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Cutting room the, p.4
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       CUTTING ROOM -THE-, p.4

           Jilliane Hoffman
 

  ‘Nice tie.’

  Manny wagged the tip of his teal tie that was speckled with tiny Miami Dolphins football helmets in the old detective’s direction. ‘Thanks.’

  Dickerson rolled his eyes again. ‘You in trial?’

  ‘I got an Arthur.’ Arthur was short for Arthur Hearing — another way of saying bond hearing.

  Dickerson smiled coyly. ‘I’m willing to bet your prosecutor has a nice set of gams and the initials ‘Ms’ in front of her name.’

  ‘Who the hell says “gams”?’

  ‘You wouldn’t wear a jacket to your own momma’s funeral.’

  ‘Not if it was in Miami in June, I sure as fuck wouldn’t. That’s why Cubans invented guayabera shirts, Pops. Dressy when you need to be, yet still cool and comfortable. You’re right — she is a she. And she does have fine legs. Not that I noticed.’

  ‘I knew it,’ Dickerson replied with the same lecherous cackle.

  ‘Fuck you, old man. You don’t know shit.’

  ‘What case you going on? Is that the dumpster girl?’

  ‘Yup. Holly Skole’s her name.’

  ‘Saw the pictures on your desk.’

  ‘Sorry.’

  ‘Didn’t realize you had a suspect. Is he good?’

  ‘I’m not counting chickens; I always get burned when I do. You saw the pictures — the guy’s an animal. He needs to pay for what he’s done.’

  ‘For once, young Jedi, we agree.’

  Manny laughed. ‘For once.’ Then he picked up his file and headed out the homicide squad-room doors and into the controlled chaos of the rest of the City of Miami Police Department.

  ‘Call me if you get lonely, Sonny Boy,’ Dickerson called after him, as he returned to his paper. ‘I’ve only got one hundred and eighty-three days left. You still got time to learn from the master …’

  The old man’s voice faded away as the hallway crowd got louder. Manny had learned early on to never boast about the strength of a case or predict a conviction. No case was airtight, and especially not this one. He would have to make his case as if he was building a house destined to be hit by a hurricane — slowly, carefully, with a strong foundation.

  He slipped on his Oakley’s and stepped into the scorching sunshine. It was barely June and the humidity was already 95 per cent. He could feel his armpits start to drain as he headed across the steamy asphalt parking lot.

  Bienvenido a Miami.

  5

  By 1:30 on a Tuesday afternoon, the criminal courthouse in downtown Miami was relatively quiet. The frenzied morning calendars had finally been cleared and the defendants, victims, witnesses, family members, defense attorneys, prosecutors and cops were long gone — their cases arraigned, continued, pled-out or set-over for motions or trials on another day. The hallways that had been clogged a few hours earlier were now deserted. Most of the building’s courtrooms were empty and locked, their judges either still at lunch or in recess till the following morning. The courtrooms that were open were either in trial or hearing motions.

  Assistant State Attorney Daria DeBianchi pushed open the heavy doors of 4-10 and made her way into the one courtroom in the building that was still a beehive of activity. On the other side of the railing that partitioned the lawyers from the general audience, an invisible line separated prosecutors from defense attorneys, like a boy/girl middle school dance. Correction officers manned the exits and flanked the jury box, which was also filled with bodies, except they weren’t jurors, they were defendants — all dressed in bright orange jumpsuits, chained together at the wrists and shackled at the ankles. Filling the pews on the ‘state’s side’ of the gallery were detectives and cops. For the defense, it was friends and family. The judge hadn’t yet taken the bench and the courtroom sounded like a playground at recess. Seated at a desk in front of the bench was the judge’s judicial assistant, checking in a line of attorneys while simultaneously digging for gold inside her ear with a curved, glossy black fingernail. Daria took one look at the printed court calendar on top of the podium and sighed heavily. It was over two inches thick. She was gonna be here till friggin’ Christmas …

  Standing four-foot-eleven and three-quarters, and weighing 94 pounds, with wavy auburn hair, blue eyes and skin so fair she broke out in freckles when she was next to an oven, everyone liked to tell Daria that: #1 — she didn’t look Italian, and #2 — she definitely didn’t look like a prosecutor. The Italian thing was understandable, she supposed. Every one of her relatives, including her nonna, was tan, dark-eyed, and blanketed in coarse, black hair all over their stocky, thick bodies. Daria got called ‘mick’ more often than she did ‘guinea’. As for the comments on her non-prosecutorial appearance, she wasn’t sure if those were intended as compliments or condolences, but since she was still getting them five years into her career, she figured the job had neither aged nor hardened her. To compensate for the fact that she wasn’t an Amazon who could arm wrestle an AK47 out of a defendant’s hands before carrying him up the river, she made sure she always wore heels — the higher, the better. And red lipstick — the redder, the better. She’d read in Vogue once that red lipstick made people think you were in control. For the most part it worked. Most defendants weren’t sure whether they should flirt with her or send over a death threat.

  The majestically intimidating, wood-paneled courtroom was standing-room only. In the afternoons 4-10 was reserved solely for Arthur Hearings — bond hearings for badass defendants charged with non-bondable, badass offenses like kidnapping, drug trafficking, and murder. On a good day with a good judge, they were no big deal — a ten or twenty-minute defense fishing expedition that usually ended like it started, with a dangerous defendant denied bond and remanded to the county jail pending trial. But on Tuesdays Arthurs were presided over by Judge Werner Steyn, a former public defender who leaned so far to the left he had trouble standing up straight. That made him the natural favorite of defense attorneys everywhere, who all pushed to have their Arthurs set before him. With Monday’s Memorial Day holiday shortening the work-week, and Steyn dependably late taking the bench, Christmas might actually come and go before she returned to the mess that waited on her desk across the street at the State Attorney’s Office.

  She found her case buried on page 22 of the calendar. With two defendants per page, it wasn’t hard to do the math. Unless she got moved up, there’d be no Toddlers & Tiaras tonight.

  ‘Hi, Harmony,’ she said sweetly when she’d finally made her way on the attorney line up to the clerk’s desk. ‘How are you? How’s your hubby feeling? I heard half of Probation is down with the flu. And it’s almost June. What’s with that?’

  Harmony, the clerk with the name befitting either a stripper or a Life Coach, stared blankly at Daria as if she were a total stranger, not a Division Chief who’d appeared in her courtroom dozens of times before. And with whom she’d had dozens of — obviously meaningless — conversations. Her bulging eyes, which were lined like a dead body at a TV crime scene with black liner, blinked twice. Finally it clicked — at least that she had a husband. ‘Good, he’s good, thank God! Wow! No, no flu. What page you on, hon?’

  So much for charm and chit-chat. ‘Twenty-two. Lunders. Talbot Lunders. Has the defense checked in yet?’

  Harmony leafed through her master calendar. ‘Oh yeah. A while ago. But I got a lot ahead of you now, State; I can’t let you be cutting the line. So you’re gonna be number thirteen, hon.’ She frowned and wagged a black talon to stop the words she knew were coming. ‘And yes, that is the best I can do, even though, I know, I know, it’s an unlucky number, but somebody’s gotta be it.’ Harmony finished with a dismissive sigh, before turning her head to address the lawyer behind Daria. ‘What page you on, hon?’

  Next! It was like getting served slop on a school lunch line. Daria begrudgingly waded into the pack of prosecutors. Thirteen was better than forty-four, but it still meant a long afternoon, although, she thought, as she surveyed the courtroom, her detective didn’t appear to be o
n time anyway. This was her first case with City of Miami Detective Manny Alvarez. Last week he’d been forty-five minutes late for his pre-file without offering up so much as a lame excuse why. Although he had brought her a café con leche and some weird pastry that oozed pink goo, along with a stack of reports that he’d already actually written — something most cops didn’t get around to doing before the third discovery demand, and only after you screamed at them — she was still ticked off. And she was going to be really mad if he pulled the same stunt today, even if he did wind up beating the judge to the bench.

  She peered at the degenerates that filled the jury box to see if her defendant had been brought out yet. He hadn’t. Based on the mug shot clipped to the top of her file, she could expect the ladies in the courtroom to collectively start panting when Corrections ushered him through the door. She wondered if he’d be as striking in person, having fermented in a jail cell for the past couple of weeks.

  Standing up against the wall on the prosecutorial side of the courtroom was her friend Lizette, a Domestics prosecutor, who was waving her over as if she were hailing a cab in rush hour. ‘So what happened to you yesterday, mami?’ Lizette demanded when Daria squeezed in next to her.

  ‘Don’t start,’ Daria replied. Most of the young, single prosecutors in the office had spent Monday’s unofficial start to summer sipping mojitos and sangria by the pool at the Clevelander on South Beach. Judging by the comments she’d fielded all morning, she was the only one who’d missed it. ‘I was at my brother’s all weekend. Dang, you’re tan. Did you fall asleep on a tanning bed or something, Liz? You look like Snooki.’

  Lizette waved a hand in front of her face. ‘I’m Columbian. I got this on the walk across the parking lot,’ she shot back with a Spanish accent that became more pronounced whenever she got flustered or was in front of a Hispanic judge. ‘You missed a good time, girl.’

  ‘Don’t envy me. I spent the past three days babysitting triplets.’

  Lizette curled her lip like she’d smelled two-day-old fish. ‘Triplets?’

  ‘Three-year-old triplets. My brother and his wife went on a cruise to the Bahamas. So while you were working on that tan you deny intentionally working on, I was cutting up hot dogs and watching Disney flicks. Oh, and potty training.’

  The curl grew into a grimace.

  ‘Of course they’re boys, so that means none of ’em can aim for shit. We’re talking the ceiling, the walls, the door — anywhere but the bowl. They’re cute and I love them to pieces, but, man, do I feel old. I was stressed the whole time. Couldn’t sleep. Always afraid one of ’em might slip out in the middle of the night, ride out of town like Paul Revere, naked on top of the Great Dane, waving a Pull-Up in his hand.’

  ‘Great Dane?’

  ‘Her name’s Petunia. She’s shy.’

  ‘I won’t even watch my sister’s fish.’

  ‘Oh, and an albino ferret that the kids like to lock in the dryer.’

  ‘I’ve heard enough.’

  ‘I think my whacked mother’s plan backfired. Instead of rushing out to find myself a husband and jump-start a family, I might go celibate.’ Daria sniffed at her arm. ‘Do I smell like grape jelly to you? I don’t know what they put in that shit, but it stays in your system. I’m sweating it out of my pores. That and peanut butter. And my shoes are sticking to everything.’

  Lizette nodded. ‘You’re right. I would never advocate celibacy, but you’re not the mommy type. Good thing you don’t need a man to have fun.’

  ‘That’s not a real concern right now for me, anyway; it’s easy to give up what you’re not getting.’ Daria frowned before adding, ‘Thanks for the mommy comment. I can be warm and fuzzy, you know.’

  Lizette shrugged. ‘Whatever. So who’re you here on?’

  ‘On today’s menu we have one Talbot Alastair Lunders.’

  ‘What kind of name is that?’

  ‘A family one, I suppose.’

  ‘Obviously not a Miami family. I’m guessing that someone with not one, but two, obnoxious Anglo names must come from money.’

  ‘You’re right. Young Talbot is of the Palm Beach Lunders.’

  ‘Who are the Palm Beach Lunders?’

  ‘Daddy apparently owns some luxury soap company. Or so I’ve been warned.’

  ‘What company is that?’

  ‘Dial.’

  Lizette’s eyes went wide. ‘No shit. Really?’

  Daria laughed. ‘No, not really. Some spa brand I never heard of.’

  Lizette surveyed the jury box. ‘All of the boys today look like they come from the projects, not Palm Beach.’

  ‘Oh, Talbot’s not out yet,’ Daria replied, flashing Lizette the mug shot. The tan playboy with the highlighted, shaggy hairdo and mesmerizing hazel eyes looked more like a brooding Dolce & Gabbana model in his booking photo than a murderer. ‘You’ll probably start drooling when Corrections brings him in. Maybe even consider a career on the Dark Side.’

  Lizette sucked in a breath. ‘If you could guarantee all of my client’s would look like that, I’d enter pleas on their behalf. What crime did poor-little-hot-rich boy commit?’

  ‘Murder.’

  Lizette shook her head. ‘What a shame. My mother can overlook many things in the hunt to find me a husband, but murderer would be a tough sell. Who’d handsome get so mad at?’

  ‘A pretty college kid out clubbing at Menace. She was found in a dumpster near the Design District.’

  ‘Is that the girl who was missing on the news a few weeks ago?’

  Daria nodded.

  ‘The UM kid. Hmmm. I didn’t realize they’d found her.’

  ‘It didn’t make much press,’ Daria answered. That was no coincidence. The University of Miami was a prestigious private university that came with a hefty price tag. Parents who shelled out fifty thousand a year on tuition didn’t like to hear on the nightly news that one of their own had been the random target of a brutal sex maniac while out clubbing underage. So the university brass had contacted all parties involved — including the City of Miami and the State Attorney — to make sure they didn’t. The order was no press conferences, no perp walks when the arrest came. Everything was kept on the down-low, which likely explained why there were no cameras in today’s hearing.

  ‘How’d she die?’ Lizette asked.

  The back door that led to the judge’s chambers suddenly swung open. ‘All rise!’ Steyn’s bailiff shouted. ‘The Honorable Judge Werner Steyn presiding.’

  ‘Good afternoon, all,’ the judge said with the slight hint of a German accent as he took the bench, nodding in the direction of a few cronies from the good ol’ days. ‘Sorry to be running a bit late. Let’s get started; we have a real big calendar today.’

  ‘No cell phones, no cameras, no talking. Be seated and be quiet!’ bellowed the bailiff.

  Everyone in the audience quickly found a seat, while the lawyers pushed up against the walls on their respective sides of the courtroom and Harmony called the first case.

  Daria anxiously scanned the room for any sign of her detective. The one thing she did know about Manny Alvarez was that he was hard to miss. Anywhere. There was no sign of his shiny bald head towering above the packed courtroom crowd.

  Although he hadn’t expressly said it, Daria knew that Vance Collier, the Chief Felony Assistant and right-hand to the State Attorney, had personally assigned her this case for a reason. The Chief of the Sexual Battery Unit was stepping down in September and Daria had let it be known to the powers that be that she was throwing her name in the ring for the job. Holly Skole had been brutally raped before she was murdered. The case was potentially high profile — with a good-looking defendant from a privileged family, a cute coed for a victim, and a heinous, gory murder that was sure to command headlines if not handled correctly. The evidence, while damning, was completely circumstantial, which definitely complicated things. And there were multiple parties within the community whose feathers needed to be stroked, not ruffled, includi
ng the powerful University of Miami, and the even more powerful South Florida press. The State of Florida v. Talbot Lunders would be the perfect test case to see if Daria DeBianchi could head up one of the busiest, most contentious, most emotionally draining units at the State Attorney’s Office.

  But no more than five minutes out of the start gate and the horse she was riding was faltering. And at this point in the race, a stumble could be as tragic as a broken leg. Because if Talbot Lunders got a bond — for whatever reason — she was the one who’d be held responsible. It was always easier to negotiate a plea with a defendant who was behind bars. Statistically, it was also easier to secure a conviction. The biggest concern if Lunders got out was that an accused killer would be running around the streets of Miami for months before his case finally made it to trial. Joe General Public would not be at all happy to hear that. Neither would those powers that be on the third floor of the SAO who were studying her résumé and deciding if she was good enough to move up a rung or two on the company ladder. She was beginning to realize that the heat from the spotlight she’d been placed under could not only set her apart from the crowd, it could burn her just as well.

  The parties on Steyn’s first case began opening arguments. She nibbled on a cuticle while frantically texting with her other hand under the cover of her file.

  Depending on how fast Steyn worked, number thirteen might not be as far off as she once thought it was going to be …

  6

  And she was right.

  Forty-five minutes later, Steyn was listening to arguments on twelve. A large clock hung above the courtroom doors, ticking off minutes and hours with jumbo-sized precision. Every time the doors opened with a whoosh, Daria would look to see if it was Manny. Not only was she consistently disappointed, she was also reminded to the second how late he actually was. He wasn’t answering his texts or picking up his phone, and neither she nor her witness coordinator could get through to anyone in command at Homicide to find out where the hell he was. While it was possible that he was on a case that had taken him beyond cell range, or was lying comatose somewhere in a hospital bed, Daria thought it much more likely her lead detective had either forgotten entirely about today’s hearing, or he’d enjoyed a late lunch and was taking his sweet Cuban time to get to the courthouse, figuring he could milk another hour or so out of a Tuesday afternoon Arthur with Slow Steyn before anyone would start to miss him.

 
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