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       Retribution, p.8

           Jilliane Hoffman
 

  An ambulance and a fire truck were parked ahead of the lines of police cars, white and red lights flashing intermittently with the blue of the police cars. A white van with the words MIAMI-DADE COUNTY MEDICAL EXAMINER written in black across the side sat by itself just up ahead. It had no flashing lights. If Dominick did not know what it was he was about to witness, he would have sworn it was a horrible multicar crash with multiple fatalities.

  He walked past the line of empty cop cars, their blue lights flashing. Sitting in the emergency lane, he spotted the lone black Jaguar XJ8 next to the concrete guardrail, surrounded by still more empty police cars. Shit. The whole world was out here. Another circus for the media moguls.

  In the immediate background sat the Miami Herald building, butting up against the waters of the Intercoastal, its tenth-floor windows reaching out and practically touching the causeway. Great. Some reporter won’t even need to leave the comfort of his office to get this picture on the front page. He looked up at the building, its windows now spotted with lights and dark figures. An intern with a telephoto lens was probably catching the hair up his nose on film at this very moment.

  The Jaguar sat empty, its trunk wide open. Inside the trunk, Dominick could see the white sheet gently stirring in the light tropical breeze coming off the Intercoastal. Fifteen feet back from the Jag, a small cache of law-enforcement officers in various uniforms stood talking, their bodies unconsciously forming a protective circle in front of the trunk. Two-way police radios crackled and squawked, each dispatcher communicating something different in garbled, incoherent police jargon.

  At one end of the causeway, just to the west, was the beautifully lit skyline of Miami, aglow in neon colors of hot pinks, iridescent blues, and citrus yellows from the People Mover that wrapped around the city. At the other end of the causeway, the twinkling white lights from the high-rises that lined Miami Beach greeted the east.

  Directly behind the shiny new Jag sat a marked Miami Beach Police cruiser. In its backseat, behind the protective metal grid that separated driver from passenger, Dominick could see the dark outline of a sole figure.

  He approached the cluster of cops and flashed his badge. ‘Anyone know where I can find Sergeant Ribero with the Beach?’

  Another nineteen-year-old in a Miami Beach P.D. uniform nodded and pointed toward a small circle of cops that stood behind an MDPD Crime Scene van. Dominick looked over and saw three uniforms talking with two Blues Brothers stand-ins, sans the sunglasses, in dark suits. The dark suits were listening intently and taking notes. He recognized one from the Bureau and automatically felt his jaw clench.

  The circle in front of the Jag parted and he passed through, making his way to the trunk. The trunk light illuminated the sheet, and he could see red stains beginning to seep through the heavy material. He pulled his rubber gloves out of the pocket of his khakis, just as a large hand fell heavy on his shoulder.

  ‘Hope you haven’t eaten dinner yet, pal. It’s pretty bad.’

  Manny Alvarez, a City of Miami detective assigned to the task force for the past year, stood behind him puffing on a cigarette, the sleeves of his tired white dress shirt rolled up over black hairy arms and too many gold bracelets, the armpits circled with sweat. The collar on his size-eighteen-inch neck was half buttoned and loosely looped with an orange-and-blue Miami Dolphins tie, from which a black-and-white imprint of Dan Marino’s face grinned at Dominick. ‘Where the fuck have you been, anyway?’

  ‘Stuck on that stupid causeway, that’s where I’ve been.’ Dominick shook his head and looked around him. ‘Obviously this whole thing has not been kept under wraps, Manny. What a fucking circus.’

  At an intimidating six five and 250 pounds, Manny the Bear towered over Dominick Falconetti, who stood more realistically at five eleven and 190. Mops of thick black hair covered Bear’s beefy frame, and wiry black curls ran down his arms on to the backs of his hands and fingers. He wore a thick black mustache and a five-o’clock shadow so thick that it would have been someone else’s full beard. Tufts of hair even sprouted from underneath his collar. In fact, hair was everywhere on Manny. All except for his head, which he kept shaved as bald and smooth as an eight ball. He looked like a mean Cuban Mr Clean.

  ‘What can I say? When you get invited to a party, you better show up before the cake is gone. Besides, have you waved to our new friends at the Herald yet?’ Manny gestured to the building behind them and raised his arm in an exaggerated wave. It would probably make tomorrow’s front page.

  ‘Alright, alright. I’m over it. What have we got?’

  Manny Alvarez puffed on his Marlboro and leaned against the concrete guardrail, with the waters of the Intercoastal lapping gently forty feet below him. ‘About eight-fifteen tonight, Chavez, a rookie with the Beach, spots a black Jag speeding down Washington Avenue toward the MacArthur. Doing maybe forty in a thirty. He follows him on to 395 and sees he’s also got a broken taillight. So he pulls him over. Only one guy in the car. So he asks for his license, registration, the whole drill.

  ‘Chavez says the guy is Mr Smooth, cool as a cucumber, no sweat, no tics, nothing. Guy gives him a Florida DL with the name Bantling. William Bantling. Lives on LaGorce Avenue on the beach. Chavez heads back to his car to write the mope a ticket when he smells this funky odor that he thinks is coming from the trunk. So he asks Bantling for consent to search the trunk. The guy says no.

  ‘There’s something wrong here, Chavez thinks. You know, why doesn’t the guy want me looking in his trunk? So he calls for backup and a K-9 unit. He takes him out of the car and holds him till the cavalry arrives. K-9 shows up twenty minutes later and alerts right away on the trunk – you know, scratching, barking, the whole nine yards. They’re thinking coke, right? Papa’s packing some nose candy in that trunk. They pop it open and… surprise, surprise! Our friend has a dead girl in there. And she’s been cracked wide open and is missing a heart.

  ‘Well, everyone freaks. And the radios start rolling. Before you know it, we’ve got every jurisdiction down here, and everyone’s sergeant. It’s a circus. They even flew in my chief on the copter to take a peek. You just missed him. He was at some fancy-shmancy fund-raiser for the governor or something. Soon as he heard about it, he claimed he just had to be here, so rather than drive the twenty minutes from the Biltmore Hotel, he had the boys fly him and the governor in. We had to clear both sides of the causeway just so the chopper could land and he could waddle his fat ass over for a sneak preview and then brownnose about it on the flight back to his steak and potatoes. Can you believe that shit?’ Manny shook his head in disgust and flicked his cigarette into the slow trickle of rubbernecking traffic in the left-hand lane. He hoped it would enter an open window of one of those bloodthirsty gawkers. Right on his lap and maybe burn his balls off.

  Dominick nodded in the direction of the Crime Scene van. ‘Who are the suits?’

  Manny smiled slyly. ‘Need I say? Why they’re our good, dependable friends from the FBI, here to take all the credit for solving a case they never even worked on.’ He rolled his eyes. It’s Stevens and Carmedy. They’re making nicey-nice with the Beach Boys so all their facts are straight in the news conference they will undoubtedly be giving tomorrow morning.’

  ‘How did they get word on this before me?’ Dominick looked around and shook his head. ‘Damn it, Manny, the whole fucking world is here.’

  ‘The Miami SAC from the FBI was at the same dinner. But as far as I know, the feds, always humble, drove themselves here. The rest of the boys, well, as you can see, they just want to be part of this special moment in history.’

  Dominick shook his head. The Bureau’s Miami Special Agent in Charge was Mark Gracker. He and Dominick had had go-arounds long before the Cupid case, on an organized-crime murder that Gracker and his federal pals took over – conveniently after Dominick had solved it and identified the suspect. One minute Dominick had whispered the suspect’s name at a closed-door FDLE and FBI powwow and the next he was watching the news du
mbfounded as Gracker slapped cuffs on the guy while simultaneously giving an interview to Julia Yarborough of Channel 6. Ten days later, the FBI named Gracker the Miami SAC.

  The Bureau was always trying to wiggle their way into something so they could look like the heroes at the end. Good press had been hard to come by since Waco and Ruby Ridge. But now that Marilyn Siban’s body had been found on federal land, thereby throwing the case into federal jurisdiction, he didn’t think he could actually tell Gracker to fuck off anymore. He looked down at the trunk. ‘Do we have an ID on the girl?’

  ‘It’s Anna Prado, the little hottie who disappeared from Level. She’s only been missing a couple of weeks. The body’s in pretty good shape, though. Can’t be dead for more than a day or so. It’s a shame, man. What a beauty.’

  Dominick slipped on his rubber gloves and lifted the white sheet. Another pair of empty, dead eyes stared helplessly back at him. Hers were baby blue.

  ‘No one’s moved her? Touched her?’

  ‘Nope. What you see is what you get. Suits took a peek, but that’s it. I played baby-sitter. “No touchy, boys, and be sure to play nice with the other cops!” Crime Scene did photograph the scene, though. They finished up about ten minutes ago.’

  Anna Prado’s nude body was lying faceup, the knees bent and her legs folded up underneath her body. Her arms were tied together with nylon cord above her head. Long platinum blond hair collected in a pile underneath them. Her chest was cut open in two incisions, forming a cross, the sternum neatly cracked. The heart was missing. Blood had pooled underneath the body, but not in a significant amount – making it clear she had been killed elsewhere.

  ‘He was probably getting ready to move her to some deserted place and fuck with her some more. Then we get to find her skeleton a couple of months from now fucking a sink nozzle or something… just in time for the holidays. Let me tell you something, Dom, just in case you didn’t know, there are some sick fuckin’ people in this world.’ He moved away from the guardrail and lit another cigarette. He raised his middle finger and smiled at a slow passing car. ‘Like these sick maggots, stopping to try and get a really good look.’

  ‘She looks fresh, Manny.’ Dominick touched her arm, and the flesh and muscles moved. The skin was cold. Rigor mortis had come and gone, but not too long ago. He figured she had been dead probably less than a day. Dominick stepped back from the trunk, and underneath his shoe he heard a light crunching sound. He bent down and picked up what looked like a piece of red taillight. He slid it into his pocket. ‘What did they use to pop the trunk?’

  ‘I think a metal jack. Only Lindeman with the Beach actually touched the trunk after they popped it. Crime Scene is going to dig in as soon as the ME takes her away. I wanted you to see the scene, though, before they do.’

  ‘Who’s this Bantling guy? Does he have a history?’ Dominick looked behind him at the Miami Beach cruiser, where the figure in the backseat sat upright and still, but he could not make out the face in the dark.

  ‘Nope. We ran him. He’s got nothing. I called Jannie, the analyst over at the task force, and, as we speak, she is dissecting his scummy little life from the time he first shit in his drawers until the last time it was he took a leak. We’ll know more by breakfast.’

  ‘What’s he do? Where’s he from? I never heard of him before. He hasn’t surfaced on any of our lists, has he?’

  ‘Nope. He’s forty-one and a buyer for Tommy Tan Furniture Designs, some ritzy designer on the Beach. He travels a lot to South America and India. Claimed he was headed to the airport when Chavez pulled him over. The little that we do know is that he keeps to himself. We’ve got an army out at his house right now, interviewing the neighbors and just waiting for a warrant. So far we’re getting the usual from the neighbors: “He seemed like such a nice guy, but I knew there was something odd about him” sort of crap. Tomorrow they’ll be on Jerry Springer claiming they were clairvoyant and we were idiots.

  ‘I already called the State Attorney, and Masterson and Bowman from the task force are working on the warrants. They’ll walk them through with C. J. Townsend from the State Attorney’s and then they can all head to the judge’s house for cookies, milk, and a signature.’

  ‘Has this Bantling said anything?’

  ‘Nope. He’s not talking. Hasn’t said a word since he denied the consent to search to Chavez. We’ve got him in the back of Lou Ribero’s squad car with the mikes on and we’ve been listening, but he’s not even breathing heavy back there. I told everyone to leave him alone, that we’ll handle it. Our federal friends haven’t talked to him either. Not yet anyways, although I’m sure it’s on their to-do list.’

  ‘Alright. Crime Scene can have it. Release the body to the MEs. Make sure to bag her hands before she’s moved.’ Dominick nodded in the direction of the investigators and techs, sitting on the side of the road, all trying to remain inconspicuous in their blue jackets with the words police and medical examiner printed in large fluorescent yellow lettering on the back. They descended upon the back of the trunk like termites to wood.

  Dominick nodded at the circle of cops that still surrounded the car as he passed through again. In the sky he heard the distinct whirring of a helicopter hovering overhead, and bright lights blinded him from above.

  ‘Hey, Manny, please tell me that is your fat-ass boss coming in for a landing and tour number two,’ he said.

  Manny looked up and squinted hard. Then he shook his head again in disgust. I’m afraid not. That, my friend, is the Channel Seven Trauma News at Ten O’Clock. Looks like we’ve made the big time. We’re gonna be on at eleven. Be sure to smile.’

  ‘Shit. The hordes are descending. Alright, let’s get this guy back to the office and talk to him before he realizes that this is a death-penalty state and starts whining for a lawyer and the ACLU. I’ll talk to the boys from the Bureau when we get back there, but let’s just make it clear that he’s our suspect.’

  Dominick opened the back of the Miami Beach cruiser and leaned in. The man inside stared straight ahead. In the overhead car light, Dominick saw that his right eye was puffy and swollen, and blood ran down the side of his face from a deep cut over his cheekbone. Raised red marks covered his neck. He must have tripped on his way into the squad car. It always amazed Dominick how clumsy suspects can be. Particularly on Miami Beach. His hands were cuffed behind him.

  ‘Mr Bantling, I am Special Agent Dominick Falconetti with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. I’m gonna need you to come with me. I need to ask you some questions.’

  William Bantling continued to stare straight ahead, expressionless. His eyes blinked only once.

  ‘I know who you are, Agent Falconetti. And I can assure you that there is nothing for us to discuss at your office, or anywhere else for that matter. I am invoking my right to remain silent. I want to speak with my lawyer.’

  17

  Marisol Alfonso waited impatiently for her boss at the second-floor elevator bay in the Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office. Her short, doughy frame paced the hallway, a pink message pad in hand. It was only 9:02 A.M. and she had officially been on the clock for one hour and two minutes, even though she hadn’t actually arrived at the office until 8:15. She was more than mad – she just wasn’t gonna take this shit anymore. They did not pay her enough.

  The doors opened, and Marisol scanned its departing occupants. In the back of the crowd of police uniforms and business suits, wearing dark sunglasses and a crisp gray suit, she found who she was looking for.

  ‘Where you been?’ she barked angrily. ‘Did you know that I have taken thirty messages since I been here?’ She dramatically flicked through the pink pad and followed her prey through the security access doors down the hall to the small office in the Major Crimes Unit, where a plaque on the door read c. j. TOWNSEND, ESQ., ASSISTANT CHIEF. NOW she waved the pad high above her head. ‘All these, they are for you!’

  The last person C. J. Townsend wanted to be greeted by on any morning was her
mean secretary, Marisol. It automatically ruined any hope she might have held out for having a good day. Today, in particular, was no exception. She opened her briefcase on top of her desk, removed her sunglasses, and stared back at the glaring, lumpy figure who stood before her, iridescent clawed hands on hips, in a hot-pink Lycra T-shirt and flowered skirt that was two sizes too small and five inches too short.

  ‘The last I checked, Marisol, answering the phone and taking messages were included in your job description.’

  ‘Not this many. I haven’t been able to do nothing else. Why didn’t you call and tell me what to say to these press people?’

  Not as if she did much anyway. C.J. smiled through her gritted teeth. ‘Tell them that there is no comment and just keep taking those messages. I’ll get back to whoever needs getting back to, but right now I have a ten o’clock hearing that I need to prepare for. Please make sure that I’m not disturbed.’ With that said, she began unpacking the files from her briefcase.

  Marisol asked loudly, dropped the message pad on C.J.’s desk, turned on her pink high heels, and stormed out of the office, mumbling angrily in Spanish under her breath.

  C.J. watched as Marisol teetered off down the hall to the secretarial pool, where she figured she would now spend the next two hours making her rounds among the secretaries, gossiping about the morning’s events and what a bitch her boss was. C.J. closed the door and let out a slow breath. If it was the last thing she accomplished at this office it would be to get that woman moved to another division, on another floor, preferably to the Child Support building across town. Not an easy task. After ten years, Marisol was a lifer. They would probably have to drag her out in a large, pink body bag before the State Attorney conjured up the balls and actually canned her.

 
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