Texas Two Step

Sometimes a Lone Star murder trial is more interesting than the national news.

Last week was a creep show news-wise. Every day was worse.

The aftermath of the Columbia explosion, an Orange Alert (but what will I wear?), and, whoops, there goes that pesky North Korean wagging his nuclear warheads again. Osama bin Laden returned (maybe). Meanwhile, on the European front, our fellas were annoying the pants off France and Germany--but never mind, we've got Poland and Bulgaria in our pocket.

And there was the bomb shelter side of things. Tom McNamara--who, like all the news boys on NBC, has been standing up to read the TelePrompTer since 9/11 (are we meant to draw the conclusion that he's a stand-up guy?)--actually teased the second broadcast last Thursday with instant homeland security paranoia: "But will that duct tape really keep you safe? The answer at 6." Gee, thanks, Tom. I have to tune in later to find out whether I should just kill myself and get it over with.

But just when the news had become uniformly absurd and depressing, the great state of Texas came through once more, cheering us all up with a murder case so luscious that it could only have happened in the Lone Star State. I am referring, naturally, to the Harrises, a pair who must have cut quite a swathe through Houston dentistry circles. But that was before Dr. David Harris, a 44-year-old orthodontist, revealed to his wife and business partner, Dr. Clara, that he was far gone into the midlife crisis from hell, after which revelation he developed, with her help, a list of improvements she could make in both body and behavior that might induce him to stick around. But just one short week later, upon seeing her husband emerge from the very hotel where he and she had been married on Valentine's Day 10 years before, Dr. Clara was overcome with sudden passion and tried to run down either him or the 39-year-old receptionist and former beauty queen with whom he had been dallying. She hit him as he stood next to the receptionist's Lincoln Navigator. Oh, and the weapon was Dr. Clara's Mercedes-Benz sedan. She ran over him at least twice, but it was still "an accident."

Other details were equally satisfying. Dr. David's parents both testified on behalf of Dr. Clara; Dr. David's daughter, however, testified against. And a tooth--presumably tartar- and cavity-free--found near the body was entered into evidence.

Obviously, we all have questions.

Reports differed on which woman was the former beauty queen--as long as there was at least one in the picture somewhere, though, the demands of a good Texas murder have been satisfied.

And what, I feel compelled to ask, was a dental receptionist doing with a Lincoln Navigator? I'm glad she had one. The cars in this narrative are as important as the people--only a Hummer would have been better. The vehicular choices of the directors of the inevitable made-for-TV movie and Law and Order episode will be interesting. Will they reproduce the automotive cast exactly--the colors and exact makes were unaccountably missing from the accounts I read--or will they fiddle with the players?

It's not a tip-top case by the high standards set by previous Texas murders, or even by those within Greater Houston. For the crème de la crème, see Thomas Thompson's spellbinding Blood and Money, an account of a pair of truly Gothic homicides. The themes of those crimes were old money, horses, medicine and adultery, which trump two-professional income, cars, orthodontics and, of course, adultery any day. Still, the Harris case had a sheer psychological weirdness that was appealing.

In my house, we split cross-wise along gender lines on the verdict. My husband, who had followed the trial from the beginning, sputtering about "incredible damn conversations" over his granola and berries, felt that the compare-and-contrast discussion between husband and wife in the bar fully justified Dr. Clara's subsequent actions: He declared that had he been on the jury, he would have hung it. (Just for starters, there was the excruciating dangling participle in Dr. David's recorded appreciation of his girlfriend's build: "The perfect fit to sleep with, holding her all night." Really.) I, on the other hand, felt that Dr. Clara's driving over the body two (possibly three) times undermined her claim that she hadn't really meant to hurt anybody. And as a regular viewer of fictional crime TV, I know my way around a verdict.

Now it's back to smallpox and plastic sheeting and the stock market. Oh well. The murder was fun while it lasted.