Authors: Antoinette van Heugten
Tags: #Mystery, #Suspense, #Adult, #Thriller
Danielle shoots Reyes-Moreno a black stare; her voice is hardened tar. “What lies did you tell the court about me? Are you aware of the penalty for perjury, or do you people care as little for the truth as you do for the welfare of your patients?”
Reyes-Moreno shakes her head. “I don’t know what you’re talking about. In any event, that is for you to take up with the court.”
“Don’t worry about that,” snaps Danielle. “I have every intention of pursuing Max’s rights—and mine—in a court of law.” She stands. “But right now I’m going to get my son the hell away from you people.”
Reyes-Moreno raises an eyebrow. “In violation of the temporary restraining order?”
Danielle’s legal mind races through the arguments and likelihood of success if she fights the T.R.O. She thinks of the schools; the principals; Maitland’s psychiatrists; the scars on her arms—and now the team’s damning reports of Max’s deranged behavior and Danielle’s abject refusal to accept the wretched facts. What judge in the world wouldn’t summarily grant Maitland its remedy? The poor boy desperately needs the marvelous care of this impeccable institution and to be kept away from his lunatic mother. Danielle has no credible evidence to offer the court and, after her outburst today, no hope of getting any. She has no witnesses, except possibly Marianne, to call in her favor. Even if Marianne would testify that Danielle is a good mother—and Danielle believes she would—she is afraid that if Marianne sees the entries, she might feel compelled to urge Danielle to accept Maitland’s diagnosis. Not to mention the fact that Marianne would be compelled to recount Max’s violent encounters with Jonas.
The restraining order will be in place for ten days, and then there will be a hearing on the temporary injunction, which will be in effect until a full-blown trial on the merits. Danielle will just have to wait. She will file her own lawsuit and present a well-reasoned explanation for violating the order. One thing she is damned sure of: she is not leaving Max in this place. The chips will have to fall where they may.
Danielle meets Reyes-Moreno’s green gaze with her own. There’s no point in bluffing. The old girl has poker eyes, and she’s seen her hand. The reason Danielle’s a really good lawyer is that she knows when to shut up. This is the battle, not the war. The immediate goal is to get Max out of here; hop on a plane; and get back to New York.
“Do I have your agreement?” Reyes-Moreno’s words hang black in the air.
“Absolutely not,” says Danielle. “I’m going to get a second
opinion, and I want your written statement that you will fully cooperate with whomever I choose—including a summary of your diagnosis and all underlying observations that support it. And I want it today.” She stalks past Reyes-Moreno. “Got it?”
She closes the door behind her. Hard.
Danielle’s head is spinning. Despite her bravado in front of Reyes-Moreno and the others, a cold panic rises in her as she strides from the conference room and strikes a blind path away from the building. She must get control of herself. She can’t give way to the fear and hopelessness they would have her feel. She has to think of a way to get Max out of here—and not get arrested doing it. She knows one truth: whatever they have done to him—whatever he is now—he’s not the same Max she brought here. If he has indeed spiraled into madness, it happened here in this ghastly hospital. Any lingering doubts about her own judgment are gone. She stands stock-still and then marches toward the familiar white building.
She has to see Max. She doesn’t care about the temporary restraining order or Maitland’s decree that she not enter the unit unaccompanied. She’s going to plant herself in his room and stay with him. If he’s crazy, she isn’t leaving until she sees it with her own eyes. Still, she thinks as she nears the building, there is no reason to invite further confrontation. She peers at her watch as she rounds the corner to the back entrance. It is almost eleven-thirty. That means that the nurses have lined up their charges and walked them the few hundred yards to the cafeteria for lunch. They won’t be back for at least thirty minutes, maybe more. There is a chance that Max is with them, but she doubts it. She knows from the endless hours she has spent in the unit waiting room that some patients are
routinely left in their rooms to sleep, particularly those undergoing heavy medication changes. Like Max.
She swings her purse over her shoulder and goes into the unit. The place is deserted. She walks down the cold hallway, her heels emitting a surreal sonar
with each step. She opens Max’s door just enough to slip in. The bed is mussed, but empty. She takes in the twisted sheets, the indention in the pillow—and then notices something new. Thick brown leather restraining straps hang unbuckled from the metal bed rails. The wide bands meant to enclose her son’s wrists are open, as if awaiting his return. How long have they been restraining him? Is it only at night or also during the day? Her heart clutches. She takes a step toward the straps, touches one, shivers. She checks the bathroom. Empty. She races down the hall, her mind a wild vortex. The rooms blur as she hurtles past them. Every door is closed. Just before she reaches the lounge, she notices that the door to Jonas’s room is ajar. She pushes it open and steps inside.
The sight that greets her is monstrous, unspeakable. She claps both hands to her mouth, trying to stifle the scream that tears at her throat. Wild spurts of red stab and soar at the ceiling; stripe the walls. Her eyes are pulled to the bed. There lies Jonas, his body laid open—full of bloody, gaping holes—his beautiful blue eyes open and staring wide-eyed at the ceiling, as if stunned by the psychotic artwork his life’s blood has made. Danielle fights the overwhelming urge to vomit. She rushes to his side and grabs his wrist. A sickening smell fills her nostrils as the slick of fresh blood slides onto her fingers.
“Oh, God, Jonas, please…” she cries. There is no pulse. She grabs him by the shoulders and pulls him to her. “Breathe, Jonas. Please be alive.” His body is warm, his sweet smell mixed with an acrid, sour odor. She slides her hand up to his
neck, the carotid artery. There is no beat. She has to get help. Maybe there’s still a chance. She spies the nurse’s call button on the wall opposite the bed. She scrambles to reach it, her feet slipping in blood, so much blood. It is an eternity before she manages the few steps to the other side of the bed. Her red finger is just about to press the white button when she sees it.
He lies motionless in a slurry of blackened blood, his white T-shirt and underwear spattered with crazy, crimson spurts. His legs and arms are curled in the fetal position. His eyes are closed.
“No!” She slips and slides toward the form, finally rolling it over. Frantic hands cup his face. She shakes him. “Max! Max!” He lies listlessly in her arms. She searches desperately for a pulse. The strong, steady beat pierces her horror with joy. He is alive. Alive. She makes a frenzied search of his body for wounds. There are none. The blood is Jonas’s, not his. She moans and starts to cradle him, to pick him up, to get him out of there, to get help—and then she sees it.
Clutched in her son’s hand is something silver, sinister. It is her metal comb, coated in the ruby rage of the room. In a blind panic, she grabs Max and rips off his bloody T-shirt. Max rouses briefly; grabs her; and tries to speak, but then slides back onto the floor, unconscious. Danielle wrests the comb from his hand; wipes it; and stuffs it and the shirt into her purse. Moaning, she grabs Max’s arms and drags his body across the bloody floor, his limbs leaving a trail of smeared, unholy red in their wake. The agonizing moments are almost at an end; they are steps away from the door—when it opens.
Nurse Kreng stands in the doorway. Her scream splits the silent death of the room, the stark white of her uniform shrieks murder to the unholy red on the walls.
In the beginning there was blue. She felt it all around and above her as she was rushed from the jail to the courthouse for her arraignment and bond hearing, flanked by a court-appointed lawyer and a female guard. The color of the sky and the turn of the world have gone on, but her life is forever changed. Even her skin feels gray and tainted, unfamiliar to her. She has spent four tortured days in that cage without sky; without air; without Max. He must be wild by now. He has been charged with murder; she with a variety of lesser felony charges—accessory after the fact and obstruction of justice—to name but two.
Unbelievably, she made bond. At least now she can try to get Max out of Maitland, where the
urged and the judge ordered that he remain until his competency hearing. She doesn’t know which terrifies her most: the thought of Max still at Maitland or the knowledge that, at sixteen, he may be certified as an adult and thrown in the county jail until trial. If deemed a juvenile, at least he will not be surrounded by hardened criminals—she hopes. Everything hinges on his competency hearing in ten days. She cannot overcome her shock. Everything is an unspeakable nightmare.
Danielle’s only telephone call on that terrible day was to Lowell Price, the kindly managing partner. He was, as she expected, stunned and horrified by the news that Max had been arrested for the murder of a young boy—a psychiatric
patient, no less. Fortunately, she reached him before the
picked up the story and flashed it across the wires. During their brief, tortured conversation, she asked for something she’d never asked for before—help. And help in the person of A. R. Sevillas is due to arrive at any moment. Danielle sits in his office in Des Moines, waiting. His secretary said he is running late—probably representing some other criminal. Her hands shake. She has to get Max—and herself—out of this hellish mess.
The door opens. Danielle turns and, for a brief, horrifying moment, stares into the brown eyes of a man she has not only met—but with whom she has shared passionate intimacies. Tony stands stock-still, the doorknob in his hand. “My God, Lauren?” His face lights up with a huge grin as he strides across the room. Before she knows it, she is in his arms. “How did you find me? I mean, I’m glad you did. When you can celled dinner, I thought—”
“Oh, Tony!” Danielle bursts into tears and shakes her head. He holds her tighter and whispers wonderful, unintelligible things into her ear. She wraps her arms around his neck and buries her face into his crisp, white shirt. The now-familiar smell of him only makes her cry harder.
“It’s all right, Lauren. Whatever it is, let me help you.” He takes her by the shoulders and looks into her eyes. He exudes a quiet confidence that calms her enough to form the words she has to say.
She takes a deep breath. “My name isn’t Lauren.”
He misses a beat, but recovers quickly. “I see. That can’t be what has you so upset.”
“No, it isn’t.” She walks to the chair across from his dark, burled desk. “Please, Tony, sit down. I have a long story to tell you.”
Sevillas glances at his watch. “I’m sorry, but I’ve got a client coming in. She’ll be here in a few minutes.”
Danielle shakes her head. “You don’t understand. She’s already here.”
Confusion fills his eyes, and then he blanches. “You don’t mean—”
“I’m Danielle Parkman.”
Tony falls into his chair, his eyes never leaving her face. “You can’t be.”
Shame fills her. “I’m afraid I am.”
“Are you telling me that it’s your son who is accused of murdering that boy at Maitland?”
Danielle resists the impulse to reach across the desk and touch his hand. Instead, she forces firmness into her voice. “Max didn’t kill anyone, Tony. Please believe me.”
He glances at the stack of pleadings on his desk and then looks at her, alarm and betrayal in his eyes. “I want to believe you, but Jesus Christ, Laur—Danielle.” The intercom buzzes. His voice is harsh. “No interruptions. None.”
He raises his hand, visibly distressed. “The first thing I have to decide is whether or not I can represent you or your son at all, given our…relationship.”
“Oh, Tony, please. You’ve got to help me.” She hears the outright panic in her voice. “I’m so sorry—for all the lies, for everything—”
“I can’t make a decision yet,” he says tersely. “My better judgment tells me to walk away.”
He holds up his hand. “I’ll let you know what I decide after I’ve heard all of the facts. So let’s get the preliminaries out of the way.” He opens a side drawer, from which he takes a creamy white envelope. He leans forward and hands it to her.
Danielle grasps the envelope and slides her finger under the seal. “I take it you’re a lawyer,” he says dryly. “At least your firm is behind you.”
“Yes,” she murmurs. Lowell informed her that although the firm will pay for her bond and not fire her—for the moment—she has been placed on unpaid leave, which means they are waiting for the outcome of the trial to can her. Lowell also told her that the firm will make no statements to the press, and, for her own sake, he has instructed her not to contact any of her colleagues. She knows he wants to protect her from any incriminating statements she might make to Georgia or others who may be called to testify at trial. She also knows that he wants no one in the firm even remotely involved in a sordid murder trial. She looks at Tony. “Lowell Price is a good man.”
He frowns. “Price? I wasn’t contacted by anyone named Price.”
She slips the thick, embossed card from its envelope and takes in the square, black print and the familiar scrawl of the Mont Blanc signature.
Don’t prove me wrong.
“E. Bartlett?” That he should be the one to have intervened on her behalf is almost as incomprehensible as his ability to ramrod the partnership into standing behind her bond.
“Bartlett—that’s who I talked to,” he says. “Sharp guy.”
Danielle gives him a wry look as she puts the card in her purse. “That he is.”
“He also said that you are honest to a fault.”
She stares him down. “I am.”
“Of course you are…Lauren.” His eyes are weary, as if
he wishes she weren’t like every defendant who reflexively proclaims innocence. His voice is all business. “Before we get into the facts, I want to take a moment to review the situation.”
Danielle nods, stricken by his change of tone. The brown eyes now look cold, professional. He puts on a pair of glasses and riffles through the papers on his desk. “Let’s go over the terms of your bond. Maitland’s temporary injunction prohibits you from going anywhere near Maitland or your son. In ten days, their lawyers will move to make it stick, at least until the trial is over.”
She starts to speak, but he raises his hand again. “I know,” he says. “You want to see your son—Sam, right?”
Crimson heat suffuses her face. “Max.”
“Max?” His eyes regard her coldly. “Unfortunately, your violation of the order on the very day of its issuance and your status as the mother of the prime suspect in the murder of a psychiatric patient hardly leaves me with a compelling argument that you should be allowed access. Given that you were caught attempting to flee the scene with your son, I have no argument that you do not present a flight risk.”
“I don’t care what they do to me, but you have to find a way for me to see Max.” Her voice cracks. “He must be terrified. He woke up with blood all over him; was arrested for murder; thrown in jail; arraigned; and then sent back to Maitland—all without knowing where I was or if I had abandoned him.”
He shakes his head. “You know I can’t do that.”
“Tony, I’m begging you.” Tears burn her raw eyes as panic laces her words. “Max has been very…ill. What if this pushes him over the edge? I’ll never forgive myself.” Her face crumples into her hands. When she is finally able to stop sobbing and look up, Tony’s eyes soften for a moment.
“You’re just going to have to wait,” he says quietly. “I’ll see
him today and let you know how he is. After that, I’ll try to push for daily telephone calls. Don’t get your hopes up.”
“Oh, Tony, thank you.”
He glances at the pleadings on his desk. “I think we better focus on Max’s murder charge.”
Danielle feels her face burn. It is one thing to read the charges in the distancing language of the law and quite another to hear someone mention “Max” and “murder” in the same sentence. Her heart lurches as she realizes that though she’s out, he isn’t free—and unless she does something fast, he may never be. She can’t even run to her boy and make sure he’s all right or even talk to him about what happened on that horrible afternoon. By letting her out on bond, all they’ve done is given her a larger cage. She takes a deep breath. “Agreed.”
“Before we address the murder charge, I want to be clear about the restrictions of your bond.” Danielle does not remind him that she is a lawyer. Right now she’s just a defendant, like her son. “We’ll find you an apartment away from Maitland to avoid the press, but you’re not to go farther afield than the fifty-mile radius stipulated in the court’s order,” he says. “Frankly, I was amazed you made bond at all given the nature of the crime and the fact that you were found at the scene attempting to flee with the murder suspect in your arms.”
Danielle feels his eyes upon her. She glances down at her ankle and the carbon-fiber band that encloses it. The blue LED flashes ominously. The court-appointed lawyer offered up the device to the judge as an alternative when it became clear that he was on the verge of denying her bail. An experimental innovation, the bracelet comes with a computerized panel that the Plano sheriff will install in her new apartment. If she ventures beyond the fifty-mile limit, or tries to relocate the panel, the police station and the court will be simultaneously alerted. She is only in Des Moines because she is permit
ted to visit her attorney. The appointments must be phoned in by Tony in advance.
The order is clear. It’s a one-time deal: if she violates it, she’ll be thrown back in jail and her $500,000 bond, for which her firm is on the hook, will be revoked. She crosses her good ankle over the imprisoned one and tries to match his business like tone. He is her lawyer now, not her lover. “Can we talk about their case against Max? I’m eager to hear your strategy, and I have a few thoughts of my own.”
Sevillas raises an eyebrow.
“Don’t worry,” she says quickly. “I know I’m ignorant about criminal law, but I’m a quick study and a good lawyer. Maybe you could think of me as a second chair.”
He frowns. “I’m sorry, Danielle, but that’s not how I work. I think you’d feel the same way if I were your client and tried to tell you how to run a civil case. It just isn’t in Max’s—or your—best interest. Besides, if I’m also going to represent you—and I haven’t decided if you need separate counsel—it is critical that you not appear to be involved in his legal representation.”
Danielle leans forward. “Tony, I’m asking you to make an exception. I promise to respect your role as chief strategist and our advocate in court. But it’s Max’s life we’re talking about here, and I have to be involved.”
His dark eyes are stone. “Look, I’ve been practicing a long time and, frankly, lawyers are my worst clients. They know it all, or worse, they know just enough to be dangerous.” He shakes his head. “I have to call the shots or it’s no deal.”
“All right,” she says quietly.
“Let’s get to the facts, shall we?” He flips open a leather binder and draws a line down the middle of a page. He puts Max’s name on the left side of the paper. She works the same
way. One side for what the client says; one side for what the truth probably is.
“The D.A. has been only too happy to give me his version of what happened,” he says. “The police report backs him up, as do the statements of various Maitland staff. He’s sending over the black box tomorrow.”
She gives him a quizzical look.
“That’s their box of goodies. A list of the physical evidence, statements—everything they’re required by law to disclose to the defense.”
“I’ll summarize the State’s case against both of you.” Sevillas looks at a typewritten sheet and runs his finger down to a particular paragraph. “First, you and Max go to Maitland for a psychiatric assessment and you befriend the decedent and his mother. You repeatedly refuse to go back to New York while Maitland conducts its assessment and, on numerous occasions, interfere with the doctors and staff. These events are documented and reflect what Maitland
term your increasingly ‘erratic, labile and unbalanced’ behavior.”
He leans back in his chair and continues in a laconic voice. “They prohibit you from seeing your son more than once a day until the assessment is concluded. You still refuse to leave and spend your days hovering in the waiting room outside your son’s unit. Much of this time is spent alone with the decedent and his mother.”
He takes a breath and turns a page. “Now Max. When he arrives at Maitland, he is clearly suicidal; clinically depressed; and unresponsive to traditional psychiatric treatment. Thereafter, his mental state rapidly and profoundly deteriorates. He becomes increasingly psychotic; has auditory and visual hallucinations that the decedent wants to kill him; and is physically violent. Max’s attacks upon the decedent escalate to the point
that the boy requires significant medical attention on two separate occasions. Max’s detachment from reality is so severe that the staff has no choice but to restrain him, particularly at night.”
“Tony, let me explain—”
Sevillas holds up his stop-sign hand. “You are then given your son’s diagnosis of schizoaffective disorder—which you summarily dismiss—and then reject Maitland’s strong recommendation that Max remain there so he may receive the intensive psychiatric treatment required to prevent him from committing suicide or assaulting third parties, particularly the decedent. The following day, you demand a meeting with the doctors on Max’s team and, according to those at the meeting, you go berserk, complete with bizarre accusations and violent threats to one of the most well-respected adolescent psychiatrists in the nation, perhaps the world.”