|Publisher:||Grand Central Publishing|
|Product dimensions:||5.00(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.74(d)|
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By James Mills
Warner BooksISBN: 0-446-60718-5
Chapter OneGus Parham felt as if he'd been pushed off a cliff. The air pressure changed, and along with it his orientation, perspective, priorities. Everything hurtled by, robbing him of breath and reason. He'd be dead in an instant. "So what that means, Judge Parham, is she's alive. You want to meet her or not? If you want to meet her, there are certain conditions." "Where? Where is she?" "Certain conditions, Judge Parham."
"May I see it again?" "Certainly." So they watched the video again. How beautiful she was. Eleven years old, short black hair, slender, smiling, going somewhere and happy about it. He had never seen anyone walk like that. Head, shoulders, hips, legs-everything was in that walk, as if she were headed for a brick wall and knew, just knew, she could go right through it. Gus said, "What do you want?" "Withdraw." "But ... How will ..." Mumbling, babbling. He was still falling. "I can't hear you, Judge." "I'm sorry. I just-" The man punched the eject button and removed the cassette. Gus said, "I'll have to talk to my wife." "Show her this?" He held out the cassette. Gus took it. The man opened his attache-case and handed Gus a manila envelope. "This too." Gus took the envelope. The man said, "You've got three days. Close of business Monday, we have to know." "And if I say no?" "Alternatives. You won't like them." An hour later Gus sat with his wife in the kitchen of their rented house in Vienna, Virginia. It was smaller than the kitchen in their home in Montgomery. The walls were yellow and the table was round and small. They'd moved here three weeks ago when he'd been nominated for a seat on the Supreme Court. The confirmation hearing was scheduled to begin in a week. And now this. What would this do to Michelle? Their marriage was perfect, they had never stopped loving each other. She looked at him, worried. She could see it in his face. "Michelle ..." "Gus, what is it? You look like someone died." Alternatives. Television, newspapers, exposure, humiliation. He put the cassette on the table, reached across for both her hands, and said, "Michelle, I love you. I will always love you. No matter what." "What is it, Gus?" Her eyes fixed on the video. "What is that?" Thirteen years ago, before they were married, she had said she was ending the pregnancy. He had believed her, for all those years. She had let him believe the lie-to save his feelings, out of love for him and their marriage, but a lie nevertheless. He understood, he loved her for taking all the pain on herself, but how would she react? He wasn't sure. He stood. "Let's go in the living room." They sat on the sofa, still holding hands. Her face was dark, sensing trouble. "I'm afraid, Michelle, that when I say what I have to say there may not be a chance to tell you again how much I really love you." She was staring into his eyes, scared to death. "Tell me, Gus." He said, "Honey, I know you didn't end the pregnancy." Her fingers tightened around his hand, but her eyes did not leave his face. "Who ... How do you know?"
"I'll tell you in a minute. There's something else." Her eyes went to the video in his other hand. "What is it?" He got up, put the video in the VCR, and came back and sat next to her with the remote in his hand. She hugged herself and shivered. Gus said, "Are you all right?" "I don't feel well. I'm freezing." "Do you want me to get you something?" She closed her eyes and shook her head. "Let me see it." He pressed the button. She tilted her head forward, looking up, tentatively. The girl came on the screen, walking. Michelle didn't move. Her face didn't change. Short black hair, slender, smiling, determined. When the screen went blank and it was over, she said, "She's very pretty." Her face was frozen. Then she smiled, a thin, false smile he had never before seen on her face. She let out a small mirthless laugh. She laughed again. She put her head on her knees and laughed and laughed and laughed. There was more pain in the laughter than there would have been in sobs. Gus touched her arm. She jumped from the sofa and ran back into the kitchen. She cleared the dishes from the table, dumped them noisily into the sink, turned on the water, and began scrubbing blindly. He didn't know what to say, what to do. Her hands full of soap and plates, she put her head back, took a deep breath, and released an almost inaudible shriek of pain.
Gus grabbed her and she collapsed against him, gasping for breath, sobbing. He carried her to the bedroom, laid her on the bed. "Michelle, it's all right." She turned onto her stomach, buried her face in the blanket, and cried like a child. Gus dropped to his knees beside the bed, laid his arm across her shoulders, squeezed her, and pressed his cheek to her hair. Ten minutes later her breathing steadied. Thinking she had fallen asleep, Gus rose silently and went to a chair by the bed. Her face still buried in the blanket, she said, "Where is she?" "I don't know where she is." She turned to face him. "Who knows where she is?" "The attorney who gave me the video." "Who's he?" "Someone who doesn't want me confirmed, doesn't want me on the Court. He works with the Freedom Federation." "So if you don't withdraw they won't tell us where she is." "They'll do worse than that, Michelle."
Excerpted from The Hearing by James Mills Excerpted by permission.
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