"Apart from that, the only thing I can promise is an interesting year."
Even excavation, Margot Bracken was actively involved with Forum East. First she was legal counsel for a citizens group which campaigned to get the project going and later she filled the same role in a Tenants Association. She also gave legal aid to families in the development who needed it at little cost to them, or none. Margot went to Forum East often and, in doing so, she came to know many of those living there, including Juanita Nunez.
Three days after the Rosselli funeral on a Saturday morning Margot encountered Juanita in a delicatessen, part of a Forum East shopping mall.
The Forum East complex had been planned as a homogeneous community with low-cost living accommodation attractive apartments, townhouses and remodeled older buildings. There were sports facilities, a movie theater, an auditorium, as well as stores and cafes. The buildings completed so far were linked by tree-lined malls and over-head walkways many of the ideas adapted from San Francisco's Golden Gateway and London's Barbican. Other portions of the project were under construction, with still further additions at the planning stage, awaiting financing.
"Hello, Mrs. Nunez," Margot said. "Will you join me for coffee?"
On a terrace adjoining the delicatessen they sipped espresso and chatted about Juanita, her daughter Estela who this morning was at a community-sponsored ballet class, and progress at Forum East. Juanita and her husband Carlos had been among the early tenants in the development, occupying a tiny walk-up apartment in one of the rehabilitated older buildings, though it was shortly after moving in that Carlos had departed for parts unknown. So far Juanita had kept the same accommodations.
But managing was very difficult, she confided. "Everyone here has the same problem. Each month our money will buy less. This inflation, Where will it end?"
According to Lewis D'Orsey, Margot reflected, it would end in disaster and anarchy. She kept the thought to herself, but was reminded of the conversation three days ago between Lewis, Edwina, and Alex.
- "I heard," she said, "that you had some kind of problem at the bank where you work."
Juanita's face clouded. For a moment she seemed close to tears and Margot said hastily, "I'm sorry. Perhaps I shouldn't have asked."
"No, not It was Just that remembering suddenly… Anyway, it is over now. But I will tell you if you wish."
"One thing you should know about us lawyers," Margot said, "is that we're always nosy."
Juanita smiled, then was-serious as she described the six-thousand-dollar cash loss and the forty-eight-hour nightmare of suspicion and interrogation. As Margot listened, her anger, never far below the surface, rose.
"The bank had no right to keep on pressuring you without your having legal advice. Why didn't you call me?" 'I never thought of it," Juanita said.
'That's the whole trouble. Most innocent people don't." Margot considered, then added, "Edwina D'Orsey is my cousin. I'm going to talk to her about this."
Juanita looked startled. "I didn't know. But please don't after all, it was Mrs. D'Orsey who found the truth."
"All right," Margot conceded, "if you don't want me to, I won't. But I'll talk to someone else you don't know. And remember this: If you're in trouble again, about anything, call me. I'll be there to help."
'Thank you," Juanita said. "If it happens, I will. I really will."
"If the bank had actually fired Juanita Lopez," Margot told Alex Vandervoort that night, "I’d have advised her to sue you, and we'd have collected heavily."
"You might well have," Alex agreed. They were on their way to a supper dance and he was driving Margot's Volkswagen. "Especially when the truth about our thieving operations man, Eastin, came out as it was bound to eventually. Fortunately, Edwina's womanly instincts functioned, saving us from yours." "You're being flip."
His tone changed "You're right, and I shouldn't be. The fact is, we behaved shabbily to the Nunez girl, and everybody concerned knows it. I do, because I've read everything to do with the case. So does Edwina. So does Nolan Wainwright. But fortunately, in the end nothing really bad happened. Mrs. Nunez still has her job, and our bank has learned something which will help us do better in the future." "That's more like it." Margot said.
They left it there, which, given their mutual love of argument, was an accomplishment.
During the week preceding Christmas, Miles Eastin appeared in Federal Court charged with embezzlement on five separate counts. Four of the charges involved fraudulent transactions at the bank from which he had benefited; these totaled thirteen thousand dollars. The fifth charge related to the six-thousand-dollar cash theft.
Trial was before the Honorable Judge Winslow Underwood, sitting with a jury.
On advice of counsel, a well-meaning but inexperienced young man appointed by the court after Eastin's personal resources had proven to be nil, a not guilty plea was entered on all counts. As it turned out, the advice was bad. A more seasoned lawyer, assessing the evidence, would have urged a guilty plea and perhaps a deal with the prosecutor, rather than have certain details principally Eastin's attempt to incriminate Juanita Nunez revealed in court. As it was, everything came out.
Edwina D'Orsey testified, as did Tottenhoe, Gayne of central audit staff, and another audit colleague. FBI Special Agent Innes introduced as evidence Miles Eastin's signed admission of guilt concerning the cash theft, made at FBI local headquarters subsequent to the confession which Nolan Wainwright extracted from Eastin at the latter's apartment.
Two weeks before the trial, at discovery proceedings, defendant's counsel had objected to the FBI document and made a pre-trial motion to have it barred from evidence. The motion was denied. Judge Underwood pointed out that before Eastin made his statement he had been properly cautioned about his legal rights in the presence of witnesses.
The earlier confession obtained by Nolan Wainwright, the legality of which might have been challenged more effectively, was not needed and therefore was not introduced.
The sight of Miles Eastin in court depressed Edwina. He appeared pale and haggard with dark rings beneath his eyes. All of his accustomed buoyancy had gone and, in contrast to the immaculate grooming she remembered, his hair was untidy and his suit rumpled. He seemed to have aged since the night of the branch audit.
Edwina's own evidence was brief and circumstantial and she gave it straightforwardly. While being mildly cross-examined by counsel for the defense, she glanced several times toward Miles Eastin, but his head was down and he declined to meet her eyes. Also a witness for the prosecution albeit a reluctant one was Juanita Nunez. She was nervous and the court had difficulty hearing her. On two occasions the judge intervened, asking Juanita to raise her voice, though his approach was coaxing and gentle,: since by then her injured innocence in the whole affair had been made clear.
Juanita demonstrated no antagonism toward Eastin in her evidence, and kept her answers brief, so that the prosecutor pressed her constantly to amplify them. Plainly all she wanted was to have the ordeal over.
Defense counsel, making a belated wise decision, waived his right to question her.
It was immediately following Juanita's testimony that defense counsel, after a whispered consultation with his client, asked leave to approach the bench Permission was granted. The prosecutor, judge, and defense counsel thereupon engaged in a low-toned colloquy during which the latter requested leave to change Miles Eastin's original "not guilty" plea to "guilty."
Judge Underwood, a quiet-spoken patriarch, with steel not far below the surface, surveyed both lawyers. He matched their lowered voices so the jury could not hear. "Very well, the change of plea will be permitted if the defendant so wishes. But I advise counsel that at this point it makes little, if any, difference."
Sending the jury from the courtroom, the judge then questioned Eastin, confirming that he wished to change his plea and realized the consequences. To all the questions the prisoner answered dully, "Yes, your honor?'
The judge recalled the jury to the courtroom and dismissed it.
After an earnest entreaty by the young defense lawyer for clemency, including a reminder that his client had no previous criminal record, Miles Eastin was remanded into custody for sentencing the following week.
Nolan Wainwright, though not required to testify, had been present throughout the court proceedings. Now, as the- court clerk called another case and the contingent of bank witnesses filed out from the courtroom, the bank security chief moved alongside Juanita. .,. "Mrs. Nunez, may I talk with you for a few minutes?" She glanced at him with a mixture of indifference and hostility, then shook her head. "It is all finished. Besides, I am going back to work." -