Plea of Insanity, p.1Jilliane Hoffman
Plea of Insanity
Plea of Insanity
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Published by the Penguin Group
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Copyright © Jilliane Hoffman, 2007
The moral right of the author has been asserted
Truman Capote Literary Trust. Excerpt from In Cold Blood by Truman Capote, copyright 1965
by Truman Capote; copyright renewed 1993 by Alan U. Schwartz. Reprinted by permission of the
Truman Capote Literary Trust and Alan U. Schwartz.
Carcanet Press Limited: Excerpt from ‘To God’ by Ivor Gurney, from the P. J. Kavanagh, ed., Collected Poems of
Ivor Gurney (Oxford University Press, 1982). Reprinted by permission of Carcantet Press.
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For Rich, Amanda and Katarina –
my beautiful, daily inspirations.
And for those who face the world when reality goes missing,
may you find peace, tolerance, understanding and a cure.
Georgia Adams finished off the rest of the coffee in her oversized ‘Some Bunny Loves You’ mug, sat back in her chair at her desk and closed her eyes. At a quarter to five in the morning, even four cups of hot caffeine wasn’t keeping them open anymore, and she drifted into a crazy dream almost immediately, right there, at her desk. She’d been on midnights for almost a week now, but her body clock still hadn’t adjusted to owl’s hours. Georgia hated working nights, but because of the baby she had no choice. Roofs didn’t get tarred at night, so Randy had to workdays, they needed the money, and day care wasn’t – and would never be – an option for her. No matter how much her overachieving, workaholic mother-in-law insisted it should be.
The beep sounded suddenly5 and loudly in Georgia’s ear, startling her awake with a familiar rush of adrenaline. She sat up in the chair and reached for the button to open the line. ‘Police and fire,’ she said in the programmed, calm monotone that the department had taught her as she rubbed the dream out of her eyes. ‘What’s your emergency?’
The dead hum of silence buzzed the line.
‘This is the nine-one-one operator,’ Georgia repeated. ‘Is there an emergency?’
‘This is the nine-one-one operator. Do you have an emergency?’ Georgia asked once more. She was a bit irritated now. Maybe she shouldn’t have drifted off, but being woken up by either a drunk or a prankster was starting to tick her off.
‘Help us,’ a small, far-off voice finally said.
Georgia rolled her chair closer to the three-screen console in front of her. ‘Okay, I can help you,’ she replied calmly. Her fingers hovered over the CAD keyboard, the Computer Assisted Dispatch system. When she typed in a particular signal number, the computer would automatically dispatch the right response, either fire rescue or police. She didn’t know what she had just yet, what button to push. What’s your name, hon? Can you speak up?’ she asked, adjusting the volume on her headset when there was no response. ‘’Cause I can barely hear you.’ Unfamiliar, prickly goose-bumps suddenly erupted across her body, raising the tiny hairs on the back of her neck. She’d been an emergency operator for a long time – too long, maybe – but the one thing she wasn’t usually was affected. She’d listened before while husbands beat their wives, road rage erupted into gunshots, and women had babies on their kitchen floors. But there was something in this voice. Something that was not right. Something that inexplicably affected her.
‘Help us … please.’
So small, so distant, so unsure. Like a child.
An address accompanied the telephone number that stared back at her from her Positron screen, the public-safety phone system that automatically tracked incoming calls on the emergency line. On the PowerMap monitor, a small, one-dimensional computer-generated house appeared on a map on a block lined with other computer-generated houses. She could see that the call was coming from a residence.
‘I’m going to help you, honey,’ Georgia replied calmly. ‘I need you to stay on the line and tell me exactly what’s happened.’
‘I think he’s coming back,’ said the whisper in between short, labored pants.
‘Who’s coming? Are you hurt? What’s your name?’ Identify with them, Georgia. Keep them on the line, whatever you do, girl. Get details, if possible.
‘I think he’s coming back,’ the voice repeated, breaking as it started to cry now.
‘Who’s that? Has someone been hurt? Do you need an ambulance?’ It was getting harder to maintain the monotone. Georgia looked at the computer-house, flashing helplessly at her on the screen. What the hell was happening in there?
And then, abruptly, the tears stopped with a sucked-in sniffle. ‘Uh-oh. No, no, no. Sshh, sshh, shhh …’ Silence filled the line once again.
Maybe this is just a prank, Georgia told herself. Maybe it’s just a kid messing around. She’d fielded dozens and dozens of pranks in her career – most of them being made at sleepovers with giggly adolescents whose parents never taught them that dialing 911 wasn’t some kind of a joke.
A soft thud sounded in the background. Georgia hesitated for just a moment and then started again. ‘Hello? Hello? Are you still there?’ She stood up in her seat to signal her supervisor so he could pickup the line and listen, but he was away from his cubicle, which was clear across the room. In fact, dozens of cubicles were empty on the floor. Oddly enough, the hours between 3 p.m. and midnight were the busiest for emergency dispatchers – rush-hour accidents, people getting home from work all stressed and taking it out on their family and friends. The graveyard shift was supposed to be the quiet one. ‘Hello? Is there someone on the line?’ Georgia demanded. ‘Is there anyone there? This is the emergency operator.’
‘No, no,’ said the broken whisper, starting to cry once more. ‘Oh, no, no, no, please …’
Then the line went dead.
Georgia stared at the screen in front of her, her heart beating fast. The house continued to flash at her, glowing ghostly white in th
She never worked midnights again.
‘Dad, the world is getting dark now. I can feel it more and more …’
‘Son of Sam’ David Berkowitz, in a letter to his father,
dated one month before his first murder,
The old Spanish house sat back away from the street, nestled behind lush tropical foliage and towering palms. Halloween decorations dotted a manicured front lawn, where a six-foot-tall, black-hooded Grim Reaper waited menacingly to scare trick-or-treaters from a flower bed filled with impatiens. Home-made ghosts with magic-markered black eyes dangled from the branches of an oak tree, twisting and turning in the gusty breeze that had come in overnight, courtesy of an early-season cold front. In the fast-fading moonlight they glowed an odd, bright white. Somewhere up the block a dog barked, as night yawned into morning.
The short whoop of a police siren broke the sleepy predawn quiet as it turned onto Sorolla Avenue from Granada. Coral Gables PO Pete Colonna ignored the long driveway and instead pulled the cruiser over at the curb. Stepping out of the car, he surveyed the house for a moment and then made his way up the winding brick walkway to the front door, past scattered sticks of sidewalk chalk and an abandoned tricycle. When he spotted the little bike with silver racing stripes he moved a little faster. He rang the bell and pounded on an impressive oak front door. He could hear the loud chimes inside, but no one answered.
‘8362, Gables,’ Pete said into his shoulder mike.
‘Go ahead, 8362.’
‘10-97 at nine-eight-five Sorolla. There’s no response.’
‘Stand by, 8362.’ After a moment the dispatcher with the Coral Gables PD came back on. ‘Bell South has checked the line. It’s open, but there’s no conversation. They’re not getting an answer.’
‘I don’t hear any ringing from inside.’
As Pete looked the front door up and down, the voice of his sergeant crackled to life on the radio pack. ‘8362, this is 998. Go to channel two.’ Channel two was the talk-around channel, where they could speak without going through dispatch.
Pete switched over. ‘Go ahead, Sarge.’
‘What have you got?’ asked his sergeant.
‘I’m checking the residence,’ Pete said as he moved about the front yard. ‘There’s no broken windows or evidence of a break-in that I can see, but …’ he hesitated.
‘Something don’t feel right, Sarge.’
There was a pause. ‘Alright. Trust your gut. I’ll come now, then.’
‘I’m gonna take the door.’
‘The hell you are. Stand down. Wait for me,’ his sergeant said sternly.
Pete looked through shrubbery that hid a black iron fence and back gate. Forgotten toys drifted lazily across a still pool. ‘Kids live here,’ he said. Pete’s wife was pregnant. In just a few weeks he would have two little ones of his own.
‘Wait for me. Don’t go in there alone, Colonna. You may find a confused homeowner with a shotgun in his hand that didn’t hear the doorbell. 10-23 for back-up. I’m there in five.’
Pete clicked back over to dispatch. His sergeant’s voice radioed in. ‘998 is 10-51 to 8362’s location from the University of Miami. Five-minute ETA.’
Pete walked back around to the front of the house where he spotted the tricycle again. Mounted next to the front door he noticed a hand-carved ‘Welcome Home’ plaque. An uneasy, anxious feeling began to spread through his chest.
It seemed like a lifetime, and definitely more than five minutes, before he heard the squad car pull down the residential street and up to the curb. Sergeant Demos was a large man, and with just weeks to go before his retirement party, things moved at a considerably slower pace for him. It took more than a few moments for him to get out of the car and lumber up the walk.
‘Still nothing, Colonna?’ he asked.
‘Nah, Sarge. No sign of life.’
‘The hang-up was a kid, right? Could be a prank,’ Demos said, scratching at his lumpy, bald head. ‘Great. Everyone’s in bed except for junior. Kid’s sweating it out right now, watching us from behind Bugs Bunny curtains,’ he finished, looking up at the dark windows above.
Pete shook his head. ‘Line’s alive, but there’s no ringing. No one’s answering the door. I got a feeling.’
‘You and your feelings. I got a feeling you’re looking for some OT, what with all the reports you’ll be writing.’ The sergeant used his asp to bang on the door. ‘Police! Anybody home?’ After a moment, he looked at Pete again. ‘Any history on the house?’
‘Not that I know of. Dispatch didn’t say and I know I ain’t been here before,’ he said, looking around at the stately homes that lined the block. ‘Nice ’hood.’
‘Don’t let the address fool you, Junior. O.J. lived in Beverly Hills.’
‘Actually, I think it was Brentwood.’
‘Same damn difference. The point I was trying to make was domestics happen everywhere. You’d do good to remember that.’ Demos sighed. ‘A little kid? Alright. Minimal damage. Take the pane. The City’s paying for it, so don’t go nuts.’
Using his flashlight, Pete broke out one pane of the frosted, etched glass that framed the front door, reached in and unlocked the lock. The scream of an ear-piercing alarm sounded when the door opened.
‘Well, if everyone was sleeping, they ain’t no more,’ shouted his sergeant. ‘Give it a second.’ They stood together on the front stoop with the door wide open, but no one appeared.
Dispatch came back on the radio. ‘8362, 998. Be advised we have ADT on the line. We have an audible alarm at your location.’
‘10-4,’ said Demos, ‘998 and 8362 have made entry through the front door. Has the homeowner called in for nine-one-one response?’
‘Negative, 998. Still no answer on the line.’
The sergeant nodded at Pete. ‘Alright. Let’s go in.’
‘Coral Gables Police! Is everyone okay in here?’ Pete yelled into the dark house. He pulled his Glock and stepped inside, his sergeant breathing heavy behind him. Shards of glass from the windowpane crunched under his feet.
Twenty-foot ceilings loomed over a beautifully decorated formal living room. A staircase zigzagged up a sidewall and an ornate iron railing stretched across an overhead balcony. Past the balcony and down the upstairs hallway Pete could see a light was on. ‘Police!’ he yelled again, competing with the scream of the alarm.
They moved quickly through the first-floor rooms. Laundry sat piled on a washing machine and toys cluttered the family room. In the kitchen, cleaned baby bottles were lined up neatly next to the sink on paper towels.
The alarm suddenly stopped. Dispatch had probably told ADT that officers were at the location. Now the house seemed too large and too quiet. Pete thought of the baby bottles and a feeling of pure panic squeezed his chest.
‘Coral Gables Police!’ Demos yelled. Still nothing.
Pete ran for the stairs. Behind him he could hear the labored breathing of his sergeant as he tried to keep up – the jingle of the cumbersome equipment belt under the sarge’s well-endowed belly, the heavy clicking of his heels on the stone steps. Retirement probably seemed a lifetime away at that moment.
At the top landing, Pete’s feet touched padded carpet. Light spilled softly into the hallway from a backroom whose door was partly closed. It grew brighter and brighter as he made his way down the hall. Family pictures smiled at him from every angle. All the other hall doors were shut tight.
‘Anything?’ called Demos, still on the stairs.
Pete moved down the hall toward the open door. Like in a movie under the hand of an artful director, select pieces of the room slowly came into view. Colorful butterflies danced across a bright purple wall. A Hello Kitty mirror. A wall plaque that spelled out EMMA. The edge of a Disney Princess comforter. ‘Kid’s room,’ he called out.
‘What the fuck did you step in?’ Demos asked suddenly.
‘Jesus Christ!’ the sergeant said, answering his own question.
Suddenly Pete wanted to stop. He didn’t want to see anymore. A sick, unfamiliar feeling churned his stomach and sweat dribbled off his forehead. For instinctively he knew that what he was about to witness was something he would probably spend the rest of his life trying to forget. He took a deep breath and pressed his head against the wall, his firearm out before him at the ready. His hands shook and he thought for a moment of his wife and the two perfect, innocent babies he had not yet met. From the sonogram he knew they were both girls. Madison and McKenzie were going to be their names. ‘Police!’ he shouted again, struggling to hide the slight tremble in his voice.
Then he entered the room and completely fell apart.
The scream of sirens exploded throughout the county, their deafening, high-pitched wails growing louder as they seemingly closed in from every direction on Sorolla. A blur of police cruisers, both marked and unmarked, raced down the sleepy street, until within minutes, the entire block was ablaze in blue and red flashing lights. Uniformed officers with the Coral Gables and Miami-Dade police departments crawled over the lawns and sidewalks, jabbering into their handhelds simultaneously, and the fading night air was electrified with the crackle of static and police jargon. Neighbors, most still dressed in their pajamas, began to slowly seep out of their homes and gather in small clumps on the sidewalk, staring from a comfortable distance at the exploding scene down the block. Clutching their robes in modesty and against a brisk wind, they chatted nervously among themselves, half-listening to each other as they craned their necks to watch the frenzied commotion unfold in front of the home of Dr David Marquette and his pretty wife, Jennifer. Some finally made their way down the block, where wooden police horses and yellow crime-scene tape held them back off the sidewalk. A Channel Ten news van pulled up across the street, followed by one from Channel Seven. And more police cars.
Plea of Insanity by Jilliane Hoffman / History & Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes