witness, a slim, waiflike woman dwarfed by her surroundings
and by fear, sat rigid on the stand, her tightly locked hands
resting on her lap like a paperweight that would keep her from
floating away. Her tongue made darting, stealthy sweeps of her
upper lip, and her eyes avoided the defense counsel table and
the attorney who was about to cross-examine her.
The woman had every reason to be nervous, Debra Laslow thought
with a surge of sympathy as she shifted on the hard, cushionless
bench in the spectator's gallery. Being questioned by Madeleine
Chase was like having Hannibal Lecter for a dinner guest. The
attorney's hand was resting familiarly on her client's shoulder,
and she was whispering in his ear, probably reminding him what
Debra reminded her own clients:
interested, but not worried. Don't react to anything the witness
says. No anger, no scowls. Don't bite your nails. Don't fidget.
According to a reliable source, Madeleine had warned a client
charged with rape that if he smirked at the witness or anyone
on the jury, she'd castrate him herself.
did the client say?" Debra had asked the source.
get me off, bitch.'"
There were many stories about Madeleine.
The witness pushed a section of straight brown hair behind her
ear--a sign of nervousness Debra thought must have pleased Madeleine,
whose honey-blond hair, arranged in her trademark French twist,
drew attention to her dramatic good looks.
Madeline rose. There was something sensual about the fluid movement
of her limbs as she slid out of her chair; there was something
artificial, too, as if she'd practiced the move to create just
the right effect on the people filling the rows behind her,
watching her. She closed the single button of a beautiful dove
gray Donna Karan suit jacket that Debra had almost bought at
Saks and passed the prosecution table. She detoured in front
of the jury box and ran her hand along the railing, caressing
the dark wood, then approached the podium and smiled at the
twenty-seven-year-old woman whose credibility she was about
Parnell, isn't it a fact....?"
A half hour later the judge declared a recess. Debra exited
the courtroom and the adjoining small foyer and stood to the
left of the wood-grain door. Several minutes later Madeleine
emerged, swinging her charcoal gray alligator briefcase. She
looked unruffled, unlike the witness she'd reduced to uncertainty
and tears with a skill that had aroused in Debra admiration
and a flash of uncomfortable envy.
Madeleine made her way down the low-ceilinged hall, followed
by a Los Angeles Times crime reporter Debra recognized. She
waited until he'd abandoned his prey; then, suppressing a flash
of nervousness intensified by the perpetual gloominess of the
hall's dim fluorescent lighting, she caught up with Madeleine.
She was surprised, as always, to see that she and Madeleine
were the same height--five feet five inches. From a distance
Madeleine seemed taller, more imposing.
I speak to you, Madeleine?" She kept her voice low, but it sounded
unnaturally loud as it echoed off the brown ceramic-tiled walls.
A handful of people were nearby--some standing, some sitting
on the uncomfortable dark brown plastic benches that lined the
walls; the Times reporter was hovering within earshot.
Madeleine stopped. "I was surprised to see you in the courtroom,
Debra. So what did you think of my cross?" She smiled.
effective." Debra returned the smile, resisting an impulse to
smooth her shoulder-length, wavy dark brown hair which was never
as sleek as Madeleine's. "I was filing a motion next door and
knew you were here. I need to speak to you, in private. Can
we go somewhere for a few minutes?"
I have an appointment." Another smile. "You can call me later.
Unless you want to talk about it now?"
Was it Debra's imagination, or had the reporter inched closer?
"When we had lunch two weeks ago, I mentioned I'd applied for
the opening at your firm. I was turned down, and I wondered
if you'd heard why."
The letter had arrived at home yesterday. Debra, anxious to
leave her firm, had been sharply disappointed and stunned, because
everything--the initial interview, the fancy dinner in the fancy
restaurant with the partners, the subsequent conversation--had
been so promising.
Madeleine sighed. "We're the top firm in the city because we're
so selective. The fact is, Debra, when the partners asked me
about you, I suggested they could do better. Sorry, but I assumed
you'd want the truth." Her tone was matter of fact, her gray
eyes cool, unblinking, but the pull of her lips betrayed triumph.
Debra stared at her. "You wished me good luck," she said softly.
Her face stung with humiliation and anger--at Madeleine, for
her duplicity and cruelty; at herself, for having been gulled
by Madeleine's "Let's be friends" phone call into believing
that after years of being ruthlessly competitive and nasty and
confrontational, the woman had changed.
wish opposing counsel good luck, too. They need it." Her eyes
traveled dismissively from Debra's face to her taupe suit, then
back to her face. "James Brand is doing seven years, isn't he?
Poor man. I'm sure you gave his case your very best." She shook
Debra clenched her hands. "No one could have gotten Brand off.
Not even you." Don't rise to her bait, she told herself.
Madeleine answered with another smile. "Face facts, Debra. You're
a mediocre attorney with unrealistic expectations. You've been
trying to compete with me since we were at UCLA Law. It was
pathetic then. Now it's annoying."
really have a problem, don't you?" Debra turned to leave.
just being honest." Madeleline raised her voice. "Better lawyers
than you are scrambling for jobs. Stay with the firm that hired
you, and be grateful. By the way, do they know you're scouting
Anxiety stabbed at Debra. Turning back, she said, "No wonder
people dislike you, Madeleine. Aside from your parents, I can't
imagine anyone putting up with you, and they didn't have a choice."
Madeleine flinched. Debra was sorry the minute she spoke the
words, sorry even before she remembered that Madeleine had grown
up in foster homes until the Chases had adopted her. Hot with
embarrassment, she reached out a tentative hand. "I'm sorry.
I didn't mean--"
a rabbi's daughter hasn't taught you any values, has it? You're
a mediocre person as well as a mediocre lawyer."
Anger or hurt--maybe both--had flooded Madeleine's face with
color. She turned abruptly and walked away. Dbra watched her
for a moment, waiting for the briefcase to resume its confident
swing, but Madeleine was still clutching it against her side
as she turned right toward the bank of elevators.