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Plea of insanity, p.30
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       Plea of Insanity, p.30

           Jilliane Hoffman
 

  She felt so alone. So incredibly alone with shameful secrets no one could ever know. No one wanted to be friends with the girl whose parents were murdered. The girl whose brother was a murderer. Old friends had stopped calling right after the funerals. Even Carly. New friends wanted no part of someone who was so different. So she’d made sure she wasn’t. She buried her past in secrets and lies that she kept from everyone. Friends, boyfriends, teachers, professors, bosses. Her parents had died in a terrible car crash. She was raised by her aunt and uncle. She was an only child. She’d told the same lie for so long that, on occasion, even she’d thought it sounded right. For just a little while, sometimes even she’d forget what it felt like to be so damn different.

  Andrew’s sweet, young face flashed before her, with his milky skin and dark curly hair. The deep dimples when he smiled. Bobby Brady, her mom thought he looked like. He had never looked evil to her, even that night when he pulled away in the police car, covered in the blood of their parents. A boy of barely eighteen. That’s all he’d been. A boy. Ten years younger than she was now. She’d abandoned him all this time, while he sat alone, going through a cold, indifferent justice system that she knew he didn’t understand and that didn’t understand him.

  She chewed her thumbnail till it started to bleed, staring straight into the blurred red brake lights of the Mazda in front of her. Now there was one more horrible secret to bury from friends and co-workers and boyfriends. She blinked back tears again. Only this one she might not be able to keep all to herself.

  ‘Schizo,’ she said aloud in the empty car. Then she opened her window and spit the dirty, scary word out into the rain.

  62

  ‘Whoa, little lady. I know you don’t want to be in here now,’ said the deep voice of a blue coat whose whole large body blocked the front foyer. His broad arms grabbed her and held her tight.

  She screamed something, anything. And she punched out at him, hoping to distract him with a claw to the face. Make him flinch so she could run past. It was her house, damn it!

  Maybe they were still alive.

  It was no use. Her small body was no match against Burly Man. ‘I have to go in,’ she pleaded. ‘Please! Please! You don’t understand! I have to go in!’

  ‘No, you don’t, honey. No, you don’t,’ he said in a voice that was too calm. Too soothing. As if to say, ‘There is no emergency anymore, there’s no need to be rushing.’

  ‘They’re my parents! I have to see them!’

  ‘No, honey. You don’t want to see them this way. Trust me. Where’s Potter?’ Burly yelled to one of the blue coats in the living room behind him. ‘Have him get a psych out here, will you? Get me one of those EMTs!’

  ‘That’s my mother! My mother!’ she screamed. ‘Momma! Oh God, Momma!’

  Through Burly Man’s legs, she could see the puddle of bright red blood that stained the cream living-room rug behind him. It looked like it ran up the walls. Sticking out from behind the couch her eyes caught on the bright yellow rosebuds and pink ribbon that trimmed the sleeve of her mother’s new nightgown. The one Julia had given her for her birthday last week. Long, slender fingers still held a bloody phone in their frozen grasp, the nails painted a dainty, soft pink. Her legs began to shake uncontrollably.

  Potter ran in the front door. ‘Julie, you need to come with me.’

  ‘No! I want to see them! I have to see them!’

  ‘Julie, it’s very bad,’ said Potter.

  She turned and screamed the words at him. ‘My name is Julia, you asshole! J-u-l-i-a. And that’s my parents in there! That’s my mom! I want to see them! You can’t not let me see them!’ She began to cry again and she felt her body weaken with exhaustion against Burly Man. There was little fight left. The blue coats and cheap suits in the living room had all stopped what they were doing to watch.

  ‘Get me Disick,’ Potter said into his handheld, running a palm through his sweaty hair. The detective was more than a few pounds overweight and that last run across the lawn had left him red-faced and wheezy. ‘Have him meet us down at the precinct in thirty.’

  Julia had seen enough movies. She knew from Detective Potter’s tone just who Disick was and she slumped down, defeated, on the floor. It must be a dream. This must all be a dream. Life can’t change this fast.

  ‘Take her outside,’ said Burly Man to Potter. ‘Let them finish up in here.’

  ‘We need to find your family, Julia,’ said Potter softly, stooping down to her eye level. ‘Do you have any other family, honey?’

  Any other family. Hers was all gone now. She stared blankly at the pinprick-sized spot of grease on the detective’s tie.

  He reached over and gently lifted her up by the arm. ‘Come on, Julia. Let’s go. There’ll be someone down at the station you can talk to while we try to find your relatives. I have a couple of questions …’

  Potter’s voice finally tapered off. She could tell from his moving mouth that he was still speaking, saying something, but she couldn’t hear him. She couldn’t hear anything anymore. Sound had suddenly been sucked up into a vacuum, replaced by an intense, deafening pressure inside her head and she thought she might pass out. She watched as the different characters slowly came back to life all around her, busying themselves once again in her living room and moving across her lawn and her driveway. Burly nodded grimly at her before turning his attention back to the officer behind him, giving him directions with animated hands.

  And just like that, the world went on.

  She let Potter lead her back through the small foyer with the fake brick linoleum that her mother had always wanted to replace, and out the front door into the cold night air. Yellow crime-scene tape held back the growing crowd of pajama-clad neighbors. When she reached the cement walkway that led down to the sidewalk she stopped, turning to look back for one long last second at the house she’d lived in for thirteen years. She knew she would never see it again. Every room, including hers, was ablaze with lights, crawling with silhouetted strangers. Through the living-room window, she could see the technicians and photographers and detectives do their handiwork right alongside the Christmas tree that she and her mother had decorated just last week.

  Oddly enough, no one had thought to unplug it.

  63

  On a Saturday morning, the taxi ride from the hotel at LaGuardia Airport to Ward’s Island only took about twenty minutes. It was strange. Here it was, she’d grown up in New York, volunteered during summers in college at both the Queens and Bronx Zoos, spent countless weekends down at the Seaport or in Greenwich Village clubs, gone to dozens of concerts in Washington Square and Central Park. She was probably one of the only New Yorkers who’d actually visited the Statue of Liberty and the Empire State Building, and she’d memorized the NYC subway system like a treasure map. But until three days ago, she’d never even heard of Ward’s Island. How ironic that for years and years, she was just a short taxi ride away from her brother.

  After the tollbooth at the Triboro, the cab turned off, following insignificant green and white signs for Randall’s Island and Ward’s Island – the same ones she’d always somehow managed to overlook. The road twisted around what was, by New York City standards, a veritable forest of tall oaks, sycamores and maples, as it wound down a hill and under the bridge itself. Even though it was winter and the trees were barren, the million-dollar-plus view was breathtaking. The skyline of Manhattan loomed less than a mile to the west, over the dark waters of the East River. But there were no homes here to appreciate it. No office buildings or restaurants or gas stations or, even among all this glorious outdoors, parks to play in. This piece of prime real estate was eerily undeveloped, overgrown and devoid of life.

  The taxi pulled up to the gate of an old stone guardhouse. Another insignificant green and white metal highway sign next to the door read Manhattan Psychiatric Center.

  Julia lowered her window. ‘Kirby?’

  ‘Name and picture ID,’ said the guard, holding a pen and clipboard
in front of him.

  ‘Valenciano,’ she said, holding out her State Attorney’s badge, hoping it might work the same powerful magic in New York as it did in Miami. She was too tired to answer questions.

  It did. The guard nodded and pointed, dropping the clipboard to his side. The fact that she’d come by taxi instead of in a marked police unit didn’t seem to bother him at all. ‘Take this straight ahead. Kirby’s on the left after the turn.’

  ‘What’s the number on that?’

  He looked at her blankly. ‘It’s the building with two forty-foot razor-wire fences around it, lady. Trust me, you ain’t gonna miss it.’

  She nodded and sat back in her seat as the taxi pulled away from the gatehouse. From research conducted on the Internet she already knew that Manhattan Psychiatric was made up of three buildings: Meyer, Dunlop and Kirby. All three had been constructed sometime in the fifties to house the city’s overwhelming number of mentally ill residents – 28, 000 at one point in time. But in the sixties – after the first generation of antipsychotics were discovered and institutionalization fell out of public favor – the number of committed residents fell from the tens of thousands to only a few hundred. Dunlop and Kirby closed their doors shortly thereafter, sometime in the seventies, leaving Meyer as the sprawling center’s only facility to offer both in-patient and out-patient psych services. Eventually Dunlop housed administrative offices, but the Kirby building remained shuttered and abandoned until 1985 when it reopened as a maximum-security forensic psychiatric hospital – a present-day criminal insane asylum. Julia watched out the dirty window, already caked with winter, as the taxi made its way through the hills and past the first two buildings, presumably Meyer and Dunlop. Though it was near freezing out, a few green scrubs and white uniforms were seated outside at bolted-down metal picnic tables, sipping coffee or smoking cigarettes or simply staring off into the trees. Given what they had to do for a living and where they had to do it, it was easy to see why someone would take their break as far away from their day as possible, no matter what the weather.

  The guard was right. As the taxi rounded the final turn, it was impossible to miss the double chain-link fence that wrapped around the perimeter of the twelve-story building. Thick rolls of steely barbed wire topped both fences. She paid the driver and watched him turn around and take off back through the parking lot. She fought back the sudden urge to run after him, scream for him to stop, pull out another twenty and demand he take her back to the airport. Back to Miami. Back to where everything was a mess, but at least it was safe and it was familiar.

  But her feet didn’t move. And she said nothing as the cab disappeared from sight behind the trees. She lit a cigarette with cold, shaking fingers, watching as the cab’s trail of white exhaust fumes floated off into the sky and disappeared. She knew she couldn’t just go back. Nothing in her past was real anymore. Nothing was truly safe or secure or even familiar – not even the happiest of memories. It was as if she were standing on a precipice, with one foot dangling over in mid-air. One more step in the wrong direction and she would surely free-fall out of control. But what was the right direction anymore? Inside the building behind her was not just the past she never knew she had, but the future she might not want to ever meet. Backwards or forwards, the ground was unsettled, no matter where she stepped.

  She finally turned away from the road to face the dirty gray institution that loomed behind her. The black steel-mesh windows stared back at her like cold, vacant eyes; the rolls of prickly barbed wire formed a twisted smile of razor-sharp teeth. She wondered how many faces might be watching her at that moment from behind those windows and through the checkered steel of the fence. Watching her hesitate. Watching her deliberate. The faces of murderers and rapists. The faces of the criminally insane. Were any of them Andrew? Would he know her if he saw her? Had he been waiting all these years for her to come? Every Saturday and Sunday and holiday for the past fourteen years?

  She sucked in the final puff of her cigarette and made her decision. She stepped forward off the ledge and into the darkness of an unknown future, not sure if anything would hold her up when she did. And as she made her way along the concrete walkway, past the razor wire and the abandoned picnic tables, through the double security doors and metal detectors, one last question burned in the back of her brain.

  Did he still wait?

  64

  ‘Who you here to see?’ asked the guard behind the bulletproof window as he examined her driver’s license and badge. Behind him, maybe a half-dozen other uniforms milled about in the small room, eating donuts and drinking coffee. Saturday morning cartoons played on a small portable TV. On the foldout table next to the metal detector, another officer went through her purse looking for weapons.

  ‘Cirto. Andrew Cirto,’ she said.

  ‘Cirto, huh? That’s a first. You a detective?’ he asked with a thick New York accent, fingering her badge. Under where it read State Attorney’s Office, a red enamel sun rose over a green palm tree and blue water. Even she’d thought it looked fake the first time she’d seen it.

  ‘No. I’m a prosecutor. In Miami.’

  ‘Oh. You seeing him for a case you got? You know, he’s been locked up as long as I been here.’

  She shook her head and cleared her throat. ‘It’s personal.’ She looked around the empty screening/waiting room. On a table in the corner, a fake silver Christmas tree flashed on and off. She knew from friends in Corrections that visiting day in prison could get pretty busy. Obviously, from the looks of it, that was not the case here at Kirby. Not even on Christmas Eve.

  ‘Well, they got to call up to the ward and bring him down to the visiting room. It may take a while. Have a seat.’

  ‘Okay,’ she nodded, turning away. Then she thought of something and turned back. ‘Do they tell him who’s here to see him?’

  ‘I think so.’

  ‘Make sure they tell him it’s Ju-Ju,’ she said quietly, taking a seat on a ripped vinyl bench close to the door. She glanced down at the stack of worn People magazines on the chipped end table.

  She closed her eyes and attempted to gather her thoughts. She tried to imagine the conversation she wanted to have with Andrew, but couldn’t even get that far. Past ‘hello’, she wasn’t sure what was going to happen.

  Maybe a half-hour later the door to the waiting room opened. A slight, balding man in a dark suit and white doctor’s coat came in. His dark eyes were buried in a deep frown. He didn’t look happy. ‘Ms Valenciano?’

  ‘Yes,’ she said, rising to meet him.

  ‘I’m Dr Harry Mynks, the Director of Psychiatric Services here. I’m one of Andrew Cirto’s doctors.’

  She nodded. There was an awkward pause.

  ‘The SHTA told me that someone was here to see Andrew,’ he continued coldly. ‘I’m sorry, but I don’t recognize the name Valenciano.’

  ‘I didn’t know you were supposed to,’ she said, shifting uncomfortably. ‘What’s that, an SHTA?’

  ‘That’s one of our Secure Hospital Treatment Assistants. An aid on the ward. He called me to say that Andrew has a visitor.’ He paused, again waiting for her to say something. ‘I’ve been the director here at Kirby for eight years, Ms Valenciano,’ he continued when she didn’t, pulling down on his bony chin, ‘and, well, to be honest with you, that’s never happened before. In fact, since I’m quite familiar with Andrew’s records, I can tell you that in all his years at this facility, he’s never had a single visitor. That’s why I took an interest in meeting you. I wanted to speak with you before you actually met with him today.’ He nodded at the uniform in the booth, who then buzzed the door. ‘Can you accompany me to my office for a moment, so we can go over a few things?’ Dr Mynks asked, holding the door open for her.

  Julia swallowed hard and nodded, following him into a deserted hallway that looked a lot like the basement of the science lab in her high school, windowless and clinical. The metal in her worn heels clicked softly on the shiny cement floor and s
he shifted her weight to the balls of her feet. She’d meant to get them reheeled.

  ‘These are just administrative offices,’ he said, watching her as she looked about. ‘The wards are on the upper floors. Visitors are not permitted up there. I have to ask,’ he said when they’d arrived at his office door. He held it open and motioned her in. ‘All the way from the Miami State Attorney’s Office. Who are you?’

  Julia looked around the sparsely furnished room, her eyes hoping to land on anything besides Dr Mynks’s disarming stare. A degree from Johns Hopkins hung behind the desk. As did one from Cornell. She took a breath. ‘I’m his sister,’ she said after a moment, finally taking a seat. ‘Andrew is my older brother.’

  ‘Oh,’ he replied, sitting himself behind the desk.

  ‘I just want to see him again. I didn’t know he was here. I just found out. I thought he was … well, I thought he was dead,’ she said carefully. ‘I just want to see him again, Dr Mynks.’ She probably didn’t have to tell him anything, but there you go – he was a psychiatrist and although it wasn’t a couch, she was sitting in his office.

  ‘Andrew murdered your—’

  She nodded and cut him off with a deliberate wave of her hand. ‘Yes. I, ah – I know he was sick now. I didn’t know that before.’ She shifted in her seat.

  ‘Oh,’ he said again, but she could tell he didn’t believe her. Then he paused. ‘He’s better, Ms Valenciano. Since I’ve been director here, he’s been a model patient. Are you familiar with his history?’

  ‘I know he has schizophrenia. I’ve read the court file.’

  ‘And you didn’t know that before? Were you living with him when he was first diagnosed?’

  ‘I was very young at the time. What medication is he on?’

  He shook his head. ‘I can’t discuss that with you. HIPA privacy rules.’

  She waited a moment. ‘I’ve read the plea transcript. I know he’s paranoid, Dr Mynks. I know from those transcripts what he thought that night. What he was thinking …’ She cleared her throat. ‘About the CIA. About my father. I know what the voices told him to do to them.’ She took a deep breath.

 
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