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Last witness, p.6
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       Last Witness, p.6

           Jilliane Hoffman

  Then, without another word, he stood and slipped out the door, carefully sidestepping the still-sleeping Lucy on his way out.


  Dominick had only to look at the mutilated, bloody body of Officer Bruce Angelillo in the front seat of the white and green Miami-Dade cruiser to know that it was the same killer. Or a copycat with a great eye for detail, and a mole in the MBPD – because most of the horrible details of Chavez’s brutal death had been kept under wraps to prevent just that. The windows were caked red with drying blood; the throat left raw and exposed, the macabre smile now recognized as the signature of a vicious killer. Handcuffed hands still held the wheel fast, the name ‘Angelillo’ ripped from his uniform, stolen along with his badge and ID. All the facts told the same story. With one exception. Officer Angelillo still had his tongue, although it had been rearranged.

  The media had descended upon the scene like ravenous wolves, forcing FHP and Miami-Dade to close the exits off of the Turnpike and the Dolphin Expressway during, of all times, Monday morning rush-hour traffic. News choppers hovered overhead, taking pictures from a thousand different angles of the mob of poncho-wearing detectives below, and news vans stopped wherever they could on the roadways, raising their forty-foot satellite antennas, straining to get a better look for their live feeds to New York and LA. The result was, for the fortunate, a two-hour commute into downtown. The not-so-fortunate ended up victims in the string of accidents, caused by mindless rubberneckers and the unending rain.

  The rain had drowned out any hope of discovering trace evidence in the parking lot or the surrounding area. Gone were potential tire tracks, footprints and bloodstains. Hair, fiber, and DNA that ordinarily might have lingered behind – caught on a branch or stuck on a cigarette butt or left on a piece of gum – were forever washed away in the violent storms.

  The ME had come and gone by 8:30 that morning, taking Angelillo’s body – along with a few news vans – with him back to the morgue. The parking lot, though, remained infested throughout the day with patrol cars and cops. The yellow crime scene tape hung like crêpe paper at a party – all over everything – battered by the weather and trampled by investigators.

  The cruiser had been discovered at 4:45 that morning by an FHP trooper who had passed a couple of times and noticed the Miami-Dade cruiser sitting motionless, its engine running. Irked that the officer inside might be catching Zs while he was catching speeders up and down Florida’s Turnpike, he had decided to give the lazy shit a piece of his mind when he opened the cruiser’s door in the pouring rain. Dominick suspected the twenty-year veteran would be putting in for retirement by the end of the day.

  At 10:00 a.m., the press conferences began. Everywhere. MDPD, MBPD, FDLE, FHP – and practically every other police department in Miami, including the 24-man department of Surfside PD – assuaged the fears of the citizens in their jurisdiction with reports of the investigation and the precautions their officers were taking. Facts were misspoken and, even worse, accurate facts were leaked in detail. The result was a mess. Lines at all departments were jammed with calls from worried citizens as the rumors spread. Is it the work of terrorists? Is it gangs? Is it a serial killer? And the reports of suspects and suspicious persons piled up, everyone now feeling compelled to turn in that strange neighbor with the dog that barks all night, or the co-worker with the beady eyes who complained over lunch that all cops were assholes after he got a speeding ticket.

  By noon the real infighting began – each department ticked off at the other for blabbing to the press, for ignoring that unspoken code of conduct of the blue jacket: United we stand, divided we fall. Chaos had ensued. Two departments had jurisdiction over two separate, but obviously related, murders, and no one wanted to now share their information. And just as Dominick had expected, all the squabbling attracted the unwanted attention of a mighty large predator, one who waited to scoop up the juicy meat left behind when the others killed each other off.

  The call came a little after 1:00 p.m., when RD Black was handed the phone in FDLE’s state-of-the-art new conference room, and told to hold the line for the FBI’s Miami Special Agent in Charge, Mark Gracker. While he was holding, Fulton chirped in on the Nextel to advise the Director that a few carloads of FBI Special Agents had just arrived on scene to see if they could be of any assistance.

  With the mall as a backdrop in the pouring rain, a somber, but still wide-eyed, reporter held the microphone tightly. She struggled to contain her obvious excitement as she relayed in detail the latest handiwork of a killer who seemingly held a grudge against police officers. ‘Are these cold-blooded executions actually the calculated retaliation of vindictive gang members, as has been theorized in the Miami Beach slaying? Or is it something worse – perhaps, a link between the drug cartels and PD corruption? Or can it be simply a perverse madman who has Miami’s police departments – the designated protectors of society themselves – scrambling now to protect their own from a killer?

  ‘Whoever it is has now got South Florida’s finest exchanging their blue jackets for black mourning suits, at what will surely be yet another somber send-off for an officer killed in the line of duty.’ She threw in the appropriate two-second pause before frowning sincerely and then signing off. ‘This is Katie Cocuy for CNN News.’

  Miami was back in the spotlight, at the forefront of breaking news. And everyone was going to be working overtime to nail the killer with the now-catchy, macabre nickname.

  The Black Jacket.


  C.J. sat at her desk, looking down at the mammoth puddles on 13th Street. The driving rain fell equally hard on the private defense attorneys in their expensive tailored suits, and the more conservatively dressed civil servants – the ASAs and Public Defenders.

  Directly across the street from the courthouse sat the Dade County Jail – DCJ as it was known – a nightmarish mass of dull gray and steel mesh. Under a short overhang, people milled about, waiting for a loved one, or an associate, or their pimp, to make bond and get released. Green-uniformed corrections officers periodically shooed the undesirables away from the jail’s entrance, but they kept drifting back.

  C.J. plotted the path that she herself would need to take in just a few moments. Jury selection in her first-degree murder trial was scheduled for 9:00 a.m. before the Honorable Judge Sy Penney and it was already 8:42. In the corner of her office, on a metal cart, sat four heavy trial boxes that somehow needed to make it across the street in a dry condition.

  Atop her metal file cabinet, a portable TV spewed seemingly unending coverage of the cop killings, as was the case for the past forty-eight hours. Matt and Katie, Diane and Charlie – even Kelly and Regis would probably comment about it before introducing their next heartthrob guest and his latest movie. And, of course, crime scene footage ran with every mention of the story. Mobs of flashing police cruisers, angry faces of police officers on scene, and of course, the black body bags and gratuitous shot of the brick-faced Medical Examiner’s Office. It all served as an excitable reminder to the press of the last time they had needed to camp out on the Miami Courthouse steps, so canned footage of the Cupid murders and the Bantling trial took over when the cop murder footage ran out.

  Before sadness or outrage – it was initially a small sense of relief C.J. had felt when Dominick had called. He’d told her the ID was positive: Bruce Angelillo. A rough-and-tumble but basically do-nothing cop, Angelillo had been on the job for six years with Miami-Dade and had worked the Kendall station, far from headline-making news of Cupid. She had not known him, had never worked with him. Dominick had supplied some sketchy details, but for C.J., the details did not matter inasmuch as her original paranoia could not dissipate.

  With his turbulent personal life, by the ripe old age of twenty-eight, Angelillo had already been divorced twice and had two young kids, one of whom wasn’t by either of his two ex-wives. And then there was his personnel file. Like Chavez, he had more complaints than commendations, and the parallels between the
work ethics of both officers – or lack thereof – were already being drawn. It would take a day or so for the tox screens to come back, to see just how far those parallels ran.

  It looked like the murders were going to be C.J.’s, though. Even though it was another Major Crimes prosecutor who had been called to the grisly scene at the Dolphin Mall – the former Chief of the SAO Gang Unit, no less – it was C.J. who the State Attorney himself called at home late Monday.

  Much to the chagrin of the media, the on-air squabbling between departments had pretty much subsided by Monday night. Although no department really wanted to share their investigation with the other, it was clear that no department wanted to share anything with the FBI. C.J. knew that was not because the feds weren’t effective. The Bureau certainly had the resources and advanced technology, and on an important, headline-making case such as this, they would offer up the manpower to make things happen. But, their hard-earned reputation among the locals for stealing thunder and passing blame was enough for everyone to take a pass on the money and the manpower, and the Chiefs finally agreed to circle the wagons. By 11:00 p.m. that night, a joint press conference was called by FDLE, the Miami Beach Police Department and the Miami-Dade PD. They were joined at the dais in the FDLE conference room by Chiefs from around the county. They presented a united front, everyone nodding somberly as FDLE announced the formation of a multi-agency task force at the request of the Governor that would operate out of MROC. Seated in the last seat on the dais was Jerry Tigler, the State Attorney. C.J.’s boss. When he stood to speak, he vowed the full support of the State Attorney’s Office.

  Her phone rang ten minutes later.

  She was one of the top prosecutors in the office. She had task force experience, having served as Legal Advisor to the Cupid Task Force since its inception a year before a subject was ever even apprehended. More importantly, she had the respect of the law enforcement community, and homicide detectives in particular. She also had significant experience with serial homicides and spree killings, should that experience be necessary now. It was C.J. who Tigler wanted assigned to the task force. He knew, too, the personal hell she had gone through on Cupid, so his tone of voice was more pleading than an actual command. She told him she was starting trial in the morning and would get back to him with an answer.

  Now the morning was here and her mind was made up. She quickly wrapped her entire metal cart in plastic sheeting left behind when the office was last painted, grabbed her umbrella from the stand and headed for the door.

  She felt a fierce loyalty to police officers. Not just because of her relationship with Dominick, but because of what she did every day. What she, herself, often saw only in grisly crime scene pictures and bloody autopsy photos days later, they always witnessed first-hand. First on the scene to break up an angry fight, rescue a beaten wife, save an abused child. First to see the carnage left behind when the human mind suddenly snaps, and a depressed dad becomes an executioner, or a co-worker exacts revenge. She held an enormous respect for police officers, and for the bravery that they exhibited on a daily basis, willing to take a bullet for a complete stranger when the job called for it.

  And prosecutor and cop worked together to accomplish the same goal – justice. For the most part, she worked now with the most experienced detectives in Miami and mistakes were hard to come by. And the homicide detectives who she worked with had become familiar, friendly faces. She knew of their personal problems at home, their kids’ names, upcoming celebrations, and family tragedies. And she understood the heavy weight of responsibility that they silently shouldered on a daily basis. Surrounded by death and seeking answers, they were constantly being asked to work more quickly, because another one was always coming down the pike. It was a never-ending cycle, and it often made one forget that there were good guys in the world. ‘We all wear glasses,’ one detective had told her, ‘and they’re the color jade.’

  Because of that intense loyalty to the badge, of course she would help out in any way that she could. How could she say no? And she might not have known this Angelillo, but Victor Chavez… Even if he wasn’t the smartest cop or the best witness, still she had known him personally. She had worked with him, talked with him in this very office, directed him on the stand. Unlike other murder victims on her cases, this time she had a face, a scent, a personal moment, to reflect upon and always remember. And she would do what she could to assist the task force in legally nailing his killer. She owed him that.

  But inside she was worried. She knew the twisted mind of a serial killer, of a sadist – one who derives pleasure by inflicting pain on his victims. So she prayed a silent prayer, as she made her way to the elevator bay, that the murders were the work of vindictive gang members, just as Dominick had suggested and the reporter on CNN had gleefully speculated last night. And she hoped that this was not the handiwork of one who knew no reason.


  ‘What is it with the fall season and fucking psychopaths?’ asked the gruff, familiar voice behind Dominick. ‘The Dolphins lose and everyone goes friggin’ crazy.’

  Dominick, standing in what just three hours before was the MROC Fraud Unit’s squad bay for eight, but now was task force headquarters for twenty, turned around to face his old friend, Detective Manny Alvarez. Actually, he faced Manny’s chin, which is about where Dominick stood against the Bear’s beefy six-foot-five frame. ‘Hey there, Bear,’ Dominick smiled. ‘Did you volunteer for duty, or were you drafted?’

  ‘Fuck no, I didn’t volunteer.’ Manny pulled down on his thick black mustache, through which several silver strands had started to poke their way. Even though it was barely 10:00 in the morning, Manny already wore a five o’clock shadow. In fact, the only place on Manny where hair did not seem to magically sprout by nightfall was his tan Cuban head, which he kept smooth and shiny, atop an 18-inch-thick neck. ‘I must’ve pissed off my lieutenant last month when I asked if his daughter was single. She didn’t look fifteen in that outfit,’ he chuckled. ‘Now he figures he’ll screw me with a fucking ninety-hour workweek, but I’ll be laughing those OT checks right into the bank.’

  ‘That’s the spirit,’ said Dominick.

  ‘Not that I’m gonna mind squeezing the fucking cojones off a cop killer – there’ll be a real sense of satisfaction when the lights flicker in ten years. But another fucking task force was not my idea of a good time. No offense, Dommy Boy.’

  ‘None taken.’

  Manny looked around the room, bustling with activity. Detectives from different departments and FDLE agents – all of whom wore plainclothes – moved in and out of the room, and unless you knew the person, it was impossible to tell which agency anyone was from. He hailed from the City of Miami PD himself. ‘Two questions,’ he said. ‘Who else got sent to purgatory and are you the head of this posse?’

  ‘You may know Marlon Dorsett and Ted Nicholsby with the Beach; Steve Yanni with Miami-Dade is coming, too, and of course there’s Fulton and me. The rest I’m not too sure of yet. As far as leaders goes, it’s an equal opportunity task force. Technically, there is none. I’m more of a mediator. I get to make sure everyone is on the up and up and no one steals the limelight from the others.’

  ‘That means you’re the boss,’ Manny said with a laugh, landing his hairy paw on top of Dominick’s shoulder. ‘And I guess that also means the Fibbies are not in on this one. I heard about them all over that crime scene last night. God knows they can’t bear to share news on the weather unless they take all the credit for the sun shining.’

  ‘Don’t count your chickens just yet,’ Dominick said cautiously. ‘The Miami SAC has been pledging his support all over town this morning.’

  ‘Gracker is a fat shit,’ Manny snorted. ‘On that, everyone can agree.’

  ‘You’re preaching to the choir, Bear. Everyone stopped fighting long enough to collectively tell the Bureau to go home, but they don’t give up easy. Like a cockroach, they’ll try and find some way under the door, and I would bet that at th
is very moment, Gracker and friends are having a cup of Joe with the pinheads at the US Attorney’s Office, trying to figure out a way to get federal jurisdiction over crimes that have no federal jurisdiction. I’m expecting them to be creative.’ Dominick already had a history with Mark Gracker and it went back far. If the FBI had a reputation for undercutting the locals and stealing the credit for solving cases they never even worked on, Gracker had helped them earn it. And for that, the Bureau had made him the Miami SAC. Dominick now never invited Gracker anywhere without first bathing in holy water and stringing wreaths of garlic over the door.

  ‘Well, let me say now that it was fun while it lasted. Look at this place,’ Manny nodded approvingly. ‘It’s a lot better than our last crib.’

  FDLE was allocating an entire squad bay in the new building to the task force. The individual desks of the Special Agents assigned to Fraud had been moved out and down the hall to share the squad bay with POS – Protective Operational Services. A large, new cherry conference table had been brought in in their place, and three individual computer stations had been set up in the corners of the room, along with two copiers and two fax machines. The room still smelled faintly of new carpet.

  ‘You’re looking at tax dollars, hard at work. I’m not complaining. I got a new desk. And a view this time,’ Dominick said.

  Manny gestured out the window that Dominick stood in front of. Angelillo’s Miami-Dade cruiser was long gone now from the parking lot across the street, though battered yellow crime scene tape was still visible through the thick pines. A dwindling number of uniforms continued to hunt for unseen evidence, hours after hope had been lost of really finding any. ‘I hope that’s not the view you got.’

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