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A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about the experience of using Princess Diana as a minor, but important, character in my first novel, Dance For A Dead Princess. Some readers have understood that I wanted to preserve my own view of Diana in the book. She was a beautiful, naive, young woman, looking for love with an older man after an emotionally barren childhood. But instead of creating a family to nurture, as she wanted to do, she was badly used by her husband, who was chronically and openly unfaithful, and she was abused by the institution of monarchy which her marriage was designed to serve. For the trouble she took to produce two princes and two royal heirs, she was later unfairly labeled unfit and unstable by Charles and his supporters in divorce proceedings.

Some readers are put off by Diana’s presence in Dance For A Dead Princess. In their opinion, even mentioning her is somehow exploiting her memory. But that view is very short sighted because if we don’t mention her, we forget her. And forgetting her is exactly what institutional monarchy wants us to do. Charles, who never made a place for Diana in his life, has filled the place that should have been hers with the woman who destroyed Diana’s marriage. And now the party line is to forget about Diana altogether and to criticize anyone who mentions her favorably as exploitive.

I came across this type of criticism recently when I discovered the work of Peter Settelen, a British actor and voice coach. In 1992 and 1993, Diana hired Settelen to help her improve her public speaking. Tapes of her early speeches demonstrate she had little skill as a speaker at the beginning of her career in public life. But after working with Settelen, she improved dramatically.

When Settelen began to work with Diana, he told her she would have to find her own authentic voice if she wanted to excel at public speaking. To that end, he recorded a series of sessions with her in which she described the events of her life. They are charming and candid, and well worth watching. And they reveal the side of Diana that my fictional character, Nicholas Carey, knew and loved and desperately missed as the novel opens.

Settelen has been criticized, of course, for making the tapes public. He had to go to court and fight to get them back after they were found in Paul Burell’s attic. Earlier, Settelen had been told the tapes had been destroyed.

Settelen candidly admits they were meant to be private teaching tools. But, as he also says, Diana did not know she was going to die; and the opportunity to hear the story of her life in her own words is a powerful way preserve her memory. The tapes Diana made with Settelen are well worth a listen. And listening to them explains why my fictional character Nicholas was driven to preserve Diana’s memory at all costs out of loyalty to his greatest friend.

Here is the YouTube link, the Diana Tapes with Peter Settelen.   What do you think of the tapes?  Did Settelen do the right thing to publish them?

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CHAPTER TWENTY-SEVEN

Sarah waited until eight o’clock on Friday night to go to the hospital to see Alexa. She knew Jim would be leaving about then because he called around nine every night when he got home to report on his work for the day and Alexa’s progress. She dreaded talking to her alone, but under the ethical rules that Coleman had disparaged so thoroughly, it was her responsibility to maintain communications with her client. Even if she felt horribly guilty because her client was still alive.

Alexa’s room was dimly lit, and Jim was helping her settle some pillows to keep her head raised because she still had discomfort from the healing wound in her neck. He was wearing his navy sport coat, the one he’d worn that first night at Trend. It made him a stand out in the tall and sexy department, and Sarah resented the way her heart went flip flop when she saw him. The two were absorbed in getting Alexa’s head at just the right angle and in making sure the pitcher of ice chips was close enough for her to reach in the night. The sweet intimacy of the little moment sent Sarah’s stomach churning with resentment.

“I’ll be back at seven thirty in the morning, and I’ll bring you my amazing scrambled egg sandwich.”

Alexa smiled up at him, and Sarah saw what a dangerously charming woman she once had been. Her killer intellect was hidden under a veneer of naive, sweet femininity. No wonder Michael Reed had thought she’d always play the role of long-suffering wife and mother and would never object to any of his affairs.

Suddenly Alexa looked up and saw Sarah. Michael’s eyes followed her startled ones. He said, “You didn’t tell me you were coming by tonight.”

“No, I didn’t,” Sarah agreed but volunteered nothing more.

“Do you want me to stay?”

“No, I’m sure you’ve had a long day.” His look of disappointment cut through her heart. He didn’t want to leave Alexa. And he’d be back early on Saturday morning. Well, they would be good together, Sarah had to admit if she was honest. After all, she could never have had Jim even if Alexa weren’t in the way. Joey Menendez had seen to that. Now she had another reason to save Alexa’s life: for a man who was actually capable of loving her.

“Good night,” Alexa smiled up at Jim, and he squeezed her hand. “See you in the morning.”

He hurried out without making eye contact with Sarah, as she pulled up a chair by Alexa’s bed.

“You’re looking better.”

“Thanks.” Her voice was less raspy but still very low. “Jim brought in a hairdresser, and it really helped.”

“Of course.” Sarah hoped her disappointment in the exemplary way her investigator was doing his job didn’t show. “I hope I haven’t come too late. But it’s been a busy week, and this was my first chance to tell you what’s been going on.”

“That’s fine. I have trouble sleeping, anyway.”

Don’t I know about that, Sarah thought. “Have you been able to remember anything else about that night or about why you went to Dr. Brigman’s?”

She shook her head. “I’ve tried and tried. I know the video shows me there, but it doesn’t make any sense. The only time I ever went to Ronald Brigman’s was to drop the children off for the so-called ‘therapy’ he had ordered to set them up for a change of custody. Meggie and Sam weren’t with me that night, so I had no reason to go to his house.”

“Ok. I understand. But if you do remember anything, even the tiniest detail, you’ll let me or Jim know?”

“Absolutely. I can’t stop thinking about it. But all I can remember is Michael lying on the floor in that pool of blood. Alexa became thoughtful in the soft twilight of the room lit for sleeping. “Honestly, I can’t imagine shooting anyone. I bought the gun because Bob told me to, and I took the introductory class. But I wasn’t any good at it. The recoil made me miss the target every time.”

“Well, there are some facts we might be able to use. The bullets in Brigman and Michael were deliberately placed. If you’re a lousy shot, that tends to rule you out. Do you remember who your firearms instructor was?”

“No, but it’s on the certificate they gave me. At home.” Her face suddenly fell. “You know, I never asked what happened to our things.”

“Your things?”

“After the court made us leave the house Michael and I bought in La Jolla, I rented a cottage in Pacific Beach for me and the children. I was arrested on June 3, so I assume Mary, my landlord, has thrown out our belongings by now and rented to someone else.”

“No, you’ve been amazingly lucky. She’s one of the few people solidly on your side. Everything is just as you left it, waiting for you to come back.”

Alexa’s eyes suddenly filed with tears. Sarah handed her a tissue from the box by the bed. “I had no idea.”

“Yeah, Mary’s on your side. We’re hoping to have you stay at the cottage under house arrest until trial. If I can win the bail hearing.”

“Jim says you are an extraordinary attorney.” Alexa fixed her big blue eyes on Sarah adoringly, and Sarah realized this same gaze must be irresistible to any man on earth.

“Jim exaggerates. I won a big case some years back that law enforcement thought they could never lose, and people have been telling crazy stories ever since. When a prosecutor gets too confident, he gets careless, and the defense can profit. Taking advantage of another’s mistake doesn’t make me extraordinary. It just means I’m doing my job.”

“You said some things happened this week that you wanted to tell me about.”

“Yes. To make a long story short, we were able to get Ronald Brigman’s bank records, but not Michael’s.”

“Let me guess. Coleman sent a squad of his Warrick, Thompson buddies to tell the court Michael’s were covered by attorney client privilege. Bob and I saw this all the time in the family law case.”

“Actually, Coleman had to use some attorneys from King and White. But otherwise, that’s pretty much what happened.”

Alexa brightened slightly. “I wonder why Warrick, Thompson wasn’t involved.”

“Probably because Alan Warrick doesn’t share Coleman’s view of you and this case.”

Alexa brightened even more. “Did Alan tell you that?

“No, Coleman did. Alan is still in Paris with Brenda.”

“Okay, now I get it. Coleman called to offer you a bribe to throw my defense.”

“That’s a shorthand way to explain it. After Tara Jacobs couldn’t protect either Michael’s or Brigman’s financials, Coleman called to pressure me to withdraw my subpoenas. He knew I was going to get Brigman’s records even though he could protect Michael’s. And he didn’t want me to see either one.”

“What did he offer you?”

“A partnership at Warrick, Thompson. But I had already turned that down long before I was appointed to represent you. Alan asked me to join the firm when I came out from New York, but I said no.”

“So what else, then?”

“He offered to send some of his former clients who are now with Warrick, Thompson my way. In short, he offered to make me a rich woman.”

“And you said no? Even though you know you’ll lose my case?”

“I don’t know that I’m going to lose.”

“I’ve been researching Battered Woman’s Syndrome as a defense.”

“Jim told me.”

“It rarely results in acquittal.”

“That’s right. Usually the jury finds voluntary manslaughter or maybe second degree murder. Voluntary manslaughter will get you eleven years; second degree murder is fifteen to life.”

“So you can save me from lethal injection, but you can’t get me back to Meggie and Sam.”

“We don’t know that right now.”

“But being back with my children is a long shot.”

“Right. A long shot.”

Alexa was silent for a while, staring at the blank wall opposite. The she said, “That so typical of Coleman.”

“What is?”

“Offering you a bribe. He thinks money is the reason for living.”

“He’s not alone. I just happen not to agree.”

“Do you think you can learn anything from Dr. Brigman’s bank records?”

“We’re going to try. Of course, if Michael was bribing him, having Michael’s would make it a lot easier to figure that out.”

“I guess Bob told you we suspected Brigman was being bribed.”

“Yeah. He said you lost too many hearings you should have won.”

“That’s true. I went from being an attorney who could write persuasive majority opinions for a United States Supreme Court Justice to an attorney who couldn’t win even one motion in family law court. My self-esteem went to zero.”

“That’s not hard to understand. You were one of the top attorneys in the country, and you felt you should be able to use your skill to save your children.”

Alexa gave her that soft, charming smile. “I was never able to put it into words the way you have; but, of course, you’re right. I wasn’t much of a lawyer if I couldn’t protect my children from Michael and Ronald Brigman. And I couldn’t.”

“Losing in family court wasn’t the mark of your ability as an attorney. You were up against an unfair system.”

“Bob said that. He told me to leave San Diego and not to look back because the court would forever keep me dancing to Michael’s tune. Bob told me to go where the really good attorneys are — the ones who’d appreciate what I do. You did that, didn’t you? You left San Diego and moved to New York?”

“I don’t talk about my life. The past is better left where it is. You may find that to be true one day.”

“Maybe. It’s just I can’t imagine never seeing Meggie and Sam again.” Her eyes filled with tears once more, and Sarah handed her another tissue.

“It might be better for now not to think that way. Just focus on getting through each day.”

Alexa nodded. “You’re right. Thank you for taking this case. I know it hasn’t made you popular.”

“I wasn’t destined to be popular here. I don’t practice law the way they do.”

“You know, you ought to reconsider Alan’s offer. I don’t mean because of Coleman’s influence. I’m sure Alan would want you because you’d be an asset to the firm. You’d like working with Alan and his partners because they play by the rules.”

“I know. But I was with a big firm for a long time, as you probably know. And I could go back to Craig, Lewis in a heartbeat if I picked up the phone and told Hollis Craig I was ready to come back. But that’s not what I want.”

“I understand. I’m lucky to have you.”

“Thanks. Now try to get some sleep. Jim will be around with that egg sandwhich in the morning; and although I’ve never had one of those, I know he is very talented in the kitchen. Should I turn out this light by the bed?”

“Please. But leave the night-light on.”

Sarah noticed a nursery night-light with pink bears plugged in under the window. Alexa looked a little embarrassed.

“I’m afraid I’ve become a child again. I can’t sleep if there is too much dark. Jim brought it too me.”

“Of course.” Sarah’s heart twisted at the kindness in Jim’s gesture for the woman who was might soon be facing death’s eternal darkness.

* * *

It was eleven thirty when Sarah got home. She had stopped at Trend for a drink after she left the hospital because she hadn’t wanted to face her guilt over Alexa alone in her empty house. But sitting at the polished bar, staring out at the dark ocean, had made her feel even worse. She’d kept wishing that by some miracle Jim would walk through the door.

You could call him, she told herself, as she sipped her wine and watched the waves dance under the stars. And if he weren’t otherwise occupied, he’d probably drive up from Pacific Beach and join her. But she knew she wouldn’t feel any better because she would spend their time together thinking about the way he’d settled the pillows behind Alexa’s head, and their smiles of anticipation when he’d said he’d be back in the morning.

She sat in her dark car in her dark garage for a few minutes, summoning her courage to go inside and face the too quiet house where her own thoughts could swarm unchecked. Suddenly she felt tears like pin pricks behind her eyes, so she got out of the car quickly and hurried into the kitchen to self-medicate with more wine before she could actually begin to cry. That was another one of her hard and fast rules. Never look back, and above all, never cry. She poured a large glass of cabernet and took a few quick gulps before going into the bedroom and slipping into her black silk pajamas.

She turned back her bed, settled comfortably against the down pillows, and tried to concentrate on the mystery thriller she was reading. But the picture of Alexa and Jim in the hospital continued to haunt her.

Bob Metcalf was right about Alexa. She was a sweet woman. Sarah thought they would probably have been friends if they’d had jobs at the same law firm. Craig, Lewis always liked to recruit former Supreme Court clerks as associates, and the ones who went the distance with the firm, always became partners. Sarah would have liked having a young associate in her practice who knew constitutional law as deeply as Alexa did. And she was bright and charming; and above all, juries would have warmed up to her. Sarah would have liked mentoring her to partnership in the firm. And without any doubt, Alexa would have become a Craig, Lewis partner. If only she hadn’t thrown away her career and her life by marrying Michael Reed.

“It’s your job to get her life back for her,” the Universe reminder her in the too-quiet house.

“I know. But I’ve already told you, I don’t want that job.”

“Too bad because it’s yours.”

“But I want off this hook.”

“Want away, but you have to come through for her. You know that.”

Suddenly her phone began to ring. The clock said midnight, and her heart began to flip flop like a teenaged girl’s, hoping Jim was calling.

“Hey, babe!” David Scott. Her heart stopped dancing and became as still as stone. “You stood me up tonight.”

“No, I didn’t. It’s over.”

“Like I said, it’s not over until I say it’s over.”

“I don’t have time for this. I’m trying to save a woman’s life.”

“And that just happens to include sleeping with your investigator?”

“I’m not sleeping with anyone. But if I were, it would not be your business.”

“Wrong again. It is my business, and I’ve got my man watching you right now. You’re lying to me about that investigator.”

Sarah shivered. “I’m going to get a restraining order for you and anyone connected to you first thing Monday morning.”

David laughed. “Please do. You know those orders aren’t worth the paper they’re printed on.”

And that was only too true.

“Don’t cross me any more, Sarah. You don’t want to get hurt. And no one would ever know I’m responsible. I’ve done it before, and I can do it again. Why do you think Tessa stays in line so nicely?”

Sarah shivered again but said firmly, “Good night.”

A wave of raw terror washed over her as soon as she put down the phone. She crept through the silent house and peeked through the blinds in the front hall without opening them. Some sort of generic white car was parked in front of her neighbor’s house. It hadn’t been there when she’d come home.

She stood in the hall trembling and considering what to do. One part of her wanted to call Jim, but yet another part of her knew she should not to become dependant upon him. She had always fought her battles alone; nothing had changed in that department. She moved silently down the hall and into her bedroom. She decided not to turn out the light because she didn’t want whoever was in the white car to think she was going to sleep. She picked up her phone and dialed the San Diego police.”

“911, what’s your emergency?”

“I live in La Jolla Shores and there’s a suspicious car that’s been parked in front of my neighbor’s house for over an hour. My neighbor isn’t home, and I think they’re casing the place for a burglary.”

“Ok, ma’am. We’ll get right on it.”

And ten minutes later, Sarah smiled as she watched the police shine a bright light into the private investigator’s car. Ten minutes after that, he was gone.

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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 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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The self-growth community, which likes to clutter my inbox with fantastic offers for $10,000 worth of free life changing bonuses if only I will divulge my e-mail, vociferously insists we must all LET GO of the Past. I sometimes wonder if the induction ceremony for an authentic, card carrying self-growth guru is to have his or her memory wiped like a malfunctioning hard drive.

Personally, I would miss my Past. Not all of it, you understand. But even the terrible, terrorizing moments taught me things that, having sweated blood and endured raw fear to learn, I would not want to forget. And aren’t we doomed to repeat the Past until we finally learn what It is trying to teach us?

The thing is, what would artists make their art out of if they didn’t have their Pasts? Sylvia Plath, without her miserable, doomed love-affair with Ted Hughes, would never have become a Great Poet. Ditto for W.B. Yeats who made a highly successful poetic career out of mourning his loss of the ever elusive Maude Gonne. And then there is the mysterious woman of Shakespeare’s sonnets. No lost love, no great sonnets. Thank goodness for the rest of us Plath, Yeats, and Shakespeare lived before the onslaught of self-growth emails insisting you can’t be Anybody until you LET Go of the Past.

And in my case, wiping my personal hard drive would be a rather long affair, since I have memories back to a very, very early age. Now, I am not one of those people who can cite chapter and verse every day of every week of my life. (I think that much recall would be boring.) But let’s just say I have some vivid and accurate recollections of certain major events before age three. And I’d miss them like I’d miss an arm or a leg if they vanished.

On the other hand, Too Much Past is the equivalent of those hoarding reality TV shows that I never watch. You know the ones, where some poor soul stills owns every McDonald’s wrapper and styrofoam Big Mac container that ever came into his or her life? The literary equivalent is poor Miss Havisham in Great Expectations.

I began to meditate upon the proper balance for The Past in my life this weekend when I finally rebelled against another Saturday and Sunday spent writing unbrief briefs and invited the sky to fall if it wanted to because I was LEAVING MY COMPUTER for the weekend. Something about rebelling against the lawyer’s code which says “real men work weekends” (note, I know I’m not a man and maybe I’m not real), always brings out the Tidy Up, Throw It Out impulse in me.

After tackling my guest room, which needed considerable tidying and spiffing, my eyes lit upon my garage floor, covered in boxes of files in pending, but not currently active cases, which were supposed to go to offsite storage weeks ago. My MiniCooper had been complaining that His garage was too full of things besides Himself. And he was right. So after bribing my Stronger-Than-Me son to move the boxes, I suddenly spied a shelf filled with old calenders dating back ten years.

When I retired from law practice and became full-time Mommy in 1986, I used to order those calenders from the Smithsonian and National Geographic that came as little coil bound books, week on one side, breathtaking photo on the other. I scribbled things like pediatrician appointments, play dates, and my few-and-far-between babysitter relief afternoons in them. But mostly I loved the ever changing artwork.

But then, the divorce settled like ash from Vesuvius over our world. My beautiful little calendars became part of my family law attorney’s files – alibis to prove what I’d been up to for the last eight years. And I had to once again put on the great grey mantle of law practice. In place of my lithe little photographic calendars, I had to order those big clunky green-striped DayTimers, six inches thick, which arrived each year with their own grey coffin of a box to store them in. Forever, apparently.

Then on Saturday afternoon I looked at those boxes as they sat on my garage shelf, neatly labeled like Old Father Time with the year of his reign on the spine, and I asked myself when was the last time I’d opened any of them. Answer: on December 31 of the year they had passed into oblivion. In fact, all the briefs’ due dates they had chronicled were long past. The cases were closed out, and I could barely remember the clients’ names. Here was my chance, I realized, to throw out a cumbersome Past that really was THE PAST. Here was a hard drive that had long needed wiping. Joyfully I seized each and every one and gleefully threw them away.

Green-Lined Day Timer

Green-Lined Day Timer

They come with their own coffins

They come with their own coffins

Smthsonian Engagement Calendar

Smthsonian Engagement Calendar

Smithsonian Calendar

Smithsonian Calendar

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He died forty-two years ago in Quang Tin Province, South Vietnam on July 11, 1971. He, and his six crew mates, were mortally injured when their booby trapped helicopter blew up on the runway on June 16, 1971.

Army helicopters in Vietnam

Army helicopters in Vietnam

He was twenty-three years old, one year short of the age my oldest son turned on Saturday. His mother made it to the Army hospital in Vietnam in time to say good bye. Since the day my first son was born, I have been forever haunted by what Mrs. Workman must have felt on that military transport as she flew across the world to her dying son.

His eyes weren’t good enough to pilot the Army helicopters he dreamed of, but U.S. Army First Lieutenant Lance Davis Workman still made the flight crew. He never married. He didn’t have time.

Lance Davis Workman

Lance Davis Workman

Lance was slightly ahead of me in high school. He was one of the “cool kids” while I was a high school band geek. I only knew of him, really, because he left City High just as I was entering.

But in college, I dated a number of his fraternity brothers. I guess to him I was the “cute” freshman who hung out with the pledges. The Greek life for us was not the modern-day drunken brawls that make the news. The majority of us still lived with our parents in order to afford college. So hanging out at the fraternity house was a way to connect with friends. Lance wasn’t there a lot. He had been ROTC in high school, and he was ROTC in college. He wanted only one thing: to fly those helicopters in Vietnam.

Tennessee earned its nickname “The Volunteer State” during the war of 1812 when Tennessee volunteers, serving under Gen. Andrew Jackson, displayed marked valor in the Battle of New Orleans. They had already been fighting Indians under “Old Hickory” so they moseyed on down the Mississippi to fight the British. Later, some of them would join Tennesseans Sam Houston and Davy Crockett at the Alamo. Tennessee also supplied more soldiers for the Confederate Army than any other state, and more soldiers for the Union Army than any other Southern state. In short, Tennesseans are not afraid to fight. And Lance was a Tennessean.

The Vietnam War is a difficult subject. Later, after Lance had died and I knew more about how he and others like him were dying in vain a world away and after I had seen my generation turn guns on itself at Kent State, I would come to have strong feelings about ending that war. But my only feeling in the hot summer of 1971 was grief for the first of my friends to die. In fact, we were all so committed to the war at the time that when the only peacenik on campus tried to organize a protest by offering free doughnuts, no one showed up to eat a single Krispy Kreme. Not one.

Lance was laid to rest at Chattanooga Memorial Park on July 17, 1971, at 10 a.m. It was a hot, sunny Southern summer day. We all stood under the pines on the side of that impossibly perfect green hill to say goodbye with the old blue Appalachians looking down at us. The Army honor guard came from Fort McPherson, Georgia, to carry his flag-covered coffin. I cried when the bugler played taps, and they folded the flag, and presented it to Lance’s mother and father.

Chattanooga Memorial Park

Chattanooga Memorial Park

We know so little about how long our lives will be. I have had forty-two years since that hot July day. I’ve raised three souls entrusted into my care and have told them the stories of Lance and the others who had so little time. Southerners always honor the dead by telling their stories. What none of us knew on the morning of July 17, 1971, as the sharp July sun beat down on our tears, was that by September, we would all assemble again, just a few yards away to say goodby to Lance’s close friend Cissy, who, at barely twenty-one, would die of a blood clot from the early birth control bills. And within two more years, I would be standing under the same pines, burying my father, who didn’t quite make sixty-three.

My last memory of Lance, however, is not of his coffin under the flag surrounded by the honor guard. No. My last memory of Lance is seeing him dance at probably the last fraternity party he went to before he entered the Army. It was a Western-themed party, and he was wearing a kid’s cowboy hat and cap pistols in a plastic holster. He was dancing and laughing and was probably slightly drunk because we had a big keg that night. He was having the time of his life. That is the memory I will always have of him.

Lance's red hat

Lance’s red hat

He is a true American hero and today is his day and the day of all like him who have died for us. I wish we had been real friends, Lance; but I admire you and cherish your memory.

You can find LANCE DAVIS WORKMAN honored on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial on Panel 3W, Row 106.

The Vietnam Memorial

The Vietnam Memorial

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