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Authors: Carolyn Wheat

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BOOK: Mean Streak
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It was a lovely dream while it lasted. But finally, I tossed a tip next to the empty saucer, paid my bill, and left the sanctuary of the coffee shop for the arena.

We were a long, long way from producing TJ—or any solid proof of Eddie's venality, for that matter. All I had for sure, I reminded myself as I hastened along Chambers Street, was my pathetic little parade of junkies willing to testify that Eddie Fitz dealt drugs with TJ and split the proceeds with the late Nunzie Aiello.

All that coffee had been a mistake. I realized that when I rounded the corner onto Centre Street and saw the mob of reporters camped out on the shiny-wet courthouse steps. All I wanted was a restroom, but I'd have to deliver a few sound bites before I'd be allowed to enter the building.

I had two minutes to shape my thoughts; I didn't dare slow my pace or turn back for a moment of thinking. They had to see a confident lawyer striding into battle without a second's hesitation, a lawyer so certain of the righteousness of her cause that she needed no time to compose herself for the cameras.

“… new evidence that will expose the truth behind this vindictive prosecution,” I heard myself saying into the large, fuzzy microphone. “Nick Lazarus is on a vendetta here,” I went on, “and the defense will—”

“This is no vendetta,” an angry male voice cut in. It was a thin instrument, not a good stage voice at all. But Nick Lazarus used it for all it was worth, raising it to a strident edge that cut through my words and grabbed the attention of the assembled reporters.

“This is justice, pure and simple,” the U.S. attorney went on. He stabbed the air. “Matt Riordan has been jerking this court around for too long. He's played fast and loose with the justice system, and now—”

“And now you're going to jerk him around?” I demanded. “Now you're going to pervert justice in order to nail a guy you don't happen to like?”

I gave Ginger Hsu my biggest smile and opened my purse. “I just happen to have something here that I'd intended to serve in court,” I said. Avid reportorial eyes lit up; all the mikes and minicams were positioned to catch my next words. I took the subpoena out of my designer handbag and handed it to Nick Lazarus.

“This is a subpoena,” I explained, “for information pertaining to a man named TJ. I'll let Mr. Lazarus fill you in on who TJ is and why he's relevant to this case.” With that, I broke away from the pack and stepped smartly up the stairs, leaving a sputtering Nick Lazarus to explain himself to the hungry pack. I concentrated instead on trying to remember exactly where the nearest ladies' room was.

Later, when an exultant Matt Riordan praised me with the highest compliment he knew—that he couldn't have handled the moment better himself—I smiled demurely and neglected to tell him it had happened mainly because I'd had to pee.

We had a jury by lunchtime, in part because Judge de Freitas refused to hear argument on the subpoena. “Put it in writing, Ms. Singer,” he'd said in a flat voice. “Make a motion to quash.”

In federal court, the judge picked the jury. I was used to a lengthy
voir dire
, a time to get acquainted with the prospective jurors and to introduce myself to them, a time when the judge sat back and watched while the lawyers from both sides questioned the panel members. But here, the ball was squarely in the judge's court. Only he was allowed to address the jurors, although both sides could suggest questions to be asked. It was a bloodless, boring procedure, and it produced a final jury panel in far less time than I was used to. The Mean Streak was a fast sonofabitch.

Matt and I grabbed a quick lunch in Chinatown. We sidestepped the crowded tourist restaurants along Mott Street and found a nameless noodle shop that served hot tea in glasses and posted its menu in Chinese only. Years of practicing law in lower Manhattan had given Matt the ability to order two bowls of noodles with chicken in what the waiter took to be passable Mandarin.

The hot tea felt good going down my throat. Oddly enough, the Chinese theory that hot beverages cooled you off in summer seemed to have some basis in fact.

“So how's your investigator doing finding TJ?” Matt asked.

“If anyone can find him, she can,” I replied, which wasn't a real answer to the question. “She's meeting us after court,” I added. “I thought McSorley's.”

“Good thought,” Matt replied approvingly. “We'll both want a cold beer after today's session. And it's far enough away from the courthouse that we ought to be able to talk freely.”

After slurping up the last of the noodles, we took a walk. Chinatown was its busy, bustling self as tourists, city workers, lawyers, and ordinary Chinese people jostled for a place on the narrow sidewalks. I steered Matt to one of my favorite places—the Chinatown Ice Cream Factory. Under his indulgent gaze, I ordered a cone with red bean ice cream.

“It's better than it sounds,” I said defensively when Matt raised a single eyebrow.

“Just don't spill any on your silk suit,” he warned.

I looked down at my mauve shell and murmured, “I'm not sure man was meant to eat and wear clothes at the same time.”

When we stepped back into the courtroom at 2:15, it was like walking into an electronic nightmare. Huge cables criss-crossed the floor, and there were individual headphones at each juror's chair. A tape player with amplifiers sat next to the witness box. Government tapes were notoriously poor quality; you needed state-of-the-art players to get anything intelligible.

My anxiety rose another notch. Not only was the jury about to hear from the FBI, it was going to hear the tapes.

Matt and I had listened to them at least fifteen times. They were coming in; there was no motion to suppress that would keep them from the jurors' ears. And there was no smoking gun on the tapes themselves as far as Riordan was concerned.

So why was I so nervous?

Because there might be something I'd missed. There might be one phrase, one word that would convince the jury that Matt had authorized Fat Jack to give money to Eddie Fitz in return for the grand jury minutes. There might be a nuance I hadn't considered, a secret code I hadn't broken, an expression whose double meaning I hadn't known.

There might be things my client hadn't told me.

But there was nothing I could do about that now. I took my seat with an air of competent boredom, as if the playing of the tapes was just one more tedious task to get through before the really important stuff began. The second-last thing I wanted was to let the jury know I felt any anxiety about the tapes.

The last thing I wanted was to let Singer know.

Warren Zebart looked like an FBI agent. He was a beefy man in his mid-fifties with a ruddy face and iron-gray hair. He wore thick-soled wingtip shoes and an off-the-rack gray suit. Even his tie was gray, with navy rep stripes.

I took rapid notes as he told the jury how long he'd been a special agent, and how he'd come to be assigned to Nick Lazarus' task force. I leaned forward slightly when he told of his first meeting with New York City Detective Edmund Fitzgerald.

Was the slight, almost imperceptible curl to his lip when he mentioned Eddie Fitz a figment of my imagination? I hoped not; if I could show the jury that even the chief FBI man had reason to despise the turncoat cop, we'd be setting the stage for TJ's revelations. If we could find TJ in time. If we could find TJ at all.

I stifled those thoughts in case they began to show on my face, and gave my full attention to the FBI man.

“I was the contact agent,” Zebart explained. He shifted in his seat and turned his face toward the jury box. Clearly a man who'd spent a good deal of his professional life on the witness stand. “That means that Detective Fitzgerald reported to me.”

I made a quick note to ask Agent Zebart on cross if the contact agent wasn't also known as a “handler.” The slang term would make Eddie Fitz sound like a wild animal, someone who needed to be kept in check by the cool heads at the FBI. Then I'd hit Eddie with the term, hoping the implication would rankle enough for him to say something he'd regret. Or at least something Davia Singer would regret.

“Agent Boatman was the electronics expert on the case,” he continued. I jotted “Boatman-wireman” on my legal pad. Zebart went on to give a cursory overview of the surveillance techniques the FBI had used in the case; the details would be filled in when Harris Boatman took the stand.

According to Zebart, Eddie had met Fat Jack Vance at the round information booth in the courthouse at 100 Centre Street. Immediately prior to the meeting, Zebart had watched Agent Boatman tape a Nagra recorder to Eddie's naked torso.

It took another fifteen questions to lay the foundation for the playing of the tapes. I rose to indicate the defense's lack of objection, hoping my demeanor indicated a supreme indifference to whether the tapes were played. They were coming in anyway, Matt and I had reasoned, so why make a fuss that might indicate we had something to fear from them?

The first tape began with a huge amount of background noise from the crowded lobby at 100 Centre. The courthouse was home to both the criminal and supreme courts in Manhattan; during the lunch recess hundreds of people bustled past the information booth where Fat Jack and Eddie Fitz had arranged to meet.

The two men made for a restaurant in Chinatown. We listened to several minutes of dishes clattering, waiters bustling, and people chatting over their moo shu before Fat Jack got down to business.

The fat man's raspy voice said, “Maybe you could help us out on the Nunzie thing.”

Zebart had already given the jurors the background; the name Nunzie wouldn't come as a surprise to them.

“Yeah, I heard something about that,” the young voice that belonged to Eddie Fitz replied. “Something about Lazarus yanking this guy's chain pretty hard, trying to make him roll over on his lawyer.”

“His own lawyer, can you believe it?” Fat Jack's wheezy voice trembled with indignation. “There's no loyalty these days.”

“What I hear,” Eddie Fitz said, “Lazarus is always pulling that shit, breaking some guy's shoes so he turns on his friends. Guy like that's gotta be stopped.”

“I heard Lazarus went to see Nunz at the Federal Correction Center,” Jack went on. The words were punctuated by a slurping sound that was probably Fat Jack inhaling a bowl of hot-and-sour. Two jurors giggled. I relaxed a bit; if I could get them laughing at the tapes, they might not take them as seriously as Singer wanted them to. “I heard they talked a long time. So, you heard anything, or what?”

Eddie echoed the fat man's George V. Higgins style of speech. “I heard something all right,” he replied. “But the guys I hear things from, they don't do anything for charity, you know what I mean? They gotta know they're gonna be taken care of.”

Jack chuckled. “And I suppose you're gonna want a little something for yourself?”

“Just tell me how much I can spread around and still have something left over,” Eddie said.

“Hey, Matty takes care of his friends,” Jack replied. I had carefully planned for the first mention of Riordan's name on the tapes. I was to look completely bored, completely unfazed, completely unruffled. As far as I was concerned, this was Fat Jack pretending to be a big shot, pretending he spoke for his sometime employer. It was not evidence of a conspiracy between my client and the soon-to-be-ex-bail bondsman.

“Don't worry about that. He'll see to it you're covered,” Fat Jack promised. “Matty's got the bucks and so do the guys he works for. You'll be squared on this thing.”

End tape. And end Warren Zebart's tenure on the witness stand; from here on the tapes would be placed in evidence by the man who'd taped the wire to Eddie Fitz: Agent Harris Boatman.

I limited my cross of Zebart to pointing out, in several different ways, that he'd never met Matt Riordan and hadn't been present when the alleged payoff was made. The impression I wanted the jury to have was of a man doing his job, but doing it without the full benefit of the information they were going to have once this trial was over. On summation, I wanted to be able to discount Zebart, not as a liar out to frame Riordan, but as a man who'd been lied to by Eddie Fitz and used by Nick Lazarus. Sincere but uninformed, that was what I wanted the jurors to see when they looked at the FBI man.

Harris Boatman was a lithe black man with close-cut hair and pencil mustache. His suit was brown and his tie had flowers on it. What I'd learned from Matt Riordan about men's ties was that flowered ones were worn only by men whose wives picked out their clothes. How this was going to help on cross, I had no idea, but I filed the information in a corner of my mind.

He described at length the process of wiring Eddie Fitz for sound. And he told the court that there were nights when Eddie refused to wear the wire, nights when he'd been sure he'd be searched by the men he was meeting.

Matt and I had known there were meetings that hadn't been taped; this was the first time we learned why.

On the second tape, the food was Italian; Jack and Eddie were eating at Forlini's, a venerable institution located directly behind 100 Centre Street.

“Matty and I talked,” Jack said, “and we need to know where Lazarus is on this thing. If Nunzie testified in the grand jury, then we need those minutes. And we need the 3500 material. All of it, not just Nunzie's.” Singer had already explained to the jurors that 3500 material meant witness statements, which were required to be handed to the defense after the witness testified at trial, but were not privy to the defense beforehand.

“I already talked to Paulie the Cork,” Eddie boasted, naming the grand jury clerk of the federal courthouse. The clerk had pleaded guilty, and would be taking the stand to confess. “He says Lazarus walked Nunzie over to the grand jury personally. That's how bad he wants to hurt your boy. But don't worry,” Eddie went on, his tone expansive, “I'll get this shit right out from under Lazarus' nose.”

BOOK: Mean Streak
4.72Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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