Chapter 1 1
THE CUSTOMER CUT a fine figure, an attorney in a thousand-dollar business suit. Like the werewolves of London, his hair was perfect, full and speckled with just the right amount of gray, for the ever-crucial gravitas. Apparently deep in thought, he was twirling his empty wineglass around on the circle of condensation that had formed in front of him at the bar.
His bartender, the eponymous owner of Lou the Greek’s restaurant, a popular watering hole of the legal community just across the street from San Francisco’s Hall of Justice, took the twirling as a cue and moseyed on down to his only customer.
“?’Nother one, Wes?”
Wes Farrell considered for a short moment before he shook his head. “Better not, Lou. I’ve got to drive home in a while. Two glasses of wine at lunch is too much.”
“Well, driving comes to mind.”
“So get an Uber.”
“And pay for parking overnight in the lot out there? Forty bucks per any portion of the day, plus the Uber home and back? We’re talking a hundred bills here. That’s an expensive glass of this fine wine.”
Lou shrugged. “Okay. So. Maybe not an Uber. But even if you drove, so what?”
“What do you mean, so what?”
“I mean, you’re Wes Farrell. You get pulled over, you tell them who you are, though they’d probably already know that anyway. They tell you to have a nice day and send you on your way.”
This brought a dry chuckle. “Nice fantasy, Lou, but I don’t think so. More likely is one of the city’s finest pulls me over and says, ‘Hey, didn’t you used to be Wes Farrell the district attorney?’ And I go, ‘Yeah,’ and he says, ‘Well, you’re not anymore.’ And he writes me up anyway. I get tagged with a DUI and then I’m well and truly screwed.”
“That’ll never happen.”
“It might if I have another glass of wine.”
“That’s a hell of a lot of burden to put on a six-ounce pour.”
“It is. I know. It’s a bitch. But there you go.” Farrell gave his glass another quarter turn, threw a glance up at the ceiling, came back to his bartender. “Ah, what the hell, Lou,” he said. “Hit me again, would you?”
HE DIDN’T GET pulled over on his drive back to his office on Sutter Street, but he felt guilty the whole time he sat behind the wheel. After all, he was in fact the former district attorney of San Francisco, the chief prosecutor in the city and county. His administration hadn’t exactly broken new ground in granting leniency to people who drove under the influence, and he wouldn’t expect any mercy if he got himself pulled over with a heat on.
Still, he’d gotten himself without incident into his sacred parking spot in the garage under the Freeman Building, where he was a partner in the law firm of Freeman, Farrell, Hardy & Roake. Taking the elevator up past the ornate and even regal reception lobby, he made it to the third floor unmolested.
As usual, the place was deserted. No one, it seemed, except himself, liked working in splendid isolation up here. Even his efficient and intuitive secretary, Treya, whom he shared with his partner Gina Roake, preferred working on the bustling second floor where most of the firm’s business got done.
The only door on this floor opened to his outsize, well-lit office, which he’d furnished—another of his trademarks—with a man-child’s sensibility. Heavy on games and sports paraphernalia, the space was nobody’s idea of a successful lawyer’s office. Featuring a full-size Ping-Pong/billiards table, a foosball game, two Nerf baskets, a dartboard, a couple of enormous television sets, a chessboard, and three soft brown leather couches with two matching chairs, the office sported exactly zero signs of files, no law books.
Farrell didn’t want to intimidate clients. He wanted them to feel at home. He always made it a point to show each of them one of his nearly trademark goofy/funny/rude T-shirts that he infallibly wore underneath his white button-down shirt. (Today’s message: Qualified to Give Urine Samples.)
Okay, not really that funny; he’d admit it. But they all spoke to him in one way or another and he wasn’t about to abandon an approach that had served him so well for so long.
Closing the door behind him, he absently picked up one of the Nerf basketballs from the Ping-Pong table and shot it toward the hoop across the room, missing by about three feet.
It was all the encouragement he needed to cross to the nearest couch, take off his suit coat, and get horizontal, hands behind his head. His eyes hadn’t been closed even for a minute when the natural law of the universe kicked in and his telephone rang.
With a deep sigh, he forced himself up. He was a slave to his landline and probably always would be (although he was getting better and better at ignoring his cell phone when it rang or buzzed or strummed or whatever the hell else it could do). But the landline was an imperative going all the way back to his childhood. Ignore it at your own great peril. He picked it up before the second ring, said his name into the mouthpiece, and was rewarded by Gina’s voice.
“You wanted to talk to me?”
“I did. Still do. I would have called you in a couple more minutes. I just got in from the Hall. But since you called me, I intuit that this might be a good time.”
“You intuit that, do you?”
“If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a thousand times—intuition rules.” She sighed. “I’ll come up. I could use the exercise.”
THEY EACH TOOK one of the comfortable brown leather chairs and rearranged them so that they faced each other. Gina settled herself and spent a couple of seconds looking around the room, finally coming back to Wes and making a face. “You know,” she said, “I haven’t been up here in a while and, no offense, but it could use a little freshening up. You ever think about getting an interior designer up here and turning it into a real office?”
Wes didn’t have to consider even for a second. “Never not once. This is a real office, my dear. It’s just a different kind of real. Less intimidating, user-friendly and all that. My clients love it up here. Besides, I don’t want them thinking that my fees are going to interior decorating. That would send the wrong message.”
“Which would be what?”
“That I’m doing it for the money, and not for love and justice.”
Gina chuckled. “Oh yes. God forbid they think that. I know for me and my clients, it’s all about the love. I don’t think they really notice the office décor downstairs. At least in a negative way. They probably even want me to have a nice office so they know they’re dealing with a professional person.”
“Actually,” Wes said, coming forward in his chair, “that’s kind of what I wanted to talk to you about.”
“Being a professional person?”
“Well…” Wes remained silent, his face closing down. He let out a heavy, perhaps angst-laden breath.
Gina took a quick beat at the abrupt one-word change in tone. She looked over to meet his eyes and then, reaching out, laid a hand on his knee. “Hey,” she whispered, with real concern. “Are you all right?”
Wes took another deep breath, again let it out heavily. Scratching at one side of his mouth, then the other, he finally shook his head. “I don’t know. Not so good, I think. I feel like I’m in the middle of… maybe an existential crisis, if that’s not too fancy a term for it. I just don’t know if I’m going to be able to go on doing what I’m doing.” He broke a small smile. “Sorry.”
She waved off his apology. “Did something happen?”
“Not one something, I’m afraid. Several of them.” He sat back and put an ankle on his knee. “I went down to the Hall this morning because it was my day to take conflict cases.” These were usually cases with more than one defendant, so both of them couldn’t be represented by the same attorney (or by lawyers from the public defender’s office) because of conflict of interest rules. “Lots of business, right?”
“Bread and butter,” she said.
“So I’m sitting there in the courtroom this morning and I’m listening to all these defendants coming through the pipeline and it occurs to me, not for the first time, that I’m not even slightly inclined to help protect their civil rights anymore. I mean, you know me, Gina, I like to think I’ve got an open mind on this stuff. I know how the system works. But I’ve spent most of the last ten years as the DA, prosecuting these people, putting them away because by and large they completely deserve it. I’ve just gotten to the point that I think these defendants who got themselves all the way to arrested, then guess what? They’re guilty. They undoubtedly did something, and sometimes what it was is pretty damn bad. Heinous, even. And even if it’s not exactly what they were charged with, so the fuck what? Undoubtedly they broke some law, so why do I want to go to work for them and try to get them off? So they can just go out and do whatever it is again?”
Gina’s face had hardened down. She had spent close to forty years as a defense attorney and she knew the job—its perils and emotional pitfalls—inside and out. “You’re not working to get them off, Wes, at least primarily. You’re trying to make sure they get a fair trial and sentence. Otherwise…”
“I know, I know. Otherwise we’re living in a police state.”
Gina sat back in her chair and nodded. “Sadly, that is mostly true.”
“And is that really the worst thing in the world?”
Gina shook her head in sorrow. “Actually,” she said, “pretty darn close. On so many levels you don’t even want me to start. You arrest people without any evidence, or you start charging them for crimes they didn’t commit, then believe me, the whole world falls apart. People who didn’t do anything start getting arrested for whatever reason, or no reason, or because somebody in power doesn’t like them.”
“Yeah.” Wes nodded. “I know, I know.”
“Well, thank God you still know that. Maybe there’s hope for you yet.”
“Why do you think I wanted to talk to you? I told you it was a crisis. At least as far as the firm and me are concerned. The sad truth is that I’m not at all sure that I want to defend these people anymore. I don’t believe what they say. I’ve got no patience. I don’t want to hear it. I start believing these defendants, next thing you know I start to care too much, and I just don’t think I can do that anymore. What I really want is to put those bad people away, not help them get back on the street where they’ll just do it again, whatever it is.”
Gina sat back in her chair, her brow creased, her lips pursed.
“Now you’re mad at me,” Wes said.
“Not really. More sad than anything else. I mean, I know you realize that the basic problem we have as a society is poverty and lack of education, and that’s what drives—”
“Please.” Wes held up a hand. “I know. I’ve heard every variant on that before. All the bad stuff that happened in everybody’s childhood so that they’re screwed up forever and it makes them commit crimes when they grow up. My problem, though, is the crimes themselves, the victims, the people who get hurt or worse than hurt. At some point, doesn’t a person with an admittedly sad and pathetic background become responsible for what he does?”
“Sure, and then they should be punished. But there has to be a process to make sure they’re not railroaded, that they’re charged with a crime they actually committed.”
“Okay. I can even buy that. But my point is that I don’t know if I can defend them anymore. That’s all. I’m thinking we at the firm… I mean, we’re basically a defense team, and I just don’t know if I’m comfortable on that team anymore. When they started assigning those conflict cases this morning… okay, I know I signed up to be on the list and it was my day to get the cases, but I almost ran to get myself out of the courtroom before the judge could assign me. I just couldn’t do it.”
“Yeah, well, that’s understandable. But you know, if you get yourself involved with somebody who’s legitimately innocent—”
Wes snorted. “That’s exactly what I’m saying, Gina. There aren’t too many of those truly innocent people that I’m likely to encounter out in the real world, and pretty much none that I’d believe.”
“You wait. It could happen anytime. Meanwhile, you don’t want to do anything precipitous. I believe in my heart that you belong here with us on the side of the angels. You just need to find something—some important case worthy of your talents.”
“You’ve got ’em, Wes. Don’t kid yourself. We need you here.”
Wes broke a small smile. “Well,” he said, “thank you. And in the words of the great Ernest Hemingway, ‘Isn’t it pretty to think so?’?”
“More than that,” she said. “Just give it a little more time. Take a day off. Hell, take a month off. Don’t go chasing any business. Let it come to you.”
“Hah,” he said. “As if.”