Cover image for A suggestion of death
A suggestion of death
Wesson, Marianne.
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Publication Information:
New York : Pocket Books, [2000]

Physical Description:
viii, 341 pages ; 25 cm
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X Adult Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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In her national bestseller Render Up the Body, former federal prosecutor Marianne Wesson delivered an intense legal drama (Sara Paretsky). Now, Wesson's unforgettable heroine, Colorado attorney Cinda Hayes, is the heart and soul of a thrilling and authentic new novel -- a page-turner that ranks with the best suspense fiction of Scott Turow and Linda Fairstein. The cry for help first comes over the telephone: a scared young woman with a small voice calls a radio talk show hosted by Cinda Hayes, with searching legal questions about intimate torts. When Cinda meets Mariah McKay in person, she encounters a troubled, delicate twenty-year-old with a shocking accusation: her father, a respected university professor and candidate for Colorado state senate, traumatized her as a child. Mariah retains only jagged pieces of her horrific memories, but with the clock ticking on the statute of limitations, Cinda cannot afford to wait. She must pursue the case with the evidence at hand. Mariah has fled her privileged upbringing and retreated into the plains east of Boulder, where she has taken refuge among a band of people with their own political agenda -- a militia group. Her chief protector is Pike Sayers, a magnetic, mysterious man who is the community's judge of the common law. As Cinda investigates Mariah's painful and secretive history, Sayers might be Cinda's greatest ally -- or her worst opposition. And as she deciphers the fragments of evidence, she plunges herself into danger. Someone wants to keep the past wrapped tightly in darkness, and will stop at nothing to ensure that Cinda comes up empty-handed. Under terrible pressure and mounting threats, Cinda will fightrelentlessly for a desperate young woman's chance at redemption. Cinda Hayes touches the heart and the mind in A Suggestion of Death, a taut, provocative thriller that resonates well beyond its gripping legal suspense.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

It's a good thing that Cinda Hayes is a smart and interesting protagonist. Otherwise, Wesson's tendency to describe her every thought and action might quickly grow tiresome. As it is, the reader will appreciate the chance to get to know about Cinda in depth, from why her boyfriend moved to New York (didn't like being a black lawyer in Boulder, Colorado) to why she has the annoying name of Cinda (it's short for "Lucinda"). In this second book in the Hayes series, the likable lawyer and her partner, a feisty lesbian named Tory, are lamenting a lack of business at their Boulder-based firm. When a radio call-in show leads to Cinda's meeting a troubled young girl, she soon becomes deeply involved in the girl's life--and, consequently, in the underground common-law court system. This is less a crime novel, or even a legal thriller, than it is a first-rate character study and a perceptive look at life in Boulder. Fans of Marcia Muller will appreciate getting to know Cinda the way they have Sharon McCone. --Jenny McLarin

Publisher's Weekly Review

Following the breakout success of Render Up the Body, Wesson returns with another searingly intelligent legal thriller starring Boulder attorney Cinda Hayes. These days, business is sparse for Cinda and her feisty law partner, Tory Meadows, until a whispery-voiced young woman calls Cinda on a radio call-in show. That woman turns out to be the estranged younger daughter of state senatorial candidate Harrison McKay. She accuses her father of abusing her sexually as a child, but she can't quite remember any details. Though reluctant to wade through the legal quagmire of "repressed memory" theory, Cinda finds herself captivated by the lost, anorexic child-woman, who now goes by the name Mariah and lives among suspected neo-Nazis in rural Colorado. Somehow Cinda has to jog Mariah's memory before the statute of limitations runs out; and somehow she has to overcome her own repugnance for Mariah's friends, especially the self-appointed "common law judge," Pike Sayers, whose iconoclastic mystery she finds both fascinating and suspicious. Enigmatic and unnerving, Sayers is a remarkable character, but no more so than the fiercely intelligent but self-deprecating Cinda, who's haunted by the conviction that she's an impostor. Sometimes the plot moves along predictable, overly neat lines. (For example, it's inconceivable that Cinda wouldn't bother to contact the police after someone breaks into her car, then sends her a mutilated Barbie doll with a swastika.) But when it comes to exploring dark, ambiguous terrain--such as paranoid politics and possible incest--Wesson writes with a rare blend of fearlessness, insight and wit. She's now clearly on the short list of the best practitioners of the genre. Agent, Jed Mattes. Author tour. (Feb.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

In her second novel featuring Boulder, CO, lawyer Cinda Hayes (after Rendering Up the Body) law professor Wesson again spins an engrossing tale about the strengths and limits of the law. Frail Mariah McKay, estranged daughter of a prominent local political figure, comes to Cinda seeking redress for harm her father caused her. But Mariah's memories are still vague, the statute of limitations is running out, and the issue of recovered memory requires scrupulous care. While common-law judge Pike Sayers provides lifesaving support for Mariah and commonsense counsel for Cinda, his ties to a local militia group are suspect. Warnings to Cinda (a broken car window, a dismembered doll) go unheeded, and tragedy ensues before all of the pieces of the puzzle fall into place. With her appealing protagonist, brisk style, storytelling skill, and political correctness (Cinda has an African American lover and a lesbian law partner), Wesson should win new fans. A first-rate legal thriller.--Michele Leber, Fairfax Cty. P.L., VA (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



Chapter One Your Vanity and Mine Never ask a witness a question unless you already know the answer. It's one of the first things they teach you in law school, but I already knew it anyway. Everybody knows it, from television. This advice is not really meant to apply to a discovery deposition, but even there you're at least supposed to know what it is you're trying to discover. They also taught us A surprised lawyer is a bad lawyer. Then there's another good one: Don't get emotionally involved with a client. Sterling principles, really, although I admit I never put much stock in the second. Even lawyers aren't so dull as to wish for lives devoid of surprise. It was my law partner, Tory Meadows, who induced me to violate the first one, but although I broke it at Tory's behest, it wasn't on her behalf. It was for Mariah. As for the last rule, I broke it on my own. I'd broken it at least once before. I suppose that makes me some kind of recidivist. Our first meeting was unpromising. Inside the Hygiene Cafe the air was close and warm, a contrast to the windy March chill outside. Fog condensed onto my glasses as I stepped in. It was disorienting, and so was the slight but unmistakable lowering in volume of the ambient conversational buzz: the regulars turning to survey a newcomer. This breakfast spot was not on the tourist circuit. A freckled waitress in red jeans smiled and came toward me, a menu in each hand. "You want breakfast or lunch?" she inquired. "I'm supposed to meet someone," I said. "Mariah." "Oh." She turned and looked at an older woman who was sorting checks behind the cash register. "Martha? You seen Mariah today?" Martha shook her well-permed head without looking at me and took a deep drag off a cigarette that had been burning in an ashtray. "She works on Thursdays. She won't be coming in here." I started to take a deep breath, then thought better of it. The fog that I had taken for steam had a large component of cigarette smoke, I now saw. Smoking is not allowed in restaurants in Boulder, not even in bars, and like most Boulder types I have gotten used to smoke-free environments. But I gathered that the rules were different here in Hygiene, its name notwithstanding. I smiled back at the waitress. "Suppose I just have coffee and a cinnamon roll. I hear you make really good ones." "Betcha life," she agreed. I followed her through the first room of the cafe into a larger room at the back, empty except for one couple smoking and eating eggs and bacon at the same time. "Joe and sugar," she called out as we passed the service window. "Black?" she asked me as she gestured toward a worn Formica table with two tubular-steel-and-vinyl chairs. "I'm sorry?" "What are you sorry for? Do you want your coffee black?" "Oh. No, cream, please. If you have it." She smiled crookedly. "We have it." "And if you see Mariah come in, will you tell her I'm back here?" "You heard Martha, didn't you? She won't be here." "Well, just in case." She shrugged indifferently. "I s'pose." I couldn't believe I had neglected to bring anything to read; I never travel without a book or at least a magazine. Abibliophobia, Sam calls it. Fear of running out of reading material. He went to one of those schools that makes you study Latin. There weren't many other customers in this back room. The bacon-and-egg couple seemed absorbed in their breakfast and their smokes; they paid me no attention. I looked at the photographs of prize bovines and rodeo scenes on the walls for a few minutes, then gazed out the west-facing window. There was no opportunity for eavesdropping, because the room was too noisy. In the corner of the room an ice machine made loud ka-whump sounds, like it needed a visit to the small-engine repair shop I'd seen on the corner. I could have used a tune-up myself. For days I had been suffering from Impostor Syndrome, certain that the confidence that had carried me through fifteen years of practicing law was in retrospect a delusion, that I did not have the slightest idea what I was doing, and never had. I believe it may have started with the dream, which would mean it really started when I agreed to be on the radio. It was one of those anxiety dreams: I was back in law school, carrying a crushing load of casebooks in a backpack as I banged about through the dim corridors, trying to locate the room where my exam was to be held. I couldn't find it, even though I knew it would be the same room where the class had been meeting all semester. That knowledge didn't help because (here I could feel my armpits dripping and the blood buzzing through my arteries like a swarm of furious flies) I hadn't been to class all semester. Not once. I flew around a corner, but there was nothing there but the door to the law library, full of all the unobtainable answers to the examination I was certainly about to flunk. I couldn't even remember the subject of the exam, I realized with sickening clarity. It could be anything: torts, criminal law, civil procedure, contracts. Commercial paper. Regulated industries, first amendment, administrative law... I don't know why my dream self didn't just give up, didn't simply drag the hopeless pack of books back out to the parking lot, and drive the rattletrap Opel I had in those days away from the school and the law forever. But she didn't, and I pounded those corridors in a fever of anxiety and shame all night long. Then, somehow, my waking mind must have suspended the memory of the dream. I didn't think about it all day. It wasn't until the evening, when I was on the radio and the whispery voice asked its question (What if it happens to a child?), that the memory of the dream blew into my head like a chinook ahead of a cold front, and I knew I was about to be unmasked as the impostor I was. But I was on the air and I had no time for dream analysis. And since simply saying "I don't know" is not good form when you are on the air, even if it's God's truth and in fact the only accurate answer, I used the skills I had. For despite the dream, I had passed all of my law school exams, graduated successfully, and even passed the bar exam, all many years ago. So I did know something useful. I knew how to make it sound as though I knew the answer, or that I would if it weren't such an ignorant and ill-formed question. And that's what I did. For which sin, utterly common in my profession, I am punished on various unpredictable nights by a recurrence of the dream. Okay, sometimes I get ahead of myself; I never seem to know where to start. Let's go back to the radio show. The thing was, it never occurred to me that a radio appearance could be very difficult. Radio and I were old friends; I was into radio long before I knew anything about law. Twenty years ago, when I was in college in Poughkeepsie, New York, I used to deejay a folk music show: The Flower Power Hour. Folk music was old hat by then; everyone else was into disco -- Saturday Night Fever and all that -- but I'd always had an unaccountable infatuation with the 1960s. I'd line up those big old vinyl platters on the turntable and fill in the spots between Leonard Cohen and Mimi Fariña with innocent jokey patter left over from the sixties: Woodstock, the Chicago Seven, and Senator Roman Hruska saying that even mediocre people deserved representation on the Supreme Court. At the time, I imagined that being mediocre was about the worst fate a person could suffer. I loved being on the radio because I had been told I had a sexy voice. Although our little collegiate broadcast station didn't have enough power to reach far beyond the campus, like an idiot I imagined lonely bachelors all over Poughkeepsie, and scattered through Cold Spring and Red Hook and Wappingers Falls, listening and imagining the slender, witty, lovely, but somehow melancholy girl talking away into the microphone on a Friday evening. At the time I weighed about two-ten, and probably hadn't had a date for eleven months. I believed that being fat was nearly as disgraceful as being mediocre, if perhaps not quite. My radio show comforted me immensely. I don't know why I was always so hungry then, but the hunger left me without warning or explanation during my junior year. I lost eighty pounds and graduated from Vassar in a white size-eight minidress; in the photographs my mother took, the dress barely covers my crotch. Almost everyone else in my class was wearing floppy polyester and pointed collars, including my roommate, Susie (The Lock) Wheelock, who graduated magna cum laude in philosophy, but I remained true to my chosen style. My final radio show was broadcast the night before graduation; the last song I played was "Fire and Rain." "Goodnight, and peace," I whispered as Sweet Baby James hummed out the last measures. "This is Cinda Hayes, signing off. Hope your life just grooves along." There was no student radio station at the University of Colorado, where I went to law school. Over time all the skinny hippies had turned into jocks: rock climbers, runners, swimmers. So I started running myself and now, in my forties, I get twitchy and weepy if I can't run for three days in a row, and I eat almost everything I want to. Like most prosperous cities today, Boulder is bursting with astonishing food -- tender croissants spread out in glass cases, pearlescent smoked salmon in the grocery deli, cappuccinos and lattes with foam bubbles tiny as nanoseconds. I am almost prosperous enough to buy whatever treat catches my eye without hesitating over its cost. Unlike cars and boats and Manolo Blahnik shoes, food is so cheap in this country that even the best of it is affordable to a middle-class lawyer with a mortgage but no kids -- if she doesn't like fish eggs, anyway, and I don't. Business had been a little sparse lately, however, and the nest egg with which my law partner Tory Meadows and I had bankrolled our new law practice was beginning to dwindle a bit. Tory was getting snappish about the cost of copier paper and bicycle messenger services; the week before my radio appearance, she had insisted on delivering a motion to the courthouse in Fort Collins herself, on her motorcycle, despite the circumstance that her time is worth one hundred fifty dollars an hour, and the messenger service would have charged us fifteen dollars for the delivery. But I think it was the footnote instead of the motorcycle trip that made me realize how slow things had gotten. "What do you think of this motion?" she had asked me that afternoon, flapping a page in each hand to dry them as they emerged from our office ink-jet printer. "What is it?" I asked inattentively. I was looking over our billing records. She shrugged. "Routine. Motion for return of items seized as evidence. In that violation of custody case I did in Fort Collins." I took the two-page document from her and looked it over. Probably she saw me trying unsuccessfully to suppress a smile. "What?" she said. "Nothing," I said back. "It looks great. Excellent." "Give it up, Minnie. What's the smirk about?" Tory called me Minnie Mouse when she was annoyed at me, or wanted to annoy me. Together these circumstances accounted for about sixty percent of the time. "What smirk?" "It's the footnote, isn't it?" "It's an excellent footnote," I said, squinting at it again. It described a skirmish between two Supreme Court justices concerning the proper view of how another footnote, in an earlier Supreme Court opinion, should be read. "So?" she said. I handed it back to her. "It's very impressive. But without wishing to disparage the experience of being a judge of the Nineteenth Judicial District Court of Colorado, I doubt that any member of that worthy bench has ever seen a footnote in a two-page motion before. Not," I added hastily, "that there shouldn't be a first time for everything." She turned away from me scornfully. "You talk like some professor, but you're one of the most anti-intellectual persons I have ever met, Minnie Mouse." Ten minutes later, I heard the subdued roar of her Kawasaki as she turned it out of the alley behind Pearl Street, heading north toward Fort Collins to file her motion. She had left without saying good-bye; I guess she was really fond of that footnote. It was ridiculous. Fort Collins is forty miles away, and even March days that start out sunny and mild can turn out very iffy in Colorado; March is the snowiest month here. I knew Tory's burning need to carry the motion to the courthouse herself by motorcycle had more to do with her own demons than with any need for us to economize. Tory had been kidnapped and hurt -- hurt badly, I thought -- by a thuggish police officer in 1989, in part because she knew something that might have proved the innocence of my client Jason Smiley. Jason was dead now, executed three years later because his innocence hadn't mattered enough. I thought I had come to terms with my failure to save his life, and Tory seemed to have recovered from her ordeal. But she wouldn't talk to me, or to her lover, Linda, about what had happened to her that weekend. Linda and I agreed that this wasn't good, but it had been a long time since either one of us had brought the matter up with Tory. Constant motion was one way she kept her memories at bay. Both the retreating whine of the bike's engine and the footnote made it clear we just weren't busy enough. Boulder had too many damn lawyers for us to sit around drinking lattes, decorating routine motions with footnotes, and waiting for clients to walk in; I needed to drum up a little action. So when Marta Tafoya, president of the Boulder County Bar Association, asked me later that week if I would take a turn hosting the legal advice call-in show on the local NPR affiliate, I said yes. I won't say I didn't worry at all about not knowing the answers to the inevitable landlord-tenant and marital dissolution questions. I've been a criminal lawyer most of my life; I only started handling civil cases when Tory and I began our partnership last year. But I did a quick brushup from Continuing Legal Education outlines and thought I was ready. Other people did this kind of thing all the time, I told myself. I was smart; I had graduated in the top five in my law school class. Why shouldn't I be able to answer a few legal questions on the radio? That was my conscious mind talking. Not the other part, the one that houses the ones that Stephen King calls the boys in the basement. Probably those boys were at work on the dream already. It wasn't that I would be paid for appearing on the advice show; it's a volunteer service sponsored by the county bar association. But I had heard that sometimes people would listen to a lawyer on the radio show and decide that she sounded smart and easy to talk to, and later call the office and ask for an appointment. Marta had assured me I would be allowed, even expected, to strew mention of my name and our law firm, together with our specialties and location, liberally through the broadcast. And I had thought that being on radio again would be, as I would have said in my earlier radio days, a trip. I arrived at the station about six in the evening, half an hour before the broadcast would begin. Darkness had fallen, but the March evening air did not have too much bite as I walked across the parking lot to the drab warren of offices that housed KGNU. Fergus O'Shaughnessy, the station's programming manager, met me at the reception desk in a pair of spectacularly ragged overalls. He showed me to the glassed-in room we would use for the broadcast and introduced his assistants Shawna and Siobhan, a pair of University of Colorado students doing their internships. The place was like a Gaelic Woodstock; it made me quite nostalgic. Siobhan had a headful of ferociously red hair so spiky I made a whimsical mental note not to get too close, for safety reasons. She would be handling the technical end of the broadcast and providing introductions and transitions. Shawna, her shoulders under a Phish T-shirt at once slim and sturdy, like a dancer's, would get coffee and water and provide general assistance. This was way more help than I was accustomed to having with anything, so I luxuriated in it as they spaced the mikes, checked the sound level, and coordinated with the telephone operator, who would be answering the incoming calls and transferring them in to me and Siobhan through our headphones. I fiddled with the headset and leafed through the notes I had brought: a page of lawyer jokes in case things got slow, an index to the Colorado Revised Statutes, a list of legal resources to which I might refer a caller, the number of our nobly struggling local Legal Services office. I felt fine. Six-thirty came, the red light went on, and I could hear a muted version of the perky music that always introduces the Call a Lawyer show. After a few measures, it faded away, and Siobhan began to speak. She had a great voice, I noticed, throaty but melodious; she was reading from the short written bio Fergus had asked me to bring. "Our host tonight, in cooperation with the Boulder County Bar Association, is Cinda Hayes. Cinda is a graduate of the University of Colorado School of Law, former assistant district attorney here in Boulder, and after that director of the Boulder County Rape Crisis Team. She now practices law with the firm Hayes and Meadows, right here in Boulder, located on Pearl Street above Pour La France. Hayes and Meadows specializes in employment discrimination and personal injury litigation, especially intimate torts." Here Siobhan gave me a puzzled sideways look. The phrase was from my bio, and I suddenly regretted it. It had looked good on the page, but sounded weird when she said it. "We're lucky to have her with us tonight, and we encourage you to call in with your legal questions," Siobhan continued. "Ah, there's a caller already. Hello, this is KGNU Call a Lawyer." The first caller had put up her house to bond her brother out of jail on a drug charge. He'd disappeared and she was about to lose the house. She had no idea where he was, and he owed her five hundred dollars she had given him for the lawyer besides. He'd always been like that: rotten. And another thing, his dirtbag lawyer refused to tell her anything, even though he had to know where his client was. Can they do that? she asked. Can they do that? How many times had I been asked that question in one form or another? It sounded like the name of a country folk song, of the sort that Robert Earl Keen could have written in a funny version, or Michelle Shocked in one of her seriously bitter moods. I tried to be honest with the caller (Unless you have the money to pay off the bond amount, there's nothing you can do to keep them from taking your house), while halfheartedly defending the tattered honor of my profession (Your brother's lawyer is not allowed to disclose any confidences that he may have learned) and offering a small amount of useful information (You are allowed to bid on your own house at the sheriff's sale, and if you are the high bidder, you can buy it back). I sighed as she hung up, realizing that what I had really wanted to tell her was Gosh, you need a lawyer. I often had the same impulse with my own clients, and sometimes wondered what they would say if I yielded to it. But...aren't you a lawyer? Siobhan was motioning to me: hel- lo. Another caller. "This is Cinda Hayes. Did you have a legal question?" I leaned into the mike. Barely suppressed chuckles in the headphone. "I was, like, wondering. For a legal reason. Like, what is an intimate tort? Exactly?" Big snort. It sounded like a teenage boy, probably with a confederate on the extension. Shit. I'd never been a junior high school teacher. I didn't know how to handle this stuff. The Socratic method -- answering one question with another -- occurred to me because I had seen so many of my law professors use it to stall for time when they didn't know how to handle a student's comment. "Why?" I asked. "Do you think you may have been the victim of one?" More snorting, followed by some puffing. "Puhhh! I don't think so." Of course, the Socratic method didn't always work. I repaired to the more traditional lecture method. "A tort is a civil wrong -- it may be a crime, but not necessarily," I explained. "The law uses some quaint terms, like we call a person who commits a tort a tortfeasor. An intimate tort is simply a tort committed by a tortfeasor who is in a close relationship with the victim. Does that answer your question, sir?" "Pfhhh!" He snickered again. "Tartfreezer?" "Fee sor. Tort feasor. One who commits a tort." I was getting tired of this conversation. "Sir? Does that answer your legal question?" "Okay," he said faintly, and hung up. I looked at Siobhan for guidance; she moved in smoothly, her well-modulated voice exuding competence. "Do intimate torts pose any special legal issues, Ms. Hayes?" she asked, sounding profoundly interested. "Well," I said with relief, "for many years, there were very few lawsuits based on these kinds of wrongs. Courts would say they were barred by family immunity, or victims just wouldn't want to sue the person who harmed them because they were too embarrassed. But family immunity has been abolished mostly, and victims have realized that civil suits can be a way to fight back. There's no reason why a victim of an acquaintance rape, or a woman who is beaten by her husband, can't sue for damages. My partner and I have handled several of those kinds of cases. They pose some special challenges, but we've been pretty successful with them." I looked back at her, and she shook her head minutely. Still no caller. She pointed to my page of lawyer jokes. "Now," I said in my best seductive radio voice, "for all of you who love to hate lawyers, a little joke. Do you know what lawyers use for contraception? No? They use...their personalities. Another one? What do you get when you cross a lawyer with the Godfather?" Siobhan cut in. "Let's let them think about that one. Here's another caller, Ms. Hayes. Hello? This is Call a Lawyer with Cinda Hayes." I could barely hear her at first, so soft was her voice, and like too many women she made every sentence into a question. "Those intimate torts you talked about? How long do you have to file them? You know what I mean? There's a name for it? But I can't remember..." "Statute of limitations," I broke in. "That's what we call the deadline for filing a lawsuit. It isn't always the same, even for intimate torts. Depends on the nature of the claim, and possibly even on the intentions of the tortfeasor. One year to six years in Colorado, depending." "Well, what if someone hurts you on purpose?" the small voice persisted. "How long then?" "Ah, those are the shorter limitation periods. One or two years, depending." "I see," she said. "Depending on -- like, on what?" I realized I wasn't really sure. Tell her you don't know, you big fake. I coughed delicately. "Well, it's complicated, actually. Probably too much so for a radio show." One of the advantages of a really fine legal education is that you develop an unerring sense of when someone is about to ask you a question that you can't answer. Because I could hear the youth in her childish diction, I knew what Ms. Whisper's next question would be in the dread instant before she said it. "Okay, then here's another thing? What if it happens to a child?" That was when the memory of the dream broke over me like a wave, the hopeless chase around the echoing corridors looking for a test I was certain to fail. Worse, the dream had now acquired a soundtrack, an acerbic voice-over: That's a good question, phonus balonus. And you don't know the answer, do you? The thing was, I sort of knew the answer. Sort of. I knew that in some places the statute of limitations doesn't start to run until a child reaches majority. And I also knew that in some places that's not the rule. So I knew quite a bit, actually, but I didn't know the really rather small detail about whether Colorado was the first kind of place or the second. This, too, was a result of having had a first-rate legal education. Even though I had gone to law school at the University of Colorado, my professors made a point of not teaching "local" law. We used to joke about it as students, dizzy from the relentless theorizing of our seminars: The really good law schools, we assured each other, will teach you in a way that is not limited to the law of a particular jurisdiction. And the truly elite schools, like this one, will teach you in a way that is not tied to the law of a particular planet. If I'd had a few minutes I could have looked it up, but I didn't, and the unwelcome memory of the nightmare was expanding inside my head, crowding out everything else. It was fed by my terror of not knowing, but there was also the quaver of desperation in the caller's voice. I knew she wasn't calling out of curiosity. The headset started to feel hot and sticky on my ears, and I realized my hands were unsteady. "Well, you know, that's also a rather complex question." I gestured ferociously to Siobhan. "I wonder if our caller could leave her telephone number with the operator, and I could telephone her in a day or two so we could discuss these particular questions further without taking up more air time." "Yes, why don't you do that?" said Siobhan quickly into her mike. "I'll transfer you back to the operator. Thanks for calling. And now a news break from National Public Radio news. We'll be back at fifteen minutes after the hour for more of Call a Lawyer with Cinda Hayes of Boulder." More peppy music. "Whew," I said, pulling off my headphones and wondering whether Siobhan saw right through me. "This is not easy." "You're doing great," said Siobhan. "Just talk a little more slowly, if you can. Otherwise, you're fine. Water?" She gestured to an ancient-looking metal carafe. "Sure," I said doubtfully, hoping the water was newer than the container. She started to pour a stream of it into a paper cup. "Shall I go back to the lawyer jokes when we come back?" "Yeah, finish the one about crossing the Godfather and the lawyer. Then if we don't have any callers, I'll ask you some questions myself. I prepared a few." She smiled brilliantly and handed me the paper cup. I peered at the water inside; it looked all right. "Do you think that last caller will leave her number?" I asked. "DK," replied Siobhan, running her hands over her alarming hair, seemingly unaware of the danger of a puncture wound. "DK?" I repeated. "Sorry," she said with a smile. "Don't know. I don't know if she'll leave her number. That sounded like kind of a complex question she was asking." "Um, yeah. Really not of general interest, I thought. Better to call her later." "Sure." She smiled guilelessly. "Back on the air in five seconds." I put the headphones back on and took a last sip from the cup. Siobhan got me through the rest of the half hour. I finished the lawyer joke (A guy who makes you an offer you can't understand), a new caller had a zoning problem, a man asked about child custody evaluations. Someone wanted to discuss the Rodney King case. Finally, it was over. Fergus shook my hand and invited me to come back soon. I stumbled across the parking lot to my Subaru, still preoccupied with the desperate dream and the feelings it had uncaged, then remembered I had left behind my briefcase and turned back. Shawna met me with it at the door. "You did great," she said as she handed over the battered leather pouch, gesturing toward a folded slip of paper tucked into the outside pocket. "I put that one caller's phone number in there. She gave the operator a little more information, too, and said she'd really appreciate a call back." "Thanks," I said. "Thanks for everything, Shawna." "No prob," she said kindly. Back in my car I unfolded the slip of paper. Wants to know, the operator had written, what if stat. of lim. is about to run but she can't exactly remember what tort feesor (?) did to hurt her. Because she was very young. But is sure something happened. Please call. 405-7522. Mariah. When Tory and I moved our newborn law firm into what had been Sam Holt's offices, on Pearl Street above the Pour La France espresso parlor, we flipped for choice of office. Tory won and chose the biggest, and I was glad: I liked the smaller one better, with its window overlooking the alley and an old stone cottage across the way. The alley represented the precise demarcation between downtown Boulder (business division) and the crowded, colorful arrondissement that is downtown Boulder (residential division). I was supposed to be doing legal research so I could get back to my radio caller from the night before. Instead, I was watching the young woman who lived in the cottage water the colorful herb garden she had planted in pots that could be rolled outdoors on a sunny day; her green shoots glistened in silent rebuke to my dusty office plants. My interest was not exclusively horticultural. Although it was a little hard to tell from the distance, I was pretty sure the gardener was wearing nothing except a series of silken scarves tied strategically about her lithe body. Since I've never even learned the knack of keeping my underwear straps from falling down my arms, I have an inordinate admiration for women who can keep things from slipping down or flopping out. Watching her bend to tend a plant, I decided she was one of the best I'd ever seen. "I thought you were straight." I jerked around, startled, and banged my hip on the corner of my computer stand. It was Tory in running shorts, her copper curls dripping sweat. She must have parked her bike in the canyon and run the rest of the way down to the office; she did that sometimes. "Ow!" I cried indignantly. "Haven't I told you not to sneak up on me that way!" "Haven't I told you that if you're attracted to a woman, you should just tell her so? You don't have to resort to this pitiful voyeurism." She flopped down into my spare chair with a grin. "Or do you still maintain that you're straight?" "It's not a matter of maintenance, Tory. Must you sweat on my good chair, where my clients sit?" "I'd be more worried about that if you had any clients." She pulled up her tank top and wiped her face with the hem. "Straight, eh? Still mooning over Sam's departure? Not that he wasn't a prize, I admit. Remember what this office looked like the day he moved out? It'll never be that clean again." She picked up The Colorado Lawyer and started leafing through it. "I admit he was the neatest man I ever met and I found that incredibly erotic. But I'm not mooning. He's in New York, I'm here, we do E-mail, life goes on. Will you put that down? I hate when you read while I'm trying to talk to you." She looked surprised. "Are you trying to talk to me?" "Yes!" "Why didn't you say so?" She slid her feet out of her running shoes, sat back in the chair, and curled her legs into the lotus position as though it were nothing. "Shall we talk?" "Remember that radio program I promised to do last night? Call a Lawyer?" "Oh, yeah. How'd it go?" "Okay except I got one call asking me a question I couldn't answer. Goddamn it, I hate that. So I faked it and said I needed to do some research." "What faked? You needed to do some research, right?" "Well, yeah. Because like a dummy I didn't know the answer." Tory performed a perfect three-hundred-sixty-degree eye roll. "Cinda, nobody knows the answer all the time without doing research. And nobody but you thinks it's some kind of character defect. What was the question?" "Something like this: A child is injured, tortiously. But she has trouble remembering it." Tory nodded sagely. "Repressed memory." "Maybe. Then later the memories start to come back. But she still isn't sure exactly what happened. So she -- " " -- wants to know about the statute of limitations." "How did you know?" She shrugged. "What else? There are some cases on this question, you know." "Colorado cases?" "Yeah, I just saw one the other day, while I was looking for something else." I reached for a legal pad. "Well, now we're cooking. What was the name of the case?" "I don't remember the name of it. I think it's pretty amazing I remembered there is one. That's more than you knew." "I know, that's what I'm telling you. Lately I feel like I'm about to get arrested for impersonating a lawyer." She shook her head and stood up. "That's how you and I are different, Cinda. It bothers you that you're not perfect. That's very vain, if you think about it." I threw a pencil at her as she turned to leave, but she evaded it easily. "And another difference," she said over her shoulder. "Despite my imperfect memory, I don't tend to forget my sexual orientation. Now you just go back to watching the sweet little earth mother in her garden. I'm going down the hall for a shower, and then I've gotta get to court." I turned back to the window. The scarf gardener was gone, so I swiveled my chair around to the desk. I almost bumped my hip on the computer stand again, and it reminded me. Westlaw. Computerized legal research. Tory and I had just started subscribing to it a month ago. It was expensive, but we got two hours a month free for the base price, and I didn't think either of us had used it at all since our business had slowed down. I double-clicked the Westlaw icon on my screen and listened to the modem stutter and chirp until I could see I was connected. I chose the "States" library and then "Co-cases." I considered how to formulate a search request, then hesitantly typed in: "statute of limitations" AND lost OR recover! OR repress! W/S memor! I watched the little hourglass blink on and off to indicate that the program was working, looking for Colorado cases that had the phrase "statute of limitations" and one of the words "lost" or "recover" (or "recovery" or anything else that started like that) or "repress" (ditto) in the same sentence as "memory" or "memories." Come on, girl, I urged it silently; I always think of Westlaw as a very efficient female librarian. WESTLAW has found ONE case at Level One, she informed me. There was not a button for You go, girl, so I clicked on the one for "Cite," and almost immediately saw:          1.LYNN K. CASSIDY AND SUSAN K. BALL, Plaintiffs-Appellants, v. EARL DEAN SMITH, Defendant-Appellee, No. 88CA1754, Court of Appeals of Colorado, Division Two, March 28, 1991. I clicked on "Full" and started to read furiously. By the time the printer was spitting out a hard copy of the case Tory reappeared. She was looking very professional in a black suit, the effect marred only slightly by her wet hair and bare feet. I was ready for her. "Cassidy v. Smith, Court of Appeals, 1991," I said smugly. "Huh?" she said, toweling her head strenuously. "The case. Cassidy v. Smith. I found it on Westlaw. The statute of limitations for outrageous conduct, of which childhood sexual assault is one variety, is two years. The statute does not begin to run until the plaintiff turns eighteen. And the statute does not begin to run even then unless the plaintiff has discovered, or reasonably could have discovered, all of the elements of her cause of action. So if she's forgotten what happened, the statutory two-year period doesn't start to run until she remembers. It's called the discovery rule." "I'm impressed. You auditioning for the Alan Dershowitz role in some movie?" I shook my head. "Not me, I'm too tall. So, you think that's enough for me to tell my caller?" "I guess," Tory said. "There aren't any other decisions more recent?" "That's it." "How old was this caller, anyway?" "She didn't say." Tory stopped rubbing her head and threw the towel into the corner. "I suppose you can tell her about that case. But there's still something puzzling about that rule, isn't there? I mean, what does it signify to 'discover all of the elements of your cause of action'? From what I hear, this recovered memory business is very tricky. You remember things a little at a time, sometimes there are big holes in what you can recall. What's the precise moment when you've discovered enough for the two-year period to start to run?" "I wonder about that, too. In fact, in this Cassidy case that's what the argument was about. The plaintiffs remembered this older guy forced them into sex when they were teenagers, but said they didn't realize they had been harmed by it until much later when they got into therapy. The court said that even if they didn't get the whole picture until later, they knew what he had done. So they knew enough to get the limitation period rolling when they turned eighteen." "So each one had to file before she turned twenty." I nodded. "Or lose the right to sue, ever." "If this call-in person asks you about that I think you ought to explain the rule but be clear about the uncertainties. Just tell her that law isn't like science. At some point the law's going to say she knew enough to have to file in two years or forget her claim, but it's hard to know in advance what that point would be. A lot depends on who the judge is. Listen, I've gotta go. I'm off to county court to cover a prelim for Morris Traynor." She vanished through the door; I could hear her rummaging around in her office. "Morris Traynor?" I called out. "OPM Traynor?" The letters stood for Outrageous Prosecutorial Misconduct. The defense lawyer was notorious among prosecutors for his easy resort to that accusation. When I was a prosecutor, I was OPM'd by Traynor more times than I could count. She reappeared at the door, briefcase in hand. "Yeah, Morris Traynor. We had lunch last week and agreed to cover for each other when necessary. We need that kind of backup, Cinda," she said, seeing my expression. "In case you've forgotten, we aren't DAs anymore. Nobody's going to pay us to prosecute anyone. If we want to practice criminal law, it's going to have to be for the defense. I do, so I'm taking steps to become a member of the defense bar. You got a problem with that?" She was right. "No," I lied. "I just made that face because you threw your disgusting wet towel on my floor." I gestured toward the sodden lump in the corner. She retrieved the towel and threw it into my lap. "Squeeze it over that poor thing," she recommended, pointing to my wilted Ficus benjamina. She wheeled around on the Cuban heels of her glossy black pumps, and marched off smartly. I reread Cassidy v. Smith, and dug the note with the caller's phone number on it out of my briefcase. As I was about to pick up the phone, I saw the fluorescent lights flicker on in our reception area and heard Beverly come in the front door. Beverly is our office manager, receptionist, and fairy godmother, another legacy from Sam. I knew she was late arriving because she'd had a conference at Boulder High with her son Duane's counselor this morning. "Hi, Beverly!" I called out. "How was the conference?" "I'm gonna kill that kid," she called back. "Will you represent me?" I could hear shuffling sounds and exasperated breaths, then she came into my office. Her mascara was a little smeary, but that could have been intentional; Beverly is big on experimental makeup. "Turns out he's been ditching his third-period English class to hang out in the computer lab. He's invented some computer game that all the other kids are wild about, and he tried to turn it in for his English term paper. When the teacher wouldn't take it, he went back and put some deal in the computer game where the teacher gets killed by some little knight or soldier or something. So the other kids love it more than ever but someone tells the teacher and he's very upset, says it's a threat, he wants Duane expelled. So this counselor tries to get snotty with me and I -- there I go, running off at the mouth again. Sorry, Cinda. Anything you need me to do before I get back to those bills?" "Beverly, it's okay. Is Duane in serious trouble? You need me or Tory to help out?" "He's not in serious trouble yet, except with me. But thanks for asking. We'll get through this. I mean, we got through the firecracker incident, right?" I grinned, remembering. "Yeah, that one came out okay. I don't need you to do anything right now except get those bills out. I'm going to run downstairs for a coffee. Do you want one?" "No thanks," she said. "I'll get on those bills right away." Copyright © 2000 Marianne Wesson. All rights reserved.