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Cutting room the, p.5
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       CUTTING ROOM -THE-, p.5

           Jilliane Hoffman
 

  He figured wrong.

  ‘Next up, State of Florida versus Talbot Alastair Lunders,’ announced Harmony.

  Two stone-faced, black-suited lawyers — an older, heavyset man and an attractive woman in her thirties — emerged from the crowd of defense attorneys and approached the podium. The criminal bar in Miami was small; everyone knew each other. The fact that Daria had never seen either of the two people standing before the judge made her more than a little uneasy.

  ‘Joseph Varlack on behalf of the defendant, Talbot Lunders. Appearing with me today is Anne-Claire Simmons.’

  Varlack. She knew the name from somewhere. ‘Daria DeBianchi on behalf of the state. I thought the defendant was being represented by Les Pfeiffer,’ she replied, leafing through her file for the Notice of Appearance from Pfeiffer that she’d tucked away somewhere.

  Joe Varlack looked at her and smiled. ‘Not anymore he’s not. I filed a Substitution of Counsel this morning.’ He handed her a piece of paper. ‘My Notice of Appearance.’

  That was when she spotted the shoes.

  She couldn’t touch them on her state salary, but Daria had a weakness for designer kicks. Her eyes fell on the unmistakably red sole of a pair of Christian Louboutin black patent pumps that Varlack’s co-counsel was wearing. Then on his shiny, manicured fingernails, which perfectly complimented the snazzy Rolex he had strapped to his wrist. Her Bottega Venetta handbag. His Louis Vuitton briefcase. The impeccably tailored suits on both of them that Daria — the great-granddaughter of a legendary tailor from Spoleto, Italy — just knew had to be Italian. The Palm Beach Lunders must have up and hired Palm Beach attorneys. Expensive Palm Beach attorneys.

  ‘Are we ready?’ asked the judge.

  ‘The defendant’s on his way out, Judge,’ offered Corrections. ‘Two minutes.’

  ‘The defense is ready to proceed,’ Varlack responded.

  Daria hesitated. ‘Your Honor, I’m waiting on my detective. Perhaps we could pass this case?’

  Varlack looked at his pretty watch, then pointed it at Steyn, just in case the judge couldn’t make out the huge timepiece above the courtroom doors. ‘Your Honor, Ms Simmons and I were here at one o’clock. I expected the state and their witnesses to be here and be ready by one-thirty, which is the time this matter was set down for. I have a pressing engagement back in Palm Beach, which is why I specifically requested that the clerk put us on the calendar early today, and which is why I made sure I was here on time and ready to proceed.’

  ‘I understand, Mr Varlack,’ Judge Steyn responded with a conciliatory nod. ‘Your time is valuable. What do you want? A continuance, then?’

  The light bulb went off. Joe Varlack. Varlack, Metzer, Shearson & A Thousand Other Peon Associates Whose Names No One Besides Their Own Mothers Ever Remembers. Attorneys to fallen movie stars, wayward athletes and corrupt Fortune 500 companies. Their retainers alone were more than what most people made in a year. Forget the name, Daria should’ve recognized Joe Varlack from his TV days, when he used to do a Channel Ten Nightly News ‘Justice with Joe’ segment. That was a decade or so ago — before he represented his first rock star and his legal career took off. Other rock stars began to fill his appointment book, along with football players and basketball greats — apparently leaving Justice Joe no time to dispense legal advice at six and eleven anymore to all the regular Joes sitting at home in front of their TVs. It must’ve been all those fancy client dinners over the past ten years that helped him pack an extra hundred or so pounds on to an already hefty six-foot frame, which probably explained why she didn’t recognize him right away from his glory days on Channel Ten. And it must’ve been one of those eccentric, fading rock stars from the seventies who’d convinced him that it would be a good idea to let his hair grow out, too. What was still left of it, anyway. Shiny bald on top with a set of jowls that were more befitting a Bull Mastiff, and a ponytail of yellowed white curls running down his back, the man definitely made an intimidating impression, no matter what he was saying, which, even in his TV heyday, always seemed to be at decibel level 10. She was gonna kill Manny Alvarez. Of all the cases to screw with her on …

  ‘Your Honor, I’d like to be heard on bond,’ Varlack bellowed. ‘The state’s not prepared, but I am. It would be unfair to reset this matter and let Talbot languish in jail all because the state doesn’t have its act together. He’s an upstanding young man with no criminal record. His family is very important and highly respected in the community, as you probably know. He’s the managing director for the Southeast Division of Flower & Honey Bath Products. He has well-established roots; he’s not some drifter that won’t show up for court. He’s not a danger by any stretch. Had the state been ready, you would’ve seen that the case against him is entirely circumstantial. In fact, as an attorney who’s been practicing for forty years representing other high-profile clients, I’m frankly shocked Talbot was even arrested. The fact that he was lured down to Miami and arrested like common street scum, without being given the courtesy to surrender himself, is outrageous. His arrest was done for show and to usher in a quick end to this case for the City of Miami Police Department — damn the consequences. It’s imperative Talbot be released so that he can aid in his defense of these very serious charges and attempt to regain his and his family’s good name.’

  Daria bit her cheek so hard she drew blood, trying to contain the stream of expletives that wanted to fly out of her mouth. Most defense attorneys gave you a break and agreed to a continuance before they bitched about you not being ready or got on a soapbox about client persecution. And most did not grandstand about their big-name clients. Especially socialites nobody’d ever heard of anyway. What a prick.

  Unfortunately, Steyn looked impressed. ‘What do you propose?’

  ‘The Lunders family is willing to post one hundred and fifty thousand dollars in cash today as bond. If the court deems it necessary, Talbot is also willing to submit to an ankle bracelet. I believe that’s more than adequate.’

  An inmate in the box whooped. ‘Someone be bringing home the Benjamins!’

  ‘I have to agree that does sound reasonable,’ Steyn replied, ignoring the outburst. ‘State?’

  ‘Your Honor, the defendant’s been charged with murder, not jaywalking,’ Daria protested incredulously. ‘The case goes before the grand jury tomorrow, where Mr Varlack knows his client will be indicted, which is why he set down this matter for today and is pressing for a bond today, because once his client is indicted for capital murder, he’ll be hard-pressed to find any judge that will give him the time of day when it comes to seeking a bond and he knows it. That’s because the evidence will show in this case that Talbot Lunders tortured, raped, and brutally murdered Holly Skole.’

  Steyn was shaking his head. ‘No it won’t, Counsel, because you’re not—’

  A loud, boisterous hoot broke out from the hallway, causing heads to turn and Steyn to stop in mid-sentence. A split-second later the door opened and hearty laughter filled the room.

  ‘—ready,’ finished the judge.

  It wasn’t hard to place the laugh. It belonged on a big body.

  ‘Actually, I believe I am ready,’ Daria announced before even turning around to confirm that it was, in fact, Manny — accompanied by two other city detectives, who were also in stitches but not half as loud — who’d walked through the door. All three were completely oblivious to the fact that they’d momentarily shut down court.

  Judge Steyn scowled. The defense team simultaneously rolled their eyes.

  ‘Detective, nice of you to join us,’ Steyn sniped.

  ‘I was out in the hall, Judge. Dixon just came and told me you called my case?’ Dixon was the correction officer manning the courtroom door, who nodded at the judge.

  Steyn glared at Daria.

  The jangle of chains and leg irons sounded from the jury deliberation room as the door opened and a new crop of unruly defendants shuffled into the courtroom and the old ones shuffled out. ‘Take your seats
and ya’all shut up, now!’ the CO barked as he moved them into their seats. ‘The defendant is present, Judge.’

  ‘Thank you,’ Steyn said, rubbing his temple. ‘You don’t need to tell them to shut up. Be quiet is fine.’

  ‘They won’t do that, neither, Judge,’ replied the CO. ‘They’re a rowdy bunch today.’

  Daria looked over at the box. Her defendant definitely stood out, and not just because he was the only white guy in the row. Apparently unaffected by the commotion around him, he stared into the gallery, a curious smile on his face, like he knew a joke that no one else was getting. Even in that hideous orange jumpsuit, dressed to the nines in shackles and leg irons, with stubble on his cheeks and his highlighted hair a bit greasy, he was still — dare she say it? — handsome. Really handsome. Like suck-in-your-breath, Brad-Pitt-in-Thelma and Louise-handsome. The thought made her brain cringe and she shook it right out of her head.

  ‘Hello? State? Are you with us?’ the judge was asking.

  Daria looked back at Manny. ‘Can I have a moment, Your Honor, to confer with my detective?’

  ‘No,’ Steyn replied, annoyed. ‘The defendant is here, counsel is here, your detective is finally here, you said you’re ready, so have at it.’ He leaned back in his chair with a loud squeak and folded his arms across his chest. ‘Don’t bother with an opening; I’ve read the arrest form. Give me the meat and potatoes and get on with it.’

  In a perfect world, Daria would’ve had at least a few minutes to run through the questions she was about to ask. But the world was far from perfect.

  So without further delay, she opened her file and called City of Miami Detective Manny Alvarez to the stand.

  7

  ‘State your name and position for the record, please.’ Although she couldn’t scream at him, Daria shot Manny a look that would freeze water.

  He grinned back at her. ‘Manuel Alvarez, City of Miami Homicide.’

  ‘How long have you been so employed?’

  Manny pulled thoughtfully on his oversized mustache. ‘Let’s see, I’ve been a cop since eighty-nine, and in Homicide since ninety-two, so altogether I’ve been doing this for twenty-three years, State.’ He smiled again.

  She glared at her notes.

  And so began the direct examination of Manny Alvarez.

  To hold someone without bond, the state had to present enough of a case to show that ‘proof was evident and presumption was great’ that a crime was committed and the defendant was the one who’d committed it — a higher standard of proof than even ‘beyond a reasonable doubt’, which was what she was going to need for a conviction. But the rules of evidence were much more relaxed at an Arthur than they were at trial and hearsay was admissible, so that the only witness you usually needed to testify was your lead detective or arresting officer. The more experienced the detective the better, because, like a movie trailer that gives you the gist of what a movie’s about in a seriously condensed, really exciting version, you needed to tell just enough of your story at an Arthur to keep your defendant behind bars without giving away the entire investigation. Plus, the more times someone told a detailed story, the more times he or she was bound to tell it with different details, and even the most innocent of misstatements could and would be used later on to poke holes in the state’s case or impeach a witness’s credibility. What you definitely didn’t want was an unproven detective, or one who ran at the mouth, providing the defense with a sworn transcript full of ammunition. With all those years of experience, Manny didn’t need his hand held; when she asked a question he ran with the ball and made the shot. Normally she’d be thrilled to have such a stellar witness. Today his competence only irritated her all the more.

  She’d led him smoothly through his credentials and then up through the initial investigation when Holly’s body was first found in the dumpster. The bumps started right after she asked him to describe the condition of the body.

  ‘She was buried in garbage, wearing nothing but a pair of black panties,’ Manny answered, without needing to refer to his notes. ‘She’d sustained visible traumatic injuries to her face, feet and neck. I also saw nasty bind marks on her wrists and ankles, indicating she’d been tied up for a period before she was murdered.’

  Joe Varlack sprang to his feet. ‘Objection! Speculation!’

  ‘An autopsy was performed by Dr Gunther Trauss of the Miami-Dade ME’s office,’ Manny continued, basically ignoring Varlack.

  ‘There’s an objection pending,’ barked the defense attorney. ‘I guess the detective didn’t hear me.’

  ‘Your Honor,’ Daria responded, ‘Detective Alvarez has been investigating murders for eighteen years. We can assume that he knows rope burns on someone’s wrists when he sees them. We’re getting to the autopsy, which will confirm the detective’s observations.’

  Steyn nodded. ‘Go on.’

  She held up the autopsy report. ‘What was Dr Trauss’s determination as to the cause of death?’

  ‘Manuel asphyxiation. She was choked to death with bare hands. She had finger marks on her throat, bruising, and a crushed larynx.’ Manny looked over at the defense table and smiled smugly. ‘I observed that, too.’

  ‘And the bind marks on her wrists?’

  ‘Dr Trauss determined that she was tied up with rope and tortured prior to her death.’

  ‘Objection,’ interrupted Varlack again. ‘Not only is this hearsay, but it calls for speculation, both on the part of the detective and the pathologist.’

  Daria sighed heavily so that everyone in the courtroom could hear. Patience was not her strong suit. She was gonna hit stop-and-go traffic the whole way home. Either Varlack was trying to fluster her by making loud, dumb objections or he was an idiot. ‘This is not trial, Counsel,’ she shot back sharply. ‘It’s a bond hearing and the last time I checked, hearsay is admissible. Judge, the ME’s report extensively details Ms Skole’s injuries — the victim was most definitely tortured before she was murdered. And as much as Counsel might not like that word or want to hear it, torture goes to show premeditation, which is an element of first-degree murder, which is the crime his client has been charged with. If Mr Varlack wants to second-guess the findings of the Medical Examiner, let him do so at his deposition or at trial or in a written motion, but once again, this is a bond hearing. Now, can I get on with my case, or are we gonna bicker all afternoon about how to conduct an Arthur Hearing way down here in the bowels of Miami? Because I thought Mr Varlack had a pressing appointment back home with one of his degenerate high-profile clients in Palm Beach.’

  Justice Joe looked taken aback, followed by embarrassed and then, finally, really, really angry — all in a spate of thirty seconds. The shiny part of his head turned red. It was war. And just like that, Daria had eliminated yet another law firm to float out a résumé to in the event she ever did decide to go into private practice. She had to stop doing that. With a pile of law school loans to still pay back, a $44,000 career as a prosecutor wasn’t supposed to last forever.

  ‘You don’t need to worry yourself about my schedule, Counsel,’ Varlack hissed.

  She shrugged. ‘Take a look at the law on a subject before you start making objections, is all I’m saying. It will make this go faster for all of us.’

  ‘Enough,’ Steyn cautioned, obviously flustered. ‘Both of you, take your corners. Continue, Ms DeBianchi.’

  Daria turned her attention to Manny. ‘If you would, please describe Holly Skole’s injuries.’

  ‘She had a traumatic burn mark on the back of her neck and severe chemical burns on the soles of her feet and on her face, most likely caused by sulfuric acid,’ Manny answered.

  Those who had actually been listening in the courtroom collectively gasped. And that made all the others who were still whisper-chatting amongst themselves or reading files or secretly checking and sending texts stop and listen. The courtroom went completely quiet.

  ‘She’d been both vaginally and anally raped,’ continued Manny. ‘Toxicolo
gy reports indicate that she’d also been injected with, or force-fed, large amounts of diphenhydramine and dextromethorphan, the chemical compounds found in cough syrup and sleep aids that produce hallucinations in high enough doses. Her wrists were abraded where she’d been bound with rope, and she had cuts on her gums, indicating she’d been perhaps fitted with a bit, like a horse — all indications of sadomasochistic behavior.’ Manny turned and gave the defense counsel a steely look before finishing with his next sentence: ‘Yet another clue she’d been tortured before she was murdered.’

  Varlack snorted loudly but said nothing. The spanking had worked.

  Daria hid her smile and the ice began to thaw. ‘What caused you to believe that Mr Lunders was responsible for Holly’s death?’

  ‘On Monday, April eighteenth, Holly’s roommate, Jenny Demchar, reported Holly missing to Coral Gables police. Holly had gone out two nights earlier to the Miami nightclub Menace to celebrate a friend’s birthday, but didn’t come home. When she didn’t show up for class, Ms Demchar and Holly’s other friend, Esther Flicker — the girl whose birthday Holly’d been celebrating — went back to Menace and discovered Holly’s locked car parked in a municipal lot under the 395 overpass. Ms Demchar called the police. A missing persons investigation was opened by Coral Gables and, pursuant to that investigation, surveillance video from the nightclub was pulled, which records Holly leaving Menace at 4:16 a.m. with an, at the time, unknown white male. Coral Gables Detective John Coffey obtained additional video footage from a nearby traffic cam, which shows Holly getting into the passenger side of a dark-colored, late-model Mercedes. Visible in the video is the last digit of the plate. It was “Z”, as in Zulu.

 
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