About the Book:
AIDS and Alzheimer’s in the Eighties–tempest spawned love Daniel Lawrence, a superior court judge, is being tried for the assisted suicide of his wife, a young victim of Alzheimer’s disease. He wants justice defined n the light of persona commitment. His defense: no malice aforethought.
Joanna Archer, 20 years his junior, is the court reporter on his trial. She escapes from a bullying husband and craves personal autonomy. She and Dan meet during Hurricane Irene in Miami and begin the strange intertwining of dependency patterns, the gaining and giving up of control, a common struggle.
Joanna’s friend and colleague discovers she’s an AIDS carrier and must deny her unhealty need for sex, thereby denying Dan’s defense lawyer’s need for love. Ralph, Dan’s friend since surviving a capsized boat with him in a 1938 hurricane, has his wife stomach pumped when she attempts suicide with pills. He needs her alive; she hates him.
Each character in values autonomy. Some gain it; some give it up. The suspense of the novel lies in who; the depth lies in how.
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Courtroom 12 seemed smaller than the others. The press took up most of the seats. The prevailing scent of wet wood came from years of Florida humidity working on the oak railings. The bailiff ordered everyone to rise for the judge. Dan almost said, “Please be seated,” forgetting he was not the presiding magistrate. Instead, Judge Ogasaki, a petite, ageless woman with sleek black hair, uttered the simple phrase that Dan felt reverberating through years of faith in jurisprudence.
She nodded at Dan. He returned the greeting, feeling strangely at ease. He had no idea how this would turn out, yet he couldn’t deny feeling a little smug about his choice of defense counsel. Dan was sure that Monroe, in his mild, inimitable way, could pull the truth out of everyone, including the prosecutor, Jerome Ansletter, who hovered over all, shoulders rounding down his height of five or six inches over six feet.
Dan had the impression, watching Ansletter, of a eucalyptus tree with peeling bark. He adjusted his bifocals and squinted through the top, discovering to his amusement that the peeling bark was actually a suit coat with brown and tan stripes in an abstract design.
Judge Ogasaki knocked once lightly with her gavel. “This court is now in session—the State versus Daniel Briggs Lawrence, who is charged with the first degree murder of his wife, Beverly Duvoir Lawrence, on April 5, 1983. Is the State ready?”
“Yes, Your Honor.” Ansletter stretched the vowels as if singing the opening line of an operatic aria.
“Yes, Your Honor,” Monroe replied in a monotone.
“The defense claims no murder was committed,” Ogasaki said, looking at the jury, “that it was an acceleration of natural death, an assist to suicide, to comply with the wish of the deceased.” She paused and looked at the prosecutor. “The state hopes to prove its case that the defendant should be found guilty of murder in the first degree—perpetrated from a premeditated design. The burden of proof, of course, is upon the state which must show, beyond a reasonable doubt, those facts that prove all the elements of an offense against it.” She took a sip of water. “The estimated length of this case is one week—four court days. You may now make your opening statement, Mr. Ansletter.”
Ansletter approached the jury slowly. He leaned forward from the waist. The cowlicks sprouting in his dark brown hair added a comic contrast to his deep, stage-trained voice.
“Her honor has briefly described the issue here,” he said. “I intend to prove beyond a reasonable doubt, that the defendant’s actions subsequent to the murder taint his defense and that his offense is clearly against the state—premeditated murder.”
Dan surveyed the jury. Monroe had fought long and hard to select a jury of people old enough to have ailing or dying parents and thus have some empathy. And, of course, no Catholics. But, you can only go so far. In the second row, a gray-haired man with deep brown eyes whose mother suffered from multiple sclerosis seemed particularly understanding. In front of him sat a tiny, prune faced woman with tight white curls who sat poised for taking notes. Her stated opposition to the women’s movement had no direct bearing on Dan’s case, yet it worried him some. Why would a woman object to women’s freedom? But the tall, thin woman to her left, with an intelligent, softly lined face, offset her. This woman was a columnist for a weekly newspaper who focused on the problems of aging. He suspected she was not limited to so literal a mind as the curly headed one beside her.
He glanced at Joanna huddled over her recorder. He couldn’t catch her eye. He smiled inwardly at her idea of selling a soul for a soul. She reminded him of a sturdy geranium in an orchid garden, a small red geranium peeking out from a bower of delicate cymbidiums. One day he’d tell her that fear was only an inch thick. One day he’d let himself need her. That thought surprised him.
“Premeditated murder, ladies and gentlemen,” Ansletter said, “is first degree murder, a crime against the state, against mankind, and against God.” He returned to his table in a flurry of papers.
Dan felt annoyed with himself for letting his mind wander so long. What had Ansletter said before that final statement? Concentration, he knew, was the key to winning anything.
“My client has pleaded not guilty,” Monroe said as he ambled over to the jury with his hands in his pants pockets, “to any and all possible offenses against the state. The testimony will show that he committed an act of mercy at his wife’s request. She was terminally ill, suffering the slow degeneration of Alzheimer’s disease. She had no hope of recovery. He committed no crime—only the ultimate act of mercy.” He smiled at the jury. “Forgive me for reminding you of what the bard said through Portia in The Merchant of Venice, ‘The quality of mercy is not strain’d, it droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven upon the place beneath: it is twice blest; it blesseth him that gives and him that takes’“He lowered his eyes. “It behooves us all to be twice blessed.”
Dan glanced back at Ralph and Lucille. He knew they’d have to smile since they were always quoting Shakespeare They’d wanted a more aggressive lawyer for his defense, but they’d soon see that soft-spoken, literate Monroe was at the same time cunning and tough. Ansletter was no more than bombast in comparison. Even now, calling the coroner as his first witness with broad gestures and booming voice, Ansletter’s theatrics would be laughable if the trial were not so very real and personal.
The bailiff swore in a ramrod of a tall man, the coroner from Maine. He recounted the sequence of events of April 6, 1983 with the taciturnity of a long-term resident of Maine. A fisherman had hauled in the body of Beverly Duvoir Lawrence on that day, two miles south of Pemaquid. The coroner discovered her name from an inscription on her wedding ring, informed authorities, and performed an autopsy.
“And you determined the time of her death to be when?” Ansletter asked.
“Early to mid morning on April 5th.”
“And cause of death, drowning?”
“No. Barbiturates combined with alcohol.”
“Thank you. No further questions.” The coroner stepped down and Ansletter called the pilot to the stand.