"I don't have a drinking problem, Your Honor. I have a problem drinking," Karan Kowalski Steinberg-Reece explained, though it positively hurt to justify herself to this
"I'm listening, Ms. Kowalski Steinberg-Reece." The judge gazed down from her superior height on the courtroom bench. She emphasized the Ms. and dragged out each syllable as though implying the marriages hadn't lasted as long as the names.
"I have low blood sugar." That was all Karan would say. The toxicology results would speak for themselves.
Her attorney, a close friend of her second husband, had coached her at length about behavior during the sentencing since she and the judge had a history.
Honorable Jennifer Sharpe-Malone had once been known as Jenny, a wannabe cheerleader who hadn't made the cut in four years at Ashokan High. Of course, Karan had made cheer captain all four years, so she'd been a judge at tryouts. It had been hard enough finding positions for her inner circle of friends.
Wannabe Jenny hadn't been in her inner circle.
Just Karan's luck that with all the judges in New York's Catskill Mountains she'd wind up in court before this one.
"I'm well aware of your medical condition," Wannabe Jenny informed her. "I've reviewed the deputy's report. The deputy also stated you appeared more impaired than the results of the field sobriety test and the toxicology report revealed."
More luck. Karan had gambled by cooperating with the deputies because she hadn't wanted her license automatically revoked for refusing the test. One glass of champagne. One stupid glass and her blood alcohol content had been .05. A fraction of a percent lower and she wouldn't be in this courtroom at all.
"State law doesn't require my client to consent to a field sobriety test, Your Honor." Her attorney seized the opportunity. "Only the chemical test, yet Ms. Kowalski Steinberg-Reece cooperated with law enforcement and consented to both."
"Noted, Mr. James, and for the record I'm aware of the law." Wannabe Jenny turned a peeved gaze to Karan. "Did it ever occur to you to call a taxi?"
"Yes, Your Honor."
"Keep things simple and straightforward" her attorney had said. "Don't offer explanations unless the judge asks." "Why didn't you?" the judge asked. "Leaving my car at the resort presented a problem."
"I didn't have anyone to drive it home for me."
"You were at the Inn at Laurel Lake, isn't that right?" Wannabe Jenny glanced down at the documents before her.
"Yes, Your Honor."
"The Inn does have a parking garage. For a reasonable fee, they would have attended your vehicle until you were able to safely retrieve it."
No question. But retrieving her car hadn't exactly been the issue. Drawing attention to the fact that she hadn't driven her car home was. But Wannabe Jenny wouldn't want to hear that. She was already mentally filling in the blanks. Karan could see it all over her crab-apple expression.
"If you weren't happy with the idea of taking a taxi back to the Inn to rescue your car the next day, you might have refrained from drinking."
She made it sound as if Karan was a lush. "I didn't drink per se, Your Honor. I only toasted the senator when he announced his bid for reelection."
Her attorney shot her a withering glance. Entirely unnecessary. Karan knew the instant the words were out of her mouth that defending herself was a mistake and dropping the senator's name a wasted effort.
Wannabe Jenny was out for blood.
"If one obligatory toast impaired you to this degree, then you might have considered waiting for your liver to process the alcohol before you left the party, Ms. Kowalski Steinberg-Reece. Or booking a room for the night since you were at a hotel." Her tone dripped with a sarcasm that couldn't possibly be considered professional courtroom behavior. "If that didn't suit, you might have asked the senator to drive you home."
It took every ounce of Karan's considerable willpower to keep her mouth shut.
"Since you obviously don't have any friends in this town who could have taken you." Wannabe Jenny seemed to be talking simply to hear herself. "Whatever the excuse, your decision to drive while alcohol impaired wasn't a good one. You should be thankful you didn't hurt yourself or, God forbid, someone else. Tragedies happen all too often on the roads."
A tingle started behind Karan's left eye, a familiar tingle that signaled an oncoming headache. She was very grateful she hadn't caused any accidents, in fact, but wasn't about to admit that to Wannabe Jenny. Another explanation wouldn't pass her lips.
The tables had turned in the decade and a half since high school, and Karan wasn't the judge anymore. Wannabe Jenny would assess the offense during this hearing and consider the mitigating factors before sentencing. The long-ago past aside, Karan was an upstanding member of this community.
She hoped that would count for something.
A fine would be best-case scenario. But even if she was ordered to attend a substance-abuse education class, she would smile graciously, thank Wannabe Jenny and hope the class was available online like other traffic violation programs.
This situation was humiliating enough without sitting in a windowless room with drug addicts and real alcoholics for hours on end. She already had a mug shot on the sheriff's website. One that anyone could pull up to view. Fortunately she'd been dressed for the senator's event. If not for the identification number around her neck, she might have been posing for any head shot.
"Ms. Kowalski Steinberg-Reece," Wannabe Jenny addressed Karan in that I'm-so-enjoying-the-upper-hand tone. "Are you aware that one-third of the traffic fatalities in New York State involve impaired or intoxicated drivers?"
"Yes, Your Honor."
"And that New York State has a STOP-DWI law?"
"Yes, Your Honor."
"Do you understand the difference between driving while ability is impaired and driving while intoxicated?"
"Yes, Your Honor."
"What is it exactly?"
"DWAI is a traffic infraction. DWI is a criminal misdemeanor."
The smile suddenly playing around Wannabe Jenny's mouth, a mouth tinted with a shade of red that drew attention to the fine lines that could have benefitted from a good cosmetic surgeon, made Karan swallow hard.
"Very well then. Ms. Kowalski Steinberg-Reece, the State of New York finds you guilty of driving while ability impaired. It is the judgment of this court that your driving privileges be suspended for ninety days. You'll pay a five-hundred dollar fine to the clerk when you are remanded into custody to serve fifteen days in the county jail."
Karan's best friend gasped behind her. Her attorney cursed under his breath, but she could only stare. Had Wannabe Jenny just said jail?
"Your Honor." Her attorney didn't bother to hide his annoyance. "That's the maximum sentence allowable."
"Again, I am aware of the law, Mr. James."
"This is Ms. Kowalski Steinberg-Reece's first offense."
"It's not her first offense with low blood sugar," Wannabe Jenny replied. "She seems well aware of the potential effects of alcohol on her condition."
So was Wannabe Jenny. Not even the shroudlike black robe could hide the effects of sitting on the bench. Once upon a time Wannabe Jenny had been petite and fit. Not so much anymore.
On the other hand, Karan's condition forced her to eat small meals every few hours to steady her sugar, which had the added benefit of running her metabolism at full tilt. No complaints there.
"Yet even knowing the potential effects," Wannabe Jenny continued, "your client chose to toast the senator then get behind the wheel of her car before her body had adequately processed the alcohol. By serving the full sentence, I hope her first offense will also be her last."
Karan waited for her attorney to earn his astronomical feea fee she'd insisted on paying even though she'd hosted him in her homes many times throughout her three years of marriage to his close friend.
"May I approach the bench, Your Honor?" Her attorney waited until Wannabe Jenny nodded and then he crossed the courtroom.
Karan waited, too, barely daring to breathe, not allowing herself to react in any visible way. She reminded herself that her attorney was more than competent. The only thing she could do was trust him to do his job.
This situation was a nightmare. Of course she should never have gotten in her car tipsy. Not even to drive the few miles of lonely highway to her house. If she could relive the night over, she would make a different decision. Because Wannabe Jenny was right about one thingKaran knew the limitations of her condition. She didn't go near alcohol for that very reason. She drank club soda with lime to keep the servers busy at functions, but the only alcohol that ever passed her lips was the odd glass of champagne for toasts. And then only the very best champagne.
Sometimes she toasted with no trouble whatsoever and barely felt the effects of a glass, but when her sugar was low, even a few sips could hit her like a truck. So she always sipped cautiously until she knew what the effect would be.
That night Karan had broken all her usual rules and now paid the price. Resisting the urge to turn around, she sensed Susanna's presence behind her, a good friend who'd taken time off work to be moral support. At the rate they were going today, Karan might need Susanna to post her bail.
But she refused to react, refused to give Wannabe Jenny the satisfaction. So Karan stood her ground and watched silently as judge and attorney spoke in hushed to...