About the Author
Hometown:Beverly Hills, California
Date of Birth:August 9, 1949
Place of Birth:New York, New York
Education:B.A. in psychology, University of California-Los Angeles; Ph.D., University of Southern California, 1974
Read an Excerpt
Isat in the courtroom and watched Richard Moody get the bad news from the judge.
Moody’d come dressed for the occasion in a chocolate polyester suit, canary yellow shirt, string tie, and lizard skin boots. He grimaced and bit his lip and tried to lock eyes with the judge, but she outstared him and he ended up looking at his hands. The bailiff at the rear of the room held his gaze on Moody. As a result of my warning he’d been careful to keep the Moodys apart all afternoon and had gone so far as to frisk Richard.
The judge was Diane Severe, girlish for fifty, with ash blond hair and a strong, kind face; soft-spoken, and all business. I’d never been in her court but knew her reputation. She’d been a social worker before going to law school and after a decade in juvenile court and six years on the family bench was one of the few judges who really understood children.
“Mr. Moody,” she said, “I want you to listen very carefully to what I’m going to say.”
Moody started to assume an aggressive body posture, hunching his shoulders and narrowing his eyes like a bar fighter, but his attorney nudged him and he loosened up and forced a smile.
“I’ve heard testimony from Dr. Daschoff and Dr. Delaware, both eminently qualified as experts in this court. I’ve spoken to your children in my chambers. I’ve watched your behavior this afternoon and I’ve heard your allegations against Mrs. Moody. I’ve learned of your instructions to your children to run away from their mother so that you could rescue them.”
She paused and leaned forward.
“You’ve got serious emotional problems, sir.”
The smirk on Moody’s face vanished as quickly as it appeared, but she caught it.
“I’m sorry you think this is funny, Mr. Moody, because it’s tragic.”
“Your Honor,” Moody’s lawyer interjected.
She cut him off with the flick of a gold pen.
“Not now, Mr. Durkin. I’ve heard quite enough wordplay today. This is the bottom line and I want your client to pay attention.”
Turning back to Moody:
“Your problems may be treatable. I sincerely hope they are. There’s no doubt in my mind that psychotherapy is essential—a good deal of it. Medication may be called for as well. For your sake and the sake of your children I hope you get whatever treatment you need. My order is that you have no further contact with your children until I see psychiatric evidence that you are no longer a threat to yourself or to others—when the death threats and talk of suicide cease, and you have accepted the reality of this divorce and are able to support Mrs. Moody in the raising of the children.
“Should you get to that point—and your word won’t be sufficient to convince me, Mr. Moody—the court will call upon Dr. Delaware to set up a schedule of limited and monitored visitation.”
Moody took it in, then made a sudden move forward. The bailiff was out of his chair and at his side in a flash. Moody saw him, gave a sick grin, and let his body go slack. The tears flowed down his cheeks. Durkin pulled out a handkerchief, gave it to him, and raised an objection concerning the judge’s encroachment upon his client’s privacy.
“You’re free to appeal, Mr. Durkin,” she said evenly.
It was Moody talking now, the bass voice dry and strained.
“What is it, Mr. Moody?”
“You don’t unnerstand.” He wrung his hands. “Those kids, they’re my life.”
For a moment I thought she was going to tongue-lash him. Instead she regarded him with compassion.
“I do understand, sir. I understand that you love your children. That your life is in shambles. But what you need to understand—the whole point of the psychiatric testimony—is that children can’t be responsible for anyone’s life. That’s too big a burden for any child to bear. They can’t raise you, Mr. Moody. You need to be able to raise them. And right now you can’t. You need help.”
Moody started to say something but choked it back. He shook his head in defeat, gave the handkerchief back to Durkin, and tried to salvage a few shards of dignity.
The next quarter hour was spent on property settlement. I had no need to listen to the distribution of the meager estate of Darlene and Richard Moody and would have left, but Mal Worthy had said he wanted to talk to me afterward.
When the legal mumbling was over, Judge Severe took off her glasses and ended the hearing. She looked my way and smiled.
“I’d like to see you in chambers for a moment if you’ve got the time, Dr. Delaware.”
I smiled back and nodded. She swept out of the courtroom.
Durkin ushered Moody out under the watchful eye of the bailiff.
At the next table Mal was pep-talking Darlene, patting her plump shoulder as he scooped up handfuls of documents and stashed them in one of the two suitcases he’d brought. Mal was compulsive and while other lawyers made do with an attaché case, he carted around boxes of documents on a chromium luggage rack.
The former Mrs. Richard Moody looked up at him, bewildered, cheeks feverishly rosy, bobbing her head in assent. She’d stuffed her milkmaid’s body into a light blue summer dress as frothy as high tide. The dress was ten years too young for her and I wondered if she’d confused newfound freedom with innocence.
Mal was decked out in classic Beverly Hills attorney mufti: Italian suit, silk shirt and tie, calfskin loafers with tassels. His hair was styled fashionably long and curly, his beard cut close to the skin. He had glossy nails and perfect teeth and a Malibu tan. When he saw me he winked and waved and gave Darlene one last pat. Then he held her hand in both of his and saw her to the door.
“Thanks for your help, Alex,” he said when he came back. Piles of papers remained on the table and he busied himself with packing them.
“It wasn’t fun,” I said.
“No. The ugly ones aren’t.” He meant it but there was a lilt in his voice.
“But you won.”
He stopped shuffling papers for a moment. “Yeah. Well, you know, that’s the business I’m in. Jousting.” He flipped his wrist and looked at a wafer-thin disc of gold. “I won’t say it pains me to dispose of a turkey like Mr. M.”
“You think he’ll take it? Just like that?”
“Who knows? If he doesn’t we’ll just keep bringing in the heavy artillery.”
At two hundred dollars an hour.
He lashed the suitcases to the rack.
“Hey listen, Alex, this wasn’t a stinker. For those I don’t call you—I’ve got hired guns up the wazoo. This was righteous, no?”
“We were on the right side.”
“Precissimoso. And I thank you again. Regards to the lady judge.”
“What do you think she wants?” I asked.
He grinned and slapped me on the back.
“Maybe she likes your style. Not a bad looking gal, heh? She’s single, you know?”
“Hell, no. Divorced. I handled her case.”
Her chambers were done in mahogany and rose, and permeated with the scent of flowers. She sat behind a glass-topped, carved wood desk upon which stood a cut-crystal vase filled with stalks of gladiolus. On the wall behind the desk were several photographs of two hulking blond teenage boys—in football jerseys, wetsuits, and evening wear.
“My gruesome twosome,” she said, following my eyes. “One’s at Stanford, the other’s selling firewood up at Arrowhead. No telling, eh, Doctor?”
“Please have a seat.” She motioned me to a velvet sofa. When I’d settled she said, “Sorry if I was a little rough on you in there.”
“I wanted to know if the fact that Mr. Moody wears women’s underwear was relevant to his mental status, and you refused to be pinned down.”
“I didn’t think his choice of lingerie had much to do with custody.”
She laughed. “I get two types of psych experts. The puffed-up, self-proclaimed authorities, so taken with themselves they think their opinions on any topic are sacrosanct, and the cautious ones, like you, who won’t give an opinion unless it’s backed up by a double-blind, controlled study.”
I shrugged. “At least you won’t get a Twinkie Defense out of me.”
“Touché. How about some wine?” She unlatched the doors of a credenza carved to match the desk and took out a bottle and two long-stemmed glasses.
“My pleasure, Your Honor.”
“In here, Diane. Is it Alexander?”
“Alex is fine.”
She poured red wine into the glasses. “This is a very fine cabernet that I save for the termination of particularly obnoxious cases. Positive reinforcement, if you will.”
I took the glass she offered.
“To justice,” she said, and we sipped. It was good wine and I told her so. It seemed to please her.
We drank in silence. She finished before I did and set down her glass.
“I want to talk to you about the Moodys. They’re off my docket but I can’t help thinking about the kids. I read your report and you have good insights on the family.”
“It took a while but they opened up.”
“Alex, are those children going to be all right?”
“I’ve asked myself the same thing. I wish I could tell you yes. It depends on whether or not the parents get their act together.”
She clicked her nails against the rim of the wine-glass.
“Do you think he’ll kill her?”
The question startled me.
“Don’t tell me it didn’t cross your mind—the warning to the bailiff and all that.”
“That was meant to prevent an ugly scene,” I said, “but yes, I do think he could do it. The man’s unstable and profoundly depressed. When he gets low, he gets nasty and he’s never been lower than right now.”
“And he wears ladies’ panties.”
I laughed. “That, too.”
She put the bottle aside and laced her fingers around the stem of her wineglass, an angular, attractive older woman, not afraid to let a few wrinkles show.
“A real loser, our Mr. Richard Moody. And maybe a killer.”
“If he gets in a killing mood, she’d be the obvious target. And the boyfriend—Conley.”
“Well,” she said, running the tip of her tongue over her lips, “one must be philosophical about such things. If he kills her it’s because she fucked the wrong guy. Just as long as he doesn’t kill someone innocent, like you or me.”
It was hard to tell if she was serious or not.
“It’s something I think about,” she said, “some warped loser coming back and taking out his troubles on me. The losers never want to take responsibility for their crappy little lives. You ever worry about it?”
“Not really. When I was clinically active most of my patients were nice kids from nice families—not much potential for mayhem there. I’ve been pretty much retired for the last couple of years.”
“I know. I saw the gap in your resumé. All that academic stuff, then blank space. Was that before the Casa de Los Niños thing or after?”
I wasn’t surprised she knew about it. Though it had been over a year, the headlines had been bold and people remembered. I had my own personal reminder—a reconstructed jaw that ached when the weather got clammy.
“A half year before. Afterwards I didn’t exactly feel like jumping back in.”
“No fun being a hero?”
“I don’t even know what the word means.”
“I’ll bet.” She gazed levelly at me and adjusted the hem of her robe. “And now you’re doing forensic work.”
“On a limited basis. I accept consultations from attorneys I trust which narrows the field substantially and I get some directly from judges.”
“George Landre, Ralph Siegel.”
“Both good guys. I went to school with George. You want more work?”
“I’m not hustling. If the referrals come, okay. If not, I can always find things to do.”
“Rich kid, huh?”
“Far from it, but I made a few good investments that are still paying off. If I don’t get sucked into a Rodeo Drive mentality I’m okay.”
“If you want more cases, I’ll spread the word. The members of the psych panel are booked up for four months and we’re always looking for guys who can think straight and put it into language simple enough for a judge to understand. Your report was really good.”
“Thanks. If you send me cases I won’t turn you down.”
She finished the second glass. “Very mellow, isn’t it? Comes from a tiny little vineyard up in Napa. Three years old and still operating at a loss, but the place is turning out limited bottlings of very fine reds.”
She got up and walked around the room. From the pocket of her robe she removed a pack of Virginia Slims and a lighter. For the next few moments she stared at a wall decorated with diplomas and certificates and dragged deeply on the cigarette.
“People really manage to fuck up their lives, don’t they? Like Miss Bright Eyes Moody. Nice country girl, moves to L.A. for a taste of excitement, gets a job as a checker at Safeway and falls in love with the macho man in lace undies—I forget, what is he, a construction worker?”
“Carpenter. For Aurora Studios.”
“Right. I remember. Builds sets. The guy’s an obvious loser but it takes her twelve years to figure it out. Now she’s extricating herself and who does she hook up with? The loser’s clone.”
“Conley’s a lot more mentally intact.”
“Maybe so. But take a look at them side by side. Twins. She’s being pulled to the same type. Who knows, maybe Moody was a charmer, too, in the beginning. Give this Conley a few years, he’ll turn. Bunch of losers.”
She turned and faced me. Her nostrils flared and the hand holding the cigarette trembled almost imperceptibly: alcohol, emotion, or both.
“I hooked up with an asshole and it took me a while to get out of it, Alex, but I didn’t turn around and do the same damn thing first chance I got. Makes you wonder if women will ever get smart.”
“I wouldn’t bet on Mal Worthy having to give up his Bentley,” I said.
“Nor I. Mal’s a smart boy. Did my divorce, did you know?”
I feigned ignorance.
“Probably conflict of interest, my hearing this case, but who cares, it was open-and-shut. Moody’s crazy, he’s screwing up his kids, and my order was the best shot at getting him straightened out. Any chance he’ll follow through on therapy?”
“I doubt it. He doesn’t think anything’s wrong with him.”
“Of course not. The craziest ones never do. Baloney afraid of the slicer. Assuming he doesn’t kill her, you know what’s going to happen, don’t you?”
“More days in court.”
“Absolutely. That idiot Durkin’ll be in here every other week with some ploy to reverse the order. In the meantime Moody will harass Bright Eyes and if it keeps up long enough the kids will be permanently screwed up.” She walked back to her desk with a long graceful stride, took a compact out of her purse and powdered her nose.