Page 59 of The Street Lawyer

But I felt no sympathy for Braden Chance and Arthur Jacobs and Donald Rafter. They had chosen to go for my jugular. Let them sweat.

* * *

Megan took a break from the rigors of keeping order in a house filled with eighty homeless women, and we went for a short drive through Northwest. She had no idea where Ruby lived, and we didn't really expect to find her. It was, however, a good reason to spend a few minutes together.

"This is not unusual," she said, trying to reassure me. "As a rule, homeless people are unpredictable, especially the addicts."

"You've seen it before?"

"I've seen everything. You learn to stay level. When a client kicks the habit, finds a job, gets an apartment, you say a little prayer of thanks. But you don't get excited, because another Ruby will come along and break your heart. There are more valleys than mountains."

"How do you keep from being depressed?"

"You draw strength from the clients. They are remarkable people. Most were born without a prayer or a chance, yet they survive. They trip and fall, but they get up and keep trying."

Three blocks from the clinic, we passed a mechanic's garage with a collection of wrecked vehicles behind it. A large, toothy dog with a chain around its neck guarded the front. I had not planned on poking around rusty old cars, and the dog made the decision to keep going an easier one. We figured she lived in an area between the dinic on Fourteenth and Naomi's on Tenth near L, roughly from Logan Circle to Mount 1 Vernon Square.

"But you never know," she said. "I'm constantly amazed at how mobile these people are. They have plenty of time, and some will walk for miles."

We observed the street people. Every beggar came under our scrutiny as we drove slowly by. We walked through parks, looking at the homeless, dropping coins in their cups, hoping we would see someone we knew. No luck.

I left Megan at Naomi's, and promised to call later in the afternoon. Ruby had become a wonderful excuse to keep in touch.

* * *

The congressman was a five-termer from Indiana, a Republican named Burkholder who had an apartment in Virginia but liked to jog in the early evenings around Capitol Hill. His staff informed the media that he showered and changed in one of the seldom-used gyms Congress built for itself in the basement of a House office building.

As a member of the House, Burkholder was one of 435; thus virtually unknown even though he'd been in Washington ten years. He was mildly ambitious, squeaky clean, a health nut, forty-one years old. He served on Agriculture and chaired a subcommittee of Ways and Means.

Burkholder was shot early Wednesday evening near Union Station as he jogged alone. He was wearing a sweat suit--no wallet, no cash, no pockets with which to carry anything valuable. There appeared to be no motive. He encountered a street person in some manner, perhaps a collision or a bump or a harsh word given or received, and two shots were fired. One missed the congressman, the other struck him in the upper left arm, then traveled into his shoulder and stopped very near his neck.

The shooting occurred not long after dark, on a sidewalk next to a street filled with late commuters. It was witnessed by four people, all of whom described the assailant as a male black homeless-looking type, almost a generic description. He vanished into the night, and by the time the first commuter could stop, leave his car, and rush to the aid of Burkholder, the man with the gun was long gone.

The congressman was rushed to the hospital at George Washington, where the bullet was removed during a two-hour surgery, and he was pronounced stable.

It had been many years since a member of Congress had been shot in Washington. Several had been mugged, but with no permanent damage. The muggings typically provided the victims with wonderful pulpits to rail against crime and the lack of values and the general decline of everything; all blame, of course, being laid at the feet of the opposing party.

Burkholder wasn't able to rail when I saw the story at eleven. I'd been napping in my chair, reading and watching boxing. It was a slow news day in the District, slow until Burkholder got shot. The news anchorperson breathlessly announced the event, giving the basics with a nice photo of the congressman in the background, then went Live! to the hospital where a reporter stood shivering in the cold outside the ER entrance, a door Burkholder had passed through four hours earlier. But there was an ambulance in the background, and bright lights, and since she could not produce blood or a corpse for the viewers, she had to make it as sensational as possible.

The surgery went well, she reported. Burkholder was stable and resting. The doctors had released a statement which said basically nothing. Earlier, several of his colleagues had rushed to the hospital, and somehow she had been able to coerce them into appearing before the camera. Three of them stood close together, all looking sufficiently grave and somber, although Burkholder's life had never been in danger. They squinted at the lights and tried to appear as if it was a major invasion of their private lives.

I had never heard of any of them. They offered their concerns about their buddy, and made his condition sound far worse than the doctors. Without prompting, they gave their assessments of the general decline of Washington.

Then there was another live report from the scene of the shooting. Another goofy reporter standing on the Exact Spot! where he fell, and now there was really something to see. There was a patch of red blood, which she pointed to with great drama, right down there. She squatted and almost touched the sidewalk. A cop stepped into the frame and offered his vague summary of what went on.

The report was live, yet in the background there were flashing red and blue lights of police cars. I noticed this; the reporter did not.

A sweep was under way. The D.C. police were out in force cleaning the streets, shoveling the street people into cars and vans and taking them away. Throughout the night, they swept Capitol Hill, arresting anyone caught sleeping on a bench, sitting in a park, begging on a sidewalk, anyone who obviously appeared to be without a home. They charged them with loitering, littering, public drunkenness, panhandling.

Not all were arrested and taken to jail. Two van loads were driven up Rhode Island, in Northeast, and dumped in the parking lot next to a community center with an all-night soup kitchen. Another van carrying eleven people stopped at the Calvary Ntission on T Street, five blocks from our office. The men were given the choice of going to jail or hitting the streets. The van emptied.

Chapter Thirty-Two

I vowed to get a bed. I was losing too much sleep floundering on the floor, trying to prove a point to no one but myself. In the darkness long before dawn, I sat in my sleeping bag and promised myself I'd find something softer to sleep on. I also wondered for the thousandth time how people survived sleeping on sidewalks.

The Pylon Grill was warm and stuffy, a layer of cigarette smoke not far above the tables, the aroma of coffee beans from around the world waiting just inside the door. As usual it was filled with news junkies at 4:30 A.M.

Burkholder was the man of the hour. His face was on the front page of the Post, and there were several stories about the man, the shooting, the police investigation. Nothing about the sweep. Mordecai would give me those details later.

A pleasant surprise was waiting in Metro. Tim Claussen was evidently a man on a mission. Our lawsuit had inspired him.

In a lengthy article, he examined each of the three defendants, beginning with RiverOaks. The company was twenty years old, privately held by a group of investors, one of whom was Clayton Bender, an East Coast real estate swinger rumored to be worth two hundred million. Bender's picture was in the story, along with a photo of the corporate headquarters in Hagerstown, Maryland. The company had built eleven office buildings in the D.C. area in twenty years, along with numerous shopping centers in the suburbs of Baltimore and Washington. The value of its holdings was estimated at three hundred fifty million. There was also a lot of bank debt, the level of which could not be estimated.