That was the troubling part of his story.
We would never get the chance to talk to him.
* * *
I called Drake & Sweeney and asked for Braden Chance. A secretary answered the phone, and I repeated my request. "And who's calling, please?" she asked.
I gave her a fictitious name and claimed to be a prospective client, referred by Clayton Bender of RiverOaks.
"Mr. Chance is unavailable," she said.
"Tell me when I can talk to him," I said rudely.
"He's on vacation."
"Fine. When will he return?"
"I'm not sure," she said, and I hung up. The vacation would be for a month, then it would become a sabbatical, then a leave of absence, and at some point they would finally admit that Chance had been sacked.
I suspected he was gone; the call confirmed it.
Since the firm had been my life for the past seven years, it wasn't difficult to predict its actions. There was too much pride and arrogance to suffer the indignities being imposed.
As soon as the lawsuit was filed, I suspected they got the truth from Braden Chance. Whether he came forth on his own, or whether they pried it out of him, was immaterial. He had lied to them from the beginning, and now the entire firm had been sued. Perhaps he showed them the original memo from Hector, along with the rent receipt from Lontae. More than likely, though, he had destroyed these and was forced to describe what he had shredded. The firm--Arthur Jacobs and the executive committee--at last knew the truth. The eviction should not have occurred. The verbal rental agreements should have been terminated in writing, by Chance acting for RiverOaks, with thirty days' notice given to the tenants.
A thirty-day delay would have jeopardized the bulkmail facility, at least for RiverOaks.
And a thirty-day delay would have allowed Lontae and the other tenants time to survive the worst of winter.
Chance was forced out of the firm, undoubtedly with a generous buy-out package for his partnership share. Hector had probably been flown home for briefings. With Chance gone, Hector could tell the truth and survive. He would not, however, tell of his contact with me.
Behind locked doors, the executive committee had faced reality. The firm had enormous exposure. A plan of defense was devised with Rafter and his litigation team. They would defend vigorously on the grounds that the Burton case was based on materials stolen from a Drake & Sweeney file. And if the stolen materials couldn't be used in court, then the lawsuit should be dismissed. That made perfect sense, from a legal perspective.
However, before they were able to implement their defense, the newspaper intervened. Witnesses were being found who could testify to the same matters protected in the file. We could prove our case regardless of what Chance had concealed.
Drake & Sweeney had to be in chaos. With four hundred aggressive lawyers unwilling to keep their opinions to themselves, the firm was on the verge of an insurrection. Had I still been there, and been faced with a similar scandal in another division of the firm, I would have been raising hell to get the matter settled and out of the press. The option of battening down the hatches and riding out the storm did not exist. The exposure by the Post was only a sample of what a fullblown trial would entail. And a trial was a year away.
There was heat from another source. The file did not indicate the extent to which RiverOaks knew the truth about the squatters. In fact, there was very little correspondence between Chance and his client. It appeared as though he was given instructions to close the deal as soon as possible. RiverOaks applied the pressure; Chance steamrolled ahead.
If we assumed RiverOaks did not know the evictions were wrongful, then the company had a legitimate claim for legal malpractice against Drake & Sweeney. It hired the firm to do a job; the job was botched; and the blunder was to the detriment of the client. With three hundred fifty million in holdings, RiverOaks had sufficient clout to pressure the firm to remedy its wrongs.
Other major clients would also have opinions. "What's going on over there?" was a question every partner was hearing from those who paid the bills. In the cutthroat world of corporate law, vultures from other firms were beginning to circle.
Drake & Sweeney marketed its image, its public perception. All big firms did. And no firm could take the hammering being inflicted upon my alma mater.
* * *
Congressman Burkholder rallied magnificently. The day after his surgery, he met the press in a carefully staged exhibition. They rolled him in a wheelchair to a makeshift podium in the lobby of the hospital. He stood, with the aid of his pretty wife, and stepped forward to issue a statement. Coincidentally, he wore a bright red Hoosier sweatshirt. There were bandages on his neck; a sling over his left arm.
He pronounced himself alive and well, and ready in a few short days to return to his duties on the Hill. Hello to the folks back home in Indiana.
In his finest moment, he dwelt on street crime, and the deterioration of our cities. (His hometown had eight thousand people.)It was a shame that our nation's capital was in such a sorry state, and because of his brush with death he would from that day forward devote his considerable energies into making our streets safe again. He had found a new purpose.
He blathered on about gun control and more prisons.
The shooting of Burkhoider had put immense, though temporary-, pressure on the D.C. police to clean up the streets. Senators and representatives had spent the day popping off about the dangers of downtown Washington. As a result, the sweeps started again after dark. Every drunk, wino, beggar, and homeless person near the Capitol was pushed farther away. Some were arrested. Others were simply loaded into vans and transported like cattle to the more distant neighborhoods.
* * *
At 11:40 P.M., the police were dispatched to a liquor store on Fourth Street near Rhode Island, in Northeast. Gunshots had been heard by the owner of the store, and one of the sidewalk locals had reported seeing a man down.
In a vacant lot next to the liquor store, behind a fifie of rubble and cracked bricks, the police found the body of a young black male. The blood was fresh, and came from two bullet holes to the head.
-He was later identified as Kito Spires.
Ruby reappeared Monday morning with a ferocious appetite for both cookies and news. She was waiting on the doorstep with a smile and a warm hello when I arrived at eight, a bit later than usual. With Gantry out there, I wanted the extra daylight and the increased activity when I got to the office.
She looked the same. I thought perhaps I could study her face and see the evidence of a crack binge, but there was nothing unusual. Her eyes were hard and sad, but she was in a fine mood. We entered the office together and fixed our spot on Ruby's desk. It was somewhat comforting to have another person in the building.
"How have you been?" I asked.
"Good," she said, reaching into a bag for a cookie. There were three bags, all bought the week before, just for her, though Mordecai had left a trail of crumbs.
"?Vhere are you staying?"
"In my car." Where else? "! sure am glad winter is leaving."
"Me too. Have you been to Naomi's?" I asked.
"No. But I'm going today. I ain't been feeling too good."
"I'll give you a ride."
The conversation was a little stiff. She expected me to ask about her last motel visit. I certainly wanted to, but thought better of it.
When the coffee was ready, I poured two cups and set them on the desk. She was on her third cookie, nibbling nonstop around the edges like a mouse.