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Retribution, p.35
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       Retribution, p.35

           Jilliane Hoffman
 

  But once again, Lourdes had pushed the stubborn Chavez only so far, backing off suddenly, and leaving the jury with the taste that there was something more to the rookie’s story. And C.J. had felt the heavy weight of fear slowly ease off her chest.

  ‘How much more do you have left?’

  ‘The ME, crime scene, Masterson for the porno tapes. Maybe two, three more days. Probably after the New Year, but you never know with this judge. It might be tomorrow.’

  ‘You weren’t kidding that Chaskel moves fast. He’s done more in a week than most judges do in a month. Especially on a capital. What time are you starting?’

  ‘Eight. We wrapped yesterday and today after nine. The jury is pissed. It’s ruined their holidays. I fear they’re blaming me, and I certainly wasn’t the one who chose to try a murder during this most wonderful time of the year.’

  ‘How was your Christmas?’ Their conversation had softened, lapsed back into the familiar. It was almost painful, how much he missed her.

  ‘Okay,’ she lied. ‘Tibby got me a fur ball. A big one. Yours?’

  ‘Good,’ he lied. ‘Manny got me nothing. He got himself a hickey, though. And in the true spirit of Christmas, I think he gave a couple, too.’

  ‘Really? Not to you, I hope.’

  ‘No. But I think your secretary will be wearing turtle-necks this week.’

  ‘Oh God. Men are so blind.’

  ‘Yes. Yes, we are.’

  She said nothing, but he thought he heard her sniffle.

  ‘Is Tigler over his mad?’ he asked, breaking the silence, feeling bad about that last cheap shot.

  ‘Nope. Not until I win, which by the day is looking shakier.’

  He heard the quiver in her voice, the same anxious sound it held the other day in her office when she had called him and Manny in on the carpet. ‘How are you holding up?’ he asked softly. ‘Are you okay? Do you want me to come ov –’

  But she quickly broke him off, knowing what he was going to suggest.’Look, I’ll let you get back to bed,’ she said quickly as the tears welled, and her voice started to choke. ‘Sorry I woke you. Good night.’

  She hung the phone up on him, and he knew she was crying. Crying alone in the darkness of her deserted office in downtown Shitsville. He stood up from the couch and walked his apartment, wide awake now.

  She was walking too close to the edge. He could hear it in her voice, see it in her eyes these last few months, these past few days. With just one stumble, or one slip…

  He looked out his living room window in the direction of downtown, where he knew she was, alone and upset.

  He just hoped that he would be there to catch her when she fell.

  75

  DR. The scribbled initials appeared sporadically all over Bantling’s date books. Different days of the week, different times. Day and night. The last one was entered just one day before Anna Prado was discovered in Bantling’s trunk. What did they mean? A place? A person? A thing? An idea? Nothing at all?

  C.J.’s brain hurt from thinking. She sipped on her cold coffee, refusing to give up and go home. If she stayed much longer, it really would not make much sense for her to go home anyway. Trial resumed at 8:00 A.M., and it was already 2:30. Her desk was literally covered with paper. Paper from the overstuffed box of business records, journals, date books, address books, bank statements, and tax receipts that had been seized from Bantling’s house and cars and given to the task force by Tommy Tan. Everything and anything there was to know about William Bantling was spread before her like an open book. She had read through his journals and date books, looked at his daily business appointments, sifted through his taxes and receipts. She knew that some would think her obsessed, straying into territory that was too trivial, too familiar, where there, perhaps, was little or no evidentiary value. Especially since these were the same books, journals, records, and receipts that had already been combed over by experienced investigators with trained eyes. But still she had to look, had to see how it was he managed to live with himself every day, carrying on life as normal. And perhaps, just perhaps, somewhere along the way, those trained eyes had missed something…

  She found his personal address book, the one seized with the day planner from his overnight bag in the backseat of the Jag, and flipped open the pages. The worn black Coach was overstuffed with address sheets, business cards, and tiny pieces of matchbook and cocktail napkins on which names and phone numbers had been hastily scribbled. She began reading the individual entries, carefully studying Bantling’s almost illegible scrawl, looking for something, anything. She didn’t know what. A handwriting expert had once told her that he could tell a sane person from an insane person just by watching him sign his name. She thought of his words now, wondering what opinion he would offer of Bantling and the scribbles in his little black book.

  There were hundreds of names, some no more than a first name and phone number, and they were almost all women. He must have written down the name of just about every woman he had ever met; there were that many in the overstuffed book. Some of the names she recognized from task force reports of interviews. Others meant nothing. As she read through the names of dozens of women, a chilling thought suddenly seized her, and she quickly skipped ahead to the listings under L, making sure her own name had not made his creepy little black book. Her eyes scanned the names, but there was no Larson listing. Then she skipped back to the C entries, her eyes racing through the pages, expecting to see it scrawled before her across the page in his demented chicken scratch: For a good time call Chloe!202-18 Apartment 1B Rocky Hill Road, Bayside, New York. One by one, her eyes read down the list of entries, her heart in her throat. But she was not there, and she slowly exhaled the anxious breath that had caught in her chest.

  Any sigh of relief was short-lived, however, because her eyes caught on another name in Bantling’s black book, scribbled in tiny, hurried script, that was almost, almost illegible. A name that took her quite by surprise and one that she would never have expected. One that she wished now she never saw.

  Chambers, G.

  22 Almeria Street

  Coral Gables, FL

  76

  Greg Chambers. Why would his name be in Bantling’s book? How would they have known each other? And did they actually know each other, or did Bantling just pick up Greg’s name someplace, possibly as a psychiatric referral, and put it in his black book for future reference?

  C.J. stood and paced her office, her mind spinning. If they had known each other, why would Greg not have told her? He would have. There was no way around that, so he must not even have realized that Bantling knew him. He must not have known he was even in his book. The address book was obviously old; the entries could be from years back. The remote connection could have been a professional referral from long ago, or perhaps they were distant, forgotten acquaintances. Greg would probably be just as surprised as she to see his name in that book. That must be it.

  But as she walked the room, her mind frantically scrambling to make sense out of the thoughts that spun inside her head, she felt the spiny, familiar fingers of paranoia creep up her neck, tightening their grip on her brain. And the what-ifs began to knock on her door, demanding entry.

  What if they did know each other? What if they were friends? What if they were something more? She fought the paralyzing feeling of fear back down. The fear that even from his jail cell, he had planned this surprise. The fear that his words whispered years ago were coming true.

  I’ll always be watching you, Chloe. Always. You can’t get away from me, ‘cause I’ll always find you.

  The fear that he was everywhere, watching her, dictating even her most irrational thoughts.

  She looked at her paper-covered desk, her cold cup of coffee, her drawn blinds in the dark office, illuminated only by a dim desk lamp and a gray computer screen. It was 3:oo in the morning, and she had to be back for trial at 8:00 A.M. She had not slept more than four hours a night since September.

  You a
re jumping to conclusions. You are not thinking rational thoughts. This case is consuming you. Bantling is consuming you. He is eating you alive. And you are letting him.

  Stress is a major factor in any illness, be it physical or mental. She knew it was a precipitating factor of her last breakdown. She had to control it before it ran out of control, before her life ran out of control. Her relationships, her career – everything was spiraling, the same as before. It was all happening again, the same as before. The parallel was frightening.

  She crushed out her last cigarette and packed up her briefcase, stuffing the address book inside. She called downstairs and woke up the security guard and headed to the elevator.

  She needed to get away. To remove herself for a while. She needed to think. She needed to rest, she told herself.

  Before it all spiraled out of control.

  Just like before.

  77

  Estelle was just packing up her large hobo straw purse to leave when C.J. tapped on the glass above her head. It was just past 7:00 P.M. on a Thursday night, and only three days from the New Year.

  ‘Ooh, Ms Townsend,’ she said, surprised, looking up from her bag, her red-clawed hand covering her chest, ‘You startled me. I didn’t see you there.’

  ‘I’m sorry, Estelle. Is Dr Chambers in?’

  ‘Yes,’ she said, her voice distracted, as she thumbed through the appointment book, ‘but, well, he’s with a patient right now.’ She looked up at C.J., her face frowning with obvious concern. ‘I’ m sorry, but I don’t have you down for an appointment this evening.’

  C.J. knew that Estelle was probably itching to ask her the question of the day: Are you okay? You don’t look so good. Even Judge Chaskel had called her sidebar during the trial that day to make sure she was feeling alright. Concealer could no longer hide the dark circles under her eyes. She had lost five pounds off her slight frame in the past week alone, and anxious worry lines cut deeper across her pale brow. She had told everyone it was a lack of sleep, because she didn’t think people would actually understand if she told them the truth – that it was entirely possible she was going crazy again. Just a few more days till the nuthouse. Hurry up and get your tickets. But Estelle dealt with crazy people every day, and knew better than to ask the question.

  ‘I don’t have an appointment, Estelle. I just need to see Dr Chambers when he’s done. It’s very important; he’ll understand.’

  ‘Oh. Okay, then. Well, um, I hate to disturb him when he’s in session.’ She looked up at the clock in the waiting room. ‘And I have to go. I’m meeting my husband for dinner.’

  ‘That’s okay, Estelle. I’ll just wait until he’s through. I need to speak with him tonight, though.’

  ‘Oh.’ She lowered her voice to a whisper, ‘Is it about your case? I see you every night on TV. It’s always the top story at eleven.’

  ‘I just need to speak with the doctor.’

  Estelle mulled it over for a moment. ‘Well, you are friends. I guess he wouldn’t mind. Why don’t you have a seat then? This is his last patient for the day, and he should be done around seven-thirty. You can grab him on his way out.’

  ‘That’s fine. Thank you, Estelle.’

  Estelle picked up her hobo purse and jacket and walked out into the waiting room. ‘Ordinarily, I’d stay, but we’re meeting with Frank’s boss and his wife, and well, you know how that is. We can’t be late.’

  ‘Not a problem.’

  Estelle stopped at the door. Her voice lowered to that hush again. ‘Do you really think he did it, Ms Townsend? I mean, really?’

  ‘I wouldn’t prosecute him if I didn’t think he was guilty.’ And I can do better than that, Estelle. I know he’s guilty. I’m just not as sure as I was before that he’s a murderer.

  ‘You never can tell about people, can you?’ Estelle said and shook her head. ‘Good night, Ms Townsend.’

  ‘No, you can’t,’ C.J. murmured as Estelle left. She sat in the empty waiting room for a few minutes, collecting her thoughts. It was not working on this night. This was the first opportunity she’d had to speak with Greg Chambers since her discovery late last night. She wondered exactly what she would say, how she should say it. She didn’t want to come off sounding paranoid and frantic, although she suspected that was how she looked.

  The reception office door was slightly ajar. Estelle must have forgotten to pull it shut behind her when she left. C.J. got up and anxiously paced the waiting room, rolling an old issue of Entertainment Weekly magazine back and forth in her sweaty palms. At Estelle’s reception window, she stopped pacing and saw that far down the hall, the doctor’s office door was shut tight, as it always was while he was in session, while the secrets were being told. She glanced down at Estelle’s desk and saw the open appointment book that Estelle had thumbed through five minutes earlier. The what-ifs screamed at her again in her head, demanding their answers.

  She cautiously moved by the open door, and stood for a moment. She could not hear a thing. She pushed open the door slightly and saw that the door to his office was still closed. She looked above her head at the clock in the waiting room. It read 7:22.

  Without really thinking, she pushed open the door and walked over the threshold of sanity to Estelle’s desk. The appointment book was open to the week of Monday, December 25, through Friday, December 29. The last page for the year 2000. C.J.’s fingers hesitantly touched the page, and then she quickly flipped backward in time, past the penciled-in time slots of November and October, stopping at the week of Monday, September 18, through Friday, September 22.

  Her eyes carefully scanned down Monday’s appointment column. And there it was, the last entry of the day. September 18. The day before Anna Prado’s body had been discovered.

  She felt her breath suck in as she saw her worst, most irrational fear confirmed.

  The penciled-in 7:00 P.M. appointment that night was B. Bantling.

  78

  She raced backward to the seven dates that she had written down from Bantling’s date book the night before. They all matched. The same dates, the same times, the same name: B. Bantling.

  It was no coincidence. DR. Now it made perfect sense. DR… Dr… Doctor. Chambers was his doctor. Chambers was Bantling’s doctor.

  C.J. backed away from the desk, away from the date book, away from the truth that was in front of her eyes the whole time. The room spun, and she felt as if she would vomit. What did this mean? How could this be? He had treated both of them. He had treated her rapist. How long had this gone on? Years? Memories flipped through her head like a Rolodex in a hurricane. Had she met Bantling before? Perhaps sat next to him in this very waiting room, sharing a smile or a magazine or a comment about the weather while she waited her turn to see the good doctor? What did Chambers know? What had Bantling shared with him? What did Bantling know? What had Chambers shared with him? The thoughts she had dismissed the night before as irrational and paranoid rushed through her brain once again, threatening to shut it down. The air became heavy, and it was hard to breathe.

  This couldn’t be happening. Not again. Please God, no more. One person can only take so much in her life. And this is it for me. I’m done. She had to get out. She had to think. She backed into Estelle’s chair and heard the thump as it careened into the wall, sending a picture frame crashing to the floor. She turned and ran through the open door, grabbing her purse off the seat in the waiting room. Behind her she heard a muffled voice yell, What the hell was that? Estelle?’ and then the sound of the office door opening down the hall, but it no longer mattered. She pulled open the heavy oak front door, and ran past the neat flower beds of yellow, white, and red, and down the path paved in Chicago brick. Away from the beautiful Spanish house on Almeria Street in posh, safe Coral Gables. Away from the kind, understanding doctor to whom for the last ten years of her life she had turned for help in dealing with the reality that was her life. For guidance and advice, and to fix the fears that paralyzed her mind. But now she ran as fast as
she could away from it all. She climbed in the Jeep and sped off, swerving to miss the obscenity-screaming bicyclist who appeared suddenly in front of her car.

  She disappeared down Almeria, heading for the Dolphin Expressway, just as Dr Gregory Chambers stepped out into his now-empty waiting room to see what all the commotion was about.

  79

  ‘The first incision into the chest cavity was made beginning at the sternum, slicing vertically down across the breast plate, ending at the navel. The cut was clean, with no jags or tears to the skin.’

  Joe Neilson involuntarily twitched as he demonstrated on the plastic female mannequin that was set up across from the jury, and the pointer jumped slightly in his hand. ‘The second incision was made horizontally under the breasts, beginning just under the right breast and continuing laterally across and under the left breast. Again, there was only one cut and it was clean, with no jags or tears.’

  ‘Do you have an opinion as to what type of instrument made these incisions?’ asked C.J. The courtroom was silent, hanging on every word.

  ‘I do. It was a scalpel. The incisions were deep. They cut through to the bone, passing through three layers of skin, fatty tissue, and finally, muscle. There were no tears or indentations evidenced. The number-five scalpel that was seized from the defendant’s residence was, in fact, tested against the skin tears made to Ms Prado’s chest. The depth and width of the cut matched. They were identical.’

  Two enlarged photographs mounted on posterboard sat side by side on easels next to the mannequin. One was of the scalpel blade seized from Bantling’s home, magnified fifty times. The other was a close-up picture of the incision made in Anna Prado’s chest cavity, also magnified fifty times.

 
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