We are taking book requests on our companion website. You can request books here. Make sure, you are following the rules.

Bodily Harm: A Novel: Chapter 1


ONE UNION SQUARE BUILDING

SEATTLE, WASHINGTON

The call from King County Superior Court Judge John Rudolph’s bailiff had sent the Law Offices of David Sloane into overdrive. Sloane juggled his briefcase as he slipped on his suit jacket and hurried down the hall.

The jury had reached a verdict.

“Give ’em hell!” John Kannin shouted.

Sloane rushed into the elevator lobby, cinching the knot of his tie. One of the red triangles above the bank of elevators lit and a bell sounded.

“David!” Carolyn shuffled into the lobby. “Your phone.” She rolled her eyes as she handed his cell to him. “I swear you’d forget your head if it wasn’t glued to your shoulders.”

Sloane wedged his briefcase between the shutting doors. “Have you reached Tom yet?” He and Tom Pendergrass had tried the medical malpractice action against a local pediatrician for the death of a six-year-old boy. Following closing arguments, Pendergrass had gone straight to his athletic club for a much-needed workout.

“A woman at the front desk said she would look for him. How many redheads could be working out on a StairMaster?”

The doors shuddered, and the elevator buzzed. “Tell him to meet me in the courtroom. And tell him not to be late.” The buzzing intensified. “You called the McFarlands?”

Carolyn put her hands on her hips. “No. I thought I’d use mental telepathy. Just get going before that thing blows a circuit and plummets. I can’t afford to be looking for a new job in this economy.”

When the elevator reached the lobby, Sloane jogged across the salmon-colored marble, his mind again churning over the evidence and hoping that the jurors had understood his arguments. Dr. Peter Douvalidis, for forty years a respected Seattle pediatrician, had chosen not to treat Austin McFarland for flulike symptoms: diarrhea, vomiting, and high fevers. Subpoenaed medical records indicated that Douvalidis had taken a throat swab and sent the boy home with instructions that the McFarlands keep him hydrated and return if the fever didn’t break. That night the boy had slipped into a coma and the McFarlands rushed Austin to the emergency room, where the attending doctor took a blood sample and sent it to the lab, suspecting a bacterial infection. Despite the doctor’s efforts, Austin died. The next day the throat swab came back negative for the flu but the blood cultures came back positive for septicemia, a bacteria in the bloodstream, usually from an infection in some other part of the body. Sloane would later learn that septicemia manifests itself in symptoms similar to the flu and, as in the case of Austin McFarland, may progress to hypotension and death.

The McFarlands’ focus had been on their bereavement. It was not until six months later that they approached Tom Pendergrass, whom they had met through a mutual friend, to determine if Douvalidis was liable in their son’s death. Though expert doctors retained by Pendergrass opined that, given the severity of the boy’s symptoms, Douvalidis should have immediately treated Austin with broad-spectrum antibiotics for a presumed bacterial infection, Sloane had never felt totally comfortable with suing the doctor. The experts’ opinions seemed much like Monday-morning quarterbacking. He had let Pendergrass handle the case, deducing that it would settle. But Douvalidis’s medical-malpractice carrier had refused, and on the eve of trial the McFarlands told Sloane they wanted him to try the case.

As Sloane reached the revolving glass doors he heard someone call his name.

“Mr. Sloane?”

Perhaps in his early twenties, the man had the youthful, unkempt appearance made popular during Seattle’s grunge phase in the 1990s, a fad that continued to linger. The tail of his shirt protruded over baggy jeans, and an oversize, olive green jacket hung heavily from his shoulders hiding the manila file until the man pulled a document from it, papers spilling onto the floor.

“I have something to show you.” He knelt to recover the scattered pages.

Sloane had become a fixture on local and national talk shows since his verdict against the government on behalf of the wife of a national guardsman killed in Iraq that had led to the forced resignation of the secretary of defense. His increased exposure had caused his caseload to explode; everyone wanted to hire “the lawyer who does not lose,” as one national publication referred to him.

“I’m sorry I don’t have time to talk.” Sloane pushed through the revolving doors and kept a brisk pace past the rock wall sculpture and down wide concrete steps, hoping to discourage his pursuer, but the man hurried along beside him, talking as he continued to fumble in his file.

“This will only take a minute.”

“I’m afraid I don’t have a minute.” Sloane reached the corner of Sixth and University but the light changed to red, and the pedestrians in front of him abruptly stopped. Nobody jaywalked in Seattle. Sloane would have broken the rule, but traffic emptying from the I-5 freeway onto University was heavy.

The din of the cars nearly drowned out the man’s voice. “If I could just show you this article it would explain—”

The light changed. Sloane stepped from the curb, leaving the young man searching his file. He made it halfway across when the man shouted.

“The doctor did not kill that boy.”

Sloane stopped. Pedestrians maneuvered to avoid him. Walking back to the curb, Sloane saw that the man held a photocopy of an article from The Seattle Times reporting on the medical malpractice case.

“How would you know that?” Sloane asked.

“Because I did.”

LAURELHURST

WASHINGTON

MALCOLM FITZGERALD EXITED his navy blue Bentley Brookland, a gift to celebrate his recent promotion, tugged the French cuffs of his shirt past the sleeves of his blazer, and adjusted the lapels. His wife had selected the jacket, and had it hand-tailored to accommodate his tall, slender frame. She liked him in blue, which she said better accentuated the gray at his temples and his fair complexion. For the board meeting that morning, Fitzgerald had decided on a simple white shirt with a lavender pinstripe that matched the color of his tie.

He retrieved the wrapped package from the passenger seat and followed the stone path between English boxwood hedges into a manicured backyard. The lawn spread like a green blanket to the slate blue waters of Lake Washington, the southern view of Mount Rainier’s snowcapped summit interrupted only by the 520 bridge spanning east to west.

The wrought-iron bench had been positioned just beneath the vines of a willow tree at the lake’s edge, and faced the finger dock where Sebastian Kendall moored his seventy-two-foot yacht and fire-engine red float plane.

Fitzgerald nodded to the male nurse and stepped to where Kendall sat, his eyes closed, his body hunched over the silver horse head mounted atop his cane. Though it had been only a week since Fitzgerald’s last visit, Kendall had physically deteriorated. He wore blue hospital scrub pants and a white T-shirt beneath a terry cloth bathrobe, his initials embroidered in gold on the breast pocket. The radiation and chemotherapy treatments had thinned a full head of hair to white wisps. Once a young-looking seventy-two and perhaps 180 pounds, Kendall now looked as if a breeze off the lake would knock him over.

“Sebastian?”

Kendall opened his eyes.

“I’m sorry to disturb.” Fitzgerald had arranged the meeting earlier that morning.

“Just resting my eyes.” Kendall’s voice, hoarse and guttural, had become nearly unrecognizable. He motioned for Fitzgerald to sit beside him. “How is Melody?”

Fitzgerald did not bother to correct that his wife’s name was Erin. “She sends her regards, and her prayers.”

“And your daughters?”

“Growing like weeds and keeping us both as busy as ever; Sarah has it in her head that she wants to take tae kwon do, but I don’t know how with all the soccer and ballet.”

“They grow up fast,” Kendall said, though he had no children and had never married.

“How are you feeling today?”

Kendall shrugged. “I’m still here.”

Fitzgerald did not patronize his mentor by saying things like “You’re going to beat this” or “You’ll be here a lot longer.” They were beyond that. The most sophisticated treatments had failed to slow the metastatic melanoma’s destructive path.

Three months earlier Kendall’s illness had forced him to reluctantly resign as CEO and chairman of the board of Kendall Toys, a company his grandfather and granduncle had founded in a booth on a Seattle street corner in Pioneer Square. A Kendall had presided over the company for each of its 110 years, with Sebastian holding the position for the most recent 38.

“The board still giving you a hard time?” Kendall asked.

A flock of crows freckled the sky; thousands of the birds roosted nearby on Foster Island in Seattle’s arboretum, taking noisy flight over the lake each morning. “When your profits drop for the second quarter in a row after not having dropped the previous thirty-eight years, you expect tough questions. These are difficult economic times and you’re a difficult act to follow, but then we both knew that would be the case. Six months from now, when we’re still going strong, everyone will relax.”

Neither man said it, but both knew Sebastian Kendall would not be alive to witness that revival.

“Any further overtures from Bolelli?” Kendall asked, referring to the efforts by Galaxy Toys’ CEO, Maxine Bolelli, to purchase Kendall, a merger that would make Galaxy the number one toy company in the world, supplanting Titan Toys of Chicago.

“Some.”

“What is Ms. Bolelli’s current tone?”

“Terse. She said she won’t wait forever for us to ‘get our shit together.’” Fitzgerald had to raise his voice over the din of music blasting from speakers mounted atop the crossbar of a large ski boat carrying teenagers in swim trunks and bikinis from the Seattle Yacht Club. “She wants a response to her most recent offer, and if she doesn’t get the answer she wants, she’s threatened to go public with the negotiations.” Fitzgerald had spent two days in confidential meetings at a resort in Scottsdale, Arizona, to discuss Galaxy’s proposal to purchase Kendall. Galaxy did not have an action figure department, and its own attempts to create one had been abysmal failures. Even in a down market, Kendall’s revenues continued to top $150 million, putting it squarely in the category of a midlevel toy company.

“She’ll do it too,” Kendall said.

“I have no doubt.”

A duck swam to the water’s edge, bobbing in the wake left by the ski boat. Kendall tore a small piece of bread from the chunk he held in his hand and tossed it, but the crumb fell short of the water, landing on the lawn. The duck quickly paddled over, waddled ashore, and gobbled it.

Kendall tossed another piece. “What’s her latest offer?”

“Point six shares in Galaxy for every share in Kendall.”

Sebastian Kendall nodded. “You would be a very wealthy man at this morning’s stock price.”

“As would you,” Fitzgerald said.

Kendall remained the largest shareholder, owning 31 percent. Fitzgerald held 20 percent, a deliberate number that allowed them to maintain control of the company.

“You can’t spend money where I’m going,” Kendall said. “What do you anticipate the board will do?”

A light breeze blew the vines of the willow tree. “I’d say sixty-forty against, but Santoro is pushing hard.”

Some at the company had thought Arian Santoro, rather than Fitzgerald, would be named CEO and chairman of the board, and it was well known that he and his minions had not been happy with Kendall’s decision to endorse Fitzgerald.

“Bolelli will cut the fat and absorb what she deems an asset. Kendall will cease to exist.”

“I’m not going to let that happen,” Fitzgerald said.

Kendall patted Fitzgerald’s thigh. “Sometimes we cannot cheat the inevitable.”

Sensing the opportune moment, Fitzgerald lifted the wrapped package he’d set beside the bench and placed it on Kendall’s lap.

Kendall’s eyes narrowed. “Is it my birthday? My memory isn’t what it used to be.”

“Who are you kidding? Your memory is better than mine. Open it.”

Though his hands shook, Kendall managed to unwrap the package. He held up the box to peer through the clear plastic window.

“Maybe we can cheat the inevitable,” Fitzgerald said.

UNIVERSITY AVENUE

SEATTLE, WASHINGTON

A CAR HORN sounded. The light had again changed. Sloane stepped back onto the curb.

“Why would you say something like that?”

The man’s light brown hair was matted to his head, and teenage acne had left pockmarks and red spots on his cheeks. “If you would just look at my file you would understand.” He held it out.

Sloane tried a different tack. “Listen, Mr. . . .”

“Horgan. Kyle Horgan.”

“Listen, Kyle, I don’t know why you would believe you’re somehow responsible for Austin McFarland’s death, but I can’t—”

“Please, more children could die,” Horgan said.

Sloane detected the odor of alcohol. He didn’t know whether to feel sorry for the young man or to be concerned. Despite his disheveled appearance Horgan looked and sounded sincere, but crazy people often did.

“No more children are going to die,” Sloane said. “Dr. Douvalidis has retired.”

Horgan again held out the manila folder. “Please, just read it.”

EXITING THE ELEVATOR on the ninth floor, Sloane hurried down the marbled hallway. Judge Rudolph wouldn’t be happy; the judge had a pet peeve about attorneys not keeping his juries waiting. When Sloane pushed through the tall wood door, Rudolph’s bailiff noted his entrance and exited the courtroom through a side door. Apparently Sloane was the last to arrive.

Sloane stepped behind his opposing counsel, who sat beside Dr. Peter Douvalidis at the table closest to the jury box. Douvalidis’s head slumped, and he stared at the tabletop. In the first row behind him, the doctor’s wife sat alone. Impeccably dressed, she maintained the stern expression she had worn throughout the trial.

The gallery on the opposite side of the room was half full with relatives and friends who had come to support the McFarlands. Tom Pendergrass had managed to beat Sloane to the courtroom and stood talking with Michael and Eva McFarland. Tears streamed down Eva’s cheeks. The trial had been an emotional roller coaster that had forced her to relive the death of her son and to listen to others try to explain it. She had fluctuated between despair and anger.

Pendergrass wiped a trickle of sweat from his forehead, still cooling down from his workout. “Where have you been? I thought I’d be late.”

“I got detained.”

“Is everything all right? You look worried.”

Sloane pulled Pendergrass aside. “Has anything about this case ever bothered you?” Sloane had prepared over the weekend before trial and entered the courtroom confident about the evidence, if not about the righteousness. By the end of the first week insomnia had struck, and he’d spent long hours staring at his bedroom ceiling, wondering why the case didn’t feel right.

The question caught Pendergrass off guard. “What?”

Sloane shifted his eyes to Douvalidis. “Have you ever had any doubts?”

“You’re asking me this now?”

Before Sloane could say another word Judge Rudolph filled the doorframe. A former college football player, Rudolph retained a lineman’s build. With a ruddy complexion and a red tint to hair graying with age, he looked like a Scottish lumberjack in a long black robe. Other attorneys described him as a guy you’d drink a beer with, and the eight days Sloane had just spent in the man’s courtroom had done nothing to alter that perception.

“Take your seats.” Rudolph sat behind the elevated bench, presiding over a room perhaps forty feet front to back and half as wide, which showed its age with scuff marks on the white walls, chips in the linoleum squares, and banged-up chairs and tables. Even a recent oil treatment polishing the front of Rudolph’s bench did not hide all of the scratches etched in the wood.

“I’ve been advised that the jury has reached a verdict. I want to caution everyone in the court that I won’t tolerate any disrespect to the jury’s decision, whatever that may be.”

Everyone nodded dutifully.

Rudolph instructed his bailiff to bring in the jury, and after a moment they entered, maintaining the poker faces they had kept throughout much of the trial. When the final juror reached her seat Rudolph said, “I will note for the record that the jury has advised the bailiff that they have arrived at a verdict. Who is the foreperson?”

A male juror stood. “I am, Your Honor.”

Rudolph considered a chart on his desk. “Okay, Mr. Giacoletti, thank you. Has the jury, in fact, agreed upon a verdict?”

“We’re not unanimous judge, but we have a quorum.”

Rudolph put up a hand. “What do you mean by a quorum?”

During Sloane’s streak of twenty-two straight jury verdicts, all had been unanimous.

“Nine of us agree, Judge. Three don’t.”

“Three?” Pendergrass uttered under his breath.

“All right, Mr. Giacoletti, would you please hand the verdict to the bailiff.”

The foreman did as instructed, and the bailiff passed the folded sheet of paper to Rudolph. Rudolph took a moment to consider it before handing it to his clerk. “Dr. Douvalidis, will you please stand.”

When Douvalidis did not immediately respond, his attorney touched his arm to gain the doctor’s attention. Pendergrass and Sloane also stood, but the McFarlands remained seated, squeezing each other’s hand.

The clerk started. “In the matter of McFarland versus Douvalidis, we the jury find for the plaintiffs.”

Eva McFarland sobbed in relief and immediately covered her mouth. Her husband wrapped an arm around her shoulder, and she buried her head in his chest, her body shuddering.

The clerk continued. “And award the plaintiffs three point two million dollars in damages.”

Rudolph asked Douvalidis’s attorney if he wished to poll the jury. He declined. With that, the judge thanked the members for their service, made a brief speech about the important function juries play in the judicial system, and dismissed them. Rudolph then addressed counsel, thanking them for their professionalism in his courtroom, rapped his gavel, and left the bench.

Pendergrass tended to the McFarlands while Sloane shook hands with his opposing counsel. Douvalidis’s wife had leaned over the railing, rubbing her husband’s back and whispering in his ear, but the doctor gave no indication he heard what she was saying.

Pendergrass slapped Sloane on the back, drawing his attention. “God, don’t do that again. You had me worried.”

The McFarlands hugged Sloane and thanked him, then stepped into the arms of tearful family members and friends.

Sloane looked back to the door, watching as Douvalidis departed the room between the shelter of his wife and his attorney.

As he did, Sloane thought of Kyle Horgan.


Comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Options

not work with dark mode
Reset