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Plea of insanity, p.22
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       Plea of Insanity, p.22

           Jilliane Hoffman

  Two fresh Christmas trees, decorated only with simple white lights, stood on each side of the altar. Wreaths of fragrant evergreen hung below arched stained-glass windows; garlands adorned the communion railing and hung in giant swoops with big red bows under the fourteen Stations of the Cross, above the wooden pews. Just last Sunday morning, a veritable sea of red poinsettias had filled the sanctuary floor at Mass, but today they were gone. In their place were dozens and dozens of pastel flower baskets and sprays and ornate funeral wreaths. The church smelled like Christmas and spring and incense, an overpowering scent that was strangely fresh and crisp and noxious and made her nauseous each time she inhaled, so she tried not to – breathing in through her mouth and her fistful of tissues and only when necessary.

  Her mom had loved flowers, though she’d always joke she had a black thumb that could even kill silk. On her way home from work on Fridays, she’d buy herself a simple bouquet of white peonies from Country Arts & Flowers, a local florist up by the Turnpike and the only store in town her family kept a house account with. ‘The poor man’s rose, but it still smells sweet,’ Momma would say. She’d put them in her grandma’s vase and leave them in the kitchen next to the sink so she could look at them doing stuff she hated doing, which was the dishes. And when the flowers died, she’d put the petals in a dish, dry them out and then sprinkle them in bath water or make little sachets for everyone’s drawers, ignoring the constant complaints of Julia’s dad that his underwear smelled like flowers. Julia clenched the tissues in her hand until she thought her fingers might never open again. Until she felt the warmth of her own blood as it seeped through her fingers, where her nails had dug into the soft flesh. She wondered suddenly how many of the sprays and wreaths on the altar were arranged by Country Arts and if the shop owners knew they had made them for their most loyal customer? Or would a few more Fridays have to pass before they missed her smile?

  ‘Sometimes we don’t know why the Lord does what He does,’ young Father Ralph was gently saying in a feather-soft voice. ‘We don’t understand the plan He has for us. We can’t understand it. But it is a Divine Plan. We know that Irene is in His plan. Joseph is in that plan, too. And Andrew is in His plan. And we must, we must learn to trust in the plan the Lord has made for us. We must learn to forgive, for that is what He expects—’

  Aunt Nora abruptly stood up in the front pew. Without a word, she grasped Julia by the wrist, and with Uncle Jimmy following, led her out of the pew and back down the aisle, past too many familiar and unfamiliar faces. Neighbors, friends, Mr Leach the dry-cleaner, classmates, teachers, the cashier from P&E Bagels, total strangers. The story had made the front page of Newsday, so they came from all over. Father Ralph stopped talking. The massive church held its breath as the three of them made their way down the marble aisle and out the back door.

  ‘Julia? Are you listening?’ Rick was looking at her funny.

  ‘Yeah,’ she said, nodding absently. ‘I’m sorry. I was just thinking. What’s our next step?’ she asked, trying her best to focus on a book on the bookshelf. She noticed that her legs were shaking and she leaned forward, pressing her weight on her knees to get them to stop. Understanding Gunshot Wounds and Trajectory Patterns. Sex Crimes and the Psychopathic Personality.

  ‘You look a little pale.’

  Five, four, three, two, one … breathe.

  Six, five, four, three, two, one …

  ‘No, no, I’m fine. Too much caffeine.’

  Seven, six, five, four, three, two, one … breathe.

  ‘I need to get this set down for a hearing before Farley asap,’ he continued, eyeing her carefully for another moment. Then he pulled open a drawer on his file cabinet and took out an accordion file. ‘The judge is gonna order a psych eval. He’ll appoint at least two, possibly three, shrinks off the list to evaluate Marquette’s competency to stand trial, and then the experts will have twenty days to report back. I don’t want to drag out that time. Remember, that’s our enemy. Especially with the holidays upon us. So we’ll need to get on those medical records right away, along with all the police reports, labs, witness statements and anything else we can think of that may help inform the shrinks.’

  ‘The list’ referred to a court registry of licensed independent forensic psychologists and psychiatrists in Miami that performed psych evals in criminal cases.

  ‘Does it matter who we get?’ she asked.

  ‘Hell, yeah. Farley’ll ask us for our choice and we’re gonna jump up and say Christian Barakat. He’s the best for the State. If we get a stab at the second, I want Pat Hindlin or Tom McDermot. Levenson, of course, is gonna want Al Koletis. Every defense attorney wants Koletis. He’s useless; everyone’s incompetent and we’re all nuts. I could save him the paper.’

  Her cellphone suddenly buzzed at her side. It was a 545 exchange, from across the street. Farley. Oh shit. She had completely forgot about her plea day. She looked at her watch and her stomach suddenly dropped out, as if she’d rounded a blind curve on a bumpy roller coaster and saw the plunge just up ahead. It was already ten thirty. They were probably all waiting for her over in court.

  ‘Speaking of the devil, I’ve got to get across the street,’ she said, rising with her phone in hand. She took a deep breath. Her legs were still shaky, her head light, and she thought of that day in the bathroom with Lat. She knew passing out in front of Rick would somehow be worse. ‘I’m late. In fact, I’m more than late. I’m probably in contempt.’

  ‘I’ll walk you. Maybe I can keep you out of the box and we can get this noticed for next week,’ he said, reaching for his jacket. The phone on his desk rang just then. He hit the button and left it on speaker. ‘State Attorney’s. Bellido.’

  It was Lat. ‘I just got your message. What’s up?’

  ‘You need to get in here asap. And bring Brill.’

  ‘What’s happened now?’ Lat said after a second, obviously annoyed. ‘You’re not holding another press conference, are you, Bellido? I’ll definitely need to take a shower, then.’

  ‘I don’t think I’ll be the one holding the press conference this afternoon, Lat,’ Rick snapped. ‘But Mel Levenson and David Marquette’s pissed-off daddy just might. They dropped a bomb on us a half-hour ago, so forget searching for the owner of that semen and those footprints and get your ass in here. Marquette’s just pled insanity.’




  It wasn’t the front page, but it was the New York Times. And the Washington Post. And the Chicago Tribune. And the Los Angeles Times. Even a brief mention by Ann Curry as she did the morning news on The Today Show. Seemingly overnight, Dr David Marquette and the Coral Gables Family Massacre, as it was known in Miami, quantum leaped from relative obscurity as a Local Section tragedy to international incident and a world news headline, and the phones at the State Attorney’s Office had not stopped ringing since. Charley Rifkin’s foreboding prediction, uttered just a few weeks back, of an impending media circus, was apparently coming true, although it wasn’t just the shock of Marquette’s crime, his farm-boy, handsome face and esteemed profession, or even the haunting smiles of his children that were launching his name into the dark stratosphere of infamy. Unlike the serial killer Cupid, who drew crowds and cameras to Miami from all over the world because of the lurid details and random brutality of his crimes, and his ability to terrorize a major metropolitan city by eluding a task force of homicide detectives for eighteen months, David Marquette’s case had developed into a political hot potato. An international political hot potato, ripe with all the wrong issues: Capital Punishment. Seeking Capital Punishment of a Foreign Citizen. Seeking Capital Punishment of a Mentally Ill Foreign Citizen. Add in the shockingly wholesome face and the MD suffix and the lurid details, and the hot potato had all the sensational ingredients necessary to become a firestorm. The perfect storm, Julia rem
embered, was Rifkin’s prediction. While it was too early to say if all the attention would wane or pickup speed, judging from the high-caliber news trucks parked outside the Graham Building’s glass doors for the past few days, and the bitter debate over capital punishment now being waged on American embassy steps and in the international press, it was pretty clear that David Marquette’s fifteen minutes of fame weren’t up just yet. The circus had definitely come to town. The only question being asked by everyone on the other side of those glass doors was how long would it stick around?

  She lit a cigarette from the pack of Parliaments she’d picked up at a gas station on the way home. She’d smoked in college, and it had taken her almost a year of trying and failing to finally quit. When she did, she vowed never to touch another butt again. But never was a long time and right now she needed something to calm her unraveling nerves. A cigarette was like an old, familiar friend, it was legal, and getting cancer in twenty years was too remote of a worry right now.

  She rubbed her eyes and pushed herself back from her kitchen table, away from the pile of medical and legal treatises, psychology books, layman’s reference books and the blur of thick, boring case law on insanity that she’d gathered and read a few times over already. Her notes read like a jumble of thoughts from a twisted, psychological thriller.

  Schizophrenia. While she’d definitely heard of it before David Marquette, she’d never known more than what the media chose to print about it in news stories or the scary symptoms that Hollywood selectively twisted into a movie plot. What she did know before last Friday was that schizophrenia was the mental illness that defined the word ‘crazy’, no matter what circle you traveled in. It was the ‘condition’ that caused people to talk to themselves – or scream at themselves – as they walked down the street, as if there were someone else walking right there alongside them. It was the ‘illness’ that statistically seemed to plague the homeless, the ‘affliction’ that made people see little green men, or God, or clandestine government agents.

  The jumble of facts and statistics spun inside her head, like unsorted clothes in a dryer. Over the past few days she’d taken a self-taught crash-course in mental illness that was both eye-opening and frightening. An estimated one percent of the world’s population – at least 2.2 million Americans – had schizophrenia. But even though its numbers were pervasive and widespread, that didn’t make it a socially acceptable disease by any stretch. Schizophrenia still carried with it the most damning stigma of any disease a person could have, outside of leprosy or maybe the plague. It struck young, healthy people with little or no warning – robbing them of, in a word, reality. And the disease didn’t discriminate – crossing lines of color and culture, targeting the smart and the stupid, the rich and the poor alike. It did make people see things that were not there, and hear voices that did not speak, but it also changed the very way thoughts were processed and organized in the brain. A misfire somewhere in the circuitry made thoughts and ideas sound just fine in the schizophrenic’s head, but once spoken, made no sense to anyone hearing them.

  Perhaps the cruelest effect, though, was how the disease stole the ability of its victims to recognize that something had gone very, very wrong inside their brains – a clinical symptom referred to as a ‘decreased awareness of illness’. To not know you were sick, while the rest of the world crossed the street just to avoid you, was incredibly sad, Julia thought. No other medical condition could possibly be more isolating or more frightening.

  She finished her final gulp of wine and poured herself another glass. Although she wished it would help her sleep, she knew that alcohol, unfortunately, made her insomnia worse. What it was effective at, though, was helping calm the anxious jitters and the disturbed, growing unease while she was awake. But wine was the only vice she permitted herself to have, and only at night. No hard alcohol. She knew that would definitely signal a problem. It had before. She walked into her living room and stared out the window at the night. The moon was full, hanging low in the sky – a funky, ethereal, orange-yellow color, dimpled with craters.

  ‘Andy, why does the moon shrink every night?

  ‘That’s a stupid question.’ He sighed an annoyed sigh as only an annoying big brother could. ‘It doesn’t shrink, Ju-Ju. It’s hiding.’

  Even though he’d practically just called her stupid, she still wanted the answer. So she swallowed her pout and her pride. ‘Okay, why does it want to hide?

  ‘So it can come back out and make everyone look again. Think about it,’ he said, looking up at a full, yellow moon dancing in between the whispery clouds, right outside his bedroom window. It was so perfect, you almost expected a witch to fy past. If it stayed fat and round all the time, no one would care. People wouldn’t even notice it. Like the sun. No one pays attention to the sun until it disappears and rains for a few days. Then everyone wants it back.’

  ‘Ohhh …’ It all made perfect sense now. Andy was so smart. He was going places, Momma always said. Julia hoped he’d take her with him when he did.

  She blinked back tears.

  This case … It’s too close … It can only bring … despair.

  Is this it? Is this despair, Aunt Nora? Or is this empty, hollow, dread-filled feeling just the beginning? A prelude to anguish …

  She looked down at the cordless phone she held in her hand, as she had all day, as she had all night, as she had all week. Only this time she actually hit the speed-dial number.

  ‘Hello?’ said a sleepy voice on the second ring.

  ‘Uncle Jimmy?’ Julia asked, hesitating, stamping out her cigarette as if she’d been caught. She looked over at the clock on the VCR/DVD player and just then realized it was already half past eleven. She’d waited so long that she’d waited too long.

  ‘Julia? Honey? Waz a matta?’ Jimmy asked, wide awake now. She hung her head, mad at herself for not looking at the time before she dialed. While Nora would be up till three baking a calzone, Uncle Jimmy was often out cold by ten.

  ‘I’m sorry, Uncle Jimmy. I just wanted to talk to Aunt Nora. I, ah, didn’t realize it was so late,’ Julia said in a hushed voice herself.

  ‘What time is it?’

  ‘It’s after eleven, so maybe I’ll call her tomorrow—’

  ‘Is that Julia?’ asked her aunt in the background. What’s a matter?’

  ‘Hold on, Munch. She’s right here.’ Julia heard Jimmy say, ‘I don’t know. She wants you,’ to her aunt as he passed the phone. ‘She sounds okay, I think. She didn’t say nothin’ was wrong.’

  ‘What’s a matter?’ Nora demanded when she got on the phone.

  ‘Nothing, Aunt Nora. I just wanted to ask you something, that’s all.’

  ‘At eleven thirty at night? Are you feeling okay? You want me to come over there, honey? I can just get dressed—’

  ‘I didn’t mean to wake you.’

  ‘You didn’t. I was in the dining room cutting out a couple of coupons – my Valpak came in the mail today. Jimmy got the phone first.’ She laughed, relieved. ‘At this hour, I thought maybe somebody died.’

  ‘I, ah, I just got done working on this case I’ve got.’

  ‘Oh.’ The laughter stopped. ‘The murder? I read the paper this morning. They’re saying that man is insane.’

  ‘Yes, and I …’ Julia hesitated and closed her eyes. ‘I wanted to ask you some questions about Andrew.’

  There was complete silence on the other end of the phone.

  ‘Aunt Nora? Are you there?’

  ‘Why do you want to ask me about him?’ Nora asked quietly.

  This was so hard. Much harder than she’d imagined. ‘I’ve been thinking a lot about, um, not just that night, but about the year before it happened. And how things were so different.’

  ‘What’s wrong, Momma?’ Julia pressed, trying to look past her mother and down the stairs where the den was. ‘Who’s he yelling at? Why’s he so mad tonight? I’m scared.’

  ‘I said go to bed, Julia Anne!’ commanded her m
other, the fear betraying her strong voice and making it crack. ‘Now!’ Then she disappeared back into the small room where all the screams were coming from, closing the door behind her.

  ‘There’s no one left that would’ve known him – you know, no other family or friends – and I thought maybe my mom had talked to you about him,’ Julia continued. She pulled the hair back off her head, hoping to rein her thoughts in and pull them together. ‘About what was going on with him after he left for college. And I thought maybe—’

  ‘I have to tell you that no good can come of this, Julia,’ her aunt said in a firm, dismissive voice. ‘None. Leave the past in the past. For all of us. Please.’

  ‘What happened to Andy?’ Julia finally came out and asked. ‘I think I need to know. I think I should know. I have a right, Aunt Nora—’

  ‘I don’t want to discuss this. I told you this case was too close. Remember what I said to you, Julia. Remember my words. You’re not sleeping again, you’re asking crazy questions, you’re tired and you’re stressed.’ She paused. ‘You’re drinking. Yes, I can hear that, too.’

  Julia purposely set the wine glass down on the window sill and stepped over to the couch. She sat and closed her eyes.

  ‘You’re opening a box that you don’t need opened, is what I’m saying,’ Nora continued. ‘One that Jimmy and I have worked very hard to keep closed for your own sake. Walkaway, Julia. Walkaway now, and just let it be before any more people get hurt.’

  ‘Aunt Nora, I can’t just walkaway. I love you, but I have to know what happened—’

  But Aunt Nora cut her off once again, her voice chipper and forced. ‘I don’t think this Sunday’s gonna work. We’ll be in Jupiter at a bridge tournament, but we’ll have to start talking about Christmas I suppose, right? I know Jimmy’s watching Moose next week while you do your trials. You’re welcome to come for dinner if you can find the time – we’d love to have you. On Christmas, I don’t know, maybe you can bring your boyfriend, the one you’ve been hiding. That would be fine. But I don’t want to talk about this anymore. I have to go to bed now. I love you, but I have to go,’ she finished, with what sounded like a whimper. Julia could hear Jimmy asking her what was wrong before Nora hung up the phone and the line went dead.

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