"Guy named Johnny."
"A hundred bucks a month, cash only."
"Didn't want no records."
"Do you know who owned the warehouse?"
"Nope." His answer came without hesitation, and I had trouble concealing my delight. If Deese didn't know Gantry owned the building, how could he be afraid of him?
Mordecai pulled up a chair, and got serious with Mr. Deese. "We'd like to have you as a client," he said.
"We're suing some people over the eviction. It's our position that you folks were done wrong when you got kicked out. We'd like to represent you, and sue on your behalf."
"But the apartment was illegal. That's why I was paying in cash."
"Doesn't matter. We can get you some money."
"I don't know yet. What have you got to lose?"
"Nothing, I guess."
I tapped Mordecai on the shoulder. We excused ourselves and withdrew into his office. "What is it?" he asked.
"In light of what happened to Kito Spires, I think we should record his testimony. Now."
Mordecai scratched his beard. "Not a bad idea. Let's do an affidavit. He can sign it, Sofia can notarize it, then if something happens to him, we can fight to get it admitted."
"Do we have a tape recorder?" I asked.
His eyes shot in all directions. "Yeah, somewhere."
Since he didn't know where it was, it would take a month to find it. "How about a video camera?" I asked.
I thought for a second, then said, 'Tll run get mine. You and Sofia keep him occupied."
"He's not going anywhere."
"Good. Give me forty-five minutes."
I raced from the office and sped west toward Georgetown. The third number I tried from my cell phone found Claire between classes. "What's wrong?" she asked.
"I need to borrow the video camera. I'm in a hurry."
"It hasn't been moved," she said, very slowly, trying to analyze things. "Why?"
"A deposition. Mind if I use it?"
"I guess not."
"Still in the living room?"
"Have you changed the locks?" I asked.
"No." For some reason, this made me feel better. I still had a key. I could come and go if I wanted.
"What about the alarm code?"
"No. It's the same."
"Thanks. I'll call you later."
* * *
We placed Marquis Deese in an office empty of furniture but crowded with file cabinets. He sat in a chair, a blank white wall behind him. I was the videographer, Sofia the notary, Mordecai the interrogator. His answers could not have been more perfect.
We were finished in thirty minutes, all possible questions served up and answered. Deese thought he knew where two of the other evictees were staying, and he promised to find them.
Our plans were to file a separate lawsuit for each evictee we could locate; one at a time, with plenty of notice to our friends at the Post. We knew Kelvin Lain was at the CCNV, but he and Deese were the only two we'd been able to locate. Their cases were not worth a lot of money--we would gladly settle them for twentyfive thousand each--but their filing would heap more misery upon the beleaguered defendants.
I almost hoped the police would sweep the streets again.
As Deese was leaving, Mordecai warned him against talking about the lawsuit. I sat at a desk near Sofia and typed a three-page complaint on behalf of our new client, Marquis Deese, against the same three defendants, alleging a wrongful eviction. Then one for Kelvin Lain. I filed the complaints in the computer's memory. I would simply change the names of the plaintiffs as we found them.
The phone rang a few minutes before noon. Sofia was on the other line, so I grabbed it. "Legal clinic," I said, as usual.
A dignified old voice on the other end said, "This is Arthur Jacobs, Attorney, with Drake & Sweeney. I would like to speak to Mr. Mordecai Green."
I could only say, "Sure," before punching the hold button. I stared at the phone, then slowly rose and walked to Mordecai's door.
"What is it?" he said. His nose was buried in the U.S. Code.
"Arthur Jacobs is on the phone."
"Who is he?"
"Drake & Sweeney."
We stared at each other for a few seconds, then he smiled. "This could be the call," he said. I just nodded.
He reached for the phone, and I sat down.
It was a brief conversation, with Arthur doing most of the talking. I gathered that he wanted to meet and talk about the lawsuit, and the sooner the better.
After it was over, Mordecai replayed it for my benefit. "They would like to sit down tomorrow and have a little chat about settling the lawsuit."
"At their place. Ten in the morning, without your presence."
I didn't expect to be invited.
"Are they worried?" I asked.
"Of course they're worried. They have twenty days before their answer is due, yet they're already calling about a settlement. They are very worried."
I spent the following morning at the Redeemer Mission, counseling clients with all the finesse of one who'd spent years tending to the legal problems of the homeless. Temptation overcame me, and at elevenfifteen I called Sofia to see if she had heard from Mordecai. She had not. We expected the meeting at Drake & Sweeney to be a long one. I was hoping that by chance he had called in to report everything was proceeding smoothly. No such luck.
Typically, I had slept little, though the lack of sleep had nothing to do with physical ailments or discomfort. My anxiety over the setdement meeting outlasted a long hot bath and a bottle of wine. My nerves were jumping.
As I counseled my clients, it was difficult to concentrate on food stamps, housing subsidies, and delinquent fathers when my life was hanging in the balance on another front. I left when lunch was ready; my presence was far less important than the daily bread. I bought two plain bagels and a bottle of water, and drove the Beltway for an hour.
When I returned to the clinic, Mordecai's car was parked beside the building. He was in his office, waiting for me. I closed the door.
* * *
The meeting took place in Arthur Jacobs' personal conference room on the eighth floor, in a hallowed corner of the building I'd never been near. Mordecai was treated like a visiting dignitary by the receptionist and staff--his coat was quickly taken, his coffee mixed just right, fresh muffins available.
He sat on one side of the table, facing Arthur, Donald Rafter, an attorney for the firm's malpractice insurance carrier, and an attorney for RiverOaks. Tillman Gantry had legal representation, but they had not been invited. If there was a settlement, no one expected Gantry to contribute a dime.
The only odd slot in the lineup was the lawyer for RiverOaks, but it made sense. The company's interests were in conflict with the firm's. Mordecai said the ill will was obvious.
Arthur handled most of the talking from his side of the table, and Mordecai had trouble believing the man was eighty years old. The facts were not only memorized but instantly recalled. The issues were analyzed by an extremely sharp mind working overtime.
First they agreed that everything said and seen in the meeting would remain strictly confidential; no admission of liability would survive the day; no offer to settle would be legally binding until documents were signed.