Tuesday, October 6, 2015

George V. Higgins. Kennedy for the Defense. Excerpts of interest. | Alfred F. Knopf. | 1980.

I have a client named Teddy Franklin. Teddy Franklin is a car thief. He is thirty-two years old, and he is one of the best car thieves on the Eastern Seaboard. Cadillac Ted is so good that he is able to support himself as a car thief. He has been arrested repeatedly, which is how he made my acquaintance, but he has never done time. That is because I am so good. It is also because Teddy is so good.
Teddy is as cute as a shithouse rat. He is an expert. He never leaves any prints. He never does anything in the presence of unreliable people who might turn out to be witnesses for the prosecution. He does not become attached to any of the cars he steals, but unloads them within an hour or so of the instant that he steals them. If you have a car with a kill switch cutting out the ignition, and Teddy wants your car, he will have it started within thirty seconds of the time that he spots your car. If you have a car with a hidden burglar alarm, Teddy will have that alarm disabled before it has even gone off. If you have a crook lock, a steel bar immobilizing the steering wheel and brake, he will remove it inside of a minute – I do not know how Teddy does this, but Teddy assures me that he does do it, and I’m sure he does have some professional secrets. The only device that Teddy admits to be sufficient to defeat him is the invention which shuts off the gas and the ignition and seals the hood shut so that Teddy cannot get at the wires and jump them.
“I dunno,” Teddy said, “I don’t think I can beat that one. Short of taking a torch to it, I don’t think I can do it. I tried a couple of time, just for the hell of it. Didn’t even have an order for that particular car, but I saw the sticker that said it had one of those things, and sure enough, it worked. ‘Course when the owner got back, he wasn’t goin’ nowhere in it neither, which is something, because if I need a torch to get into it, so does the guy who’s got a right to get into it. I imagine the only way you could take one of those things is if you backed the wrecker up to it and towed the damned thing off to some place where you could work on it.”
Teddy does not approve of the use of tow trucks to steal cars. He admits that it works, and is often the answer to prompt delivery of an order, but he does not like it.
“Look,” Teddy said, “nobody pays any attention to you. You got an order for a Porsche, you get your CB and you go out in your car to one of the shopping malls and you drive around until you see one that you want. Now you don’t want to fuck around all day in a shopping plaza, doing things to somebody else’s car. Nobody else’ll pay any attention to you, but shopping ain’t like movies. You don’t know when the son of a bitch is gonna get his new shirts or whatever he went there for, finish his fuckin’ errands and come back and catch you. He does, he’s probably not gonna like it. He won’t be pleased, you know? He’s liable to get rude with you. Some of these bastard’re carrying now, and you never know what some nutty civilian’s gonna do, he sees you catching his car and he’s heeled.
“You sit in Howard Johnson’s and you have a beer and you look out the window at the movie parking lot, you see something you want drive in, and the people get out and they lock it, you know pretty well for sure they will not come out for two hours. They’re gonna eat the popcorn. They will drink the Coke. They will watch the previews. They will laugh their asses off at Peter Sellers. And you will have their car halfway to Hartford, Connecticut, before they finish their first candy bar.
“Same thing with you, you see something you want and the guy’s parking it on a street near a nice restaurant and gettin’ out with his girlfriend and they go in. Now you know he’s not gonna come tearing out the minute he finishes the salad bar. He’s gonna sit there. She’s gonna sit there. They will have some nice wine and look at each other and get themselves all horny over the Indian pudding and you got plenty of time to take their car. But you never know how long it’s going to take for a guy to get a birthday present for his wife and a pair of Jocky shorts for himself and maybe an ice cream cone, so you got to be quick in a shopping mall.
“Now, in a case like that,” Teddy said, “notwithstanding I like to work fast and alone, by myself, but if I really tried like hell to get you what you wanted, and you’re getting restless, giving me some shit, I would use a tow truck. I would find what you wanted and then I would call up my friend in his truck and give him some directions, where to find your car and where to take it, and then I would get the fuck out of there, all right? And I would go some place and he would bring the car which you wanted to me, and I would work my magic on it. Whereas-” Teddy has been in court a lot, and likes to talk to people in language he thinks they will appreciate – “if you come out and the guy is putting the hook on your car, well, what’re you gonna do to him, huh? He looks like he’s official. He’s got a regular tow truck. The chances are there’s another car something like yours in the lot. How’s the guy that owns yours know my guy’s not telling the truth, he got a call to come bring in a Cadillac and he got the directions wrong and he just happened to hook up the wrong Cadillac? All right? Nothin’s about to happen to him, even if you do catch him.
“My problem is,” Teddy said, “this means I have to split my commission. My fee. I don’t like doin’ that. I also don’t like, well, that I got another guy involved in things, that might get himself involved in something else and start to think about saying something he done for me, they start hintin’ around they might put him in jail unless he decides, put me in jail. That don’t appeal to me, you know? So I prefer to work alone.”
Teddy specializes in Cadillacs. “Your Porsche, your Corvette,” Teddy said, “your Jaguar, your Mercedes? I can get you them. But I’m not used to them, you know? And another thing is this: I am not greedy. I don’t want to get myself in a position where I’m always runnin’ around all the time like some guys I know, and they got careless and ended up in Walpole makin’ license plates for cars they’re never even gonna see, never mind sell. You know. I pace myself. I do three cars a week, max. Now and then I take a couple weeks completely off, and I get ahold of some broad and go down the Caribbean, you know? And completely just relax. I play a little golf, I go the track, I do a little gambling, the casinos, you know? Nothing heavy. Just nice and relaxing. And this is not because I am tired or I am gettin’ old or anything like that. It is because something doesn’t feel right, you know? And I don’t do no cars when everything doesn’t feel exactly and completely right. You know what I mean? I ain’t never done no time, and I don’t wanna do no time.”
This, as Teddy admits, is no small accomplishment or modest boast for a man who has been a professional car thief for almost seventeen years. Particularly when you consider that Teddy’s occupation and specialty are almost as well known to the police as they are to me. “They know what I’m doin’,” Teddy said, “I know they know what I’m doin’. You think I’m so fuckin’ stupid, I don’t know they know I’m grabbing Cads? Of course they do. They see me in a Cad, they come in their pants. Every time they stop me, the guy figures he’s got me. That’s why I always drive a Cad. And it’s always a completely legal Cad. Drives them nuts. That’s why my wife Dottie drives a Cad, always drives a Cad, a completely legal Cad. That’s why I keep trading those completely legal Cads all the time, so one month you see me and I’m in a blue one and I’ve probably got a tan one and she’s got a maroon Seville. Always completely legal. Drives them fuckin’ nuts. I love it.”
Teddy is correct, but he is not right. At least, I told him, not sensible. Goosing the cops is not a practice rich in wisdom for a professional car thief. Teddy did not like this aspersion on his cleverness. “You’re outta your mind, Counselor,” he said, his voice rising, “that’s the best protection I could possibly have. Wear the bastards out, maybe some night they spot me in a hot one, they’ll assume it’s another one of mine.”
“Yeah,” I said, “and maybe they won’t, too. Maybe you’ll get them so pissed they’ll stop you on a ten-speed bicycle if that’s what you happen to be riding at the time, and it’ll be smoking hot and you’ll go to the clink. I just practice law, you know, Teddy. I don’t claim to be able to perform miracles.”
“Ahhh,” Teddy said. “Forget it.” Teddy is an expansive sort. He tried to retain me for a year, to handle his scrapes within the authorities, for a Cadillac.
“Oh, sure,” I said. “Then we’ll both need lawyers. You for stealing the thing, me for receiving it. No thanks. I’ll take cash.” Of course I’d take cash – Teddy never had a checking account in his life.
“This is completely legal,” Teddy said, his hurt feelings noticeable in his voice. “Completely legal, title, everything.”
“I bet you tell that to all the girls,” I said.
“That’s what the cop’d think,” I said. “Here’s Franklin’s lawyer up to the courthouse to beat another Caddy rap for Franklin, and what’s Franklin’s lawyer driving? A Cadillac, of course. I don’t think so, Teddy. Somehow, I don’t think so. Besides, I don’t want a Cadillac.”
“Everybody wants a Cadillac, Teddy said.
“I don’t,” I said. “Cadillacs cause heart disease.”
“Huh?” Teddy said.
“It’s true,” I said. “Every lawyer that I ever knew who wanted a Cadillac and finally got it, had a heart attack right afterward. No fuckin’ Cadillacs, to borrow a phrase from you.”
“How about a Thunderbird, then?” Teddy said. “Continental, maybe? Give you a nice Mark Five.”
“Nothing doing,” I said.
“Mark Five for you,” Teddy said. “Nice little Versailles for the wife, maybe, or one of those Town Coupes, huh?”
“No,” I said.
Jerry,” Teddy said, “you gotta understand my position, you know? You’re beatin’ me out of..., I got high legal expenses, the way these fuckin’ cops keep arrestin’ me. This overhead’s killin’ me. I got to get this thing on a regular basis here.”
Teddy does have high legal expenses. But part of the reason for that is the broadcast notoriety he enjoys. Some kid pegged by the Malden cops as a joy-riding troublemaker may encounter a certain amount of harassment if spotted driving a new Riviera in Medford next door. But he will be able to operate without much commotion in Worcester or Springfield, if he keeps his nose clean while he is doing it. Teddy has more trouble because every State cop in New England knows Cadillac Teddy on sight. There have been instances, which Teddy has recounted to me with relish, when some friend about his age, sporting a new Cadillac for the races at Rockingham Park in Salem, New Hampshire, has missed the bell for the Daily Double because he was detained by the police, who thought he was Teddy Franklin.
This means that Teddy’s brushes with the law are scattered all over East Jesus. I have visited the Palmer District Court, the Stoughton District Court, the Quincy District Court, two lower courts in Vermont, one in New Hampshire, three in Maine and at least six in Rhode Island, filing my appearance slips as counsel of record for Edmund M. Franklin. That does cost him a lot of money, because while I am driving out the Massachusetts Turnpike to Palmer, I am not laboring in behalf of some other client. The grocer looks like a man who would not be sympathetic to my explanation that I can’t pay the vegetables this week because I earned no money for my time, spending it instead by driving to Palmer for free. I therefore bill Teddy Franklin for my travel time, just like any other plumber working door-to-door, and since he categorically refuses to substitute a lawyer living closer to the scene of his most recent infraction, I figure he wants me badly enough to pay me for my time. “Which is, after all,” I told him, “all I have to sell.”

That was therefore what I told the judge. The judge is used to outlandish tales from people who have been charged with driving under the influence, scored so high on the Breathalyzer that one point more would mean coma, and stoutly maintain that they had had but two beers in five hours and did not finish the second one. He has endured tales of faulty speedometers from people arrested for doing more than one hundred and fifteen miles an hour on Route 128. He is a patient man. He listened.

“What are you two talking about?” Saigon said, entering the bedroom like a blessing from the Holy Spirit.
“Vice,” I said. “Why aren’t you dishing them out at Phil’s Burger Quik, Gumdrop?”
“First,” she said, “because I don’t start until eight. Second, because nobody’s bought me a car yet.”
“You want a Cadillac?” Mack said. “Daddy knows a man who can get you one cheap.”
“Sure,” I said. “and also arrested.”
“Not Waldo,” Mack said. “Cadillac Teddy.”
“Who’s Waldo?” Saigon said.
“A client,” I said.
“A pimp,” Mack said.
“Jesus,” I said.
“Which is it?” Saigon said. “They don’t sound to me like they go together. Gotta be one or the other.”
“We’re not bringing this kid up right,” I said to Mack.
“I’ve been meaning to speak to you about that,” Mack said.
“Look,” Saigon said, “am I going to eat here? Or am I going to eat there? Because if I’m going to eat there, I may take a diet pill or something, so I don’t eat there. Toenails and stuff in the meat. Toenails from cows. Yuck.”
“You’re gonna eat here,” I said. “I’m gonna commit lobstercide in a minute.”
“Barbarian,” Saigon said.
“Have it your way,” I said.
“Is he a pimp?” Saigon said.
“Not many bishops need criminal lawyers,” I said.
“That’s not what I asked you,” she said.
“She’s got a question pending, Counselor,” Mack said. “Your answer’s unresponsive.”
“He’s a pimp,” I said. “He’s a vicious bastard who beat up a kid. He used a claw hammer to do it. She’s got a little trouble with her left elbow. Her right forearm mended funny. But she can still fuck and do blow jobs. The fucking goes for twenty bucks. The blow jobs are fifteen. She kind of misses her room in Weston, the one with the Teddy bears and the Raggedy Ann dolls and the Snoopys and the Paddington bears. She’s beginning to think maybe the strict parochial school nuns were better’n working for Captain Midnight. At least they didn’t want new cars, and make her blow businessmen from Westwood to get them. They maybe wouldn’t let her wear hotpants to school, but then again, they never made her wear hotpants outside the Caribe Lounge, and hit her with a monkey wrench when she complained about it. She didn’t like her braces, and she didn’t want them replaced, but they were better’n what she’s had in her mouth since, so’s Captain Midnight could get his new car, and the fellow in the Toronado could get his cookies before he went home. That answer your question?”
“Jesus,” Saigon said.
I looked at Mack. “I asked for it,” she said. “You going to make dinner?”
“I am gonna make dinner,” I said. “God pity those lobsters.”
The lobsters perished without audible distress, and we tore them apart on the picnic table in the screened-in porch. Mr Kelly was watering his squash and tomato plants next door, doing a little weeding around the carrots and dealing carefully with his potato plants. Mr. Kelly wins many ribbons each year at the Marshfield Fair for his squashes, tomatoes and other vegetables, and we hold him in high affection not only for his many gifts of garden products but for his fine quality as a human being. Mr. Kelly’s hose made a sound in the twilight which I found soothing, and with that, the beer and the lobster, I had calmed down a little by the time Saigon went to work. Mack drove her in my car while I cleaned up the mess, wishing I could fit the garbage from my office into the green plastic bag with the shells and the beer bottles, but resigned to the fact that I could not.
Mack returned in a similarly pensive mood. She came into the porch, kissed me and went into the kitchen for her glass of white wine. “Ballgame tonight?” she said.
“Nah,” I said. “They’re in Anaheim. Doesn’t start till ten-thirty, and every time I listen to the first four innings I end up listening to the rest of it and that’s the night they decide they’re gonna play sixteen innings so I can’t get up in the morning. When’s Saigon through? Twelve-thirty?”
Mack came out on the porch and sat down in the chair next to mine. “Yup,” she said. “Cripes, but she’s a good kid, Jerry.”
“She sure is,” I said. “We’ve done a damned good job with her, if I do say so myself.”
“She’s so good it scares me sometimes,” Mack said. “I look at her and I wonder if we really had anything to do with it. Evelyn Mason’s just as conscientious a mother as I am” – Evelyn being one of the other agents in Mack’s office – “and you’ve met Joe. There isn’t a nicer, harder-working, more decent guy around. So they’ve got Billy on the honor roll at Thayer Academy, headed for Columbia next year, and Jean probably going to transfer to Milton Academy for high school, and then in between those two angels they’ve got that little terror Kenny. Fourteen years old, and if you could ever spot a future client coming down the pike, he’s it. Evenlyn’s beside herself with the kid. He’s rude. He’s contemptuous of any rules they set up for him. He stays out all night. At least once a month they have to go down to Archbishop Williams and talk to the principal. ‘What did we do?’ Evelyn says. ‘What the goddamned hell did we do with him that was different from what we did with the other two?”
“Sent him to parochial school, for one thing,” I said. “I don’t know what that does to a kid, but it would sure-God make me mean.”
“Oh, cut it out, Jerry,” Mack said. She occasionally gets uneasy about my views on the Catholic religion. “We sent Heather to Fontbonne, you know.”
“That’s not really a parochial school,” I said. “That’s more a finishing school with a good curriculum where most of the students and teachers happen to be Catholics.”
“The other night,” Mack said, “Evelyn was saying before we came down here, Joe told Kenny he was grounded. I’ve forgotten what he’d done. Didn’t cut the grass or something, and then gave Evelyn some sass when she reminded him. Told her to go fuck herself, I think it was. So Joe grounded him, and the kid went out the back door and threw rocks through three of the bedroom windows. He’s a mean, nasty kid, and they don’t have any idea why.”
“Probably puberty,” I said.
“I don’t think so,” Mack said. “I tried to tell Evelyn that, reassure her, but she said Billy went through it too, and human beings could live in the same house with him without having to sleep with one eye peeled in case he decided to come in and murder them in their beds some night. She is actually scared of Kenny. He’s punched her in the stomach a couple of times. I guess the last time he did it, Joe was home.”
“What did Joe do?” I said.
“He belted him,” Mack said. “Evelyn said she was almost more afraid of what Joe was going to do to Kenny than she was of what Kenny might do to her. She said he was just out of control.”
“Joe’s a pretty big guy, too.” I said.
“And Kenny’s a little kid,” she said. “For fourteen, he’s downright undersized. Joe hit him right in the mouth and knocked him spinning. They had to take him to the emergency room to get his jaw back in place. Doctor said Kenny was lucky it wasn’t broken.”
“Joe’s luckier,” I said. “The doctor could file a child abuse report as it is.”
“Oh my God,” Mack said, “you think he would?”
“He might,” I said. “That’s a hot item right now, all those foster children getting killed, all those kids dying of neglect and ending up in trash barrels. Those DAs’ve got the wind up them on this. It’s a sure headline – who the hell’s in favor of whacking kids around? Even kids like Kenny.”
“Joe could be in trouble,” she said.
“Mostly from publicity,” I said. “He’s got a right and duty to protect Evelyn, and it wouldn’t take much to get the cash thrown out if it were brought, but the papers’d have a field day with it until then. ‘Electronics Executive Indicted’? They’d love it.”
It was dark by then, and Mr. Kelly had gone inside, leaving the sprinkler working on his lawn. Half a mile up the road an occasional car rumbled into the Beach House, transporting underage drinkers to the same place where I had done my underage drinking years ago. But when I was underage, the age was twenty-one and I was eighteen. That summer the age was eighteen, and a lot of kids had to scout around for somebody old enough to drive them there. A woman on a moped rode down our street and turned right on Ocean Avenue, the putting of her little machine more laughable than disturbing.
“It’s such a dangerous business, isn’t it?” Mack said. “This stuff about having kids. You go into it with no experience whatsoever, and if you screw it up you have really screwed up something. What the hell do you do then? If you don’t know how you screwed it up, how in God’s name do you make it right?”
“I don’t know,” I said. “I think about that sometimes, in the office. Here are these adults in pretty serious trouble, and some of them haven’t been adults for very long, either. Charged with really difficult offenses, serious crimes. Crimes that could send them away for a long time. You sit there listening to some big kid bragging that he’s not afraid, he knows he can do time, and there isn’t even any point in telling him how delicious he’s gonna look when he gets to the joint where the boss cons are. He sits there sneering at you, and what do you say to him? That he’s gonna get buggered six times his first night on the block? He won’t believe you. And here is this kid that was almost likely a cuddly adorable little baby once. Maybe even had parents who loved him and took the best care they could of him, charged with wounding a liquor store clerk in an armed robbery that didn’t even get him a dime. He’ll go in, because there isn’t anything that I can do to keep him out, or anything that anybody else can do, either. All you can do is try to make a deal that’ll get him less time and let him do it at Concord instead of Walpole. That’s about it. Maybe if he comes out of Concord after a five-year indeterminate he won’t be quite as hard a case as he’d be coming out of Walpole after fifteen to twenty. Maybe. Only maybe. Not for sure. It’s scary. It’s absolutely scary.
“That fucking pump, Captain Midnight?” I said. “Well, he probably never had much of a chance. He doesn’t know who his father is, and his mother lives in Detroit but he’s not sure where. This guy is an animal, hitting a kid with a hammer like that, putting her out on the street, but you can get halfway to explaining him, maybe, because he was always treated like an animal. But he’s twenty years old. Get that? Twenty years old, and he’s a rompin’ stompin’ pimp. He’s got his ladies out on the street and he’s got the savvy to keep them out there. Now he’s up on an A and B charge? So what, man? A and B, dangerous weapon? No sweat. He’ll get out of it.”
“Will he?” Mack said.
“Sure,” I said. “What the hell do you think brought the victim with him to my office? She’s gonna back out of her story. The cops interviewed her while the emergency room people were setting the broken bones and fitting the casts. She was scared of him then, and she thought they could protect her, so she told the truth. He accused her of holding out some of the money and she denied it and he beat the shit out of her. Then she got out of the hospital and she refused to go home and she found out the cops couldn’t protect her after all. So she went back to her man, and back to the street, and now the trial’s coming up and she’s hooking her tight little white ass off down on Stuart Street, to earn my fee and spring her man because she loves him.”
“You shouldn’t take that money,” Mack said. “That’s, that’s dirty money. That’s blood money.”
“It’s living off the earnings of a prostitute, I suppose,” I said. “I know where it came from and I know how it got there and I don’t like it either. But you could say that about almost every fee I get – it’s somebody’s ill-gotten gains. Most of the people I represent are professional criminals. They don’t have segregated trust funds they can draw on to pay me. Cadillac Teddy makes his living – some of his living, anyway – stealing cars. Teddy pays me. Teddy pays me with some of the money he gets from stealing cars. Captain Midnight gets his living off of prostitutes. He pays me out of that, which is how I get my living. Maurice Stans got acquitted in the first Watergate case, so the Committee to Re-elect the President picked up his legal fees. Something like four hundred thousand dollars. Money that came from people who intended to purchase influence with the administration when they paid it over. When you sell a house to somebody, do you make sure he’s paying for it with clean money? Trace it back to the family fortune and make sure none of it was earned in the slave trade? No, you don’t. You sell the guy the house and take your commission, which is what you should do. If he got the down payment by cheating on his taxes, that’s his worry, not yours.”
“It’s not the same thing,” Mack said. “It’s not the same thing at all.”
“No,” I said, “it’s not. Trouble is, the Constitution says every man’s entitled to counsel of his choice. He chooses me, I have my living to consider. The Constitution doesn’t say that I can’t consider my living. Doesn’t say anything about it. Because not eating is unpleasant, I generally take the case. That cash won’t keep us healthy and it won’t make us happy and it won’t keep Heather from going haywire and deciding she prefers a Captain Midnight and a life on the street to her stereo set and her own room, two people who love her and some very nice friends. But if she stays on her current course, it’ll send her to college and keep her teeth straight and allow her to wear good clothes. If Captain Midnight’s little waif had come to my private office for oral surgery the last time he kicked her teeth in, she would’ve paid for her repairs with money that she got from hustling because there’s no Blue Cross Blue Shield Master Medical down in the Combat Zone; if she had done that, and I were a doctor, should I have refused to make her well?”
“God,” Mack said, “that kid’s poor parents. I hope they don’t know what she’s doing.”
“They know exactly what she’s doing,” I said. “They visited her in the hospital and tried to get her to come home with them. The mother was on a furlough from a private hospital where they try to convince alcoholics that they shouldn’t drink any more booze, and she never had a problem with the sauce until the kid bolted. The father looked like he’d been beaten up himself, except nobody’d taken a hammer to him – what he’d gone through’d been enough. They have one other kid, a boy, who entered West Point last year and offered to go down to the Zone and kill his little sister if she didn’t come home and start behaving herself. He’s on academic probation now, because he went AWOL from the Point he found out what’d happened.”

If there are clients waiting to see me (as there probably will be, because, like all lawyers, I have a Very Busy Practice), you will not notice the furniture. I am virtually certain of this. The majority of my clients may fully warrant Mack’s view that my practice is sleazy, but one thing may not be taken away from them: they are as colorful as a Grand National Stock Car Race, a fire in a Mexican whorehouse and a Massachusetts Democratic primary. All at once.
For the moment, should any be sitting there, ignore the small, creepy-looking man with the harelip (Dingbat, as he is known on the street; he’s a shoplifter), the small white lady with her arm in a sling and her foot room reduced by her four shopping bags full of papers, and the strange-looking kid. The lady would be Frances Gibbons, who is nuts, but fairly well-to-do, coming in to report the newest electronic transmission to her brain by her estranged husband. The weird-looking kid could be any one of hundreds – I get a fair number of small-time druggies and pushers, because I do a good job for them at a reasonable rate and word gets around. If there should be any flashy-looking women on the premises, whom you suspect to be whores, you are entirely right, but you will be safe enough – all hookers seeking my legal services are strictly advised that they are neither to solicit nor to mug any other client or visitor to my office while said visitor or client is physically present in my office; on the street, you are on your own, same as everybody else.
if the riffraff, the flotsam and the jetsam of the human race happen not to be sitting in the reception area wearing expressions either of boredom or haughtiness, notice first the comfortable chairs, which are upholstered tastefully in orange plastic. It is grained, like alligator hide. They have chromium arms and little pieces of wood notched over the chrome. There are six of them, and they are the most godawful-looking things ever peddled in a discount lumber yard. I got them for nothing in money, but much in effort. I represented Dr. Edward Carey, an M.D. from Weymouth, one month after I opened the office and was in serious need to do something about the bill for the hideous furniture I was renting until I could buy something. That stuff was upholstered in green tweed, and it had been rented out before. A lot. The trouble was that the rental bill prevented me from buying anything.
Dr. Carey was a man of very poor judgment. Close to fifty, he had abandoned his wife to shack up with a beautician about thirty, twice-divorced, whom he had met at the Wonderland Dog Track one night. His wife got herself a divorce lawyer with three rows of teeth, who pretty much took care of Dr. Carey’s wagering money in the divorce action. Dr. Carey then compounded his mistakes by marrying the beautician, who chewed gum and used bad language. Her name was Clemmie, and she knew a lot of people. She knew more people than most governors of populous states can claim to know. She knew several who had advice for Dr. Carey on how to repair his foundering financial situation. Dr. Carey took to writing prescriptions.
Dr. Carey wrote a lot of prescriptions. Many of them, if not close to all of them, were for people whom he had not diagnosed, or, indeed, even examined. He had never laid eyes on them in his life. He seldom knew their names. The names he wrote on the prescriptions were real, but they were names that happened to be listed in the South Suburban phone book. The people who got the prescriptions filled were not the same. The prescriptions were for such substances as Quaalude and methamphetamine. In Boston’s Combat Zone just a hop, skip and high from my office, a “Doctor Carey” was worth a hundred dollars on the street, just before he got caught. He was getting twenty. That was good money – he was writing them faster than the dogs could run at Wonderland. The ones he bet on, at least. He could do five scrips in a minute. A hundred bucks a minute is good pay.
The trouble was the Drug Enforcement Administration had its minions out on the street, and Dr. Carey’s customers were too addled to think about what they were saying to those shaggy-looking guys who somehow were much clearer in the head than a real Head should be. Pretty soon Dr. Carey had a whole bunch of State cops rummaging around in his Weymouth office, waving search warrants at Dr. Carey’s personal lawyer, Roger Kidd, who went to law school with me and did real-estate law and estate planning and no other law at all. Roger called me, and I got the doctor bailed, using the services of Walter “Termite” Green, who got his name for precisely the reason that you would expect – he looks like one.
The doctor was not popular with the cops, Staties or Feds. They had a hard-on for him, and in a trice he was under indictment in the United States District Court for trafficking in controlled substances. I took the proceeds of his retirement plan for that one, but since his first wife had pretty much cleaned it out in the divorce, that didn’t give me enough for a year of political fund raisers. Then he got belted by the Suffolk County grand jury for a number of small accommodations he had made for people who came up to him in a seedy lounge in Boston, and the Norfolk County grand jury chimed in with a few allegations about some of his hobbies in Weymouth. By the time the Termite finished with him, the only thing he had left was his office furniture and the indictments. I took the furniture, as the rest of the price for taking the indictments. Dr. Carey had lousy taste in furniture, but it was no worse than his taste in women, friends or trades suitable for moonlighting, and having his furniture meant I could get that goddamned rental stuff off my hands. Besides, I figured that any furniture sturdy enough to endure the abuse which must have been given it by Dr. Carey’s patients would probably be able to withstand even the damage certain to be inflicted on it by my clients.
Dr. Carey got six years, all tolled, and did more than three of them. The beautician divorced him while he was in the jug and took his apartment furniture. The last I heard, he was a minister in the Universal Life Church, where the divinity degree costs ten bucks, counseling inmates seeking Jesus in the maximum security unit at Folsom.

If you wander into Roger’s office with a disagreeable case of statutory rape pending against you, because you finally gave in to the babysitter who showed you everything but California for the third weekend in a row as you were driving her home after a long and liquid cocktail party, they will do something that will make the bum’s rush seem leisurely. They will fumigate the joint before you can reach the Parkman Bandstand.

I have known Paul Finney since 1970, I think it was, when he was the arresting officer on one of the most appalling motor vehicle cases I have ever handled. Paul was first on the scene of a wreck on the hill on East Street in Dedham. When he got there, it looked like a pretty inconsequential matter. Some drunk had whipped his Chevy wagon around the curve too fast and walloped an unoccupied Olds convertible parked at the curb. The Olds slammed forward against the tailgate of a Dodge wagon in front of it. The Chevy driver looked all right; though he was staggering around and mumbling, it was not so much from the effects of the crash as from the hooch he had swallowed down at the Eagles’ hall before heading home. The woman who had parked the Olds looked pretty upset. “But otherwise,” Paul told me, “it looked like a straight property damage case, driving under, driving to endanger, and DK.” DK is drunk. “What I couldn’t understand was why the woman couldn’t talk, and who was doing all that moaning. It was John Giametti.”
John Giametti was a rookie on the Dedham police force with Paul Finney. He was twenty-three years old, a veteran slightly wounded in Vietnam, recently married to a pretty girl who was very, very pregnant. He was also a decent kid, and therefore delayed his arrival at home, after finishing his shift, to assist a female motorist who had had a flat tire on East Street. He had pulled in front of her car, opened the tailgate of his Dodge station wagon, and used his jack and tools to change the left rear tire on her car. He was bending over the open tailgate – it opened down – and stowing his jack when the drunk hit the Olds and scissored Giametti’s legs against the edge of the tailgate. Both legs were amputated, just above the knee.
The drunk was also a misfortunate wreck. I’ve forgotten his last name, but Cosmo was an immigrant from Greece who had come to this country around 1930 and gone into the painting business. He worked hard all day, and he raises his family of five children creditably. He was good to his wife and unlike most painters and contractors, he kept his own property up. Until he hit the Olds, he had never had any contact with the police, not even so much as a speeding ticket. The only evil thing that Cosmo ever did was drink too much at the Eagles’ hall before dutifully hurrying home to be in time for dinner, and that was how John Giametti, pausing on the way home to his dinner, lost his legs.
I was apprehensive when I went to the Dedham police station to look at the records, after Cosmo hired me. This was partly because Cosmo, after nearly forty years in America, still did not speak English very well, and had brought his wife, Thea, who spoke no English at all, to assist him at the interview. Her contribution consisted mostly of crying and shouting. After an hour of useless effort to find out what the hell had happened, I knew less than when I started. I concluded that if Cosmo had not blacked out before the accident, and had an actual recollection of what had occurred, his English would prevent him from reporting it. The only way I was going to be able to get the facts in the case was by looking at the police reports.
Now that is a dodgy business in any case. Unless the cop in question knows you, he is going to be very reluctant to let you see his reports until after he has testified. This is because a statistically significant number of defense lawyers have a nasty habit of accusing cops of testifying falsely, and using their own reports to sneer at the cops. This does not cheer the cops; in fact, they do not like it. They therefore do not show their reports to defense lawyers, no matter how the lawyers beg, because they have seen beggars turn into gargoyles often enough to persuade them that it is not a prudent idea to arm them.
Cops are especially nettlesome where there is a cop personally involved in the case, and oh, boy, was Giametti involved personally in this one. By the time they finished fitting him with prostheses, he was able to scramble television reception in houses three doors down, just by crossing his new metal legs. Cosmo had pretty good personal liability insurance, being as how he worked alone and had learned long ago to cover his ass, but Giametti’s friends didn’t know that, and besides, what Cosmo had for coverage was not yet what Giametti had for damages. They did not want Cosmo beating the criminal rap; they knew damned well that conviction on the criminal charges would do wonders for the interest of the insurance company in offering a fat settlement to Giametti.
Realizing all that, I hauled my ass to Dedham with some trepidation. I went into the station house with my tail between my legs. The only man there was Paul Finney. He was drinking coffee and typing with two fingers. I told him what I wanted. He looked at me the way the sheriff of a small western town would gaze at a snake-oil salesman applying for a peddler’s permit.
“Now look,” I said desperately, “all I know about this case so far is that the defendant’s name is Cosmo and he’s clearly a poor confused asshole who doesn’t speak English very well. I dunno what happened. I don’t know who it happened to. I’m a little vague on where it happened, actually. All I know is that a cop got hurt. I don’t even know his name. I’m not trying to sandbag anybody, and I’m not trying to whipsaw anybody. All I want to do is find out what happened, and this muddled old guy and his screaming wife can’t tell me.”
“You could ask Giametti’s doctors,” Finney said.
“What the hell can I ask them?” I said. “I know he was badly hurt, and I wish he hadn’t been. But for all I know right now, Cosmo launched his car into the air and came down on top of the guy. Gimme a break, will ya? You can’t be risking too much. The way I get it, the only car moving was the one Cosmo was aiming, which sort of makes the whole thing look pretty clear-cut, except I dunno what the whole thing is. It’s obviously something, and I gather it wasn’t a hell of a lot of pleasure for the people in the immediate vicinity, but that’s about all I know.”
“Really,” Finney said.
“Look,” I said, “I’m a nice guy, as far as you know, right? I never pissed on your boots and said it was rain. I never tried to blow smoke up your ass. I never told you Dewey beat Truman or the sun comes up in the west or the moon’s made of blue cheese or anything. I never saw you before in my life. Take pity on a guy, will ya? I got this Greek house painter that does not speak English and thinks he does, and he’s got a Greek wife that doesn’t speak English at all and she howls like a banshee instead. The guy’s almost sixty and he’s charged with a whole mess of things including disabling a friend of yours – I assume he was a friend of yours...”
“He is a friend of mine,” Finney said. “There isn’t quite as much of him as there was before your client did a job on him. But he’s still a friend of mine.”
“All right,” I said, “my mistake. I don’t have to assume. I know he’s badly hurt. I presume some insurance company’s gonna have to kick in a helluva lot more money on an extra-limits policy’n they really got in mind when they write extra-limit policies.”
“Extra limits,” Finney said.
“From what I hear,” I said, “and you’re not gonna hold me to this because for all I know my client just assured me that the earth is flat and Columbus actually sailed off the edge of it, trying to reach the New World, but for all I can tell, he’s holding a hundred-three hundred policy in his trembling hands, plus extra limits on top of that.”
“You’re not shitting me,” Finney said.
“Officer,” I said, “for all I know, I am shitting you. I haven’t seen the fucking policy. I asked him where it was, and I got a stream of Greek which for a minute or so made me wonder if I was still in my office and I didn’t wander into a restaurant by mistake. I don’t speak any Greek, Officer. I maybe should, but I don’t. I don’t want to copy any report. You like, I won’t even make notes of what I read on the report. I won’t even memorize the report. Yes, I will. I will memorize the report. But I cannot use my memory of the report to make your life a hell on earth, and you know it. Which even if I could do it, I wouldn’t. If you like I will write all of this down, and you can wave it at me like the American flag if I double-cross you, and that will get my client convicted and me disciplined by the Bar Association, all right? Just tell me what happened. Please.”
Paul Finney showed me his reports and the photos. He let me read the statement of the witness, the lady who had the flat tire on the Olds. When I finished, he was getting off work. We went down to the bar at Mary Hartigan’s and had a few beers. We talked about various prosecutors Paul Finney had known, with particular emphasis on the one handling Cosmo’s case. Paul considered that gentleman a reasonable man. He believed the prosecutor would listen attentively to a sincere recommendation from the investigating officer about an appropriate punishment for Cosmo. Paul further observed that the investigating officer would be greatly assisted in displaying sincerity by satisfaction that Giametti had been treated as well as the circumstances of the defendant would permit.
“Look,” Paul Finney said, “I’m not trying to be unreasonable, all right? The kid’s young. He’s just a kid.”
“I know that,” I said.
“He’s just a kid,” Finney said. “and he’ll probably find something else he can do, even on two mechanical legs. And he’s got a good woman. But he’s gonna need a start.”
“I know that,” I said. “On the other hand...”
“On the other hand,” Finney said, “I know what your guy is. He’s a shitbum.”
“I don’t think so,” I said, “I think...”
“Look,” Finney said, “you didn’t come down here to drink beer with me because you haven’t got any beer at home and you think I’m the salt of the fuckin’ earth, all right? And I didn’t come down here to drink beer with you because I don’t know any other place in the world I can get a glass of beer, and no other guys I can find that I’d like to drink it with. Right?”
“Right,” I said.
“You came down here,” Finney said. “because you want something. You didn’t particularly want to spend tonight with me, and I didn’t particularly want to spend tonight with you. That tell you something?”
“Probably,” I said.
“I’m after something too,” Finney said. “All right? I got my friend that’ll have trouble making the starting team on the softball squad from now on. I don’t know him particularly well. I don’t know you at all. But I know him good enough, and I am trying to take care of him the same way you’re tryin’ take care of that dumb fuckin’ Greek that can’t speak no fuckin’ English but can cut a man’s legs out from under him because he got a skinful for himself down the Legion hall. All right?”
“Eagles,” I said.
“Eagles,” Finney said. “Doesn’t matter. You’re tryin’ do the best you can for the guy, I’m tryin’ do the best I can for mine. Same thing.”
“Now,” Finney said. “You wanna plead the sonbitch?”
“Of course I wanna plead the sonbitch,” I said. “You really think I wanna hump that cigar-store Indian up onna stand and ask him what he thinks of Thermopylae? I got no idea what the bastard’ll say. I got no idea what he said already, and I listened to him, what seemed like a whole weekend, yesterday afternoon, his damned fat wife screeching like an engine running out of oil the whole time. I wanna try this case like I wanna get ingrown toenails. I wanna dump this case, is what I wanna do. I wanna get rid the goddamned thing and the goddamned crazy client and particularly that woman that hollers all the time.”
Finney put his arm around my shoulders. His breath smelled of beer. I was not surprised. “You wanna maybe talk to the insurance company?” he said.
“Yup,” I said. “Both of them.”
Finney took his arm off my shoulder. “Okay,” he said. “You talk the insurance guys, and I’ll talk the DA.”
I did talk the insurance guy. I talked the insurance guy like the insurance guy never had been talked before. I talked the hell out of the insurance guy. I talked the extra-limits insurance guy, too. I talked him even harder than I talked the primary insurer. Then I talked Cosmo. I made him promise to leave Thea at home. He did. I talked Cosmo until I was hyperventilating. I’m not sure Cosmo understood one word that I uttered, but there was one thing that he did understand: he understood that I was deadly serious.
Giametti settled his case for $263,000. No lawyer, taking a third off the top. All for him. Cosmo pleaded guilty. A year suspended, probation for two years, and stay out of the Eagles’ hall, fines totaling $250, and no driving for six months. He bitched about it. I told him to go fuck himself and presented him with my bill for $1,150. He paid me $850 on installments, defaulted on the rest, and I quit hounding him after three mean letter came back, marked “Unknown At This Address.” In Cosmo’s handwriting, which was quite distinctive.

“Send the bastard in,” I said.
The bastard came in. Gretchen was right – he did stink. He smelled like something with hair on it that had died and been left out in the sun and the rain just long enough to get so ripe that no scavenger would be interested in him. The bastard sat down.
“Well,” I said.
“Mister Kennedy,” he said, “you gotta help me.”
“That has a familiar ring to it,” I said.
“I know that,” he said. “But things... I know things, I seen things I didn’t know when I was in here before. I’m getting into trouble. I’m doing something and I dunno what it is. Mister Kennedy, I don’t wanna get in trouble.”
“Where the broad?” I said.
“You mean Jill?” he said.
I was tempted to say that I meant Lizzie Borden, but choked that one back. The kid did have something of a deficiency. As Cooper would say, his porch light was out. It would not do much good to heckle him. He didn’t have the wit to handle it. I said, “Yeah.”
“She hadda work,” he said. “See, I wasn’t sure I was gonna be able to see you. I didn’t know how long it was gonna take, and everything.”
“No,” I said. “As a matter of fact, if the other guy didn’t have a problem, you wouldn’t’have. Because I wasn’t coming in. Let me ask you something, all right? If you’re willing to fork over five twenties to talk to me, why aren’t you willing to drop a few dimes in a phone and make a long-distance call to see if I’m gonna be here?”
“Well,” he said, “I was worried.”
“Okay,” I said, “You got money with you?”
“Yeah,” he said, writhing around in the chair and fishing in his pocket. He brought up a fistful of currency which looked as though it had been buried for a while. He began to uncrumple the bills. In the wad he had singles, fives, tens, and a few twenties, but he had a lot of them. He smoothed them out and piled them up, his frown showing his concentration, his lips moving as he counted. When he finished, he put the bills on my desk and looked at me like a puppy which has been neglected for about three days and would really appreciate a drink of water and a snack. “It’s all there, Mister Kennedy,” He said.
It was all there. From what I could tell, reading his lips, there was something in the neighborhood of $6,800 there, all in used bills of small denominations. “How much is all there?” I said.
“Sixty-nine hundred dollars,” He said.
“What’s it for?” I said.
“I wanna be able to talk to you,” he said. “Whenever I want. I want you, advise me, so I don’t get in trouble. I don’t wanna go to jail, Mister Kennedy. I got no interest in that at all, and I’m willing to pay to stay out of it.”
“You’re making me nervous,” I said. It was true. People who talk like that after placing large sums of money on my desk generally have two things wrong: they are about to get caught for doing something that they did, which the government can prove they did, and they think that I can lease a prosecutor and purchase a judge or do whatever else is necessary to keep them on the street.
As it happens, I do not know any prosecutors for rent, nor any judges who are for sale. I am willing to concede that there may be some, but who they are I do not know. Furthermore, I do not solicit prosecutors or judges to accept gratuities for certain extraordinary services, nor do I know any lawyer who does. I know a couple or three lawyers who claim they do, habitually assuring new clients that they went to law school with whoever the prosecutor – usually a total stranger – happens to be, and that they can get to the judge. While they cannot deliver what they promise, it does not really matter, because the client who comes up with five grand for the prosecutor and five grand for the judge, all of which the lawyer pockets as a little bonus for his efforts, does not know it never left his lawyer’s pocket. And probably never got reported on Form 1040, either.
A fool in deep trouble will believe anything a lawyer tells him, if it’s uttered in sonorous tones and does not contradict anything the client knows. That leaves a lot of ground for the greedy lawyer – most fools in deep trouble don’t know much of anything, which is of course how they got in deep trouble in the first place.
The trouble is that the Board of Bar Overseers knows quite a bit, as does the IRS. If the word gets around that Attorney So-and-so is buying off cases in wholesale lots – and it does get around because assholes who swallow such pitches also regurgitate them to everyone who will listen – it is not long before he finds himself looking down the barrel of a disciplinary proceeding. Maybe even a short spell in the penitentiary, if things get truly hairy. I don’t feature that shit.

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