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Chapter Six

“Tully Badeaux,” Tully said, holding out her hand first to the young woman, then to her husband.

“Elijah and Simone Hebert, ma’am.” Elijah gave a slight nod.

“My daddy always told me if you’re going to trust me with something important, you’re going to have to use my first name. Please call me Tully.” She escorted the couple to the leather sofa in her office, taking the seat across from them. “Now, what can I do for you?”

“We talked to Roxanne,” Simone started. “Her mama and mine go way back, and she told us you could help us.”

“Just take all the time you need and tell me what the problem is.”

“Elijah and me, we’re simple people who wanted more than anything to have a family. We’ve been sweethearts since the third grade.”

Elijah sat quietly next to his wife and held her hand. After telling the first part of the story, Simone paused and swallowed like she had a lump in her throat.

“We got married right out of high school and decided to wait a couple of years on those kids we wanted.” Yanking a tissue out of her pocket, she held it to her mouth and shook her head, rocking back and forth as if some ailment had possessed her.

“Sorry, Tully, this is just hard for us,” Elijah said, moving closer and putting his arm around his wife. “You want me to finish, baby?”

Because Simone didn’t respond verbally or physically, he just started talking. “We were saving for a house, and those first couple of years were good fishing seasons. I know Gaston, your daddy. Always has been good to me, giving me tips, and taught me to get the best price for my catch, so Simone and me did good.”

“If there’s one thing Gaston Badeaux knows, it’s getting a good price for shrimp.” Tully stood up and took off her jacket. “Would you like to take a break before we go on? I really don’t mind, and I want to make this as easy on you as possible.”

“I figure the sooner we get this story told, the sooner you can start working on our case.”

Tully rested the legal pad on her lap and picked up her pen. The next part had to be what was making Simone cry quietly into her husband’s shoulder. “Just tell me if you need to stop.”

“Four years ago, we bought our house and Simone got pregnant. A man couldn’t have asked for more blessings, but I was wrong. When they laid that baby in my arms, I knew my life was rich even if my bank account didn’t agree.” His voice got softer, but he fought through the emotions. “We named her Evangeline and she was just beautiful.”

“Do you have a picture of her?” Tully asked.

After the few minutes it took him to pull out his wallet and flip through the collection he carried with him, his eyes seemed clearer.

“She’s beautiful.”

“Thank you. Right after she was born they told Simone she couldn’t have any more kids, but we were okay with that. Our dream had been to have a big family, but God had seen fit to give us just the one.”

“Was it a health risk for her to get pregnant again?” Tully was taking copious notes.

“The doctor said something about her pressure and her womb being really thin.”

It seemed rather strange to be talking about Simone like she wasn’t there, but she did appear to be somewhere else, probably someplace where the pain wasn’t crippling and she could hang on to the last shred of her sanity.

“I know my questions may sound strange, but I don’t want to put you through this more times than I have to.”

“It’s okay, we understand.” He wiped his face and brought Simone closer. “Things were great at first, but then right after her third birthday Evangeline got sick and we just thought it was the flu. Turned out she had bone cancer, and everyone told us to take her to New Orleans for treatment at Children’s Hospital. The doctors there didn’t sound real hopeful at first, but she responded well to the chemo they were giving her. She was a fighter like her mama.”

“From the way you’re talking, I understand Evangeline passed away from her disease.”

Elijah stared at her blankly like someone who heard the words but didn’t want to process them. “She died, but not from her cancer. She was in a lot of pain and they were having trouble keeping the IV in, so they told us it would be better to get something called a port.” Big tears started to fall down his face, but he kept talking. “It was simple, they said, but she died in recovery. It was an accident, they said, but she was bleeding and no one noticed.”

“What do you mean exactly by ‘she was bleeding’?”

“When they let us see her, her stomach was swollen, and this nurse finally told me that it was her blood. She was bleeding inside, and it didn’t have nowhere to go.”

“Elijah, I don’t mean to interrupt you, but could you hold on a minute.” Tully held up a finger, stood, and walked to her desk. “Roxanne, please step in and bring Jo and Frank.”

“You’re not going to take our case?” Simone’s voice sounded raspy from nonuse.

“The death of a child isn’t an easy thing to cope with, and while telling your story will most probably get easier with time, there’s no reason for you to suffer needlessly. Josephine Newmyer and Frank Tobias are my best associates and will be part of my team if we go forward.”

As if finding a new source of inner strength, Simone sat up and stared Tully down with her brown eyes. “My little girl was sick, but she deserved better than she got. That woman killed her, and I want to hear her say it. This ain’t about the money.”

“Ma’am…” Tully started as the door opened and the people she’d invited entered. “If there’s a case here, whoever is at fault will do more than just admit it, and it’ll be more than just about the money.”

“What do you mean?”

“It’s simple. What was your daughter’s life worth? What would she have become if given the opportunity to do so? To begin, how would you answer those questions? Then what’s the answer to why her life was cut short?”

Roxanne and the others sat down as they watched Tully weave her spell. She might have been born a fisherman’s daughter, thought Roxanne, but Tully was smart and personable, unlike many other attorneys she had encountered. Her boss’s ability to make her clients trust her integrity made all the difference in most instances.

Trials were usually won or lost not by the superior mind, but by who could reach the twelve people who mattered most. Tully had a way of getting into the hearts and minds of a jury like no one else Roxanne had ever seen work a courtroom. From her first trial, juries had warmed to her easy manner, razor-sharp wit, and warm smile and joined Tully’s fight to vindicate her clients.

“Simone, lawsuits are more than just about money, at least for me. I went to medical school before law school, so I know what it’s like to have to face people’s expectations and hopes when it comes to their health.” Tully sat again and looked Simone in the eye. “When you or your loved one is sick, you have to trust the person in the lab coat to make you better. I fight hard against those who betray that trust.

“So I try to prove they were wrong so convincingly that the district attorney has no choice but to pick up the torch and prosecute the offender. If that can’t happen, then having to pay a lot of money makes the hospital be more careful the next time they hire personnel.”

While Simone and Elijah nodded in approval, Tully got the others up to speed and had Elijah finish his story.

He described how they had seen their daughter in the recovery room after her surgery, minutes after she’d died. When he was done he sat back and waited, seeming to expect yet another disappointment.

“Rox, you have copies of the file for everyone?” Tully asked. She’d heard their side, so now it was time to fill in the gaps and try to separate grief from fact.

On the first line of the surgical report, flashing like a neon sign, was the name Dr. Kara Nicolas: Jessica’s new lover and Evangeline Hebert’s surgeon. Tully sighed and pinched the bridge of her nose.

“What?” Roxanne asked.

“We may have a problem.” This was the first time her personal life had bled so profusely into her work.

“I checked the file, Tully. Jessica’s not involved at all.” Roxanne was about to flip to the pages again when Tully put her hand up.

“Her name isn’t in there, that’s not the problem.” She turned her attention to her potential new clients since she knew her staff would keep her business confidential. “For me to be your attorney, you have to trust me just like those doctors I talked about.”

“You haven’t called us crazy yet, so I don’t see a problem,” Elijah said.

Tully started with her sexual orientation, which made Elijah shrug. She moved on to Jessica and where she worked, and again he shrugged.

“Believe me,” Tully said, “I’m not boring you with all this to see how open-minded you are.”

“You can sleep with sheep for all I care, just as long as you hand me that bitch’s head on a plate.”

“I want to thank all of you for being nice enough not to mention my face.” Tully pointed to all the bruising. “Yesterday I filed assault charges against Dr. Nicolas.”

“She beat you up?” Simone asked.

“Her face looks worse, believe me. We had a little disagreement yesterday when I found out that my partner of many years is having an affair with her.”

The two associates didn’t show any emotion.

“If you have a problem with that fact I can certainly recommend another attorney for you.”

“Do you believe us?” Elijah asked. “That Evangeline didn’t have to die so soon, I mean.”

“I believe you have a good case, yes.”

“Then I think, if Simone agrees with me”—Elijah turned to his wife, who nodded—“that we want you. You believe in us and you’ve got your own reasons to bring Dr. Nicolas down.”

“Rox, get on the phone and drop all the charges I filed yesterday.” Tully didn’t raise her head from the file in her hand as she circled names and underlined facts. Before long she handed it to Josephine to kick-start her team’s research. “Then get all the necessary paperwork for the Heberts to sign.”

“When do we start?” Simone asked.

“Tully started the moment you walked in here,” Roxanne said. “If you come with me, Frank and his guys will go through everything with you again so we can get your story into our files.”

“It’s important for you not to talk to anyone from the hospital or Dr. Nicolas’s office without one of us present,” Tully advised, moving to her desk to get some cards and handing them to Simone and Elijah. “Here are all the numbers you need to get in touch with me, night or day.”

Simone held it to her chest like it was a winning lotto ticket. “Tully, thank you.”

“I’ve done this for years, but I can’t imagine any other case that’ll satisfy me more to win.”

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