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Plea of insanity, p.10
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       Plea of Insanity, p.10

           Jilliane Hoffman
 

  But, of course, he had no idea if the guy felt befriended seeing as he’d slept the entire way up. Although he’d never worked with Brill before yesterday, he’d heard all about the detective’s reputation from those who had. ‘Hot-headed’, ‘difficult’ and ‘obnoxious’ were just some of the descriptions. ‘A cheating, motherfucking asshole’ was another, but that came from a female detective at Metro who’d actually dated him, so Lat didn’t count that. God knows what his own ex-wife or ex-girlfriends would say about him behind closed doors. But snoring and abrasive adjectives aside, no one was denying that Brill was competent. Three of his last fifteen years had been spent heading up Persons, and he had a personnel file at the Gables filled with commendations. Before that, he’d put in another ten as a sergeant with the Florida Highway Patrol. Accomplishments not readily achieved by the lazy, Lat thought, then skeptically looked over at the stocky lump with the receding hairline that was still sawing wood on the passenger seat next to him.

  Two marked Orlando PD units and a Crime Scene van sat waiting for them under the overhang of the sprawling hotel and conference center, which was still busy with cars and tourists and Disney shuttle buses, even at eleven thirty at night. ‘Time to get up now, Sleeping Beauty,’ Lat said, pulling in behind a cruiser. Then he got out of the car, slamming the door shut behind him. That should wake the guy up, he thought with a yawn as he joined up with the Orlando uniforms.

  Albert Plante was the night manager on duty. A tall, stringy man with pasty, white skin and big, bulging eyes, Albert looked like an animated character in a Tim Burton movie. He twitched when Lat handed him the warrant, as if it were electric, and his lip curled in distaste. Then he quickly ushered Lat, Brill, the three uniforms and the Crime Scene tech through the towering marble atrium and lobby to the bay of glass elevators, all the while reminding them in a hushed tone that nothing like this had ever happened at this hotel before. When he actually asked with a strained half-smile on the ride up if they could turn off their police radios when in guest areas, Brill, who’d caught up to them, had yawned and told Albert to go fuck himself. That got a chuckle out of the Orlando guys.

  Right off the elevators on the twelfth floor was room 1223. A Pardon Our Appearance! Closed for Renovation! card hung from the door handle. Lat felt his stomach knot up. It was always that way at a crime scene or when serving a warrant. When you’re the first guy through the door, you never know what you might find. Not that he was worried about his safety tonight, but this was the room where Marquette had stayed right before he’d decided, for some as-yet-unknown reason, to drive 300 miles in the middle of the night and kill his whole family. The missing piece of the puzzle might just be on the other side of the door, like in a bad horror movie – written in bright red lipstick across the mirror.

  ‘You call this secure?’ Lat asked, looking incredulously around the hallway while Albert slid the keycard in the lock with hands that shook slightly.

  ‘Crime-scene tape and police officers can make guests very uncomfortable,’ Albert offered in a defensive voice without looking up. ‘Especially in this hotel. Don’t worry, Detective. Only management can gain access to this room. The code was changed as soon as the police contacted us this morning. Housekeeping hadn’t even cleaned, as there was a Do Not Disturb sign on the door.’

  ‘Oh. The code was changed. I feel better now,’ Brill said sarcastically. Then he tapped Albert on the shoulder. ‘You do know this is a quadruple homicide investigation, right, Chief? Homicide, as in murder, and quadruple, as in four people are dead?’

  Clearly Albert did not like Brill. He swallowed hard. ‘No,’ he hissed back, ‘I didn’t know that, Detective.’

  Clearly Brill did not care. And that was the one thing Lat was actually beginning to like about him. The detective pulled no punches. ‘Yup. Three little kids. And this is where their daddy stayed right before he killed ’em. Holed up right here, in the heart of everything Mickey. Right here in your hotel. Wonder how that’s gonna lookas a headline tomorrow?’

  Albert Plante grew pale. He looked like he might drop when the door finally did open, probably fearing, Lat supposed, a dead body swinging from clean sheets in the closet and a confession taped to the mirror.

  But unfortunately there was no profession of guilt – bloody or otherwise – to be found. As Lat walked around the unremarkable room, disappointment replaced anxiety. There’d been no maid service, but the bed had not been slept in anyway. Two business suits and a couple of pairs of slacks were still hanging in the closet; a shaving kit and assorted toiletries set out neatly next to the bathroom sink. Literature and brochures from orthopedic equipment companies, drug companies and Med-Net Technologies – some website design firm – were laid out on the desknext to a notepad and a laptop and a pot of in-room coffee, obviously distributed at the trade-show part of the medical conference. But that was it. No drugs. No empty beer or alcohol bottles. No suicide note. No evidence on the surface of a girlfriend or a boyfriend or a hooker. Lat didn’t quite know what he’d expected to find in the room, but especially since Marquette had lawyered-up, he’d hoped it would be something more than this.

  The next couple of hours were spent interviewing the hotel staff that had worked the weekend night shift, but unfortunately no one at the front deskcould even identify a photograph of David Marquette, much less remember what time he might have left the hotel Saturday night. Same with housekeeping, concierge and security. The AMA conference that he’d attended and was supposed to speak at on Sunday had officially ended this morning, and most of its 500 attendees had checked out and gone back home, which seemed, unfortunately, to be everywhere across the continental US. That meant that everyone would need to be tracked down and interviewed, at least by phone. That was in addition to running other leads, subpoenaing and reviewing phone, business and medical records, and getting all the lab workback. Then there was the circle of family and friends – as well as all of David Marquette’s business associates – that still had to be identified and interviewed.

  Usually the hardest part of a murder investigation for a detective was figuring out who the murderer was. You arrived on scene, looked at a dead body, looked at the clues left behind and started from there. Normally, finding out why the victim might have been killed led you to the suspects. Was he robbed? Was she raped? Was he in a gang? Was she having marital troubles? But here, things were backwards. Here, they had their suspect – on scene and with what would probably turn out to be the damn murder weapon in the guy’s own gut – but no why. Considering that the government was not legally required to prove motive, it would seem the easier case. But, as that prosecutor, Julia Valenciano, had pointed out, Lat knew that just because it wasn’t legally required, didn’t mean that a jury wasn’t going to want to see why the dots all connected backto the smiling father in the Disney photo before they agreed to put a needle in his arm.

  ‘Well, that was a bust,’ Brill said, as they headed out of the hotel some three hours later, an evidence bag full of parking-lot security tapes in one hand and Marquette’s laptop in the other.

  ‘What’d you think?’ Latarrino asked.

  ‘I think we got a problem, bro.’

  Lat sighed. ‘Piecing his last hours here is gonna be a bitch.’

  ‘Maybe he was just heading home in the middle of the night because he missed his wife, and then something went bad,’ Brill said with a shrug.

  ‘Please,’ Lat said, shaking his head with a wry laugh. ‘No one actually misses his wife. No one who’s had one, anyway. But maybe he thought his wife wasn’t missing him too much. If that semen stain is from someone else, could be Jennifer was getting a little action on the side. Maybe he came down to catch her in the act.’

  ‘That would complicate things. That would also at least give you motive, something that you’re running a little short on, in my opinion, boss-man.’

  Lat nodded. ‘And maybe premeditation.’

  ‘All we’d have to do is find the Bill Clinton who left
behind his little something special.’

  ‘Let’s wait till the labs come back,’ Lat cautioned.

  They stepped out into the parking lot. The rain had stopped and the night air was cool, the sky milky black. The birds had started to chirp; the sun would soon be up. It probably wasn’t the best idea to drive backto Miami now, but the day was already filled with things to do and sleep wasn’t making the list. ‘Hey, don’t call me boss-man,’ Lat said quietly.

  ‘Well it’s the truth, ain’t it?’ Brill replied.

  Lat stopped walking. ‘I ain’t your boss.’

  Brill stopped too. ‘And this really ain’t my case no more, now is it?’ he asked back with a smile that didn’t looktoo friendly.

  ‘That’s not my decision.’

  ‘Nope,’ Brill said walking again. ‘But that is the decision. And that makes you the boss.’ He chewed on the toothpick he’d picked up in the restaurant and neither said anything. ‘So, did you checkup on me?’ Brill asked finally, turning and walking backwards.

  ‘Yup,’ Lat said without missing a beat.

  ‘And …?’

  Lat stopped again. ‘You want a quote?’

  ‘Lay it on me, brother.’

  ‘Hot-headed, difficult, obnoxious and, I quote, “A cheating, mother fucking asshole.” End quote.’

  ‘That last one was Patti Corderi,’ Brill said. ‘You shouldn’t count her. She’s a whack-job.’

  ‘I didn’t.’ They started walking again and had almost reached the car. Surprisingly, the conversation felt less tense than Lat thought it would. Brill had all the personality disabilities everyone had said he would. And yet, in spite of himself, he still kind of liked the guy. Unlike Sonny and Tubbs or Starsky and Hutch, Lat didn’t have a regular ‘partner’ in Homicide. No one did. Sometimes you worked with somebody on a case, but more often than not you didn’t. And while you could always run things by guys in the squad, it was actually cool to have someone involved on the same case at the get-go. Someone who was n’t trying to climb the same ladder with the same people you were. ‘No sleeping this time, Rip,’ Lat warned as he passed the driver’s side and headed for the passenger door.

  ‘I liked it better when you called me your Sleeping Beauty,’ Brill replied.

  ‘I never said my Sleeping Beauty.’

  ‘That’s how I tookit. Now I’m sad.’

  ‘It’s your turn to drive,’ Lat replied with another yawn, digging the keys to the Impala out of his pocket. For a person who normally paced the floors at night with insomnia he was dog-tired.

  ‘Is this new?’ Brill asked, running his hand over the hood.

  ‘Yeah. 2006. I just got it. It tookme three years to get on the top of the new-car list. I had a piece-of-shit nine-year-old Taurus before this.’ He tossed Brill the keys over the car. ‘Don’t fuckit up. Besides liking my life, I don’t thinkother drivers are covered.’

  ‘Wow,’ Brill said, catching them in one hand. ‘Since the accident, I can’t take home anymore. So I always get the crap drug cars seized by IMPACT. You know, the Fred Flintstone piece-of-shits with the holes in the floorboards? They never looklike the dealer cars in Miami Vice, man. I’ve yet to see a fucking Lamborghini.’

  ‘What accident?’

  ‘You didn’t know?’

  Lat sighed and walked back around to the driver’s side, his hand out. ‘You’re a fuck. Give me my keys and get in the car.’

  ‘I would have driven, Lat. I’m a team player,’ Brill laughed, tossing the keys back and heading back around the car, his hands in the air.

  ‘You fall asleep and I will personally beat your ass,’ Lat growled, climbing in the car. ‘I’ll play fucking John Denver tunes the whole way home if I have to.’

  ‘Now I know you’re fucking with me. Ain’t nobody got John Denver tapes in their car, except maybe the man’s own momma,’ Brill said with a yawn, taking off his jacket and rolling it into a ball. ‘I guess I can live with hot-headed and difficult. And coming from that nutcase, asshole is quite a compliment.’ He pressed the jacket up against the window.

  ‘I’m glad you feel that way,’ Lat said, reaching for the radio dial.

  Brill closed his eyes and smiled. ‘It’s still better than what I heard about you …’

  17

  Julia watched Judge Farley climb down off the bench and hurry out of the courtroom, his swollen robe trailing behind him in a big blackpuff, like an enormous dark cloud. The door to the judge’s back hallway slammed shut behind him – probably on purpose – leaving the courtroom in stunned silence. She stared at the empty bench in disbelief from her seat at the State’s table, ignoring the fiery whispers of court personnel that suddenly erupted all around her.

  Letray Powers whooped when Scott Andrews, the PD, explained to him that he was now free to go. Since nobody had shown up in court on his behalf, he hugged and high-fived Scott instead. Then, after a few more minutes of celebratory hollering, he walked up to the State’s table and stood there for a long moment. ‘Whoo, no, this can’t be good now,’ said one of the corrections officers from somewhere in the room, with the excitement of a kid about to watch a schoolyard fight go down, but no one moved to stop it.

  Julia could feel Letray’s icy stare as he waited for her to lookup at him. ‘Tough break, bitch,’ he said when she finally did. His smile revealed a mouth full of shiny, gold teeth, but it was n’t at all friendly. She was acutely aware that he was no longer wearing handcuffs or leg shackles.

  ‘I’m sure I’ll get another shot,’ she replied coldly, her eyes meeting Letray’s and not so much as blinking. ‘I don’t expect you’ll last too long on the outside, Mr Powers.’

  ‘Come on, Letray, don’t talkto her. Let’s go. You don’t need any more trouble,’ Scott cautioned, as he firmly tugged on the elbow of the oversized sports jacket that the Public Defender’s Office had lent his client for trial, leading him backover to the defense table. A few minutes later, a couple of corrections officers finally walked a whistling Letray through the empty jury room.

  ‘I’ll be seeing ya,’ Julia heard him call out to her with a laugh. ‘Tell Shorty, you know, I’ll be seeing her, soon, too.’ The door closed with a thud behind him.

  She couldn’t believe it. Just could not believe it. It had taken her a full day to pick a six-person jury, another to do openings and present her witnesses. But it had taken Judge Leonard Farley just five short minutes to JOA her.

  A JOA was a Judgment of Acquittal. Normally only a jury could acquit a defendant, but in the event a reasonable jury with common sense could not be found, the Florida legislature had built a safety valve into the law, and that was the almost-never-used JOA. If, after the State had presented its case, the trial judge felt in his learned opinion that no reasonable jury could find the defendant guilty, he could save his jury the time and trouble and acquit the defendant himself. In this instance, Julia knew it was n’t so much Farley’s learned opinion as it was his vindictive personality that had sent Letray Powers back home to Pamela Johnson whistling ‘Dixie’. And the worst part about a JOA was there was no right to appeal, and hence, nothing either she or the State could do except hold open the door and wave Letray goodbye as he skipped merrily off into the pretty Miami sunset.

  She continued to sit there for a few minutes in stunned silence. On his way out of the courtroom, Scott Andrews came up to shake her hand and offer the standard post-verdict condolences of ‘Good job’ and ‘Nice working with you’. When he added, ‘You know, I would n’t have JOA’d you,’ in a quiet voice, she bit her lip. It didn’t make her feel any better.

  In a jealous attempt to stop other men from looking at her, Letray Powers had taken a razor blade to his girlfriend’s face and tried to rearrange it. The same man who had a record as long as her arm for violent offenses, including three prior domestics, and no one but Julia seemed to care. She’d proven her case even without her victim and she knew it, Farley knew it, Scott Andrews knew it – hell, even Letray Powers knew it. But it d
idn’t matter anymore. And that’s what left her feeling so incredibly empty and incredibly bitter right about now.

  Julia quietly packed her two boxes of case law, statute books and rulebooks onto the pull cart and headed for the door herself. That’s when she first noticed John Latarrino standing in the rear of the courtroom.

  ‘Boy, don’t you look happy,’ he said as she made her way down the aisle.

  ‘Hello yourself. What are you doing here?’ she asked, looking around the empty courtroom to see who else he might be waiting for.

  ‘I just came from the ME’s,’ he replied. ‘I stopped up at Bellido’s office and his secretary tells me he’s out of town.’ He reached for her pull cart. ‘Can I help you with that?’

  ‘Sure, if you want,’ she said, handing over the reins. ‘He’s up in Atlanta teaching at a National Prosecuting Attorneys’ conference. I think he’s coming backtomorrow.’ They walked out into the hallway, which was as deserted as the courtroom. It was almost five and no one was around.

  The thick peanut butter feeling was back. This drop-by was obviously intentional and it was obviously about the Marquette case. Distancing herself from Monday’s crime scene and diving into a difficult trial for the past couple of days had helped clear her head of ghosts somewhat, but she still found herself taken a little off guard. She hadn’t expected to see Lat here, now. The house had spooked her Monday, no doubt – rushing backvivid, painful memories she thought she’d long ago shuttered away – but she could deal with those memories. She knew she could. She knew she had to. Julia wanted this case. She needed to succeed here, to make a name for herself as a prosecutor. To defeat your fears, didn’t you have to face them first? Was n’t that a classic, tried and true, psychological cliché? Isn’t that why abused children grew up to be guidance counselors and leukemia survivors to be doctors? Isn’t that what some shrink would probably say about why she was here, doing what she did in court, day in and day out, slaying dragons that just kept coming backto life in different, more terrifying forms? Time over the past couple of days had given her distance, and distance had given her backthe perspective she told herself she needed to continue. And if she was going to go forward on this case, if she was going to try and leave the past behind her, now more than ever, it was important that she look confident and prepared and in control. Because she definitely didn’t want Detective John Latarrino thinking of her weak-kneed and retching over a toilet bowl whenever he saw her in court or her name came up in conversation.

 
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