn’t think she’d try it with this one because the stakes are so high. Because the evidence was so airtight…’

  ‘Hey, she basically just accused me of manufacturing evidence to get an arrest. How do you think that makes me feel, C.J.?’ Dominick angrily erupted, his voice booming. ‘You know, you’re not the only one working hard here to keep this guy behind bars.’

  Manny tried to smooth things over in as soft a voice as the Bear could muster. ‘Counselor, we’re pulling everything, talking to every garage within a five-mile radius –’

  ‘Make it ten. We need to find that garage. See if anyone saw anything.’

  ‘Fine. Ten miles. We’re going back out and talking to the witnesses again. Every associate he’s had in Miami that we know of…’

  ‘You’d better work fast, because Judge Chaskel is determined to move this along. He’s starting early every morning and ending late every night. We don’t have much time.’

  ‘Well then, we’re going to have to wait and see what he’s got when he presents his case,’ Dominick said.

  ‘By then it might be too late, Dominick. If the jury thinks we don’t have what it takes, and worse yet, that we’ve been holding back, they’ll let him walk. He can’t walk. I won’t let him!’ As before, she could feel the small cracks in her fragile façade that had been glued back together with years of therapy begin to separate and splinter, spreading slowly and fanning out in all directions. She pulled her hands through her hair, hoping to hold her thoughts together. Dominick was watching her intently.

  Watching her unravel Watching her come apart before his very eyes.

  ‘I need to look at all his records. Everything. I need to find out what it is he is going to spring on us. And I need to find it out before he puts his case on,’ she said aloud, but mainly to herself.

  She looked up from her desk at both of them, watching her. The heavy silence was sobering.

  ‘Don’t you see? He planned this all along,’ she said finally, her voice a shaking, raspy whisper. We’ve been ambushed. And I never even saw it coming…

  74

  The ring of his cell phone played the musical score of Taps, and it immediately brought Dominick out of his deep sleep on the couch. The movie Midnight Run had been replaced on the television by an infomercial for a complete hair-removal system. He stared for a moment at the phone, blinking several times to make sure he was not still dreaming.

  ‘Falconetti,’ he said, flipping open the Nextel.

  ‘Who’s DR?’ the voice on the other end demanded.

  ‘What? C.J., is that you?’ He rubbed his eyes, looking around his apartment for a clock. ‘What time is it?’

  ‘One A.M. Who is DR? What is DR?’

  ‘What are you talking about? Where are you?’

  ‘I’m at the office. I’ve just spent the last four hours going through Bantling’s old date books and his business journals that were seized in the search warrants, and the initials DR keep popping up sporadically throughout 1999 and this year, without any other identifying info. In fact, there was a reference to DR the day before Anna Prado disappeared and then again the day before Bantling was arrested. Did you see that?’

  ‘Yes, of course. We looked into it. Interviewed everyone we could find that had those initials. Nothing came up. We don’t know who or what or where it stands for.’

  ‘Same thing goes with at least three of the victims. Two days to a week before they disappear, there’s a DR notation. What the hell is that?’

  ‘It could be anything. It could be nothing. I don’t know. What, is Manny not home?’

  ‘What are you talking about?’

  ‘I haven’t heard from you in almost two weeks, and I know you call him when you need something, so I assume you are calling because he’s not in.’ His sarcasm was met with silence on the other end.

  ‘Yeah. I just thought DR might be something we missed,’ she said, purposely ignoring what he had just said. ‘Maybe someplace we haven’t looked before. Maybe it’s a place he goes to, where he’s stashed –’

  We’ve already been down that road, and I think you have us grasping at straws. It’s late.’

  More silence. The perfect opportunity for her to hang up, he thought. But she surprised him when she stayed on the line, and her voice softened. ‘I’m sorry about yesterday, in my office. I shouldn’t have lost my temper with you. I guess I’m just a little anxious about where Lourdes is going with all this.’

  ‘Look, we all know the man’s a nut. Throwing us off is a thrill for him. A high. That’s why he didn’t demand discovery. He wanted to make us look b
ad, like he outsmarted us. If he were innocent, he would have talked from day one and supplied us information that could prove his innocence. This is all a game to him, C.J. Remember that. Don’t let him get under your skin, because that’s what he wants.’

  ‘You did well today, on both direct and cross, in court. I wanted to tell you that, but you left so quickly. Lourdes didn’t shake your tree.’

  ‘God knows she tried. She did, however, manage to paint me as a desperate cop on the edge of losing his career if he doesn’t solve this case. Tell me, do I appear desperate to you?’

  ‘No. Remember, I’m the one who called you.’

  He laughed. ‘Do you think the jury bought it?’

  ‘No. Actually, I think you handled yourself well.’

  ‘How did Chavez do?’ Potential witnesses for either side were not allowed in the courtroom during the trial so that their own testimony would not be influenced by listening to the testimony of others.

  ‘Not much better than the motion to suppress. After that last slice of humble pie that Lourdes force-fed him, he toned down the arrogance by a few degrees. But even though his testimony was definitely more polished this time, it was also obviously more rehearsed, so in reality we gained nothing.’

  ‘What did the jury think?’

  ‘That he’s either evasive or stupid. Maybe both. They definitely picked up on the tension. Lourdes and he were like plaid and stripes at the school prom: They clashed from the get-go.’

  C.J. did not share with Dominick how Lourdes had again led Chavez to the dangerous waters of his previous testimony, with the same vague references to the rookie’s ulterior motives for the initial stop of the Jaguar. And how C.J. had felt the perspiration form on her brow and lip, her heart in her throat waiting for the next question to come. The question to end all questions.

  The tip. Did Lourdes really know about it, or had she been bluffing? Would she use it? Did she, too, have the 911 tape? Better yet, did she know who the caller was? Could C.J. expect the raspy voice to make an appearance as a defense witness later on, coming through the courtroom doors like an evil Matlock witness, here to ruin her case with his surprise testimony?

 
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