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Plea of insanity, p.3
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       Plea of Insanity, p.3

           Jilliane Hoffman
 

  ‘I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but you know the judge is right. Investigations won’t find her because she doesn’t want to be found, Julia. All you’re going to accomplish here is to piss the judge off some more and have double jeopardy prevent you from re-trying if your victim ever does see the light and wants to prosecute. Why don’t you just let Farley dismiss and then hand this case off to Domestics and let them try and re-file without a victim?’

  In the four months that Julia had been in the division, she’d yet to see her DC actually go to trial. Even a simple hearing was a rare occasion. As Karyn saw it, every case had a problem, every victim an agenda, every defendant an excuse. So for her, everything was negotiable, including murder. Sometimes at bargain-basement pleas that fell way below statutory guidelines.

  ‘Domestics will be in the same situation as me, only worse,’ Julia finally said, as she turned her attention back to the file cart. ‘Look at that guy, Karyn. If he walks, he’s heading straight back home.’

  Karyn rolled her eyes. ‘You can’t solve all the world’s problems, Julia. Jesus, I hate domestics. They should keep them all in DCU and out of division. You know, you’ve got some set, girlfriend.’

  ‘Thank you,’ Julia replied, snapping the bicycle strap across her file boxes.

  ‘Apparently I’m not the only one who’s noticed, either.’ Her DC’s voice lowered once again and her face tightened. ‘Listen, while you were duking it out with Farley, Charley Rifkin dropped by the courtroom.’

  Charley Rifkin was the Division Chief of Major Crimes and the State Attorney’s right-hand man. Julia immediately felt her palms go sweaty. Uh-oh. ‘And?’ she asked, hoping her voice still sounded strong.

  ‘And he wants you in his office in ten minutes. And, Julia,’ Karyn called out with a flip of her cool blonde bob and another half-smile of disappointment as Julia made her way to the gallery swing-door, ‘he didn’t look happy.’

  4

  Damn. Nothing good ever came from a Monday. Julia dragged the rickety cart stacked with trial boxes behind her down the handicapped ramp in back of the courthouse and hurried across Thirteenth to the Graham Building, home of the State Attorney’s Office. A gusty tropical breeze threatened to Marilyn Monroe her skirt right in front of the steel-barred windows of DCJ and the two leering Sabrett sausage vendors gathered on the corner, and she cursed herself for picking out the one suit in her closet without a tailored hemline.

  She knew Karyn thought she was being overzealous and combative. And her judge was mad at her – again. She had just a day to prepare for a trial she really wasn’t prepared to have, with a judge, a DC, a defense attorney, and even a victim who didn’t want her to have it. Now, just when she thought the day couldn’t get any shittier, the Chief of Major Crimes was demanding to see her in his office.

  In the food chain of the State Attorney’s Office, Major Crimes was right up there with administration, and its chief, Charley Rifkin, definitely had more than just the ear of the State Attorney – he’d also been the man’s golf partner for the past ten years, and his campaign manager a decade or so before that. Being summoned to Rifkin’s office was not a normal happening for anyone, and especially not a B, unless, of course, he’d observed something in court that he didn’t like. Or, Julia thought nervously as she nibbled a fingernail and watched her file boxes pass through the Graham Building’s metal detector, had a judge or another attorney call him about a problem.

  Major Crimes was the specialized trial division that handled explosive media cases, complex homicides, and all death-penalty cases. Each of the ten or so elite attorneys assigned to the division had more than a dozen years of prosecutorial experience, which – thanks to dismal salaries and a high burn-out rate – was practically a lifetime in an office where most people didn’t stay ten seconds past their three-year commitments. There was no doubt that Major Crimes attorneys were good at what they did, and there was also no doubt that most of them knew it. Their presence in a courtroom could instantly command the respect of the judge, the attention of the jury and the envy of the defense bar. It also could, and usually did, intimidate the hell out of a lot of the pit prosecutors in division, especially if whatever lurid, high-profile case they were appearing on had attracted a camera crew and a few eager reporters to the back of the courtroom. And it wasn’t just the newborns – new Cs fresh from Juvi or County Court – who lost it, either. Julia had witnessed even seasoned As and DCs develop a sudden, uncomfortable stutter when a Major Crimes prosecutor strode into the gallery and asked to call a case up on calendar.

  She uselessly hit the lit lobby elevator button again, and waded back into the waiting crowd of uniforms, attorneys and assorted interesting persons that were headed upstairs. Even though it probably wouldn’t have deterred her from pressing forward on Powers this morning if she’d known that Charley Rifkin was standing behind her taking notes, she still wanted to kick herself for not knowing that he was.

  Other than an occasional elevator sighting and seeing him speak at an office voir dire training session one afternoon some months back, Julia had never actually met the Division Chief of Major Crimes before. In fact, while she’d been to the second floor maybe a zillion times over her two years in felonies to either see Career Criminal about getting a plea offer on a habitual offender, or visit the offices of other division attorneys, she’d never once even been through the secured access doors that led to the Major Crimes Unit. The Hallowed Hall. It wasn’t that her identification card wouldn’t open the door; it was just that there’d never been any need. None of her cases ever involved issues that appealed to Major Crimes – like a famous defendant, a celebrity victim or a brutal serial killer. And as for socializing, for the most part, attorneys in specialized units did not interact or hang out with the younger pit prosecutors in division. Like Julia supposed it was in every corporate workplace, there existed at the SAO an invisible and unspoken social and economic caste system among its workers: administration dined with administration, senior trial attorneys lunched with senior trial attorneys, support staff noshed with support staff. And in their five minutes of free time, pit prosecutors shared croquetas, PB&Js, and the morning’s courtroom war stories with other pit prosecutors, either at their desks or over at the courthouse cafeteria across the street.

  She got off on two with a guy who she figured for either a drug dealer or a plain-clothes City of Miami narc in need of a shower. The tattooed head of a King Cobra slithered out of the collar of his T-shirt, bearing its fangs in a wicked grin as it arched its back and aimed for the jugular. Its owner smiled at her like he knew her, before disappearing down the hall that led to Career Criminal. She hesitantly smiled back and hoped he was a narc.

  Her own office was up on three, but she decided it might be better to head straight over to Chief Rifkin’s office first, thinking that maybe if the man actually saw the four enormous trial boxes on her cart, he’d remember just what carrying a caseload of 102 B felonies was like before he ripped into her for taking on her judge with a doomed domestic. She stopped at the door marked Major Crimes, wiped her palms on her skirt, took a deep breath, and slid her card through the security access. It clicked open and she entered a long, lowlit, empty hallway, painted – like the rest of the State Attorney’s Office – the most depressing shade of pasty gray.

  Immediately, the air changed. That was the first thing Julia noticed. The second was the collective blank stares of the eight Major Crimes secretaries whose lair she’d landed in when the depressing hallway abruptly ended. A fluorescent-lit maze of Formica and plexiglas cubbies, and there she was, standing dumb-faced right in the middle of it, like a kid whose waterslide had unexpectedly dumped him into the deep end of the pool. Conversation didn’t just softly die down – it dropped dead in mid-sentence.

  ‘Hello,’ Julia began, trying her best at a big smile. Since no one looked away, she addressed them all. ‘I’m looking for Charley Rifkin’s office?’

  ‘Is he expecting you?’ one of t
he faces asked, an older woman with a sour expression and droopy, doughy cheeks. Somebody cracked gum.

  Julia glanced down. On the desk in front of droopy cheeks was a plaque with a plastic manicured index finger that bobbled back and forth. It read Don’t Mess With Grandma. ‘I think so,’ Julia answered slowly. ‘My DC told me that Mr Rifkin wanted to see me.’

  ‘Oh,’ said Grandma. Her face slid down until it looked like it would just melt into her neck. ‘You’re the one from Judge Farley’s division.’

  That couldn’t be good. ‘That’s me,’ Julia replied, and casually dried her hands on her skirt again. Unfortunately, she’d inherited the sweaty-palm gene from her mother – a career curse. She still tried to hold on to the smile, but it was fading quick.

  Grandma picked up the phone, hit a number, and turned away. ‘She’s here,’ was all she said. Then she looked back at Julia, and motioned down the hall with a nod of her head. Her doughy throat jiggled like a turkey’s. ‘Two-oh-seven. Take the hallway to the second corridor and make a right. Last office on the left.’

  5

  She felt the stares of the secretaries silently follow her as she walked past them, like moving pairs of eyes in paintings that decorated the halls of a haunted mansion. The walkto the corner definitely seemed a lot longer than it looked, and she was all too happy to be out of direct staring range as she rounded the second corridor and entered another long hallway, this one lined with closed office doors, each adorned with the engraved nameplate of the resident lawyer inside – most of whom, she was realizing, she’d never met, and some of whom she’d never even heard of. Apparently, no one in Major Crimes was particularly social. Not that it was a constant party up on three, but among division prosecutors, office doors always seemed to be open, and attorneys wandered in and out of each other’s claustrophobic offices all day long to ask for advice on a case, bitch about a PD, chat up the weekend, or gulp down a quick shot of café cubano – hot, liquid, Cuban adrenaline – made fresh at three every afternoon by her best friend, Dayanara Vega, the B in Judge Stalder’s division. On Julia’s floor there was a sense of camaraderie in the pasty gray halls. Here, on what was known as ‘The Power Floor’, she just felt shut out from the rest of the world.

  Next to the door marked 207, was the nameplate, ‘Charles August Rifkin, Division Chief. The three cups of coffee and bowl of Lucky Charms she’d had for breakfast suddenly began to threaten mutiny, and she prayed her stomach wouldn’t start making any weird noises. Inside, she could hear Chief Rifkin talking in a low voice, his words muffled. She hoped he was on the phone, because an audience was the last thing she needed this morning. She wiped her hands one last time on her skirt and tapped on the door. There was a brief silence before she heard someone say, ‘Come in.’

  ‘Hi,’ she answered cheerfully as she pushed open the door. The file cart she was trying to negotiate behind her nailed the metal doorframe with a loud thud.

  ‘Leave that outside,’ commanded another voice from somewhere on the other side of the door. One she immediately thought she recognized.

  She nodded with a wince, backed out of the room, and pushed the cart up against the hall wall. She blew out a slow, steady breath before stepping back inside. The door closed softly behind her, but it wasn’t Charley Rifkin who’d shut it, because he was sitting right there in front of her, in a high-back leather chair behind an oversized wooden desk, wearing what looked a lot like a scowl. The door-shutter moved from behind her to one of the two small red leather side chairs positioned in front of the desk and motioned for her to take a seat in the other.

  Yes, the day could get worse.

  ‘Good morning, Julia,’ said the Assistant Division Chief of Major Crimes, Richard ‘Rick’ Bellido, looking cool and reserved in a conservative black Hugo Boss suit, crisp white dress shirt and gray silktie. The gray in the tie accentuated the vibrant silver strands sprinkled throughout his otherwise jet-black, wavy hair, but in a flattering way. She stared at him for what felt like an incredibly long moment, but he didn’t smile. He didn’t nod. He didn’t wink. God, he didn’t even blink. Julia couldn’t help but think that even the most talented psychic would be hard-pressed to guess at that moment that the two of them had slept together for the first time only three short nights ago. Even she was now doubting the memory.

  ‘I saw you in court today,’ Rifkin began. ‘You like to test old Farley, do you?’ Before she could reply, he turned to Rick and said flatly, ‘She’s going to trial on a domestic with no victim. Lenny had a fit.’

  ‘Nothing unusual there,’ Rick replied with a shrug as he sat down himself.

  ‘How long have you been in his division?’ asked the Chief, tapping his hand impatiently against his coffee mug. His wedding ring made a soft, distracting tink, tink, tink against the ceramic.

  ‘About four months,’ Julia answered. Four months, one week and one day, to be exact. Four months too long, she wanted to say. She sat up straight in her chair and got ready to defend herself, ticking off invisible bullet points in her head. ‘He was going to dismiss—’

  Rifkin cut her off. ‘That’s not why you’re here.’

  She wasn’t sure if the invisible weight actually moved off of, or onto, her chest. With an almost ceremonious wave of his hand, Rifkin motioned to Rick, and the scowl seemed to deepen. She felt her cheeks go hot and she knew they were probably glowing like Rudolph’s nose – another genetic curse from her mother, this one the result of being half Irish and fair-skinned. Oh God. Please, please, please don’t let this be about the State’s policy on dating in the office …

  ‘There was a family murdered in Coral Gables over the weekend,’ Rick began. ‘I’m assuming you’ve heard.’

  She let out the breath she’d subconsciously been holding, so hard and so fast it sounded like a sigh. ‘Yeah, yeah, of course I’ve heard. It’s been all over the news. A mom and her kids, right?’ The horrible story had taken up the first five minutes of the news last night, and another five this morning, and made today’s front page in both the Miami Herald and the Sun Sentinel. A whole family in ritzy Coral Gables apparently the victim of some psycho intruder. Other than the names of the victims and the fact that it was a homicide scene, she’d noticed that the news didn’t have much to really report, though. The only people offering up long-winded, on-camera opinions were the chatty neighbors – everyone important was being very tight-lipped. The press, meanwhile, was having a field day whipping up fears of a late-night-serial-killer-type madman, cautioning everyone to lock their doors and windows and call police if they notice any strange behavior. In Miami, Julia knew that vague warning was sure to have the 911 lines ringing off the hook.

  ‘Jennifer Marquette and her three children, Emma, Danny and Sophie, all under the age of seven, murdered in their beds. The little one, Sophie, was only a baby. Just a few weeks old, in fact,’ Rick said, with a shake of his head as he tapped his Montblanc thoughtfully on the top of a yellow legal pad that had appeared on his lap. ‘It’s pretty bad.’

  ‘Only dad’s alive. He’s over at Ryder Trauma,’ Rifkin remarked.

  ‘That’s what I heard on the news,’ Julia said. ‘He’s a doctor, right? Is he going to make it?’

  Grandma opened the door at that moment. Apparently no one messed with her, because she didn’t even knock first. ‘Ruth Solly’s headed over to court, Charley. She needs those files.’

  ‘Okay, okay. Let me get with her before she goes,’ Rifkin said, rising, his coffee cup in hand. ‘Excuse me, I’ll be back in a minute.’ He headed out of the office with Grandma teetering close behind, in a pair of black stilettos and a skirt that was shorter than anything Julia could remember her own cookie-baking grandmother ever wearing.

  Okay. Now she was confused. Apparently, this little tête-à-tête wasn’t about Judge Farley or her combative attitude or her taking Letray Powers to trial tomorrow morning. She didn’t know the name Marquette and she couldn’t think of any connection she might have with the weekend massac
re in Coral Gables, other than maybe one of her 102 defendants was being investigated as a possible suspect. And thank God, as far as she could tell, it wasn’t about the SAO policy on sexual harassment and sleeping with one’s superiors in the office. But five minutes into a conversation was still a long time to go without knowing if she should be floating a few résumés on Monster.com, so she decided to ask the incredibly awkward question that she didn’t want to ask when she figured Grandma and her boss had cleared listening distance. ‘Do you know why I’m here?’ she asked quietly.

  Rick nodded. ‘I was the on-call this weekend.’

  ‘Oh,’ she replied, unsure if his response was being offered as an explanation for why he hadn’t called her since Friday night, or actually an answer to the question. She suddenly remembered the last time they’d been together, his mouth on hers in the shower, his hands on places she shouldn’t have let them go. She felt her cheeks start to grow warm again, and she looked away for a moment, finding a gray spot on the gray carpet to concentrate on. Where in the Gables was it?’ she managed to ask, hoping her voice didn’t betray her thoughts.

  ‘Off Sorolla, near UM. Oh, I forgot,’ he added with a touch of an amused smile, when she finally did look back up and caught his dark-chocolate eyes watching her, ‘you’re not from around these-here parts.’

  It was no use. She lit up like Bozo at a birthday party. Her shower was in Hollywood, a twenty-mile trip north of Miami.

  ‘Sorolla and Granada, to be exact,’ he continued when she didn’t respond. ‘It’s in the older section of the Gables. A lot of expensive historic homes and mansions. Course nowadays, I don’t think you can touch a trailer in Leisure City for less than six figures, so expensive is a relative term.’

  ‘Is it going to be your case?’

 
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