"I'm not here to eat!" I said angrily. "I'm a lawyer for the homeless!"
That setfled them down; suddenly I was a blue-eyed brother. I was allowed to enter the building without further assault. The director was Reverend Kip, a fiery little guy with a red beret and a black collar. We did not connect. When he realized that (a) I was a lawyer; (b) my clients were the Burtons; (c) I was working on their lawsuit; and (d) there might be a recovery of damages down the road, he began thinking about money. I wasted thirty minutes with him, and left with the vow to send in Mordecai.
I called Megan and begged off lunch. My excuse was that I was on the other side of the city, with a long list of people yet to see. The truth was that I couldn't tell if she was flirting. She was pretty and smart and thoroughly likable, and she was the last thing I needed. I hadn't flirted in almost ten years; I didn't know the rules.
But Megan had great news. Ruby had not only survived the morning session of AA/NA, she had vowed to stay clean for twenty-four hours. It was an emotional scene, and Megan had watched from the rear of the room.
"She needs to stay off the streets tonight," Megan said. "She hasn't had a clean day in twelve years."
I, of course, was of little help. Megan had several ideas.
* * *
The afternoon was as fruitless as the morning, though I did learn the location of every shelter in the District. And I met people, made contacts, swapped cards with folks I'd probably see again.
Kelvin Lam remained the sole evictee we'd been able to locate. DeVon Hardy and Lontae Burton were dead. I was left with a total of fourteen people who had fallen through the cracks in the sidewalks.
The hard-core homeless venture into shelters from time to time for a meal, or a pair of shoes, or a blanket, but they leave no trail. They do not want help. They have no desire for human contact. It was hard to believe that the remaining fourteen were hard core. A month earlier, they had been living under a roof and paying rent.
Patience, Mordecai kept telling me. Street lawyers must have patience.
Ruby met me at the door of Naomi's, with a gleaming smile and a fierce hug. She had completed both sessions. Megan had already laid the groundwork for the next twelve hours--Ruby would not be allowed to stay on the streets. Ruby had acquiesced.
Ruby and I left the city and drove west into Virginia. In a suburban shopping center, we bought a toothbrush and toothpaste, soap, shampoo, and enough candy to get through Halloween. W'e drove farther away from the city, and in the small town of Gainesville I found a shiny new motel advertising single rooms for forty-two dollars a night. I paid with a credit card; surely it would somehow be deductible.
I left her there, with strict instructions to stay in the room with the door locked until I came for her Sunday morning.
Saturday night, the first day of March. Young, single, certainly not as rich as I was not too long ago, but not completely broke, yet. A closet full of nice clothes, which were not being used. A city of one million people with scores of attractive young women drawn to the center of political power, and always ready, it was rumored, for a good time.
I had beer and pizza and watched college basketball, alone in my loft and not unhappy. Any public appearance that night could have ended quickly with the cruel greeting "Hey, aren't you the guy who got arrested? Saw it in the paper this morning."
I checked on Ruby. The phone rang eight times before she answered, and I was about to panic. She was enjoying herself immensely, having taken a long shower, eaten a pound of candy, and watched TV nonstop. She had not left the room.
She was twenty miles away, in a small town just off the interstate in the Virginia countryside where neither she nor I knew a soul. There was no way she could find drugs. I patted myself on the back again.
During halftime of the Duke-Carolina game, the cell phone on the plastic storage box next to the pizza squawked and starfled me. A very pleasant female voice said, "Hello, jailbird."
It was Claire, without the edge.
"Hello," I said, muting the television.
"Just doing great. How about you?"
"Fine. I saw your smiling face in the paper this morning, and I was worried about you." Claire read the Sunday paper only, so if she saw my little story, someone gave it to her. Probably the same hot-blooded doc who'd answered the phone the last time I'd called. Was she alone on Saturday night, like me?
"It was an experience," I said, then told her the entire story, beginning with Gasko and ending with my release. She wanted to talk, and as the narrative plodded along I decided that she was indeed by herself, probably bored and maybe lonely. And perhaps there was a chance that she was really worried about me.
"How serious are the charges?" she asked.
"Grand larceny carries up to ten years," I said gravely. I liked the prospect of her being concerned. "But I'm not worried about that."
"It's just a file, isn't it?"
"Yes, and it wasn't a theft." Sure it was, but I was not yet prepared to admit that.
"Could you lose your license to practice?"
"Yes, if I'm convicted of a felony, it would be automatic."
"That's awful, Mike. What would you do then?"
"Truthfully, I haven't thought about it. It's not going to happen." I was being completely honest; I had not seriously thought about losing my law license. Perhaps it was an issue requiring consideration, but I had not found the time for it.
We politely inquired about each other's family, and I remembered to ask about her brother James and his Hodgkin's disease. His treatment was under way; the family was optimistic.
I thanked her for calling, and we promised to keep in touch. When I laid the cell phone next to the pizza, I stared at the muted game and grudgingly admitted to myself that I missed her.
* * *
Ruby was showered and shined and wearing the fresh clothing Megan had given her yesterday. Her motel room was on the ground floor with the door facing the parking lot. She was waiting for me. She stepped into the sunlight and hugged me tightly. "I'm clean!" she said with a huge smile. "For twenty-four hours I'm clean!" We hugged again.
A couple in their sixties stepped from the room two doors down and stared at us. God knows what they were thinking.
We returned to the city and went to Naomi's, where Megan and her staff were waiting for the news. A small celebration erupted when Ruby made her announcement. Megan had told me that the biggest cheers were always for the first twenty-four hours.
It was Sunday, and a local pastor arrived to conduct a Bible study. The women gathered in the main room for hymns and prayer. Megan and I drank coffee in the garden and worked out the next twenty-four hours. In addition to prayer and worship, Ruby would get two heavy sessions of AA/NA. But our optimism was guarded. Megan lived in the midst of addiction, and she was convinced Ruby would slide as soon as she returned to the streets. She saw it every day.
I could afford the motel strategy for a few days, and I was willing to pay for it. But I would leave for Chicago at four that afternoon, to begin my search for Hector, and I wasn't sure how long I would be away. Ruby liked the motel, in fact she appeared to be quite fond of it.
We decided to take things one day at a time. Megan would drive Ruby to a suburban motel, one I would pay for, and deposit her there for Sunday night. She would retrieve her Monday morning, and we would then worry about what to do next.
Megan would also begin the task of trying to convince Ruby she had to leave the streets. Her first stop would be a detox center, then a transitional women's shelter for six months of structured living, job training, and rehab.