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Plea of insanity, p.33
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       Plea of Insanity, p.33

           Jilliane Hoffman

  ‘So he had no intent to kill a “human being” as it is defined in the homicide statute. Very clever,’ Penny remarked.

  Dr Barakat smiled. ‘That was my thought, yes.’

  ‘This guy has all the right answers,’ said Rick, shaking his head. ‘He’s smart as hell.’

  ‘School records place his IQ at 149,’ Dr Barakat replied.

  ‘He’s a genius,’ said Julia softly.

  ‘Don’t be too impressed,’ Rick remarked. ‘So were Ed Kemper and Nathan Leopold of Leopold and Loeb fame. You know what they say – there’s a fine line between genius and madness.’

  ‘The voices would tell him when to look at just the right moment to see his children in their real forms, so he would know the voices weren’t lying to him. That’s when he’d catch the flash of a yellow smile on his toddler son. Glowing red eyes, gone in a blink on Emma. Fangs on his wife.’

  ‘I had a wife like that once,’ Brill piped in. ‘Sucked the life right out of me, too.’ The room laughed again.

  ‘So he’s not possessed, it was the wife and kids?’ Lat asked. ‘Is that it?’


  ‘Usually we hear it the other way around. But that doesn’t work in court and our boy knows it,’ Rick said. ‘Did he tell anyone what he was thinking, Chris? That he was having these thoughts? Of course not.’

  Barakat shot him a look. ‘I would have been surprised if he did. He claims, of course, that he couldn’t discuss his suspicions with anyone, because he says he knew no one would believe him. “I’m a doctor. A surgeon,” he said to me, “people would think I’m totally crazy.” He reports hearing his own thoughts broadcast over all the radios in the house whenever he was home – night, day, whenever. He says he knew they were always listening to him, that that was a form of intimidation practiced to keep him subservient, to torture him, and make sure he didn’t tell anyone outside the home what was happening.’

  ‘Anybody got him acting looney, agitated, speaking to the empty chair next to him in the OR?’ Rifkin asked.

  ‘He certainly wasn’t speaking in tongues, but we do have that flare-up with the nurse he fired,’ Brill replied with a shrug. ‘But that was nothing more than an irritating subordinate versus a demigod in the operating room. She talked back and he’d had enough.’

  ‘She’s on Marquette’s witness list,’ said Penny. ‘Guaranteed Mel’s gonna use her to support his argument that Marquette was losing it.’

  ‘That’s friggin’ bullshit,’ said an exasperated Brill. ‘You can’t believe this crap might actually work?’

  ‘I haven’t met a jury yet that Itrusted to do the right thing. Make sure when you cross her, that you play up her incompetence,’ Rifkin added with a nod at Rick.

  ‘How does he explain being the only one in his family not possessed?’ asked Julia.

  ‘He doesn’t. He says he believes he was spared for one reason and one reason only – to save the souls of his family. Their bodies were devoured already on the inside, so that they were just occupying empty shells of skin. Dr Marquette says he knew he had to intervene, had to stop them, or their souls would be damned for all eternity, like vampires. And “the presence”, as he calls it – the demons – would move on to feast on others.’

  ‘So he killed them,’ Rick said.

  Barakat shook his head. ‘That’s the interesting part, he doesn’t actually admit to killing his family. He stops short of describing what happened on the night of the murders, by claiming he can’t remember.’

  ‘Why?’ asked Lat. ‘Why would he say he can’t remember when he’s already admitted it by pleading insanity as the reason he did it?’

  ‘Two lines of thinking,’ Barakat offered. ‘Three, actually. One is he’s truly schizophrenic and he can’t actually face what he’s done yet in his mind. The psychotic break he suffered has effectively enabled him to stay in a deluded state of denial about the actual murders themselves.’


  ‘He’s a psychopath and doesn’t want to take responsibility yet. He’s playing a game with you all. He’s in check, but not checkmate, and he doesn’t want to give up on a way out. Once he admits to certain facts, the jig is up and he’s locked in to a story. Ted Bundy, a classic sociopath, played that cat and mouse game for years with investigators, frustrating them with promises of confessions that never materialized.’

  ‘Obviously you are choosing what’s behind door number two,’ said Rick.

  ‘Obviously. I already told you he’s not schizophrenic and that he was sane,’ replied Dr Barakat as he slid his report into a file. ‘As a matter of fact, Itold you from the moment Ifirst met the guy he’s a malingerer. A damn good one. Don’t you have Pat Hindlin as a second on this? What did he say?’

  ‘That he’s a sane, calculating psycho. The score’s tied two-all. Levenson has Koletis and some woman out of California. Margaret Hayes.’

  ‘Hayes? Never heard of her,’ Barakat said.

  ‘No one has. But everyone knows that for fifteen or twenty grand a pop, Levenson Grossbach & Associates can buy whatever opinion it wants to hear.’

  ‘And the third?’ asked Julia as Christian Barakat stood to leave.


  ‘You said there were three possible reasons for Marquette to not cop to the specifics of what he did on the night of the killings.’

  ‘Well, that one’s rather obvious, isn’t it?’ Dr Barakat replied with a dry smile. ‘He didn’t do it.’

  The room fell silent.

  ‘Excuse me?’ asked Lat.

  ‘I’m not saying that’s the case. What I am saying is that we have a man who is either schizophrenic, or is smart enough and cunning enough to convincingly pretend to be. If he’s the latter, he’s a complete sociopath. If he’s the former, well, he’s obviously a very, very sick man. And I’m just advising you what you probably already know, Detectives: mentally ill people make false confessions to crimes all the time. Statistically, schizophrenics top that list.’

  ‘Could be another angle that Mel’s gonna spring later, Ricky,’ Rifkin added when no one said anything. ‘Two theories of the case. The jury can pick and choose their sympathy verdict for our wholesome farm boy: he didn’t do it. But if you think he did, then he was sick and didn’t know what he was doing.’

  ‘You know, defense attorneys are just pieces of shit,’ Brill said after a moment with a bewildered shake of his head. ‘So this “the devil made me do it” defense might let this guy actually walk free?’

  Again the room stayed quiet.

  ‘The devil made me do it,’ Rick scoffed as he tossed his pencil into the middle of the table and stood up. ‘I wonder if we’ll have to name him in the conspiracy.’


  ‘Where are you rushing off to?’ Lat asked as the meeting broke and Julia gathered her stack of legal pads and files, car keys already in hand. Small conversations cluttered the room and clogged the doorway, preventing a quick escape. She needed to go, but she didn’t want to be remembered as the first one out the door.

  ‘I’m hoping to rescue my dog from the kennel before they close for the night,’ she said, glancing at her watch again. ‘I’ve gotta make it there by six.’

  Lat laughed. ‘The kennel? Don’t tell me you’re one of those neurotics who leaves their pooch in day care when you have to go to work so they won’t be alone.’

  She smiled. ‘Do I look like I’d own a teacup anything?’

  ‘I pegged you for an Akita, actually.’

  ‘Beagle-mix named Moose.’

  ‘Even better. I had a beagle named Dusty Paws when Iwas a kid. He loved to howl at the moon. So why’s poor Moose locked up?’

  ‘I just flew in this morning from New York and haven’t had a chance to go home yet. Hence the mad rush.’

  ‘New York?’

  ‘Family,’ was all she said.

  ‘And you came straight here?’ He let out a low whistle. ‘No wonder you’re Bellido’s favorite. So what are you and Moose
up to tonight?’

  She felt her cheeks grow hot and Rick walked up before she could answer. ‘Hey there,’ he said with a smile, his hand on the small of her back. ‘Crazy day, right? Look, we’re gonna go grab some dinner at Christy’s. You want to join us?’

  She figured ‘we’re’ meant sitting sandwiched between Charley Rifkin and the Director of the Miami-Dade PD, who were both looking across the room at them. If the seating arrangements alone weren’t enough of a reason to pass up a steak dinner for a peanut-butter sandwich, the sure-to-be subject matter was – she’d had enough of Dr David Marquette for one day. Her head ached with legal issues and creepy thoughts. She needed a break. ‘Thanks, but like Iwas telling Lat,’ she started, then saw the detective had already walked away. ‘I need to get home,’ she finished quietly.

  She promised to call Rick later, grabbed her purse and files and hurried to her car. The beautiful Sunday was still beautiful, but it was fading fast as the sun began its slow slip under the horizon. A brilliant idea came to her just as she pulled into the parking lot of the Hollywood Animal Hospital. It would be a shame to miss even one minute of a perfect day – if anything, time spent locked up in a man-made hell with her brother made her appreciate that now. So instead of going home, she had the tech put another rubber ball on the bill and drove straight to the Hollywood boardwalk with a crazed, howling Moose.

  The beach was still jamming with joggers, rollerbladers, skateboarders, baby carriages, and sunburned Canadians. For the locals, the impending Monday morning meant back to work as usual, and so they rushed or bladed or strolled about with purpose – sure of where they were going and what they were doing – determined to get it all in before the sun set and the ball came to an end. But for the tourists, a late Sunday afternoon wasn’t so desperate. Much to the irritation of the natives, they meandered, flitting from shop to shop or menu to menu like honeybees, stopping abruptly to take a picture or enjoy a view.

  It was a blessedly distracting crowd to get lost in, to forget things and names and faces if only for a little while. Julia made her way through the smog of coconut-scented sunscreen to an empty bench just a few yards down from the mammoth Hollywood Beach Resort – a landmark, 1920s hotel that had definitely seen some better days. She loved the boardwalk. It was one of the reasons she’d picked Hollywood to live. The eclectic old T-shirt shops and fast-food stands, Mom and Pop restaurants and seaside motels that still hung out vacancy signs. It was a place that you just knew had once been great, where you could walk down the boardwalk and still see the ghosts of Al Capone and his boys or follow Rita Hayworth and Jimmy Cagney as they strolled to the sand, flashbulbs popping in their wake, because it hadn’t changed. Yet. Of course, like Miami Beach twenty years ago, Hollywood was in the process of rediscovering itself, and the bulldozers and architects were steadily making their way up Ocean Drive and down Johnson Street. But until the new and shiny refaced a small slice of history, the boardwalk would still be her favorite place to go for a jog or a long, mind-clearing midnight walk.

  Moose was sucking wind from the three-block walk from the car. Although he chased mailmen down the street as if they were carrying satchels of steak bones and still caught his fair share of lizards, the last few weekends of doing not much of anything at the kennel had packed a couple of pounds on him. It was Uncle Jimmy’s bikini-watching boardwalk expeditions that had kept Moose in top guard-dog form, but it had been a long while since Moose had trolled the beach or frolicked in the dog park. And just as long since Julia had spoken to her aunt and uncle. She closed her eyes. She’d come here this afternoon to not think, but the ghosts, they found you wherever you went, didn’t they?

  ‘Sometimes you got to make decisions that people don’t like, bella,’ Uncle Jimmy had warned once when she ran against a friend in high school for a spot on Student Council. ‘Sometimes they don’t like you for making them. They make it personal, which ain’t right. You won’t be needing those people in your life.’

  His almost prophetic words haunted her now. Julia hadn’t wanted to make a choice between her aunt and uncle and Andy, but she obviously had. She didn’t want to make it personal, but she also understood that there was no way it couldn’t be. For any of them. It was hard to believe so much time had slipped away; it used to be she spoke with Aunt Nora at least once a day. But as the days and weeks continued to pass, the wall between them grew taller and more difficult to scale.

  Past the high-rise resort to the west, the setting sun shot translucent beams of gold out from behind puffy clouds, bathing everything it touched in an ethereal, almost holy light – like a Renaissance painting of Deliverance. Even by Florida sunset standards, it was a beautiful sight. The air felt alive, buzzing with people and music. So different from yesterday, when she and Andy had watched the bleak winter twilight descend upon the concrete skyline of Manhattan from behind dirty, steel-checkered windows. She wondered if her brother remembered a sunset any other way. If it was ever beautiful in his mind. Maybe, she thought, maybe one day she could show him this.

  Moose began to howl and bark. ‘I thought Imight find you here,’ said the familiar voice behind her. She spun around with a start and there was Uncle Jimmy, crouched beside her petting a completely delirious Moose, who danced around in circles on his hind legs like some foofy circus poodle.

  ‘Uncle Jimmy …’

  ‘And you,’ he said, standing up with outstretched arms. ‘What? You don’t give your uncle a hug no more?’

  She nodded and hugged him hard.

  ‘Now that’s better,’ he said gruffly in her ear, patting her back as if she were a baby. ‘I missed them hugs. Where you been hiding, bella? Igo by your apartment on Saturday on the way to the ponies, no one’s there. Istopped by again today – nobody. Your aunt, she’s going crazy. She needs her Julia fix. She’s got nobody to cook for,’ he finished with a smile.

  Julia smiled back but said nothing. She hadn’t spoken to Nora since that day right before Christmas when everything had changed.

  ‘So she’s fattening me up. Then she complains I’m too fat.’ He rubbed his generous stomach, which was discreetly hidden behind a lime-green Guayabera shirt and black shorts. ‘Sometimes there’s no pleasing her, is all I’m saying. You just love her for who she is and accept that she ain’t gonna change. That she can’t. It’s too hard for her.’

  ‘I was in New York,’ Julia said quietly.

  There was a brief, deliberate pause. ‘Oh yeah? Just now you got back?’

  ‘I’ve been going up to see Andy. That’s why I haven’t been around.’

  Jimmy didn’t blink. ‘Oh yeah? What’cha doing that for?’

  ‘He has nobody, Uncle Jimmy.’

  He laughed wryly. ‘He brought that on himself, Munch-kin. Can’t gun down the kiddies on the playground then bitch there’s no one to play with.’

  ‘He’s not bitching …’ She shook her head. ‘He’s sorry, Uncle Jimmy. If he could change things he would. If he could switch places, Iknow he would. He was sick.’

  ‘Yeah? Is he better now?’

  ‘Yes. He’s much better. He takes his meds. He doesn’t have the hallucinations anymore. And the voices, they’re softer …’ I t was too much to explain. She knew he didn’t want to hear it anyway. That it wouldn’t make a difference. ‘They’re moving him to a different hospital soon. We’re just waiting for a bed.’

  ‘We’re just waiting for a bed …’ he repeated with a frown. ‘So, your brother, he could get out one day?’

  ‘One day,’ she replied with an uncomfortable shrug. ‘I don’t know when.’

  Jimmy said nothing for a long, long time. Then he squeezed her arm gently. ‘Well, your aunt, she misses you. I miss you, Munchkin. We didn’t even get to see you none for the holidays. And Imiss my little buddy here, too.’ He bent down and scratched Moose’s tummy, who was now laid out like a porn star in the sand. ‘Yeah, that’s right. That’s a good boy,’ he cooed. ‘Where you been putting this guy when you go on your trips to
New York?’

  ‘At the kennel.’

  ‘The kennel,’ Jimmy repeated thoughtfully. ‘Ain’t no place for a dog. Surrounded by strangers, all those caged animals. He needs to get his ass home. That’s where he belongs, ya know. Where people love him.’

  ‘Uncle Jimmy …’

  ‘That’s all I’m saying. Ain’t no place for him.’ He stood back up and set his firm stare again on Julia. ‘He needs to be where he belongs. Stop that other business, caging up with them other dogs. Some of ’em, they look real cute, but they’re bad. Some of ’em, they’re sick, ya see. Remember that, bella,’ he said with a menacing shake of his finger. ‘You don’t know how bad one of those other dogs can be till it rips your fucking throat out. Then it’s too late. Remember that now.’

  She looked away, her eyes full of tears. ‘I will, Uncle Jimmy.’

  ‘Good luck now with your trial. We’ll be watching you. And call your aunt,’ he shouted over his shoulder as he headed back down the boardwalk.

  ‘She won’t pick up the phone.’

  ‘I’ll work on that,’ he replied, but didn’t turn around again.

  Julia watched as he plodded slowly past the arepa cart and the sunburned tourists in his black Jesus sandals and white Jox Sox, obviously favoring his bad back, but just as obviously straining not to, so that she wouldn’t see he was in pain. Then he disappeared into the Hollywood Beach Resort, the automatic doors closing behind him, just as the sun finally slipped under the horizon and night officially began.


  ‘What if he really is insane?’ Julia whispered aloud in the dark. Rick lay beside her under the covers, his body pressed up against hers. She could tell by the scratchy sounds of his breathing that he was almost asleep. A gusty wind blew the potted palms around outside on his patio, creating a violent dance of shadows on the ceiling.

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