Page 37 of The Street Lawyer

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"Are you really going to sue them?"

"No. There are no grounds for a suit. I just wanted to get rid of them."

"It worked. Can they come back?"

"No."

"That's good to hear."

I folded the search warrant and stuck it in a pocket. It covered only one item--the RiverOaks/TAG file, which at the moment was well hidden in the walls of my new apartment along with a copy of it.

"Did you tell them where I live?" I asked.

"I don't know where you live," she answered. Then there was a space of time during which it would have been appropriate for her to ask where, in fact, I did live. She did not.

"I'm very sorry this happened, Claire."

"It's okay. Just promise it won't happen again."

"I promise."

I left without a hug, a kiss, a touching of any kind. I simply said good night and walked through the door. That was precisely what she wanted.

Chapter Twenty

Tuesday was an intake day at the Community for Creative Non-Violence, or CCNV, by far the largest shelter in the District. Once again Mordecai handled the driving. His plan was to accompany me for the first week, then turn me loose on the city.

My threats and warnings to Barry Nuzzo had fallen on deaf ears. Drake & Sweeney would play hardball, and I wasn't surprised. The predawn raid of my former apartment was a rude warning of what was to come. I had to tell Mordecai the truth about what I'd done.

As soon as we were in the car and moving, I said, "My wife and I have separated. I've moved out."

The poor guy was not prepared for such dour news at eight in the morning. "I'm sorry," he said, looking at me and almost hitting a jaywalker.

"Don't be. Early this morning, the cops raided the apartment where I used to live, looking for me, and, specifically, a file I took when I left the firm."

"What kind of file?"

"The DeVon Hardy and Lontae Burton file."

"I'm listening."

"As we now know, DeVon Hardy took hostages and got himself killed because Drake & Sweeney evicted him from his home. Evicted with him were sixteen others, and some children. Lontae and her little family were in the group."

He mulled this over, then said, "This is a very small city."

"The abandoned warehouse happened to be on land RiverOaks planned to use for a postal facility. It's a twenty-million-dollar project."

"I know the building. It's always been used by squatters."

"Except they weren't squatters, at least I don't think so."

"Are you guessing? Or do you know for sure?"

"For now, I'm guessing. The file has been tampered with; papers taken, papers added. A paralegal named Hector Palma handled the dirty work, the site visits, and the actual eviction, and he's become my deep throat. He sent an anonymous note informing me that the evictions were wrongful. He provided me with a set of keys to get the file. As of yesterday, he no longer works at the office here in the District."

"Where is he?"

"I'd love to know."

"He gave you keys?"

"He didn't hand them to me. He left them on my desk, with instructions."

"And you used them?"

"Yes."

"To steal a file?"

"I didn't plan to steal it. I was on my way to the clinic to copy it when some fool ran a red light and sent me to the hospital."

"That's the file we retrieved from your car?"

"That's it. I was going to copy it, take it back to its little spot at Drake & Sweeney, and no one would have ever known."

"I question the wisdom of that." He wanted to call me a dumb-ass, but our relationship was still new.

"What's missing from it?" he asked.

I summarized the history of RiverOaks and its race to build the mail facility. "The pressure was on to grab the land fast. Palma went to the warehouse the first time, and got mugged. Memo to the file. He went again, the second time with a guard, and that memo is missing. It was properly logged into the file, then removed, probably by Braden Chance."

"So what's in the memo?"

"Don't know. But I have a hunch that Hector inspected the warehouse, found the squatters in their makeshift apartments, talked to them, and learned that they were in fact paying rent to Tillman Gantry. They were not squatters, but tenants, entitled to all the protections under landlord-tenant law. By then, the wrecking ball was on its way, the closing had to take place, Gantry was about to make a killing on the deal, so the memo was ignored and the eviction took place."

"There were seventeen people."

"Yes, and some children."

"Do you know the names of the others?"

"Yes. Someone, Palma I suspect, gave me a list. Placed it on my desk. If we can find those people, then we have witnesses."

"Maybe. It's more likely, though, that Gantry has put the fear of hell in them. He's a big man with a big gun, fancies himself as a godfather type. When he tells people to shut up, they do so or you find them in a river."

"But you're not afraid of him, are you, Mordecai? Let's go find him, push him around some; he'll break down and tell all."

"Spent a lot of time on the streets, have you? I've hired a dumb-ass."

"He'll run when he sees us."

The humor wasn't working at that hour. Neither was his heater, though the fan was blowing at full speed. The car was freezing.

"How much did Gantry get for the building?" he asked.

"Two hundred thousand. He'd bought it six months earlier; there's no record in the file indicating how much he paid for it."

"Who'd he buy it from?"

"The city. It was abandoned."

"He probably paid five thousand for it. Ten at the most."

"Not a bad return."

"Not bad. It's a step up for Gantry. He's been a nickel and dimer--duplexes and car washes and quickshop groceries, small ventures."

"Why would he buy the warehouse and rent space for cheap apartments?"

"Cash. Let's say he pays five thousand for it, then spends another thousand throwing up a few walls and installing a couple of toilets. He gets the lights turned on, and he's in business. Word gets out; renters show up; he charges them a hundred bucks a month, payable only in cash. His clients are not concerned with paperwork anyway. He keeps the place looking like a dump, so if the city comes in he says they're just a bunch of squatters. He promises to kick them out, but he has no plans to. It happens all the time around here. Unregulated housing."

I almost asked why the city didn't intervene and enforce its laws, but fortunately I caught myself. The answer was in the potholes too numerous to count or avoid; and the fleet of police cars, a third of which were too dangerous to drive; and the schools with roofs caving in; and the hospitals with patients stuffed in closets; and the five hundred homeless mothers and children unable to find a shelter. The city simply didn't work. , And a renegade landlord, one actually getting people off the streets, did not seem like a priority.

"How do you find Hector Palma?" he asked.

"I'm assuming the firm would be smart enough not to fire him. They have seven other offices, so I figure they've got him tucked away somewhere. I'll find him."

We were downtown. He pointed, and said, "See those trailers stacked on top of each other. That's Mount Vernon Square."

It was half a city block, fenced high to hinder a view from the outside. The trailers were different shapes and lengths, some dilapidated, all grungy.

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