Where Nobody Diesby Carolyn Wheat
When her client is murdered, Cass must defend a man she loathes
In the last three months, Cass Jameson has made eleven appearances in Brooklyn family court, helping a secretary named Linda battle her ex-husband, Brad, for custody of their daughter. When the judge rules in Linda’s favor, Brad flies into a rage, screaming threats so violent that a/b>… See more details below
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When her client is murdered, Cass must defend a man she loathes
In the last three months, Cass Jameson has made eleven appearances in Brooklyn family court, helping a secretary named Linda battle her ex-husband, Brad, for custody of their daughter. When the judge rules in Linda’s favor, Brad flies into a rage, screaming threats so violent that a cop is forced to subdue him. It is an incident that Cass would like to forget. But when she comes home one night and sees the police outside the building where both she and Linda live, she knows she never will.
Linda has been murdered in her apartment, stabbed repeatedly and left to die in a pool of blood. The prime suspect is her ex-husband, but Cass doesn’t believe Brad was capable of murder. After months of fighting him in court, she takes Brad on as a client to prove that he was framed—and to ensure that his daughter has one parent left to count on.
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Where Nobody Dies
A Cass Jameson Mystery
By Carolyn Wheat
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1986 Carolyn Wheat
All rights reserved.
The morning sun poured through the window like a blessing, suffusing everything it touched with a golden glow. It reminded me of Sunday services when I was a kid, except that this halo was produced not by Presbyterian stained glass, but by a thick coating of filth. One of the many differences, I reflected, between church and Family Court.
I glanced at my client. She sat primly in her chair, her tiny feet barely touching the floor, her hands folded in her lap, gazing at the judge with the rapt expression of a kid with a crush on the teacher. She was the picture of a child whose parents were fighting for her custody. On closer inspection, the truth emerged. It was the kindly golden sun that softened her hard edges; the deliberate schoolgirl pose masked a profound sexual awareness. Linda Ritchie was the mother.
I didn't like Linda. She was the kind of woman who came alive only around men, who boasted that she had no women friends. Yet I had to respect her. She'd gone from high-school dropout–battered wife to congressman's secretary with no help from anyone, least of all her ex-husband. Now Congressman Lucenti wanted her on his Washington staff, and Brad Ritchie was doing everything possible to stand in her way.
I looked at Brad, sprawled in his chair, his football player's legs wide apart. Strands of dishwater blond hair fell across his forehead. His face was set in its habitual pout. From star high-school athlete, Brad had gone on to screw up his college hopes. He dropped out to marry a pregnant Linda, and the cycle of lost jobs and wife-beating began. If Linda was playing teacher's pet for the judge, then Brad had never outgrown his role of class bad boy, always on the edge of expulsion.
Judge Bettinger interrupted my reveries. "Miss Jameson," he said, "I believe you said earlier that your client is willing to make certain concessions with regard to visitation?"
"Yes, Your Honor," I answered, quickly summoning up my notes. I was bleary-eyed and my reflexes were slow—a side effect of having my client living upstairs from me. I'd been up half the night trying to persuade Linda not to be a ballbuster or she'd risk having to choose between her new job and her daughter. Even now, she was only half convinced.
"My client agrees to visitation one weekend a month," I began, hoping Linda wouldn't say anything to undercut me.
"Big deal," sneered Brad. "Sure, give me one weekend a month when you know I'm out of work. How's Dawnie going to get here from Washington, huh? Answer me that!"
I did. "Mrs. Ritchie," I addressed the judge, "has agreed to pay for Dawn's fare to and from Brooklyn," I said calmly, keeping my eyes fixed on his face and away from Linda. I didn't want to call attention to the glare she was probably giving me; that particular concession had come only after serious arm-twisting at one A.M.
"Mrs. Ritchie also agrees to send Dawn to Brooklyn every other Christmas, Easter, and Thanksgiving," I went on. "Plus she will let Dawn spend every summer with her father ..."
"Sounds very fair to me," the judge murmured.
I suppressed a victory smile. That was precisely the judicial state of mind I'd hoped to engender. Now came the hard part. The one A.M. argument over the plane fare for Dawn's visits had been a piece of cake compared to this one. In all honesty, I'd had to admit to Linda that it was going to be tough to sell the judge on it. Once she'd heard that, she was all for dropping it. Which wouldn't have been bad strategy, except that what we were talking about was the most important thing in her daughter's life.
I took a deep breath, aware of my own tension, heightened by the anxiety I felt radiating from Dawn. "Judge," I began, "the only exception to the summer visitation will be the three weeks Dawn spends at tennis camp. Mr. Ritchie will also be responsible for seeing to it that Dawn gets to all her summer matches."
"Tennis camp?" Judge Bettinger's voice boomed. "Do you seriously mean to tell me, Counselor, that this child is going to some fancy-shmancy tennis camp instead of spending time with her own father?" He snorted his indignation.
I wasn't surprised; everyone in Brooklyn Family Court knew Bettinger for a divorced father who lived for his kids' visits. It wasn't easy representing the mother in his courtroom.
The tension level in the courtroom jumped about ten degrees. I could sense Linda's I-told-you-so; I could feel Dawn's near-panic; I could even sympathize with Brad's ambivalence. He was proud of his daughter's accomplishments, yet at the same time he had to resent the fact that her tennis time would come out of his visitation.
I put on my mental blinders. I couldn't let myself be distracted by anyone else's needs. My whole attention had to be concentrated on the judge, on making him see what I knew—that tennis was Dawn's one talent, the thing that set her apart from other unhappy divorce kids. I found myself wishing I could show him a videotape of Dawn on the court. I'd gone to one of her matches with Linda's sister Marcy, and what I'd seen had taken my breath away. The slight heaviness, the twelve-year-old gawkiness of Dawn's body had disappeared. The Dawn I knew had been transformed into a white-clad sprite, who danced around the net, her racket flashing, her face knotted with concentration yet radiant with joy. It had been thrilling; if Judge Bettinger had seen it, Dawn could have lived at the tennis camp. Instead, my words had to do the job. For a moment, I wondered if they would be enough.
I'd done my homework. I'd dug beneath the surface of the Bettinger everyone knew, and discovered that he'd gone through college on a track scholarship. I played my trump card.
"Judge," I began earnestly, "Dawn has a very special relationship with her father." I tried not to think how Linda was reacting; I hoped at least that she wouldn't make her contempt obvious. "She loves her father very much and has no desire to cheat him out of visitation time." Bettinger nodded his approval. I smiled. We were getting somewhere.
"But," I went on, "Dawn Ritchie is a nationally ranked tennis champion. Her coach thinks she's Wimbledon material. There's a good chance she could win a college scholarship. Her father is the last person in the world who would want to stand in her way. Why not ask him what he thinks?"
It was as big a gamble as I'd ever taken in a courtroom. I had no idea what Brad would say. His obsessive hostility toward his ex-wife definitely carried over to me as her lawyer; he'd made that clear every time I'd seen him. Yet he'd come alive on the football field the way Dawn did on the tennis court. Despite all that had come later, I hoped for Dawn's sake he could remember that feeling.
We were all the way off the Richter scale for tension. Judge Bettinger looked expectantly at Brad. Linda looked smug, waiting for the disaster she'd predicted the night before. Dawn seemed ready to faint; her face was white and she bit her lips convulsively.
Brad shot me a furious glance that gave me a momentary pang of guilt. What I was doing to him was, I knew, unconscionable. It was also necessary for Dawn's happiness, but I didn't expect him to recognize that in this decade. The irony was that he included Linda in his rage, little realizing that she'd fought tooth and nail against Dawn's tennis as a priority. Then Brad looked at Dawn. The anger in his face died, replaced by a tender sadness. As Dawn's tight face relaxed from within, my breath came out in a long sigh of relief.
Brad turned to the judge and nodded. "Okay," he said in a thick voice that sounded as though it was coming through a lump in his throat.
"One more thing," Judge Bettinger said. "I must be certain that this arrangement is in the best interests of the child." He intoned the stock phrase as though he'd invented it on the spot. He turned to Dawn. My eyes followed to where she sat in a posture of unnatural stillness. It was easy to see Brad in her—the height, the broad shoulders, the gold in her light-brown hair, the full lips and slightly heavy legs. Her mother's contribution was more subtle—honey-colored skin, liquid brown eyes, and a way of holding herself. Dawn copied Linda's schoolgirl pose, hands folded, eyes straight ahead. But her hands showed quick-bitten nails, and she chewed her lips until small spots of blood began to appear. Dawn was not the teacher's pet but the shy child in the back of the room who wets her pants because she's afraid to ask permission to leave the room.
She was always like this on court days. Other times, she was just your basic twelve-year-old. Everything in Dawn's world was either "neat" or "yucky." So far, although she never said so, I was afraid the move to Washington fell into the latter category. I was hoping she wouldn't choose this opportunity to express her feelings.
"So," the judge began in a hearty-uncle voice, "you want to be another Billie Jean King?" I winced; even I, tennis ignoramus that I was, knew that younger heroines had supplanted the great pioneer. But Dawn, head down and face beet-red, mumbled, "I'll never be that good."
"But you like the game?" the judge pressed her. "You're not just in it to please Mommy and Daddy?"
Dawn looked up with incredulous eyes. She had fought her mother over her tennis for as long as she could remember; Linda thought it was stupid to spend so much time on a pastime not geared to meeting boys. Brad, the failed athlete, supported his daughter, but from a distance created by circumstances. It was Marcy, Linda's unmarried sister, who paid for the coaching and the camp and saw to it that Dawn got to her matches. Dawn looked up, solemnly assuring the judge that she was not in tennis because of pushing parents.
Judge Bettinger relaxed, gave Dawn what passed with him for a fatherly smile, and said, "Submit order." We had won.
Linda rewarded the judge with a dazzling smile, her tiny even teeth white in her dark face. The sound of chairs slamming behind me was Brad's only response. I thanked the judge and promised to get the order in as soon as possible. Now that the case was over, the adrenaline that had kept me going on four hours' sleep abruptly dissipated. I was bone-tired. I picked up my down coat and my leather briefcase, eager to exchange the dingy, overheated courtroom for the crisp January air.
Linda grabbed her fur jacket and purse, then stood tapping her foot as Dawn struggled with the zipper of the pink ski jacket. Dawn glanced at her mother in mute apology, but her shaking hands refused to grip the zipper and she continued to fumble, making little noises of frustration. Finally, she got it zipped and stood expectantly, like a dog waiting to be walked.
Looking at them together, I was struck forcibly by the contrast. Linda, tiny and trim, dressed meticulously, wearing clothes that fitted perfectly and choosing colors that flattered her dark beauty. Yet the pink of Dawn's ski jacket was all wrong for her honey skin, and she had grown so much in the last year that an inch of wrist showed white against the frayed cuff. I shrugged; it was none of my business, but I found myself hoping that, once in Washington, Linda would give Dawn's wardrobe even a quarter of the attention she lavished on her own.
It must have been my tiredness that put me off guard. I'd actually expected to be able to leave the courthouse and get some lunch without interruption. I should have known Brad wasn't finished.
He walked up to Linda, towering over her. She stood unmoving, looking up at him with a challenge in her eyes, daring him to start something. "Okay, Linda," he said quietly enough, but with an air of menace. "That was round one. You won it on a technicality." He glared at me, then turned his attention back to his ex-wife. "But round two"—he stabbed the air with a thick finger—"that one's gonna be mine. Just wait and see."
"What's that supposed to mean?" Linda's voice managed a weary indifference, but her eyes narrowed with suspicion.
"You gave me no choice in there." He pointed at the closed courtroom. "You put me on the spot. I couldn't say no to Dawnie." His face clouded. "It was a dirty trick," he added, like a kid who'd been cheated at marbles.
I was inclined to agree with him and opened my mouth to say so, when Linda cut in, her voice artificially sweet. "All's fair in love and war, Brad," she said. Brad's hands clenched into fists, and he moved one step closer to his tiny antagonist. I stepped back instinctively, but Linda never moved an inch. "Besides," she added with a toss of her head, "it was for Dawn."
"Don't give me that!" Brad exploded. "You don't care about her. You never did. You only wanted her in the first place because you knew how much it would hurt me. And now"—his voice cracked—"you're taking her away." He turned his head sharply but not before I saw his eyes fill.
I turned toward Dawn. She was as rigid as her mother, but her fingers, still shaking, played uncontrollably with the zipper of her jacket. She was biting her lips, her teeth making little bloody indentations. Linda waited coolly for Brad to compose himself, then said softly, "You'd better get used to it. Dawn's coming to Washington and that's that. There's nothing you can do about it."
"Oh, yeah?" Brad was in control again, his grief transmuted into belligerence. "I can come back into this court tomorrow if I want to and get another judge to modify the order."
I wasn't surprised at Brad's mastery of the jargon. He and Linda had been coming to Family Court regularly since their divorce, each trying to one-up the other on matters of custody, support, and visitation. "You might have to make a lot of trips in from Washington to come to court," Brad taunted. "How will your new boss like that?"
Linda laughed. It was a silver laugh that held no humor. "Is that all you can find to threaten me with?" she asked. "If you think Art's going to fire me—"
"Art?" The name came out like a slap. I'd grown so used to Linda referring to her boss by his first name that I no longer noticed it, but to Brad it had only one meaning. "You're having an affair with him." His face was a mixture of shock and deliberate blankness. I knew him well enough by now to know he was masking a deep hurt.
"Jealous, Brad?" Linda's silver laugh sounded a little tarnished the second time around. Her smile was the same one she used when someone complimented her on a new outfit.
"You think I care who you—" Brad's rough voice stopped just short of the word, after a hasty glance at his daughter. "Just be careful in front of Dawn," he warned, his fist slamming into his open palm. "I don't want her exposed to your filth, Linda. Understand?" The sound reverberated through the hallway. It was, I knew, simply Brad's equivalent to Dawn's playing with her zipper.
Unfortunately, the court officer who'd been watching this exchange didn't see it that way. Stepping quickly between Linda and Brad, he laid a hand on Brad's clenched arm and said, "Calm down, buddy. I don't want no trouble."
It was the worst thing that could have happened. Brad, whose rage had been checked by Dawn's presence, turned on the officer, eyes blazing. "Get your fucking hand off me," he snarled, twisting out of the officer's grip. It may not have been meant as an aggressive move, but Brad had a good eight inches on the court officer, who fell back against a wall. He shouted for help, ripped his handcuffs off his belt, and lunged at Brad.
Brad set his feet apart and spread out his arms, ready for a wrestling match. His breath was coming fast, and he seemed almost glad that things had moved to a physical level. He dared the officer to come at him. I looked around; six officers were about to weigh in on the side of law and order. "Listen, Brad," I began, hoping to avert disaster. But Linda had other ideas. Turning to one of the officers, she murmured, "Just don't let him hit me. He's always trying to hit me."
"Don't worry, lady," the officer answered grimly. "We know how to take care of guys like him. Tough guys who like beating up on women." He jumped into the fray, whirled Brad around, and before he knew what had hit him, Brad was standing in the center of a circle of blue, chained like a baited bear.
"What the fuck—" Brad cried, as puzzled as he was hurt.
"Shut your foul mouth," the officer who had cuffed him yelled, punching him on the arm for good measure.
"Not till I finish talking to my wife," Brad shouted, his face bright red.
"She don't want to talk to you," the officer replied, prodding Brad in the ribs.
Excerpted from Where Nobody Dies by Carolyn Wheat. Copyright © 1986 Carolyn Wheat. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
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