Authors: Steve Martini
"Who can say?" If she was killed in her own apartment, and the evidence of death is left there, what purpose is served by moving her? It would seem that there is more risk involved than advantage.
"And why wasn't the door locked?" "Some people are trusting," says Lenore.
"A woman living alone?" She gives me a look that is filled with concession.
"I'll do you one better," she says. "What's that?"
"Why would she be meeting a man she was about to testify against in a criminal case?" I give her a look, all question marks.
"On her calendar," says Lenore, "there's a note. She had a scheduled appointment, to meet Acosta at four o'clock this afternoon."
PIECE OF CAKE," HE SAYS.
This afternoon Tony Arguillo is pumped up with confidence, the kind that comes after the fact, when all bullets have been dodged, and the fates leave you feeling as if you are immortal.
Arguillo took his walk before the firing squad of the grand jury this morning, and to hear him tell it, all their guns jammed. For myself, I am in the dark. Lawyers are not permitted to accompany their clients behind the closed doors of the grand jury room.
I had demanded to know whether Tony was a subject of the probe and was told that at this stage, knowing what they know, he is not. What we have received is a form of qualified immunity. They cannot use Tony's testimony to charge him. However, anything else from other witnesses is fair game.
Today Tony plants himself on the couch in my office, both feet up, hands coupled behind the back of his head. The posture of the relaxed victor.
He strikes me as one of those people who has striven at all cost through childhood to be cool, a little too hard at times. He has developed a bearing that now makes him come off more like a weasel than a wolf. In his own mind I am certain he sees himself lean and mean, bad in the way only good cops are, spitting cool invective in the face of evil: Dirty Tony.
"No harm, no foul." He actually grimaces when he says this.
"Our boy didn't know which way to go, or what to ask," he says. He's talking about Coleman Kline, who questioned him.
"Like a walk through the park," says Tony. "A slam dunk." If there are any more canned descriptions of victory that quickly come to mind, Tony would come up with them. This from a man who raised pimples of sweat like acne for more than a month, through three continuances, courtesy of acosta's fall from grace.
He tells me that he does not have a high opinion of Coleman Kline's abilities before a jury. I will wait for another, more objective assessment.
"All thumbs. Like a bull in a china shop." These are the mixed metaphors he uses to describe the man.
"That's fine, so long as you told the truth," I tell him.
The prisons of this country are littered with the bodies of men, mostly good-time Charlies, people for whom any serious crime was the farthest thought. They now do the brick yard walk for a stretch of years because they obstructed justice or committed perjury for a friend. I wonder how far Tony would go to protect Mendel and his flock.
"He never got beyond the basics, never mentioned the books," he tells me. He's talking about Kline and the union's books of record, which have now mysteriously disappeared. Poof! Magic. Phil Mendel's answer to everything.
"They can't get your ass if they don't ask the right questions," he tells me.
The fact that in this statement is something of an admission, that his posterior might in fact be gotten with the right questions, does not seem to bother my client. He starts to tell me more about this triumph, but I cut him off. I want facts, the particulars that they asked him, as I wait at my desk with pen perched over pad. We can wait to declare victory until after the transcript comes," I tell him. "If we're lucky it never will." This may take weeks or months. Grand jury transcripts are usually sealed, kept from the public and witnesses until charges are brought. If we are lucky they will bury the matter, decide that there is insufficient evidence to indict any parties and no transcript will be produced.
"Sure," he says. I have rained on his parade and Tony's enthusiasm suddenly goes dormant. He starts giving me bits and pieces of information.
"There were a lot of irrelevant questions," he says. I press him again on whether he told the truth.
"You worry too much," he says. My pursuit on this issue seems to offend him. I cannot tell whether this is because I am questioning his honor, or that he merely finds the truth a nettlesome inconvenience.
"Scout's honor." He raises two fingers in a somewhat twisted gesture, which makes me wonder if they were crossed when he was in the box.
It has been nearly a week since that grisly discovery of Hall's body, and there has been little from the authorities as to leads. Lenore and I combed the papers, every set piece of type for days, fearful that they might have sniffed out our scent at the apartment that night, a neighbor walking a dog, some insomniac taking a leak only to capture our visage through a crack in a bathroom window. But it is true what they say: God protects the dim-witted. Our foolish escapade seems to have gone unnoticed.
There has been a lot of talk and speculation, none of which surprises me. Ever since the papers made the connection between Acosta's prostitution case and the victim, the press has been rife with conjecture, all of which focuses on who stood to gain from the woman's death. The most obvious candidate so far is the judge.
The cops tried to talk to Acosta the day after the murder. I am told he declined to say anything and offered no alibi. I could fire the flames of journalism like a steel blast furnace by telling them about the note on the girl's calendar. And yet as much as I dislike the man, and even with the information I have from Hall's calendar, I find it difficult to believe that Acosta would commit murder.
"Why did you talk to Phil Mendel about our discussions in the office?" Without warning I lay this on Tony. Surprise is usually the best path to the truth.
My question puts him back a few steps; he arches his eyebrows, but he plays it cool.
"Testy," he says. But he doesn't deny it. There's a little lame scratching of the head here while he considers the question.
"He seems to know an awful lot about our conversations."
"Maybe he's got a Ouija board," he says. "Phil's into the occult, black magic, the devil, all that shit." He laughs at the image.
Phil is the devil, only Tony doesn't know it.
"Let me think," he says. He is not terribly disturbed by this accusation, still reclining on my couch, feet on a pillow.
"I don't remember talking to him." If this is an example of the truth he told before the grand jury. Tony should be trying on horizontal stripes.
"Phil's got a lot of sources," he says. "Besides, what's the harm? The grand jury's looking in all the wrong places. Like I say, no harm, no foul," he says.
This is getting redundant.
"It's a question of confidence," I tell him. "Mine in you." This draws a look from him, a cool smile, like it's my dander up, not his.
"It's hard to maintain a lawyer-client relationship if one of the parties is broadcasting to the world everything we discuss."
"Talking to Phil is hardly broadcasting to the world," he says. Tony has a lot to learn about admissions. It seems he has just made another.
"What's the problem?" he says.
"For one thing," I tell him, "it serves to waive any privilege between us." For the first time he gives me a dense look, like he doesn't understand this. So I explain.
"All of our conversations are privileged. The state cannot force me to reveal anything we have discussed within the attorney-client relationship."
A happy look. Sounds good to Tony.
"Unless you have revealed it to someone else," I say. "Then they can turn the screws and force me to repeat anything and everything you've told me," I tell him.
"Oh." I get a sober look, but still he doesn't move.
"Yes. Oh." Tony gets my drift. Some of the information he has revealed to me, mostly minor indiscretions, would not get him prosecuted but might get him fired. While there is a vast gulf between crimes and employee misconduct, it is a chasm that is deep enough to swallow a cop's career.
"Of course it's always possible that Phil already knew things about you that I do not." This puts it squarely, and Tony finally swings around sits up, feet planted firmly on the floor, eyes as mean as Tony knows how to make them.
"Say it?" he says.
"Zack Wiley. Strike a chord?" I ask. I can tell by the look that it does.
"Officer Wiley, you remember, was killed in a raid on a crack house last year. I'm told you were there. That you came up with the gun that was later determined to have killed the officer. I'm also told there was a problem with that particular weapon, some question about whether it was property in the possession of the department from another, earlier crime scene." I get a hollow gaze from Arguillo, the kind that flashes like red neon: Trouble here.
He would say "Oh shit," but he doesn't have to. I can read it in his eyes.
"Is there something you didn't tell me about this morning's examination? "
"It was nothing. Irrelevant," he says.
There's a considerable pause, the psychic smell of rubber burning, as if he is replaying some of the questions and his testimony of this morning in his head. Coleman Kline is more devious than Tony could imagine.
"He asked some questions about a robbery over on the East Side three years ago, and whether I responded to the scene. It was a fishing expedition," he says. "You wish."
"He's got nothing," he says.
"Did you respond? To the robbery scene?" I ask.
"Not that I remember," he says. "It's hard to recall that far back. You make a dozen calls in a day. Six or eight robberies in a month. If nobody gets shot they all come together in your mind after a while."
"Is that where the gun came from?" I ask.
He gives me an expression, something halfway between an admission and he's not sure.
"How did you know about the gun?" he says. "Half the city knows about that gun," I tell him. "What are you trying to say?"
"I'm trying to say that the jury probe may be moving beyond its initial scope, onto more dangerous ground," I tell him.
As these words clear my lips, Tony's cool indifference begins to melt like ice on a hot day.
WOULD GUESS THAT SHE IS IN HER EARLY FIFTIES.
She has dark hair and is not unattractive, though her makeup is smeared in a few places, maybe evidence of a rush to get here this morning.
She is well dressed, in heels, a dark skirt, and white blouse under a silk blazer, with a matching blue scarf about her neck. Her face is creased by a few lines at the forehead and cheeks, which if I had Co guess are the product of some recent stress. By her presence here in my office I can assume this is legal in nature.
Her name is Lili. A first name, which is all I am given by way of introduction from Lenore. And while I am not told why they are here, I detect the aroma of commerce, a client with money, and a hungry lawyer named Goya.
"I assumed you wouldn't mind the use of your office," says Lenore.
"Mi casa, su casa," I tell her. I offer to leave so they can talk privately.
We have discussed an association, some sharing of office space since Harry and I have an empty but unfurnished suite down the hall. It is something Lenore wants to think about.
"I can use the library for a few minutes," I tell her.
Not necessary," says Lenore. She's sipping coffee from a Styrofoam cup as she talks, leaving ruby red lip prints around the edge. "I could use some advice," she tells me.
I am figuring practical stuff that public prosecutors do not deal with, like fees, and costs. Still I am flattered, and I make a grand gesture, as if to say, "Moi?"
"Whatever I can do," I tell her.
"Your husband, is he here?" Lenore turns to the woman, all business. "He will be here momentarily," she says. "He had to park the car and did not want to be late."
"I'm sure this has been a difficult time for both of you," says Lenore.
"You cannot imagine," says the woman. "My husband is worried about what all of this will do to our family, especially our two daughters, if he is arrested."
"Minor children?" asks Lenore.
"No. No. They are married. They have children of their own," she says. She reaches into her purse and takes out her wallet. A second later she produces two pictures, dusky, dark-eyed beauties maybe six or seven years of age in party dresses, with curls like little funnel clouds, bearing toothless smiles of innocence.
"The little one, Gabriella." The woman called Lili points with a well-manicured finger. "She is the apple other papa's eye. My husband," she says. "It would kill him if this thing were to harm her in some way.
These ugly accusations and innuendos," she says.