CUTTING ROOM -THE-, p.8Jilliane Hoffman
‘Careful, Counselor. You sound jealous.’
‘I am. Of her bag, not her face. I’m only twenty-nine. The wrinkles you’re giving me won’t show for a few years.’
‘And how old is Dad Freddy?’ Daria asked. ‘Isn’t he, what, twenty-three or -four years her senior? She must’ve been a trophy bride.’
‘It’s actually Stepdad Freddy. He’s about sixty-seven. Looks it, too. Abby is a trophy bride, but she wasn’t a teenager when she and Fred got hitched. She was thirty. Freddy adopted young Talbot and let him in on the family name. I think he gave him the Alastair as an adoption present so he would blend in more with the Kennedys and Rockefellers,’ Manny said with a chuckle. He pulled a pack of Marlboros from his jacket pocket. ‘I, for one, thinks she looks pretty damn good for any age,’ he replied, taking a cigarette from the box and tapping it on her desk. ‘Not that that’s influencing my opinion.’
Daria frowned again. ‘Don’t light that in here.’
‘I’m getting ready for when I leave.’
‘Hmmm. Well, I’m still not seeing anything but a bunch of smoke from the flash-bang she just dropped, and you’re walking right into the room.’
‘Listen, I’m no sucker, but I am a little puzzled,’ Manny replied, sticking the cigarette behind his ear. ‘Aren’t you? I mean, what the hell is this video about? That’s pretty fucked up, Counselor.’
Daria sighed. ‘Her own attorney didn’t want to bring it up today, Manny, because he’s saving it for trial. Because he knew it wasn’t anything but smoke and he’d rather sandbag us with some highly prejudicial, totally inflammatory video after I’ve sworn in a jury and jeopardy has attached. It’s all bullshit — they’re setting up a reasonable doubt argument. The more attention you pay to it, the more that’s going to doom us when we get in front of a jury because it looks like we bought into the bullshit, too. It makes us look like we think there’s some validity to this.’
Manny nodded thoughtfully. He jingled the flash drive in his hand and stood to leave. ‘Probably. But I’m gonna see what else the lab can get from this clip. Maybe they can up the sound or enhance the video. And I’m gonna check out Trophy Mom’s computer, see if we can trace who sent it to her, or, even better, where the video originated from. I’m not a computer geek, but I know there’s a lot those geeks can do — I watch CSI,’ he added with a wink.
‘You’re walking right into this. You’re buying their “one-armed man” defense hook, line and sinker,’ she charged. ‘Let the defense spend their own time and money checking out the bullshit, please. Save the taxpayers of Miami.’
‘Like I said before, for such a pretty little thing, you have a tremendous set of steel balls on you. They must make it difficult to walk sometimes. Let me ask ya, just for my own clarification here: What do you do when you got a case that you can’t prove maybe, but you believe the victim was wronged? How do you handle those?’
‘Sometimes you have to walk away, Manny, and go after the ones you can solve. It’s not easy. And I don’t mean to sound callous, but sometimes you have no choice but to tell someone, “There’s no justice for you today. Sorry, Charlie.”’
She shrugged. ‘That’s life. Your job is to find the bad guy. My job is to prove he did it. If I can’t prove it, then there’s no case. It’s not a matter of right and wrong. And I don’t go looking for cases that might help the defense. I have a lot on my plate.’
‘Listen, Counselor, I’m gonna find out more before I walk away. I have to. If it’s nothing, then it’s nothing and all I did was waste a little time. And if it’s homemade porn, then maybe I’ll get lucky and get to meet the actress live and in person. But I’m personally gonna have a hard time sleeping, wondering whose terrified kid that is on that clip.’
‘How many children do you have?’ Daria asked. ‘No, no, scratch that — how many daughters?’
‘None and none. No little Mannys or Emanuelas running around. At least, none that I know of.’
Daria rolled her eyes. ‘I would’ve pegged you for the dad of a harem of teenage daughters with that last comment.’
‘I may not have kids myself, Counselor, but it doesn’t take much to imagine what it would feel like if my daughter was raped and whacked by a psycho with a camera and a thing for household cleaners. Maybe the dad of the girl in that video has no idea what happened to his kid. Maybe she went out one night and never came home and he has no idea what became of her. Maybe her family’s hoping she had a car accident and bumped her melon and has amnesia, and they wait for the day she walks back through their door.’
‘She’s a little old to be calling a kid. I’m thinking late twenties.’
‘Okay, so she’s not a kid. Then maybe she’s married and her hubby has been scouring every waterway within a ten-mile radius of their house thinking she had a car accident and that’s why she didn’t come home for supper. Or maybe she’s not dead. Maybe she was raped and her assault was caught on camera and the bastard uploaded it to YouTube. Those are just a few of the scenarios that popped into my head. You and I have had to deal with the families of enough murder victims to understand that not knowing is the worst. I don’t have to be a dad or a husband to feel for them.’
‘What if she left home at sixteen to earn a living as an adult entertainer in LA and this shit she does with her boyfriend is mild compared to the other tricks she can perform with a rope? I just thought of that scenario off the top of my head.’
Manny shrugged and moved to the door. ‘It’s a forty-nine second clip, Counselor. Just imagine what we didn’t see, what footage might’ve ended up on the cutting-room floor.’
‘That works both ways, you know. It could be ten minutes of foreplay and cigarette smoking.’
‘Ugh.’ She spun her chair around to face the jail. ‘I’m not heartless. I’m being practical, is all.’
‘Okay,’ he answered, but he didn’t sound convinced. He pulled the cigarette from behind his ear. ‘I’ll call you tomorrow after the grand jury, although I’m sure you’ll be on the horn with Guy to find out how I did way before that.’
Daria waited until the door closed before she sank her head into her hands. She wanted to scream. She heard everyone saying hello to Manny as he made his way down the hall and finally out of the unit.
Talbot Lunders definitely had headline potential. If she didn’t see that before, she did now. The rape and murder of a pretty college coed by a privileged, former male model was intriguing enough to attract interest, and without adding yet more salacious detail, could prove a difficult story to control. But throw in a mysterious, lurid email, a homemade bondage sex tape, a secret family hideaway in Switzerland and the distraught, well-dressed, hot, young socialite momma of the defendant alleging lookalike blondes were being hunted and tortured by a real killer who the police weren’t bothering to look for, and you had the potential makings of a national news sensation. A savvy publicist would pitch it to the morning talk shows as ‘the perfect story’. Daria thought it more akin to the perfect storm.
After five years prosecuting everything and anything from shoplifting to homicide, Daria knew that Sex Batt was where she wanted to be. And she didn’t want to settle for being a line prosecutor — she wanted to lead the charge. As the cliché went, she’d paid her dues. She’d spent years in the pits prosecuting crappy cases and winning them, and for the past two years she’d been Division Chief of one of the most congested trial units in the office, supervising three felony attorneys and responsible for a court docket of more than four hundred felonies. The average ASA lasted three years on the state payroll before heading out to greener pastures; anyone who went past five was considered a lifer. And on the lifer scale, there were those bodies that stayed on simply to earn a paycheck and keep the benefits, working their eight-hour shifts from the trenches of the Felony Screening Unit, taking witness testimony and filing cases all day long, or buried under
Then there were the lifers who made a run at bigger and better things.
Daria fell into the latter group. While she’d never consciously decided to spend her entire legal career as a prosecutor, besides the possibility of moving to the feds, she’d never really had the itch to circulate her résumé. Once you’d put a rapist behind bars for thirty years, a slip and fall at the grocery store just didn’t seem all that exciting. Neither did bankruptcy law, corporate litigation, insurance defense, or helping sound the death knell on people’s marriages as a divorce attorney. A rabid fan of all cop and lawyer shows and everything FBI since she was a kid, Daria figured being a prosecutor was simply what she was meant to be. Unlike her older brothers — a hospital administrator and an eighth-grade science teacher — she’d never dreaded going to work in the morning. And God knew she’d never spent a single second bored in her job. On occasion sad, and a lot of times pissed off, but never bored. That didn’t mean she wanted to stay an overworked, underpaid division pit prosecutor for the rest of her career, though.
To prove to Vance Collier and the rest of Administration that she was a lifer with a future, in addition to trying cases that a lot of other ASAs would’ve pled out, she’d worked weekends, volunteered for on-call robbery duty even when it wasn’t her rotation, and handled holiday bond hearings without complaint. Coming in early and leaving late every day, watching jealously at times and scornfully at others while the support staff headed en masse for the elevators at 4:30 and most of her colleagues followed by 5:30. Some a helluva lot sooner. She’d made the requisite sacrifices: no boyfriend, no hobbies, no life, outside babysitting her brother’s ADHD triplets on her first long weekend off since Christmas.
If it was only a simple murder case that she needed to win in order to prove herself capable of heading up a unit full of specialized prosecutors, she’d have no real worries. The case against Talbot Lunders was circumstantial, yes, but the evidence, in the collective, damning. As a law school professor had once described it, making a circumstantial case was a lot like making a strudel: while a single sheet of paper-thin filo dough couldn’t support the weight of ten apples, if you capably assembled sheet upon delicate sheet, eventually you had a pastry with enough layers to support a whole bushel of fruit. The key was in the dogged construction, and, of course, in the oven you ultimately loaded your dessert into, which had to be brought to the perfect temperature before actually introducing the food, and that temperature had to be maintained throughout the whole baking process. The oven in the analogy, of course, referred to the jury — already plenty hot and fired up by the time you opened the oven door, ready to bake anything to a crisp the second you closed it. Too cool and nothing would gel. Considering Florida was a death penalty state — and, until a few years ago, the state’s preferred method of execution was a seat in Old Sparky — her professor’s analogy of a jury baking anything to a crisp was completely intentional. In other words, you had to pick the perfect twelve people — none of whom watched CSI or NCIS — set the right tone of outrage and shock, and by the time you slid your assembled facts through the door of that deliberation room, the only thing you had to wait for was the timer to ding.
Daria could handle that. She had a way with juries, almost like a sixth sense when she was picking them. She wasn’t sweating a conviction on Lunders, even with Manny Alvarez playing Wild West cop and making what was, arguably, a premature arrest. Because with the facts as she had them down at the Arthur, she could certainly set that perfect tone of grab-the-pitchforks indignation in the jury room, and she had enough circumstantial layers that when put together would be strong enough to hold together a death penalty request. The gruesome crime-scene photos would certainly help fuel the fire. The competition she faced, though well paid, was out of their element in Miami. Joe Varlack was a showman with a big voice who likely hadn’t personally tried a criminal case in a long while. She could eat both him and his sidekick Simmons for breakfast, complete with Louboutins and fancy briefcases. She was also confident she could keep Talbot Lunders’s pretty face off at least the front page of the paper and maintain the low profile the State Attorney was trying for. It was a fair assumption that if the cameras weren’t in court this afternoon the matter wasn’t on their radar.
Unlike other ASAs who saw certain cases as a means to make a name for themselves outside of the office, Daria was no media hound. If Lunders didn’t end up pleading out — like 90 percent of cases that passed through the system — when it came down to trying him, she wasn’t going to do it on live TV and in the court of public opinion, which could fuck up any verdict, as O.J. Simpson’s prosecutors could attest. She reasoned that as long as she didn’t go looking for press, the press wouldn’t come looking for her. Or Talbot Lunders. There were too many other headlines to chase. Too much other gory bad news going on worldwide for the people to revel in their morning cups of joe.
Unless someone led the reporters and their boom mikes straight to a story that had everything the public at large wanted to read about in super-sized portions — perverted sex, brutal murder, and Birkin bag money. And kept harping on it until someone with a press badge finally paid attention.
Daria saw the train-wreck coming up ahead if Manny followed this breadcrumb trail laid by the defendant’s sniffling, sexy mother. It had been a decade since the serial killer Cupid had stalked his comely victims from happening ‘it’ clubs on Miami Beach, and yet his crimes still defined Miami to the world — as much as celebrities, yachts, teal water, and Cuban refugees did. Then there was Picasso, another monster who had hunted and killed young runaways in South Florida, commanding headlines and craziness a couple of years ago. And of course, the high-profile murder of Gianni Versace by a serial killer a few steps from the white sands of South Beach in 1997. Versace’s murder and the ensuing week-long hunt for Andrew Cunnanan had spawned an international feeding frenzy that had lasted for months on end. Three relatively recent, bloody blemishes on the suntanned reputation of a cosmopolitan city that drew an outrageous number of tourist dollars to its golden beaches, beautiful hotels and happening nightlife. It wouldn’t be good PR if news got out that not only was there yet another sadistic killer in the city, but speculation existed within law enforcement that that killer was still at large, trolling for victims at the hot spots that the tourists and their money loved to frequent, making chilling videos of his conquests.
She nibbled on a thumbnail, staring all the while out the window at the jail where Talbot Lunders was being held. She had a terrible habit of imagining the worst-case scenario of any situation and then multiplying it exponentially until she imagined herself right out of a job and facing eviction from her apartment for nonpayment of rent.
The truth was, if this case did become a circus like Cupid or Versace, or worse, a completely bungled O.J. Simpson that she couldn’t control, she knew she’d never get Collier’s seal of approval. And while that might not force her butt out on the streets, it certainly wouldn’t put her in the running for Chief of Sex Batt, or any other unit for that matter. She’d be a pit prosecutor for ever. A lifer stuck in neutral. Like a Hollywood actress that only got one shot at the box office, she knew she had only one chance to get this right. That meant she had to retain control over her case and make sure that whatever Manny Alvarez was doing to allay the fears his own conscience was conjuring up, it didn’t become public knowledge and it didn’t interfere with her prosecution.
She checked her watch: almost eight. The day was gone and she still had a ton of shit to do. The sun was starting to set over the Everglades, casting the jail in an ethereal, tangerine glow. If you hadn’t noticed the razor wire and barred windows, and you didn’t know there were violent, depraved rapists and murderers being housed inside, from a distance, in this light, one might think the normally dingy, unimpressive jail building looked inviting. Like Dracula’s c
She was reaching for the top file in her inbox when the time bomb Manny Alvarez planted in her brain suddenly went off. A barrage of unanswerable questions cut through her stream of consciousness like shrapnel: What if it did turn out to be more than a distracting, consensual sex-slave video that Abby Lunders had thrown at them? What if there actually was something to this crazy ‘other killer’ theory Momma Lunders was alleging? What then?
She pulled a hand through her hair and took a deep breath.
There was no way her tired brain could even begin to wrap itself around the exponential multiplication of that worst-case scenario …
The grand jury deliberated for thirty minutes before unanimously voting to indict Talbot Lunders for capital murder. While the indictment itself might not have come as a surprise, the speed with which it was delivered did; Manny hadn’t even made it back to his office when Guy Kuzak called him. He could only hope the rest of this case would move as expeditiously through the system, yet still he couldn’t seem to shake the ‘calm before the storm’ feeling in his gut. Holly’s murder had been a chest-thumper from the second her body was fished from the dumpster — starting with the sad demise of Papi Munoz. And if yesterday’s meeting with Mami Lunders was any indicator, he should probably be running to the pharmacy to stock up on antacids.
He sat at his desk now, twisting his mustache, studying the still photo of Jane Doe he’d pulled from the video, searching for tattoos, birthmarks, discolorations — anything at all that might make her more readily identifiable in a ViCAP entry than, ‘blonde-haired, green-eyed, white female, approximate height between 5'2" and 5'6"; approximate age between twenty and thirty years’.
He was probably clutching at straws, trying to determine who this girl was. The overwhelming fact of the matter was that she could be anyone. And she could be from anywhere. He wasn’t sure if he should start his search for her in Florida, or halfway across the globe in Greenland …
CUTTING ROOM -THE- by Jilliane Hoffman / History & Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes