“Scottoline writes riveting thrillers that keep me up all night, with plots that twist and turn.” –Harlan Coben
Ten-year-old Patrick O'Brien is a natural target at school. Shy, dyslexic, and small for his age, he tries to hide his first-grade reading level from everyone: from his classmates, from the grandfather who cares for him, and from the teachers who are supposed to help him. But the real trouble begins when Patrick is accused of attacking a school aide. The aide promptly quits and sues the boy, his family, and the school district. Patrick's grandfather turns to the law firm of Rosato & DiNunzio for help, and Mary DiNunzio becomes Patrick's true champion and his only hope for security and justice. But there is more to the story than meets the eye and Patrick might be more troubled than he seems. With twists at every turn and secrets about the family coming to light, Mary DiNunzio might have found the case that can make her a true protector, or break her heart...?
With Lisa Scottoline’s trademark emotional depth and fast-paced action, Damaged will have readers riveted to the last page as they root for the beloved characters and their fight for justice.
“Outstanding…Tensions mount until the story concludes with a satisfying, unexpected twist.” –Publishers Weekly (starred review) on Damaged
About the Author
Date of Birth:July 1, 1955
Place of Birth:Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Education:B.A., University of Pennsylvania, 1976; J.D., University of Pennsylvania Law School, 1981
Read an Excerpt
A Rosato & Dinunzio Novel
By Lisa Scottoline
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2016 Smart Blonde, LLC
All rights reserved.
Mary DiNunzio hurried down the pavement, late to work because she'd had to stop by their new caterer and try crabmeat dumplings with Asian pears. Her stomach grumbled, unaccustomed to shellfish for breakfast, much less pears of any ethnicity. Her wedding was only two weeks away, and their first caterer had gone bankrupt, keeping their deposit and requiring her to pick a new menu. She had approved the mediocre crabmeat dumplings, proof that her standards for her wedding had started at Everything Must Be Perfect, declined to Good Enough, and ended at Whatever, I Do.
It was early October in Philly, unjustifiably humid, and everyone sweated as they hustled to work. Businesspeople flowed around her, plugged into earbuds and reading their phone screens, but Mary didn't need an electronic device to be distracted, she had her regrets. She'd made some stupid decisions in her life, but by far the stupidest was not using a wedding planner. She earned enough money to hire one, but she'd thought she could do it herself. She'd figured it wasn't rocket science and she had a law degree, which should count for more than the ability to sue the first caterer for free.
Mary didn't know what she'd been thinking. She was a partner at Rosato & DiNunzio, so she was already working too hard to take a honeymoon, plus it was a second job to manage her wacky family in full- blown premarital frenzy. Her fiancé, Anthony, was away, leaving her to deal with her soon-to-be mother-in-law Elvira, or El Virus. Meanwhile, tonight was the final fitting for her dress and tomorrow night was her hair-and-makeup trial. She was beginning to think of her entire wedding as a trial, a notion she hated despite the fact that she was a trial lawyer. Maybe she needed a new job, too.
Mary kicked herself as she walked along, a skill not easily performed by anyone but a Guilt Professional. She had no idea why she always thought she should do everything herself. She only ended up stressed-out, every time. She was forever trying to prove something, but she didn't know what or to whom. She felt like she'd been in a constant state of performance since the day she was born, and she didn't know when the show would be over. Maybe when she was married. Or dead.
She reached her office building, went through the revolving door, and crossed the air-conditioned lobby, smiling for the security guard. The elevator was standing open and empty, so she climbed inside, pushed the UP button, and put on her game face. She was running fifteen minutes late for her first client, which only added to her burden of guilt, since she hated to be late for anything or anyone. Mary's friends knew that if she was fifteen minutes late, she must have been abducted.
She checked her appearance in the stainless-steel doors, like a corporate mirror. Her reflection was blurry, but she could see the worry lines in her forehead, and her dark blonde hair was swept back into a low ponytail because she didn't have time to blow it dry. Her contacts were glued to her eyes since she'd spent the night emailing wedding guests who hadn't RSVP'd. She had on a fitted navy dress and she was even wearing pantyhose, which qualified as dressed up at Rosato & DiNunzio.
Mary watched impatiently as the floor numbers changed. Her legal practice was general, which meant she handled a variety of cases, mostly state-court matters for low damages, and her client base came from the middle-class families and small businesses of South Philly, where she'd grown up. She wasn't one of those lawyers who got their self-esteem from handling big, federal-court cases for Fortune 500 clients. Not that she got her self-esteem from within. Mary was the Neighborhood Girl Who Made Good, so she got her self-esteem from being universally beloved, which was why she was never, ever late. Until now.
"Hi, Marshall!" Mary called out to the receptionist, as soon as the elevator doors opened. She glanced around the waiting room, which was empty, and hurried to the reception desk. Marshall Trow was more the firm's Earth Goddess than its receptionist, dressing the part in her flowing boho dress, long brown braid, and pretty, wholesome features, devoid of makeup. Marshall's demeanor was straight-up Namaste, which was probably a job requirement for working for lawyers.
"Good morning." Marshall smiled as Mary approached.
"Where's O'Brien? Is he here already? Did you get my text?"
"Yes, and don't worry. I put him in conference room C with fresh coffee and muffins."
"Thank you so much." Mary breathed a relieved sigh.
"I chatted with him briefly. He found you from our website, you know. He's an older man, maybe in his seventies. He seems very nice. Quiet."
"Good. I don't even know what the case is about. He didn't want to talk about it over the phone."
Marshall lifted an eyebrow. "Then you don't know who your opposing counsel is?"
"No, who?" Mary was just about to leave the desk, but stopped.
"Machiavelli! The Dark Prince of South Philly." Mary felt her competitive juices flowing. "I always wanted a case against him."
"Machiavelli can't be his real name, can it? That has to be fake."
"Yes, it's his real name, I know him from high school. His family claims to be direct descendants of the real Machiavelli. That's the part that's fake. His father owns a body shop." Mary thought back. "I went to Goretti, a girl's school, and he went to Neumann, our brother school. We didn't have classes with the boys, but I remember him from the dances. He was so slick, a BS artist, even then."
"Is he a good lawyer?" Marshall handed Mary a few phone messages and a stack of morning mail.
"Honestly, yes." Mary had watched Machiavelli build a booming practice the same way she had, drawing from South Philly. The stories about his legal prowess were legendary, though they were exaggerated by his public relations firm. In high school, he had been voted Class President, Prom King, and Most Likely to Succeed because he was cunning, handsome, and basically, Machiavellian.
"Thanks." Mary took off down the hallway, with one stop to make before her office. Her gut churned, but it could have been the dumplings. The real Niccolo Machiavelli had thought it was better to be feared than loved, and his alleged descendant followed suit. Nick Machiavelli was feared, not loved, and on the other hand, Mary was loved, but not feared. She always knew that one day they would meet in a battle, and that when they did, it would be a fight between good and evil, with billable hours.
Mary reached her best friend Judy's office, where she ducked inside and set down a foam container of leftover dumplings amid the happy clutter on the desk. Judy Carrier was one of those people who could eat constantly and never gain weight, like a mythical beast or maybe a girl unicorn.
"Good morning!" Judy looked up from her laptop with a broad grin. She had a space between her two front teeth that she made look adorable. Her cheery face was as round as the sun, framed by punky blonde hair, with large blue eyes and a turned-up nose. Judy was the firm's legal genius, though she dressed artsy, like today she had on a boxy hot pink T-shirt with yellow shorts and orange Crocs covered by stuck-on multicolored daisies.
"Please tell me that you're not going to court dressed like that."
"I'm not, but I think I look cute." Judy reached for the container. "What did you bring me? Spring rolls? Spanakopita?"
"Guess what, I have a new case — against Nick Machiavelli."
"Ha! That name cracks me up every time I hear it. What a fraud."
Judy's blue eyes lit up as she opened the lid of the container. "Yummy."
"I'm finally going up against him."
"You'll kick his ass." Judy opened the drawer that contained her secret stash of plastic forks.
"Don't underestimate him."
"I'm not, but you're better." Judy got a fork and shut the drawer. "What kind of case is it?"
"I don't know yet. The client's in the conference room."
"Meanwhile, I thought you were going vegetarian." Judy frowned at the dumplings. "This smells like crabmeat. Crabmeat isn't vegetarian."
"It's vegetarian enough," Mary said on her way out. "I gotta go."
"There's no such thing as vegetarian enough!"
Mary hurried to her office, dumped her purse, mail, and messenger bag inside, grabbed her laptop, and hustled to conference room C.CHAPTER 2
"Good morning, I'm Mary DiNunzio." Mary closed the door as O'Brien tucked his napkin in the pocket of his worn khakis, which he had on with a boxy navy sports jacket that hung on his long, bony frame. His blue-striped tie lay against his chest, and Mary noticed as she approached him that his oxford shirt had a fraying collar. Edward's hooded eyes were an aged hazel green behind wire-rimmed glasses, with visible bifocal windows. His face was long and lined, and his crow's-feet deep. Folds bracketed his mouth, and age-spots dotted his temples and forehead. His complexion was ruddy, though Mary could smell the minty tang of a fresh shave.
"Edward O'Brien," O'Brien said, walking over, his bald head tilting partway down. He was probably six-foot-two, but he hunched over in a way that made him seem like a much older man than he was, which was probably in his seventies.
"Please accept my apologies for being late." Mary shook his slim hand.
"Not at all. And call me Edward."
"Great. Please, sit down." Mary sat down with her laptop and gestured him into the seat, catty-corner to her left.
"Thanks." Edward sank into the fabric swivel seat, bending his long legs slowly at the knee.
"So how can I help you, Edward?"
"This is a free consultation, correct? That's what it said on the website." Edward frowned, his forehead lined deeply.
"Yes, completely free." Mary opened her laptop and hit the RECORD button discreetly, so he wouldn't be self-conscious. "I hope you don't mind if I record the session."
"It's fine. I'm here because of my grandson, Patrick. I'll begin at the beginning."
"Please do." Mary liked his reserved, gentlemanly manner. His teeth were even but tea-stained, which she found oddly charming.
"Patrick is ten, and he's in the fifth grade at Grayson Elementary School in the city. We live in Juniata." Edward pursed his lips, which turned down at the corners. "He's got special needs. He's dyslexic, and I think I need a lawyer to help with his school. I should have dealt with it before."
"Okay, understood." Mary got her bearings, now that she knew this was a special education case. Under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, a federal law, students with learning disabilities were entitled to an education that met their needs at no cost. She'd been developing an expertise in special ed cases and had represented many children with dyslexia, a language-based learning disability. There were differences in symptoms and degrees of dyslexia along the spectrum, but most dyslexic children couldn't decode, or put a sound to the symbol on the page, and therefore couldn't phonetically figure out the word because the symbols on the page had no meaning.
"He can't read at all. He thinks I don't know, but I do."
"Not at all, even at ten?" Mary didn't hide the dismay in her tone. Sadly, it wasn't unheard of in Philly's public schools.
"No, and his spelling and letters are terrible."
Mary nodded, knowing that most dyslexic children had spelling problems as well as handwriting problems, or dysgraphia, since handwriting skills came from the same area of the brain as language acquisition.
"I read to him sometimes, and he likes that, and I guess I kind of gave up trying to teach him to read. I thought he'd pick it up at school."
"Have they identified his learning disability at school?"
"Yes. In second grade."
"Does he have an IEP?" Mary asked, because under the law, schools were required to evaluate a child and formulate an individualized education program, or an IEP, to set forth the services and support he was supposed to receive and to help him achieve in his areas of need.
"Yes, but it isn't helping. I have it with me." Edward patted a battered mailing envelope in front of him, but Mary needed some background.
"Before we get too far, where are Patrick's parents?"
"They passed. Patrick is my daughter Suzanne's only child, and she passed away four years ago in December. On the twelfth, right before Christmas." Edward's face darkened. "I have no other children and my wife, Patty, passed away a decade ago."
"Thank you. My daughter Suzanne was killed by a drunk driver." Edward puckered his lower lip, wrinkling deeply around his mouth. "I retired when that happened. I'm raising Patrick. I was an accountant, self-employed."
"Again, I'm so sorry, and Patrick is lucky to have you." Mary admired him. "How old was Patrick when his mother passed?"
"Six, a few months into first grade at Grayson Elementary. He took it very hard."
"I'm sure." Mary felt for him and Patrick. Special education cases could be emotional because they involved an entire family, and nothing was more important to a family than its children. Mary felt that special ed practice was the intersection of love and law, so it was tailor-made for her. This work had made her both the happiest, and the saddest, she'd ever been as a lawyer.
"Finally, he's doing great at home. It's school that's the problem. The kids know he can't read and they tease him. It's been that way for a long time but this year, it's getting worse."
Mary had seen it before, though dyslexia could be treated with intensive interventions, the earlier the better. "How's his self-esteem?"
"Not good, he thinks he's stupid." Edward frowned. "I tell him he's not but he doesn't believe me."
"That's not uncommon with dyslexic children. The first thing anyone learns at school is reading, so when a child can't do something that seems so easy for the other kids, they feel dumb, inferior, broken. It goes right to the core. I've had an expert tell me that reading isn't just about reading, it's the single most important thing that creates or destroys a child's psyche." Mary made a mental note to go back to the subject. "Are you Patrick's legal guardian?"
"It's not like I went to court to get a judge to say so, but we're blood. That makes him mine, in my book."
"That's not the case legally, but we can deal with that another time. What about Patrick's father? How did he die?"
"He broke up with Suzanne when she got pregnant. She met him up at Penn State. She was in the honors program but when she got pregnant, she dropped out. Suzanne could have been an accountant, too." Edward shook his head. "Anyway, we heard he died in a motorcycle accident, two years later."
"And when Suzanne dropped out, did she come home?"
"Yes, and I was happy to have her. Patrick was born, and Suzanne devoted herself to him. Since she passed, I'm all Patrick has now. I'm his only family."
"I see." Mary's heart went out to them both, but she had to get back on track. "When did you notice his reading problems?"
"Suzanne did, in kindergarten." Edward ran his fingers over his bald head. "Then after she passed, I would try to get him to read with me, and we'd get books from the library. He didn't know the words, not even the little ones like 'the.' He couldn't remember them either. But he's smart."
"I'm sure he is." Mary knew dyslexic children had high IQs, but their reading disability thwarted their progress in school. They often had retrieval issues, too, so they forgot names and the like.
"He does better when there's pictures, that's why he likes comic books. He draws a lot, too. He's very good at art."
"So back to the IEP. May I see it?"
"Sure." Edward opened the manila envelope and extracted a wrinkled packet, then slid it across the table.
"Bear with me." Mary skimmed the first section of the IEP, and the first thing she looked at was Present Levels, which told her where a student was in reading, writing, math, and behaviors. Patrick was only on a first-grade level in both reading and math, even though he was in fifth grade. The IEP showed that Patrick had been evaluated in first grade but not since then. Mary looked up. "Is this all you have? There should have been another evaluation. They're required to reevaluate him every three years."
"I didn't know that. I guess they didn't."
Mary turned the page, noting that Patrick had scored higher than average on his IQ tests, but because he couldn't read, he had scored poorly on his achievement testing, which a district psychologist had administered, and the IRA, the curriculum-based assessment test that the teachers administered. She looked up again. "Is he in a special ed classroom or a regular classroom?"
Excerpted from Damaged by Lisa Scottoline. Copyright © 2016 Smart Blonde, LLC. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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