Switchblade(9)
Author:Michael Connelly


    “Yep. In fact, mind if I use your bathroom?”

    I reached into the briefcase and grabbed another Ziploc, this one containing my toothbrush. I went into the room’s bathroom and brushed my teeth. The red dye turned the brush pink at first but soon it was all down the drain.

    When I came back to the chair, I noticed that Legal had finished only half his sandwich. I knew the rest must be cold and there was no way I could take it out to the dayroom to heat it in the microwave. But Legal still seemed happy.

    “Details,” he demanded.

    “Well, I tried to break the witness but she held up. She was a rock. When I returned to the table, I gave him the signal and he did his thing. He hit me a little harder than I was expecting but I’m not complaining. The best part is I didn’t have to make the motion to declare a mistrial. The judge went right to it on his own.”

    “Over prosecution’s objection?”

    “Oh, yeah.”

    “Good. Fuck ’em.”

    Legal Siegel was a defense attorney through and through. For him, any ethical question or gray area could be overcome by the knowledge that it is the sworn duty of the defense attorney to present the best defense of his client. If that meant tipping a mistrial when the chips were down, then so be it.

    “Now the question is, will he deal now?”

    “It’s actually a she, and I think she’ll deal. You should’ve seen the witness after the scuffle. She was scared and I don’t think she’ll be wanting to come back for another trial. I’ll wait a week and have Jennifer call the prosecutor. I think she’ll be ready to deal.”

    Jennifer was my associate Jennifer Aronson. She would need to take over representation of Leonard Watts, because if I stayed on, it would look like the setup it was and that Kristina Medina had alluded to in the courtroom.

    Medina had refused to negotiate a plea agreement before the trial because Leonard Watts declined to give up his partner, the guy who drove the car that bumped into each of the victims. Watts wouldn’t snitch, and so Medina wouldn’t deal. Things would be different in a week, I thought, for a variety of reasons: I had seen most of the prosecution’s case laid out in the first trial, Medina’s main witness was spooked by what had happened in front of her in court today, and mounting a second trial would be a costly use of taxpayers’ money. Added to that, I had given Medina a glimpse of what might come if the defense presented a case to a jury—namely my intention to explore through expert witnesses the pitfalls of interracial recognition and identification. That was something no prosecutor wanted to deal with in front of a jury.

    “Hell,” I said, “she might call me before I even have to go to her.”

    That part was wishful thinking but I wanted Legal to feel good about the move he had strategized for me.

    While I was up I took the extra blood capsule out of the briefcase and dropped it into the room’s hazardous-waste container. There was no need for it anymore and I didn’t want to risk it breaking open and ruining my paperwork.

    My phone buzzed and I pulled it out of my pocket. It was my case manager, Lorna Taylor, calling but I decided to let it go to message. I’d call her back after my visit with Legal.

    “What else you got going now?” Legal asked.

    I spread my hands.

    “Well, no trial now, so I guess I have the rest of the week off. I may go down to arraignment court tomorrow and see if I can pick up a client or two. I could use the work.”

    Not only could I use the income but the work would keep me busy and not thinking about the things in my life that were wrong. In that sense the law had become more than a craft and a calling. It kept me sane.

    By checking in at Department 130, the arraignment court in the downtown Criminal Courts Building, I had a shot at picking up clients the public defender was dropping because of conflict of interest. Every time the DA filed a multi-defendant case, the PD could take on only one defendant, putting all others in conflict. If those other defendants did not have private counsel, the judge would appoint counsel to them. If I happened to be there twiddling my thumbs, more often than not I’d pick up a case. It paid government scale but it was better than no work and no pay.

    “And to think,” Legal said, “at one point last fall you were running five points up in the polls. And now here you are, scrounging around first-appearance court looking for handouts.”

    As he had aged, Legal had lost most of the social filters normally employed in polite company.

    “Thanks, Legal,” I said. “I can always count on you for a fair and accurate take on my lot in life. It’s refreshing.”

    Legal Siegel raised his bony hands in what I guessed was an apologetic gesture.

    “I’m just saying.”

    “Sure.”

    “So what about your daughter, then?”

    This was how Legal’s mind worked. Sometimes he couldn’t remember what he’d had for breakfast, but he seemed to always remember that I had lost more than the election the year before. The scandal had cost me the love and companionship of my daughter and any shot I’d had at putting my broken family back together.

    “Things are still the same there, but let’s not go down that road today,” I said.

    I checked my phone again after feeling the vibration signaling I had received a text. It was from Lorna. She had surmised that I wasn’t taking calls or listening to voice-mail. A text was different.

    Call me ASAP—187



    Her mention of the California penal code number for murder got my attention. It was time to go.

    “You know, Mickey, I only bring her up because you don’t.”

    “I don’t want to bring her up. It’s too painful, Legal. I get drunk every Friday night so I can sleep through most of Saturday. You know why?”

    “No, I don’t know why you would get drunk. You did nothing wrong. You did your job with that guy Galloway or whatever his name was.”

    “I drink Friday nights so I am out of it Saturdays because Saturdays were when I used to see my daughter. His name was Gallagher, Sean Gallagher, and it doesn’t matter if I was doing my job. People died and it’s on me, Legal. You can’t hide behind just doing your job when two people get creamed at an intersection by the guy you set free. Anyway, I gotta go.”

    I stood up and showed him the phone as if it were the reason I needed to go.

    “What, I don’t see you for a month and now you already have to go? I’m not finished with my sandwich here.”

    “I saw you last Tuesday, Legal. And I’ll see you sometime next week. If not then, then the week after. You hang in and hold fast.”

    “Hold fast? What’s that supposed to mean?”

    “It means hold on to what you got. My half brother, the cop, told me that one. Finish that sandwich before they come in here and take it from you.”

    I moved toward the door.

    “Hey, Mickey Mouse.”

    I turned back to him. It was the name he bestowed on me when I was a baby, born at four and a half pounds. Normally I’d tell him not to call me that anymore. But I let him have it so I could go.

    “What?”

    “Your father always called the jurors the ‘gods of guilt.’ You remember that?”

    “Yep. Because they decide guilty or not guilty. What’s your point, Legal?”

    “The point is that there are plenty of people out there judging us every day of our lives and for every move we make. The gods of guilt are many. You don’t need to add to them.”

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