Wednesday, September 17, 2014

MY FIRST HOMICIDE SCENE: 'Write what you Know.'

Last night I took a short break from my scheduled reading and opened a Linda Fairstein crime thriller.  Thr protagonist in her blockbuster series is a female assistant district attorney with expertise in sex crimes and homicides.  I was traveling on very familiar ground.  I'd been there and done all that, but not in New York City.  I prosecuted homicides in the Morongo Basin area of the San Bernardino county high desert.

Not all prosecutorial agencies encourage or even permit prosecutors to visit crimes scenes, but New York County does, and as television audiences worldwide know, so does L.A.  County.  Remember the shot of Maria Clark walking down the sidewalk toward Nicole Simpson's Brentwood apartment?
Did Johnnie Cochran get her kicked off the case for visiting the scene? No he did not. The  noise made by defense attorneys suggested deputies who visit scenes must recuse themselves from trial, is because there is no police report that equals a visit to a homicide scene. Homicide scenes carry a message.  My first one screamed.

I remember my first homicide scene vividly. It was the final weekend of a month's vacation I had taken after a thirteen victim child sexual assault case, twelve little Boy Scouts and one of their baby sisters. We arrived home from a trip to Colorado on a Rocky Mountain high on the evening the call came. We were had not  unpacked our suitcases.  I was still wearing my travel clothes, a pair of DKNY  jeans and a button down shirt. My sons were sitting on the sofa with my husband watching television when the telephone rang.  I was in the kitchen with the popcorn, closest to the phone.
'If it's Mother, tell her I fell out of the car somewhere in Arizona.'
It was not my mother-in-law. It was my boss and he wasn't looking for me. He was looking for another Morongo felony deputy who was not answering his pager. He apologized for disturbing me on the last days of my vacation, but wondered if I had a different number or some idea where my colleague  might be reached.
'Unless, of course, you are willing to go to the scene of a double in 29.'
Of course I was.

The information he provided over the telephone was sketchy. If I responded I would be briefed by officers at the scene. He had the address, a general description of the location, and the added information that both victims were female and  probably rape victims. Local law enforcement  and NCIS were controlling the scene. The homicide detail from Specialized Detective Division in San Bernardino was meeting at the Morongo Station while the crime lab processed the crime scene. The designated case agent  had requested the presence of a deputy district attorney and would be returning to the crime scene as soon as he doled out assignments to his team. Because of our proximity to the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center at 29 Palms, California, all CID and NCIS agents had been cross-deputized to assist in investigations that might involve personnel on the base. I was happy to hear they were involved.  Most had equivalent training to FBI agents and in 20 Palms,they knew who most of the players were.

It was a very warm summer night. I drove to an  apartment complex a block off the highway just beyond the center of town in an area of small apartments in the city of Twenty Nine Palms. I knew the area well. The murder scene was in a small single story court just behind one of our favorite family burger joints, Andrea's. I pulled up behind the substation commander's personal vehicle. His wife was in the car. He had only stopped by on his way home from dinner to thank the military agencies for their support. He pointed to an apartment where two white vans were parked. Before political correctness came into vogue, they were referred to as meat wagons.The scene was still being processed and the bodies 'had not been rolled.' The coroners men were standing by, waiting for something to happen. So was half of the population of central Twenty-nine Palms. Until the bars closed, the crime scene was the only show in town. I had to elbow my way through a crowd to get to the evidence tape.

 The perimeter was  being manned by a detective who had recently transferred to the Morongo station from Narcotics. He did not recognize me in my designer jeans and shined a flashlight in my eyes as if he were conducting a horizontal gaze nystagmus test. As soon as I was confident he would not shoot me for reaching into my fanny-pack, I produced my District Attorney's office. I.D.

''The only  good thing about this one,' he said once he was convinced I was who my I.D.said I was--'is someone left the air conditioning on.'  Up until he made the remark, it had not sunk in that I soon would be entering an apartment where there were dead bodies. I had heard my share of gut-wrenching  crime scene stories.  I have since arrived at an untested theory that many women handle murder scenes better than most men. Motherhood and our physiology make us immune to feces, blood and body fluids. Nothing protects us from the pathos.

'I'll let  them know you're here.  You'll need to put on some booties, and wait for one of the techs to walk you in. The front room is pretty well processed. There's an open kitchen off a living-dining room, and remnants of a party. The pizza looks to have been there since the night before. I think it was one of the party guests who came by today with a buddy and discovered the bodies. The ugly stuff is in the bedroom and bath behind, and from the looks of it, they'll be lucky to have it processed before the middle of next week.'

We were waiting for one of the crime lab people to come outside to collect me when Detective Dick Bunn came up the walk. In those days, Dick was a math teacher at Yucca Valley High School where my daughter taught English.   Each afternoon as soon as the bell rang, he was out the door and on his way to the sheriff's office annexed to the Joshua Tree courthouse.  Somehow he managed to put in a full forty hour shift per week at his second job as a reserve and he had enough experience and smarts to get  assigned as a substation detective. I do not know how old Dick was when his hair turned silver, but for all I know he was born with it, and when I see him out in town since we have both retired, I  think it's actually getting thicker. Not once in the thirty years I've known him have I seen Dick when he wasn't wearing cowboy boots and a western shirt. He and his wife Rex got married on horseback on the O.K Corral movie set in Pioneer Town. I am always glad to see him, but never more than on that night.

'One of the victims is Mandi Scott,' he said.
 I knew her mother. Almost everyone I knew from the Morongo station knew Debbie. She was a popular bartender with an open, pleasant demeanor.   I had met her daughter Mandi in the course of a bicycle theft in which the victim was a highway patrolman's step-daughter. The bicycle had been recovered hidden on Debbie's porch. Mandi  said  it had been given to her by one of her mother's boyfriends. Maybe. I did not prosecute juveniles, but we did go forward on a charge of receiving stolen property with Debbie as a defendant.  The next month she called me to help her with a problem with neighbors who objected to her keeping her pit bull in the front yard. She had also called a reporter from the L.A. Times who did a story on discrimination against owners of pit bulls. Debbie wanted me to give the reporter a statement.  Debbie had excellent marketing skills, and I liked her. She added a touch of glamour to the community.I did not want to believe that the Mandi Scott in the splayed on the bedroom floor was the same girl I had interviewed a couple of years earlier in the bicycle case.
'Not Debbie's Mandi?' I asked with a prayer in my voice. My usually surly cowboy detective friend merely nodded and one of the female criminalists came and tapped me on the shoulder.

From this point it, it is appropriate fto mention  there are no privacy issues in what I am about to describe. There were two syndicated television reenactments of what follows and with Debbie's stage management and promotional skills,  a true crime book was authored by a writer named Deanne Stillman which sold well. It took an editorial stand condemning the United States Marine Corp as much as  the serial rapist who butchered Debbie's daughter, a USMC named Valentine Underwood.
I declined to be interviewed by Ms. Stillman because the case was still active and I took exception to its editorialization. Whether I agree with its message, it is a well written true crime book.

I harbor no doubt as to  defendant Valentine Underwood's guilt. He has recently been extradited to an eastern state and convicted of a brutal 1988 rape in what had been a cold case until  a lab in Massachusetts matched a rape kit in the  crime to the DNA of Valentine Underwood, who is serving two California sentences  of life without parole for the murders of Mandi Scott and her friend Rosie,whose family has repeatedly requested that her last name be withheld.

I had seen dead bodies in viewing room in funeral homes. I had never attended an autopsy and blamed the omission on my trial schedule and an incident in  high school science lab when I suffered a severe reaction to formalin while dissecting a cat.. I always took the time to drive to San Bernardino to confer at length with the forensic pathologist, the late  Irving Root, who did not mind if I missed the autopsy as long as I understood his theory of how death occurred and stayed for lunch.Many of the cops I worked with thought Irv and  I were cousins.  We worked well together. The double in 29 was my first crime scene, but not my first homicide.

Thanks to Dick Bunn, I was aware  I would be seeing a young girl I had known when she was thirteen and very much alive.  I promised my escort to stay on the plastic and not to touch anything. I would  enter the bedroom when they were ready.  At the onset, I was to stand in the doorway and survey what could be seen from there.

And there was Mandi.
Dead on her back on the bedroom floor.
She had been stabbed thirty three times.
Her lace demi bra was wound around her head at the level of her mouth, perhaps as a gag, perhaps as a humiliation.  As I recall, bikini panties dangled from an ankle.I know they were present--colorful and sexy black and either red or yellow lace.  Her eyes were open, her hands and arms posed like a china doll. Her dark hair was hardly disheveled. She was a plump, pretty girl, even in death.
I could see into her chest cavity.
Her sixteenth birthday was a few days off.

Her friend Rosie, the tenant of the apartment, was in the tiny bathroom, nude in front of the toilet. Her eyes were open and her lips were pursed. As I recall, at least one of her hands was in a tight fist. It was difficult to process the bathroom scene because there was a a stain on a towel or blanket which the criminalists thought might include a footprint and they did not want to risk unfolding it. I viewed the slaughter from the bathroom door.
Rose was in her twenties, a good deal older than Mandi, a tiny Southeast Asian of remarkable beauty. She had two children but I do not recall where they were staying the  weekend of Rosie's party.
She, too, had been stabbed thirty-three times, the number on Valentine Underwood's basketball jersey. Valentine was a basketball player.

The lead detective on the case had been at a briefing. He arrived in time to offer me a cup of warm black coffee. The reason why he had summoned a deputy d.a. to the scene had to do with evidence preservation. I finished my coffee and returned with him to the scene.  Even though the time of death had been many hours earlier, the room had been kept so cold that the smell of death was faint, subtle, like flowers at a funeral.

"Did you happened to notice the stain on the wall?'
I had. It had been pointed out to me by the criminalist, but it would have been hard to miss.
'The bloody handprint,' I said.
'As I see it, we have two choices: We already have taken photographs of  the print, and if we process the print where it is,  we will take more photos and videotape every stage. The alternative is to remove a section of the wall, do the testing at the lab and preserve the print as a trial exhibit.  But to do that, someone from your office is going to have to request it.'

It didn't call anyone above my pay grade and I did not hesitate. For me, the decision was a no brainer. The room was ruined anyway. The carpet was saturated.  There were blood spatters everywhere. Hanging a new section of dry wall would be a minor item. A hung jury and retrial would cost the county more than compensating the owner for the entire apartment complex.The only salient question was whether a jury would  be as convinced by an expert with a videotape and photographs as opposed to one with a laser pointer and a bloody hand print preserved on drywall for jurors  to see and examine in the deliberation room.
'Take the wall,' I said.
Those words of mine were memorialized on an episode of The Prosecutors. I have a copy of the director's cut on a useless old VCR in a cabinet in the same room where I am writing this post.
The immortal words of Linda Root: "Take the bloody wall."


Afterthoughts, Vents and Procedural Notes:

1) Dick Bunn was the first person to place Valentine Underwood in the neighborhood on the night  of the crime. His was a name known to the two of us because of a rape prosecution that went nowhere when the victim refused to cooperate and recanted. Her father was a high profile military officer and her parents did not want her to participate.  We could not find her to serve her and  she had made it known she would not come to court voluntarily. At that time, our office had a policy not to take a case to a jury with a victim whose testimony would have to come in as impeachment  testimony from a police officer. That was prior to rape shield legislation and new interpretation of the hearsay laws. Dick Bunn and  I and the two NCIS officers who assisted in the investigation always thought Underwood was a serial rapist and likely a serial killer, but we could not interest other jurisdictions where Underwood had lived where there were  unsolved  crimes with the same M.O. in pursuing it. But this post is not about the Underwood case, about which I could write a book. Mine would be different from Deanne Stillman's and probably would not sell nearly as well.

2) For anyone curious about the investigation and what turned out to be the most prolonged judicial event in the history of San Bernardino County, there is Ms. Stillman's book Twenty-Nine Palms, a True Story of Murder, Marines and the Mohave, available on Amazon, a worthwhile read for anyone who redacts the roasting of the United States Marine Corps. I would have written the same story differently.

2) Why I did not try People v. Underwood  myself is for another forum on the topic of interoffice back-stabbing. The defense brought a recusal motion based on my presence at the crime scene, an issue that has been litigated ad nauseum in California courts and other venues.. However, my supervisor told me had been informed by a member of our staff  that the judge was going to grant the motion. His Honor later told me he had prepared a ruling denying the defense motion, had hinted as much to both attorneys, and he soundly scolded me for recusing myself when there was no basis for it. Perhaps it was an innocent  misunderstanding on the part of a colleague, and perhaps it was not. Sobeit. Whatever the reason, the case was assigned to a fine prosecutor in the Victorville District Attorney's office, Gary Bailey. He got his verdict but it took years of spurious defense motions and shenanigans to do it, while my own career advanced. There was always another murder about to be committed.  Whoever thought they were robbing me of a plum was doing me a favor. I was the lucky one. While Mandi Scott's murder was languishing in the courts, I was assigned other cases, one of which defined my career.  In the television reinactments of that case, I got to say a whole lot more than 'Take the bloody wall.'

'





Monday, September 15, 2014

PISTOL PACKING LINDA VS. THE GOOD OLD BOYS

Annie Oakley, circa 1903-Wikimedea Public Domain
Early this morning I was culling my research materials and came upon a file entitled "Guns".  It contained an analysis of state and federal gun control law, some clippings from newspapers relating to gun shows, and a receipt for the  firearm we purchased for our son-in-law as a personal wedding present. He was a law enforcement officer: a large screened television just did not seem right.  Then I saw a  legal form I did not immediately recognize until I began to read it.  It was an application for a concealed weapons permit from the mid-1980's in handwriting that was mine.  I had almost forgotten how it had come back to me without action having been taken, with a note attached from the under sheriff thanking me for withdrawing my application. I had,of course, done no such thing.  It seems I was not on the list of those entitled to carry guns. I was not a convicted felon, or even a misdemeanant.  I was a sworn Deputy District Attorney.

Had I been less politically naive, I might have seen it coming.  The philosophy in the District Attorney's Office when I joined it was clearly segued to Lakers' fans who had graduated from USC or UCLA, were unabashedly masculine, and had confused  Annie Oakley for Betty Hutton, who played her in the movie and probably never shot a live round in her lifetime; nor, I suspect,  had they. I did not learn until I  hired in that the office was operating under a consent decree; increasing the number of  women lawyers was a mandate.  That did not mean the idea was universally popular, or so I was eventually informed by my own supervisor who indicated he was not accustomed to the idea of women in the courtroom.

The term politically correct was not yet in use. Hillary Clinton would have been appalled to know there was an unwritten prohibition against women lawyers wearing pantsuits  in court. In applying for a CCW I had performed an action flagrantly in violation of the image the administration had of what a new female deputy might do. Said the DA when he finally called to scold me personally, the way for a deputy TO assure his or her own personal safety was to be a tougher prosecutor. Yet, I never  knew a lawyer whose trial stats did the job of a Kevlar vest.  And there was reason behind my request.

At the time I applied for my CCW, I was making the circuit run to outlying courts from our residence in Apple Valley. Home base at the time was either Victorville, which serviced Big Bear and Trona, or Barstow, which handled the new municipal court in Morongo and the Justice Court in Needles. For those of you unfamiliar with those locations, it helps to know that San Bernardino County is the largest political subdivision in the U.S. that is not a state, and  its population is clustered along the windward side of the San Bernardino mountains in the cities of  Redlands, San Bernardino, Colton, Chino and Rancho Cucamonga.  Everything west is either Los Angeles or Orange Counties, where there are such things as libraries and fashion malls with Nordstom and Neiman Marcus.  Everything on  'the backside of the mountain' (Big Bear) and to the east is termed 'up the hill', and  once you pass through Victorville on the I-15, the landscape is similar to what Neil Armstrong saw when he landed on the moon. If you doubt me, take a road trip to Trona, a community built near the spur of the Santa Fe railroad line that served the chemical plant of Kerr-McGee at Searles Lake. It is very much a company town. Look at a map of Highway 395 and find a place called Red Mountain and you will get a general idea of where the Trona cut off is located.

These were the roads I drove regularly and alone in a country car, an Opel that barely made it up the back side of Big Bear in second gear. During my second  year in the district attorney's office, I tried twenty-three Driving Under the Influence cases and drove  25,000 miles.  By year four I was trying felonies, and since  we had no Superior Court in Joshua Tree, I took my felonies to trial in Barstow, 96 miles each way from home on desolate roads shared with outlaw bikers who over all were more considerate of me than  I had anticipated. They did what they did, and I did what I did.  It was the families of the burglars and child molesters I was prosecuting who tried to run me off the road.  And in those days, those of us assigned to Morongo no longer had the luxury of a County car. We took our private vehicles. And once assigned there, we had three months to find a residence. That was the rule  in 1984 when I was transferred to the Morongo Basin. My Lt.D. was the most conspicuous target  traveling the 247 into Lucerne . The sheriffs at the Morongo station shared my husband's concern that riding so desolate a road could be dangerous, and I began firearms practice and bought a PPK from a law enforcement officer who was moving into Glocks.  However, a gun was apt to do me little good in a lock box in the trunk of my Lt.D. At the suggestion of the guys at the  Morongo Sheriff's station, I filled out an application for a CCW.   And the proverbial caca hit the rotary blades of a fan located downtown in an office on Mountain View in San Bernardino. No one had apparently told me when I took my oath of office that I was surrendering my second amendment rights. The attitude of the administration was: D.A.s were not law enforcement officers and we did not wear badges and we did not carry guns. Our strength came with our law degrees. Generally I can accept the philosophy, but not when traveling after dark from Barstow to Joshua Tree on back roads.

The next country wide office meeting was in Victorville.  Our chief deputy called to make sure  I was coming from Morongo.  Suddenly my attendance was mandated, when two weeks earlier we had been told to save the gas and stay in the Morongo Basin. When I walked into the meeting, most of the people I recognized were hypnotized by the pattern of the floor tiles. I do not remember much of the agenda--something about a Desert Division D.A. picnic that never quite came off, and then, the henchman for the D.A.  gave a little speech about gunslingers and rule breakers. Then the chief investigator, a friend of mine who was obviously uncomfortable in the task,  announced that one of our number had transgressed and applied for a permit to--God forbid (since the Constitution did not)--carry a firearm.  Most of the audience sought out the biggest, toughest and meanest of the new D.A.'s and glared until he shrugged his shoulders and mouthed 'Not me.'  No names were mentioned, but the audience of lawyers was smart enough to figure it out. Soon enough, I was targeted by twenty-five pairs of eyeballs. And on the following Monday  the application I shredded this morning came in interoffice mail with a note thanking me for withdrawing it. It seems there had been some sort of gentleman's agreement between someone high in the sheriff's department and someone in the district attorney's office to stonewall my app. Assuming I would recognize the error in my ways, someone saved me the trouble of withdrawing the application by doing it in my name. Disposing it in that manner saved the sheriff's personnel the formality of rejecting it.  Hence, the 'thank you' note.

I am happy to report that the next elected D.A. Dennis Stout and the one presently holding the office, an aggressive  prosecutor and inspired leader Mike Ramos, were of a different ilk. Mike is complimented by high quality leadership in the San Bernardino Sheriff's Department under the past and current direction of retired Sheriff Gary Penrod and current Sheriff  John McMahon. In 1994, Deputy District Attorney's were distributed badges. Both of mine--the one identifying me as a line prosecutor and the one I was given when I became a supervisor- retired when I did in 2004. They are proudly displayed in a shadow box in the  room where I am writing this post. I never once flashed mine other than to identify myself to the senior volunteers of the Citizen's Patrol who guarded the perimeter at homicide scenes.
 Morongo survivors DDA Lara, B of I Tech Becky, me, DDA Camile, Judge Vicki and Laura-.DDA Riverside 

I never attempted to renew the CCW. The politicos down the hill had spoken, and my chief deputy who retired as ADA last year had supported their position. Since 1994, applications placed by my colleagues were routinely granted. When I stopped riding the circuit, the personal issue was moot, but the principle was not. For some obscure reason I kept the app. Today I shredded it, but the entire affair still bothers me. At least two criminal defendants attempted to put contracts out on my life during my years of murder prosecutions.  I was told of the first by the defendant's attorney when he petitioned the court to be substituted off the case and asked my help in getting him an armed escort to the county line.  I learned of the second from an inmate in Tehachapi  who I had convicted but who believed I had done it fair and square. For better or worse, almost thirty years later I am still here,but so was the CCW application until I disposed of it this morning.  

In 1993, the last year of the administration in power when I hired on, it was suggested by a top-ranking attorney in the administration that I run against our local sitting judge, who was considered unfriendly to law enforcement. My ego was stroked, but my husband convinced me not to attack an elected official even if we had opposing views on doctrines like Miranda: My husband pointed out he had been the people's choice and the community had faith in him even if our office did not. He still sits locally as a retired judge on special assignment. We may not agree on rules of search and seizure, but we stand together on issues of  accountability and ethics.I  consider him a valued friend.

That same winter San Bernardino courts were expanding and I sought an appointment to  the bench. Without going through the arcane procedure of judicial appointments, it sounds impartial but in truth, it is highly political and it often is not the governor who calls the shots. Those of us who are shot down know very well who fired the bullets. Mine came from my own office, the same people who encouraged me to launch an expensive political campaign against someone they wanted removed. Criminal defense attorneys rated me highly qualified and called me' tough, but fair'.One of my own supervisors called me a 'loose cannon.' I got to see the entire body of remarks verbatim. The comments are anonymous, but they are not edited to protect the identities of the writers. Within a year the guy who had called me a loose cannon was ragging on the friend he had supported.My chief deputy apologized  for an undeserved comment in a work evaluation when it was too late to matter.

Actually, I should kiss the men who shot me down, because my best years as a trial deputy were yet to come. And by the time I tried the case that defined the rest of my years as a prosecutor, there had been positive changes in the way business was handled in the district attorney's office. There also had been growth in my little corner of the desert. We had a three department Superior Court in Morongo where I live and I was no longer taking my show on the road.  Assignments to Morongo, previously avoided  like the pox, had become highly desirable. Recruits realized it was only a half hour drive from the Movie Star Enclave in Palm Springs and all those world class golf resorts of the Coachella Valley. My circuit days were over. I got to cook dinners for my husband and my sons. I was promoted. I was able to retire at the top of my game.  That was ten years ago.

I am too old to let the rejected CCW application vex me. I love the life I led then and I love the life I lead now. Writing novels is less painful because my victims are imaginary. It does bother my son Russ and his lovely wife 'Cio  that anyone with a computer can search my name and Google Map their way to my residence.  And yes, that happens. With two giant arctic dogs with horrific barks, each weighing over 150 lbs, I do not get many visitors at the front door so I probably do not need the 9 mm. parabellum or the PPK or the mythical Uzi I joke about having mounted on the roof.  Nevertheless, when I found the application today, it rekindled my sense of outrage for having been denied the right to carry one of them concealed on my person or in my car back in the days when I was younger and more vulnerable. There was no law then or now that prohibits me from carrying one on a hip holster on my walks should I ever feel the need.

I have not forgotten  my attempt to exercise a Second Amendment Right in a legally permissible fashion resulted in my having been treated as if I were a crook. No matter what our individual attitudes toward firearms and gun control may be, the Second Amendment is not the only Constitutional Right subject to attack.I am exercising a First Amendment right as I prepare this post.

If the rights of citizens are not respected by the agencies mandated to serve and protect, and if those agencies are overseen by a government with an agenda which defies definition,  in our present political climate Americans may soon realize just how fragile our liberties can become. 




Saturday, August 23, 2014

THE DISAPPEARANCE AND RETURN OF THE GREEN WOMAN : - When Reviews Matter by Linda Root

photography from Dreamstime(c)Chaoss
Two weeks ago The Green Woman was the #1 selling Scottish Fantasy in all formats on Amazon, and I was delighted.  I deemed her capable of going anywhere  I wished to take her--an advantage in a genre mix like I experimented with in Green Woman.  Every night when I closed my laptop I hovered between sleep and wakefulness and came up with three or four new plots.  I was pleased when within a few days of her debut, she had acquired three reviews, and I do not shop for them.  I am a lousy salesperson when it comes to my own product, and I do not do well when I try to generate reviews. One was from an  avid reader who is very particular about what she reads and what she praises. Two of them were from authors whose works I love and opinions I respect. But when I read the third review, a four star, I realized I had rushed to press: The Green Woman was flawed.  She needed a rest and  a make-over.
Although  I suspect she still has her blemishes and bruises, she is back.  And she is stronger and better.

 And I owe it all to a  four star review from a person whose opinion  I respect and who pulled no punches in telling me what I needed to do, and to the five star reviews which sent a message assuring me The Green Woman was worth the effort.   While I was doing a line edit, I found a handful of anachronisms and some inconsistencies in the plot line, trimmed some of the historical facts, and in addition to the proofreading, I made the green woman's encounters with her lover sexier and stronger.

I have learned some lessons from my less than stellar reviews,not  just with Green Woman, but with all of my novels.  With six books on my Dashboard, I am becoming less thin-skinned and more apt to respond to criticism appropriately.  I still read right over my own mistakes, and my betas do not always catch them. When I withdrew Green Woman from Kindle Direct, I was delighted to receive a handful of private messages from people who wanted a copy and complained when they could not find one. A few even bought the paperback at $9.77.  I sell so few trade paperbacks that I did not bother withdrawing it until the editing was complete.  I am taking steps to make certain those loyal fans get the updated paperback version.


Oh Aye, Thea Jameson is back. 


 She suffered a fall from #1 to #8 in the ratings during her three week vacation concurrent with a minor price increase. I hope she will recover soon.

I market the Green Woman series under another name,so persons who are accustomed to the factual accuracy of my other books will realize this one is different. This is a robust adventure  that mixes fantasy, time slip and a hint of horror.


In the meantime, 1603: The Queen's Revenge (#3 in the Legacy of the Queen of Scots series) has risen to #2 over all in Literature and fiction  #1 in Kindle books in the Queen of Scots sub genre. Each book on the Legacy series is a stand alone novel of events occurring between 1587 and 1615.

As to what happens next with Green Woman, I am putting off the sequel until November and the NaNoWriMo event, but below is the Prologue:





Prologue

Roxburgheshire, Scotland - 1616

Dand Ker was clearing the brush from around the outbuildings when he saw the apparition.  At first it had no form. Just as his father had reported the sighting in the barn in 1597, it first appeared as a green glow coming from the loft.   Had it not been green, Dand would have overlooked it as mere dust particles caught in sunlight.  But then, Ker was familiar with the aura surrounding the Green Woman who had been haunting Ferniehirst Castle since early in the Fifteenth Century. He set his woodman’s axe aside and rushed inside the barn.
‘Helen?’
And then he saw the child.
His heart fell into his boots. He had raced to the barn  in hopes of finding a fully mature and  beautiful woman enshrouded in a cloak of gossamer green silk as light as a butterfly’s wings , not a wee female bairn—albeit a pretty lass no older than the milkmaid’s daughter who was  four.
 She had red-gold hair the color of young strawberries which were set in curls that framed her face, a pert little upturned nose that was running like a seasonal stream, and eyes too swollen and wet to show their color.   The child was strangely dressed, not at all like a properly clad Scottish lass.  Her kirtle did not reach her knees and her shoes were made of straps and shiny buckles that showed her toes which were painted pink and covered with silver sparkles.  She wore a jumper with a picture of a funny looking kitten with a red bow in its hair.  Her most distinctive feature was her aura. 
‘Are you looking for my Mommy?’
The child was not speaking Scots.  For that matter, she was not speaking any English dialect known to Ker,  except, of course, that spoken by Helen, who had come to him disguised as The Green Woman but who was not a true ghost because at times she showed herself  in flesh and blood and not much else, wearing a green gown a man could see through.
He moved further into the barn and squinted.
‘Are ye searchin’ for a body, Lass?’
She shook her head and sniffled.
‘Are you looking for my Mother?’
‘Ah dinna think ah was.  Have ya lost her?’
She screwed her face into a terrible frown and put her white knuckled fists on her hips. She did not answer his question and she did not come down from the loft.
‘How come you knowed  my name?’
‘Ah must’a guessed it.’
She seemed more comfortable in his presence and she slowly descended the ladder.  He was about to reach out to steady it, but she looked over her shoulder and launched a look that might have been fired from a hunter’s crossbow.
Ker had never been that good with children, having none of his own and he did not know how to converse with a wee lass who had obviously been crying.   He might have been a widely feared Border Reiver, but he was intimidated by the little girl, even after her aura faded and she appeared as flesh and blood, just as his Helen had done.
‘Ah once knew a bonny hen name ‘a Helen, the same as ye’ he said.
The frown deepened.
‘.  Hens are chickens.  They lay eggs. I’m a girl.’  She stuck her lip out in defiance.
‘How did ya get yerself here?’ he asked.
Her lip curled back against her teeth.  She was not so defiant now.
‘You’ll spank me if I tell.’
‘Nary once ‘ave ah ever spanked a wee bairn such as yerself-- nae even so much as a swat.’
‘You talk funny.’
Dand wondered how it was that he got tagged for being the one who was the intruder and speakin’ strange when he had been born here and lived here most of his life. It had been the same with the other Helen- the one who called herself Thea and came from someplace far off and strange.
‘How ‘boot ah promise not to spank ya and ya tell me how ya got here?’
The child lowered her chin until it fell against her chest and glared from under her furrowed brows, but she did not approach.
‘Promise?’
‘Ah swear.’
Then she raised her head and look directly in his eyes.  She had stopped crying and he could see hers were green, the color of jade.
She scanned the corners of the barn and spoke in a hoarse whisper as if even the cows were suspect.
‘I sawed the picture of your big castle on my mommy’s book and I dreameded my way here.  I sawed you chopping something up so I hided in the barn.’
‘How do ye know ye are dreamin’, Lass?’
‘Cause when I went to look for Mommy and I putted on my sweater,  Hello Kitty was not green but now she is and so are my shoes.’
‘How ‘boot yer eyes?’
‘I was bornded with green eyes, Mister Silly.’
He could not suppress a chuckle nor could he stop himself from asking:  ‘Is yer mammy’s name Helen, too?’
‘No way! Mommy’s name is Dora Thea, like Dora-Thee in the Wizard of Oz.’ 
‘Actually, Lord Oxnam or whoever you are, my name is Dorothea Jameson.’…
Dand raised his hand to stifle the expletive coming from his lips.
He wanted to grab the lass and carry her into the castle to the kerry-twisted staircases where they could sit and talk without the others interrupting. Often when he had been alone with the Green Woman and they sat on the counter-clockwise turret stairs, she who called herself Thea would cast aside her aura and be his Helen.
 Sometimes they did not spend all of their time talking.
The passage of time had dulled his sense of loss but not his memory.
A shrill voice called his name from outside the barn and he stepped back to look. It was his gudewife Margaret coming from the henhouse carrying the basket she used for gathering eggs.  In the instant it took him to turn his head, the wee girl and her aura were gone. All that was left was a whiff of lavender.
He remembered the scent of lavender in his lover Helen’s hair. It had lingered on him long after she had disappeared.
‘Aright, Dand Ker.  Woods ye care to spit out what ye were doing out in front a’ the barn talking tae yerself?
‘Ah thought ah saw somebody.’
‘Oh Aye! Off ye go again-- lookin for yer precious Green Woman.’
 She was laughing when she said it.  But then, she only knew half of the story.  He was overcome by the sighting of the child but he could not let it show.  He went looking for the Goose Boy, who had been the only other soul at Ferniehirst who could see the Green Woman when she put aside her aura.  Once he had caught a glimpse of the Goose Boy and Helen holding hands and the sight had made him jealous.  Until that moment, he had been the only one able to see her when she was flesh and blood. That had been before Dand and his father had returned from London Town in a chariot led by two black beasts that were half horse and half dragon and driven by a Woman as hard and shiny black as obsidian who said her name was Nyx.
 He had watched the Goose Boy whose name was Michael climb into the chariot and ride away with Nyx, who called to him with the name Thanatos, which meant Death.
But the next day, Michael appeared at the usual time with his gaggle of hungry geese and seemed to be the same ill-mannered mortal Scottish foundling he had always been.
And Helene was nowhere to be found.
 He thought he had put it behind him. Until he saw the lass in the loft, he had all but convinced himself that the great adventure of his life had been nothing but a dream. 
Because the council of the Scottish Kirk considered those who commensurate with ghosts and spirits to be witches and dealt with them accordingly, Dand never shared his tale with others. He had gently prodded his father Sir Andrew Ker of Ferniehirst who had been there for part of it, but it was obvious to Dand that his da remembered none of it.  But whenever he was alone with the Goose boy, he was aware that Michael knew it all.
He met the boy on the path leading from the river. 
‘Where are the geese?’
It was unusual to see the boy without them.
 ‘They are in the pond in the rocks...  They will find me when they want some a’the scratch from my sack,’ he said, patting the burlap pouch that he had tied around his waist.
‘I saw a wee lass in the barn a bit ago.
Methinks she was Otherworldly.  She said her name was Helen and she was lookin’ fur her mammy. 
‘Dinnae know how she got here, but she said she had dreamed her way. I dae nae s'pose ye might know who she is and what she’s doin’ here.’
 The Goose Boy grinned. 
Whenever he was in Michael’s presence, Dand was never quite certain if he was being teased or taunted, but he did know that. Michael was not an ordinary boy.
 ‘The lass ye saw this mornin’ came because she was drawn here.  Methinks 'twas the Green  Woman what made her come,’ he imparted with certain smugness that Dand found annoying.
‘And why would that be?’

‘Methinks she is yer dotter.’ 

``````````````
While the Green Woman waits till November for the next segment of her adventure, it is time for me to return my attention to Book 4 in the Legacy series, In The Shadow of the Gallows. I had originally planned to launch on November 5, which should be a clue to the historical event which inspires the plot, but in consideration of my tendency to rush through the editing, I  intend to take my time.  Look for it in the Winter of 2014-2015.




Wednesday, July 23, 2014

MY FRIEND MAXX the Furniture Mover



Yesterday my male malamute Maxx was bored. Bored Malamutes are notoriously troublesome. When I am bored, I sometimes rearrange the wall hangings. Maxx rearranges furniture. When he was a puppy, he merely ate it. He had a preference for upholstered antiques and window sills. His sister Maya preferred anything cherry by Kling & Co.

 I can usually detect when Maxx  is inspired to redecorate the living space, because instead of just collapsing on the laminate, he walks around in circles, lays down for a couple of minutes and then circumnavigates the room. Fortunately his creative energies generally  focus on one room at a time, and because he is a Malamute and bred to lounge around campfires with Inuit partners, he prefer the company of humans. His first choice of target spaces is the bedroom..

The room we call a bedroom was not originally a bedroom.  I have no idea how the previous owners of the house envisioned it when they added it onto the original house. Since they ripped out the wall that separates it from what I think was designed to be a master bedroom and also removed a weight bearing wall in the great room, I am afraid to hazard  a guess. I do know that our master bath was originally an aviary. Our bedroom is about the size of a small apartment, and was 21 x 24 before we added a walk-n closet.  It opens with French doors off what I suspect was originally a living room, since it has a raised hearth (see photo). We now use it as a multipurpose space since Maxx and Maya ate the furniture. But, back to the bedroom. It is still very large, but the wall spaces are not amenable to variety in arrangement of the bed. But Maxx is a malamute, doesn't read Architectural Digest  and doesn't care.

Yesterday his project was to move the bed into a position so he could walk around it, which required him to move it out from the wall.  It also required him to move my bedside table, an essential piece of furniture which I use as a desk. Because Chris is pretty much bed bound these days, Maxx was required to move the bed with 180 lbs of extra weight, but then, Maxx weighs 140 and has a pull weight of about a ton.
Also, we have an electric split king bed which we use without a frame for ease in changing sheets,  a God send when sharing a bed with someone of contrary sleeping habits.  However, the halves cannot be moved independently because we have them bound together to avoid falling through the crack in the center. This was not a problem for Maxx, who disconnected every wire to the bed, my kindle, my laptop, all lights and the telephone without knocking anything over except my cell phone. My bedside table ended up in the open space before the electric fireplace, a cherry antique dentist's file cabinet ended up in the space to the adjoining room (another outsized bedroom) and when he was finished, Maxx took a nap behind the bed. However, after a few minutes, he decided he did not like it there and opted to sleep outside. By then temperatures in the desert had fallen to 77 and there was a breeze.  I was stuck inside trying to find a way to get in an out of bed.

Somewhere in the course of all of this, I had deigned to scold him, albeit very gently.  I merely said, 'No, Maxx' as he was tangled in our last remaining connection to the outside world--my land line cord.  He gets very indignant when I scold him.  He left the room, went a slammed his stainless steel water dish into the wall, came back to the bedroom, inched by the table in the middle of the walking space, faced away from me and pouted.  Not even pets and praise got me back into his good graces.  Not even cheese. So I did the only reasonable thing left. I moved the bed out from the wall another eight inches and changed the position of my bedside table. Now he can walk around the bed whenever he wishes,although the bed is pretty much in the middle of the room. Today the room arrangement looks like hell and Maxx has lost all interest.in the space behind the bed.  He is sleeping by the door to the bathroom, which requires me to either walk over his massive frame or go to the bathroom in the other wing of the house.
All that furniture moving has him all tired out. Me, too.

Monday, July 21, 2014

THE GIFTS

The most amazing thing happened to me this afternoon.  I was busy downloading an edited version of my novel 1603: The Queen's Revenge, when, alas, the doorbell.  If left to my own devices I would have missed it entirely, since only my husband and my dogs can hear it.  The doorbell at high noon usually announces the arrival of the Steve the Mailman. Not this time.

At the door was a friendly man I vaguely recognized, casually dressed and toting a knapsack.  Had he not seemed so familiar, I would have thought he was a salesman or a representative of a local church group.
"Do you remember me?" he asked, and while I did not remember the details, I knew he was someone I had met when I was a prosecutor, and that my interaction with him had been positive.  He insisted that I had been an inspiration to him, and he had come with a gift.  He wanted to give me  several copies of a book he had written.   When I said I could not accept a dozen books, he said' how about we trade  one of yours for mine?'  Then he announced that he had purchased my debut novel The First Marie, and that it was 'hard reading,' which is about the same thing my double-masters educated daughter said about it.  At any rate, I traded a copy of my latest work  for two of his, one for me to keep and another  to share with someone who I think will  find it inspirational.

The book is somewhat plainly but tastefully bound, and full of illustrated poetry and music.  It is what I would call 'Christian whimsy' if I were to label it. Most of the poetry is exceptional, and all of the sentiment is poignant. Both  the man and his book reminded  me that sometimes, if we show compassion to those we meet in a public forum and view each of them as a person with fear and hopes and needs, even prosecutors can leave a mark.

 It has been ten years last week since I retired as the supervising deputy district attorney in my area, and within the last week I have been tagged for lunch by a formidable young woman whom  I met as a child victim when she was five, and I have been gifted a wonderful treasure by a man whose life I touched and who did not forget me.  We had our visit today at my front door in that shade of the pine I call my Burn's Tree, which had been given to me by a man who was a  defendant  I spotted as bipolar and thus made an effort to divert him into a mental health program.  He had  his mother bring me what was advertised as a pygmy fir tree, advertised as capable of surviving six years in a pot.  Our office policy did not permit us to  accept gifts other than items that could be shared, so I put the little holiday tree in the lobby for all to enjoy. When the holidays were over, I tried to find a place to plant it and when no one wanted to deal with it, I called the ADA for permission to keep it.
"Don't think of it as a gift,'he said. 'Think of it as a tribute and plant it where there's water, because judging by the plants around your office, you'll probably kill it if it isn't silk or plastic.'

That was eleven years and about twenty-five feet ago, and the only problem with my Burn's Tree occurred this summer when my insurance carrier's risk assessment team ordered me to trim the branches that overhung the peak of my roof, because of fire hazard.

The moral to the story is that a small gesture can make a significant difference, and that the most precious gift is the giving of a piece of ourselves. The man who gave me his book did just that, and so did the child who gave me her trust when she was only five. I had always felt honored by the young man I call Mister Burns, because he allowed me into his personal space, a place were armed bailiffs feared to tread.  It makes me proud to have been a lawyer  There is nothing fundamentally wrong with lawyers once they've learned that there is more to what a lawyer should strive to do than winning in court, and that life is the ultimate arena.

Thank you, J.Burns, Hillary H, and J.R.Dykes, for being there with me.


Wednesday, July 16, 2014

The Curse of the Kick-Ass Women by Linda Root

Boudicea byJohn Opie (PD-Art)
I just now signed off Facebook with a tear in my eye. A friend had just picked up the ashes of her husband of forty-eight years, and the experience, the utter haunting finality of it, was devastating. I wondered why I found her emotional response so poignant and I realized it was because my friend is among the world's kick-ass women, a feisty independent redheaded Georgia beauty, the quintessential USMC Sergeant Major's wife who could defend her children, support her husband, work a room of strangers, entertain and encourage her friends and stand up for her ideals as if it all came naturally, the art of being there for everyone who needed her and always being strong. And like other women I have known of that ilk, she is not expected to ever falter, ever waiver, ever just collapse and weep. Like the movie character Cat Ballou, she could 'never let them see [her]cry'. If you know a woman like that you are fortunate, but you are also challenged, because even the Dragon Lady and Wonder Woman have a gentle side, a side we do not want to see, because all of the rest of us need our champions, our Joan d'Arcs, our Wonder Women, and in spite of ourselves, sometimes we must put our needs aside and be there for them.

The entire experience of my  morning caused me to reflect upon the kick-ass women in my novels. In my work in progress my protagonist Daisy Kirkcaldy's son Peter has been kidnapped to extort her husband's silence concerning his knowledge of the plot against the king known to history as the Gunpowder Treason. And what does Daisy do? She leaps upon her Fresian Embarr and in defiance of her husband's request that she stay safe at home while he rides to the rescue, she engages the enemy, and although I have not written that far ahead, I am sure she will prevail because that is what she must do to please me, to make me comfortable and less vulnerable. I am as guilty as the rest of us in demanding that of her. Sometimes I forget that even the most formidable of my sisters, real or imaginary, must take off their armor now and then and put down their battle swords.

I remember the day of my seventeen year old son John's funeral. One of my mother's friends who was at the house afterwards approached and said, 'God must have great plans for you to give you so much strength.' I did not tell her that John, not God, had given me the strength to endure the day, because he was smart and sensitive and he knew how ill he was and what was ahead. He had been to a friend's funeral a few weeks earlier, an accidental tragedy for which his mother had been unprepared and she had thrown herself atop the coffin.

'I don't want you crawling on my coffin in a ten year old black mini . I want you to wear  something new and bright,' John said. 'Dress like a movie star, be funny if you can. Wear your orange heels  but try not to trip on the grave markers, and be nice to my stepmother.  Go easy on the eyeliner, just in case.' He spoke with foresight, not in jest. He had a hundred or more little sessions with me like that, teaching me how to let him die.  Sometimes now, thirty-four years later, when I am alone in the garage swimming in our i-pool he appears and swims along with me,to keep me from drowning. He has also taught me that playing the role of a kick-ass woman is both a blessing and a curse, and that even Boadicea wept when her husband was killed and no one else was looking.

 I know my friend will be fine on Friday and hopefully ever after. And so, I hope,will I.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

The Wedding I'm Glad I did not Miss - a very personal post by Linda Root

Today is my nephew Damien Smrt’s 6th wedding anniversary.  About two months before the wedding my relationship with my only sibling Terry Lee tottered on the edge of an abyss, and it had to with the fact that my son Russ and his wife were not on the guest list.  I was told it was a matter of economics, but instead of saying something hateful,  I bit my tongue and ask how much two more guests would cost. To this  day I do not know if Damien and Valerie knew why they received a check for $150.00 along with their wedding gift. There were good reasons why Russ was not on the list.  He and his wife are very much a twosome even now and while they often intend to arrive at family functions, I’d never ante on it. I could hardly blame Damien and Valerie for making the same judgment call.   But Russ and Damien were both the same age and when they were little, they had the same yellow Dick Tracy costumes, they watched the same videos, and they were as close as cousins living one hundred eight miles apart can be.  So I bought him back in.
The bottom line is that Terry accepted the check and thought that all was right in Bedlam. But I was still stewing.  And if Russ and Cio had no been so happy about getting an invitation, Chris and I may not have gone.  Our absence would have been justified because Chris is not well. At any rate, the four of us headed for a favorite Harbor Island hotel, and had a great time falling in love again with San Diego where I lived for thirty years, and on Saturday we went to what was a lovely wedding.  My sister was so happy to see that all four of us actually showed that I caught a tear in the corner of her smiling eyes. 
She was beautiful. Her hair was a wonderful  honey blonde that matched her dress. Everything about her was perfect.  She was radiant.  This was the last of her kids to get married, the one who had dragged her half way around the world with his ice hockey team.  Many of the guests were Damien’s friends  she’d chaperoned in Copenhagen on two different Scandanavian sports tours.  When I watched her, I was so damned glad I had gotten over my overdose of righteous indignation and kept my mouth shut.  
Sixth months later, she was dead.
What went on between during that sixth months was almost mystical.  We began emailing one another after our spouses had gone to bed.  She had just retired from a job she had hated after working for nearly thirty years at a job she loved.  We talked about that on the telephone, in spite of the fact that my hearing is all but shot.  She was hoping to get some relief from her carpal-tunnel syndrome that was affecting the use of her hands.  Except it wasn’t carpal tunnel. It was an inoperable glioblastoma.
  She was at her daughter Darcy’s house when she lost control of the hand that was holding a wine glass.  Within days, the diagnosis was pronounced.  My husband and I were furious when her doctors told her she might live five years.  My husband is a researcher and he also is stage four survivor of basal tongue cancer, and nothing we read about her cancer was encouaging.
 But bless her, at least for a while she proved us wrong, and again, I am thankful that I kept my mouth shut.  Even when her emails required a special program that let her keyboard repond to her voice, even when her voice began to fail, we strugged through it.  We sometimes talked on the telephone in the middle of the night, Terry with her slurred speech and me with my ruined ears.   My last late night call  from her was an inquiry—she wanted to know if my son Russ’s puppy Frank made the air flight from Michigan.  When I told her we were getting a puppy, too, she wanted to know what we would name him.  Names were always a big issue between us. I was the one who named her Terry Lee, after the comic strip hero of the 1940’s.
The last time I  was with my sister was two days before she died.  She was in and out of consciousness and the family had assembled with the hospice people.  I had asked to be summoned from the meeting if she awakened, and her son in law Mark came to tell me she was asking for me.  He stayed with us during the visit because of my hearing problems.
Our last conversation consisted of a phrase she repeated over and over until Mark and I calmed her.
“Linda, you’re my big sister and you have to take me home,” she said in the manner of a petulant child.  When she was four and I was eleven, I was the one who walked her to and from school.  In Cleveland in the forties there were no buses.  Sometimes when the snow had drifted on the south side of Euclid Avenue,  I carried her.  During one of her hospital stays in ICU early in November, she had a friend of hers call me with the same request.   ‘I don’t know how to tell you this, Linda, but she wants you to get in your car right now and come down here to take her home.” Terry’s friend, another Linda, apologized profusely and assured me it was the drugs talking, but I  knew what she meant.  When she was a little girl she thought I could do just about anything.
In our last visit, I told her it was too early  to go home just yet, but  I would try to help her get there when it was time.  Then I told her that I loved her. She made a funny grimace, and she was five years old again.       
“I already knew that, ” she scolded.
Then she said,  “You have to go home now and fix dinner for  Chris.  I have to wait for Damien to come.”
  Mark told her it was all right for her to go back to sleep and he kissed her forehead.
After we left with plans to return on Sunday, Damien arrived.  She shooed everyone else away.  He shared what happened with my daughter later.
“Damien, am I dying?”
“Yes, Mom, you are,” he said.
Then she slipped quietly into a coma.
Our mother was a difficult person who often drove wedges between Terry Lee and me.  That was another thing we talked about during that last six months. I had no idea that our mother was using the same tactic with Terry that she used on me. We should have had those conversations years before, when our children were growing up. But I was busy in the courtroom slaying dragons and Terry was being the international ice hockey Mom and a constant cheerleader for her lovely daughters.  Bittersweet  though it may be, at last we had that last six months, a treasure I may never have uncovered if I’d  let my temper flare the previous spring.  And as I look back to Damien’s wedding, it is the one wedding other than mine to Chris that I could not have afforded to miss.
Happy anniversary, Damien Smrt and Valerie Finik Smrt.