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Cutting room the, p.6
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       CUTTING ROOM -THE-, p.6

           Jilliane Hoffman
 

  ‘Holly was entered into NCIC — the National Crime Information Center — as a missing person. Her photo, along with a still photo of the vehicle from the traffic cam and a still photo of the individual seen leaving Menace with Holly were distributed in the community and broadcast on several local television news stations.’

  Daria held up a poster. ‘Are these the photographs you’re referring to?’

  ‘Yes. That’s a Crime Stoppers reward poster. A thousand-dollar reward was set up requesting information on Holly’s disappearance.’

  She moved the poster into evidence and continued. ‘After Holly was entered into NCIC, what happened?’

  ‘Holly’s body was subsequently discovered on April twenty-fifth and her death was classified a homicide. A couple of weeks later I was contacted by a Ms Marie Modic of Hallendale, Florida. She told me that she’d been in Menace on Saturday night, May seventh, and in the club’s bathroom she’d seen the Crime Stoppers poster. She recognized the male in the surveillance photo and called me. I interviewed her at the nail salon where she works and she identified the man in the Crime Stoppers’ photo as “T”, a guy she’d talked to in Menace on the night of April sixteenth, which was the same night Holly Skole had been in the club and disappeared. “T” was the name he went by, but Ms Modic didn’t know his full name. He flashed a lot of cash, was dressed real nice. Said he was, quote, “slumming it down in Miami”, endquote. Said he came from the land of the Trumps and Kennedys, where the real money is.

  ‘So this “T” bought Marie Modic a couple of drinks and then asked her if she wanted to come back to his suite at the Mandarin. She initially said yes, at which time he placed his keys on the bar to pay the bar tab and she saw a car key with the Mercedes logo. Attached to the key was a metal plate that said, ‘Automotive Expert’. Ms Modic then excused herself to go to the bathroom, where she said she had second thoughts about going with “T”. Something just didn’t sit right with her about him and she was not feeling well physically, so she texted her girlfriend, who was also in the club, and asked her to get the car and meet her outside. She snuck out the back entrance. Stepping into the car is the last thing she remembers that night. She blanked out until the next morning, when she woke up in her apartment some seventeen hours later. Her girlfriend told her that as soon as she’d gotten into the car she’d pretty much passed out. She now believes she was drugged by the defendant.’

  ‘Objection! How much leniency are you gonna give this prosecutor, Judge? Hearsay upon hearsay, and now we have a medical opinion being offered up from a nail tech who downed one too many free drinks,’ barked Varlack. He threw his hands up in frustration.

  ‘Sustained,’ replied the judge. ‘Move on, Ms DeBianchi.’

  ‘How did you come to identify this “T” as being the defendant, Talbot Lunders?’

  ‘I contacted a company called Automotive Experts, a high-end car dealership with offices in Palm Beach and Stuart. I spoke with the owner and had him pull records for late-model Mercedes sales within the past two years. Then I did a records check on all of the Mercedes sold by Automotive Experts for plates ending in “Z”, and I found a black 2010 S-class registered to Abigail Charmaine Lunders, age forty-six. A background check on her revealed that she was the wife of Frederick Alastair Lunders, age sixty-seven. An insurance check on the vehicle listed Talbot Alastair Lunders, age twenty-eight, as an additional authorized driver of the vehicle. I pulled Mr Lunders’s driver’s license and identified him as the guy captured on the surveillance video leaving Menace with Holly Skole. Marie Modic also identified him through his DL — his driver’s license photo. A search warrant for the Mercedes was obtained and executed on May thirteenth.’

  ‘What did you find?’

  ‘A lipstick compact was recovered under the front passenger seat of the car, along with three long blonde hairs that the lab subsequently confirmed matched the chemical composition of Ms Skole’s hair dye. Fingerprints were also lifted from the lipstick case, which matched both the index and thumbprints on Ms Skole’s right hand. DNA analysis of the lipstick is pending. Fingerprints matching Ms Skole’s right thumb and right palm were also found on the inside door handle of the passenger side of the vehicle. So we know she was in that car.’

  ‘Objection.’

  ‘Overruled.’

  ‘Was the defendant present when the Mercedes was seized?’

  ‘Yes. It was seized from the parking lot of Flower & Honey Bath Products in Palm Beach, where Mr Lunders works. He appeared very agitated and upset, pacing the lot, threatening to call his attorney. His mother accompanied him. She wasn’t very happy, either. At that time I asked him if he wanted to talk about the disappearance of Holly Skole. He declined.

  ‘Three days later, while lab results were pending, I learned that the very afternoon the Benz was seized, Mr Lunders had gone and listed his 2008 Cigarette High-Performance Top Gun for sale through a broker in Coconut Grove, Miami. The racing boat was being offered for thirty percent less than other Cigarettes listed for sale of the same year and style. That raised my eyebrows way up. So I ran a system search of airline flights and learned that one T. Lunders was booked on a one-way JetBlue flight out of Palm Beach International to New York’s JFK the following afternoon. And a T. Lunders and A. Lunders were also booked on a Lufthansa flight to Zurich the day after that. His mother’s name is Abigail Lunders. Based on that, Mr Lunders was asked to come down to his boat broker to provide additional paperwork to facilitate the pending sale of his boat. When he arrived at the marina, I approached the defendant, identified myself once again, and told him his boat was being searched pursuant to a homicide investigation. Mr Lunders didn’t like that; he again declined to talk to us.’

  ‘Objection!’ Varlack barked. ‘The defendant has a right against self-incrimination! He doesn’t have to talk to the police if he doesn’t want to and that can’t be used against him. That’s Criminal Law 101!’

  Steyn frowned. ‘Was the defendant free to go at that time?’

  ‘I had not yet taken him into custody,’ Manny replied.

  ‘That, I’m thinking, is going to be up for debate in a future motion,’ the judge replied with a cocked eyebrow. ‘Sustained.’

  ‘The fingerprint analysis of both the lipstick and the prints left on the interior passenger door of the Mercedes confirmed Ms Skole had been in Abigail Lunders’s vehicle,’ Manny continued. ‘Based on the prints and hair of the victim being found in his car, the video surveillance of her getting into the defendant’s car, and then the quick sell-off of his worldly possessions and his impending flight from the jurisdiction to a country that doesn’t have an extradition treaty with the US, a decision was made to arrest him for the murder of Holly Anne Skole.’

  That was enough for the judge. Particularly the Switzerland flight. As much as Joe Varlack and his well-heeled sidekick tried for the next twenty minutes to downplay the evidence as circumstantial and unreliable, and discredit Manny as biased, sloppy, lazy — and a zillion other disingenuous adjectives — there was no way that even liberal, let-’em-go, Slow Steyn was going to give Talbot Lunders a bond. Enough dots had been connected to keep him behind bars pending trial. And the truth be told, it was an election year. If Steyn did let Talbot Alastair Lunders of the Palm Beach Lunders buy his way out of the pokey with $150,000 in cold, hard cash, the press would start screaming favorable treatment for the rich and it would be difficult for anyone to argue otherwise come the August primaries.

  Harmony called up the next case and a fresh set of attorneys approached the podiums, ready to do battle. The lurid transfixion that had held the audience captive during Talbot Lunders’s Arthur finally broke, and the hushed conversations and illicit texting started up once again as courtroom life returned to normal. Case file in hand, Daria made her way past the rows of spectators to the majestic mahogany doors. With her palm on the handle, she turned to look back at the box. Joe Varlack and Anne-Claire Simmons were standing outside the jury box, at the side of t
heir client, who was at the far end of the box. Although they were speaking in hushed voices and she was too far away to hear what was being said, it wasn’t hard to read the body language — both attorneys were pissed and the client wasn’t listening. More than not listening, handsome Talbot wasn’t even affected. And that was what held her attention as she stood at the door. Accused of a brutal murder, remanded to a jail cell for the foreseeable future, facing imminent indictment by the grand jury, and, ultimately, a possible death sentence, and the guy seemed about as interested or affected as if the crowd around him were discussing the weather in Nepal. She’d seen cold-blooded gang members more worked up over a traffic ticket. He almost seemed amused.

  Just as she was thinking that her defendant’s reaction, or lack thereof, to what was happening was bizarre and disturbing, she saw his lips move. Then, with a smug smirk, he raised his shackled hands together and pointed straight at Daria across the room. Those in the courtroom who had been watching the exchange looked over at her, which, in turn, started a chain reaction of courtroom rubbernecking — everyone wanting to see what or who the accused sadist was pointing at with his jingling chains, like the Ghost of Christmas Past.

  The blood rushed to her face. It was as if she’d been caught peeking in someone’s bedroom window and now the whole neighborhood was up and out on the front lawn staring at her. The case file slipped from her hands, spilling papers and crime-scene photos all over the floor. She rushed to pick them up and dropped her purse. Makeup, pens, tampons, loose change, and an assortment of hoarded receipts shot everywhere. Court again came to a complete halt. Dixon, the correction officer who was manning the door, and Manny both stooped down to help her.

  ‘Thank you,’ she mumbled to both men as she hurriedly stuffed papers into her file and things into her purse. ‘It must’ve slipped.’

  After a few painful, all-too-quiet minutes, the judge finally broke the rubbernecking trance. ‘Okay, back to work, everyone. Ms DeBianchi, you got it together there? You okay now?’

  Daria waved a hand in the general direction of the bench. She wished she could disappear.

  ‘Harmony, where’s my file on Acevedo?’ Slow Steyn barked. ‘This is the wrong one, I think.’ Court started up once more.

  ‘Let’s go now!’ Corrections shouted. ‘Take your seats. That means you, too, Lunders! Caused enough trouble now, didn’t ya, pretty boy?’

  ‘I think she’s hot for him,’ she heard one observer in the gallery remark with a chuckle.

  ‘I got the door, Counselor,’ Manny said as Daria stood to leave. ‘Have a nice day, Judge,’ he called with a wave as she scuttled past.

  Once in the hallway, Daria took a breath and tried to shake off her embarrassment. She felt like a complete idiot, dropping her file all over the floor like an incompetent intern. Or worse, like a flustered schoolgirl who’d made eye contact with the school quarterback.

  Why the hell had she gotten so rattled? Why had she lost her composure? It pissed her off, was what it did.

  Maybe it was curiosity. Maybe it was defiance. Or maybe it was an attempt to reestablish her authority that had made her steal one final glance in the direction of the box as the mahogany doors began to close behind her with a hydraulic hiss. Whatever her intent, whatever the reasoning, she instantly wished she hadn’t. Because in all her years prosecuting terrible men for the terrible things they’d done, she’d never before felt the icy-cold sensation of fear race through her veins when she looked at a defendant. She’d never before had to fight off an overwhelming urge to run as hard and as fast as she could away from a moment. And she had never before wished that she’d not been assigned a case.

  But that day had come.

  Her defendant had not moved. He had not sat down. He was still standing in the box, still pointing at her with his manacled hands, a knowing smile frozen on his face, as if he knew exactly what she was thinking. As if he knew she would try to look at him once again, try to break him. The Ghost of Christmas Future now, staring at her as though she had none. Watching her at the door she’d just walked through, those beautiful hazel eyes of his fixed on the small sliver of her person that remained visible before the door finally closed and the judge ordered him removed from the courtroom.

  8

  ‘Looks like somebody’s got herself a secret admirer,’ Manny said with a touch of sing-song in his voice that made him sound like a pesky little brother. ‘I wouldn’t get too excited, though. Your new friend reminds me too much of Michael Myers. You know, the psycho from Halloween. The guy who chased sexy Jamie Lee Curtis around for a night in that freaky mask while he whacked all her friends to pieces—’

  ‘Yeah, I got it, Detective,’ Daria replied, as she turned away from the courtroom and headed toward the bank of escalators, the hurried clicking of her pumps echoing like a jackhammer down the deserted hallway. She was still embarrassed about dropping her file. ‘The guy is definitely creepy.’

  ‘So’s his lawyers. The big guy, anyway. What’s with the pony?’

  ‘Ha.’

  ‘What guy gets a fucking manicure? Come on. Don’t think I didn’t spot those pudgy, girly hands, Counselor. Never worked an honest day in his life, I bet. Wait a second, he’s a lawyer. Of course he hasn’t. They’re all scumbags.’

  ‘Remember who you’re talking to, Detective. I have an Esq after my name, too.’

  ‘Present company excluded, of course. I meant defense lawyers.’

  ‘Uh-huh.’

  ‘We worked the room in there, didn’t we, Counselor?’ Manny said with a grin, waving at a couple of cops down the hall, who waved back. ‘Like Sonny and Cher, we were. What a team.’

  ‘Hmmm. Sonny and Cher?’

  ‘You know, I remember Varlack from that news show he used to do on Channel Ten. “Advice with Joey” or whatever. He was a big bag of wind back then, too. Damn, has Father Time been hard on that guy. Looks like he ate Father Time,’ Manny remarked with a chuckle. ‘Do you think he really believed his deranged client was gonna walk out of here today because Mom and Pop were waving a big, fat check at the system?’

  Daria stepped on the escalator going down. ‘Well, if you’d been a minute later, he probably would have,’ she replied coolly.

  ‘Uh-oh. You’re mad,’ Manny replied, following her.

  ‘You’re quick.’

  ‘I wasn’t late. I was here the whole time,’ he said, taking the fat file from her arms. ‘Let me get that for you. It’s heavy and you look so tired. And cranky.’

  ‘Hey there, Manny!’ a defense attorney called from behind them. ‘You going to the game tonight?’

  ‘Not tonight. I got tickets for Saturday.’

  ‘See ya there!’ the lawyer replied before disappearing into a courtroom.

  He turned his attention back to her. ‘Like I said, you look drained. Give me that.’

  The man knew everyone and everyone knew him. She handed her file over without a fight. ‘Bullshit. I texted you a dozen times — no Manny.’

  ‘There’s your problem. I never text. Hate that thing. The world is going to shit, Counselor; no one talks to nobody no more. Everyone just sends cryptic messages. Can’t even bother to spell out the fucking words — pardon the English. I’m old school — call me if you need me. That’s not so hard.’

  ‘I can’t call you when court’s in session.’

  ‘You’re not supposed to text, either.’

  ‘You were so not out in the hall.’

  ‘I was, too. Dixon came and got me.’

  ‘You were drinking coffee downstairs in the cafeteria; I can still smell the espresso on your breath. Don’t lie.’

  Manny smiled again. ‘You’re good. Let me clarify: I was in the building the whole time. My buddy told me we were on page twenty-two. I’ve been before Slow Steyn enough damn times to know that means I had at least an hour. That guy is never on time.’

  ‘Your source is unreliable. We got moved up.’

  ‘And I was still there on time. No
harm, no foul.’

  Daria shook her head. ‘Next time I’m gonna lie to you. Have you here two hours before kick-off. That’ll teach you.’

  ‘I’ve been doing this for a long while, Counselor; I know every trick in the book. And I always make it. Always. Ask anybody.’

  She sighed. ‘I can’t live like that.’

  He laughed. ‘I like how you shot down the Palm Beachers. Now that was fun to watch. You got a set of cojones on you, Little Lady. That’s a good thing to have in this building.’

  She really wanted to stay mad at him, but unfortunately it wasn’t sticking. ‘Thank you,’ she replied. ‘I’m ignoring the short comment for now, though I want you to know I don’t like jokes about my height. The hearing went pretty smooth, considering. But don’t count out Yin and Yang just yet. They get paid a lot of money for a reason. Today was a fishing expedition, and they netted more than a few fish and a real good understanding of where we are with our case. Or, more telling, where we are not. I don’t imagine they’ll be making deals anytime soon. Which brings me to my biggest concern: Kuzak’s going to the grand jury on this tomorrow. You know that, right?’ Guy Kuzak was a seasoned prosecutor and the only ASA who presented cases to the grand jury.

  ‘I’ve already met with Guy. Don’t worry, Counselor, I’ll be there at nine.’

  ‘Yeah, well, I am worried. But if everything goes like it did today, and you testify the way you did on the stand, I’m confident the good people of Miami-Dade County will do the right thing and indict. Now I’m thinking ahead. If our defendant’s not talking and he’s not plea-bargaining, then for trial purposes, we’re gonna need something tangible to tie him to the murder: blood, semen, hair, smoking gun. Any of the above would be nice. Anything on the boat?’

  ‘We’re running tests on shredded fibers that were found in the bathroom of the cabin and the driver’s side floorboard of the Mercedes. They were black viscose and spandex with a shiny silver poly weave that would seem to match the shirt Holly was wearing when she disappeared, but because the shirt was never found, we have nothing to compare it to. I’ll try to track down where and when she might’ve bought it. If it was recent enough, then maybe I can get the same shirt and test it against the found fibers.’

 
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