After Anna - Chapter 1

By Lisa Scottoline

Noah, After

Trial, Day 10

Dr. Noah Alderman watched the jurors as they filed into the courtroom with their verdict, which would either set him free or convict him of first-degree murder. None of them met his eye, a bad sign.

Noah masked his emotions. He wasn’t a dramatic guy, and it almost didn’t matter what the jury did to him. He’d already lost everything he loved. His wife Maggie and son Caleb. His partnership in a thriving medical practice. His house. His contented life as a suburban dad, marked by mundane things like running errands on Saturday mornings with Caleb. They’d make the rounds to the box stores and garden center for whatever Maggie needed. Potting soil, deer repellent, mulch. Noah never bought enough mulch and always had to go back. He actually missed mulch.

The jurors seated themselves while the foreman handed the verdict slip to the courtroom deputy. Noah would know his fate any minute, one way or the other. It had been hanging over his head during the trial and the seven months prior, in prison at the Montgomery County Correctional Facility. He’d let it be known he was a doctor, and after that, he'd done what the inmates called “smooth time,” becoming a jailhouse doc, answering questions about asthma, back pain, and drug interactions, and examining swollen gums, arthritic wrists, and stubborn MRSA infections. He’d kept his head down and hidden his emotions. Pretty soon he was hiding them from himself, like now.

Judge Gardner accepted the verdict slip, causing a rustling in a gallery packed with spectators and reporters, since the horrific murder and its unlikely defendant had drawn media attention. None of the reporters or spectators uttered a word, having already been admonished against outbursts. Judge Gardner put on his glasses and read the verdict slip silently. His lined face betrayed no reaction.

Noah felt his lawyer, Thomas Owusu, shifting next to him. Thomas was a bulky, six-foot-five Nigerian with a personality and presence big enough to command attention in a courtroom. Thomas had put on a solid defense and been a friend as well as a lawyer. But Thomas couldn’t replace Noah’s best friend. His wife Maggie. Noah wondered if she was in the courtroom and turned around. The spectators reacted instantly, frowning and whispering among themselves. Noah checked where Maggie had sat before, but she wasn’t there. Still he loved her and always would, forever. He wished he could tell her that he was sorry, but she wouldn’t believe him anymore.

“Noah, face front,” Thomas whispered, leaning over, and Noah turned back.

“Will the defendant please rise?” Judge Gardner took off his reading glasses and set the verdict slip aside.

Thomas rose, and so did Noah. It felt unreal to him, and the courtroom receded in the background, telescoping away. He went inward. He didn’t know what he felt. He missed Maggie every minute. His family meant everything to him. He wished he could take it all back. He had done so many things wrong.

His life had been so normal, but it exploded like a strip of firecrackers at a backyard barbecue, blazing out of control, igniting the patio furniture and the house, engulfing everything in hot orange flames, raging like a giant fireball.

His world, afire.

It had all started with Anna.