Chapter 6 – Lies

I gaze out over the patio area in the late afternoon sun as my friends and family talk and stew around me. We weren’t supposed to, but we watched the news tonight and it was… damning. They only show the most sensationalized parts, but I suppose that’s to be expected. I feel eyes on me and look over at the adjacent lounge to see Tina’s anguished face. Her eyes are intent with apology and I stand, walk over to her, and settle in beside her. I put my arm around her back as she rests her head under my chin, a faint, “I’m sorry,” reaching my ears alone. I’ve told her it’s okay, but she doesn’t hear me. There’s truly nothing I can do to assuage her guilt, and I fear that nothing will, aside from a favorable verdict, a verdict that has all but vanished from possibility at this point.

As much as I hate Merle, I have to respect her ability. It’s a hard pill to swallow, allowing her to best me and break me, but that’s the way of the world. It’s wrought with poor decisions and even worse consequences. There is no control, not really. The only constant thing in this world is change… change and love. At least I know love and I’m learning to accept change.

I squeeze Tina, closing my eyes for a moment as Alice continues to seethe about the newscast. She’s pacing back and forth by the pool incredulously and it’s starting to make me slightly seasick. She’s a good friend with good, though sometimes misguided, intentions. I hear some clanging from the kitchen and look over to see Kit still cleaning up from dinner, drowning her emotions in harsh chemicals and disinfectants. She used to cope by drinking, but now she cleans, and cleans, and cleans some more. I watch her through the doors as she runs the mop over the same area for the third time, and ultimately I’m glad. She has found a healthier way of handling herself, and I’m proud of her.

Angie squeals and I look over to see Malcolm and Ming are curled around each other in the sun lounge talking to Tom as Malcolm tickles Angie. Ming is holding Rory and Tom has Chance. The way Malcolm and Ming cradle Rory and Angie, the way they touch each other, the way they speak to one another, the way they look like a happy family, I realize that it’s only a matter of time before they commit their lives to one another. I couldn’t have asked for a better person to complement a better brother. The love they’ve been fostering is visible and I’m proud of Malcolm. Though, in all likelihood, I won’t be there to see it, to partake in his joy as he finds fulfillment in his own family, I know beyond the shadow of a doubt that he will be fine. More than that, he will thrive.

Tom kisses Chance and grins before looking up to me. His eyes, so like my wife’s, are warm as they give me a wealth of information. Everyone else is upset but accepting of my fate, but not Tom. Tom is the only one who refuses to believe I’ll be anything but returned to my family free and cleared of this nightmare. It’s odd. It’s odd to feel his optimism and hope on a tangible level. He’s been steadfast, proactive, and there every day in the trenches of the courthouse steps to keep us safe as we enter and exit.  I have no idea what life holds for him, or if he’ll make it, but I do know that he’ll help take care of Tina and our children while I’m gone. His gaze, just now, as he looks lovingly at his sister still warm in my arms, tells me that nothing less will happen, though he truly believes there is no need. For the first time in a long time, I’m thankful that he’s here.

I hear a splash and a squeal and turn to see Carmen and Shane frolicking in the pool. They’re not as rambunctious as normal, but their love and respect for one another is written all over their faces and evident in their wet, playful slaps, gentle touches, and tender kisses. Shane, as usual, gives herself away with her eyes, and her gaze is only for Carmen. They are safe in whatever future they carve out for themselves from this shell of a world we live in. There is little more that someone can hope for from a single lifetime.

A bright light catches in my peripheral vision and draws my attention to Helena and Dylan sitting at the bottom of the balcony steps. They’re close but not touching as they sip from their wine glasses, Helena’s sips seemingly long and hardy as the sun prisms through the cup with each deep tilt. I sigh. Helena may just be too hardheaded to trust Dylan, and Dylan may just be too hardheaded to just give it time. Out of everyone here, these two are the ones I worry about the most.

Alice stops abruptly to glare at Shane who’s splashed her. “Shane, knock it off! This is serious!” Alice throws her hands up, frustrated tears leaking from her eyes. “All of you have just given up!” Alice lets out an angry, “Ugh,” and heads to the table, grabs her purse, and makes her way towards the back gate with her keys in her hand. Dana strides up to Alice determinedly, stopping her and taking her in her arms. Alice fights it for a moment before she drops her purse and keys and melts into the embrace, quietly sobbing. I close my eyes for a moment. I can’t cry, though I wish I could. I need to be strong right now and I’m fairly certain that if I start, I may not be able to stop, and I just don’t have that luxury.

Dana’s voice is gentle as she says, “We’re not giving up, Al. We’re scared, too. It’s just… what we can do right now…?”

Alice sniffs and leans back in the circle of Dana’s arms, gently stroking Dana’s still thin but much healthier cheek. There’s a long moment as they gaze at each other and I’m certain they’re going to kiss when I spy movement from the patio doors. I look over to see Kit lead Whit, Joyce, and Duffy across the threshold. Alice pulls away from Dana who sighs as the three of them approach us.

Tina releases me and we both start to stand but Joyce holds out her hand, indicating that we stay put. Kit helps get them situated in chairs from the table and joins us. The atmosphere is quiet except for the gentle rustle of wind in the foliage and the occasional passing car in front of the house, and we all curl in around the figurehead of my defense with full attention. Duffy is the first to speak. “Bette, Tina, I’m sorry that I’ve been unreachable and for cutting it so close. By the time I went through the appropriate channels and got the bank trail to lead me to Kelly, I learned that she had pulled some strings and been released a month early for good behavior. It took me most of the last two months to track her down and extradite her for violating her probation, but she’s being detained at Metro as we speak.” Fuck. I hadn’t even been paying attention to Kelly. She could have had us killed in our sleep and we’d have been sitting ducks. “That’s why I haven’t called. I was chasing her all over Britain, Italy, and Greece. If I hadn’t, we’d have probably never found her. I actually had to take a leave of absence because the chief wouldn’t approve it, at least not on the payroll.” She grins. “But I got her.”

I’m gazing at her intent face as she relates all of this, and I start to feel a little bitter. I’m glad that she got her nemesis, but I still don’t see how this helps my case. Her grin falters a little bit as she reads my expression but she smiles as she continues. “I’ve been talking with Whit and Joyce for the better part of the last three hours and we’ve been going over the information I gathered. Kelly has made payments to Merle Rothman, Catherine Rothberg, Candace Jewel, the CCC, and the WBC – those phobic kooks who have been picketing your trial.” So that’s why I didn’t remember Catherine… I’ve never actually met her. “I’m going on the stand tomorrow morning to not only discuss my findings from the crime scene, but expose Kelly’s pay-offs.”

Joyce cuts in. “We’re going to put Kelly up on the stand and see what we can get out of her.”

I smile sadly. “I’m really thankful for all of your help…” I look around to everyone. “…all of you, but I don’t see how this will exonerate me. Kelly can do what she wants with her money and there’s no way to prove that she is been trying to buy me a murder conviction, even with those records.”

Whit cuts in. “It’s far too convenient to be coincidental. And, if nothing else, Merle should have recused herself given your past with her and the funds that she’s received from someone that Lieutenant Duffy will testify has threatened you. I have a feeling that once we call Merle out, she’ll drop the charges to save her job.”

I frown at Whit. “But I don’t want her to do that…”

The entire area is deathly silent as everyone gazes at me like I’ve lost my mind. Tina opens her mouth to speak but Alice beats her. “What?! Why?!”

I gaze at Tina, taking her hands in my own. “T…” She huffs out a breath, pulling her hands away and standing to pace with rigid tension and an accusing gaze.

She finally calms down enough to speak. “Bette, you can’t be serious.” I don’t waver in my resolve and she gestures to our lawyers. “We have a way to stop this, a sure fire way to get you cleared, and you don’t want it?!” Her fury takes a backseat to her fear and pain. “Do you want to leave us?”

I lower my head, close my eyes, and take a deep breath before looking back up to her. “Of course I don’t…”

She sits back down, taking my hands. “Then why…?”

I search her eyes for understanding but find only terror as I stroke the backs of her hands with my thumbs. “T, if she moves to mistrial, she can do this to us again, or maybe worse. In order for that to really work, Whit would have to convince one of her deputies to bring up charges against her, and somehow I doubt she surrounds herself with reputable people.” Tina looks to Whit who nods his head in agreement. She looks back to me and the anguish in her beautiful hazel orbs breaks my heart. “T… I don’t want to go through this again. If I stick it out, I might beat it, and then she can’t touch me again, not about this.”

Tina shakes her head. “Bette, it’s not worth it…”

I implore her with my eyes. “T, I can’t live with my past hanging over my head anymore. I feel like I have to do this, like I have to go through this, so I can finally put it all to rest. I figured that out earlier today.” She’s softened, but she’s not sold. “I have to, T…”

She considers my words and I watch a small spark of anger ignite behind her eyes. “Is that what it will take for you to feel better about your past, a conviction you don’t deserve?” I exhale heavily, opening my mouth to explain but she soldiers on. “Is prison the only thing that’s going to make you feel better? I’m sorry, but no…” She stands, tears trying to fall from her trembling lashes. “I won’t stand here and watch you do this. You made a promise to this family and we need you here. If you do this…” A single tear falls. She can’t even look at me as she says, “I-I don’t… I can’t…”

She shakes her head and makes her way into the house. “T, wait…”

She doesn’t stop and I stand to follow her but Kit stops me. Her gaze is hard and I can tell that I’m going to be the only one on my side in this endeavor as she says, “Mm-hm, well, you stay out here and talk to your lawyers until you can get your head out of your ass. I’ll look after Tina.”

She disappears through the kitchen and I turn to look at the group, some staring at me aghast and some not able to meet my eyes at all. I make my way to the lounge and it feels cold out here now, despite the warm summer temperatures. I settle onto the lounge in a daze, Whit’s voice breaking through my foggy mind. “Bette, I understand what you’re saying, but Merle may not even try to have you prosecuted a second time, and while I will never admit defeat until I hear the conviction, you need to consider this carefully. If you get convicted, it’ll be hard to overturn the ruling.”

I look up at him. “There are a lot of possibilities, Whit, but if we’re granted a mistrial, I’ll be watching my back for the rest of my life and waiting for her to do something. I just want this over with.”

Malcolm comes over to me, placing Rory in my arms and I start to cry as I look down on my baby girl. Angie toddles up to me, putting her hands on my knees, her innocent eyes wide with worry. Malcolm crouches down in front of me. “Bette, please think about this.”

I kiss Rory’s cheek before scrubbing at my eyes and running a handing over Angie’s unruly coif. None of them can understand. None of them have lived with the regrets that I have. They weren’t as foolish as I used to be. This trial, while exhausting, has been good for me. I’m so, so close to being done with my past entirely. I need to finish this and be rid of it. My voice is hard even to my own ears as I say, “I’ve made my decision and it’s the only one I can live with. All of you will either support me, or you won’t. I’m facing this and I’m going to be free of my past once and for all. I will not run from it anymore.” I look to Whit. “I hope you’re ready for this because I’m counting on you to help me end this.”

He nods and I can tell he’s not happy, but I know he’ll give it his best. Determination is as much a part of him as it is a part of me. I look around at the angry and upset faces that surround me. I’m sorry they can’t understand, and I’m sorry that I’ve managed to hurt them with my decision, especially Tina, but I don’t run, I never have, and I don’t plan to start now.


The door to the office opens and the bailiff signals me forward. Joyce and Whit step in front of me and we start towards the door. Tina pulls me to a stop and makes one last plea from red, puffy eyes. “Bette, please… please don’t do this…” She spent most of the night and this morning distraught with worry and clinging to me, those same words repeatedly falling from her lips. She’s scared, so very scared, and I hate myself for doing this to her, but I have to.

I dip my head and kiss her sweetly, leaving a promise lingering on her lips as I say the only thing that comes to mind. “Trust me, T.”

She cries harder and I hold onto her hand until the last minute, my heart falling into my toes as the door shuts behind me, cutting me off from her and leaving her utterly shattered on the other side. Maybe… maybe I’m wrong to do this. I start to panic. My heart is racing as we step into the courtroom and take our seats at the defendant’s desk. The room is quiet despite the gentle murmuring whispers from the gallery behind me.

I pull the picture from my blazer pocket and set it in front of me, gazing down into the happy faces of my family. I could be making a huge mistake, giving my family up for no reason… well, for my own peace of mind. Is it selfish to need this despite their feelings? Is it selfish to need to be free of my past? Have I not given enough to them, for them? More importantly, can I be what they need in the future if I’m still stuck in this past?

The bailiff’s voice booms out and we all stand. No matter how much I doubt myself, it’s too late now. The judge settles in his bench and it all starts over again: the jury files in, we’re told to sit, the judge calls the proceedings to a start, and Whit calls Dr. Leonard Newsome to the stand. The doctor’s glasses, thinning comb-over, and still-boyish looks for someone who must be in his early fifties, remind me of Woody Allen. He is sworn in and escorted to the witness stand where he lays a file out in front of him, adjusting the file just so on the surface and smoothing the pages to make sure there are no creases. Whit steps forward, tall, commanding, and infinitely calm despite how frustrated he must be with my choice.

“Dr. Newsome, thank you for being here today.”

The man looks up from what appears to be a compulsion to neaten things with a bright grin on his face, his voice nasal as he says. “Oh, I love explaining my work, so I’m glad to be here.”

He pushes the thick glasses up on his nose, happily awaiting Whit’s first question. Whit buttons his blazer. “Please state your name and occupation for the record.”

The doctor clasps his hands in his lap, shoulders hunched as he leans into the desk and answers, “Dr. Leonard Newsome. I’m a medical examiner for the Los Angeles county medical examiner’s office.”

“How long have you worked for the medical examiner’s office?”

His grin is wide and genuine. “Nearly twenty years.”

“And what do you do at the medical examiner’s office?”

“I’m a medical examiner in charge of examining deceased individuals and documenting pertinent medical evidence including, but not limited to, the cause and manner of death. It’s all very exciting.”

The doctor is grinning and his eyes are twinkling, and though he seems kindly, he gives me the distinct impression that he needs to spend more time with the living. Whit smiles awkwardly in return and soldiers on. “Did you examine the body of Candace Jewel?”

“Yes.” The doctor smoothes his hands over the pages in front of him. “I have all of the information right here.”

“Excellent. What did you determine the cause of death to be for Candace Jewel?”

The doctor looks down at the information in front of him and reads, mumbling to himself for a long moment before saying, “Ah, yes. This was a fascinating mess.” He looks up at Whit, his smile disconcertingly jolly as he says, “I found a .38 special slug lodged in the left side of the pleural cavity. The point of entry originated from the right side of the chest, at a forty-eight degree angle. The slug tore through the right lung, through the mediastinum where it grazed the aorta, and stopped in the upper section of the left lung. The right lung began to collapse and both suffered severe pneumorrhagia, which resulted in asphyxiation.” He chuckles. “And if that hadn’t been enough, the amount of blood that was regurgitating from the tear in the aorta would have bled her out moments later.” There’s a gleam in his eyes. “Even if she had been shot in a fully prepared and staffed operating room, it’s doubtful that she would have survived. It’s a doozy.” He lets out another short chortle. “It was truly one of the more fascinating cases I have ever worked.”

Whit clears his throat. “So you’re saying she suffocated as a result of a gunshot wound?”

“Well, ultimately, she suffocated because her lungs were rapidly filling with blood. But there was much more to it than that.” The doctor’s eyes shine with delight. “Gunshot wounds can do massive damage, especially shotguns and buckshot, but a single bullet to do this kind of damage…” He titters in awe. “Well, it’s just remarkable.”

Whit walks over to Joyce, asking his next question over his shoulder. “Did you take x-rays prior to performing the autopsy?”

“Yes. It’s necessary in cases where it’s possible that there is an object inside the body that needs to be retrieved. It can also help us to determine the cause of death. In the last ten years, it’s become common practice…”

The doctor keeps droning on delightedly as Whit hands Merle the x-ray for approval. She doesn’t contest it, she doesn’t really have a choice. Moments later, Whit has it blown up on the overhead screen and paces a few times in front of the doctor until he finally finishes. Whit tucks his hands in his pockets and as says, “The defense moves to enter exhibit number 131 into evidence. Doctor Newsome, is this the x-ray you took of Candace Jewel?”

The doctor nods. “Yes. I took that before I began the autopsy.”

Whit points at what looks like a puncture wound and asks. “Is this the point of entry of the bullet?”

Leonard clears his throat, pushing his thick glasses hard against the bridge of his nose as he looks hard at the x-ray. “Yes. If you look at the black trail through the chest from that point of entry to the bullet…” Whit uses a laser to point out the dark trail linking the wound to the small piece of metal and Leonard nods. “…that is the actual path the bullet took once it entered the chest. You can see where it tore through the one lung, nicked the heart, and then lodged in the other lung. Just incredible… ”

“Approximately how many autopsies have you performed in your twenty years as a medical examiner, Doctor?”

Leonard’s brows shoot up on his forehead and he chortles, his voice proud as he relates, “Probably ten thousand.”

Whit paces to the right. “And would you consider these wounds to be normal for a shooting?”

“Oh, no, not at all, that’s why it’s so exciting! You see, most shootings occur with a direct line-of-site.” He holds out his hand, pointing it at Whit like a gun. “This one is the first of its kind I’ve seen. The angle that it entered and the point of origin would be unlikely and difficult to achieve, even with a premeditated murder.”

“How did you reach that conclusion?”

He chuckles, his nasal voice slightly condescending as he says, “Well, it’s common sense. If you want to kill someone with a gun, chances are you’ll take a direct approach and aim for the head or heart. You wouldn’t ask your victim to raise their right arm and get on your knees so you can shoot up into their side from an incredibly odd angle.” He shrugs his shoulders. “It’s just highly unlikely and highly unusual.”

Whit nods as he removes the x-ray and adds it to the submitted evidence. “Did you find anything else during the autopsy?”

Leonard thumbs through his file and clears his throat. “Yes, I ran a toxicology test and found high levels of Fluoxetine, Prozac, in her bloodstream, as well as concentrated levels of phenycyclidine, or PCP.”

“So Candace was using a controlled, illegal substance with side effects known to make individuals more volatile?”

“Yes.”

“And that was in addition to prescribed psychotropic drugs that are also known to make someone more volatile?”

“Well, no, I mean, yes… I mean, yes, she was taking a psychotropic drug that can increase homicidal tendencies as a side effect, but I was unable to locate any hospital or physician records that indicate it was prescribed, so I don’t believe that she was receiving the Prozac under the care of a licensed physician.”

Whit nods. “So you believe all of the substances found in the toxicology report to have been illegally abused?”

“Yes.”

“Did you find anything else of note during your examination?”

“Yes, she had a hairline fracture on her right ulna, or forearm, as well as contusions on the knuckles of her right hand.”

Whit walks over to Joyce who hands him some photos… photos of me. “In your medical opinion, what would have caused those wounds?” Whit takes the photos to Merle who can’t contest them, so she sits back angrily, crossing her arms over her chest and plotting ways to pollute the facts or manufacture doubt.

“The fracture is the result of blunt force trauma. The external bruising at the fracture sight is minimal so it’s unlikely that a weapon was used. It appeared to be caused during the altercation or perhaps while falling. The wounds on the right knuckles…” Whit puts the picture under the projector and I see my bruised eye and stitched forehead blow up on the screen. “…are consistent with a fist fight, indicating that she had been hitting something.”

Whit addresses the courtroom. “The defense would like to enter exhibit number 119 into evidence.” He returns to Newsome, pacing as he asks, “Doctor, the injuries on Candace’s knuckles, is it likely they would have caused injuries like these?”

Whit points at the projector and Leonard squints his eyes, adjusting his glasses as he peers at my photo before nodding his head. He studies my bruised face for a moment and seems to get excited. He hurriedly flips through his file where he pulls out a photo, smiles, and says, “Ah ha, yes.” He holds the image out to Whit who shows it to Merle who again can’t contest it. He replaces my photo under the projector as the doctor eagerly explains. “That image is the deceased’s right hand. See the large ring on the digitus medicinalis, um, the ring finger, of her right hand?” We all gaze at the gaudy, fake gold ring. “That ring could have easily caused the gash on the left side of the defendant’s forehead in the previous photo.”

Whit lifts the photo. “Can we keep this photo, Doctor Newsome?”

Leonard smiles. “Yes, of course. The negatives are always kept in the file should duplicates be needed.”

“The defense would like to add exhibit number…”

Whit turns to Joyce who glances at the evidence list and offers a number not already assigned. “…168.”

Whit finishes. “The defense would like to add exhibit number 168 into evidence.” He moves the photo from the projector to the evidence pile and returns to Leonard, pacing as he asks, “Doctor, was there any other relevant information you discovered during the autopsy?”

Leonard looks through his file for a moment before shaking his head. “No, that’s really all there was to it.”

“Thank you, Doctor. I have no further questions.”

Whit returns to his seat and Merle stands. I have no idea why she’d want to cross-examine him considering his testimony was strictly medical findings, but then again, if anyone could find a way twist even the most factual evidence, it’s Merle fucking Rothman. She walks up to Leonard, her stride and demeanor almost… flirtatious? I swallow the bile rising up in my throat. She can’t be serious. “Doctor Newsome, thank you for being here today.” He nods and she smiles as she continues. “I know you must be a very busy man, so I’ll try not to take up too much of your valuable time.”

Leonard chortles nervously and gulps. “I-It’s no trouble at all, ma’am.”

Merle grins widely and gazes straight into his eyes before finally starting with her fucking questions. “You stated that Candace’s ring is consistent with the gash on the defendant’s forehead, but couldn’t that wound have been caused by any ring?”

“Uh, um, yes, I suppose it could, though that particular ring would fit the wound exceedingly well and a DNA test could easily–”

Merle interrupts. “So ultimately, it could have been any ring. You can’t prove it was Candace’s specifically?”

Merle leans in a little bit and I want to be sick as Leonard’s eyes track to her chest and he gulps. “Um, yes, it could have been any ring or sharp object, but just a quick test–”

Merle smiles again. “Thank you, Doctor. Just one more question. The defendant testified that she was lying on the floor and saw the deceased pointing a gun at her family. If she had fired the gun from that position, would that attribute to the strange angle of the entry wound?”

“Uh, well, yes, I suppose it could help account for it, but I imagine the angle at the time of entry would have been much higher.”

“But it is possible?”

“Yes, I suppose so.”

“Thank you, Doctor. No further questions.”

Leonard is escorted from the room and I have to hand it to Merle, she could twist anything into a mess if she had a mind to; unfortunately for me, she does. Once the doctor is gone Whit stands. “The defense calls Marybeth Duffy to the stand.”

Duffy is escorted forward, sworn in and seated, and I feel like the pressure in the room is dropping. It’s getting close now. Kelly was the only witness left after Duffy and then it’s over… my fate will have been sealed. I feel the pendulum pinch in a little closer and the room starts to vibrate with nervous energy. I just want to be done, and God help me, I hope I haven’t made the biggest mistake of my life.  Whit’s voice is warm as he welcomes and thanks her. “Lieutenant Duffy, thank you for being here today.”

Duffy nods, setting her file on the desk in front of her. “You’re welcome.”

Whit tucks a hand in his pocket. “Lieutenant, how are you currently employed?”

“I work for the city of Los Angeles Police Department, West Hollywood.”

“How long have you been with the city of Los Angeles Police Department?”

“Approximately four years.”

“And are you a P.O.S.T. certified police officer?”

“Yes, I am.”

“What are you current job duties and responsibilities?”

“I work for the LAPD’s homicide division. I’m a Lieutenant II, which means I ensure appropriate and sufficient deployment of officers depending on crime trends, respond to scenes of serious crimes such as homicides, make sure the Captain is apprised of critical information, as well as assume the role of acting Captain in his absence.”

“Do you respond to all of the homicides that are reported?”

“No, not all of them. I only have jurisdiction over my geographical area in West Hollywood. Other stations within Los Angeles will have a lieutenant to cover other homicides in other areas.”

“When you are called to the scene of a homicide, what are your duties?”

“I delegate officers to provide certain functions, such as taping off the crime scene to prevent contamination and assisting in the collection of evidence. I also make sure that the bomb squad, S.W.A.T. team, forensics team, coroner, EMTs, et cetera are on-site as needed. After that, I’ll assign a detective to the case and help him or her to locate and prosecute the perpetrator.”

Whit nods. “Did you respond two months ago to a shooting that had taken place on Harper Avenue at the home of Bette and Tina Porter-Kennard?”

“Yes.”

“What did you do when you arrived on the scene?”

“I arrived roughly ten to fifteen minutes after patrol officers and medical support had responded to the call from dispatch. I ordered the officers to tape off the area and keep civilians off the premises. When I entered the residence, I saw the defendant unconscious, and her wife, in the far corner of the room.” Corky glares at Duffy and I wonder if he is mildly retarded. She’s talking about a murder scene and all he can focus on is the fact that we’re lesbians? “EMTs were assisting Bette, so I focused on identifying the body just behind the front door. I found a wallet in her back pocket, and identified her as Candace Jewel. One of the other EMTs informed me that she was already dead when they had arrived, and the body had been moved from the front door by responding officers.”

“Did you collect any evidence yourself?”

Duffy nods. “I collected the statements from both the defendant and her wife. That is all the evidence I personally collected.”

“What other evidence was collected?”

“The forensic evidence, fingerprints, et cetera, were handled by the LAPD forensics team. Medical evidence, such as the bullet that took Ms. Jewel’s life, the cause of death, and the body itself, were collected by the medical examiner and coroner. The physical evidence, gun, bullet casings, et cetera, was collected and processed by the lead detective, Mario Leavenworth, to whom I assigned to this case.”

“Is there a process of assigning someone or do you hand-pick the lead detective for specific reasons?”

“No, there is a rotation that pulls from a pool of twenty to twenty-five detectives. Each time a detective is assigned to a case, he or she is moved to the bottom of the rotation, giving them about a month to a month and a half before they’ll be assigned a new case. Of course, sometimes it’s less depending on the number of homicides. The gap in cases gives them time to focus on closing their current case before another is added to their workload. Mario was the next detective in line, so he was assigned.”

Whit paces to the right. “Starting with the witness evidence, can you please explain your findings?”

Duffy flips through her information before speaking. “I spoke with Bette and Tina that afternoon in the hospital. Both of them stated that when they arrived home, Ms. Jewel was waiting for them with a gun and held them at gunpoint. They stated that the gun was fired once as a warning shot before Bette and Candace fought for control of the weapon. The gun was fired a second time during this altercation, after which the gun was dropped. Bette stated that she received several blows to the head before Ms. Jewel again obtained the weapon and aimed it at Tina who had called 9-1-1 from the residential phone. Bette moved in front of the weapon, grabbed it, and turned it away from herself where it was fired once more, fatally wounding Ms. Jewel and thus ending the altercation.”

Whit paces to the left. “What forensic evidence was collected?”

“There were fingerprints on the gun from both the defendant and the deceased. Ms. Jewel’s fingerprints were the only prints present on the handle of the weapon. Mrs. Porter-Kennard’s fingerprints were found only on the barrel of the weapon.”

“Did this evidence line up with my client’s statement?”

“Yes. If Bette had fired the weapon, her fingerprints would have been on the handle. Bette stated that she grabbed the gun and turned it as it was being fired. This evidence lines up with that statement.”

Whit paces to the right. “What other forensic evidence did you catalog?”

She reads from the file again for a moment and looks up. “Ms. Jewel’s fingerprints were also found on the back door, on the inside, near the deadbolt, where a window pane in the door had been busted out.”

“And does this fit with my client’s statement?”

“Yes. Both Bette and Tina stated that Candace was in the house when they arrived. We determined this to be the point of unlawful entry.”

Whit nods. “Was there any other forensic evidence?”

“Yes. We also performed gun powder swipes on all three witnesses: Tina, Bette, and Candace. We found residue burns on both of Bette’s hands, and only on Candace’s right hand. Tina had not handled the weapon at all.”

“Does this evidence fit the defendant’s story?”

“Yes. People rarely switch hands while firing a weapon, so Bette’s story that she had been gripping the gun as it was being pointed at her not only seemed plausible, but probable.”

Whit nods. “Based on the evidence gathered, what was the official determination of the Los Angeles Police Department for this case?”

“It was ruled as an accidental death, and even if it hadn’t been, penal code 198.5, the Home Protection Bill of Rights, states that the defendant had the right to defend her home and loved ones against an unlawful intruder if reasonable danger was present. Either way, we would not have arrested her. Given that all of the evidence matched her story, we had no reason to pursue a conviction.”

“Lieutenant, do you see any reason why my client should have been charged?”

“No, I do not.”

“In your professional opinion, why do you think she was prosecuted?”

My heart starts pounding in my throat as I look hard into Duffy’s eyes. They had better not have this trial thrown out against my wishes. I want this over. Duffy smirks at me as she says, “I believe that there is someone with a vendetta against your client that is trying to have her prosecuted.”

Merle stands. “Objection. No evidence presented substantiates this.”

Whit turns to Corky. “The Lieutenant does have hard evidence to support this theory, your honor. That is why I asked the question.”

Corky waves his hand imperiously. “Overruled.”

Merle sits down rigidly and Whit tucks his hands in his pockets as he paces to the left. “Lieutenant, how did you come to this conclusion?”

Duffy holds up the file in her hands. “While investigating Candace’s death, I had a hunch and I followed it. I looked into Ms. Jewel’s financial records. She had been receiving large sums of money for the past year from Kelly Wentworth.” Duffy looks at Merle. “Others involved in this case have received payments from this same individual as well.”

Merle stands in a panic. “Objection! Um, uh… relevance!”

Corky calls the attorneys forward and I watch as Joyce joins them in a heated argument. Merle is angry. Everything from her wild hand gestures to the muted and unintelligible scratching sounds of her quieted voice scream panic. While I have no intention of having her outed during this trial, it is exceedingly pleasing to see her squirm.

Merle’s squirming relaxes into an easy smile and my heart sinks into my toes. She just got the evidence thrown out… and it’s over. Without that evidence, I don’t see how we can win this. Whit and Joyce are still fighting it, but Merle’s no longer worried. There’s a surge of ire through my blood, quickening my breaths and causing my heart to throb in my temples. It lasts only a moment as calm acceptance takes over. She’s won and there’s no sense being angry about it.

I pull the photo from my pocket and stare at the happy faces of my family in a daze. A warm body settles in next to me, leaning in to whisper, “Merle got the financial evidence thrown out but don’t worry. Whit has something else up his sleeve. Duffy was very thorough. This isn’t over yet, Bette.”

I hear Joyce but her words aren’t registering. All I can do is gaze at my family, this beautiful family that I will only see through a Plexiglas window once a week. My heart aches to hold them right now, find any sense of comfort that being with them instills in me. I feel… empty, just empty, and I did this to myself. I traded my family for peace of mind, peace of soul, and now I realize too late that it won’t work. Either way, if it’s only one or the other, I’ll never have peace of mind. Just like with everything in my world, it seems it’s all or nothing.

Corky’s hate-laden voice is smug as he proudly proclaims, “Sustained. The jury will disregard the witness’s last remark.”

I look to see Duffy’s eyes darken in anger as Whit approaches her, still tall, intimidating, and calm, even while extremely frustrated. I can see one of the hands tucked into his pockets fidgeting as he continues. “Lieutenant, is there any other pertinent information or evidence to this case that corroborates my client’s statement?”

Duffy seems to be reading something on his face and leans back in understanding. “All of the physical, medical, and forensic evidence corroborates Bette and Tina’s statements–”

Merle’s rasping voice interrupts again. “Objection, your honor. Not all of the evidence corroborates the defendant’s statement, only some. While the defendant’s statement is a viable option, it has not been proven to be fact, and there are other options to be considered that are just as viable.”

Corky rolls his eyes as he says, “Sustained. The jury will disregard the witness’s last remark.” He turns to Duffy. “Please stick to the facts, Lieutenant.”

Duffy is seconds from reaching over the bench and strangling this man, but the untrained eye would never know it. I’ve glimpsed the darkness that lies behind her aloof, condescending demeanor, and honestly, she’s frightening. Her sky-blue eyes are like ice, her countenance smug and dangerous as she little more than ignores the judge and continues. “There is one more fact to consider.” I furrow my brows and perk my ears to listen. “Approximately four years ago, Bette’s gallery was targeted for embezzlement by Kelly Wentworth. While Kelly was being booked, Bette and Tina were at the station and Kelly threatened them before being escorted to a holding cell. Her business card was found in Candace Jewel’s wallet.” She opens her file and hands the card to Whit who takes it to Merle. Merle sighs, knowing she can’t contest this and Whit adds it into the evidence.

“Lieutenant, are you saying that a woman with a personal vendetta against my client contacted Candace Jewel?”

“Yes.”

“What was Ms. Wentworth’s threat as she was being booked?”

“When Kelly found out that Bette turned her in, she was angry. Bette asked her if she was planning to kill her and Kelly just laughed. She didn’t say it directly, but the intent was visible.”

“Thank you, Lieutenant. I have no further questions.”

Whit returns to our table and Merle saunters up to Duffy as if she doesn’t have a care in the world. “Lieutenant, I’d like to have another look at the evidence with you. You stated that there were fingerprints from both Candace and Bette on the gun?”

Duffy’s voice is calm. “Yes.”

“Bette’s prints were found on the barrel and Candace’s prints on the grip?”

“Yes.”

“Is it impossible to fire a gun if you’re holding it incorrectly?”

“It’s nearly impossible. It takes a lot of effort to fire it while holding the barrel. The recoil would injure you and there would be little to no precision.”

Merle nods. “So it’s possible?”

“Very difficult, but possible.”

Merle tucks her hands behind her back and starts pacing. “You state the precision would be altered?”

“The precision would be nearly non-existent.”

“Couldn’t that account for the odd angle of the point of entry?”

Duffy smirks at Merle. “At close range, gripping nothing but the barrel, the chances of you shooting yourself are far higher than being able to aim a weapon on anyone else. Also, as I already stated, the recoil would injure you because you wouldn’t be able to brace and absorb it correctly.”

“But… it’s still possible?”

Duffy smirks. “It’s a billion to one possibility. Bette’s statement–”

Merle holds up a hand. “You stated that Candace’s fingerprints were on the backdoor near the padlock where a windowpane was busted out.”

“Yes.”

“Is there any way to disprove that Candace may have attempted to escape through the back door, but was attacked, and that’s when the altercation occurred and moved them to the front room?”

Duffy’s eyes are hard as she considers this. “No.”

“So it’s possible those prints got there by innocent means?”

“It’s unlikely.”

“Is it or is it not within the realm of possibility?”

“Yes.”

Merle smiles and switches gears. “Lieutenant, you stated that when you arrived, you identified Candace via the contents of her wallet. Did you find Kelly Wentworth’s card at that time?”

“No. We didn’t fully search the contents until the evidence had been collected and processed at the station.”

“Had you known Kelly Wentworth prior to her arrest for embezzlement?”

“Yes.”

“How did you know her?”

Duffy’s eyes grow impossibly dark with a past that still haunts her and I realize that that look is precisely why I’m here. I don’t want to have my past hanging over my head anymore like hers does. “I was a sergeant for the New York Police Department before accepting the Lieutenant position here four years ago. While working homicide, I was assigned to investigate the death of Deke Wentworth, Kelly’s husband.”

Merle nods. “And did you ever find who committed that crime?”

“No conviction was made. The case is still open.”

“Did you attempt to prosecute Kelly Wentworth?”

“Yes.”

“Why?”

“The evidence pointed to her, but her alibi checked out.”

“Did you drop the case after her alibi cleared her?”

“No.”

“Did you harass her?”

“No, I tailed her, as is within my rights while investigating a suspect.”

“How long did you continue to pursue her after she’d been cleared?”

“Nearly three months.”

Merle nods. “And during this time, did you ever have a confrontation with her?”

Duffy clenches her jaw. “Not directly.”

“Who did you have a confrontation with?”

“I found out that she’d been having an extramarital affair with her alibi, John Willis, for more than a year before her husband had died. I also found out that her husband had put in a request with his lawyer for a divorce five days prior to his death. She had signed a prenup when they had married, and she was about to lose everything. He husband died before the divorce was completed. I went to John Willis and tried to get the truth out of him, showing him the information I had discovered. He told me he was too scared to testify against Kelly and advised me to leave her alone. He said that bad things tend to happen to people who interfere in her life. A week later I was staking out the front door of her apartment building. She was inside. I-I fell asleep because I had been working double shifts, and when I woke, there was a manila folder on the windshield. Inside of it were pictures of my wife and daughter at the grocery store, the park…” Duffy swallows hard. “The threat was clear.”

Merle interrupts. “So ultimately, you have no evidence to tie Kelly Wentworth to any of these events?”

Duffy seethes. “No. It’s my word against hers. But I can tell you this, I ignored that warning, and…” Duffy’s emotions seem to shut down, her eyes shudder closed, and her voice becomes detached as she finally reveals her past. “…and a week later my wife and child died in a car accident. The driver was John Willis, who happened to be extremely intoxicated.”

“So you believe that Kelly targeted you and committed these crimes?”

“Yes.”

“But you can’t prove any of it.”

“No. I can’t.”

“So you believe that Kelly killed her husband but you can’t prove it. You say that she threatened you, but you can’t prove it. You believe that she killed your family, but you can’t prove it. You blame her for all of these terrible occurrences, but can’t prove them?”

“I see blame where it is due, Ms. Rothman.”

“So you followed her here to L.A., hoping you could fulfill the hope of catching her, is that correct?”

Duffy stiffly replies, “I saw a promotion and place to start over. She just happened to be here.”

“Do you still hope to catch her?”

“I want her to pay for her crimes.”

“So it’s safe to say that you’d do anything, even illegally link her to this case, as a way to make her pay for her the alleged crimes you can’t substantiate?”

Duffy expression is deadly serious as she looks Merle right in the eyes. “No. If I was willing to do break the law to take her down, I’d have done much more than tie her to this case.” Duffy leans forward, her eyes almost black and power radiating off of her. “She’s a criminal, Ms. Rothman. Given time, she’ll slip up. I will be there to escort her to her jail cell when she does, but it will be by legal means.”

Merle leans in. “So tying her to this case isn’t your way of hurrying the process along?”

“No. I found her card in Candace’s wallet. A dead woman tied her to these proceedings.”

You found that evidence in Candace’s wallet?”

“Yes.”

“And you didn’t plant that evidence?”

“No. I’m not a criminal.”

“Don’t you find that coincidental?”

“No, just lucky.”

“No further questions, your honor.”

Duffy stands and glares at Merle on her way out, the bailiff in tow. Compton turns to Whit, frustrated. “Does the defense have any further witnesses?”

Whit stands. “Yes, your honor. The defense would like to call Kelly Wentworth to the stand.” I watch Merle as moments later Kelly is brought in through the door towards the front of the room. She and Kelly make eye contact and I wonder how on earth Whit is going to get me out of this mess.

Kelly is dressed like a traffic pylon, her hair shorter and just barely reaching her shoulders. Her restraints clank as she shuffles to the witness stand, a bailiff gripping her bicep tightly. She’s sworn in and seated, her too-wide, disturbingly blank eyes locking onto me. She’s grinning widely at nothing in particular and I can tell that seeing me provokes no reaction in her at all. It’s almost as if she doesn’t recognize me.

She’s changed since the last time I saw her. She looks… hardened. Her face is more creased and prematurely aged, though her conservative makeup is relatively successful at hiding some of it. Her teeth are still white and her smile wide, though she doesn’t have any of her usual predatory flair. All in all, it’s disconcerting to see her and I have no idea what it was that I saw in her in college, or what it was about her that would cause me to toy with her when she re-entered my life. I look at her, and like my past, I see nothing appealing. I’m struck by just how much of my life I wasted before realizing who I really am. And part of me now still wonders, still struggles with that one question: who am I?

Whit steps up to her and a heavy silence falls over the room as he stares at her. I can only see his back so I have no idea what he’s thinking as he studies her, but that same cat-like grin of faltering lucidity is splitting her face as she gazes up at him. The vacancy in her eyes forces me to wonder if they lobotomized her while in prison, or maybe brought back electroshock therapy. Whit finally breaks the silence and I exhale slowly as he treats her very gently. “Thank you for being here today, Mrs. Wentworth.”

Kelly crosses her legs, demurely pushing the hair out of her face. “It’s not like I had a choice.”

Whit tucks his hands in his pockets. “I’ll try to make this as easy as possible for you, Mrs. Wentworth.” Her expression is still vacant as Whit continues. “Four days ago you were found in violation of your probation and hiding in the small village of Manganitis, Greece. You had been listed as time served, though you had one year probation as a condition of your early release. Now, I don’t believe you were, but I have to ask… were you running?”

Kelly doesn’t even flinch, her voice innocent. “Oh no! I have no reason to run. I didn’t know I couldn’t travel and I was going to come back anyway. I wanted to get out and see the world, so on a whim, I did.”

Whit nods. “The release papers you signed stated the terms of your probation clearly. Did you read them before signing?”

She giggles girlishly. “I was so excited to be getting out, that I’m afraid I wasn’t paying very much attention. Besides, my lawyers assured me that everything on the document was fine.”

Whit smiles warmly. “They didn’t tell you that travel plans have to be approved by your probation officer?”

She shyly tucks a lock of short hair behind her ear. “I’m sorry, I’m not really sure. Like I said, I was just so excited. It was all just a misunderstanding. I have ties here. This is my home. I wouldn’t want to run away… I have no reason to run.”

“Mrs. Wentworth, how do you know my client, Bette Porter-Kennard?”

“We were roommates and best friends at Yale.”

“You were best friends?”

Kelly finally reacts, though it seems practiced as her expression turns remorseful, her voice pathetic. “Yes, unfortunately, Bette and I had a misunderstanding that ended our friendship.”

“What was this misunderstanding?”

She sighs, appearing to all the world to be deeply pained. “Like I said, we were best friends and roommates. We spent almost all of our time together. Well…” She swallows hard. “I-I knew that Bette was… a lesbian, and although I’m not like that, she was still my friend, you know? I loved her.” Whit nods and she continues. “Well, I didn’t realize it, but I guess she had… feelings, for me. She tried to kiss me one night, but I was in love with my boyfriend, Deke. I tried to explain that to her but she got… she got so angry. She tried to kiss me again, and I-I had to push her off. I knew she was jealous of Deke, but what could I do? I just didn’t feel that way about her.” She shakes her head sadly. “She got very depressed after that… stopped talking to me, stopped talking to everyone. I was so worried about her, but she wanted nothing to do with me. Two days later, when I came back to the room, she had moved out, and that was it.” She shrugs despondently. “It hurt and I felt terrible, but I couldn’t fix it for her. It was all just a misunderstanding…”

“Were you upset about Bette?”

“Yes, of course… we were so close. It hurt me deeply.”

“Were you angry with her for what had happened?”

“For a long time I was, but I had Deke and my other friends to help me.”

Whit nods. “You married Deke?”

Kelly smiles sadly. “Yes. He was the love of my life. I miss him so much.”

“What happened with Deke, Mrs. Wentworth?”

She exhales a heavy, shuddering breath. “He um, a few years into our marriage, he started to drink all the time and he was having affairs. But I loved him, and I thought we would work it out.” A single, manufactured tear falls from one of her empty eyes. “I tried everything to keep us together, but he wouldn’t stop the affairs…”

“That must have been devastating.”

She sniffs. “Yes. I was heart-broken.”

“Did it anger you that he wouldn’t stop having affairs?”

“Yes… and no. It hurt me deeply.”

Whit’s voice gentles. “Is that why you had an affair with John Willis… because you were angry with Deke… you want him to know how it felt?”

Kelly chokes out a single, emotional reply. “Yes.”

“What happened next, Mrs. Wentworth?” It takes several moments for Kelly to reply and Whit hands her a tissue. “Take your time, Mrs. Wentworth.”

She nods gratefully, letting a few long moments pass as she cleans herself up. “Things started to get worse. One night, we had a huge fight. He-he hit me and I knew that I had to leave him. I went and spent the night with John, and…” She sobs out the rest. “…when I got home, Deke… he-he was dead at the bottom of the stairs!” She weeps for a long moment before continuing. “He-he must have gotten drunk and fallen…”

Whit waits several minutes while she collects herself and continues. “The lead detective on Deke’s case thought that you had pushed your husband.”

She snaps her head up, her tears vanishing. “No! Never!” She looks around, remembering where she is, and clears her throat and fixes her hair, the tears returning. “I loved him.” She takes a deep breath and calms down. “That detective…” She says the word as if it tastes sour. “She was just confused. It was all just a misunderstanding…”

Whit nods. “Was the detective harassing you?”

“Yes, she stalked me and tried to intimidate me for months.”

Whit paces to the left. “That must have made you very angry, to be accused of killing your husband and then have a detective who wouldn’t believe you watching your every move.”

Kelly’s voice is low. “Yes.”

“So you didn’t threaten the detective’s family?”

Kelly is indignant. “What?! Of course not!”

Whit puts up a placating hand. “It’s okay, Mrs. Wentworth. I’m on your side here.” She seems to relax and I can’t help but wonder what Whit is playing at as he continues. “So you didn’t kill your husband, John Willis, or the detective’s family?”

Kelly lifts her chin. “I’d never hurt anyone. As I said, it was all just a misunderstanding.”

Whit nods. “I understand, Mrs. Wentworth. It must have been a devastating time for you.”

Kelly sniffs. “Yes, it was the worst time of my life.”

“Were you hurt and angry?”

She nods, her voice pitiful. “Yes.”

“Is that why you moved to L.A.?”

She nods. “Yes. I needed to get away from New York. It held so many memories and so much pain. I decided to invest in expanding my art collection, and L.A. seemed like the best place besides New York to do that. So I moved.”

“Is that how you came back into contact with Bette Porter-Kennard?”

She smiles. “Yes. It was so good to see her again. I had been working with Leo Herrera, and one day, I happened to run into her. We hit it off almost immediately. It was like old times.”

“Did you become friends again?”

“Yes. We spent weeks and weeks together talking about art, looking at it, just enjoying our time together like we used to…” My stomach turns as I remember fighting her off at every turn, and only gets worse as I remember liking the attention. It was so childish of me. Kelly frowns and sighs dramatically. “But, as time went on, she seemed to… still… have feelings for me… romantic feelings. And again, I’m just not gay. I don’t see women that way. I-I’ve come to learn that it’s unnatural.”

I roll my eyes. She’s delusional. Nothing she’s said so far has been true, and Whit seems to sympathize with her. “But you still loved Bette as a friend?”

“Yes, of course. I missed Bette after she so abruptly cut me out of her life. I really wanted us be friends again, and I think that’s why Leo asked me for help with her gallery.”

“What do you mean Leo asked you to help with Bette’s gallery?”

She smoothes her jumpsuit over her knees, removing the creases, and adopts an air of superiority. “One night Leo confided in me that Bette was going to lose the gallery. He said that she was slipping, and without some substantial sales, the gallery would go under. I didn’t want that to happen to her, and I knew she would be too proud to accept my help directly. So, Leo and I started to funnel my money into the gallery to help it grow. In return, I started an exceptional private collection.”

“So you and Leo weren’t embezzling money from the gallery?”

Her eyes harden. “Absolutely not! Bette was my friend. I had no idea that Leo was using me and my money to do that. It was all just a misunderstanding.”

“What about the video tape that showed you and Leo working in collusion? That piece of evidence was the crux of the deputy DA’s case against you and ultimately the reason you were convicted.”

“Like I said, I was working with Leo to help, I had no idea that he was embezzling from the gallery.”

Whit nods. “It was just a misunderstanding.”

She holds her chin higher. “Yes, it was.”

“And Bette turned you in?”

Her wide, vacant eyes glance at me and just for a moment and I can see the angry hatred behind them. “Yes, after everything I did for her, after everything I’d been through with her and forgiven her for, she betrayed me again.”

“The second betrayal must have made you twice as angry as it did the first time”

“Yes. I finally realized that I couldn’t trust her, even though I wanted to so badly.”

“And to add insult to injury, that betrayal you put in prison?”

“Yes.”

“That must have been extremely upsetting and made you even angrier.”

“Yes.”

“Did anything happen to you while in prison?”

Kelly takes a deep, calming breath. “Prison is a hard and violent place. It was… despicable, and I didn’t deserve to be there. I just don’t understand how my friend could do that to me…”

I want to gag as Whit nods. “You have no privacy in prison, not even when you use the restroom.”

“No, you don’t.”

“Access to the everyday items you take for granted on the outside, things like a toothbrush or soap, are difficult to come by and impossible to hold on to. Am I right?”

Kelly’s eyes flicker with angry recognition but I still can’t help but wonder what Whit is doing. I look over at Merle and if I didn’t know any better, I’d say she was sweating; I didn’t know lizards could sweat. Kelly’s voice is clipped. “Yes.”

Whit shakes his head in empathy. “And the guards, they’re hard on you?”

“Yes.”

“You have to ask permission to do anything?”

“Yes.”

“And if they don’t want to let you, they don’t have to?”

“No.”

“Did they ever abuse you, or put you in solitary?”

“Yes.”

“What about the other inmates? Did they ever try to hurt you?”

Kelly clenches her jaw tightly. “Yes, they did. They were terrible to me and got me in trouble when I hadn’t done anything wrong.”

Whit sighs. “All of that would make anyone very upset, maybe even livid. Did going through all those terrible things make you even angrier at Leo Herrera, at Bette?”

“Yes, it did, for a long–”

“Were you angry with the police for not believing you?”

“Yes.”

“No one believed you at all?”

“No.”

“You were wrongly locked away where no one would listen to you and no one would help you; and all because one of your oldest friends betrayed you. There wasn’t anything you could do from jail was there?”

“No, I had no options at all.”

“Did you tell Bette how badly it hurt when she betrayed you?”

Kelly exhales sharply. “No, I didn’t get the chance to.”

“If you could have, would you have told her?”

“Yes, but as I said, she didn’t care.”

Whit goes rigid, his voice dropping into a low, icy timbre. “Is that why you sought out Candace Jewel?”

“Yes, I…” Kelly snaps her mouth shut and eyes Whit speculatively, her blue eyes darkening with rage she can barely control. Her voice is low. “I’m not sure what you mean.”

Whit walks over to Joyce and retrieves a piece of paper. “Mrs. Wentworth, did you know Candace Jewel?”

Kelly gazes at the document in his hands, knowing she’s just been had, but having no idea which answer will implicate herself. I can see her pulse point pounding as her wide eyes narrow and her mind tries to process the best way to answer. She glances at Merle who refuses to meet her eyes. Whit hands the document to Merle. She reads for a moment and glares at Kelly in silent communication. Kelly collects herself as she finds a way to dance. “No, I didn’t know her.”

Whit cocks his head. “She didn’t visit you while you were in jail?”

Kelly dances again. “Um, someone visited me, but… but I never knew her name.”

Whit steps forward. “The defense would like to enter exhibit 169 into evidence.” He places the paper on the projector. “Let the record reflect that for the last year, Candace Jewel visited Mrs. Wentworth every week up until the day before she died.” He adds the evidence to the growing pile and returns to Kelly. “Mrs. Wentworth, if you didn’t know her, why was she visiting you every week?”

Kelly glares at Whit. “A woman came to visit me one day with a bible and we began to talk about God. I thought she was a part of one of those prison outreach programs. She helped me become born again.”

“You spoke with her for a year, every week, and you didn’t get to know her, not even her name?”

“Not really, no. She just helped me to see that I could choose a different path in life and that God loved me and would forgive me. She helped save my life.”

“What did God need to forgive you for?”

Kelly takes a calming breath, speaking through clenched teeth. “I’m not perfect.”

Whit nods and I huff sardonically. “So she didn’t introduce herself during these visits and you spent two hours a week speaking to a perfect stranger about religion?”

“Yes.”

“Did you ever tell her why you were in jail?”

“Yes.”

“So you spoke about Bette?”

“Well… no, why would we?”

“You stated that you were angry at Bette, that she was responsible for your imprisonment since she turned you in to the authorities. If you told Candace why you were in jail, wouldn’t you have mentioned the reason?”

“We didn’t talk about Bette.”

Whit paces to the left. “Surely it came up as she was responsible for your being incarcerated.”

“I-I’m not sure if I said Bette’s name–”

“And she never told you her name?”

“I called her ‘sister’.”

Whit sighs. “You never spoke to her prior to being imprisoned?”

“I don’t see why we would have.”

“Why not?”

“Well, because… she followed different circles.”

“She didn’t have much money?”

“No.”

“How would you know her financial status?”

Kelly clenches her jaw. “It was just… obvious.”

“How was it obvious?”

The throws her hands up in frustration, catches herself, and settles back into her demure pose. “Her clothes, and her lack of education and proper etiquette.”

“Did you ever offer her money in return for all she was doing to help you?”

Kelly glowers at Whit. “I don’t see why that matters.”

“You could tell she was struggling, she had helped you out of the kindness of her heart, and you never offered her money to help her?”

“What I do with my money is my business.”

“Is that the same money you received on your husband’s death; the same money you stood to lose if he followed through with a divorce under a prenuptial agreement?”

The temperature in the room drops several degrees and Kelly’s composure starts to fade. “What are you insinuating?”

Merle stands. “Objection, your honor. Mrs. Wentworth was cleared and no charges were brought against her for her husband’s death. She’s not on trial here.”

Whit doesn’t look away from Kelly. “Question withdrawn, your honor.”

Corky instructs the jury to disregard and Whit presses on immediately. “You stated ‘sister’ saved your life. Why didn’t you offer to help her with your money?”

“Because…” Kelly stammers. “I don’t know. I may have given her some, but nothing substantial.”

“And you’re certain that you hadn’t met her prior to being incarcerated?”

“Yes!”

“So you just happened to be visited by a woman who shares your anger for Bette?”

Kelly sneers. “I have no idea.”

“But you mentioned Bette to her?”

“Maybe, I don’t know!”

“You stated you did. She didn’t mention Bette to you?”

“I don’t know!”

“So she was just helping you out of the kindness of her heart, with no prior knowledge that you both had issues with my client, and when you told her Bette was the reason you were in jail, she never mentioned that she knew my client as well?”

“I already told you I’m not sure! She may have mentioned it in passing but that’s all!”

“Did you have some of your business cards with you while you were in jail?”

Kelly furrows her brows and stares at Whit like he’s simple. “No. Why would I need business cards in jail?”

Whit smiles as he comes back to the file and retrieves a small card. He walks towards Merle who waves him away in resignation. Whit puts the card on the projector. “The defense moves to enter exhibit number 170 into evidence.” He looks at Kelly. “Is this one of your business cards, Mrs. Wentworth?”

Kelly stares at the screen, her namely proudly printed on it. “Yes.”

“And you didn’t need or have access to these while in jail?”

“No.”

“Are you certain?”

Kelly snaps, “Yes!”

Whit approaches her. “Mrs. Wentworth, that card was in Ms. Jewel’s wallet the day she died. When did you give it to her?”

Kelly’s empty eyes harden, her words clipped. “I have no idea how she got it.”

“You didn’t give it to her?”

“How could I?! I met her while I was in jail and I didn’t have any of them with me.”

Whit walks to the projector and flips the card over to show a note on the back and reads it out loud. “We need to talk. I think you’ll find that we have a common problem and I need your help to deal with it. I’ll make it worth your while.” He looks hard at Kelly. “Did you write this note?”

Kelly drips with malice. “No.”

Whit sighs and walks over to Joyce, retrieving what looks like a hand-written letter. “The defense moves to enter exhibit number 171 into evidence.” He hands it to Merle who objects and there’s a long moment of tense discussion at the bench while Kelly stares at me, her eyes a blue void that send a chill racing down my spine. I decide to smirk at her and watch happily as a flush of anger colors her overly-pale skin. Just to further incense her, I wink and wonder just how close to the edge she is.

The fight at the bench doesn’t last long and it’s only a few moments before Merle returns angrily to her seat and Whit puts the paper on the overhead projector. “Mrs. Wentworth, this letter was retrieved from the evidence file for your late husband’s homicide case. Is this your hand-writing?”

Kelly is trembling with rage as she says, “Yes.”

Whit puts the card next to the writing to make a comparison, finding the words in the letter and matching them to the note on the card. It’s obviously a match. “Mrs. Wentworth, the hand-writing looks exactly the same. Are you sure you didn’t write this note?”

Kelly seethes out, “Yes, I’m certain I didn’t write it!”

Joyce offers Whit another document that Merle tries and fails to contest. Whit adds it to evidence, quickly putting it up on the screen. “Mrs. Wentworth, this is a sworn affidavit from Shelly Girard, the LAPD forensic hand-writing analyst. She states that the letter and the note were written by the same person.”

Kelly and Merle lock eyes and I literally watch as Merle folds her hands on the table, shakes her head imperceptibly, and diverts her attention, effectively leaving Kelly to her own devices. It takes only a moment once Merle abandons her for Kelly to lose it completely. “Fine! I wrote the note on the card!”

Whit goes in for the jugular. “What problem did you want to talk to Candace about?”

Kelly chuckles mirthlessly. “What does it matter?! I didn’t kill her and you know it!” Kelly points at me. “She killed her!”

Whit’s voice is loud and demanding. “What did you want to talk to Candace about?!” Kelly doesn’t answer but she’s shuddering as she glares at Whit coldly. Whit steps forward, intimidating and unyielding, his voice louder as he reasons, “Come now, Mrs. Wentworth. You had all of these misunderstandings where you were accused of murdering your husband, accused of murdering an innocent woman and a child, where you were imprisoned for embezzlement by your old friend. You were angry and hurt by your own admission and you’ve just been caught perjuring yourself.”

The gallery behind me gasps, a low murmuring filling the room like a low thunder as Whit pushes on. “Candace Jewel, the one other person who was known to have a serious issue with my client, just randomly showed up to visit you in jail, Mrs. Wentworth; she just happened to have your card with your cryptic note on her person when she died, and you honestly expect this court to believe that it was all just another misunderstanding?!”

“YES!”

“Mrs. Wentworth, what did you want to talk to Candace about?!”

Kelly points at me again. “HER!”

The courtroom goes quiet and Whit allows this pause for her admission to sink in. “Why talk about Bette?”

Kelly’s voice matches her hollow eyes as she shuts down. “I plead the fifth.”

“So you refuse to answer any more questions?”

“Yes.”

Whit looks to the judge. “No further questions, your honor.”

Compton sighs and looks to Merle questioningly. Merle shakes her head curtly and gives Kelly a look of utter disdain before writing her off completely. Corky addresses the bailiff reluctantly. “Bailiff, remove the witness.” Kelly’s face splits into that same disconcerting grin reserved only for the clinically ill, and her eyes never leave mine as she’s taken from the room. Compton’s loud voice booms out, “We’ll recess for an hour. The jury is reminded of the admonition and those involved in the trial are to remain on the premises.” He bangs his gavel, making me jump, and everyone stands as the judge and jury exit.

I turn to Whit and Joyce and imagine that their pensive, subdued expressions match my own. Shane and Dana come around the low dividing wall to collect me and pull me from the courtroom in a dazed state.


Would I be a terrible person if I said that I can’t even look at Tina right now? She’s sitting right next to me and I feel like we’re on opposite sides of the Grand Canyon. I hate being this distanced from her, especially when I know that the fear and anxiety of the past few days have taken such a toll on her. But I just can’t seem to untwist the relentlessly tightening knot in the pit of my stomach; and I can’t stand looking into her eyes, eyes that used to warm and comfort me, because I know she feels this distance as much as I do. After all we’ve been through, to watch our connection snap apart now would be tragic, but I just don’t know how to hold it together.

So here we sit, staring at each other across a void of my own making, when in reality our eyes are diverted and there’s only a few inches of space between our arms. Our hour of respite is nearly up, and she’s tried to be close to me; she’s tried to make sure I ate something; she’s tried on all counts to make it better, but I just can’t seem to feel it. I think my inability to be close to her has hurt her, just like everything else I can’t seem to refrain from doing. Don’t misunderstand, I love her as much now as I ever have, but I feel like I’m drifting through the night at sea in a dense fog, and can’t see the shore or the bright beacon of her love to lead me safely home. I know it’s there, and I want to find it, but I just don’t know how… and I just have to try.

I reach over and take her hand and she links our fingers. The room is intensely quiet, everyone lost in their own thoughts and worries. Shane and Carmen are curled up together and I wish at that moment that I could hold Tina like that and feel comfort in it. I just feel numb… comatose. I can’t help but think that the cost of my decision to see this through may be the very things I need the most. Again, I think I’ve been foolish, perhaps even selfish. But I can own that. That, in and of itself, is progress… right?

When we returned to the room, we informed everyone of what happened in the courtroom. Alice is the only one that has had the strength to face the emotions that have altered our collective minds. She’s pissed and pacing while she mumbles obscenities about Kelly. The rest of us are just shut down, even Tina. Alice stops abruptly and falls down in the seat next to Dana utterly weary. Dana hesitantly puts her arm around Alice who snuggles into her shoulder and exhales heavily. “Well, at least that bitch gave up the truth. This is a good thing right?”

Tina chuckles acerbically. “Right, it helps Bette’s case.” She throws her free hand up in frustration. “So at least she’ll be at home and not in jail when she’s murdered! This is great news…”

I stroke the feminine fingers that are intertwined tightly with my own, and she starts to calm down. I love her hands. A small smile crooks my lips. They fit perfectly in mine despite the vast differences: light and dark; large and small, separately weak but when linked, infinitely strong. We have managed to hold on this far. We just need to find the strength to hold on a little longer, perhaps even a little tighter. I just hadn’t imagined that I’m on a hit list that won’t end until Kelly is dead.

The door opens, shattering the silent thoughts racing through my neurons, and a bailiff fills the opening with his bulk. This is it. It’s time for closing arguments. The pendulum above me bites into the flesh at my throat and I swallow hard. I meet Tina’s eyes and search for our connection. It’s still there, it’s just weak. She smiles sadly and leans in to leave a chaste kiss on my lips, stroking the side of my face as she gazes at me. I run my hand through her silky hair and take her comforting lavender scent into my lungs. It’s not as potent as usual, but there is a certain amount of muscle memory that it provokes. She stands with me and holds onto my hand until the last minute. I don’t… I can’t… look back. There is only forward, and if I can get through this, she will be on the other side… if I’m lucky.


 

I settle into my chair as the judge instructs, and watch as Merle approaches the jury. Empty minutes tick by, measured by the swinging of the pendulum that has made a wound in me that I fear will never heal.

Merle paces, her arms tucked behind her back and her raspy voice finally finds purchase on the silent room and impatiently waiting ears. “We have heard some compelling evidence from a compelling woman, a woman so smart that she knew just what to do to make sure her story fit the evidence the police collected. But just because it fits, does that mean it’s the truth?” She stops pacing and faces the jury, her voice loud as it echoes throughout the room. “No.” She pauses for a long moment, and dramatic effect, before continuing to pace. “There are many pieces that can fill in the holes of a puzzle, but it’s when you step back and look at the whole picture that you really know what is true and what is false.”

She looks me in the eye as she extends an arm in my direction. “In this case, we have two contesting points of view, sequences of events, but if you step back, you’ll see that there is a surefire way to know who’s telling the truth.” She faces the jury. “And that is to consider your source.” She resumes her trek slowly. “Ask yourselves if you can trust what you’re hearing. I asked myself that question…” She shakes her head. “…and I couldn’t accept Ms. Porter-Kennard’s version of the events. Why? Because Candace Jewel tells a very different story. And not only does she deserve to be heard, but she deserves justice. You remember her name… how could you not? Candace Jewel. Candace. Jewel.”

Merle links her hands in front of her, looking down as she walks. “You have heard eye-witness testimony on the type of person Candace was: a good person, a loving daughter, and a respected and valued member of her community. You saw into her life, into the very heart of her, and you know, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that she didn’t deserve to die.”

She turns and looks at the jury and points at me. “You have also heard compelling eye-witness accounts on the kind of person Bette Porter-Kennard is: a hard, callous, and cruel woman, a woman that will stop at nothing to get what she wants, an alcoholic who can’t even remember the severity of her crimes, and a woman who freely admits that even when she was sober, she was still capable of unconscionable acts. You have heard multiple accounts of attempted rape, sexual maleficence, physical abuse, and emotional torment… and one of these victims was her own partner.” She sighs heavily. “You have heard an outcry from multiple women in your community, a community that is demanding that you stop her before she can harm anyone else. And the reason they cry out is because they want to be able to live in a safe environment, free of the dangers that this woman not only commits, but perpetuates.”

Her voice gets low. “How many of you have children… have families? How would you feel if it was your daughter that had been picked up and sexually violated? How would you feel if it had been your daughter that had been lured into a sexual trap? How would you feel if had been your daughter that had been confused and coerced into trading her body for help or services?” She leans in, resting her hands on the jury box. “How would you feel if it had been your daughter that had been tormented for five years? And how would you feel… if it had been your daughter that had been shot… killed for being inconvenient… left to suffocate in her own blood?”

Merle shakes her head and jerks back into a standing position, her voice loud. “You’d be distraught; you’d be angry; you’d be devastated. Ultimately, you’d feel all the things that Candace’s mother is feeling right now, everything she feels when she comes home to find it empty, everything she feels when she sees a picture, or hears a song, or makes dinner for herself.” There’s a pause and Merle shouts. “You’d want justice for your daughters!”

The room is so quiet I can hear my stomach rolling with her words. “You have seen that the evidence surrounding Candace’s death doesn’t prove anything at all. Both women’s prints were on the weapon. Both women have residue staining their hands. But one…” She holds up a single finger. “…only one lost her life. And that one… is using the evidence to tell you a tale, the tale of a desperate woman who was relentlessly tormented, ridiculed, and persecuted. She wanted it to stop; she wanted peace; she wanted a chance at a happy life. So, she went to confront her tormentor, to ask her to stop, to beg for mercy, and what she got during that confrontation was to be mercilessly attacked and purposefully murdered… all because she was inconvenient. She tried to defend herself, but it wasn’t enough. She tried to run but she only got as far as the back door before she was slammed into it so hard that it broke the window pane and fractured her arm.”

Her voice gets gentle. “And then, she was drug back into an altercation that ended with a bullet, a bullet that viciously tore through her chest, tore open her lungs and her heart, and suffocated her in her own blood…” She points to me. “…blood that is on her hands.”

Her voice is choked as she concludes. “The evidence corroborates this story just as much as it corroborates the defendant’s story. So again I ask you, who do you choose to believe? A woman you have heard and known to be malicious, or a good woman who was just too much in love with the wrong person? The choice is obvious. How could you, in good conscience, choose to believe Ms. Porter-Kennard with the evidence you have seen? How could you, in good conscience, choose not to believe Ms. Jewel with the evidence you have seen? You can’t and you won’t. A woman is dead and it’s your duty to see her murder punished. It is your duty to remember Candace Jewel… remember her story, and make the right decision… the only decision.”

There’s a long moment of stifling silence as she returns to her seat. Whit stands and unbuttons his blazer as he steps up to the jury, tucking a hand into his pocket and lowering his head as he considers Merle’s words carefully. “I agree with Ms. Rothman: you have heard some compelling evidence. But I ask you, what is this trial really about? Is it about stories and possibilities, as the prosecution would lead you to believe, or is it about the truth? I stand on the conviction that we should seek the truth. So what is the truth?”

Whit paces to the right. “Ms. Rothman says that you need to consider the source, so let’s do that. Have you heard compelling testimony that Candace was a good person, an innocent person who gave her heart away to the wrong person?”

Whit stops and shakes his head, his voice loud as he turns to the jury. “No. What you heard was eyewitness testimony that she was unbalanced, that she was chopping up pictures of the defendant and her partner, that she wanted to one day name her first born daughter the same name as my client’s first born, that she went all the way to New York to start a fight and stop a commitment ceremony that she was neither welcomed nor invited to, that my client had to put a restraining order out against her just to break up with her. Do not forget that one of those witnesses was her own mother.”

Whit continues. “You have heard compelling testimony from Nadia Karella that Bette seduced her…” He turns to them again. “…but then you witnessed, with your own eyes, as Nadia perjured herself and said that she had never been in a sexual situation like that… before I showed her and you documented proof, factual evidence, that my client was the fourth…” Whit holds up four fingers. “…person to find herself in that same situation with Nadia. Is Nadia a reliable source?”

Whit shakes his head. “You have heard compelling testimony from Catherine Rothberg who accuses my client of date rape…” He moves slowly in front of the jury, looking each of them in the eye as he continues. “…but you watched camera footage that proves her story was a lie. You saw documented proof that neither of them had checked into the motel. So again, you have to ask yourself, is she a reliable source?”

Whit tucks a hand in his pocket and turns. “You have heard compelling evidence from Katerina Ivanova  – a self-proclaimed prostitute – that says Bette paid her for sex. She then stated that she saw Bette as an easy mark and that no payment arrangements were made prior to their encounter. Is she a reliable source?”

Whit stops and looks hard at the jury. “You then saw Bette’s partner get up on the stand of her own volition and tell you the truth. What was the truth? That something terrible happened between them, that they lost each other, that they hurt each other and struggled with the loss of their son, but then she told you that she loves Bette, that Bette is a good person, and she not only loves her, but trusts her with her life. She had no reason to lie because she didn’t even have to put herself up there. And when she got up there, she said things that could have hurt Bette. Why?” Whit gentles his voice. “Because she’s honest. That is the kind of woman that Bette…” He points to me. “…is partnered with. What kind of source is she? But more importantly, what does that say about Bette?”

He shrugs. “Well, Bette got up on the stand, baring the hurtful information right along with the helpful information.” He points to me his voice loud. “Nothing in her statement can be disproved and she didn’t sugarcoat anything or deny it. She owned it and she took responsibility for it. Why? Because she’s honest. What kind of source is she?”

Whit goes rigid. “And then there’s Kelly Wentworth. She admitted that she sought out Candace to discuss Bette; that she sought out Candace’s help to take care of a mutual problem. And you also know that Kelly told Candace that she would make her help worthwhile.” He gazes hard into each face of the jury. “What does that say about this source? More importantly, what does that say about the type of company Candace was keeping in the last year of her life?”

Whit sighs and tucks both hands in his pockets. “Now, I say we go beyond Candace and Bette and hearsay. I am asking you to delve deeper and go beyond the people who have something to gain by falsifying their stories, and look at the sources that will give us pure, objective truth.”

Whit puts up a hand and starts rattling off the facts. “The prints on the gun prove, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that Bette never touched the trigger of that weapon. They also prove, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that Candace did touch the trigger of that weapon. The gun powder tests prove, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that Candace fired that weapon at least once. The postmortem toxicology report proves, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that Candace was on illegal substances that would make her volatile.” He lifts his other hand and continues ticking. “The prison visitation record proves, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that Candace was speaking to a woman that blames my client for her incarceration. The sworn affidavit from the LAPD proves, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that Kelly Wentworth sought out Candace Jewel to take care of what she described as a ‘mutual problem’.”

Whit holds his hands out at his sides in righteous anger. “Let’s not forget Lieutenant Duffy’s sworn testimony where she states that even if Bette had killed Candace for trespassing, Bette is protected by the California Home Protection Bill of Rights…” He points at the jury. “…the very law you are sworn to uphold when you deliberate. The very law the LAPD deemed relevant enough to file this case as an accidental death. Those, ladies and gentlemen, are your sources.”

Whit clasps his hands in front of him. “Now I’m going to tell you a story, and I’m going to ask that you all close your eyes.” Some of the jury furrow their brows and hesitate, but they all eventually comply. Whit steps forward and gentles his voice. “This is a story about a family; two loving, ecstatic parents bringing their two beautiful, helpless newborns home for the first time. I want you to picture this family… as they step into their home, a place of shelter, comfort, and warmth, only to find a figure waiting with a gun… waiting to shatter that sanctuary. The figure starts shouting and holds the gun on this family, threatening them. And now… now I want you to hear those innocent children screaming.”

There’s a long pause before he continues. “Their mother steps in front of them, answering the preternatural call to protect, as she is fired upon. Fearing for her life, the life of her partner, the lives of her children, she reaches out and does the only thing she can… she fights back. BANG!” The whole room jumps but Whit doesn’t falter. “Another shot goes off but she was lucky. Somehow it missed her and her family. She’s hurt, and tired, and struggling, but the terrified scream of her children pushes her on. She tries with all she has, but she loses the fight. She’s down, she injured, she can barely see because she’s been beaten so badly that she has a concussion, her face is bleeding so badly that it’s running into her eyes. But she has to try. This is her family, her children. She sits up and sees the figure holding the gun on her partner and her children. Their lives are more precious to her than her own and she somehow finds the will to put herself in front of that gun, consciously aware that she may die. That is an outcome she is willing to face. Now imagine she makes one last desperate attempt to grab the weapon, twisting it away just as it’s fired again. She turns to her children and her partner, wanting to tell them how much she loves them, but she can’t… she can’t because wound in her abdomen is bleeding so profusely that she passes out. Now imagine… imagine that this family, is your family.”

There’s a long pause and some of the jurors seem to be angry as they reopen their eyes. Whit strides over to me, holding out his hand and whispering, “Give me your photo.”

I’m a little shocked at first but finally fumble in my pocket, retrieve it, and hand it to him. He strides back up to the jury who are gazing at him intently as he holds up the photo, moving in close and turning slowly to be sure they can all see it clearly. “While you deliberate, while you’re considering all your sources, I’ll ask you to remember two terrified parents protecting two terrified infants. I want you to remember the faces in this photo, because this… ladies and gentlemen… is what Bette Porter-Kennard stood to lose had she chose any differently. This is what you would stand to lose had you been in the same circumstances.”

He stands there, letting the moment and his words sink in, and I feel numb I’m so blown away. Whit has tried with all he has to clear me despite my willingness to sink for a past I’m so far removed from that I can’t even really remember it. I gaze at those twelve strangers as Whit lowers the photo and returns it to me before taking his seat. I look down at the photo, stroking the glossy surface as I realize that this, my future… it’s all in their hands now.

 CVU – ………I’m not even half way through…….. Breaking my damn heart!….:(

CVU – PERFECT! “Whit clasps his hands in front of him. “Now I’m going to tell you a story, and I’m going to ask that you all close your eyes.” Some of the jury furrow their brows and hesitate, but they all eventually comply. Whit steps forward and gentles his voice. “This is a story about a family; two loving, ecstatic parents bringing their two beautiful, helpless newborns home for the first time. I want you to picture this family… as they step into their home, a place of shelter, comfort, and warmth, only to find a figure waiting with a gun… waiting to shatter that sanctuary. The figure starts shouting and holds the gun on this family, threatening them. And now… now I want you to hear those innocent children screaming.”

“Their mother steps in front of them, answering the preternatural call to protect, as she is fired upon. Fearing for her life, the life of her partner, the lives of her children, she reaches out and does the only thing she can… she fights back. BANG!” The whole room jumps but Whit doesn’t falter. “Another shot goes off but she was lucky. Somehow it missed her and her family. She’s hurt, and tired, and struggling, but the terrified scream of her children pushes her on. She tries with all she has, but she loses the fight. She’s down, she injured, she can barely see because she’s been beaten so badly that she has a concussion, her face is bleeding so badly that it’s running into her eyes. But she has to try. This is her family, her children. She sits up and sees the figure holding the gun on her partner and her children. Their lives are more precious to her than her own and she somehow finds the will to put herself in front of that gun, consciously aware that she may die. That is an outcome she is willing to face. Now imagine she makes one last desperate attempt to grab the weapon, twisting it away just as it’s fired again. She turns to her children and her partner, wanting to tell them how much she loves them, but she can’t… she can’t because wound in her abdomen is bleeding so profusely that she passes out. Now imagine… imagine that this family, is your family.”


Continued in Chapter 7 – Linger.

40 thoughts on “Chapter 6 – Lies

  1. Amazing and so exciting. I appreciate the time and effort you exhibited in making this story realistic and compelling. All the background information and research into the process of a murder trial. I can’t decide if Bette was incredibly selfish or brave. Maybe, both. I know she wants to be totally free of her past. She wants total redemption for her past “sins” but at what cost? When Tina has an opportunity to process Bette’s decision and her motives, will Tina forgive her? Or at least understand? This is some crazy shite that will require both of them visiting their local shrink. A very compelling read.

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    • When I’m writing I don’t know how everything is going to play out. It tends to come out as it happens. I’ll be honest, I still don’t understand Bette’s need to relinquish her past, to not just get through this trial, but go through it, but this is what came out and I didn’t fight it. I had the same reaction you did – is she selfish or brave? I have finished part of the next chapter, and Bette explains some interesting things as well as learns some interesting things. I think, given the information I have that hasn’t been posted yet, that she was brave. As to how Tina handles it, we’ll both find out soon enough. I should have the next chapter ready by Saturday evening. As usual, thanks for reading and giving me your thoughts. It’s awesome. 😀

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      • I’ve come to realize that if Bette were a professional American athlete or movie star or some other type of celebrity, she would be sitting in her chaise lounge by the side of her pool eating bonbons rather than in a court room fighting for her freedom.

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        • lol! I think it all comes down to know you know and whether they like you or not. Bette is a celebrity in her own right, she just made a lot of enemies. You’re probably right though. If Merle had seen something to gain from her, despite her previous rejection, Bette wouldn’t be in the position she’s in now. But, Bette’s not usable, just punishable, and even if she were usable, I don’t think Bette would allow herself to be blackmailed. Thanks for your open dialogue!

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  2. Omg I loved the time to kill approach lol…….man stuff got so intense….Kelly Wentworth and her sneaky Ass I knew her crazy self was going to get up there and mess it up cause she just screamed crazy since the beginning of your story with all that hysterical laughing …..Merle just won’t give up with these lame Ass accusations all her stuff was trumped with the doctors testimony and Kelly’s testimony…..but the judge is an Ass I don’t know why he through out the financial stuff he is so biased….a biased bigot ….I just know after that Bette is going to be free if not its cause kellys rich ass is paying the jurors and the judge lol….I just hope that her and Tina can get back alright cause bettes decision to keep going put a damper on things but I hope she sees Bettes side and sees that she had her reasons……I love this story please post a great ending and I have no doubt you will all these chapters are great

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    • I’m glad you really enjoyed the story and it makes me happy that you have faith in me. You may hate me at the end of the next chapter, but not based on storyline. Thank you for taking the time to read and post and for sticking with me throughout the series. I appreciate it very much. 😀

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  3. Hey vaginawig, you really did a tremendous job in writing the trial scenes in my opinion. And I really can understand Bette’s decision to go through with this trial and not opting for a mistrial. Because as she pointed out there always could and I am sure there would be someone willing to re-open her trial again and then they would have to go through everything again without knowing the outcome. It’s a little bit like taking of a band-aid better to rip it fast in one go than to do it slow and bit by bit. Just my humble opinion. Of course you never know how the jury is going to rule and I am not that familiar with American Law, but isn’t the jury chosen by both the defendant and the D.A.? So there is a chance that they will rule in Bette’s favor. In addition, if Bette really would be found guilty could she not still go for mistrial due to Merle’s involvement with Kelly? Again all I know about American Law is what you see on TV and I am not sure if that is at least a bit of reality or pure fiction. Looking forward to your next post and keep my fingers crossed that the jury will vote in Bette’s favor, but after reading your comments I brace myself for the worse. But whatever you chose to write I will be here reading it. Again thank you very much for writing this exceptional story.

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    • Thank you so much for your kind words. I agree that Bette definitely had a realistic reason for wanting to get this done and over with, I just don’t like it. lol I want her to be free and clear and whole. As to you law questions, yes, the jury is picked, not assigned. I skipped doing that, showing it, because what I saw of it was boring. It’s repeating the same questions a hundred different ways. As far as to how useful that is, it depends on your counsel’s ability to read people. Mistrial after the fact would require a deputy DA going against Merle and a judge ruling the financial evidence admissible. I’ll be honest, a lot of this is pure fiction. The real thing, while necessary, isn’t nearly as exciting, but I wanted something I could sink my teeth… well, finger into. Don’t worry about my comment, it’s not what you think. 😛 Thanks for giving me this awesome feedback!

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  4. Again just wow! I understand Bette’s desire to be free and clear without threat of a retrial but I think the financial evidence linking MR and KW would stop any retrial from happening. I hope she and Tina can get that unity back. This is a tough one. Hope the jury looks at facts and not the crazy ass testimony/perjury that went on in this trial. My stomach is in knots waiting for their verdict. Extremely well written Vaginawig. Sending props to JP22 for being your unfailing wingman. Can’t wait for the next chapter. I have started over reading this story it is so good!

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    • Thank you so much for your consistent feedback and props to JP. It means a lot to me. I don’t think TiBette will ever not have their connection, I think Bette is just pulling away from her emotions right now so as to be prepared and calm. Have fun re-reading and the next chapter may post as early as tomorrow. It’s about halfway done, and the trial scenes aren’t nearly as sticky for me. Thank you!

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    • Thank you and I hope this is the end of their suffering as well. I certainly think this is the last issue Bette’s been struggling with. Hang in there, my friend, and thanks for commenting.

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  5. Hey VW greta update and very well written as usual. I will however say that I think Bette’s rationale for not allowing Whit to go after Merle was very flawed for 2 reasons: first, her thought that if Merle just backed off the charges and a mistrial was declared, she could come after her again. However, if she was acquitted of this charge there would still be nothing to stop Merle from setting her up for something else, since she is so relentless in her hatred of Bette. There would never be a guarantee that Bette would be safe for life. After all, she has risked her whole career in prosecuting her in the first place. Secondly, there was more than enough evidence in the financial transactions for Bette to go after Merle in a civil suit or for Whit to take the information to the DA and have Merle disbarred. I think it was selfish of Bette to think only of herself when she had 4 other people counting on her. This whole story has been about Bette letting go of her “all about me” and learning dependence on someone else, sharing the load and understanding how her actions affect others, most notably her family. Seems like she still has some learning to do. Whether the legal elements were perfect or not doesn’t matter to me. I love this story and the way you have told it…magnificently!!!

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    • I think what Bette’s going for is a favorable verdict, and with such, Merle couldn’t touch this again. Could she try for something else? Sure. But it would have to be entirely fabricated. She’d have to slip up, and I don’t think she would at this point like before. Furthermore, can she go to the DA to take the DA down? That depends on Merle’s deputies. I don’t think I would trust that as a plausibility. Additionally, would Bette want to push hard to have her taken down? She knows Kelly is paying her and it seems obvious that Merle knew Kelly was paying Candace as well. These people are deadly; they have no conscience; they only see what they want and need, and Bette marred the glossy veneers they worked so hard to maintain. We’re talking life and death. This is the world that Bette enveloped herself in, the people she surrounded herself with, and it’s all because that’s the type of person Bette was becoming. I agree that Bette’s decision was selfish. Hell, she questioned her motives herself through monologue, but I think that there are times when a person has to do something for herself/himself, without regard to others. Just like there is a time to kill, there’s a time to focus on yourself. It’s a fine line. Can Bette be who she needs to be for those four other people counting on her without doing this? Given her balls to the wall nature, her ability to so easily torture herself, I don’t think so. Bette is all or nothing, by her own admission. She may find that it was the wrong decision, but mistakes are what cause growth, and I have a feeling she’s going to realize that. Yes, this whole story is about Bette’s struggle to change for the better, but she’s not perfect, no matter how good she becomes. As per usual, thank you so much for your open dialogue and in-depth feedback. I adore it and appreciate you.

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  6. oh crap you are so evil! how could ya stop there. this is my fav story and cant believe I checked for updates all week but today. had to go to the bone quack today. don’t think I can hold my breathe again tho almost died last time and cant die without knowing whats gonna happen next. that da needs taken down so hope you do that and the juydge needs to be removed from the bench. thanks for the great update but please hurryt with the verdict. lol

    Liked by 1 person

    • I never claimed not to be evil and you’ll ask me that question again in the next post. I’m glad you have made a conscious decision to breathe. Thanks for the feedback and your wishes are duly noted. 😛

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  7. Thank you again for another heart pounding post. I think I can understand why Bette made the decision she did. It is the only way she will feel completely redeemed and damned be the damage along the way. It’s very typical Bette. Once the trial is over regardless of the outcome there needs to be charges brought against Merle and Kelly. This would go a long way in Bette’s redemption also. Hanging in there waiting for the verdict. PPS!!!

    Liked by 1 person

    • You are most welcome. I’m glad that you feel Bette’s decision is indicative of who she is. I feel that way also. You won’t find out what happens after until the epilogue, and that’s only if I choose to explain it. I do agree that it might be good for her soul. Hang in there and thanks for your feedback!

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  8. Good line, “I didn’t know a lizard could sweat.” MR’s deputies would not be able to hold a case against her. They would be deemed to be part and parcel of the same ilk she is and being her subordinates could not hold the trial. There would have to be a special prosecutor appointed, if not the state’s attorney general to handle the case for the prosecution. The financial informatin that was not allowed in this trial would be allowed in a case against MR or KW. Charges could be brought against both of them and I sincerely hope that it happens. Would love to see that trial written, it would be a doozy. Not to mention what they could possibly do to the fat little judge. Both he and MR would never be allowed to hold office again, because they are both elected officials sworn to uphold the laws of the state and they have broken them time and again in this trial. Hope Bette wins.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I agree. This trial is, pure and simple, a witch hunt and these officials are corrupt. They don’t care if they break the law as long as they hold enough sway not to get caught. Thanks for your awesome feedback and for continuing to read and encourage.

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  9. EVERYONE – You’ll all be glad to know I’m probably going to post the next chapter in an hour or two. This and the last one will be shorter, but I don’t feel bad considering this entire thing is like 72,000 words and close to 175 pages. Keep an eye out!

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  10. Wow! That was amazing! LOVED Whit’s closing arguement! I think the visual aide and description wilk really help the jury! So excited for the next part!!

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Wow this is so great! I hope Bette made the right decision. I can understand how Tina feels. Why didn’t they out Merle? I would have. Oh please let her get what she deserves. Thanks for posting.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m glad you enjoyed it and I hope Bette made the right decision too. I understand both of their stances. The reason Bette didn’t out Merle is because she didn’t want a mistrial. A mistrial would have left her open in the future. She wants the corpse of a past she’s been carrying around not just dead, but done and gone. She wanted to see this through now, not prolong it. As always, thanks so much for commenting and reading. 😀

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  12. Oh wow! wow! What a chapter!!!! Very great speech for the defense by Whit, very well written. Many many things not said…and to solve. Kelly’s murders? Was candace on murder mission? And I like the way you describe Bette’s state of mind. Congrats, another very good job.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for your kind words and feedback. There are a lot of things that happen in the dark, but did they really happen if no one saw them? Kelly and Candace were gasoline and fire. Candace may have finally moved on if not for Kelly’s involvement, at least that’s how I see it in my mind. I’m glad you liked it and plan to post the next chapter shortly. Everyone – You guys are amazing! Thank you so much!

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