Page 53 of The Street Lawyer

"Twenty-four hours is a big step," she said. "But there is still a mountain to climb."

I left as soon as I could. She invited me to return for lunch. We could eat in her office, just the two of us, and discuss important matters. Her eyes were dancing and daring me to say yes.

So I did.

* * *

Drake & Sweeney lawyer always flew first-class; they felt as if they deserved it. They stayed in four-star hotels, ate in swanky restaurants, but drew the line at limousines, which were deemed too extravagant. So they rented Lincolns. All travel expenses were billed to the clients, and since the clients were getting the best legal talent in the world, the clients shouldn't complain about the perks.

My seat on the flight to Chicago was in coach, booked at the last minute and therefore in the dreaded middle. The window seat was occupied by a hefty gentleman whose knees were the size of basketballs, and on the aisle was a smelly youngster of eighteen or so with jet-black hair, cut into a perfect Mohawk, and adorned in an amazing collection of black leather and pointed chrome. I squeezed myself together, closed my eyes for two hours, and tried not to think about the pompous asses sitting up there in first-class, where I once rode.

The trip was in direct violation of my bail agreement--I was not to leave the District without permission of the Judge. But Mordecai and I agreed that it was a minor violation, one that would be of no consequence as long as I returned to D.C.

From O'Hare, I took a cab to an inexpensive hotel downtown.

Sofia had been unable to find a new residential address for the Palmas. If I couldn't find Hector at the Drake & Sweeney office, then we were out of luck.

* * *

The Chicago branch of Drake & Sweeney had one hundred and six lawyers, third highest after Washington and New York. The real estate section was disproportionately large, with eighteen lawyers, more than the Washington office. I assumed that was the reason Hector had been sent to Chicago--there was a place for him. There was plenty of work to do. I vaguely recalled some story of Drake & Sweeney absorbing a prosperous Chicago real estate firm early in my career.

I arrived at the Associated Life Building shortly after seven Monday morning. The day was gray and gloomy, with a vicious wind whipping across Lake Michigan. It was my third visit to Chicago, and the other two times it had been just as raw. I bought coffee to drink and a newspaper to hide behind, and I found a vantage point at a table in a corner of the ground floor's vast atrium. The escalators crisscrossed to the second and third levels where a dozen elevators stood waiting.

By seven-thirty the ground floor was crawling with busy people. At eight, after three cups of coffee, I was wired and expecting the man at any moment. The escalators were packed with hundreds of executives, lawyers, secretaries, all bundled in heavy coats and looking remarkably similar.

At eight-twenty, Hector Palma entered the atrium from the south side of the building, stepping hurriedly inside with a swarm of other commuters. He raked his fingers through his wind-tossed hair and went straight for the escalators. As casually as possible, I walked to another escalator, and eased my way up the steps. I caught a glimpse of him as he turned a corner to wait for an elevator.

It was definitely Hector, and I decided not to press my luck. My assumptions were correct; he had been transferred out of Washington, in the middle of the night, and sent to the Chicago office where he could be monitored, and bribed with more money, and, if necessary, threatened.

I knew where he was, and I knew he wouldn't be leaving for the next eight to ten hours. From the second level of the atrium, with a splendid view of the lake, I phoned Megan. Ruby had survived the night; we were now at forty-eight hours and counting. I called Mordecai to report my finding.

According to last year's Drake & Sweeney handbook, there were three partners in the real estate section of the Chicago office. The building directory in the atrium listed all three on floor number fifty-one. I picked one of them at random: Dick Heile.

I rode the nine o'clock surge upward to the fifty-first floor, and stepped off the elevator into a familiar setting--marble, brass, walnut, recessed lighting, fine rugs.

As I walked casually toward the receptionist, I glanced around in search of rest rooms. I did not see any.

She was answering the phone with a headset. I frowned and tried to look as pained as possible. "Yes sir," she said with a bright smile between calls. I gritted my teeth, sucked in air, said, "Yes, I have a nine o'clock appointment with Dick Heile, but I'm afraid I'm about to be sick. It must're been something I ate. Can I use your rest room?" I clutched my stomach, folded my knees, and I must have convinced her that I was about to vomit on her desk.

The smile vanished as she jumped to her feet and began pointing. "Down there, around the corner, to your right."

I was already moving, bent at the waist as if I might blow up at any second. "Thanks," I managed to say.

"Can I get you something?" she asked.

I shook my head, too stricken to say anything else. Around the corner, I ducked into the men's rest room, where I locked myself in a stall, and waited.

At the rate her phone was ringing, she would be too busy to worry about me. I was dressed like a big-firm lawyer, so I did not appear to be suspicious. After ten minutes, I walked out of the men's room, and started down the hall away from the receptionist. At the first empty desk, I grabbed some papers that were stapled together and scribbled as I walked, as if I had important business. My eyes darted in every direction--the names on doors, names on desks, secretaries too busy to look up, lawyers with gray hair in shirtsleeves, young lawyers on the phone with their doors cracked, typists pecking away with dictation.

It was so familiar!

Hector had his own office, a small room with no name anywhere in sight. I saw him through his halfopen door, and I immediately burst in and slammed it behind me.

He jerked back in his chair with both palms up, as if he were facing a gun. "What the hell!" he said.

"Hello, Hector."

No gun, no assault, just a bad memory. His palms fell to his desk, and he actually smiled. "What the hell?" he said again.

"So how's Chicago?" I asked, resting my butt on the edge of his desk.

"What are you doing here?" he asked, in disbelief.

"I could ask you the same question."

"I'm working," he said, scratching his head. Five hundred feet above the street, tucked away in his nondescript little room with no windows, insulated by layers of more important people, Hector had been found by the only person he was running from. "How'd you find me?" he asked.

"It was very easy, Ilector. I'm a street lawyer now, savvy and smart. You run again, I'll find you again."

"I'm not running anymore," he said, looking away. It was not entirely for my benefit.

"We're filing suit tomorrow," I said. "The defendants will be RiverOaks, TAG, and Drake & Sweeney. There's no place for you to hide."

"Who are the plaintiffs?"

"Lontae Burton and family. Later, we'll add the other evictees, when we find all of them."

He closed his eyes and pinched the bridge of his nose.

"You remember Lontae, don't you, Hector? She was the young mother who fought with the cops when you were evicting everyone. You saw it all, and you felt guilty because you knew the truth, you knew she was paying rent to Gantry. You put it all in your memo, the one dated January twenty-seventh, and you made sure the memo was properly indexed into the file. You did this because you knew Braden Chance would remove it at some point. And he did. And that's why I'm here, Hector. I want a copy of the memo. I have the rest of the file, and it's about to be exposed. Now I want the memo."