Winter weather is dreary in Seattle – day after day of relentless, gray rain, falling listlessly on an already-drenched, soaking wet city, the endless dripping a backdrop for conversations, music, or meditation. This weather drives us natives to odd habits – compulsive reading, drinking vast amounts of gourmet coffee, watching lots of movies and sitting at home nestled under comfy quilts.
Today however, was not one of those days. Today was the kind of day we don’t advertise because we’re tired of the influx of rude Californians and New Yorkers into our previously quiet and polite city. A sparkling sun shone on the snow-capped Olympic Mountains in the distance, and I could see the ferries chugging back and forth over a crystal-clear Puget Sound. It was a day to get up early and get things done.
Sure enough, I’d been up since 5 AM catching up on paperwork and was now seated in an upscale leather-and-wood law office on the 22nd floor of the Westlake Center in downtown Seattle. I’m a private investigator and work with a lot of lawyers.
George Montcrief was my favorite lawyer client. Some of them don’t like to pay me if they lose, some don’t give me enough info, some act like I’m a shadow in their luminescence, and some don’t direct their cases, leaving me to my own devices, always a mistake. George is a reasonable guy – gives me what I need to do a good job and pays like clockwork. He’s a good defense attorney who handles lots of high profile cases. He’d been a prosecutor for twelve years and finally decided to cross to the wild side and make some money.
“New client,” George said, shoving a file across the desk at me. “Roger Morrison, a lawyer, charged with two felony arsons, one with a fatality which makes it murder one.”
“A lawyer? No kidding! What happened?”
“Well, looks like Roger blows up people’s cars if he doesn’t like them, and sometimes there are people inside. Let’s see,” George said, paging through the file. ”The ATF is involved in this one, and also the FBI. It’s going to trial in March. They seem to have things sewn up pretty solid.”
“And our angle, I mean, defense strategy, is?”
“Not sure yet. Read the discovery, check out the witness list and see if you can find any of them. Then get back to me and I’ll let you know what I want from each. Come to think of it, Morrison might have some other witness suggestions – you’ll need to talk to him. He’s locked up. And be careful where you tread with this one.”
George’s phone rang.
I thumbed through the thick file. Looked like about 250 pages of discovery, including crime scene interviews, detective follow-ups, photos from the police and the coroner, and recovered computer data from Roger’s machine. Could the client have been stupid enough to discuss his plans online?
I waited for George to hang up. My eyes wandered again to the spectacular view outside his window. West Seattle and Bainbridge Island glistened green. To the south, huge, orange cranes were hard at work unloading container ships onto trains and trucks on Harbor Island. A white cruise ship entered the Seattle harbor, bringing tourists to ravage our downtown shops and restaurants. Geez, those things are massive – like entire cities based on food and pampering. The ships were new to Seattle and looked like fantasy structures out of cartoons next to the hard-working freighters and fishing boats common to the area.
“So what do you think of the new case?” George asked, flipping his cell phone into his pocket.
“What did you mean about being careful where I tread on this one?”
“Only that Roger has a pattern of revenge and you want to play things low-key and not get on his bad side.”
“Then don’t do too good a job,” I joked. “Better he’s locked up.”
“Oh, that wouldn’t stop him,” said George. Even if he goes to prison, he’ll still be dangerous. He’ll be a jailhouse lawyer and help out his fellow inmates. Then, some very bad people will owe him favors when they get out. He’s got some clients even I won’t touch, and a lot of affiliations I don’t want to know about.”
“Oh great. It’s always good working with you George. Got time for a fast lunch?”
“Sure, let’s hit the food court.”
We headed for the elevators.
George’s firm was adjacent to the trendy and overpriced Westlake Mall, a high-end indoor mall with dozens of stores I couldn’t imagine shopping in. We threaded our way through crowds to the escalator, up to the food court, where there are about 30 food booths, and not a hot dog in sight. Restaurants offering fare from all over the world are up there, along with fancy juice drinks infused with vitamins, gourmet coffees and some of the world’s best chocolate. Hundreds of people are here at lunchtime – the place is mobbed. Office workers, tourists, suburban folks in town shopping, all meet in this elegant glass-roofed emporium, sit very close to each other and eavesdrop on each others’ conversations.
“I’m getting sushi,” George declared.
“I think I’ll go for the World Wrapps. See you at a table on the west side.”
I stood in line waiting for a Mexican grilled chicken wrap and thought about my next appointment. Sometimes witnesses and police officers are a little reluctant to speak to us defense folks, and this was one of those times. A particularly obnoxious police sergeant was hoping I wouldn’t show up in municipal court to hear his cover-up story for how he’d botched an arrest of one of our clients. I was looking forward to it. Sometimes we actually get an innocent client, and Jeannie Allsop, the defense attorney, had told me she thought this might be one of those instances.
I picked up my wrap and scanned the tables at the west end of the floor for George. There he was, elegant in his black turtleneck and camel jacket, sipping green tea and contemplating his unagi sushi.
“Got time for some other cases?” he asked as I sat down. “If you can come back early tomorrow morning, I’ll go over them with you.
“We still have a lot of interviews to do for Alex Matsumoto. How are you coming on those?”
“Not too well. No one will talk to me and it looks like you’ll have to get the prosecutor to make them talk to us.”
“OK, let me know. Gotta run. A client is coming in at one.”
After George left, I sipped my iced tea and pulled out the file he’d just given me. Reading a well-assembled criminal file is like reading a mystery book. He says this, she says that, the police tell us what they think happened, another person says something totally different. How do you figure out what really went on? Fortunately, that’s not my job. Juries get to decide whether the guy did it or not.
Our new client, the firebug Roger Morrison, graduated Harvard Law and interned at Bogle and Gates, one of Seattle’s most prestigious law firms. He did a lot of criminal work there for about ten years and then went out on his own.
Recently, a few of his legal beagle enemies had encountered serious misfortunes. There were two charges in my file, both for arson. The husband of one of the attorneys Roger disliked, had been killed in one of the arsons. First-degree murder. Big stuff. I read further and was interested to see that Morrison had a co-defendant the murder case, a Makah Indian named Windsong from the rez over on the Olympic Peninsula. And the fire had been sparked remotely using firecrackers!
I flipped over the data recovered from Roger’s computer and studied the EnCase report generated by the Washington State Crime Lab. They had pulled all of Roger’s porn sites and sexually explicit email, which wasn’t germane to the case (which means they aren’t supposed to examine it) and all his business correspondence, images and general documents. Some of the titles looked interesting.
Let’s see, there was “bitch.doc., animalplay.jpg, Annette&tammy.jpg, tawny.jpg,” etc. Hundreds of files had been printed out and included in the report. I flipped some pages looking for the email…..
My cellphone rang out with a digital bleep version of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony. I had it set on high so I could hear it above the din I was often in, and several people smiled at the familiar notes.
“Hello, Anna Perez,”
“Hi Anna, this is Sandy. Have you managed to track down those witnesses yet for Abe?”
“Yes, I have all but one. Didn’t you get my email?”
Seemed something was wrong with her firm’s computers, so I promised to drop the report off in the next half hour.
“Hey Anna!” A scrawny, unwashed young man in Seattle traditional blue Gortex waved at me from the Chang’s Chinese Cuisine booth. “Hold up – be there in a sec.”
“Oh shit,” I muttered. That’s what I get for sitting here. Marty Fellenkamp made his way over to me, settling his tray of disgusting fried, batter-encrusted lunch in front of me. It glittered with grease. “Jesus, Marty, what is that stuff?”
“It’s their Mongolian pork. Try some?”
“That’s fine, thanks. What are you up to lately?”
“I got hired at the public defender as an investigator trainee and it’s great. Isn’t that cool?”
“Oh, it is. Are you working for the old she-devil?”
“Nah, I report to the staff guy now, what’s his name, Haroshi Kawamoto. He’s OK.”
“So when did this happen?”
“Uh, three weeks ago. I got so much to do I’m goin’ nuts, but it’s kinda cool because I’m more on my own now.”
Marty and I had interned together at the agency some years back, working on public defense cases a mile a minute and having a lot of fun. Great place to learn the trade. The work was so intense that it drew disparate people close, even me and Marty. We are two people who would otherwise have little in common – he was 28, I was 64, I’m Mexican-American, he’s really white, I like Willy Colon, he likes Pearl Jam, I’m married and I don’t think he’s mature enough to date. Nonetheless, all of us who had worked together in that mad environment, which I called the attorneys’ ER, were bonded by a mutual passion toward our indigent and occasionally innocent clients.
“Well good for you. You actually got hired there!” Perfect, I thought. He’s got a lot of energy and will work there till he drops. The agency needs that.
“What are you working on lately?” I asked. Since it’s all confidential, I didn’t really expect much of an answer, but Marty happily told me about some of his cases, in detail, as he chewed his fried junk food with his mouth open. The smell was so foul I started gathering up my paperwork, listening with half an ear to his tales of unfair drug busts, an innocent man accused of mangling his spouse, a nice guy who’d had a few drinks and felt awful about the people in the other car, and so on.
You know, Anna, you’ve gotta get out of this line of work, I said to myself. Maybe I should have stayed with teaching high school.
“So Anna,” Marty was saying, “I gotta tell you about my favorite case.”
“OK, but I have to go in a minute. What is it”
“Well, this guy, our client, he was arrested on a DUI, but he wasn’t drunk.” Silence.
“OK, I’ll bite. What made the cops think he was drunk?”
“He was weaving all over the road, and drove into the oncoming traffic lane, back and forth, but he didn’t do it ‘cause he was drunk,” Marty smirked.
“OK, I give up, why did he do it?”
“Well, his girlfriend was with him, ya know? And she was entertaining him, ya know, with her head down, kind of in his lap….”
“You’re kidding! You mean she was going down on him while he was driving?”
Marty flushed beet red. “Yeah, she was.”
“So why wouldn’t he take a sobriety test?”
“I’m not sure, I guess he was too flustered, you know what I mean?”
I shook my head. Only at the public defenders office. Marty went on to describe several other cases and I spaced out until he said,
“….and this guy who’s accused of doing an arson with firecrackers from his cousins’ stand on the Neah Bay reservation. Just because they found the same kind of firecrackers in his house and he was picked up near the scene of the arson is NOT any kind of proof that he was involved…..”
My ears perked up.
“Tell me more about this guy,” I said, ignoring the obnoxious aroma now emanating from Marty himself as well as the worked-over plate in front of him. I noticed that he had a small piece of something red stuck in his upper canines.
“Just because he’s a native American, they are really picking on him. He’s this great guy, named Johnny Windsong – isn’t that a cool name? Johnny Windsong? Anyway, he writes poetry and stuff, and lives with his girlfriend in Tukwila. She’s a bartender up at the Blue Moon tavern – isn’t that cool?”
“Yup, that’s cool. Listen, got time for lunch Friday? I’d like to hear more about Johnny, I really would, but I have to run.”
“I’ll email you.”