فصل 10

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فصل 10

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CHAPTER TEN

Chicago

“There’s going to be a lawsuit, Hector,” I said. “Against Drake and Sweeney. You can’t hide from that.”

I was sleeping on the floor at the apartment. I liked it down there and it helped me understand my new clients. In the middle of the night, the phone rang. It was Claire. The police were in her apartment, wanting to search it for the file. I looked at my watch. It was 1 A.M. “I’ll be right there.”

The door was open and I ran in. There were three policemen in there and I shouted at the nearest one. “I’m Michael Brock. Who are you?” “Lieutenant Gasko,” said the policeman, not very nicely. “Claire,” I shouted. “Get the video camera. There’s going to be a lawsuit, Lieutenant Gasko.”

Lieutenant Gasko showed me a document. “It’s signed by a judge,” he said. “And it says we can search for the file.” But he knew I was lawyer and he didn’t look very happy.

“The file’s not here because I don’t live here,” I said. “Now give me your names and then go.”

Claire was filming it all with the video camera. Their document was fine and I knew that. But the three policemen gave me their names and then left.

“Can they come back?” asked Claire.

“No.”

“That’s good.”

“Did you tell them where I live?” I asked her.

“Michael, I don’t know where you live. You just gave her a phone number.”

I said goodnight without touching or kissing her. I knew that was what she wanted.

I thought hard. Now I had to tell Mordecai everything. It was possible that the police would come to the Law Center, looking for the file.


Next morning I tried to phone Hector Palma from the Law Center. His secretary said he had left the Washington office. I put the phone down. Now what? I stared at the ceiling.

Mordecai came into my office. I started my story: “My wife and I aren’t together. I moved out of our apartment.”

“I’m sorry,” said Mordecai. What else could he say?

“Don’t be. Early this morning, the police tried to search the apartment where I used to live. They were looking for a file that I took when I left Drake and Sweeney.”

“What kind of file?”

“The DeVon Hardy and Lontae Burton file.”

“I’m listening.”

“I don’t think that DeVon Hardy and Lontae Burton and the others were squatters. I think they were tenants. And if they were tenants, the eviction was illegal.”

“It sure was. Can’t evict tenants without warning. But do you know? Or are you guessing?”

I told Mordecai the story of the RiverOaks file. I told him that something, probably a note dated January 27, was missing from the file.

“And what do you think is in this note?” he asked.

“I can’t be sure. But I think it’s a note from Hector Palma. I think he knew they were tenants and he said that in the note. But RiverOaks wanted them out quickly so they could start pulling the warehouse down. They wanted to start the new building for the Post Office in February. I think Hector Palma’s note of January 27 was removed from the file so Drake and Sweeney could evict DeVon Hardy and Lontae Burton and the others as squatters.”

“Good,” said Mordecai. “So we start a lawsuit for the family of Lontae Burton and the other people who were evicted.”

“Yes,” I said. “That way, Hector Palma has to tell the judge what he knows.”

“I’ll contact Lontae Burton’s parents,” Mordecai said. “They would be our clients in the lawsuit.”

“Her parents are dead. But she has a grandmother.”

“Fine. She’ll be our client. But first we need to find Hector Palma.”

“I think Drake and Sweeney will keep him in the company. If he leaves the company, they lose control of him. But they want him out of Washington. I think he’s working for Drake and Sweeney in another city. Probably a new job with more money.”

“Sofia!” shouted Mordecai, loud enough to be heard on Capitol Hill. “Sofia, we’re looking for someone.”

Sofia came in with paper and a pencil. “I know,” she said. “I heard.” She turned to me. “I can help. Tell me everything you know about this person.”

I told Sofia Hector Palma’s name, address, and job. I described him and said he had a wife and four kids.

‘Age?”

“Maybe thirty.”

“How much did he get a month at Drake and Sweeney?”

“As a legal assistant? Three thousand.”

“He has four kids, so one or more will be in school. He can’t send kids to a private school on thirty-five thousand. We’ll start with the schools. Then the churches.”

She went back to her desk and she was on the phone for an hour. Each time she said hello in English, asked for the person she wanted, and then the conversation was in Spanish.

An hour later she came back into my office. “They moved to Chicago. Do you need an address?”

“But how did you… ?”

“Don’t ask. A friend of a friend in their church. They moved to Chicago last weekend. I can get you an address but it will take longer.”

“I don’t need an address. I’ve been to Drake and Sweeney’s Chicago office a couple of times.”

Two days later I was there again. But I hadn’t flown first class, as in the old days. I waited outside the Drake and Sweeney building from seven in the morning while 106 lawyers-the third Highest number after Washington and New York- arrived for work.

At 8:20, Hector Palma arrived and I followed him into the building. He got off on floor number fifty-one. There was a phone there. I phoned Mordecai and told him about my progress. Then I phoned Megan at Naomi’s Women’s Center. Ruby was still there, doing OK. Hector Palma wasn’t going anywhere for the next ten hours, so I had another long talk with Megan.

There was a list of partners’ names on each floor. I chose one. “I have an appointment with Dick Heile.” I said loudly as I passed the desk. And then I walked past the desk, down the hall.

Hector had his own office in Chicago.

“Hello, Hector,” I said as I walked in. “So how’s Chicago?”

“What… What are you doing here?”

I sat on Hector’s desk. “There’s going to be a lawsuit, Hector,” I said. “Against Drake and Sweeney. You can’t hide from that.”

I didn’t feel as confident as I tried to sound.

“And who’s starting this lawsuit?”

“Lontae Burton’s grandmother. And later the other people who were evicted, when we find them.”

Hector just looked at me.

“You remember Lontae, don’t you, Hector? She was the young mother who fought with the policemen when you were evicting everyone. You felt bad about it because you knew she was a tenant. So you wrote that in a note, dated January 27 and you put that in the file. But Braden Chance took your note out again. That’s why I’m here, Hector. I want a copy of that note.”

“Why would I have a copy?”

“Because you’re smart, Hector. You knew that Drake and Sweeney’s evictions were illegal. You knew how important your note was. Maybe you even guessed Braden Chance would remove it.”

Hector thought about that. I guessed he wouldn’t be happy hiding in Chicago. The evictions were wrong and he knew it. He had tried to help me once before. “Meet me at twelve in front of the building,” he said.

He was there on time. “I have four children, please protect me,” he said, as he gave me an envelope. I thanked him, got a taxi, and opened the envelope.

The note was dated January 27. It said that the tenants were paying one hundred dollars 4 month rent on the fifteenth of every month to man called Johnny. There was even a copy of a receipt signed by Johnny, saying that he had received one hundred dollars rent from Lontae Burton on January 15. It couldn’t be any clearer. They were tenants. The eviction was illegal.

At Chicago O’ Hare airport I faxed copies of the note and the receipt to Mordecai. Then I caught the next plane back to Washington. A taxi from the airport took me back to 14th Street, where Mordecai and Sofia weren’t looking as happy as I had expected. Lieutenant Gasko was in the office, waiting for me.

As he took me out to the police car, Sofia was phoning fast and talking fast, first in English, then in Spanish. But she and Mordecai couldn’t stop Lieutenant Gasko taking me to Central Police Station like any other criminal. Drake and Sweeney said I had taken their file, and that was theft.

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