“My name is Andres Delfino. Last week, all of Spain was notified of the tragic accident that claimed the life of futbol star Nico Milian. That so-called accident was a lie. Nico Milian was killed in an altercation with a man named Seve Feria, a criminal thug involved in a match tanking and bet fixing plot. I know this because I was there.”
In the video, Andres was wearing the same dark green shirt he had been wearing when Espinal found him bleeding to death in his SUV. The wall behind him was of white tile and his voice had a slightly echoey, hollow quality. He knew now that it had been filmed in the bathroom of the beach house Seve had rented as his base of operations.
“Killing Milian was never the plan. The plan was to talk to him, get him to change his mind about tanking some matches. It’s not like we were asking him to lose, we only wanted him to cooperate with making sure the score ended up a certain way for the next few matches, to make sure both teams got a certain standing in the league tables. But Milian was a purist. He loved the game and the fans too much to do anything but play to the best of his considerable ability. So Seve got angry. He stood to make a lot of money fixing bets on these matches, so he started arguing with Milian. Then the argument turned physical and Seve shoved Milian. He fell and hit his head on a fire extinguisher case. He never got back up.”
Andres paused and looked off camera as if he heard something. Then he continued, in a quieter voice. “That was a complete accident. Everything that has happened since then was Seve’s cold, deliberate plan. He threatened me into helping him fake Nico Milian’s car accident. He used my involvement in that cover up to blackmail me into following the American who saw and photographed us putting Milian’s body in the trunk of his car, Zeb Martin, back here to Aurelia, California.”
He knitted his brow. “I fear if you are watching this that it means that Seve has killed me like he plans to kill Zeb Martin and his sister, Zoe.” Andres paused and leaned a little closer to the camera. “Zoe, if that is the case, please know that I believed you. I have accepted the gift you so desperately wanted me to.”
Espinal wished they could have skipped that part, since it was so personal, but the judge said the full video had to be played exactly as it was recorded, so Seve’s lawyer couldn’t accuse the prosecution of tampering with evidence.
He glanced over at Zoe and saw that seeing the video – even for the third time – was affecting her. She and Andres had only gotten to see each other a few times in the aftermath of everything, but he could already tell there was a surprising, strong bond between the two of them. The thought that he almost died and that this video could have been all she would have had left of him scared her in more ways than one, he knew.
Espinal just looked forward to the, at least in his opinion, inevitable wedding. For now, though, he and Zeb joked Andres and Zoe were the only ones that seemed to be unaware of the depth of their affection for each other.
He looked past Zoe to where Zeb was seated. He was holding his sister’s hand in one of his and his cane in the other. The bullet wounds had healed well, finally, and he had regained full use of his legs, but his Ménière’s had made his balance deteriorate to the point he could no longer stand without the cane’s aid. Espinal was still amazed by the grace with which his friend was handling his journey. Not only had he come to terms with the disease, but he had forgiven Seve in open court for nearly ending his life.
Espinal was not so sure he would have been able to do the same, if it had been him.
The video continued on for only a few short minutes, but Andres came clean about every detail of everything he and Seve had done. When the video was over, the court recessed until after lunch, when Andres himself would take the stand.
For the most part, the prosecutor just had Andres give a little more detailed accounts of everything he had documented in the video. Andres appeared very calm, Espinal thought, and answered the questions frankly and factually.
Feria’s lawyer looked like a cat who had just been given a mouse when he stood to begin the cross examination. He was a tall, fat man in a suit tailored to make him look imposing rather than just overweight. He plastered a fake smile on his round face as he approached Andres.
“Mr. Delfino, would you tell us once again why you were at that youth center the day Nico Milian died?”
“We were there to try to-”
“I’m sorry, but please be more specific: who, exactly, is ‘we’?”
“Me and Seve Feria.”
“Thank you. Please continue.”
“Um, we were at the youth center to try to convince Nico Milian to go along with tanking some matches.”
“So you said in your video,” the lawyer said, emphasizing the word video in such a way as to make it sound trivial or trite. “But, for the benefit of the jury, could you explain exactly what that entails.”
Andres cleared his throat. “Tanking is when two teams who will be playing against each other agree to work together to make the match turn out in such a way that benefits both teams. Futbol, you call it soccer here in the States, is not just about the score of any particular match. Other factors play into the points system, which, in turn, impacts a team’s standing in the league tables, and directly influences which teams they will play against in future matches.”
“So, basically it is cheating, but both opposing teams are in on it together.”
“And is this something the governing bodies, or whoever regulates this sport in Spain, is aware of?”
“They are aware that it sometimes happens, yes.”
“But is it against the rules? Or is it allowed?”
Andres adjusted his tie. “It is against the rules. If any teams are discovered in a tanking scheme, both are subject to any disciplinary action FIFA and the International Football Association Board decides is appropriate.”
The lawyer was pacing in a circuit starting in front of the jury, to the witness stand, in front of the judge and then back. He stopped in front of the jury box and faced Andres. “And what is FIFA?”
“FIFA stands for the Fédération Internationale de Football Association. It is the governing body of association soccer.”
“And so you, being a referee who essentially is an employee of this FIFA, was knowingly and willfully encouraging players to tank matches, which is, in your words, against FIFA regulations. Is that accurate?”
“Yes, it is.” He said it simply, not making excuses or trying to downplay it. Espinal was proud of him.
“Just so everyone is clear, then, you are admitting to taking part in what amounts to criminal activity?”
The lawyer turned to the jury, his hands spread wide before him and an incredulous smile on his face. “So you, an admitted criminal, want these fine ladies and gentlemen to believe you when you tell them you were an unwilling party to the crimes my client stands accused of? That he acted alone, was the mastermind behind a plot to kill two American citizens-”
“Three,” Andres corrected. “Zeb and Zoe Martin and Rob Zesterson.”
The lawyer waved a hand almost dismissively. “Three American citizens and that you – what? – were forced to help? But that you actually never broke the law yourself in all that time?”
Andres regarded him a moment, completely composed, then said, “Which one of those questions would you like me to answer first?”
A couple of jurors snickered a little, especially as the lawyers triumphant smile withered ever so slightly. “Did you or did you not take Zoe Martin to a rental cabin in Mesa Forest and keep her prisoner there?”
Andres’ gaze flicked over to Zoe briefly, before he looked back at the lawyer. “I did take her there.”
“So you kidnapped her?”
“Seve Feria forcefully entered Zeb Martin’s house where Zoe Martin was, overpowered her and tied her up. I was then ordered to transport her to the cabin and wait for Seve to call and tell me to let her go.”
“Did she agree to go to this cabin?”
“She was not given the choice.”
The lawyer turned to the jury and slapped his hands on the rail of the jury box. “That, ladies and gentlemen, is the definition of kidnapping! This man,” he jabbed a finger toward Andres, “has just admitted to taking Ms. Zoe Martin out of her brother’s home and transporting her to another location against her will.”
“Objection,” the prosecutor said. “Relevance? Mr. Delfino is not on trial here today.”
“I am merely calling the jury’s attention to the less-than-pristine innocence of the prosecution’s star witness, Your Honor,” the defense attorney replied.
“I’ll allow it,” the judge ruled.
Espinal wanted to curse. He could see that Zoe, too, wanted to speak up.
“Your Honor, if I may?” Andres asked.
“I am fully aware of what I did and did not do to break the laws of this country. I am not asking the court to pretend I had no part in all of this. All I want you to know is that, at the time, I felt like I had no choice. I felt that my life was in danger and that the only way I would live to go back home to Spain was to do as Seve told me to do. And, given the fact that he shot me twice and left me to bleed to death in that beach house garage proved that I was right. But that does not excuse my actions. If I had had more courage, I would have stopped him long before now. I know I must face justice for what I have done, but I am here today to help make sure that Seve Feria faces justice for what he has done.”
Espinal smiled at his boy. Several members of the jury were nodding along with Andres’ words, as were many people in the court gallery. Andres had won them over.
And the entire courtroom knew it.