The Foster Vindication is the second book in the FOSTER TRILOGY by Austin attorney, turned writer, Bruce Farrow-Smith. A 1995 outline forming the story's endoskeleton, became entombed by life and lawyering then abandoned, bare and discontented. The first, very rough draft eked into being a full twenty years later, after retirement, and about a year after he finished The Foster Effect. The story continues chronicling LAURA MARKHAM'S relationship with DENTON FOSTER and its sojourn into the Austin, Texas criminal justice apparatus.
(It reads at a length of 84,853 words.)

Excerpt From


Prologue & The First Ten Pages

Page i


It mattered not how furious was her effort. The sensation of clipped flight feathers seemed all consuming. But, as scary as the injury seemed, had that been her only bondage, she might’ve been able to swallow panic, ignore anxiety, morph fear into courage. Escape the prison of her unholy trinity. She needn’t flight feathers to scamper about, away. Then thoughts of fishnet stockings caused her a smile—remembrance of an All Hallows Eve party—to feel sexy, a bit naughty even. Her smile froze, faded, then disappeared. What encased her was not the fishnet that caused men to gawk at long, athletic legs while she danced. Not stockings at all. Were fishnet onesies even a thing? Her arms, her hands, bound to her torso; her legs, her feet bound against their opposite—by fishnet, made more of nylon rope than thread—seemed to scream YES! In the black of her nightmare, it became clear her unholy trinity was fixed and unyielding; nothing like her fishnet smile.

With exhaustive effort she strung together micro-moves—the methodical dance of an inchworm—headed back into the black in search of the antidote for sticky rope; to free arms and legs. Within seconds, the dry, dusty tree branch on which she inched snapped, plunging her into a thick, warm muck. She extended her body and made a violent dolphin kick that propelled her forward, a second, then a third. Bubbles leaked from her mouth to rise into darkness through which she struggled. Her eyes followed their trail, which caused her head to angle upward, her body to follow. She kicked again, and as her lungs ached to exchange stale carbon dioxide for its fresh cousin, her head tore through the muck’s surface like a newborn through its mother’s vagina.

Ahead, she saw only what remained of the bridge—charred, and splintered pieces—from there to here; mostly gone from its purpose; her memory. What remained was a reflection etched into a white, screen-like sky. It seemed to resemble her, but its features were fuzzy. Distorted. After a moment, its edges, its proportions, its color sharpened, she recognized her mother’s face, its ever-present sneer. Heard maternal proclamations echo. Pretty girls are Satan’s work-rk-rk. Their purpose to punish-ish-ish plain women. To tempt-pt-pt decent men. To turn righteous-ous-ous to wickedness-ss-ss.

She felt fingers gouge at her eyes, jaws tighten; the weight of a mother’s knees depress ribs against spine. She could feel the particles of life leap from skin’s pores. Then, from deep in her subconscious, she heard—one, one thousand, two, one thousand, three, one thousand—something that sounded like counting seconds. Again, but louder, almost familiar. Again, but now the voice——one, one thousand, two, one thousand, three, one thousand—was close, shouting, recognizable. It was hers. It was a child’s long-forgotten tool used to keep calm, to ensure that each second passed was one closer to the end of despair, abuse, pain.

Page ii

She heard it one time more. Then the magic of dreams bequeathed moments absent constraint. A time empty of incalculable weight. Flashes filled with soaring imagination, something akin to joy. Those welcomed events displayed, but now only in strobe-like bits. Too, the recollections were of times distant, suggesting she appropriated them from another’s dream. Her nightmare forbade a belief that things from a distant pull were real. Demanded, she saw their renderings as an imagined experience. Her dreams made life seem composed only of constant battle to become unbound, free.

As the count—ninety-one, one thousand, ninety-two, one thousand, ninety-three, one thousand—continued in the dark, the distance, she felt something change, something different. She somehow knew a woman there danced. Danced on lighted squares that blinked beneath feet, over which her movements seemed at once powerful and weightless. The woman was her, but she was not alone. The dance felt like a performance for someone not on the dance floor. Too, it was a dance of liberation. She could feel only bits of her onesie remained. Bits of nylon clung to breasts pressed against a muscular chest, dangled from arms wrapped around strong shoulders, fell from legs intertwined with powerful legs, crushed by feet moving to soulful sighs of Alannah Myles’ Black Velvet, dripped from lips gently resting against lips. Hers against someone whose face had faded, permanently indescribable.

Like every other time, she suffered this nightmare, when its music stopped, she was home. Alone. Wandering its halls, its rooms, their nooks, crannies, memories. In each, she saw a distant future that was . . . painful. She’d been on this journey, this dream, each of the last four nights. Each ended here, after unbearable words in uncontrollable, inescapable shouts from a voice familiar, and a second voice that ran just ahead of recognition. Each time alone, in ways that just moments before felt impossible, unimaginable. She awoke each morning drenched by fears that this dark horror might forever clutter her night, scatter her sleep.

Page One

chapter one

The sun shone over the Markham estate, providing no hint of the storm growing within. Laura and Winston awakened in separate beds, in rooms as far apart as the mansion allowed. She’d heard him in the shower but stiffened beneath bedcovers, her back turned toward the bathroom door. He could say nothing she wanted to hear, offer no promise that could extinguish her disgust for his behavior. This was not the first stumble of their seventeen years. Not the first time Laura had faked sleep to avoid his morning routine.

Neither was it the first time Winston had no desire to pamper, cajole, apologize for her wounded feelings. Time was his best ally. He’d found no other tactic, even a close second. Winston Markham could be patient if circumstances demanded. Besides, where was she going?

There was not a single square foot of the home’s seventy-five hundred that went untouched by her creativity; the Santa Fe inspired furnishings artfully positioned atop travertine tile, reclaimed hundred-year-old long-leaf pine floor planks; the Knotty Alder custom kitchen cabinets—stained with a one-off color she’d fashioned—warmly snuggled by subtle mustard-yellow walls, the great room’s milieu warmed by smoldering currant-red walls, the master bedroom’s sea foam serenity; Nordwall and Nieto oils on canvas; a white baby grand piano. She commissioned each of the home’s five fireplace mantles by local artisans to both inspire and complement that room’s ambiance.

Her vision extended even to outdoor facilities. She made design and finish decisions for the pool and the tennis courts. There was no way she’d walk away from her creation for a hotel room—not even at the Commodore Perry Estate—or, god forbid, some other man’s bungalow in an Austin suburb.

It was an unsettling sound traveled from the kitchen that caused her to swing legs from beneath bed covers, to sit upright, to hold her breath. It was Winston. Their oversized kitchen was insufficient to contain his rage. Without knowing why, she stood bedside, curious about his fury’s cause. His shouts were so clear they might have been coming from their en suite bathroom.

“Damn it, Amanda, answer the fucking phone. I ain’t got all day. Jesus H. Christ where the fuck are you at” — in a motion he’d performed countless times, he passed the handset from his left-to-right hand, then glanced at his stainless steel Rolex while positioning the handset against his right ear — “eight-fucking-thirty in the morning?”

Amanda Phillips and Laura Markham met at SAK—Save Austin’s Kids—a non-profit launched by Austin philanthropists to keep Austin’s youth from being subsumed by the criminal justice apparatus. Amanda served on its steering committee; Laura one of its many volunteers. Coincidentally, their husbands worked in parallel branches of the public/private protection industry. Captain Phillips, the chief administrative officer of APD’s Homicide Division, Winston Markham founder and CEO of ISSI, the country’s fifth-largest private security organization.

Page Two

After some while, the women became friendly. Their casual friendship led to outings at Dolce Vita, where they enjoyed Italian-style coffee, dessert pastry, and conversation. On a day just a year past, between cups of coffee, Laura confessed her frustration with Winston’s brutal work schedule. She’d become frustrated by his lack of attention to her, their marriage. Amanda said nothing, but her touch to Laura’s hand, a wistful glance, signaled a simpatico that seemed the last stitch in their bonding.

After moments of silence, Amanda said, “I happen to have the perfect remedy for such a malady. That is if you’re interested.”

Laura responded with confusion full on her face.

“I have a . . . well, let’s say an acquaintance. He’s a lawyer. Actually, was a lawyer. His name is Den—”

“Oh, my. I didn’t mean to suggest . . . We . . . um, aren’t . . . it’s not that bad. It’s just that—”

“No, no. Not for that, he no longer practices. His expertise extends” — a second touch, a second glance, less wistful, more evocative — “well beyond lawyering. I was just thinking you might . . . Tell you what, if ever you get to where you want something just for you; let me know.”

Laura’s nod hesitant, her smile diminutive, her confusion obvious. “O-o-kay, and . . . So, if you ever need anything” — the lilt in her voice morphed from confused to amiable — “let me know because Winston’s company is . . . That’s what they do. Help people, I mean.”

After six rings, the irritated voice of Amanda Phillips filled Winston’s distracted consciousness. “Yeah.”

“Mrs. Phillips! I trust I’m not—”

“That’s rich. You are to trust what lamb is to slaughter. What the fu—”

“It’s come to my attention” — Winston looked toward the ceiling fighting to suppress an outburst — “If you can keep your tongue from wagging, I got good news.”

Amanda answered with silence.

Page Three

“Well lookie here, her tongue has an off switch.” Winston chuckled.

“If you’ve something to say, get to it. I haven’t all day to—“

"We have come into possession of additional . . . um, pieces of property that look to be yours. Knowi—“

“You son-of-a-bitch! I should’ve never fu—”

“—ng how important the proper treatment of your property is, I believe I’ve figured a way to control any unauthorized possession and/or distribution of it.”

After an elongated silence, “You fucking son-of-a-bitch!”

“Now that’s gratitude for ya’. Here I am bringing you an opportunity when lesser men could’ve, check that, would’ve taken them direct to your husband. Hell, that’s best case. I’m thinking you ought not be looking a gift horse in the mouth.”

The return of Amanda’s silence caused Winston to pace. Finally, “Well, you inter’sted?” he said, with a carefree lilt to his voice.

“Fuck you, you motherf . . .” The insult faded, and in its place was the sound of a phone slamming into some unyielding surface. Followed by the hum of a line disconnected.

With what calm he could muster, Winston returned the telephone’s handset to its base, walked to the cupboard, removed a glass, then stepped pensively to the refrigerator. He shoved the glass against the dispenser's lever. Ice clinked against glass. He glanced over his shoulder, across the room at the silent telephone. He turned again to the refrigerator door. Pushed a second lever, then watched the glass fill with water. Taking a long, slow drink, he moved back in the direction of the telephone.

Still, it did not ring.

Page Four

“God damn you, Amanda,” he mumbled, “don’t fuck with me.” He slammed the glass on the counter, splashing water on his hand; his watch, his arm. He turned full circle, trying to shake it all dry, kicking at Amanda’s stubbornness floating past him just above the floor. “Fuck you,” he shouted. He removed the wet Rolex while scanning the kitchen for a dish towel.

Winston Markham hadn’t built ISSI by capitulating. Not to regulators, nor competitors, not to clients, especially not to a woman. He knew a call back would do damage to that pillar of his success. He’d spent four days—three too many—creating this plan. It was clear, without Amanda there was no way forward. Just as he moved toward the phone, the ringer sounded. His hand jumped reflexively but stopped. He let the ringer sound four times more.

“Hello.” His voice calm, unaffected.

“You despicable asshole. I fucking knew I shouldn’t trust you.” Amanda paused. “Didn’t take long to move from recovery to extortion.” Derision spewed from her phone to his.

“Not so. To the contrary” — the force of a celebratory, all-out left hook caused his entire body to move a quarter-turn right — “as soon as it came to my attention, I mean that copies existed, first thing I did, was call the client.” Winston paused; his attention distracted by a sound beyond the kitchen, down the hall. When the silence revealed nothing more, he continued. “Okay, not instantaneously, but I’d say almost immediate is certainly accurate.

“That’s the very definition of trust. I’m sure if you could postpone your Nasty Nelly routine, you’d agree with me. Anyways, I’ve—”

“Cut the bullshit. We both know your definition of anything starts and ends with dollars.” Amanda’s rebuttal loud, angry.

“In fact, you couldn’t be more wrong.” There was a second pause, a standoff. As if speaking next conveyed weakness. Winston took the handset from his ear and shoved his middle finger at the transmitter, then returned it and restarted the conversation. “I need an operative. For a job, I mean. Who’s got . . . let’s say, someone with a specific skill set. It’s a chore I got no one that’s qualified for.”

Amanda’s laugh full, mocking, loud enough to conceal the switch hook’s click activating the bedroom’s phone. “Work for which you’ve no one qualified?” She both questioned and corrected her blackmailer’s grammar.

Page Five

“Really? That’s the best you got? All that preposition crap was torpedoed by no-less-a-giant than Churchill, so” — again Winston moved the handset from his ear and smirked at the transmitter, then returned it — “if it’s all the same to you, I’ll follow his lead. I’m gonna ignore your pitiful effort at” — combative slipped from his tone, expectation in its place — “sounding superior. So? What’d say?”

“What is it for which I’m so eminently qualified?” Terse civility returned to Amanda’s response.

“I believe you’re familiar with a fella named Foster, Denton Foster.”

“Where’d . . . How do you—?” The words necessary to finish the question stuck in Amanda’s throat.

“You and him were at a recent political gathering for . . . um, Bill Clinton, yeah, President Clinton. Up to the university. That was you, wasn’t it?”

“Could’ve bee—”

“See” — Winston stifled a laugh, as a smile spread across his face — “I need to get something to him. No, um, no” — the smile turned to a silent curse — “that ain’t quite right. Actually, it’s more like . . . just to his house.”

“So call Quick Shot Delivery. I use them all the time. Very reliable and—”

“I ain’t got time for playing games, Mrs. Captain Phil—”

“And yet, you can’t fucking resist.” Amanda shot back.

The line went quiet as Winston gathered his composure. “So, what’ll it be? You? Or do I call Quick Shot for a slightly different delivery to another fella? One you know more intimately?”

“What is it and when does it have to be there?” A subdued Amanda capitulated.

“It’s not something we should talk on the phone about. We—”

“About which, we should not—”

Page Six

“Meet me, let’s see . . . you know the Sweetish Hill Bakery, right?” Winston neither expected nor waited for a reply. “Yeah, let’s see” — he turned to find the kitchen clock — “I’ll be there in a hour. No, let’s, let's make it ten, yeah, ten o’clock. Oh, and don’t be late. I’m a—”

“Yeah, yeah, yeah. You’re a busy man. Busy lying, extorting, and God knows what else. So, what about my property?”

The dull hum of a disconnected line answered Amanda’s question.

He returned the Submariner to his wrist, picked up the glass, and downed the last swallow of iced water.

Laura quietly returned the bedroom telephone to its cradle. She walked into the closet, changed out of exercise sweats into a long, dark green dress, and prepared to leave the estate.

Page Seven

chapter two

Winston Markham parked his Lexus in the small parking lot stuffed with expensive foreign sedans and sports cars typical of patrons of Sweetish Hill Bakery. He enjoyed the ritual, the pretense of the expensive coffee shop. It was temporarily home to that part of Austin to which the Markhams sought tenancy. He and Laura enjoyed its surroundings three to four times a month, usually on Sunday mornings when they would order imported coffee or cappuccino and handmade, fresh-baked French pastry.

The young man tending the door recognized Winston. They exchanged nods, then the bakery’s employee led Winston to a window-side table near the back of the small dining room. As he was wont to do, Winston nodded to other patrons as if he knew them all. He scooped up a scattered copy of yesterday’s Austin American-Statesman, abandoned by a previous patron at a nearby table, and settled into a chair next to the window.

“What may I get syou ssir?” The slender waitress smiled as she skipped up to the table. A full, but pleasant face made to appear clown-like by chlorophyll hair, greeted the patron. From a neat part, low on the left side of a large head, a combover made her appear as an aging man trying to cover a bald spot. The new stud piercing her tongue caused even the simplest sounds to slur.

“Yess ssir. I’ll get that right assway. Iss there anything elsse I can get syou?”

“I’ll wait. Thank you.” Winston slid forward in the chair, snapped open the Statesman’s financial page, and hid a disapproving glare behind its print as the waitress turned, walked away.

As he finished an article detailing a local start-up, a distant voice caused him to lower the Statesman. ISSI’s newest operative stood at the entry. The waitress and his cappuccino escorted Amanda Phillips tableside. He quickly folded the paper, dropped it on the table, and pulled himself closer.

“Bring the Captain’s wife” — nodding at the hand of the waitress — “a cup of that great stuff,” he ordered.

The waitress stepped aside, smiled, pulled a vacant chair away from the table, then set the cup down in front of her customer.

“That won’t be necessary. I’m not staying.” Amanda spoke more to Winston than the waitress.

“Pay no attention to her.” Winston glared at Amanda. Without looking away, he continued, “You got that stuff made, right?”

Page Eight

The waitress nodded.

“We’ll be here that long. You go ahead and bring it.”

Cowed by the obvious tension, the waitress looked to the floor, then moved her eyes toward Amanda, seeking confirmation.

Amanda jerked the chair further from the table and sat, disgust filling the space between her and the blackmailer.

With her smile disappearing, the waitress spun, then departed, leaving the party of two to swim alone through the molasses-like thickness that descended over the small table, over the couple.

“Very nice!” He nodded at his guest. Leering eyes looked past the table, down the length of a richly textured, long skirt—swirls of browns, tans, and creams mixed with thin lines of black and turquoise—that covered the tops of riding boots. “You look quite at home in riding togs. Too many women” — his eyes dart in the waitress's direction — “seem to have lost all sense of fashion.”

“I am not here—”

“Oh great, that will be all for now. Thank you.”

The waitress, still without a smile, set the small cup in front of Amanda, departed a second time, with no acknowledgment of Winston’s appreciation.

“See? That’s what I’m talking ‘bout. Green hair and some damn somethin’ or other nailed through her tongue. How can that be fashion?”

“—for a fashion review. Let’s get this over with.” Amanda spoke over the disparagement of the waitress.

“I find it almost always beneficial not to rush through these discussions. It just always seems to work out better to consummate these kinda deals over a cup of exquisite coffee. Seems to somehow make the whole affair more civilized, if you know what I mean.”

Amanda resisted the urge for sarcasm. Her glare persisted.

“I’m obviously unable to give you the copies now. I’d have no way of ensuring that my package gets delivered. I, however, propose—”

Amanda shoved the chair, herself, away from the table, stood to the clang of metal against metal, glass against glass, interrupting Winston’s proposal. He glanced at nearby patrons, all registering objections to the disturbance. With an embarrassed grin, he responded with superficial nods intended as reassurance, while abruptly raising his hand, a silent demand his consociate remembers her place, orders her decorum.

Page Nine

Amanda, with hands on the tabletop, leaned across the table and whispered; her words hurried, coarse, angry. “You’ve fucked this broad for the last time. You’re as trustworthy as an addict needing a fix. So, the way I figure it, we use my rules. Smart guy like you ought to know better than negotiate with someone who’s nothing to lose.”

“C’mon now” — his tone morphed from arrogant to conciliatory — “calm down. Sit. I got no problem discussing your proposal.”

“See” — Amanda stepped back from the table — “you just don’t get it. It’s not a proposal. It’s how this is gonna get done. If you have other expectations, we’re wasting time.” Amanda stood, hands on hips, defiant.

Impressed by her resolve, unwilling to risk further embarrassment at the Sweetish Hill Bakery, Winston tried again, “Please. Sit.” He motioned to the displaced chair. “To agree, I got to hear your demands.”

An agitated Amanda grabbed the chair, pulled it to her side, and sat, slightly askew from her tormentor. “How many tapes?”

“A tape, different from the others, and a copy of each of the first two.”

“Do you have them here?”


“Where are they?”


Amanda looked past her blackmailer, out the window into the cool Austin afternoon. “What” — a hint of resignation crept into her voice — “is it only I can do?”

“When will you see Denton Foster again?”

“Whenever I call him. If he’s available.” Her eyes fixed on something beyond the window.

“Do it today. Don’t take no for an answer.”

Page Ten

“What’s this about?” She slowly let tired eyes fall on the object of her revulsion.

“You want your property?”

“That’s rhetorical” — blank eyes stared unblinkingly at Winston — “right?”

“I have something that belongs to Mr. Foster. He’s unaware I have it. Hell, he’s even unaware that it belongs to him.” A vulgar sarcasm eased over Winston’s lips. “It needs to be returned. You’re the only person capable of returning it without him knowing of its return.”

“What the hell’s that supposed to mean?” Without abandoning her stare, Amanda’s hand found the cup and lifted an aromatic cappuccino to her nostrils, then sipped warm liquid past hard, dry lips.

“For a woman with missing property, you ask a lot of irrelevant questions. I ain’t got all day. What’s your plan? Do remember, we both have interests that need protecting here.” Winston moved slightly in his chair, uncrossed long, cramped legs, and extended his large barrel chest, trying to re-establish a position of authority.

Amanda spoke to the window. “Send one of your people with me. They can wait down the street. I’ll deliver the package. When I leave Denton’s, your guy gives me all my tapes. Then” — she looked squarely into Winston’s eyes — “I never see your contemptible ass again.”

“I like it. Remember, Foster is not to know you’ve delivered my package. To ensure my interests are met, you’ll need to carry a little microphone with you so my people can keep tabs on how well you’ve done your job. Full payment—”

“How the fuck you going to use a microphone to see if I’ve delivered your little package?”

“—for an incomplete job would be bad business. Surely you” — he took a sip of his cappuccino — “understand that. As for how it works, leave that to me and my people.” Winston said coolly.

“So you telling me, your people will solve the issue of me seeing him while wearing a microphone? It’s not like” — again, Amanda’s eyes look past Winston out the window — “I go there to play checkers. If the visit is too . . . too unusual” — she returned to glare at Winston — “he’s going to . . . he’s not a fucking idiot. He’ll—”

“The how’s are your problem. But” — Winston took the last swallow of his caffeine —“you’ve just proven how resourceful you can be when needed. So, we got a deal?”


“Call ‘em now. Certainly, the sooner the better.”

. . .


The material on this page is the original work of Bruce L. Farrow-Smith and is protected by U.S. Copyright Law. If you have any questions regarding its copyright status contact the owner using the information Here.

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