Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Chapter 54 / Gangsta's Paradise

“Can’t talk here.” Andrew stood, shrugging into his jacket. “Call you back in five.”

“Don’t call anyone else.” 

“I’m telling Annie. The Observer won’t have it till Thursday. And Josh, from the P-I—does he know?”

“That’s his job.”

So Andrew made two calls, fuck the T-U, you had to feed your sources; Annie’s line was busy, so he spoke to Catherine. 

“No shit!” she said with relish. 

“Tell Annie, OK? Tell her to tell Kathleen.”

At the Post-Intelligencer, Josh knew, but thanked him. “We’re all over that story like a cheap suit, but we don’t have anyone to send to the arraignment. You’re going, right?”

“Sure am.”
They paused. 

“You know I bought the car that was torched,” said Andrew. “Then I gave it to Annie.” 

“We figured that . . . my editor may call you anyway. Not for attribution.”

“You got it. Call me a lowly placed source.” 

Tuesday dawned another gray, frigid day. From Annie’s house Andrew drove her and Chloe to the newspaper, then headed back into Schuyler, humming along with “Gangsta’s Paradise” on the radio. Once, this kind of weather would have settled over him like Josh’s cheap suit. Now it was just backdrop.  

At the courthouse, Sheriff’s Deputies—countywide cops—ran the check-in, not the Schuyler police. With sour expressions, two beefy white guys—really, were they separated at birth?—waved in the TV camera crew and then looked at him. 

For one second, they appraised each other. Andrew mentally noted their names, and the deputies’ eyes recorded his height and weight within inches and pounds, and with looks that said that they wouldn’t have wanted their girlfriends’ car torched either. 

Their only curiosity was for the laptop. Andrew slid it out of its case and turned it on.

“I’ll take notes on the arraignment.”

“But no pictures.” 

“No sir, it doesn’t take pictures. I leave that to the pros.”

Officer Ryan made a face. Andrew resisted lecturing on the importance of public access to courtroom procedures.  

Officer Brock touched the edge of the laptop with a fingertip. “I’ll be damned, he said. “Where we goin’ with this.” 

“How much longer you got on the force?” asked Andrew.

After a one-second glance at the ceiling, Brock said, “Ten years, two weeks, twelve days.” 

“You’ll learn this—“ Andrew tapped the laptop—“before you leave.”

“Aw, no!” Brock winced and they all laughed.

At the stand next to the check-in, Andrew bought his four newspapers, and in the courtroom he sat along the side, where he could see the bench at his left and the door on his right. 

He skimmed the papers, past the start of the O. J. Simpson trial and Clinton’s rescue of Mexico, until he found, buried within the Times, News and Post, the AP story of the reporter’s car torched in a parking lot in an upstate city suspected as a drug base. The News and the Post each had a photo of Annie’s car. 

Catherine sat front and center, she and the court reporter the only females in the room. Alex arrived from the TU—they exchanged glances but no nod. Enough cameras here to fill a shop—five by his count, including one solo guy who might be the AP stringer, all of them here for a three-minute arraignment of a two-bit criminal. 

Andrew was typing when he saw his apple-processing colleagues—Glaron, now his restaurant partner, and Billy, who loved to dance. They shook hands in silence and then sat, one on either side of him.

“Thought only old white guys hung out in courtrooms in the morning,” said Andrew, just above a whisper. 

Glaron’s gold teeth flashed. 

“They right behind us,” said Billy.

And they were, a line of indistinguishable middle-aged guys, retired or out of work, who followed cops and courts. Behind them Claude arrived, with his walrus mustache and a taxicab cash box under his arm, followed by Steve, watch cap in hand. Claude nodded and sat in back, for easy escape. Steve joined his work crew; handshakes again, and Steve sat next to Glaron. 

Here they were, their women at work while they hung out in a high-ceilinged, windowless courtroom in the middle of nowhere, intent on news that would always be buried behind O.J. 

“Judge is late,” Billy sighed at 9:05.

“Waiting for the chief,” said Steve.

Andrew looked at him. 

“In the hall,” said Steve, “talking to the deputies.”

At that moment Chief Miller made his entrance, sweeping off his chief hat, surpassing even Steve for tidiness. Slender, clean-shaven, his curly hair cropped, he was a physical and sartorial role model, a black wool coat over his uniform. His eyes swept the room, and Andrew wished Glaron and Billy had sat elsewhere. The chief still would have known, but now they were right in his “dark coffee” face, under his narrow, straight nose. 

A white guy offered his seat; the chief shook his head with thanks. He leaned against the wall, where he could see everything, then stood straight as they all rose for the judge. 

After one minute of business the court clerk brought in the defendant, an ordinary guy with a moon face and sandy hair thinning on top, a guy who looked like the indeterminate guys in the audience except that he had scared up a Navy blue blazer and a cranberry tie for the occasion, along with a lawyer who introduced himself for the record and named a firm in Albany. 

The defendant understood the charges against him, which started with Arson One, because he was accused of being paid for the job—he must be singing until he was hoarse.

He pled not guilty. The only debate then was about bail, between the DA and the defense attorney, men of the same generation, in dueling three-piece suits. The Albany lawyer was well prepped, noting that Six-pack was a Schuyler native, had ties to the community, blah blah, but he didn’t mention support of a family, or a job.  

The judge compromised by setting bail, high—$100,000 cash or $200,000 bond. Andrew kept his face frozen as he typed, and on either side of him, Billy and Glaron were still. In contrast, a flash of motion and indeterminate sound came from the center, astonishment tinged with anger. 

“Silence!” The judge—white sideburns creeping from under a glistening brunette coif—slammed down his hammer.

They needed to contain themselves for only another minute. Then Andrew nodded to his friends and strode to the lawyer so that he was first in line among the reporters. 

“Andrew Logan, independent journalist,” he said, extending the business card with his telephone number. “Can I have your card?”

“Where were your last three articles published?”

“—Rolling Stone and The Nation.”

The lawyer read Andrew’s name through his rimless glasses. 

“Your girlfriend’s car,” he said, pocketing the card. 

“Your business card is public information,” said Andrew. 

The lawyer gave him two cards. “Ms. Williams will handle the case for me in the office,” he said. 

“Thank you, Mr. Kinsella. Who’s paying you?”

Kinsella stared at him. “That’s between my client and me.” 

Andrew shook his head. “Public information.” Worth a try. 

“My client hired my firm.” 

“That’s not what I asked you.” 

“That’s my answer. Good day.”

He left the courtroom, followed by the TV crew and a gaggle of reporters. If he commented outside the courthouse, it would be on TV at noon, so Andrew stopped at the check-in. 

“Big deal lawyer,” he said to the deputies. 

Ryan nodded. “Irish guy. Fought in ‘Nam.” 

“Six-pack paying him?”

“In cigarettes, maybe,” said Brock. 

“Sometimes he works pro bono,” said Ryan. 

“Here comes the chief,” said Andrew. “Maybe he’ll know.”

The deputies snorted softly. Andrew headed down an empty hallway, where Chief Miller had just left the men’s washroom. 

The chief nodded to him “How’s it goin’,” he said genially. 

Andrew stopped and stared, holding the chief with his eyes. “Girl needs a car.”

The chief nodded. “Try Village Auto, across the river. Tell them I sent you.”

Andrew refused to let himself be dumbfounded. “So they’ll wire the car?”

“Naw,” said Chief Miller, with the glimmer of a smile, as if Andrew were joking. “They have a good selection. Try them.”

Copyright © Debby Mayer