Larger Font   Reset Font Size   Smaller Font  

Nothing Lasts Forever

Sidney Sheldon


  San Francisco Spring 1995

  District Attorney Carl Andrews was in a fury. "What the hell is going on here?" he demanded. "We have three doctors living together and working at the same hospital. One of them almost gets an entire hospital closed down, the second one kills a patient for a million dollars, and the third one is murdered. "

  Andrews stopped to take a deep breath. "And they're all women! Three goddam women doctors! The media is treating them like celebrities. They're all over the tube. 60 Minutes did a segment on them. Barbara Walters did a special on them. I can't pick up a newspaper or magazine without seeing their pictures, or reading about them. Two to one, Hollywood is going to make a movie about them, and they'll turn the bitches into some kind of heroines! I wouldn't be surprised if the government put their faces on postage stamps, like Presley. Well, by God, I won't have it!" He slammed a fist down against the photograph of a woman on the cover of Time magazine. The caption read: "Dr. Paige Taylor - Angel of Mercy or the Devil's Disciple?"

  "Dr. Paige Taylor. " The district attorney's voice was filled with disgust. He turned to Gus Venable, his chief prosecuting attorney. "I'm handing this trial over to you, Gus. I want a conviction. Murder One. The gas chamber. "

  "Don't worry," Gus Venable said quietly. "I'll see to it. "

  Sitting in the courtroom watching Dr. Paige Taylor, Gus Venable thought: She's jury-proof. Then he smiled to himself. No one is jury-proof. She was tall and slender, with eyes that were a startling dark brown in her pale face. A disinterested observer would have dismissed her as an attractive woman. A more observant one would have noticed something else - that all the different phases of her life coexisted in her. There was the happy excitement of the child, superimposed onto the shy uncertainty of the adolescent and the wisdom and pain of the woman. There was a look of innocence about her. She's the kind of girl, Gus Venable thought cynically, a man would be proud to take home to his mother. If his mother had a taste for cold-blooded killers.

  There was an almost eerie sense of remoteness in her eyes, a look that said that Dr. Paige Taylor had retreated deep inside herself to a different place, a different time, far from the cold, sterile courtroom where she was trapped.

  The trial was taking place in the venerable old San Francisco Hall of Justice on Bryant Street. The building, which housed the Superior Court and County Jail, was a forbidding-looking edifice, seven stories high, made of square gray stone. Visitors arriving at the courthouse were funneled through electronic security checkpoints. Upstairs, on the third floor, was the Superior Court. In Courtroom 121, where murder trials were held, the judge's bench stood against the rear wall, with an American flag behind it. To the left of the bench was the jury box, and in the center were two tables separated by an aisle, one for the prosecuting attorney, the other for the defense attorney.

  The courtroom was packed with reporters and the type of spectators attracted to fatal highway accidents and murder trials. As murder trials went, this one was spectacular. Gus Venable, the prosecuting attorney, was a show in himself. He was a burly man, larger than life, with a mane of gray hair, a goatee, and the courtly manner of a Southern plantation owner. He had never been to the South. He had an air of vague bewilderment and the brain of a computer. His trademark, summer and winter, was a white suit, with an old-fashioned stiff-collar shirt.

  Paige Taylor's attorney, Alan Penn, was Venable's opposite, a compact, energetic shark, who had built a reputation for racking up acquittals for his clients.

  The two men had faced each other before, and their relationship was one of grudging respect and total mistrust. To Venable's surprise, Alan Penn had come to see him the week before the trial was to begin.

  "I came here to do you a favor, Gus. "

  Beware of defense attorneys bearing gifts. "What did you have in mind, Alan?"

  "Now understand - I haven't discussed this with my client yet, but suppose - just suppose - I could persuade her to plead guilty to a reduced charge and save the State the cost of a trial?"

  "Are you asking me to plea-bargain?"

  "Yes. "

  Gus Venable reached down to his desk, searching for something. "I can't find my damn calendar. Do you know what the date is?"

  "June first. Why?"

  "For a minute there, I thought it must be Christmas already, or you wouldn't be asking for a present like that. "

  "Gus . . . "

  Venable leaned forward in his chair. "You know, Alan, ordinarily, I'd be inclined to go along with you. Tell you the truth, I'd like to be in Alaska fishing right now. But the answer is no. You're defending a coldblooded killer who murdered a helpless patient for his money. I'm demanding the death penalty. "

  "I think she's innocent, and I - "

  Venable gave a short, explosive laugh. "No, you don't. And neither does anyone else. It's an open-and-shut case. Your client is as guilty as Cain. "

  "Not until the jury says so, Gus. "

  "They will. " He paused. "They will. "

  After Alan Penn left, Gus Venable sat there thinking about their conversation. Penn's coming to him was a sign of weakness. Penn knew there was no chance he could win the trial. Gus Venable thought about the irrefutable evidence he had, and the witnesses he was going to call, and he was satisfied.

  There was no question about it. Dr. Paige Taylor was going to the gas chamber.

  It had not been easy to impanel a jury. The case had occupied the headlines for months. The cold-bloodedness of the murder had created a tidal wave of anger.

  The presiding judge was Vanessa Young, a tough, brilliant black jurist rumored to be the next nominee for the United States Supreme Court. She was not known for being patient with lawyers, and she had a quick temper. There was an adage among San Francisco trial lawyers: If your client is guilty, and you're looking for mercy, stay away from Judge Young's courtroom.

  The day before the start of the trial, Judge Young had summoned the two attorneys to her chambers.

  "We're going to set some ground rules, gentlemen. Because of the serious nature of this trial, I'm willing to make certain allowances to make sure that the defendant gets a fair trial. But I'm warning both of you not to try to take advantage of that. Is that clear?"

  "Yes, your honor. "

  "Yes, your honor. "

  Gus Venable was finishing his opening statement. "And so, ladies and gentlemen of the jury, the State will prove - yes, prove beyond a reasonable doubt - that Dr. Paige Taylor killed her patient, John Cronin. And not only did she commit murder, she did it for money . . . a lot of money. She killed John Cronin for one million dollars. "

  "Believe me, after you've heard all the evidence, you will have no trouble in finding Dr. Paige Taylor guilty of murder in the first degree. Thank you. "

  The jury sat in silence, unmoved but expectant.

  Gus Venable turned to the judge. "If it please your honor, I would like to call Gary Williams as the State's first witness. "

  When the witness was sworn in, Gus Venable said, "You're an orderly at Embarcadero County Hospital?"

  "Yes, that's right. "

  "Were you working in Ward Three when John Cronin was brought in last year?"

  "Yes. "

  "Can you tell us who the doctor in charge of his case was?"

  "Dr. Taylor. "

  "How would you characterize the relationship between Dr. Taylor and John Cronin?"

  "Objection!" Alan Penn was on his feet. "He's calling for a conclusion from the witness. "

  "Sustained. "

  "Let me phrase it another way. Did you ever hear any conversations between Dr. Taylor and John Cronin?"

  "Oh, sure. I couldn't help it. I worked that w
ard all the time. "

  "Would you describe those conversations as friendly?"

  "No, sir. "

  "Really? Why do you say that?"

  "Well, I remember the first day Mr. Cronin was brought in, and Dr. Taylor started to examine him, he said to keep her . . . "He hesitated. "I don't know if I can repeat his language. "

  "Go ahead, Mr. Williams. I don't think there are any children in this courtroom. "

  "Well, he told her to keep her fucking hands off him. "

  "He said that to Dr. Taylor?"

  "Yes, sir. "

  "Please tell the court what else you may have seen or heard. "

  "Well, he always called her 'that bitch. ' He didn't want her to go near him. Whenever she came into his room, he would say things like 'Here comes that bitch again!' and 'Tell that bitch to leave me alone' and 'Why don't they get me a real doctor?' "

  Gus Venable paused to look over to where Dr. Taylor was seated. The jurors' eyes followed him. Venable shook his head, as though saddened, then turned back to the witness. "Did Mr. Cronin seem to you to be a man who wanted to give a million dollars to Dr. Taylor?"

  Alan Penn was on his. feet again. "Objection! He's calling for an opinion again. "

  Judge Young said, "Overruled. The witness may answer the question. "

  Alan Penn looked at Paige Taylor and sank back in his seat.

  "Hell, no. He hated her guts. "

  * * *

  Dr. Arthur Kane was in the witness box. Gus Venable said, "Dr. Kane, you were the staff doctor in charge when it was discovered that John Cronin was mur. . . " He looked at Judge Young. ". . . killed by insulin being introduced into his IV. Is that correct?"

  "It is. "

  "And you subsequently discovered that Dr. Taylor was responsible. "

  "That's correct. "

  "Dr. Kane, I'm going to show you the official hospital death form signed by Dr. Taylor. " He picked up a paper and handed it to Kane. "Would you read it aloud, please?"

  Kane began to read. "John Cronin. Cause of Death: Respiratory arrest occurred as a complication of myocardial infarction occurring as a complication of pulmonary embolus. ' "

  "And in layman's language?"

  "The report says that the patient died of a heart attack. "

  "And that paper is signed by Dr. Taylor?"

  "Yes. "

  "Dr. Kane, was that the true cause of John Cronin's death?"

  "No. The insulin injection caused his death. "

  "So, Dr. Taylor administered a fatal dose of insulin and then falsified the report?"

  "Yes. "

  "And you reported it to Dr. Wallace, the hospital administrator, who then reported it to the authorities?"

  "Yes. I felt it was my duty. " His voice rang with righteous indignation. "I'm a doctor. I don't believe in taking the life of another human being under any circumstances. "

  The next witness called was John Cronin's widow. Hazel Cronin was in her late thirties, with flaming red hair, and a voluptuous figure that her plain black dress failed to conceal.

  Gus Venable said, "I know how painful this is for you, Mrs. Cronin, but I must ask you to describe to the jury your relationship with your late husband. "

  The widow Cronin dabbed at her eyes with a large lace handkerchief. "John and I had a loving marriage. He was a wonderful man. He often told me I had brought him the only real happiness he had ever known. "

  "How long were you married to John Cronin?"

  "Two years, but John always said it was like two years in heaven. "

  "Mrs. Cronin, did your husband ever discuss Dr. Taylor with you? Tell you what a great doctor he thought she was? Or how helpful she had been to him? Or how much he liked her?"

  "He never mentioned her. "


  "Never. "

  "Did John ever discuss cutting you and your brothers out of his will?"

  "Absolutely not. He was the most generous man in the world. He always told me that there was nothing I couldn't have, and that when he died . . . " Her voice broke. ". . . that when he died, I would be a wealthy woman, and . . . " She could not go on.

  Judge Young said, "We'll have a fifteen-minute recess. "

  Seated in the back of the courtroom, Jason Curtis was filled with anger. He could not believe what the witnesses were saying about Paige. This is the woman I love, he thought. The woman I'm going to marry.

  Immediately after Paige's arrest, Jason Curtis had gone to visit her in jail.

  "We'll fight this," he assured her. "I'll get you the best criminal lawyer in the country. " A name immediately sprang to mind. Alan Penn. Jason had gone to see him.

  "I've been following the case in the papers," Penn said. "The press has already tried and convicted her of murdering John Cronin for a bundle. What's more, she admits she killed him. "

  "I know her," Jason Curtis told him. "Believe me, there's no way Paige could have done what she did for money. "

  "Since she admits she killed him," Penn said, "what we're dealing with here then is euthanasia. Mercy killings are against the law in California, as in most states, but there are a lot of mixed feelings about them. I can make a pretty good case for Florence Nightingale listening to a Higher Voice and all that shit, but the problem is that your lady love killed a patient who left her a million dollars in his will. Which came first, the chicken or the egg? Did she know about the million before she killed him, or after?"

  "Paige didn't know a thing about the money," Jason said firmly.

  Penn's tone was noncommittal. "Right. It was just a happy coincidence. The DA is calling for Murder One, and he wants the death penalty. "

  "Will you take the case?"

  Penn hesitated. It was obvious that Jason Curtis believed in Dr. Taylor. The way Samson believed in Delilah. He looked at Jason and thought: I wonder if the poor son of a bitch had a haircut and doesn't know it.

  Jason was waiting for an answer.

  "I'll take the case, as long as you know it's all uphill. It's going to be a tough one to win. "

  Alan Penn's statement turned out to be overly optimistic.

  When the trial resumed the following morning, Gus Venable called a string of new witnesses.

  A nurse was on the stand. "I heard John Cronin say, 'I know I'll die on the operating table. You're going to kill me. I hope they get you for murder. ' "

  An attorney, Roderick Pelham, was on the stand. Gus Venable said, "When you told Dr. Taylor about the million dollars from John Cronin's estate, what did she say?"

  "She said something like 'It seems unethical. He was my patient. ' "

  "She admitted it was unethical?"

  "Yes. "

  "But she agreed to take the money?"

  "Oh, yes. Absolutely. "

  Alan Penn was cross-examining.

  "Mr. Pelham, was Dr. Taylor expecting your visit?"

  "Why, no, I . . . "

  "You didn't call her and say, 'John Cronin left you one million dollars'?"

  "No. I . . . "

  "So when you told her, you were actually face-to-face with her?"

  "Yes. "

  "In a position to see her reaction to the news?"

  "Yes. "

  "And when you told her about the money, how did she react?"

  "Well - she - she seemed surprised, but . . . " "Thank you, Mr. Pelham. That's all. "

  The trial was now in its fourth week. The spectators and press had found the prosecuting attorney and defense attorney fascinating to watch. Gus Venable was dressed in white and Alan Penn in black, and the two of them had moved around the courtroom like players in a deadly, choreographed game of chess, with Paige Taylor the sacrificial pawn.

  Gus Venable was tying up the loose ends.

  "If the court please, I would like to call Alma Rogers to the witness stand. "

  When his witness was sworn in, Venable said, "Mrs. Rogers, what is your occupation

  "It's Miss Rogers. "

  "I do beg your pardon. "

  "I work at the Corniche Travel Agency. "

  "Your agency books tours to various countries and makes hotel reservations and handles other accommoda-i tions for your clients?"

  "Yes, sir. "

  "I want you to take a look at the defendant. Have you ever seen her before?"

  "Oh, yes. She came into our travel agency two or three years ago. "

  "And what did she want?"

  "She said she was interested in a trip to London and Paris and, I believe, Venice. "

  "Did she ask about package tours?"

  "Oh, no. She said she wanted everything first class - plane, hotel. And I believe she was interested in chartering a yacht. "

  The courtroom was hushed. Gus Venable walked over to the prosecutor's table and held up some folders. "The police found these brochures in Dr. Taylor's apartment. These are travel itineraries to Paris and London and Venice, brochures for expensive hotels and airlines, and one listing the cost of chartering a private yacht. "

  There was a loud murmur from the courtroom.

  The prosecutor had opened one of the brochures.

  "Here are some of the yachts listed for charter," he read aloud. "The Christina O . . . twenty-six thousand dollars a week plus ship's expenses . . . the Resolute Time, twenty-four thousand five hundred dollars a week . . . the Lucky Dream, twenty-seven thousand three hundred dollars a week. " He looked up. "There's a check mark after the Lucky Dream. Paige Taylor had already selected the twenty-seven-thousand-three-hun-dred-a-week yacht. She just hadn't selected her victim yet. "

  "We'd like to have these marked Exhibit A. " Venable turned to Alan Penn and smiled. Alan Penn looked at Paige. She was staring down at the table, her face pale. "Your witness. "

  Penn rose to his feet, stalling, thinking fast.

  "How is the travel business these days, Miss Rogers?"

  "I beg your pardon?"

  "I asked how business was. Is Corniche a large travel agency?"

  "It's quite large, yes. "

  "I imagine a lot of people come in to inquire about trips. "

  "Oh, yes. "

  "Would you say five or six people a day?"

  "Oh, no!" Her voice was indignant. "We talk to as many as fifty people a day about travel arrangements. "

  "Fifty people a day?" He sounded impressed. "And the day we're talking about was two or three years ago. If you multiply fifty by nine hundred days, that's roughly forty-five thousand people. "

  "I suppose so. "

  "And yet, out of all those people, you remembered Dr. Taylor. Why is that?"

  "Well, she and her two friends were so excited about taking a trip to Europe. I thought it was lovely. They were like schoolgirls. Oh, yes. I remember them very clearly, particularly because they didn't look like they could afford a yacht. "

  "I see. I suppose everyone who comes in and asks for a brochure goes away on a trip?"

  "Well, of course not. But - "

  "Dr. Taylor didn't actually book a trip, did she?"

  "Well, no. Not with us. She- - "

  "Nor with anyone else. She merely asked to see some brochures. "

  "Yes. She - "

  "That's not the same as going to Paris or London, is it?"

  "Well, no, but - "

  "Thank you. You may step down. "

  Venable turned to Judge Young. "I would like to call Dr. Benjamin Wallace to the stand. . . . "

  "Dr. Wallace, you're in charge of administration at Embarcadero County Hospital?"

  "Yes. "

  "So, of course, you're familiar with Dr. Taylor and her work?"

  "Yes, I am. "

  "Were you surprised to learn that Dr. Taylor was indicted for murder?"

  Penn was on his feet. "Objection, your honor. Dr. Wallace's answer would be irrelevant. "

  "If I may explain," interrupted Venable. "It could be very relevant if you'll just let me . . . "

  "Well, let's see what develops," said Judge Young. "But no nonsense, Mr. Venable. "

  "Let me approach the question differently," continued Venable. "Dr. Wallace, every physician is required to take the Hippocratic Oath, is that not so?"

  "Yes. "

  "And part of that oath is" - the prosecutor read from a paper in his hand - " 'that I shall abstain from every act of mischief or corruption'?"

  "Yes. "

  "Was there anything Dr. Taylor did in the past that made you believe she was capable of breaking her Hippocratic Oath?"

  "Objection. "

  "Overruled. "

  "Yes, there was. "

  "Please explain what it was. "

  "We had a patient who Dr. Taylor decided needed a blood transfusion. His family refused to grant permission. "

  "And what happened?"

  "Dr. Taylor went ahead and gave the patient the transfusion anyway. " "Is that legal?"

  "Absolutely not. Not without a court order. " "And then what did Dr. Taylor do?" "She obtained the court order afterward, and changed the date on it. "

  "So she performed an illegal act, and falsified the hospital records to cover it up?"

  "That is correct. "

  Alan Penn glanced over at Paige, furious. What the hell else has she kept from me? he wondered.

  If the spectators were searching for any telltale sign of emotion on Paige Taylor's face, they were disappointed.

  Cold as ice, the foreman of the jury was thinking.

  Gus Venable turned to the bench. "Your honor, as you know, one of the witnesses I had hoped to call is Dr. Lawrence Barker. Unfortunately, he is still suffering from the effects of a stroke and is unable to be in this courtroom to testify. Instead I will now question some of the hospital staff who have worked with Dr. Barker. "

  Penn stood up. "I object. I don't see the relevance. Dr. Barker is not here, nor is Dr. Barker on trial here. If. . . "

  Venable interrupted. "Your honor, I assure you that my line of questioning is very relevant to the testimony we have just heard. It also has to do with the defendant's competency as a doctor. "

  Judge Young said skeptically, "We'll see. This is a courtroom, not a river. I won't stand for any fishing expeditions. You may call your witnesses. "

  "Thank you. "

  Gus Venable turned to the bailiff. "I would like to call Dr. Matthew Peterson. "

  An elegant-looking man in his sixties approached the witness box. He was sworn in, and when he took his seat, Gus Venable said, "Dr. Peterson, how long have you worked at Embarcadero County Hospital?"

  "Eight years. "

  "And what is your specialty?"

  "I'm a cardiac surgeon. "

  "And during the years you've been at Embarcadero County Hospital, did you ever have occasion to work with Dr. Lawrence Barker?"

  "Oh, yes. Many times. "

  "What was your opinion of him?"

  "The same as everyone else's. Aside, possibly, from DeBakey and Cooley, Dr. Barker is the best heart surgeon in the world. "

  "Were you present in the operating room on the morning that Dr. Taylor operated on a patient named . . . " He pretended to consult a slip of paper. ". . . Lance Kelly?"

  The witness's tone changed. "Yes, I was there. " "Would you describe what happened that morning?" Dr. Peterson said reluctantly, "Well, things started to go wrong. We began losing the patient". When you say "losing the patient . . . His heart stopped. We were trying to bring him back, and . . . "

  "Had Dr. Barker been sent for?"

  "Yes. "

  "And did he come into the operating room while the operation was going on?"

  "Toward the end. Yes. But it was too late to do anything. We were unable to revive the patient. "

  "And did Dr. Barker say anything to Dr. Taylor at that time?"

  "Well, we were all pretty upset, and . . . "

  "I asked you if Dr. Barker said anyt
hing to Dr. Taylor. "

  "Yes. "

  "And what did Dr. Barker say?"

  There was a pause, and in the middle of the pause, there was a crack of thunder outside, like the voice of God. A moment later, the storm broke, nailing raindrops to the roof of the courthouse.

  "Dr. Barker said, 'You killed him. ' "

  The spectators were in an uproar. Judge Young slammed her gavel down. "That's enough! Do you people live in caves? One more outburst like that and you'll all be standing outside in the rain. "

  Gus Venable waited for the noise to die down. In the hushed silence he said, "Are you sure that's what Dr. Barker said to Dr. Taylor? 'You killed him'?"

  "Yes. "

  "And you have testified that Dr. Barker was a man whose medical opinion was valued?"

  "Oh, yes. "

  "Thank you. That's all, doctor. " He turned to Alan Penn. " Your witness. "

  Penn rose and approached the witness box.

  "Dr. Peterson, I've never watched an operation, but I imagine there's enormous tension, especially when it's something as serious as a heart operation. "

  "There's a great deal of tension. "

  "At a time like that, how many people are in the room? Three or four?"

  "Oh, no. Always half a dozen or more. "


  "Yes. There are usually two surgeons, one assisting, sometimes two anesthesiologists, a scrub nurse, and at least one circulating nurse. "

  "I see. Then there must be a lot of noise and excitement going on. People calling out instructions and so on. "

  "Yes. "

  "And I understand that it's a common practice for music to be playing during an operation. "

  "It is. "

  "When Dr. Barker came in and saw that Lance Kelly was dying, that probably added to the confusion. "

  "Well, everybody was pretty busy trying to save the patient. "

  "Making a lot of noise?"

  "There was plenty of noise, yes. "

  "And yet, in all that confusion and noise, and over the music, you could hear Dr. Barker say that Dr. Taylor had killed the patient. With all that excitement, you could have been wrong, couldn't you?"

  "No, sir. I could not be wrong. "

  "What makes you so sure?"

  Dr. Peterson sighed. "Because I was standing right next to Dr. Barker when he said it. "

  There was no graceful way out.

  "No more questions. "

  The case was falling apart, and there was nothing he could do about it. It was about to get worse.

  Denise Berry took the witness stand.

  "You're a nurse at Embarcadero County Hospital?"

  "Yes. "

  "How long have you worked there?"

  "Five years. "

  "During that time, did you ever hear any conversations between Dr. Taylor and Dr. Barker?"

  "Sure. Lots of times. "

  "Can you repeat some of them?"

  Nurse Berry looked at Dr. Taylor and hesitated. "Well, Dr. Barker could be very sharp . . . "

  "I didn't ask you that, Nurse Berry. I asked you to tell us some specific things you heard him say to Dr. Taylor. "

  There was a long pause. "Well, one time he said she was incompetent, and . . . "

  Gus Venable put on a show of surprise. "You heard Dr. Barker say that Dr. Taylor was incompetent?"

  "Yes, sir. But he was always . . . "

  "What other comments did you hear him make about Dr. Taylor?"

  The witness was reluctant to speak. "I really can't remember. "

  "Miss Berry, you're under oath. "

  "Well, once I heard him say . . . " The rest of the sentence was a mumble.

  "We can't hear you. Speak up, please. You heard him say what?"

  "He said he . . . he wouldn't let Dr. Taylor operate on his dog. "

  There was a collective gasp frorn the courtroom.

  "But I'm sure he only meant . . . "

  "I think we can all assume that Dr. Barker meant what he said. "

  All eyes were fixed on Paige Taylor.

  The prosecutor's case against Paige seemed overwhelming. Yet Alan Penn had the reputation of being a master magician in the courtroom. Now it was his turn to present the defendant's case. Could he pull another rabbit out of his hat?

  Paige Taylor was on the witness stand, being questioned by Alan Penn. This was the moment everyone had been waiting for.

  "John Cronin was a patient of yours, Dr. Taylor?"

  "Yes, he was. "

  "And what were your feelings toward him?" "I liked him. He knew how ill he was, but he was very courageous. He had surgery for a cardiac tumor. " "You performed the heart surgery?"

  "Yes. "

  "And what did you find during the operation?" "When we opened up his chest, we found that he had melanoma that had metastasized. "

  "In other words, cancer that had spread throughout his body. "

  "Yes. It had metastasized throughout the lymph glands. "

  "Meaning that there was no hope for him? No heroic measures that could bring him back to health?"

  "None. "

  "John Cronin was put on life-support systems?"

  "That's correct. "

  "Dr. Taylor, did you deliberately administer a fatal dose of insulin to end John Cronin's life?"

  "I did. "

  There was a sudden buzz in the courtroom.

  She's really a cool one, Gus Venable thought. She makes it sound as though she gave him a cup of tea.

  "Would you tell the jury why you ended John Cronin's life?"

  "Because he asked me to. He begged me to. He sent for me in the middle of the night, in terrible pain. The medications we were giving him were no longer working. " Her voice was steady. "He said he didn't warn to suffer anymore. His death was only a few days away He pleaded with me to end it for him. I did. "

  "Doctor, did you have any reluctance to let him die? Any feelings of guilt?"

  Dr. Paige Taylor shook her head. "No. If you could have seen . . . There was simply no point to letting him go on suffering. "

  "How did you administer the insulin?"

  "I injected it into his IV. "

  "And did that cause him any additional pain?"

  "No. He simply drifted off to sleep. "

  Gus Venable was on his feet. "Objection! I think the defendant means he drifted off to his death! I - "

  Judge Young slammed down her gavel. "Mr. Venable, you're out of order. You'll have your chance to cross-examine the witness. Sit down. "

  The prosecutor looked over at the jury, shook his head, and took his seat.

  "Dr. Taylor, when you administered the insulin to John Cronin, were you aware that he had put you in his will for one million dollars?"

  "No. I was stunned when I learned about it. "

  Her nose should be growing, Gus Venable thought.

  "You never discussed money or gifts at any time, or asked John Cronin for anything?"

  A faint flush came to her cheeks. "Never!"

  "But you were on friendly terms with him?"

  "Yes. When a patient is that ill, the doctor-patient relationship changes. We discussed his business problems and his family problems. "

  "But you had no reason to expect anything from him?"

  "No. "

  "He left that money to you because he had grown to respect you and trust you. Thank you, Dr. Taylor. " Penn turned to Gus Venable. "Your witness. "

  As Penn returned to the defense table, Paige Taylor glanced toward the back of the courtroom. Jason was seated there, trying to look encouraging. Next to him was Honey. A stranger was sitting next to Honey in the seat that Kat should have occupied. If she were still alive. But Kat is dead, Paige thought. I killed her, too.

  Gus Venable rose and slowly shuffled over to the witness box. He glanced at the rows of press. Every seat was filled, and the reporters were all busily scri
bbling. I'm going to give you something to write about, Venable thought.

  He stood in front of the defendant for a long moment, studying her. Then he said casually, "Dr. Taylor . . . was John Cronin the first patient you murdered at Embarcadero County Hospital?"

  Alan Penn was on his feet, furious. "Your honor, I - !"

  Judge Young had already slammed her gavel down. "Objection sustained!" She turned to the two attorneys. "There will be a fifteen-minute recess. I want to see counsel in my chambers. "

  When the two attorneys were in her chambers, Judge Young turned to Gus Venable. "You did go to law school, didn't you, Gus?"

  "I'm sorry, your honor. I - "

  "Did you see a tent out there?"

  "I beg your pardon?"

  Her voice was a whiplash. "My courtroom is not a circus, and I don't intend to let you turn it into one. How dare you ask an inflammatory question like that!"

  "I apologize, your honor. I'll rephrase the question and - "

  "You'll do more than that!" Judge Young snapped. "You'll rephrase your attitude. I'm warning you, you pull one more stunt like that and I'll declare a mistrial. "

  "Yes, your honor. "

  When they returned to the courtroom, Judge Young said to the jury, "The jury will completely disregard the prosecutor's last question. " She turned to the prosecutor. "You may go on. "

  Gus Venable walked back to the witness box. "Dr. Taylor, you must have been very surprised when you were informed that the man you murdered left you one million dollars. "

  Alan Penn was on his feet. "Objection!"

  "Sustained. " Judge Young turned to Venable. "You're trying my patience. "

  "I apologize, your honor. " He turned back to the witness. "You must have been on very friendly terms with your patient. I mean, it isn't every day that an almost complete stranger leaves us a million dollars, is it?"

  Paige Taylor flushed slightly. "Our friendship was in the context of a doctor-patient relationship. "

  "Wasn't it a little more than that? A man doesn't cut his beloved wife and family out of his will and leave a million dollars to a stranger without some kind of persuasion. Those talks you claimed to have had with him about his business problems . . . "

  Judge Young leaned forward and said warningly, "Mr. Venable . . . " The prosecutor raised his hands in a gesture of surrender. He turned back to the defendant. "So you and John Cronin had a friendly chat. He told you personal things about himself, and he liked you and respected you. Would you say that's a fair summation, doctor?"

  "Yes. "

  "And for doing that he gave you a million dollars?"

  Paige looked out at the courtroom. She said nothing. She had no answer.

  Venable started to walk back toward the prosecutor's table, then suddenly turned to face the defendant again.

  "Dr. Taylor, you testified earlier that you had no idea that John Cronin was going to leave you any money, or that he was going to cut his family out of his will. "

  "That's correct. "

  "How much does a resident doctor make at Embar-cadero County Hospital?"

  Alan Penn was on his feet. "Objection! I don't see. . . "

  "It's a proper question. The witness may answer. " "Thirty-eight thousand dollars a year. " Venable said sympathetically, "That's not very much these days, is it? And out of that, there are deductions and taxes and living expenses. That wouldn't leave enough to take a luxury vacation trip, say, to London or Paris or Venice, would it?" "I suppose not. "

  "No. So you didn't plan to take a vacation like that, because you knew you couldn't afford it. " "That's correct. "

  Alan Penn was on his feet again. "Your honor . . . "

  Judge Young turned to the prosecutor. "Where is this leading, Mr. Venable?"

  "I just want to establish that the defendant could not plan a luxury trip without getting the money from someone. "

  "She's already answered the question. "

  Alan Penn knew he had to do something. His heart wasn't in it, but he approached the witness box with all the good cheer of a man who had just won the lottery.

  "Dr. Taylor, do you remember picking up these travel brochures?"

  "Yes. "

  "Were you planning to go to Europe or to charter a yacht?"

  "Of course not. It was all sort of a joke, an impossible dream. My friends and I thought it would lift our spirits. We were very tired, and . . . it seemed like a good idea at the time. " Her voice trailed off.

  Alan Penn glanced covertly at the jury. Their faces registered pure disbelief.

  Gus Venable was questioning the defendant on reex-amination. "Dr. Taylor, are you acquainted with Dr. Lawrence Barker?"

  She had a sudden memory flash. I'm going to kill Lawrence Barker. I'll do it slowly. I'll let him suffer first. . . then I'll kill him. "Yes. I know Dr. Barker. "

  "In what connection?"

  "Dr. Barker and I have often worked together during the past two years. "

  "Would you say that he's a competent doctor?"

  Alan Penn jumped up from his chair. "I object, your honor. The witness . . . "

  But before he could finish or Judge Young could rule, Paige answered, "He's more than competent. He's brilliant. "

  Penn sank back in his chair, too stunned to speak.

  "Would you care to elaborate on that?"

  "Dr. Barker is one of the most renowned cardiovascular surgeons in the world. He has a large private practice, but he donates three days a week to Embarcadero County Hospital. "

  "So you have a high regard for his judgment in medical matters?"

  "Yes. "

  "And do you feel he would be capable of judging another doctor's competence?"

  Penn willed Paige to say I don't know.

  She hesitated. "Yes. "

  Gus Venable turned to the jury, "You've heard the defendant testify that she had a high regard for Dr. Barker's medical judgment. I hope she listened carefully to Dr. Barker's judgment about her competence . . . or the lack of it. "

  Alan Penn was on his feet, furious. "Objection!"

  "Sustained. "

  But it was too late. The damage had been done.

  During the next recess, Alan Penn pulled Jason into the men's room.

  "What the hell have you gotten me into?" Penn demanded angrily. "John Cronin hated her, Barker hated her. I insist on my clients telling me the truth, and the whole truth. That's the only way I can help them. Well, I can't help her. Your lady friend has given me a snow job so deep I need skis. Every time she opens her mouth she puts a nail in her coffin. The fucking case is in free fall!"

  That afternoon, Jason Curtis went to see Paige.

  "You have a visitor, Dr. Taylor. "

  Jason walked into Paige's cell.

  "Paige . . . "

  She turned to him, and she was fighting back tears. "It looks pretty bad, doesn't it?"

  Jason forced a smile. "You know what the man said - 'It's not over till it's over. ' "

  "Jason, you don't believe that I killed John Cronin for his money, do you? What I did, I did only to help him. "

  "I believe you," Jason said quietly. "I love you. "

  He took her into his arms. I don't want to lose her, Jason thought. I can't. She's the best thing in my life. "Everything is going to be all right. I promised you we would be together forever. "

  Paige held him close and thought, Nothing lasts forever. Nothing. How could everything have gone so wrong . . . so wrong . . . so wrong . . .