She was a star.
Queen of the Cosmos.
was Beth Convey, killing machine with compassion.
She was in room 311 of Superior Court for the District of Columbia.
The air was stale, stagnant in fact, but that was to be expected.
Any courtroom where a high-profile trial was drawing to a close
meant too many days with the doors closed, too many hours of body
heat, too much anger, disgust, and sublimated violence for the air
to be fresh. The overhead fluorescent lights gave off a relentless
glare, and there were no windows that offered the relief of the
outdoors; today was a blustery March afternoon. This third-floor
room in the thirty-year-old courthouse was a
ventilation-challenged, claustrophobic, wood-lined
Still, the packed audience gave no indication they were unhappy
with, or even noticed, the conditions. They sat silent, riveted,
because hundreds of millions of dollars were riding on Beth
Convey's cross-examination in this headline-making divorce trial,
and no one --- particularly the press --- wanted to miss a
Beth turned to the judge. "Permission to approach the witness, Your
Honor." She was known for her ice-cold calm, which she felt she had
probably inherited. After all, she was the daughter of
Jack-the-Knife Convey, Los Angeles's top criminal defense attorney.
Annoyed, she realized she was sweating.
Judge Eric Schultz was a large man with a gravelly voice and thick
eyebrows. He gave her a sharp look. Beth had kept the witness on
the stand all day, and there was an edge to the judge's voice as he
said, "Very well. But move your questioning along, Ms.
She marched forward, her pumps soundless on the carpeting. Behind
her she could feel the worried gaze of her client, Michelle
Philmalee, while before her sat the object of her
cross-examination: Michelle's husband, industrialist Joel Mabbit
Philmalee. A red flush showed
above his starched white shirt collar, and anger flickered in his
Pretrial, his lawyers had made what they called a "sensible"
settlement offer of $50 million, a fraction of the value of his
privately held corporation. It was insultingly low, and Michelle
had refused it. Which had forced Beth into a tactic that could
easily fail: She must make Joel Philmalee's violent temper betray
him in open trial, which was why she had kept him on the stand so
She had thought she had left all this behind. Although she had
begun practice as a family-law attorney, she now specialized in
international law. With her knowledge of Russian and Eastern
European politics, her ability to speak a useful amount of Russian
and Polish, and her hard-nosed business sense, she had done so well
negotiating and cutting red tape in former Communist countries on
behalf of Michelle Philmalee that Michelle insisted Beth represent
her in the divorce, too.
Inwardly, Beth sighed. She would have passed the divorce case on to
one of the firm's other lawyers except that the managing partner
had weighed in on the situation with an emphatic "absolutely not."
The firm --- Edwards & Bonnett --- was determined to keep
Michelle's business, which meant keeping her happy. If Michelle
wanted Beth, she would have her, and if Beth were a really good
girl and won a healthy settlement package for Michelle, her reward
would be a leap onto the fast track to partnership. No fool, Beth
had gone to trial.
She stopped five feet from Joel Philmalee. A strong scent of
expensive cologne wafted from him as he adjusted himself and
glowered. His rage was building. She repressed a smile --- and felt
a rush of nausea.
She inhaled, forcing the nausea away. She made her voice flat,
harsh. "Isn't it true you gave the hotel chain to Mrs. Philmalee to
manage in the beginning because you considered it a minor
investment, and you thought she'd fail? Yes or no."
He looked straight into her eyes. "I assumed --- "
She tapped her foot. "Yes or no?"
He shot a look of hatred across the courtroom to Michelle.
"Isn't it true you tried to fire her, but she convinced you to wait
for the fourth- quarter report, which confirmed the success of her
expansion strategy? Yes or no."
"I suppose you could say --- "
"Yes or no?"
"Never! Is that good enough? No! Never!"
Beth knew he was lying, but she could not force him to change his
testimony here. What was important was that the judge had heard her
raise the questions and that she was making Joel Philmalee furious
at her. To him she had become yet another pushy, insolent,
aggravating female, just like his wife.
Beth had presented testimony, minutes of meetings, and financial
analyses that showed Michelle had often played the deciding role in
the Group's growth. Now she hoped to add a convincer without ever
saying it outright: Joel was a wife-beater. There were rumors about
it, and Beth knew they were true. The problem was Michelle wanted
no official confirmation that she had been the victim of domestic
violence, not even for a half billion dollars in assets. The
battlefields of commerce had taught her it was far better their war
over a financial agreement look like a contest between two titans
of industry. In business, Michelle believed, she must never look
Beth agreed, and although the strategy had made her job far harder,
it was their only hope. Unlike community-property states, the
District of Columbia made no assumption there would be a
fifty-fifty split in divorce, which was what Michelle wanted.
Instead, its laws allowed judges broad discretion.
Beth fought back another wave of nausea and plunged ahead. "Mr.
Philmalee, isn't it true that your wife bought and sold, sat on
boards of directors, traveled extensively to evaluate properties,
and created Philmalee International completely on her own? Yes or
He leaned forward. "No! She did everything under my orders.
I'm Philmalee Group!"
"Please confine yourself to yes or no, Mr. Philmalee." She could
not seem to catch her breath. Her heart was racing again. Last
week, her internist had diagnosed stress as the cause of her
periodic breathlessness and told her she must slow down. Only
thirty-two years old and already she had to ease back on her work?
Nonsense. This trial was too important.
Joel Philmalee turned angrily to the judge. "Do I have to put up
with this, Your Honor?"
Judge Schultz shook his head. "You were given ample opportunity to
"But my ingrate wife wants half my goddamn company!" He shot
Michelle a look of scorching rage.
Michelle tightened her lips, her face grim. She was a tiny woman,
compact and fashionable in a quilted Chanel suit and red-rimmed
Armani eyeglasses. She gave no evidence of the turmoil and
loneliness of which Beth had caught glimpses. Michelle's isolation
was something Beth understood. She and Michelle had made their work
the centers of their lives. Beth had never regretted it, and from
what she had observed, neither had Michelle.
Beth forged on: "The operative word for you is our, sir.
Yours and Mrs. Philmalee's. 'Our company.' The
Group. You both worked --- " She stifled a gasp. A
dull pain gripped her chest, and sweat slid hot and sticky beneath
her suit. No. She could not be sick now. She was so close to
Joel's hands knotted. "My wife didn't do jack shit!"
The judge spoke up, "Mr. Philmalee, I've warned you about your
language. Control yourself. Next time I'll hold you in
With an effort, Beth forced her voice to remain calm. "She did
everything. Isn't it true that without her you'd have nothing? She
gave you the money to start. You took credit for her ideas ---
"Objection, Your Honor!" thundered Joel's attorney.
"Overruled," the judge said firmly. "Continue, Counselor."
Beth pressed on. "She planned tactics and told you how to implement
them. Take the Wheelwright transaction. Oak Tree Plaza. Philmalee
Gardens --- "
"No! No! No!" Joel Philmalee jumped up. The flush that had been
hovering just beneath his ears spread in a red tide across his
The judge hammered his gavel.
"Even Philmalee International --- " Beth persisted, herself risking
being held in contempt.
At which point Joel Philmalee had had enough. "You bitch!" He
leaped over the rail straight at Beth.
Beth's heart seemed to explode in pain. It felt as if her rib cage
would shatter. The pain was black and ragged and sent jolts of
electricity to her brain. She tried to take a breath, to stay on
her feet, to remain conscious. She had been an achiever all her
life. Michelle deserved half of the Philmalee Group. Beth needed to
go on fighting ---
Instead, she collapsed to the carpet.
Joel Philmalee did not notice. He bolted past her toward his
Her little face twisted in terror, Michelle whirled so quickly to
escape that her glasses flew off. Screams and shouts erupted from
the audience. Cursing, Joel grabbed Michelle from behind.
Just as his hands closed around her throat, a dozen journalists in
the audience seemed to come alive. They cascaded down the aisle.
Within seconds, two had pulled him off Michelle.
Courthouse security rushed into the room, and as order began to
reassert itself and Joel Philmalee was handcuffed and forced
through a side door, someone noticed Beth Convey was still lying
where she had fallen.
"Did she get hurt?" the judge asked, alarmed. "Check her,
The bailiff sprinted to the unconscious woman, dropped to his
haunches, and felt for her pulse. Frantically, he adjusted his
fingers. "Nothing, sir."
As the courtroom fell into a stunned hush, he leaned lower, his
cheek an inch from her mouth, waiting for a breath. He stayed there
a long time.
At last, he looked up at the judge. His eyes were large with shock.
"She's dead. I'm sorry, Judge. I don't see how, but Ms. Convey's
A month later, on a fine, moonlit night in April, a
Washington, D.C., 911 operator took a call at 10:12: A motorcycle
accident had just occurred in Rock Creek Park, apparently one man
injured. The caller gave directions.
Within four minutes, paramedics and the police arrived on the
scene, just as a new Lexus was pulling away. The Lexus turned
sharply back onto the shoulder and screeched to a stop, its rear
wheels sending gravel pinging against a metal guardrail. A
distinguished-looking gentleman in an expensive business suit
jumped out of the driver's seat and hurried back through the
nighttime shadows to where the paramedics were bending over the
His face distraught, the Lexus driver's words poured out with a
slight accent: "I am thankful someone called you. Can you help my
friend? I did not know what to do, and I have no cellular phone, so
I thought I should drive for help. I was late, yes? I was hurrying
home to meet him. Then --- terrible! --- I saw him and the
motorcycle lying beside the road." His voice rose. "He was always
riding that motorcycle. I told him and told him to wear a helmet,
but he never would. He was unconscious when I found him. Is he
going to be all right?" He took a deep breath. His lips trembled as
he watched the paramedics lift the victim onto a gurney. He looked
like a diplomat or a wealthy businessman, a fact that was not lost
upon the paramedics.
The lead medic said politely, "Please move out of the way, sir.
He's got a serious head trauma, and we've got to get him to the
hospital. You can follow us, okay? What's his name?"
"Ogust. Mikhail Ogust," the man said eagerly. "Which hospital will
you take him to? He and I have known each other many years, across
many continents. You would not believe-–"
The paramedic nodded. Obviously the fellow was having a hard time
dealing with his friend's injuries. As he helped load the
unconscious victim into the ambulance, he told the man the name and
address of the hospital.
At the same time, a policeman who had been measuring the skid mark
on the street approached. "I'd like to ask you a few questions,
The gentleman turned. "Oh. Oh, yes. Of course. Certainly."
As the ambulance sped off, beacons flashing, siren wailing, the
policeman wrote down the man's name, asked him to relate what he
had seen, and told him they would try to locate the Good Samaritan
who had phoned in the accident. It looked as if no other vehicle
had been involved.
The moment the policeman released him, the man climbed into his
Lexus and drove straight to the hospital. There he discovered
Mikhail Ogust had been pronounced dead on arrival. Everyone was
very polite and considerate, aware Mikhail Ogust had been his dear
The man bowed his head. Two tears slid down his cheeks. The nurses
offered their sympathies and told him to go home, that there was
nothing more he could do. He nodded, unable to speak, and trudged
from the hospital.
A half hour later he arrived at his multimillion-dollar estate in
Chevy Chase, set deep in thick woods and hidden from the road.
Considering the enormity of the day's events and the radical action
he had been forced to take as a consequence, he should have been
weary to the bone. Instead, he was exhilarated.
At the house's side entrance, the one most convenient to the
garage, he tapped his code into the security system, opened the
door, and strode through the kitchen and down the hall toward his
den and home office. As he passed his bedroom, he caught a glimpse
of himself in the long mirror of his closet.
He stopped in the doorway and appraised what he saw: A handsome
older man in a dark Saville Row suit and silk tie. He moved his
wrist, and his gold cufflink and Rolex watch caught the hall light
and glittered. His face seemed full and prosperous, the chin lifted
as if life's wealth were his due. His carriage was not haughty so
much as positive, certain. He gave every appearance of solidity, a
man of his time who would offer no surprises and could be utterly
relied upon. It was the image he cultivated in this new world. The
once-powerful official; now the successful businessman; the
gentleman who might be a wealthy philanthropist, certainly a pillar
of the community.
Satisfied, he continued down the corridor, allowing himself to grow
taller, straighter, thinner, more athletic. To do this, he stripped
away the inward pretenses of his current character. Like any
accomplished actor, he had no need to stare into a mirror to see
how this changed him as he knew exactly what he really looked like.
More importantly, he understood who he was, despite the different
appearances he presented to different audiences. This was a reality
he allowed only those closest to him to witness. They were few, his
true friends and associates, and always had been. Fewer every year.
A man who did great things could not have friends.
He smiled to himself as he walked into his den, picked up the
telephone, and dialed. As soon as his associate answered, he spoke
in rapid Russian: "Da, it's me. The fools believed it all.
Everything's fine. We can proceed."
heart pounded against her ribs like a mighty fist. Its insistent
beat drove her to swim up from the darkness. For a moment, terror
shook her, and she had no idea where she was. She fought confusion,
forced herself to pay attention: She could hear the whoosh
and click of many machines. The air was cool, and her nose
stung with the smell of antiseptic. . . .
A man's voice penetrated her grogginess: "Ms. Convey? Wake up.
You're in the cardiac intensive care unit now. Do you know your
name? Ms. Convey?"
Her words were a whisper. "Sure I do. But it's a secret.
Shhhhhh. . . . You have to tell me yours first."
The transplant surgeon chuckled. "Travis Jackson here. Remember?
You came through the surgery with flying colors, Beth. You've got a
healthy new heart. Open your eyes. What do you think about all
She was aware of pain muted by morphine. She pushed away the
feelings of disorientation . . . and concentrated on her chest: The
cadence of her old heart --- erratic and sometimes no more than a
frail pulse --- was gone, replaced by a beat so strong it seemed
almost to thunder. Exhausted joy swept through her, and she lay
motionless, smiling. She had a new heart.
She opened her eyes and let out a long stream of air, aware of how
--- suddenly --- she could breathe easily again. "Love this heart,
Travis. It's got rhythm. I want to keep it forever."
"That's what I like to hear." He was in his sixties. His face was
lined, and he smiled down at her through rimless eyeglasses perched
on the end of a slightly hooked nose. "It's a healthy heart, a
first-rate match for you. I didn't even need to give it an electric
shock to get it started. And your first biopsy shows no sign of
Her head was clearing, the grogginess abating as a sober awareness
of what had happened took hold.
"How can I ever thank you enough?"
"I know it seems trite, but the answer is by living a long and
healthy life. That's what I care about, and that's my reward." His
voice was warm. "You're young. We've caught this thing so fast the
rest of your body hasn't had time to deteriorate. I expect you to
have a natural life span."
"I'm so sorry about my donor's death. But I'm so very grateful,
too. . . ."
"I know. Of course you are."
Her smile faded as the morphine swept her back toward
unconsciousness. As her eyelids closed, the surgeon studied her,
feeling the awe and triumph that kept him excited about this
grueling area of medicine. A month ago, Beth Convey had been barely
alive, rushed in from the courthouse by paramedics, who had used a
portable defibrillator to restart her heart. Because she had no
history of heart problems, her internist had been sloppy; he had
wrongly diagnosed stress as the cause of her shortness of breath
and racing heart, when the reality was that her ventricles were
diseased and she was in end-stage heart failure, probably from a
viral infection she and her internist had both brushed off the
previous winter as a lingering cold.
He remembered how pale she had been when he had first examined her.
Ghostly white, really. But that was not the worst of it. As the
weeks passed, her skin turned a bilious yellow, her mind grew
confused, and she had weakened to the point where she had trouble
chewing food. All the result of a heart that could no longer pump
adequate amounts of blood and oxygen.
But now, just hours after surgery, their conversation showed her
mind was functioning again. And, too, there was the color of her
skin, now a healthy peach. To outsiders, this was evidence of the
so-called miracle of a heart transplant, while to him it was simply
what happened when everything went right.
He smiled with relief, thinking that she seemed especially alive,
vital, as she dozed in the hospital bed. She was tall ---
five-foot-ten --- and slim. A beautiful woman with a straight nose,
sculpted cheekbones, and a crown of golden hair who, judging by the
way she had looked when she had arrived, wore little makeup and
downplayed her attractiveness. The doctor found that intriguing ---
a woman who wanted to be judged by something other than her
cardiac ICU always smelled of disinfectant. Beth had grown so
accustomed to the odor over the past three days since her surgery
that she hardly noticed it. She was thinking about this because the
double doors had just swung open, and the odor of percolating
coffee was floating in, making her salivate.
Then she flinched. A stab of fear shot through her, and she tensed.
Surprised, she stared at what she told herself was simply an odd
sight: Two hospital aides dressed completely in surgical green were
rolling an old exercise bicycle into her state-of-the-art intensive
care room. But there was something about the first aide that
had startled her. Made her a little afraid. She studied him, his
assured movements, the aggressive shoulders. Now she remembered him
from before her surgery. His name was Dave, and he had a gentle
touch. He had never been anything but kind.
Her fear made no sense. She forced herself to smile. "You've got to
be kidding, Dave. An exercise bike? It's for me, isn't it?" She
continued to study him, still feeling uneasy.
"Yes, ma'am. It surely is for you."
As he and the other aide locked it into place, her doctor, Travis
Jackson, arrived. "Your new biopsies look good." She had convinced
him to give her a report as soon as he arrived to see her. Patience
was not her strong suit. "No sign of rejection or infection.
Temperature, pulse, respiration are normal. Everything's on
"Thank God," she breathed. She eyed the bike suspiciously. "Dave
says this is for me."
"Remember the bargain: You get a new heart, but in exchange you
have to take excellent care of it. Come on. The bike's been
disinfected. We'll help you."
She was incredulous. "Now? But it's only been three days. I
mean --- "
"I know. Everyone thinks it's going to take weeks to get strong
enough to begin exercising. Maybe even months. Not true. Three days
is standard operating procedure for transplants that go well, and
yours has gone exceedingly well. Come on. Up with you. This is the
beginning of your daily workouts."
Nervously she eased her legs over the side of the bed. The second
aide put sanitized tennis shoes on her feet. She stood up, tethered
by hoses and tubes and strapped up with electrodes and radios that
would signal if her heart faltered. She had a long surgical wound
down her chest, hidden beneath her hospital gown. Sharp pains
radiated from it and then dulled, assuaged by morphine.
The doctor took one arm, and Dave was suddenly at her side to take
the other. Again she flinched. She was definitely acting strangely.
A cold draft shot up her naked backside. She struggled to reach
behind to close her gown.
She sighed. "Oh, the indignity of it all."
"Reminds you you're alive." Dr. Jackson chuckled. "That's not too
bad a payoff."
They helped her to the bicycle. Even the simple act of walking two
yards was a production, but she was surprised at how strong she
felt. Once she was astride the bike, Dave headed for the door. Her
gaze followed him, relieved to see him go.
"Show me what you can do," the doctor said.
She pedaled slowly, and sweat broke out on her face. "Isn't this
enough?" she panted. "You want me to bike up Mount Everest in my
condition? Have you forgotten I almost died?"
"You did die. You're doing fine." His gaze alternated between
studying her and checking his wristwatch. "Okay, stop. That's
Sweating, she sat back and let her feet circle to a stop. She
watched as he analyzed the effects on her heart. At last, she gave
in to her nervousness and asked, "How are my readings?"
"Good. Actually, beautiful. If I were less modest, I'd congratulate
"I appreciate your modesty. It becomes you."
He laughed. "My wife says something similar." His glasses caught
the glare from the fluorescent lights and glinted as he wrote on
"I know it seems too soon to ask, but I'd like to know what I'm
facing." She hesitated. It seemed to her that she had arisen from
the dead like a phoenix, and it all had made her feel oddly,
uncomfortably transformed. A sense of longing for her familiar past
swept over her. "When can I go back to work?"
"You miss it, don't you? Well, I don't blame you. I'd feel the
same. But first we've got to make sure all your medicines are
regulated, and you've got to get on an exercise-food-sleep regimen
so you can regain your strength and we can fine-tune for future
problems. That way, when you go back to the office, you'll be in
great shape, and we won't have to worry about organ rejection,
infection, or any of that sort of unpleasantness." He gave her a
smile of understanding. "That means you've got to figure on at
least a year for recuperation."
She was shocked. "A year? My firm's going to forget who I
"I doubt it. From what I hear, you're something of a
She did not contradict him, but he obviously knew little about
high-stakes Washington law firms. The city was littered with the
corpses of last year's young hotshots.
As he and the second aide helped her off the bicycle and back into
bed, the doctor asked, "Is there anything you'd especially like
She nodded. "A drink. Vodka. Stolichnaya." She hesitated. Where had
that come from?
The doctor laughed. "Vodka's a little much for now. Besides, I
thought you were a wine drinker."
Puzzled, she added lamely, "You're right. I guess I was just
thinking we should celebrate with something stronger. I'll have
fruit juice. Mango." She no longer drank hard alcohol of any kind.
The last time she'd had vodka was in law school, when she had been
an aficionado of it, but as the surgeon and aide left, she could
taste its white-hot fire in her mouth, as fresh as if she had just
downed a shot.
The night was black, and she was running, sweating, her feet
pounding as she searched for an address. When she found the numbers
on a wrought-iron mail box, she stopped and stared up a stone walk
that led past a weeping willow tree to a long, ranch-style house
and detached garage. Panting, she studied the house: The dark
windows seemed like black holes, and the expensive property gave
off an eerie air of abandonment.
i>Warily, she ran up the drive. As she approached the buildings,
the garage door rose, and she heard the engine of a motorcycle roar
to life. The great machine rolled out, riderless, and stopped
erect, bathed in moonlight. Like a Robert Rauschenberg sculpture,
it waited poised in perfect balance, inviting speculation. Its
chrome gleamed. Exhaust puffed out from its tailpipe in a
shimmering cloud. For perhaps thirty seconds she stared, captured
by the odd sight of the powerful machine, as proud as if its
favorite rider were aboard.
Excerpted from MESMERIZED © Copyright 2011 by Gayle Lynds.
Reprinted with permission by Pocket Star, an imprint of Simon and
Schuster, Inc. All rights reserved.