Lisa Scottoline Excerpt: After Anna
By Lisa ScottolineApril 11, 2018
Riveting and disquieting, After Anna by Lisa Scottoline is a groundbreaking domestic thriller as well as a novel of emotional justice and legal intrigue that will keep readers on their toes until the final shocking page.
Nobody cuts deeper than family…
Dr. Noah Alderman, a widower and single father, has remarried a wonderful woman, Maggie Ippolitti, and for the first time in a long time, he and his young son are happy. Despite her longing for the daughter she hasn’t seen since she was a baby, Maggie is happy too, and she’s even more overjoyed when she unexpectedly gets another chance to be a mother to the child she thought she’d lost forever, her only daughter Anna.
Maggie and Noah know that having Anna around will change their lives, but they would never have guessed that everything would go wrong, and so quickly. Anna turns out to be a gorgeous seventeen-year-old who balks at living under their rules, though Maggie, ecstatic to have her daughter back, ignores the red flags that hint at the trouble brewing in a once-perfect marriage and home.
Events take a heartbreaking turn when Anna is murdered and Noah is accused and tried for the heinous crime. Maggie must face not only the devastation of losing her daughter, but the realization that Anna’s murder may have been at the hands of a husband she loves. In the wake of this tragedy, new information drives Maggie to search for the truth, leading her to discover something darker than she could have ever imagined.
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, which was a bad sign.
Noah masked his emotions. 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, 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 finally know his fate, one way or the other. It had been hanging over his head every minute of the trial and the almost seven months prior, in jail at the Montgomery County Correctional Facility. He’d done what the inmates called “smooth time,” becoming a jailhouse doc, 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 crime and its unlikely defendant had drawn media attention. 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 had put on a solid defense and been a friend as well as a lawyer. But Noah’s best friend was his wife, Maggie. Or at least, she had been. Before.
Noah turned around to see if she’d come to hear the verdict. The spectators reacted instantly, recoiling. They hated him. He knew why.
He scanned the pews, looking for Maggie. He didn’t see her, so he turned back. He didn’t blame her for not coming, of course. He wished he could tell her that he was sorry, but she wouldn’t believe him. Not anymore.
“Will the defendant please rise?” Judge Gardner took off his reading glasses and set the verdict slip aside.
Noah rose, on weak knees. The courtroom fell dead silent. He could almost hear his heart thunder. He was about to know. Guilty or innocent. Prison or freedom. If they convicted him, he could be sentenced to death.
Noah wished he could run time backwards, undo every decision until this moment. He’d made so many mistakes. His life had exploded like a strip of firecrackers at a barbecue, igniting the patio furniture and spreading to the house until everything was blazing out of control, engulfed in a massive fireball.
His entire world, destroyed.
It had all started with Anna.
“Anna, is it really you?” Maggie felt like shouting for joy. She couldn’t believe it was really happening. She’d prayed she’d hear from Anna someday. It was her last thought every night, though she kept it to herself, a secret heartache.
“Yes, it’s me. Uh, hi—”
“Oh my God, I’m so happy you called!” Maggie felt tears spring to her eyes. She grabbed a napkin from the drawer and wiped them, but the floodgates were open. It was a dream come true. She couldn’t wait to tell Noah. He was in the backyard with Caleb, planting rosebushes.
“I hoped you’d be happy I called.”
“Of course, of course I would be! Wow, it’s so great!” Maggie’s throat thickened, and her nose started to bubble, which she hated. She was Queen of the Snotty Cry, which was even uglier than the Ugly Cry.
“I know it’s kinda random, to call out of the blue.”
“It’s not, it’s wonderful, it’s amazing! You’re my daughter! You can call me anytime!” Maggie held the napkin to her eyes. She hadn’t seen Anna since she was an infant, only six months old. That was seventeen years ago, the darkest time in Maggie’s life, when she’d entered the hospital. It started coming back to her, a dark counterpoint to her elation.
I can’t sleep even though I’m exhausted.
“Uh, Mom, I wasn’t even sure what to call you. Is Mom okay?”
“Yes, Mom is okay! Mom is more than okay.” Maggie wanted to jump up and down, but held it together. She had just been called Mom. She never dreamed she’d hear Anna call her Mom. She’d never been called Mom before, by anyone. Caleb called her Mag.
“Good, great. I hope it’s okay I called on a holiday.”
“It’s fine!” Maggie dabbed at her nose, trying not to make weird noises into the phone. “So, Happy Easter!”
“To you, too.”
“What did you do for the holiday? Are you at your dad’s?” Maggie kept her tone light, even though she hated her ex, Florian. She knew he was behind Anna’s decision never to see Maggie, estranging mother and daughter permanently.
“No, I’m at school.”
“Oh.” Maggie felt a pang for her, spending the holiday without family. “Did they do anything special?”
“No, mostly everyone’s still away for Spring Break.”
“I see.” Maggie tried to collect her thoughts, sitting down at the kitchen island. Sunlight glistened on the granite countertop, which was white flecked with black and gray. Caleb’s Easter basket of Cadbury eggs and jellybeans sat next to the Sunday paper, and the air still smelled like banana pancakes from breakfast.
I’m losing weight but I’m not dieting.
“So Anna, tell me, how are you? How have you been? Can we catch up on your whole entire life?”
“I don’t know.” Anna chuckled. “If you want to.”
“I do, I’d love to!” Maggie’s heart lifted. “We can try, can’t we?”
“Of course we can! So tell me how you are!” Maggie would give anything to reconnect with Anna. Maggie had fought for shared physical custody, but Florian had enrolled Anna in a fancy French boarding school, and the French courts had ruled against Maggie. She’d tried to establish visitation, but then Anna herself had written Maggie, saying she didn’t want to see her. Maggie had honored the request, though it had broken her heart.
“I guess I’m fine. My life is … fine.” Anna giggled.
“Mine, too! What a coincidence!” Maggie joined her, laughing. “How’s the new school?”
“Not as fine. And it’s not new.”
“You started there for high school, right?” Maggie had gotten a notice from Florian two years ago, which was required by the court, telling her that Anna had come stateside to Congreve, an elite boarding school in Maine. It drove her nuts that Florian had won custody of Anna, only to send her to a school to live. Maggie sensed he didn’t visit Anna much, because what little Maggie could see of Anna’s social media never mentioned Florian, not even on Father’s Day. Maggie always checked Mother’s Day, too, torturing herself.
“Yes, but that was, like, three years ago. I wanted to come to the U.S. for high school.”
“So what’s Congreve like? I saw on the website, it’s so pretty!”
“There’s not much to tell. It’s school.” Anna fell momentarily silent, and Maggie rushed to keep the conversational ball rolling.
“So you’re only a year from graduation! Tell me, what’s next for you? College?”
“Totally, they’re obsessed here. Congreve is a feeder for the Ivies. My grades are pretty good. I have a 3.7.”
“Wow, I’m so happy for you!” Maggie felt new tears come to her eyes, a mixture of joy and guilt. Anna deserved the brightest future ever.
I hear sounds and voices.
“It’s good, but it’s not, like, valedictorian good.”
“But still! I’m proud of you!”
I feel guilty and ashamed of myself.
“Thanks.” Anna perked up. “I like your letters. It’s so old-fashioned to get a real letter, instead of email.”
“I’m so happy you read them!” Maggie wrote Anna once a month, figuring that one-way communication was better than none at all. She had no choice other than snail mail, since she didn’t have Anna’s email address or cell phone number.
“I’m sorry I didn’t write back. I should have.”
Maggie felt touched. “It’s okay, you didn’t have to.”
“No, totally. It’s rude.”
“It’s not rude, honey!” Maggie heard the honey escape her lips, naturally. “No worries!”
“And thanks for the birthday cards, too.”
“I’m happy to. I celebrate your birthday, in my head. It’s crazy!” Maggie cringed, hearing herself. Crazy.
I can’t tell my husband how I feel.
“I save the cards.”
“Aww, that’s so nice. That’s really sweet.” Maggie swallowed hard, thinking of Anna’s birthday, March 6. The labor and delivery had been difficult, an unexpected Cesarean, but Maggie didn’t dwell on that or what came after. All her life, what she’d wanted most was a baby girl.
“And you know that navy fleece you sent me, last Christmas?”
“Sure, yes! Did you like it? Did it fit?” Maggie always sent up Christmas and birthday gifts. She’d had to guess at the correct size, so she bought medium. Anna’s social media had moody shots of Congreve, but the privacy settings were high and the school’s website said it frowned upon selfies and the like.
“Yes, I wear that fleece all the time. My Housemaster thinks it walks by itself.”
“I figured, Maine, right? It’s cold.” Maggie wondered who Anna’s Housemaster was and what her dorm was like, her classes, her friends. It felt so awful being shut out of her daughter’s life. It was like having a limb amputated, but one nobody knew about. Maggie looked complete on the outside, but inside, she knew different.
I never thought I would feel this way.
“Also, congratulations on getting remarried.”
“Thank you.” Maggie assumed Anna knew from her letters. She didn’t know if Anna felt uncomfortable about Maggie’s remarrying, but it didn’t sound that way. “Noah is a great guy, a pediatric allergist. I work part-time in his office, I do the billing, and I have a stepson, Caleb, who’s ten.”
“It sounds great.”
“It is,” Maggie said, meaning it. She was so happy with Noah, who was loving, brilliant, and reliable. He’d been a single father since the death of his first wife four years ago, from ovarian cancer. Maggie had met him at the gym, and they’d fallen in love and married two years ago. And Maggie adored Caleb, a bright ten-year-old who was on the shy side, owing to a speech disorder, called apraxia.
“Caleb’s supercute and—uh-oh. I just busted myself.” Anna groaned. “I stalk you on Facebook.”
“Ha! I stalk you, too!” Maggie laughed, delighted. She had thought about sending Anna a Friend Request so many times, but she didn’t know what Anna had told her friends about her mother.
My baby would be better off without me.
Anna cleared her throat. “Anyway, I should get to the point. I was wondering if you wanted to, like, maybe, see each other? I mean, for dinner or something? Either here or in Pennsylvania?”
“I would love that!” Maggie dabbed her eyes. It was more than she could have hoped for. “I’ll come see you, to make it easier! Anytime, anywhere, you name it!”
“Um, okay, how about Friday dinner?”
“This week?” Maggie jumped to her feet, excited. “Yes, totally! I’m so excited!”
“Cool!” Anna sounded pleased. “I didn’t know if you would want to. Dad said you wouldn’t.”
“Of course I would!” Maggie resisted the urge to trash Florian. She was trying to be better, not bitter, like her old therapist had said. It wouldn’t get her anywhere anyway, so late in the game. Florian had cheated her of her own child, exploiting her illness to his advantage.
I have thoughts of harming myself.
“I’m glad I asked, you know? And I kind of want to know, like, what happened. With you.”
“Of course.” Maggie flushed. Her shame was always there, beneath the surface of her skin, like its very own layer of flesh. “Anna, I’ll tell you anything you want to know. You must have lots of questions and you deserve answers from me.”
“Okay. There’s a place in town that’s vegetarian, is that all right?”
“Vegetarian’s great!” Maggie felt her spirits soar. “Anna, I give you so much credit for making this call. It couldn’t have been easy. You’re very brave.”
“Aw, thanks. I’ll text you the address of the restaurant. Okay, bye, Mom.”
Mom. Maggie’s heart melted again. “Bye, honey.”
I have thoughts of harming my baby.
Maggie ended the call, jumped to her feet, and cheered. “Noah!” she yelled, running for the back door.
TRIAL, DAY 9
Noah waited alone in the bull pen, a secured detention area of room-like cells on the bottom floor of the courthouse. The jury had been deliberating for two days, and it was eating him alive. Thomas had assumed the deliberations would take a day at most and hung with him from time to time, which Noah appreciated, not knowing how much longer he’d be in civilized company. Maybe not for the rest of his life. If he got convicted, he wasn’t going back to the smooth time at Montgomery County Correctional Facility. He’d be doing hard time in a maximum-security facility like Graterford. Assuming he didn’t get the death penalty.
Noah tried not to think about that now. He had to be hopeful. He didn’t know which way the jury would go. They could find him innocent. It happened. People walked every day. He couldn’t control what the jury did, so he was trying to get to a place of acceptance, a favorite phrase from the overworked MSW at the jail, who did med checks and ran group therapy sessions. Noah had been given a coping toolkit to help him come to a place of acceptance. Problem was, the tools weren’t working now.
Suddenly the door opened, and a deputy admitted Thomas, filling the small room with his massive frame. He was six-foot-five and built like the linebacker he used to be at Cheney, and his presence and personality commanded attention in any courtroom. Right now his big features—round eyes, large nose, and oversized grin—were alive with animation, and he clapped his meaty hands together. “Great news, dude!”
“What?” Noah shifted on the metal bench, bolted to the wall.
“Lovely Linda is very nervous. Ask me why. Answer? Because I crushed that closing.” Thomas grinned broadly, his chest expanding, and he opened his arms to reveal a wingspan that strained the seams of his tailored charcoal suit.
“What’s up?” Noah felt a tingle of hope. Lovely Linda was what Thomas called the Assistant District Attorney, Linda Swain-Pettit. Thomas had nicknames for everybody in the courtroom, including the jurors.
“She’s worried the jury’s been out this long. She wants to make a deal.”
“No deal. I said already.” Noah didn’t know what he’d expected. The cavalry?
“No, this time, you’ll listen. I got her to sweeten the pot.” Thomas sat down next to him. His grin vanished, and he turned to Noah, his eyes narrowing with intensity, like a microscope focusing.
“Wait.” Thomas held up his palm. “You’re charged with murder of the first degree. You’re looking at life without, or death. That’s possible.”
“I know that.” Noah had gotten used to the lingo. Life without meant life without possibility of parole, or LWOP.
“But if you plead guilty to third-degree murder, she’s offering twenty years.”
Thomas’s eyes flared in disbelief. “Noah. I got her down from forty years, the max.”
“No.” Noah didn’t even have to think about it. He knew how he felt.
“Noah, you’re not listening. Sure, I gave a great closing, but don’t lose your damn mind. The fact that they’re still out doesn’t mean they’re going your way. Maybe somebody doesn’t want to go back to work. It’s snowing, maybe somebody doesn’t want to go home and shovel. You don’t know. You can’t risk it. Take the deal.”
“She destroyed you on the stand. It was like watching a major-league hitter swing at your head. I couldn’t believe you even stood up after that. I wanted to send you a stretcher.”
“Still, no.” Noah had underestimated how hard it would be to be cross-examined by an experienced prosecutor. He’d thought he could just tell his story.
“It’s like you have a death wish. Do you have a death wish, Noah?”
“No,” Noah answered, but the truth was yes, or at least, maybe.
“Noah.” Thomas took a deep breath, inflating his barrel chest, trying to calm himself down. “I’m begging you to take this deal.”
“Why not? Because of the plea? Who cares? Like I told you, whether you’re guilty or innocent doesn’t matter. The only thing that matters is whether Linda convinced the jury you did it, and I assure you, she did that.”
“Still.” Noah had heard Thomas’s lecture before. “Thomas, on a firing squad, they always put blanks in one of the guns. And you know the reason? So that everybody on the firing squad can sleep at night, saying to themselves, ‘There’s a chance I didn’t do it.’”
“So what’s your point?”
“If I plead guilty, Maggie will never be able to sleep again. It will ruin her life. I can’t do it to her.”
“But you’ve got to think of yourself now. She’s not thinking of you. You have to be thinking of you.”
“I couldn’t sleep at night knowing what I’d done to her.”
“They’re going to convict you, man!”
“But at least she can say to herself, somewhere, that I didn’t do it. She’ll never have heard from me that I did it. The same goes for Caleb. I can’t do it to him, either. He already gets bullied.”
“But what if it means you get out sooner? Caleb’s only how old now?”
“What makes you think he’ll want to see me, after I plead guilty to murder?”
“He might not want to see you anyway!” Thomas threw up his heavy arms.
“Pleading guilty ensures it. If I plead guilty, well, I explained it. I just won’t do it.”
“It’s your life.”
“Mine isn’t the only life to consider. I have to think of Maggie and Caleb.”
“You’re being noble.”
“I’m being a husband and a father.”
“Exactly why I’m single.” Thomas snorted. “Noah, you’re going against my express legal advice. What would you think of a patient who did that?”
“My patients are eight years old. If a mom or dad didn’t take my advice, I’d figure they’d had their reasons.” Noah encouraged his parents to get second opinions. He understood it, himself. Caleb had been late to babble as a baby and as he reached a year and a half, he’d shown difficulty repeating words like mommy and daddy. Noah had suspected he had childhood apraxia of speech, which was hard to identify in pre-school children. The pediatrician had disagreed, but Noah had been right.
“If this came up on appeal, I’d be considered negligent.”
“You’re not. I’m not appealing anything. Thank you for trying. I appreciate it.”
“Damn, you’re tough!” Thomas folded his arms.
“You need to come to a place of acceptance,” Noah said, without elaborating.