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."
"Are you trying to interrogate me, Gasko?" I asked.
"Good." He hadn't bothered with the Miranda warning, and he didn't have to until he started asking questions.
Goon One was flying south on Fourteenth, no lights or sirens, and certainly no respect for traffic signals and pedestrians.
"Then let me go," I said.
"If it's up to me, I would. But you really pissed some folks off. The prosecutor tells me he's under pressure to get you."
"Pressure from who?" I asked. But I knew the answer. Drake & Sweeney wouldn't waste time with the cops; they would rather talk legalspeak with the chief prosecutor.
"The victims," Gasko said with heavy sarcasm. I agreed with his assessment; it was difficult to picture a bunch of wealthy lawyers as victims of a crime.
Lots of famous people had been arrested. I tried to recall them. Martin Luther King went to jail several times. There were Boesky and Milken and other noted thieves whose names escaped me. And what about all those famous actors and athletes caught driving drunk and picking up prostitutes and possessing coke? They had been thrown into the backseats of police cars and led away like common criminals. There was a judge from Memphis serving life; an acquaintance from college in a halfway house; a former client in the federal pen for tax evasion. All had been arrested, led downtown, booked, fingerprinted, and had their pictures taken with the little number under their chins. And all had survived.
I suspected that even Mordecai Green had felt the cold clasp of handcuffs.
There was an element of relief because it was finally happening. I could stop running, and hiding, and looking to see if anyone was behind me. The waiting was over. And it was not a midnight raid, one that would certainly keep me in jail until morning. Instead, the hour was manageable. With luck, I could get processed and bailed out before the weekend rush hit.
But there was also an element of horror, a fear I had never felt in my life. Many things could go wrong at the city jail. Paperwork might get lost. Delays of a dozen varieties could be created. Bail could be postponed until Saturday, or Sunday, or even Monday. I could be placed in a crowded cell with unfriendly to nasty people.
Word would leak that I had been arrested. My friends would shake their heads and wonder what else I could do to screw up my life. My parents would be devastated. I wasn't sure about Claire, especially now that the gigolo was keeping her company.
I closed my eyes and tried to get comfortable, which I found impossible to do while sitting on my hands.
* * *
The processing was a blur; surreal movements from one point to the next with Gasko leading me like a lost puppy. Eyes on the floor, I kept telling myself. Don't look at these people. Inventory first, everything from the pockets, sign a form. Down the dirty hall to Photos, shoes off, up against the measuring tape, don't have to smile if you don't want to, but please look at the camera. Then a profile. Then to Fingerprinting, which happened to be busy, so Gasko handcuffed me like a mental patient to a chair in the hall while he went to find coffee. Arrestees shuffled past, all in various stages of processing. Cops everywhere. A white face, not a cop but a defendant much like myself--young, male, handsome navy suit, obviously drunk with a bruise on his left cheek. How does one get plastered before 5 P.M. on a Friday? He was loud and threatening, his words garbled and harsh, and ignored by everyone I could see. Then he was gone. Time passed and I began to panic. It was dark outside, the weekend had started, crime would begin and the jail would get busier. Gasko came back, took me into Fingerprinting, and watched as Poindexter efficiently applied the ink and stuck my fingers to the sheets.
No phone calls were needed. My lawyer was somewhere close by, though Gasko hadn't seen him. The doors got heavier as we descended into the jail. We were going in the wrong direction; the street was back behind us.
"Can't I make bail?" I finally asked. I saw bars ahead; bars over windows and busy guards with guns. "I think your lawyer's working on it," Gasko said. He gave me to Sergeant Coffey, who pushed me against a wall, kicked my legs apart, and frisked me as if searching for a dime. Finding none, he pointed and grunted at a metal detector, which I walked through, without offense. A buzzer, a door slid open, a hallway appeared, one with rows of bars on both sides. A door clanged behind me, and my prayer for an easy release vanished.
Hands and arms protruded through the bars, into the narrow hall. The men watched us as we moved past. My gaze returned to my feet. Coffey looked into each cell; I thought he was counting bodies. We stopped at the third one on the right.
My cellmates were black, all much younger than I was. I counted four at first, then saw a fifth lying on the top bunk. There were two beds, for six people. The cell was a small square with three walls of nothing but bars, so I could see the prisoners next door and across the hall. The rear wall was cinder block with a small toilet in one corner.
Coffey slammed the door behind me. The guy on the top bunk sat up and swung his legs over the side, so that they dangled near the face of a guy sitting on the bottom bunk. All five glared at me as I stood by the door, trying to appear calm and unafraid, trying desperately to find a place to sit on the floor so that I wouldn't be in danger of touching any of my cellmates.
Thank God they had no weapons. Thank God someone installed the metal detector. They had no guns and knives; I had no assets, other than clothing. My watch, wallet, cell phone, cash--and everything else I had with me--had been taken and inventoried.
The front of the cell would be safer than the rear. I ignored their eyes and took my spot on the floor, my back resting on the door. Down the hall, someone was yelling for a guard.
A fight broke out two cells away, and through the bars and bunks I could see the drunk guy with the white face and navy suit pinned in a corner by two large black men who were pounding his head. Other voices encouraged them on and the entire wing grew rowdy. It was not a good moment to be white.
A shrill whistle, a door opened, and Coffey was back, nightstick in hand. The fight ended abruptly with the drunk on his stomach and still. Coffey went to the cell, and inquired as to what happened. No one knew; no one had seen a thing.
"Keep it quiet!" he demanded, then left.
Minutes passed. The drunk began to groan; someone was vomiting in the distance. One of my cellmates got to his feet, and walked to where I was sitting. His bare feet barely touched my leg. I glanced up, then away. He glared down, and I knew this was the end. "Nice jacket," he said.
"Thanks," I mumbled, trying not to sound sarcastic, or in any way provocative. The jacket was a navy blazer, an old one that I wore every day with jeans and khakis--my radical attire. It certainly wasn't worth being slaughtered over.
"Nice jacket," he said again, and he added a slight nudge with his foot. The guy on the top bunk jumped down, and stepped closer for a better look.
"Thanks," I said again.
He was eighteen or nineteen, lean and tall, not an ounce of fat, probably a gang member who'd spent his life on the streets. He was cocky and anxious to impress the others with his bravado.
Mine would be the easiest ass he'd ever kicked.
"I don't have a jacket that nice," he said. A firmer nudge with his foot, one intended to provoke.
Shouldn't be a low-life street punk, I thought. He couldn't steal it because there was no place to run. "Would you like to borrow it?" I asked, without looking up.
I pulled my feet in so that my knees were close to my chin. It was a defensive position. When he kicked or swung, I was not going to fight back. Any resistance would immediately bring in the other four, and they would have a delightful time thrashing the white boy.
"Dude says you got a nice jacket," said the one from the top bunk.
"And I said thanks."
"Dude says he ain't got no jacket that nice."
"So what am I supposed to do?" I asked.
"A gift would be appropriate."
A third one stepped forward and closed the semicircle around me. The first one kicked my foot, and all inched closer. They were ready to pounce, each waiting for the other, so I quickly removed my blazer and thrust it forward.
"Is this a gift?" the first one asked, taking it.
"It's whatever you want it to be," I said. I was looking down, sull avoiding eye contact; thus, I didn't see his foot. It was a vicious kick that slapped my left temple and jerked my head backward where it cracked against the bars. "Shit!" I yelled as I felt the back of my head.
"You can have the damned thing," I said, bracing for the onslaught.
"Is it a gift?"
"Don't mention it," I said, rubbing my face. My entire head was numb. They backed away, leaving me curled in a tight ball. Minutes passed, though I had no concept of time. The drunk white guy two doors down was making an effort to revive himself, and another voice was calling for a guard. The punk with my jacket did not put it on. The cell swallowed it.
My face throbbed, but there was no blood. If I received no further injuries as an inmate, I would consider myself lucky. A comrade down the hall yelled something about trying to sleep, and I began to ponder what the night might bring. Six inmates, two very narrow beds. Were we expected to sleep on the floor, with no blanket and pillow?
The floor was getting cold, and as I sat on it I glanced at my cellmates and speculated as to what crimes they had committed. I, of course, had borrowed a file with every intention of returning it. Yet there I was, low man on the pole among drug dealers, car thieves, rapists, probably even murderers.
I wasn't hungry, but I thought about food. I had no toothbrush. I didn't need the toilet, but what would happen when I did? Where was the drinking water? The basics became crucial.
"Nice shoes," a voice said, startling me. I looked up to see another one of them standing above me. He wore dirty white socks, no shoes, and his feet were several inches longer than mine.
"Thanks," I said. The shoes in question were old Nike cross-trainers. They were not basketball shoes, and should not have appealed to my cellmate. For once, I wished I'd been wearing the tasseled loafers from my previous career.
"What size?" he asked.
The punk who took my jacket walked closer; the message was given and received.
"Same size I wear," the first one said.
"Would you like to have these?" I said. I immediately began unlacing them. "Here, I would like to present you with a gift of my shoes." I quickly kicked them off, and he took them.
What about my jeans and underwear? I wanted to ask.
My bail was ten thousand dollars. Mordecai was waiting with the bondsman. I paid him a thousand in cash, and signed the paperwork. Coffey brought my shoes and blazer, and my incarceration was over. Sofia waited outside with her car, and they whisked me away.
* * *
Mordecai finally broke through around 7 P.M. Coffey fetched me from the cell, and as we made our way toward the front, he asked, "Where are your shoes?"
"In the cell," I said. "They were taken."
"I'll get them."
"Thanks. I had a navy blazer too."
He looked at the left side of my face where the corner of my eye was beginning to swell. "Are you okay?"
"Wonderful. I'm free."