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Plea of insanity, p.6
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       Plea of Insanity, p.6

           Jilliane Hoffman
 

  Taken off guard, she nodded.

  Like a shark to chum, the questions hit hard and fast. ‘How’d they die in there, huh? Is it true they were mutilated? Is this a ritual killing? What about the father? Have you guys questioned him? Is he gonna die, too? Why doesn’t your office want to make a statement on this?’

  Julia turned away toward the house, and quickly followed Rick up the brick walk, careful to keep her eyes on anyone and anything but Teddy Brennan. Just the nod had probably given him too much. She knew she had a crappy poker face – heaven forbid it was a look from her that silently confirmed to the media that David Marquette was not just a suspect, but the suspect. Damn. Hopefully Charley Rifkin and the State Attorney himself wouldn’t see her nodding dumbly on the ten o’clock news. On the marigold-lined path before her she spotted what remained of a colorful chalk hopscotch board, its playing pieces of rocks and bottle caps still deliberately scattered inside the numbered boxes, as if the game was still in play. Next to it, someone had scribbled ‘Emma Luvs Tiler Stamm’ inside a lopsided heart. Someone else had tried to scratch out ‘Emma’ and write ‘Vicki’. She stepped over the marigolds and walked on the lawn.

  ‘This isn’t a press conference, Mr Brennan,’ Rick called out behind him as he opened the front door and he and Julia stepped into a huge marble foyer. ‘When I want to hold one, I’ll let you know.’ The door closed behind them with a thud.

  ‘Scumbag,’ Rick said under his breath as they stepped down into an enormous living room. Voices could be heard down one of the halls that shot off the living room. ‘Latarrino?’ he called out, disappearing down one of them.

  She stood there in awe. She’d never been in such a big house. Such a perfect house. A stunning stone staircase, wrapped in a decorative wrought-iron railing, hugged a two-story faux-painted wall. The floor was a polished marble with square Brazilian cherry wood inlays. Expensive knick-knacks lined the shelves of an ornate curio cabinet and family pictures dotted an oversized buffet table. But for the thin coating of black dust that covered the glass coffee table and window sills, everything looked Architectural Digest perfect. At least from where she stood. The same foreboding, uneasy feeling she’d experienced in the car was back with a vengeance. It was like a horror movie. Any moment now she was going to find out why people were leaving the theater screaming.

  ‘You coming?’ Rick called out, walking back in.

  She nodded. Something crunched under her feet.

  ‘Careful. Uniforms had to break the window to gain entry when they responded. I guess it hasn’t all been cleaned up. Don’t slip.’

  She followed Rick into what looked like a busy, cluttered all-white kitchen. The latest decorator gadgets and appliances crammed marble countertops, as did miscellaneous baskets of kitchen junk, and stacks of cookbooks and cooking magazines. Jennifer must have been quite the chef – or at least liked to look like she was. Julia herself had trouble boiling water. Next to the sink she saw that cleaned baby bottles had been carefully laid out on paper towels, dishes for the morning left to dry in the dish rack. A morning that never came, she thought somberly. The always-happy Wiggles smiled at her from atop a pile of children’s books on the breakfast bar, next to a stack of clear evidence bags and red evidence tape and the smallest baseball mitt she’d ever seen; a Wiffle ball and plastic bat sat on the bar stool below. Standing around the kitchen’s island, with their backs all to her, were two guys in MDPD CRIME SCENE polo shirts, another uniform, and what looked like a plain-clothes detective, the sleeves of his dress shirt rolled up to the elbows, a Glock holstered to his hip. A set of legs stuck out from a cabinet underneath the island’s sink.

  ‘He’s having trouble with the trap,’ said the plain-clothes with a chuckle as Rick walked up. ‘Like you need a degree in fucking rocket science to be a plumber. Yo, Satty, you want me to call Roto-Rooter to help you do your goddamned job?’

  ‘Fuck you, Brill,’ said a voice from under the sink.

  ‘Hey, guys …’ Rick said, his voice trailing off in a not-so-subtle way. He nodded behind him in Julia’s direction. ‘You want to watch yourselves?’

  ‘Whoa, excuse me,’ said the plain-clothes, turning around. Short and stocky with an extra-full handlebar mustache, he had a conspicuous, perfectly round bald spot in the back of his head that made Julia think of the dead patch of lawn left behind when you put a kiddie pool away at the end of the summer. He looked her up and down with what was either a half-smile of approval or a smirk of disappointment. She couldn’t tell which. ‘Didn’t realize you brought company with you, Ricky.’

  ‘Steve Brill, this is Julia Valenciano. She’s working this with me. Julia, Steve’s a detective with the Gables.’

  ‘Are you interning?’ asked Brill.

  ‘She’s a prosecutor, you ass,’ Rick shot back.

  ‘Whoops, I’m sorry,’ said the detective, raising his hands up. ‘I’m just gonna shut up now.’

  ‘Finally,’ said the voice under the sink.

  ‘You got it?’ asked Brill.

  ‘No, I don’t got it. But you’re finally gonna shut up.’ The room snickered.

  ‘That’s it. I’m calling in a plumber, you incompetent—’ Brill looked over at Julia again, hesitated, then finished his thought,‘—jerk.’ The next two seconds passed in awkward silence. She turned away, pretending to look out the sliding glass doors that led to a tropical backyard and the pool. And more uniforms.

  Julia now knew what it must have felt like to be the first female sportscaster let into the men’s locker room. She wasn’t just the sole woman on this scene – a fact she was already acutely aware of – but she was also at least ten years younger than everyone else in the room, and, to put the icing on the cake, she was a lawyer. There were women in law enforcement – lots, in fact – but no matter what the person keeping track of the quotas in the front office might say, it was still a boys club. And if they could, most of those club members would gladly hang a ‘No Girls Allowed!’ sign on their station doors if the federal government would just let them. Then there was the fact that she was an attorney. Just because cops and prosecutors worked the same side of a case didn’t always make them the best of friends. It was well known around any courthouse that cops didn’t like lawyers. While ASAs had more redeeming qualities than their defense counterparts, they also had the unfortunate job of breaking bad news. So sorry, but the career criminal you stopped with the stolen goods on his front seat who gave a full confession will be going home today because something went wrong. Wrong with the stop, the search, the evidence, the confession, the ID, the law. And no one liked the bearer of bad news, especially when the bearer bore the ultimate power to drop charges. Top it off with a substantial age gap and pre-file conferences could get downright hostile.

  ‘What are you guys doing?’ asked Rick when no one said anything.

  ‘Cleaning out the asshole’s sewer line – what the hell do ya think we’re doing? We’re taking the traps.’ He looked back over at Julia. ‘Oh shit. Sorry for the language. Again.’

  She shook her head. ‘That’s okay. Please, don’t worry about me.’

  ‘Speaking of sewers,’ said the legs with what sounded like a laugh.

  ‘Keep at it, Satty,’ Brill said, giving the leg closest to him a half-hearted kick. ‘And don’t forget your day job, now.’

  ‘Never. Besides,’ the legs said with a final grunt, ‘I got it. Hand me a bag.’

  ‘Where’s Latarrino?’ asked Rick, looking around.

  ‘Yeah, I’m happy to see you, too, Ricky. Thanks for exchanging pleasantries,’ Brill quipped. ‘Lat’s upstairs. Master bedroom, I think.’

  ‘You’re looking good, Steve,’ Rick said, slapping the detective’s shoulder. ‘The Rogaine looks like it’s working.’

  ‘That’s better,’ replied the detective with a laugh.

  ‘Okay, Julia, let’s head up,’ said Rick, turning to her. ‘That’s where the bodies were found. Let me show you what we got.’

 
‘Hey, Ricky, can we arrest this asshole yet?’ called out Brill.

  ‘Soon,’ Rick yelled back from the living room. ‘Let’s see what the dad of the year has to say when the anesthesia wears off. And besides, I’m not picking up the tab he’s running over at Ryder, Steve.’ The state of Florida was ultimately responsible for providing medical care to any person in their custody. Arresting David Marquette now might make for a nice lead-in on the five o’clock news, but it also potentially could mean footing the bill for his surgery and hospital stay. In a setting where an aspirin cost upwards of twelve bucks a dose, that could amount to a pretty outrageous sum. One that Julia figured the taxpayers of Miami-Dade County probably wouldn’t like to hear they’d be shouldering.

  ‘Oh shit,’ she heard Brill say to the guys in the kitchen. ‘I did it again.’

  ‘My kid makes you pay him a dollar if you say a curse word,’ someone said.

  ‘He must make a fortune off your fucking mouth, Ed,’ joked another.

  ‘College fund’s paid off.’

  Everyone laughed.

  ‘ “Are you an intern?” You’re a fucking idiot, Brill,’ said Satty.

  ‘What? I think I have suits older than her.’

  ‘I could see that,’ someone said. ‘Maybe you should think about getting a piece.’

  ‘Fuck you, too, Burke,’ said Brill. ‘I ain’t wearing no toupee.’ Then he yelled out, ‘Hey, Julie, sorry about the language.’

  ‘No problem,’ Julia replied, with a sigh she made sure no one else could hear as she followed Rick up the stairs.

  9

  She hadn’t even made it to the top step when she saw the large squares conspicuously missing from the beige shag carpeting. It was obvious that Crime Scene wasn’t through yet: plastic evidence markers that looked like tiny white easels with black numbers on them had been placed in the spots where the carpet had been cut out and impounded. A strong chemical smell lingered in the air, but Julia couldn’t quite place it. It smelled kind of like cleaning solution, but not just your ordinary household Mr Clean and Clorox scent. It smelled nursing-home clean, like antiseptic and death.

  ‘Two sets of bloody footprints were found here,’ Rick said, stopping in the hallway. ‘One looks like it was from the responding uniform who unwittingly stepped in blood and then trailed it into the last room on the left. That’s the little girl’s room. The six-year-old, Emma Louise.’

  Julia’s eyes followed the path of phantom footsteps down a pale yellow hall to where they stopped just outside of a closed white door. Family pictures crowded the walls. Someone had scribbled in different colored crayons on the bottom of the door – someone who couldn’t have been more than two or three feet tall.

  ‘The other set we think is from the father,’ Rick continued. ‘But the scene got pretty chaotic when the officers initially found the bodies; there was a lot of blood and a lot of people. The suspect prints looked smeared somehow, and it doesn’t help that it’s shag carpeting. The long, cut piles don’t hold prints as well as, say, a tightly looped Berber. The warrant let us clean out Marquette’s shoe closet, so we’ll test all of them, even the slippers and flip-flops. If we don’t get anywhere with that, I’d like to do a print and cast impression of his foot, but we’ll need a separate warrant for that.’

  ‘I wouldn’t think you’d need a warrant to search the victim’s own home,’ Julia said out loud, her eyes moving away from the crayoned door and over the smiling photos. A beaming, sandy-haired Jennifer and a baby. A little girl with no front teeth in front of a Christmas tree and a fake fireplace. A baby boy swaddled in blue. The professional headshot of David Marquette from the morning paper.

  ‘Think again,’ he said, shooting her a look. ‘A dead body might give you exigent circumstances to get in the house, secure the premises and wait for the ME, but it doesn’t give you the right to do a full search, even if the victim, or in this case, victims, lived there, too. I’ve had even hotshot veteran cops somehow forget they need a warrant when they respond to a homicide. They see “dead body” and that’s all they need.’

  Strike three. If you don’t know something, it’s better just to keep your mouth shut and let people maybe think you’re stupid, than open it up and confirm it. Another Uncle Jimmyism she should have remembered sooner.

  Instead of heading down the hall that led to Emma’s room, Rick instead turned and walked down another hall that T-boned the balcony and staircase. A set of closed double doors waited at the end. And more phantom footsteps. ‘Let’s start in what we believe so far to be the order of the murders. This is the master bedroom,’ he said, slipping on a pair of latex gloves he had pulled from his pocket. He handed her a pair. ‘Even though Crime Scene has been through the upstairs already for prints, if you touch anything, use gloves. I hope you’re not squeamish,’ he said, opening the door. ‘This is where the mother was found.’

  Julia swallowed hard and tried to brace herself for something she was suddenly no longer sure she wanted to see. It was one thing to sit around and talk about a crime scene, discuss the position of the bodies, the entry and exit wounds, and the clinical cause of death; it was another to walk among ghosts down bloodstained halls. She had an urge to turn around, just walk quickly down the stairs, out of this creepy, perfect house and back to the car, back to the office, back home. Take her scolding from Charley Rifkin, kiss her budding relationship with Rick Bellido goodbye if she had to, chalk this overwhelming bad feeling that was slowly sucking the air out of the room up to inexperience. Just don’t look anymore. Don’t see it. Don’t open the door, Julia. Don’t make it real again.

  But it was too late for that.

  Dark red splashes of blood ran up arctic-white walls, splattering into countless tiny droplets on the ceiling. White evidence tape marked where blood and other body fluids had presumably dripped or pooled onto a dark mahogany wood floor. Above an antique sleigh bed, an elaborately framed wedding portrait of a smiling David and Jennifer looked down upon a stripped, bare mattress, stained, like the walls around it, a rich, darkred. Blood had seeped through the thin pillow-top, leaving a zigzagging level line on the side of the bed that looked a couple of inches deep in places. Julia’s eyes returned to the happy, oblivious picture taken what must have been only a few short years ago. Blood had sprayed up onto the glass, coagulating and then freezing in time as it dripped back down, like drops of paint stuck forever onto a dry wall.

  The ghosts were crying tears of blood, the silenced shrieks of the dead playing over and over again in her head, like the violent crescendo of music in a horror film. That’s when Julia realized she’d just walked into the part where everyone starts screaming.

  10

  ‘The body was found, as you can guess, on the bed,’ Rick said, looking around the room. ‘Crime Scene cleaned it up somewhat and the bedding has been impounded. The bloodstain analyst from Metro was here yesterday and again this morning. As you can see, we have spatter on the headboard and on the walls, traveling at a high enough velocity to actually hit an eight-foot ceiling. I don’t know how much you know about bloodstain pattern interpretation, but a hell of a lot of force is needed on impact to generate that type of distal trajectory. The spray pattern starts here and travels up,’ he said, moving over to the bloody mattress and motioning to the wall next to the nightstand, ‘indicating Jennifer Marquette was lying flat when she was first struck. The shower of drops on the ceiling are satellite spatters, most likely the result of an arterial spurt when he hit the aorta or jugular. She was probably sleeping when it happened.’

  Probably sleeping. ‘What was the actual cause of death?’ Julia asked softly, still staring at the mattress. The stain impression was only on one side of the king-size bed, in the general shape of a person. She didn’t need crime-scene photos to see Jennifer Marquette’s beautiful, twisted face, her eyes, open and vacant, staring dully up at the ceiling. Even if they were closed when she took her last breath, Julia already knew many of the macabre secrets death held in stor
e. One of which was once the heart stops beating and the body shuts down, the eyelids involuntarily opened back up, staying that way until a mortician finally superglued them down in the basement of some funeral home.

  We’re so sorry.

  So very sorry, Julia.

  You shouldn’t have to see her this way.

  Not you …

  She shut her eyes tight against the horror that lay right there in front of her, but even in darkness she could still see the bright yellow rosebuds and delicate pink ribbon that trimmed the nightgown’s sleeve, the pool of glossy red blood that slowly, surely seeped across the floor. And her eyes, those beautiful deep-green eyes, open and forever terrified …

  ‘Blunt force to the head with an unknown object and multiple stab wounds,’ Rick replied.

  ‘Thirty-seven in all,’ said a deep voice behind Julia, pulling her thoughts off the bed, and making her jump in her skin for the second time that morning. Julia turned to a scruffy-faced guy in his mid-thirties, a white dress shirt and Tommy Bahama swordfish tie paired with old jeans and new Nikes. With light-blue eyes, dark-blond hair that definitely went past his collar, and well-tanned skin, he looked a little like a surfer who reluctantly had had to get a real job. A gold detective’s badge hung around his neck.

  ‘Just the man we were looking for,’ Rick said. ‘Julia, Detective John Latarrino, Miami-Dade Homicide. Lat, this is Julia Valenciano. She’s a prosecutor in our office. She’ll be working this with me.’

  Latarrino nodded. ‘Nice to meet you.’

  ‘She’s already met Steve Brill downstairs.’

  ‘I’m sorry,’ Latarrino replied.

  ‘I was just showing her the scene. This is our first stop. Anything new?’

  ‘Just got the preliminary autopsy report back this morning. Speaking of which, what happened to you last night, Bellido?’

 
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