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  • Susan Russo Anderson

A Sympathetic Smile

Here’s an excerpt from Missing Brandy. It’s the story of a thirteen-year-old’s abduction. In this scene, the PoV is indirect, told in the third person by one of the antagonists.

Before Stuart’s death, it all seemed so easy. Henry’s life had been perfect then. Now it was empty—except for Ben.

He often thought of Ben on the train. Tall with blond hair sticking up on his crown like straw. Henry told him over and over about Stuart’s death, and Ben told him to get a lawyer.

During one ride, Henry told Ben he’d taken his suggestions and gotten a wrongful death attorney who said he’d take the case for a percentage of the award, no retainer. Unless, of course, they went to trial, and it dragged on. Who cared, Henry didn’t need the money. The lawyer took down the particulars, said he would study the case and call him back in ten days or so.

“And those guys know, they know. Hell, he wouldn’t take the case if he couldn’t smell the money,” Ben had said. The train lurched.

“‘I love you, Daddy.’ Those were his last words to me. They burn my gut.”

Ben clapped him on the back.

He’d said that to the lawyer, too, about the burn in his gut, and the lawyer stared at him for a moment before he gave him a half smile.

“That’s what you want, a calculating lawyer, not a sympathetic bastard,” Ben had said.

The train stopped. Another switch problem.

“Bastard hospital,” Ben had whispered.

Two weeks later, Ben waved him over. They stood on the platform, shivering and waiting for the train. Late again. “Anything?”

Henry shook his head.

“These things take time. Bastards.”

Eighteen months later, another slow commute, and Henry sat next to Ben.

“Well?”

“They want to settle for $2.5 million.”

“Don’t settle. Never settle.”

“My lawyer says to take the money—no trial, no raking over the coals.”

“He wants a quick buck.”

A man of few words, Ben. “Go to trial,” he’d said, “and get the bastards,” and by God Henry did. Paid the lawyer a retainer. He didn’t need the money, no, but the doctor and the hospital, the nurses half asleep in their command center, having filled their needles with God knew what, they couldn’t, wouldn’t get away with Stuart’s death.

He remembered the defense attorney’s smugness in the courtroom. A bone-thin woman wearing rose-colored lenses. Her hair was like straw, like Ben’s hair, he thought at the time. But she was bloodless, he could tell. He watched her back, an almost imperceptible movement of her shoulders as the verdict was read, her client, not guilty. That was the way his world ended. The trial was a humiliation, the hospital found not negligent. Not a wrongful death. How could they? He should have asked for an autopsy while his son’s body lay in the bed, his attorney said afterward. He should have settled. He’d always made the right decisions, hunted for the right material, so how had he blown this one? He felt the bottom drop out of his soul.

Photo: Cover, Missing Brandy. Design, Avalon Graphics.

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