Plea of Insanity, p.25Jilliane Hoffman
Never pretend to know someone’s life, Julia. You’ll only know what they want you to know, when it is they want you to know it.
‘What do you mean?’ asked Rick.
‘Psychiatry is not an exact science, you know,’ Dr Barakat explained. ‘There’s no scan, no physical test, to detect mental illness. Only after taking a history, and listening to the symptoms a patient claims to be experiencing in his head, can you try and figure out his mental malady. The biggest challenge to a forensic psychiatrist is, of course, malingering – how to tell when someone is faking it to get a pass on a lifetime in jail or a final walk down the long hall to the execution chamber.
‘Now, your average person thinks being “crazy” means seeing little green men and shouting obscenities at the devil all day long. So that’s exactly what they’ll do when they’re trying to convince the world they’re insane – whenever they’re in a courthouse or come within ten feet of a doctor. But that’s not an accurate portrayal of schizophrenia. While the disease afflicts people differently, many don’t experience visual hallucinations at all. And it’s not usually the devil yapping in their ear. You see, delusions are the hallmark symptom of the disease – fixed false beliefs held by the schizophrenic that defy logic and persist in spite of rational arguments or evidence to the contrary. From there, the audio, and sometimes visual, hallucinations will spawn and then feed the delusion.
‘Take Margaret Mary Ray, for instance, the schizophrenic known as David Letterman’s stalker. Ray believed she was Letterman’s wife, despite being arrested multiple times and being told by everyone, including Letterman himself, for years that that was just not the case. But the delusion was her reality. Now that’s a difficult enough concept for someone in the mental-health field to understand and treat, and an almost impossible manifestation of the disease for someone to try and successfully imitate – twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week– if he or she’s not actually in the throes of a delusion. For example, when Ray stole Letterman’s Porsche from his driveway in Connecticut and, with her three-year-old kid in it, headed off to see him in New York, she really believed it was in her car with his child. Her actions followed, or furthered, the delusion. And that’s just the sort of behavior – or lack there of – that’ll give a malingerer away most of the time. They’ll steal the car and get caught at a chop shop. Or they’ll present with questionable symptoms – like seeing the proverbial little green men. Or being symptomatic only at specific times – like when they’re in court – and fine during others, maybe when they’re around other patients and feel no one is watching. Or perhaps they’ll continue to claim they’re having hallucinations or hearing voices long after the medication would have helped to subdue their symptoms, because they’re unaware of when and how a psychotropic drug actually works. These are all classic signs to watch for to detect malingering. Most of the time, though, you just know ten minutes after meeting the person by the feeling in your gut whether or not he’s faking it.’
Dr Barakat hesitated for a moment and his face grew dark. ‘But then there is a different breed of malingerer. A different breed of human being, actually. This one is much more rare. Extremely smart, cunning, manipulative. Dangerous. He will convince those that want to be convinced of his illness, including professionals, and he will adapt to the tests they put upon him because he is a survivor. He feels no remorse for what he’s done, because he feels no empathy for others, no matter who they are. He has no conscience – that internal Jiminy Cricket voice in all of us that keeps us on the straight and narrow, and turns us, so to speak, from evil.’ Dr Barakat paused for a long moment, reflecting on his thoughts. ‘And I think that just might be your defendant.’
No one said anything for a moment. The air felt almost electric. ‘Is that just your gut talking?’ Rick finally asked.
‘I spent two hours with him at the jail,’ Dr Barakat replied slowly. ‘He did present with some of what we call the negative symptoms of schizophrenia: poor hygiene, blank expression, what’s known as blunted affect or flat emotions, zombie-like behavior.’ He paused again. ‘Most malingerers don’t know enough about the disease to do that, as I said before. But again, this guy’s not your everyday malingerer. He’s got a degree in medicine. Now it’s difficult when someone’s on a drug such as Thorazine to distinguish what may be these “negative” symptoms, and what might just be the effects of the medication,’ he said with a shrug. ‘But, frankly, I don’t think it’s either.
‘Let me just say,’ he continued, when no one said anything, tapping his pen on his notepad. ‘Personally, if I was going to try and fake being legally insane to beat a court case, I’d probably go the same route with the same symptoms. Why? The less said, the less for anyone – including a team of court-appointed psychiatrists – to interpret. It’s the smart choice. It’s perhaps not as egotistical as trying to verbally outwit the shrinks and nurses and cops, but yet it’s much more controlled. Much more cunning, actually.
‘So maybe I’m a bit skeptical, but in my time with Dr Marquette I was looking for certain bizarre behavior characteristics that are peculiar to catatonic schizophrenia – the type of schizophrenia he’s demonstrating symptoms of. One of these characteristics is echopraxia, which is basically mimicking, or mirroring, the movements or speech patterns of another. Or inflexible muscle movement, where you’ll move a catatonic’s arm and it will stay in that exact position, sometimes for hours, even if it’s suspended. These are characteristics even most medical professionals, such as Dr Marquette, would not be familiar with unless they’d worked specifically and extensively with catatonics before.’ He paused and then added, ‘But I have. And I didn’t observe any of those behaviors. When I raised his arm above his head, it fell to his side, carefully missing both his face and the table on its way back down.
‘So, while we don’t know exactly where a catatonic goes when they are in that state of extreme withdrawal, I feel pretty confident telling you that David Marquette is not in that place. He’s right there in the room with you. Carefully watching you watch him with blankeyes. Waiting for your reaction to plan his. That’s my gut talking.’
‘Did he speak?’ asked Julia.
‘Yes. Although, for the most part, he was mainly monosyllabic answering my questions. As I said before, I thought he was carefully reading my reaction, and I think he read that his act was clearly missing something.’
‘Did he talk about the murders?’
‘Only in a limited capacity as it related to his competency. But he was oriented to time and place. He knows what he’s been arrested for and what penalties he faces. He knows his entire family is dead. Bottom line, in my opinion, with a medication adjustment, he’s definitely competent.’
‘This twin brother of his,’ Ricksaid carefully. ‘Darrell. Where does he fit in? Or does he?’
‘That’s the interesting twist to all this,’ Dr Barakat said, frowning. ‘You see, no one knows exactly what causes schizophrenia, but we do know this much: genetics definitely play a role in who gets it. So, yes, it will be a factor in his defense. For decades, everyone thought schizophrenia was caused by bad parenting. More particularly, bad mothering. Obsessive, overanxious, domineering, bad mothers created stressed-out, psychotic kids who couldn’t cope with reality. But bad mothering has been displaced by science. We know now that schizophrenia is an organic brain disease, in that the brain’s structure is physically changed. As for suspected causes for the changes, they still range from viruses and food allergies to neurochemical deficiencies, infectious agents or physical trauma in utero, or a dysfunctional endocrine system.’
Rick made a skeptical face, but said nothing.
‘Blame the cause on whatever you want,’ Dr Barakat continued, ‘but the genetic linkcan’t be ignored. With each family member afflicted with the disease, the risk factor for fellow family members does go up. To put it in perspective, the worldwide general population, with no family history of schizophrenia, has about a one perc
Ariana came backin with the report. She handed it to Rick with a coquettish smile. ‘Happy holidays,’ she said sweetly.
‘Thank you. You, too,’ Rick replied thoughtfully, matching her smile. He stood up and waved the report in his hand. ‘Good job, my man. I’ll call you after I’ve digested all this and you and I can go over your testimony for Wednesday. Dress nice and don’t forget, nine thirty sharp. It’s Len Farley and he’s unforgiving. Especially with our poor Julia here.’
‘Good luck with the shopping,’ Barakat said in that same inside-joke voice, rising himself. ‘Remember, stay the hell away from jewelry stores.’
Julia remained seated. She suddenly didn’t care anymore about what Christian Barakat and Rick might really be saying. Instead, her brain was spinning with everything Dr Barakat had said moments before. What it meant, what it could mean. ‘I have to ask you something, Dr Barakat,’ she said slowly, still not yet rising. ‘If David Marquette is not schizophrenic, if he’s faking it like you’re suggesting – what is he, then? You said before, he’s cunning, he’s smart, he’s manipulative – but what does that really mean? Without an obvious motive, what kind of person could murder his entire family and then be devious enough – smart enough, as you said – to successfully fake the symptoms of catatonia and schizophrenia?’
Christian Barakat didn’t hesitate at all. ‘For once, that’s an easy enough answer to give, even for a psychiatrist,’ he answered coolly. ‘It would make him a monster.’
‘He’s competent,’ Julia said to Lat over the phone. She slugged down a long sip of cold coffee, and looked around her desk drawer for a couple of quarters to go get herself another one from the machine downstairs. She only found three.
‘That’s not what I heard on the news at noon,’ Lat replied. ‘Says who?’
‘Tune in again. Says Christian Barakat. He just handed us his report this afternoon. He thinks this zombie act is just that – an act. Says it could be a medication issue, or more likely it’s because David Marquette is, get this,’ she said, hesitating just a bit, ‘a psychopath. He needs to do some more tests to make that official, but the doctor scored high on this “Psychopathy Check list” Barakat referred to.’ She raked the bottom of her pocketbook with her fingers and finally found another quarter, covered in lint and purse dirt.
‘A psychopath, huh? That makes sense. Who the hell else breaks out the kitchen cutlery on their family in the middle of the night?’
She closed her eyes. A monster.
‘Well that should make for an interesting Wednesday morning,’ Lat offered when she hadn’t said anything.
‘You’ll be there, right?’
‘Definitely. I wonder if Levenson will put his client on the stand.’
‘Idoubt it. He’d be crazy to.’ Crazy. The word sounded strange on her tongue. It had such a different meaning now. She rolled the quarters around in her sweaty fist.
‘Will you be handling the hearing?’ he asked.
The idea was so funny that she actually laughed out loud. She had a better chance of winning Powerball before Rick would let her handle an expert witness at a competency hearing. ‘I’ll be sitting at the table,’ she said in a conciliatory voice.
She was n’t sure if he meant that as a compliment to her or a slam against Rick, so she said nothing.
‘Farley sure picked some week,’ Lat said. ‘Four days before Christmas.’
‘He did that on purpose,’ Julia said. ‘He does everything on purpose, and ruining holidays and vacations would be one of the things Iimagine he does best.’
Now it was Lat’s turn to laugh. ‘Did he ruin yours? Family out of town?’
She felt the sudden pain stab her heart. She should’ve prepped herself for that question, but she hadn’t, and she felt as if someone had rushed her from behind, knocking her to the ground and stealing the breath from her lungs. She hated this time of year. Hated it. Starting at Thanksgiving and lasting past New Years, every day was a chore to get through, every night filled with bad memories that just seemed to get worse year after year. She hated seeing everyone happy and together – in every commercial, in every print ad, on every box of cereal and can of Coke. She hated the intrusive questions that people seemed to ask each other without thought. Are you going back home for the holidays? Who are you spending Christmas with? Is Mom making the turkey this year? Does she let you help? Nora and Jimmy and she always went through the motions of having a holiday dinner, complete with turkey and non-stop Christmas music, but Christmas at Aunt Nora’s was like a bad wake with good food – there was nothing joyous about it and everyone couldn’t wait till it was over. This year, Julia knew, would be especially difficult because she’d gone and brought up Andy.
The box was wrapped so pretty, she knew it couldn’t have been Andy who’d wrapped it. It must have been wrapped at the store – a fancy store. The ribbon was thick and tied into a bow that you only saw in department-store Christmas displays, but never under your own tree. A sparkling plastic angel ornament hung from one of its many pretty loops. ‘To Ju-Ju, Hope this makes it merry. Love, A.J.’ read the tag. A.J. was the new nickname Andy had been trying to get everyone to call him. Momma said names that started with initials sounded too much like confidential informants.
She closed the door of the bathroom softly behind her, turned on the lights and took a deep breath. There were only a couple of hours left to wait till Christmas morning, but she just couldn’t help herself. The idea of a present under the tree with her name on it bug ged her like an itch – there could be no relief until she knew what was in it. She moved the ribbon out of the way, slid a bread knife under the tape and then unwrapped one end of the thick paper. She slid out the box, careful to keep the shape of the wrap intact so she could just slide it back in when she was done peeking. No one would be the wiser.
When she saw the box was from Cosby’s Sporting Goods she stopped breathing. She wiped her palms on her robe, then took off the top and pulled back the folds of tissue paper. Shining under the lights of the broken overhead bathroom fixture was the white satin New York Ranger jacket that she’d asked for, first for her birthday and then again for Christmas. It was the only thing she wanted, but it was almost a hundred dollars and her mom had said they couldn’t afford it. Now, here it was, hers.
She couldn’t help herself again. She put the box on the sink and took the jacket out. She slipped off her robe and put the jacket on over her pajamas, running her hands over the smooth satin. It felt soooo amazing …
‘How does it fit?’ came the voice on the other side of the door.
She froze, her arms wrapped around herself.
‘Come on, Ju-Ju,’ Andy whispered. ‘How does it fit?’
‘Julia?’ Lat asked.
‘No,’ she said slowly, pushing the gho
‘Idon’t know yet. Imight head over with a buddy to the Bahamas. He’s got a fishing boat up in Fort Lauderdale and an ex-wife who gets the holiday with the kids this year.’
‘Christmas on the high seas? That sounds kind of nice,’ she said. She realized just then, like an unsettling epiphany, that Christmas was only a week away and she and Rick hadn’t even discussed the holiday yet. She had no idea what he was doing.
‘You’re welcome anytime,’ Lat replied.
‘Thanks for the invitation. Imight take you up on that one day.’
‘Egg-nog’s overrated. And fattening. I’ll stick a candy cane in your pina colada.’
She was quiet for a moment, thinking about the other reason she’d decided to call Lat when she got back to the office.
‘You still there?’ he asked after a second.
‘I have a favor Ineed to ask you, Lat,’ she said quickly, twisting the phone cord around the fingers of one hand, crunching the quarters in the other. ‘Can you run an NCIC for me?’
It was actually a crime to run a criminal history without a legitimate law-enforcement purpose. And since it was an NCIC she was asking for, it was technically a federal crime. Julia had never asked anyone to do something that was illegal for her before. She’d never done anything illegal herself. She felt guilty making Lat an accomplice, but she couldn’t run one herself, and she didn’t want anyone in her own office doing it.
‘Sure. What’s the name?’ Lat asked without hesitating. If he sensed something was up, he said nothing.
Plea of Insanity by Jilliane Hoffman / History & Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes