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Plea of insanity, p.5
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       Plea of Insanity, p.5

           Jilliane Hoffman
 

  7

  She practically threw the cart up against the wall of her office, next to a tall, overgrown stack of dispo boxes – pesky final case dispositions that she had yet to get to – grabbed her purse from the desk drawer, stepped over another stack and hurried back out the door. She hollered an informative, ‘I’ll be back!’ to her secretary, Thelma – who was busy watching The Jerry Springer Show on a portable TV/radio stuck up under her desk and who didn’t really care where she was going or when she’d be back anyway – and then headed down the hall, hastily trying to retouch her lip gloss and check her cellphone for messages as she did. It wasn’t even eleven yet and a lot of attorneys were still stuck in court across the street – their doors open and offices empty – but as she rounded the corner past the secretary for Judge Stalder’s division, she spotted her best friend, Dayanara, at her desk on the phone.

  ‘Oh good, you’re here,’ Julia said in a hushed voice as she rushed in the door, stuffed the cell and the lip gloss back in her purse, and grabbed the Herald off the top of Day’s perfectly stacked in-box. The room, as always, smelled of lemon Pledge, Windex and Cuban coffee. There were no dispos on Dayanara’s floor, no files waiting to be put away on her file cabinet – just a clock radio, a Tupperwared bag of Pilon coffee and a bottle of Dial hand sanitizer. Even on the small side table where she brewed café cubano for twenty every afternoon, there was nary an expresso bean or a sugar grain in sight. If the two of them hadn’t been such good friends for such a long time, Julia might have allowed Dayanara’s obsessive-compulsive disorder to make her feel inadequate, but aside from being insanely jealous that Day was in a normal judge’s division, there was no competition between them. ‘Can I borrow this?’ she whispered, heading back for the door without really waiting for an answer.

  ‘Hold on a moment, sir,’ Day said and let the phone slip down into her neck. ‘I haven’t read the funnies yet. Don’t crinkle it.’

  ‘Not a problem,’ Julia said, backing out with a quick wave. ‘Sorry to interrupt.’

  ‘Are we doing lunch?’

  ‘Can’t. Not today.’

  ‘Are you in trial?’

  ‘Tomorrow. Want to try a domestic on an excited utterance with me?’

  ‘Hmmm … no. Thanks for asking. Where are you off to, then?’

  ‘I’ll tell you later!’Julia called out behind her as she made her way down the hall to the security door that led out to the elevator bay, ‘but you won’t believe it when I do!’

  NO SUSPECTS IN GABLES MASSACRE blared the front-page headline in her hands. She hadn’t had the time to actually read the article this morning before heading out to work, but now every detail mattered – every name, every title, was important to know and remember and catalogue away in her brain. She looked anxiously around the elevator bay and nodded with a checked smile at a couple of prosecutors waiting with her to go down.

  Her eyes flew across the page: Jennifer Leigh Marquette, age thirty-two. Emma Louise Marquette, age six. Daniel Elan Marquette, age three. Sophie Marie Marquette, age six weeks. A small, grainy black and white picture of a smiling Jennifer ran under the headline, but even though the picture was bad, Julia could still see she’d been a pretty woman with a sweet, infectious grin that took over her entire face. It was funny how the press always seemed to find the absolute happiest-looking photos of murder victims to print alongside stories of their violent deaths.

  … found early Sunday morning by police responding to a 911 call … brutally slain at their four-bedroom home in a quiet, upscale section of Coral Gables … veteran police chief Elias Vasquez refused to release further details … described the crime scene as ‘one of the most disturbing’ he’d ever visited … watched as Miami-Dade Crime Scene techs removed items from the home all day … no suspects have been identified … pending the notification of New Jersey relatives … services have not yet been scheduled …

  A strange, icy chill ran through her as she reached the bold-faced subhead a little further down the page.

  PHYSICIAN DAD STILL CRITICAL; COMMUNITY, HOSPITAL PRAY FOR RECOVERY

  Dr David Alain Marquette, age thirty-four. Another grainy picture smiled softly back at her, obviously a professional headshot. He was young, so maybe it was a med-school graduation photo. Disquietingly normal by all appearances, it was not the crazed Charlie Manson mug she might have expected, given what she knew the man was soon to be charged with. In fact, like his wife, David Marquette, too, was good-looking, with an all-American type of boyish charm that came across even in a snapshot. Their children must have been beautiful, she thought without really thinking. Another chill raced down her spine.

  … discovered near death inside the home … to undergo emergency surgery this morning … no further details on his condition were available … young, orthopedic surgeon from Chicago with a growing practice on Miami Beach … operated out of Mount Sinai Hospital … some famous clients in the sporting world, including Florida Marlins pitching phenom … loving father and husband … many friends and colleagues still in shock … relatives brace for another possible funeral …

  She stuffed the paper into her purse as the doors opened onto the crowded lobby and made a mental note to buy Day another one.

  Rick was already there waiting, chatting with the Division Chief of Narcotics and Pete Walsh, the office’s only employment lawyer. ‘Ready?’ he asked, jingling his keys in his hand as she walked up. ‘We’ll take my car. I’m right here in the main lot.’

  ‘Sounds good,’ she said, feeling the eyes of the other two men follow them as they headed out the door together. She’d have to get used to the funny looks and raised eyebrows, she supposed, if they were going to work together. The match had been lit – the rumors would be next.

  ‘Do you have to be back for court?’ he asked as they stepped outside.

  ‘No. I have nothing on this afternoon,’ she replied.

  ‘Good. I’m not sure how long we’ll be. We may even take a run over to the ME’s later,’ he said, crossing the lot to where a shiny black BMW 525i sat. He clicked the alarm and held open the passenger door for her. ‘So, are you ready for your first homicide?’

  A disturbing image suddenly popped into Julia’s head. We’re talking three little kiddies bludgeoned and stabbed in their sleep by their daddy. ‘Are the bodies still there?’ she asked hesitantly as she stepped inside the car. ‘At the scene?’

  Another amused look crossed his face. ‘I hope not. They’d be pretty ripe by now, Julia. They were found yesterday,’ he replied, shutting the door.

  ‘Oh yeah,’ she said to no one but herself in the empty car. Strike two. Officially on the case less than twenty minutes and she already sounded like a moron.

  He climbed in the front seat and looked at her with concern before turning on the engine. ‘Why? Would it bother you?’

  Hell yeah, she wanted to say. Four dead bodies and a blood-splattered house might freak me out, yes, when the biggest scene I’ve been to so far is a DUI roadblock on the 4th of July. But, of course, she didn’t. ‘No,’ she answered with a shake of her head. ‘I just wanted to prepare myself if they were.’

  Richard Bellido fascinated her, impressed her, intrigued her, scared her. Long before she’d actually met the man, she’d heard of his reputation. Everyone who practiced criminal law in Miami had. He was arguably the office’s best litigator, earning his coveted spot in Major Crimes after less than seven years in the office, and was rumored to be in line one day for even greater things than the prestigious title of the unit’s Division Chief. He’d tried some of the most notorious, heinous murders in Miami history, including, most recently, Ronnie Sikes, the Jekyll/Hyde Miami-Dade police detective who’d fed what remained of his unfaithful wife to his backyard kiddie pool full of pet piranhas. Courted throughout the years by several different US Attorneys in Miami, Rick had turned down more than one chance to become an esteemed federal prosecutor, choosing, as the stories went, to try murders instead of plumped-up racketeering viol
ations. But it wasn’t just his intimidating trial skills that had the US Attorneys still asking him out and the Governor searching for his name on judicial nominating appointment lists. Tall, dark and handsome with a spicy Cuban twist, his age and experience, ethnic good looks and last name were an asset to any law enforcement office with a South Florida constituency.

  Whether it was his reputation or his imposing, well-tailored presence that commandeered a courtroom when he pushed open its doors, Julia still wasn’t quite sure, but she’d been in enough of them before enough judges over the past two years in felonies to have seen it happen herself. And she’d felt it happen herself, too. Normally she didn’t let people impress her, but like a TV evangelist, or a smooth-talking politician, Rick Bellido just had this mesmerizing, authoritative, commanding way about him. What he said to a judge was often taken as gospel; what he asked of a jury was usually done. His days in the division pits long over, his colleagues now were all Major Crimes prosecutors, specialized unit Division Chiefs, local politicians, police chiefs, and high-paid, big-name defense attorneys. And so Julia had been more than just a little surprised when he’d sat down next to her in court a few weeks ago and struck up a conversation while he waited for a defendant to be brought over from the jail. Surprised and flattered. And, even though he was seventeen years older – or maybe because he was seventeen years older – definitely attracted. Casual cups of coffee had turned into a couple of off-campus lunches on Miami Beach and then finally, unexpectedly, Friday night. She hadn’t heard from him since, which made this, their first moment alone, all the more awkward. Even though there were so many things to discuss, she had no idea what to say right now, so she opted for nothing and looked out the passenger window.

  ‘Don’t let Charley get to you,’ he said, breaking the silence after they’d pulled out of the parking lot and onto 14th Street. ‘He just likes you to know who’s in charge. He does it to everyone.’

  Somehow she doubted that, but it was still nice to hear. ‘I’ll try to remember that,’ she said softly.

  More awkward silence.

  ‘I didn’t pick you because of us,’ he said finally, as the car pulled up to a light. ‘Let’s get that elephant out of the way right now.’ He turned to look at her, leaning an elbow on the console and taking off his Ray-Bans. ‘I meant what I said back there. I like what I see in the courtroom, Julia. You’ve definitely got talent and that intrigues me. You’ve got this kind of gritty, rebellious, “take no shit” attitude, which reminds me a little of C. J. Townsend, a prosecutor who used to be with our office. When this came up, I thought of you. I think,’ he paused for a second. ‘Well, I think you can make things interesting.’ He smiled. The crinkle of crow’s feet softened and warmed his otherwise intense brown eyes. ‘And I like interesting.’

  ‘Thank you,’ was the best she could manage, returning the smile herself.

  ‘Of course, what happened the other night was fun, too. And I definitely think we should do that again,’ he said, lowering his voice to just above a whisper. Without warning, he leaned over and kissed her on the lips, his hand finding its way through the tangle of her thick, long, dark waves to the back of her neck, wrapping around it and pulling her closer. She remembered Friday night, the water from the shower spilling off his muscular back like a waterfall, those warm, experienced hands in complete control of her body, shampooing her hair, then running over her shoulders, rubbing the rich lather all over her skin. The moment felt a little forbidden, a little embarrassing, totally exciting, just as it had then, and she kissed him back, her tongue finding his, her fingers running underneath his jacket, tracing the crisp starch lines in his dress shirt. The beep of a horn pulled them both back to the present.

  ‘I’ll do my best,’ she said softly, touching a finger to her lips. ‘That I can promise you.’

  He slipped his sunglasses back on. ‘Good,’ he said with another smile, as the car pulled away from the green light. It was all he needed to say.

  8

  ‘Crime Scene has already videoed,’ Rick said as the Beamer pulled up in front of a pretty mint-green house with beautiful carved oak and etched glass double front doors. Yellow crime-scene tape crisscrossed one of the doors, blue roofing tarp covered a missing glass panel. Under an expansive overhang, a couple of MDPD uniforms stood guard, chatting. Above them, a witch, dressed in a flowing black gown and neon purple striped socks, had crashed head-on into the stucco. Two obvious undercover cars – a Chevy Impala and a Ford Taurus – blocked an MDPD Crime Scene van into the driveway, and police cruisers from both Coral Gables and Miami-Dade PD dotted the perimeter of the corner house. Across the street, Julia spotted a blue Channel Seven news van, its forty-foot satellite antenna artfully dodging not just telephone lines, but the towering, old eucalyptus and ficus trees that shaded the stately block.

  ‘So you’ll get to see what it looked like yesterday when the uniforms went in and before the techs trampled over everything important,’ Rick continued, looking past her at the house himself. It’s always good to visit the actual scene, no matter what the crime. That’s not always practical, I know, but a scene never looks the same in pictures or on video as it does in person. It’s like going to a hotel, you know? The room’s either better or worse than what you’d expected when you looked at the brochure or went on the website. Plus, when you get your detectives on the stand and they’re describing a scene, you can see it. You know what the house smells like; how you could hear the neighbors upstairs arguing. There’s even a taste peculiar to each crime scene. Then you can take what you’ve seen and tasted and heard and felt and you can tell the story to the jury the way it needs to be told, with the detail it needs to be told in.’

  In the front yard, tiny, handmade ghosts danced in the thinning branches of an oak tree. As Rick talked, Julia watched them spin and twist in the breeze. On the neat front lawn, she could see a tricycle, a slip-and-slide, an oversized bouncy ball stuck in the bushes. The green canvas top of an elaborate wood swing set peeked over a black iron fence that ran alongside the house. Behind the fence was probably a pool full of even more toys. Toys that would never be used again. A strange, uncomfortable, heavy feeling settled in her stomach, like she’d swallowed an entire jar of peanut butter and it had gotten stuck on the way down. It was hard to imagine this Norman Rockwell house was a crime scene. It was really hard to imagine just what might be waiting inside that would still warrant the presence of so many police officers …

  Besides the sudden shock of nerves that had turned her Lucky Charms to rubber cement, Julia felt a little ashamed, too. She’d never worked what Charley Rifkin would call a ‘real’ homicide before, but she still knew how they were investigated. Everything personal, anything private, inside that house was now subject to unlimited inspection by complete strangers. That meant drawers would be picked over, the tiniest of boxes opened, notes read, closets pilfered. And even though she’d never met young Jennifer Leigh, who was only four years older than herself, she still knew that there were things in that pretty mint house of hers that she’d never intended for anyone to see or read or hear. Ever. Because every woman had something – love letters, racy Saturday-night lingerie, pictures, a revealing journal. Now dozens of hands would be rifling through those special somethings – Julia’s included – touching them, photographing them, commenting on them, interpreting them. Perhaps what was most ironic, she thought grimly, was that even when the case did finally end – however that ending might come to pass – those private special somethings would still forever be stored away in some evidence locker, administratively categorized under Florida law as a very public record. She made a mental note to clean out her own cluttered closets when she got home tonight.

  ‘Ready?’ Rick asked, turning off the engine.

  A sudden, hard thwack on the driver’s side window made her jump in her skin. Standing outside Rick’s window, in a slightly rumpled blue suit and a dress shirt the color of chewed Bazooka bubblegum, with microphone in hand, was
Channel Seven field reporter Edward ‘Teddy’ Brennan. Julia recognized him from the Trauma News at Ten, although she thought he looked smaller in person than he did on TV. And, thanks to the metrosexual wonders of make-up, a lot tanner, too.

  ‘Hey there! Teddy Brennan, Channel Seven News,’ he yelled. ‘Can I talk with you?’

  Behind Brennan stood Willie Nelson with a big, expensive camera on his shoulder. Sporting a foot-long faded yellow-white beard and matching braid down his back, unfashionably ripped jeans and a Dark Side Of The Moon T-shirt that looked like it probably came from the 1973 Pink Floyd concert tour of the same name, the only thing missing was the guitar.

  ‘I should have figured he’d still be lurking around,’ Rick grumbled. ‘Watch yourself around this guy, Julia. Brennan’s a shit. I’ll handle all the press on this,’ he warned in a low voice, opening his door. It wasn’t a date, so she immediately opened hers and stepped out.

  ‘Mr Bellido, is this officially your case now?’ Brennan asked, following Rick as he walked past the police barricades and onto the sidewalk. ‘Can you identify any suspects for us yet? Your office looking at making an arrest sometime soon? Should people be worried there’s a murderer on the loose? How about warning the anxious public with a description, some details, maybe?’

  ‘Alright, step back,’ said one of the uniforms who had walked across the lawn. He pointed at Brennan and his roadie. ‘Behind the horse. That’s what it’s there for, guys.’

  Brennan ignored him, and, as if he’d just gotten a great idea, practically ran back behind the car over to where Julia stood on the grass. ‘Are you with the State Attorney’s, too?’ he asked.

 
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