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CHAPTER ONE

(Angela, August 2010)

In the big courtroom across the back hall from my chambers, fifty or more lawyers stirred like stock yard cattle. They checked the wall clock, their watches and smart phones. A few quietly asked the bailiff if the judge was here, when she might appear.

On this Friday morning, I was their judge. A long black robe gave me the power to settle them, listen to their earnest comments, perhaps ask a few questions. Then I’d rule and send them off happy or dreading what they’d have to tell their clients—but not without Mora. Only she, my court reporter, could put on-the-record the words uttered by anyone. Mora had phoned and said she'd be ten minutes late. That was forty minutes ago.

High time to go out there and say something. I slipped into my robe, zipped it nearly all the way up, and headed out.

As I got to the hallway door, Mora opened it first and scurried over to her little desk in her little office off our shared waiting area. While talking fast, she shed her purse, iPhone with its cord and ear piece, a paperback novel and water bottle. “Sorry, Judge. Trolley troubles. On top of that, had to go way round to the employee back door. Cops keeping everyone away from the criminal courts and my short cut.”

Police crowd control on the streets by the criminal courts and holding jail seemed to be happening more and more. “Good morning, Mora. We’ll manage.”

"Oh, thanks, Judge. Thanks for understanding." Mora grabbed her transcription machine and looked back at me, the tilt of her head signaling, I’m ready, let’s go.

I followed five beats behind and then waited in the open doorway at the back of my courtroom. My bailiff’s good low voice rang out, “All rise. In the presence of the flags of the United States of America and the State of California, Department 63 of the San Diego Superior Court, the Honorable Judge Angela B. Cornwell presiding, is now in session. Please be seated and come to order.”

After six years, I still cherished the opening call and all that came with it—everyone standing up at once, the sounds of clothes shifting, the spring-loaded seats flipping up, the quieting while my bailiff spoke, and the many faces looking hard at me. For each ruling in every case I tried to get it right, to be Honorable Judge, to treat even the whiners with respect.

I stepped in fast, up the three steps and into my chair on the raised platform. “Good morning.”

A chorus of lusty, “Good morning, Your Honor,” answered, as if each man or woman wanted to be sure I picked out that one.

The papers along with fat case books, tagged by me with colored flags for the first batch of this morning’s twenty-three hearings, sat fort-like in three stacks to my left and right. I worked better flipping back and forth through real law books, not pages on a computer screen.

I scanned the gallery, every seat taken, even jury box seats. “Sorry for being late, unavoidable. Next time, this Court will cut a little slack when any of you is late, this Court’s first ever I-Owe-You. We’ll keep today’s list of appearances until we’ve given each of you one make-up.”

A rolling chorus of laughter and ‘thank you’ responded. Oh, how funny and kind this robe makes me.

I leaned over to my clerk, Ms. Patterson, sitting down to my right, and mouthed, “Number eleven, thirty minutes each side, hmm?” She had taken down how long the lawyers wanted to talk to me, to “argue” in legal jargon, and noted the times on today’s case list. I said for all to hear, “We'll take number eleven, Hollenbeck versus All American Insurance Company. I’ve read the papers, so please don’t repeat. Five minutes per side.”

Seven lawyers sidled through the half gate in the low barrier separating the gallery from the area where our work got done. A lectern separated Susan Hollenbeck’s solo lawyer from the opposing six. The lawyers with their helpers and client reps appearing for the insurance company didn’t surprise me. This case could turn ugly in front of a jury.

Susan’s lawyer painted her as a mother of three, dying too young of uterine cancer while All American refused to pay six hundred thousand dollars in medical bills. The lawsuit claimed her bought-and-paid-for insurance coverage should have allowed her to stay in the family home and protect her meager savings, all gone before she qualified for state-sponsored poor-person coverage. On top of that, her lawyer claimed, if All American had honored its obligations from the start, Susan might not now be terminal.

The insurance company lawyers asked me to toss that lawsuit right now, months before any trial to a jury. The contract of insurance plainly excluded coverage for any condition known by Susan and not disclosed in her application, and All American claimed Susan said nothing about her alarming symptoms in that application.

Had to keep my Lady Justice blindfold on, would be too easy to send All American packing and let a jury decide later. But what if Susan had not applied for this policy until too late and had kept quiet about her symptoms? I had to follow the law, and the law said—

Odd movements from my bailiff shoved their way in. He was out of his chair, had taken his radio phone off his belt, and now held it close against his ear and whispered at it, nodded fast, whispered some more, looking up at me the whole time.

I said to the seven, “Here’s what I’d like to do first—"

My bailiff holstered his phone, quickly moved up closer and stared right at me with a shrug that said he didn't want to interrupt but had to. A second uniformed bailiff entered through the main double doors. Loud—too loud—crowd noises came in with him from the wide public hallway outside. This one, legs spread and hand on his holstered pistol, stood with his back to the door. No one would try to get past him, in or out. My bailiff hovered over Ms. Patterson and mumbled something I didn't get through the rising noise.

I stalled. “We only need the ones who’ll argue at counsel table. Why don't you gentlemen—.”

Ms. Patterson came part way up my three steps and, a cupped hand by her mouth, said, “May our bailiff speak with you, Judge?”

I said loudly, “We’re off the record. Excuse us.” I got out of my chair, down the steps.

My bailiff said quietly but urgently, “Have to clear this courtroom, Your Honor. Have to get IDs.”
“Someone forget a big briefcase?” And I remembered what Mora had said about her delay.

“Must clear the floor, the whole building.”
He had ignored my question, and he never did that. “What’s going on?”

“We’ll take care of it, Your Honor. We’ll release them one by one, and get proper ID’s . . . You’ll have to clear the floor too, and Mora and Ms. Patterson.”

“Why are you, we, doing this?”

“Don't know how much I can say, Your Honor."

"I have to announce something. Give me something."

He glanced down and breathed once, deeply. “Ah . . . Judge Brookfeld is dead, dead in his chambers, messy down there, bad crime scene, maybe—.”

Melvin Brookfeld, oh, my, mother of Jesus. I felt blood rise into my ears and cheeks and questions piling in. Dear sweet Melvin, supposed to be on vacation. I managed, “He’s a friend, and I know he’s out of town . . . You sure?”

“Your Honor, it’s him—here. That’s all we can say for sure right now. More than one of us bailiffs had eyes on his body. We’re pretty sure it’s safe in the main hallways, elevators, escalators, and out to the street.”

“You’re only pretty sure it’s safe?”

“Got the main halls and exits covered. San Diego Police is helping. I . . . I . . . I’m not saying . . ., but whoever did this . . . could be in one of the back hallways, maybe mixing in.” He glanced around at the faces locked on us. “Ah, if Judge Brookfeld did it to himself, need to get any witness statements.”

Had to shut down my insides, had to take charge. “Okay then . . . You and your helper better both get to the exit and do this fast.”

Back on my bench, I grabbed the top of my big leather chair and remained standing, knees flexed—double trouble if I passed out. Had to sound confident, friendly, unruffled. “Ladies and Gentlemen,” my first words came out ok, “There’s a public safety issue with a courtroom.” Bit of a mess down there . . . pretty sure safe . . . “Purely as a precaution, we must clear this floor. My calendar clerk will contact you about a new hearing date, and we'll send you a notice. As you leave, please check with one of these bailiffs. They’ll want to see your Bar card or driver’s license and match you with our sign-in sheets. Let’s start with the back row and then the next row and so on.”

The bailiffs posted themselves on both sides of the main door, and the exiting began.

Melvin, not Melvin. He’s on vacation . . . brilliant, strong Melvin, dead in his messy chambers over in the criminal courts complex.

CHAPTER TWO

(Frank)

 

I learned how I came into this world from sentences unfinished. Visitors to our house waited until after supper and after Father had sent me to my room before they talked of that day. And that made me listen harder.

“Bottom first, and then the head . . .”

“Poor girl, that damned blizzard . . .”

“Johanna, so young and so beautiful.”

“God had his hands full elsewhere back then.”

Some people in town looked at me and Father out of the corners of their eyes and mumbled to each other. After we had passed, they talked louder, as if they wanted my father to hear but not know for sure who did the talking. “Ludwig knew her before, don’t you suppose?”

“Had to be . . .”

“My woman says Ludwig . . . unfaithful to Johanna when she was with that child.”

“The big German hussy, to marry him and move in so soon.”

“Where’s his respect, his decency?”

One day when I was five years old, I put it together, though not piece by piece like a jigsaw puzzle. In a solitary instant, I saw all of it. My mother, Johanna, died on the kitchen table birthing me in the blizzard of forty-nine. The big hussy—I didn’t know the meanings of hussy or unfaithful back then—married my father, Ludwig Maier, and moved in with us less than a year after my mother died. That was far too soon, though I was not sure why.

The new wife’s name was Hildegard Oberbaum, but most called her Hilde. She was the only young woman I had known, but I never thought to call her 'mother' or ‘mom’. Those labels remained taken.

At bedtime Hilde tickled me and laughed in her German accent. I’ve wondered if a person could laugh with an accent, but Hilde's laugh sure sounded German. I hated her tickling games and hated worse that I couldn’t help laughing with her. Some nights her fingers dug at places that made me curl into a ball against the wall next to my bed. Not long after starting first grade, I squirreled up enough courage to say, the last words yelled, “No, don’t do that. I don’t like that. I’ll tell Father if you don't stop right now.”

She did stop, but weeks later tried again until I yelled again, and then she stopped doing that all together. I sensed that everyone would believe my tattling about her a thousand times more than they would believe her saying that she had done nothing bad to little boy Frank.

Hilde’d slap my face if I dallied coming into the house after she called or if I said a bad word. Her slaps stung, but I didn’t mind, learned to turn my head away at just the right instant. She called them an Ohr Feige, ear fig in German, and she’d say, “Do that again, and you’ll get a good spanking.” I didn’t remember any of her spankings but knew what they were. She must have wailed on me good before memory set in. All the kids I knew got spanked and slapped, hit with belts or switches, so I couldn’t protest that.

Soon after I started school, Hilde and Father made their own child, Beatrice. I wasn’t much interested in Biddie. That’s how I pronounced her name, and it became her nickname.

Every fall after the hay was in and the fruit had been picked and trucked away, the barn became my main place of work—mucking out and disinfecting the stalls, spreading new hay, helping Father replace rotten boards, oil hinges, caulk and paint and, late in the day, drive our one cow, one horse, and two pigs to shelter. Out in that barn, Father and I took apart and replaced the guts of our tractor engine so that it ran like new.

Tools took to me as if I were born with them. By third grade, I pounded nails fast and straight, ran beads of caulking neat and clean. The balance, the weight, and what my hands could do with a solid tool made me feel a certain calmness mixed with power. Hand tools became my trusted friends and still are.

Hilde had me collect eggs from the barn coop. I talked to the hens, fed them seeds out of my palm so they’d let me lift them off their nests and feel their breasts heaving, maybe from fear that this was the day of the cooking pot.

When a hen stopped laying eggs, Father cut off its head with a hatchet. The legs kept moving, kicking fast. One time, Father set the headless body on its feet. It ran upright for a long time, blood spurting out of the open neck. The image of that headless chicken running never left me, and I’ve wondered why the legs of freshly-dead grown men shot clean in the lower skull didn't run.

Hilde told me riddles that made me figure things out. “Take five apples from eight apples, how many do you have?” I got that the first time—I had five apples.

A favorite was the one about seven wives, seven sacks for each wife, and seven cats in each sack. A fellow toted the whole kit and caboodle uphill to a church called St. Ives. The riddle asked how many people were going to St. Ives. I got that easily and with pencil and paper figured how many cats he carried.

Other lessons deep inside the cats-in-bags riddle inspired the finest act of my boyhood—using my power to do what was right, even with a touch of meanness. Early on I got that meanness and power come in one package. One reinforces the other. Meanness made power more powerful, and power brought on a more clever meanness.

Cats made our barn their home. I watched them stalk mice and rats, stare at owls and swallows they couldn’t catch, circle porcupines and skunks from a distance. They’d pounce into a pile of hay and emerge with a mouse tail wriggling out of their mouths. They hunted one cat at a time, always the same cat first, and left little piles of feathers and skin on the ground. In time, the cats let me see their kittens, tiny, nervous and huddled together. When I moved toward them, cats and kittens scampered back to their hiding places.

Deeper realizations set in. I thought it would be grand to hunt like a cat, hunt a wild buffalo or pig with a big hand-made spear or sharp rock. Find its path to water and lie in wait. Fencing it in and feeding it until its time and then shooting it from a foot away wasn't right.

  #

Some weekends my grandparents picked me up in their burgundy Ford.

Black and white photos of me and my real mom sat on their fireplace mantle. I’ve always thought of my mother in black and white, her big eyes in a quiet face that looked at me from any angle no matter where I sat.

Grandma Ida said, “Your mother was the kindest, smartest girl everyone around here ever knew. She turned down a full scholarship to the University of Wisconsin’s Teachers College. To marry your father, no less.”

“What’s a full scholarship?”

“That’s where the school lets you take classes without it costing, not even for room and board.”

I guessed at what room and board meant. Sometimes I wanted to ask more about my mother but never did, what with Grandma’s eyes downcast and voice low and slow from sadness beyond my ability to comfort.

“We lost Johanna too young but have you now. The Good Lord thinks that’s blessing enough. So it must be.”

I knew the rest of the story after the first telling, but Grandma or Grandpa needed to tell me again and again.

“Your father should have taken Johanna into town and stayed at the hotel up the street from the clinic. To him there was no hurry until her water broke. He protested he couldn’t afford a couple nights in the rooming house. Darn him. We're not that poor. I suppose he meant well though, had been through all kinds of storms and managed all right.”

About here Grandma always choked up. “I told him we’d pay for it, and Yuri would watch the farm. But your father wouldn’t have it. Johanna said let it alone. She’d be fine. She . . . loved carrying you . . . inside her.”

Grandpa Yuri took over the telling in his Russian accent. “Couldn’t see da road, couldn’t hardly see hand in front of face outside. Ida and neighbor Sarah have nothing but towels to stop blood. Your father get young doctor from clinic, . . . dear Johanna is cold.”

That was more than Grandpa Yuri said most times. His accent was much stronger than Hilde’s. I picked up that Yuri fled Russia as a young man, had to kill another man on his way out. But his eyes were always kind, untroubled by the present after whatever he had been through to get to this land. He taught me bits of Russian. Perdet was the word for fart, and govno meant shit.

In school I learned more about Russia than any foreign country besides Germany, learned about their bad leaders, crushing military and cruelty, and that one of those two countries was the most evil empire on earth. Every time I thought of Yuri, every time I was with him, thoughts of Russia marched in.

Thou shalt not kill, said The Commandments and Associate Reverend Brinkerhoff at Sunday School, but sometimes you had to kill to stop more killing. If Yuri had to do it, then it must have been ok.

I got the best grades in my class and decided I must have inherited that from my real mom, though I didn’t miss her. Years later I wondered what I should feel about missing her. In time, I understood it was not my nature to miss dead people, to look back, to regret the past. Maybe like Grandpa Yuri, after you killed a man, most every-day things didn’t matter, and you'd better not look back.

CHAPTER THREE

(Angela)

After the courtroom cleared, my bailiff, hand on his holstered gun, led Mora and me across the narrow back hallway and stood at my chambers door while I shed my robe and collected my purse. I’d have to wait to retrieve and shelve the books and papers sitting on my podium. Mora had to leave her transcription machine where it stood.

Down on the street, the crowd had thinned. Local police, in their serious dark blue uniforms and black gun belts, kept the curious away, shouting out, “Move along. Nothing here to see. Keep the sidewalks clear. Move along.” Several local news vans and cameral guys hung around the two main entrances as was their right. I half expected the courthouse entrances to be crossed by that yellow police tape and was relieved that they were not. Crime tape over the entrances to our house of justice would have seemed like overkill and a bad message about what we tried so hard to do.

No bomb had exploded, no tornado had ripped through the street and buildings, but my insides felt as if something like that had come down, had made me lose all hold on normal things, on the neat pre-planned steps of my work day, of my life.

Without thinking about where to go or what to do, I headed home. I didn’t turn on the car radio, didn’t want the news to intrude, needed to think. There’d be enough of that soon enough.

Our little house in the too-expensive-for-us neighborhood was empty when I arrived. Our darling twins would be at their summer camp morning, but I wondered where Peter might have gone. “Downsized” from his job at Sony in January, his hollowed-out spaces nagged at him, at me. I didn’t know how to help him, worried that any suggestion, any light-sounding comment, any comforting by me would sting. So, I, we, hardly talked about things that might have mattered to him.

Soon he came home from a run. I filled him in. He nodded, listened, showered, headed to his computer in the kitchen and I back to mine in my little home-office on the staircase landing.

Friday evening after the girls were down for the night, I dared catch up with the news. Our favorite local station led off with its usual Breaking News blast and then, “Chaos in the downtown courts was quickly quelled”, and closed with, “The police are investigating but will provide no further details until next of kin notified. Anonymous sources confirm the decedent was a sitting judge and that he died in his chambers.”

I silently thanked the news crews, the writers and editors for their restraint, for not hounding the police into releasing more details about the death scene, whatever the hell the scene looked like, for not speculating about the pressures on a judge growing old without a wife or children and ill perhaps, or about suspects not yet identified.

 #

Six years before, on the day I had arrived in my court office—I never felt comfortable in calling my modest office “chambers”—to set up my personal law books, computer, hang my certificates and family pictures, Judge Brookfeld stood in the doorway. I didn't notice him until he cleared his throat.

“Hi, I’m Melvin, last name Brookfeld, but call me Mel.”

“Hello Judge, I mean Mel. You must know I'm Angela.”

He reached out his hand and clasped mine firmly but not one of those crushers some men use. He peered at me over his half glasses. “You and I are going to be neighbors, at least until you get the hang of criminal cases—and then they’ll move you to more civilized disputes.”

I had not asked to preside over criminal cases right at the start, but new judges always went where the Presiding Judge sent them. I had never worked on a criminal case and had to learn fast. The more civilized civil cases—disputes about real estate deals gone bad, accidents, and complaints by fired employees—fit better what I knew.

“If you need anything, poke your head in. Your predecessor in these chambers preferred to work alone, maybe was too old to need to ask my thoughts about anything.” Melvin laughed at that, with a laugh that said he, Melvin, was older than my predecessor.

“Oh. Thank you. I’ll do that, maybe more than you can stand. I'm learning crim law and crim pro almost from scratch, haven't looked at those since studying for the Bar exam.”

“Until you get your own, feel free to use my research attorney. His office is next door and he knows evidence and crim procedure about as well as anyone—even I. He’s hunting for a file in the clerk’s office right now. Sandy, Sandy Shields. He said he might join us at your swearing in.”

“Thanks for that too. I’ll need him.” Judge Brookfeld's quiet gaze made me brush back my longer bangs. Had to get them cut back before my first judge day on the coming Monday. “I hope I’m up to it.”

He eased back. “I’m sure you’re fully ready for what we do. You’ll come to love it and will wonder why you deserve the best job in our time on this wonderful planet.”

“That training the state gives us in judge school is not the real thing.”

He nodded. “Down here it’s always very real. That’s why I do it. The newness wears off pretty fast though. But then . . . a mind stretched by new experience can never go back to its old dimensions.”

I mouthed, couldn't help it, A mind stretched by new experience can never go back to its old dimensions. "That's good. May I use it some time?"

He jutted out his lower lip as if caught in a fib. “It's not mine, though I wish it were. Oliver Junior said that.”

“Oliver Junior . . .? Not Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Junior?”

He said with the enthusiasm of a fan who had just found another fan. “Yes indeed, that one, my favorite Justice. As a young man he bolted out of Harvard to help in the war against those who enslaved black people. On the High Court he was the only one who befriended the first Jewish Justice when others shunned him.”

“And that was William Brandeis?”

“It was. You have a love for what we do. You're up to it, will make a fine, a very fine judge, Ms. Angela.”

We both laughed, I with embarrassment at his compliments, he with delight.

“Well then, I should be going, and you have lots to do. Rumor has it your first trial comes into your court on Monday.”

“Oh, no one told me. What kind of case?”

Melvin grinned. “Not one to worry about. I think it’s DUI where they’ve waived jury. Next month they’ll send you some of the rougher ones. See you a bit later at the swearing in.”

“Yes, at the swearing in, my swearing in. It will be nice. I hope—.” I stopped before blurting out that I hoped my little speech would not ring of false modesty. Other judges in this courthouse, court staff, partners and associates and office workers from my old firm would all form their first impression of me as a judge.

Judge Brookfeld's eyes sparkled with a warmth that touched me and always would. “You’ll do splendidly.” And then he left.

I had never appeared before him as an advocate, had never seen him before that day. But I had heard of this Judge Brookfeld, had read about him presiding over trials of the nastiest death penalty cases. With Judge Brookfeld watching and ruling and controlling all parts, those monster cases unfolded as the law said they should, and the State would never have to do them twice. Older lawyers, in my firm and elsewhere, said Judge Brookfeld was the smartest of all the seventy-something judges in this county’s courts, said they couldn’t understand why he never moved up to a higher court.

 #

I did not yet know if I would be allowed near my courtroom on this coming Monday morning, if my Monday through Thursday trial would start up again. Whenever they let me back, I'd have to find out the latest rumors, find out what to tell the first sets of lawyers and juries if questions came up about whether it was safe to be there.

Oh, well, the bother of what I'd have to tell people on Monday was easy to deal with compared to the other creature gnawing inside me. I didn’t know enough about that creature, didn't see its shape but felt it. And this I did know: Melvin did not, could not have taken his own life, not like that, not in that hallowed place where he worked at the best job in our time on this wonderful planet. Someone else had waltzed right in, murdered a sitting judge in his own chambers, and waltzed right out again. But for the grace of God . . .

CHAPTER FOUR

(Frank)

Guys say they remember the girl they first kissed. In the fall of sixth grade at Ashland Junior High School, I met Muriel. Met doesn’t do it. We never dated, never touched, never even talked. But she was the first girl I’d remember.

Every Thursday we had a one-period study hall, where we'd stay in our home room or study in the library. I liked the library. Older kids came to the library, and they seemed to know who I was, probably from hockey. Talking was forbidden, but I could tell by the way they looked at me, the way the girls moved near me, kept turning my way. By then, coach and the local paper said I was the best hockey player in my age group in Ashland County, maybe in the state.

On my first time in the library, I noticed Muriel sitting alone one table over. The other guys near me didn’t pay her any mind. She wore scratched up reading glasses and let her long hair hang over the sides of her face as if trying to hide. She had to be in eighth grade but seemed old even for eighth grade. Her expression was part sad, part afraid, with her eyes shut too often for too long and shoulders hunched over a book. She never turned a page in that book with its brown grocery bag cover. She sat way too still and for too long. The kids I knew were all poor and didn’t have much. We worked in kitchens or fields or shops from the first day we could help, and our school books often had paper bag or newsprint covers, but we were happy too, full of energy and laughing a lot. Not Muriel. She made me think of Grandma’s constant sadness.

Muriel was pretty. Once or twice her tattered hand-me-down skirt rode up over her knees. When she caught me looking, she pulled it down quickly and then kept staring at the open book in front of her until her eyes closed again, and she might have been sleeping.

Over the weeks and months, she sat at the same table in the same chair. She didn’t have much of a change of clothes, and her hair looked clean only on Mondays. She wore the same brown shoes, one of them with gray tape to hold the sole on a while longer. One time when she left before I did, she broke her yellow school-issued pencil with a loud snap and left it there.

Then I didn’t see her for a couple weeks. When she came back, an old bruise covered her cheek, and bad bruises not from falls, marked the backs of her calves. From hockey I knew about bruises, how they colored down as they healed.

I wanted to talk to her, ask why she was gone, what happened, but chickened out. Years later I realized that wasn’t quite it. I didn’t know what to do, felt helpless, thought grownups would take care of anything that needed taking care of.

I didn’t see her around school except in the library at study hall. Our lunch periods did not mesh. Classes and hockey practices and chores at home left me no time to go on a young girl hunt. In all my later years, I wished I had found her outside the library and talked to her, had helped her.

After our Christmas break, Muriel didn’t come back, and I forgot about her until one day in late winter when the whole school talked about it, the local paper and TV station reported on it. A “name withheld” eighth grader at Ashland Junior High School had been found dead in the basement of a relative’s farm house. He’d confessed to getting her pregnant. The news didn’t say how they found her, but I figured grown up must have known what was going on. Had to be or they never would have found her. And—damn it—even I sort of knew too, knew that Muriel was in real trouble, and I hadn’t done damn thing.

After that I went back to my library study hall one last time and stayed only long enough to break a pencil and leave it on the table where she always sat. I wanted to break other things, to shout at the librarian for not seeing, but knew I’d get into trouble. Deep inside I promised to make it up to her, to never do nothing again.

 

That same fall when I met Muriel, Max taught me I wasn’t totally chicken shit, that I could set bad things right. It started when I asked, “Hilde, can I have a pet?”

“What for kind of pet, a goldfish or something (it came out sumsing)?”

“One of our cats.”

“Hah, those cats are wild. A wild cat never takes to people.”

I was ready. “Miss Klessing says we learn responsibility if we have a pet. All my friends have a pet, mostly cats or dogs. Some have hamsters. Olaf’s got a turtle. I can make one of the cats my friend.”

Hilde cocked her head as if wondering whether I told Miss Klessing that Hilde wouldn’t let me have a pet. “If one of them sets foot in my house, that’s the end of that. Be careful of worms or rabies or fleas, ja. We have (it came out half ) Biddie to worry about.”

“So, can I take them milk and food?”


AUTHOR Q&A

About me

This, my third novel, comes out of a career in law and courtrooms. My first two novels have received a variety of honors and awards. I live in San Diego with my favorite grammarian and Argentine Tango dance partner.

Q. What was the hardest part of writing this book?
A.
The ending--crazy but true to the main characters. It germinated for two years, but I knew it was right the moment it came to me.
Q. Is there a message in your book that you want readers to grasp?
A.
When American Justice does not work, the unintended consequences can affect us all--sometimes for decades.
Q. Where can readers find out more about you?
A.
My web site. www.gjberger.com

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