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P R O L O G U E
The girl heard herself scream.
Oh, God, don't let them do it!
Her words were only in her mind. Her mouth was open, but only sputtering gasps came out, issuing an awful ak ak ak sound.
Her eyes felt puffy, raw. Where was she?
A bed. She was in a bed. Hers.
She put a hand on her stomach.
Don't let them!
Hand on stomach and head spinning. Warm sweat on her face. She had been sleeping.
And she knew she'd had the nightmare again, the same one, the one where they were dressed in black. Not white smocks. Black robes. They had her tied down on the cold, hard ground. Her wrists, in the dream, were fastened to stakes. She could not move. One of the robed ones laughed at her.
It always seemed like an image from a horror film, one of those devil movies where the devil actually comes to life.
Life. That was what she'd had inside her. A life, a baby. She knew that now. They hadn't told her. In the dream she had seen
But in that second the hurt inside took over and she remembered the dreams and knew this was the only way.
Once she looked back and thought she saw something, a scary something. The people in black robes. Only this time there were hundreds of them and they were running behind her, almost pushing her. She thought she heard them whispering in unison, do it, do it, do it.
She would do it. She reached the bridge and saw it outlined against the moon. She could hear the rush of the river below, deep in the gorge, sloshing over sharp rocks. When she started over the bridge, the waters sounded like they were singing.
Singing . . .
No, it was voices singing. Real voices. Somewhere close. There was a campground on the other side of thebridge. That meant people.
She stopped for a moment. What were they singing? Something about . . . Jesus. A church camp maybe? A bunch of kids singing church songs. She'd done that once, a long time ago, before Mama stopped going to church. She had once sung songs about Jesus. No more. Jesus hated her.
She thought of God then, and wondered why God hadn't stopped them from doing it, hadn't stopped her from letting them. If God was real he would reach down right now and make it all better, bring her baby back.
God should have stopped it before it happened. He gave the laws, didn't he? She thought about the law that was supposed to protect her. Wasn't that why they'd made her sign the paper? She didn't understand it, but they said to sign it, so she did. They said it was the law, and the law was good and it would protect her.
And if the law didn't protect her, and God didn't, nothing else would either. She moved to the middle of the bridge.
There was a narrow strip of asphalt road across the bridge with small steel rails on either side. She'd be able to hop it, no trouble.
The singing got louder. They were praising Jesus. He hadn't reached down to help her either, any more than God had.
She hesitated. One second between life and death. It wouldn't be so bad. And then she wouldn't have the dreams anymore, and everybody'd be sorry, and they'd know they killed her and her baby, and they'd cry. All of them.
She thought she heard something. Someone coming. A voice said, "Hey . . ."
She jumped up on the rail.
We are very quiet on the Supreme Court, but it is the quiet of a storm center.
JUSTICE OLIVER WENDELL HOLMES
C H A P T E R O N E 1
Millicent Mannings Hollander could not stop looking at evil.
She sat, along with her eight colleagues, on the raised dais facing the marble frieze over the main entrance to the United States Supreme Court. The frieze depicted the forces of evil - deceit and corruption - overcome by good: security, charity, and peace. The scene was dominated by the triumphant figure of justice, an enduring testament to the greatest virtue of the law.
As a ten-year veteran of the Court, Millie Hollander had seen that artwork hundreds of times. Why should it jump out at her now? Was it simple judicial fatigue? Though in relatively good shape at fifty-two (she liked to shoot hoops in the Supreme Court gym), every term was a challenge.
Work on the Court was a day in, day out cavalcade of cases, court petitions, emergency appeals, oral arguments, conferences, analyses, and draft opinions. The same held true even for the three hundred other employees of the Court - everyone from the private police to the cafeteria cooks - who did not don the robes.
Though she loved everything about the Court, by mid-June Millie was ready for the recess, the summer break that lasted until Labor Day.
But mere weariness wasn't behind this perception - this sensation - of evil. She'd been tired before. No, there was a feeling of something deeper, something out there.
She blinked a couple of times and then thought it might just be the lawyer at the podium. Not that lawyers were evil (though some might be inclined to disagree with her there) but he was phrasing his argument in apocalyptic terms. "The matter is not simply what is right for this student," he had just said, "but for all the future students who must decide if life has any meaning at all."
Millie Hollander, in all her time as an associate justice of the Court, had rarely heard an advocate cast so wide a net. Got to admire his ambition, Millie thought, if not his grasp of the Establishment Clause.
"What business is it of the public schools to teach anything about the meaning of life?" Thomas Riley thundered at the lawyer.
Millie had to smile. How many times had she heard that voice, now eighty-four years young, plow right into the heart of an issue?
As the lawyer for the high school student stammered a reply, Millie once again found her gaze pulled, almost magnetically, to the frieze and the rendition of evil. There seemed to be something new about it, though that was absurd. Her legal mind clicked a notch and informed her that there couldn't be anything new about artwork that had been in place nearly seventy years.
"Public schools have some sort of mandate to prepare students for life, don't they?" Justice Byrne asked the lawyer. Raymond Byrne was the Court's most conservative member - the polar opposite of Tom Riley - and often asked soft followup questions after Riley had skewered some hapless lawyer.
Millie knew it was all part of the dance. The two most extreme justices were really trying to pull the middle three swing votes - herself, Valarde, and Parsons - to their side of the fence. Millie almost always came out on Riley's side. Thus her label as a moderate liberal in the popular press.
And on this issue, the role of religion in schools, Millie had long made her position clear - no role. Strict separation of church and state.
". . . so yes, Your Honor," the lawyer for the student said, "we must allow the free discussion of the most important issue in any student's life, as - "
"But, Counsel," Millie said, "isn't the Establishment Clause's very purpose to prevent any governmental stance on a religious issue?"
The lawyer cleared his throat. "I believe, Your Honor, that to allow discussion is not really a 'stance' on a religious issue, it is a - "
"But it's happening on school grounds, isn't it?"
"Yes, it - "
"And students are compelled to be there by law, aren't they?"
"That's true, Your Honor, but - "
"Then what you are arguing for is tantamount to legal coercion, is it not?"
"I don't believe it is," the lawyer said, his voice warbling a bit. Millie was about to tell him that the only thing that mattered was what the Constitution declared, but let it go. The man had suffered enough.
Ten minutes later, Chief Justice Pavel announced the adjournment of the Court for the last time this term. The nine justices rose to make their magisterial exit through the burgundy velvet curtains behind the bench.
Just before she did, Millie took one more look at the frieze. There was that sense again, of something from the evil side moving toward her. That was enough. She told herself to get a very serious grip.
Then she looked down from the frieze to the packed gallery, and immediately locked eyes with someone in the back row.
The eyes belonged to a United States senator, one the New York Times had recently named the most powerful politician of the last twenty-five years. And Senator Samuel T. Levering, D-Oklahoma, was giving Justice Millicent Mannings Hollander a very enthusiastic thumbs-up sign.
Not something she usually got from politicians. But she knew this was no ordinary time. In two hours she would be meeting with Levering, at his request. She also knew he was probably going to offer her the dream of a lifetime.
What People are Saying About This
In this legal thriller for the evangelical Christian market, former trial lawyer turnednovelist Bell imagines what would happen if a prochoice, atheistic Supreme Court Justice suddenly became a born-again believer. A near brush with death and the sudden loss of her mother leaves 52-year-old liberal Justice Millicent 'Millie' Hollander pondering eternity and considering faith. When she becomes chief justice, Millie discovers that the belief she has embraced excites a firestorm of confusion and anger from her former supporters. A case involving a separation of religion and state opens up a huge rift in the Court, and the media soon turns the whole affair into a three-ring circus. Alarmed about Millie's potentially conservative positions, the president and stereotypically hard-drinking, womanizing Sen. Sam Levering plot her impeachment and possibly her death. A weak subplot concerns a teen's abortion and subsequent lawsuit against the clinic where it was performed, which rather unconvincingly intersects with Millie's story toward the close of the novel. Portions of the plot aren't completely freshAngela Elwell Hunt's recent The Justice ably tackled the same general topic for the same audience. But Bell's take on the idea of a Supreme Court justice making a religious about-face offers some unique spins, including a curveball plot development that will blindside most readers. Laudably, most characters are multidimensional, and even the senator's evil troubleshooter, Anne Deveraux, becomes worthy of pity. Evangelical prolife fiction aficionados should appreciate this addition to the CBA thriller genre. (Oct.) Publisher's Weekly
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I have come to be a fan of James Scott Bell. His books keep the reader wondering when the next shoe will drop. This book fit the bill. I only wish that the ending didn't leave you wondering what happens with the characters. It screams sequel!
This book intrigued me with its plot. I did think it fell short a little about 3/4 of the way through, but still was surprised at a couple of things that happened at the end.