Friday, June 8, 2012

Chapters 27, 28, and 29; Nurses, Clowns, and Incense

(Haven't read the previous chapters?  Start  here.)
(Haven't read chapters 6 and 7?  Find them here.)
(Haven't read chapter 8? Find it here.)
(Haven't read chapter 9?  Find it here.)
(Haven't read chapters 10 and 11? Find them here.)
(Haven't read chapters 12 through 14? Find them here.)
(Haven't read chapters 15 through 16? Find them here.)
(Haven't read chapters 17 through 19? Find them here.)
(Haven't read chapters 20 and 21? Find them here.)
(Haven't read chapters 22 and 23? Find them here.)
(Haven't read chapters 24, 25, and 26? Find them here.)


            Infuriated, I took a stack of loose filing off my desk and dumped it in the trash.  Even though I suspected I would later retrieve the documents, the dumping satisfied me.  I decided to leave for the day before I did any real damage.  As I walked past the front desk, Janey, our receptionist, stopped me.  “There’s a lady here to see you,” she said, motioning with her head.
I peeked in the lobby and saw a professional-looking woman sitting in one of the chairs, holding a neat purse in her lap.  I looked at the sign-in sheet.  She had signed in at 3:30, an hour ago.
“Janey, why didn’t you tell me that she was here—I’ve been in the office.”
“I called, but there was no answer.”
“I must have been in the Gordon’s office.  Why didn’t you call again?  Or leave a message?”
“Because I checked her off the list when I called you.”
“But you didn’t leave a message or anything.  Why did you check her off the list if no information was conveyed to me?”
“Because I called.”
“But I didn’t answer.”
“It’s not my fault you weren’t there when I called.”
I swallowed my frustration.  Janey was sweet, but ...  “Emily Knight?” I called the woman’s name.  The woman stood.
“Sorry about the wait,” I said, shaking her cold hand.
“That’s OK.  There’s plenty to read,” she said, gesturing at the stack of outdated magazines.
            I led her down the hallway to my office, where she took a seat, setting her proper but unfashionable purse on the floor.
I found her file in one of the stacks on the floor by my desk and quickly read through the police report while Emily sat quietly.  I didn’t like to read the file for the first time in front of my client, but I couldn’t make her wait in the lobby any longer.
Emily was charged with delivery of cocaine.  The report contained a familiar fact pattern.  Police worked with a “confidential informant”—what we called a “snitch.”  Snitches were people who betrayed their friends to save themselves from prison or for small amounts of cash.
            Three years ago, Emily had sold cocaine to a snitch.  Because police didn’t like to reveal the identity of the snitch while they were still working with him, the prosecutors commonly waited until the end of the three-year statute of limitations to file these cases.  In Emily’s case, the prosecutors had waited two years and 11 months to file the delivery charge.  Thanks to the war on drugs, even without any criminal history, Emily was facing a mandatory three-year prison sentence.  She had been the middle-man in the delivery of three tiny rocks of cocaine three years ago.
            “I probably shouldn’t say it, but you look a lot more put-together than most of my clients,” I said.
            “I didn’t look put-together back when this happened,” she said.  “A lot has changed since then.”
            Emily told me that she had hit rock-bottom three years ago.  She had been in an abusive relationship with a drug dealer, and she had been addicted to cocaine as well.  Back then, Emily’s life was a mess, and her 3-year-old disabled stayed with her sister because Emily was unable to care for him herself.  It was a blessing to her, really, when her boyfriend was sent to prison.
Without the boyfriend in her life, Emily stopped using drugs, went to school, and got her son back in her home.  She was now a registered nurse’s assistant.  She cared for an elderly woman, took care of her son, and even volunteered at her son’s school.  However, around the time the boyfriend went to prison, a friend of his kept coming around, begging Emily to hook him up with some coke.  Emily wasn’t using anymore, but still knew all the connections.  Emily served as the middle-man a couple of times for the friend, who was, of course, a snitch.  According to the police reports, drug detectives had paid the snitch fifty dollars for each transaction.
Emily brought a stack of letters with her.  One was from the elderly woman she cared for, another from the principal of her son’s school about her volunteer work, another from her pastor.  She also brought a transcript of her grades and her nurse’s assistant certificate.
I considered potential strategies for Emily’s case.  While she possibly had an entrapment defense, entrapment could be pretty difficult to sell to a jury, I’d heard.  I didn’t think a trial would be necessary, though.  No one would want to put this lady in prison.
I looked through the file to see which prosecutor’s name was signed on the charging document.  Penny Pickens.  I refused to let myself worry.  Even Penny would want to give this lady a break.
            After Emily left, I put copies of her letters and certificates in an interoffice mail envelope to Penny, along with a letter explaining Emily’s situation.  I proposed settling the case with a felony conviction that carried no mandatory jail time and would not suspend her nurse’s assistant license.  I smiled as I pushed the envelope into the interoffice mail slot.  Finally, a case that would be easy to settle.

Talking to Emily had distracted me from my outrage against Gordon, but I started thinking about him again on my walk to the bar.  I must have had a sour expression on my face, because Matthew saw me, he asked, “What’s the matter, Kate?”
“I think I might hate him.”
“He’s not worthy of your hate,” José said.  “What did he do now?”
“He told me I had to apologize to Penny.”
“You can’t apologize to that uptight shrew,” Janice said.
“I wouldn’t mind if I had done something wrong.”  I could hear myself whining.
“Why is he getting involved in your cases?”  Matthew asked.
“Maybe we should call the head prosecutor and complain to him about Penny,” Janice suggested.
“You mean the elected prosecutor—Brick Phillips?” I asked.  “He would never take my call.”
“Then Gordon shouldn’t talk to the prosecutors when they call to complain about us.”
“I think it comes down to this:  everything Gordon does is wrong,” José said.
“I keep trying to figure him out, and I just can’t,” I said.  “I assume that he doesn’t get up in the morning and decide to be evil.”
“He probably wants people to respect him,” Matthew said.
“Maybe that’s the problem,” Janice said, “he wants everybody’s respect but ours.”
“Shouldn’t it be the opposite?” José said.
“I can’t figure out what’s the matter with him or with me,” I said.  “This is the second time Gordon has talked to me this way, and all I do is get all red in the face and go back to my office and try not to cry.  I mean, maybe the first time I was just too shocked to react, but what’s my excuse now?  I make my living standing up to people, questioning authority.”
“You know,” José said, “sometimes I’m just too tired to fight for my own stuff.  Like, I’ll spend all day getting a guy in jail his glasses, fighting with the property room because some idiot accidentally classified my guy’s glasses as evidence.  And then I go out to my car, and there’s a parking ticket on it, and there’s still time in the meter.  I take a picture of the meter and set the ticket for a contested hearing.  And then on the day of the hearing, I just don’t feel like the bother.  And I just pay the ticket.  I’d never give up like that on one of my clients.”
“Maybe that’s what I am supposed to learn from my clients,” I said.  “How to fight for myself.”


            The next morning, I slept late, having suffered through countless nightmares where a horned and pitchforked Gordon whipped me while hissing, “You will obey!  You will obey!”  Exhausted by the drama in the dreams, I finally fell into a dreamless sleep around five a.m., only to sleep through my alarm clock at six.
I opened one eye and read the alarm clock: 8:30.  Damn, I panicked, thirty minutes to get dressed and get to court.  I put my hair in a quick twist, washed my face and applied mascara and lipstick.  I found a pair of relatively clean black pants and a polka dot silk blouse.  Walking out the door at 8:50, with barely enough time to sprint to the office, I saw that the hem of my pants had fallen out.  I didn’t have time to change, but the right pant leg was seriously dragging on the ground.  Frantically looking around my apartment, I saw a stapler.  I grabbed it and stapled my hem back in place.  I hoped no one would notice the shiny silver around the hem.
I ran into the office and yanked on the door that led from the reception area to the attorney offices.  It didn’t budge.  I had forgotten that Mrs. Rimski had implemented an office-security system that required an identification card to open the door.  I had no idea where mine was.  “Janey,” I said, knocking on the Plexiglas that supposedly protected her from the people in the lobby, “buzz me in.  I forgot my badge.”  Buzzing in lawyers who had forgotten their badges was the one thing Janey could usually do right.
“You have to use your card.”
“I don’t have it with me.”
“Mrs. Rimski told me that I’m not allowed to buzz anyone in anymore.  Everyone has to use a badge.  It’s to keep track of arrival and departure times.”
“But I don’t have my card, Janey.  Buzz me in.  I’m going to be late for court.”
Janey looked as stressed as I have ever seen her.  “I can’t,” she whispered.  “Mrs. Rimski said.”
I considered saying, “All right, bye,” and then leaving for the day.  But I really did have to get to court, and I needed my files from my office.  The situation was so ridiculous that I was getting pissed off.  “Goddammit Janey,” I said in my meanest whisper.  “Open the door!”
By this point Janey was petrified, eyes large, face immobile.  I looked around the lobby, four or five clients were there, but luckily no children.  “Goddammit Janey!” I shouted this time.  “OPEN THE FUCKING DOOR!”  I stuck my arm through the hole in the Plexiglas and vainly attempted to reach Janey or the buzzer.  Finally, so conflicted that she didn’t move her body except her hand, Janey pressed the button.

            I arrived at court a couple of minutes late for the 9 o’clock arraignment docket.  I had never met my client, Kelly Campbell, having been appointed to his case only a few days earlier.
After walking around the courtroom, whispering, “Mr. Campbell?” to every defendant who appeared lawyer-less, I found Kelly in the back of the courtroom, lying down on one of the benches.  He was awake, but curled up in a little ball, like a child.  He was tiny for a man, 5 feet 2 at the most, and dressed in all black.  He had cat whiskers painted on his face.  I didn’t ask about the whiskers.
We managed to enter Kelly’s not-guilty plea without incident.  After the arraignment, I spoke with him in the hallway.  I was trying to get his personal information—cell phone, pager, brother’s cousin’s phone—but he kept staring at me in a creepy fashion.
            “Let me ask you a riddle,” he said in response to a request for his work address.
            “All right,” I said, “what’s the riddle?”
            “At the end of the universe, there is a chalice that holds the answer to our salvation,” he said spookily.  “What is it?”
            “I have no idea.  Now, which is the best phone number for you?”
            “If you can answer the riddle of the chalice, you will have eternal salvation.”
            “Then I’d better try to figure it out.  Do you have a work phone?”
            “You must solve the riddle of the golden chalice …”
            “Kelly, look, I really don’t have time for a stupid chalice.  OK?” 
            I heard a low moan building up in Kelly’s larynx.  He raised his arm and pointed his finger up in the sky.  “Stupid Chalice?  Stupid Chalice! You are going to Hell, Miss Hamilton!”
I smiled at the other lawyers in the hallway.  I shrugged as if it say, “Don’t worry, just another guy damning me to hell.”
            I stuck a business card with an appointment date written on it in his shirt pocket as he gestured toward the heavens.  He was still telling all passersby about my certain trip to hell as I walked away.
            Back in my office, I checked my e-mail messages, and saw a screaming message from Penny.  All of her e-mails came with red exclamation points on their titles, as if everything she wrote were monumental and an emergency.  I cringed as I clicked to open the message, having in the past received the equivalent of shock therapy as a result of opening her messages.  Messages from Penny never contained good news.
        I clicked anyway, and read the following:  “Kate.  I received your letter and documents re Emily Knight.  I am not impressed with her failure to accept responsibility for her actions by shifting blame to her boyfriend.  The fact that she has a job now is interesting, but does little to mitigate her actions in the past.  She should have thought of her son when she was out using drugs.  My best offer is to plead to two counts of delivery and I’ll dismiss one.  36 months.”
        I put my head down on my desk and stared at the fake wood grain of my desk top.  I let the pattern fade to a blur as I tried not to scream.

            Surprisingly, Kelly came to my office on the day of his appointment.  He wore clean black jeans, a neat, black button-down shirt, and newish looking tennis shoes.  He still had cat whiskers painted on his face.  He told me that he was opening a camp for disabled children, and that his charitable work should help convince the prosecutor to reduce his charges.  As it stood, he was facing about five years in prison.
            “Who can I call to verify your participation in the camp?” I asked, ready to write a name on my notepad.
            “I don’t have her name memorized.”
            “Of course, not,” I said.  “Perhaps you could give me the names of some of the people who help you run your camp.”
            “I do it all on my own.”
            “Naturally,” I said.  “Some names of the children participating in your camp, then?”
            “I can’t release those records.  They’re contagious.”
            “If we are going to try to use your camp to impress the prosecutor, I need something other than your say-so.  A letter from the director, even one of the kids.”
            “Are you accusing me of lying?”
            “No, but the prosecutor will.”
            “The lady at the First Bank of Puget Sound can tell you about the arrangements.”
            “Good,” I said, even though the bank was not known for its charitable efforts.  “What’s her name?”
            “She has long, black hair, and she works at the one on Jefferson.  I’m not sure which shift.”
            “If you want to use her as a reference, you’ll have to get me her name—first and last—and phone number.”
            “What?  I’m not going to do your work for you.  That’s your job.”
            “Kelly, my job is to give you legal advice and help you with your case, not to run around hunting for bank ladies with long, black hair.  If you have someone that can help verify your camp for disabled children, you are in a better position to do this than I am.  So, if you want to use this lady, you need to get me her name.”
            “What kind of lawyer are you?  I bet you really work for the prosecutor.  You’re supposed to help me, but you’re really working to hurt me—it’s like a Catch-24 situation.”
            “Out, Kelly,” I said, pointing at the door.  “That’s enough for today.”
            “You are making me indigent.”
            “You are indigent, Kelly, that is why I am your lawyer.”
            “I’m going to report you to the EPA.”
            “Do your best,” I said with a sigh.

            When I got back from court that afternoon, I had a note on my desk to see Gordon.  Groaning, I checked myself to make sure I was wearing the appropriate office attire.  Skirt, pantyhose, bra—good.  I knocked lightly on his office door.
            “Kate,” he said, without inviting me to sit down, “I have received a complaint about you from a Mr. Kelly Campbell.”
            “Oh, don’t worry about him, he’s just a little bit crazy.”
            “Kate, I find that remark offensive and discriminatory.  Please do not repeat it in the future.”
            Not being allowed to say that many of our clients were a little bit crazy was like not being allowed to say the sky was blue, but I didn’t see any benefit in arguing with him.  “Yes, sir,” I said, trying to sound obedient.
            “Mr. Campbell says that you have insulted his religion.”
            “His religion?”
            “He says that you called it ‘stupid.’”
            “That’s sort of a long story.”
            “I don’t want to hear excuses, Kate.  Go write a letter of apology immediately, and put a copy in my box.”
            I went back to my office and wrote a brief apology letter:  “Dear Mr. Campbell, I am very sorry if my comments offended your belief in the religion of the Golden Chalice.  Please accept my apology.  Sincerely, Kate Hamilton.”
            I made a copy and put it in Gordon’s box, and then threw the original in the trash.
            There was only so much obedience I could fake.


On Friday night, I sat downstairs at Moezy’s, waiting for Pam’s friend to come pick me up for the date.  I was sitting alone, hoping that the others wouldn’t find out that I was actually going through with it.  Bright headlights suddenly shone in the bar’s front window, temporarily blinding me.  I looked out the window and saw that the light was not the searching spotlight of invading aliens, but the headlights of an enormous truck.
            A man came in a few seconds later.  He was shorter than me, which was bad, balding, and wore jeans with a pressed shirt.  He went to the bar and spoke with Pam, who pointed in my direction.
            He caught my eye and smiled.  I made my mouth fake a smile, thinking, Don’t look fake, Don’t look fake.  He walked over to my table and I stood up, smiling fakely.
            “You must be Kate,” he said, holding out his hand to shake.
            “Yes, I must,” I shook his hand, which was smaller than mine.
            “Randall Burley.”
            I shook his hand.  “Nice to meet you, Randall.”
            “Do you want to have a drink here before we go anywhere?  I was thinking we could go to dinner.”
            “No, let’s just go ahead and go.”  I would die if Janice, José, or Matthew showed up and saw this spectacle.  I smiled fakely at Pam and waved good bye.
            The truck’s running board was higher than my knee, and the engine sounded like a semi.  I ripped my skirt climbing in.
I noticed a strange apparatus on the hump between the two seats.  It appeared to be plugged into the cigarette lighter, and had a long tube attached to a funnel.   I was about to ask what it was, when he said, “Oh, just a second, I’ve gotta do this.”  He pulled on the tube, put the funnel to his mouth, and blew.  Without saying anything, he turned the key in the ignition and started the car.  My fake smile had faded.
“That’s my ignition interlock,” he said.
“I know.  I’m a lawyer.”
“Really—I thought you were a public defender.”
“Oh, you’re right, I’m just a public defender.  I was kidding about the lawyer part.”
“Where’d you like to eat?”
“How about somewhere close.  I’ve got to be back in an hour.”

            Nothing happened for a while on Emily’s case.  Penny wouldn’t change her offer, and we didn’t want to go to trial.  Sometimes it helped for a case to age a little, until the prosecutor was sick of seeing the file in her drawer.  I had almost lost hope of settling Emily’s case, but one day, I got an unexpected e-mail from Penny.  “If Ms. Knight tests clean in the next 48 hours, I’ll reduce the charges to Conspiracy with no jail time.”  I felt my heart pounding with joy.  A miracle!
            I finally reached Emily at her work.  “Guess what!” I practically shouted into the phone.  “Penny just gave you a great deal!”
            “What is it?”
            “She said if you go a do a urinalysis test in the next 48 hours, and it comes out clean, then you won’t have to go jail.”  I was so excited.  Emily didn’t respond.
            “Isn’t that great?”
            “The thing is …”
            “I’ve been smoking pot.  Not a lot, but I smoked just a little the other day.”
            “Just pot, no coke?”
            “I swear.”
            “Let me think for a second.”  Maybe a little pot wouldn’t matter.  After all, did anyone really care about marijuana?  I could call Penny, and just lay it out there.  Look, I could say, she’s used a little pot, but no coke—is that going to matter to you?  If I were dealing with a reasonable, decent human being, this straight-forward tactic may have worked.  However, I was dealing with Penny, who, given the choice between acting like a decent human being and a monster, usually chose the latter.
I remembered that a couple of months ago, I had represented the nephew of Rob Haines, the man who ran urinalysis testing for the county.  The nephew had been charged with a felony from an incident involving theft of cable services.  Rob had called me a couple of times while his nephew’s case was pending, and we had become friendly.  Rob had wanted to make sure that his nephew was held accountable for his dishonesty, but didn’t want the felony charge to ruin his plans for a military career.  After a couple of months of negotiation, the state eventually agreed to reduce the charge to a misdemeanor, as long as the nephew paid full restitution to the cable company.  As part of the deal, the nephew had spoken to a couple of high school classes about the impact of fraud on our community.  Rob had been very pleased.
            I dialed Rob’s number.  He picked up on the second ring.
            “Hey, Kate.  How’ve you been?  Still fighting for the guilty?”
            “Just trying to help alleviate the problem of jail overcrowding.”
            “You did a good job for my nephew, anyway.”
            “Thanks, Rob.  Hey, I have a question that’s in your area of expertise.”
“How long does pot stay in a person’s system?
            “For urinalysis purposes?  About a month, give or take.”
            A month.  Dang.  “That seems like a long time doesn’t it?”
            “Who is this for, Kate?”
            “Oh, just one of my clients.”
            “That’s funny, because I just heard a rumor that Mr. Elliot is going to require random urinalysis for all the public defenders.”
“Really.  I hadn’t heard that.”
            “Talk about over-crowding the jails.”
            “No kidding.  But really, I’m calling about a client.  What if she smoked a couple of days ago, but needs to do a U.A. within the next 48 hours?”
            “She’s probably in trouble, unless she had just one puff.”
            “I’m thinking it was probably more than a puff.”
            “Well, Kate, you didn’t hear it from me, but your ‘client’ should probably call High Times—it’s a head shop.”
            “OK, thanks a ton.”
            “Sure thing, and tell your ‘client’ that that stuff is bad for her.”
“Thanks, Rob.”
            “Anytime, Kate.  I didn’t say this, either, but we need people like you around.”
            I found the phone number for High Times in the phone book, and dialed the number.
            “High Times,” a friendly voice answered.
            “Hi.  I have a client who needs to test clean within the next 48 hours.”
            “OK, when did this ‘client’ last smoke?”
            “Yesterday, I think.”
            “We have a couple of urine-cleansing tests that should do the trick.  They run about $40.  Tell your ‘client’ to come on by.  She should start the process immediately.”
            I called Emily.  “All right, we may have this solved.  You need to go immediately to High Times and purchase a cleansing kit.”
            “How much does the kit cost?”
            “Forty dollars.”
            “Kate, I don’t even have $5.  We’ve been eating from the food bank all week.”
            I thought about approaching Gordon for the money.  Ed might have authorized the expenditure, but Gordon would probably have me arrested for asking.  I wasn’t even sure that Ed would have authorized the money.  Realistically, I didn’t think I would be able to get the court to pay for a kit that would help you beat a urinalysis test, no matter how worthy the underlying cause.  I thought about the $50 I was saving to buy some Kenneth Cole pumps that had caught my eye.  No wonder so many public defenders dressed poorly.
            “All right,” I said.  “Stop by my office in half an hour.”
            On the way out the door, I saw Kelly standing in our lobby in a clown suit, holding a bunch of balloons.  “Not today,” I said to Janey.  “He’s trying to convince me that he runs a camp for special needs children.”
            I drove to High Times, which was luckily near the courthouse, but unluckily on a main street.  I hoped no one saw me as I scooted into the shop.
            The lighting was murky and the smell of incense strong.  Long glass display cabinets showed an astounding variety of blown glass “water pipes.”  A patchouli-scented woman wearing a long skirt and a Jamaican knit beret asked if she could help.
            “Um, I called a little while ago about a client of mine.  She needs to test clean in about 48 hours.”
            She handed me a package labeled, “I didn’t Inhale.”  “Just follow the directions precisely,” she said.  “The kit is good, but the results are only as good as the person following the directions.  I’m sure you’ll do fine.”
            “I’ll be sure to tell my client.”
            I pushed the door open and ran directly into Doug, who was walking down the street with a tall woman with curly hair.
            “Hi, Kate,” Doug said.  “Funny meeting you here.”
            I let the door close behind me, wincing at the “High Times” logo painted on the door.  “Um, Hi.”
            “Kate, I’d like you to meet my mother.  Mother, this is Kate Hamilton, a lawyer at the public defenders office.”
            I shook her hand.  “Nice to meet you.  Are you visiting from out of town?”
            “Yes, I just got in from Portland yesterday.  This is a charming street.  I love all of the little shops.  What is the one you were just in?”
            “Um …”
Doug looked me straight in the eye, his dimple betraying his amusement.,  “It’s sort of an incense shop,” Doug said.  “You probably wouldn’t like it, it’s more for, um, teenagers.”
            “Yes, incense,” I agreed.
            “What did you buy, Kate?” Doug asked.  “I didn’t know you liked incense.”
            “Um, just some patchouli?”  I could feel my face flushing.
“Is this the young woman you were telling me about?” Doug’s mom asked.
            “No, Mom,” he said quickly, grabbing his mother’s arm to guide her away from me.  “It was good to see you Kate.”
            Emily showed up at my office thirty minutes late, explaining that her car wouldn’t start and she had lost her bus pass.  Without even taking the kit out of its brown paper bag, I handed it to her.
            “What do I do?” She asked.
            “Just follow the directions,” I said, “and drink lots of water.”  I had heard that water helped flush your system.

Want to read more?  Find Chapters 30 and 31 here.


Skelly said...

I hope Penny's deal is still good if it's a dilute.

carol d said...

Oh hi there, Skelly!

You're just going to have to wait for the answer to your question :)

Jamison said...

We want next installment. We want next installment.

carol d said...

Soon, my pretty ;)

Patricia said...

ok -i have now finished all the episodes. it's nearly midnight on the 14th. how soon on the 15th will the next episode be up?

and doug was the guy in the skeleton costume, right?

damnit - i LOVE your writing!!

carol d said...

Hi Patricia, I wish I could draw a big, girly smiley face for you :)))

Re Doug--I have no idea what you're talking about

Re next episode--Hang on, I'm getting caffeinated.

Marshall said...

As a law student aspiring to be a PD, your story has been tremendously insightful and encouraged me to keep working hard. Thank you for sharing! You are as great a novelist as you are an attorney.

carol d said...

You are too kind, Marshall, but, whatever keeps you up late at night will make you an awesome PD.