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It is said that the spaces between the notes make the music.  In the same way, the longing between separated lovers makes the story of their love.

Batumi  is a seaside city and the capital of Adjara, an autonomous republic,  in southwest Georgia.  There, at the edge of the Black Sea, Georgian artist  Tamara Kvesitadze  has created the 26-foot tall, moving sculpture called “The Statue of Love.” Her steel creation is based on the tragic love story of Ali and Nino, a Muslim boy and Georgian Christian girl who were separated by the coming of World War I and the Russian Revolution. Nino fled to Paris with the couple’s child while Ali joined the defense of Azerbajan and was killed when the Red Army invaded in 1918. The novel by Kuban Said, a Dr. Zhivago– style epic, was published in 1937.

At seven p.m. each evening, the computer-controlled statues move slowly toward each other in a spectacular light show, They join briefly in a passionate kiss, and then pass through each other,  leaving the beloved behind.  When I saw this video, I wished I could send it to Unhappy Reader, whose dissatisfaction with Ride Your Heart ‘Til It Breaks, I explained in my last post.   Perhaps viewing the video of “The Statue of Love”  would explain the story of Carrie Moon and Stan Benedict to Unhappy Reader in a way my words apparently failed to do.

At the beginning of Ride, an invisible force seems to draw Stan and Carrie toward each other evening after evening in Jazz By the Bay, just as the statues move toward each other in the twilight by the sea in Batumi.  Carrie thinks she is drawn toward Stan and his artistry as a musician without realizing her obsession stems from her need to recover her own inner artist and musician, the persona she left behind when she became a lawyer. Although Stan fights his attraction to Carrie because he thinks love never lasts for him, her unconditional support shines like a beacon in his emotional darkness and draws him closer and closer, just as the computers driving “The Statue of Love” move the lovers irresistibly toward each other in the twilight.

Stan and Carrie meet in a passionate embrace, like the the lovers in the “Statue of Love.” But they, too, literally pass through each other, as the pressure of their very different lives drives them apart.  Stan’s insecurities lead to muffing his chance  to become a big name musician in Los Angeles.  Carrie finds she cannot sustain the pressure of her legal career and the demands of wife and soon-to-be mother.

Tragedy strikes, moving Stan and Carrie apart, like the moving figures in the “Statue of Love.”  Years pass like the hours that pass before the computer activates the moving figures in Batumi once again.  And then, just as the computer switches on at the appointed time, the Universe moves Carrie and Stan toward each other once again, this time to learn love’s greatest lesson of all.

To view the magnificent spectacle of the “The Statue of Love” at twilight go here:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3ds9fE0tnzE

To purchase a copy of Ride Your Heart ‘Til It Breaks, click the link on the side bar of this website.  And let me know if you agree or disagree with Unhappy Reader.

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Even before the name of the new little princess was announced, I, like many others, wondered if she would be called after her grandmother, Diana. Diana was thrust onto the world stage at age nineteen, a bit gawky, a bit naive, but utterly charming and sincere. By age twenty-three, she was the mother of two children, one a future king. By the time she died in Paris, at age thirty-six, she had grown into a beautiful, compassionate woman, anxious to be a healing and unifying influence in the world.

After Diana died, I found I missed her although we had never met. While she was living through her disastrous marriage and divorce in the glare of world wide publicity, I was living through my own marriage and divorce nightmare on a smaller, but nevertheless, public scale. On the days when I had to wait to check-out at the grocery story, I used to read the tabloid headlines written by Prince Charles’ supporters, accusing Diana of mental illness and instability; and I would comfort myself with the thought that at least no reporters were sitting in the courtroom to hear the man I’d married say exactly the same things about me. Although it was a public courtroom and anyone who walked in could have heard how, by having three children whom I loved more than life itself, I had maliciously morphed from an academic over-achiever who graduated Number Two in her law school class into a dangerous, crazy, lying freeloader. I felt a bond with Diana, although I was unenviably poor and she was enviably rich, because I realized that access to all the money in the world could never make up for the pain of having the father of your children heap lies and disrespect on you in a public forum.

When Diana died, I felt as if I’d lost a friend. And as the years passed and Charles and his publicists pushed Diana and her memory farther and farther into the background to replace her with Camilla Parker-Bowles, I wondered how many people remained who, like me, thought of Diana, not as a clothes horse or as a Royal Highness, but as a beautiful, loving woman, unfairly used and demeaned by a powerful and wealthy family.

My first novel, Dance For A Dead Princess has many themes, but one of the most prominent is the power of an aristocratic family to control its members. Nicholas Carey, the heredity duke, who is the hero of Dance for A Dead Princess, was forced to return from America when he was only sixteen to assume the position of heir to the dukedom, although given his choice he would have gladly remained in New York and studied to become a concert pianist like his mother. Diana was also affected by the power of her aristocratic family at a very young age when her father wrested custody of his children from their mother, leaving Diana and young Charles to be raised by nannies at Althorpe while grieving their mother’s loss.

Another central theme is the toll an unhappy marriage takes on the individuals involved. Having been unhappy in childhood, marriage for both Nicholas and Diana represented the chance to form happy unions of their own. For them, marriage was a chance to love and be loved rather than to be used as pawns on their aristocratic families’ chessboards. But Nicholas and Diana’s hopes were dashed yet again. Nicholas’ wife, Deborah and Diana’s husband, Charles, turned out to be powerfully in love, but not with their spouses. For Nicholas and for Diana, having lost the chance at a happy childhood, the loss of the opportunity to have a happy marriage was a second and even more powerful blow.

Some readers interpret Diana’s presence in Dance for a Dead Princess as an attempt to make believers out of the conspiracy theory of Diana’s death or as a crass attempt to sell books because her name is in them. But neither was ever my intention. I brought Diana into the book to keep her memory alive and to remind the world of the tragedy of her life. She was a beautiful, loving woman who was denied the thing she most longed for: the chance to create a loving family for herself, her husband, and her children. At one point in Dance, Nicholas observes how unfair it was for Diana to be called unstable and mentally ill all because she wanted what every wife wants, to have her husband to herself.

The haunting tragedy of Diana’s life was what I hoped every reader would take away from Dance. In the Prologue, the reader encounters Nicholas in Paris where he is grieving the loss of his beloved friend and the mutual support and companionship they offered each other in their isolated, unhappy lives. Nicholas stares down at the Place d’Alama Tunnel, thirteen years after that fateful August night, deeply longing for one more chance to talk to Diana. “How many nights had he spent talking to Diana about his marriage, about her marriage, about his guilt over Deborah and about the impossibility of being in love?” And he wonders how his friend felt as death approached. “ . . . What had she felt as she slipped away from everyone who loved her? Had she struggled against it, as Deborah had? Or had her torn and broken heart quietly accepted her fate? No, he doubted that. She’d have fought to stay with her boys.”

Whether or not there was a historical conspiracy to assassinate Diana is not the point of Dance. The role of the conspiracy in the plot is to give Nicholas an opportunity to express his unbearable grief over the loss of both Diana and his wife. Aching from all that loss in his life, Nicholas vows to expose Diana’s assassins, not as an act of vengeance, but as means of expressing his soul crushing sadness. And ironically, through this one, last powerful expression of grief, Nicholas meets Taylor Collins, the one woman who has the power to give him what he has always longed for, but has never had.

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CHAPTER TWENTY-SIX

The phone woke her at six next morning instead of her alarm. She had drunk enough the night before to give herself a headache, and she thought about not answering. But it might be Jim. And it might be another emergency with Alexa. So she rolled over and picked up the receiver and said, with great effort, “Hello.”

“Good morning, Ms. Knight. I believe it’s morning where you are. It’s lunchtime in D.C. This is Coleman Reed.”

Sarah sat up and forced her hung-over self to concentrate. “What do you want, Justice Reed?”

“Well, first to congratulate you. I heard about Ms. Jacobs’ debacle yesterday. Clearly she did’t graduate in the top of her law school class.”

“Actually she managed to pass the bar after going to an unaccredited law school, so she isn’t stupid. I’m not convinced discussing Tara’s educational shortcomings is the purpose of this call.”

“You’re very acute, Ms. Knight. I remember you in oral argument in the Lewis versus New York case, three years back. Fourth Amendment. Illegal search. You won for your client.”

“No thanks to you, Justice Reed. You wrote the minority dissent in that case.”

“Like I said, you’re very acute. Talented, even. Your work in the Joey Menendez case is legendary. As you know. And you turned six of my colleagues against me in the Lewis case. Because of you, Myron Lewis, an international drug dealer, walked away a free man. It’s too bad they appointed you to defend my daughter-in-law. You’re going to lose and that will tarnish your considerable reputation.”

“I don’t think you called to discuss my standing in the legal community.”

“Maybe I did, maybe I didn’t.”

“Let’s get to the point.”

“You might not like that.”

“I’ll take my chances.”

“You can’t win against me, Ms. Knight. Haven’t you figured that out, yet?”

“I have to do my job, Justice Reed. You know that.”

“And how do you define ‘do you job’?”

“This isn’t oral argument. I don’t have to answer that. Go read the Sixth Amendment.”

“‘A criminal defendant is entitled to the effective assistance of counsel.’ I know what it says. But ‘effective assistance’ doesn’t mean you have to commit professional suicide.”

“What does that mean?”

“That means don’t go prying into matters that don’t concern you.”

“As in your son’s bank records?”

“As in those and in Ronald Brigman’s.”

“You can’t stop me from seeing Brigman’s.”

“I realize that. And that’s why I’m calling you this morning.”

“I’m listening.”

“I could send a fleet of Alan Warrick’s best against you tomorrow to quash your subpoena for Michael’s bank records.”

“I’m not afraid of Warrick, Thompson attorneys, Justice Reed.”

“Of course, you aren’t. You cut your legal teeth with Hollis Craig and his partners.”

“Get to the point.”

“Okay. I can stop you where Michael is concerned. You know that. But I have no authority over Brigman’s financials.”

“And if I get Brigman’s, I’ll know about his dealings with Michael?”

“Right. So I’ve called to make you an offer.”

“An offer?”

“Withdraw your subpoenas. Leave the bank records alone. And stop defending Alexa like an angry pit bull. I don’t want her out on bail.”

“I don’t think the Sixth Amendment allows me to do that.”

“Of course, it does. Trevor Martin told you what to do in this case. Just go through the motions. File a few in limines that you will lose. Do some cross-examination. Make it look good. But don’t try to win. No one expects you to.”

“Throwing a case is not my job, Justice Reed.”

“What if your life depended upon it?”

“I’m sorry. Is that a threat?”

“You can call it what you want. No one will ever believe it came from me. Back off, Ms. Knight. I understand your business hasn’t grown much in San Diego. I can get you a partnership at Warrick, Thompson.”

“I’ve already turned down Alan Warrick’s offer of partnership in the firm. I like having my own shop.”

“Well, then, I still have a number of clients using Warrick who are loyal to me. I can send them your way. Alan and I aren’t seeing eye-to-eye right now over Alexa. I would love to damage his bottom line on your behalf.”

“Isn’t that a conflict of interest?”

“It is right now because you’re representing Alexa. But you are not going to be her attorney forever, Ms. Knight. The sooner she’s tried and convicted, the better for all of us.”

“If you’re offering me a bribe not to look at Brigman’s bank records, it’s a safe assumption there’s something there that will help Alexa. If anyone found out I’d made a deal with you to ignore exculpatory evidence for my own financial gain, her conviction would be overturned on habeas corpus in a heartbeat. And I’d be disbarred.”

“You know, Ms. Knight, I’m going to have to give you some advice. You and Alan take the Rules of Professional Responsibility way too seriously. The Law Offices of Sarah Knight will go down in flames if you play by the ethics rules. You aren’t in a Wall Street firm any more where you can afford to dither about what the State Bar thinks. Things are different in the local bar as Hal Remington has probably told you. Business is based on who you know. If you don’t play the game right, no one is going to send you any work, and an attorney’s bread and butter is referrals from other attorneys. If you aren’t a team player in that community, you’re going to starve. What the State Bar wants you to do for Alexa Reed, and what the legal community wants you to do, are two very different things. I can make you rich beyond your wildest dreams, Ms. Knight. Your solo practice could grow into a firm as big as Craig, Lewis, or Warrick, Thompson. Or bigger.”

“In exchange for Alexa’s life?”

“She’s already a dead woman. Save yourself.”

“I’m sorry, Justice Reed, is that a threat?”

“It certainly is.”

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CHAPTER SEVENTEEN

When the priest was finished, he took a few minutes to pack up the vials of holy water and oil in his little black leather sacrament case. Then he removed the stole from around his neck and folded it over his arm the way a maitre d’ carries a folded napkin.

“Thank you, Father.”

“Of course. That’s why I’m here. I’m on duty all night, so if things change, please call me. I think prayer over a departing soul eases its passage.”

I wish I believed in souls, Sarah thought. But aloud she said, “I’m sure you’re right.”

After the door swung shut behind Father Morley, Sarah sank into the chair by the bed once more. The puke green curtains turned the blank walls their sickly shade of death and disease in the low light. Sarah listened to the whir and thump of the ventilator, and watched it labor to keep Alexa Reed on this side of eternity. She considered once more what would happen if she eased its plug out of the outlet.

Jim would be upset with her; she knew that for sure. In his mind, the two of them were a team. He wouldn’t want her to make that kind of decision without him. And deep inside Sarah knew he wouldn’t want her to make that kind of decision at all.

Bob Metcalf had talked about bribes, so she had subpoenaed Brigman and Michael’s financial records yesterday. Maybe something in them would save Alexa, after all.

She was suddenly irritated that Jim had not come back after the priest left. She had drunk too much at dinner, and now it was 1:30 in the morning, and her head was throbbing with stale alcohol and fatigue. Her car was at Jim’s; and even if it had been at the hospital, she knew she was in no shape to drive.

She touched Alexa’s dry lifeless hand once more, and went out into the corridor to find Jim. No sign of him.

The deputy gave her a grudging nod. She thought of asking him if he’d seen her investigator but decided he wouldn’t tell her if he had. His face sent the message the jail guard had not hesitated to voice: in his world she was “defense lawyer scum.”

Sarah walked down the long, white deserted corridor until she saw the nurse’s station ahead. Jim was leaning over it, absorbed in something. Then, as she got closer, she realized he was flirting with an attractive red-headed nurse who was seated at a computer monitor. The woman alternated between pointing to something on the screen and looking up at Jim adoringly.

What had been fatigue and annoyance now threatened to boil over into visible anger. Sarah hadn’t taken Jim for a ladies’ man, but he was doing a good impression of one at that moment. She reminded herself to get her emotions in check before opening her mouth. After all, she had no right to criticize him; she was sleeping with someone else. And intended to go on doing that.

Jim looked up, and for a moment she thought she saw a flicker of embarrassment that he’d been caught. But his eyes immediately went dark and unreadable, and she wasn’t even sure she’d seen anything.

“Is the priest finished?”

“Yes. We can’t do any more tonight. I’m ready to go back and get my car.”

“There’s something I have to tell you first.” He handed the nurse his business card, who handled it the way a rockstar groupie cherishes a souvenir from her idol, took Sarah’s arm, and drew her down the hall to a tiny empty room marked “Family Waiting.” He pulled her inside and closed the door.

“What’s going on?”

“I chatted up the night nurse on purpose because I had a hunch.”

“A hunch?”

“That this wasn’t an accident.”

“You mean the jail psychiatrist tried to kill our client?” Sarah’s head was now spinning with shock as well as fatigue. “You’d need evidence of that, Jim. A hunch wouldn’t get you to first base with the court.”

“I know. But it’s way more than a hunch. Listen. Based on what happened today, I suspected Alexa was allergic to Lexapro, and that’s why they gave it to her.”

“And was she?”

“Yes. Her private doctors were all affiliated with USCD and this hospital. So all of her medical records are in their system. And they show that back in ‘09 a few months after Michael started the divorce war, the stress got to her. Her own doctor referred her to one of the psychiatrists here, and he gave her a low dose of Lexapro. She had a mild allergic reaction.”

“But that doesn’t prove the jail shrink tried to kill her.”

“Yes, it does. I haven’t finished. My little red-headed friend out there said the jail shrink requested all of Alexa’s records a few days ago, and privacy laws notwithstanding, they handed them over.”

“They should have contacted me before doing that.”

“True, but you know what the jail people think of defense attorneys. Anyway, at the time they gave her the Lexapro, they knew she was allergic, and they gave her a much larger dose than they should have, so her reaction was much more acute than before.”

“I’m still seeing negligence here, not intent to murder.”

“There’s more.”

“More?”

“They waited to summon medical help until they thought it would be too late. When the ambulance got there, her throat was nearly swollen shut, and she was almost gone. The only thing that saved her, was the emergency tracheotomy the paramedics did at nearly the last second.”

“And you learned all this from What’s Her Name out there?”

“Tammi. Nice girl. And willing to be helpful. Be grateful.”

“You’re right. I’m just exhausted.”

“I can see that. Here’s what I think we should do. Alexa shouldn’t be left alone. I’m able to stay up with her now and let you go get some sleep. I’m going to call you a cab. Be back tomorrow at 10 a.m., and we’ll take turns watching her.”

“USCD isn’t going to kill her.”

“Right. But we don’t know who else is lurking out there. We can’t leave her alone until she wakes up.”

“If she wakes up.”

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CHAPTER FOURTEEN

Metcalf had a seedy little office in a ratty brick building, two blocks down from the family law courthouse. Sarah led the way with Jim following up three flights of narrow dingy stairs to Suite 312, etched on the frosted glass door. Inside they found an empty receptionist’s desk, a cheap plastic couch with two matching gold plastic chairs, and some tattered magazines on a rickety coffee table.

Before they could sit down, the door to the inner office opened, and Bob himself appeared. He was in his late fifties with a thin, wiry build, a high forehead and a receding hairline. He was wearing a cheap brown suit and a light blue tie that bore the stains of a lunch, either past or present.

Sarah and Jim took the seen-better-days chipped pressed wood chairs in front of Bob’s desk and declined his offer of bottled water from the dorm-room fridge behind his desk.

“Thanks for meeting with me,” Sarah began. “This is Jim Mitchell, my private investigator.”

Bob shook all hands offered and sat down behind his desk. Sarah noticed a stack of thick folders in front of him.

“Are all those files Alexa’s case?”

He nodded. “If she got the children to Michael’s for visitation fifteen minutes late, he’d drag her to court over it. He litigated everything. How is she by the way?”

“Not good.” Sarah briefly recapped the hearing in front of Judge Tomlinson.

“Sorry to hear it. She’s a sweet woman. Not a malicious bone in her body, but she ruined her life by marrying a class A dick like Michael Reed.”

“Really? Her former criminal defense lawyer called her a ‘lying, manipulating bitch.’”

Bob Metcalf waved his hands impatiently. “Well, he didn’t talk to me, then. He must have been talking to Tara Jacobs. She was Michael’s lawyer.

“Alexa came in here just trembling the first time we met. She’d been served with one of the most vicious sets of divorce pleadings I’ve ever seen. Michael hired the nastiest family law attorney in San Diego County to make all out war on her. Obviously you can tell I don’t have high-end clients,” he waved his arms around the small office, full of sagging book cases, with the view of a pay-per-hour parking lot below. “The truth is, none of the attorneys who are able to stand up against Tara Jacobs would take Alexa’s case because she couldn’t afford them. And no one wanted to be crosswise of Coleman Reed.”

“Why did you take it?” Jim asked.

“Truth be told, at first I thought I’d get some attorney’s fees out of it. Not from her, of course. Michael had tied up all their money, so she couldn’t touch a cent. But judges usually award attorney’s fees out of the deepest pocket. Since Michael had all the money, I figured he’d have to pay for Tara and me, too.”

“But I gather that didn’t happen?” Sarah said.

“No. This was the damnedest case I’ve ever seen. Right from the get go.”

“What do you mean?”

“The judge threw her and the kids out of the family home in La Jolla and gave it to Michael. That’s unheard of. At the time, she had a two-year-old and a one-year-old, and she was a full-time stay-at-home mom. No judge makes the primary parent move out of the family home. But that was just the beginning.”

“Was that when you realized you weren’t going to get any money out of the case?”

He nodded. “I made the usual request everyone makes at the end of the hearing, and I thought Judge Watkins was going to hold me in contempt. He said, ‘Mrs. Reed graduated first in her class from Georgetown. She’s perfectly capable of getting a job that will pay your fees. I see no reason why she should sponge off the plaintiff.’”

“Wow!” Sarah breathed. She noticed Jim wince as he sat beside her taking notes on a yellow pad.

“Yeah, nasty stuff. And, again, remember she was unemployed with a toddler and an infant, and Michael was about to become a full equity partner at Warrick, Thompson. In most cases like that, the judge awards the wife a huge chunk of child support and temporary alimony. Alexa got a little, but nothing like what she was entitled to.”

“So why did you stay on the case?”

Bob shrugged. “I thought, why not? Most of my other clients pay me pennies on the dollar. She was so sweet and grateful, and I knew she was in a desperate situation. We worked out a deal. She’d prepare papers for me, memoranda, briefs, things like that. I’m a rotten writer, and I barely passed the bar after going to an unaccredited law school. She made me look really good on paper for the first time in my career.”

“So what happened after that?”

“I tried to negotiate a settlement with Tara Jacobs. It would have been in everyone’s best interests to settle. Alexa needed to focus on her babies and finding a job. Michael had no use for kids; his career and his women were his life.”

“Did you know about the abortion Warrick, Thompson paid for?” Jim asked.

“The paralegal he knocked up in his first year?”

Jim nodded.

“Sure. Alexa told me about that. And about his affairs.”

“So she knew about the other women?” Sarah asked.

“Yeah, Michael wanted her to know. He liked taunting her with them to show her how powerless she was. That was Michael’s biggest ego trip. He knew he had gotten where he was riding on his old man’s coat tails, and he hated Alexa because she was so much smarter and had earned her way to the top. I believe he married her solely for the sadistic pleasure of destroying her.”

Jim wrote faster and faster.

“Could you testify to this at trial?” Sarah asked.

He nodded. “Actually, it would give me great pleasure. It’s been far worse for Alexa, don’t get me wrong. But it took an emotional toll on me, too, having to go into those hearings with her and watching the judge call Michael a saint and her a no-account free loader.”

“Was it really as bad as that?”

“I can pull some hearing transcripts, if you’d like to read them.”

“I would,” Sarah said. “So how did Alexa react to Michael’s affairs?”

“The way any wife would. Tried to reason with him. Tried to get him to go to counseling. But he beat her instead.”

Jim’s head shot up from the legal pad. “I’ve looked for evidence of that, but I haven’t found any. What have you got?”

“Only Alexa’s word. That’s why Brigman got away with shafting her the way he did. He labeled her a borderline personality disorder and declared her a chronic liar. And she didn’t have the money to bring in an expert of her own to testify against him. Wouldn’t have done any good, anyway. All the family law judges thought Brigman was the voice of God. They just rubber stamped anything he said. What Brigman called borderline personality disorder was post traumatic stress disorder from all the beatings.”

“But a judge can’t do that,” Sarah insisted. “Wholesale adoption of expert opinion is an unauthorized delegation of judicial power.”

“You graduated in the top of your class like Alexa. That’s exactly what she said. And we took it to the court of appeal. And lost. Some of the judges up there had been on the family law bench before they were kicked upstairs. They knew how much they liked to have a so-called expert to decide the tough issues, so they didn’t have to split the baby themselves. They didn’t want to take that out away from their brother judges still on the hot seat.”

“How did Brigman come to be involved in Alexa’s case in the first place?”

“Ah, that’s where the plot thickens. When Alexa first came to me, I thought Michael just wanted to dump his inconvenient family and be free to do his fooling around on the books instead of off. He was a good-looking guy, as you know, and attractive to women. But he was about to make partner, and being a Warrick partner and the son of a sitting United States Supreme Court justice would make him hotter than George Clooney. So I thought he’d just pay Alexa off, do a couple of pro forma visitations a year with the kids, and let everyone go about their business.”

“But that didn’t happen?”

“Not by a long shot. As soon as I tried settlement negotiations with Tara Jacobs, I knew something really sinister was up. She laughed in my face, and two days later filed a motion to give Michael full custody of the children.”

“But he couldn’t raise them. His career wouldn’t let him do that.”

“Right. And that should have been the beginning and end of the matter. But he’s Michael Reed, son of Coleman Reed. If he wants something, he gets it.”

“And he wanted Alexa’s children?”

“Exactly. Because he could control her through them. For men like Michael, its only about power and control.”

“So what happened?”

“I tried to knock it out of the water at that first hearing on the career issue, but I never had a chance. The court ordered both parties into psychological evaluations. As a practical matter, that meant Ronald Brigman would decide who got the children.”

“And he gave them to Michael?”

“Not at first. Michael didn’t want that in the beginning because if he had gotten the kids from the get go, he would have lost his power to control Alexa. No, what Michael wanted was to humiliate her over and over again in the place a lawyer like Alexa should have been most respected – in the judicial system.”

Bob paused to open the top file on his desk, and Sarah marveled at his insights. Maybe he didn’t understand every esoteric legal innuendo, but he had a PhD. in street smarts.

“Here’s a couple of examples. A hearing on February 15, 2009, because she was ten minutes late bringing the kids for visitation. Her excuse: Sam pooped in his diaper as they were leaving the house and she had to change him. Court reamed her out. The next month, March 18, 2009, she was a half hour late because Meggie was crying and too upset to get in the car. Alexa’s explanation: Meggie was beginning to have nightmares because she had to sleep in a strange bed at Michael’s. The court told her it would hold her in contempt if she ever again referred to the bed at Meggie’s father’s house as a ‘strange bed.’” Bob let the file drop shut and looked at Sarah and Jim with his mild, watery eyes. “That went on from 2009 until the day Michael died.”

“How did Alexa manage?”

“She tried to hold up – at first. She obviously knew even better than I did that almost every word out of the judge’s mouth was a violation of her and the kids’ federal constitutional rights. That’s one thing I never understood in law school, con law. But Alexa had it down. Like you, Ms. Knight.”

“Sarah, please.”

“She’d sit up late at night, drafting motions and supporting memoranda in her case. Beautiful things. And I’d file every one of them. And then Tara Jacobs would come to court and snarl about how Alexa was just a lush who was demonstrating she had the smarts to go back to work as a lawyer but who was trying to live off her ex to punish Michael for divorcing her and showing the world what a crazy psycho she was.”

“And the court bought that?”

“Every time. I could never get the judge to listen to the legal merits of Alexa’s motions because Tara would turn every hearing into a character assassination. Little by little, defeat by defeat, it started to wear her down.”

“How was she supporting herself?”

“Ok. This next part I might not be able to testify to unless Alan Warrick agrees.”

“What do you mean?”

“The legal community here is really just one small town. Full of backstabbing and politics.”

“I’m discovering that.”

“Well, Coleman threatened to pull all of the clients that his rainmaking had brought to Warrick, Thompson and divert them to other firms if Alan hired Alexa back. And Michael poisoned every other legal well where she could have possibly gotten a job. I know that because Alan told me. That’s why he’d have to testify for you, if you needed that evidence.”

“So Tara Jacobs would stand up in court and claim Alexa was a lazy freeloader who wouldn’t go back to work, while Michael was making sure she couldn’t get a job in this town?”

“Exactly.” Bob nodded at Jim.

“And she couldn’t get a job out of town because Michael wouldn’t let her take the kids. So how did she make any money?”

“Alan sent her research projects to do for him and a couple of other sympathetic partners on the down low. He paid her in cash, so there’d be nothing to show up if Michael subpoenaed her bank records. And Michael did subpoena those records more than once.”

“So she eeked by on the secret work from Alan and the little bit she got from Michael?”

“Right. And then her world went up in flames.”

“How?

“Well, Meggie and Sam were afraid of Michael. They had barely seen him before the divorce. He was always at work or on a date. I mean kids that little don’t want to leave their mothers in regular families. But the stress on those babies was horrible. They cried, they wet the bed, and Meggie stopped eating for a while.”

“And Brigman blamed Alexa?”

“Who else? He claimed she was working to alienate them from Michael.”

“When they’d never been bonded to Michael in the first place.”

“Common sense was never part of Ronald Brigman’s approach to life. He was also a colossal control freak. I think he enjoyed tormenting Alexa as much as Michael did. She was smart enough to know everything he did was illegal, and he loved rubbing her nose in the fact she couldn’t do anything about it.”

“So what happened?”

“Well, Michel kept her in court pretty continually from January to July 2009. Then fate got a little kinder to Alexa for a bit The actual divorce went through in July, and Michael made partner in August. He was so hot on the dating market that, for a while, he forgot how much fun he was having in family court. And Alexa somehow got those little babies to understand that even if they had to go to Michael’s for a weekend, they’d always get to come back home. Of course, separation was the greatest fear for all three of them because Michael had built a record in family court that would have given him full temporary custody in a heartbeat if he decided to pull that string. It was the most powerful weapon he could have held over Alexa’s head.”

“So when did things change?”

“They managed to get through 2010 without much happening. But then, in January 2010, Michael lost it with Sam, who was going through the terrible two’s. Michael knew he was always at risk of beating somebody up, so he usually had a girlfriend there when the kids were with him. But one Saturday night, his date fell through and Sam ran all over the house after his bath and wouldn’t come put on his pajamas. Michael took the kids home on Sunday and told Alexa the bruises on his arms were from a fall in the backyard, but Meggie had seen the whole thing and told the truth.”

“So wouldn’t proving Michael was the abuser help Alexa’s case?”

“In a normal family law situation, yes. But, again, this is Michael Reed.”

“So what happened?”

“We went to court to change the visitation. The court denied the motion and referred the whole thing to Brigman again for another psych evaluation.”

“And he turned it all against Alexa?”

“Yep. His report said she did it, and she coached Meggie to lie. He ordered her to go to counseling with some hack court-appointed evaluator like himself, and the court ordered anger management counseling for her. It was one of Michael’s finest acts of humiliation.”

“Did you all appeal that?”

“No. Alexa had figured out that if she’d quietly dance to Michael and Brigman’s tune, she’d get to keep the children. And she loved them above all else. I mean, she was literally going through hell for them. And there was no chance of her starting a new life for herself. No man in his right mind would have wanted to get mixed up in that mess and get his own character assassinated in court.”

“So she did as she was told?”

“She did. But then Michael lost it again, this time with Meggie. It was January 2012. She was four and Sam was three. Brigman did exactly the same thing again: he turned it around on Alexa. But this time he went farther. He ordered the kids to go to counseling to ‘improve’ their relationship with their father. When he got it ‘improved’ enough, he was going to ‘enlarge’ their time with their father. In lay terms, that meant he was brainwashing the kids against their mother a little at a time to prepare them to go live with Michael full-time. And she was helpless to stop it.”

“Who was the therapist who was working on the kids?”

“Brigman himself.”

“But that’s a blatant conflict of interest. Not to mention the constitution does not permit involuntary psychotherapy to change children’s bond with their parents.”

“Again, that’s what Alexa said. And this time we went to the court of appeal.”

“And lost.”

“And lost. She actually argued her own appeal. You should have seen her in her suit. Alan Warrick came, too. He had tears in eyes when it was over. But he got out of there before Michael and Tara Jacobs saw him.”

“And after that?”

“I told her to pack her bags and get out of this town.”

“You mean, leave her children?”

Bob nodded grimly. “She was never going to have a life here. Michael and Brigman would see to that. I told her better a clean break with the kids than losing them a day at a time for years and years and never knowing when the final blow would fall. She had the credentials to make partner in one of those big Wall Street firms. I told her to go back east and rebuild her career, get married, and have some more kids with someone else.”

“What did she say?”

“That she’d never leave Meggie and Sam.”

“I can only admire your endurance, Mr. Metcalf.”

“Bob, please. If she ever wakes up, you’ll see she deserved my help and more. I’m glad she’s got someone at the top of the class, this time. I hope you can save her life.”

“Me, too. But there’s one more thing I have to ask.”

“Anything for Alexa.”

“This whole story is so one-sided – ”

“You’re going to ask if Michael was bribing Brigman. We think he was. We never had any way to prove it, though.”

“No evidence at all other than losing every hearing you went to?”

“There’s long been a rumor in the bar that Tara Jacobs has bribe deals arranged for her clients with certain evaluators. It’s possible that Michael decided to put Alexa through hell, heard about Tara, and signed up with her knowing his money would buy himself an evaluator.”

“So Michael filed for divorce in January, and Brigman was appointed in what month?”

“March.”

“Did you ever subpoena Michael’s bank records?”

“We tried, but Tara would only turn over his tax returns, and even though Alexa was entitled to see the bank records – Lord knows, he’d seen hers several times – the court bought his claim they were covered by attorney client privilege because he sometimes deposited client money in his accounts before it went into the firm trust account.”

“Another violation of the Rules of Professional Conduct.”

“The court didn’t care. It’s also possible that Judge Watkins was on the take, too. There were some judges up in Orange County back in the nineties who were caught favoring clients who donated to a “Judicial Retirement Fund” that funneled the money to individual judges. Let me know if I can do anything else to help you. I know what you’re up against.”

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CHAPTER TWELVE

September 2013

Sitting at the defense table with Jim next to her on the Tuesday after Labor Day, Sarah stared up at The Honorable John Charles Tomlinson and tried to quiet the butterflies in her stomach. Judge Tomlinson was the opposite of Judge Tyler, who had been thin and sharp. He appeared to be around Sarah’s age, and he had no angles. He was slightly portly, with an open, round face, kind gray eyes, and a thatch of light brown hair sparsely streaked with gray. He treated everyone in the courtroom with the utmost politeness. He had been more than willing to listen to Jordan Stewart’s testimony although Sarah had entered the hearing very worried about whether her witness would be allowed to take the stand.

As expected, Percy Andrews had opined only psychotropic drugs would render Alexa able to stand trial. And he lied through his teeth about being biased when Sarah tried to impeach him with his loyalty to Ronald Brigman.

Then Jordan’s turn came, and she explained why, even if Alexa were given drugs, she still wouldn’t be competent to assist in her defense.

“She’s been through too much trauma. She lost custody of her very young children, and that was a shock. And then she was the one who found Michael dead that night, and that was a shock.”

“But it was a shock only if she didn’t kill him.” Judge Tomlinson broke in.

“At this point, Your Honor, we have to presume she’s innocent,” Sarah reminded the judge. “She reported finding Michael to the police, didn’t leave town, and went in voluntarily for questioning.”

“Okay. For the moment, I’m going to make that assumption. But haven’t you also testified, Dr. Stewart, that she’s so depressed it will require medication to get her even to talk to a counselor? Why put her in the hospital if meds will make her able to talk to her attorneys and assist with her defense?”

“Because there’s no guarantee medicating her will restore her to competency. She can only be competent after she heals from the underlying trauma. Drugs might make her able to talk again, but healing requires being able to talk about the traumas and working through her emotions. Right now she’s so overwhelmed by her feelings, she’s completely nonfunctional, and she will still be overwhelmed even if she’s no longer too depressed to talk.”

“I see.” Sarah watched the judge make notes on his yellow legal pad.

He continued to scribble furiously after Jordan stepped down. After a few more minutes of writing, he looked directly at Sarah.

“Ms. Knight, I have a few more questions for Dr. Andrews. Would you object to allowing Mr. Baldwin to recall him briefly?”

I object with every fiber of my being, Sarah thought. But she could tell Judge Tomlinson had taken Jordan’s testimony seriously, and she didn’t want to risk making him angry by saying no. “That’s fine, Your Honor.”

Percy Andrews slithered from the back of the courtroom and wrapped himself around the chair on the witness stand after being resworn.

“Dr. Andrews,” the judge began, “you’ve heard Dr. Stewart’s opinion. She believes medication alone will not restore the defendant. In Dr. Stewart’s opinion Alexa Reed needs counseling. Do you agree?”

“Not at all. A good drug like Lexapro will have Alexa Reed ready to assist her attorneys in her defense within two weeks. I’ve already said she’s faking mental illness to avoid being tried. She’s a very bright, clever young woman.”

Judge Tomlinson frowned. “I’m not seeing evidence of faking on this record.”

“That is my professional opinion,” Andrews insisted.

“Very well. I need a few minutes in chambers to look over the expert’s reports before I decide.”

Sarah watched Tomlinson’s round figure waddle off the bench. She and Jim stood up, and Jordan came from the spectator section of the courtroom to join them.

“I’m pleased he didn’t buy the ‘faking’ it line from Andrews,” Jordan said.

“I’m holding my breath.” Sarah was a taught as a wire.

“Whatever happens, I thought both of you did a great job,” Jim observed.

“Thanks,” Jordan smiled, but Sarah didn’t look at him. She was staring at the bench with a dazed look in her eyes as if she were reliving some horrible memory.

“Are you all right?” Jim asked.

“Of course.” She turned to him and smiled although he thought it was forced. “I’ve got to make a phone call. I’ll be out in the hall. If the judge comes back, let me know.”

“She’s letting this get to her,” Jordan remarked as Sarah vanished through the courtroom doors. “I’ve never seen her this worried about an outcome.”

“Were you involved when she did the Joey Menendez case?” Jim asked.

“No. Why do you ask?”

“She got a very big crime boss off. No one thought she had a chance in hell of succeeding.”

“And you’re thinking this is like Menendez?”

“Well, it’s certainly a case that looks hopeless on what we have now.”

* * *

Thirty minutes went by before Judge Tomlinson resumed the bench. Sarah had paced in the hallway the entire time, hoping against hope the delay meant a favorable ruling. Jim, who had remained in the courtroom, came to tell her the judge was ready to rule on Alexa’s competency to stand trial.

“Everyone can sit down,” Judge Tomlinson said. “You don’t need to be standing as if the clerk were reading the jury’s verdict.”

Sarah was grateful to feel the chair under her. She was so nervous her legs were shaking.

“Your expert makes out a good case for hospitalizing Mrs. Reed.” The judge’s mild gray eyes met hers. “Whatever the truth is about the night of June 2, she suffered a significant trauma. And being separated from her children certainly has to be a factor in her breakdown.

“I think from a medical/psychological stand point, Dr. Stewart has the better recommendation. But the trouble is, the law isn’t asking what is best for Alexa Reed from a medical/psychological point of view. The law is asking how to make her able to assist in her defense and to understand the proceedings at trial. And from that point of view, Dr. Andrews’ opinion better answers the question. So I’m going to adopt Dr. Andrews’ recommendation and find that there is no less intrusive procedure.”

“Your Honor, I have a request,” Sarah spoke up.

“And that would be Ms. Knight?” His mild demeanor never changed even though it was clear she was going to challenge him.

“I want to take this up to the court of appeal on a writ.”

Again Judge Tomlinson was unphased. “I’m not surprised. You’ve very set against using these drugs on her, aren’t you?”

“She’s on trial for her life. It’s not fair to put her in front of a jury looking like a drugged-up zombie.”

The judge looked over his half-glasses at Percy Andrews, who was sitting next to Preston Baldwin at the prosecution’s table. “Do you agree the drugs will alter her demeanor?”

Sarah expected him to lie through his teeth and deny they would have any effect. To her surprise he didn’t. “I can’t say for sure, but patients on these meds do have a rather flat affect. They don’t seem to feel anything, and they can appear distant and detached. On the other hand, not every one of these medications has that effect on every patient.”

“Okay.” The judge looked back at Sarah. “Here is my ruling, Ms. Knight; and I’m taking into consideration your concerns. I’m going to order the jail psychiatrist to prescribe the appropriate medications for Mrs. Reed. We’ll have another hearing in thirty days to hear from Dr. Andrews to see if, in his opinion, she is competent to stand trial. And I will be happy to hear from Dr. Stewart, too, if you want to bring her back. That is my order.”

* * *

The woman with the beautiful face with the terrible scar and the man with the kind eyes had come to see her. They had been coming for many days, Alexa knew, and she thought there might even be a pattern to their visits. Maybe every other day or every two days. Floating in her protective bubble dissolved time, so she wasn’t sure.

For the last several visits, they had talked about a hearing to decide if the jail could give her drugs to lift the depression, so she could talk to them and stand trial. The woman didn’t want that. She wanted Alexa sent to the psychiatric ward of the state hospital to talk to the doctors about everything that had happened.

“You need to be well before they put you on trial,” she said.

But Alexa had thought, “I will never be well because I’ve lost Meggie and Sam.”

Now they were here again, but the woman’s eyes were even sadder than before. And the man with the kind eyes squeezed her unresponsive hand just a little tighter and looked sad, too.

“We lost, Alexa,” the woman said. “The jail psychiatrist is going to prescribe antidepressant medication for you. Then there will be another hearing to see if you are able to stand trial. I’m so sorry. I wanted to win this one as much as I’ve ever wanted to win anything.”

But Alexa smiled inside because she could not smile outside. God hadn’t let the beautifulwoman win because He had other plans. He knew Alexa hadn’t killed anyone, and He had not forgotten her.

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CHAPTER SIX

Jim stood in the cool late summer night watching Sarah’s white BMW back out of his drive, then went into his kitchen, poured himself a stiff Scotch, and threw himself onto the sofa. You can’t do this to yourself, he thought. You can’t get emotional because she’s sleeping with another man. He hadn’t liked the way she’d dismissed him as “my investigator.”

But I can get emotional, he told himself. In fact, I’m powerless to stop the feelings. It’s exactly the way I felt when I realized Gail was sleeping with Josh after we separated. I hated knowing the woman I wanted was with another man.

He drank some more scotch and frowned at his glass. Wow, I’ve just admitted I want to sleep with Sarah, he thought. I knew she was trouble the first time I saw her at Trend. Well, I know I can’t sleep with her for a trillion reasons, not the least of which is her own rule against sleeping with co-workers. But I want to. That’s the awful part. I want to so much. He could smell the faint trace of her perfume that lingered where she’d sat on the sofa. A flower, he thought, possibly a gardenia. He wanted to know the name of it.

He closed his eyes and pictured Sarah’s slender body in the other man’s arms just as he used to picture Gail with Josh on some of the worst nights early in their separation. What did this David person look like? Was he handsome? Was he younger, older? Sarah had said no younger men, but he thought she’d been joking. Had she told this David character how that scar had come to be on her left cheek? Maybe it wasn’t a car accident. Maybe she’d been mugged at knife point coming home from her office too late in New York to be out alone. She was too fiercely independent; that was for sure.

He was going through his scotch too fast. He’d better slow down. He began to reorganize Alexa Reed’s photographs and put them back into the folder to take his mind off Sarah.

He paused to study a picture of her with her children when they must have been about two and three. The uptight lawyer clothes were gone. She was wearing a simple white t-shirt, outrageously flattering tight jeans, and her hair was wild and free around her shoulders. It was about the color of Gail’s. And she, too, had those blue, blue eyes. How had she slipped from a life devoted to over-achievement into the dark, murky world of homicide? She was obviously an exceptionally bright and clever woman. As much as Jim hated to admit it, there were ways to keep from being found out. Some people did get away with murder. And if anyone would have been good at creating the perfect crime, it would have been someone like Alexa Reed. Bright, capable, meticulous attention to detail. Then why had she been so clumsy? She clearly hadn’t wanted to get caught because that meant the loss of her children. So what had gotten into her the night of June 2?

He stared down at three innocent smiling faces in the picture. They’d had no idea the perfect storm was brewing to separate them. Sarah was so sure they’d lose this case. But she wouldn’t accomplish her goal of spiting Hal Remington if she lost. The Joey Menendez case had looked as lost as this one. They’d been celebrating in the U.S. Attorney’s office even before the jury went out. Sarah had come up with a last minute witness who had lied through his teeth and testified Joey didn’t give orders to the cartel. The guy had been some low-ranking drug dealer with one of those very common Latino names like Alvarez or Sanchez, or something ez. He’d come out of nowhere, and the U.S. Attorney, who had thought he knew everything there was no know about Joey Menendez, had been blindsided. Against all the odds, Sarah had persuaded that jury to believe her lying witness. Funny how she wouldn’t talk about a truly legendary victory. Well, she had worked miracles before; Jim was betting she could work one here.

He put the photo of Alexa and the children back in the folder and polished off his scotch. Tomorrow was Wednesday and then Thursday. Two days before he could see Sarah again. And at least three nights for her to spend with David Scott.

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