Page 20 of The Street Lawyer

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The morning was packed with meetings and conferences, two of them with Rudolph and clients. I performed adequately, though I couldn't remember anything we said or did. Rudolph was so proud to have his star back at full throttle.

I was almost rude to those who wanted to chat about the hostage crisis and its aftershocks. I appeared to be the same, and I was my usual hard-charging self, so the concerns about my stability vanished. Late in the morning, my father called. I could not remember the last time he'd called me at the office. He said it was raining in Memphis; he was sitting around the house, bored, and, well, he and my mother were worried about me. Claire was fine, I explained; then to find safe ground, I told him about her brother James, a person he had met once, at the wedding. I sounded properly concerned about Claire's family, and that pleased him.

Dad was just happy to reach me at the office. I was still there, making the big money, going after more. He asked me to keep in touch.

Half an hour later, my brother Warner called from his office, high above downtown Atlanta. He was six years older, a partner in another megafirm, a no-holds-barred litigator. Because of the age difference, Warner and I had never been close as kids, but we enjoyed each other's company. During his divorce three years earlier, he had confided in me weekly.

He was on the clock, same as I, so I knew the conversation would be brief. "Talked to Dad," he said. "He told me everything."

"I'm sure he did."

"I understand how you feel. We all go through it. You work hard, make the big money, never stop to help the little people. Then something happens, and you think back to law school, back to the first year, when we were full of ideals and wanted to use our law degrees to save humanity. Remember that?"

"Yes. A long time ago."

"Right. During my first year of law school, they took a survey. Over half my class wanted to do public interest law. When we graduated three years later, everybody went for the money. I don't know what happened."

"Law school makes you greedy."

"I suppose. Our firm has a program where you can take a year off, sort of a sabbatical, and do public interest law. After twelve months, you return as if you never left. You guys do anything like that?"

Vintage Warner. I had a problem, he already had the solution. Nice and neat. Twelve months, I'm a new man. A quick detour, but my future is secure.

"Not for associates," I said. 'Tve heard of a partner or two leaving to work for this administration or that one, then returning after a couple of years. But never an associate."

"But your circumstances are different. You've been traumatized, damned near killed simply because you were a member of the firm. I'd throw my weight around some, tell 'em you need time off. Take a year, then get your ass back to the office."

"It might work," I said, trying to placate him. He was a type A personality, pushy as hell, always one word away from an argument, especially with the family. "I gotta run," ! said. So did he. We promised to talk more later.

Lunch was with Rudolph and a client at a splendid restaurant. It was called a working lunch, which meant we abstained from alcohol, which also meant we would bill the client for the time. Rudolph went for four hundred an hour, me for three hundred. We worked and ate for two hours, so the lunch cost the client fourteen hundred dollars. Our firm had an account with the restaurant, so it would be billed to Drake & Sweeney, and somewhere along the way our bean counters in the basement would find a way to bill the client for the cost of the food as well.

The afternoon was nonstop calls and conferences. Through sheer willpower, I kept my game face and got through it, billing heavily as I went. Antitrust law had never seemed so hopelessly dense and boring.

It was almost five before I found a few minutes alone. I said good-bye to Polly, and locked the door again. I opened the mysterious file and began making random notes on a legal pad, scribblings and flowcharts with arrows striking RiverOaks and Drake & Sweeney from all directions. Braden Chance, the real estate partner I'd confronted about the file, took most of the shots for the firm.

My principal suspect was his paralegal, the young man who had heard our sharp words, and who, seconds later, had referred to Chance as an "ass" when I was leaving their suite. He would know the details of the eviction, and he would have access to the file.

With a pocket phone to avoid any D&S records, I called a paralegal in antitrust. His office was around the corner from mine. He referred me to another, and with little effort I learned that the guy I wanted was Hector Palma. He'd been with the firm about three years, all in real estate. I planned to track him down, but outside the office.

Mordecai called. He inquired about my dinner plans for the evening. "I'll treat," he said.

"Soup?"

He laughed. "Of course not. I know an excellent place."

We agreed to meet at seven. Claire was back in her surgeon's mode, oblivious to time, meals, or husband. She had checked in mid-afternoon, just a quick word on the run. Had no idea when she might be home, but very late. For dinner, every man for himself. I didn't hold it against her. She had learned the fast-track lifestyle from me.

* * *

We met at a restaurant near Dupont Circle. The bar at the front was packed with well-paid government types having a drink before fleeing the city. We had a drink in the back, in a tight booth.

"The Burton story is big and getting bigger," he said, sipping a draft beer.

"I'm sorry, I've been in a cave for the past twelve hours. What's happened?"

"Lots of press. Four dead kids and their momma, living in a car. They find them a mile from Capitol Hill, where they're in the process of reforming welfare to send more mothers into the streets. It's beautiful."

"So the funeral should be quite a show."

"No doubt. I've talked to a dozen homeless activists today. They'll be there, and they're planning to bring their people with them. The place will be packed with street people. Again, lots of press. Four little coffins next to their mother's, cameras catching it all for the six o'clock news. We're having a rally before and a march afterward."

"Maybe something good will come from their deaths."

"Maybe."

As a seasoned big-city lawyer, I knew there was a purpose behind every lunch and dinner invitation. Mordecai had something on his mind. I could tell by the way his eyes followed nfine.

"Any idea why they were homeless?" I asked, fishing.

"No. Probably the usual. I haven't had time to ask questions."

Driving over, I had decided that I could not tell him about the mysterious file and its contents. It was confidential, known to me only because of my position at Drake & Sweeney. To reveal what I had learned about the activities of a client would be an egregious breach of professional responsibility. The thought of divulging it scared me. Plus, I had not verified anything.

The waiter brought salads, and we began eating. "We had a firm meeting this afternoon," Mordecai said between bites. "Me, Abraham, Sofia. We need some help."

I was not surprised to hear that. "What kind of help?"

"Another lawyer."

"I thought you were broke."

"We keep a little reserve. And we've adopted a new marketing strategy."

The idea of the 14th Street Legal Clinic worried about a marketing strategy was humorous, and that was what he intended. We both smiled.

"If we could get the new lawyer to spend ten hours a week raising money, then he could afford himself."

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