In "Sly Fox," Judge Jeanine Pirro's first novel, Westchester ADA Dani Fox wants to assist a battered bartender recovering from her husband's last assault. But New York law doesn't consider spousal violence to be a criminal offense and Fox must persuade her own bosses to let her take the case. Here's an excerpt.
Although no one in my office had given me permission to get involved, I made up an excuse, ducked out the door, and headed to the White Plains Hospital at 41 East Post Road. I drive a British green Triumph TR6 sports car. It was my first splurge after I got hired and had a regular paycheck. On such a beautiful morning, I would have been tempted to put the top down, but after being forced to iron my hair that morning, there was no way I was going to take that chance.
I’d bought my car at an English import dealership but it had taken me two trips to find the right one — not the car, but the right salesman. The first one tried to steer me toward a white MGB, explaining that Triumphs were considered masculine because the TR6 came with a six-cylinder engine, as opposed to the standard four in an MGB. The boxy shape of the Triumph screamed male, he warned, especially when compared to the soft curves of the MGB. Hearing that had ended our discussion. I actually drove thirty miles over the Tappan Zee Bridge to a different dealership to buy my Triumph. I hate when men pigeonhole women.
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You can blame my father for my taste in sports cars. Leo was a salesman by trade and a car buff by choice. He especially admired sleek European race cars. Dad died of cancer not long after I was hired as an assistant district attorney and one of my deepest regrets is that he never got a chance to watch me prosecute a defendant in court.
As I was walking to the hospital entrance, a car came to a screeching stop, nearly hitting me. I looked, assuming someone in it was injured. But the driver stepped nonchalantly from one of the ugliest vehicles that I’d ever seen. He’d clearly customized his 1973 Chevrolet Monte Carlo. Half of its roof was covered with white vinyl and the car’s body had been spray painted a brilliant gold and then flecked with silver. The wheels were chrome. You might have expected to see it on a seedy Times Square side street being driven by a pimp, but not here in White Plains.
The car’s owner seemed equally out of place. Recent issues of movie magazines had published photographs of John Travolta’s upcoming release called Saturday Night Fever and the driver was clearly mimicking the actor’s disco-dancing character. The top buttons of his black silk shirt were undone, exposing his dark chest hair. He was wearing a white three-piece suit, white leather shoes, and had a half-dozen gold chains dangling from his neck. As he shut the door, he leaned down to speak through the open window to a woman with bottle-blond hair.
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“If the cops bug you, tell ’em I’m coming right out,” he said as he left the Monte Carlo parked next to a No Parking sign. He began walking toward me and the hospital’s entrance, but something caught his eye. It was a nearby trash can that contained a ditched bouquet of spring flowers. Snatching up the drooping flowers, he plucked off a few dead petals and headed inside.
I followed and walked to the receptionist’s desk while Disco Man and his bouquet marched to an elevator.
“Can you tell me if Mary Margaret Hitchins is still in ICU?” I asked the receptionist, a fresh-faced candy striper.
She said, “Mrs. Hitchins was moved into a private room last night. It’s on the fifth floor, room five-o-five.”
The elevator doors announced my arrival on the fifth floor with a loud ding. I stepped onto a gray tile floor with pink and green specks and was immediately hit with the strong smell of antiseptic. A plastic sign attached to a pale green wall pointed me to the nurses’ station, where a uniformed woman wearing a name tag that read Susan RN was working. When she glanced up from a medical chart, I said, “Hi, I’m from the district attorney’s office and need to speak to Mary Margaret Hitchins — if she’s up to seeing visitors.”
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Before Susan RN could reply, an angry male voice yelled: “Go to hell! Both of you!” It was followed by the sound of cracking glass.
Nurse Susan darted down the corridor with me in pursuit. As we reached the doorway to Room 505, Disco Man burst out into the hallway, almost smacking into Nurse Susan. Red-faced, he stomped to the elevator without acknowledging us.
We rushed into the room.
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An older woman was hovering near a hospital bed where a young woman was lying. The patient’s face was a mask of bandages. An IV bag hung next to her left arm and an electronic monitor tracked her vital signs with flashing yellow, green, and blue lights. I guessed this was Mary Margaret Hitchins and noticed that her swollen eyes, visible through a slit in the white gauze covering her face, were closed. She was either asleep or unconscious.
Addressing Nurse Susan, the older woman said, “I don’t want that animal allowed in here again! He’s got no right after what he did to my baby girl.”
I put the woman at about forty-two, a real beanpole, standing at least five feet ten in flats. Only she seemed even taller because she’d teased her dyed black hair into a B-52 beehive—a popular hairdo fifteen years ago. Although she wasn’t that old, her face was a road map of wrinkles and her husky voice suggested she was at least a two-pack-a-day smoker. This, I assumed, was Mary Margaret’s mother.
Judging from the yelling, profanity, and shattered water glass on the room’s floor, I further assumed that Disco Man’s visit had gone poorly. The discarded bouquet that he’d so lovingly plucked from the trash can was scattered on the tiles, too.
Two plus two told me that Disco Man was Rudy Hitchins.
Nurse Susan said, “I’ll get someone to come clean this mess,” as she stepped gingerly over the broken glass after quickly checking the IV and vital-signs monitor connected to Mary Margaret. Satisfied, she slipped by me out the door. The older woman noticed me and asked: “Who are you?”
“My name is Dani Fox. I’m an assistant district attorney from the Westchester County district attorney’s office. I’ve come to speak to Mary Margaret.”
The woman replied, “She can’t speak to no one right now because of what that bastard done to her face. He broke her jaw.”
I asked, “And you are?”
“I’m Rebecca Finn. Her mother.”
I looked again at Mary Margaret’s eyes. She seemed oblivious.
Mrs. Finn said, “They drugged her up with painkillers. She’s out of it. Thank God! He busted her nose this time and then he has the nerve to come in here with flowers like he cares about her. I ain’t stupid.” She hesitated and then asked, “My daughter’s not in any trouble, is she?”
“Oh no,” I replied.
“Then why are you here? Do you know my daughter?”
I explained that Mary Margaret was well liked at O’Toole’s pub, especially by the police. “A detective asked me to look in on her.”
Mrs. Finn said, “She’s pregnant, you know.”
I faked a surprised look. “This isn’t the first time that he’s beat her, is it?”
A flash of suspicion appeared in Mrs. Finn’s eyes. I couldn’t tell if she wanted to be cautious because she was speaking to a prosecutor or if she was afraid she might say something that might anger Rudy Hitchins. Hoping to reassure her, I said, “I don’t think Rudy Hitchins should get away with this. He should be in jail. But we don’t have laws in New York yet that protect women from this sort of brutality.”
“Damn shame,” she replied.
“I came to speak to your daughter about her plans, after she’s discharged. There are women’s shelters here and in Manhattan especially for battered women, or maybe she could go somewhere on the Jersey shore where it’s peaceful so she could have her baby and escape her problems for a while.”
“She’s only got one problem—that prick who hit her!”
“Do you have relatives living out of town where she could stay?”
Mrs. Finn shook her head, indicating no. “She’s not going to run away and hide. Our family’s been in White Plains for generations.”
I noticed tears forming in her eyes. “I just wish her father was alive. He’d put Rudy Hitchins in a hospital bed right next to this one—if he didn’t kill him first.”
“I know you’re angry but vigilante justice isn’t the answer.”
She looked at me and snapped, “Oh, it ain’t, is it? Then what is? This happening like this? If the law don’t protect you, then you got to take it in your own hands. This never would have happened if my Harry were here. He’d make short work of that bastard.”
I replied, “That’s why we need to make it a crime for men to hit their wives like this.”
“His wife?” Mrs. Finn asked.
“Yes, isn’t your daughter married to Rudy Hitchins?”
“Hell no! She isn’t married to that son of a bitch.”
“Doesn’t she use his last name?” I asked, surprised.
“Oh that. It don’t mean nothing. She began calling herself Hitchins the first time he got her pregnant a year ago. She didn’t want anyone to think her baby was a bastard. But she had a miscarriage and, well, she just kept telling everyone that Hitchins was her last name, but them two never got married.”
“Are you absolutely certain? You’re one hundred percent sure they didn’t visit a justice of the peace in Atlantic City or fly off to Las Vegas and get married without telling you?”
“Look, I’d know if my only daughter was married, wouldn’t I?”
I broke into a smile. “Mrs. Finn, I don’t know what others might have told you, but New York State does not recognize common-law marriages. Do you understand what this means?”
She shook her head, indicating no.
“It means Rudy Hitchins was not beating up his wife. It means he doesn’t get a free pass.”
She still seemed confused.
“Because they aren’t married, Rudy Hitchins can be charged with a felony and put in jail.”
“Well, he should be in jail.” She paused and whispered: “He didn’t just beat her, you know. There’s more.”
Excerpted from Sly Fox by Judge Jeanine Pirro. Copyright © 2012 Judge Jeanine Pirro. Excerpted by permission of Hyperion. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
© 2012 MSNBC Interactive