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Plea of insanity, p.8
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       Plea of Insanity, p.8

           Jilliane Hoffman
‘Please, call me Julia.’ She paused again. ‘So it was a suicide attempt?’

  ‘Maybe. Murder and attempted suicide. Wouldn’t be the first. I’m thinking maybe it was supposed to be just a murder. The suicide attempt came after he realized his daughter had called the cops on him and he was running out of time with an alibi that was still some three hundred miles away.’

  ‘Where was he found?’ she asked.

  Latarrino looked around the bathroom. ‘Right here.’

  She followed his stare to a corner of the slate-tiled bathroom next to a glass-enclosed shower.

  ‘Crime Scene cleaned it up. Shower was still wet. He was unconscious and naked, nothing but a towel beside him on the floor.’

  ‘What were his actual injuries? I know he had to have surgery.’

  ‘A collapsed lung and a carefully placed abdominal stab wound. Lots of blood. Could have been fatal, I suppose, but it wasn’t. A pulmonary embolism he threw last night was what required emergency surgery.’

  ‘Sounds serious.’

  ‘He’ll be fine.’

  ‘And you obviously think the wounds are self-inflicted?’

  ‘Definitely. They’re too neat for what went on in this house.’

  She paused again. ‘What I don’t understand is why. If suicide was an afterthought, like you’re thinking, why would he do this to his family? To his wife? His kids? Jesus Christ, to a little baby? I mean, the man’s a doctor …’

  ‘Don’t let the MD blind you, Counselor. There have been plenty of cold-blooded murderers throughout history that were smart enough to go to college. Matter of fact, the smarter they are, the more likely it is they might get away with it.’

  ‘Fine. I’ll try not to let his profession impress me. But you said it, Detective Latarrino, that’s not just a crime scene in there – that’s a bloodbath.’

  ‘Let us finish the investigation. Maybe we’ll find you your why. But I have some bad news for you, Julia,’ he said, making sure he emphasized her name. ‘Welcome to the Big Time, where there’s not always an answer that makes sense. That’s why the law doesn’t make us prove why. Look, people are messed up, and sometimes they just snap. Especially in domestics. I’m sure I’m not the first to point out for you that fine line that exists between love and hate. When someone crosses it, nothing’s gonna prep you for what he or she is capable of. Nothing.’

  She could hear the clatter of kitchen noises even behind the closed swing doors, the friendly, mindless table-chatter all around her. The warm smells of fried bacon and freshly cooked waffles and brewing coffee filled the air. Sunday-morning sounds and smells that were normally so comforting were now anything but. The ordinariness of everyone else’s morning made her want to scream.

  ‘Some people are just not made right, Julia,’ Uncle Jimmy said quietly while Aunt Nora cried softly in the booth seat next to him. ‘Only God knows why they do what they do. It’s best for all of us not to try and understand, ya know? Because we won’t. We can’t, ya know? It’s too horrible to think somebody could … It’s all just too awful to be real …’

  His thoughts broke off as Rosey, their waitress, approached the table to tell them the daily specials.

  The room suddenly felt like it was shrinking, the grisly information collapsing in on her, like heavy bricks in a wall. She took a deep breath and pushed the pieces of paralyzing memories out of her head, focusing instead on trying to count to ten. Her lungs felt as if they were being slowly shrink-wrapped, and her heart began to race. Deep breath and get to five. Deep breath and get to six. It had been years since she’d had a panic attack. Please, God, not a full-fledged one now. What she had to do was stay focused. Recognize what was happening to her and get out. ‘Well I hope you can dig up that interesting info, Detective Latarrino,’ she said slowly, her breath catching. ‘Because a jury’s going to want to know why, too. I wouldn’t want us to later be accused of tunnel vision.’

  The detective seemed mercifully oblivious, his back to her as he looked around the bathroom. ‘So don’t say the word JonBenét and I won’t hear it. Trust me, no one here wants to fuck this up. Especially me. Assuming David Marquette wants to talk, we’re gonna try. Just as soon as the docs at Ryder give us the green light. No one is looking for the easy way out. By the way, Julia,’ he said, turning back to face her, ‘call me Lat, please. Or John. Anything but Detective Latarrino. Save that for the stand.’

  She nodded. She felt her heartbeat slowly returning to normal, her lungs expand, breaking the shrink-wrap, filling finally with air. She continued to count off numbers in her head, adding one more to each count as she clenched and unclenched her fists and pretended to still look around the room. ‘Ready?’ she asked when a few more moments had passed, in a voice she thought sounded smooth and steady.

  ‘After you,’ he replied, eyeing her carefully. Then he finally opened the door.


  ‘There you are,’ Rick said, as he came up the last stair. ‘I was just looking for you two. Everything okay?’ he asked, frowning when he saw Julia. Obviously she was still a little pale.

  ‘Yeah,’ replied Lat before Julia could answer. ‘I was just showing her where we found the father.’

  ‘Did you see the rest of the house?’ Rick asked.

  ‘Yeah. Detective, um, Lat,’ she replied, correcting herself, ‘Lat was showing me the kids’ rooms. It’s been … tough.’

  ‘Just wait till you see the video. Alright, let’s head back to the office, then,’ Rick replied, looking at his watch. ‘I wanted to head over to see Neilson, but I just got the call that I’m having a late-afternoon status report before Judge Gilbert on a motion to suppress.’

  Julia looked at her own watch. It was already 2:45. She suddenly remembered the trial that she never should have forgotten. The one Farley had set for the morning, the one with all the witnesses she hadn’t told Mario to call. Mario, her Victim/Witness Coordinator who left precisely at four, immediately followed by her secretary, Thelma, who wouldn’t call anybody for her anyway. Damn. She wanted to slap herself upside the head. She’d been in such a hurry and such a state of shock when she’d rushed out of the office. Now she thought of all the work that had to be done between now and 9 a.m. tomorrow. ‘I’ve got to get back, too, Rick. I’ve got that trial to prep for,’ she said, dry-mouthing two Tylenol she pulled from the depths of her purse to calm down the stress headache that was already in full swing. The two men began to talk about other cases and people that Julia knew nothing about. She feigned interest for a moment then stepped away, moving over to the pale yellow wall that held all the family pictures she’d first seen when she came up the stairs.

  An old black and white photo of someone’s grandma and grandpa. A little boy she now knew had to be Danny, his tiny hands clutching a couple of Hot Wheels racecars.

  Pictures were such funny things, she thought, as her eyes slowly trolled the smiling faces – faces that were becoming more real for her with every passing second. Snapshots were only a single split-second caught in time, but for most people they were meant to capture so much more than just a moment. A night out. A whole vacation. Life with a new baby. A time in college. The high-school years.

  Emma Louise dressed as a winged fairy on Halloween one year. A very pregnant Jennifer wearing a Santa hat. David, holding Danny and Emma at Disney, fireworks erupting over their heads, a luminescent, purplish-pink Cinderella’s castle the perfect backdrop to the perfect vacation.

  The smiles all looked so real, but in this case they couldn’t be, could they? If all these veteran detectives were right, how could such a monster – a man who would later go on to butcher his family one by one in the middle of the night – how could he stand there next to them all and smile like he really meant it? Like he really loved them? The truth was, she knew he couldn’t.

  David Alain Marquette. Class of 1994, Northwestern University, Feinberg School of Medicine.

  Definitely handsome, with well-defined cheekbones, tousled light-blond hair and an ea
sygoing smile, David Marquette had a soft, round, well-scrubbed face that would surely make a patient feel at ease. Particularly women, Julia thought for some reason. And the lightest, most unusual gray eyes she’d ever seen. Eyes that seemed to transcend the glossy photo paper, as if they were staring right at her. His boyish good looks made him seem instantly trustworthy, which was definitely unsettling. Evil, she thought, should somehow lookhideous. ‘Ya gotta be trusted by the people that ya lie to,’ Uncle Jimmy had said once. ‘That’s what makes a really good liar really good.’

  ‘Alright,’ Ricksaid, heading backover to the stairs. ‘We’re out of here. Ready, Julia?’

  She nodded. They hadn’t made it to the stairs when the Nextel at Latarrino’s side chirped to life. ‘Lat? You there? Come in.’ Steve Brill’s voice, complete with its distinctively guttural New York accent, echoed through the hall.

  ‘Yeah, Steve, go ahead,’ Lat said into the phone, but leaving it on speaker.

  ‘Are you still upstairs?’

  ‘Yeah. Try walking up a flight next time. It might do wonders on that beer belly.’

  ‘Fuckyou, you steroid-loving piece of crap. Oh shit. Are you still with Bellido and that prosecutor chick?’

  ‘They’re right here. Want to say a quickhello? Or should I just send a tech over to extract that foot from your mouth?’

  ‘Maybe you should come down, then, ’cause I just can’t say this without a little color,’ Brill said, sounding annoyed.

  ‘What’s that?’

  ‘The motherfucker just woke up.’


  Julia sat backin her chair at her desk, exhaled a deep breath, and stared at the phone in her hand. It was still yelling at her.

  ‘Don’t fuckin’ tell me that I gots to come down there! I don’t gots to do nuthin’! And let me tell you, lady, nobody’s done shit for me since Letray cut me up. Now you wanna talk all nice and be my friend?’

  ‘What is it that you’d like me to do for you, Pamela?’ Julia asked through gritted teeth, still trying her best to sound patient and understanding. ‘I kept him behind bars for you for the past four months, that’s what I did. Now to keep him there, you’ve got to come to court tomorrow.’

  Pamela Johnson finally stopped yelling. There was a long pause before she spoke again in a much more hesitant voice. ‘What if I don’t want him to stay in jail no mo’?’

  Julia closed her eyes. ‘Pamela, he took a razor blade to your face.’

  ‘I got chil’ren. One jus’ born.’

  ‘We can help you find shelter.’

  ‘Bullshit!’ The yelling was back. ‘That’s what I mean, y’all don’t do shit for me. I need food, lady. My kids need ta eat. They need their daddy, is what they needs.’

  ‘Pamela, I’m sorry,’ she said, her own voice rising. ‘I really am. But what damn good is their daddy gonna do them if he’s in jail for killing their mommy? Then who’s gonna feed your kids?’

  ‘Bullshit!’ she screamed again.

  Alright. Maybe that was a little harsh. ‘I can arrange transporta—’ she began, but it was too late. All that remained of Pamela Johnson was the dead hum of a dial tone.

  Julia hung up and rubbed her tired eyes. Then she spun her chair around and looked out her rain-streaked window, past the twin five-ton air handlers outside on the roof, over at the Dade County Jail and courthouse across the street. The streets in front of the Graham Building were completely deserted; puddles the size of mini-lakes the only thing left behind in the parking lots after the heavens had suddenly and violently opened up a couple of hours earlier. Once again, except for a few other diehards and social recluses, she’d be one of the last to leave the building tonight.

  After nodding his head in sympathy for her plight, Mario had whipped out his thick directory of local police departments and deposited it on her desk, along with Pamela Johnson’s last-known phone number, before catching the 4:10 bus backhome to Hialeah. Thelma and the rest of the third-floor support staff followed shortly thereafter in the mad, high-heeled stampede for the elevators that was done and over with by 5:04 p.m. After prepping the morning’s calendar, Julia had worked the phone lines the rest of the rainy evening, calling witnesses and beeping officers, hoping that after she picked a jury tomorrow, she’d actually have someone show up to put on the stand. At eight o’clock, she’d finally gotten a hold of Pamela Johnson. Five minutes later she was left talking to herself. She dry-mouthed another couple of Tylenol for the headache that had never really gone away and reached for the folder with her case law on excited utterances. Bedtime reading that was sure to be anything but exciting.

  The Dade County Jail stared back at her through the miserable drizzle under roaming fluorescent searchlights, like some creepy downtown nightclub, looming large and gray and menacing and less than a couple of hundred feet from her window. Even now, strange undesirables squatted under its concrete overhang, smoking cigarettes and drinking on the sly from paper bags, some chumming for change with empty Big Gulp cups while they maybe waited for a friend or a relative to make bond. Behind the twenty-foot razor wire and heavy steel-barred windows were some of the most violent men in the state of Florida; women were held a few blocks away at the Women’s Detention Center, or out west at TGK, the Turner Guilford Knight Center. Murderers, robbers, pedophiles, rapists – penned up, just yards away from where she now sat, waiting for a trial or their next hearing or to finally find out what state prison the Department of Corrections would be shipping them off to for the next couple of decades or so.

  Never before had her job affected her the way it had today. Never before had a case or a criminal or a victim rushed backto consciousness the horrible, painful memories that her brain had long since purposely displaced. Memories that nightmares were made of. Memories that triggered debilitating panic attacks in the middle of bright, sunny days.

  She put her head in both hands and closed her eyes. Life was funny. Happy childhood memories always seemed selectively random and spotty, like snapshots in a scrapbook. Why you remembered some and not others was anyone’s guess. Eating watermelon atop the monkey bars at the Chestnut Street school playground, spitting blackpits into the sand below. Her mom cutting her hair while she sat at a white Formica kitchen countertop, flecked with tiny gold dots. Good memories from childhood were never a continuous stream – the faces in them were always somehow obscured or a little bit foggy. But the bad memories, those were always so painfully vivid. They played instead like a movie in your mind, each second recollected in real time, every detail still crystal clear, even decades later. And the seemingly most innocuous moments and exchanges that preceded or succeeded something awful – moments that would otherwise never have formed a memory on their own – now they, too, became part of the film noir.

  ‘What time will you be home in the morning?’

  She put the fuzzy purple overnight bag on the kitchen counter.

  ‘What time do you want me to come home?’

  ‘Do you have homework due on Monday?’

  ‘Just the report in Social Studies. But that’s easy.’

  ‘Then ten o’clock,’ she said, rolling up the Ladies Home Journal she held in her hands. She had just painted her nails a delicate, sheer pink. Julia thought it was too light, too boring.

  ‘But it’s Sunday morning, Mom!’

  ‘And you have an assignment due. Tell Carly no Saturday Night Live. You need to get some sleep. I’m sure Mrs Hogan doesn’t want you two up after she’s gone to bed, anyway.’

  ‘Momma, jeez … ten o’clock?’

  ‘You heard me, Monster. Besides, I’m gonna miss your face tonight.’

  A conversation she would never have remembered. One that should have just slipped away into the spotty, generic ‘good’ pile. Julia bit her lip to stop the tears that would surely rush out if she would only let them.

  Perhaps the one and only good thing that could be said of Letray Powers was that he had kept her mind busy the past couple of hours, far away from place
s it shouldn’t go, people it shouldn’t remember. Far away from the dark, darkmemories that had suddenly and without warning been brought backto life in the Marquette House of Horrors this afternoon. It was hard to believe that less than a dozen hours ago she’d been so excited to be a part of this case, so proud to have been asked, couldn’t wait for the game to start up, and now … She looked down and saw that her hands were shaking.

  She exhaled a measured breath as she began to packup her briefcase. It was time to stop thinking, go home and let out poor Moose – her half-beagle and half-everything-else sweet-faced mutt who’d probably already had an accident – nuke a Lean Cuisine and pour herself a well-deserved glass of red wine. It was going to be a long night. She was sure of that now.

  She pulled the crumpled Herald from her purse, and stared at the headline that was soon to be yesterday’s news. She hadn’t heard from Ricksince they’d returned to the office, and she was more than a little anxious to find out what was happening with the detectives down at the hospital. Maybe Marquette had confessed. Maybe he was already in custody. Maybe this case would go the way of a quickplea, like ninety percent of all arrests. Maybe that would be a good thing … She toyed with the idea of calling him, but decided against it. This was his case – if he’d wanted to call her, he would have. He could be having second thoughts about her assisting. She pulled her hands through her hair and blew out another slow breath. God knows he wouldn’t be the only one.

  The phone on her deskrang, startling her – something that was happening a lot today. Most of the outside world correctly figured that their government had long since packed up and gone home by four thirty. After six, the phone ceased to ring at all. It was probably a hungry, company-seeking Dayanara demanding to know where the hell her funnies were. Julia tried smoothing the wrinkles out of the Lifestyle Section with her three-hole punch. ‘State Attorney’s,’ she answered.

  ‘Julia? Hey, you still there?’ It was Rick, sounding surprised she’d picked up.

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