Authors: Michael A Kahn
A Rachel Gold Mystery
Michael A. Kahn
Poisoned Pen Press
Copyright Â© 2002 by Michael A. Kahn
Copyright Â© 2015 Poisoned Pen Press
First E-book Edition 2015
ISBN: 9781464204517 ebook
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in, or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form, or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise) without the prior written permission of both the copyright owner and the publisher of this book.
The historical characters and events portrayed in this book are inventions of the author or used fictitiously.
Poisoned Pen Press
6962 E. First Ave., Ste. 103
Scottsdale, AZ 85251
For my son Josh,
who laughs with me and cries with me
A special acknowledgment to Mike and Martha Hogan and all of the other wonderful men, women, and families of the Small World Adoption Foundation
You'd have thought this was my first time.
Not even close.
I don't specialize in celebrities, but I've had my share. The list includes a member of the Chicago Bulls, two major-league baseball players, and the entire morning drive-time crew for one of the highest-rated FM stations in St. Louis. And that only covers contract negotiations and endorsement deals. I've sued Riverport on behalf of an Atlanta rap group in a gate-receipts dispute. When the case ended, the group's manager offered me a walk-on in their next music video. I told him I'd prefer to have my fees paid in full. I've represented a Hollywood star accused of trashing his hotel suite while on location here for a shootâand we're not talking just any star. He made
's “20 Sexiest Men” two years running. Alas, he's also two inches shorter than me andâas I learned while defending him in a four-hour deposition in a small conference roomâafflicted with rhino breath.
But the odd thing is that I never felt the tiniest tingle before meeting any of themânot even a hint of that magical frisson that's supposed to radiate from real celebrities like, well, steam from a baked potato. And lest you get the wrong idea, I'm not one of those snooty types who professes to be above all that fawning. Far from it. I once was rendered dumbstruck on an elevator in the Met Square building when I realized that the tall man standing next to me was none other than number 45 himselfâHall of Famer Bob Gibson. For a diehard Cardinals fan, that's the equivalent of coming around the bend on Mount Sinai and finding yourself face to face with a Charlton Heston look-alike in flowing robes and sandals carrying two stone tablets. I rode several floors in flustered silence until I worked up the nerve to ask Mr. Gibson for his autograph, which he graciously signed on a sheet from my legal pad that I have since had laminated.
And that gaga response isn't limited to baseball gods. I would kill to spend an afternoon with Jane Austen. I would swoon like a schoolgirl before Clark Gableâespecially the Clark Gable of
It Happened One Night
. And if Marvin Gaye were alive and well, I might just follow him from concert to concert like a Motown version of a Deadhead. With those folks we're talking frisson.
But not for my celebrity clients. For whatever reason, with them it always seems to be business as usual. Attorney-client. Strictly professional.
Today I was driving halfway across the state of Missouri to meet my newest client.
More precisely, a former housewife. Probably the most famous former housewife in America, and surely the only one serving thirty-to-forty in Chillicothe Correctional Center.
Today I was definitely in the grip of that old black magic.
That's because today I was going to see Angela Green.
The same one whose murder trial came in at number 3 on
magazine's “Top Ten Murder Trials of the 1990s,” just behind O.J. Simpson (no. 1) and the Menendez brothers (no. 2), but ahead of Timothy McVeigh (no. 4) and Jeffrey Dahmer (no. 5). The same one whose prime-time jailhouse interview with Oprah Winfrey drew a 41 share and ended with that shot reprinted in newspapers and magazines around the countryâthe one of Oprah, tears streaming down her cheeks, her head resting on Angela's shoulder as Angela gently patted her on the back. The same Angela Green who had Anita Hill deliver her acceptance speech in absentia at the
. magazine “Women of the Year” banquet, who caused a rift within the NAACP when she was named one of its “Women of Valor,” and who was the subject of Connie Chung's Emmy-nominated profile, which included those extraordinary testimonials from the prisoners who'd earned their high school equivalencies through the special tutoring program Angela helped establish at Chillicothe Correctional Center.
Yes, that Angela Green.
And this coming yearâher seventh since entering prisonâpromised to be her biggest yet. The publication date for her long-awaited autobiography was just six months off. A major Hollywood studio had already snagged the film rights. According to a blurb in
, Whoopi Goldberg and Angela Bassett were vying for the lead role while Warren Beatty, Tommy Lee Jones, and Michael Douglas were in the running for the role of Michael Green.
picked Bassett and Douglas as the favorites, since “it would be almost too delicious for an Angela and a Michael to play the Angela and the Michael.” Meanwhile, Angela's criminal defense attorney, Maria Fallaci, had her own book coming out late in October.
All of which translated into megabucks.
And where there are megabucks, there is usually a lawsuit. That's where I fit in. My name is Rachel GoldâCardinals fan, daughter of Sarah, big sister of Ann, and, possibly, blushing bride and mother, assuming that a thirty-three-year-old bride isn't too old to blush or too young to become the instant stepmother of two adorable girls. But for the here and now, the only relevant role was lawyer, which is why I was driving through rural Missouri on this lovely Sunday morning in late June. I was somewhere in the northwest quadrant of the state, heading north on Highway 65 through a portion of Missouri I'd never been in before. According to a highway marker on the right, I'd just passed over the Grand River, although it didn't look too grand to me. Of course, when you grow up in St. Louis, it takes a whole lot of grand before any river can claim that label.
Chillicothe was the next exit.
Two hours ago I'd dropped Benny Goldberg off at the University of Missouri in Columbia, where he was delivering a paper on antitrust law at a law school symposium. After my prison meeting with Angela Green, I was going to swing back down to Columbia to pick him up. On our way back to St. Louis we were planning to stop at a farm near Warrenton where Benny would introduce me to two new clients, Maggie Lane and Sara Freed, who were enmeshed in a dispute so outlandish that it had to be true. No one could make up such a story. Not even someone with a mind as warped as Benny'sâand Benny's is as warped as it gets.
But Maggie and Sara could wait, I told myself as I pulled off the exit and drove into town. Chillicothe was a typical Midwestern villageâchiefly frame houses, most built before World War II, a main street of redbrick buildings, including a bank and a pharmacy and a diner and a dry goods store. I turned down Third Street and slowed halfway down the block, peering out the window. Surprised, I rechecked the address.
I'd been to prisons beforeâin Missouri, Illinois, and Indianaâbut never one for women. Men's prisons are geographically isolatedâdrab fortresses built on the outskirts of town, far from the women and children, grimly asserting to the world,
Here there be pariahs
. In this architecture of exile, Alcatraz is the quintessential model: a gray fortress on an island, cut off from civilization by frigid water, killer currents, and hungry sharks.
Chillicothe Correctional Center didn't fit that mold. Built in the 1880s as a home for wayward girls, the facility was located in the middle of a pleasant town in the gentle countryside. Its founders envisioned a pastoral haven where lost girls could find Christian salvation far from the wicked temptations of St. Louis and Kansas City. That vision produced a campus reminiscent of a New England women's college with several two-story red brick buildings arranged like dormitories around a quadrangle.
Times change, though, and the home for wayward girls was now Missouri's main prison for women, housing nearly six hundred inmates. The prisoners ranged from minimum security residents on work-release programs to death row convicts, of which there were presently three. Fortunately, Angela Green wasn't one of them. Nevertheless, when you enter prison at the age of forty-nine, a forty-year sentence might as well be life.
I pulled my car into the administration center parking lot and got out. Stretching, I turned toward the prison buildings across the street. There were several female inmates outside the buildingsâsome working on gardens, others strolling around the grounds. The only indication that this wasn't the Missouri branch of Mount Holyoke College were the gray work shirts and slacks worn by the women and the security fence topped with coiled razor-wire ringing the campus.
I checked my watch. It was almost eleven o'clock. I turned back to the administrative center, shading my eyes in the late morning sun. Time to check in. Time to meet my newest client. I paused a moment, grinning sheepishly. No question about it. I could feel the tingle.
We were in an attorney-client interview room, facing each other across the table. Unlike the interview rooms in men's prisons, which have all the charm of a concrete bunker at Normandy Beach, this one was softened by a few feminine touches, such as frilly curtains over the barred windows and a vase of irises on the rickety wooden table in the center of the room.
I was explaining the nature of the Son of Sam claim that had brought us together as attorney and client. Angela listened carefully, her chin resting on steepled fingers. Whatever celebrity excitement I'd felt in anticipation of our meeting had vanished the moment we met. Angela Green was someone you warmed to immediately, especially, I think, if you were a woman. It was a special connection, a sisterhood sort of thing that I could feel our first moments together. My reaction was typical, I suppose. This was, after all, the same woman who was adored within the prison not only by the inmates but by the guards as well.
The first thing I noticed about Angela Green was how human she looked. Although celebrities tend to seem diminished in person, here it was hardly Angela's fault. If clothes can make the woman, they can surely unmake her as well. Take the cover girl from a
swimsuit issue, swap her thong bikini for a drab work shirt and an ill-fitting pair of Dickey slacks, deep-six the makeup, can the hairdresser, and we're talking, at best, the Before shot in a back-pages ad in
. While the media's two favorite adjectives for Angela Green were
, try dressing Joan of Arc in the Missouri Department of Corrections' version of
and she'd be lucky to pass for a janitor. As for regal, not even the queen of England could pull that off in prison grays.
Such was the case for Angela. Gone was the stunning African princess from her college days, the elegant suburban mother from her soccer mom days, and the coiffed matron from the final years of her marriage. In their place was a middle-aged woman who seemed older than her fifty-six years and heavier than I remembered from the
Nonetheless, Angela Green had presence. There was an aura of dignity about herâa quiet, determined dignityâthat was palpable. Although her belle days were long over, she was still a handsome woman. Her skin was a deep mahogany that seemed to glow from within. Her hairâworn in a full Afro during her college days; tamed and straightened during her suburban daysâwas now braided in dozens of cornrows that reached to her shoulders. It was a striking look, especially for a woman of her age, and it gave her an air of authority. She had strong featuresâa wide nose; thick, bowed lips; full, high cheeks; broad forehead. But her most remarkable features were her eyes. They were dark and calm and wise. Although she was decades past her African princess days, it was no stretch to imagine Angela Green in the role of the village chief, seated upon her throne and resolving disputes among her subjects.
“I do not understand,” Angela said, leaning back and shaking her head. Her voice was soft and husky, the words carefully articulated. “How can that child presume to make a claim against me? I am no relation to him.”
“It's not his relation to
,” I explained. “Under the Son of Sam law, the key is his relation to the victim. Members of the victim's family are the only ones entitled to sue.”
“Family?” Angela frowned. “How is that child family to Michael?”
“He claimsâwell, actually Trent's lawyer claimsâthat he's the equivalent of Michael's son.”
“Equivalent?” Angela repeated, puzzled. “What is that supposed to mean?”
“It's a doctrine called âequitable adoption.'”
Angela shook her head, angry now. “Michael never adopted that tramp's child. He died before the marriage.”
“I know.” I gave her a sympathetic smile. “It's a stretch.”
I explained the doctrine of equitable adoption, which the courts fashioned for that rare case where justice demands that a child be declared the rightful heir of people who never formally adopted her. In the classic “equitable adoption” situation, a married couple raises a foster child. Although they treat her as their own child, they never get around to making it official. If they die without a will or with one that refers generically to “any child of mine,” their unfinished business lands in probate court. That's because the failure to adopt has significant legal consequences: a foster child is not an heir, while an
child has the same legal status as a biological child. Thus the equitable adoption doctrine typically comes into play in an inheritance battle between the unadopted child and the biological children, orâif no biological childrenâbetween the unadopted child and the deceased's blood relatives.
“The law is suspicious of these claims,” I explained to Angela, “because the people who file them have a powerful incentive to lie about the dead person's intentions. The courts require the claimant to present direct evidence of a clear intent to adopt. Circumstantial evidence isn't enough. For example, one court ruled that claiming a child as a dependent on a tax return didn't constitute direct evidence.”
Angela frowned. “What exactly does that mean here?”