Carol trembled, lying
naked under the sheets, the way Bill wanted to find
her whenever he stumbled home late at night. Despite
her bared skin, Carol was not shivering from the unusually
blustery cold of the early morning hour; rather, it
was the chill of what she knew was about to happen
to her. Five days until Valentine’s Day and he was
out drinking with “his boys” on a Saturday night.
The minutes ticked by. Her fears turned to dread.
She cried quietly into her pillow to keep from disturbing
18-month-old Joey, asleep in the next room. She heard
the front door click open, counted Bill’s stumbling
footsteps coming to their bedroom, listened to him
kick off his shoes, unbuckle his belt, drop his pants,
finish stripping and climb into bed beside her.
Carol anticipated he would be rough with her, as usual
whenever he had been drinking, but she flinched at
his unexpected movements behind her. With a swift
jerk, he slipped his arms under hers, forcing her
shoulders back, and gripped her skull with his hands
behind her head in a full-Nelson headlock. He had
demonstrated that position to her before, when he’d
bragged about the indefensible hold he learned on
his high- school wrestling team. But tonight it wasn’t
just for show. It was different. He continued increasing
the pressure, forcing her head forward.
Helpless in his grasp, alarmed by his silent power,
immediately her mind raced to how she could protect
herself. Nothing. He’d never been this brutal before.
“Stop!” she screamed, no longer caring if she woke
Joey. Bill shifted and instead angled her head forward
even more. Carol heard the bones in her spine crunch.
A stab of pain shot across her neck.
Sobbing, not daring to struggle against his grip,
she begged Bill to release her so she could pee first
and get some lubricant. Bill relaxed his hold with
a grunt of reluctance and fell back against the pillows,
arm across his eyes.
Carol scrambled from the bed and walked slowly into
the hall. Suppressing a moan, she stumbled from the
house and across the street to Jill’s home. She pounded
on the door, praying for it to open quickly.
“Carol, dammit, you come home, now!” Bill bellowed,
his voice carrying in the hushed quiet, his bare feet
smacking the front porch steps, charging after her.
Jill’s door opened a crack, then all the way open.
Jill stood with her bathrobe clutched in her fist,
mouth agape. Looking over Carol’s nude shoulder,
Jill screamed and pulled Carol inside, locked the
door, and called the police.
2 - The Girl In The Halo
The mother and daughter were sitting across the
desk from me.
The mother, who I judged to be in her late 50s or
early 60s, was dressed in a camel-colored pantsuit,
prim, proper, clenching her teeth, clearly stressed.
She had on fashionable glasses and overly bright
lipstick in a shade of red I couldn’t name. My first
impression was that she’d had some work done on
Her daughter, late 20s, was introduced as Carol.
She was wearing what I immediately recognized as
a medical halo. Looking at the contraption, I thought
of Rube Goldberg. The metal device encircled her
head at the crown of her skull, just above her eyebrows,
and connected with four rods anchored from the halo
to a vest made of hard plastic with a fleece lining.
Two in front, two in back. Four bolts had been drilled
directly into her skull attaching the halo. I knew
these would ultimately leave scars. Her neck was
Carol’s long, dark brown hair contrasted starkly
to her mother’s short cut. I excused her Nike sweatsuit
as a product of the difficulties she must have getting
into and out of her clothes while wearing the halo.
Her eyes were red—I assumed from crying—and she
wore no makeup. Both were trim, but not necessarily
athletic. There was obvious tension between them.
I thought it might be because of the concern her
mom had for her daughter’s situation and the daughter’s
shame from having to depend on her mother to get
her dressed, cared for, and driven to a lawyer’s
At first, I assumed Carol was there to file an injury
suit for whiplash, but looking down at the intake
form I saw this was about a divorce and custody.
Belatedly, I recalled Sue whispering that to me
when she’d escorted the women into my office.
“This one will be interesting,” Sue had said.
“Your client is Carol, the young lady in the halo.”
Sue Miller had been our first hire at Cramer & Gregory.
Tall, slim, almost 40, she’d been my assistant at
the old firm and a legal secretary almost 20 years.
She knew what she was doing and kept the office
running smoothly, with just the right combination
of humor and drill sergeant. She was scrupulously
thorough, too, and I was confident she had checked
for any conflicts in representation, such as if
we had been contacted by her husband first, before
scheduling the appointment.
My office was pretty typical of many in the building,
with light beige walls and a carpet that wouldn’t
show how much coffee had been spilled on it. The
wall behind my large overhang desk had all the ego
stuff you expect from professionals: the diploma,
certificates from the State Bar of California, the
California Supreme Court, a second certificate from
the State Bar announcing that I’d passed a test
making me a “Family Law Specialist,” and some awards
from a few other organizations. The only photograph
in the room was on my desk facing me, a family portrait
of me with Sarah and the kids, Aaron and Mindy.
It was there to remind me of what was really important
in life. The client chairs were covered in cloth,
not leather, which creaks when people squirm, and
I chose wooden armrests: sweaty palms enhance wood,
but not upholstery. The wall to my right was all
window, with a view of the foothills on the east
side of San Jose. Across from me hung a large print
of Monet’s water lilies.
I asked, “what brings you here today?” She began
by telling me the horrors of her February encounter
with her husband that left her in the halo. Weeping,
she informed me, “The surgeon said two of my neck
vertebrae were crushed and I came within a few millimeters
of being a quadriplegic. I’m lucky to even be able
to sit here.
“ Her mother, Arlene, butted
in. “I want you to take that son of a bitch for
everything he’s worth, and then some! He needs to
go to prison for what he did to Carol!” Arlene’s
anger failed to cause even a wrinkle on her brow.
Wow, I thought. And now it starts.
did you get my name?” I asked. Learning the source
of a referral was sometimes a way to get an idea
about the situation and an opportunity to send an
acknowledgement to the referral source.
“My friend, Jill D’Souza, recommended you,” Carol
answered. “She said you have represented some people
she knows. I didn’t ask her who they were.”
“Well, for my records, I’ll put down ‘former
client.’ This situation is as bad as any I’ve ever
heard,” I said. “There are a lot of options for
us. Can you tell me what happened after the police
Arlene answered for her daughter. “Carol was inside,
at Jill’s, waiting for an ambulance. All we know
is that the police came, talked to Carol for a few
minutes, then went back to her house to talk with
Bill when the ambulance came to take Carol to the
hospital. Joey stayed with Jill, and Bill was arrested
and taken downtown for booking, or whatever.”
“Carol, do you know anything else about the
criminal proceeding?” I looked at Carol directly,
hoping her mother would take the hint. Carol wasn’t
ready or able to assert herself and Arlene didn’t
do subtle. She just sat there, shredding a tissue.
Once again, Arlene answered. “We know he has been
charged with something and has an attorney, but
we don’t know any of the other details.” “That’s
OK, for now. I’ll have our investigator follow up
on that. What happened to Joey?”
At that point, Carol began crying in earnest. I
passed her a box of tissues I kept on the table
behind me. She took another tissue, wiped her eyes,
and began shredding that one, too.
Arlene gave Carol a look that seemed to me to be
contemptuous of Carol’s having fallen apart. “Thomas
and Mary, Bill’s parents, picked him up from Jill
and have kept him and won’t let us see our grandson
at all! Carol has been staying with me. I don’t
want those bastards to have any time with Joey after
the way they raised Bill!”
“I can see
how you would feel that way,” I replied. “Grandparent
custody and visitation is an emerging area in family
law. Are you here for me to represent you or Carol?”
“Carol. Arnie and I want her to be with
Joey and protected from that abusive son of a bitch.”
Welcome to the new Alan L. Nobler website.