Last Witness, p.7Jilliane Hoffman
Dominick shook his head somberly. ‘Same window, down the hall.’
Manny looked now at the wall opposite the windows. ‘And now you’ve got this fucking scenery to keep you company. Looks familiar, in a fucked-up sort of way.’
A massive corkboard had been mounted on the length of the wall, already decorated with gruesome crime scene photos from both officers’ slayings. Directly in the center of the corkboard sat a two-foot colorized wanted poster featuring a grainy old booking photo of Miami’s number one, most-wanted man: Jerome Sylvester Lightner, a.k.a. ‘Lil’ Baby J’ a.k.a. ‘LBJ.’ Jerome wore a look of surprise on his hardened baby face, though this was the tenth such time he’d had to go before the cameras. His short, unkempt dreads sprouted from his head like a fern, and the camera had caught the glint of the many gold teeth hiding in his surly expression. If his round baby face made him appear even younger than his twenty-one years, it was his distant, cold, almost dead brown eyes that aged him. With a juvenile arrest record an arm long, he had already amassed an impressive adult record that was peppered with drug arrests, misdemeanor assaults and a felony Aggravated Battery, which was dropped when the guy whose face he had smashed in with a set of brass knuckles suddenly did not remember who had hit him or why. He’d also been busted twice for CCF – Carrying a Concealed Firearm. It was oftentimes difficult to explain to the average tax-paying, law-abiding citizen how Florida law worked, but never more so than when a guy with a three-page rap sheet was still walking around the streets of Miami taking ecstasy orders instead of making license plates at South Florida Reception.
‘Before he told me to get the fuck out of his office, my LT brought me up to speed. So this is the hijo de puta?’
‘A face only a mother could love. We’ve got everyone out looking for him… and his friends.’
Sharing some of his limelight on the wall were five of Jerome’s closest buddies, top guns in his gang, the BB Posse – BB standing for Bad Boys – also wanted for questioning in the Black Jacket slayings. None looked friendly. All were considered armed and extremely dangerous and all had gone into hiding after Chavez was killed. On the other side of Jerome’s glossy mug were pictures of Ricardo Brueto and company from the Latin Kings. Although Ricardo was not named officially as a suspect – at least not until Jerome was found – he was already under constant surveillance. No dummy, he kept on his best behavior while detectives followed him all over town.
‘Well, brother, we’d better look fast, because I’m guessing a few other people might be looking to get their hands on this bastard before we do,’ the Bear said, eyeing Brueto’s picture thoughtfully. Then he stopped, lost for a moment as he looked at the corkboard, and in particular the grisly pictures of Victor Chavez’s open throat, the blood-painted windows as a backdrop. ‘Unless…’ he paused, not wanting to finish his sentence.
Dominick read his friend’s mind. ‘Internal Affairs called down this morning to tell us that Angelillo was on their watch-list. They were looking into complaints that he was fronting muscle for dopers at some off-duties he was working. Thoughts were he had found it lucrative to mix the two jobs.’ Many cops worked as off-duty uniformed security for the nightclubs and bars that dotted Miami Beach.
‘And IA just called you with that very important info this morning? Almost three days after the guy is whacked in his own car?’
‘Like I told you, until eleven o’clock last night, no one wanted to play in the sandbox with the others.’
Manny sighed. ‘So we’ve got two dirty cops. Both tied to dope. Great. Makes us look like we’re in a very worthy fucking profession. This is gonna give my ex-wives something else to bitch about in front of a judge when the alimony check’s late.’ His eyes returned to the crime scene photos. ‘Okay, it’s dopers. And they’re obviously pissed and in the mood to send a message.’ He paused and looked at his friend. ‘So why don’t you look convinced?’
‘No one’s taken the credit yet,’ Dominick said slowly.
‘We haven’t found no one yet.’
Dominick didn’t finish the thought, and neither said anything further as they stared at the massive corkboard in front of them, hoping that no more pictures took up the space.
Ricardo Brueto stared out his window in Little Havana, down at the two undercover clowns in the black Grand Prix. At the other end of the block sat two more in a green Ford Expedition. If they thought they was being sly by switching cars on him today, Rico thought, they was fuckin’ wrong. He could spot an undercover a mile away, even if they had their cop asses in a friggin’ Porsche.
It had been like this every fuckin’ day for the past four weeks. He couldn’t take a goddamn leak without a cop pissin’ next to him. They were breathing down his neck, hoping to catch him packing so that they could bust him up for a probation violation. Everywhere he turned, and on his fuckin’ family, too. Not to mention his boys. The heat had been so intense that the street had cooled down like ice, no one wanting to do nothing until the cops stopped sitting on them. And that meant there was no money coming in. And with no money, Rico certainly had bigger worries to think about than some fat-assed cochino in a blue suit eating donuts down the block. No money meant trouble from above, and the voices were already starting to grumble. No one cared if he didn’t have it – the message was clear: Get it. But the streets in Miami were cold, and nothing could come in or go out until this whole cop killing shit was settled. Until someone threw some meat on the fire to satisfy those hungry coppers and make them go home.
Fucking Chavez. That dumb-ass piece of shit. Being led around by his nose like a street junkie, buying shit that he couldn’t afford. And if it wasn’t his nose that trotted him into the worst parts of town, then it was his dick, which he had buried in every cheap ho’ all over town. Buying shit like he was Rockefeller or something, then having to come to the bank for a loan to pay for it all. Not once, not twice, but more times than Rico could count. Victor with his hand out, looking for a break, with soggy-assed eyes and a guilt trip because they were hermanos. Of course he couldn’t make the payments, not on that shit salary of his. But there were solutions to every problem. Rico had thought it a nice arrangement, until…
Their brotherhood had been forged in high school and then both had gone their separate ways. Victor, always on a fucking power trip, had picked showing off his muscles in a tight blue uniform, thinking it made him all tough and shit. Rico knew better. It ain’t the uniform that makes you tough. If you looked under his shirt, you’d see muscles that were a lot fucking bigger than Victor Chavez’s, he just didn’t need to show them off. Everyone already knew. And if you looked in the back of his pants, you’d see a Magnum that’d put a fucking hole right through that Kevlar Victor wore. Blow right through that shiny badge. Now who’s the fucking tough guy? So it was kind of amusing at first to see a cop in his tight uniform knocking on his door in the middle of the night, all worried about what might happen to him, who might protect him from the big, bad brothers in Liberty City? Begging for help from the Kings. Brotherhood, shit. Rico had a business to run, people to answer to. You want something, you pay for it. One way or another.
Rico watched as another cop pulled up alongside the Grand Prix, this one in a shiny new rented Altima. The Altima passed the Grand Prix a brown bag and then took off down the block, to join the Expedition. The light went on in the Grand Prix, and the driver opened the bag, while the passenger spoke into his handheld Motorola. The driver took out a sandwich and started to eat it, then stopped. He raised it up toward Rico’s window and smiled like a prick, then laughed with his partner.
Rico closed the drape and punched the wall hard. Drywall crumbled, leaving a hole where his fist had been. Pain exploded in his hand, and blood began to seep from his knuckles and down his wrist. Rico ignored it. In the other room, the baby started to cry. Angelina called to him. ‘Rico? Qué paso? Todo está bien?’
‘Nothin’. Go back to bed.’
He sucked the blood off of one knuckle, and looked around for a towel to stop the bleeding. Then the cellphone at his side rang, and an uncomfortable, anxious feeling settled in his stomach. He knew instantly from the number that he had bigger things to worry about than the sandwich-eating cops outside his door.
A lot bigger.
Internal Affairs, or IA as it is known to most, is a peculiar and isolated department within any police agency. Viewed as a separate enforcement agency unto itself, it is responsible for policing its own. For weeding out the bad. And any detective assigned to IA knew that such an assignment would be the last of his or her career, for they were now considered outcasts by all others in the fraternal society. Even a police department’s top brass, while proclaiming IA to be a vital tool in fighting corruption, considered the department a necessary evil at best. Adding to the air of distrust was the fact that IA worked the investigations of their fellow employees in complete secret. Oftentimes an arrest came as a total shock, even to the command staff. And sometimes to fellow IA detectives.
So it really did not surprise Dominick that it took Miami-Dade’s IA division almost two days to fork over their info on Bruce Angelillo. It didn’t surprise him – but it did frustrate him beyond belief. The world had started to descend once again on Miami, on his investigation, and playing with IA would be like cleaning the teeth of a tiger. Without warning, the jaws would snap closed on his hand, and no amount of coaxing would get them to open again.
In MDPD, one complaint led to a preliminary investigation by the IA Reactive Squad, otherwise known as the Stop and Curse Squad. Two complaints, or a substantiation of the initial complaint, transferred the file next door to the Criminal Conspiracy Section, or CCS. CCS kept what was known as an IA Profile on every officer that they’d ever investigated or received a complaint about. In some agencies it was called the Dirty List, the laundry list of cops suspected of going bad for one reason or another. Some were suspected of being on the take, some of sexual advances on subjects in custody, some of improper use of authority. One of the reasons officers feared IA so much was the list, which was easy to get on, and impossible to get off. Once a name was handed to IA, they kept it in their files, forever subscribed in permanent marker. Even when they said they didn’t.
Dominick wanted that list.
There was an obvious dope connection in the Black Jacket slayings. And while IA was willing, albeit reluctantly, to share info on a dead cop, they didn’t want to risk blowing undercover operations on the live ones. It took the threat of a subpoena and the fear of an anonymous tip-off to the Herald about dissent among the ranks before Dominick got what he wanted. And even so, he was sure it was a very watered down Dirty List.
It came in a sealed manila envelope, delivered by a messenger who Dominick assumed was an undercover IA sergeant. He wouldn’t say. Now at 9:30 at night, Dominick unsealed it, his tired eyes straining under the glare of the fluorescent light over the cherry conference table. Most everyone else had left the building long ago.
He pulled out the thick packet from inside the envelope, covered with a warning from MDPD legal:
THE FOLLOWING DOCUMENTS ARE CONSIDERED
CONFIDENTIAL BY THE MIAMI-DADE POLICE
DEPARTMENT AND ARE EXEMPT FROM PUBLIC
DISCLOSURE AS A PUBLIC RECORD UNDER FLORIDA’S
SUNSHINE LAWS AS ACTIVE CRIMINAL
INTELLIGENCE INFORMATION AND ACTIVE
CRIMINAL INVESTIGATIVE INFORMATION, F.S.
119.07(6)(B)1. ANY UNAUTHORIZED VIEWING IS
Inside was an IA profile of every cop on the MDPD Dirty List.
Knowing that IA held their cards close to the chest and that Dominick was looking only at those officers which IA thought he needed to see, he was still shocked when he turned the page.
Shocked to see how many names had made the list.
C.J. had fallen asleep on her couch, the jumble of notes she had written out for tomorrow morning’s cross exam in a heap underneath Tibby on the floor right next to her. Her glass of wine sat unfinished on the coffee table, and an infomercial had replaced Conan O’Brien on the TV screen. She sat up, startled, and looked around her.
She had been stuck in trial all week with Judge Penney and his odd court clerk. And twelve jurors who were getting increasingly annoyed that the case was dragging on far longer than the three days the overly optimistic Judge Penney had originally speculated it would. She and Dominick had passed in the shower all week, basically keeping in touch through hurried phone calls and love notes posted on the fridge. She had thought she might try and wait up for him…
It took a moment to shake the fog of sleep that enveloped her; for her ears to recognize and decipher the sound she was hearing. She hit the mute button on the TV. Nothing. Was it real, or was it just the dream? Then it started up again.
The phone was ringing in the kitchen.
She looked for the wall clock. 4:12 a.m. She rose to answer the phone and then she heard the other sound coming from the bedroom, the buzz of her beeper. It must be Criminal Intake on the phone now, trying her at home because she hadn’t responded. When did the beep come in?
She stumbled into the kitchen, pulling the hair back off her face and rubbing the sleep from her eyes. She picked up the phone. ‘Hello?’
She did not immediately recognize the voice on the other end, although she should have. Barely audible, it was soft, but strained. The all-too-familiar sound of sirens blared in the background, against the crackle of police radios. The voice was hesitant, as though the words he needed to speak were painful to utter.
‘C.J. It’s Dominick. I’m afraid I’ve got bad news…’
She raced down 195 at breakneck speed, taking the 395 exit onto the McArthur Causeway, which connected downtown Miami to the Beach. Over Biscayne Bay, the brilliant citrus skyline rose on her right, looming over the Causeway and the expansive Port of Miami, home to many cruise lines and their massive floating hotels.
She did not need directions. All she had to do was follow the shriek of sirens. Up ahead, off of the Watson Island exit, a mass of blue and red lights appeared. Watson Island was a small slice of county-owned land, which sat directly across the water from the cruise ships and towering industrial smokestacks of the port. With downtown Miami and the People Mover as a backdrop, it offered a potential million-dollar view, but the County wasn’t selling it. But for the Parrot Jungle and the Miami Children’s Museum recently making homes here, most of Watson would remain undeveloped and desolate. Only a few tiny fish peddlers were rented space. Their small shacks sat on the edge of the water, surrounded by a gravel and dirt parking lot and an eight-foot chain link fence. A one-pump marina gas station sat beside them, offering live bait on signs scrawled in fluorescent paint.
C.J. had been to Watson before. Watson Park, which actually snaked under the McArthur, offered fast and easy access to the bay waters and a desolate location. That made it a favorite spot for smuggling pick-ups and body dumping. More than a few floaters had made an appearance here over the years, sucked back in by the strong tide and snagged on the seawall.
She felt her stomach churn the wine she had drunk earlier in the night, and she swallowed hard as she got out of the car. News vans from every channel were already on scene, satellite antennas raised high in the cool night sky. She flashed her credentials as she approached the police barricade, and heard the whir and click of the cameras behind her as the buzz began. Towns-end! State Attorney’s Office! Major Crimes! The Cupid Prosecutor! She pulled her black Jeep Cherokee next to the swarm of flashing cruisers, representing every department in South Florida. She noted the mass of empty City of Miami cars, crowded together. One of their own. She slammed the door and made her way through the sea of cruisers.
It seemed that there were a
‘Special Agent Falconetti?’ she asked. The uniform shook his head. ‘FDLE? Task Force Operations?’ As the rookie pointed to his left, she saw it now, behind him. The lone City of Miami cruiser, its lights still flashing, in the parking lot that abutted the gas station. The uniform said words to her that she didn’t hear, but she nodded anyway.
‘Thanks,’ she said, moving past him, toward the car, her SAO credentials still in hand. Crime Scene had already begun its work, technicians combing through the contents of the trunk, with the towering skyline of Miami as a backdrop. Other techs took pictures of the ground from every conceivable angle, so that this moment in time could be relived second for second, angle for angle one day in a courtroom. Their flashbulbs erupted around her, and from the corner of her eye she spotted the ME’s van, the steel gurney out and fully assembled. Waiting to pick up its cargo.
The cruiser’s driver door was open, and from it hung a white sheet stirring uneasily in the breeze that blew off the water. Even from a distance of twenty feet, she saw the familiar caked dark streaks on the windows. As if in a dream, she walked toward the car, credentials held out for all who might otherwise have stopped her.
The outline of the body under the crisp white linen was like that of the other two. She could see the slumped head where it met the steering wheel, the bent elbows and clenched pointed knuckles. A detective who she recognized, but whose name she suddenly could not recall, stood by the door, presumably waiting for the ME to signal that it was time to remove the body.
Last Witness by Jilliane Hoffman / History & Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes