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Throughout the ordeal, Fischbach had spoken to Chantal McCorkle twice a day. The two had been close -- they call each other "sis" -- ever since McCorkle had enrolled in Fischbach's Jazzercise class when she first moved to the United States. Fischbach and McCorkle had planned many trips together, and now it looked as if they would never take them. Fischbach didn't believe her friend had done anything wrong.
"When I went on the trip, I felt that I was letting her down. I felt terrible. My heart was with Chantal," Fischbach says.
So she cried when she saw the rural villagers in Nepal dressed in beautiful saris. When a little boy took the women on a tour and showed them his baby sister, she cried -- because Chantal desperately wants to someday have children. When she saw mangy, scruffy dogs, she cried because Chantal loves animals and would rescue stray kittens or bleeding dogs that had been hit by cars.
"We always talked about the cats and the dogs first. And fitness -- we loved to work out. We would go spinning together and we'd have a protein shake at the juice bar, then we'd go to work for our husbands," Fischbach says. "She worked for William, and I worked for my husband at the ranch. And we had a little shopping problem. Once in a while we'd go to Saks and have a girl day ... I'm talking shoes. And when we walked in, we had the attention of every salesperson in the place. They knew Chantal could buy anything and they knew I had a bad thing with shoes."
When Chantal went to prison, Fischbach was shocked and felt guilty for not encouraging her to settle with prosecutors. Chantal's husband and their famous attorney, F. Lee Bailey, had promised her she wouldn't have to spend a night in jail.
For months before their trek to Nepal, Sally Uhlmann had been ignoring Fischbach's pleading e-mails about Chantal's case. She did not own a television, Uhlmann told Fischbach, and had no sympathy for someone who had been charged with infomercial fraud and had probably bilked poor, ignorant people in order to lead a glamorous lifestyle.
She told Fischbach her life was too hectic anyway -- with being on the board of the Kansas City Zoo and involved with the Science City project, doing yoga, gardening, writing for Kansas City Magazine and Home Design, taking care of sons who were 8 and 12, and entertaining -- to spend a minute worrying about such a person.
But in Nepal, Uhlmann gave in.
"Finally, I said, 'Okay, Deb, tell me about Chantal,'" Uhlmann says with a sigh.
Fischbach tried to paint a picture for Uhlmann. Not of a conniving infomercial queen swindling the elderly and the infirm with shady deals and deceit but a beautiful, magnetic woman who got no help from her husband and a raw deal from cunning federal prosecutors who wanted to seize the McCorkles' millions.