She stood and walked around. The receptionist raised her head and gave her a sketchy smile, then went back to her typing. Rachel sat down again. She bit the side of her lower lip.
It had been three years since she had taken her daughter and fled from Wes in the middle of the night, a wild woman with the wind in her hair. Ever since, it had been Wes's word against hers. She accused, he denied, she insisted, he denied again. With her world devoid of possibilities, she was running out of legal options. What was there left to do?
Chuck touched her shoulder, and she jolted before she caught herself. As she got up, she adjusted her suit skirt. It hung too loose. And she had believed she couldn't lose more weight.
She followed Chuck into his office, cleared the files from one of the upholstered guest chairs, and sat down, dropping her briefcase on the floor next to her.
Across the desk, Chuck's kind, dark eyes gleamed bright and enlarged behind his glasses. His face, rumpled like an unmade bed, was pensive. He touched a pink memo note. "The word from Judge McGillian's office is that he won't tolerate any more adjournments. This is to be the last day of the trial."
"Hurrah," Rachel replied in a flat voice. "He's the one approving these damn postponements. If he delays again, I want you to move the case to another court."
"One more time--and in the middle of a trial? Do you want a new judge, who'll have no time to learn the details? He won't be allowed to review the history of the case and won't understand what you've been going through--"
She interrupted, "Neither does McGillian--"
"But he knows the previous charges against Wes even if they had been cleared and McGillian's supposed to ignore them. He hasn't had a lobotomy."
"Chuck, I want results."
He leaned back in his chair. "McGillian won't stop Wes from seeing Ellie, but I expect him to block Wes's unsupervised visits."
She sighed. "Whatever made me think that by running away I could lock the door in Wes's face?"
"Parental kidnapping is never the answer."
"You'd think I flew to the Amazon and disappeared in the jungle." How she wished she had. "It was only Jacqueline's apartment downtown, for heaven's sake. Then got my own place in Long Island." Rachel stopped. At Chuck's high hourly rates, it was no use dredging it all up.
"Nevertheless, you established a history of kidnapping." Chuck studied her. "It doesn't help when we're now up against a custody trial. But I have all the witnesses lined up--"
"More experts, pitted against one another. Another parade of social workers, doctors, and therapists." Ellie lost with each spin on the legal spiral. "I can't take losing. Chuck, no unsupervised visits. That's my bottom line."
"I know. But there are always surprises. These judges have seen and heard it all. The cases they hear are no more than a Chinese menu of grievances and wrongs: Column A and Column B. The differences are in the variety of combinations. The smells and flavors are the same."
"Great. Keep on reminding me that I feel like Chop Suey."
Chuck smiled wanly. "Look, if all else fails, we'll bring in Stephanie. That'll be our next round of ammunition. McGillian may have to allow her testimony now that she's eleven."
Rachel leaned forward. "Do you think she can handle telling it all in court? What can she remember after so many years?"
"She's testified well enough to convince the New Jersey judge to forbid Wes to even call or write her."
Rachel sighed. "I'll call her mother whenever you say."
"We'll have to first argue the admissibility of her testimony."
Rachel's voice rose. "But it would prove what Wes is capable of."
Chuck lay down his pen. Like a broken record, he repeated the analogy he had used before. "If you robbed a liquor store on Tuesday at ten, wearing a ski mask and carrying an Uzi, that doesn't mean you were the one who robbed a liquor store on Wednesday at ten, wearing a ski mask and carrying an Uzi. That's the law in its strictest sense."
Copyright Talia Carner 2002. All rights reserved. For permission to reproduce this excerpt please contact the author at www.taliacarner.com
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
- PW Starred Review
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