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All the little pieces, p.35
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       All the Little Pieces, p.35

           Jilliane Hoffman
 

  He looked at the screen as he chugged the rest of his beer. The newscast, which didn’t have any sound, was now running video clips that showed the scene down at the courthouse. Derrick sure looked like he was having a good ole time chatting it up with those reporters, with that ugly snitch of a girlfriend smiling at his side. The last conversation he’d had with Derrick, the last thing the dumbass had said to him before they’d agreed to go their separate ways for a while was, ‘I think the bitch from work might’ve turned the cops on to me.’ Ed felt the jealousy race through him like a fever. He felt it all the way down to his fingertips and he squeezed the bottle so hard he thought he might actually break it. She’d be the first to go – Girlfriend. Right after Blondie. This was no Butch and Sundance and what’s-her-name threesome happening here. That’s not what he and Derrick were about. He put the bottle down hard on the bar.

  He was holding her hand.

  He turned away from the TV, it made him so mad. What the fuck was that about, now? There was no need to play all lovey-dove boyfriend no more, Dumbass. No more need to pretend to be something you ain’t, because Derrick Alan Poole was Not Fucking Guilty!

  ‘Time to drop the curtain,’ Ed muttered as he threw down a five. ‘Show’s over.’ Maybe he’d even change the order of things and take Girlfriend before Blondie. He’d busied himself for the past four months building what was at first supposed to be a shanty Everglades hold-up for a wanted expat like himself, far away from snoops and tourists and campers and rangers and washed-up towns. But he’d made it into so much more than a place to lay his head. Maybe he and Derrick could take both of them lucky ladies to the new crib and show them around. He smiled at the thought. He hoped Derrick would like it. Even if they decided not to hang around Florida for long, they could still tidy up business before they pulled out.

  Ed popped a cigarette into his mouth and lit it as he headed to the door, daring some yahoo to say shit to him about smoking in a bar. He grinned as he walked out. It was gonna be great to see Derrick. Maybe there was a way to get together even tonight. A reunion would be sweet. It was gonna be hard to hold back. There was so much he wanted to do. He felt like he’d popped a fistful of X, only better. He felt like he could do anything now.

  ‘Yes!’ Ed yelled as he walked out of the bar into the still-sunny parking lot. Damn, he hated summer. He fist-pumped the sky with a smile. ‘Let’s do this!’

  82

  Did she really hear that?

  Faith sat up in the pitch-black closet and listened hard. She could hear rain beating on the roof. The wind whistled through the A/C vents. But that wasn’t what she had heard.

  She looked around the closet, her eyes struggling to make out anything and she tried to think. What time was it? What was today? She could almost feel her thoughts laboriously make their way through her brain, as if they were trudging through a thick, greasy sludge. Every few synapses or so, the thought would stop to check the route and make sure it wasn’t lost. And when it finally arrived at its destination, it forgot why it was there anyway – the sludge was so slick it couldn’t stick. Instead the thought slowly ricocheted around her head like a lost pinball. She shook her head to jostle the machine. Bad idea. Her head was spinning already and now she felt nauseous. So incredibly nauseous. She had to get to the bathroom. She crawled out of the closet on her hands and knees and into the master bedroom and then into the bathroom. The marble was cool on her palms. She pressed her face to the floor. It was so cold. Maybe she’d just lie here for a while to stop the awful spinning. Give those thoughts a well-needed rest. She closed her eyes.

  Then she heard it again: the sound she’d heard in the closet. It was not the rain or the wind in the chimney. It was coming from downstairs.

  She couldn’t trust herself to stand, so she crawled back through the master bedroom and over to the door that led to the hall. She opened it a tiny crack and listened hard.

  A tremendous clap of thunder sounded and she fell back on her butt.

  A screechy, scraping sound was coming from somewhere downstairs. It wasn’t a sound she’d ever heard before. It wasn’t like the palm fronds rubbing on the window or the sigh of a settling house or the wind in the A/C vents. Those sounds were there, too, and then there was this new one. It sounded like a window had broken downstairs and the wind and rain had found its way into the house.

  She felt sick again.

  Then she heard crunching, like someone stepping on broken glass.

  Someone was in the house.

  83

  ‘Derrick Poole?’ A woman pushed her way through the cameras. She was in her thirties maybe. She wore a nice suit. She looked like a reporter. He turned to her as he was getting in the Town Car.

  ‘I have a question, too. How will it feel to meet the devil?’ she asked, with a broad smile. ‘Are you excited?’

  He heard the gunshot first, then he felt the pain in his gut. He stared into her dark eyes as the screaming began all around him.

  ‘A gun! A gun! She has a gun!’

  ‘Oh my God!’

  ‘She’s shooting!’

  ‘He’s been shot!’

  People ran in a dozen directions. The crowd that had gathered around him dispersed. Gemma ran, too. He watched her run off. She never even looked back. The only one left was the woman. Even the cops were gone.

  Derrick looked down at the blood that was now spreading across his white dress shirt. It was a new suit, too. He’d bought it especially for the trial. He held out his hands at the woman and saw they were covered in blood. There was a hole in his stomach.

  ‘That was for Noelle,’ the angry woman said, just as calmly as when she’d first walked up. He fell to his knees. ‘But you won’t be seeing her again, you fuck, because she went to heaven.’

  Then she pointed the gun at his forehead and fired again.

  84

  They’re here! whispered the voice. They’ve come for you!

  Faith’s whole body shook violently. He was downstairs, walking around, looking for her.

  Remember the trial? said her now-panicked friend. Remember how he told you to be quiet and you weren’t? He’s free now! And his partner is, too. There’s more than one, Faith. That guy drugged you and tried to kill you. Drugged you. That’s why you feel so sick right now. You can’t think straight because you’ve been drugged. Poisoned. Now they’re gonna come up here and take you and chop you up. Chop. You. Up.

  She heard footsteps on the stairs. She put her hand over her mouth to hold in the scream.

  She crawled back into the closet and closed the door. She backed up until she hit the wall and the pile of Jarrod’s suits. The police! Call the police! The thought finally made it through the sludge. But she had no phone. It was too late to call for help. She covered herself in Jarrod’s clothes and tried to hide.

  Did the murderers know that Jarrod had left her? Did they know she was all alone?

  Yes, that’s why they’re here! answered the voice.

  What would they do? Would they drag her out and finish her off here in her own bedroom?

  Chop, chop, chop, said the voice. Remember what that woman said about her daughter? ‘I don’t even have all the pieces …’

  The bedroom door opened. She could hear it. They called her name. They called her to come out.

  The closet door opened. She squinted as the light from the bedroom flooded the closet. A large faceless figure stood in the doorway.

  ‘Where the hell—’

  She pulled the trigger. The muzzle flashed, and the closet exploded. Her body slammed back against the wall. Her ears rang. She could hear nothing, only the awful ringing, like a thousand church bells in her head. She sat up.

  There’s two of them! screamed the voice.

  She looked about frantically, untangling herself from Jarrod’s suits and the dresses that had fallen down on her. She picked up the gun again and aimed.

  Maggie was standing over the body that was lying motionless on the floor of her closet
.

  Faith still couldn’t hear, but she didn’t need sound to see that Maggie was screaming.

  85

  ‘I still don’t get how she didn’t know it was her husband,’ said Mike Derdin, one of the two detectives from Parkland, to Chuck Bennett, the Chief Felony Assistant from Broward County. They were sitting in a conference room at the State Attorney’s Office in downtown Fort Lauderdale, along with Bryan Nill. Displayed on the table in front of them were crime scene photos.

  Bryan picked up one of the pictures. It was taken in Faith Saunders’ bedroom. Newspapers, magazines, clothing and children’s toys lay strewn on the floor. The bedding, sheets, and pillows were also on the floor, as if the bed had exploded. An empty bottle of Ron Rico sat on the dresser along with a container of Minute Maid orange juice and a Rubbermaid pitcher. He thought of the times he and Maldonado had been out to the house – it was always so pristine and beautiful, so well taken care of. This was more than messy. Bryan had had a younger brother with an alcohol problem. That’s what his apartment in Whitestone, Queens looked like when the police found him hanging in his closet. He picked up another picture. This one was of the inside of the closet. Clothing that had fallen or been pulled down from hangers sat in clumpy piles. Suitcases and shoes were strewn everywhere. Blood stained the beige carpet. Next to it was the Sig Sauer registered to Jarrod Saunders with an evidence marker beside it. Lying beside one of the clothing piles was a bottle of Smirnoff that looked empty and another evidence marker.

  ‘They were having problems, her and the husband,’ added the other detective who’d introduced himself as Tom Dunleavy.

  ‘No shit?’ replied Chuck Bennett sarcastically. He turned to Bryan. ‘I appreciate your coming here and meeting with us on this, Detective Nill. I know this didn’t happen in your jurisdiction, but you know this lady and her husband and the Poole case is definitely intertwined. I invited the ASA who tried him – Romolo – to join us today, but she …?’

  ‘Left the office,’ replied Bryan.

  ‘That was quick.’

  ‘She resigned the day after the verdict came in. She’s moved on to greener pastures. She got herself an analyst position with Court TV. You can see her five nights a week in the comfort of your own living room, if you’d like,’ said Bryan.

  ‘Wow,’ replied the prosecutor. ‘Imagine what gig she might’ve landed if she’d won the case. So tell me about this woman. I’m doing pre-files now. I gotta figure out what to charge her with.’

  ‘I worked extensively with Faith,’ said Bryan. ‘I met Jarrod on multiple occasions. If you watched the trial or read the news, you must know already that the lady has a drinking problem.’

  ‘According to her BAC she had enough alcohol in her to keep her drunk for days,’ remarked Dunleavy. BAC stood for blood alcohol content.

  ‘She totally fucked up your case,’ said Derdin angrily. ‘No wonder she got blitzed. A serial killer walked free.’

  Bryan looked at Faith’s booking photo on the prosecutor’s desk. She was a shell of the beautiful, well-dressed woman who had first come into the police station with her handsome husband and cute kid seven months ago. Sickly slim, gaunt, pale, dark circles, unkempt hair. But it was her eyes that were perhaps the most telling: The light was gone from them. Exhausted was too mild a word. She looked like she had lived a dozen lives already. He thought of what her husband had said that day of the pre-trial at the State Attorney’s Office:

  She never wanted to be a witness.

  The woman was already beaten down by then, having had to leave her family for four months and go to rehab. She was already fragile, but they wanted another pint from her, so they’d hooked her up to an IV and sent her back in to the courtroom, knowing she was weak. Knowing she likely would not make it out of this mess. Then if it all went to shit, like it did, the blame was on her. He personally would not partake in that game any more. ‘Leave the lady alone,’ he said quietly, but in a tone that everyone clearly understood. ‘The case was tough. Blame me. I fucked it up. I didn’t have enough.’

  ‘She claimed when the uniforms first responded that she thought it was Poole and his partner Carbone who were coming to get her,’ said Dunleavy.

  ‘But Poole was already dead!’ exclaimed Derdin.

  ‘She didn’t know that till the uniforms told her,’ said Dunleavy.

  ‘Or so she says,’ mused the prosecutor.

  Dunleavy shrugged. ‘She’d drawn all the blinds and curtains and barricaded the doors downstairs and the husband couldn’t get in the house. He was coming to check on her after what happened with the verdict and Poole being murdered by Langtry’s mother at the courthouse. He couldn’t get in, so he broke a window. She heard it, thought it was Poole and Carbone, and hid in the closet. She was hiding in there when the husband opened the door.’

  Derdin tapped his hand on the desk. ‘That’s what I don’t get. How’d she not know it was her own husband?’

  ‘What did you say her BAC was again?’ asked Bryan.

  ‘Point one eight seven’

  ‘That’s how come she didn’t know it was her husband,’ Bryan answered. ‘He opened the door, the light’s behind him, her pupils are dilated, she can’t see his face and she pulled the trigger.’

  ‘He’d left her, though,’ said Derdin. ‘Just the week before – after she’d testified. They were broken up. There’s your motive. And he’d had an affair. We found that out too, from his secretary.’

  Bryan could feel the anger in him start to swell. ‘You look like you have your mind made up about Faith Saunders, Detective Derdin. So I’m gonna give you my point of view, for what it’s worth. She had a drinking problem, which got worse after her husband strayed. She got involved in this case and it was a cluster. She told some lies to save herself and got caught. She drank some more and it put a hell of a strain on an already strained marriage. Her husband put her in an expensive rehab. He called her every day while she was there. Check the phone records. But this case, and the fallout after her testimony, was too much. She fell off the wagon and left their daughter alone in the park, the press picked up on it because she was the target of their wrath since the moment it got out she left Angelina Santri to die in the company of two serial killers. The husband found out about the park, took the kid and left. It’s a tragedy all around. I’m surprised she didn’t turn the gun on herself.’

  ‘How is she? The kid?’ asked Chuck.

  ‘How do ya think? She saw her mom shoot her dad,’ replied Derdin. ‘She’s a wreck. And this is on top of what she witnessed last fall. She had emotional issues before that, according to family members. She’s staying with the aunt right now, and she’s not talking. Not a word.’

  ‘I spoke with her aunt, Charity Lavecki, and I tried talking to Maggie,’ Bryan said. ‘So did Detective Maldonado, one of the detectives on the task force. The kid got kinda close to her during the Poole case. Maggie is still pretty traumatized. She is refusing to talk.’

  The prosecutor tapped his pen on the table. ‘So she can’t tell us what happened.’

  ‘What’s the law on this, Chuck?’ asked Dunleavy. ‘Can the wife stand her ground?’

  The prosecutor nodded, thoughtfully. ‘If she’s in her home and is under the reasonable belief that she is being attacked, then, yes, she can use deadly force to defend herself and her castle.’

  ‘But Poole was already dead, Chuck,’ said Derdin. ‘There was no reasonable belief he was coming to get her.’

  ‘The belief is objective. It’s a reasonable person standard,’ replied Bryan. ‘If she didn’t know he was dead, then it would be reasonable to think he would be coming after her. And his partner, Carbone, is not dead. We don’t know where he is. So it is definitely reasonable for her to believe that he might have come after her. He’d tried it once before. He has the motive to try it again: she’s the only one who can identify him.’

  Chuck nodded. ‘That’s true. How close did she come?’

  ‘She missed his hear
t by an inch, doc says,’ replied Dunleavy.

  Chuck nodded thoughtfully.

  ‘So she walks on this?’ asked Derdin incredulously. ‘Shoots the poor bastard who’s coming to check up on her in his own house, claims she was too smashed to know what was going on and somehow that’s reasonable?’

  ‘I didn’t say she’s walking, Detective Derdin,’ snapped Chuck. ‘But I’m trying to see if I’ve got a winnable case here for attempted first. Or even attempted second. She’s lucky hubby’s still breathing, we can all agree on that. He’s claiming it was an accident. He doesn’t want to see her prosecuted. I gotta take that into account, too.’

  ‘They all say that in domestic cases, Chuck,’ replied Derdin. ‘“He didn’t mean it” or “It was my fault he hit me.” Sorry if I take what the husband says with a big, fat grain of salt. He was leaving her, he’d had an affair, he’d taken the kid, she was a social leper and she was a drunk even after he’d dropped the price of a small house on rehab for her and he felt bad. He felt bad, guys – that’s what this comes down to. Now he feels worse because not only is she still all of the above, but because of him, she faces a few years in prison. So he’s saying it was an accident so he doesn’t have to feel so bad when he goes back to the cute intern. He’ll still get the kid, start a new life and not feel so fucking guilty when he shows pictures of what mommy used to look like to his traumatized, mute daughter.’

  ‘Wow, tell us how you really feel, Mike,’ said Dunleavy with an angry shake of his head. ‘Have a fight with the Mrs yourself today?’

  ‘What does Jarrod Saunders want?’ Chuck asked, ignoring Derdin and instead looking at Bryan. ‘A lifetime restraining order? What does he want to see happen to her? Do you know?’

  ‘He wants her to stop drinking,’ Bryan answered. ‘I met with him yesterday in the hospital. This isn’t a domestic, Chuck. This is just plain sad. I watched this woman break down like she was decomposing, both physically and mentally. A lot of people got a lot of mileage out of her and out of this case. The prosecutor launched a TV career, late-night hosts used her for one-liners, and TV commentators analyzed every aspect of her life, including what kind of a mother she is – like any of them would have done any different under the same circumstances out there. We’re all so quick to judge, but that lady didn’t ask to be a witness, she didn’t want the fame. This case ruined her life. The press ripped her apart, made her out to be more of a villain at times than the men who killed those girls. And people tuned in to watch by the millions. The only friend she had left at the end was the bottle, and it tricked her, too. So I feel bad. And the husband feels bad. We should all feel bad.’

 
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