PRELUDE AND THEME
“Stan Benedict calling for Carrie Moon.”
Even after twelve years, his rich, baritone sent her heart racing. He still had a smile in his voice. On all the nights when she couldn’t sleep because she was thinking of him, she had tried to remember exactly the way he had just, an instant ago, pronounced her name, Carrie Moon.
But, no, she reminded herself quickly. Carrie Moon had been dead for twelve years.
“No one by that name lives here!” she blurted into the receiver and threw it down before she could lose her nerve. As much as she had dreamed of the day when she would hear from Stan again, she knew she couldn’t let him into the well ordered life of The Honorable Karen M. Morgan, Judge of the Superior Court of San Diego County.
“What’s wrong?” Her husband Howard appeared in the doorway of her study, his face contorted with frustration. “I need quiet to finish these depositions.”
“Sorry. It was nothing.” She tried to steady her hands as she adjusted the sentencing memoranda she had been reading in preparation for the sentencing of two convicted murderers the following day. But she was unsuccessful.
“Your hands are shaking. Was that some sort of threat? Should I call the police?”
Because she presided over criminal as well as civil trials, Howard resolutely believed that one day someone she had sentenced to prison would escape and murder them in their beds. He hated her job. He had wanted her to stay at Warrick, Thompson, and Hayes, San Diego’s biggest law firm, where they had both been partners. But after more than twenty mind-numbing years of ensuring the right accounting data of multinational corporations went on the right lines of Securities and Exchange Commission financial disclosure documents, she had chosen to accept the judgeship two years ago.
At six one, with one hundred and eighty pounds of well-honed muscle, Howard was not someone to be taken lightly. She was certain his stature enhanced his reputation as an unbeatable trial attorney.
At that moment he looked like an angry grizzly bear, roused from the comfort and isolation of his own fully equipped home office. When had the handsome man she married become this jowelly, gray-haired, fifty-year old? Where was the distinguished Howard Morgan, who had spoken to her in the elevator ten years ago on his first day at Warrick, Thompson? In 1997, a year after she became a partner at age 38, the firm had lured him from Elliot, Fitzgerald in New York to shake up their sleepy, backwater litigation section. From his first day in charge, the litigation lawyers at Warrick, Thompson were on call twenty-four/seven. They went to every initial client meeting with a fully prepared litigation plan and cost analysis. After five years of Howard, the Los Angeles firms that had been trying to take over the San Diego market, closed their branch offices and went home.
“No, you don’t need to call the police.” She regained more and more of her composure with each passing second. Her voice now carried its usual cool, unflappable judicial tone. “It was just a wrong number.”
“Good. I don’t have time for crises right now. I have to read three major depositions tonight.” He turned abruptly and went down the hall. She would not see him again for at least a week. He would study depositions until the wee hours, sleep on the sofa in his office, and be out the door to catch his flight to Philadelphia by six a.m. After ten years of marriage, she knew all his routines by heart.
She took a long breath and stared at the phone. All she had to do was hit *69, and Stan’s voice would be there again. And she could tell him the truth. Except she had already told him the truth. Carrie Moon did not live there. Carrie Moon no longer existed.
* * *
She was in her office in her chambers by seven the next morning, an hour before her secretary, her court clerk, or her bailiff arrived. She had not slept, so there had been no point in staying in bed past five thirty when the first faint light of the December dawn filtered through her blinds. She actually had come downstairs in time to see Howard heading out, suitcase in hand. He regarded her with mild surprise.
“You didn’t have to get up to say goodbye.”
“I couldn’t sleep anymore. Have a good trip.”
He nodded and without a backward glance hurried out to the waiting limo.
No kisses, but she hadn’t expected or particularly wanted one. In the early days of their relationship Howard’s attention had been exciting. He had appeared in the doorway of her office at six in the evening and had taken her for a drink or for dinner before returning to his own office to work until the wee hours. Single, successful, and rich, he had been highly sought after. His attention had turned her head. He had asked her to marry him after three months of dating. She wasn’t in love when she said yes; but she had thought mistakenly, he was in love with her. On their third anniversary – by the time they were using a king-sized bed, so that they could maintain the appearance of sleeping in the same room without touching – she had asked him why he’d pursued her so relentlessly in the beginning. Unspoken were the words, since you obviously care so little about me now.
“I needed a wife. So everyone would leave me alone. It takes time away from work to fend off women and well-meaning friends who want to fix you up. You were terrific wife material for someone like me: a partner at the firm, discreet, undemanding. And you’ve turned out to be everything I thought you’d be, Karen. You’ve been great for my career. And I hope I’ve been the same for yours.” He had stretched across the mammoth bed and patted her shoulder before he rolled over and went to sleep.
The Honorable Karen M. Morgan sat down at her desk, wondering if she dared make herself a cup of coffee. When she became a judge, she quickly learned that everyone waited on her because of the dignity of her position. Her court secretary and clerk would be miffed if they showed up and found the pot brewing. She eyed her empty cup longingly but decided against rocking anyone’s boat that morning. She considered the sentencing memoranda and probation reports on her desk and wondered if she would learn anything else about Pablo Rodriguez and Vincenzo Lopez if she read them again. She already knew they were twenty-one and twenty-two. Gang members since the age of twelve. They had killed three bystanders in a drive-by shooting against a rival gang eighteen months ago. One victim had been a four-year-old child. Each defendant was up for 125 years-to-life. Pablo was the sole support of a widowed mother and a ten-year-old sister. There would be tears this morning.
The probation report and sentencing memoranda remained untouched. She would learn nothing more about these men whom she would soon sentence to a living death just as she would she never learn any more about Howard’s twisted logic which had produced their living death of a marriage. His coldness would have mattered if she had had a heart herself. But hers had been dead for twelve years.
Yet maybe a spark still lived inside her somewhere. After she had heard the limo drive off that morning, she had rushed to the phone and dialed * and 6 before she put it down without completing the 9. She had stared at the receiver longingly, wishing she had not told Stan the truth last night. Then she probably would be seeing him today. The thought of being near him created such a surge of joy that she couldn’t catch her breath for a moment. She had felt nothing like this for twelve years.
Howard would never know if she saw Stan. He was going to be gone for the entire week. And even if he found out, he would not care as long as no one else knew. In the world of Warrick, Thompson, no one frowned on having affairs; they frowned only on knowing they had occurred. One never made one’s personal or professional mistakes public.
She had stared at the phone and wondered how long * 69 worked to ring back the incoming call. But where would a ringing phone have found Stan at this hour except in bed with some woman half his age? For he, too, had turned forty-eight this year. He had been thirty-six on that last day.
She closed her eyes, summoning her memory of his smiling voice and her first sight of him on stage with his trumpet at Jazz By the Bay. Five feet eleven, dark, slightly wavy hair that he grew to collar length, slender build but well-developed chest, the result of years of relentlessly increasing his lung capacity. He wasn’t classically handsome, but he was drop-dead attractive thanks to the warmth in his smile and the twinkle in his dark eyes. His exuberant personality made him a born flirt. She’d watched him solo that night on “I Can’t Get Started” and, while her heart raced, she had realized most of the other female hearts in the room were pounding just as hard.
“Judge Morgan, you’re sitting in the dark!” Isabel Martinez, her secretary, flipped on the overhead lights as she entered the office.
Karen hadn’t noticed. The glow of the desk lamp that she left on around the clock had been sufficient for her musings. Mesmerized, she watched Isabel place a small artificial tree on the corner of her desk.
“What’s that for?”
“Christmas, Your Honor. Haven’t you noticed it’s December 1?”
Karen reached over and pulled yesterday’s page off her calendar. “Why, so it is.” She rubbed her eyes, sandy from lack of sleep.
“You need coffee,” Isabel said wisely. “I’ll put the pot on.”
Karen watched her small, overweight figure waddle over to the coffee pot and take charge. Isabel was only a year older than she was, yet looked ten years her senior. She had been married since the age of 18 and was a grandmother three times over. Karen wondered if she loved her husband but dared not ask.
In the law firm, secretaries and paralegals talked about their personal lives to the women attorneys. But as soon as she was on the bench that stopped. She could not be called Karen any longer. She had to be Your Honor or Judge Morgan. When she put her robe on each morning, she felt as if she disappeared under its weight. A figure that looked like her took the bench day after day and barked orders in the courtroom, while her soul hovered in some unknown place, waiting for the robe to come off so that it could return to her body.
“Here.” Isabel handed her a steaming mug just as Jim Scott, her court clerk, and Bob McGee, her bailiff came in. Eight o’clock. They met each morning to receive her orders for the day, but on this day she had none.
Fortunately Bob took the lead. “I’ve scoped out the hallway. Lots of press waiting to report the sentencing. And lots of victims’ families, too.”
“Tell the press they have to stay outside.” Panic hit Karen. Stan might see her on TV and realize she had lied to him last night. She remembered how he used to watch the morning news as he lay in bed, not rushed to go anywhere because his work day never started before eight p.m. What if he saw her and came down to the courthouse?
“With all due respect, Judge Morgan, the last time we tried to close the proceedings, we spent two mornings in litigation with those hotshot Los Angeles First Amendment lawyers that Channel 21 keeps on retainer,” Bob reminded her.
One of Howard’s few failures was his inability to capture Chanel 21’s First Amendment business. “Good point,” she conceded. “Let them in, but make sure they are set up by nine. I don’t want any delays today.”
* * *
At six fifteen that night, she sat on I-15, her silver BMW stalled like a ship dead in the water. She stared blankly at the parking lot that the freeway inevitably became after five o’clock. She recalled the impassive faces of Rodriguez and Lopez as she had sentenced them that morning. As she inched forward to her exit, she realized to her horror that she was as emotionally detached as they had been. She couldn’t shed any more tears about anything or for any reason – not like the mothers, sobbing their hearts out as their sons were led away. What if she could feel again? Even pain would be better than this continual numbness. But no, she reminded herself, blinding emotional pain had left her unable to feel. She had hurt until she could not hurt anymore. Not feeling was better than hurting that much ever gain. Stan had to stay out of her life.
But within ten minutes, she found she was wrong. She parked in
the garage of their six thousand square-foot-home with the view of the eastern mountains. This house was one of the few disagreements she had won with Howard. He had wanted to live in upscale La Jolla by the sea. But she had grown up in Asheville, North Carolina; and she missed mountains and forests. Her suburban Scripps Ranch home, among the eucalyptus trees, was in one of the few San Diego neighborhoods with anything green overhead. And she could see the mountains every morning from her bedroom window.
She hurried into the silent kitchen. She raced toward the phone, almost breathless at the sight of the red light on the answering machine, winking steadily like a monitor tracking her heartbeat. She pushed the message button and held her breath. Isabel’s soft monotone reminded her to bring ornaments for the barren little tree. The light stopped blinking as if her heart had stopped beating. She hit the erase button and burst into the tears she had no idea she could shed. She stood alone in her empty kitchen in her empty house in her empty life and sobbed for Stan Benedict – and for Carrie Moon.