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To: Todd Lancaster

From: Lisa Frank

Re: Audrey Bierman Discovery Petition

Todd—I have looked over the latest materials the DA sent you. You must be desperate! Are you sure this is everything? As you know, I scoured the depositions and interrogatories last week, and Phil has my report on those. Did you guys even talk to each other?  How are you planning to defend Mrs. Bierman? Given the physical evidence, I do not see how these new materials will substantially help your case. The crime scene audio in particular cuts to the bone. She as much as admits she killed LaTonya Simmons.

I am returning everything you sent me, having done my best to sort everything into chronological order—only the transcripts were dated—and added my notes, which for the most part you will not like. If you are looking to establish diminished capacity for Mrs. Bierman, you owe me a steak dinner. Organizing those notecards was a nightmare! It’s clear now what torture it must have been for her to live with her wacko husband. I have no doubt you will agree I’ve worn my forensics hat rather well.

However, in all the discovery consults I have given Pate & Lancaster over the years, this may be the least promising. The crime scene forensics are damning. Mrs. Bierman’s fingerprints were on the knife, and LaTonya Simmons’ blood was on her skin and clothing, consistent with the effects of multiple violent stabbing thrusts. The gun was her husband’s, and Mrs. Bierman’s fingerprints were among the four sets pulled from the bloody handgrip.

The police have ignored the other prints, and there you may have an opening. LaTonya’s older son Carl Jr. may at one time have had possession of the gun, right up to the time of the murders. If he can be found, you could make the case that it was Carl Jr.—and not Audrey—who shot Brad Bierman. There was a history there, detailed in Brad Bierman’s notecards, best described as ideas for stories or some kind of novel, drawn from his job as a social worker. You’ll need to snoop around the neighborhood, if there’s time before the trial start date. In Exhibit 4, I’ve highlighted a short section in yellow. Not much, but it’s a thread to pull on. What have you got to lose?

Despite our best efforts, Audrey Bierman is probably going to be found guilty of one murder, diminished capacity or no. And without any sensible alternative explanation, probably two. Your chances of getting a postponement from Judge Barkley are slim to none, at this late stage. I feel like a drowning woman flailing for a life preserver that has not yet been thrown. And there you are, thinking I am your life preserver!

Good luck with your final preparations. As always, should you want me to join your team in an advisory capacity as you move forward, I am always agreeable.

Yours truly.

Lisa

Lisa Frank Consulting

1.

[13 4x6 white note cards handwritten one side each   1-7 recovered in bureau drawer at crime scene 1-7 w/prints of Victim A and Accused   8-13 from top drawer in Victim A’s office]:

[1] Francine was on the front stoop of the 3-flat she lived in, across from the projects, calling for her ten-year old son to come home, when she heard a scream coming from inside her apartment. She had left her three-year-old in the kitchen.  She ran inside and he was still screaming, standing next to the sink, holding his face, and blood was spilling out from between his fingers.  She didn’t call 911. Instead she wrapped his face in a towel and carried him, like, eight blocks to the Midtown Hospital ER. I think it should be eighteen blocks, more dramatic. An ER admitting nurse called me. I was at home, with my wife. But, true to form, I left her and went to the ER.

Todd—This is my best guess as to the earliest-written of all Brad Bierman’s “novel” or “story” notes. All the other notecards line up pretty logically behind it, and it’s clear he fancied himself as some kind of writer. Francine is LaTonya Simmons, thinly veiled. The three-year-old is probably her son Michael. I am guessing here but I referenced hospital records from last week’s request for production of documents. Ms. Simmons had a teenage son also, mentioned in the note she tore up, real name Carl Jr, but there are no records indicating he lived with her. Midtown is of course Northwestern Memorial.

[2] The hero’s a social worker. Like me. Sad stories every day. Horror stories. If I didn't write this stuff out, I'd need therapy for sure.  My clients all live in the projects. They don't tell me what they're feeling—I'm not the person they share innermost feelings with.  I'm the action guy. Check late?  I follow up. Lazy landlord?  I sic the Fire Department on him.  Old man harassing you?  I help you get a restraining order. I fix up what's messed up.  I'm the nails and boards.

No real names, that’s my rule.  I just listen to their tales of woe, and the story names come to me.  Not that if they ever read my stories, they wouldn’t be able to guess. These are not dumb people, just—it’s like this: Have you ever woken up in the morning feeling exhausted, and you say to yourself “just five more minutes, and I’ll get up,” and you fall back asleep and don’t wake up for another hour?  That’s what my clients’ whole lives are like.

Todd—my Google search failed to turn up any published “stories.” There’s a possibility Brad Bierman used a pseudonym—you’ll understand why as you read on—but even if that is the case, and other materials exist which neither party has discovered yet, I think it would be a waste of time to pursue further. Would it matter if he was a published author? Didn’t Ezra Pound spend a decade in a mental institution?

[3] Clients are very factual with me. They don't want my sympathy.  They want results.  For poor people, sympathy is a precursor to disappointment. For everyone else, it’s the other way around.

Sometimes I have to break a family up. In my office the default rule is to get kids put in foster homes; if you want to be politically correct, that’s what you do. It’s all about the kids.  Me? I’ve seen some twelve- or thirteen-year-olds could give a committed terrorist some pause. They come into my office and I keep my gun drawer open and my hand on the butt of my 9mm.

Todd—no doubt the same 9mm found in the Bierman’s apartment!

[4] My wife thinks I am crazy to keep doing this after ten years. She was hoping I'd have evolved—her word—but she knows as long as writing works as an outlet, I'll continue the good-deed life.  She thinks I need to work with people less fortunate than me, that I am awkward and quiet when we’re with people like ourselves. She’s right. I'm drawn to people who have nothing, or little more than nothing.

Anyway, about Francine. And Ben—the social worker. Freddy is Francine’s ten-year-old boy. And Michael is the three-year-old—his real name. I’m breaking my rule with him. Why can’t I think of a make-up name for him? Why is it so hard? Maybe because of what happens to him. I’ll find a name when I finish the story.

Note—The ten-year-old son is pure fiction on Brad Bierman’s part. But Freddy is a stand-in for LaTonya’s older boy who, it turns out, is fifteen years old, and a gangbanger. Joined the Disciples. Funny thing: When you join that gang, they give you a new name! It’s hard to figure this guy Brad Bierman out. He may be crazy, but he’s no fool.

[5] So I got to the ER and the docs were stitching up Michael and I asked a nurse how bad is it and she said “critical” and I strung a bunch of curse words together until I was interrupted by the admitting ER nurse who had placed the call to me. In the story, I am not going to have Ben curse. He will be more stoic, more resolute. More of a contrast to the people he works with. Anyway, the nurse told me because the police would be arriving any minute to investigate. Francine requested I be called, but hospital staff are required by law to notify the police of any suspected child abuse.

[6] I found Francine outside the curtained-off bed where Michael was being worked on. Her arms were folded across her midsection, pressed against her body. I asked her how was Michael. “I dint do nothing!” she said, unfolding her arms but clenching her fists. “What I gotta do? Lock up them knives?”

I kept my distance. I told her I would stay with her when the police asked their questions. She nodded and smiled, but said nothing. She made no attempt to look in on her boy.

“Where’s Freddy?” I asked.

“Who fuckin’ knows?” said Francine. “I axed them men when I come here. What else could I do? I brung the boy here, dint I?” I did not ask her who them men was.

[7] Something in me wanted to hold her until she began crying, which is what I knew I should have done. When people are angry, they’re just creating a hard shell over something soft and vulnerable. I felt that if she didn’t soften, she would break—but I could not bring myself to do the one human thing that was needed. Fact was, she repelled me at that moment. With her words, her actions, her self-centeredness. And I didn’t believe her.

In my story, Ben will hold her, and she will soften. And she will cry. And Michael will live. I’m not a believer in the Greek-type tragedies, where everyone dies and the Gods are honored. Or even some of Shakespeare where close to everyone dies. In the story, Michael will live and Francine will die. I don’t know how yet. Some writers know from the start—they know how to tell a story so that it makes sense, more sense than real life.  That’s what I want. That’s what I need.  That’s what everyone needs.

Todd—Notice the reference to Francine—LaTonya—dying. You have to wonder if it was circumstances in Ms. Simmons’ real life that altered Brad Bierman’s storyline, or—as the DA is likely to say—just the reverse.

[8] I imagine what Francine might have been feeling. She—like most of the people in that neighborhood—is a complex tangle of emotions and unresolved conflicts. How can anyone possibly uncover a person’s original intent, hidden by such a state of confusion? That’s why I had to invent Ben. When he acts, he creates an understanding in the reader.  Real life, when you look at it closely, never quite gels on its own. You have to shape it into stories so you can keep on living.

[9] Francine should have been devastated. She should have been crying. In the story she will be, and Ben will hold her. Me—I’m a coward, I know it. She was wounded and needed care, but I stepped back, away from the ugliness she projected. But the story I want to tell isn’t about actual stuff that happened.  You read a newspaper for that.  It's a story about feelings.  I’m projecting, but I think I understand my clients pretty well. I am pretty empathetic. I can sense things. Read the opening sentence of the story.  It sets the tone.  I’ve been crafting it for days: “The knife was too pretty, too dangerous, too available for Michael to resist.”

Todd—Can you stand it? The guy’s a nut case. Brilliant, perhaps, but disturbed. Ben is Brad Bierman. Francine is LaTonya. Audrey Bierman is Audrey Bierman. Freddy is Carl Jr. I think this guy Bierman is one tire short on his scooter, and a stronger woman would’ve left him long before things got this bad.  I can see a weak case here for diminished capacity; that Mrs. Bierman was under a lot of stress, living with this guy. The big hurdle is with the interview transcripts later on.

[10] Sense of foreboding, eh?  I wait to introduce Francine. “She was partial to flowered dresses. ‘Folks tell me I shouldn't wear flowers in the winter,’ she says. ‘But I find a way.  Flowers make me feel pretty.  I never got rid of a flowered dress yet. I keep my size, I don't eat stupid, and I fix up what gets worn.’  Francine was wearing her begonia sundress that evening, which had attracted the attention of the three men from across the street.  She knew all three.  They were sweet and out of work. She called out for her older son and waited. She couldn't see him, but he had to be in the neighborhood.  She waited.  She leaned over the railing of the front porch of her apartment building.  The three men were staring at her.  She had a terrific figure—”

Todd—Bierman pulled the three guys from real life. See the next card about Carl. Has anyone looked for the other two? Canvassed the neighborhood for anyone else who might have been sexually involved with Ms. Simmons? The D.A. has no incentive to do so, but you do.

[11] Being sexy doesn’t of itself make Francine a sympathetic character. In her sexiness, there is a toughness. When I visit her apartment, when I sit with her on the front stoop, she flirts with the same three men, especially Carl. He must have fathered half-a-dozen kids in this neighborhood. I know nothing for sure, though.  I'm not the type to pry.  I empathize.  I surmise.  Maybe if the three men weren't always there walking up and down the street, she might have spent less time on the stoop. Maybe Carl is Michael’s father. What a mess, eh?  With fiction, life’s a lot less messy.  (Note: make Francine the victim of rape when she was a child. Age twelve. Might actually be true! She seduces Ben in his office, and they begin an affair, but not because he needs the sex, but because Francine needs the love.)  Not that I haven’t thought about it myself! Ha!

Todd—Carl could be someone named Carl Hernandez, who is on the prosecution witness list. I’ll bet you a week in Tahiti he’s Carl Jr.’s father, and maybe even Michael’s, but there’s no father named on either birth certificate, so good luck getting a court order to check for DNA. Anyway, I assume you have deposed him and would have told me if there were anything exculpatory. Still, might be worth reviewing Carl Hernandez’ deposition statement. Of course, Bierman might have made up the bit about them hanging around the stoop. It’s what writers do. They make things up. Mix the made-up with the real-life.

[12] Damn, I have been so busy writing. The cops are here. They are walking Francine into an empty room nearby. I catch Francine saying:

“How could I go off lookin’ for one boy when I got another boy home?”

One of the two policemen has a tape recorder. I am distracted by a doctor and two nurses who rush by me into the curtained-off area where Michael is being worked on.

In the story, Michael will live. And Francine will die. That’s the way it should be, and that’s why lots of stories get written or told—to make things right. Say I include the bit where she is flirting with the three men, bending over the railing of the stoop, wearing her flowered dress and showing cleavage. They want her. Which is what she wants—more than to be a mother. Which is why the boy has to live. There's enough senseless tragedy in the world.  Why add to it?

[13] Ben should be assigned Francine's case just a few weeks before the incident.  He’s a veteran, overloaded, but eager to help. Her spirits are buoyed.  He's a hard worker.  He cares. He's not one of those burnt-out caseworkers she has seen enough of.

Note—Brad Bierman worked for Social Services. All nut cases, if you ask me. Have you questioned any of his social worker colleagues? Did he have any friends outside of the office? Maybe he was about to go postal, catch my drift? Audrey Bierman may have felt her life was in danger. Of course, that’s more of a stretch than diminished capacity.

2.

[2 typed pages    Edited transcript of interview with LaTonya Simmons   6-6-09   Officers Bulger and Convito Northwestern Hospital    5:53pm—6:32pm]:

[1]Bulger: What is your son’s name?

Ms. Simmons: Michael.

Bulger: And he’s how old?

Ms. Simmons: He three.

Bulger: How did your son get hurt?

Ms. Simmons: Like I told the nurse, he was [playin’] [wit]

the kitchen knife he [musta] got from the drawer, and I was

out the stoop in front [callin’] for my other boy to get on home

and I heard the [screamin’] and I ran into the kitchen

and he was there—

Bulger: Michael, is it?

Ms. Simmons: Yeah, and the blood I could see already so I

knew what I had to do. I [brung] him here right away.

Bulger: He was lying, sitting, standing up?

[2]Ms. Simmons: [Standin’].

Bulger: Is that the towel you wrapped around his head?

(Note: Convito speaks to nurse in bkgd, towel is placed

in a plastic bag,)

Ms. Simmons: That’s it.

Bulger: A bathroom towel. You didn’t think to use a

dishtowel that was already in the kitchen?

Ms. Simmons: You seen the blood. [Them}]dishtowels’ too small.

(Sounds of door slam)

Bulger: Hey! Hey! Get back here! Who is that, Ms. Simmons?

Is that your other boy?

Note—This is the hospital interview. LaTonya Simmons, the DA informed me, was going to be indicted for her own son’s murder. It appears that Brad Bierman knew about the impending charges, and that Ms. Simmons had lied to him over the phone about the incident. The “other boy” may have been Carl Jr. Where was Audrey Bierman the night this took place?

3.

[16  4 x 6 yellow notecards    lined   paper-clipped together    Found in victim A’s  sports jacket   Victim A’s prints    Two other sets of prints   unidentified   No blood or residue]:

Todd—Victim A is Brad Bierman. Victim B LaTonya Simmons.  

[1] I’ve been real Francine’s caseworker for over a year. I think I know her as well as anyone can. These relationships are intense, and although emotional involvement is considered unprofessional, it happens. Ben should be quicker than I was to pick up on the problems. Ben can’t have the affair with Francine, though, because what would that say about his principles?

He should be tempted, though. She is aggressive sexually. She is aggressive, period.

Real Francine clammed up after the first interview with the cops in the hospital. She wouldn’t talk to anyone, not me, not her court-appointed lawyer. After I left, she bolted from the hospital, and I heard she was in County an hour later. Then somebody bailed her out just a few hours later, about the time the DA upped the charges from abuse of a minor and battery to murder, and as of right now, nobody knows where the real Francine is.

Todd—Who bailed her out? Carl?

[2] I will have her open up to Ben. It’s better if the lead character is complex; no one is all bad or all good. I cannot think of anything positive to say about Francine, though, so I will have to be creative! Ben should see something good in her, worth trying to save, if she were a good—a nurturing—mother, but I never saw signs of it. In the hospital, tears will well up in Ben’s eyes when he looks at Michael; Francine will be numb with fear. Ben will comfort her in the hospital, which I couldn’t do. It’s a better story.

[3] Later, down the hall from the E.R., Ben phoned his wife, to explain why he wasn’t home.  She reacted with sarcasm and a long sigh. "This is not the best way to get to know people," she said. Ben could imagine that her eyes were closed and that his wife might even be doodling on the phone pad, spelling out D-I-V-O-R-C-E. Once last year he had seen those letters impressed on the pad next to the phone, the telltale sheet itself having been torn off the top. "It is what it is," replied Ben. “People need me.” I wonder if Audrey suspects. What name for Ben’s wife? Something old-fashioned, like Cora? Light, like Winnie? Grace! That’s it!

Todd—Would’ve been nice if there’d been a phone pad in the Bierman’s house with D-I-V-O-R-C-E spelled out on it, huh? Your guys looked, right?

[4] Grace. Grace is Ben’s wife. She sees things very objectively and loves her husband.  He carries home his hurt, and that in turn hurts her.  From the child to the mother to the social worker to the social worker's wife.  And to the reader. The hurt spreads, it radiates, ripples outward.  Then the ripples gradually smooth, and the surface is calm again.  Nice metaphor. Is it necessary? No. But quality writing has those elements, doesn’t it?

Ben should be blind to the fact that he is burnt out.  He's like those adrenaline junkies, bungee jumpers and windsurfers and the like, who risk their lives performing dangerous stunts for camcorders.  He’s attracted to lost causes the same way. And also the hurt. He really believes he can make the hurt go away, he can make things better. It’s an addiction! And a tragic flaw!

Note—Jesus, now I’m starting to feel bad for the guy.

[5] Creating the past for Francine: From a circus family. Father a high-wire performer from Hungary. Mother African royalty. Met in Switzerland when the circus came to Lucerne. She ran away with him. From age 6 to 13, Francine trained to be a contortionist. Too obvious? Then, her father died in a fall during practice—one of the guy wires was unsecured and the main wire sagged. It happened in in Saratoga, N.Y., and since her mother was not officially a member of the circus, or a performer herself, Francine and her mother were left in the U.S. when the circus folded up and went back to Europe. They moved to Chicago to live as undocumented immigrants, with cousins, but within a year her mother had abandoned her. She became a prostitute at 16. Single mother at 17. You can’t tell me that isn’t a great backstory!

[6] Clients tell all sorts of stories. For the same reason I do. To feel better about themselves. They are good storytellers. It’s easy to be seduced. I stopped trying to get real Francine to stick to one story, but the truth is, I didn’t know if all the stories were lies, or if some of them were true; I only knew that they couldn’t all be true. Even now, I can’t tell what part of the background story is real and what I made up. That’s sad. But I can use that. If she tells many stories about herself, she’ll seem more tragic, because characters seem more tragic if they are self-aware. They can’t be saved by their own insight.

Note—Would all this sound so scary if we didn’t know his fate? It would be better not to know, because not knowing would open up alternative interpretations of all this psychobabble. He was probably not far from killing himself. Have you asked Mrs. Bierman if he ever contemplated or attempted suicide in the past? A pattern of suicidal ideation could be linked to bipolar or aggressive behavior, and from that it’s not a big leap to spousal abuse. What have you got to lose?

[7] Ben is sensitive to Francine’s fragile hold on reality. Which is just me wondering how she does it, with all the hurt she lives with. Ben will have the strength to act, to persevere, uncomfortably aware of how stable his own life is compared to hers. He should feel humbled by her acceptance of the daily horrors she endures. In Greek tragedy, she’d perform a heroic act before she dies, but I can’t see that in my story. She hasn’t got it in her. Ben does, however. Towards the end, there should be a scene like this:  “Leaving the hospital with her three-year-old in a wheelchair—he looks like a doll, stiff legs sticking out parallel to the ground, arms hanging limp by his sides—Francine spies her friend Ramona entering the E.R.  Great name, Ramona! Her son LeVon—let’s make him twelve—is being brought in on a stretcher.  His arms and legs are strapped down. Francine snaps out of her stupor.

[8] “Oh my God, Ramona, oh my God," she screams. Or something like that. The two women hug. LeVon isn’t really injured. He’s been shot with a stun gun! I’ve never read a story with that in it.

[9] They are in the ER to remove the little metal probes. Ramona says, "I wish they'd a shot him for real. Put me outta my misery.”  That’s how bad it can get in Francine’s neighborhood. I’ll have Ben console Ramona too. (It’s all about timing!)  He's been signing insurance forms for Francine because evidently her ex-husband had taken her off his policy. (Everyone can relate to that!) Ramona can add, “And right now it's easier to hurt than to worry."

[10] “Easier to hurt than worry.” That could be the title! But what really happened was, Francine said she needed to get “some air” and could she and I go outside, and on the way out I saw Carl speaking with one of the policemen. In the story, she is never sure who the father is. That’s sadder. As I rounded the corner, I could see those other two guys, the ones Carl was always hanging around with in front of Francine’s stoop. They were probably gangbangers, and you don’t mess with gangbangers, but I asked if they knew where Francine’s’s older boy was, and when I turned around, she was gone.  Michael died an hour later.

Note—This was probably written the night LaTonya’s son died. The indicting document included witness statements from several hospital ER personnel stating that LaTonya did run off, that there were three men hanging outside the ER, one of whom, probably Carl Hernandez, was talking with a policeman, but there’s no record of the contact. 

[11] Write that the little boy’s screams must have caught the ear of the three men hanging around her porch. That’s good. Francine had to wrap him up and take him to the ER after she realized the three men had been outside her apartment when it happened.  They don’t know what really happened, but she didn’t know that they didn’t know. That’s a believable coincidence. Sometimes real life doesn’t work in fiction, though. In good writing, the reader has to feel what you want him or her to feel, is what my writing teacher in college said. Real Francine is cold, calculating. Desperate. She stuck a kitchen knife in her son’s neck and ripped it sideways. In the story, her older boy gets out of the gang—but not for her. He has learned to stay away to save himself. I wish that were true!

Todd—I am against you questioning Audrey about her husband’s writing in specific, but goddam you have to find out if she knew his feelings about LaTonya. Did Audrey know how dangerous this woman was? Did she fear for her husband’s or her own life? Then again, is any of this true? We don’t know if Brad Bierman made all this up; he writes that he changes things, names and story elements. Who’s to say what’s fiction and what’s not? Well, that’s why you hired me, I guess. Make the prosecution find a different, more plausible explanation. Countering with “It’s all just made up!” might work in your favor.

[12] You have to think like a reader, is something else my writing teacher said. If you hate her, and she dies, what does the reader care? But if she is good and dies—well, we are all naturally attracted to what is good. We pick the ripe fruit to eat, don’t we?  Ben should always be looking for the good in people. That makes him likeable. But it makes him vulnerable. I should know!  Real Francine is still alive and what can fiction do to balance the account? Ben will act differently. His actions will change her story. People will empathize. They should feel for Francine before she dies. Because of Ben. He’s the hero! They’ll feel sad when she dies. Life will improve. A little. I really believe that. She was at our townhome earlier today, when I was out with Audrey, my wife. Audrey, Audrey, my patient and forgiving wife. What will I call you in the story? Grace? That’s a beautiful name. Anyway, real Francine left me a message. I will use it in the story.

Note—Here’s the point, Todd. The prosecution will easily establish that Audrey had read her husband’s writing. Her fingerprints are on a lot of the notecards. The knowledge goes to motive, and unfortunately, it’s a motive that will be easy for a jury to buy. Wouldn’t it be nice if there were some evidence that could place Carl Hernandez at the crime scene? I’m sure you’ve considered muddying the waters by introducing an alternate theory: Carl Hernandez, father of LaTonya’s two children, kills her and her white lover in a fit of jealous rage. Trouble is, it sounds like something Brad Bierman might have written. (ie: made up!) Also—no crime scene evidence. That hasn’t stopped you before, though!

[13] Character development: One Sunday, Ben followed Francine to her church.  He followed at a distance. She's Catholic.  He’s a Unitarian—don’t be judgmental here—which is like a sheep to a Catholic's wolf. He was like a spy.  She was smiling and talking to herself, singing occasionally, but Ben was too far away to understand the words.

Note—Did I say I was starting to feel sorry for the guy? Never mind. We have to stay focused on your client. How could she stay married to this creep? The jury’s going to pity her—but they’re probably going to convict her. 

Inside the chapel, she entered the confessional.  Ben crept close and positioned himself so he could hear her and the priest. Mixed in among the petty sins she listed for the priest, were two big ones.  She said she had “lusted” after a white man. She didn’t say “had sex” or “fucked.” Why did she say it like that? Maybe it wasn’t about Ben.

Todd—What a slip-up! “Me!” With Audrey Bierman’s prints all over these cards, the prosecution has a weapon to undo our efforts to portray this as a crime of diminished capacity, brought on by spousal abuse. A crime of opportunity? No way, they’ll say. She was jealous. Angry. She planned to kill LaTonya and she did. She might not have planned on killing her husband, but I can just picture them in the bedroom, her husband saying something really stupid, probably something nice about the woman she’d just stabbed to death, and she losing it. LaTonya had brought the gun her son had stolen from Brad’s office during one of her weekend visits—see the following transcript and my notes—probably to return it, to ensure Brad would still work on her behalf.

[14] In the story, she should confess she slept with several different men, not just Ben. Ben accepts that sex is Francine’s way of working through her grief over her little boy being disfigured for life. (Better than dead!) Ben follows her when she leaves the church. He circles across the street and pretends to bump into her at the next street corner. She tells him he must be in the wrong neighborhood, made a wrong turn. He asks her why she is so happy. Could she possibly know how fast his heart is beating? “I been to church.  I always feel good after confession," Francine could say. They walk together. Great scene.

[15] He tells her she is amazing. She laughs.  "You want amazing?  I'll tell you amazing.  I gonna have another baby.  That's amazing." Ben feels dizzy, almost loses his balance.  He stops, grabs her arm gently, masking his fear. He pictures the three men who are always hanging around her stoop, looking at her breasts when she leans over the railing. They have all probably had sex with her. Instead, he asks her if she’s expecting a boy or girl. "No point worryin’ ‘bout that," says Francine.  She pats his arm, the one anchoring him to her, and pushes him away.  She floats off, riding an invisible wave.  A wave of pain and laughter.  It is not his life.

Note—Autopsy indicated Ms. Simmons was not pregnant. But if Audrey read this, hoo boy!

[16] That will be the ending. It is not his life. How sad is that?  This makes me think: Ben should come home where his wife is waiting to tell him she’s leaving him. She’s finally given up on him, on his "evolving" into something better than a social worker. Sad, but readers love that stuff.  Ben has to be someone you can root for. She can’t see the goodness in him, because it’s that very quality that has led to this. Like I said. Sad.

Todd—If the divorce angle is true, if Brad Bierman didn’t make that up, then we are sunk, I’m afraid. If she wanted to leave him, there goes diminished capacity. What will she say when—not if— the prosecution asks her directly? 

4.

[Full transcript of CSR Detective Carlyle’s audio taken at crime scene 6-10-09 10:22pm—11:02pm]:

Todd—The yellow highlight is mine.

[1](DC): “Entering Townhome at 3445 Van Gogh. 10P.M. Detective Erskine

and Sgt. Williamson have secured the exterior with perimeter tape.

No sign of forced entry. Assortment of shoes strewn inside

front door. Pink jacket, ladies small, with red piping, hanging on newel

post. Note here from Erskine with neighbor statement that a couple—

a small black woman wearing a pink jacket and a young black man with a

red bandana on his head-—were seen banging on the

Bierman’s front door earlier this afternoon. Two glasses on kitchen

counter, two stacks of mail.  One kitchen drawer open, let’s see...knife

drawer. Living/dining area unremarkable. Looks just cleaned. What

is it, Erskine?”

(UV – Unidentified Voice): “Blood starts here, Teddy. Watch the marks”

(DC): “Note…blood spatters on floor and walls consistent with slashing

movement of knife.  Marked. Numbered. Williamson taking stills.

Blood spatters get larger as we enter bedroom. Victim A on floor

behind bed. Face down. No visible wounds. Grey slacks, white

shirt, grey vest, part of tie visible. Large blood pool.

Consistent with gunshot wounds to chest and neck. Victim B

on bed. Face up. Short pink skirt, flowered halter top. No signs of

sexual assault. Cuts on neck and face. Defensive wounds on hands

and forearms. One, two, three—no, four blood pools on bed,

tearing of sheets indicate struggle and time lapse between wounds

inflicted in hallway, then bedroom. M.E. to confirm. Victim A,

Caucasian male, approximately 40-45 years old—"

(UV): “Victim A is Brad Bierman. Gunshot. This is his townhome, shared

with his wife, Audrey. No children. No pets. State-licensed social worker

[2]out of West Side. Age 42. Victim B is LaTonya Simmons of 1222 North

Aldridge. Stabbed. Age 26. She was in the system. Get this: a client of

Victim A. Charges out of the West Side, Precinct 44, were pending, boss.

Assault on a minor, upped to murder. She bolted from Memorial between

interviews, spent a night at County, and wasn’t seen until now.

Search one, no firearm found in townhome. Search two will begin

after the M.E.’s cleared the bodies. OK?”

(DC): “Thank you, Wally. Go look out back, eh?  We got a domestic thing

here and we’ll find something. And Wally—video just arrived. Keep it

simple. In and out OK?  Sgt. Williamson holds up bagged knife. Six-inch

blade. Blood soaked. Smears on bag. Sgt. Williamson, why the hell did

you bag the knife before video? Jesus Christ did you just start today?

Where did you find it?”

(UV): “With all due respect, boss, you are jumping the gun if you thought I removed the knife from the scene here. You need to come into the bathroom.”

(DC): “OK, Williamson.”

(UV): “Careful, sir, lots of blood trail here, hard to stay clean.”

(DC): “I have eyes, Sergeant. (10 sec.) Well, well. Who have we here?

(UV): “We have the holder of the knife, Lieutenant Carlyle, sir.”

—recording stopped.

—recording restarted:

(DC): “Time, ten-four-two P.M. June 13, 2009. On-site interview with

Audrey Bierman. Detective Carlyle with Erskine as witness.

Mrs. Bierman. I want to ask you a few questions. May I do that here, now, or would you prefer we go elsewhere?”

[3](AB): “Here is OK.”

 (DC): “I spoke with you a moment ago. I’m going to repeat what

I said for this tape recording. Is that OK with you?”

(AB): “Yes, OK.”

(DC): “You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can

and will be used against you in a court of law. You have the right

to an attorney, to be present during questioning. If you cannot afford

an attorney, one will be appointed for you. Do you understand

these rights?”

(AB): “Yes.”

(DC): “Do you want to have an attorney here?”

(AB): “No, it’s OK.”

(DC): “You can decide at any time from this moment on to

terminate the interview and exercise these rights. Are you sure

you want to continue?”

 (AB): “I’m alright.”

(DC): “Does that mean yes, we can continue?”

(AB): “Yes.”

(DC): “So you would say that you understand each of these rights I

have explained to you? Having these rights in mind, do you still wish

to talk to us now?”

(AB): “Yes, it’s OK.”

(DC): “Did you kill your husband, Mrs. Bierman?”

(AB): “No.”

(DC): “What about the woman?”

(AB): “I don’t know, did I?”

[4](DC): “Did you assault her with a knife?”

(AB): “She was—you know—with my husband. They were—”

(DC): “In your home? Here? Tonight?”

(AB): “No. Not here.”

(DC): “Not tonight?”

(AB): “In his office. On weekends. On Sundays I think.”

(DC): “Mrs. Bierman. Did you shoot your husband? Where’s the

gun, Mrs. Bierman?”

(AB): “My husband is dead.”

(DC): “Mrs. Bierman?”

(AB): “I was supposed to have made dinner. Brad wasn’t supposed

to come home until later.”

(DC): “Mrs. Bierman? Do you want to have a lawyer—”

(AB): “I heard noises in the bedroom. I grabbed the knife.”

(DC): “You do not have to continue—”

(AB): “They were together in the bedroom. Sitting on the bed.”

(DC): “Are you sure you want to tell me this now?”

(AB): “I knew it was her. The woman he was—how could he even—”

(DC): “You stabbed her?”

(AB): “I hit her again and again. I had the knife. I stopped when

I heard the banging.”

(DC): “What banging, Mrs. Bierman?”

(AB): “I heard someone banging hard on the front door

I got scared and came in here.”

(DC): “In the bathroom.”

(AB): “I was afraid.”

[5](DC): “Let me get this straight. You attacked the woman

you thought was having an affair with—”

(AB): “It wasn’t an affair.”

(DC): “I’m sorry.”

(AB): “She was evil. She was trouble. She killed her own child.

How he could possibly—”

(DC): “Mrs. Bierman. It would be better for you to just answer my questions. I am recording this conversation. You’ve been through a lot.”

(UV: “You’re [gonna wanna] look at these, boss!”

(DC): “Sgt. Williamson is holding a stack of note cards.”

(UV): “Before you’re done with her.”

(DC): “Sorry for the interruption, Mrs. Bierman. Eager young

policemen often get obsessed with the details as they find them.”

(AB): “He wasn’t a very good writer.”

(DC): “Excuse me?”

(AB): “My husband. He wanted to be a writer. He wasn’t

organized enough to be a writer.”

(DC): “Mrs. Bierman, are you OK? Maybe we should get a medical officer to look you over?”

(AB): “I’m fine. I’m just saying, this is all because he wanted to be a writer.”

(DC): “It’s not that I’m not interested, Mrs. Bierman, just that we need to stick with my questions for now, OK?”

(AB): “Yes, I’m sorry. You have your job to do.”

(DC): “So…excuse me…your husband and Ms., uh, Simmons,

were they having an affair or not?”

(AB): “Brad had a, uh, soft spot for some of his women clients. You know, single moms. Troubled past. Difficult children. She was the worst ever, though.”

[6](DC): “Worst, how?”

(AB): “He wrote about it. You can read about what she did.”

(DC): “He wrote about her?”

(AB): “Sometimes he read me parts. He wrote stories. He was writing this long one about a social worker named Ben and a woman he called Francine. I knew it was her. He called her Francine, but it was LaTonya. She had two boys. The little boy who died and another boy. Older.”

(DC): “Older?”

(AB): “A teenager. He was scary. A gangbanger, my husband said.

I thought it might be him at the door. I got scared. So I locked

myself in the bathroom.”

(DC): “Is that after you shot your husband? Did he try to stop you?

Is that it? Ms. Simmons?”

(AB): “He was—I don’t know. She brought his gun back. The one he keeps at work.  It was in her purse. When I saw it I couldn’t help—"

(DC): “Mrs. Bierman! Sergeant, help me! She is going to faint!”

—recording stopped.

—recording restarted:

(DC): “Detective Erskine, we need to do a tox and a DNA on both victims, and get the M.E. to do a vaginal swab on B, will ya? That’s asap when he arrives. Mrs. Bierman?”

(AB): “Yes?”

(DC): “I’m going to have Sgt. Williamson here escort you to Northwestern Memorial where someone can look you over. He’s going

to stay with you until we meet again at the precinct station, OK?”

(AB): “OK.”

(DC): “Sgt. Williamson, Mrs. Bierman may need a 24-hour psych watch. You are responsible. If we have diminished capacity here we cannot continue questioning her, do you understand?”

[7](SW – Sergeant Williamson): “Yes sir.”

(Detective Erskine calls from the back door)

(DE): “Yo Boss! Dumpster!”

(DC): “Yeah?”

(DE): “Weapon!”

(DC): “Jesus! I’m comin’!”

(DE): “9mm, Boss! Wrapped in a Disciples bandana.”

—recording stopped.

Todd—You have to like Detective Carlyle. He is far too conscientious to ever get promoted. But he did our client no favors. His deposition further complicates matters in that he will testify that Ms. Bierman seemed quite in control of her faculties and that her fainting episode could be attributed to fatigue and possibly post-traumatic stress. So where are you with that? You will want to hear the interview no doubt; I get no nuance from this transcript. Remember that underlined section. I’ll get to it later.

5.

[Found in office desk drawer of Brad Bierman   LSW, Dept. of Social Services   Employee since 1996    6 typed pages, City of Chicago Stationery writing in margins]:

[1] An injured animal, when cornered—though it needs comfort— lashes out when approached. Francine needs help. She is pregnant, again! What can Ben do? He reaches out to her, but she resists, shows her claws. These are her claws: “You wanna fuck me, Ben? Everybody else does.” He denies it and begs her: “What do you want?” “What do I want?” says Francine. She should be crying here. Really bawling. His opportunity to comfort her.  “I want money! I want freedom. I want to move around and I don’t want no more fuckin’ children. I axed you already get me some help for my kids, and you told me that cuz Freddy a gangbanger, he needs me even more! What I gotta do to get you to take them kids from me? Kill em?” This is his chance. A rare moment of vulnerability. He asks her: “Did you take my gun, Francine? Did you take it so you could give it to Freddy?” What makes him think Francine took it was that the boy had been so casual, so interested, the one time that he had accompanied her to a meeting in Ben’s office. Freddy had asked why you keep your hand in your drawer?  And Ben had answered him, dangerously, truthfully. “Because that is where I keep my gun, and in this job, you never know."

[2] when you might need to protect yourself.” Freddy had said, “You scared of me? Or Momma?  Lemme see it. I seen guns. Anything they show you on TV, I has had in my hand. For real. Lemme see it.”  But Ben had said no, and had closed the drawer and locked it. Freddy had continued: “I bet you show that gun off, most people they just shit they pants, right? Probably it ain’t even real. I ain’t afraid of no gun, anyway. Fuck this shit.”

Freddy had left, and that was the last time he had seen the boy. Two days later, Ben was in the hospital watching the docs pull a sheet over Michael’s body.”

Todd—So there you go. Even Brad can’t keep his story straight, that’s how twisted up his life was. I think he was really scared of Carl Jr.—as he should have been. The Disciples are no joke. But the pretense of Freddy being a ten-year-old is gone. You should ask if any of Brad’s co-workers knew he kept a gun in his office. How would he even get it past security into the building?

[3] Ben finds two of the three men hanging out across the street from Francine’s place. Ben asks them if they’ve seen Francine. She’s in a lot of trouble. “Man, that woman ain’t in no trouble. That woman is trouble,” says the tall one. That really happened. He really said that, maybe not that day, but he did say it. What a great line! Anyways Ben hands each of them his card, and asks for their help, because at this time, he still thinks Francine is worth saving.

“I got two kids. I got two old ladies. Why don’t you help me?” says the short one. “I got arrested for stealing. I was little y’know?  I did it. I ain’t saying I didn’t do it. The judge asks me if I got anything to say to them folks I stole from before he tells me how much time I’m gonna do. But I feel like shit. Them folks, they looked like I had stole something from them again!”

[4] The short guy adds, “Fuck them, and fuck you!” Time to move on, no? But Ben stays. He can’t help it. The last “fuck you” is meant to drive Ben off.  They would rather beat him up than take his help. In the end, Francine will die, Michael will live, and Ben will go on, to help this man, and others like him. That’s what a hero looks like in real life. That’s what makes a good story.

(Handwritten note, smaller, in margin. Continues on reverse side:

(Not sure how this is going to turn out. I have to report the missing firearm to the police. Should I do that now? I’ve set Ben off to be the savior, but he can’t make this right. Who could? What’s the most I could have Ben do? In the story he’s got to find Francine, but where? She’s no longer in her apartment. Should I put her in a shelter? Maybe I should have her go back to the hospital to see about her son. No, wait! I got it! It’s Shakespearean! Tragedy!)  Ben got the call around 10P.M. The M.E. assistant opened the heavy steel door and pulled out the draped body. Lifting the sheet to expose the head, he looked at Ben and held the sheet up until Ben nodded. “That’s her,” he said solemnly.

Note—Wow! Talk about the subconscious mind. He wanted her dead! Did he ever file a stolen gun report? Let’s accept that Audrey came home, found LaTonya with her husband, and finally snapped. Got the knife, stabbed LaTonya over and over while her husband watched and didn’t do anything, because, well, he was pretty damaged goods by then. But—it’s a big but—what if she didn’t shoot her husband? She says she didn’t. Or doesn’t remember. The neighbor statement says that a woman fitting LaTonya’s description and a man that could be Carl Jr. were together on the Bierman’s porch earlier in the day, right? What if Carl Jr. came back to the house later, looking for his mother, finds her dead, and poor Brad Bierman just sitting there while his wife is in the bathroom. Carl Jr. who had the gun and was supposed to return it—that was the plan—does Bierman, sneaks out the back, wraps the gun in his bandana, and throws it in the trash bin. Or—clutching at straws, I know—what if LaTonya and Carl Jr. returned together. If they were both in the house when things went south? Either of them could have shot Brad Bierman—before Audrey got home. Four sets of prints were on the gun, remember? Were LaTonya’s hands ever tested for residue? Audrey could have arrived home just as all this was happening, grabbed a knife from the kitchen when she saw LaTonya. Snapped. Stabbed LaTonya before she could follow her boy out the back, where he tossed the gun into the dumpster and disappeared. Finding Carl Jr. is the key, regardless.

[5] The assistant gently laid the cloth back over Francine’s head, but waited until Ben had turned to leave before pushing the steel bed back into the casement. The squeaking noise it made caused Ben to wince. It seemed forever until the steel door shut with an echoing clang that stayed with him until he fell asleep later that night. The stolen gun report could wait until tomorrow. Then he could resume his search for the older boy. If he could be found, maybe he could be saved.

Just below—handwritten, smaller, continues on reverse side: Good. Good ending.

Review: Ben gets a tough case. Wife is on the fence and he feels the pressure from her about continuing in this job. But this is a case where he feels he can help. The mom is a beautiful African American — Francine—although that name is sounding less right the further I get into this. Two boys, one a gangbanger in the making, the other a 3-year old bundle of energy. She has no job, very little education (I like the circus story—it explains a lot). She needs rent money, food money, a school counselor for the older boy. Ben starts out all objective but because of trouble at home, he begins loosening up a bit and forgets his principles. Classic fall from grace. Tragic flaw? The very quality that propels him to do good: his sensitivity to suffering. Myself? I hope only as much as my clients hope. I take my cues from their behavior, not some ideal. That is why my life is dull. Why Audrey wants a divorce. I am not heroic. Therefore, not tragic. I am nothing, really. That’s why I write.

I used to write Audrey letters. I wooed her with words. She fell for my “big heart”—was what she told everyone—but didn’t realize that she wouldn’t be getting all of it. Our marriage has been one big slow slide from hope to despair for her. And one long horizontal hum for me. I haven’t changed. Not at all. A week ago, a mother killed her 3-year old child. No one blames me. So in the story Michael will live. I am not a reporter. This is not a newspaper article. Who wants to read about a mother who kills her child?  Who needs that?

[6] Finally, I have it! I will make it Ben’s last hurrah, as they say. He saves his marriage by quitting his thankless, stressful, job, and carries a wounded Michael (Kevin! Kevin will be his name! Note to self: Change all the Michaels to Kevins and see how it sounds) out of the hospital, into his wife’s arms. Francine dies—how? I don’t know yet. But the boy becomes the child Ben never had. He is saved! Kevin is saved!

Todd—You see my dilemma? Clearly Ms. Simmons was having an affair with Audrey’s husband. He was foolish enough to write about it, a series of poorly concealed story ideas masking a guilty conscience. Opportunity—in the form of Ms. Simmons’ arrival at the Bierman condo—knocked, and Audrey stormed into their “meeting.” She felt threatened and took a knife from the kitchen. Thanks to Brad’s note cards, she knew who the woman was. Anger. Jealousy. She lost it. Whatever. The DA’s story is that she didn’t see the gun until after. Fell out of Ms. Simmon’s purse during the struggle. She decided forgive and forget were not two options she could live with, and she shot him. First the stabbing, then the shooting.. Even if you could wrangle another postponement from Judge Barkley, even if you found Carl Jr., this scenario is the most plausible. Sorry. 

6.

[Single notecard 3x5 in 6 torn pieces Hand-printed both sides tiny block letters    Recovered from bathroom trashcan in Victim A’s apartment]:

[1]Brad— I came by and you wasnt here. And you wasn’t in your

office because I went there first and if you are looking for the gun

I took it, for Carl Jr. because the gang was going to beat him to death if

he didn’t do something big like get a piece which he said he

could and that is why you aint seen him. He been at his father’s

place. I been there too. It aint true what the police say about me cutting Michael.

It was a accident, like I said. I will come by later because you

know you need to get me outta my fix, don’t you? I told Carl Jr. he has

to come too because now he done the thing for the gang he got to get

that gun back to you. He done the thing, he say, but he got it all loaded

up again, so it good to go for you.  My boy, he talk

tough, but he aint tough. See you tonight. Don’t go nowhere.

—LaTonya

Note—Who tore up the note? Audrey?  Could you try to establish that she was protecting herself from a degenerate woman, who at the very least was criminally negligent in the death of her own child? Would that be better than diminished capacity? Certainly, it would be riskier. The ME has determined that the deaths occurred at approximately the same time. Within minutes. The DA asserts that LaTonya Simmons was killed first, but there is wiggle room to assert the reverse. What if LaTonya and Mr. Bierman argued, before Audrey got home? Carl Jr. could have been there the whole time. The argument escalated and lead to the shooting of Mr. Bierman by LaTonya or Carl Jr. Then Audrey came home, realized something was wrong, grabbed a kitchen knife. LaTonya and Carl Jr. tried to escape through the sliding door in the back bedroom, but Audrey, seeing her husband dead, went from tentative to full-on berserk and caught LaTonya. Stabbed her while Carl Jr. made it out, tossing the gun in the dumpster.  In this scenario, Audrey acts preemptively, but it could be seen as defending herself. Of course, the prosecution will point to the multiple stab wounds as evidence of malicious intent, not a defensive mindset. We can counter with emotional distress. Back and forth until you offer a plea deal for manslaughter. Or do you believe that diminished capacity will result in an even shorter sentence?  By the way, have you pressed the DA about LaTonya’s older son? They haven’t made any effort to find Carl Jr.  Why is that? 

7.

[Crumpled notepaper, recovered from kitchen garbage bag in townhome    Handwritten   One thumb and one forefinger print, bloodstained, belonging to Audrey Bierman   Piece of scotch tape stuck to one side]:

[1]“Sweetie—Client coming by for a chat tonight. Be nice. She’s

been through a lot.  Love—

—You-know-who.”

Todd—Who is this guy? A sweet, devoted husband, a dedicated but overworked social worker with a soft spot for troubled mothers? Or a philandering fuck-up, probably bi-polar, who got in over his head and lost his way—and his mind—en route to a mental breakdown? The DA’s case in a nutshell: His wife read his stories, understood that writing was an outlet for his frustrations, but also knew he was weak, and thought that one of his “stories” was actually true. And maybe it was. He got sexually involved with one of his clients out of some conflation of caring and lust. She caught them together in her own home, and stabbed LaTonya Simmons with a kitchen knife while he watched in horror. She found the gun in LaTonya’s purse—the note said she was bringing it—and popped her cheating spouse. Carl Jr. may have been with his mother earlier in the day, but nothing puts him at the scene at the time of the murders, and the fingerprints of his, found on the gun, are explained away by Brad’s own writing and Latonya’s note: she took the gun from Brad’s office to give to her son. The DA will say that the bandana was LaTonya’s—not her son’s—and that Audrey wrapped the gun in it and tossed it into the dumpster from the back door. Hell of a story, eh? Much better than the confusing tangle that Brad Bierman was writing. And a lot easier for a jury to swallow than what might actually have happened.   

Final word. Pull on that thread I mentioned, even though there’s no time before the trial date.  The discovery materials support the prosecution’s case. But they also support a number of alternative theories. We, however, can only present one. With too many options, all the jury will remember is the one that makes the most sense, the simplest one, the one that says Audrey Bierman stabbed LaTonya Simmons to death with a kitchen knife, motivated by jealousy, and shot her husband, motivated by anger—a conclusion supported by the evidence.

 What do you want to bet Audrey will find someone—if she hasn’t already—to publish her husband’s stories, now that he’s dead?

Good luck—

Lisa

About the Author

Peter Hoppock

In addition to The Write Launch, Peter Hoppock’s short fiction has appeared in a variety of literary magazines, both online and print. Among them Adelaide, Curbside Splendor, Dillydoun Review, and recently in Palasatrium: substack.shortstory, where “Blues For Rashid” was the June 2023 featured story. He has co-edited two anthologies of short stories and creative non-fiction published by Windy City Press: "Turning Points" (2021), and "Meaningful Conflicts" (2023).