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Plea of insanity, p.45
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       Plea of Insanity, p.45

           Jilliane Hoffman
 

  And then with all the recent changes in Andrew’s life …

  She thought of all the ways she could have saved him from himself. All the things she should have done. All the ways she had failed him.

  ‘Look at me now, Ju-Ju! Look at what you’ve done to me!’

  She thought about David Marquette and how she had failed him too, not recognizing his sickness from the beginning. How she’d helped bring him to this point. How she would be responsible when they stuck the needle in his arm. The tears slipped from her eyes, but she never actually felt them run over her cheeks. Instead, they trickled past her temples as she ran even faster, brushed off-course by the wind in her face, like a raindrop on a windshield, finally disappearing with her sweat into her hair. She ran and ran and ran until they stopped coming. Until she didn’t see Andy anymore. Until it was just the music that she finally heard in her head. Then she turned around and ran back home. It took over ten miles today to clear her head, and she wondered if there would come a point when she couldn’t outrun the demons anymore. She wondered if that would be the end, or if, like Andrew and David Marquette, she wouldn’t even realize it.

  She slowed to a walk as she approached her parking lot. The first thing she noticed was the red and silver Harley in guest parking. She stopped dead in her tracks and stared at it for a second.

  ‘Hey there!’ Lat called out from where he sat on the stairs that led up to her apartment, some fifty feet away. He got up and started toward her, but she didn’t move.

  ‘Hey,’ she answered, trying to find the right words. She hadn’t expected to see him today. Deep down, she supposed part of her hadn’t expected to see John Latarrino ever again. She’d spent the day preparing for that reality, by not allowing herself to even think about what had happened last night. And now here he was, waiting for her.

  ‘You look like you need someone to take you to dinner,’ he said with a smile as he walked up.

  ‘Yeah?’ she asked.

  ‘Yeah.’ He paused for a second, while she looked down at the ground, and with her hands on her hips, pretended to catch her breath. ‘I tried to call first, but you didn’t seem to want to pick up the phone today. So I figured I’d come over and make the invitation in person.’

  She felt her face flush, and she hoped it was still red from running, so he wouldn’t notice. There were so many emotions running through her head, so many things she had said, so many things he had heard her say last night. She hated feeling so exposed. No matter how intimate she’d been with Rick, there was always a part of herself that she knew she held back from him. And after all that had happened, after how he had betrayed her, she was so very thankful for always exercising that emotional discretion. But last night … she’d been so damn vulnerable. So needy when Lat had shown up at her door unannounced. So she’d said things – too many things. John Latarrino knew everything about her now. Everything.

  Tangled against his body, his heartbeat pulsing in her ears, his touch had made her quiver in a way Rick’s never could. When he had finally kissed her, there was a completion of this connection that she had not felt before with any man – and she had just let herself give in completely to the overwhelming feeling. For fifteen years she’d been hiding behind a made-up past of well-spun lies – lies that sometimes she even believed were true – and now, for the very first time since her parents were murdered, someone finally knew what her life really was all about. And he hadn’t run away in fright. That was what was so beautiful. So peaceful. He hadn’t judged her. He hadn’t judged Andrew. He knew who she was, and it was like this enormous burden had been lifted off her shoulders, carried with someone else’s help now.

  He had made love to her for what seemed like hours, slow and sweet and incredibly gentle, but their first kiss had never ended. His mouth had never left hers. It was as if John was as hungry for her as she was for him, and neither could bear to let the connection go for even a split second, for fear it might end. So he had moved with her into the bedroom, his body pressed tightly against hers on the bed, as they danced and writhed as one to soundless, frenzied music – but he’d never once broken the kiss. When he had moaned, it was with her. Even their voice was as one. Afterwards they lay facing each other, their mouths only a few inches apart, so that she breathed his breath, and he hers. They lay like that for the longest time, and that was when she told him things she never should have told him. And he had listened until she was finally empty. His soft blue eyes never even looked away. Not even for a second. She had not wanted to fall asleep for fear of losing the moment, because she knew she would. As any drunk will tell you, daylight changes everything. And even through the sweet, euphoric stupor she was in, she knew that when the sun rose, she’d probably come to regret too many moments from this night.

  He was gone when she woke up.

  She finally looked up and smiled softly. ‘Dinner, huh? I guess a burger would be nice.’

  ‘A burger?’ he replied incredulously, heading back with her across the parking lot. ‘You are a cheap date. I was going to suggest stone crabs and a bottle of wine. Oh, well,’ he shrugged, kicking a stone. ‘A burger and a beer it is, then. My type of woman. I know just the place.’

  ‘Stone crabs? Wow. You do know how to impress a girl. Uh-oh, what have I done?’

  ‘Only the best, sweetheart,’ he said. ‘Only the best.’ He reached out and gently touched her hand, as she stepped onto the staircase. He hesitated for a second before he asked his question. ‘You doing okay today?’

  She could tell by the worried look on his face that it was the first thing he’d probably wanted to ask her and she looked away again, totally embarrassed. Maybe he already knew from Rick that she’d been fired. Maybe that’s why he was here, to pick her up yet again after she’d tripped on her face. Poor, fragile Julia with the awful past had just had another bad day. But there was no way she was going to lean on him again. She would not allow herself to be a pity call, or worse, a pity fuck. She’d rather be alone with the demons.

  ‘Yesterday was …’ Her voice trailed off. ‘Look, I’m sorry about last night, Lat,’ she said finally.

  ‘Don’t be sorry.’

  ‘I said some things—’ she began.

  ‘That I hope you meant.’

  ‘And I did some things—’ she started.

  ‘That I also hope you meant.’ He smiled.

  She pictured his warm body pressed on top of hers, his hands moving over her, and she looked away, to a spot of peeling paint on the staircase railing. ‘I’m so embarrassed right now,’ she said softly.

  ‘Don’t be. If it was too heavy, Julia, I wouldn’t be here.’

  ‘Okay,’ she finally said, nodding. ‘Let me just go change.’ She started up the stairs.

  ‘I was called out at seven, or else I wouldn’t have left,’ he said.

  She didn’t turn around. ‘Good,’ was all she said before disappearing inside her apartment.

  99

  Dinner had been just that – dinner. Cheeseburgers and fries with gravy and lots of coffee in a corner booth at an empty diner. He asked about Andrew – who he was, what he’d been like – and so she told him. But only about the Andrew she knew from childhood, before schizophrenia ravaged his mind. It was just too painful to go into the recent past. It was too hard to admit yet that things could have been different; that for the past fifteen years, she could have made them different. He asked about her dad and mom, too, but Julia couldn’t put her whole family in the same picture, into the same conversation, yet. So she couldn’t give him that and she didn’t answer him. She knew the pieces were not all there, and the ones that were, were not always fitting together, no matter how much she wanted to force them. Without the help of Nora or Jimmy, some pieces of the past would never be found; the picture never really complete.

  No matter how nice it might have felt to finally share the burden of her life with someone, she made sure that that Julia was from the night before. The emotional wall was back up in its p
lace, although she feared it would be far too easy for John Latarrino to knock it back down if he really wanted to try. He’d discovered all her weak spots now and she wasn’t very strong anymore.

  But he didn’t try, and he didn’t push her, he accepted her silence and understood her distance. Instead, he changed the subject to talk about his own family. And about fishing. And the Marlins trading Juan Pierre. And places in Europe they both hoped to travel to one day. Completely innocuous, unremarkable subjects that over a couple of hours and a few cups of coffee slowly revealed they had a lot more in common than Julia would have thought a few months ago. And to her relief, he never once mentioned work, or cases, or defendants, or crime, or the trial of Dr David Marquette – which was funny, since they were probably the only two people in America who were not speculating about what the verdict was going to be or how long it might take the jury to reach one. If he knew she’d been fired, he never said a word about that either. He let her body language lead the conversation, and after a while, when he sensed she didn’t want to talk anymore, he took her by the hand, slipped his jacket around her, and put her on the back of his bike. They rode once again along AIA, this time heading north, and once again, she thought about Andrew as she looked out at the black waves. God, she missed him. She didn’t know where they were, or for how long they’d been driving when he finally turned around and headed back, but a part of her wished he didn’t. A part of her wished he’d kept going – with her arms wrapped around his waist, the cold wind breaking in her face – until Miami was just a distant blur behind both of them. A tiny, tiny dot on a big map. The night had ended when it was almost morning, with a sweet, soft kiss at her door, but she hadn’t invited him in, and he hadn’t pressed her for an invitation.

  Sleep had not come at all after that, but even so, she’d spent most of the morning toying with the idea of just staying put in bed, buried under the covers until the jury came back with a verdict and the Marquette case finally disappeared from the headlines. Until she could finally figure out what she was going to do with the rest of her life, where she was going to do it, and who might be in it. Rifkin’s foreboding forty-eight-hour cleanout deadline kept ticking away anxiously in her head. While she definitely didn’t want to see anyone at the State – especially not Rick or Rifkin or Karyn – and she didn’t want to be seen, she feared putting off cleaning out her office even until tomorrow, lest she have to consider reordering her diploma from the microfiche archives of GW. Because she certainly wouldn’t put it past anyone in that office – including the State Attorney himself – to order everything of hers to be tossed out in the dumpster. And just the thought of Rick Bellido going through her things and touching them made her cringe with anger and revulsion. She thought of calling Dayanara, but didn’t want to get her involved. Day still had a career to look after. She knew she had to go back in.

  From her parking spot across the street in the Kristy House lot, she spent maybe an hour late that afternoon just watching the strangers she used to work with walk in and out of the Graham Building. Strangers who she’d once thought of like her other family, laughing and joking and chatting with one another. Strangers who she knew she would probably never see or hear from again after today. As the clock finally hit four thirty, she watched as they poured out the front doors, running to their cars or the Tri-Rail. That was when she knew it was time to go in.

  While she would have preferred doing this at, say, two in the morning, she’d figured that the first thing Colleen Kay from Personnel probably had done was deactivate her security card. As it was, she feared she might have to endure the embarrassment of an escort or two from Investigations standing over her while she cleaned out her desk, making sure she didn’t slip an extra paperclip into her moving box.

  But it was after five and the lobby was pretty dead when she walked in, and no one paid any attention to her, including the bored guard who simply motioned her through the metal detectors. Dressed down in a T-shirt, blue jeans and sneakers, her hair pulled in a pony, and hid under a ball cap, recognizing her out of her everyday attire of a suit and heels would probably require a double-take. With the two cardboard boxes she’d picked up from Publix folded under her arm, she quickly ducked into the stairwell, taking the stairs up to three, because she knew no one else ever did. Most of the secretaries and support staff were already long gone. As for prosecutors, she could only hope that a good lot of them were either heading home via the elevator right now, or were otherwise buried under mounds of paperwork in their own offices.

  The hallway was clear, and she quickly slid her card through the security access doors. She prayed neither Personnel nor Rifkin were as smart as she gave them credit for, lest she have to wait for someone to come open the door, or the escort she feared to head down from Investigations. When she heard the familiar click, she breathed a heavy sigh of relief, and, with her head back and her shoulders straight, she made sure she walked through that hallway as her mother said – like she still belonged in it.

  She felt the eyes of a few straggling prosecutors who were working in their offices look up and follow her as she passed. The hallway stretched longer and longer before her, like a rubber room, until she finally reached her open office door, stepped in and quickly closed it behind her. She leaned back against the door, breathless. Please God, just get me through this.

  She looked around the small, cluttered office that she’d called home for over two years now, complete with its own coffee pot, radio and TV. Hell, she’d probably spent more time here than she had at her apartment. Since she’d come to felonies from County Court, she’d moved around in divisions, but she’d always managed to keep the same office, and she’d liked that. A pink gift bag sat on top of her desk calendar, which was still turned to the month of February. ‘The boss is always a ass’ Marisol had written on the enclosed piece of pink notepaper. ‘Remember that. Good luck. I’ll miss you.’ Inside the bag was a white T-shirt embroidered with pink rhinestones. Julia bit her lip.

  She was probably the talk of the whole office today, from administration to the boys down in the mailroom. Everyone knew she’d managed to get herself fired, a feat which was about as rare for a state employee as a solar eclipse. She imagined the crowd of curious co-workers waiting all day long to hear through the grapevine when she finally showed up to collect her things. Maybe peeking their heads in every so often to see if she’d been escorted back by security yet, wanting to discreetly watch to make sure she left the screws in the wall when she took down her diplomas. No one ever wanted you here, anyway. You know that. You know that’s true. They’re glad you’re gone. Now they want to watch you fall.

  She wiped her eyes with the back of her hand. No, no, no, don’t think like that. Please don’t think like that.

  She switched on the small portable TV that sat on top of her file cabinet for company and set out to finish the task ahead. Of course, the coverage was all about the trial. One of the jurors had had a babysitting issue, so court had not reconvened until eleven thirty this morning. Farley had not sent the jury in to deliberate until almost two, and since everyone had ordered lunch right after that, discussions hadn’t actually started until three. The judge had told them to go for a couple of hours, then he would dismiss them around six, and they could start fresh in the morning. Given the length of the jury instructions alone, it was expected that the jury would be sifting through the legal wording, maybe going over the testimony, and any notes they took during the trial, and taking an initial vote to see where everyone stood. Tomorrow was when the true deliberations were expected to start, and because of the sheer volume of the case, most analysts predicted they would carry over to at least Monday. Judge Farley would miss his cruise. Good.

  Julia began to dump the contents of her drawers into the cardboard boxes, sifting through old pens and old pictures and old messages that she knew at one time were real important. She couldn’t afford too long of a stroll down memory lane, lest Rifkin or Colleen Kay figure out she was here
and missing an escort, so she moved quickly.

  The sudden rush of excited voices in the hall outside made her look up from what she was doing. At the sound of footsteps, she held her breath. There were at least several sets. Then they hurried past her door, fading down the hallway. She let out a breath.

  She looked around her office and instinctively turned back to the TV. Channel Six’s Michelle Korant was standing in the hallway outside 4–8 chattering excitedly and motioning with her hands as people poured into the courtroom behind her. Julia raised the volume.

  ‘This was completely unexpected, Tony,’ Michelle was saying. ‘Completely unexpected. Judge Farley is waiting on Corrections now to bring David Marquette back over from the Dade County Jail, which may take—’

  Julia sucked in a quick breath at the news prompt that flashed underneath the pretty reporter.

  THE JURY HAS REACHED A VERDICT

  100

  Anyone who’d still been in the Graham Building was now heading over across the street to the courthouse. TV trucks from every station with their forty-foot antennas lined the streets and circled the block. MDPD cars and City of Miami cruisers completely blocked off 14th Street, and more were busy setting up a perimeter around the building, their blue and red lights spinning. On the courthouse steps, a large, frenzied crowd of reporters swarmed around Rick Bellido as he tried to make his way across the street and into the building. Of course, Rick never took the entrance under the courthouse. And, of course, he never turned down an opportunity for an impromptu press conference. She heard his voice on the TV as she watched him out her window.

  Julia had gotten dozens of verdicts back in her career as a prosecutor. Even when it was just a simple County Court misdemeanor jury she was waiting on, there was always this incredible, sickening, exciting rush of adrenaline that filled her whole stomach the second the phone rang in her office and she heard the clerk’s voice tell her to head over, because her jury was back. The feeling wasn’t unique to just Julia, either; she knew every prosecutor felt it. Getting a verdict was probably the most thrilling, nerve-wracking part of the job. The excitement would build on the elevator ride downstairs, the walk across the street, through the courthouse. It was always a bit contagious, too, as word spread to others. Like little children blindly following the Pied Piper through town, people who didn’t know you or your case would fall in behind as you made your way to the courtroom. Even if the case wasn’t important or newsworthy, the jury had a verdict.

 
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