Page 42 of The Street Lawyer

She rearranged her life around his: new soup kitchens and dinner programs closer to the Rowlands; different shelters for emergencies; different alleys and parks and abandoned cars. She scraped together the money each month, and never missed a nightly visit with her son.

Until she was arrested again. The first arrest was for prostitution; the second was for sleeping on a park bench in Farragut Square. Maybe there was a third one, but she couldn't remember.

She was rushed to D.C. General once when someone found her lying in a street, unconscious. She was placed in a dry-out tank for addicts, but walked out after three days because she missed Terrence.

She was with him one night in his room when he stared at her stomach and asked if she was pregnant again. She said she thought so. Who was the father? he demanded. She had no idea. He cursed her and yelled so much that the Rowlands asked her to leave.

While she was pregnant, Terrence had little to do with her. It was heartbreaking--sleeping in cars, begging for coins, counting the hours until she could see him, then being ignored for an hour while she sat in a corner of his room watching him do his homework.

Ruby began crying at that point in her story. I made t some notes, and listened as Mordecai stomped around the front room, trying to pick a fight with Sofia.

Her third delivery, only a year before, produced another crack baby, one immediately taken by the city. i She didn't see Terrence for four days while she was in the hospital recovering from the birth. When she was released, she returned to the only life she knew.

Terrence was an A student, excellent in math and Spanish, a trombone player and an actor in school dramas. He was dreaming of the Naval Academy. Mr. Rowland had served in the military.

Ruby arrived one night for a visit in bad shape. A fight started in the kitchen when Mrs. Rowland con fronted her. Harsh words were exchanged; ultimatums thrown down. Terrence was in the middle of it; three against one. Either she got help, or she would be banned from the house. Ruby declared that she would simply take her boy and leave. Terrence said he wasn't going anywhere.

The next night, a social worker from the city was waiting for her with paperwork. Someone had already been to court. Terrence was being taken into foster care. The Rowlands would be his new parents. He had already lived with them for three years. Visitation would be terminated until she underwent rehab and was clean for a period of sixty days. Three weeks had passed.

"I want to see my son," she said. "I miss him so bad."

"Are you in rehab?" I asked.

She shook her head quickly and closed her eyes.

"Why not?" I asked.

"Can't get in."

I had no idea how a crack addict off the street got admitted to a recovery unit, but it was time to find out. I pictured Terrence in his warm room, well fed, well dressed, safe, clean, sober, doing his homework under the strict supervision of Mr. and Mrs. Rowland, who had grown to love him almost as much as Ruby did. I could see him eating breakfast at the family table, reciting vocabulary lists over hot cereal as Mr. Rowland ignored the morning paper and grilled him on his Spanish. Terrence was stable and normal, unlike my poor little client, who lived in hell.

And she wanted me to handle their reunion.

"This will take some time, okay," I said, thoroughly clueless about how long anything would take. In a city where five hundred families waited for a small space in an emergency shelter, there couldn't be many beds available for drug addicts.

"You won't see Terrence until you're drug-free," I said, trying not to sound pious.

Her eyes watered and she said nothing.

I realized just how little I knew about addiction. Where did she get her drugs? How much did they cost? How many hits and highs each day? How long would it take to dry her out? Then to cure her? What were her chances of kicking a habit she'd had for over a decade? And what did the city do with all those crack babies? She had no paperwork, no address, no identification, nothing but a heartbreaking story. She seemed perfectly content sitting in my chair, and I began to wonder how I might ask her to leave. The coffee was gone.

Sofia's shrill voice brought back reality. There were sharp voices around her. As I raced for the door, my first thought was that another nut like Mister had walked in with a gun.

But there were other guns. Lieutenant Gasko was back, again with plenty of help. Three uniformed cops were approaching Sofia, who was bitching unmercifully but to no avail. Two in jeans and sweatshirts were waiting for action. As I walked out of my office, Mordecai walked out of his.

"Hello, Mikey," Gasko said to me.

"What the hell is this!" Mordecai growled and the walls shook. One of the uniformed cops actually reached for his service revolver.

Gasko went straight for Mordecai. "It's a search," he said, pulling out the required papers and flinging them at Mordecai. "Are you Mr. Green?"

"I am," he answered, snatching the papers.

"What are you looking for?" I yelled at Gasko.

"Same thing," he yelled back. "Give it to us, and we'll be happy to stop."

"It's not here."

"What file?" Mordecai asked, looking at the search warrant.

"The eviction file," I replied.

"Haven't seen your lawsuit," Gasko said to me. I recognized two of the uniformed cops as Lilly and Blower. "A Iotta big talk," Gasko said.

"Get the hell outta here!" Sofia barked at Blower as he inched toward her desk.

Gasko was very much in charge. "Listen, lady," he said, with his usual sneer. "We can do this two ways. First, you put your ass in that chair and shut up. Second, we put the cuffs on you and you sit in the back of a car for the next two hours."

One cop was poking his head into each of the side offices. I felt Ruby ease behind me.

"Relax," Mordecai said to Sofia. "Just relax."

"What's upstairs?" Gasko asked me.

"Storage," Mordecai replied.

"Your storage?"

"Yes."

"It's not there," I said. "You're wasting your time."

"Then we'll have to waste it, won't we?"

A prospective client opened the front door, startling those of us inside. His eyes darted quickly around the room, then settled on the three men in uniform. He made a hasty retreat into the safety of the streets.

I asked Ruby to leave too. Then I stepped into Mordecai's office and closed the door. "Where's the file?" he asked in a low voice. "It's not here, I swear. This is just harassment."

"The warrant looks valid. There's been a theft; it's reasonable to assume the file would be with the attorney who stole it."

I tried to say something lawyerly and bright, some piercing legal nugget that would stop the search cold and send the cops running. But words failed me. hstead, I was embarrassed at having brought the police to nose through the clinic.

"Do you have a copy of the file?" he asked.

"Yes."

"Have you thought about giving them their original?"

"I can't. That would be an admission of guilt. They don't know for a fact that I have the file. And even if I gave it back, they would know that I had copied it."

He rubbed his beard and agreed with me. We stepped out of his office just as Lilly missed a step near the unused desk next to Sofia's. An avalanche of files slid onto the floor. Sofia yelled at him; Gasko yelled at her. The tension was quickly moving away from words and in the direction of physical conflict.

I locked the front door so our clients wouldn't see the search. "Here's the way we'll do it," Mordecai announced. The cops glared, but they were anxious for some direction. Searching a law office was quite unlike raiding a bar filled with millors.

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