Due Process (Joe Dillard #9)

Due Process (Joe Dillard #9)

Scott Pratt



My name is Joe Dillard, and it was hot and muggy outside as I drove my wife’s car northeast through Knoxville on our way back home from Nashville. My wife, Caroline, was in the passenger seat, sleeping. I was listening to a podcast called “S-Town” about a bi-polar, suicidal genius in Alabama who probably suffered from mercury poisoning and may or may not have hidden a bunch of gold on his property.

I was listening to the podcast primarily to keep my mind off of what was going on with Caroline. The drugs that had been controlling her metastatic breast cancer had once again stopped working—the cancer was advancing in her liver—and she’d been placed in a clinical trial at Vanderbilt University in Nashville. The trial was studying the effectiveness of an immunotherapy drug that had not yet been approved by the Food and Drug Administration. She’d been on the drug for almost two months and had tolerated it fairly well. It had also shrunk the tumors in her liver, but other drugs had done the same thing, and, like lethal soldiers, the cancer eventually found a way to improvise, adapt and overcome.

She’d also recently had to have radiation on her left knee because a cancerous tumor had wrapped itself around the joint and the doctors said they were afraid the knee would snap. I wouldn’t wish radiation on my worst enemy after seeing its effects on Caroline in the past. She’d had her breast radiated initially, and that put her down for several months. Later, after the metastasis, she’d had her entire spine radiated, which nearly killed her. After that, they’d radiated her brain to keep the cancer cells from getting in there. The brain radiation had left her unable to function for months.

And now they’d told us that an MRI of Caroline’s brain showed the beginnings of cancer in her cerebellum, which is the part of the brain that controls balance and movement. I found that ironic and tragic, because she had been a dancer and dance teacher all of her life. The neurologist had assured us that it could be handled with radiosurgery (precisely-targeted radiation) and that there would be no side effects, but I hated the thought of Caroline going through more radiation. I hated that the disease had emaciated her, that it had taken her beautiful hair, that it had caused her so much pain and worry and heartache. I hated that she had to rely on so many drugs to survive. I hated the relentlessness of it all. I’d come to hate cancer with a passion I could not begin to adequately describe.

The worst part of the clinical trial was that we had to drive to Nashville two out of every three weeks, and Nashville was a five-hundred-and-fifty-mile round trip from our home in Johnson City. We also had to spend the night in a hotel each time, so it was expensive. Caroline told me we were spending a little over a thousand dollars a month for hotels, gas and meals, but I wasn’t really concerned about the expense. We were in good shape financially, and even if we weren’t, I would have spent my last dime if it helped make her feel better and prolonged her life.

She woke up as we entered Knoxville, just like she always did. The nurses at Vanderbilt gave her Benadryl during her immune-drug infusion, and it always put her to sleep. She slept through the infusion, woke up long enough to get to the car, and then slept another two-and-a-half hours until we got to Knoxville.

I looked over at her when she said, “What are you listening to?”

“It’s called ‘Shit Town,’” I said.

“Classy title.”

“It actually fits. You’d have to listen to it to understand. You want me to turn it off and put on some music?”

“Please. I don’t think I can handle Shit Town right now.”


“Is there anything else?”

Caroline had become a huge fan of modern country music. It had come out of the blue a few years earlier. She’d spent her entire life listening to pop—the same music the majority of her dance students listened to—but one day she heard a cross-over country song that she loved, and she’d been listening to country ever since. Her favorite artist was Carrie Underwood, who Caroline said had perfected her own genre called “vigilante country.” I’d listened to some of Ms. Underwood’s music and had to agree with Caroline’s classification of the genre. Carrie Underwood had probably killed off more men in her songs than any other artist I’d ever heard. I wondered why Caroline loved the lyrics so much, though. I’d asked her whether I should start watching my back.

As we approached one of the exits not far from the University of Tennessee, Caroline said, “You know what? I could use a beer.”

Caroline rarely drank, so the statement was a surprise.

“Are you asking me to stop and get you a beer?”

“No. I’m asking you to stop and get me a six-pack. Get those little ones. What are they, seven ounces?”

“Yeah, seven ounces. What brought on this sudden thirst for beer?”

“I don’t know. Maybe it’s the trial drug. But I want to drink a few beers.”

“Do you think it’ll be good for you?” I said.

“C’mon, Joe. I have cancer in my bones, my liver and my brain. I’ve had it for years. I’ve taken every drug known to man. Do you seriously think a couple of beers is going to matter?”

I couldn’t argue with that, so I pulled off I-40, went into a convenience store, and bought a six-pack of seven-ounce Bud Light bottles. I opened one, handed it to her, and headed back onto the interstate. She was digging in the bag for a second beer by the time I merged onto the highway.

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