Zachary Blake Legal Thriller, #8
Date Published 04-25-2022
Conservative talk-show host Mia Folger is in therapy with Dr. Harold Rothenberg. Mia and her husband, progressive Congressman Bradley Crawford, are not getting along these days, personally or politically.
When Crawford is found brutally dismembered and murdered, the evidence points to Mia as his killer. While the prosecutor pushes for a murder indictment, Dr. Rothenberg, convinced of his patient’s innocence, turns to an old friend—high profile attorney Zachary Blake, Detroit’s self-proclaimed ‘King of Justice.’
Blake will do anything for Rothenberg, the man who successfully treated his kids in their battle with a predator priest. Zack takes Mia’s case, but has his work cut out for him because Mia has been hospitalized, shocked into a catatonic state at the discovery of her husband’s mutilated body, unable to assist in her own defense.
Sensing he must prove Mia’s innocence to avoid an eventual life sentence, Zack enlists the aid of his crack investigator, Micah Love, and Micah’s cyber-specialist, Reed Spencer to dissect and poke holes in the case. But, for this case, Micah in convinced that Zack needs
more—he recommends beautiful, sharp, brash, foul-mouthed, cocky-confident New York based jury consultant extraordinaire Shari Belitz and her team of mock trial/focus group gurus.
Shari is the best of the best. Her assignment in the Folger case? Flyspeck the evidence and unleash her arsenal of psychological techniques and predictive skills—use focus groups or mock juries to determine what evidence or circumstances would cause the real jury to declare Mia Folger innocent of all charges. Zack wants no part of Shari; one cocky lawyer-Zachary Blake-should be sufficient to prove Mia’s case. Blake knows what he needs for an acquittal; a brash jury consultant from NYC will only get in his way. But Micah persists and persuades Zack him to give Shari and her team a try.
Zack, Micah, Reed, and the irrepressible Ms. Belitz join forces in an all-out attack on the evidence, while evil characters lurk in the background, engaged in a sinister plot to assure Mia’s demise.
Expect the unexpected in this whodunit legal crime thriller, the 8th installment of the Zachary Blake Legal Thriller Series, featuring all your favorite series characters and one brash, exciting newcomer who gives Blake all he can handle.
Mia Folger lay on the couch, smiling to herself. A ‘couch’ was featured in television and movie versions of a psychiatrist’s office. Did modern therapists use them for treatment? When she initially consulted Dr. Harold Rothenberg, her session was conducted in a different room. There was no couch. As doctor and patient began to feel more comfortable with each other, therapy moved to another room, this room, the one with the couch.
The couch, she knew, was a rather common prop for psychoanalysts, first introduced by none other than Sigmund Freud. Freud learned, and practitioners have uniformly agreed, that patient-doctor encounters benefit from being freed of the constraints of looking each other in the eye. A patient enjoys the freedom of being able to talk without critique. The office should be a no judgment zone, one in which a patient cannot see the reaction his or her statement elicited in the analyst. The couch is intended as a vehicle that frees the patient from constraints of self-awareness, enabling her to provide more honest, heartfelt responses.
Mia Folger began psychotherapy with Harold Rothenberg because she began to loathe herself and disparage her husband, who, she insisted, she deeply loved. She sought treatment to understand and rid herself of these feelings. Several sessions into her treatment, Rothenberg switched session location to the room with the couch, and Mia enjoyed her new-found freedom to speak her mind without witnessing Dr. Rothenberg’s judgment.
“I am very self-critical,” she opined in an early session. “I feel my mother’s negativity, her unrelenting judgment of everything and anything I try to accomplish in life.”
At first, Rothenberg thought she was typical of most patients who complain about their mothers. While most complain and imagine that their mothers were constant critics, their internal pictures of their mothers are commonly darker than the reality. These men and women could usually be persuaded, in therapy, that the mothers of their imagination were far more fearful than their actual mother. But this was not the case for Mia Folger. Her mother was unrelenting, evil, judgmental, impossible to please, and a consistent negative force in Mia’s life.
She was married, wanted children someday, but would never be a stay-at-home wife and mother. She was a sought-after event planner, planning social events, parties, weddings, bar and bat-mitzvahs, non-profit mixers, and political events. Mia first met her husband at one such political event.
Rothenberg thought he would encounter trust issues with Mia, that it would take multiple sessions to enable her to feel comfortable confiding her deepest and darkest concerns. To his surprise, Mia took to therapy almost immediately. By her third session, she emerged more free, less self-critical, and responded willingly and forthrightly to his questions. Most importantly, she seemed to appreciate his insights. Today, however, she seemed distant, uncomfortable, aloof.
“Do a lot of your patients lie on this couch?”
Rothenberg was somewhat surprised by her sudden change in attitude. He pondered an answer to her ‘couch question.’ He told her that it was a psychotherapy tool, one that relieved a patient from the burden of face-to-face treatment.
“Many patients prefer the couch for that reason.”
He asked her whether she had any thoughts or memories that would be easier to talk about if she wasn’t forced to look him in the eye.
Mia was conflicted. Although she appreciated Rothenberg’s concerns, she was somewhat ambivalent about revealing her deep-rooted feelings about motherhood, fatherhood, and marital relations. Rothenberg was anything but judgmental, as she was about these three subjects, but there were areas of her life that she felt were private, feelings of which she was afraid and profoundly ashamed. Would the couch free her to discuss these things and finally deal with the sources of her shame and fear.
“Let me get this straight. You are suggesting that I can now reveal all matters that I wouldn’t feel comfortable revealing to your face? I don’t like your shoes, or the way you always cross your legs when we talk, but I would never say those things to your face.”
“Not exactly what I had in mind, but you get the idea. What do you think? More comfortable, less comfortable, or no difference?”
“I’m not sure. I told you how I feel, though. Maybe there’s something to this couch thing, after all.”
“Whatever gets the job done and makes you feel more forthcoming. Therapy is about discussing what’s bothering you in an open and honest manner. My intent is to reduce your inhibitions toward self-acceptance expression. Anything, specifically, on you mind today?”
“I love my husband. I’d love to slice him open and then turn the knife on myself.”
Mia’s husband was Bradley Crawford, a two-term congressman, and son of Congressman Isaiah Crawford, the long-term congressman of the 13th congressional district, which included the city of Detroit. The younger Crawford was recently re-elected, in a landslide, to serve the 14th congressional district. He rode the coattails of a proverbial blue wave led by current president Louis Belding, but made possible by the toxic, divisive presidencies of Ronald John and Stephen Golding. Rothenberg lived in the district and voted twice for the younger Crawford. He was impressed with the young man’s rhetoric and politics and considered him future presidential material. He had solid credentials, came from good stock, and, by all accounts, was a wonderful human being.
Rothenberg was stunned by Mia’s sudden admission of suicidal and homicidal ideations, especially as it related to her husband. Is she telling the truth or just trying to get my attention? As a trained, experienced therapist, Rothenberg knew that most people with such thoughts never acted upon them. Rothenberg knew Mia was depressed and angry, but he had not considered her a danger to herself or others. Had he missed something? After all, clinically depressed people are sometimes pre-disposed to violence. Depression, when coupled with weak impulse control, frustration, irritability, and rage, can often lead to violent acts. While their sessions revealed many of these personality traits, Rothenberg did not consider Mia a person with weak impulse control. She was quite the contrary. He decided to explore this further.
“How long have you felt this way?”
“A long time.”
“Not sure. Couple of years, at least.”
“How long have you been married?”
“Yes, for the most part.”
“What causes you to qualify your ‘yes’ answer?”
“I want to have a baby and he is more focused on his career.”
“Is that a reason to kill him? You can’t have a baby with him if he’s dead.” Rothenberg rationalized.
“I agree. I didn’t say I had a rational explanation for my feelings, only that I felt them.”
“But would you act on them? And do you actually loathe yourself enough to consider suicide?”
“I didn’t say I could or would act upon them. I said I’d like to.”
“I agree that this is an important distinction.”
Rothenberg also knew that a person with a history of past physical abuse or illicit drug use was far more likely to resort to acts of violence.
“Is there anything about your past I should know? Have you ever been abused, physically or sexually? Have you ever taken or abused illegal or legal drugs? Anything you tell me, as you well know, will be kept in complete confidence.”
“No, nothing like that.”
Rothenberg was happy to hear Mia say those words, assuming she was being truthful. He decided to focus on impulsivity. Impulsivity correlates favorably with aggressive behavior. The more he probed, the less concerned he became. She did not take drugs of any kind. There were no recent events in her life that would trigger any type of violent outburst. She appeared to have good impulse control, almost no rage, and exhibited very little aggressive behavior. All drug and clinical tests were negative. There was no physical component or impairment. Testing for serotonergic deficiency was negative, as her 5-HIAA levels (the primary serotonin metabolite) were within normal limits. The doctor was also able to rule out any impairment of the prefrontal cortex, which is involved in executive function.
Mia had no history of aggressive behavior or serious childhood trauma (despite her mother’s judgmental behavior), no impulsiveness, and no drug abuse. Rothenberg decided to note her comments and monitor her for signs of increased aggressive behavior or any serious escalation of threats to commit acts of aggression. At the end of the day, he remained relatively unconcerned about her admission.
“How are you feeling right now?”
“I’m fine, thank you. How about yourself?”
“Funny, Mia. Are you trying to get a rise out of me?”
“No, not at all.”
“Good. So, tell me, if you were going to commit suicide or kill your husband, what’s the plan? How would you do it?” Rothenberg challenged. He knew that the lack of a plan was a sign that his patient lacked the clinical intensity to commit the acts.
“I haven’t thought that far ahead. I just get angry every now and then.”
This was the response he wanted. Suicidal or homicidal thoughts, to be considered serious, needed imminent risk, a plan, some intrusiveness, or frequency. None of this was present in Mia’s responses.
“Well Mia, I’m glad you disclosed these feelings. This is a very important step in your treatment. Let’s keep talking about them. Perhaps we can develop a safety plan together. I’d like to increase the frequency of your visits. Is that okay?”
“Sure. I like talking to you.”
“If you ever feel out of control, call me immediately?”
“Great. Let’s get together in two days. Make an appointment as you check out today.”
“Check out?” Mia laughed.
Rothenberg signed, rolled his eyes, and laughed. “Right. Poor choice of words. How about see you in two days?”
“See you in two days.”
About the Author
Mark M. Bello is an attorney and award-winning author of realistic fiction and political-legal thrillers.
Retired from handling high profile legal cases, Mark now gives the public a front-row seat watching victims fight for justice in our civil and criminal justice systems. Mark’s award-winning Zachary Blake Legal Thrillers mirror our times and the events that shape our country.
In addition to being an author and veteran attorney, Mark is a member of numerous trial lawyer associations and a feature writer for the Legal Examiner and other popular blog sites. He has written articles for numerous publications and made guest appearances on radio and talk shows and multiple podcasts.
In his spare time, Mark enjoys traveling and spending time with his family.
He and his wife Tobye, have four children and eight grandchildren.
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