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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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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-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 EIGHT
Percy Andrews kept them waiting on Friday morning. Sarah was not amused.

Jim had met her promptly at nine at Andrews’ sterile glass and chrome office on the eleventh floor of the Ximed Building next to Scripps Hospital. He was way too attractive in a dark suit with a maroon tie, smelling of fresh shaving cream and laundry starch, and Sarah wished that two nights with David had done more to put him out of her mind.

“Looks like the court-appointed expert business must be pretty good,” Jim observed as they sat in Andrews’ glass and chrome waiting room gazing out at North San Diego, stretching flat and brown in the August heat toward the blue Pacific on the horizon.

“Agreed. Nice digs. These guys all practice the black arts for a considerable sum.”

He grinned and his eyes twinkled, and her heart flip flopped like a teen’s. This, she told herself, was not good. The implacable Sarah Knight, toughest defense attorney on Wall Street, had to return at once and banish the dangerous idiot with the school girl crush on the ex-FBI agent.

“I thought defense attorneys swore by hired guns.”

“No, you’ve got that wrong. I’ve met a few psychs with integrity, but not many.”

Percy appeared at the door to summon them to his inner sanctum. As they crossed the waiting room, Sarah heard Jim mutter under his breath, “Why do I think we are about to meet one of the latter?”

Percy Andrews, a thin balding man in his fifties wearing the cliche gray cardigan and baggy brown trousers associated with psychs, led them to his inner office which was cozier than the wasteland of his waiting room. He motioned for Sarah and Jim to sit on the large down sofa in the middle of the room, while he stretched out like a snake on a modern reclining chair opposite.

Did digging your heals into a thick, shaggy brown carpet make a patient want to spill his or her most private secretes Sarah wondered as her Jimmy Choos sank into the deep pile. She noticed a package of Rorschach test cards on his desk, and a sand box in the corner of the room, filled with dozens of tiny plastic people and animals, with sand spilled on the floor all around as if the childish exuberance of play with sand indoors could not be contained. Had Brigman used sand play to lure Alexa’s children in Michael’s direction?

“I’m Sarah Knight, and this is Jim Mitchell, my investigator.”

“I know. Let’s not waste anyone’s time here. I’m going to testify she’s competent to stand trial.”

“What?” Jim nearly lept out of his chair, and Sarah thought he was going to throttle Andrews. She pictured him standing next to Alexa’s cot on Tuesday and tried to extinguish the wave of jealousy.

“I said, I’m going to find her competent.”

Unlike Jim, Sarah had retained her lawyer cool. “On what basis? She’s practically comatose, and she hasn’t spoken a word to me or to Jim. In fact, we don’t know if she can speak.”

“Oh, of course, she can.”

“And she spoke to you when you evaluated her?” Sarah wished she could tell Jim to be silent and let her lead the interview.

“No, she was curled up on the cot, like she was when you visited, I bet.”

“Then how can that be competency to stand trial?” Sarah hoped Jim would take the hint and become the observer he was meant to be.

“Meds. Give her some Lexapro and she’ll be right as rain.”

“But there’s a very strict United States Supreme Court test for ordering medication. And Alexa doesn’t meet it.”

“I don’t give a rat’s ass. She killed my colleague of more than twenty years, and she’s going to die for that.”

“But only after a fair trial in which she understands the nature of the proceedings and can assist in her defense.”

“What defense? Her cell phone puts her in the neighborhood at the time of the murders that were committed with her gun. She hasn’t got a defense, Ms. Knight. Ronald took her children away because she was a crazy lunatic, and she proved him right by killing him and Michael.”

“Obviously you aren’t familiar with the correct legal test.”

“I’m familiar with Sell v. United States. I’ve been a forensic psychologist for twenty-five years.”

“Then you know she doesn’t meet the test. You can’t show that less intrusive procedures such as counseling wouldn’t produce the same results as forcing her to take Lexapro or some other drug.”

“That’s a pile of crap, if you’ll excuse me for being blunt. Look, Alexa Reed is faking incompetency big time. She graduated first in her class from Georgetown Law School. She knows if she becomes a comatose blob, she’ll get sent to the state hospital, which is a lot cushier lifestyle than death row where she belongs. And she knows the state can’t execute her while she’s incompetent. She’s counting on me to say she has to go to Patten for treatment until competency is restored, but I’m not going to play her game and let her live out her life in a medical facility when she belongs on death row.”

“It’s not a game,” Jim spoke up.

“Excuse me?” Andrews raised his eyebrows as if Jim were an intruder without a right to speak.

“I said, she’s not playing a game. She’s mentally ill and unable to communicate to help us provide a defense.”

“Too bad for her, you aren’t the court appointed expert. She killed a close friend, and I’m not going to do her any favors.”

“You mean you are biased and you aren’t going to be fair,” Sarah said.

“Save your name calling for the hearing. It won’t do you any good.”

* * *

They were silent in the chrome elevators as they slipped effortlessly from the eleventh floor to the marble lobby of the XiMed building. When they got out, Sarah led the way to a quiet corner where they could talk undisturbed.

“That was not what I expected,” Jim began.

“I wasn’t surprised after my interviews with Hal Remington and Trevor Martin.”

“In other words, the legal community in this town is massed against her.”

“The criminal bar is, at least. I wonder how Alan Warrick feels about Alexa Reed.”

“Want me to go find out?”

Why did he sound too eager, Sarah asked herself. And why did that irritate her?

“I know Alan personally. Better that I approach him. The only problem is he’s on a three-month sabbatical right now. His wife is an artist, and they are in Paris until early October.”

“Jets take off for Paris every day.”

“He wouldn’t like being tracked down when he’s on a holiday. Besides, we’ll have plenty of time to talk to him when he gets back.”

“So what’s next, boss?”

“I’m going to go ex parte this afternoon and request appointment of a defense expert to evaluate her.”

“Got anyone in mind?”

“Jordan Stewart in L.A. I’ve used her before in cases that I tried in New York. She’s an international expert on battered women’s syndrome.”

“Do you think that’s going to be our defense here?”

“No idea. But Jordan knows her stuff, and she’s one of the few who won’t give an opinion just for the money. If she can’t testify favorably for the defense, she won’t get on the stand and perjure herself. According to Trevor Martin, Alexa told Brigman Michael had abused her, but Brigman refused to believe her.”

“Looks like I’d better do some digging on Michael, then. See if there are any police reports for domestic violence or hospital visits.”

“Would it be terrible if I said I hope you find some?”

“Not at all. What about dinner tonight to talk over what I find?”

“Plans, tonight. Sorry.”

“Wife still in Cabo?”

“Until Monday. We can talk about whatever you find on Michael in my office at nine on Monday morning.”

He tried to conceal his disappointment. “Okay. See you then.”

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CHAPTER SEVEN

The jail was never quiet at night, but it was quieter than in daylight. Alexa Reed shifted on her cot so she could see the single star shining through the tiny window of her cell. She guessed it must be midnight. Everyone seemed to be asleep except for someone crying softly down the hall. Probably a new prisoner. Everyone cried at first until the sheer futility of grief became apparent.

Someone had come to see her today. Or was it yesterday? All the days ran together, and she couldn’t remember which was which. A woman with deep dark eyes and a scar down one cheek. A ragged, unexpected scar in a beautiful face. And she’d had a man with her. Tall, warm hands, and the kindest eyes she’d ever seen. They said they’d come to help her. If anyone could help, they looked as if it might be them. But no one could end the nightmare she was awake in.

If she thought too long about Meggie and Sam, she’d start to cry like the lost soul down the hall. She hadn’t seen them since the third of June. It must be July by now. No, probably more like August. Wrapped in her semi-conscious state, she had lost the ability to speak, so she could not ask what day it was. There were words in her head, but none of them would come into her mouth to be made into sounds. Grief had left her mute, but it didn’t matter. No one had believed anything she’d told them about that awful night. Mute was better than being called a liar.

She wished she could wake up and find herself back in the rented cottage in Pacific Beach with Meggie and Sam. She would have given anything to be following the old routine of supper, bath, bedtime story, prayers, and goodnight kiss. She was glad she’d never taken even a minute of it for granted.

She could see Sam’s chubby little hands playing with the cut-up bits of fish sticks on his Winnie The Pooh plate. He was out of the high chair now and into a booster seat at the table, but he had to stretch just a little to reach his food. He loved to wipe the bits of fish through the ketchup at least twice and then stuff them in his mouth, giggling at Meggie because he knew he was supposed to use his fork. Meggie, who took her older sister status very seriously, alway frowned and reminded him about that fork. Then Sam would look at Alexa and giggle some more because he’d gotten the hoped for rise out of his sister.

Alexa missed bath time, too. Meggie and Sam loved to play with Sam’s shiny black plastic submarine. Sam scooted it across the water, making what he imagined were boat noises even after Alexa reminded him subs ran silently. Meggie, who was endlessly patient and precocious, liked to take the red, green, and yellow baby subs out of the mother ship and line them up on the edge of the tub coming up with new patterns every night.

Alexa didn’t mind if they splashed a little. Michael, who had much stricter rules, was never there to complain. If he was in town, he was at the office until after midnight. But more often he was on the road for weeks at a time. Meggie and Sam never saw him; and they were both a little bit afraid of him. But she shouldn’t think about that.

After the games in the tub and after trying to sing Row, Row, Row, Your Boat as a round, there was always that wonderful moment of lifting each precious little body out of the water, wrapping their chubby pinkness in big fluffy terry towels, and breathing in the smell of gentle soap and baby shampoo. Alexa marveled at each perfect finger and toe as she helped them into pajamas. At six, Meggie could do everything except button her nightgown in the back. But Sam, who was five, would dance naked down the hall to escape clothes altogether if he could.

They shared a room. When it was time for Sam to give up his crib, he’d been frightened unless he could sleep in Meggie’s room. Alexa always sat on Meggie’s bed with the two of them between her to read their bedtime story. Sam’s favorite was Goodnight Moon, but Meggie adored Runaway Bunny. She loved the part where the Baby Bunny asks the Mother Bunny what would happen if he ran away, and the Mother Bunny says she’d come after him. Meggie always asked, “You’d come after us, too, wouldn’t you?”

That was before Michael realized how effectively he could use family court to terrorize them. He had cemented them as a threesome by leaving them alone together. And then he launched his attack to destroy them. The star twinkled down at Alexa, reminding her to stop thinking about Michael and his scorched earth litigation tactics to preserve whatever remnants of sanity she had left. Since the horror of being arrested on June third and the even greater nightmare of the preliminary hearing, she could stay in her semi-conscious state, floating free from everything that surrounded her only if she didn’t think about Michael and Brigman. If those memories crept in, or worse yet if she talked about what they had done, it would bring her crashing back to the horror of being locked in this cell. That’s why she was glad she could no longer speak, and that’s why she was glad she couldn’t talk to the man and the woman who’d come today. Or yesterday. She wasn’t sure.

The man’s eyes haunted her. They were so kind. She hadn’t seen eyes like that since her father died. She’d been just Meggie’s age when her parents went off to church one wet Sunday morning, leaving her with Gramma Beth because Alexa had a sore throat. Her father’s mother lived with them, and she often stayed with Alexa when her parents went out.

Who would have thought a drunk driver would crash into their car at 9:30 on a Sunday morning? Gramma Beth said her parents skipped church that day and went straight to heaven where they became angels looking after her. The childhood fiction was still comforting. The star twinkled down at her, saying, yes, your parents are still watching over you, and now Gramma Beth is with them. You aren’t alone. She liked to think all three were standing right there in the dark cell with her. She hoped they’d come for her soon. People who went into the white tunnel and then returned always said your loved ones were there to help you pass over. Her parents and Gramma Beth would be there when it was time.

She had tried to endure the horrors so that she could get back to Meggie and Sam. She knew what it was like to have your parents vanish. The woman with the scar and the man with the kind eyes had been trying to tell her to hang on a little longer. But she already knew that was useless. Michael had done exactly what he’d threatened to do: he’d made sure she was separated from her children forever.

If she’d had Meggie and Sam with someone like the man with the kind eyes, they’d still be together. The four of them would have been a forever family. She had known Michael was a mistake as soon as she was pregnant with Meggie, but she had thought she could endure for her children. She’d been dangerously wrong.

Her precious star was nearly out of sight. A star was a sign of hope. When she was a child, the priest had always insisted God would never let his people give up hope. She’d believed that through everything Michael had done to her until the day they arrested her for double murder. She closed her eyes and wished she could be ten years old again, sitting with her grandmother in St. Michael’s Episcopal Church, wearing her perfect attendance Sunday school pin and singing the hymns. Sometimes now she sang hymns to herself. Not out loud because she couldn’t speak. But in her head. One was beginning to play over and over now. “Savior, like a shepherd le-ad us.” Alexa had always loved the way “lead” was drawn out by the melody. What was the next line? She couldn’t forget that; chanting hymns to herself kept her floating in her out-of-body world. Ah, here it was. “Much we need thy tender care.” She knew she wouldn’t forget.

Nothing could ever be more precious to her than Meggie and Sam. Since Gramma Beth had died, they were the only people on earth who needed her. The thought of them with Coleman and Myrna Reed was more than she could bear. So she wouldn’t think about it. The star was gone, and it was time to stop thinking about anything.

But thoughts are hard to stop. Another hymn began to sing to her: “When I tread the verge of Jordan, all my anxious fears subside.” You crossed the river Jordan to reach the promised land. Death was now her promised land. Coleman wanted her to die, and she wanted to die, too. But not his way. Not after twenty years in a cell like this one, waiting while the lawyers like the ones who’d come today tried in vain to save her life. Would Justice Moreno still be on the Supreme Court when her last death row appeal came before the justices? Mary Moreno had liked her; she’d warned her not to marry Michael.

But, of course, neither Coleman nor Mary could hear her case if they were still on the Court when the end came for her. More words of the hymn comforted her: “Guide me oh thou great Jehovah, pilgrim through this barren land. I am weak but Thou are mighty.” Alexa was weak, but God wouldn’t let her down. She’d die, but not Coleman Reed’s way. God would find her the dignified exit she deserved because He still loved her. And He loved Meggie and Sam, too. God wouldn’t want them saddled with the stigma of their mother’s execution. No, He’d find a better way out of life for her. She had first thought starving herself was the answer; but the guards threatened to force feed her, so she ate just enough to prevent that and nothing more.

For now, she could only lie on this cot, waiting for the star every night, and praying God would come and get her very soon. He could see she was still the ten-year-old in the perfect attendance Sunday school pin, holding her grandmother’s hand; and she knew He’d answer her prayer. She knew it as surely as she knew she hadn’t killed anyone.
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Last week, Anne Lamonte posted a blog on Facebook explaining her negative opinion of Mother’s Day. Anne is famous among writers for her book Bird by Bird, which reminds us that writing a book, like so many other things in life, is done one word, one sentence, one paragraph at a time. I like most of Anne’s posts, even the ones I don’t agree with. And I enjoyed this one. But she got me thinking. Did I agree with her attack on a day that is more or less sacred because it is devoted to mothers?

Now, Anne’s post is not sour grapes. She is a mother, and she was quick to point out she did not raise her son Sam to celebrate the day. In her view, she would rather have a thank you 365 days of the year in place of just one on a day that is more or less sponsored by Hallmark and See’s Candy. (She is also not a fan of Valentine’s day, either.)

In theory, I agree with her point. And, in addition to my Smile Project (which I wrote about some posts ago), I have my own personal Thank You Project, devoted to random acts of thank you. I believe the world is too full of criticism and not full enough of letting people know what they’ve done right. Hence, I strive to use the words “Thank You” as often as possible. And you get what you give. My children are quick to thank me often. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t nice to have one special day to sit down with them at brunch (which has become our traditional celebration) and enjoy their recognition for my role in their lives. I would miss Mother’s Day if it went away.

Anne also finds the day discriminatory. She reads Mother’s Day as a message to women without children that they are second class citizens. I disagree. I had my children later on in life, after years of not wanting any. And I never, ever drew a negative inference about myself on Mother’s Day during my childless years. Of course I will not deny that for a woman who wants a child and who cannot have one, the day can be painful. But so is every other day when she sees a child and longs for one of her own, yet does not become pregnant. (A dear friend went through this and after giving up entirely found herself pregnant at last!) I don’t think Mother’s Day is a message to the childless, either by choice or by chance, they are less than.

Finally, Anne faults the inevitable commercialism that any holiday that involves gift giving creates. But that, I think, is too simplistic a view of the question. While Hallmark and See’s get their share of business, along with florists, why is it wrong to send a gift on a particular day to a special person? And Mother’s Day gifts do not have to be expensive. I was always happy with the handmade artwork, the $1.99 earrings from Walmart, or the “coupons” for dishwashing and laundry folding. (I never cashed them in, by the way. They live forever in my keepsake box.)

After thinking it over, I do see Anne Lamont’s point. Some aspects of Mother’s Day can be viewed as negative. But that is true of every other holiday I can think of. New Year’s means resolutions no one keeps. Easter is only about candy and stuffed rabbits. Halloween will rot your children’s teeth (and yours, too, if you steal their candy.) Thanksgiving in devoted to gluttony. Christmas is too stressful and commercial. And children’s birthdays are too expensive and pretentious, and your birthday is depressing because you’re getting older. So should we stamp out holidays?

No, of course, not. Nothing is perfect. Holidays are bits of magic interspersed into everyday life. They allow us to believe in magic, even if for only twenty-four hours. I would miss all of them, including Mother’s Day, if they went away.

Family Portrait

Family Portrait

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