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Plea of insanity, p.14
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       Plea of Insanity, p.14

           Jilliane Hoffman

  Jennifer and her babies had less than one weekleft to live.


  Three days after David Marquette’s First Appearance, and twelve days after they were murdered, Jennifer and the children were flown up to Cherry Hill, New Jersey and finally buried.

  Lat and Brill pulled their rental car past the large crowd that had spilled outside onto the steps of St Mary’s, just as the three tiny, white caskets made their way up rain-slicked steps to follow the full-sized coffin of their mother into the church. Once inside, they listened as grief-stricken family and friends struggled to console one another and a father remembered the little girl he’d given away, on the steps of the very same altar, to the very same man now accused of killing her. Standing awkwardly next to Brill in the back of the church, dressed in his best blacksuit, Lat could not even begin to imagine what the man could be thinking. He didn’t have any kids himself, but he knew that if it were him, they’d have to take his gun away.

  Hours later, in the slip-covered living room of Renny and Michael Prowse, the two detectives sat in a couple of tired Queen Anne side chairs, a stackof flower-covered photo albums and two hot cups of coffee in front of them. An antique cuckoo clock loudly ticked the stagnant seconds away. On top of a worn Baldwin piano, a makeshift shrine to Jennifer and the Prowses’ only grandchildren had been created – complete with pictures and burning candles and watched over by the outstretched arms of a crucified ceramic Jesus. Like in the Gables house, family pictures were every-where here. Yearly school pictures, displayed in blackplastic certificate frames, age-progressed the Prowses’ three daughters up the colonial staircase, from nursery school through high school and college graduations.

  If asked to give a short history right now on the Prowse family, Lat felt pretty confident he could nail it, just from having sat in the room for five minutes. And not just from looking at the pictures. Hummel figurines crowded glass shelves in a corner curio and the shelves of a wall unit were filled with still-tagged Beanie Babies. On the wood mantel, tiny crystal figures had their own red velvet-lined display case. Obviously the Prowses were a family of collectors. A family that never liked to give anything away. A family that would be especially hard hit by the deaths of their daughter and their grandchildren.

  The entire neighborhood must have come and dropped off food; platters and steaming casserole dishes overflowed from the kitchen, and were now stacked on the dining-room table in the next room. The smell of lasagne, garlic, coffee and sausage filled the house and there was apparently more on the way. The doorbell rang constantly.

  ‘It’s been like this for a week now,’ Renny Prowse said absently, setting down a platter full of butter cookies and slices of apple cake on the coffee table. She was a well-kept woman in her late fifties, dressed in a neat blacksuit, her blonde hair pulled backinto a clip. But Lat noticed the band of long, gray roots that framed her face, the darkcircles that sunkher eyes. She had put on some make-up, but with no real purpose and her round face was puffy and blotched red from days of endless crying. ‘People are so kind. I just can’t get over how kind they are. Some of them we don’t even know, do we, Mike?’

  ‘No, no,’ said Jennifer’s father, Mike Prowse, who sat on the plastic-covered couch across from them. We don’t even know them.’

  Jennifer’s older sister, Joanne, sat next to her dad, her hand on his, while her younger sister, Janna, stood quietly by the door that led to the kitchen. Both women were blonde and blue-eyed, like their sister and mother. Joanne was only in maybe her mid-thirties, but dressed in a matronly tent dress, with no make-up and horn-rimmed glasses, she was already forging full speed ahead for middle age. Janna, on the other hand, must have been the Prowses’ late-in-life surprise. Lat guessed late teens, early twenties, with a fit figure and a coquettish, wholesome, pretty face.

  ‘Please. Eat something, Detectives. There’s so much,’ Renny said, finally taking a seat on the other side of her husband. She licked her dry lips and clasped her hands together, obviously bracing herself for the conversation ahead.

  Lat hated this part of his job. Hated it. He could lookat mangled, mutilated bodies – even nasty decomps – and brutal crime scenes well enough, but it was meeting the family of the victim that always got to him. That, by the end of the interview, always seemed to have gnawed a piece of him away. After enough years and enough interviews, he figured his soul would eventually be picked over and eaten to nothing. That would be the day he retired – probably to a good bottle of Jackand an isolated log cabin somewhere in the mountains of Montana.

  As a street cop in Miami, John Latarrino had long ago learned how to distance himself from his job and the people he arrested. All cops did. The bad guys were no longer people, but mopes, skells, perps, subjects, defendants. His ex-wife, Trish, who had minored in psychology for way too long, had once told him that labeling individuals with derogatory slang terms was a mental coping mechanism cops used to separate good from evil, their job from their everyday lives. Us against them helped a cop get through the shift, and restore power to what was oftentimes viewed as a powerless situation, she had theorized. When he was assigned to Homicide a few years back, Lat had taken that over-analysis one step further, and had learned how to distance himself from death, so that no matter how bad the scene, the bodies in it were not really people, either, but DBs, or victims, or stiffs. His job as detective was to simply solve the mystery of how they got that way. That’s when Trish had finally stopped analyzing him and just called him cold and unfeeling. The papers were filed six months later.

  Right about now he would give anything to be at a scene. Or in a Chiefs’ Meeting. Or at his damn dentist’s having root canal. Anywhere but here, doing anything but this. Maybe it was because the family suddenly made it all real. Maybe because, like now, he couldn’t pretend when he looked into Renny Prowse’s confused, red-rimmed eyes, or leafed through the stacks of photo albums she’d dragged out. Maybe it was because he couldn’t lie to himself anymore that it was just a job he was doing.

  ‘We know this is a difficult time for you, Mr and Mrs Prowse, Janna, Joanne. But we are just trying to get some background on Jennifer and your son-in-law. What might have caused this,’ Lat began softly.

  Renny was already shaking her head. We don’t know, Detective. Oh God, David is – he seemed like such a good man. Such a good father. But …’ She buried her nose in a tissue.

  ‘But?’ asked Brill between bites of his cookie. Crumbs fluttered to the floor. Lat shot him a look.

  ‘She’s been gone from us for so long, now, Detective. Down there in Miami. I couldn’t get my hands on her like I could my other two girls. I couldn’t help her when she needed me. I couldn’t be there when …’ her voice trailed off again, but she never finished the thought. ‘I still remember the day she pulled out of my driveway, her car packed with all the teddy bears she’d gotten over the years. That’s when I knew she shouldn’t be leaving home. She wasn’t ready to grow up yet, you see …’

  ‘Jen met David in the emergency room at Temple seven years ago,’ said Joanne, taking over as her mother buried her face backin a tissue. ‘She fell rollerblading in the park and David was doing his residency in emergency medicine. They dated for a few months and then decided to get married. Everyone liked David. He was a doctor. He was handsome. He was …’ she paused, searching for a word. ‘He was great. Jen was crazy about him.’

  ‘Crazy,’ murmured her father.

  ‘They got married at St Mary’s right before his residency was over. My parents invited the whole town and everyone showed,’ Joanne continued.

  ‘Just like today,’ Renny said, almost proudly.

  ‘Two weeks later they left for Miami. Last year they bought that house in Coral Gables. It was very expensive.’

  ‘How often did you see them?’

  ‘Two or three times a year. Jennifer would always try and come up for Christmas,’ Joanne said. ‘It was difficult for any of us to get down too often. We have to work, you k
now.’ Lat thought she might have overemphasized the ‘we’.

  ‘When was the last time they were here?’ asked Brill, reaching for another cookie.

  ‘Memorial Day. Mom and Dad had a barbecue.’

  Were they getting along?’ asked Lat.

  ‘Oh yes,’ said Joanne, nodding quickly. ‘They always got along.’

  Lat already knew that David Marquette had completed his residency in October of 1998. Emma’s birthday was 31 March 1999. It wasn’t hard to do the math. ‘Jennifer was pregnant when they got married.’

  Renny looked away, embarrassed, and Michael closed his eyes. ‘Yes, she was,’ Joanne said quickly. ‘But that didn’t matter. They were going to get married anyway. Emma was just a little earlier than they had planned.’

  Obviously it was a sore subject. Lat thought of the ceramic Jesus. ‘What about David. What can you tell us about his family?’ he asked.

  ‘Nothing,’ said Mike bitterly. ‘They didn’t come to the wedding. His father was some hotshot doctor in Chicago. He couldn’t come because there was an emergency. So no one came. No one at all.’

  ‘You didn’t thinkthat was odd?’ asked Brill.

  ‘My father didn’t talkto his own father for some years, Detective. It’s not so odd,’ said Joanne in a voice that was both calm and patronizing. ‘Families fight. The point is, we all liked David. None of us can believe this has happened. None of us saw it coming, if that’s what you are getting at.’

  ‘Did he have a temper? Did you ever see or hear them fight? Did Jennifer ever tell you about any fights?’ asked Lat.

  ‘That’s just it, Detective. I was very close with my sister. They were the perfect couple. They never fought.’

  ‘Or she never told you,’ cautioned Brill.

  ‘Or she never told me,’ conceded Joanne with some difficulty. She shot Brill a cold look.

  ‘When was the last time you spoke with Jennifer, Mrs Prowse?’ asked Lat.

  ‘Two days before she was …’ Renny’s voice trailed off again and she bit her lip. ‘We talked about two times a week. David was out of town and she was taking Emma and Danny shoe shopping. No one ever heard from her again.’

  Joanne shookher head. ‘I talked to her a few days before that. She never mentioned any problems.’

  Her dad shrugged. ‘I’m not sure. It was the weekbefore she died. She wanted to know how my foot was feeling.’

  ‘He twisted it jogging,’ said Joanne.

  ‘And you?’ asked Brill to Janna.

  Janna looked startled. ‘I don’t know,’ she said, crossing her arms across her chest. ‘A couple of weeks before, maybe.’

  ‘Janna’s still in college, Detective Brill,’ said Joanne sharply. ‘Syracuse. She’s had to come home for this. She’s a very busy girl.’

  Lat sighed. This was not very productive. ‘Is there anything, then, that any of you can thinkof that might be important for us to know? Anything at all,’ he prodded.

  ‘There was one thing,’ began Jennifer’s father, his voice trembling slightly.

  ‘There was nothing,’ said Renny loudly, shaking her head, reaching for his hand. ‘Stop doing this to yourself, Mike. Please.’ She started to cry again.

  ‘Anything at all,’ offered Lat.

  ‘Damnit! I’m going to speak! I’m finally going to speak!’ Michael Prowse said, his voice rising. He waited for a moment. ‘There was something about David,’ he began. His eyes welled up and he looked away, to an unseen memory in the room.

  The past weekand a half had probably aged Mike Prowse ten years. Lat knew the next six months would add another ten. The physical transformation of a murder victim’s family from arrest to when a trial was finally had was unbelievably sad.

  ‘There always was something not right,’ continued Mike. ‘Something that I can’t explain to you. It was like, when David looked at you, he never stopped looking. He never turned away, or got lost in something else. When he talked to you, he always listened very carefully. It was like he was studying you. And he always knew the right thing to say. The perfect thing.’

  ‘And?’ Lat prodded.

  Mike looked at Lat finally. Silent tears ran down his cheeks, but he didn’t bother to wipe them away. ‘That was it. David Marquette was … he was …’ He stumbled to find the right words. ‘It was almost as if he were too perfect. And he fooled us all.’


  Renny began crying again, her shoulders heaving up and down as she struggled for air. ‘Don’t, Mike. No more. I don’t want to hear it!’

  Lat shifted uncomfortably in his chair. ‘Do you want to take a moment, Mr and Mrs Prowse? We’re almost done here.’

  Mike nodded and stood up. He looked around the room absently, as though trying to remember where he was. ‘Come on, hon. Let’s take a break. This is too much,’ he said, leading her out of the room.

  ‘Dad, I’ll take her,’ said Joanne, getting up off the couch. The doorbell rang and she looked at the detectives blankly. ‘I’d better get that. Give us all a minute or two, won’t you?’ Then she followed her parents out of the room.

  Janna still stood by the kitchen door. An awkward silence settled in the room, broken only by the loud ticks of the grandfather clock.

  ‘Hey, Janna, honey,’ Brill said with a winkwhen everyone was gone, ‘do you thinkyou could get me another couple of those cookies your mom set out? I didn’t have any lunch.’

  ‘Sure,’ she said and shrugged, heading into the kitchen.

  Lat looked at Steve Brill like he had three heads. ‘Another cookie? What the fuck is that?’

  ‘She was porking the brother-in-law,’ he announced with a big smile and a shake of his head.


  ‘The younger sis. College girl. Something’s going on, boss-man. She knew something, saw something, heard something, did something. I’m not sure what, although my money’s on the doc teaching her a private anatomy class.’

  Lat looked back toward the door Janna had just slipped out of. ‘You think?’

  ‘Female body language, brother. If there’s anything I know, it’s that – a pissed-off broad, or one that’s hiding something. It sure as hell gave her away. Standing the polar opposite away from Waltons. Arms crossed. Nibbling the corner of her cute, pouty mouth. Scared rabbit look. And the older sister is the new matriarch now that Momma is breaking down. Ain’t nobody gonna disparage the Prowse name. And that includes us. So your interview with the rest of the family, I’m afraid, is done, boss-man. They saw what they wanted to see, when they wanted to see it. Even their hindsight ain’t twenty-twenty.’

  Lat nodded slowly. He looked Brill up and down as if he were seeing a new person but somehow couldn’t trust his own vision. Brill just kept beaming like a Cheshire cat. ‘So you sent her for more cookies to tell me this?’

  ‘No. I’m still hungry. I’d actually like to get my hands on some of that real food,’ he said, pointing to the dining-room table and rubbing his stomach. ‘I just thinkit might be rude to askfor some. But you’re good at this interrogation shit, Sherlock. You talk to her. You have a way with people, I can tell.’

  Janna walked through the kitchen door at that moment with another platter full of cookies. ‘Do you want more coffee, too, Detective Brill?’

  ‘No. We want you to sit down, Janna,’ Lat said softly, but sternly. He hoped Brill’s sixth sense was right or he was really gonna feel like an asshole by the end of the day. We thinkyou might have some information that you may want to share with us before everyone else returns.’

  Janna sat down slowly on the couch. ‘I … don’t know anything,’ she said softly, looking around. Her blue eyes were large and scared.

  ‘Were you sleeping with your brother-in-law or was your sister?’ asked Brill, reaching for another cookie.

  ‘Excuse me?’ Janna asked. Her eyes narrowed and she looked surprised, but what she didn’t look was pissed off that Brill had asked the question in the first place.

  The man had absolutely no
tact. Lat shookhis head. ‘That would be something we would need to know, Janna; if there was something going on between you and David. Something that would help us make sense out of all this. We’re having a hard time with everyone telling us how wonderful the man was. And if there was something happening between you, it would be better if we heard it from you first, than learning about it from someone else later.’

  ‘He wasn’t so wonderful,’ Janna said in a soft voice after a moment. ‘But I never slept with him. Neither did Joanne. God, never. Joanne is really religious. She’d burn in hell for sleeping with anyone before she got married, much less her sister’s husband.’

  ‘So why wasn’t he so wonderful?’ asked Lat.

  Janna grew quiet. She twisted her hands in her lap and looked around the room again, before lowering her voice to just above a whisper. ‘He made a pass at me. In May. At the barbecue.’

  ‘Did Jennifer know?’

  ‘Yes. She saw him talking to me. I was home for the summer. She came over just in time to hear him askme to go out with him to a local bar after Jen went to bed.’

  ‘That was a pass?’ asked Lat.

  Both Brill and Janna shot him a look.

  ‘So what did she do?’

  ‘She ran into her room and cried. She was pregnant with Sophie. Everyone else thought it was the hormones that were making her upset. I never said anything to anyone. David went back to Miami the next day without her.’ She grew quiet again. ‘Apparently it wasn’t the first time either. With me, yes. But Jen knew about the others.’

  ‘There were other women?’

  She nodded and sighed. ‘Yeah. But I don’t know names or dates. They might even have been hookers for all Jen knew. But there were a couple of late nights and perfume-soaked shirts. I think she blamed Memorial Day on me, though. We stopped really talking after that.’

  Finally. The perfect husband was not so perfect after all.

  ‘Was she gonna leave him?’ asked Brill. ‘Were we talking divorce here?’

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