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Alice in Sinland: A Story of Murder, Greed... Violence, Adultery, and Treasure (

Contents

Copyright

Description

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Prologue

Season 1

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Excerpt Season 2

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Alice is back!

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Also by Antara Mann

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Notes

 

Alice in Sinland

The Complete Season 1

A Story of Murder, Greed, Corruption, Exploitation, Violence, Adultery and Treasure

Read it!

[_ _]

by Antara Mann

Copyright © Antara Mann (2016). All rights reserved.

http://www.antaraman.com

 

Edited by Elayne Morgan

No part of this book may be reproduced in any form without permission in writing from the author. Reviewers may quote brief passages in reviews.

This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to actual events or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

_Alice in Sinland _

[* *]

_He asked me what I wanted. _

_One wish, spoken aloud, and whatever I longed for would be mine. _

[_ _]

Alice Roseburg is an American living in London, buried in her work at a British law firm. When she is tasked with acquiring the ruins of a medieval castle with an arcane history for a wealthy client, she finds her monotonous work life suddenly disrupted. She begins having strange waking dreams in which a mysterious man asks her: What do you want? And is it a coincidence that Alice finds herself faced with that same question over and over again? Her dreams and reality run together until she can no longer tell what is truth and what is illusion.

Alice has become so consumed by her work that she has long forgotten what her heart once desired. Digging deep into her past, she will uncover surprising truths about herself — which may change her life forever. Will she be brave enough to take a leap of faith and become the person she was meant to be?

And at what price?

Alice in Sinland a modern twist on the classical legend of Faust or The Devil and Daniel Webster. It contains scenes of murder, greed, corruption, exploitation, violence, adultery, and treasure. Ask yourself before you read: Am I afraid to face my sins?

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[* *]

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Prologue

 

 

 

 

He asked me what I wanted and I answered him briefly and clearly: “To be a Broadway star.”

He made me a star, then told me we were at war. And so I found myself in a courtroom at my own trial. Righteousness was the prosecutor; Truth, my lawyer; and Grace was the judge. I’d never been involved in such a trial. I had once worked as a defense attorney — before I became the famous singer Alice Frank — but those days were long gone now.

The court hall was bathed in pale yellow light, the atmosphere surreal. At the focal point of the room, instead of the common American courtroom inscription, “In God We Trust,” the phrase “Thy Will Be Done” was written in large golden letters. I remembered what he’d told me before the trial started: “The trial will be conducted in accordance with your own consciousness and evolution.”

“In light of the facts related to the case of the Kingdom versus Alice Roseburg/Frank, as well as the witness accounts, you are left with a single possibility — declare the defendant guilty,” Righteousness, the prosecutor, concluded, and returned to his seat.

Truth, my lawyer, stepped forward. “‘To err,’” he began, “‘is human — to forgive, divine,’ says one of the cosmic laws.”

I tried to pay attention, but my mind seemed to fog over; I could hear the rhythm and cadence of his voice, but none of the words penetrated. It might have been seconds or hours, but then there was a change in his tone and I snapped back to attention as he wrapped up his closing statement. “Let us follow the spirit of the court we represent and forgive Alice Frank’s sins,” he said, and sat down.

The jury left the courtroom, instructed to reach a unanimous decision. As we waited for their return I asked Truth, “How long will it take for them to decide?”

“I don’t know. Sometimes it takes seconds; other times, hours or days. It all depends on the defendant and the case.”

“What about me and my case? What are my chances?”

“Fifty-fifty. Your case is highly controversial; we haven’t had one like this in a long time. I’m glad I’m not on the jury; I don’t know how I would vote if it were my duty.”

“Why are you representing me, then?”

“I have no choice. It’s an order.”

Just then, the members of the jury came back into the courtroom. When they were seated, Grace asked the foreperson, “Resolution, has the jury reached a unanimous verdict?”

“Yes, Your Honor, we have.”

“Do you find the defendant Alice Roseburg/Frank guilty or not guilty?”

Before Resolution could answer, the door of the courtroom opened and a man walked briskly into the room. He approached the judge and handed him a sheet of paper. Grace frowned, adjusted his glasses, and read the message. Then he announced, “Miss Frank, the Higher Consciousness is calling you. This means He takes the responsibility for your verdict. In view of this, I’m adjourning this court. Truth and Righteousness, you’re free to go — the same goes for the jury.”

I threw a concerned look at Truth.

“Don’t be afraid, it’s all right,” he reassured me.

“What’s happening? Have you seen this happen before?”

“To be honest, it’s my first time — but some of my colleagues have described similar experiences.”

“Miss Frank, please follow One-pointedness,” Grace ordered, indicating the man who’d brought the message and now stood waiting.

I hesitated and cast a look of doubt at the inscription, “Thy Will Be Done.”

“Miss Frank!” Something about One-pointedness’ voice compelled me to follow him. We left the courtroom and turned down a dark corridor. I could hear One-pointedness’ footfalls somewhere in front of me. We walked in silence, only the sounds of our steps echoing in the hallway. After what seemed like a long time, but was probably only a few minutes, we stopped in front of a door that had bright light radiating from behind it. One-pointedness opened the door.

Before us was a vast space resembling a warehouse. It was full of people with various complexions — dark-skinned, Asian, white and everything in between. Some individuals were dressed shabbily while others wore expensive suits. Some were accompanied by guides while others waited in lines. Everyone was talking about something, and the resulting noise level was overpowering — the many different voices and diverse languages created a cacophony of sound.

“What is this? What’s going on?” I turned to One-pointedness, frightened. Suddenly, an Asian man on a bike bumped into me. I shouted after him, “Hey, watch where you’re going!”

He didn’t seem to hear me — he didn’t even look back, just continued riding through the crowd.

“Don’t get distracted!” One-pointedness grabbed my arm firmly and led me hurriedly through the large space, weaving through clusters of people. “That’s the most important thing to remember about the Allocation Unit — stay on task!”

“Allocation Unit?”

“Yes, that’s where we are now. We sometimes also call it ‘the crossroads’.”

The Allocation Unit was the craziest place I had ever seen — even more wild and hectic than Grand Central Station. Everywhere I looked, people of all races, nationalities, religions, and ages were swarming through the large building. Listening carefully, I identified several languages being spoken, English among them. Walking across the crossroads was a challenge. It was like a sample of all the diversity on the planet, gathered in one place. In this melting pot of humanity, it might be easy to lose your sense of identity.

Eventually, after walking for what seemed like hours, we ended up in another space, this one narrower and with fewer people. We stopped near a small boy with a smooth, bald head, who was wearing a hospital gown. Judging from his appearance, I assumed that he had cancer and had undergone chemotherapy. I looked down and discovered I was still in my outfit from the show.

“Now what are we waiting for?” I asked One-pointedness.

“For your name to be called.”

“Excuse me, do you know when it’ll be my turn?” The boy turned to us. “I’ve been waiting for over an hour now, and Mom told me not to be away from her for too long.”

“Your turn will come soon, kiddo,” One-pointedness said and stroked the boy’s head lightly, comforting him.

“I don’t want her to be worried about me — and besides, somebody should take care of my Feed Your Neighbor project.”

“Don’t worry. Your mom will take over the program.”

“Are you sure?”

“I’m absolutely positive.” One-pointedness threw a meaningful smile at him.

The little kid shrieked with joy. “So there will be no more starving people in the world?!”

“Thanks to your efforts, their number will decrease considerably. Your project will help many people for a long time.”

“Thank you very much, sir. I won’t forget you. What’s your name?”

“One-pointedness.”

“I’m Erik,” the boy said, and extended his hand to One-pointedness. Then he turned to me. “And what’s your name?”

I was surprised, but smiled at the young boy and answered, “I’m Alice, Alice Frank.”

“Like the singer?” I nodded in reply, and his voice rose slightly. “If I was as rich as you are, I’d feed the whole world! That way no one would ever starve again.”

“Erik contracted leukemia a year ago,” One-pointedness whispered to me, “and his condition had been deteriorating ever since. Before he passed away, however, over a thousand homeless people in San Francisco were given food because of his project. The selfless act of an eight-year-old boy will help many.”

“Hold on — does that mean I’m dead, as well?”

“Erik Peterson,” called a disembodied voice, announcing the boy’s name.

“Come on, kiddo, let’s go! It’s your turn.” One-pointedness took the boy’s hand.

“Wait a second, what about me?” I pulled at One-pointedness’ sleeve apprehensively. “Did you forget…?”

“I have to carry out my duty! Don’t worry, you’re next.”

They disappeared from my sight and I was left alone. Was I dreaming? After a few minutes, from somewhere ahead of me, I heard my name being called.

“Alice Frank.”

I asked myself how I’d come this far.

In the next moment my consciousness expanded, and I saw Him.

I remembered everything.

 

 

Season ONE

ALICE ROSEBURGTHE SOLICITOR

 

Chapter 1

 

 

 

 

“I’ve always wondered: How far would a desperate person go?” My question was aimed at Professor Gilbright, the claimant in the case of the Crown versus Ward. He claimed that his home had been burgled by my client, Aiden Ward. I was in Inner London Crown Court, questioning the alleged victim.

“Kindly refrain from using rhetoric in this court, Miss Roseburg,” Judge Sanders interrupted me sharply.

“Professor Gilbright, did you stage a burglary of your home in order to — ”

“Your Honor, this is absurd! Mr. Ward, not Professor Gilbright, is sitting before the bar,” the prosecutor interrupted me.

“Sustained,” Judge Sanders ruled.

“I have no further questions,” I said, and retreated to the bench and stared at the jury. [_Had I managed to shake their trust in Professor Gilbright? _]

“Lunch,” Sanders announced dryly, as if in answer to my mental question.

 

***

 

“Alice!” Someone was calling my name.

After the lunch break, the prosecution had called the Rector — the President of Imperial College London. The Rector had testified to having frequently seen Aiden Ward in an inebriated state. After his interrogation, court was recessed until the following day. Only one more witness was scheduled for questioning before the closing statements. I was pacing hurriedly down the corridor in a rush to get back to my office, when I heard the voice calling me. I winced — the last thing I needed was another distraction.

I turned and saw Mark Holton, a solicitor from the Crown Prosecution Service.

“I’m happy to see you,” Mark beamed at me.

“What a great surprise! I didn’t know you were involved in this case.”

“Well, Giggs was, originally, but I had to replace him.” Mark paused. “You know what, how about we get caught up on each other’s lives tonight over a drink? Like the good old days,” he smiled.

My phone rang before I could answer. It was my boss. “I have to take this,” I said.

“Call me,” Mark shouted as I left him behind, answering my phone as I went.

“Hugh, I’m coming,” I said as I picked up my pace, heading out of the courthouse and into the sunshine.

 

***

 

I passed the front desk and entered the administrative office where the clerks worked, which we referred to as ‘the bullpen.’ I walked quickly toward Hugh’s office, but the secretary stopped me before I could pass her by.

“Mr. Smith was looking for you, Alice.”

“Patrick Smith from Greenhouse?”

“Yes, that’s the one.”

“Did he say anything?”

“He just wanted to see you. I told him you were in court and that you wouldn’t be back until three at the earliest.”

I looked at my watch — it was three twenty.

“Did he say anything else?”

“He’s coming to the office at about four.”

“Thank you, Rosy.” I left the bullpen, went down the corridor and took a turn to the left. There were two rooms facing each other and I stopped in front of the one on my left.

Hugh Archibald, Equity Partner was emblazoned on the door in bold gilded letters. I could see Hugh walking around the room as he talked on his cell phone. I let myself into the room and shut the door quietly behind me.

“Blackbird is back in the game! Tell the broker to buy out eight percent. What?” Hugh was staring at Red Lion Street, his back to me.

I took a seat and waited for him to finish the call.

Sensing my presence, Hugh turned around and signaled that he wouldn’t be much longer.

“No, they’re down one and a half percent on the Toronto Exchange, but they’ll get back up there. What? Yes, yes. Tomorrow at six, Chez Bruce.”

Hanging up, he asked me directly, “What are the odds?”

“I think they’re good. I didn’t get everything out of Gilbright but he did slip up several times.”

Hugh rolled a ball of crumpled paper between his fingers.

“Keep Ward out of the nick.” He looked at me intently. “Do you need a barrister?1”

“What? Didn’t we already agree at the management conference that I’d represent him?”

“You know the English judiciary holds quite a critical view of solicitor advocates.2”

“Yes, though I still don’t know why. I can manage it, Hugh,” I replied.

“At least get the new trainee to help you.”

“Trainee?”

“Yes, Michelle Green. She’s twenty-four. Graduated from Durham with honors and passed the legal practice course with flying colors.”

“I didn’t know we were looking for a trainee.”

“We weren’t. I hired her.”

A slight smile graced my lips. “Should I know anything else about her?”

“She’s quite bright.” After a moment of silence he added, “I think she’ll be of good use. Oh, and I almost forgot. You’re her supervisor for the next three months.”

“In which field?”

“Your field — litigation.” Fulmer & Archibald was a small caliber legal firm so everyone did almost everything, including working outside their field, but litigation was my specialty.

“All right, then. I should be going now.” I was about to stand up when he stopped me with a wave of his hand.

“Thomas Somerset — you know Somerset Construction? — called me while you were in court. He wants you to buy Yester Castle on his behalf, for his daughter, Ella Somerset.” He handed me a folder. The first page was entitled Yester Woods.

“Somerset’s hired a team of specialists to carry out the estate survey and produce a valuation report. Your job is to contact the selling agency — you’ll find the details in the folder. Somerset will call you once he’s gotten the experts’ valuation.”

I had no doubt that the resourceful Somerset would obtain a completely competent — and complimentary — valuation of the castle in question. I browsed the pages, looking at the pictures. Apart from the seventy-five or so acres of mixed woods, I couldn’t see why Somerset would want to buy it. A mere broken wall and a supposedly haunted underground chamber were all that remained of the castle the Yester House mansion was named after.

“Pretty eccentric choice for a snob like Somerset. I didn’t know he was interested in ruins.”

Hugh shrugged. “You know Ella Somerset is a fashion designer.”

“Oh yes! That explains it then, doesn’t it?” I said. He looked at me blankly for a moment, then turned back to his window as I opened the door. I left him as I had found him, staring down at the street below.

I returned to the bullpen. Rachel, a personal injury and medical negligence solicitor, was sitting at the last desk to the left. Peter, also a solicitor and a specialist in corporate law, was absent from his area. I saw an unknown face sitting at one of the desks — an attractive young brunette. Why am I not surprised?

“Michelle Green?”

She lifted her eyes from the laptop screen.

“Yes?”

“I’m Alice Roseburg. Mr. Archibald’s asked me to supervise you for the next few months.”

She rose and shook my hand.

“Are you doing anything right now?” I stood at the open desk to her right.

“Mr. Archibald asked me to check something, but I’m done now.”

I dragged the witness account folders for Crown v. Ward out of my hand truck and dropped them on her desk.

“I want you to read all of these accounts. In summary, the defendant Aiden Ward was a student at Imperial College London. He was expelled after a messy scandal — he’s got a huge drinking problem and has been in all sorts of trouble. Professor Gilbright was one of the faculty who complained about Ward, and he claims that just a month before his home was burglarized, Ward had threatened him with retribution. You need to examine the case and find more details.”

“Should I be looking for anything specific?”

“Anything that can help our defense. The private investigator we hired found out the professor was in debt to a bookie who was being pretty… let’s say… aggressive. My goal is to convince the jury that the professor staged a burglary at his own home, intending to use the insurance money to pay off the bookie. ‘Attack is the best form of defense’ — you know the maxim. He had motive and opportunity — when the facts are working for us, it’s a gift from heaven.”

“When do you need the files back?” Michelle asked, knitting her brow and making a worried grimace as she looked at the huge pile in front of her.

“Tomorrow, before ten. The session is set for ten thirty.”

“I have to go through everything by tomorrow morning? I don’t think I can do that.”

“Back at Michelgrove, Hawksworth & Stone I often spent several nights in a row reading witness accounts instead of sleeping. You’ll get used to it,” I reassured her.

“Isn’t that an American law firm?” she asked after a short pause.

“Mhm,” I answered, already moving on to my next assignment and dialing the number of the agency that was selling Yester Castle.

“How long have you been in England, Alice?”

“Michelle, would you excuse me? I’m kind of busy right now.”

I had to contact the real estate agency and confirm to them that Somerset actually possessed the required sum for purchase. After the call, I closed my tired eyes. I’d been working as a solicitor in almost all spheres of practice at Fulmer & Archibald for three years, but I truly preferred the criminal cases. My interest in them was the real reason I had gotten qualified as a solicitor advocate. I was subconsciously looking for challenges — as in the good old days in the USA. Of course, in England, the judiciary and the Bar looked down on us solicitor advocates with mistrust for whatever reason.

Deep in thought, I was startled by the ringing of the phone. It was the secretary: My client, Patrick Smith, was waiting for me at the receptionist’s desk. I looked at my watch — four o’clock, on the dot. How punctual of him!

 

 

Chapter 2

 

 

 

 

My day had been a mass of meetings, paperwork, and investigation. Earlier that day, Patrick Smith, the owner of Greenhouse restaurant — one of London’s top thirty restaurants — had come to me for help. A former employee of his, one Georgi Petrov, had brought a case to the employment tribunal, alleging he had been discriminated against when he was dismissed from his job. Petrov was Bulgarian, and Smith criticized and ridiculed Bulgarians and other eastern Europeans on a frequent basis, in Petrov’s hearing. When, due to financial difficulties, Smith later had to reduce the number of staff he employed at his restaurant, Petrov was among those laid off. Faced with unemployment, Petrov suddenly remembered the slurs and jokes about Bulgarians and decided he could sue Smith for discrimination.

“I’m not a bigot or anything, but those foreigners are mostly criminals, good-for-nothing and bloody lazy sneaks.” Smith pounded the table in the negotiations room with his fist. “He even took notes in his diary about things I said about Bulgarians, and when!”

“I understand that you’re upset, but this is not the way to convince a judge it was a fair dismissal.”

I tried to calm him down and convince him to attend an informal meeting with Petrov and his lawyer, to hear his version of the story.

“It would be best if we can avoid taking this to the employment tribunal,” I advised Smith. “It could cost you more than you’d like, as well as dragging on for much longer than you’d expect.”

“What do you suggest, then?”

“Mediation. It’s fast and effective, and comparatively inexpensive. Participation is voluntary and if you don’t agree with the mediator’s suggestion, you don’t have to accept it.”

“But I’ll still have to pay Petrov some damages?” Smith asked, a note of resignation in his voice.

“I didn’t say that. You and Mr. Petrov will each give your side of the story. I think the problem here may be a lack of communication between the two of you. What did you tell him when you fired him?”

“That I was forced to reorganize my human resources in order to achieve my economic plan for the current year.”

“Did you assure him you’d been happy with his work and would hire him again should better economic indicators present themselves?”

“Well… I said I was sorry to have to lay him off.”

 

I contacted Petrov’s lawyer, Payton Shulz, and arranged a meeting between the four of us — my client and me, his client and him — the following morning at Fulmer & Archibald’s office. After finishing up at the office, I went to Greenhouse — the restaurant in question — to interview the staff about Georgi Petrov. Then I walked down Hill Street to the Coach and Horses pub. Taking a seat, I remembered bumping into Mark, and how eager he had seemed to get a drink with me.

He arrived less than a half hour after I called him.

 

“So who’s giving you information?” Mark asked from behind his glass of whiskey. I couldn’t believe he was asking me who my source was in the burglary trial.

“What do you mean by that? Does the prosecutor know about this meeting?” I paused and then added, “Is that why you wanted to meet up? And I thought it was because you wanted to spend time with me.” I made to stand up — I’d almost finished my beer.

“Hold on! I was joking,” he stopped me, putting his hand on my thigh. “Do you think I’m an idiot?” I sat back down, but he left his hand on my leg.

“I’m not in the mood for jokes these days,” I said, then took the last sip of my beer.

“How’s life at Fulmer & Archibald?” Now he gently slid his hand along the inner side of my thigh. I drew my leg back. “Any new lay-offs?”

Mark had been a solicitor in our firm, but was let go when the company downsized. I laughed.

“No. Actually, we even have a new trainee. I’m sure it’s only a coincidence that she’s a young, attractive woman.”

He raised his eyebrows in surprise.

“Yes, I know. I was as surprised as you are.”

“We hardly had any trainees when I was there. How long is her contract for?”

“I’ve no idea. I don’t know how long she’ll stay in each department, either. She’ll stay with me, in litigation, for three months. I guess Hugh is her mentor.”

“Do you like her?”

It was too early for me to decide. “She’s spending her night going over witness reports so I don’t have to do it. So I suppose I like her well enough so far.”

Mark chuckled.

“Do you think Ward will be acquitted?” He had immediately guessed I was referring to that particular case.

“I’m more worried about the fact that the prosecution laid a charge on an innocent man because it maybe didn’t investigate well enough.”

“Alice, do you really believe Gilbright staged a burglary of his own flat?”

“Why not? He apparently owed his bookie over nine thousand pounds. The insurance payout would easily cover that.”

“Oh, come on. The kid just got wasted again and, because he was angry that he was kicked out of university bag and baggage, gave himself a ‘party’ in his professor’s flat.”

“At least I know[_ you_] believe yourself,” I said, and we both laughed.

“I miss you, Alice,” Mark said, gazing into my eyes.

 

***

 

He hugged me tightly, pressing my body firmly against his.

“Alice!” I heard him whisper my name. It was so nice I didn’t want to wake up.

“Alice!” His voice became more insistent, louder; I wondered why he was waking me up. I turned toward him, ready to object, and then my breath caught in my throat. Patrick Smith was sitting right next to me! I blinked.

“Are you all right?” Mr. Shulz was watching me from the opposite side of the table. We were in the negotiations room at Fulmer & Archibald.

“W-what happened?”

“I started talking and you fell asleep.”

If it hadn’t been for the embarrassing situation I’d found myself in, I’d have laughed out loud. I reached for the glass of water in front of me, trying to figure out what was going on. I had no explanation for suddenly falling asleep.

“It’s happened to me, too,” Shulz added, as if in answer to my thoughts.

“Please forgive me. I was reading witness accounts until late last night, and apparently I didn’t get enough sleep,” I lied. “Please, proceed.”

“My client, Mr. Petrov, wishes to settle this issue as quickly as possible — while still adhering to the truth, of course.”

“Wonderful! Mr. Smith agrees to admit to the mistakes he unknowingly and unconsciously made. With that end in view, I am offering mediation as an alternative to a court trial.”

“We agree.” Shulz didn’t take his eyes off of me. He’d clearly discussed this option with Petrov already. “Will you recommend a mediator, or should I choose a suitable one?”

“I know a very good one but if you prefer…”

“Oh, please — we’re grownups.”

I smiled.

“In that case, I’ll call the solicitor who’ll be handling the mediation and ask him to set the time for the meeting,” I said.

I walked them to the door of the office. Before we parted, Smith advised me to try coffee with guarana in order to boost my energy and wakefulness.

“Take no more than a half-teaspoon daily, mixed with coffee, and you won’t fall asleep or feel tired. I take it every day so I can handle all the stress,” he advised me before getting on the elevator. I thanked him for the suggestion and promised to try it.

As I headed down the corridor toward the bullpen, I encountered my colleague, Rachel. “Do you have a minute?” I asked.

“Is it urgent? You wouldn’t believe the bloody bumf I have to deal with today,” she said, continuing down the corridor at a brisk pace. We walked into the administration office area, and Rachel went to the coffee machine and made herself a coffee.

“I had a very strange dream,” I began.

“I don’t know anything about dreams. A client of mine dreamt once that he fell down the stairs and then he really did. Well, the stairs had just been washed with detergent…”

“Listen to me! I just fell asleep in front of my client in the conference room.”

She looked at me with interest. “I’d guess you aren’t getting enough sleep. Every morning before breakfast I have a cup of black coffee, then a piece of dark chocolate. Then I have another double coffee, like this lungo, if I still don’t feel fresh enough, or if I haven’t had enough sleep.”

“That’s not the problem.”

“I don’t follow you, Alice. You’re apparently not quite sure yourself,” she said as we left the room and headed toward my office.

“I saw Mark yesterday.”

“Mark Holton?”

I nodded.

“And so what happened?”

“Nothing. We had a chat and then I went home. The thing is, in the few seconds I was asleep, I dreamed that…” I paused. We had reached the door. Rachel stopped and looked at me, waiting for me to finish.

“I slept with him,” I concluded.

“I’m not too much of a psychologist, but I would guess you subconsciously wanted that to happen in real life,” she chuckled, entering the office. I was about to object when Michelle, who had headed toward me as soon as she saw us enter, spoke first.

“Alice, I’ve been looking for you! Look what I found.” She pointed at a line in the account of Maggie Jenkins, Dean for the Faculty of Natural Sciences. Having been asked whether Gilbright had mentioned that Ward had threatened him, she’d replied, “No, but lately he’d seemed more nervous and fearful than usual.”

“I read the whole pile you gave me, but nowhere in it did Gilbright mention that he was nervous or feared anything. I’m not sure, but I think you can make some use of this.”

I took the sheet containing Jenkins’s words, not trusting my eyes.

“I can’t believe it! How did I miss this?” I looked at Michelle. “This is really odd — I swear I haven’t seen this before, though I read all the accounts several times.” I was perplexed. I stared at the report for a few moments longer, then came to a decision. I turned to Michelle and asked, “Have you ever been to the Crown Court?”

“We had a mock trial once at Durham…”

“Well, today you’ll be in the Inner London Crown Court. You’re coming with me as my associate.”

It was only nine fifteen, but I wanted to leave early because of the traffic along Waterloo Road. I gathered all the folders together and followed Michelle out of the office.

“I don’t think you should give your dream any importance,” Rachel continued, trailing behind us. “Sometimes we just have dreams and there’s no deeper meaning behind them. Don’t you think? Be happy that you don’t do personal injury or medical negligence — clients send us shocking pictures 24/7. It would give you nothing but nightmares,” she said with a grimace.

I glanced at her, but didn’t reply.

 

 

Chapter 3

 

 

 

 

“I have no further questions,” the prosecutor said, then sat down at the bench, sending me a challenging look.

The judge looked at me and prompted, “Miss Roseburg?”

Maggie Jenkins was a good-looking woman of about forty. She, just like the Rector of Imperial College London, had testified to the prosecutor that she’d personally seen Aiden Ward drunk, and that he’d been warned many times not to show up for class in that condition. The prosecutor had concluded the interrogation with the following question: “Yesterday the defense tried to convince us of a ludicrous allegation against Professor Gilbright: that he’d staged the crime scene. As a colleague of his, someone who’s worked closely with him for many years, do you believe this is possible?”

She had shown no hesitation and said with certainty, “No. I can’t imagine Gilbright would do such a thing.”

Standing up, I threw a quick look over my shoulder at the back benches. Michelle was sitting behind me, and Mark Holton was behind the prosecutor. Mark met my glance.

I turned back to the witness and asked, “Professor Jenkins, don’t you think it’s completely possible for someone other than Mr. Ward to have broken into Professor Gilbright’s home?”

“In theory, yes — but who else would have a motive to do it? No, I don’t think so.”

“Was there anyone Professor Gilbright feared?”

She fidgeted nervously. “I don’t know. You’d have to ask him.”

“In the account you gave the police, you said you saw some nervousness and concern in Gilbright, even before Aiden Ward was expelled. Could you please explain what you meant by this?”

“I thought Gilbright had seemed — well, nervous and concerned over the last few weeks.”

“When did it start, and how did you see it manifested?”

“It was around the beginning of November; Gilbright became more quick-tempered and anxious than normal.”

“When, in fact, it had been a month since he’d gotten in debt to his bookmaker, Nathan Crawly,” I cut in.

Judge Sanders fired a glare at me and said, “Keep to the point, Miss Roseburg.”

“Don’t you think Professor Gilbright’s anxiety and his debt to Nathan Crawly could be connected?”

“Objection, Your Honor, my friend is leading the witness!” The prosecutor rose, giving me a mocking look. As a solicitor-advocate, I was only referred to as a ‘friend.’ Had I been a barrister, I would have been entitled to ‘my[_ learned_] friend.’ Damned snobs.

“Sustained,” the judge said, and cast a disapproving look at me.

“Professor Jenkins, you say you felt that Gilbright was displaying ‘fear and concern.’ Were there any particular situations where he appeared anxious or disturbed, or was it just your intuition?” Ever since Michelle had drawn my attention to Jenkins’s words, I’d had the feeling she was hiding something.

She hesitated, apparently thinking about what to say.

“Professor Jenkins, you’re under oath,” I reminded her.

She sighed softly.

“Well, one day, during lunch at the university canteen, Gilbright was sitting next to me when he got a text on his mobile phone. After he read it he became visibly upset.”

“Did he tell you what it was about?”

“He said it was connected to the health of his aunt, who lives in Croydon.”

“And yet, you had the feeling it was about something much more unpleasant than his aunt’s health? What made you think someone had threatened Professor Gilbright?”

“Objection, Your Honor,” the prosecutor said, a weary tone in his voice. He didn’t even rise this time.

The judge glared at me and said, “Miss Roseburg, I won’t allow this sort of behavior in my court. This is your last warning.”

Well, that was a bust. I had to stop, or risk being held in contempt.

“You’ve been teaching at Imperial College London for nine years with Gilbright. Did you know about your colleague’s gambling habit?” I changed my tactics a little.

“Not until this trial. I found out about that passion of his a while ago, when the prosecutor told me.”

“And yet, you’re convinced you know Gilbright, and know him well enough to state firmly that he couldn’t have staged a burglary on his apartment?”

“Well, yes, I am. I know him.” Jenkins bit her lips; she knew her words weren’t convincing enough.

“I have no further questions,” I said and sat back on the bench.

 

***

 

“Do you believe he’s innocent?” Michelle asked me while we were waiting in the courtyard for the jury’s decision. Maggie Jenkins had been the prosecution’s last witness and I had decided not to call my client to the stand. The prosecutor and I had already completed our closing statements.

“Does it matter?” I looked straight into her eyes. “My duty as the Ward family’s solicitor is to defend him to the best of my ability.”

“Doesn’t it bother you that you might be representing a guilty man?”

“Michelle, as a defense lawyer you will discover that few of your clients are, in fact, innocent.” Seeing her confused expression, I added, “‘Innocent until proven guilty.’ Four words to live by.”

I looked up at the gray sky. Today London seemed gloomier than ever to me. My cell phone vibrated in the pocket of my slacks. I fumbled under my robe to get to it and answered it just before it would have gone to voicemail.

“Good afternoon, Miss Roseburg.” Thomas Somerset’s voice greeted me formally. “I have the valuation report. You can make an offer to the seller’s firm for £350,000.”

A hundred thousand pounds less than the asking price. He knew how to bargain, the bastard. And not just on real estate: A year ago, a nature conservation organization, consisting mainly of young people, had threatened to approach the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and sue Somerset for millions of pounds over ecological problems caused by the construction of one of his buildings. During the negotiation meeting, in which both Mr. Somerset and I took part, we came to an agreement about the ecological measures, and both the scandal and the lawsuit were avoided. His powers of persuasion were remarkable. Once he wanted something, he got it, whatever the price.

“I want the contract to go into effect by the eighteenth of April at the latest. Ella’s birthday is on the nineteenth, and Yester Castle is her gift,” he said, finishing up my instructions. I sighed as I hung up. The upcoming two weeks were going to be crazy.

“Is everything all right?” Michelle asked.

“Yes. Yester Castle is going to be sold in two weeks.”

“Yester Castle?” she asked with interest. “That’s in East Lothian, not far from Edinburgh. My granny is half Scottish so I was in that area often as a child.”

“Have you seen the castle?” I asked.

“Unfortunately, no,” she admitted. “But I know its story.”

“How a warlock built it after the devil sent him an army of hobgoblins?” I asked sarcastically. “I know. There are dozens of videos on YouTube showing people investigating rumors of paranormal phenomena in the main crypt. Goblin Ha’, it’s called,” I said with a chuckle, dropping the final ell sound from ‘Hall’ the way the Scots do. “Where the warlock supposedly practiced his dark arts.”[_ If I could, I would do some magic right now to win this case. _]

“And did you know that Sir Walter Scott mentions ‘the warlock’ as well as Yester Castle in one of his works?”

“Yes, I think I saw it written somewhere in the buying prospect.”

Michelle looked at me, her eyes narrowing slightly. “You Americans are awfully cynical. You don’t believe in anything.”

“‘What is a cynic? A man who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing.’ Your Oscar Wilde said that.”

“Miss Roseburg?” the court usher interrupted us, calling me from the door.

“The verdict!” I exclaimed and rushed back inside, Michelle following close behind me.

“Will the defendant please rise,” the usher announced.

“Will the foreman please stand,” the court clerk began.

A tall slim woman stood up.

“Have the jury reached a verdict upon which all of you are agreed?”

“Yes.”

“Do you find the defendant guilty or not guilty of burglary?”

“Not guilty.”

I looked at Aiden Ward. There was a triumphant smile on his face. I saw Mark, too, who nodded at me as a sign of congratulations on my victory. As Michelle and I left the court, Professor Gilbright shot me a look of pure anger, as if he were telling me, “You’re guilty of letting him get away. You know he did it.”

To be honest, I never really thought Professor Gilbright had staged the burglary of his apartment. There were just conveniently suspicious circumstances related to his being in debt to his bookie, and I used them to my — and my client’s — advantage. Long before the trial begins, every lawyer has a feeling as to whether their client is guilty or innocent.

I didn’t say that to Michelle.

 

 

Chapter 4

 

 

 

 

 

“Is this true?” Michelle stared at me questioningly at Richmond’s Be At One bar. I’d told her that after each case we won, we had to have some tequila drinks in celebration.

“Absolutely. It’s something of a tradition. Everyone at Fulmer & Archibald does it.”

Michelle looked suspicious, but still accepted the margarita I handed her. Watching her wry expression as she sipped, I laughed.

“There isn’t such a custom, is there? You just made it up, didn’t you?”

I downed half my cocktail in a few gulps — I loved margaritas more than anything.

“Yes, I did. But it was pretty funny watching you.”

“Never trust a lawyer!” She took another sip from her glass. I was already wondering what my next drink would be. Be At One’s was situated close to our office; with its excellent selection of cocktails and friendly atmosphere, it was my favorite place to unwind after a long day at work.

Generally, I tried not to drink too much, unless it was Friday. Today however, was the last workday of the week: Tomorrow was Good Friday which meant the holiday would last until the following Tuesday. I asked the bartender for a Diablo cocktail.

“Which devil made you want to become a solicitor, then?” I asked after draining the rest of my margarita.

“I want to make the world a better place to live.”

I chuckled. “I give you six months working as a criminal lawyer — you’ll change your noble views. You’ll end up dividing people into just two groups — criminals and future criminals.”

I took a sip from the cocktail the bartender placed beside me. The taste of tequila, softened with lime, blackcurrant, and ginger, exploded in my head, painting my senses in various colors. “But seriously, how come?”

“The good money and the administrative-type work. Does that sound better?”

“Yup. Now I believe you.”

“And what about you? Why did you choose law?”

I looked at the cocktail glass, raising my eyebrows. If only I knew the answer to that question.

“I got lucky. I was accepted as a law student at Stanford and I thought it would be a wonderful opportunity, studying at such a prestigious university.”

“And how long have you been in England?”

“It’s my fifth year here, with some breaks. I arrived in August of 2007.”

“Did someone invite you or did you just decide to come?”

“Actually, Hugh was the initiator. I was still working at my old firm in the States when he was hired on as an English consultant for a private client of theirs. We became close, and Hugh visited our New York City office often. During one meeting, he told me he was planning to launch his own law firm in London, and offered me a job. I would earn less in the beginning, of course, but it was a chance to eventually make more than I could ever hope for at Michelgrove, Hawksworth & Stone. I’d been working there for five years but I was only a senior associate. I didn’t see any possibility of becoming a partner in the near future.”

“Well, has it been worth the move?”

“What, the partnership?” I gave my glass a critical look. “I must admit that being a partner on a fixed salary satisfies only my ego. Now, being an equity partner is a different story.”

She looked at me with interest and asked, “How long have you been a partner at Fulmer & Archibald?”

“Two years and six months.”

“Are you happy?”

“I am.” But even as I said it, I knew it wasn’t exactly true. True, my salary as a partner was twice that of an ordinary solicitor, but in the last few years, since the global economic crisis had begun, inflation had been rising. My salary, however, had remained the same. Kathleen Fulmer, Hugh’s equity partner, was coming back from her Easter vacation next week. I was planning to raise the question of a raise then.

Michelle had finished her margarita and was looking at the menu for her next drink. After some consideration, she ordered an Irish Disco Biscuit.

“And how did you meet Hugh Archibald?” I asked, just before her cocktail was served.

“My father introduced me to him,” she replied, then took a sip through the pink straw. “Oh my God, this drink is marvelous! Alice, you must give it a shot!”

“No thanks, I’m not a fan of sweet drinks.” Unlike most women, I didn’t like Baileys. I looked at her expectantly, waiting to hear how she’d met Hugh.

She went on, “My father is a judge at the Queen’s Bench.3 He knows Archibald.” She didn’t say anything more for a few moments, then asked, “Does this surprise you?”

“A little.” I paused for a moment, considering my question. “Why didn’t you choose to be a barrister, what with your father being a bencher?4”

“I’m not fond of being self-employed. Holidays, sick leaves, maternity leave — the Bar doesn’t provide any of those things.”

“Then why didn’t you choose one of the Magic Circle5 or Silver Circle6 firms?” There was no way her father hadn’t introduced her to some of the top law firms.

“Fulmer & Archibald is a good firm, isn’t it? Or are you trying to tell me something?”

“I just wouldn’t expect someone with your connections to want to be our trainee.”

“It’s always better to belong to smaller groups,” Michelle said thoughtfully.

“Then you should be a human rights solicitor. Discrimination complaints, fighting for equal rights… You’d have a wide spectrum of activities. Hugh, though, is too greedy to offer you those types of cases.”

“You mean Kathleen Fulmer isn’t?”

I looked at her for a moment before answering. I wondered what Hugh had told her about his partner.

“Kathleen is an idealist. She defends the fair causes. She once worked with Helena Kennedy.”

Michelle raised her eyebrows in surprise. I loved the effect that name had on solicitors. It was like mentioning the Pope among Catholics.

“So Hugh liked you and hired you?” I asked, sipping the last of my Diablo.

She fixed her eyes on me, her face stern.

“You don’t think I would sleep with Hugh, do you?”

I couldn’t help but admire her bluntness.

“I don’t know. Would you?”

“No. I am not sleeping with Hugh, and there’s no way on earth it’ll ever happen.”

“Well, I don’t really care. It’s your own business. I’m just your supervisor. But let me give you a piece of advice — don’t mix work and pleasure. That just never ends well.”

“Are you speaking from personal experience?”

I nodded.

“Well, there’s no such danger for me. As I said…”

“I know a lot of women who’ve said the same and yet, they fell under his spell. I almost fell for it myself.” The words had barely left my mouth when I regretted speaking them.

“A fling with the boss, huh?” I saw a playful spark in Michelle’s eyes. “What else don’t I know about you, Alice Roseburg?”

“Take it as part of your training,” I said, trying to wander from the subject.

“Thanks for the friendly advice. As I said, though, there’s no danger.” She took another sip of her ‘marvelous’ Irish Disco Biscuit; she was already halfway through. “Let me put it this way… I play for the other team.” She smiled at me and wiggled her eyebrows in a suggestive manner.

I laughed. “You’re kidding me!”

“No, I’m not. I’m a lesbian,” Michelle said, maintaining her serious expression.

“Well, it’s not illegal.”

“No, but it is shocking to some people. Since we’re being honest with each other, can I ask you a question?” She was looking at me with curiosity in her eyes.

“Shoot!”

“Are you a Jew?”

I turned to look at her, flabbergasted. Who had told her that?

“Now, where did you get that crazy idea from?”

 

Chapter 5

 

 

 

 

“You’re probably asking yourselves in what direction Fulmer & Archibald will develop, now that it’s being re-registered from a limited liability partnership to an alternative business structure.” Kathleen was addressing the board. ‟Let me go back a little bit.

“In the beginning, we started working with a number of wealthy private clients, mainly in the field of real estate. We expanded our spheres of activity, adding litigation,” Kathleen glanced at me, “insurance, personal injury, and commercial law. Now, however, with Dayton Barnes as our new equity partner, we are joining the firms that perform high-profit transactions. The last few years have been difficult for corporate business. Although work has been on the rise recently, the competition is fierce and the actual transactions completed are less than expected.

“However, as you know, it’s a natural law that when one thing decreases, another thing increases. In our case, this increase has come from private capital investment. The number of deals completed just this last year has multiplied by 75%, and their value by 45%. But let me stop here. I’d like to give the floor to our new partner.” Kathleen smiled and nodded at Dayton Barnes, a finance expert at Pro Finance Group, general partner at Valery AVG, and, as of today, officially an equity partner at Fulmer & Archibald.

 

Kathleen had surprised us all that Wednesday morning.

At the staff meeting, the first after the Easter holiday, she’d dropped a bombshell when she announced the new alternative business structure of our firm.

“The Big Bang is expanding,” whispered Rachel, who was sitting to my right.

The Big Bang was the name the press had given to the legalization of the new type of law companies. And indeed, as the media outlets had predicted, more and more firms were re-registering as such.

“I’m extremely happy to join Fulmer & Archibald’s team,” Barnes began, smoothing over his jacket. “I’ve always wanted to work at a law firm, but not as a solicitor. A few years ago, when the government decided to let individuals who weren’t solicitors own shares in or be managers of law firms, I became positive that my dream would come true very soon.” He put a hand in his pocket, resting his other hand on the back of Kathleen’s chair. Hugh was sitting to her right, totally absorbed in Barnes’ speech. “The past couple of years turned out to be quite beneficial for our private equity firm. We restructured two companies’ portfolios, then sold them. While our previous investment funds generated a profit of 37%, at most, with the present fund we’re expecting a profit of at least 50%. I’m convinced that the unified work of Fulmer & Archibald and Valery AVG will be beneficial and effective for both firms.” He looked at Kathleen, indicating by a slight wave of his hand that he’d finished.

Kathleen rose. “Peter and Fred, from now on you’ll keep in constant touch with Mr. Barnes and you’ll follow every move made by Valery AVG. If you need more corporate law solicitors, just let me know. I hope there’s no need for me to remind you that any successful transactions will have a positive effect on your bonuses.” She paused, opening her diary. This signaled the beginning of the quick overview of everyone’s current tasks.

“Peter, how far have you got with Herbal & Vista?”

“At the moment I’m completing the due diligence.”

“And we’ve agreed on a credit with Halifax,” Fred added.

“Good.” Kathleen nodded in approval. “Rachel, how is the preparation for the case against Dr. Maxwell Hamilton going?”

“We’ve got the account of an independent physician, which supports our client’s version.”

Kathleen nodded quickly without even looking at the folder.

“Alice, how about the purchase of Yester Castle?”

“I received a qualified acceptance7 of Somerset’s offer for £375,000. Somerset’s requirement is for the contract to come into effect no later than the eighteenth of April, so we’ll schedule it for that week.”

She took a note in her diary.

“Well, that’s all for this morning. I hope you got some good rest over the Easter holiday and have returned full of energy and enthusiasm,” Kathleen said with a smile. On her way out, she took me aside and said in a lowered voice, “Alice, could you come to my office for a moment?”

Every time I entered her office, my eyes were drawn to a framed photograph of Kathleen Fulmer and Helena Kennedy — her model for a lawyer. A Queen’s Counsel, member of the House of Lords and chair of JUSTICE — a human rights and law reform charity organization — she was indeed a modern-day Emmeline Pankhurst8.

“I need a favor. I wouldn’t take up your time now when you’re so busy with the purchase of Yester Castle if it wasn’t so urgent.” Kathleen took a folder from the inside drawer of her desk. “It’s about a case you handled about eight months ago, Hayes v. Nailer.”

“If I’m not mistaken, the court handed a victory to our client, Nailer.”

Kathleen nodded. “Look, Alice, I need an inquiry into Nailer’s income. And I need it by the close of business. Will you do it?”

I frowned. This could make me fall behind on my schedule for the Yester Castle purchase.

“Kathleen, I really want to help you, but I already have a predetermined plan and if —”

“I heard you’re looking for a flat,” she interrupted.

I gave her a look of surprise. “Actually, I already found one — a two-bedroom apartment in Holland Park. I haven’t paid for it yet, though — I have until the end of April to get the money together. I’m lucky I got it.”

“A clever move. And a great area,” Kathleen nodded, her eyebrows raised slightly in approval and surprise. “Isn’t it too posh, though?”

“Well, it’s surely less posh than Belgravia,” I mimicked, delicately assuming her tone.

She smiled. Belgravia was one of the world’s wealthiest districts; Kathleen lived there, almost on the border of Pimlico.

“Do you need an advance to buy the flat?”

“Yes, I do. In fact, that’s something I want to talk to you about. It’s almost three years since I made partner, but my salary hasn’t changed at all. I’m past due for a raise.”

Kathleen looked at me for a few moments, as if deep in thought.

“We’re expecting new gains from the upcoming corporate deals. It will take some time, however, before we get them and I’m afraid you can’t wait that long,” she sighed. “I can’t promise anything in particular, Alice, but I’ll see what I can do for you. I will appreciate it if you can also help me — that’ll ease things for me, you understand?” Her smile seemed sly and self-content.

I took the folder from her desk, thinking that I was going to have to work double-time to get it all done.

“Ask the trainee, Michelle, to help you. By the way, how is she doing?” she asked, trying to sound nonchalant.

“Very well,” I answered, then excused myself from her office.

In the bullpen, my colleagues were discussing, under their breath, the change in the firm’s registration and, of course, the new partner.

“What do you think about it all, Alice?” Rachel asked me.

“I don’t like this so-called ‘alternative business structure.’ No matter how much you criticize us Yanks, we would never legalize such a thing.”

 

***

 

“Not a bad flat at all,” Michelle said, taking a look around my present apartment in Battersea.

We had left work just after five and gone to my apartment to go over Yester Castle’s documentation together. The task Kathleen had given me had swallowed up almost my entire day. In order to meet the deadline for the Yester purchase, I would have to put in some extra hours. Michelle had agreed to help me in exchange for my paying for her drinks next time we went to Be At One.

“Yeah, but it’s only a one-bedroom,” I objected. The apartment I’d found in Holland Park had two bedrooms, and both the living room and balcony had an excellent view, overlooking the park. “And of course, I’m only renting,” I added.

“Well, you live alone, anyway; why would you need a bigger one? Look at me — my attic flat in Marylebone is a good deal smaller than yours.”

“I love open spaces,” I replied, taking a bottle of white wine and two beers out of the fridge. “What would you like?”

“Wine, please.”

I poured a glass for each of us. For a while there was silence, disturbed only by the sounds of us turning pages and sipping our wine. I had the estate plan in front of me. I spotted the name Goblin Ha’, and in the next moment I must’ve dozed off. I started, lifting my head off the table. Michelle’s chair was empty, and I looked around until I saw her standing by the window. She was staring down at the activity in the street. I stood up and was surprised by how loose my body felt.

“You’re awake?” she smiled warmly, coming toward me. I took a pack of instant coffee from the kitchenette. I couldn’t afford to sleep away the time I needed so much.

“If it looks like I’m starting to doze off again, please, wake me up immediately.”

“Alice, you looked so cute that I couldn’t…”

I chuckled.

“Somerset will be hardly as flattering as you if I miss the deadline.”

“Don’t get stressed out, just relax. You’re so tense. Come here! Turn around.”

“Why?”

“I’ll give you a massage, of course.”

I obeyed her uncertainly. Her hands were both strong and tender. I felt I was going to fall asleep again if we carried on this way.

“Thanks, Michelle,” I said after a few minutes, then turned back to the documents strewn all over the table.

“What’s the matter?” she asked me, smoothing a lock of my hair.

I took a sip of coffee. I needed it to refresh me and quickly.

“What do you mean?”

“I think you’re not here, but somewhere else.”

“The only place I want to be is New York.”

“Then do it. Go, Alice.” Her voice seemed to carry a strange echo. “Alice… Alice… Alice…”

 

I woke up suddenly.

“Alice, are you all right?” Michelle was looking at me anxiously. “If you’re tired, then let’s stop.”

“I don’t know what’s been going on with me lately.” I rubbed my head with my hands. “I used to be able to stay awake for days on end.”

“I guess you’re growing old,” she teased me.

“Thanks, that is so sweet of you,” I said sarcastically. We both burst out laughing.

“You and I make a good team, don’t you think?” she asked.

“Of course we make a good team. A perfect one, if you ask me.”

“You know, Alice,” Michelle said, with a strange note in her voice, “I like you.”

I was preparing to get back to the castle plans when I felt her hand on my thigh.

“What are you doing?” I asked, my voice sharp as a knife.

“As I said, I like you…”

“I’m flattered but I’m not…” I couldn’t finish. Michelle had already leaned over to me, and I could feel her breath on my face as I closed my eyes. She pressed her lips to mine.

Behind my eyes, I saw lips curved into a strange smile.

A flash.

A blade.

 

I woke up to my own continuous scream. I realized it all had been a dream.

“Calm down, Alice. It’s just a nightmare.” Michelle was holding my shoulders and trying to soothe me. When I saw her so close to me, I pulled away from her with a cry. She gave a nervous laugh as she jumped back slightly, also.

“What’s going on with you?”

I was so confused and startled I couldn’t give her a reasonable reply.

The rest of the evening was uneventful. We finished going through the documents by eleven, and Michelle left my apartment.

I met the sunrise having failed to fall asleep again.

 

 

Chapter 6

[* *]

 

 

 

 

Anger set my blood to boiling.

“You want me to represent Hayworth as a solicitor only, even though I’m a solicitor-advocate?”

“Yes,” Barnes said simply, as if it were just another minor detail of a routine transaction.

“You should feel flattered, Alice. This is the criminal case of the year. It will cause a big stir in the press, as well as among the crowds of Hayworth’s fans.”

For a while I felt as if I were partly deaf. I couldn’t hear Barnes’ instructions — only fragments of sentences: “the case is set for Friday,” “talk to Johnnie’s barrister and settle the details together.” Then Hugh smiled in his businesslike manner and said, “I’ll call the private investigator and tell him to start on the case. Let’s see if he can dig up something in our favor.”

My hearing started coming back. Kathleen was looking at me with concern and added, “This is our first big criminal case, Alice. I know it’s not what you want, but the stakes are too high to lose. Besides, Hayworth already has a barrister.” She tried to smile.

I left the room. I felt insulted and underrated. Four years of working as a solicitor in the UK — one of them as solicitor-advocate — and yet I wasn’t capable of representing a rock star at Old Bailey9?

 

When my temper cooled, I was able to think things over with a clearer head. Dayton Barnes had announced that I was being assigned as the solicitor for Jonathan Hayworth — a guitarist in the indie rock band Mad Dogs, a playboy who’d been dubbed ‘the Irish bad boy’ by the press. He was charged with the murder of his ex-girlfriend. The news had occupied the pages of the quality press on the Isles for a long time — from The Irish Times and The Scotsman to The Times. Even tabloids like The Sun had carried out their own journalistic investigations. It was bound to be the case of the year. The trial was scheduled to begin in less than a week. Today Barnes had broken the news that Hayworth’s barrister hadn’t approved of his recent solicitor and had dismissed him. On Barnes’ recommendation, I was chosen as the barrister’s deputy.

In addition to everything else, Barnes was also a patron of the rock band — their angel investor — and a close friend of the musicians. Even though I was expected to be flattered, I was furious. Great Britain was one of the only places left on Earth where the obsolete practice of hiring two lawyers for the same case was the norm. Solicitors signed the documents on behalf of the clients, while barristers defended them in court. Although the judiciary had legalized the hybrid solicitor-advocates, they underestimated and looked down on us as if we were second-rate legal specialists. England still lived in the nineteenth century! It was good that at least we Americans had won our independence. I felt a burning desire to get out of the building as soon as possible. I headed toward the elevator but the secretary stopped me with the announcement, “Tim Lawson from Lionel Max called to say he could see you today at four, about the insurance for Yester Castle. He said to call him if you couldn’t make it at that time.”

“Thanks, Rosy,” I said, and my finger froze above the call button of the elevator. Damn it, I swore silently. I had to go back to my office. I had to get the insurance done before I could transfer the sum we’d agreed upon. However, I had forgotten the documents on my desk when Kathleen had called me to her office. I quickly rushed back, saw the folder and grabbed it. I had sent Yester Castle’s registration form to Her Majesty’s Land Registry that morning, and had also paid the stamp duty at Revenue and Customs. I seethed with frustration; I was frankly sick of seeing the Queen’s title everywhere. Every single thing in the country revolved around her persona. Criminal cases in Great Britain were registered in court under the name ‘the Crown v. Ward.’ At home in the States, it would’ve been “the People vs. Ward.’ What Majesty?

A small yellow sticky-note caught my eye; it read What do you want? There was no signature, and the handwriting didn’t seem familiar. Baffled, I turned it over. The other side was blank. Weird, I thought. The question had an odd but relaxing effect on my sharpened senses. I set the note on the desk and sank into my chair, closing my eyes briefly.

For a moment I imagined I was at the shooting range. Several years before, I had taken a handgun training course — just as a precaution; after all, I worked with criminals. Now I saw myself alone at the range, the target ten feet from me. I loaded the magazine, but suddenly my eyes focused on the target — Jonathan Hayworth.

I opened my eyes and shook my head. My gaze fell again on the slip of paper with its question. Spontaneously, and aloud, I asked myself the same question: “What do I really want?”

To my surprise, the answer rushed to my mind — Maeve, Maeve Dublin. That’s what I want! I dialed her number as I jogged out of the building. The small yellow piece of paper was still on my desk.

 

I took the subway to Covent Garden and reached the Mystery Point Shop on foot. A strange mixture of new age culture, esotericism, and Zen, it was owned and frequently attended by Maeve Dublin. An attractive elderly woman in a funny old-fashioned hat was leaving the shop, and I paused at the entrance to let her pass.

I had become friends with Maeve shortly after I moved to the UK. For a while I had done some volunteer work at the Bar Pro Bono Unit, a charity law organization, when I wasn’t busy at Fulmer & Archibald. It was there that I had met Maeve, a remarkable young woman, and much to my surprise — she was my diametric opposite — we soon became friends.

“Hi, Maeve!” I called upon entering her shop.

“Alice?” She looked up from her laptop screen in surprise. “I’m really happy to see you! What’s going on with you? It’s been some time since we last met.”

I paused at the cash register and forced a cheerful smile. “I’m not complaining. It’s always the same in the world of Lady Justice.”

My eyes slid over the gorgeous ethnic scarves on display near the register. Maeve had once shown me a scarf that was knitted out of some special Tibetan plant; it had been lovely, but not the sort of thing I’d ever wear.

“I’m glad to hear it,” she said. “I’ve been thinking about you. You haven’t been here in a long while.”

“But here I am. I called to let you know I was coming, but got no answer.”

“Oh, was that you?” She smiled, gazing at me for a moment, her eyes filled with warmth. Then she closed the laptop and turned to change the price tag on a copper statuette behind her. “I was in the back unpacking a new shipment. I prefer email to the phone, to be honest — you have my address, don’t you?”

“Yes, I do. I was actually wondering… you know something about dream interpretation, don’t you?” Maeve was very interested in psychology, and had a great store of knowledge about all aspects of the field.

“Yes, I do. What exactly do you want to know?”

“There’s something that’s been worrying me…”

Just then, a customer came in and Maeve hurried over to attend to him. In just a few minutes, he came to the register and paid for a packet of incense sticks and a copy of Mind, Body and Spirit magazine.

While she rang up his purchases, I studied a large canvas hanging on the opposite wall. Unlike the other paintings in the shop, it didn’t contain Indian or Asian motifs. An African woman was featured in the foreground, holding a feather in one hand and some sort of earthenware pot in the other.

“So, what was your question again?” Maeve asked after the man left.

“What’s this?” I asked, pointing at the painting.

“Maat.” Seeing that it didn’t ring a bell, she went on. “The Egyptian goddess of justice, truth and harmony. In the mythology of ancient Egypt, when a person died their heart was measured against one of her feathers. If it weighed more than the feather, the person was deemed too sinful to enter the afterlife and the heart was thrown to a monstrous demon, which would tear it to pieces and devour it.”

“A very romantic tale, indeed,” I said with a laugh.

“You wanted to tell me about something that’s worrying you.” Maeve brought my focus back to my question, urging me to get to the point.

I reluctantly averted my eyes from Maat. I wondered what this ancient goddess would think about Jonathan Hayworth. I was sure that at least half my clients had hearts that would weigh much more than her feather.

I told Maeve about my dreams. I began with the first — the one before Easter. She listened carefully, asking questions from time to time.

“And then I woke up, screaming. Michelle reassured me it had been just a dream. I had a dream within a dream! Can you believe that? What do you think?”

Maeve didn’t say anything. She sat on her wooden chair by the register, drawing geometrical shapes on a piece of scrap paper. She had a habit of doing that when she was deep in concentration.

“Maeve?” I asked. Having gotten it out into the open at last, I was impatient for her response.

She didn’t reply at first, just continued drawing. After a few more moments, she lifted her eyes.

“Are you sure you’re not attracted to your trainee?”

I chuckled. “Don’t be silly!”

“I’m not being silly at all. I’m very serious.” She was frowning at me.

“I’m absolutely sure.”

“Then it’s what I supposed…” she said, seeming to be talking more to herself than to me. Then she spoke in a quiet but firm voice, her eyes never wavering from mine. “I think this is a kind of warning. There’s something in your life that worries you, something you don’t like and want to change. What could that be?”

I thought for several moments, but this type of introspection had always made me feel vaguely uncomfortable. Trying to lighten the mood, I finally replied, “Why don’t we go back to your suspicion that I was gay?”

“Think about it carefully,” she said seriously, her eyes fixed on me. “What’s this thing in your life that puts you off and makes you fear it but, at the same time, tempts and excites you?” She kept her eyes focused on mine with intense concentration.

I didn’t know what to say. For a few moments, I felt disoriented and out of touch with reality, as if I weren’t really in the strange little shop. Then Maeve’s mobile rang, coming to my aid. The shop was filled with the mocking voices of the Chipmunks performing Katy Perry’s single Firework.

“Hullo,” she answered. “Yes, I’m fine. What’s happened?” She strained to hear the person on other end better, placing her hand over her free ear. “That’s horrible! No, I’m coming. Wait for me! Yes, I’m on my way, right now.” She hung up and immediately began to balance the cash register.

“What happened?” I realized that my voice sounded muffled.

“That was Sam. He’s found an injured kitten. I must go immediately if it’s to be saved!” She was already pulling down the blinds.

“Would the kitten really die if you don’t go?” I asked.

Maeve threw me an incredulous look — how could I have asked such a dumb question? I immediately regretted it. I’d forgotten this was Maeve Dublin. As a volunteer with National Wildlife Trust and World Wildlife Fund projects, she’d been all over the world on animal welfare missions. A year ago, she’d even been to Iran to rescue Persian leopards threatened with extinction.

Maeve typed the code into the alarm device on the wall. She patted me on the shoulder as we left the shop together. “Alice, I’m really sorry I had to cut our chat short, but it can’t be helped. I’m glad that at least we saw each other. Come back in a few days. But, please, send me an email first next time. I’m trying to use phones less and email is a much better alternative to all those high-tech gadgets.”

I had to expect something like that from Maeve; if I ever stopped using my cell phone, Kathleen and Hugh would fire me immediately.

We hugged each other and she headed for her bike. She never used a car unless she was in the country, which was sensible — especially for London.

“And Alice…” she shouted.

I turned around. “Yes?”

“Think about what I asked you. What is it that tempts you?” She winked at me.

I smiled. I knew well enough that even if I thought about it, I wouldn’t find out what it was.

I watched as Maeve rode away on two wheels, until my cell phone rang. An unknown number displayed on the screen.

“Hello?” I answered.

“Miss Roseburg?” asked the voice on the other end.

“Yes, how can I help you?”

“It’s Robin Seagoe, Jonathan Hayworth’s barrister. When do you think we could meet in regard to the defense?”

Great! I can’t wait, I thought sarcastically, but instead replied, “I’m on Shelton Street now. Where are you?” I glanced at my watch; it was two thirty. I had time before my meeting with the insurance agent for that damned Yester Castle.

“Wonderful, that’s fairly close. Our office is in Grace Inn,10 3 Raymond Buildings. I’ll be expecting you.” The line went dead.

 

 

Chapter 7

[* *]

 

 

 

 

“Solicitor-advocate?” Seagoe asked, shaking my hand.

“Exactly! I’ll be your junior,” I nodded to him, trying to appear as friendly as possible while remaining professional. I doubted he’d be more astonished if I had told him I was a QC.11 “I’m joking, of course.”

He forced a laugh and sat down.

“You must have heard about the murder of Mariana Torres from the press?”

I nodded.

Torres was an Englishwoman of Argentinean origin; her last boyfriend found her dead in her King’s Road flat on the evening of November 26, 2011. The cause of death was a stab wound in the back, behind the heart region. Death occurred half an hour after the wound was inflicted. The police found a bloody knife in a trash can on King’s Road, and the forensic investigation had confirmed that it was the murder weapon. As far as I could remember, no fingerprints had been found on it.

“The Crown’s got two trumps to play against Hayworth,” Seagoe began, “a motive and his presence at the crime scene around the time of death — that is, between seven thirty and eight thirty in the evening. Let’s run over the facts of the case: Even though Hayworth and Torres broke up in November of 2010 after a two-year relationship, Hayworth continued to be jealous of Torres’ new boyfriend, Tyler Hearn. On October 26, our client made a public scene in Raison d’être Bistro when he came upon Torres and Hearn enjoying dinner together. The manager was compelled to ask Hayworth to leave the place.”

“Was Hayworth alone?”

“Hmm… no, he wasn’t. There was a woman accompanying him. Don’t ask me who she is,” he hastened to add before I could question him about her. “Hayworth had been also sending Torres texts with rude and obscene content. None of them were saved on her mobile but Hearn told the police he had seen them, including one that read: ‘Are you happy with him, you cow?’ The prosecution has subpoenaed the mobile company for the records but it doesn’t look like they’ll be able to get them in time.”

“A typical case of morbid jealousy. That’s what the prosecution will argue. Who’s the prosecutor?”

“Lady Macbeth,” Seagoe announced, puffing his chest out slightly in a show of arrogance.

I raised my eyebrows in surprise.

“Sarah Eaton, a silk,” he specified, referring to the silk gowns the Queen’s Counsels wore.

“Torres’ next door neighbor, a Mrs. Stubbings, heard continuous shouting and banging on Torres’ front door on the day of the murder. She went out and saw Hayworth, leaning on the door and screaming, ‘Mariana, open the door!’ This was a little before seven thirty in the evening; she says Hayworth was intoxicated.”

“What does he say about that?”

“He says he was at a match at Emirates Stadium, had a few drinks with some mates and then went to Torres’ flat. She wasn’t there so eventually he left.”

“Fingerprints?”

“No fingerprints found in the flat, apart from Torres’ and her boyfriend Hearn’s. The murder weapon was a kitchen knife taken from Torres’ kitchen. No fingerprints on the knife, either.”

“So there’s no physical evidence against Hayworth,” I mused thoughtfully. “Despite his motive and his proven presence at the crime scene, I think we still stand a chance.”

“Have you seen Jonathan Hayworth?” Seagoe asked me.

“The Irish bad boy? Not in the flesh,” I admitted, “only in photos.”

“He’s got an undeniable influence on the female audience. My daughter likes him and she’s only eight.” He paused. “Even if he’d been caught over Torres’ dead body, I think the women on the jury might acquit him.”

I silently wondered if sexual energy could really dictate behavior to such an extent.

“Aside from the lack of physical evidence, what can we use to defend him?”

“Hayworth’s own statement. He drank a bit too much that night, went to his ex’s flat, rang and knocked for a while but when no one came to the door, he left.”

“Is he testifying?”

He looked at me with interest. “What do you think?”

I crossed my legs. “If he really has such a magnetic influence on women, might be a good move.”

“I think so, too.” Seagoe nodded his approval and confirmed, “Hayworth will be testifying.”

“What other witnesses will we call?”

“Mad Dogs’ lead singer and guitarist, Hayworth’s psychotherapist and —”

“He has one?” I asked, surprised.

“Ever since his public tantrums began, yes. That’s the official version,” he said with a wink. “Dr. McCaffrey has been treating him by way of one-hour sessions since the beginning of last year. He’ll state that despite his occasional fits of aggression, Hayworth is incapable of committing murder.”

“Lady Macbeth will also call a psychologist?” I asked.

“Certainly — a forensic psychologist from Belmarsh.” He paused and stood up. “Dayton told me you were hiring a private investigator, um… whatever his name is. Be sure and tell me if he finds something.”

“Of course.”

“Well, that’s it for now. If we don’t see each other before the trial begins, just be ready,” he said, handing me the folder with the police and witness accounts for the case. Ironic, seeing as how my role as the defendant’s solicitor was to pass documents to the barristers.

“How long have you been a QC?” I asked.

Seagoe looked startled. “Five years. Why do you ask?”

I shrugged. “Just curious.”

“You know, I can think of many solicitors who got re-qualified as barristers. And vice versa,” he added, seeing me to the door.

I couldn’t imagine wasting a year as a pupil at a barrister’s chambers, only getting ten thousand pounds annually. First, the chambers would have to vote and approve my remaining there as a tenant. And then it would take me a few years to build a solid enough portfolio of clients to start earning the amount of money I was making now.

“I don’t know. I’m from New York. I don’t really understand these things,” I sighed.

“I thought I recognized the accent,” he said, sounding pleased with himself. “Do you remember that American football star’s trial, um…”

“O. J. Simpson?”

“That’s right. Just like he was acquitted of murdering his ex-wife, our boy Hayworth will be too.” Seagoe opened the front door. Noticing my hesitation, he added, “If a client tells us he is innocent, then he is. I know you Yanks say ‘In God we trust’ but rather it’s the client in whom we trust.”

 

Chapter 8

 

 

 

 

 

The wall clock read five fifteen and I was drooping over the police reports. The firm’s business hours ended at five, and I could freely go home. The few colleagues who were still there were all getting ready to leave. But the trial for Crown v. Hayworth was to begin the next day, so I had to read through my part of the witness accounts and police reports at breakneck speed. Michelle and I had divided them equally between us.

I had already closed the deal for that damned medieval castle and now the murder case was my only task. The day before, I’d had Yester Castle’s sale documents notarized and received the key to the property’s gate. Somerset came by in the afternoon to pick everything up. He was visibly pleased when he told me, “Thank you, Miss Roseburg, for meeting the deadline. Ella will be quite pleased, I do believe.”

“Send her greetings for her birthday on my behalf,” I presumed to say. “But I wonder why… well… why she chose the ruins of a thirteenth-century castle? And those legends that accompany it. Isn’t it a little spooky?”

He chuckled and explained, “Personally, I agree. I would have never chosen to buy it on my own, but Ella wants it because of Yester House next door. Or, rather, because of the owner of that mansion.”

“And who’s he?” I asked, curious.

“She,” Somerset corrected me, “is ‘the Monster,’ Lady Gaga.”

 

I went down to the parking lot and started my Toyota. It took me about half an hour to arrive at my apartment in Battersea. Immediately upon entering, I threw my keys on the kitchen table and poured myself a glass of white wine. Without further delay, I began to read the remaining accounts. Whenever I had such a “class A” case, my mind was focused solely on it.

I was absorbed in reading Mrs. Stubbings’ account when I saw a black shadow slide by the half-open door that separated the room from the corridor. I didn’t move an inch. However, I didn’t feel threatened – in fact, I felt strangely calm. Within a few moments, the shadow had become flesh — a man, in an impeccably tailored black suit, but seeming relaxed, standing there with his hands tucked in his pockets. He was between thirty and forty years old and had a classically handsome face. In short, exactly my type of man.

“What do you want, Alice?” He was standing by the door, immobile.

“What do I want?”

“Yes. Tell me what you want.” He raised his eyebrows meaningfully and his lips stretched into an ambiguous smile.

I glanced down at the witness accounts in front of me. Well, to start with I want to win this case, I thought.

When I looked up at the door again he’d disappeared.

 

The continuous ring of my cell phone woke me up.

“Hello?”

“Alice, I’ve got something!” Hearing the private investigator’s voice brought me wide awake.

“I spoke with a student worker at St. Mary’s church. It turns out that Miss Torres would often do volunteer work at that church, as she was a very devout young lady. Each Sunday she’d help organize the church lunches. About six months ago, she’d also started attending self-help groups. At those meetings she became acquainted with Lee Helsbee — a troubled young man, about twenty years old. The worker described him as an introvert, inclined to self-harm, and said I could learn more about him from the special project administrator. But she isn’t answering her phone at the moment. I’ll have to call her again tomorrow.”

“Have you found out anything else?”

“About Helsbee? He has no record at Scotland Yard. When I went to the address listed for him, his mother opened the door. She told me he wasn’t there but I didn’t really believe her.”

“Okay,” I said, thinking hard. “Well, keep trying to get in contact with the administrator and see what you can get out of her. If we can connect this Helsbee to Torres’s murder, we can keep Hayworth from ending up in jail.”

I ended the call and dialed Seagoe’s number. He answered after the third ring.

“Hello?”

“Robin, I have some news from the private investigator. Where are you?” I heard the clink of glasses and distant conversation.

“City of York, 22 High—”

“High Holborn. I’ve heard of it.” I paused for a second. “Look, the PI just called me.” I relayed the information I had just received. We needed all the ammunition we could get and there was no time to lose. The trial was set to begin the next day.

 

 

Chapter 9

 

 

 

 

 

“Jonathan Niall Hayworth, you are charged with the murder of Mariana Lucia Elias Torres on the evening of the twenty-sixth of November in the year two thousand eleven. How do you plead? Guilty or not guilty?”

“Not guilty,” Hayworth stated with force, then sat back on the bench.

The court clerk began with the protocol.

“Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, Jonathan Niall Hayworth is charged with murder. He is pleading not guilty. Your duty, in this case, is to hear the facts of the case and to decide whether he’s guilty or not.”

“Mrs. Eaton, you may present the case on behalf of the Crown,” Judge Fletcher invited, in an almost sing-song chant.

Sarah Eaton, a well-preserved woman of about fifty, turned to face the jury box. “Ladies and gentlemen of the jury,” she began. Slim, with strict and regular features, she emitted an air of cold resolution and ruthlessness. I was beginning to understand why she was called “Lady Macbeth.”

She continued, “If Your Honor allows me, I’ll be representing the prosecution on behalf of the Crown. The defense will be represented by my venerable colleague Robin Seagoe,” She didn’t look at her notes; they knew each other well. “May I present to Your Honor’s attention the murder of Mariana Torres. An intelligent, sensual, and beautiful woman, still in the beginning of her life’s journey, she fell victim to the pathological jealousy and anger of the defendant Jonathan Hayworth,” Eaton said, with a wave of her hand in Hayworth’s direction but not so much as a glance at him, “the famous guitarist of the rock band Mad Dogs.”

Unthinkingly, I glanced over at the benches where the audience sat. It was rare for the courtroom to be full to capacity, as it was today. Upon entering that morning, I’d had to force my way through a swarm of journalists who had come to report on the trial. The crowds of Hayworth’s fans – mostly female – added to the mass. Due to the lack of available seats, many of the would-be onlookers had to wait outside court number four at Old Bailey.

“Hayworth and Torres had been a couple for two years,” Eaton continued, “when, at the end of 2010, Torres broke up with the defendant. Even during their relationship, Hayworth had proved himself to be an aggressive and obsessive lover. He was constantly jealous of Miss Torres for no apparent reason. This is evidenced by the words Mariana Torres told her best friend Aida Pears after a disagreement with Hayworth: ‘I don’t want to know what Jonathan would do if he really had a reason to be jealous.’”

Seagoe’s back was directly in front of me. I could see he was taking notes on Eaton’s opening statement, but couldn’t make out exactly what he was writing.

“When Miss Torres began to date Tyler Hearn after ending the relationship with Hayworth, Hayworth couldn’t bear the thought of her being with another man. It was then that he began to harass her with hundreds of text messages, some of which were quite vulgar. I quote what Mariana Torres told her boyfriend Tyler Hearn: ‘I’m afraid of what Jonathan might be up to.’ Hayworth’s obsession escalated. When, on October 28, he came upon Torres and Hearn at Raison d’être Bistro, he became mad with jealousy and attacked Hearn. The bistro’s manager and Hearn are reliable witnesses of the defendant’s fit of fury. But was Jonathan Hayworth satisfied only with the harassing of his ex-girlfriend and that one act of physical violence?”

Eaton paused for a second, letting her words sink in, then moved on. “‘If I can’t have her, then no one else will!’ That’s what Jonathan Hayworth must have been thinking when, on the evening of November 26, 2011, he arrived at Mariana Torres’ flat on 12 King’s Road. He had just come from a football game, and had imbibed a bit too much whiskey. Mrs. Meredith Stubbings, who lives in the flat opposite Mariana’s, heard shouts and loud banging on her neighbor’s door. Concerned, she went out to see what was going on. She saw Hayworth, but he didn’t notice her. Mrs. Stubbings will tell you that she remembers clearly the exact time of the incident – seven twenty-five in the evening. Being a composed woman, Mrs. Stubbings didn’t attempt to interfere.

“According to the autopsy report, Miss Torres’ death occurred between eight and nine on the evening of November 26. Hayworth wasn’t satisfied with kicking and banging on Torres’ door. His bruised ego would not let him admit that the woman he loved preferred another man over him. Ladies and gentlemen, let’s put ourselves in Mariana Torres’ shoes — it was after seven in the evening and she was home alone. Her ex-boyfriend, whom she used to love, had been systematically and consistently harassing her for a year, and that particular night he’d come with the intention of breaking into her flat. We should add here the fact that Miss Torres lived on a quiet and peaceful street in Edmonton, and she didn’t want Hayworth to embarrass her in front of her neighbors. That’s why she opened the door. Hayworth went inside, and during the quarrel that followed he grabbed one of the kitchen knives.”

Eaton paused dramatically before continuing. “He stabbed her in the back three times, right behind the heart. We can only begin to imagine the ferocity and the malice with which Hayworth attacked Mariana Torres — the woman he’d once loved so much. Then Hayworth went outside and threw the knife into one of the litter bins on the street. According to the medical specialist’s report, Miss Torres died of massive hemorrhaging from her wounds, not more than half an hour after the lethal stabbing.

“Tyler Hearn called Miss Torres several times between eight thirty and nine thirty, but got no answer. Worried, he went to her flat at quarter to ten that same night. He found her lying in a pool of her own blood, dead on the floor.”

Sarah Eaton paused and took a sip from the glass of water on the table. “Behind each crime there is a motive, and in Mariana Torres’ case, we need only remember the story of Othello and Desdemona. The deadly combination of jealousy, love, obsession, hatred, and revenge triggered Jonathan Hayworth to kill his former girlfriend, Mariana Torres. A beautiful love story, one which began as a wonderful dream, turned into a real nightmare. Dear members of the jury, when you’ve heard the witness accounts of the case, any doubts you may have as to who could be Mariana Torres’ murderer will be dispelled.”

As she paused again for dramatic effect, I saw the lights flashing on my phone, which I had left on the table.

“The one and only murderer of Mariana Torres is Jonathan Hayworth. This, Milord, marks the ending of the Crown’s opening pleading and, if you please, I’d like to call the Crown’s first witness.”

As Eaton concluded her opening statement, I headed for the door, careful not to make a sound. The call was from the private investigator.

“The Crown calls Tyler Hearn,” Sarah Eaton announced.

When the court usher opened the door, I used the opportunity to slip out of the courtroom. Hearn seemed a bit startled by my appearing in the doorway and rushing out as he was entering.

“Tyler Hearn,” the court usher announced. He entered the room and the door closed behind him.

I went down the corridor and through another door to the Grand Hall. Here I could talk freely.

“Hello, are you there?”

“Alice, I’ve got bloody good news. I spoke to the special project administrator. She gave me a couple of very interesting facts. That guy Lee Helsbee apparently has a germ phobia and always wears gloves —”

“The lack of fingerprints!”

“Exactly. She also says that after Torres was murdered, Helsbee stopped visiting the church. Before that, he came regularly for the Sunday lunches.”

“I need to talk to her.”

“I thought you would. I told her you’d certainly want to meet her. She agreed and said you could find her this afternoon between three and five, at the office of St. Mary’s Church.”

I wondered why people acted so passively when they knew important facts about crimes. What did they expect — divine intervention to make them relay what they knew to the proper officials?

“Where’s the church office?”

“255 Old Marylebone Road.”

“Okay.” I typed the address into my cell phone. “I have one more question: Does Tyler know about that Helsbee guy?”

“I’m not sure. The administrator mentioned that Hearn came to the Sunday church lunches with Torres several times, about six months ago, but then stopped coming for some reason.”

“Right.” I paused. I hoped Hearn had heard about him. “And what about Helsbee? Did you track him down?”

“I’ve been watching his home or, rather, what’s supposed to be his home. There’s been no trace of him. Only his mother – she goes out every morning around half past eight, then returns home after six in the evening.”

“All right. Keep looking for him. If we can talk to him and find out what happened that he stopped going to the church…”

“Maybe he just got bored,” the investigator suggested.

“Don’t be silly!” I snapped at him. “He must[_ ]have _something to do with it, even if it’s insignificant. I’m not making any predictions, but no two things in this universe happen separately and independently from each other. There are no coincidences in life. All things are connected.”

I ended the call and cast my eyes on the famous maxim inscribed on one wall of the Grand Hall, right under the dome: “Poise the cause in justice’s equal scales,” read the quote from Shakespeare’s Henry VI.

I went quietly back into the courtroom. Hearn was still being questioned.

“…then Jonathan came to the table where Mariana and I were sitting and grabbed her roughly by the elbow.”

“And what was your reaction to his behavior?”

“I jumped up straight away. I was ready to teach him a lesson when the manager — a very nice Frenchman, very polite — came and asked us not to make a scene. He said, ‘Gentlemen, let’s not disturb the comfort of the other clients. If there’s something you need to argue about, please do it outside.’ Then Hayworth left, followed by the girl he’d come with.”

“A girl?” Eaton pretended to be surprised. “A[_ young_] girl?”

“Well, yes; I’d say she was maybe twenty years old at the most.”

“How did she react to her companion’s aggressive behavior?”

“She was obviously repulsed and embarrassed.”

“And did Miss Torres ever mention to you any other manifestations of aggression on Hayworth’s part?”

Hearn bowed his head. It drew my attention. I had written down the information I’d received from the private investigator, and now I passed the slip of paper to Seagoe.

“Mr. Hearn,” Sarah Eaton urged him in a firm but polite tone.

“After what happened at Raison d’être, I asked Mariana to tell me more about Hayworth. Ever since she had begun to receive his disgusting texts, she’d refused to talk about him. I felt like she still loved him or was hiding something from me. That night, however, she admitted to me that Hayworth was terribly jealous and that she was afraid of him. ‘I’m afraid of what he might be up to,’ were her exact words.”

“Didn’t you, as her boyfriend, want to do something about the harassment from her ex-boyfriend?”

“Mariana convinced me that it would have made him even angrier. And then, he’s a star, you know…”

Sarah Eaton let the comment pass and went back to the question. “Mr. Hearn, did Mariana Torres ever mention to you that Hayworth had committed violence against her?”

“No,” he admitted. “But, if you ask me, he had. That night at the bistro, she looked terrified of him.”

“Thank you.” Sarah smiled at him and returned to her seat.

I liked Hearn. He seemed like a decent guy. I thought the jury liked him, too. All the five female members were looking at him with genuine smiles on their faces.

“Mr. Seagoe,” Fletcher said in his sing-song voice.

The barrister rose, his step energetic and light. He took a quick look at his notes lying on the little wooden folding stand that sat atop the table and asked, “Mr. Hearn, have you ever been jealous of any of your girlfriends?”

He thought for a moment.

“Yes, but I’ve never threatened anyone.”

“In the autumn of 1999, when you were a second-year student at what was then known as Leeds Metropolitan University, you were involved in a fight with Arthur Baker. Am I correct?”

“Yes, that is right,” Hearn admitted reluctantly.

“What was the reason behind the fight?”

“Maria Parker, whom we were both dating at the time,” he answered after a moment’s hesitation.

“Are you an aggressive person, Mr. Hearn?”

“Look, that was a one-time occurrence, thirteen years ago. When I was younger my blood would easily get boiling —”

“Mr. Hayworth’s behavior at the aforementioned bistro was also a ‘one-time occurrence’.”

“I disagree!”

“But you admitted that Mariana Torres never stated she was abused by Hayworth, correct?”

Hearn was silent.

Seagoe persisted. “Were you jealous of Jonathan Hayworth because of his former relationship with Miss Torres?”

“It’s him who’s in the dock, not me, right?”

“A moment ago, you testified that you’d thought Mariana Torres still loved Hayworth. What feeling did this thought evoke in you?”

“Anger. Is that what you want to hear?” An odd spark flashed for a moment in Hearn’s eyes.

“And you admit that you also took part in the argument that broke out at Raison d’être?”

“Okay, find me guilty of that! I’m fine with that — but I wonder, what explanation will you give for Aida’s account?”

Taking a look at his notes, Seagoe changed the subject. “Mr. Hearn, you accompanied Miss Torres to St. Mary’s Church a few times and volunteered at the Sunday charity lunches there, didn’t you?”

Tyler Hearn was obviously surprised by the change of subject.

“Yes, I did.”

“Did Mariana Torres make any friends during her volunteer service at the church?”

“Your Honor!” Lady Macbeth rose to her feet. “With all due respect to my colleague, what do these questions have to do with the case?”

Judge Fletcher smiled slightly and then ruled, “Mr. Seagoe, proceed, but don’t test my patience.”

“Thank you, Milord.” He turned back to the witness and waited for his answer.

“As far as I remember, I think she made some acquaintances there. I can’t remember any particular name, though.”

“Does the name Lee Helsbee ring a bell to you?”

“No.” Hearn shook his head.

Seagoe turned around to look at me, a glance that wouldn’t have seemed significant to anyone else in the room. But I knew what it meant — we couldn’t relate Helsbee to the case at this stage.

“Why? Who is he?” Hearn asked.

“I’ve got no further questions,” Seagoe announced and sat back in his place.

“You may call the next witness.” Judge Fletcher directed his attention to the prosecutor after Hearn had left the stand.

“The Crown calls Meredith Stubbings,” Eaton announced.

 

Chapter 10

 

 

 

 

 

“Are you always so shattered on Friday evenings?” Seagoe said over the pub’s noise, and smiled at me cheerfully.

 

The last day of the working week had turned out to be pretty intense. Sarah Eaton, on behalf of the Crown, had called Mrs. Stubbings, the bistro’s manager, and then Mariana’s best friend, Aida Pierce. The last witness marked the end of the day’s court hearing. In the afternoon, around four o’clock, I’d visited the special projects office and talked to the administrator. I didn’t learn any more than what she’d already told the PI.

“He was a strange bird, that Helsbee. Towards the end, before he disappeared, he’d almost stalk her,” she’d chuckled. “I think he had a thing for her. Poor Mariana! She always seemed to attract the nutters. The only thing I don’t know is what made him stop coming for the lunches.”

The private eye had also come to a dead end. He had been looking for Helsbee for two days. He had checked all the mental health clinics in London but there was no sign of him. At five thirty in the evening, while I’d been finishing up in the office, Seagoe had called me, inviting me to his favorite pub, City of York, for a drink.

We had found seats at City of York and were now relaxing in the pub. Our conversation led us back to the current case.

“I don’t see a reason why I should be happy,” I mumbled in response to Seagoe’s question, and took a sip from my pint.

“Oh, come on, Alice! It’s the end of the workweek. You’ll spend the weekend relaxing with your family.”

I eyed him for a moment, amazed.

“I don’t know how you can even think about relaxing with a case like ours.”

“I don’t see why we should worry. There were no surprises today — the first day of trial went smoothly, and I think the rest will as well.”

I only raised my eyebrows in response, taking another sip of my Guinness. I couldn’t deny that the Irish knew how to make a great beer.

“Okay, then, what’s bothering you?” he asked. “That bloody Stubbings only saw Hayworth banging on Torres’s door. You heard her admitting in front of the whole court that after she had seen him she closed the door and went back to watching her series.”

“She remembers the exact time it happened — seven twenty-five in the evening.”

“Only because her favorite series, Midsomer Murders started right after!”

During the cross-examination, Robin had several times tried to refute Stubbings testimony as to the time she’d heard Hayworth banging on the door, but she kept repeating how her favorite TV show had begun at the same time. The TV guide clearly showed that the series aired every Saturday night at seven twenty-five.

“The time matches. And that old granny sure made a reliable witness.” She had a remarkably sharp mind for her age. I stared at the little beer bubbles and muttered, “A regular Miss Marple in action.”

Robin looked at me, amused. “Detachment. That’s what you lack.”

“What was the name of the psychologist Eaton’s calling?” I asked distractedly, ignoring his comment.

“Uh, something Kershaw, I think. He works at Belmarsh Prison.”

The most strictly guarded prison in the country with the most dangerous criminals, I thought. If Hayworth is found guilty, he’ll spend at least the next fifteen years of his life there.

“Is Kershaw a threat?” I asked.

Robin tried to make a joke. “I hope not as bloody dangerous as his patients are.”

“And what about our doctor — do you think he’ll do well under questioning?” I didn’t even smile at his little funny.

“We’ve rehearsed the questions I’ll ask him ten times. It’ll be like shooting fish in a barrel.”

I stared at the opposite wall blankly.

“If I were you, I wouldn’t worry, Alice. There are five women on the jury,” Seagoe tried to reassure me.

I forced a smile.

 

 

 

Chapter 11

 

 

 

 

Court number four at Old Bailey had been buzzing like a beehive long before Judge Fletcher appeared and announced the start of Monday’s hearing. This was the third week of the criminal case of the year and it had attracted a diverse audience. By ten o’clock there were already reporters, solicitors and junior solicitors coming in droves, as well as a plethora of citizens curious to watch the trial. At ten fifteen, there were no seats left unoccupied. Judge Fletcher opened the court session at ten thirty.

“The Crown calls Graham Kershaw,” Sarah Eaton declared.

After Kershaw had given his oath she asked, “Will you give us your name and address for the protocol?”

“Graham Kershaw, Great Chapel Street 17.”

“State your occupation.”

“I’m a forensic psychologist at Her Majesty’s Prison Belmarsh.”

“And how long have you held that position?”

“I’ve been working as a forensic psychologist for twelve years, and at Belmarsh for five.”

“Have you any professional experience with the illness known as morbid jealousy?”

“Yes, I have.”

“Could you give us a brief summary of the cases you’ve treated, please?”

Kershaw smiled like a celebrity who had just been asked for an autograph.

“Certainly. Altogether, fifteen men who were diagnosed with morbid jealousy have served sentences in the prison so far. Six of them killed their partners, just like Hayworth, killed —”

Seagoe interfered immediately. “Objection, Your Honor! The witness’ statement hasn’t been proved.”

“Mr. Kershaw, being a forensic psychologist, I’m sure you are familiar with the witness code of conduct. Please abide by it to avoid any remarks on my part,” Fletcher scolded him.

“I apologize, Milord.”

His statement, however, had produced a visible effect on the members of the jury. Kershaw cleared his throat and continued.

“Six of them killed their partners, including one who murdered his former girlfriend because he suspected she had a new boyfriend. Of the remaining nine, more than half inflicted serious bodily injury on their partners.”

“What are the symptoms of morbid jealousy?”

Kershaw sat up a little straighter, and I braced myself for a lecture. “Morbid jealousy, also known as Othello syndrome or delusional jealousy,” he began, “is a pathological condition characterized by a persistent belief that one’s partner is being unfaithful, without any evidence of this. It’s expressed by things like following or stalking the suspected partner, making threats, frequent searching of the partner’s home or workplace, rummaging in their clothes and even hiring a detective. A significant percentage of people suffering from this condition — nearly half of them — demonstrate forcefully expressed aggression and, in some cases, even violence towards their partners. This is generally more characteristic of men, though there are exceptions, of course. In extreme cases of the illness there might be cases when the patient kills either his partner, or his partner and himself. Women rarely resort to murder. Alcohol or drug use also drastically increases the likelihood of physical violence against the partner suspected of infidelity.”

“And, in your opinion, as an independent psychologist, is it possible that the defendant, Jonathan Hayworth, suffered from morbid jealousy?”

“Oh yes. The frequent threats the victim received to her mobile and the display of jealousy at the bistro both indicate that diagnosis. Hayworth’s aggressiveness and alcohol misuse match the profile of patients suffering from morbid jealousy, as well.”

“Would you say, again speaking as an independent psychologist, that it might have been alcohol that pulled the trigger, figuratively speaking, the night of the murder — when Hayworth was particularly aggressive, that is?”

“Definitely. In fact, alcohol and drug misuse may in themselves lead to morbid jealousy. A study among men enrolled in the Alcoholism Treatment Center in 1995 found that 34% of them manifested symptoms of morbid jealousy. Psychotropic drugs like amphetamine or cocaine can also trigger the condition.”

“Does this mean that Hayworth’s frequent alcohol misuse might have facilitated the development of Othello syndrome?”

“That’s a completely plausible and logical possibility.”

“I have no further questions.” Sarah Eaton sat down after honoring Seagoe with her brilliant but cold smile.

“Mr. Kershaw,” Seagoe began his first question, “you mentioned that of the fifteen prisoners, nine did not kill their partner, and ‘more than half’ of those nine have exercised violence on their partners. Does this mean the other half didn’t display aggression?”

At that moment, the door of the courtroom opened and, much to my surprise, in walked Michelle. Although she had read a substantial part of the accounts, she hadn’t attended the questioning sessions up to this point. What had brought her here? I brought my eyes back to the cross-examination taking place in front of me.

“Actually, more than twenty percent of that other half have threatened…”

“Guess what I found?” Michelle whispered from behind me, taking a seat on the bench. “Thank goodness the prosecution hasn’t discovered it!”

“…but they haven’t resorted to violent actions,” the forensic psychologist finished.

“What?” I asked her, also whispering but continuing to face forward.

“And how many among them have consumed alcohol or taken narcotic substances?” Seagoe’s high voice resounded in the hall.

I heard a rustle as Michelle leaned closer. “A friend of mine, well, not just a friend…”

“Michelle, please, cut to the chase!” I interrupted, still facing the judge and witness stand. Judge Fletcher was watching us peripherally. I smiled at him.

“Anyway, she told me about an acquaintance of hers, a girl who used to date Hayworth not so long ago. She claims that he nearly killed her when he found out she was dating another man.”

“So you’re saying it’s possible for frequent alcohol consumption to actually not aggravate the patient’s state of morbid jealousy.” My attention was drawn back to the cross-examination.

“Every patient is a completely separate case. There are things that have to be taken into account — such as their individual personality, their genetic predisposition…”

“How did you find this out and who’s the girl?” I turned my attention back to Michelle, but didn’t turn around.

“She told me a few hours ago — but I promised not to mention any names unless I absolutely must. She said one night Hayworth came to her friend’s flat. The girl was certain he intended to kill her.”

I turned and looked at her, completely baffled.

“You didn’t answer my question!” Seagoe raised his voice. “Can we assume that alcohol consumption doesn’t necessarily influence morbid jealousy?”

“In some cases, yes,” Kershaw admitted. “But generally it plays a significant part in the escalation of the condition.”

“What are you trying to tell me?” I asked. I felt Judge Fletcher’s disapproving eyes on me when I spoke those words at an almost normal volume, and Michelle made a sign for me to hold on. I turned to sit with my back to her again and smiled sweetly at the judge.

“How do you treat morbidly jealous patients?”

“There are several methods of treatment —medical, psychological, or social. But first we need to determine the dominant reason behind the illness.”

“What sort of treatment would you generally prescribe in a case of morbid jealousy?”

“Abstaining from alcohol and narcotic substances, to start, as well as advanced cognitive therapy.”

“And you think cognitive therapy would help a patient with morbid jealousy?”

“Well, it wouldn’t hurt, in any case.”

“So, if a patient with morbid jealousy starts regularly visiting a psychologist for, let’s say, a year, there would be an improvement in his condition, wouldn’t there?”

“Generally, yes. But often these — ”

“Thank you, Doctor.” Seagoe spoke over Kershaw’s last few words, then turned to the judge and announced, “No more questions,” and sat back at the bench. With Kershaw’s testimony, the Crown was finished questioning witnesses.

“Mr. Seagoe,” Judge Fletcher began, “you may call the first witness of the defense.”

“The defense calls Ian McCaffrey.”

The usher opened the door. Our witness entered the room in a business-like manner. He pronounced his oath in a clear and confident voice.

“What’s your name?” Seagoe asked him.

“Ian McCaffrey.”

“Where do you live?”

“7 Cheval Place.”

“What do you do, Dr. McCaffrey?”

“I’m a psychologist at Harley Therapy, a private therapy clinic.”

“Has the defendant, Jonathan Hayworth, been a patient of yours?”

“Yes, he has.”

“When did Hayworth’s psychotherapy begin?”

“In the beginning of 2011.”

“Why…” the beginning of Seagoe’s question hung in the air.

The court security officer had unexpectedly entered the hall. He quickly approached the judge and handed him a small piece of paper. The judge gave it a passive glance and put it to the side.

“Please proceed with your questioning, Mr. Seagoe.” The security officer left the room as briskly as he had entered.

“Why did Hayworth start coming to you, Dr. McCaffrey?”

“Hayworth sought my help to address the painful symptoms of jealousy he felt regarding his former girlfriend.”

“So Hayworth realized he had a psychological problem?”

“Absolutely. Hayworth was fully aware that he was suffering from morbid jealousy.”

“When was the first time he sought your help?”

“January 11 of last year.”

“Approximately two months after he’d broken up with Miss Torres and a month after her relationship with Hearn began,” Seagoe clarified.

“That’s right.”

“What kind of treatment did Hayworth receive?”

“Twice a week he took part in sessions at my office. I treat my patients using the Positive Psychotherapy method. This method makes the individual confront their problem in order to activate their own abilities to cope with it. In Hayworth’s case, that included controlling his jealous episodes.”

“Did Hayworth’s condition improve during the treatment process?”

“Considerably. He began to realize he had old traumas, some dating back to his childhood, which were at the core of his psychological problems.”

“Did he ever mention to you the threatening text messages he had sent to Miss Torres or the scene of jealousy he displayed at Raison d’être bistro?”

“Yes, he did mention them while we were working on ways to prevent such displays of aggression.”

“As his doctor, do you believe Hayworth might have attempted to take Mariana Torres’ life?”

“No, never,” McCaffrey said, his tone terse and confident, his head lifted slightly as if startled and annoyed.

“Despite all this, Hayworth is described to be an aggressive person.”

“There’s a saying, Mr. Seagoe: ‘The dog that barks doesn’t bite.’ It applies perfectly to Hayworth’s case. I believe that patients with inhibited morbid jealousy are much more dangerous.”

“So, let’s make clear what you are saying: As his doctor, you believe Hayworth could not have killed Mariana Torres in a fit of morbid jealousy?”

“You must go deeper into his psyche. Hayworth’s subconscious wanted Miss Torres alive. Her death wouldn’t have satisfied his ego. Hayworth’s psychological profile is one of an annoying bully, but not of a murderer.”

“Thank you,” Seagoe said, and sat back in his place.

Sarah Eaton rose and asked her first question. “How many morbidly jealous patients have you treated so far?”

“Five, including Hayworth.”

“And how many of them have been accused of murder or physical violence exercised on their partner?”

“None, except Hayworth,” McCaffrey replied after a short hesitation.

“No more questions.” Eaton sat back on the bench.

“I think this is a suitable time to pause for lunch. Court will resume at three-thirty.” Before rising from his chair Judge Fletcher turned to the barristers and said, in a quieter voice, “Mrs. Eaton, Mr. Seagoe, would you please come to my office?”

My eyes were glued to the backs of the retreating barristers. [_What could have happened to make the judge break for lunch earlier than usual? _]

***

 

“All rise,” the usher said after Judge Fletcher had come back into the room at the scheduled hour. When everyone had settled back into their seats, the judge made sure everyone’s attention was on him, then announced, “Two hours ago, Inspector Shelling, Scotland Yard’s chief inspector, who conducted the investigation of Mariana Torres’ murder, insisted on seeing me and the barristers for the prosecution and the defense in my chambers.”

This news caused muffled exclamations to resound across the room. The judge was forced to make use of his gavel. After silence had been restored, he asked, “Mrs. Eaton?”

“Your Honor,” she rose, “in light of the full confession from a previously unknown party regarding the murder of Mariana Torres, as well as the new evidence presented by the same party, the Crown has no choice but to suspend the trial against Jonathan Hayworth until this new evidence is evaluated.”

It was as if a bomb had been dropped in the room: The journalists stormed outside like spring toys pressed down and then let go, impatient to break the story. Hayworth’s more emotional girl fans loudly voiced their happiness with the outcome of the case. The judge was once again forced to establish order.

“In view of all this, I suspend the trial. The jury members are free to go — Mr. Hayworth, once the new evidence has been validated, you’ll be free to go, too. Until then, please don’t do any traveling,” Fletcher said, his final words before leaving the room.

I smiled at Seagoe. Over lunch he had informed me and Michelle about the conversation that had taken place in the judge’s office. Lee Helsbee had come to Scotland Yard that morning, Seagoe had said, and he’d brought with him the bloodstained gloves he’d worn when he had killed Mariana Torres. We fully expected the DNA analysis to show that the blood on them matched that of the victim, and he had given a full confession.

“It was only by sheer luck your boy’s off the hook,” Eaton told Seagoe as he gathered up his folders and papers. ‟And if his luck wavers,” she sneered, “he may well be on trial again.”

“Well, now I absolutely disagree with you on that. It was justice that saved Hayworth from being convicted of a crime he didn’t commit.”

“It seems he didn’t. But you know, I still can’t believe it,” I heard Sarah Eaton say as she left court number four.

Seagoe and I were headed down the stairs when Jonathan Hayworth caught up to us, surrounded by his security team. They formed a loose ring around us to keep his fans and the reporters at bay.

“Thank you both!” He shook our hands vigorously. “You saved me from going to jail. I owe you my life!”

“It’ s not yet over,” Seagoe cautioned, “but I have a gut feeling that the DNA will match and you’ll be cleared. You know what the most interesting thing here was?” he asked after a pause.

“What?” Hayworth thrust his hands in his pockets. The movement revealed a white T-shirt with writing on it underneath his jacket.

“Fulmer & Archibald’s private investigator had learned about Helsbee, but we couldn’t definitively connect him to the case or even track him down to question him. And then he just comes in and confesses to the crime. I guess the man upstairs is really fond of you,” Seagoe said, patting him on the back as if they were old friends.

I finally managed to read the writing on Hayworth’s T-shirt — _Tell me what you want. _

“Well, whatever the case, I am extremely grateful to you, and to Fulmer & Archibald. Miss Roseburg, you’re American, aren’t you? I’ve always had a thing for America.”

“Umm, yes.” I replied in a hoarse voice. Much to my surprise, my voice seemed to have suddenly changed. “You have, umm…” I said, pointing my finger at his T-shirt, “a very interesting piece of writing on your T-shirt.”

He looked at his chest, surprised.

“I don’t even remember where I got it. It might even have been a gift from Mariana. She would often buy clothes for me,” he said. Then he hesitated, throwing a curious look at Michelle, as if he wanted to be introduced to her.

“Oh, and this is Michelle Green, my assistant and a trainee at our firm. She assisted us on your case,” I said as I presented her to Jonathan Hayworth. They shook hands, then he exclaimed, “Well, I have to go. Thank you again,” and he hurried down the stairs, still surrounded by his security detail.

“To tell you the truth, I didn’t expect the case to end like this. But inside I did believe Hayworth wouldn’t go to prison for this,” Seagoe admitted just before we walked out of the courthouse.

“Yeah, he’s our very own O.J.,” I said, glancing at Hayworth. He had proceeded us outside, and was now surrounded by reporters. Seagoe, Michelle, and I passed him by with the buzz and camera flashes in the background.

 

“Do you really think he’s innocent?” Michelle asked me while we were crossing Bailey Street, on the way to the car.

“Who knows?” I sighed. “He might not have killed her. I have to admit it seems… odd. But then, things are not just black or white in this life. The truth is that life is usually colored in various shades of gray.”

“Just like the book Fifty Shades of Grey,” Michelle added, amused.

I pressed the alarm deactivation button for my Toyota. I remembered how Hayworth had caught my eye, staring at me with a challenging look, then smirking and winking at me as we had passed by him outside the courthouse.

“Yes, exactly. And that’s the screwed-up job of the lawyer — to change the gray into white in front of the jury. By the way, what were you trying to say back in the courtroom? You mentioned an acquaintance of yours whom Hayworth wanted to kill?”

“Oh, never mind. It makes no difference now, anyway, does it?”

“I guess not,” I muttered. I looked at my face in the mirror before I fastened my seat belt. Tell me what you want — I could still see the writing on Hayworth’s T-shirt. I started the car.

 

 

Chapter 12

 

 

 

 

 

The corridor walls of my old high school were painted in light green.

I was back at Beaton High School. Walking down the hall, I heard the bell ring, echoing loudly through the entire building. The doors opened. Teenagers were coming out in droves. I was last here fifteen years ago in 1997 — the time of boy and girl pop bands.

I was moving along the corridor, then saw myself as if from outside my own body. Scenes from my past, laden with emotional energy, flashed by. First I was standing in front of the school bulletin board waiting to read the list of students selected to take part in the annual school musical; next I was jumping with joy — I had been selected for Christine Daaé’s role in The Phantom of the Opera. Then I was with Matthew, captain of the school baseball team and my first love, wrapped in his embrace.

Suddenly I was on stage, performing, dressed in an old-fashioned white dress. Christine was running with the Phantom, and they crossed an underground lake to get to his den beneath the opera house. My eyes shone with an excitement I haven’t felt in a long time. I saw the end of the show, where everyone present got up and applauded the performance. Matthew was in the audience; I knew I’d never forget his boyish grin. And Aunt Susan next to him, looking bored and disinterested.

“I have no right to tell you what to do with your life. But let me give you a sound piece of advice — find a profitable job. If you really love theater and music so much, then who knows — maybe one day you’ll go back to the stage. But only[_ after_] you’ve grown a solid bank account,” she said with a wink.

“You were wonderful, Alice! It was if I were watching Sarah Brightman,” Matthew said, then kissed me on the lips — just a sweet peck but still it made my heart soar.

Other scenes flashed before me — my graduation ceremony; then a few days later, the high school’s glee club director, who had overseen the musical and coached me in my role as Christine, advising me to apply for Musical Theatre at Steinhardt. That was one of the best higher-education Performing Arts schools in New York — right behind Tisch, of course.

“You have a talent others can only envy. Don’t miss your chance!” he said. “You were born to be on Broadway.”

I lowered my eyes and said in a low, unsure voice, “Do you really think so?”

He laughed. “Of course. Don’t tell me you haven’t realized it yet!”

“But my Aunt Susan said…”

“Take my advice. Apply for an audition at Steinhardt.”

I saw myself sitting on a bench in a nearby park, reflecting on his words. I had already submitted my applications to the most prestigious colleges, and would probably follow Aunt Susan’s advice and continue on to law school. What sense would it make to apply at Steinhardt?

But soon after, I took a chance. I delivered a tape recording to Steinhardt, of myself performing Angel of Music — Christine’s first song of The Phantom of the Opera’s first act. I only had to stay and wait for a receipt.

After a couple of weeks I got good news from my first-choice college — I was accepted, and on my way to law school. What I was going to study was already decided. When the letter with Steinhardt’s response arrived, I didn’t even open it. I didn’t want to know the answer so that I wouldn’t have to make a choice between the two. I never found out if I had been accepted or not; I threw the sealed letter away.

Musical theater had been just a teenage dream. I had to grow up and get a degree in something serious — something like law.

The only thing I could remember about my mother was her voice. She was a jazz singer; she would sing Blues in the Night to lull me to sleep. She’d met my father, Adam Frank, when she was performing at Rhythm Club. Soon after that, I was born in New York. Before long, my parents had moved to Canada, my father’s home country — but when I was four, they died in a car crash. Aunt Susan, my mother’s sister, had taken care of me ever since. And so I’d grown up in ‘the cultural capital of the world,’ as Iceland and Latvia’s embassies described New York City.

Our Brooklyn Heights home was the embodiment of the aristocratic spirit — a beautiful white plaster façade, lavish carpets that gave the illusion of being Persian, a distressed oak flooring throughout the house and wonderful reproductions of great masterpieces on the walls. “A real little Belgravia amidst New York’s postmodernism,” Aunt Susan liked to say.

I saw myself, age four, in front of the mirror. I was singing Maybe from the musical Annie.

The reflection of my eyes in the mirror…

A star. A Broadway star…

 

I literally jumped at the loud ringing of my cell phone on the bedside table.

“A Broadway star,” I repeated. “Damn it!”

I answered the phone, half-asleep. The clock showed seven. There was still half an hour before the alarm was supposed to go off.

“Yes!” I answered the phone, my voice harsh and angry.

“U-uh, Alice? Did I wake you up?”

I immediately recognized the voice of the agent I had hired to assist me in buying the Holland Park apartment.

“Well, you spoiled my sleep, anyway. Go ahead,” I urged him, with more than a hint of impatience in my voice.

“I just spoke with the owner. He said he is in urgent need of cash, and insists that you pay him an advance of ten thousand pounds by this Friday, the twenty-seventh. He is going to South Africa at the beginning of May.”

I massaged the spot between my eyebrows with my fingers. I needed to think.

“What day is today?” I could almost imagine his smug smile at my question.

“Wednesday the twenty-fifth.”

I took a breath — I had two days.

“By bank transfer, as we had agreed, right?”

“Mhmm.”

“Okay, tell him I’ll transfer the first payment of the sum by the end of the working day on Friday.”

“And remember, the whole sum is £1,100,000.”

“Yes, I know. I haven’t forgotten.”

“I just want to make sure you don’t change your mind. I’m taking a risk with you. You know that if I hadn’t given him my guarantee about you, the owner would have listed the estate on the free market. I don’t want to betray his trust.”

“You won’t — I’m buying it,” I said irritably. “I paid the ten thousand in earnest money, didn’t I?”

“Well, we’ll just hope everything goes swimmingly, shall we?” the agent replied. I ended the call and lay down on my bed again. I had another twenty-five minutes before I had to get up.

I stretched my arms over my head.

A vague recollection came to the surface of my mind… I struggled to make the memory resurface clearly.

As a teenager I wanted to become a Broadway star. But why did I remember this just now?

I jumped out of the bed.

And why am I a lawyer, then?

 

Chapter 13

 

 

 

 

 

Kathleen frowned.

“I need to talk to Dayton and Hugh about this. I simply can’t raise your salary without their knowledge and approval.”

“But I thought you were already working on that. We talked about this a week ago.”

After my conversation with the buying agent, I had come in and gone straight to Kathleen’s office to ask again for a raise in my salary. I thought my request was fair, considering that I’d been working for the company since its launch.

“When do you need an answer?” she asked, leaning backward in her chair.

“By the end of the work day tomorrow, at the latest.”

Kathleen looked at me thoughtfully. “All right. You’ll have a written response from us by then.”

I left her office and stood at my desk in the bullpen. My eyes slid across the pile of forms and documents, but my thoughts were elsewhere. I had discussed the issue with a mortgage loan specialist. I’d agreed to a price of £1,100,000 for the Holland Park apartment, thanks to the fact I was buying it directly from the owner. Otherwise it would have been listed for at least another £100,000. My savings could cover £400,000 at the most. The remaining £400,000 I’d have to get in the form of a mortgage loan. With a fixed interest rate of 4.25%, I was going to be paying the bank more than £4,000 a month for the next twenty years — high payments that were going to keep me strapped for cash until retirement.

I took a reluctant look at the papers in front of me. Mrs. Barratt was divorcing her husband. She had first come into the office on Monday. The division of their property had to be discussed during meetings with her husband’s solicitor. Kelly Barratt was fighting for, as she had worded it, a “favorable and fair” agreement. She was trying to force her husband to participate in arbitration. Situations like this were why there was always an independent law specialist present at the legal meetings. John Barratt, however, hadn’t showed up even once. His solicitor was constantly referring to the prenuptial agreement Kelly Barratt had signed years before. According to it, she was entitled to only a thousand pounds each month. Did this meet the definition of “favorable and fair”?

I looked away from the papers and fixed my eyes on the view of Red Lion Street outside the window. Tell me what you want. The question was hounding me — it had been written on the yellow piece of paper, it had showed up in my dream, and then I’d seen it on Hayworth’s T-shirt. [_And why did I choose to be a lawyer in the first place? _]

“Something that tempts you… and makes you fear it,” Maeve had said.[_ Could pursuing my musical and theatrical talents be the thing I was afraid of?_] I took my cell phone out of my bag and dialed Maeve’s number; I needed to talk to her again, and email just wouldn’t do. I got her voicemail: “Hello, Maeve Dublin here. Please leave me a message.” I wondered where she was this time — maybe in Alaska, saving polar bears or by Lake Tanganyika, researching the local fauna. I hung up without leaving a message and tossed the phone onto my desk, annoyed.

I began reading over the text describing John Barratt’s property, but found it hard to focus. As a trainee, Michelle worked at the desk next to mine and helped out with all my cases. I had instructed her earlier to research Mr. Barratt’s tangible property, and now I asked her for a verbal review.

“Mr. Barratt earns quite good money.” she began with her summary. “He’s the executive manager of the cosmetics giant Laroque for the whole of Great Britain. His net monthly earnings amount to over £25,000,” Michelle informed me.

“I’d love to be an executive manager at Laroque, myself.”

She shot a glance at me, looking startled by my words. “Moreover,” she continued, “next fall Laroque is launching a new ‘No Aging’ cream. It’s supposed to have a revolutionary, unique formula and organic herb-based ingredients. It’s already causing quite a stir. The company’s sales are expected to double from just that one product.”

“And John Barratt will become even richer.” I spun the pen I was holding around my thumb. “It’s obvious that Mr. Barratt has a lot of money, but the question is how we can make him share it with his soon-to-be ex-wife.”

“Maybe his wife knows things he’d prefer were kept quiet?”

“Are you suggesting that Kelly Barratt should blackmail her husband, Michelle? And I thought you had morals.”

“I’m gay — this automatically makes me a sinner, doesn’t it? At least according to the church. Why are you surprised then?”

Her comment amused me.

“Let’s go back to the divorce case. Let’s say Kelly Barratt doesn’t have any… let’s say, ‘influence.’ What then?”

“Yeah, that would suck,” Michelle went to the neighboring desk and began to sort the pile of papers.

“Should I put my client up to attempt blackmail or not? That’s the question…” I leaned back in my chair and looked again at the scene outside the window. Red Lion Street seemed unusually calm.

“I didn’t say you should put her up to it directly. Just mention it to her — if she doesn’t know any embarrassing or illicit information about her husband then he won’t give her even a penny more. How fair is that? She gave birth to his two sons, after all.”

“You know, you’re already a really good lawyer.”

Michelle smiled at me and was just about to start a call on her cell phone when I asked her, “Are you free tonight?”

She looked startled.

“Yes. Why?”

“I thought we could go for a drink at Be At One.”

“Sounds great.”

“Want to go right after work?”

She nodded, then immediately said into the phone, “Good afternoon, hello, it’s Michelle Green from the law firm of Fulmer & Archibald. Do you have a minute?”

 

***

 

“And what’d she say she did then?”

“She gave him a slap, and the next day she filed for divorce,” Michelle said. She took a sip of her cocktail, her eyes filled with delight.

I raised my eyebrows, taking a sip of margarita. Michelle and I were at Be At One, relaxing after work. She had just finished a story about how one of her friends from college had finally divorced her promiscuous husband. They hadn’t even gotten married before the husband slept with her best friend, then later he had an affair with a stripper. Sometimes I was really happy I wasn’t married.

“In my old neighborhood in Manhattan,” I said, “our neighbor on Ninth Avenue — a respectable woman of about fifty — divorced her husband, who was about the same age, after thirty years of marriage. Guess why.” I didn’t mention that the neighborhood was Chelsea, or she might have guessed. The area was famous for its large gay population.

“Infidelity,” Michelle fired back immediately, without even thinking about it.

I smiled. “No.”

“Addiction?”

I bobbed my head back and forth in a “sort of” gesture.

“Well, I wouldn’t define it exactly like that…”

“Okay, I give up — spill the beans.”

“Obsession with wearing women’s clothes. One evening, the wife came home unexpectedly and caught him wearing one of her dresses. He’d been doing this for decades, she learned later, after he confessed to her.”

Michelle laughed. “Funny how she hadn’t noticed that earlier. After thirty years of marriage!”

I chuckled. “It happens sometimes.”

“And how about you, Alice? Have you got any deep hidden secrets?”

I slid my finger along the rim of my glass.

“That reminds me, Michelle, I wanted to ask you something myself: Who told you I was Jewish? You never said.”

She looked at me with humor lurking in her eyes. “And you neither confirmed nor denied that information.”

“Okay, I’ll lay my family cards on the table. My father was a hereditary Jew. His parents fled from Germany to Canada before the war. Frank is my family name on my father’s side.”

“So you’re half-Jewish?”

“Mhm,” I nodded.

“Alice Frank,” Michelle murmured thoughtfully. “I like it. Why don’t you use it? Roseburg isn’t a Jewish surname, is it?”

I shook my head.

“No. It’s my mother’s last name. My parents died when I was a child, and I was raised by my mother’s sister. When I came of age, I decided to use my mother’s last name instead of my father’s.”

“As they do in South America. Argentina is the only exception to that rule.”

“Well, I didn’t know that,” I paused, staring at her intently. “So, tell me, who’s the stool pigeon?”

‟Oh, come on, Alice! Don’t make such a big issue of it — we’re not living in Nazi Germany, thank God!”

I chuckled. ‟I know, but still I’d like to know who revealed my little secret.”

“I don’t really understand you… All right, Hugh mentioned it once.”

“And how did he find out? I’ve never mentioned it to anyone.”

“I’ve no idea,” Michelle said, shrugging her shoulders.

It must have been in New York, I thought.[_ Some colleague of mine from there might have told him. _]

“Well, either way, according to Jewish law, I’m not a Jew.”

“What do you mean?”

“If your mother isn’t Jewish, you aren’t either. In their reckoning, the father is not that important.”

“Hm. Just like divorce law. In eighty percent of divorce cases, custody is granted to the mother, not the father. Seems a father never gets primary custody unless the mother is seriously ill or an unfit parent.”

“Or unless she’s signed a prenuptial agreement. Like Kelly Barratt,” I inserted.

“Her husband should really treat her more fairly. After all —”

“Okay, okay! Save me your anti-male views — it’s clear you’re one of those feminists. It’ll be a good sign for us if her husband even shows up for our next meeting. That’s the only way our client will be able to talk to him.”

“Since you mentioned ‘talking’, did you call her? Mrs. Barratt, I mean?”

“Yes, I did.”

Toward the end of the workday I had talked to Mrs. Barratt and had explained to her, as delicately as I could, that if she couldn’t convince her husband to overlook their prenuptial agreement, the meetings with his lawyer and the arbitrator would be useless. She’d given the mysterious-sounding answer that she was already dealing with the matter.

I summarized that conversation for Michelle, then changed the subject. “So are you happy with your internship?” Tonight I was drinking more slowly than usual — after all, tomorrow was a workday and I needed to be in good shape.

“Is this your question, or Kathleen’s? I saw you two talking today.”

“Wow, hold up! I’m asking out of personal interest, as your friend. Do you like working in law?”

“Of course.” Michelle looked at me, confused. “I wouldn’t have chosen this profession if I didn’t like it, would I?”

I took a sip of my cocktail.

“You know what? I’ve been asking myself that very question — why did I choose law?”

“I thought you liked it. After all, you graduated from Stanford. Yale is the only university any better.”

“Well, things have changed a bit now. Back when I was a student, Harvard took first place. But never mind…” I reached for my glass again.

“So, really, Alice, what would you have done if you hadn’t become a solicitor? How would you have made your living?”

“By singing and dancing,” I said, with a genuine smile on my face.

“Wonderful, but you can’t make a living doing that. You’d have to be awfully damned successful to make much money.” She paused. “If you only think about how Adele has earned twenty million pounds at twenty-something! That’s one hell of a lot of money. The likes of you and I would hardly achieve such success.”

I looked at her, suddenly hit by an idea.

“You know what, you’re damn right! Why haven’t I thought of this earlier?”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“When I was a teenager, my music teacher tried to convince me to apply for a degree in musical theatre — the Broadway dream.” I looked at the small amount of alcohol remaining in my glass.

“Oh! Do you sing?” Michelle’s pupils widened.

“Yes — and rather well, I think.”

“Sing me something!”

I didn’t need much urging. I quietly began to sing the first stanza of Love Me or Leave Me. The bartender, passing by, heard me and stopped to listen. I paused in the middle of the second stanza.

“Oh my God,” Michelle said. “Why haven’t you gone into music?”

“All you need is a mic,” the barkeeper said. “I’ve been telling my bosses we should do a karaoke night,” he added, before heading to the other side of the bar to attend to a customer.

“So, am I still good?” I asked teasingly.

“Are you kidding me?! You definitely have talent.” She kept her eyes fixed on me for a while. “Why didn’t you choose music back then?”

“I don’t know. Maybe that’s just how it was supposed to be.”

“Well, that’s a pity. You missed your chance for a career on Broadway. Or in West End,” Michelle added with a wink.

“Who knows? Maybe it’s not too late.” I finished what little was left of my margarita.

 

 

Chapter 14

[* *]

 

 

 

 

“That’s all we can do for you, Alice.” Kathleen handed me the envelope with their offer inside. “Bear in mind that we haven’t been planning to raise the salary of any of our associates, be they partner or not.”

I opened the envelope, my hands trembling slightly with excitement. I saw the number: £78,000. What the hell?

“We’re making an exception in your case, because you’ve been with this firm since its launch. And, of course, we value your qualities and want you to be happy here.” She smiled at me in the most charming way imaginable.

Seventy-eight thousand pounds per year? I was now earning seventy-two. They were raising my salary by just five hundred pounds a month. I had expected at[_ least_] a thousand. It was a mockery of my request. I turned my back on Kathleen, disgruntled — I didn’t want to look her in the eyes.

“Alice, I have to tell you that Dayton and Hugh were against it,” she said. “We’ll re-evaluate things in half a year.”

I met her gaze. “I see. Thank you, Kathleen.”

I returned to my office. Rachel was examining some documents while Fred was talking on the phone, waving his hands around in circles, as if the caller could somehow see him. It was after four in the afternoon; less than an hour until the end of the workday. I looked at my desk — a copy of the Barratt’s prenuptial agreement was lying there. It was now completely useless.

The decision we had come to earlier had nothing to do with that agreement. At eleven this morning, Kelly Barratt had almost bankrupted her husband. She got everything she wanted, and more. All of this in exchange for a name and information she claimed to have about Laroque’s new cream. Could I learn a lesson from her?

“I’m happy to hear it. How’s Andrew?” Fred was still talking on his cell phone, waving his hand in the air.

I sat in front of my laptop, feeling fatigued and defeated. I opened the folder with the details of the apartment I wanted to buy. I looked at the pictures again. A spacious, well-furnished living room and bedroom; a small, cozy kitchen and a balcony on the roof. The apartment was in a beautiful Victorian-style two-story house. I sighed — if only the price were not so high. I took a pen and a piece of paper and began to calculate my expenses. At the end I was left with a little over two thousand pounds a month. That was all I’d have left for utilities, bills, food and all the other necessities. I could work with this budget. What worried me, however, was the fact that I would be paying on the loan until I turned fifty-three — just a decade before retirement. I sighed, leaning back in the chair. Wasn’t there a simpler way?

“Alice, Hugh wants…”

I let Michelle’s comment pass me by. I had the talent of being able to switch myself off when I wanted to.

“Okay, tell him tomorrow,” I said after she finished.

“What do you mean, tomorrow? Hugh said —”

“I’m sure you’ll find a way, Michelle. I have great faith in your abilities.” I patted her on the shoulder. I took my coat and left the office, leaving Michelle standing there, looking shocked. I had to take another look at the apartment I was going to devote my money and years to.

I parked my car on Fillmore Gardens, in front of my future home. I had been there before when I’d been viewing the apartment with my real estate agent, but now I was viewing it by myself — and with a different mindset. The street ran parallel to the park. From the balcony and through the living room window one could see the cricket field in Holland Park — a quiet, romantic park here in West London. This was definitely an excellent choice.

I thought back to the scene that had played out between the Barratts earlier that morning.

 

“You know, being a member of a charity organization is something very useful. You never know whom you may meet there,” Mrs. Barratt had said on meeting her husband in Fulmer & Archibald’s negotiation room. Somehow she had managed to convince him to attend the arbitration.

“I’m happy for you, Kelly,” Barratt replied drily. “You can now invest your time in something meaningful, rather than pretend you’re a model wife and loving mother — which, to be honest, you weren’t at all good at.” Barratt looked at his solicitor and nodded.

“Mrs. Barratt, my client is a busy man and can’t waste any more of his time in these meaningless conversations. Please be so kind as to observe the terms of the prenuptial agreement which you yourself signed twenty years ago.”

“Oh, is he so very busy? I’d like you to tell your client, then,” Kelly said as she threw a sidelong glance at her husband, “that yesterday I met Martha Charnock at the Fawcett Society.”

“Is that significant in some way?” the solicitor asked her, his voice smooth and mocking.

“I don’t know. If I mentioned that Martha Charnock’s husband is Vichy’s executive director, would that alarm you, John? Are you afraid of your competitors?”

Barratt threw a quick yet searching look at his wife, but showed no emotion.

“Mrs. Barratt, let us not turn this divorce in an unpleasant event for both sides —”

Kelly interrupted her husband’s solicitor. “I’m sure that Vichy would do anything to learn about the revolutionary new formula behind ‘No Aging.’ Especially William Charnock.”

This time the shock was obvious on John Barratt’s face. Kelly waited for the information to produce the desired effect on her husband; then she went on, “It’s amazing how quickly one can make friends with new people and start trusting them. Take me and Martha Charnock, for instance — we’re practically best friends already! We’ll be talking to each other in the coming days to discuss new charity initiatives. I certainly hope I don’t accidentally let slip the special formula and the herbs behind ‘No Aging.’ Her husband would be on cloud nine with that information.”

“What do you want?” John Barratt asked his wife, his voice quavering and his face turning pale and pasty.

“A fair and favorable agreement, as I’ve said before.”

“Mrs. Barratt, do I need to remind you yet again that you signed —” The solicitor began objecting, but was interrupted by Kelly Barratt who turned to her husband,

“I want you to make him shut up.”

“Mrs. Barratt, you are not in a position to —”

“Shut up,” John Barratt told his lawyer and turned back to his wife. “All right. Twenty percent of my assets.”

The arbitrator sitting to my right stopped writing and raised his head.

“The Brompton flat.”

John pursed his lips. “Kelly…”

“Or I’ll call Martha and we’ll have a really nice chat about ‘No Aging.’”

The arbitrator looked down and resumed writing.

 

I went up the stairs to the little landing by the front door and looked around. A mother with a stroller was entering the neighboring house. I went back to the car. I drove down Kensington High Street. Instead of going left, however, I turned right toward Hyde Park.

My aunt Susan had lived in London for a few years — from 1976 to 1983. She’d worked as an operating manager at an American construction company. When the company had opened a branch in London, they invited her to transfer in. Her office was located in the Mecca of London aristocracy: Belgravia. “The most beautiful houses — white stucco and big spacious balconies,” she would say over and over again. I’d rarely met an American who praised and truly loved Great Britain the way she did. When I told her I was leaving for the UK, she was the most excited I had ever seen her. I think she was jealous of me, too, in some small part. If it hadn’t been for her next job and her relatives in America, I believe she would have never left the Isles.

I parked in a small backstreet and walked on foot to the park. There was a sign in front of its entrance: “For registered key holders only.” A small selected society of the wealthiest individuals. Welcome to Belgravia!

 

“You don’t think I can do it? Just watch!” Mrs. Barratt took out her cell phone and dialed a number, probably Martha Charnock’s.

“Hello, Martha, hi. It’s Kelly Barratt, the wife of Laroque’s executive manager John Barratt,” she began, but her husband quickly interrupted her.

“Give me a minute!”

“Yes, that’s right — my husband works at Laroque. Right now the company’s developing a new anti-aging cream. Pardon? Your husband also works in the cosmetic industry? I wasn’t aware of that. Then he might be interested to know what’s inside this cream — nitroglycerin…”

“Okay, take the house!” John Barratt hissed from the other end of the table.

“Hello, hello? The connection’s lost, I’m sorry, Martha,” Kelly ended the call. “Full custody.”

 

I was on Belgrave Square, the biggest and most magnificent of Belgravia’s — and London’s — squares. The history of Belgravia District dated back to the beginning of the nineteenth century with the building of Belgrave Square, which was financed by the aristocratic Grosvenor family. Nowadays, it was surrounded by embassies and charity organizations. I took West Halkin Street, which circled the park. There were eleven grand, white stucco houses in classical Victorian style with diplomatic flags waving from the balconies.

 

“Kelly, that… that’s illegal!”

“Then sue me — the mother of your children! But before you do I’ll make sure Martha finds out the cream’s formula.”

 

If I wanted to buy a house in Belgravia, I’d have to spend at least three or four million pounds. It was one of the wealthiest districts in the world. Celebrities like Roman Abramovich, Margaret Thatcher, Andrew Lloyd Webber, Sarah Brightman lived there, to mention only a few. It was a grand district, comparatively quiet, located in the heart of London and filled with aristocratic air.

 

Barratt hit the table with his palm in anger.

“Is there anything else you want?”

“And if there was, would you give it to me?”

 

In my memory I saw the question from the yellow note: What do you want? I could hear the one from my dream, too: Tell me what you want. The same question on Hayworth’s T-shirt.

One wish. And what I wished for would be mine.

Just a single wish, spoken.

 

“I want our agreement to include a confidentiality clause. You won’t breathe a word about me or my company anywhere or to anyone.”

Kelly Barratt agreed in a low voice. “All right.”

 

[_A star. A Broadway star. That’s what I want — to be a star. _]

[_ _]

Johnathan Barratt rose from his chair, the screeching of the chair legs against the floor filling the room. He smoothed his jacket and nodded tersely at his lawyer before leaving the room.

“Oh, don’t be such a pill, John. After all, part of your money will be going to charities for women who’ve suffered violence,” Kelly Barratt shouted after him.

“How long will it take to prepare the agreement?” she asked me in a cool, quiet voice, a stark contrast to the volume and fervor of her outburst just a moment before.

 

I had almost reached the end of the street. I had just passed the Royal College of Psychiatrists when I made up my mind to go back home. I couldn’t wait to be in Manhattan again, away from the rain and gloom of London.

I couldn’t believe it! I had almost made the wrong move and bought that apartment in Holland Park.

 

 

 

Chapter 15

 

 

 

 

 

“Are you sure you want to leave us? If you’re quitting because of the salary, you have my word that —”

“No, Kathleen. I just want to quit law.”

She gawked at me in pure amazement.

“But what… um… For heaven’s sake, Alice, are you serious?”

“I’ve never been more serious, Kathleen.”

“And may I ask what you’re planning to do instead?”

“Musical theater. I was really good at it as a teenager.”

Kathleen barely managed to suppress her smile. “You know we all respect and value you as a professional. If you ever change your mind and want to come back, you’ll be welcome here.”

“Thank you. I appreciate that.”

Kathleen sighed. “What date do you intend your resignation notice to be effective?”

“Today.”

“Alice, I’d like to ask if you could prolong your one month’s notice period for one or two weeks — two would be better. They will be paid, of course. We just need time to find a new specialist in the field of litigation.”

“No problem.”

“That means your last working day at the firm will be…” she looked at the calendar placed on her desk. “June 8?”

I nodded.

 

Things didn’t go as smoothly with my buying agent. When I announced I had changed my mind about the estate, he went into a rage. I didn’t even bother to hear the rest of his tirade; I ended the call. After all, I had lost the ten thousand in earnest money.

As I always say, these things happen sometimes.

 

As I was walking out of the office that evening Hugh asked me, “So you’re leaving us?” He paused and waited for my nod. “Why? I thought you liked it here.”

“Yes, I did. At one time.”

“What changed?” He looked at me as if he was trying to read my mind.

“Me, maybe. I just don’t feel I belong here anymore.”

“And will this new change make you feel happy?”

I hadn’t thought about that yet. “I don’t know. We’ll see.”

He sighed. “Are you going back to New York?”

I nodded.

“Well, say ‘hi’ for me to the city that never sleeps. Alice…” He hesitated. “It’s hard for me to say it, but I’ll miss you.”

 

***

 

After my month’s notice was up, it took me another two weeks to wrap up my preparations. I made the last rent payment on my Battersea apartment, sold the car, and packed all my belongings. I didn’t feel any nostalgia when I boarded the plane and flew away from the UK. I landed at John F. Kennedy Airport around noon on June 22. The taxi dropped me off at 6 West Street in Greenwich Village. I had arranged to stay with Ben, my best friend from university, for a while. I hadn’t told Aunt Susan yet that I was coming back.

“Alice, hon! I’m so happy to see you.” Ben hugged me the minute he reached me.

After Ben let me loose from his affectionate embrace, I simply stood and looked around me for several minutes. I couldn’t help thinking how strange everything looked here, compared to London’s predominantly Victorian style.

“I want you to tell me all about London, your whole stay there — including the men.” He smiled mischievously. “We haven’t seen each other for almost five years! We have so much catching up to do.”

“It’s true — time flies. And how are you? You look a bit slimmer.” I patted him on the chest.

“I’m fine. I’m trying to be my best since Kevin dumped me.”

I took his arm and we went up the front stairs together.

“There is so much we need to talk about.”

“I can’t wait!” Ben turned to me. “Isn’t it exciting? It’s like the good old days.”

When I had unloaded my bags and partially satisfied Benjamin’s curiosity, answering his never-ending questions, I decided to take a walk in Manhattan. It was early afternoon. I took the subway from 4th Street and got off at the station at 50th Street.

When I was a teenager, Barbra Streisand was my hero. While my peers liked Spice Girls, Madonna or the Beastie Boys, my role model for a musician had always been Barbra. Going down Broadway, I began to hum her cover version of the song New York State of Mind.

It had been four years since I had last set foot in the Big Apple. The pleasure of walking around the most cosmopolitan city in the world again was indescribable.

I walked along 47th Street until I reached Times Square — also known as “the Crossroads of the World” or “the Great White Way.” Just as the song implied, I could practically feel all the movie stars, their fancy cars and their limousines. Yes, I was in a New York state of mind.

 

I saw the familiar billboards for Wicked, The Phantom of the Opera, Rock of Ages and many other musicals. As the author Tom Wolfe had once said about New York, “Culture just seems to be in the air, like part of the weather.”

I hummed as I walked along, changing Barbra’s lyrics slightly to fit my mood:

There was so much fun in livin’ day by day,

out of touch with the nobles and Queen.

I’m in that New York frame of mind,

_In this wonderful place of mine. _

 

Walking down Seventh Avenue, I saw the familiar sights all around me: masses of hurrying people — locals, tourists from various countries, including a plethora of Japanese people running around clicking pictures with their cameras. The streets were swarming, mainly with taxicabs. I was home once again!

I’ve come back to my destiny

[_And I’m happy with it ’cause I’ve let it rule my ways. _]

[_I don’t have any problems — they’re all behind me now. _]

I’m in that New York frame of mind,

 

Yes — I wanted to be a Broadway star and I would be! My eyes locked on the billboard advertising the musical Chicago: Roxie Hart in a bareback dress, next to the Statue of Liberty. I smiled. [_Here we don’t divide people into nobles, lords, or QCs. We’re all equal. _]

I had left the Queen and the Buckingham Palace behind forever.

I don’t have any problems

’Cause I left them all in London

Yeah, I’m in that New York…

I had lost a decade and a half of my life being someone else. From now on, I was going to be myself and do what I really wanted — musical theater.

… New York frame of mind…

 

Excerpt from Alice in Sinland, Season 2

Season Two

ALICE FRANKTHE STAR

Chapter 16

[* *]

[* *]

[* *]

[* *]

[* *]

“One, and two, and…”

Scott played the opening notes of Roxie, the cult hit from the musical Chicago, and I began singing. I had barely finished the first few notes when the director’s voice rang out in the theatеr. “Stop!”

Gary, the choreographer, whispered something to the music director, Leslie Stifelman. After a brief discussion he ordered, “Zack, why don’t you move next to Alice?”

Zack was surprised, but he came over and stood to my left. Leslie nodded and we began the number again. Personally, I loved this song, particularly the part where Roxie Hart explains what showbiz is. I could definitely relate to her sentiments.

‟Roxie

Roxie”

“Roxie,” the ensemble sang in accompaniment, barely above a whisper. I could make out Zack’s voice next to me. His voice held a mellow timbre, and carried around the room at just the right volume.

“Very good,” Leslie praised us when the number was over. “Ten minute break.”

I went to the Ambassador Theater’s green room and sat on the couch, reaching eagerly for the bottle of water on the table next to me. I was drinking it thirstily, in audible gulps, when someone approached me.

“Hey!”

“Hi,” I said, looking up at him. It was Zack — the same dancer who had been told to stand to my left. He sat on the couch opposite me.

“I want to tell you, you’re doing awesome with Roxie’s part.”

“Thanks.”

“It’s weird that they made me change places with Dean, don’t you think?”

“I guess.” I sat the bottle back on the table. “Maybe they think we have better chemistry.”

He smiled. “That actually reminds me; I wanted to ask you — do you have any plans tonight?”

I chuckled. “Are you asking me out?”

“Do you want me to ask you out?” he smiled at me, exuding an aura of boyish spontaneity.

I held his gaze. “XES Lounge, eight thirty. Don’t be late.”

I actually thought Zack might object, but just then we heard the director’s voice ring out. “All right, guys, back to work!” Leslie clapped her hands energetically. “Zack and Adam, to the front! Alice, we’re going to do Me and My Babe.”

Scott played the first notes, and I started to sing.

 

***

 

“Two Manhattans,” I told the bartender, then turned to Zack. “Bear in mind that happy hour here lasts until nine — two drinks for the price of one,” I informed him. It was several hours later, and we were at XES Lounge. He’d showed up right on time.

“Is this a habit of yours?”

“What? Having two drinks for the price of one?” I eyed him playfully.

“No — taking your dates to gay bars.”

“Hey, settle down, macho!” said Ben, who was sitting by my side. “I’ve been to straight clubs so many times, and I’ve never complained.” The XES was one of our favorite venues and we could frequently be found there, especially on karaoke night.

Looking straight into Zack’s eyes, I asked, “Don’t you like it here?”

“Well, it’s full of men, and most of them are obviously gay. Otherwise, it’s nice,” he said, and shrugged his shoulders.

“You’re pretty homophobic for a Broadway dancer. Hon, where did you dig this one up?” Ben asked me, then took a sip of his cocktail.

“Don’t get me wrong, buddy — I’m open-minded enough. I just wish we were in a quieter place.” Zack turned to me. “You know, a romantic restaurant…”

“Relax,” I said, and put my hand on his. “You’ll like it here. The karaoke evening with Nicolas Park starts at nine. I’m planning to sing one of my favorite songs.”

Don’t Rain on my Parade?” Ben asked.

“That’s incredible! How did you guess that? It’s like you’re in my head.”

“We are in a gay bar, hon. And we all love Barbra. Well, I don’t know about you, straightie,” Ben joked, turning to Zack.

“Liking Barbra is not an exclusively gay privilege! For your information, I’m also a fan of hers. Vodka with gin, please,” Zack gave his order to the bartender.

While they bantered, I glanced at my watch — less than fifteen minutes before the start of karaoke.

“So, how are rehearsals going, honey?” Ben asked, changing the subject.

“Pretty well, actually. Everyone from the band and the rest of the ensemble is really great to work with, especially” — I winked at Zack — “the one who’s present here. The music director, the supervisor, the scene manager — they’re all wonderful. It’s just beyond amazing to have the lead role in such a killer musical.”

“I adore Chicago! So sarcastic, sexy and provocative, and all those men in tight pants and those fishnet blouses… mmm! What a classic. I’ve seen it so many times, with different people playing Roxie’s part, of course. Once with Ann Reinking, a couple of times with Bebe Neuwirth — and of course, Ruthie Henshall was fantastic as Roxie. But Christie Brinkley — ugh! A few years ago Kevin and I went to see Chicago with her in the lead, and we couldn’t stand it. We left during intermission. I’ve never listened to a more lackluster, talentless performance.”

Zack chuckled at Ben’s vehemence. “You’re damn right. It was awful. The producers only hired her for her name — get a famous model and actress in there to draw crowds. Thank God it only ran for eleven weeks. Toward the end of her run the audience was dwindling, I think.”

“How long is your contract, Alice?” Ben asked absent-mindedly.

“A little longer than Brinkley had — fifteen weeks.”

“It doesn’t matter,” he said, and waved his hand. “Unlike some TV or movie pseudo-stars,[_ you_] are extremely talented and deserve every dollar I’ll pay to watch you.”

“He’s right,” Zack said. “And you’re ‘murderously’ sexy enough to play Roxie even if you aren’t fifty-seven years old.” He winked at me.

“Remind me, when’s the premiere? I tried to book a ticket but the earliest available was in September.”

“August 29.”

“That’s just three days!” Ben exclaimed.

“Yes, it is. The sitzprobe is tomorrow. Then after the seated rehearsal, the dress rehearsal’s on Wednesday and then — there I am! On a Broadway stage playing the merry murderess Roxie!”

Ben looked at me in admiration. “Who would have thought, Alice? Who could have imagined that one day you’d be getting ready to play none other than Roxie Hart in Chicago? When you came back from London two years ago and announced you were leaving your career as an attorney to become a Broadway singer, I thought, ‘Poor girl, she must be hallucinating!’ But now I can see you were born to be on Broadway!”

Zack was surprised. “You used to work as an attorney?”

“Yes, I did, once. But those days are long gone.” I took a sip from my cocktail, feeling an intense delight with the state of my life.

“Even as an attorney, Alice has always had that ‘razzle-dazzle’ style, like Robert Shapiro12. Or Billie Flynn13 …”

“U-ugh!” I objected, mimicking one of the musical’s female characters. “Not guilty!”

“…combined, however, with the talent of Liza Minnelli.” Ben continued, slipping one arm around my shoulder to hug me. “I’m absolutely sure Alice is going to slay us with her performance. Don’t you think, Zack?”

“Do you really think I’m as talented as Liza Minnelli?”

“Good evening, gentlemen… and ladies.” The voice of the DJ cut through our chat. He was looking at me in surprise as he said “ladies,” and no wonder — I was one of only a handful of women in the bar.

“It’s Wednesday evening and time for our karaoke show to begin! I’m Nicolas Park, and for the next five hours you’ll have the opportunity to not only choose your favorite songs but also perform them live. Are there any volunteers who are ready to get us started on this beautiful summer evening? Because if there aren’t —”

“I am!” I raised my arm.

“Oh, what do we have here? A lady! And I mean a[_ real_] lady, not a queen. Come here, darling. Oooh, isn’t she gorgeous? Please, put your hands together for — what’s your name, sweetheart?”

“Alice.”

“As in Alice in Wonderland?”

“Exactly,” I chuckled.

“Or Alice in Gayland!”

The crowd burst into laughter, and Ben winked at me from his seat at the bar.

“Oh, for us you’re definitely Alice in Gayland — isn’t that right, boys?”

“Yes!” everyone shouted.

“So, Alice, darling, what are you going to perform for us tonight?”

Don’t Rain on my Parade by Barbra Streisand.”

“A wonderful song! Please, put your hands together for Alice!”

After the wild applause subsided, the music started, and I began to sing. I went down the improvised stage and headed for the audience. As I sang the lines about beating my drum, I made my way over to Ben and sat in his lap. Don’t Rain on my Parade was our favorite Barbra song. When we were law students at Stanford, we sang it together almost every night.

I rose and turned back to the audience, personalizing the song for them:

_Hey, XES Lounge, here I am . . . _

The final words of the chorus, ‘rain on my paа-rааade,’ were swallowed by the exuberant applause and cheering of the bar’s patrons.

“Wow!” said the DJ when the clapping had subsided. “That was awesome, wasn’t it?”

“Yes!” roared the audience.

“Let’s give Alice a huge thanks for her brilliant performance,” the DJ said, clapping his hands again then helping me off the stage. “Who’s my next volunteer for a live song?” He continued to call for volunteers as I returned to my seat next to Zack and Ben, but no one came forward. Finally he said, “None? Alice, darling, I’m afraid that after your performance tonight, no one else is going to take a chance!”

“You were marvelous!” Ben whispered to me.

“C’mon, boys! Let’s hear another live song after Alice’s beautiful performance!”

“What do you think about me singing something?” Zack asked me.

“Sounds great.” My eyes gleamed. I couldn’t wait to hear his voice.

“No volunteers? That’s a pity. All right, then, I’ll play—”

“Hold on! I want to sing.” Zack stood up.

“A volunteer? Oh, I see — someone from the company of our charming Alice.”

When Zack was on the stage, Nicolas asked, “What’s your name?”

“Zachary.”

“Like Zachary Quinto? Or Zac Efron?”

“No, like Zachary Mansfield.”

“Okay, Zachary like Zachary Mansfield, what are you going to sing to us?”

Something’s Coming from West Side Story. Dedicated to Alice.”

“Isn’t he cute?” Ben asked with affection, watching Zack on the stage.

“Do you like him?” I looked at him in surprise.

Zack began singing as Ben began to reply. “He looks pretty. Too bad he’s straight,” Ben sighed. “Why, you don’t like him?”

Zack’s voice filled the air as I thought about the question — and strangely enough, his words were, [_“Who knows?” _]

“I don’t know yet,” I said thoughtfully as I watched him.

“Alice, that boy has a thing for you. If I were you, I wouldn’t miss out on this opportunity. Who knows — it could really be the start of something,” Ben said. He looked at me meaningfully. Zack’s words stepped into our chat once again. This time he sang “Yes, it could…”

“Yes, I guess you’re right. But with all that work and rehearsing, I don’t have much time left for romance.”

“You’re beginning to think like a star,” Ben said with a smile.

I studied Ben for a long moment. He was listening intently to Zachary. I drew my attention back to Zack, who was now singing to not be shy and meet a guy. He sang well, and I had to admit he was looking sexy, too.

Maybe I should give him a chance? Who knows?

Zack belted out the last line “Maybe toniii-ight!” pitch-perfectly.

“Bravo!” Ben joined me in applauding him enthusiastically. “Zack made a good choice with that song, hon. And it was all for you!”

I looked at him quizzically while still clapping for Zachary. “What are you hinting at, Ben?”

“Hon, open your eyes! You’re becoming a star, a Broadway star! You have to realize this.”

Zachary headed back toward us as the crowd applauded and the DJ called for the next volunteer. “So, how was it? Did you like my performance?” he asked as he settled back into his chair. Noticing my perplexed expression, but not realizing it was directed at Ben, he added, “Barbra Streisand has a cover of that song, too.”

 

Chapter 17

 

 

 

 

“Don’t dance for the audience; dance for yourself.” I silently repeated Fosse’s famous quote — and the motto of my dance teacher, Tanya Winter — while looking at my reflection in the dressing room mirror.

It was the evening I’d been waiting for. August 29, 2014, and my Chicago debut on the stage of Ambassador Theater would happen in less than half an hour.

There was a knock on my dressing room door. “Yes?” I called.

“Are you changing?”

I recognized the man’s voice.

“Yes, but come in.”

“You’re not changing; you lied to me!” In the mirror I watched as Zack approached me from the door. “Wow! You look fabulous.”

I was in costume, of course, Roxie’s typical attire — black velvet jacket and fishnet stockings.

“I want you to know that you’ll be amazing,” he said as he leaned over me slightly. “You’re going to ‘razzle-dazzle ’em!’”

I smiled, still looking at my own reflection.

“That’s very sweet, Zack.”

“I just wanted to wish you good luck before we go out on the stage.” With these words he left the room.

I had just begun to hum Barbra’s[_ I’m the Greatest Star_] when my eyes were caught by the books on the little table by the mirror. I had brought The Fosse Style and Singing and the Actor to my dressing room. Tanya Winter had recommended the last one to me. I opened the book about Bob Fosse and came across the following maxim: “Make love to the audience.”

I heard the introduction coming from the stage, explaining to the audience how they were about to hear the story of “murder, greed, corruption, exploitation, violence, adultery, and treachery.” Then the trumpet played the first woeful tones of All That Jazz followed by “five, six, seven, eight” and the instrumental. I was about to be called to the stage.

If only I didn’t feel so nervous! I had always felt tense on my first [Wicked _]or _Rent performances, but this was different — I was about to play a leading role, and on Broadway, too! There were more than twice as many audience seats in this theater as there had been at New World Stages, where I’d performed in Rent. I couldn’t remember having been so nervous as a lawyer, even during my most difficult cases. I called to mind all the advice Tanya Winter, my current music teacher, had given me: “The rush of adrenaline before going onstage is a feeling you can’t get in any other circumstance of life,” she often said. On another occasion, she had mentioned, “If there’s no worry or nervousness, then something’s wrong with you.”

I took a Yogi Juice from the table. An Ayurvedic product, according to the packaging, Yogi Juice was something that Maeve had recommended to me for keeping my cool, back when I was still in London. Some of my theater colleagues also did Bikram yoga to stay in shape, and to improve the quality of their performances. Maybe I could also do something like Tai Chi?

“Act one, beginners on the stage, please! Alice Roseburg and Brian O’Brian!” the intercom announced.

Time to go. I set the empty bottle down and gave myself a final look in the mirror. Zack’s words echoed in my mind. “Razzle-dazzle ’em!”

“Break a leg!” one of the dancers said when I passed her, headed for the stairs.

“You’ll be gorgeous, honey,” smiled Carol Woods, who played “Mama” Morton, as I was descending.

Backstage Leslie hugged me warmly.

“Break a leg, Alice!” she said. “You’ll be great, I know it.”

“Are you ready for a show?” Brian, who was playing Fred Casely, came over to me.

“Totally.”

“Take your places, please,” the scene manager announced over the walkie-talkie.

“Break a leg!” The usher wished me well right before we all went out on the stage. I could already distinctly hear Amra Faye singing All That Jazz — and then I was on stage.

After that everything passed by like a flash of lightning. The black background, the spotlights and the vague outlines of the audience engulfed me, and it was as if I were in a trance. I performed every number, every song flawlessly — but I couldn’t say that it was me. It was as if someone else had taken over my body. During the intermission, I had some more Yogi Juice and tried to do a meditative exercise, but it didn’t produce any result. I was too overexcited.

Only at the end of the musical, when Amra Faye Wright and I were throwing roses at the audience14, did I begin to feel I was coming back to my senses.

“You were brilliant, Alice!” Leslie, thrilled, gave me a hug backstage after the whole company had come out to take their bows. “I knew you were going to razzle-dazzle ’em!”

“The name on everybody’s lips is gonna be Alice!” my colleagues sang humorously once we were all backstage.

“You were amazing, Alice!” Amra Faye came over and hugged me. “In Japanese, ‘the name on everybody’s lips is gonna be Alice’ sounds like this: ‘Minna no kuchi ni noboru namae wa Alice da.’”

I laughed whole-heartedly. She had been playing Velma Kelly in Japan as well for a few years, and was obsessed with Japanese culture.

I entered my dressing room in high spirits.

The clock was showing ten past eleven. I had to change and get back to my small apartment in midtown Manhattan. I watched my reflection in the mirror while I removed the makeup from my face, and wondered how I had come this far.

 

I had come here at the end of June 2012; I hadn’t been in the States for five years and I knew no one in show business. Fortunately, Benjamin Womack was there for me. My best friend from my student years at Stanford, we had graduated from law school together. He was currently working at Cleary, Gottlieb, Steen & Hamilton and was a volunteer at LeGaL: the LGBT Bar Association of Greater New York15. I lived with him for nearly a year before I landed my first job in theater.

Ben had not only offered me his apartment and his unconditional friendship, but he was also still on good terms with an ex-boyfriend of his who was a Broadway dancer. After some continuous pleading on my part, Ben put me in touch with him. The dancer’s biography included stints in the ensembles of hit productions like Wicked, Hair, and The Book of Mormon, as well as many other Broadway and off-Broadway shows. He recommended a music teacher, Tanya Winter, to me — then, one year later, when I was playing a jumping monkey in Wicked, he put in a good word about me to an agent at a New York-based talent agency. The agent agreed to represent me and get me audition calls.

But my success was solely my doing. For nine months, I trained three hours every evening with Tanya, a Russian-American dance instructor from Tisch’s music school. After the ninth month she was so impressed with my progress that she recommended me to the musical director for Wicked, and so I landed my first role.

Apart from my lessons with Tanya, I also attended solfège16 lessons with Maureen Nadel, another Tisch teacher, and acting lessons with Iby Porter, a former comedian and theater actress who had launched her own teaching practice on the Lower East Side in Manhattan. The money I had saved during my years as a lawyer really came in handy. I doubt I would have been able to make it if I hadn’t had my savings.

Of course, what’s meant to be will be — perhaps I had this money precisely because it was meant to be this way. It was just as Aunt Susan had predicted. When I called her to say I was in New York and intended to stay and pursue a career in musical theater, she wasn’t surprised. “I’ve always known, deep inside, that you belong to the stage. But personally, I think it was great that you spent so long working as a lawyer.”

I played in Wicked for six months, as outlined in my contract. There I also got my Equity card17. I was confidently moving up the road to success — I just needed a role bigger than that of a jumping monkey to give my career its much-needed boost. My agent, Steven Gorman, informed me of an open audition in Times Square at the end of September for a new off-Broadway staging of Rent. The hit rock musical had the potential to be the perfect springboard for my success. I auditioned for the role of Mimi Marquez, and that very same evening, the musical director called my agent to invite me to a second audition.

It was, to put it mildly, brutal. I, and seven other candidates for the same role, spent more than four hours playing the same scene — then each of us played another scene. Finally, everyone had to solo perform Mimi’s first-act song “Out Tonight.” I was convinced that they had to have already made a decision, but then the audition director made every one of us sing Mimi and Roger’s second act duet “Without You,” together with each of the five candidates for the role of Roger Davis, Mimi’s love interest. On the following day, the music director called me personally to inform me that I had been chosen for the role.

I had been happily playing Rent for eight months when one of[_ Chicago’_]s producers, Barry Weissler, contacted my agent to invite me to a closed audition for the role of Roxie Hart. They were looking for an actress to replace Amy Spanger, who’d been playing Roxie for several years but was going on maternity leave in a few months’ time. Michael Grafe, Rent’s director and a respected name in the Theater Guild, had recommended me to Weissler.

I auditioned at Ambassador Theatеr, where Chicago was being staged now. Unlike with Rent, this audition wasn’t long and exhausting, because the candidates for the role were few and had been selected previously. During the audition I sang “Cabaret” from the musical Cabaret, and recited the monologue “Just Looking.” I had purposefully chosen that song and monologue because they were in keeping with Chicago’s sexy, sarcastic atmosphere. Four days passed before Gorman called with an answer. I answered the phone with bated breath.

“The director and the producers liked you, Alice. They’re planning to hire you for a fifteen-week trial period with the option to prolong the contract or call you back at a later date. Congratulations! This is one of the most successful and most-watched American musical. I knew they’d choose you! You’re the most talented actress I’ve ever seen. You really cast a spell on them.”

I couldn’t believe it. I was going to play in Bob Fosse’s killer — metaphorically and literally — musical! In November of that year Chicago would mark eighteen years since its first stage production, and I was going to be the star!

The sudden knock on the door of my dressing room brought me back to the present.

“Yes?”

“Are you dressed?” It was Zack’s voice again. He was beginning to resemble an annoying puppy.

“Come in.” I was still in Roxie’s clothes, and I had to change quickly.

“You were gorgeous!” He entered the room. “I just wanted to show you what I read on Twitter. A brand new post from Patrick Healy, theater reporter from the New York Times: ‘A new Broadway chick is born. The name on everybody’s lips is gonna be… Alice. I liked her.’”

“Did he really write that? About me?”

“See for yourself.” He gave me his phone.

I read it, almost in disbelief, but beside myself with joy. I laughed, then jumped up and hugged Zack impulsively.

“That’s, that’s —”

“I know, I know. A New York Times reporter,” he said, and looked me in the eye. “What are you doing tonight?”

“I’m not sure yet. Do you have plans?” I withdrew from him and went back to the dressing table.

“I thought maybe we could celebrate your successful premiere in some cozy restaurant…” He came over to where I was standing and put his hands around my waist.

“Hold on!” I stopped him with my hand.

“What? Don’t you like me?”

“I…”

I tilted my head, thinking. My last boyfriend had been Mark Holton, and we had broken up nearly three years ago. I wondered if I could…

“I’m sorry I rushed you,” he said, and drew away from me. “I shouldn’t have been so insistent.” He made to go, but I stopped him.

“Wait! I…”

I couldn’t find the right words, so I leaned and kissed him. He didn’t hesitate, but immediately began kissing me back. We broke apart after a few moments. “I like you,” was all I could think to say.

“I’d say I also like you, but I think I’ve already made that fact abundantly clear,” he chuckled. “How about we go to dinner? I know a wonderful Indian—”

“Are you really hungry?” I grabbed his unbuttoned jacket with both hands and pulled him closer to me.

“A little bit. Are you?” he replied, his hands instinctively going around my waist.

“Let’s have dinner… at my place. We’ll get a bottle of good white wine.”

“Mmm… I’m beginning to like your scenario better.”

Half an hour later, we entered my small apartment on 57th Street. Zack was preparing to open the wine, but I took the bottle from his hand and set it aside. Within just a few minutes, we found ourselves half-undressed on my bed. Zack started sliding a hand up my thigh, but I placed my hand over his and stopped him.

“Not so fast, mister! First you have a show to watch!”

I pushed him back then stood up and began dancing Hot Honey Rag.

He lay back, laughing as he watched me. “I love Broadway!”

 

Alice is back!

Alice’s adventures in Sinland continue: in Season 2 she meets with influential music producer Aaron Chasin who promises to make her a pop star. Aaron is ruthless in his ambition and won’t stop at anything to get what he wants.

 

Soon Alice has the fame she’s longed for, but when Aaron wants her to perform a blasphemous song on her next album and world tour — a song that heaps scorn on Christianity and the Virgin Mary — Alice must decide. Can she be true to herself and risk losing everything she has fought so hard for, or will she allow herself to be a pawn of her Machiavellian producer?

 

At stake is her musical career, her fame — and her sanity… for the mysterious man and Aaron will declare war on her if she doesn’t give them what they want.

 

Now Alice must try to withstand a power much mightier than she has ever imagined — but is she innocent enough to pay the price?

You can purchase the complete seasons 1,2 &3 for a special pre-order price at $2.99; there’s no cliffhanger!

 

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Did you enjoy reading Alice in Sinland? Indie authors survive by the strength of their reviews. If you enjoyed Alice in Sinland, please leave a review and let me and other readers know!

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Also By Antara Mann

Have you read them all?

[* Alice in Siland The Complete Seasons 1,2 &3 *]

[* *]

[_Alice Roseburg wanted fame — her name on everyone’s lips. What she got was pure sin. _]

Alice Roseburg is making a name for herself at her London law firm. But her life of all work, no play is being disturbed. Alice’s long-abandoned desire — being a Broadway star — has been reawakened by strange waking dreams in which a mysterious man asks her “What do you want?”

Embittered after failing to get the raise she wants, she takes a leap of faith: she quits her job and returns to her hometown of New York City to pursue a career on Broadway. Fate is more than generous to Alice — in less than two years she lands a leading role in the hit musical Chicago.

When influential music producer Aaron Chasin promises to make her a pop star, Alice readily agrees. Aaron is ruthless in his ambition and won’t stop at anything to get what he wants.

Soon she has the fame she’s longed for, but when Aaron wants Alice to perform a blasphemous song on her next album and world tour — a song that heaps scorn on Christianity and the Virgin Mary — Alice must decide. Can she be true to herself and risk losing everything she has fought so hard for, or will she allow herself to be a pawn of her Machiavellian producer?

At stake is her musical career, her fame — and her sanity… for the mysterious man and Aaron will declare war on her if she doesn’t give them what they want.

 

Now Alice must try to withstand a power much mightier than she has ever imagined — but is she innocent enough to pay the price?

Buy it at special price: Amazon

 

The Witch’s Kiss Episode 3

[* *]

NEVER BEFORE HAS PASSION BEEN MORE DANGEROUS.

Furious that once again the Genie and the witch Ezemalda escaped his clutches, the Dark Prince enlists the help of Lilith, the dark queen of sexual magic in his quest for revenge. Tricking them with a drink, Lilith bewitches Ezemalda and the Genie with obsessive sexual dreams. The Dark Queen’s plan backfires when Ezemalda comes up with an antidote, but she will not be stopped and implants a dangerous idea in all the kingdom’s subjects. With everyone around them now convinced that the Genie commits terrible acts against women, even rapes them, he and Ezemalda have to find a new way to stand against the dark forces and clear their names.

[* *]

Buy it: Amazon

[* *]

The Wishing Coin

[* *]

What would you do if you possessed a magical coin that could fulfill all your darkest wishes?

This heartwarming and witty modern fairy tale follows an ambitious young woman who finds an easy way to fulfill all her selfish desires.

TV reporter Julia Preston is having a bad day. First, a promised promotion is given instead to ambitious newcomer Bailey – then Julia finds out Bailey is also dating her ex. Walking home, seething with anger, Julia encounters a street vendor selling wishing coins. Skeptical, she’s not interested until he offers an old tarnished coin with some geometrical figures that intrigue her. It soon becomes clear that she has come into possession of a miraculous weapon to use against those who have wronged her. When Julia’s wishes begin to come true she believes her life has taken a turn for the amazing. But a dark secret behind her TV success is revealed and Julia’s conscience is put on a trial.

Would you be happy if all your wishes come true?

Would you be still you?

Buy it: Amazon

[* *]

Back To The Viper – A Time Travel Experiment

[* *]

If you could redo the worst mistake of your life, would you? At what cost?

Botching the biggest performance of her career ten years ago has left lead singer Ashley Greendale as an unfulfilled barista at a local coffee shop. Just as she was beginning to believe that superstardom was far from her grasp, her eccentric scientist friend, Harry, offers her a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that she wouldn’t dare pass up – to travel back in time and redo her career-ending performance.

Taking her band with her known as The Jackal, Ashley and her music group rocks on to repair their missteps from the past. But fame and fortune come with a price – now they must decide if they’re willing to pay. Are they willing to live out their dreams and lose everything they’ve ever known?

Buy it: Amazon

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About The Author

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Antara Mann started writing at the age of seven. Nowadays, when she’s not reading and writing, you can find her practicing yoga, as she has developed a keen interest in self-improvement, spirituality, and becoming a better human being. She enjoys writing fantasy and paranormal suspense stories and believes in unity in diversity. In her opinion, the best books and stories are crossovers between genres.

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Antara talks about writing, literature and her yogic journey on her blog http://www.antaraman.com/. Subscribe to her newsletter to be the first to hear about new releases, giveaways and pre-release specials here: http://antaraman.com/list.

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1. Barrister: The English legal system distinguishes between two main groups of legal specialists: barristers and solicitors (lawyers). Solicitors act on behalf of the client and take care of their legal interests. A barrister is an independent legal specialist who’s hired by the solicitor in order to represent the client in trials in higher courts.

2. Solicitor advocate: a solicitor who is qualified to take care of their client’s legal interests and to represent him in the high courts.

3. Queen’s Bench: one of the divisions of the High Court.

4. Bencher: a member of one of the four professional associations in London (Inns of Court). Benchers are usually royal solicitors or judges and are also known as “Masters of the bench.”

5. The Magic Circle: the name given to the five top law firms in London.

6. The Silver Circle: a group of elite law firms that are outside the Magic Circle.

7. When accepting a real estate purchase offer in Scotland, the seller’s solicitor sends a qualified acceptance to the buyer’s solicitor to agree with the buyer’s offer.

8. Emmeline Pankhurst: a political activist and leader of the British suffragette movement who helped women win the right to vote.

9. Old Bailey: the Central Criminal Court; its common name is derived from the name of the street on which it stands.

10. Grace Inn: one of the four professional associations of barristers and judges. Grace Inn is located in Central London and is both a professional body and a provider of office spaces for many solicitors.

11. Queen’s Counsel (QC): A barrister who’s practiced the legal profession for at least ten years has the right to be awarded the status Queen’s Counsel by a nine-member committee. These barristers wear silk gowns and so are often called “silks.” They have privilege over the other barristers in a court.

12. Robert Shapiro: An American criminal and civil lawyer and part of the defense team that successfully represented O. J. Simpson on charges that he’d murdered Nicole Brown and Ronald Goldman in 1994.

13. Billie Flynn: A fictional character from the musical Chicago. Flynn is a lawyer who has never lost a case in his entire career. He defends Velma Kelly and Roxie Hart, winning both cases.

14. Although it’s considered traditional for audiences to toss flowers to the stars of the show, in Chicago the tradition has been reversed: The female leads, playing Roxie Hard and Velma Kelly, throw roses to the audience instead

15. eGaL: The LGBT Bar Association of Greater New York is one of the States’ first bar associations of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender lawyers. It was founded in 1978 by Dr. M. L. “Hank” Henry Jr.

16. Solfège: A musical education method used to teach pitch and sight singing.

17. Equity Card: proof of membership in the Actors’ Equity Association of the United States.


Alice in Sinland: A Story of Murder, Greed... Violence, Adultery, and Treasure (

He asked me what I wanted. One wish, spoken aloud, and whatever I longed for would be mine. Alice Roseburg is an American living in London, buried in her work at a British law firm. When she is tasked with acquiring the ruins of a medieval castle with an arcane history for a wealthy client, she finds her monotonous work life suddenly disrupted. She begins having strange waking dreams in which a mysterious man asks her: What do you want? And is it a coincidence that Alice finds herself faced with that same question over and over again? Her dreams and reality run together until she can no longer tell what is truth and what is illusion. Alice has become so consumed by her work that she has long forgotten what her heart once desired. Digging deep into her past, she will uncover surprising truths about herself — which may change her life forever. Will she be brave enough to take a leap of faith and become the person she was meant to be? And at what price? Alice in Sinland a modern twist on the classical legend of Faust or The Devil and Daniel Webster. It contains scenes of murder, greed, corruption, exploitation, violence, adultery, and treasure. Ask yourself before you read: Am I afraid to face my sins?

  • Author: Antara Mann
  • Published: 2016-03-25 19:20:19
  • Words: 33676
Alice in Sinland: A Story of Murder, Greed... Violence, Adultery, and Treasure ( Alice in Sinland: A Story of Murder, Greed... Violence, Adultery, and Treasure (