"With four kids, it's safe to assume at least one was enrolled in school. With that salary, and living in Bethesda, I doubt if they'd go the private route. He's Hispanic, so he's probably Catholic. Anything else?"
I couldn't think of a thing. She left and returned to her desk where she opened a thick three-ring notebook and flipped pages. I kept my door open so I could watch and listen. The first call went to someone with the Postal Service. The conversation changed instantly to Spanish, and I was lost. One call followed another. She would say hello in English, ask for her contact, then switch to her native tongue. She called the Catholic diocese, which led to another series of rapid calls. I lost interest.
An hour later, she walked to my door and announced, "They moved to Chicago. Do you need an address?"
"How did you . . . ?" My words trailed off as I stared at her in disbelief.
"Don't ask. A friend of a friend in their church. They moved over the weekend, in a hurry. Do you need their new address?"
"How long will it take?"
"It won't be easy. I can point you in the right direction."
She had at least six clients sitting along the front window waiting to seek her advice.
"Not now," I said. "Maybe later. Thanks."
"Don't mention it."
Don't mention it. I'd planned to spend a few more hours after dark knocking on the doors of neighbors, in the cold, dodging security guards, hoping no one shot me. And she worked the phone for an hour and found the missing person.
Drake & Sweeney had more than a hundred lawyers in its Chicago branch. I had been there twice on anti trust cases. The offices were in a skyscraper near the lakefront. The building's foyer was several stories tall, with fountains and shops around the perimeter, escalators zigzagging upward. It was the perfect place to hide and watch for Hector Palma.
The homeless are close to the streets, to the pavement, the curbs and gutters, the concrete, the litter, the sewer lids and fire hydrants and wastebaskets and bus stops and store-fronts. They move slowly over familiar terrain, day after day, stopping to talk to each other because time means little, stopping to watch a stalled car in traffic, a new drug dealer on a corner, a strange face on their turf. They sit on their sidewalks hidden under hats and caps and behind drugstore sunshades, and like sentries they observe every movement. They hear the sounds of the street, they absorb the odors of diesel fumes from city buses and fried grease from cheap diners. The same cab passes twice in an hour, and they know it. A gun is fired in the distance, and they know where it came from. A fine auto with Virginia or Maryland plates is parked at the curb, they'll watch it until it leaves.
A cop with no uniform waits in a car with no markings, and they see it.
* * *
"The police are out there," one of our clients said to Sofia. She walked to the front door, looked southeast on Q, and there she saw what appeared to be an unmarked police car. She waited half an hour, and checked it again. Then she went to Mordecai.
I was oblivious because I was fighting with the food stamp office on one front and the prosecutor's office on another. It was Friday afternoon, and the city bureaucracy, substandard on a good day, was shutting down fast. They delivered the news together.
"I think the cops might be waiting," Mordecai announced solemnly.
My first reaction was to duck under the desk, but, of course, I did not. I tried to appear calm. "Where?" I asked, as if it mattered.
"At the corner. They've been watching the building for more than a half hour."
"Maybe they're coming after you," I said. Ha-ha. Stone faces all around.
"I've called," Sofia said. "And there's a warrant for your arrest. Grand larceny."
A felony! Prison! A handsome white boy thrown into the pit. I shifted weight from one side to another, and I tried my best to show no fear.
"That's no surprise," I said. Happened all the time. "Let's get it over with."
"I have a call in for a guy at the prosecutor's office," Mordecai said. "It would be nice if they allowed you to turn yourself in."
"That would be nice," I said as if it didn't really matter. "But I've been talking to the prosecutor's office all afternoon. No one's listening."
"They have two hundred lawyers," he said.
Mordecai did not make friends on that side of the street. Cops and prosecutors were his natural enemies.
A quick game plan was devised. Sofia would call a bail bondsman, who would meet us at the jail. Mordecai would try to find a friendly judge. What was not said was the obvious--it was Friday afternoon. I might not survive a weekend in the city jail.
They left to make their calls, and I sat at my desk, petrified, unable to move or think or do anything but listen for the squeaking of the front door. I didn't have to wait long. At precisely 4 P.M., Lieutenant Gasko entered with a couple of his men behind him.
During my first encounter with Gasko, when he was searching Claire's apartment, when I was ranting and taking names and threatening all sorts of vile litigation against him and his buddies, when every word uttered by him was met with a caustic retort from me, when I was a hard-charging lawyer and he was a lowly cop, it never occurred to me that he one day might have the pleasure of arresting me. But there he was, swaggering like an aging jock, somehow sneering and smiling at the same time, holding yet more papers, folded and just waiting to be slapped against my chest.
"I need to see Mr. Brock," he said to Sofia, and about that time I walked into the front room, smiling.
"Hello, Gasko," I said. "Still looking for that file?"
"Nope. Not today."
Mordecai appeared from his office. Sofia was standing at her desk. Everybody looked at everybody. "You got a warrant?" Mordecai asked.
"Yep. For Mr. Brock here," Gasko said.
I shrugged and said, "Let's go." I moved toward Gasko. One of the goons unsnapped a pair of handcuffs from his waist. I was determined to at least look cool.
"I'm his lawyer," Mordecai said. "Let me see that." He took the arrest warrant from Gasko and examined it as I was getting cuffed, hands behind my back, wrists pinched by cold steel. The cuffs were too tight, or at least tighter than they had to be, but I could bear it and I was determined to be nonchalant.
"I'll be happy to take my client to the police station," Mordecai said.
"Gee thanks," Gasko said. "But I'll save you the trouble."
"Where will he go?"
"I'll follow you there," Mordecai said to me. Sofia was on the phone, and that was even more comforting than knowing that Mordecai would be somewhere behind me.
Three of our clients saw it all; three harmless street gentlemen in for a quick word with Sofia. They were sitting where the clients always waited, and when I walked by them they watched in disbelief.
One of the goons squeezed my elbow and yanked me through the front door, and I stepped onto the sidewalk anxious to duck into their car: a dirty unmarked white one parked at the corner. The homeless saw it all--the car moving into position, the cops rushing in, the cops coming out with me handcuffed.
"A lawyer got arrested," they would soon whisper to each other, and the news would race along the streets.
Gasko sat in the rear with me. I stayed low in the seat, eyes watching nothing, the shock settling in.
"What a waste of time," Gasko said as he relaxed by placing a cowboy boot on a knee. "We got a hundred and forty unsolved murders in this city, dope on every corner, drug dealers selling in middle schools, and we gotta waste time on you."