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About the Author

Born in the United States, Barbara Goulter has led a footloose

life. She has taught university, worked in journalism and the
media, raised a family, and published several non-fiction
books, including The Father-Daughter Dance with Dr. Joan
Minninger. She is currently living in Australia.

For Michael and Anne: This book would not have been
possible without you.

Barbara Goulter


Copyright Barbara Goulter (2015)

The right of Barbara Goulter to be identified as author of this
work has been asserted by her in accordance with section 77
and 78 of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 and
with U.S. Copyright TXu 1-928-743
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be
reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any
form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying,
recording, or otherwise, without the prior permission of the
Any person who commits any unauthorized act in relation to
this publication may be liable to criminal prosecution and civil
claims for damages.
A CIP catalogue record for this title is available from the
British Library.
ISBN 9781785542121 (Paperback)
ISBN 9781785542138 (Hardback)
First Published (2015)
Austin Macauley Publishers Ltd.
25 Canada Square
Canary Wharf
E14 5LQ

Printed and bound in Great Britain


Just after four oclock on a rainy Thursday morning,

Abigail Amos smart watch began chorusing the Ode to
Joy. Who on earth, she wondered, might be calling at this
hour? Most likely, someone whod been tracking her
downloads, knew she was awake, and imagined he could
sell her something.
The caller had blocked his ID and image. But she was
just curious enough to let the call through.
Softly, caressingly, a deep male voice addressed her by
name, then went into its slick routine: Why, Abby-girl,
why? Why spend another night sleepless and alone? Or in
the arms of some thumper you know could never be right
for you? Wouldnt you rather be with the man of your
dreams? We can make that happen. We are Your Hearts
Desire, and thats what we offer, your hearts desire. We
can give you Alexander the Greatest. Yes, we can.
Satisfaction guaranteed. Free sample meeting, and
everything in strictest confidence.
Abby heard him out to the end. But it was less his
ludicrous offer that kept her listening than the prospect of a
successful prosecution. Here was a scam if ever there was
one, an open-and-shut case of cyber trespass and fraud. At
the very least.
True, Alexander the Greatest aka Alexander Jensen,
aka the Viking, the Voice, the Hunk, the Minnesota Stud,
etc. was indeed the one man on the planet who came
closest to resembling her hearts desire. But her

enthusiasm, she knew, was shared by millions and

consisted largely of fan idolatry. In an unguarded moment,
she had joined one of his blogs, so, in a way, she had
brought this call on herself. But it was no less criminal for
She waited for a pause, then asked, And in exactly
what facsimile form do you propose delivering my hearts
desire? The original, I believe, is booked for some time to
Oh, we have our ways and means, the voice assured
And why are your vids off? Why shouldnt I see what
you look like?
What do you care what I look like? Im not the one
wholl be warming your bed.
She laughed briefly, then went tough. Well, youve
got that right. But the same goes for whoever it is youre
pimping. Or should I say, whatever? What is it, by the
way? The latest thing in holograms? Or some fleshed-out
robot with supersized attachments, of course? Or just
some escort service specializing in celebrity doubles? Can
you seriously imagine Id spend my hard-earned savings on
a piece of trash like that?
My dear Ms. Amos, he sighed. Youre an Assistant
United States Attorney, a Federal Prosecutor, the courtroom
star of the San Francisco office of the Ninth District of the
U. S. Department of Justice. Can you seriously imagine
wed dare promise you something we couldnt deliver?
For a breathless moment, Abby was shocked to silence.
Who was this person? And what was he up to, really? Was
this truly a sales pitch at all? Or merely an act of petty
vengeance by someone she had once prosecuted? Or just
some techie teens notion of fun and games? Well, whoever
or whatever, it was nonsense. Give me a break! she
scoffed. Theres no way you could deliver on a promise
like that.

No? Suppose I send him around sometime. Free

sample. No obligation. See for yourself.
And, with that, the line went dead.


The previous day, Wednesday, Abby had stood in silence

as the Ninth District Court of Appeals announced its
decision on the Numedcorp case. She had anticipated the
ruling, of course, but expecting it and accepting it were two
different matters. Still, Abby was a pro. She knew how to
keep her feelings out of her face.
She had emerged from the pretentious splendour of
gleaming marble and stained glass to be greeted by a hard
corps of media waiting in the rain. Several times their
number, she knew, would be attending remotely. This had
been a significant case, after all, one that directly impacted
real people, not just corporations. And she had blown it. Of
course, Nicholas Nadal, her ever-supportive chief, would
assure her that shed done no such thing, that the odds had
always been against her, that he himself could not have
done better. But Abby would take little comfort from
Nickys condolences. Being good, but not good enough,
had never been high on her aspirations list.
She opened her umbrella, took a deep breath, and
reeled off her prepared statement. What can I tell you, my
friends, that you dont already know? Yes, its been thirty
years since Numedcorp introduced its little pill for gifted
children with ADHD. Yes, neuroscience was still in its
infancy back then. Even so, it seemed to us evident that
Numedcorp neither for the first time nor the last had
knowingly sacrificed caution to profit, gone to market
without adequate testing, hired doctor-salesman to panic

the nations parents, and consequently damaged tens of

thousands of children and that those damaged children,
now grown into damaged adults, deserve compensation.
Well, the jury agreed but the Appeals Court begged to
differ. They bought Numedcorps argument that, to this
day, even the most thoroughly tested pharmaceuticals will
adversely affect a few, and that back in the Dark Ages of
the centurys teens, such reactions were inevitably more
common. Theres your story in a nutshell. What more can I
You taking it to the Supreme Court? one of them
Not my decision, she shrugged. Thank Heaven, an
official limo had just pulled up and Larry Bronfman, her
boyish second chair, was waving from the window. Sorry,
my friends, she apologized. Must love you and leave you.
Duty calls.
Her interrogators reluctantly cleared a path. She got in
beside Larry with a grateful sigh, and the car took off for
the high-rise Federal Courthouse where the main offices of
the Department of Justice were located. She could have
walked there in minutes, of course, but not with those
damned paps on her heels.
La V, Larry commiserated.
La V, she concurred.
Nick, she saw, had already sent the same message: La
V short for Cest la vie, French for Thats life. Irate
citizens were chiming in as well. How cd this hapn? one
demanded. Free market = law of the jungle, another
Abbys sentiments exactly. There was also a voice
message from Josh Morgen, who had headed her FBI
investigation team. Great try, Abby. Sorry we couldnt be
of more help.
Nick was in his eleventh floor office when she reported
in. Well, par for the course, he greeted her. Big Pharma

has half the judges on their payroll. We all know that. Paid
a damn good price for them, too, as you know. The bigger
you are, the bigger the pay-off.
So, why do we keep working our butts off, Nick?
Whats the point?
She must have sounded like she meant it, because he
went into his best paternal mode. Hey, we do what we can,
sweetie. Besides, how would you rather spend your time?
Pole dancing?
Ill get them yet, she vowed.
Glutton for punishment, he grinned.
For a twice-divorced male administrator well into his
fifties, Nick was a more-than-presentable specimen not
bald, not bad-looking, not a bully, not even a bore. And he
wasnt just being nice. He seriously meant what he said.
Likewise, he seriously meant his kindly suggestion: Go
home, why dont you? Kick off your shoes till Monday.
Well call it sick leave. Preventive medicine.
No, no, Im fine, she assured him. You win some,
you lose some. La V.
Oh, go on. And take Monday too while youre at it.
Go visit those Mayan ruins youre always yakking about.
But solitary adventuring was the last thing she was up
for. What if I just stayed home and caught up on my
An inspired choice, he grinned. Better not do it on
an empty stomach, though. I know a great new old-style
Japanese restaurant. The kind where you can kick off your
shoes as soon as you walk in the door. In fact, they insist.
Alas, she wasnt up for a dinner date either. Admirable
though he was, Nick lacked that indefinable edge that made
a man exciting. But that was true of just about every male
whod looked her way in years. She managed a smile.
Rain check, okay? Right now, sleep sounds a lot more

tempting than sushi. And, before he concocted yet another

bright idea, she was out the door.
It was now just after four in the afternoon. That
salesmans call was almost exactly twelve hours away.


Abby wasted no time getting down to the garage and into

her two-seater electric mini. Home, James! she sighed,
then leaned back in her seat. James set out along the
familiar route from stately Van Ness to ramshackle Market,
to the green tranquillity of Twin Peaks. Shed seen it all
many thousands of times before, so she gladly closed her
Behind her heavy lids, she was reflecting on her career
as an Assistant U. S. Attorney. Like most things in La V,
the job had both advantages and disadvantages. Advantage
One: it allowed you to take on the bad guys instead of
taking orders from them. Advantage Two: you never had to
worry about finding clients or whether theyd pay.
Advantage Three: assuming that the Department of Justice
stayed in business and no one invented a machine that
could sweet-talk a jury, you could count on a steady income
plus benefits for the rest of your days. In short, you would
never end up sleeping on park benches or in doorways.
Disadvantages? That steady salary was not much better
than a high school teachers, the workload was punitive,
and some outcomes could absolutely break your heart.
Also, half the people you met berated you for hacking into
their dirty little secrets, as if the DOJ had nothing better to
do with its time.
Ordinarily, Abby focused on the advantages. But not
today. Nor was Numedcorp the only reason. Nick had been
appointed as a long-term interim without Senate

confirmation or term limits, but regulations had been

changed yet again. It now appeared that his tenure would
end as soon as a confirmable replacement could be found.
The Attorney General, however, had yet to come up with
such a replacement, and only yesterday Nick had offered to
recommend Abby herself for the post. Ordinarily, she
would have felt honoured by the prospect, even thrilled.
Yet her spontaneous response had been to refuse. And with
that reflex act of refusal, it was as if her entire life had
suddenly slammed into a brick wall. She was sick of the
Justice Department, she had realized sick of the pressures,
the histrionics, the tedium, the nit-picking, the whole
thankless grind. It no longer gratified her. Maybe it never
But how on earth had she, Abigail Amos, that almostfamous child prodigy, arrived at such a dead end? Once
upon a time, her life had seemed bound for glory. At three,
shed been picking out melodies and chords on her
grandmothers Steinway. At six, she was studying with the
best teacher in Sacramento. At fourteen, shed given her
first solo recital. Then on to Juilliard! Legendary Juilliard
both literally and figuratively just a step away from the
New York Philharmonic and the Met!
But Juilliard, rather than fulfilling her dreams, had
ended them forever. For that, she had the great Gregor
Steinmetz to thank or blame. Classical music was on its
deathbed, Steinmetz had reminded her killed off by rock
and rap and their ever more simple-minded successors.
Otherwise, Abby would have been touring the world years
ago. In his own younger years, he said, someone with
comparable gifts would still have stood at least a decent
chance. But not in the year 2020. True, the situation was
not equally bleak everywhere. Major classical careers were
still being made in Russia and China. But Abby was not
quite of the calibre to compete with the top young Russians
or Chinese. Steinmetz advice? Tinkle the keys all night

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