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Authors: James Grippando

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BOOK: Lying With Strangers
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assignment was the one thing he hated most about big commercial litigation: the production of corporate records.

For five days and nights, his team of unlucky paralegals and staff sifted page by page through thousands of roach-laden boxes of business records that had been archived and scattered over eight different rat-infested warehouses with no air-conditioning. By the sixth day it had become unbearable. His only escape was the lawyer’s version of hara-kiri. He pointed out to a senior VP that the company would save a ton of money in legal fees if the company’s in-house counsel were to supervise the project herself. Kevin was on a flight home that afternoon.

The timing on his part was no accident. Kevin had stayed as long as he could, but he had to return by Thursday night. At 8:00
, he had his first appearance as an author at Booklovers’ in Boston.

Booklovers’ was not the biggest or best-known bookstore in Boston, but for over five years it had been Kevin’s favorite. It was a little place that had nurtured his very big dreams. The store usually held two or three events every week. Authors—some well known, some completely unknown—would stand at the lectern in the reading room and talk about their books and their careers to anyone who cared to stop and listen. Booklovers’ catered to dreamers
like Kevin, who used to attend two or three events a month and wonder if, someday, someone would come listen to him.

The day after Kevin signed his book deal he called the owner. He wanted Booklovers’ to be his first appearance. The news wasn’t good. His novel was slated for publication the following winter. By then, Booklovers’ would be history. Like so many other independent booksellers, Booklovers’ had come down with a terminal case of megastore-itis.

His publicist told him that it was a waste of time to make any appearances before his book was even published. For years he’d dreamed about making his debut at Booklovers’, and that was exactly what he intended to do. He just wished Peyton were there to share the moment with him. Her beeper had sounded just as they were headed out the door. Another emergency at work. Not everything had changed in their relationship.

“Good evening,” he said to a crowd of about a half-dozen loyalists. “I’m Kevin Stokes, and I have to say I’m more saddened than honored to be the last author to speak at Booklovers’.”

“Excuse me,” said a woman in the first row. “What’s the name of your book?”

“That’s kind of up in the air. My editor hates the title, so we’re working on a new one.”

“So the book’s not out yet?”

“Not yet. But I left a few copies of the manuscript here last week for anyone who wanted to check it out and read it. I see two of them are missing, so I guess somebody might have read it.”

“I did.” It was an old man, leaning against the bookshelves in the back. “Excellent book.”

Kevin smiled. “Thank you. You read it?”

“Yes, and it’s a strange twist of fate that I did. Last Wednesday I got off the bus at the wrong stop. It was raining, so I came into the bookstore. Resting right on the counter was this manuscript. I started reading it and couldn’t put it down.”

“That’s great. It’s supposed to be a thriller.”

“Your wife’s a doctor, right?”

Kevin blinked. That was out of the blue. “Yeah.”


“That’s right.”

“I would guess she’s about twenty-eight years old?”

He smiled nervously. It was getting a little personal. “This really isn’t about my wife.”

“But it is. What do you think, you have to pen an autobiography to reveal yourself though your writing?”

“I understand what you’re saying. But there’s no one like my wife in this book.”

“She’s all over this book. You just don’t know it.”

The tone was a little accusatory, the old man’s stare not exactly friendly. Kevin averted his eyes and checked his notes just to break away. “Anyway, the rest of the crowd is probably wondering what we’re talking about, so let me tell you something about the book.”

“It’s about a beautiful and successful woman who is forced to make a life-or-death decision,” the old man said.

“Well, there’s more to it than that. It’s about trust, betrayal, and—”

“A kidnapping. That’s the most important thing.”

Kevin said, “I think the characters are most important.”

“Hah! You’ve preordained a tragedy. That’s what’s most important.”

“This is a novel. I haven’t preordained anything.”

“Is that what you think? Just write the story and wash your hands of it? Fourteen years before the
went to the bottom of the ocean, there was a novel written about the exact same thing,
The Wreck of the Titan, or Futility
by Morgan Robertson. Some called it prophetic, but prophecy merely foretells the future. I believe Mr. Robertson’s book actually shaped it. It’s in the Bible, mister. Nothing new under the sun. By writing this story, you’ve sealed someone’s fate.”

“It’s a story. It’s all made up.”

“Where do you live?”

“I don’t think I want to answer that.”

where you live.”

He was glaring with contempt from the back of the room. No one in the crowd moved. Finally, the owner approached the angry old man.

“Excuse me, sir. But I’m going to have to ask you to leave.”

The old man was frozen, his eyes locked on Kevin.

“Sir, don’t make me call the police.”

He scowled and said, “I was leaving anyway.”

They watched uneasily as he stormed toward the exit. He slammed the door on his way out, nearly rattling the little entrance bells right off the frame. A brief silence lingered, but a sudden pounding on the window startled them again. The old man was standing on the sidewalk, knocking on the plate glass and peering inside. He pointed to Kevin, then pulled the manuscript from his bag. He whirled crazily and pitched it into the air, laughing as five hundred loose pages whipped in the wind and fluttered onto the city street. With two hands he flipped everyone a double bird, then turned and ran.

The owner went to the window and closed the blinds. “I’m sorry about that, Kevin.”

“Yeah,” he said, his voice cracking slightly. “Me too.”


All week long, she managed to avoid Gary at the hospital. Wisely, he seemed willing to let her chill after explaining what had happened.

She’d gotten sick. Too much tequila and she’d thrown up on her clothes. Not exactly a class act, but it wasn’t adultery either. Gary had taken her back to his apartment, which was just around the corner. He’d removed the smelly garments, thrown them in the wash, and let her sleep it off alone in his bed. He took the couch. Just a trained nurse putting a dead-drunk doctor to bed in her panties and a borrowed T-shirt. “No monkey business,” had been Gary’s words on that morning after. Totally innocent.

Kevin, however, wasn’t the type to believe that “nothing had happened.” He’d nearly gone into orbit last winter over Andy Johnson’s lie detector test, all because the stupid polygraph examiner had thought he’d seen signs of deception in Johnson’s denial of “sexual involvement” with Peyton. True, Kevin was more self-assured now than he’d been last winter—more than ever before, really. But no matter how successful Kevin became, the fact that his mother had walked out on his father and him would always be a part of his psyche. He’d told Peyton the story only once, but she would never forget the fire in his eyes. “Nothing but white trash,” his mother had shouted on her way out, slamming the door
of their two-bedroom trailer. Kevin was eight years old, and he would never see his mother again. She’d left Key West to be with “some suit,” as Kevin had put it, a tourist she’d met as a cocktail waitress.

Some lawyer from Boston.

Under the circumstances, silence seemed like Peyton’s wisest course. She loved Kevin. She would never have let coffee with Gary turn into drinks with Gary and his night-owl friends if she hadn’t thought Kevin had been unfaithful to her. And she would never have stooped to “retaliation sex” no matter how many women she’d thought Kevin had slept with. She had more respect for herself than that.

Silence was definitely the way to go. She had impressed that on Gary before leaving his apartment, speaking through the fog in her brain that she assumed was the lingering effects of way too much to drink.

“This is just between us, you understand. Not a word to anyone.”

“Peyton, I am the one man in this world you can always count on.”

He’d flashed that look again, the one she’d seen just before sharing that last round of drinks that had seemed to erase all memory of everything that had occurred thereafter.

Funny, but now that some time had passed, even with all that had happened, his brief look was the one thing that played most vividly in her mind.

Her pager buzzed right in the middle of a respiratory check on a nine-year-old asthma patient. She excused herself and headed directly to the second-floor conference room. It was the call she’d been dreading for weeks. It was from her lawyer.

Massachussetts civil action number 05-1132,
Kersip v. Children’s Hospital, Brookline, and Peyton Shields, M.D.,
was now almost six months old and well into the discovery phase. Today was Peyton’s deposition.

The original suit filed by Nurse Felicia had settled weeks
earlier. On principle, however, the hospital refused to succumb to the related suit filed by the creep who had jabbed his girlfriend and son with a needle on a stick and then barged into the clinic, causing the whole disaster. Since Peyton was sued individually, she needed her own lawyer separate from the hospital. Vince Edwards was waiting for her outside the conference room.

“Ready?” he asked.

“Sure. I just want to get this over with.”

The stenographer was waiting inside, seated at the head of the table. On the other side was Peter Jenkins, the plaintiff’s lawyer. He was a stout man in his fifties. His body had that scrunched and stocky effect, like someone who’d done a ten-story free fall in an elevator and lived to tell about it. His nose was buried in his notes. He didn’t rise to greet them, didn’t even look up to make eye contact.

Peyton and her lawyer seated themselves in the chairs near the door. Jenkins removed his reading glasses, then cleared his throat and nodded toward the stenographer to indicate his readiness.

“Good morning,” he said as the stenographer’s fingers danced on the keys. “Let me begin by stating for the record that my client is not attending this deposition. As the plaintiff, of course, he has every right to be here and observe, but because of the way Dr. Shields has assaulted and intimidated him in the past, as alleged in this lawsuit, he is quite naturally afraid to be in the same room with her.”

“Knock it off,” said Vince, groaning.

“Knock what off?”

“The grandstanding. One more idiotic statement like that and we’re leaving.”

“Are you trying to intimidate me?”

“Just making a point. A statement like that is no more appropriate than my stating for the record that your client isn’t here today because this is a frivolous lawsuit fueled by a lawyer who’s working on a contingency fee for a deadbeat client who couldn’t care less.”

“Swear the witness,” Jenkins told the stenographer.

Peyton gave the familiar oath. The lawyers glared at one another. She was ready for the usual opening of “Please state your name for the record,” but Jenkins clearly had no intention of easing into things.

“Dr. Shields, how many people have you shot in your lifetime?”


“Noted. Answer the question please.”

“Just one,” she said.

one? Let me get an understanding what you mean by
one. In your view, would that be A, more than; B, less than; or C, equal to the number of people shot by the average living and breathing human being?”


“If you’re objecting to this, we’re going to have big problems.”

“Oh we’re going to have huge problems, I’m sure of it.”

“Fine. So long as I get my answers. Which is it, Doctor? A, B, or C?”

She answered coolly. “I would say it’s more than the average person.”

“Very good. A. Or perhaps it’s more like D: equal to the average gang member.”

“Objection. I told you to knock it off, and I meant it.”

“Do you own a gun, Doctor?”


“What kind?”

“Smith and Wesson, thirty-eight-caliber.”

“Did you have it with you on the day my client was shot?”

“Of course not. That was Dr. Simons’s gun. Mine is kept at home.”

“Do you consider yourself a careful gun owner?”

“Yes, very.”

“Do you keep your gun properly stored?”

“Yes. It’s in a locked metal box, on the top shelf of my bedroom closet.”

“Do you know how to use it?”


“Do you have the courage to use it?”

“Objection. Vague. When, where, what circumstances?”

“Let’s be specific. On the day of the incident in question at the Haverhill clinic, were you prepared to shoot my client if you had to?”

Peyton shifted uneasily. “I don’t know how to answer that.”

“You pulled a gun, didn’t you?”


“You fired it.”

“I fired a warning shot. I was aiming at the jar on the counter, just to show him that I knew how to use it.”

“We’ve already established that you know how to use it. My question was, were you prepared to use it? Were you ready to point the gun at my client and shoot him dead if, in your judgment, you needed to?”

“I object to this. It’s just harassing.”

“It’s the heart of the lawsuit. Please answer the question.”

Peyton wrung her hands nervously. “I suppose, if the circumstances required it, I probably would have shot him.”

“Perfect. So let’s go back to that day in Haverhill. My client was facedown on the floor.”

“Yes, after I fired the warning shot, he got down.”

“He was unarmed?”

“As far as I knew, yes.”

“You had a gun pointed at him?”


“And by your own testimony here today, you were prepared to shoot him if the circumstances required it.”

Her mouth was going dry. “That’s what I said.”

“And at this juncture, you decided to inject him with secobarbital sodium.”

“Correct. To sedate him.”

“Where did you think he was going?”

“I didn’t know what was going to happen.”

“Nor did you know that he was allergic to secobarbital sodium.”

“No, I didn’t know.”

“Because you didn’t bother to ask if he had any allergies.”

Peyton hesitated, a bit at a loss. “This was not a normal patient consultation.”

“ER doctors ask that question every day, don’t they?”

“Yes. They do, but—”

“I’m sure you’ve even asked that question yourself in an emergency situation before, haven’t you?”

“Sure, many times. But—”

“But you didn’t ask my client.”


“Because you didn’t care.”


“I want an answer. You didn’t ask because you didn’t care. Isn’t that right, Doctor?”

“That’s not true.”

“I see. Let me put it another way, then. You didn’t ask because you

“I didn’t ask because…” She glanced at her lawyer, then back at Jenkins. “I just didn’t ask.”

“Good answer, Doctor.”


“A little late, Counselor.” He closed his notebook and rose from the table. “That’s all I need. I’m done here. Call me when you want to talk settlement.”

He gathered his notes, grabbed his briefcase, and walked out the door. Peyton looked at her lawyer, confused. “Five minutes. That’s it?”

Vince led her into the hall, outside the earshot of the stenographer. “Brevity is a good sign. If he was serious about this lawsuit
he would have deposed you all day. He just wanted to rattle your cage, hoping to push the insurance company into coughing up some nuisance money.”

Peyton shook her head, still unsettled. “Those questions he asked about having the courage to use a gun. I felt so cold saying that I could kill another human being.”

“Don’t worry about that.”

“I don’t want you or anyone else to think that just because I own a gun I relish the idea of having to use it.”

“You don’t have to explain.”

“I got one only because there was a time when I truly did fear for my safety.”

“Peyton, really. I know all about the stalking incident. I understand.”

“It just pained me to have to listen to my own answers. I must have sounded like I have ice water in my veins.”

“It might come across that way on the black-and-white transcript. But don’t worry. This case will never go to trial.”

That wasn’t exactly the consolation she was looking for.

“You okay?” he asked.

She looked away, then back, her expression serious. “I don’t think I could have shot him.”


“That’s what has me so upset. The answers I just gave under oath didn’t ring true to me when I gave them, and they don’t ring true now. That’s why I tried to sedate him. That’s why I was so scattered that I didn’t even think to ask if he was allergic. I didn’t want to shoot him.”

“That’s normal.”

“I’m not sure I
have shot him. Not even if he’d come at me.”

“I don’t think you ever know the answer to that question until it’s time to pull the trigger. Thankfully, you didn’t have to face that.”

Peyton glanced at her hands and said, “Look at me. I’m shaking.”

“Depositions can be upsetting.”

“No. I’m just now realizing how much danger I was in. It scares me to think what might have happened if that clown who was stalking me hadn’t killed himself. What if he had confronted me? All along, I was fooling myself into feeling safer because I owned a gun. I probably would have ended up like one of those people who pull the gun and freeze up, afraid to fire even in self-defense.”

“That’s behind you now. Don’t let this lawsuit and showboat lawyer dredge up those old nightmares.”

“I guess it’s all closer to the surface than I thought. I still think about it a lot. Especially the car crash.”

“I wish I could help you with that, but—”

“I know. You’re my lawyer, not my shrink. I shouldn’t be hitting you with all this.”

“It’ll get better with time.”

“I know. Keep me posted on the case, okay?”

“Sure thing.” They shook hands, and he headed for the exit.

Peyton suddenly needed an antacid. She made a quick run to the locker room, then stopped just a few feet short of her own locker. Taped below the lock was a cardboard tube from a used roll of paper towels. Carefully, she checked inside and found a flower.

A single red rose.

A card was attached to the stem. It was unsigned. The message was handwritten, just two words: “Let’s talk.”

Her stomach churned as she opened her locker. This was exactly what she’d feared most—not that Gary would blab all over the hospital that she’d gotten drunk and ended up sick in his apartment, but that he’d try to take things between them to another level. All along she’d known that simply avoiding Gary wasn’t the answer. She’d have to deal with it.

She grabbed the entire roll of antacids and closed the locker, pitching the tube with the rose in the trash as she headed back to work.

BOOK: Lying With Strangers
13.82Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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