A Courtroom Suspense Novel

            Officer Albert Wilson sat parked in his squad car at the side of an access ramp on a hill overlooking Interstate 30 in the west part of Fort Worth. The compactly built black man sipped the coffee he had bought at a Stop ‘N Go. On the highway below, heavy traffic slogged through driving rain brought by a late summer tropical storm that had come up from Mexico.
            Wilson hadn’t wanted the duty today. His son was having a birthday party and he wanted to be there but he hadn’t been able to arrange a shift change.
            On the interstate a dented black Ford truck approached, traveling well under the speed limit in the left eastbound lane. A load of watermelons swelled its rickety sides. Wilson noticed that the truck had lost power. As it slowly coasted to a halt the driver turned it partly onto the narrow median next to the fence dividing the highway but it came to rest with its rear still in the driving lane.
            Wilson slipped his car into gear and pulled onto the access ramp. He was westbound and would have to go up to the next crossover and come back on the other side to get to the truck. As he pulled onto the freeway a blue pickup speeded around a line of traffic on the opposite side of the road and clipped the protruding rear of the watermelon truck.
            The pickup spun on the wet pavement, hitting two cars in the center lane. The tailgate of the larger truck tumbled open and shiny green watermelons cascaded onto the roadway. Oncoming cars swerved right and left, sliding out of control and crashing into each other. In seconds, a tangle of seven or eight vehicles clogged the eastbound lanes of the freeway.
            Wilson’s blood raced. “God damn!” He reached for his microphone. “West Sector, this is Car 450!”
            “Go ahead Car 450.”
            Before he could reply, a large Alamo Oil Company gasoline tanker westbound on the highway next to him veered left across the pavement, crashed through the dividing fence, and careened into the cluster of disabled vehicles in the eastbound lanes. With a flash of heat and light and a low-pitched roar, the tanker exploded, covering the scene with blazing fuel.
            Forgetting his radio, Officer Wilson jammed on his brakes and jerked his car off the road. He got out, facing the flaring mass on the other side of the median. The heat stifled him.
            He cast useless shouts to heaven. “My God! My God!”
            Figures ran from the flames, covered with fire. Their high-pitched screams surmounted the roar from the burning vehicles. Two ran in circles, arms waving, and finally collapsed into burning heaps on the roadway. Others stumbled to the grassy strip along the far shoulder and rolled over and over until their flames were out.
            But no screams came from the heart of the conflagration where the gasoline truck and its consorts burned fiercely. Traffic on both sides of the freeway had come to a halt. People were getting out of their cars and running toward the scene.
            “Car 450, this is West Sector. Are you there?”
            Wilson got a grip on himself, opened the car door, and grabbed the microphone. He skipped the usual protocol. “This is 450. Get everything you can out here fast. Fire trucks, ambulances, all the cars you got. A tanker truck’s just exploded in the middle of the freeway.”
            “Where is it, Car 450?”
            “3300 West Freeway, just east of the loop, in the eastbound lanes.”
            As the dispatcher started calling up the dozens of units that would respond, Wilson turned on his lights and siren and headed his car over the curb to the access road where he raced to the next crossover several blocks away, sped across, and moved east on the interstate to the scene. He steered along the grassy shoulder past the cars that had come to a stop behind the accident and pulled his car across the driving lanes thirty yards short of the burning vehicles.
            He spotted other police cars arriving from several directions and heard the wail of many sirens. An ambulance pulled past Wilson’s car and stopped. Paramedics spilled out and ran to the still living burn victims on the shoulder. A crowd of people from the stopped cars had gathered in the downpour, observing the carnage with sick, fearsome faces.
            Wilson motioned them away. “Move back folks. There’s nothing you can do. Fire department’s on the way.”
            The people turned slowly back toward their cars. Several held their fists clenched as they cried tears of frustration and sorrow. A fire truck eased along the shoulder past Wilson’s car and swung into the roadway. Firefighters pulled hoses from the truck and started laying foam on the fire. Another truck pulled into place on the far side of the wreck and its firemen attacked the blaze from that position. The flames began to diminish.
            Other officers joined Wilson and other police cars sealed the freeway in both directions. The police routed the cars up the embankment to the service road. Soon the freeway around the accident was clear of cars except for the seven or eight ruins clustered around the hulks of the burned out gasoline and produce trucks.
            Watermelons littered the area, many split open from the heat. Their mushy red interiors clashed with the slate grey pavement. Paramedics escorted those who had survived to ambulances and put the smoldering bodies from the roadway on stretchers.
            Wilson and tall, blond Sergeant Crow walked together to the tangled vehicles where firemen were prying open the blackened door of a Ford Taurus with the Jaws of Life, a hydraulic device. Not an appropriate name this time, Wilson thought. An acrid stench of burned flesh hung in the air, overpowering the pungent odor of gasoline.
            The door of the Taurus popped open. Wilson’s stomach turned at the sight inside. The fire had destroyed all semblance of their features but the charred forms were inescapably human. The larger adult body lay protectively over the corpses of two children.
            The face of his son smiling as he opened his birthday presents flashed through Wilson’s mind. He turned from the pitiful sight.
            From the top of the roadside embankment a big man in a suit came running through the diminishing rain. At the edge of the road an officer tried to restrain him but he broke free and hurried to Wilson and Sergeant Crow. He stared at the still-legible license plate of the burned car.
            “My wife! My kids! Oh, my God! My God!”
            He started forward but Wilson and Sergeant Crow grabbed his arms and turned him around.
            “You can’t do anything sir,” Crow said. “Come away.”
            The big man’s shoulders slumped. He put his hands to his face, sobbing. Wilson and the sergeant gently led him to the side of the road where they turned him over to two paramedics. Wilson, overcome, stumbled to the grassy shoulder, vomiting time after time as if his stomach could purge his soul of the evil he had seen. Finally, he straightened.
            Sergeant Crow took his arm. “You okay?”      
            Wilson nodded. “Yeah.”
            “Did you see the wreck?”
            “Yeah, I called it in.”
            “I got to write the accident report.”
            “I don’t envy you.”
            “It’s a mess all right. What happened?”
            Wilson described what he had seen. “It wouldn’t have been much of a problem if the tanker truck hadn’t got involved,” he concluded.
            “What caused it to go out of control?”
            Wilson shrugged. “Don’t know. I couldn’t see any reason for it. He just suddenly veered across the median. He couldn’t have done a better job of hitting ‘em if he’d aimed for ‘em.”
            “Did you see what happened to the driver?”
            “Probably still in the cab.”
            Both men turned toward the tanker, looming oppressively over the other vehicles.
            “Maybe we oughta check it,” Sergeant Crow said.
            Wilson shook his head. “Let’s let the fire boys take care of that. I’m sure he’s in there.”
            “Guess you’re right. Can you help me with a diagram?”
            “You bet. Let’s get started. I need to get out of here.”
            The next day, lawyer Jim McSpadden sat at his desk reading the Star-Telegram. Nine Killed In Pileup, ran the headline. According to the story the drunken driver of an Alamo Oil Company tanker had veered across the median into a wreck that had just occurred on the other side of the road. Nine people had died on the scene and two of the eleven injured remained in critical condition. The dead trucker’s blood alcohol had tested at double the amount that classified him as intoxicated in the eyes of the law.
            Jim pushed the paper away and got up. He walked to the window and looked out at the summer day, bright and hot after yesterday’s storm. Untold human misery came from an accident like this one, he thought. The psychic wounds of the survivors would never heal, however much money the Alamo Oil Company paid them. The money was important, though, and here was an opportunity for some lawyers. He could sure stand to be one of them.
            At forty-three, his fine blond hair had thinned and his grey-specked beard made him look older. Tall and thick through the middle in spite of his jogging program, he wore ready-to-wear slacks and a red, open-necked sports shirt. No point in wearing a suit when he wasn’t going to court.
            He still wasn’t used to his small, one-lawyer office. Until last year he’d been in a partnership with Bobby Toricelli and Gene Burns. They’d had a big volume worker’s compensation practice until the Texas Legislature had changed the law to make it almost impossible for lawyers to work in the compensation field. The change had come several years earlier but there had been enough unresolved cases under the old law to keep them busy for a while.
            They’d struggled to hold on as their income dropped but eventually had to dissolve the partnership. Bobby had gone back to work for the District Attorney’s office and Gene had opened a small office doing divorce and criminal law work. Jim had stuck to personal injury work, surviving on what car wreck and construction accident cases he could get. It was tough. Many months he couldn’t pay his bills.
            A shot at even one of the death or injury cases from the West Freeway accident would give him hope for the future.
            His secretary, Susan Rawlins, stuck her head in the door.
            “Coffee’s ready. Want a cup?”
            “Sure do.”
            She brought him a large ceramic mug. Jim had hired Susan when he’d opened the office. In her mid-fifties with two grown children, she’d found it necessary to go back to work as a legal secretary after the failure of a twenty-five year marriage. She had a solemn, skinny triangle of a face, wore glasses with fake tortoise shell rims, and had an unflappable, no nonsense approach to the legal business.
            Jim took the cup, nodding toward the paper on his desk. “See the story on the big wreck?”
            “I sure did. What a shame!”
            “No one’s called about it, have they?”
            She smiled, shaking her head. “Not yet.”
            “Somehow I didn’t think they had.”
            At noon Jim went down to the deli on the ground floor to get a sandwich. He ate alone most days now and missed the exchange of banter and lawyer talk with Gene and Bobby. They had taken long lunches to discuss their cases, bitch about judges and insurance adjusters, and exchange the latest courthouse gossip. Now, with a reduced case load and no lawyers in the building he wanted to lunch with, Jim usually ate in fifteen or twenty minutes and went back to the office.
            He stayed caught up on his work and usually went home before five. He lived alone in a town house near Ridglea Country Club. The three-bedroom brick ranchstyle on five acres west of town had gone to his former wife, Ellen, in their divorce settlement. Thoughts of Ellen, their son, Travis, and the house he had loved ran through Jim’s mind as he slowly ate his pastrami on rye. Were they watering the grass enough and had anyone ever fixed the leaky wellhouse roof?
            Susan was wiping lunch crumbs off her desk when Jim walked back into the office.
            “Any calls?” he asked.
            She nodded. “Several.”
            “Anything important?”
            “There was one about that accident.”
            “You’re kidding!”
            “I’m not.”
            Jim’s pulse skipped a beat. “Who was it?”
            “Some preacher. Said he needed to talk to you about it.”
            Susan handed him the number and Jim went into his office to make the call.
            A church secretary at Saint Stephen’s Episcopal in the Wedgewood area put him through to Reverend Goodall.
            “I had a message to call you,” Jim said.
            The reverend had a deep, throaty voice, full of confidence and compassion. “That’s right. I got your name from Jack Corcoran.”
            “That’s my pastor. What can I do for you?”
            “We lost three members of our congregation in the wreck yesterday. A woman and two daughters. I’m sure the surviving husband’s going to need some legal help.”
            “Have you talked to him about it?”
            “Not yet. Right now he’s in no shape to make decisions. He came on the scene and saw the bodies still in the car.”
            Jim drew in his breath. In his gut he felt the anguish of the distraught husband and father. “That’s terrible. Does he have any other children?”
            “There’s a surviving son. He’s taking it hard, too.”
            “How old is he?”
            “Around twelve.”
            “When do you want me to talk to the man?”
            “The funeral’s tomorrow and he’ll need several days after that before trying to do anything.”
            “I understand. What’s his name?”
            “Al Richaud.”
            Jim scribbled the name on a legal pad.
            “Call me when he’s ready. But don’t wait too long. Even though it’s hard, he needs to move fast. You can bet the insurance company investigators are working day and night on this one. If I’m gonna get into it I’d like to be able to look over their shoulders.”
            “I’ll talk to him about it after the funeral. What do you think about the case?”
            “All I know is what I’ve seen in the paper. From that, it looks like Alamo Oil Company’s clearly liable. There’s probably a good case on the drivers of the watermelon truck and the pickup, too, but I doubt if they’ve got much insurance.”
            “Maybe Al should just wait and see how much Alamo will pay before getting a lawyer.”
            “I wouldn’t advise that. They’ll probably try to throw some money at him and it’ll sound like a lot but there’s not much chance they’ll make a really fair offer right off the bat. And they may try to wiggle out of it. They could claim Alamo isn’t liable because the driver deviated from the course and scope of his employment by getting drunk.”
            “Isn’t their insurance still responsible?”
            “Maybe. But the coverage on this truck and driver may not be adequate for all the deaths and injuries involved. The umbrella coverage and reinsurance on the whole company needs to be brought into play and if they can get the driver out of the course and scope it may exclude those larger layers of coverage.”
            “I guess it’s pretty tricky.”
            “It sure is. That’s why Mr. Richaud needs a lawyer right away.”
            “I understand. I’ll call you in a few days, Mr. McSpadden. Thanks for talking to me.”
            Jim put the phone down and walked out to Susan’s desk. “We may get a shot at one of the cases.”
            “That’s great. Who would we be representing?”
            Jim told her about the claim.
            Tears shone in her eyes. “How terrible for that man to see the bodies!”
            “He’ll never get over it.”
            “When will you know if we get the case?”
            “The pastor’s going to call me in a few days.”
            “I sure hope we get hired.”
            “So do I. Lord knows, I need a break.”
            Back in his office, Jim stood with his hands behind his back looking out the window over the tops of the full-foliaged trees. It had been nice of Jack Corcoran to think of him. Jim hadn’t darkened the doors of the church much since the divorce.
            This case could make things work for him again. Excitement and exhilaration mingled with his sympathy for Al Richaud. He knew he could do a good job. But he didn’t have it yet and you shouldn’t count your birds before you have them in hand.
            Rollin “Rolly” Sullivan had seen the story in the San Antonio Express-News about the wreck. This case was right up his alley but he couldn’t work on it if no one hired him. Over the last ten years he’d become one of the brightest lights in the Texas personal injury bar with a score of multimillion dollar verdicts and settlements to his credit. A small man of fifty-six, he had an angular Irish face and wore his greying red hair short. In his last big case he’d convinced a South Texas jury to award a woman eight million dollars for injuries sustained in a traffic accident. She’d been rearended by an A-1 Moving Company van traveling through town at a grossly excessive speed and had suffered a ruptured disc. As a result of her injury and surgery, she had permanently lost all interest in sexual relations with her husband. At least, that was what she’d testified.
            Rolly had his own opinion of why she’d lost her libido. He’d been around her husband a lot while working on the case. But in the end the jury had found her problem was grounded in the psychic effects of the accident.
            It had taken expert opinion testimony and a slick argument from Rolly to convince the jury of the connection. The expert testimony had come from psychologist Nadine Graves, an imposing lady with a wide forehead who wore her glasses secured behind her neck with a cord. She had been based in San Antonio but had recently moved her office to Fort Worth.
            Remembering this, Rolly dialed Nadine’s number and a secretary quickly connected them.
            “Rolly, baby! How you been doing?”
            Nadine’s enthusiasm recalled the physical relation that had developed between them as a result of their work on the last case. Rolly thought of her thrusting large white breasts, the roll of her wide hips, the labored creaking of the motel bed. He could stand some more of that. Maybe this new case would give them a chance. Of course, their respective spouses mustn’t know.       “I’m doing great, Nadine! We miss you here in San Antone.”
            “I’d love to be there, sugar, but when Bill got transferred, I had to move too.”
            “I understand.”
            “What can I do for you?”
            “We’re too far away for that.”
            She laughed. “You know what I mean.”
            “I’m gonna get involved with the litigation on that big wreck up there.”
            “The one yesterday?”
            “Who do you represent?”
            “No one, right now. That’s where you come in.”
            “What do you mean?”
            “Don’t you think the wreck victims and their families could stand a little grief counseling?”
            “Sure. No doubt about it. But none of them have called me.”
            “I was thinking you could send them letters.”
            “I can’t solicit clients like that.”
            “But you can offer them services for free.”
            “It’d be pretty tricky. What did you have in mind?”
            “I’ll get the names and addresses through a contact my investigator has in the Fort Worth police department. You can write them letters offering free group grief counseling to help them deal with the aftermath of the accident. What would be wrong with that?”
            Nadine hesitated. “Nothing, I guess. A session like that could do them all a lot of good. I could offer it as a public service. But where do you come in?”
            “I’ll pay your charges for the session. I’ll rent a meeting room at the Worthington for it. At the end, you can introduce me and I’ll talk to them about being their lawyer.”
            “Is that ethical?”
            “I think so. You’re providing them a free service and I’m giving them a chance to hire the best lawyer they can possibly get.”
            “But isn’t that kind of solicitation illegal? Isn’t it...what do you call it?”
            “Barratry? No, I don’t think so. The court decisions allow us a lot more latitude to promote our services than they used to. I think what I’m talking about is commercial free speech, protected by the Constitution. These folks are going to get referred to a lot of pissant lawyers who don’t know shit about handling a case of this magnitude. The recovery could be huge but it won’t be if these people get tied up with the kind of incompetents their preachers and friends will send them to. I need to get in on the ground floor to make sure they don’t get screwed.”
            Nadine laughed. “And to give yourself a big piece of the action?”
            “That, too.”
            “Well, you’re the lawyer. When do we start?”
            “Right away. Times a’wastin’.”
            “Fax me those addresses and a draft of the letter.”
            “I’ll have them to you this afternoon.”
            “I’ll get the letters right out and shoot for Friday for the counseling session.”
            “Perfect. I’ll have my secretary call you this afternoon with the arrangements for the meeting room.”
            “Sounds good, Rolly.”
            “Of course, there’s a bonus in all this....”
            “It’ll give us a chance to get together again.”
            “Yes it will. Timing’s perfect. Bill’s out of town for a week.”
            “Till Friday, then.”
            Seventeen people showed up. They sat in padded hotel chairs lined up in rows before a podium in a meeting room in the Worthington Hotel in downtown Fort Worth. The hotel had done a good job on the room, closing off a section of a large ballroom into an intimate space.
            The subdued mauve covers of the chair seats matched the carpet. The lights had been turned down to a pleasant level. Arrangements of cut flowers in vases sat on small polished tables along the sides and coffee, soft drinks, and snacks were available at a buffet table. Rolly sat at the back of the group as if he was one of them.
            He had hoped for more. How many of the killed and injured did they represent? They sat solemn-faced in small, aloof groups, talking little.
            Nadine suddenly entered from a door behind the podium. With her high forehead, substantial bust and clear eyes, she projected an air of authority and understanding. Leaving the mike on its stand, she moved in front of the podium.
            “Good afternoon, folks,” she said. “I’m Nadine Graves. I’m a psychologist and a counselor. My office is out on Camp Bowie Boulevard. Let’s start this session by rearranging the chairs in a circle so we’re all facing each other.”
            They got up, moved the extra chairs to the side and brought their chairs into a circle. This simple act of cooperation broke the tension and the men and women smiled at each other and exchanged remarks as they worked together. Rolly helped, moving more chairs than anyone else. When the rearrangement was complete, Nadine took a seat near the center. Rolly parked himself across from Nadine.
            She then favored the group with a bright smile. “That’s better. If this session is to do any good, we have to be able to talk to each other. I invited you to come here today because I thought it might help to talk about what you’re going through. Too often, in the aftermath of tragedy, people bottle up their feelings, try to go on with their lives, and defer dealing with their grief.
            “Although most of you don’t know each other, you have something in common in your loss from this accident. I believe talking about it can be helpful and I’d like to invite all of you to share your feelings with the rest of us.”
            Nadine looked over the group, her eyes projecting invitation. A thin woman with a flushed face held up her hand. She was seated with two men and another woman. They had a solid, middleclass look.
            Nadine nodded. “Please tell us your name and share your experience.”
      The woman looked around. “I’m Rhonda Carter and this is my husband Joe, and my sister LaVerne and her husband, Dick.
            “Our mother was in right in the middle of the pileup. The doors of her car were jammed and she never had a chance to get out. We lost our father to cancer a year ago and we’re having a lot of trouble accepting this second loss so soon, especially with the way it happened. I keep thinking of mother trapped in that car while the fire closed in on her. I wake up in the middle of the night thinking it’s all a bad dream and then I have to realize it really happened and that I’ve lost her for good.”
            Tears ran down Rhonda Carter’s cheeks. She put her hands to her face and quickly sat down. Her husband put his arm around her shoulders.
            Rolly made a mental note. The mother would be Ruby Walthall, the seventy-two year old lady in the old Lincoln that had ended up between the tanker and the watermelon truck.
            Nadine nodded with an expression of sympathy. “You’re among friends, Mrs. Carter. These other people are here for the same reason as you.”
            A small man with greying, curly hair held up his hand and Nadine nodded to him.
            He spoke with a shaking voice. “I’m Roger Lombardo. My daughter and her husband couldn’t get out of their car, either. They were going out to dinner for their fifth anniversary. My wife and I are keeping the granddaughter. She keeps asking about her mother and father. It’s really hard to handle.”
            Several people started sobbing. Rolly dabbed away his own tears. He knew this man was the surviving father of Doreen Baer who had died with her husband Kurt in the small Plymouth caught between the blue pickup and the BMW.
            A thin black man in a blue suit stood “I’m Odell Wyatt,” he said “My daughter got out of the van she was riding in but she was all afire. The doctors think she’ll live but it’s gonna take years of plastic surgery and rehabilitation and she’ll never be the same.”
            That would be Demetria Wyatt, Rolly thought. She and two other black teenagers had been riding in a Dodge van that had spun away from the center of the wreck. All three had survived but were terribly burned.
            A woman with her face swollen from crying raised her hand. Her unmarried daughter, a promising young doctor, had been in the BMW on her way to her hospital rounds. She had suffered broken bones in her face and a broken shoulder along with serious burns. She would be in the hospital for several more weeks.
            Over the next hour, many others in the room stood to share their stories of injury and bereavement. Nadine played the role of compassionate listener and guide, letting the people interact in mutual revelation and support. When all had spoken who wanted to, Nadine turned to Rolly.
            “Folks, it’s important to open up as you have today and I hope the process will continue for all of you. In addition to dealing with your grief, there’s something else you’ll all have to deal with and that’s the legal aspects of the accident. It takes a lawyer to adequately advise you in this area so I’d like to introduce one of the best personal injury lawyers in this state, Rolly Sullivan from San Antonio, who will speak briefly about your legal rights.”
            Nadine spread an open palm toward Rolly. He slowly looked around the circle, studying the people for signs of hostility. What he would say in the next few minutes was critical. No one was smiling. Lines of tension and uncertainty marked many faces. He knew they had all assumed he was one of them and had not yet adjusted to his new identity.
            “Ladies and gentlemen, I’m glad to be here and I thank Nadine for asking me. This is a grief counseling session but we both thought it would be helpful for you to know your legal rights. These deaths and injuries happened because of wrongdoing on the part of the Alamo Oil Company. Without the criminal negligence of the drunken Alamo truck driver, no one would have been killed or seriously hurt.
            “You don’t have to be passive victims of Alamo’s negligence. Bringing this guilty corporation to justice and making it pay for the devastation it has caused will help all of you put the affair behind you and go on with your lives. Even now, Alamo’s lawyers and investigators are working to minimize their exposure. To fight back you all need a lawyer of your own.
            “I’m not here to make a hardsell pitch to be that lawyer. That would be inappropriate at this time. But I do think you need to know something about the process involved in a case like this so you’ll be prepared to deal with Alamo and its adjusters and lawyers when the time comes.”
            Rolly outlined the procedure he thought Alamo would follow in dealing with the claims. He said they could expect the adjusters to contact them very soon and that they would be very sympathetic and would want to settle, but to beware of the early offers; they were almost certain to be too small. Only by employing someone who knew the process inside and out could victims get truly fair treatment. He asked if there were any questions.
            Suddenly, small, grey-haired Roger Lombardo stood, face red and hands shaking.
            “What kind of charade is this, anyway? You get us here to talk about our sorrow and it’s all just a pretext for a pitch by a goddamn greedy lawyer.”
            Rolly wasn’t surprised. He’d known some of them would feel like Lombardo. He put on a sorrowful face.
            “Don’t think badly of me, Mr. Lombardo. Mrs. Graves asked me here as a public service to make sure you were aware of the legal aspects of the accident.”
            “Sure she did. You think I’m fool enough to believe that?”
            “It’s the truth.”
            Abruptly, Lombardo turned and headed for the door, but no one followed. So far, so good, Rolly thought.
            He waited until Lombardo was out the door. “Seriously, folks, I’m here mainly to ask you not to be lulled into a false sense of confidence by slick-talking insurance adjusters. Remember, however sympathetic they may sound, they are not your friends. All I’d ask is that you get legal advice of your own and get it now. It doesn’t have to be me but if any of you want to talk, I’ll be available at the close of the session.”
            Rolly flashed a friendly smile, his way of letting them know he was a good guy just trying to be helpful. He couldn’t help it if some mistrusted his motives.
            Nadine took over. She thanked them for coming, reminding them to confront their losses by talking.
            “If any of you need further counseling, please get it promptly from a mental health professional of your choice. I’m leaving some of my cards here on the podium. If you don’t have someone in mind, I’d be glad to talk to any of you.”
            The meeting over, some turned immediately to the door while others clustered around Nadine. Rolly walked quickly to a table at the side of the room where he had placed a thick scrapbook. A few in the group followed him, led by a big, black-haired man in slacks and a sports shirt. He had not spoken during the counseling session.
            The man stared at Rolly for a moment, unsmiling, then spoke. “It’s pretty obvious this whole deal was staged to get your foot in the door but I don’t mind that. I’m ready to talk to a lawyer. What makes you think you’re the one?”
            Rolly motioned toward the chairs around the table. “That’s a fair question. Ya’ll sit down and I’ll try to answer it.”
            Rolly opened the scrapbook and showed them newspaper clippings from the case of the lady who lost her libido, then turned the pages back to some of his other impressive victories. Rolly Sullivan Strikes Again, ran one headline in the San Antonio Express-News. The story described the tactics he had used to win a twenty-two million dollar class action lawsuit for hundreds of people across the country damaged by rototillers that had climbed up their legs when placed in reverse.
            Other clippings detailed his success in a bad faith damages case against Hercules Insurance Company. Rolly had proved to the satisfaction of a jury in Houston that the company’s agents and adjusters had been retroactively canceling property damage policies after accidents in order to avoid paying the claims. The award was ten million in actual damages and fifty million in punitive damages. No matter that the court had reduced the punitive award to thirty million, Rolly had collected a total of forty million plus interest for his clients and himself.
            He pointed out a few more cases and then slammed the book shut. “Folks, these are my credentials. I don’t believe I’m being immodest in saying you can’t get a better lawyer for a case like this.”
            The big man put out his hand. “Mr. Sullivan, I’m Al Richaud. I lost my wife and two daughters because of Alamo’s negligence. No money award can bring them back but I’d like to send the bastards a message for what they did, and I’d be proud to have you for my lawyer.”
            Rolly gripped his hand. “I’d be proud to represent you.”
            An hour later, after everyone had gone, Rolly and Nadine toasted each other with soft drinks from the buffet table.
            “To our success,” she said.
            They clinked their glasses and drank. The session had ended well. Rolly had signed up Richaud, Rhonda Carter and her husband and inlaws, and Odell Wyatt. Yvonne Shaw, the mother of the injured doctor, had promised to introduce Rolly to her daughter Mary in the hospital. This group represented four of the nine fatalities and two of the eleven injured. Rolly thought his contract with Wyatt would lead to his representing the other two badly burned teenagers in the car with Wyatt’s daughter.
            He would have liked to have everyone, but that was too much to expect. It was just as well not to have the families of the drivers of the watermelon truck and the blue pickup. Both had died in the wreck. Since their negligence had contributed to the accident, representing their heirs would conflict with his representation of the victims who were guiltless.
            All the claimants he had signed up were as pure as the driven snow and he had them all on contracts providing a one-third attorney’s fee, contingent on the outcome. All things considered, he had done a good day’s work.
            For her part, Nadine now had five new clients who had made appointments for further counseling. It was understood she would also earn fees for the psychological evaluations Rolly would have her perform in connection with his trial preparation.
            They finished their soft drinks and put the glasses on the table.
            “We ought to be toasting each other with something stronger,” Nadine said.
            “That’s for sure. Let’s grab a couple of drinks at the bar and get a bite at the Star of Texas Grill.”
            Later that night, well-greased from the bar and mellow from their good meal and after-dinner drinks, Rolly and Nadine took the elevator to the top floor of the hotel. Pulse thumping in anticipation, he preceded her down the hall. They quickly entered the suite he had booked and Rolly fastened the security chain.
            As he turned around, Nadine moved into his arms. Taller than he was by several inches, she pulled him against her and covered his mouth with hers. Large, gelatinous breasts pressed against his chest. She pulled her lips away.
            “I want your body, little man,” she whispered.
            “I’m all yours, Nadine.”
            He took her hand and led her to the window where he pulled back the drapes of the still-darkened room. Below them Main Street ran south through downtown Fort Worth to the Tarrant County Convention Center ten blocks away. Hundreds of small lights in the trees along the street lent a touch of magic to the scene. Passing cars left red and white trails along the street.
            Rolly put his arm around Nadine’s waist. “It’s pretty, isn’t it?”
            “Yes it is. You picked a room with a view.”
            “That’s not all it has.”
            “What do you mean?”
            “There’s a spa with a hot tub.”
            “Let’s try it out.”
            They took off their clothes. Nadine had lost any claim to a girlish figure long ago. Large white breasts hung pendulously, capped with dark, elongated nipples. Her midriff, generous but still taut, merged with wide, flared hips. She wouldn’t win any Miss Petite contests but her big body excited Rolly.
            She looked down at his throbbing member. “I never could understand how a little guy like you could have such a big pecker.”
            “It’s one of my most loveable attributes.”
            They soaked in the hot tub for half an hour, then toweled off their reddened bodies and headed for the bedroom. She lay on her back and he moved over her, tugging gently on her nipples with his teeth. He trailed his tongue to her navel where he explored its inner recesses.
            Her breath came harder. “Hurry, Rolly, I can’t wait.”
            Spreading her legs, he entered, and they began a rhythmic pumping as he rode her pudendum like a cowboy on a bronco. She took his buttocks in her hands and forced him down, harder into her. Suddenly, with a cry, she thrust herself up and he penetrated deeper as she shuddered in a long spasm that he instantly reciprocated, fiercely fulfilled.
            Later, relaxed, they lay atop the covers as the air conditioning cooled their heated bodies.
            “You know what?” she asked.
            “I’d say it’s been a pretty good day.”