Retribution, p.39Jilliane Hoffman
She still had the champagne bottle clutched in her hand when she jumped out of the chair, pushing it backward, where it toppled over with a crash. The door! Get outside! She ran as fast as she could for the closed door. She felt his hand then on the back of her suit jacket, grasping, pulling her back, and she turned and swung the bottle full force at his face.
He was quick. His right arm blocked the strike and she heard a grunt when the bottle slammed into the bone on his forearm. The bottle shattered and champagne exploded everywhere, drenching her hair and face. She turned again to the door, but felt his fingers still on her back, pulling her back to him. She writhed under his grasp, slipping her arms out of the sleeves and leaving the empty jacket limp in his hands behind her. Her hand reached the doorknob and she pulled it open and she dashed down the hallway into Estelle’s empty and dark reception office. She had almost made it to the waiting room door when she felt him on top of her, his breath heavy in her ear, his hands pulling her back by the shoulders. Her fingers slipped off the knob and she fell backward, landing hard on the Mexican tile.
A sharp, excruciating pain exploded in her leg, and the back of her head smashed violently on the tile. The room faded for a second, and then she felt her twisted leg throbbing underneath her body. At first she thought that she had broken or even shattered a bone in the fall.
Chambers was squatting next to her, trying to catch his breath, watching her roll on the floor. She could see he was smiling. Why was he smiling?
She looked down at her leg, thinking perhaps that he had stabbed her, half expecting to see her own blood running down on to the floor and through the maze of ash-colored grout. Then she saw the needle in her thigh, its syringe empty. The room began to swim, and her thoughts blurred together incoherently. She tried to grab at it, but her arms fell uselessly to her sides. She lay back on the cold floor, her body suddenly heavy and tired. He sat down against the wall next to her, watching her intently, his smiling face blurring in and out of focus. The fluorescent lights above her were blinding, flashing slowly when she blinked. She tried to say something, but could not form the words. Her tongue was too thick. The last thing she heard was the sound of Bach playing overhead in Estelle’s office. Classical music. Music to calm the crazies.
And then the room went black.
She opened her eyes slowly, expecting to see the blinding fluorescent office lights above her, but instead saw herself. Her own image stared back at her, laid out on a metal gurney in her olive green suit, arms strapped to her sides, legs buckled down. She blinked and realized that it was a mirror. She was lying on her back and staring up at a mirror on the ceiling. Surrounding the mirror were the bright fluorescent lights she had expected, illuminating a room that was painted entirely black. Although she could not see behind her, from what she could make out, the room looked small, maybe twelve by fourteen, and she could not see a window. A tripod and camera were set up across from the gurney. Mozart’s ‘Alleluia’ played softly around her.
Her body still felt heavy, her limbs disassociated from her torso. When she thought to move her finger, she wasn’t sure if it moved or not. She had no sensory perception. Her eyelids opened and closed slowly, and each time they did, her eyes struggled again to focus. She smelled old champagne in her hair. She tried to speak, but her tongue felt useless and the words that she spoke sounded garbled and choked, as if she had no tongue at all.
She rolled her head to the right and saw him standing in the corner, his back to her. He was humming. She heard the sound of running water and the tinkle of light metal objects tapping together. The sounds in the room pounded in her ears, then softened. Pounded and then softened, like the throb of a headache.
He turned to her and tilted his head, frowning. ‘You must have a high tolerance. I didn’t expect to hear from you for a few hours.’
Again she tried to speak, but only an incoherent mumble came out. Behind him she saw a metal pushcart. On top of a white cloth, the sharp, silver instruments shone in the glare of the fluorescent light. And then she saw the bolt cutters.
‘Maybe the shelf life is off. No matter. You’re here. That’s what counts. How are you feeling, C.J.?’ He shone a penlight in her eyes. She felt her eyelids struggle to close. ‘Not too good, I would imagine. Don’t bother trying to speak; I can’t understand you, anyway.’ He unbuckled the arm strap and put his fingers on her wrist, feeling for a pulse. ‘Ooh, you should be asleep. You should practically be in a coma, but your pulse is racing. Quite the fighter, aren’t you?’
He dropped her arm and watched it fall on the gurney with a thud. She saw then that his own arm was wrapped in a bandage, and she remembered the champagne bottle.
‘Don’t fight. Don’t stress. It increases the heart rate, the blood flow, and, quite frankly, it makes more of a mess. Not that I wouldn’t love being bathed in your blood, but there is cleanup to be considered.’
She struggled to move her head.
‘So now you understand, do you? Now you get it?’ He smiled, watching her, letting her absorb the horror he was feeding her. Even through the drugs, he could see her struggling to comprehend. ‘Now don’t go thinking that I’m going to reveal the secret family recipe, give a last-second detailed confession so that it all becomes clear, because I won’t. Some things you will have to go to the grave wondering about.’ He sighed and touched her hair. ‘Suffice it to say that I am a gentleman, and gentlemen do prefer blondes. I know that I always have, C.J. Since the moment I met you ten years ago, I have had you on my mind. Beautiful C. J. Townsend, attorney extraordinaire, struggling not to be so beautiful, so noticed, trying hard just to get through each day. And carrying a dark, sad secret that she chooses to unburden on only one person. Her psychiatrist. Living her sad and lonely life out, haunted by memories and dreams that make it impossible for her to sleep, impossible for her to find someone so that she won’t be so sad and so lonely. A diagnosis of posttraumatic stress is in order. And, at triggering times like Christmas and Valentine’s Day, clinical depression. Does that sound familiar, C.J.? Does that about sum things up? Let’s see, seventy-five dollars an hour, the police discount, times how many months of therapy? For how many years? And I can access you in a few sentences.’
He continued stroking her hair, brushing it off her sweaty face. He leaned over, his face close to hers, the blue eyes she once thought of as kind examining her with pity. A hint of contempt, perhaps?
‘I’m going to make you feel really good about yourself now, C.J.,’ he whispered in her ear. ‘You were never really that sick. No more than your average bear. Or the average Star Island housewife who’s bored with the luxury of her life. You just took the time to notice that your life was a mess and, unfortunately, chose me to help you fix it.’
He stood back up and she saw him pull a syringe and a small bottle out of his jacket pocket. ‘Now, I promised you that I would not bore you with a midnight confession of all my dastardly deeds. But I must say that you and Bill were a perfect case study. A great working thesis. The rape victim and her rapist. What would happen if the tables were turned? What if the persecuted became the prosecutor? Given the opportunity, what road would she take? The ethical one or the just one? How far would she go for retribution? And what would that mean? How much would Billy Boy have to pay for his crimes of passion? Would his life pay the debt?
‘I must say, C.J., it has been some ride, watching you. Watching a clueless Billy Boy, whose only problem seems to be that he can’t keep his dick in his pants, and of course, he can’t control his anger.’ Chambers motioned toward her stomach while he filled the syringe with a clear liquid in a glass bottle. ‘I saw the work he did on you while you were napping. You’re right. It was barbaric,’he said, his lip curling in distaste. ‘Watching him and his ego thinking he’d get off this whole time. Underestimating you all along.
‘I was tempted to let him walk. To keep my trophies. All of them. And see what you would do when they opened
‘But, I decided that this would be a happier ending. Now you will go meet your maker, knowing that you caused other people to kill an innocent man for you. Try to explain that to God. Or, then again, will they do it? Hmmm… Maybe, just maybe, Billy will win his appeal. And he’ll walk. Wouldn’t that be ironic? You’re dead and he’s alive, fucking some more women with his big, ugly knife.’
She said something, but the words were desperate, incomprehensible slurs.
‘Oh, C.J. Don’t be so scared. I’m only going to leave you for a little while. I’ll be back. I wanted to leave you with a few thoughts for our next session. And now, I have to bring home the bacon. I have a nine A.M. patient waiting anxiously for me – he has obsessive-compulsive disorder – and Estelle is tied up in traffic. So I’ve got to get to the office.’ He slid the needle into her arm.
‘This should keep you happy. I’m sure you’ve heard of it. Haloperidol? Have a nice nap, and I’ll see you in a few. We’ll take some pictures, have a few laughs.’
She heard the jingle of keys, and then the door opened with a creak.
The black room went fuzzy again, out of focus. She felt her eyelids close, her clenched fist relax and go numb. She felt her weightless body falling. Falling, but not landing, not stopping.
‘See you later,’ was the last thing she heard.
Dominick felt his breath catch when the line was finally picked up, and he heard the familiar sound of her voice on the other end. After a moment, though, he quickly realized it was the answering machine again and acid churned in his stomach.
Where is she? Where the hell is she? She had stood him up for dinner last night, and hadn’t shown up for work this morning. She wasn’t at her apartment, and no one had heard from her since the sentencing hearing.
Has she gotten spooked again by their relationship? Has she run off, needing time for herself, without telling him?
He could not shake the bad feeling that consumed his thoughts. A foreboding, dark feeling, deep in his gut that something was terribly amiss. He had not slept all night, worrying where she might be. An accident, perhaps? But there was nothing in the hospitals, no reports with any of the departments.
It was now more than twenty-four hours since she had disappeared. He could wait no more. He picked up the Nextel and called FDLE dispatch to put a BOLO out on her car and to report a Signal 8. A missing person, suspicious circumstances.
She opened her eyes again, but this time everything was completely black. Was she dead? Was this it?
She felt her head turn to the side, and then to the other side. There was no light whatsoever. Maybe she was dead. But then her cheek met the cool metal of the gurney and she remembered that the room was black, windowless. There was no light because he had turned off the light switch.
How many hours had passed? How many days? Was he still here? Was he in the room right now, watching her? She tried to move her fingers, but they were too heavy. She tried to wiggle her toes, but could not tell if she had. Her mouth was dry, her tongue thick from the drugs. How much had he given her?
Greg Chambers. Cupid. Brilliant psychiatrist. Trusted friend. Lethal serial killer. Why? How? It made no sense. Her therapy, all these years, it had been a game to him. An amusing, entertaining game. Watching her struggle with the devastating effects of a rape. Then he had met twisted Bill Bantling, and he had played the two of them like pawns in a game of chess. To the death.
The room was ice-cold, like a hospital operating room. She felt herself shiver, her teeth knocking together. She knew who he was, what he had done, and she remembered his words to her.
Don’t fight… quite frankly it makes more of a mess.
Whose heart was in that bucket? The hearts of all eleven Cupid victims had been recovered and matched with DNA. What she had seen meant that there were more victims. After her own death there would be yet another, but no one would put them together. No one was looking. The scare of a serial killer would not become reality for a long while. If ever.
He was going to kill her. And she knew how he was going to do it. She could describe it in the bluntest of medical terms, having witnessed his handiwork eleven times over, listened to the medical examiner, read the autopsy reports, seen it happening in his macabre trophy pictures.
And she knew that he was going to make her watch. She remembered the adhesive found on Anna Prado’s eyelids. He was going to tape her eyes open and make her watch in the full-length mirror on the ceiling in this black room, her death chamber. Where no one would hear her scream.
A whimper sounded in her throat. She tried to call out, but still could not. The tears ran helplessly down her cheeks, running on to her neck into a puddle on the gurney.
She remembered then the metal pushcart in the corner, the shiny, sharp instruments. Dr Joe Neilson’s face flashed in her mind, and she heard his words on the stand while the pointer in his hands jumped across the female mannequin’s chest.
‘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.’
She knew how it would end. She even knew how it would feel.
When would death come for her? Or was he already here,watching her silently in the dark? Watching her cry and hearing her whimper? Seeing her struggle, hoping her heart would not race under all the stress?
She could only wait in the blackness. Wait and see.
‘I’m sorry to disturb you, Dr Chambers, but there is someone here to see you,’ Estelle said, her voice suddenly crackling to life on his desk. Gregory Chambers stared at the intercom for a moment. ‘It’s Special Agent Falconetti with FDLE.’
‘Very well. Please have him wait for a few minutes in the reception area, while I finish up here,’ he replied back to Estelle. Then he finished reading the notes he’d jotted down from his last patient into the dictaphone.
Estelle looked back up from her desk at an obviously worried Dominick Falconetti. She had seen him before, on TV during the trial, but there he always looked so controlled, so confident. Today he looked incredibly anxious. It must be the news, she thought. ‘Agent Falconetti, the doctor can see you in a few minutes, if you would just have a seat,’ Estelle nodded toward the leather chairs in the waiting room.
‘Thank you,’ Dominick said.
She studied him curiously while he moved away from the reception window toward the chairs. She noticed that he did not sit. His eyes perused the waiting room, and he looked at his watch two times.
The door opened then, and Dr Chambers appeared in the reception area. He walked past Estelle and opened the door to the waiting room. ‘Agent Falconetti. Please, come in,’ he said, motioning toward his office.
Dominick followed him past the reception desk and down the Mexican-tiled hall into the soft yellow-and-blue office. ‘What can I do for you, Dom?’ Dr Chambers said as he closed the door behind them.
‘I’m sure you’ve heard about –’ Dominick began.
‘About C. J. Townsend? Yes, yes, of course. It’s been on the news for two days. Are there any developments?’
‘No. Nothing. That’s why I’m here.’ He hesitated slightly before continuing. ‘I don’t know if you knew this, but we were involved. She told me that she had been seeing you, professionally. With that in mind, I wanted to ask you some questions.’
‘Dom, please, I’ll help out, of course, in any way that I can, but please don’t ask me what was discussed between C.J. and myself. I can’t divulge that, and I won’t.’
‘I understand that. I need to know, when was the last time that you saw her?’
Greg Chambers studied him for a moment. He had already thought this possibility through, this encounter. But if the great Special Agent had known or even susp
‘Have you spoken with her at all?’
‘No, not since that time. We were no longer seeing each other professionally. I wish I could be of more help.’ He shrugged his shoulders.
‘I understand. Is there anything that you can think of? Where she might go? Anyone she might go with? Anyone she was afraid of, perhaps?’
It was clear that they had no idea. None. They couldnot even figure out if they had a missing person or a person who wanted to be missing. And it was sad, watching the great detective struggle with the thought that his lover might have left him. Picked up and gone with someone else, leaving him to entertain the thought that he never really knew her after all.
‘No, Dom, again, I’m afraid I can’t help you. Except to say…’ His voice trailed off and he pondered a moment before slowly sharing his next thought. ‘C.J. has a mind of her own. If you are asking for possibilities, it would not be out of the realm of them to say she would take some breathing room if she felt she needed space.’ He looked straight at Dominick, his telling eyes providing the detective with the answer he was looking for, but might not want to know.
Dominick nodded, slowly. Then he handed the doctor a business card and said, ‘Okay. Thanks. Please call me, direct, if she gets in touch with you. I wrote down my home number on the back as well, although I’m available twenty-four/seven on the Nextel, but just in case for some reason you miss me…’
Retribution by Jilliane Hoffman / History & Fiction have rating 5 out of 5 / Based on50 votes