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Last witness, p.9
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       Last Witness, p.9

           Jilliane Hoffman
 

  A problem always seems a lot bigger in your own head, her father had once said. Chances are if you share it, you’ll see that.

  She looked at her watch again and let out a low whistle of alarm as she grabbed her purse and notebook and Marlboros off the front seat and dashed upstairs to her apartment. There was no more time left to ponder unanswerable questions. She had to get to court.

  25

  ‘We need to talk,’ Dominick began. It was seven o’clock at night and C.J. sat alone in her office, disturbing thoughts interrupting her concentration, as she stared at the Westlaw computer screen in front of her.

  He had appeared suddenly in her doorway, his words making her jump slightly in her chair. It bothered her that she hadn’t heard him enter. That she had been taken by surprise, but she said nothing.

  ‘Hey, there,’ she replied. ‘What brings you here?’

  ‘You. Now, what’s keeping you here, and why haven’t you been answering your phone?’ He looked concerned, maybe even angry. He had moved into the office from the doorframe, but did not sit.

  ‘I’ve been in trial, remember? I was waiting on a verdict.’ The answer was partially correct. ‘I called you back and left a message—’

  ‘Yeah. I got it. Congratulations on your guilty.’ His voice softened somewhat. ‘But this is not like you. It’s not like us. I’ve barely seen you lately and now it’s three days since we’ve even talked. What’s happening here?’

  ‘You’ve been busy, I’ve been busy, Dominick. Time got away from us, I suppose.’ He had been coming home after she was asleep. She had been leaving before he woke up.

  ‘No, no,’ he said, shaking his head. ‘That’s not the answer. This has been happening for a while. I’ve been trying to reach you. I’ve been trying to speak with you. I’m here.’ He paused, and a deafening silence hung heavy in the air.

  ‘I’m sorry,’ she finally replied. There was no way to tell him the thoughts that had consumed her mind since Sonny Lindeman’s body was discovered Monday night. Even the closest of lovers keep secrets, she had rationalized. The responsibility of this one was heavy enough for her to carry. She didn’t need to weigh Dominick and his career down with it as well just to ease her own burden. And there was the distinct and troublesome possibility that he would not feel as she did. That his conscience would not keep as silent as hers, and he would feel compelled to disclose to the proper authorities that which could never be revealed.

  ‘Why? What’s going on with you?’ He leaned his hands across the front of her desk now, his eyes searching to find hers and read them. ‘Is it this trial? Is it Black Jacket? I need to know, C.J. You’ve been a million miles away, and I can’t reach you. No matter how hard I try.’

  ‘Dominick, you’ve worked sixteen-hour days since the first Black Jacket murder. When and where is it you would like to reach me?’ She paused before continuing. ‘I’m sorry,’ she said again. ‘My mind has been taken up with this trial for a month. You’ve been busy, I’ve been busy. We’ll both try harder.’

  She looked straight up at him then and his probing brown eyes continued their search. She knew sometimes how it felt to be a suspect in his custody. He missed nothing.

  Instead of sitting, he walked around her desk to where she sat. He spun the chair around to face him, and taking her hands in his, pulled her up to him. Without a word, he kissed her on the mouth, his goatee gently tickling her chin in a familiar, comforting way. Yet to feel him this close – physically, emotionally – inexplicably frightened her at that moment.

  ‘I’m sorry, too,’ he finally said, holding her close. ‘It’s been hard, these murders. Not just work-wise.’ His voice lowered, as if he were speaking only to himself. ‘I feel like I owe it to them. More than anyone else on the task force. I have to find the person responsible, and I’m not doing a very good job. Because no matter what they did, they didn’t do anything to deserve going out like that. They were on the job, for Christ’s sake. In their friggin’ uniforms…’

  ‘You’ll find him,’ she said quietly.

  C.J. knew that becoming a cop was not simply an option imagined at career day for Dominick. Although he didn’t talk much about them, she knew pretty much everyone in his family was a cop somewhere. His uncles and cousins were with the NYPD, his brother-in-law, a robbery detective with the Nassau County PD on Long Island. His grandfather had been a cop in the Bronx for thirty years, and his father had walked a beat for twenty. She should have realized just how personally Dominick would take these murders, but she had been too busy distancing herself, and for that she now felt incredibly guilty.

  ‘I should have been honest with you,’ he said. ‘This case has really gotten to me. Maybe I’ve been looking to reach out, and we, well, we haven’t connected lately.’

  She heard her voice catch on those final words. Dominick had been there for her so many times, to help her deal with the emotional baggage she carted around. Now he needed her and she had abandoned him. She had not sensed his mounting desperation, because she had been keeping him at arm’s length, pushing him away. Because, unlike him, she could never be completely honest.

  ‘Look,’ she said softly. ‘You’re right. Judge Penney has been demanding and I’ve been distracted. And then Monday…’ her voice drifted off. She looked down. ‘And I’m sorry, baby. I should have come home earlier. I should have—’

  But he cut her off. His mouth met hers with another kiss. This one, though, was slow. She felt his hand run up her back, over her silk camisole. His fingers wrapped around her neck pulling her closer, making her skin tingle. His breath was warm on her cheek, and then his tongue met hers. He tasted like beer, but sweet, the bitterness gone. She wrapped her own arms around his back, her fingers floating over hard muscle, pulling him closer. Even at forty-two, he still had the perfect body.

  ‘Can we go home now?’ was all he asked.

  26

  Without a word, he came up behind her as she closed and locked the apartment door, his body finding hers and pressing tightly up against it. His arms wrapped around her, hugging her close, his face buried in her hair. For a few minutes they stood like that in the dark hall of the apartment, his body against hers, her hands holding on to his arms, letting them envelop her. She closed her eyes and felt his breath, warm against her ear, and his goatee tickle her neck. Her fingertips traveled over his forearms, feeling the smooth definition of muscle that reached up past his biceps, onto his shoulders and neck.

  She imagined for a moment that it was just the two of them in this world. No cranky judges or screaming public or high-profile cases. That work was no longer about death and what caused it, and that funeral attendance was not listed as part of either of their job descriptions. She imagined that it was just her and Dominick, living out completely different, uncomplicated lives, with no pasts and no secrets to wedge a silent, growing gap between them.

  He would not let go and she would not let him. His hand pressed against her stomach, keeping her close to him, so close she could feel him now, hard against her thigh. His breathing became quicker, more deliberate and his tongue wandered out, over her ear, his open mouth traveling slowly down the curve of her neck. The fingers of his other hand crawled deliberately over her chest, moving to open the buttons on her blouse and expose her. Within seconds all were open, and his warm hand slipped inside her bra, pushing it aside, cupping her breast in his palm.

  There existed an intense chemistry between them that could never be denied. C.J. knew that when she was with him, when they became one, a side of her involuntarily opened up, like a window, and he could not only see in, but could reach in and touch her very being. The skin on their naked bodies as they moved together, was simply a glorious, but insignificant barrier between their souls. They breathed as one, and for a moment in time, without words, he knew everything about her, things she herself did not even know. Perhaps that complete feeling of oneness was what also frightened her so badly at times. When they were this close emotionally, the f
laws were easy to spot.

  She moved her arms up, running her fingers through the short hairs on the back of his neck and pulling his head down, deeper into her neck. She arched her back into him, wanting to experience more of him, needing to touch him, taste him, right there in the hall. She let his fingers explore her breasts, his mouth on her neck, and felt her breath catch when his hand moved slowly down, over her belly until he found the button on her pants and opened them.

  They had made love a thousand times in their relationship, but she still felt the same anxious butterflies whenever he touched her. A sensation that she had never had with any other man. She heard herself moan as his hands pulled her pants off her hips with a quick tug and they fell to the floor in a heap, and his fingers moved down the front of her panties.

  ‘Oh God, I love you,’ she said softly, her hands still wrapped around his neck, her fingertips digging into the back of his shoulders.

  ‘I want to make love to you,’ he whispered back into her ear. ‘Right now. Right here.’

  ‘Yes,’ she said, her eyes still closed.

  He took off his shirt while her hands moved behind her, over his hips, pulling down his slacks, until they crumpled into a heap next to hers.

  He spun her around gently so that she faced him now. She felt his naked skin warm against hers, the hair on his chest curling against her breasts as he pressed her to him, his arms wrapping around her protectively, like a cloak. Then his hand gently traced underneath her chin and he tilted her face to look up at him. She opened her eyes. Soft light from the patio outside filtered in through the sliding glass doors, slicing through the living-room blinds.

  ‘I’m sorry,’ she began softly, fearing she might cry. The moment was overwhelming her. ‘For tonight, for everything. For not being there for you…’

  But he cut her off. ‘Sshh,’ he said softly. ‘I love you. Don’t ever doubt that.’

  Then he kissed her gently on the lips and laid her down on the living-room rug and made love to her in the patio light.

  27

  Sonny Lindeman’s funeral was held on a windy Friday afternoon at the Church of the Little Flower in downtown Coral Gables. From four blocks away, C.J. could see that it would be useless for her and Dominick to try and get a spot closer to the majestic Spanish cathedral. Cars lined the streets, and people dressed in black somberly walked past their car as it waited at the light on Red Road. Motorcycle cops with Coral Gables PD directed traffic and parking. Dominick ignored the uniforms, and instead slid the car into a small swale on the side of the road with a prominent NO PARKING sign next to it. As the officer strode up to begin the inevitable confrontation, Dominick placed the FDLE identification shield on the dashboard and walked around the side of the car to C.J.’s door. The cop said nothing and turned and walked away.

  Hand-in-hand they walked in silence to the church, footsteps on the pavement the only sound on the somber processional. Voices were hushed as they made their way to the front of the church.

  She had not wanted to come today, but she had done so out of respect. Respect for Dominick, who she knew needed her there. And respect for his profession, which had, in the past seventy-two hours, suffered yet another professional black eye. Dominick had been right; within hours of Sonny Lindeman’s murder, nasty information had oozed out of the City of Miami’s Internal Affairs Department like a clogged drain. Sonny had been a recent addition to their Dirty List, fingered by a flip informant who wanted to cut a deal in his trafficking case. Elijah Jackson handed out names like birthday party invitations, and walked out of DCJ without posting one red cent as bond.

  Two days later Elijah’s body had floated by a fisherman in the Miami River. The Medical Examiner was pretty sure the cause of death was his severed carotid, but since Elijah’s stomach had also been sliced open – leading to a fish feeding frenzy and swifter decomposition – it was impossible to say for certain.

  What had proven to be even more interesting than the name of a bad City of Miami police officer, were the other names that Elijah, a former BB Posse member, had coughed up before floating downstream. Valle was the magic word that had actually sprung the lock on his cell. The head of one of the wealthiest families in Miami, Roberto Valle owned half of the real estate in the county and half of the So Be nightclubs. Nightclubs where, coincidentally, each of the Black Jacket victims had worked an off-duty. A respected family man, Valle had been honored many times over for his philanthropic gifts to society and charitable donations, but it made no matter. The actions of anyone and everyone in the nightclub business inevitably raised the cynical eyebrows of law enforcement, who had looked at Valle for years for money laundering. Elijah Jackson had finally given them what they needed.

  Marked and unmarked police cars from every department lined Sevilla, further than the eye could even see. Melbourne, Lakeland, Orlando – even Tallahassee and Jacksonville PD cruisers were there. From near and far, the blue wall attended, even for an unknown brother. Even for yet another who had fallen from grace.

  A swarm of uniforms and dark-suited detectives crowded outside the tremendous glass and wrought-iron church doors, nervously smoking and chatting. All waited until the last possible second to actually enter the church and hear the final goodbyes. Dominick found Manny, Marlon Dorsett and Chris Masterson talking with several others. ‘Hey, guys,’ he said, looking around. ‘Chris, is Fulton here?’

  ‘Yeah,’ Chris replied. ‘He went inside with Black and Jordan from the Beach to get a seat. Said he’d hold one for you.’

  ‘Hola, Counselor,’ said the Bear to C.J. with a grin. He wore a tweed jacket with a solid brown collar that was about two inches too short at the wrists. Either Manny had put on a few pounds since the last time he had broken it out, or, as was more likely the case, it was borrowed. His black tie was scattered with little teal and white Florida Marlins emblems. ‘We didn’t get a chance to chat the other day. How’s those wedding plans coming?’

  ‘They’re coming, Manny. Dominick just booked the salsa band.’

  ‘I love it.’ He rubbed his stomach, which protruded over his pants just enough to be noticed. ‘And the food…’ He turned to Dominick. ‘Hey, Dommy Boy, you gonna shake that small Italian ass of yours on the dance floor with me?’

  ‘I might slip a disc, Bear,’ Dominick mused. ‘And I’m gonna need that small Italian ass intact for my honeymoon.’ C.J. felt him rub the back of her hand softly.

  The Bear turned to her. ‘Hey, that reminds me, Counselor. You got a friend for me for the wedding?’

  ‘Marisol? We’ve been down that road before, Manny. And she still won’t talk to me after the last time you broke her heart.’ Although a silent Marisol was not necessarily a bad thing. ‘She hasn’t given me an accurate phone message in months.’

  ‘She misses me, does she? Psycho-witch.’ He paused for a moment, pulling down on his thick mustache, as if remembering something. ‘Maybe I’ll call her.’

  C.J. winced, trying hard not to imagine the work ethic of a twice-scorned Marisol.

  ‘C.J.,’ Chris Masterson said. ‘Long time, no see. How you been?’

  ‘Okay, Chris,’ she smiled, looking around her. They had worked together on the Cupid investigation, and had always gotten along well. He was sweet, but quiet. No match for Manny Alvarez in a conversation. ‘I’ve had better days than this, though,’ she said.

  ‘Haven’t we all? I hear you’re on this Black Jacket Task Force, too. I just got sucked in.’

  C.J. swallowed hard. ‘I was. I’m not sure if I’ll still be able to do it. I’ve got a lot going on. Trials and motions…’ Her voice tapered off. ‘I think Maus may help out. He has the gang expertise.’ She had not yet shared with the State Attorney the suggestion she had been quietly nursing over the past few days – that she be taken off the task force and replaced with Andy Maus, the former Chief of the SAO Gang Unit and the Major Crimes prosecutor who had responded to Angelillo’s crime scene. Nor had she shared the idea with Andy, although his
reputation as a back-stabbing press hound made her think he’d be more than happy to take the reins.

  ‘Really? Any thought, then, before you leave us?’ Chris asked.

  ‘No. Dominick did tell me your tale on the mutilation. A Colombian necktie?’

  ‘Nasty, isn’t it? Great way to send a thoughtful message to the masses.’

  On that note, she decided it was time for a cigarette. ‘Yes. Excuse me for a moment, won’t you?’ She walked off into the crowd and then behind the church. Out of sight of the task force crew and Dominick, who didn’t yet know that she was back on the butts.

  Several officers in dark brown MDPD uniforms stood chatting with the dark blues of Miami Beach and the City, none of whom she recognized, under the droopy umbrella of a hundred-year-old eucalyptus tree nearby. She lit her Marlboro, trying hard not to think about what Chris has just said.

  She heard the low voice of one of the officers behind her. ‘Isn’t that the Cupid prosecutor?’

  And after a moment, another. ‘Yeah, yeah. That’s her, I think. Townsend. She’s on this, now. I heard it on the news.’ She felt their eyes on her.

  Another voice, this one with a heavy, immediately recognizable New York accent. ‘Hey, Carl, did you know that first guy? Chavez? The one who pulled that sick fuck over?’

  ‘Yeah, a little. He was an asshole. Didn’t deserve what he got, but he was still an asshole.’ A pause. ‘I knew Sonny, too. Before he was with the City, he was road patrol on the Beach. Worked with him once.’

  ‘No shit?’

  ‘Yeah. I think he might also have worked Cupid.’

 
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