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Plea of insanity, p.9
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       Plea of Insanity, p.9

           Jilliane Hoffman
 

  ‘Hey there. I’m leaving in a minute. I’m just prepping for my trial tomorrow.’

  ‘The one with no witnesses?’

  ‘No victim. I’m hoping for a change of heart, but it’s not looking good. She hung up on me tonight.’ Julia stood up and walked to the window, craning her neck to try and get a look at the SAO parking lot that hugged the building to see if she could spot his car. ‘Where are you?’ she asked.

  ‘Heading home. I just got off the phone with John Latarrino.’

  She stopped craning. ‘Oh. How’d it go?’

  ‘It didn’t. The boys didn’t even make it through the front door of Ryder. Mel Levenson greeted them in the parking lot.’

  ‘Oh boy,’ Julia said. Mel Levenson was a big-name defense attorney who usually handled big-name celebrities for a big-name price. A former Circuit Court judge and one-time Miami prosecutor himself, Mel successfully used his reputation and his thirty years in the system to intimidate the greener and even the not-so-green ASAs into favorable pleas. Because going up against him in trial was like stepping into the ring with Mike Tyson – he might not be all that he once was, but no one really wanted to go a round or two and get their ass kicked in a courtroom full of colleagues to find out. Pleading a case out still meant a conviction, and that was enough for most.

  ‘That’s right. Oh boy,’ he repeated.

  ‘So I guess Dr Marquette’s doing okay. Well enough to pickup the phone and call a high-priced lawyer,’ she said as she began to packup her briefcase again.

  ‘His father in Chicago was the one who contacted Levenson. He’s some hotshot doctor himself up there. I don’t even know if Junior is actually up and talking yet. Mel would n’t tell Lat. I have a call in to his office, but I’m not expecting a ring back tonight.’

  ‘So what’s next?’ she asked.

  ‘It sucks Lat didn’t get a statement.’ There was a brief static-filled pause. ‘We wait for the DNA to come back. Let’s see what the boys turn up in Orlando. I want to make sure we dot our i’s and cross our t’s on this one. We have a good case, one that’s certainly going to generate a lot of press when we make an arrest. I don’t want to look like an ass at the end of the day by jumping the gun.’

  ‘He’s not going anywhere anyway,’ she offered.

  ‘Nope. But that will change soon enough. And before he’s capable of rolling out of town in a wheelchair, I want to have an arrest warrant ready.’ He paused for a second. When he spoke again, his voice had lost some of its bite. ‘So, did you enjoy your first homicide scene? Nothing like what you thought it would be, huh?’

  ‘Really brutal,’ she replied softly, wondering if Lat had maybe shared with Rickthe details of her embarrassing sudden attackof stomach flu in the bathroom. No, it wasn’t anything like I thought, she wanted to say. Of all people, maybe I should have been better prepared …

  On her desksat a copy of the 911 tape Latarrino had given her. She traced it with her finger. ‘I’m having a hard time with the motive part.’

  ‘Leave that to Latarrino and Brill. They’ll dig up the reason. There’s always one.’

  She heard something slam in the background and then muffled silence before he returned. ‘Sorry about that. I just pulled into my building,’ he explained. ‘So you’re gonna head home now, too?’

  ‘Yeah,’ she said. ‘I have to let my dog out. If he’s still talking to me.’

  ‘Uh-oh. I don’t know about this.’ Before she could even begin to wonder what he meant, he added with a laugh, ‘I’ve got a cat. Look, I’m getting another call. Let me talk to you in the a.m. We’ll get coffee.’

  ‘Oh, yeah, goodnight,’ she said and clicked off the phone before he could even say goodbye. She hated new relationships. She hated the way she felt right now, insecure and unsure, like the doe-eyed schoolgirl who’d fallen for the high-school star quarterback. Or in this case, his coach. He didn’t owe her a phone call or even a goodnight before he left the office – there were no expectations to meet yet. She just hated thinking about someone who was n’t thinking about her.

  She put her briefcase on the floor, popped the 911 tape into her boom box again, hit play and sat backin her chair. Recorded dead air filled the room for a few seconds before the tape began. A long beep signaled the start of the call.

  ‘Police and fire. What’s your emergency?’

  ‘Help us … please.’

  She closed her eyes. It was being in that house, smelling those smells, seeing the bloodstains on the walls, on the carpets, splattered everywhere. She knew there were places – nooks and crannies – that a cleaning crew would never get to in a death house, where the blood would seep and settle and become part of the walls and the baseboards and the very foundation. And when the sun went down and the lights were out, you could hear the screams, trapped forever in those walls. No matter how much you scrubbed, no matter how much you cleaned, she knew you’d never get that blood or those screams out. It would always be a house of slaughter.

  ‘I’m going to help you, honey. I need you to stay on the line and tell me exactly what’s happened.’

  ‘I thinkhe’s coming back.’

  ‘Who’s coming …?’

  … she could feel the cold, heavy air, pressing hard against her chest. Already, she was breathing in death, feeling it fill her lungs and stab at her sides as she raced across the frozen, brown lawn, over icy patches of slow-melting snow, running faster and faster toward it. Even though she didn’t want to see what was inside, what was behind all the flashing blue and red lights that lit up the two-story colonial, she still kept running, as fast as she could go. She knew she had to be fast, to be quick, to make it past all those policemen that were going to try and stop her from going in …

  ‘Hello? Is there someone on the line? Is there anyone there? This is the emergency operator.’

  ‘Oh, no, no, no …’

  … please …

  … no, no, no, no …

  … he’s back now, he’s back …

  The short, labored pants grew more and more shallow in between words, till they sounded like the final, gasping sprays left in a can of whipped cream. The chime of the grandfather clock grandly struck off the hours in the living room.

  … is there anyone listening?

  … can anyone …

  … come?

  … oh, no …

  … please …

  ‘No, Daddy!’

  The hum of a dead line and then, finally, silence as the tape clicked off.

  Julia opened her eyes with a start and stared once again at the Dade County Jail, glowing ghostly gray in the powerful beams of the searchlights.

  It was time to go home.

  15

  ‘Julia?’

  ‘Aunt Nora?’ Julia asked, looking at the cell in her hand and almost missing the entrance ramp onto 836, the Dolphin Expressway. She hadn’t even heard the phone ring.

  ‘I sure hope so, honey,’ her aunt chuckled. ‘You called me. Unless you meant to call someone else.’

  ‘No, no. I was calling you,’ she replied, embarrassed. ‘The phone didn’t ring, that’s all. How’d you know it was me?’

  ‘I had Jimmy go down to Best Buy today. He bought me one of those caller ID phones,’ she announced triumphantly. ‘No more annoying telemarketers ruining my dinnertime.’

  ‘Alright, then. Well, a hearty welcome to the twenty-first century, Aunt Nora,’ Julia said, wondering how it was Uncle Jimmy had managed to talkher aunt into giving up the Mickey Mouse talking phone with the ninety-foot-long pigtail cord that had sat on her kitchen counter for the past twenty years. The next technological push would be to get her to use the cellphone Julia had bought her two Christmases ago. Or at least to answer it.

  Aunt Nora laughed. ‘So to what do I owe the pleasure of this phone call?’ Julia heard the mixer start up in the background.

  ‘Just wanted to say hi, that’s all. See how Uncle Jimmy’s back was feeling.’

  ‘He’s fine, don’
t worry about him. He’s driving me crazy, though. Over my shoulder all damn day, looking for something to do. Driving the neighbors crazy, too, with all his stories down at the pool, when they’re trying to get some peace and quiet with their sunshine. You should be worrying about me, is who you should be worrying about. Why don’t you come on over? I can tell you haven’t eaten yet, little one. I’ll make you a little something.’

  She couldn’t help but smile. Her aunt amazed her sometimes. Instincts like a cat. ‘Oh yeah? How do you know I haven’t eaten?

  ‘I can hear it in your voice.’

  ‘Only you can hear hunger pangs. I’m just heading home, Aunt Nora. I’m still like, I don’t know, maybe thirty minutes away and it’s already eight thirty.’

  ‘Heading home from where?’

  ‘Work.’

  ‘Jesus, Mary and Joseph, I was hoping you were out doing something fun. I was hoping, actually, you had a date. What you doing at workthis late? Aren’t all your criminals locked up safe and sound for the night?’ Nora despised what Julia did for a living and didn’t try very hard to hide it. When she’d sprung the idea of law school on Nora and Jimmy, it was Julia Valenciano, Esq., Real Estate Lawyer or Valenciano & Associates, Practice Limited to Tax Law they’d envisioned etched across the plate-glass doors.

  ‘I have a trial in the morning.’ She sighed at the thought. ‘And my victim doesn’t want to cooperate. It’s just a mess.’ There was no need to get into why else her day had gone bad. Or what else was on her mind. She’d really called just to hear her aunt’s familiar, throaty voice. The content of what they said didn’t matter so much.

  ‘And …?’ demanded Aunt Nora, shutting off the mixer.

  ‘And what?’

  ‘And what else is bothering you?’

  There went those instincts again. There was the briefest of silences before she answered, ‘Nothing. Honest.’

  ‘You’re a bad liar, little one. And I know you’re hungry. Now listen and listen carefully. I’ve got your little dog and I’m holding him hostage till you come over and have a bite of decent food. I know you’ve been using that microwave too much. Jimmy said there was butter sauce all over the inside of it. Those rays, they’ll give you cancer, Julia, I’m telling you. They’ll make that pretty hair of yours all fall out and your skin scaly, like a lizard. That’s why the cancer rates are so high, you know. Everyone’s in such a hurry nowadays, that they’re microwaving themselves to death.’

  Julia ignored all the clutter in the conversation. ‘What? Why is Moose over your house?’

  ‘Jimmy went by your apartment this afternoon on the way backfrom the track and figured he’d take Moose out for a walk. You know Jimmy and that dog.’

  ‘And a walkturned into a sleepover?’ Moose sometimes camped out at Nora and Jimmy’s while Julia was at work. Uncle Jimmy was retired, and besides bugging her aunt all day long or getting lost for a few hours at the track, he liked to come by and take Moose to the dog park or for a walk on the Hollywood Beach boardwalk. Her apartment was about twenty minutes southwest of her aunt and uncle’s condo on Fort Lauderdale beach, and about twenty minutes northwest of Gulfstream Racetrack– right smack-dab in the middle of all the excitement. Aunt Nora swore it was all the attention Moose got from lonely dog-sitters and girls in bikinis that kept Jimmy walking all over Broward county, when he never even liked to take the garbage down the hallway to the incinerator chute at home. On occasion, Jimmy would steal Moose and take him back home with him. Not that Moose minded being stolen – the food was much better uptown, and so was the view of the Atlantic from Uncle Jimmy’s La-Z-Boy.

  ‘What? What? You don’t feed him,’ whined her aunt. ‘Poor baby.’

  ‘He’s not allowed to have human food, Aunt Nora. No more lasagne.’

  ‘I didn’t give him no lasagne.’

  ‘Good.’

  ‘I made ravioli. Come have some before your piggy little dog eats it all and turns himself into a Great Dane. He got into my pepperoni, you know.’

  Julia grimaced. ‘Oh no, Aunt Nora. Please don’t give Moose pepperoni! It makes his hiney itch.’

  ‘It’s too late for that. He begged and Jimmy listened, the coward. Now I can’t make chicken pepperoni tonight unless I go to Publix.’

  Aunt Nora was a true night owl. Always had been. Her mom had told her that, even as a little kid, Nora would be up reading comic books under the covers with a flashlight, erupting into giggle fits that would wake up their dad and get them both in ‘water hotter than the divil’s piss’. As a teenager in Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn, Nora had taught her mom how to sneak down the fire escape in high heels without it creaking so that they could go out dancing. Now it was n’t comic books or nightclubs pulling her aunt out of bed in the middle of the night anymore – it was her kitchen, which was probably why she looked a little like the food she liked to cook most: gnocchi. Soft and round and short – a 220-pound, five-foot-two little dumpling, topped off with a generous splash of teased red hair on her head, like a spoonful of marinara. Her most creative concoctions were made sometime between the wee hours of midnight and 3 a.m. – trays of eggplant rollatini and home-made manicotti, osso bucco that would melt off the bone. When most people were counting Zs, Aunt Nora was busy measuring cups of ricotta for cheesecake and leavening loaves of bread to twist into sausage and broccoli stromboli. Her aunt was the most ethnic Italian Julia had ever known outside of a Sopranos episode, and she was German Irish – although you’d never get her to admit it anymore. It was Uncle Jimmy who had the Neapolitan roots and the family tree you didn’t want to shake too hard.

  ‘You know, it is late,’ Julia tried. ‘Maybe you should keep Moose tonight, then, and I’ll pickhim up tomorrow after work.’

  ‘Not on your life. The pepperoni’s already giving him gas. For such a little dog, he can sure fill a room. That’s why I’m in here and he’s in there with Jimmy. The two of them deserve each other.’

  ‘That’s too much information, Aunt Nora.’

  Nora laughed and turned on the mixer again. ‘Come get your piggy, little one. He misses you. And while you’re at it, let me feed you some ravioli. I have some porktenderloin left over from dinner and some semolina. I’ll make you a sandwich. Then you can tell me all about whatever it is that’s got you so damned upset.’

  ‘Know what I think?’ said Perry. ‘I think there must be something wrong with us. To do what we did.’

  Dick was annoyed. Annoyed as hell. Why the hell couldn’t Perry shut up? Christ Jesus, what damn good did it do, always dragging the goddamn thing up?

  ‘There’s got to be something wrong with somebody who’d do a thing like that,’ Perry said.

  ‘Deal me out, baby,’ Dicksaid. ‘I’m a normal.’

  Truman Capote, In Cold Blood

  16

  John Latarrino rubbed his eyes with a yawn and struggled to focus on the road in front of him. In the dark car, the patter of driving rain and the constant, rhythmic swish-swashing of the windshield wipers were almost hypnotic, and right now he knew he was an easy subject. He slugged down a gulp of cold 7-Eleven coffee, turned up the static on the country music station, and set the AC to just below freezing to try and keep himself from dozing. Next to him, Detective Steve Brill hadn’t even moved. His snoring face was still smashed up against the window, where it had been since they’d pulled out of Miami.

  It probably hadn’t been his best idea – driving to Orlando tonight – considering that, save for a quicknap yesterday, he’d been up for almost two days straight. But if fourteen years as a cop had taught Lat anything, it was never trust anyone else to do your job – not if you want it done right. Because it would always be your sacrificial ass getting reamed and your name on the proverbial serving platter when something inevitably got screwed up. So rather than let the Orlando PD handle his search warrant at the Marriott – like other detectives might have done – or assign another MDPD stiff to drive up in the morning and supervise a search on a case he knew nothing ab
out, Lat knew enough to get his butt in the car tonight, drive up and do it himself. Orlando was the starting point of a night filled with terror and violence. And after Mel Levenson had greeted both him and Brill at Jackson, and told them, with a sad, but slick smile, that while his client would love to cooperate, he wouldn’t be – Lat had decided there was no time like the present.

  Although he didn’t necessarily need or want the company on the three-hour ride, he’d invited Steve Brill along for a couple of reasons. To begin with, the first forty-eight hours of a homicide investigation were grueling enough, and a long drive could be a hazard. Another body meant another set of hands on the wheel. Second, and more importantly, this was still a Gables case. Officially, MDPD had been brought in to assist. Since it was unseemly for anyone to be killed in posh Coral Gables, thoughts were that the County would be more equipped to handle a quadruple murder, seeing as it actually had a Homicide Squad, a crime lab and experience with dead bodies. Enter stage right, the Miami-Dade Police Department and Detective John Latarrino to assist. He knew, though, that the reality of the situation was that the County would actually be taking over the investigation, and the responsibility to find answers would ultimately now rest with him. Lat knew it and Brill had accepted it, but out of respect, no one actually said it. Instead, everyone had just quietly slipped into their new roles.

  But the truth was, Lat knew from past experiences with other PDs like Homestead and Sunny Isles, who also didn’t have Homicide Squads, that this silent change of command would definitely not help forge the best of bonds between either the two departments or the two cops. It couldn’t. Even if a department was completely inept at investigating homicides, no one really wanted somebody else coming in, peeing on their territory and taking charge of their mess. And that no one included Elias Vasquez, the Chief of Coral Gables himself, who’d been the one to call the County in on Sunday morning. Which created a delicate and potentially explosive problem. Because for the next few weeks – and quite possibly a lot longer – whether they liked it or not, John Latarrino and Steve Brill would have to function like partners. Manpower at Metro was not unlimited. In fact, besides an analyst, Crime Scene and the use of the MDPD lab, Lat wasn’t getting any other bodies sent over to help him conduct interviews or run leads. That meant he still needed Brill and he needed the Gables and he needed the two departments to work together. The one thing he didn’t need was to take a power trip to Orlando all by himself. Sharing the ride, he’d figured, would be the best way to befriend his new partner.

 
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