Page 56 of The Street Lawyer

The negligence and/or intentional acts of the defendants caused the deaths, which were foreseeable. Bad things happened to those living on the streets, espe cially single mothers with little children. Toss them out of their homes wrongfully and you pay the price if they get hurt.

We had briefly considered a separate lawsuit for Mister's death. He too had been illegally evicted, but his death could not be considered foreseeable. Taking hostages and getting shot in the process were not a reasonable chain of events for one civilly wronged. Also, he had little jury appeal. We put Mister to rest, permanently.

Drake & Sweeney would immediately ask the Judge to require me to hand over the file. The Judge might very well make me do it, and that would be an admission of guilt. It could also cost me my license to practice law. Further, any evidence derived from anything in the stolen file could be excluded.

Mordecai and I reviewed the final draft Tuesday, and he again asked me if I wanted to proceed. To protect me, he was willing to drop the lawsuit entirely. We had talked about that several times. We even had a strategy whereby we would drop the Burton suit, negotiate a truce with Drake & Sweeney to clear my name, wait a year for tempers to cool, then sneak the case to a buddy of his on the other side of town. It was a bad strategy, one we ditched almost as soon as we thought of it.

He signed the pleadings, and we left for the courthouse. He drove, and I read the lawsuit again, the pages growing heavier the farther we went.

Negotiation would be the key. The exposure would humiliate Drake & Sweeney, a firm with immense pride and ego, and built on credibility, client service, trustworthiness. I knew the mind-set, the personality, the cult of great lawyers who did no wrong. I knew the paranoia of being perceived as bad, in any way. There was guilt for making so much money, and a corresponding desire to appear compassionate for the less fortunate.

Drake & Sweeney was wrong, though I suspected the firm had no idea how very wrong it was. I imagined Braden Chance was cowering behind his locked door praying fervently that the hour would pass.

But I was wrong too. Perhaps we could meet in the middle somewhere, and cut a deal. If not, then Mordecai Green would have the pleasure of presenting the Burton case to a friendly jury one day soon, and asking them for big bucks. And the firm would have the pleasure of pushing my grand larceny case to the limit; to a point I didn't care to think about.

The Burton case would never go to trial. I could still think like a Drake & Sweeney lawyer. The idea of facing a D.C. jury would terrify them. The initial embarrassment would have them scrambling for ways to cut their losses.

Tim Claussen, a college pal of Abraham's, was a reporter for the Post. He was waiting outside the clerk's office, and we gave him a copy of the lawsuit. He read it while Mordecai filed the original, then asked us questions, which we were more than happy to answer, but off the record.

The Burton tragedy was fast becoming a political and social hot potato in the District. Blame was being passed around with dizzying speed. Every depaiuiient head in the city blamed another one. The city council blamed the mayor, who blamed the council while also blaming Congress. Some right-wingers in the House had weighed in long enough to blame the mayor, the council, and the entire city.

The idea of pinning the whole thing on a bunch of rich white lawyers made for an astonishing story. Claussen--callous, caustic, jaded by years in journalism--couldn't suppress his enthusiasm.

* * *

The ambush of Drake & Sweeney by the press did not bother me in the least. The firm had established the rules the prior week when it tipped a reporter that I had been arrested. I could see Rafter and his little band of litigators happily agreeing around the conference table that, yes! it made perfect sense to alert the media about my arrest; and not only that but to slip them a nice photo of the criminal. It would embarrass me, humiliate me, make me sorry, force me to cough up the file and do whatever they wanted.

I knew the mentality, knew how the game was played.

! had no problem helping the reporter.

Chapter Thirty

Intake at CCNV, alone, and two hours late. The clients were sitting patiently on the dirty floor of the lobby, some nodding off, some reading newspapers. Ernie with the keys was not pleased with my tardiness; he had a schedule of his own. He opened the intake room and handed me a clipboard with the names of thirteen prospective clients. I called the first one.

I was amazed at how far I'd come in a week. I had walked into the building a few minutes earlier without the fear of being shot. I had waited for Ernie in the lobby without thinking of being white. I listened to my clients patiently, but efficiently, because I knew what to do. I even looked the part; my beard was more than a week old; my hair was slightly over the ears and showing the first signs of unkemptness; my khakis were wrinkled; my navy blazer was rumpled; my tie was loosened just so. The Nikes were still stylish but well worn. A pair of horn-rimmed glasses, and I would have been the perfect public interest lawyer.

Not that the clients cared. They wanted someone to listen to them, and that was my job. The list grew to seventeen, and I spent four hours counseling. I forgot about the coming battle with Drake & Sweeney. I forgot about Claire, though, sadly, I was finding that easier to do. I even forgot about Hector Palma and my trip to Chicago.

But I couldn't forget about Ruby Simon. I somehow managed to connect each new client to her. I wasn't worried about her safety; she had survived on the streets far longer than I could have. But why would she leave a clean motel room with a television and a shower, and strike out through the city to find her abandoned car?

She was an addict, and that was the plain and unavoidable answer. Crack was a magnet, pulling her back to the streets.

If I couldn't keep her locked away in suburban motels for three nights, then how was I supposed to help her get clean?

The decision was not mine to make.

* * *

The routine of the late afternoon was shattered by a phone call from my older brother Warner. He was in town, on business, unexpectedly, would've called sooner but couldn't find my new number, and where could we meet for dinner? He was paying, he said before I could answer, and he'd heard about a great new place called Danny O's where a friend had eaten just a week earlier--fantastic food! I hadn't thought about an expensive meal in a long time.

Danny O's was fine with me. It was trendy, loud, overpriced, sadly typical.

I stared at the phone long after our conversation was over. I did not want to see Warner, because I did not want to listen to Warner. He was not in town on business, though that happened about once a year. I was pretty sure my parents had sent him. They were grieving down in Memphis, heartbroken over another divorce, saddened by my sudden fall from the ladder. Someone had to check on me. It was always Warner.

We met in the crowded bar at Danny O's. Before we could shake hands or embrace, he took a step backward to inspect the new image. Beard, hair, khakis, everything.

"A real radical," he said, with an equal mixture of humor and sarcasm.

"It's good to see you," I said, trying to ignore his theatrics.

"You look thin," he said.

"You don't."

He patted his stomach as if a few extra pounds had sneaked on board during the day. "I'll lose it." He was thirty-eight, nice-looking, still very vain about his appearance. The mere fact that I had commented on the extra weight would drive him to lose it within a month.

Warner had been single for three years. Women were very important to him. There had been allegations of adultery during his divorce, but from both sides.