Meet Justice Vittorio Scarpia

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“Murdered Justice” coming from W&B Publishers in March 2017

I’m delighted that Murdered Justice is being released while our eyes are drawn to the confirmation hearings of the high court’s latest nominee. I’m not letting the cat out of the bag by telling you that United States Supreme Court Justice Vittorio Scarpia falls prey to a murderer in the early part of my latest book, but the current hearings remind us how differently candidates are publicly scrutinized compared to the era when the fictional Scarpia was confirmed.

So little is known about the personal lives of SCOTUS justices, especially decades after their appointments and subsequent confirmations. At one time, we might have known something about Vittorio Scarpia’s five children and his wife Angela, but at his death, his family had been out of the public spotlight for over 30 years if they’d ever been in it in the first place.

Confirmation hearings in our politically contentious modern age require spouses and families to stand next to presidential nominees to the high court and appear wholesome and normal while their images are broadcast across all media. They must provide a picture of a loving, competent family that seems to have been transported from an earlier time while the candidate appears impartial and not too eager to sound off on issues that indicate activism in any particular direction on the political scale. Former students and clerks will emerge to accuse or defend prior statements and experiences, and previous rulings will be downplayed or highlighted by whichever senators feel strongly about a case’s subsequent effects.

Once they’re in place for life and a season or two passes into history, these robed scholars are dehumanized by that portion of American society, which categorizes SCOTUS rulings as Left or Right, as though they were filling in spreadsheets. Together, the justices are a ruling body, but separately no one considers that they eat, sleep and get dressed like everyone else.

Unless a justice dozes off during a State of the Union address and mentions having drunk too much wine at dinner, no one considers that such an esteemed person could be subject to human foibles. For a brief moment, we wonder if they have cell phones and take selfies with each other in chambers. On Monday mornings, do they chat about their weekends? Do they burst out laughing when the Chief Justice trips over a misplaced wastebasket when walking around his desk? Do they enjoy listening through the door as the Chief Justice berates the person who moved the wastebasket?

Our idea is that they are a humorless bunch of intellectuals unless we happen to see them on a news show when their latest book is profiled. A reporter might then be able to coax them into opening their refrigerator or telling us what book they’re reading “for fun,” and for a moment we find them relatable but never someone “you’d want to have a beer with.”

When the unexpected death of Justice Vittorio Scarpia is announced, we realize how much we never knew about the man. He wasn’t the type to let people into his private life. We are reminded that he was the longest serving member of the United States Supreme Court.

Appointed in 1979 at the age of forty-four, Scarpia was considered too young to serve. His nomination was controversial, not only because of his age, but due to the political climate of the times. Expected to make unbiased judgments, the opposition party believed the president was appointing an activist who would vote left of center on the issues of the day, but through a renewal with his commitment to the Catholic church and, some say, his devotion to secret societies within the Church, he surprised many court watchers over the next three-and-a-half decades with masterfully written dissents when his views differed from that of the majority. He was known for his quick wit, his legal acumen and his love of debate.

Murdered Justice is coming from W&B Publishers, and in its pages you’ll get a more personal look at Justice Scarpia and find out how he spent his last remaining hours.

© 2017 by Patrick Brown

To learn more about my books, visit my author page at http://www.amazon.com/Patrick-Brown/e/B005F0CYH2/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1419885131&sr=8-1

 

Meet Maggie Lyon

This week I’m going to introduce you to someone who has become very special in my life. I’ve spent the last year finding out about this remarkable woman, learning what she thinks and giving up a considerable part of my brain as she invaded my thoughts and took shape. There’s no need to worry about her motives. She’s not taking advantage of me, robbing me blind or swindling me out of my life’s savings. She can’t because she only exists in my mind, but very soon she’ll come alive for you in my latest book: Murdered Justice.

Murdered Justice coming from W&B Publishers in March 2017

Meet Maggie Lyon. Maggie was a child during the Watergate hearings, and though she didn’t fully understand what was going on, she knew that two men called investigative journalists had broken a big story. From that moment on, she dreamed of nothing more than becoming one of those tenacious types who research, interview and raise questions in order to expose criminal activity.

After convincing her parents to let her enroll in high school journalism, Maggie eventually became the school newspaper’s editor-in-chief before graduating with honors and finding a place in one of our nation’s top ten journalism schools. Her life was set, and she believed she’d go from college commencement right into the trenches before uncovering scandals, winning Pulitzers and taking over for Katherine Graham at The Washington Post.

Unfortunately, she was a woman, and even though she came of age after Ms. Magazine, Maggie spent the first year or two out of college fetching coffee and putting up with an editor/boss who thwarted every attempt at advancement. She had the smarts to step away, but moving up the ladder moved her out of D.C. where scandals take place and the stories emerge. Exhausted and still frustrated with her career, Maggie took a vacation where she met the famous Michelin-starred chef Mark-Mario Van Heflin-Schröder.

In the past decade, if you’ve ever used a high-end kitchen utensil, enameled cast-iron cookware or a copper-bottomed saucepan, it’s probably had Mark-Mario’s face and autograph on it. He still doesn’t sound familiar? That’s because I made him up too, and like Maggie, he was nobody when they met. With her help as his ghostwriter and connections to a New York editor, he emerged as one of the world’s leading kitchen geniuses.

What did Maggie get out of building her husband’s career? An education in food, wine and lifestyle that did more for her soul and writing skills than languishing in a pool of hack journalists who had no appreciation for her talent and enthusiasm. However, a half-dozen cookbooks and years helping Mark-Mario open restaurants in 14 North American cities didn’t land her a job with the Post when she was finally ready to return to journalism. The best offer came from a Texas newspaper that took her away from her husband and settled her into the Lifestyles section to cover restaurant openings and high society weddings.

As a food writer, Maggie has been formidable, and every restaurant owner who’s seen her coming has quaked in his boots. She’s tough, and with Mark-Mario’s training, has held every establishment to her husband’s (and her) highest standards. She eventually got an agent—the fast-talking Rina Akin from New York. Rina managed to get Maggie’s food column into syndication, and she occasionally found a magazine that needed a great writer to cover an interesting story.

Such was the case one April when Maggie was hired by Landon & Barker: An Image Company to do a feature story on a rising chef from the U.K. He was to cook for an exclusive weekend gathering at a private mansion in one of L.A.’s gated communities, and Maggie would be allowed to stay while she researched her article. She was provided with very little information about the guest list, and was shocked to discover that one of the most polarizing figures in the United States was seated at the dinner table. You have to have heard about U.S. Supreme Court Justice Vittorio Scarpia. He was appointed in the 1970s, and ever since has been writing fiery dissents each time the rulings have gone against his opinions.

You can guess from the title of the book that Justice Scarpia doesn’t make it through the weekend, dying mysteriously in an upstairs bedroom. You’ll have to read to the end of the book to find out what happens, but it’s safe to say that Maggie’s investigative training hasn’t left her nor have her instincts as she follows every lead, catches suspects by surprise and finally solves the mystery. Even though she learns “whodunit,” will she live long enough to reveal the killer?

Murdered Justice is coming soon from W&B Publishers.

© 2017 by Patrick Brown

To learn more about my books, visit my author page at http://www.amazon.com/Patrick-Brown/e/B005F0CYH2/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1419885131&sr=8-1

The Last We Saw of Bentley

Life has not always been tea parties with white Jacquard napkins from Belgium. (I’m referring to my previous post.) For instance, I used to live two doors down from a drug addict. This was no ordinary addict, for he had been (one assumed he was no longer) a classics professor at a local university. Even though we neighbors observed a litany of strange behavior, such as washing his dishes on the front porch and starting his car with a long screwdriver jabbed into the spot where the ignition key had once gone, he could still draw upon his impressive vocabulary and deliver phrases with the impact of a master thespian.

There were ten small apartments in two courtyards built in advance of the Panama-California Exposition of 1915, which had been acquired by a young man with an entrepreneurial spirit, but sorely lacking in business acumen. In need of an apartment, I stopped by when I saw a “For Rent” sign in the front yard. The landlord was there and happy to show me a unit, which he promised was identical to the one coming available at the end of the month, but which he couldn’t show me that day. I would be sharing the place with my best friend who came back to see it with me, and after we agreed, I wrote Devon the landlord a check for $900 as a deposit. In return, all I got was silence.

To be fair, Devon returned two phone calls that month, one of which was to say that we were going to be “the final threads woven into a beautiful tapestry of the Elm Court community.” I tend to become enthralled by descriptive sentences delivered so beautifully, but in this case my enthrallment skewed my perception skills. The second call of the month was a lie, saying that the apartment would be available on the first, as promised, and to make our plans accordingly. I forwarded the mail, arranged for the utilities and updated information with my employer. My roommate was to handle the move itself, and I left for work thinking I would have a new home that evening. Instead, I received a call in late afternoon to meet him at a hotel because the current occupant had not yet moved out.

I should add that this was during December, and each week we were given some excuse as to why the occupant had not moved, so we were technically homeless until the shyster Devon arranged for our temporary housing down the street. We finally moved into Elm Court on Valentine’s weekend, but not into the promised unit. While all but two of the ten units had been renovated in 1990s fashion, our unit, somewhat discounted in price, had had seemingly little done to it since 1915. The newest appliance was a 1950s General Electric refrigerator, which had been placed in what was once a kitchen entrance from the hallway. Energy efficiency hadn’t been a consideration when that thing was built. Cranked to its highest setting, ice-cream was still a cold sweet soup, and we had about two days to drink milk regardless of the expiration date.

Elm Court in the nineties. The front door straight on belonged to our problem neighbor until he was moved out under the cover of darkness.

Elm Court in the nineties. The front door straight on belonged to our problem neighbor until he was moved out under the cover of darkness.

Our courtyard of five units underwent a quick turnover that spring. The only unit to have its same occupant was the one we’d been promised. That’s where Bentley the drug fiend lived. Evidently, he was supposed to have been evicted and his apartment returned to immaculate condition in time for that December 1st move-in appointment. Devon had mishandled something—probably the entire eviction process—Bentley had refused to leave, and we had no choice but to accept the run-down consolation prize since Devon held us to our lease. Knowing what I know now, I would have fought to get our deposit back and run as far away from that con-man as I could get, but we didn’t know our rights, we were in a hurry to get moved in somewhere, and we were too tired to start searching again. Besides, we met a fabulous neighbor who remains a dear friend to this day. No! Not Bentley the dramatic drug fiend.

In April, most of our bath towels and washcloths were stolen. The apartment complex boasted a community laundry room, which I’ve come to realize was nothing to boast about. The good part was that they were not coin operated, which meant that you could separate your laundry without going broke. Whenever we washed clothes, most of us were good about setting timers and staying aware so that other people didn’t have to wait, but there was a sign posted over the machines that said a tenant had the right to remove laundry from the machines if they had finished their cycle and the owners had not yet come to claim them. The sign, however, did not say that the laundry could be removed to another tenant’s apartment!

I was using one dryer and another tenant was using the other. When I returned to get my towels, both dryers were empty and the doors were left swinging. I suspected where my good towels had gone since you’d have to be a thief or on drugs to not realize you’d taken someone else’s washing. I had to pass by Bentley’s apartment, which was between our place and the laundry room. I’d had no luck convincing him in December that perhaps he had received my Christmas packages by mistake since I’d forwarded our mail to his address. There were always noises coming from his unit, and I knew to have a confrontation about towels would likely bring about a good shanking so I went inside and fumed.

Since there were other notes posted over the machines from time to time, I thought the best course of action was to post a message saying that my towels had been taken and to please return them. The note went ignored for a month, but one evening I noticed a response in green ink:

“To whom it may concern, One should note that quite often laundry is indiscernible by color and texture, and perhaps a domestic, unaware of nuances and textile variations inadvertently mistook one load for another. Before assigning culpability or intent, one should make an honest attempt to learn the reasons why his laundry has gone missing. I genuinely hope you never accept the opportunity to serve on a jury.”

As I stated earlier, I can become enthralled by marvelous sentences—and for a drug addict these were marvelous sentences. However, this paragraph only riled me up. I got out my pen and wrote: “For all the time you have taken to write this, you could have gathered up all the laundry you now realize isn’t yours and delivered it back to its rightful owner!”

Within the hour, a rather haggard person who looked much older than his years, stood on my porch holding a well-worn grocery bag. “Sorry about that,” he said. “We just realized we picked up the wrong load.”

“Thank you,” I replied. “And be sure to tell Bentley that I’ve been waiting for over a month.”

I never spoke to Bentley again and certainly not after seeing him chase Devon down the street with that long screwdriver he used for starting his car. While Bentley was away overnight, Devon had rented a truck, hired some men and had moved Bentley out of the apartment without warning. We were told that Bentley was moving, which was apparently news to Bentley who must’ve wondered if he was tripping when he stepped out of his car and saw a crew of people overhauling an empty apartment.

Our morning coffee was interrupted by shouting in the distance. The volume increased and Devon sprinted by the window. Coming up behind him, we could hear someone with very good diction bellowing with all the strength of a diaphragm trained for stagecraft, “You had no right! You had no right to touch my things! My priceless things! My objet d’art!” As he disappeared out of sight, that was the last we ever saw of Bentley.

© 2017 by Patrick Brown

To learn more about my books, visit my author page at http://www.amazon.com/Patrick-Brown/e/B005F0CYH2/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1419885131&sr=8-1

Out Damned Spots

On my first trip to Europe, I acquired a set of 12 white Jacquard dinner napkins made in Belgium. These were on my shopping list because a southern friend of mine with a well-appointed household kept a closet filled with starched linens to accompany any occasion from Friday night cocktails to an impromptu wedding reception for 80. Though I was in my twenties and didn’t know a dozen people who’d be interested in joining me for occasions requiring starched white napkins, I knew the day would come when I’d need nice things. Since I happened to be standing in a linen shop, I might as well pick out some terrific napkins.

I eventually bought a house for similar reasons: a day would come when this house, impractical for most people, would provide the perfect backdrop for entertaining. I loved that house from the moment my friend Carolyn took me inside to see it. I made an offer first thing the next morning and was redoing it within the month. When I put it up for sale after a few years, I quickly realized the layout was impractical for younger families who want multiple bathrooms rather than one enormous chamber with vintage 1930s tile and separate grottoes for tub, toilet and shower.

Younger buyers are not interested in secondary bedrooms wallpapered in silk, and they do not understand the benefits of a kitchen hidden behind a swinging door so that the guests in the 600 sq. ft. dining room don’t have to see the mess that goes into preparing memorable events.

I almost neglected to mention the arched French doors with panes of wavy glass, separating the dining room from the formal living room.

I finally had the perfect setting for one of those special occasions, and I still had those perfectly preserved white napkins. As a musician, I joined the local music society, quickly discovering that I was one of the youngest members and among the able-bodied. Co-hosting one of the nine meetings a year was mandatory. Co-hosting was meant to ease the burden since it was assumed one person would provide a venue, seating, logistics, coffee and tea while the other co-host brought the dessert for the social hour.

I was assigned the February meeting, and a very sweet member told me that she would bring two cakes on the appointed day. Since we were scheduled for the second Saturday of the month, she hinted that I should come up with something for Valentine’s Day. The program chair had lined up a local soprano to sing love-themed songs, so I rolled my cynical eyes and racked my brain to think of love and romance for a group comprised mostly of elderly widows who hadn’t been passionately kissed since the Watergate hearings.

I got out a set of antique dessert plates, my best flatware, the white napkins from Belgium, of course, and put out a centerpiece of a dozen roses, leaving a spot for the cakes. While I was welcoming people through the front door, my co-host was bringing her desserts through the back. I’d told her to go ahead and put them on the table before joining us for the program. It wasn’t until I excused myself during the last number to make sure the coffee was brewing and the water for tea was coming to a boil that I saw two red velvet cakes looming near those white napkins from Belgium.

The table awaits the arrival of the cake. I still didn't know at that point it would be red velvet.

The table awaits the arrival of the cake. I still didn’t know at that point it would be red velvet.

The meeting was adjourned, the French doors were thrown open and a dozen guests poured into my oversized dining room. I’d purchased the house from an elderly, childless woman who had been rather reclusive for about 30 years. I’d already hosted a fund-raising dinner for 50 and a few smaller parties, and the music society was equally anxious to get a peak inside.

Plates in hand and coffee cups precariously balanced too close to the rims, the social hour began. One group disappeared toward the bedrooms to explore the back half of the house, a few lingered in the living room to debate the originality of the fireplace, and a Mrs. H. wandered between that group and those huddled in the dining room as she left a trail of crumbs like Hansel and Gretel in the forest.

One tries not to notice and just hopes the rugs can stand up to FD&C Red No. 40 when ground into the fibers by a low black patent leather pump under the strain of ample girth. I quickly gave up worrying about the rugs when I noticed Mrs. H. and her three friends digging into second and third pieces of cake. Each had worn a vibrant shade of red lipstick from Vermilion Vixen to Rousing Raspberry Passion, and each seemed to have firmly blotted on the Belgian Jacquard prior to wiping unexplainably messy mouths between each bite of burgundy cake.

Since I did not have a coach’s whistle around my neck, I was able to bring the afternoon to a gentler close, thanking everyone for coming and telling them I’d see them at the next meeting. I sent my co-host home with the assurance that cleaning up would be a breeze, and wasn’t that clever to think of red velvet for Valentine’s!

As I laid the linen casualties out for pre-treating and bleaching, it looked as though I’d attempted to wipe up a double homicide. While drenching the fabric with heavy doses of Shout, Lady Macbeth’s sleepwalking scene came to mind. That’s the scene where she relives the night of Duncan’s murder and cries “Out damned spot! Out, I say! . . .Yet who would have thought the old man to have had so much blood in him?”

It might have seemed an incredible amount of blood to Lady Macbeth, but it was probably too much red velvet cake.

© 2017 by Patrick Brown

To learn more about my books, visit my author page at http://www.amazon.com/Patrick-Brown/e/B005F0CYH2/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1419885131&sr=8-1