For state prosecutor Bradlee Aames, psychosis is a fact of life, a waking nightmare from which modern medicine’s soulless jargon and mind-numbing meds have offered little relief. Bradlee stays focused by winning trial after trial, even while she’s self-medicating with booze, dope, and midnight surfing sessions at a classic LA point break. But when a thick fog of delusions engulfs her, she blows a case, and her reputation and competence are called into question. To rehabilitate her career, her boss gives her an easy assignment: Dr. Don, a popular TV shrink and former state Medical Board expert, now stands accused of sexually exploiting a vulnerable female patient, yet the broken woman won’t testify. If Bradlee can settle the matter quietly, the board, avoiding further embarrassment, will be pleased. But Bradlee Aames doesn’t do things the easy waynot when a predator like Dr. Don is primed to debase more helpless women.
Illusive LA is the gritty, sun-blasted setting for He Said, She Said, a thrilling story of trust, betrayal, truth, and deception. Told from multiple perspectives, it affords the reader a front-row seat to a tense legal battle while exploring the many human consequences of power and corruption.
Skyhorse Publishing, as well as our Arcade, Yucca, and Good Books imprints, are proud to publish a broad range of books for readers interested in fictionnovels, novellas, political and medical thrillers, comedy, satire, historical fiction, romance, erotic and love stories, mystery, classic literature, folklore and mythology, literary classics including Shakespeare, Dumas, Wilde, Cather, and much more. While not every title we publish becomes a New York Times bestseller or a national bestseller, we are committed to books on subjects that are sometimes overlooked and to authors whose work might not otherwise find a home.
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About the Author
John DeCure was a deputy trial counsel with the State Bar of California from 1993 to 1998. He is the author of Bluebird Rising and Reef Dance. He Said, She Said is his third book. He lives and surfs in Los Angeles, California, where he was born and raised.
Read an Excerpt
He Said She Said
By John DeCure
Skyhorse PublishingCopyright © 2016 John DeCure
All rights reserved.
Bradlee Aames, Esquire, Deputy Attorney General
My life is an endless, all-consuming struggle with perception. Morning light fills my bedroom window because while I slept, the earth rotated away from the sun — okay, none of which I actually witnessed firsthand; but like any sane, otherwise rational person, I can accept this as true and ... hence, I begin my day counting on a reality not seen, but known. Good start. But later, on the drive in to the office, my windshield becomes a sky portal, a poet's looking glass through which I spy a bank of shadows and chalk-blue autumn clouds rolling over downtown LA, hiding in plain sight as slowly, secretly, whispering — I can hear their rumbles — they organize themselves, carving arcs with godly precision as they overlap and interlock, lashing and intertwining and braiding into a mammoth atmospheric rope that, with an almighty whip-crack, threatens to lasso a skyscraper — but then, no. Stop it, girl, stop it, sideways tilting brain. Straighten up in your seat. Change lanes. Chew your lower lip. Anything. Snap out of it. The tears, they track roadways of fear and joy and exhaustion down my cheeks, and as I drive my LA drive with a million other silent, bereaved commuters, I forgo the urge to wipe my face in shame, instead letting the wet streaks set in, preserving the evidence of an event not real but experienced, and endured, just the same.
Evidence of the real — I need only describe my commute to work and you'd never guess that evidence is my professional métier. In my line of work, preserving evidence is a necessity and at times, an art. In so doing, a clear head and a good shit detector go hand-in-hand. My problem is that the latter is predicated on the former, and at times my twisted brain, like a cheating lover, will deceive me, crush my spirit, stunt my bearing, leave me doubting myself, a legal best-guesstimator tapdancing along the edge of ruin. Or some other self-important bullshit. I could write a bad country music song about getting hit by a train, but no. Instead I'll tell you about what I do. I deal.
I'm a prosecutor for the California Department of Justice, the Office of the Attorney General to be precise. In this state the AG is the top law enforcement officer, an elected official charged with enforcing the laws and protecting the public. A noble cause unfortunately intertwined with political realities such as pleasing the support base, image enhancement, and future career planning. My top boss, whom I won't describe here, is a politician. That's all the high-end job description you need. Typically, the AG wouldn't even know that a line deputy like me existed, unless I got a big case and blew it. In my storied legal career as a state employee, I've yet to reach that still very reachable milestone.
Most people would say I don't quite look the part. Women think I'm scary, and because nothing short of dynamite can move a woman off a preconceived judgment, I don't much give a rip what they think. I'm a tall girl at five ten, with long legs and a taut, angular form with which to torture men, if that's what I want to do. But usually I don't. The oddly intrigued male who comes face-to-face with me sees a pair of black eyes that glitter like distant stars as they untangle the latest jumble of disparate thoughts and images; a pile of fine, straight black hair that in sunlight, shines metallic; a thin, small nose; lips tight with a born critic's unimpressed perusal, though the mouth tends to crack open with inward-pointing curiosity; and a full complement of wet-black painted nails, their edges rounded by repeated taste-testing — this who-dat? girl ready to rock and roll or die trying. Or maybe just die. By now, it dawns on the locked-in guy that whatever he was initially feeling in his pants has either died or left the building, and perhaps he should follow via the easiest route. This one? Why wouldn't a guy want to nail her? But then, there's a certain subliminal risk-factor assessment going on that's ... inconclusive, 'cause, Jesus, she's got it going on, but damn, she's killing the killer instinct, making it too complicated to put a man's-man, Type A, sexually dominant move on her. Screw it: this one is too dark, too racy, too intimidating.
So, screw them right back.
I prefer being alone ... to ride bareback on rainbows and field impassioned complaints from bridges that haven't slept in years. It's easier to occupy my distorted world without a blandly lustful man looking over my shoulder, puzzling at the gargantuan indifferent nothing-to-say-or-do moment, as I stare back through the silent fire of hyperreality.
Not that I'm complaining. As I said, I deal.
The great leveler in my life is the concrete, analytic, nuts-and-bolts practice of law. My life's work is performed in the service of the sacred triumvirate of facts, law, and evidence. But it's not all deadlines and dry pragmatism; the subject matter of my cases is endlessly interesting.
My job as a deputy attorney general is to go after bad doctors, of whom there are no shortage these days. I prosecute wayward physicians on behalf of the Medical Board of California, the regulatory agency that grants doctors licenses and can also take them away. Some of the MDs I chase down in court will land on probation or be suspended from practice for a time; others are forcibly evaluated for mental and physical competency. The worst of them tend to be axed from the profession altogether. Occasionally they go to jail, and in such cases, I'll follow the matter over to the criminal courthouse to ensure the judge there knows how the medical board feels and the DA doesn't get lost in the factual details, because medical cases can get very factual and very detailed in a hurry. But that's typically not my direct order of business.
My work centers on public protection. I apply the laws of the State of California to stop the incompetent surgeon who performs only the first step of a complicated three-part procedure, because step one was the only part he was trained for twenty years ago when the surgery was a new thing; the ER doc who fails to take a wheezing fat man's family medical history or put him on a treadmill, sending him home instead to wait in isolation for the acute myocardial infarction — that is, the heart attack — that will kill him; the hoary old family practitioner that, refusing to hang it up despite his failing vision, one day confuses 10 a.m. patient Bob's chart with 10:45 a.m. patient Bob's records and prescribes a contraindicated medication to 10 a.m. Bob that stops his breathing, rendering him brain-dead in just under five minutes.
I prosecute bad psychiatrists, too, mostly shrinks who screw their patients. Not by the usual overcharging or distribution of ill advice; I mean the male shrink who literally screws his female Tuesday three o'clock in a cheesy motel on Ventura Boulevard or in a honeymoon suite at the Ritz Carlton on the Marina or in a two-dollar movie matinee on Melrose — so vigorously in that sad case that the projectionist dimmers up the house lights to have a better look. The last shrink I took out did the deed right there in his office atop a polished maple desk crammed with family photos, Dad's and the kids' frozen faces looking on as he put it to his patient, and them, at the same damn time. He finished the job by doing the patient's insurance plan, billing extra for critical-care "intervention services." No conscience, no shame, no soul. Took that rat bastard down, but with the wreckage strewn about, my victory felt as empty as cleanup duty. So what? He was gone and the public was a teeny bit safer. I took the win for what it was: a win. Moved right on to the next rat bastard.
Of course, the act itself is the primary focus of any sexual misconduct case because the breach of patient trust is so profound, it can, and often does, destroy the victim. But in terms of how I'll go about proving up the facts, location means a lot. Every psychiatrist knows that to admit to banging a patient is to kiss his career good-bye, because a license revocation will surely result. So he lies, denies, obscures, misdirects, and obfuscates. If the only other evidence I have to offer is the victim's retelling of the shrink's abuse, the result is a standoff. He said, she said. And that's not enough to meet my high burden of proof, which consists of clear and convincing evidence in these cases.
I need corroboration to support the victim's story. That projectionist who got a prurient eyeful during the matinee. The receptionist who heard moaning and humping noises through the door, and saw the patient stagger out of the office later with a tear in her skirt, a bra strap peeking out of her purse — and a gauge mark deep within her beating heart. A motel clerk with a good memory for faces when it comes to patrons who use movie-star aliases and pay cash for their rooms.
Whatever it takes to get to the truth.
Which is a serious challenge because sometimes patients lie. Unhappy, narcissistic, delusional, obsessive patients willing to ruin a caring professional's career just to draw attention to themselves. Those cases tend to include a victim's story rife with factual inconsistencies and bereft of solid corroboration; in other words, they just don't pass the whiff test. It's tough any time for me to walk away from such serious allegations, but bullshit never passes for real evidence, and the impossibility of meeting that high burden of proof makes the decision to close out a file a bit easier.
You can see by now why I need to have that shit detector working all the time — and imagine how, if I don't, I might land myself in a world of trouble. This is precisely what happened in the case I'm going to tell you about, but I don't want to get too far ahead of myself here. You need to know why my head wasn't on straight before I got the case.
In a word: heredity. I mean, just for starters, what kind of crazy parents would name their daughter Bradlee?
It's true: people assume I did something wrong to be a girl named after a guy, since, as you know, the sound of Bradlee rolling off the tongue doesn't exactly leave one swimming in visions of feminine enchantment. They presume I was a bad seed, undesirable. I get that; I used to think that way too, skinny and spider-limbed-freaky in front of the bathroom mirror. But in time I realized that my only sin was to come along when I did to the people I was born to, and compared to my other well-documented deviations, that one just doesn't rate. Bradlee Aames is who I am, and like most of life's great mishaps, you can blame that one on God.
Or maybe partly on my father, John Marshall Aames, a gray-suited, stand-up federal government lawyer, a career United States Department of Justice guy who'd always wanted a son to follow in his footsteps, and wouldn't you know, he'd already picked out the perfect name which, in his view, would deftly set the bearings on his boy's moral compass. But Jack Aames was no tight-ass; despite his veteran status, he protested Vietnam when the body bags and lame rationales piled up, and his law-and-order professional orientation never quelled his interest in Tolstoy, Nietzsche, Sartre, Kerouac, and Ginsberg. In a way he enjoyed the best of both worlds — the straitlaced and the antiestablishment — as a federal prosecutor who found his niche prosecuting civil rights violators. His work made him a friend to Berkeley free-speech advocates and scabs assaulted by Teamsters, and an enemy to any cop who tried to play back-alley judge, jury, and executioner. To try emotionally loaded cases like that, you've got to truly walk the walk, especially in front of a jury box full of strangers. Having read all of the published legal decisions in which he was counsel of record, I can tell you he did. My father won every last one of those cases.
I was a child when he died, and by now, my memories of him are shifty and full of blind spots, yet there are times when I can smell the cigar in his worsted suit coat, can still hear the roar of the troll beneath the bridge during our bedtime reading. As for my name, the historical explanation is simple. During Watergate, the Washington Post's editor, Ben Bradlee, had run all those infamous Woodward and Bernstein pieces without bowing before the great machine of government, taking an epic stand against an immense, immovable power my father knew oh so well. Had I been a boy, my name would be Ben. Too bad ...
At least, this was how my mother recalled it going down. Not so long ago, when she was slowly fading out in a nursing home, she'd clutch at my sleeve and tell me all sorts of things I never knew. Big, important things that parents from Mom and Dad's era would typically whitewash. Such as, how she'd miscarried twice and was over forty and still childless when I came along. The sense that no, let's be serious here — there will be no son. Her body was tired of being tricked by nature, so Mom didn't much feel like fighting over the name of a baby she'd failed to produce in a manner that met expectations.
Sometimes I wish she'd been like my father and said nothing. For years, on low days, I'd hyperventilate, gagging on ... I don't know, the guilt of having gone and spoiled Dad's plan by entering the world without a penis. I wanted to disappear, to die tragically, poetically — Bradlee Aames, the Joan of Arc of her third-grade class, her abbreviated life choked away by a wayward tetherball chain. ... But then, my father's silence on the subject included, concomitantly, not a single complaint. And he was kind. He loved his only child, and she him. Still, I couldn't shake my feelings, however misplaced they proved to be.
I hadn't thought of my dead father much until maybe a year back or so, when Mom made her final demented sashay around the grounds of the Blessed Mary assisted living facility in Colton, a forgettable patch of smog-burned brown where strip-club billboards cast biblical shadows over abandoned minimarts. By then she was mostly gone, waltzing about in the predawn blue, feeding little colored marshmallows to the sparrows like Francis of Assisi in a bathrobe. They need their momma, she explained to the staff psychiatrist, who'd phoned me, the half-crazy daughter, describing the scene in real time, hoping I could shed some light on the situation from my apartment in Venice Beach.
My mother didn't get me, never knew what was wrong with my head: Why I'd thank the FDR statue in the park for his advice on how I should wear my hair; why I'd ruin a perfectly swell mother-daughter baking moment by hiding behind Mom's apron to keep the hot, angry oven from swallowing me whole; why I'd chuck her sewing needles into the garbage after overhearing their plot to poke my eyes out while I slept. So what if her little Bradlee was a little quirky? Who did those nosy, "deeply concerned" school counselors think they were anyway? Lots of people claim to have seen angels — the networks are always doing TV specials on the subject, for goodness' sakes. Crossing guards? Bunch of losers in their thirties still living at home, don't know what they're talking about, because no little girl would ever try to stop a moving car with her bare hands. And what was with that Father Lonaghan, was he hitting the sauce on the job? Such a disappointment for a man of the cloth, that Lonaghan. After all, a youngster's confused mumbling while kneeling in a dark, scary confessional should not be construed as speaking in tongues....
There were other signs, too, but I won't go on; as always, the one constant was my mother's oblivious response. To her, I was just a curious, intense little girl blessed with a rich and vivid imagination.
When she died, I unexpectedly took a step closer to the thing my mother had denied about me all those years.
About a week after the funeral, a man with a heavy Middle Eastern accent called me, huffing and puffing and threatening unspecified legal action unless I either reclaimed the contents of a public storage locker Mom had rented, or paid a fee closing out her account. If I didn't agree to let the junk be put up for auction, or take it away myself, a draconian fee would be tacked onto the final bill, with interest. "No negotiate!" the man shouted before he hung up.
I politely pointed out that indeed, everything is negotiable.
"No pay up, big trouble!"
The next Saturday morning, I got up early and drove fifty miles inland until I came to a blighted row of empty lots in Pomona aglitter with broken glass and shiny springs curling out of discarded mattresses. The address was wrong, had to be, but ... beyond the vacant lots, a storage yard was set back, hidden in a weedy culvert, and at the rusty front gate the litigious man on the phone awaited me. His name was Farhad, and his Hawaiian shirt was made of polyester and stank of sweat at ten paces. I found his speech to be crude and hard to follow, but his undisguised enthusiasm for my cleavage was never in doubt. I come in peace, I told him amiably, but the spit flew as he issued the same hardline demands as before. I did what any good attorney would do and asked for a copy of the contract binding my mother or her successors to such terms. When Mr. Farhad failed to produce, raising the specter of legal action nonetheless, my head, which had been fogbound all morning, was cleared by a jolt of indignation.
Excerpted from He Said She Said by John DeCure. Copyright © 2016 John DeCure. Excerpted by permission of Skyhorse Publishing.
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