The Lincoln Lawyer

 , a novel by Michael Connelly

The Lincoln Lawyer Excerpt

"There is no client as scary as an innocent man."
-J. Michael Haller, Criminal Defense Attorney, Los Angeles, 1962

Chapter One

The morning air off the Mojave in late winter is as clean and crisp as you'll ever breathe in Los Angeles County. It carries the taste of promise on it. When it starts blowing in like that I like to keep a window open in my office. There are a few people who know this routine of mine, people like Fernando Valenzuela. The bondsman, not the baseball pitcher. He called me as I was coming into Lancaster for a 9 o'clock calendar call. He must have heard the wind whistling in my cell phone.

"Mick," he said, "you up north this morning?"

"At the moment," I said as I put the window up to hear him better. "You got something?"

"Yeah, I got something. I think I got a franchise player here. But his first appearance is at eleven. Can you make it back down in time?"

Valenzuela has a storefront office on Van Nuys Boulevard a block from the civic center, which includes two courthouses and the Van Nuys jail. He calls his business Liberty Bail Bonds. His phone number, in red neon on the roof of his establishment, can be seen from the high power wing on the third floor of the jail. His number is scratched into the paint on the wall next to every pay phone on every other ward in the jail.

You could say his name is also permanently scratched onto my Christmas list. At the end of the year I give a can of salted nuts to everybody on it.

Planter's Holiday Mix. Each can has a ribbon and bow on it. But no nuts inside. Just cash. I have a lot of bail bondsmen on my Christmas list. I eat Holiday Mix out of Tupperware well into Spring. Since my last divorce, it is sometimes all I get for dinner.

Before answering Valenzuela's question I thought about the calendar call I was headed to. My client was named Harold Casey. If the docket was handled alphabetically I could make an 11 o'clock hearing down in Van Nuys, no problem. But Judge Orton Powell was in his last term on the bench. He was retiring. That meant he no longer faced re-election pressures, like those from the private bar. To demonstrate his freedom - and possibly as a form of payback to those he had been politically beholden to for 12 years - he liked to mix things up in his courtroom. Sometimes the calendar went alphabetical, sometimes reverse alphabetical, sometimes by filing date. You never knew how the call would go until you got there. Often lawyers cooled their heels for better than an hour in Powell's courtroom. The judge liked that.

"I think I can make eleven," I said, without knowing for sure. "What's the case?"

"Guy's gotta be big money. Beverly Hills address, family lawyer waltzing in here first thing. This is the real thing, Mick. They booked him on a half mil and his mother's lawyer came in here today ready to sign over property in Malibu to secure it. Didn't even ask about getting it lowered first. I guess they aren't too worried about him running."

"Booked for what?" I asked.

I kept my voice even. The scent of money in the water often leads to a feeding frenzy but I had taken care of Valenzuela on enough Christmases to know I had him on the hook exclusively. I could play it cool.

"The cops booked him for ag-assault, GBI and attempted rape for starters," the bondsman answered. "The DA hasn't filed yet as far as I know."

The police usually overbooked the charges. What mattered was what the prosecutors finally filed and took to court. I always say cases go in like a lion and out like a lamb. A case going in as attempted rape and aggravated assault with great bodily injury could easily come out as simple battery. It wouldn't surprise me and it wouldn't make for much of a franchise case. Still, if I could get to the client and make a fee agreement based on the announced charges, I could look good when the D.A. later knocked them down.

"You got any of the details?" I asked.

"He was booked last night. It sounds like a bar pick up gone bad. The family lawyer said the woman's in it for the money. You know, the civil suit to follow the criminal case. But I'm not so sure. She got beat up pretty good from what I heard."

"What's the family lawyer's name?"

"Hold on a sec. I got his card here somewhere."

I looked out the window while waiting for Valenzuela to find the business card. I was two minutes from the Lancaster courthouse and twelve minutes from calendar call. I needed at least three of those minutes in between to confer with my client and give him the bad news.

"Okay, here it is," Valenzuela said. "Guy's name is Cecil C. Dobbs, Esquire. Out of Century City. See, I told you. Money."

Valenzuela was right. But it wasn't the lawyer's Century City address that said money. It was the name. I knew of C.C. Dobbs by reputation and guessed that there wouldn't be more than one or two names on his entire client list that didn't have a Bel-Air or Holmby Hills address. His kind of client went home to the places where the stars seemed to reach down at night to touch the anointed.

"Give me the client's name," I said.

"That would be Louis Ross Roulet."

He spelled it and wrote it down on a legal pad.

"Almost like the spinning wheel but you pronounce it Roo-lay," he said. "You going to be here, Mick?"

Before responding I wrote the name C.C. Dobbs on the pad. I then answered Valenzuela with a question.

"Why me?" I asked. "Was I asked for? Or did you suggest me?"

I had to be careful with this. I had to assume Dobbs was the kind of lawyer who would go to the California Bar in a heartbeat if he came across a criminal defense attorney paying off bondsmen for client referrals. In fact, I started wondering if the whole thing might be a Bar sting operation that Valenzuela hadn't picked up on. I wasn't one of the Bar's favorite sons. They had come at me before. More than once.

"I asked Roulet if he had a lawyer, you know? A criminal defense lawyer and he said no. I told him about you. I didn't push it. I just said you were good. Soft sell, you know?"

"Was this before or after Dobbs came into it?"

"No, before. Roulet called me this morning from the jail. They got him up on high power and he saw the sign, I guess. Dobbs showed up after that. I told him you were in, gave him your pedigree, and he was cool with it. He'll be there at eleven. You'll see how he is."

I didn't speak for a long moment. I wondered how truthful Valenzuela was being with me. A guy like Dobbs would have had his own man. If it wasn't his own forte, then he'd have had a criminal specialist in the firm or, at least, on stand by. But Valenzuela's story seemed to contradict this. Roulet came to him empty-handed. It told me that there was more to this case I didn't know than what I did.

"Hey, Mick, you there?" Valenzuela prompted.

I made a decision. It was a decision that would eventually lead me back to Jesus Menendez and that I would in many ways come to regret. But at the moment it was made it was just another choice made of necessity and routine.

"I'll be there," I said into the phone. "I'll see you at eleven."

I was about to close the phone when I heard Valenzuela's voice come back at me.

"And you'll take care of me for this, right, Mick? I mean, you know, if this is the franchise."

It was the first time Valenzuela had ever sought assurance of a payback from me. It played further into my paranoia and I carefully constructed an answer that would satisfy him and the Bar - if it was listening.

"Don't worry, Val. You're on my Christmas list."

I closed the phone before he could say anything else and told my driver to drop me off at the employee entrance to the courthouse. The line at the metal detector would be shorter and quicker there and the security men usually didn't mind the lawyers - the regulars - sneaking through so they could make court on time.

As I thought about Louis Ross Roulet and the case and the possible riches and dangers that waited for me I put the window back down so I could enjoy the morning's last minute of clean, fresh air. It still carried the taste of promise.

Chapter Two

The courtroom in Department 2A was crowded with lawyers negotiating and socializing on both sides of the bar when I got there. I could tell the session was going to start on time because I saw the bailiff seated at his desk. This meant the judge was close to taking the bench.

In Los Angeles County the bailiffs are actually sworn deputy sheriffs who are assigned to the jail division. I approached the bailiff, whose desk was right next to the bar railing so citizens could come up to ask questions without having to violate the space assigned to the lawyers, defendants and courtroom personnel. I saw the calendar on the clipboard in front of him. I checked the nameplate on his uniform - R. Rodriguez - before speaking.

"Roberto, you got my guy on there? Harold Casey?"

The bailiff used his finger to start down the list on the call sheet but stopped quickly. This meant I was in luck.

"Yeah, Casey. He's second up."

"Alphabetical today, good. Do I have time to go back and see him?"

"No, they're bringing the first group in now. I just called. The judge is coming out. You'll probably have a couple minutes to see your guy in the pen."

"Thank you."

I started to walk toward the gate when he called after me.

"And it's Reynaldo, not Roberto."

"Right, right. I'm sorry about that Reynaldo."

"Us bailiffs, we all look alike, right?"

I didn't know if that was an attempt at humor or just a dig at me. I didn't answer. I just smiled and went through the gate. I nodded at a couple lawyers I didn't know and a couple that I did. One stopped me to ask how long I was going to be up in front of the judge because he wanted to gauge when to come back for his own client's appearance. I told him I was going to be quick.

During a calendar call incarcerated defendants were brought to the courtroom in groups of four and held in a wood and glass enclosure known as the pen. This allowed the defendants to confer with their attorneys in the moments before their case was called for whatever matter was before the court.

I got to the side of the pen just as the door from the interior holding cell was opened by a deputy and the first four defendants on the docket were marched out. The last of the four to step into the pen was Harold Casey, my client. I took a position near the side wall so that we would have privacy on at least one side and signaled him over.

Casey was big and tall, as they tend to recruit them in the Road Saints motorcycle gang - or club, as the membership prefers to be known. While being held in the Lancaster jail he had cut his hair and shaved, as I had requested, and he looked reasonably presentable except for the tattoos that wrapped both arms and poked up above his collar. But there is only so much you can do. I don't know much about the effect of tattoos on a jury but I suspect it's not overly positive, especially when grinning skulls are involved. I do know that jurors in general don't care for ponytails - on either defendants or the lawyers who represent them.

Casey, or Hard Case, as he was known in the club, was charged with cultivation, possession and sale of marijuana as well as other drug and weapons charges. In a pre-dawn raid on the ranch where he lived and worked, Sheriffs Deputies found a barn and Quonset hut complex that had been turned into an indoor growing facility. More than two thousand fully mature plants were seized along with 63 pounds of harvested marijuana packaged in various weights in plastic bags. Additionally, 12 ounces of crystal meth which the packagers sprinkled on the harvested crop to give it an extra kick was seized along with a small arsenal of weapons, many of them later determined to be stolen.

It would appear that Hard Case Casey was fucked. The state had him cold. He was actually found asleep on a couch in the barn, five feet from the packaging table. Added to this, he had twice previously been convicted of drug offenses and was currently still on parole for the most recent. In the state of California the third time is the charm. Realistically, Casey was facing at least a decade in prison, even with gain time.

But what was unusual about Casey was that he was a defendant who was looking forward to trial and even to the likelihood of conviction. He had refused to waive his right to a speedy trial and now, less than three months after his arrest, eagerly wanted to bring it on. He was anxious because it was likely that his only hope lay in an appeal of that likely conviction. Thanks to his attorney, Casey saw a glimmer of hope - that small, twinkling light that only a good attorney can bring to the darkness of a case like this. From this glimmer a case strategy was born that might ultimately work to free Casey. It was daring and risky and would cost Casey time as he waited out the appeal but he knew as well as I did that it was the only real shot he had.

The crack in the state's case was not in its assumption that Casey was a marijuana grower, packager and seller. The state was absolutely correct in these assumptions and the evidence more than proved it. It was in how the state came to that evidence that the case tottered on an unsteady foundation. It was my job to probe that crack in trial, exploit it, put it on record and then convince an appellate court of what I had not been able to convince Judge Orton Powell during a pretrial motion to suppress the evidence in the case.

The seed of the prosecution of Harold Casey was planted on a Tuesday in mid December when Casey walked into a Home Depot in Lancaster and made a number of mundane purchases that included three light bulbs of the variety used in hydroponic farming. The man behind him in the check out line happened to be an off-duty sheriffs deputy about to purchase outdoor Christmas lights. The deputy recognized some of the artwork on Casey's arms - most notably the skull with halo tattoo that is the emblematic signature of the Road Saints - and put two and two together. The off-duty man then dutifully followed Casey's Harley as he rode to the ranch in nearby Pearblossom. This information was passed to the sheriffs drug squad which arranged for an unmarked helicopter to fly over the ranch with a thermal imaging camera. The subsequent photographs, detailing rich red heat blooms from the barn and Quonset hut, along with the statement of the deputy who saw Casey purchase hydroponic lights were submitted in an affidavit to a judge. The next morning Casey was rousted from sleep on the couch by deputies with a signed search warrant.

In an earlier hearing I argued that all evidence against Casey should be excluded because the probable cause for the search constituted an invasion of Casey's right to privacy. Using an individual's commonplace purchases at a hardware store as a springboard to conduct a further invasion of privacy through surveillance on the ground and in the air and by thermal imaging would surely be viewed as excessive by the framers of the Constitution.

Judge Powell rejected my argument and the case moved toward trial or disposition by plea agreement. In the meantime new information came to light that would bolster Casey's appeal of a conviction. Analysis of the photographs taken during the flyover of Casey's house and the focal specifications of the thermal camera used by the deputies indicated the helicopter was flying no more than 200 feet off the ground when the photographs were taken. The U.S. Supreme Court has held that a law enforcement observation flight over a suspect's property does not violate an individual's right to privacy so long as the aircraft is in public airspace. I had Raul Levin, my investigator, check with the Federal Aviation Administration. Casey's ranch was located beneath no airport flight pattern. The floor for public airspace above the ranch was 1,000 feet. The deputies had clearly invaded Casey's privacy while gathering the probable cause to raid the ranch.

My job now was to take the case to trial and elicit testimony from the deputies and pilot as to the altitude they were flying when they went over the ranch. If they told the truth, I had them. If they lied, I had them. I don't relish the idea of embarrassing law enforcement officers in open court, but my hope was that they would lie. If a jury sees a cop lie on the witness stand, then the case might as well end right there. You don't have to appeal a not guilty verdict. There are no comebacks from a not guilty verdict.

Either way, I was confident I had a winner. We just had to get to trial and there was only one thing holding us back. That was what I needed to talk to Casey about before the Judge took the bench and called the case.

My client sauntered over to the corner of the pen and didn't offer a hello. I didn't either. He knew what I wanted. We'd had this conversation before.

"Harold, this is calendar call," I said. "This is when I tell the judge if we're ready to go to trial. I already know the state's ready. So today's about us."

"So?"

"So, there's a problem. Last time we were here you told me I'd be getting some money. But here we are, Harold, and no money."

"Don't worry. I have your money."

"That's why I am worried. You have my money. I don't have my money."

"It's coming. I talked to my boys yesterday. It's coming."

"You said that last time, too. I don't work for free, Harold. The expert I had go over the photos doesn't work for free either. Your retainer is long gone. I want some more money or you're going to have to get yourself a new lawyer. A public defender."

"No PD, man. I want you."

"Well, I got expenses and I gotta eat. You know what my nut is each week just to pay for the yellow pages? Take a guess."

Casey said nothing.

"A grand. Averages out a grand a week just to keep my ad in there and that's before I eat or pay the mortgage or the child support or put gas in the Lincoln. I'm not doing this on a promise, Harold. I work on green inspiration."

Casey seemed unimpressed.

"I checked around," he said. "You can't just quit on me. Not now. The judge won't let you."

A hush fell over the courtroom as the Judge stepped out of the door to his chambers and took the two steps up to the bench. The bailiff called the courtroom to order. It was show time. I just looked at Casey for a long moment and stepped away. He had an amateur, jailhouse knowledge of the law and how it worked. He knew more than most. But he was still in for a surprise.

I took a seat against the rail behind the defendant's table. The first case called was a bail reconsideration that was handled quickly. Then the clerk called the case of California versus Casey and I stepped up to the table.

"Michael Haller for the defense," I said.

The prosecutor announced his presence as well. He was a young guy named Victor DeVries. He had no idea what was going to hit him when we got to trial. Judge Orton Powell made the usual inquiries about whether a last minute disposition in the case was possible. Every judge had an overflowing calendar and an overriding mandate to clear cases through disposition. The last thing any judge wanted to hear was that there was no hope of agreement and that a trial was inevitable.

But Powell took the bad news from DeVries and me in stride and asked if we were ready to schedule the trial for later in the week. DeVries said yes. I said no.

"Your honor," I said, "I would like to carry this over until next week, if possible."

"What is the cause of your delay, Mr. Haller?" the Judge asked impatiently. "The prosecution is ready and I want to dispose of this case."

"I want to dispose of it as well, your honor. But the defense is having trouble locating a witness who will be necessary to our case. An indispensable witness, your honor. I think a one-week carry over should be sufficient. By next week we should be ready to go forward."

As expected, DeVries objected to the delay.

"Your honor, this is the first the state has heard about a missing witness. Mr. Haller has had almost three months to locate his witnesses. He's the one who wanted the speedy trial and now he wants to wait. I think this is just a delay tactic because he's facing a case that-"

"You can hold onto the rest of that for the jury, Mr. DeVries," the Judge said. "Mr. Haller, you think one week will solve your problem?"

"Yes, your honor."

"Okay, we'll see you and Mr. Casey next Monday and you will be ready to go. Is that understood?"

"Yes, your honor. Thank you."

The clerk called the next case and I stepped away from the defense table. I watched a deputy lead my client out of the pen. Casey glanced back at me, a look on his face that seemed to be equal parts anger and confusion. I went over to Reynaldo Rodriguez and asked if I could be allowed back into the holding area to further confer with my client. It was a professional courtesy allowed to most of the regulars. Rodriguez got up, unlocked a door behind his desk and ushered me through. I made sure to thank him by his correct name.

Casey was in a holding cell with one other defendant, the man whose case had been called ahead of his in the courtroom. The cell was large and had benches running along three sides. The bad thing about getting your case called early in the courtroom was that after the hearing you had to sit in this cage until it filled with enough people to run a full bus back to the county jail. Casey came right up to the bars to speak to me.

"What witness were you talking about in there?" he demanded.

"Mr. Green," I said. "Mr. Green is all we need for this case to go forward."

Casey's face contorted in anger. I tried to cut him off at the pass.

"Look, Harold, I know you want to move this along and get to the trial and then the appeal. But you've got to pay the freight along the way. I know from long, hard experience that it does me no good to chase people for money after the horse is out of the barn. You want to play now then you pay now."

I nodded and was about to turn back to the door that led to freedom. But then I spoke to him again.

"And don't think the judge in there didn't know what was going on," I said. "You got a young prosecutor who's wet behind the ears and doesn't have to worry about where his next paycheck's coming from. But Orton Powell spent a lot of years in the defense bar before he got to the bench. He knows about chasing indispensable witnesses like Mr. Green and he probably won't look too kindly upon a defendant who doesn't pay his lawyer. I gave him the wink, Harold. If I want off the case, I'll get off. But what I'd rather do is come in here next Monday and stand up out there and tell him we found our witness and we are ready to go. You understand?"

Casey didn't say anything at first. He walked to the far side of the cell and sat down on the bench. He didn't look at me when he finally spoke.

"As soon as I get to a phone," he said.

"Sounds good, Harold. I'll tell one of the deputies you have to make a call. Make the call, then sit tight and I'll see you next week. We'll get this thing going."

I headed back to the door, my steps quick. I hate being inside a jail. I'm not sure why. I guess it's because sometimes the line seems so thin. The line between being a criminal and a criminal attorney. Sometimes I'm not sure which side of the bars I am on. To me it's always a dead bang miracle that I get to walk out the way I walked in.

Chapter Three

In the hallway outside the courtroom I turned my cell phone back on and called my driver to tell him I was coming out. I then checked voicemail and found messages from Lorna Taylor and Fernando Valenzuela. I decided to wait until I was in the car to make the call backs.

Earl Briggs, my driver, had the Lincoln right out front. Earl didn't get out and open the door or anything. His deal was just to drive me while he worked off the fee he owed me for getting him probation on a cocaine sales conviction. I paid him twenty bucks an hour to drive me, but then held half of it back to go against the fee. It wasn't quite what he was making dealing crack in the projects but it was safer, legal and something that could go on a resume. Earl said he wanted to go straight in life and I believed him.

I could hear the sound of hip hop pulsing behind the closed windows of the Town Car as I approached. But Earl killed the music as soon as I reached for the door handle. I slid into the back and told him to head toward Van Nuys.

"Who was that you were listening to?" I asked him.

"Um, that was Three Six Mafia."

"Dirty south?"

"That's right."

Over the years I had become knowledgeable in the subtle distinctions, regional and otherwise, in rap and hip hop. Across the board, most of my clients listened to it, many of them developing their life strategies from it.

I reached over and picked up the shoebox full of cassette tapes from the Boyleston case and chose one at random. I noted the tape number and the time on the little log book I kept in the shoebox. I handed the tape over the seat to Earl and he slid it into the dashboard stereo. I didn't have to tell him to play it at a volume so low that it would amount to little more than background noise. Earl had been with me for three months. He knew what to do.

Roger Boyleston was one of my few court appointed clients. He was facing a variety of federal drug trafficking charges. DEA wiretaps on Boyleston's phones had led to his arrest and the seizure of six kilos of cocaine that he had planned to distribute through a network of dealers. There were numerous tapes - more than 50 hours of recorded phone conversations. Boyleston had talked to many people about what was coming and when to expect it. The case was a slam dunk for the government. Boyleston was going to go away for a long time and there was almost nothing I could do but negotiate a deal trading Boyleston's cooperation for a lower sentence. That didn't matter, though. What mattered to me were the tapes. I had taken the case because of the tapes. The federal government would pay me to listen to the tapes in preparation for defending my client. That meant I would get a minimum of 50 billable hours out of Boyleston and the government before it was all settled. So I made sure the tapes were in heavy rotation whenever I was riding in the Lincoln. I wanted to make sure that if I ever had to put my hand on the book and swear to tell the truth, I could say in good conscience that I played every one of those tapes I billed Uncle Sugar for.

I called Lorna Taylor back first. Lorna is my case manager. The phone number that runs on my half-page ad in the yellow pages and on 36 bus benches scattered through high-crime areas in the south and east county goes directly to the office/second bedroom of her Kings Road condo in West Hollywood. The address the California Bar and all the clerks of the courts have for me is the condo as well.

Lorna is the first buffer. To get to me you start with her. My cell number is given out to only a few and Lorna is the gatekeeper. She is tough, smart, professional and beautiful. Lately, though, I only get to verify this last attribute once a month or so when I take her to lunch and sign checks - she's my bookkeeper, too.

"Law office," she said when I called in.

"Sorry, I was still in court," I said, explaining why I didn't get her call. "What's up?"

"You talked to Val, right?"

"Yeah. I'm heading down to Van Nuys now. I got that at eleven."

"He called here to make sure. He sounds nervous."

"He thinks this guy is the golden goose, wants to make sure he's along for the ride. I'll call him back to reassure him."

"I did some preliminary checking on the name Louis Ross Roulet. Credit check is excellent. The name in the Times archive comes up with a few hits. All real estate transactions. Looks like he works for a real estate firm in Beverly Hills. It's called Windsor Residential Estates. They handle all exclusive pocket listings - not the sort of properties where they put a sign out front."

"That's good. Any thing else?"

"Not on that. And just the usual so far on the phone."

Which meant that she had fielded the usual number of calls drawn by the bus benches and the yellow pages, all from people who wanted a lawyer. Before the callers hit my radar they have to convince Lorna that they can pay for what they want. She is sort of like the nurse behind the desk in the emergency room. You have to convince her you have valid insurance before she sends you back to see the doc. Next to Lorna's phone she keeps a rate schedule that starts with a $5,000 flat fee to handle a DUI and ranges to the hourly fees I charge for felony trials. She makes sure every potential client is a paying client and knows the costs of the crime they have been charged with. There's that saying, don't do the crime if you can't do the time. Lorna likes to say that with me it's don't do the crime if you can't pay for my time. She accepts Master Card and Visa and will get purchase approval before a client ever gets to me.

"Nobody we know?" I asked.

"Gloria Dayton called from Twin Towers."

I groaned. The Twin Towers was the county's main lockup in downtown. It housed women in one tower and men in the other. Gloria Dayton was a high-priced prostitute who needed my legal services from time to time. The first time I represented her was at least ten years earlier, when she was young and drug free and still had life in her eyes. Now she was a pro bono client. I never charged her. I just tried to convince her to quit the life.

"When did she get popped?"

"Last night. Or rather, this morning. Her first appearance is after lunch."

"I don't know if I can make that with this Van Nuys thing."

"There's also a complication. Cocaine possession as well as the usual."

I knew that Gloria worked exclusively through contacts made on the internet where she billed herself on a variety of websites as Glory Days. She was no street walker or barroom troller. When she got popped, it was usually after an undercover vice officer was able to penetrate her check system and set up a date. The fact that she had cocaine on her person when they met sounded like an unusual lapse on her part or a plant from the cop.

"All right, if she calls back tell her I will try to be there and if I'm not there I will have somebody take it. Will you call the court and firm up the hearing?"

"I'm on it. But, Mickey, when are you going to tell her this is the last time?"

"I don't know. Maybe today. What else?"

"Isn't that enough for one day?"

"It'll do, I guess."

We talked a little more about my schedule for the rest of the week and I opened my laptop on the fold-down table so I could check my calendar against hers. I had a couple hearings set for each morning and a one-day trial on Thursday. It was all South side drug stuff. My meat and potatoes. At the end of the conversation I told her that I would call her after the Van Nuys hearing to let her know if and how the Roulet case would impact things.

"One last thing," I said. "You said the place Roulet works handles pretty exclusive real estate deals, right?"

"Yeah. Every deal his name was attached to in the archives was in seven figures. A couple got up into the eights. Holmby Hills, Bel-Air, places like that."

I nodded, thinking that Roulet's status might make him a person of interest to the media.

"Then why don't you tip Sticks to it," I said.

"You sure?"

"Yeah, we might be able to work something there."

"Will do."

"Talk to you later."

By the time I closed the phone Earl had us back on the Antelope Valley Freeway heading south. We were making good time and getting to Van Nuys for Roulet's first appearance wasn't going to be a problem. I called Fernando Valenzuela to tell him.

"That's real good," the bondsman said. "I'll be waiting."

As he spoke I watched two motorcycles glide by my window. Each rider wore a black leather vest with the skull and halo patch sewn on the back.

"Anything else?" I asked.

"Yeah, one other thing I should probably tell you," Valenzuela said. "I was double-checking with the court on when his first appearance was going to be and I found out the case was assigned to Maggie McFierce. I don't know if that's going to be a problem for you or not."

Maggie McFierce as in Margaret McPherson, who happened to be one of the toughest and, yes, fiercest deputy district attorneys assigned to the Van Nuys courthouse. She also happened to be my first ex-wife.

"It won't be a problem for me," I said without hesitation. "She's the one who'll have the problem."

The defendant has the right to his choice of counsel. If there is a conflict of interest between the defense lawyer and the prosecutor then it is the prosecutor who must bow out. I knew Maggie would hold me personally responsible for her losing the reins on what might be a big case but I couldn't help that. It had happened before. In my laptop I still had a motion to disqualify from the last case in which we had crossed paths. If necessary, I would just have to change the name of the defendant and print it out. I'd be good to go and she'd be as good as gone.

The two motorcycles had now moved in front of us. I turned and looked out the back window. There were three more Harleys behind us.

"You know what that means, though," I said.

"No, what?"

"She'll go for no bail. She always does with crimes against women."

"Shit, can she get it? I'm looking at a nice chunk of change on this, man."

"I don't know. You said the guy's got family and C.C. Dobbs. I can make something out of that. We'll see."

"Shit."

Valenzuela was seeing his major payday disappear.

"I'll see you there, Val."

I closed the phone and looked over the seat at Earl.

"How long have we had the escort?" I asked.

"Just came up on us," Earl said. "You want me to do something?"

"Let's see what they -"

I didn't have to wait until the end of my sentence. One of the riders from the rear came up alongside the Lincoln and signaled us toward the upcoming exit for the Vasquez Rocks county park. I recognized him as Teddy Vogel, a former client and the highest ranked Road Saint not incarcerated. He might have been the largest Saint as well. He went at least 350 pounds and he gave the impression of a fat kid riding his little brother's bike.

"Pull off, Earl," I said. "Let's see what he's got."

We pulled into the parking lot next to the jagged rock formation named after an outlaw who had hid in them a century before. I saw two people sitting and having a picnic on the edge of one of the highest ledges. I didn't think I would feel comfortable eating a sandwich in such a dangerous spot and position.

I lowered my window as Teddy Vogel approached on foot. The other four Saints had killed their engines but remained on their bikes. Vogel leaned down to the window and put one of his giant forearms on the sill. I could feel the car tilt down a few inches.

"Counselor, how's it hanging?" he said.

"Just fine, Ted," I said, not wanting to call him by his obvious gang sobriquet of Teddy Bear. "What's up with you?"

"What happened to the ponytail?"

"Some people objected to it, so I cut it off."

"A jury, huh? Must've been a collection of stiffs from up this way."

"What's up, Ted?"

"I gotta call from Hard Case over there in the Lancaster pen. He said I might catch you heading south. Said you were stalling his case till you got some green. That right, Counselor?"

It was said as routine conversation. No threat in his voice or words. And I didn't feel threatened. Two years ago I got an abduction and aggravated assault case against Vogel knocked down to a disturbing the peace. He ran a Saints-owned strip club on Sepulveda in Van Nuys. His arrest came after he learned that one of his most productive dancers had quit and crossed the street to work at a competing club. Vogel had crossed the street after her, grabbed her off the stage and carried her back to his club. She was naked. A passing motorist called the police. Knocking the case down was one of my better plays and Vogel knew this. He had a soft spot for me.

"He's pretty much got it right," I said. "I work for a living. If he wants me to work for him he's gotta pay me."

"We gave you five grand in December," Vogel said.

"That's long gone, Ted. More than half went to the expert who is going to blow the case up. The rest went to me and I already worked off those hours. If I'm going to take it to trial then I need to refill the tank."

"You want another five?"

"No, I need ten and I told Hard Case that last week. It's a three-day trial and I'll need to bring my expert in from Kodak in New York. I've got his fee to cover and he wants first class in the air and the Chateau Marmont on the ground. Thinks he's going to be drinking at the bar with movie stars or something. That place is four hundred a night just for the cheap rooms."

"You're killing me, Counselor. Whatever happened to that slogan you had in the yellow pages? 'Reasonable doubt for a reasonable fee.' You call ten grand reasonable?"

"I liked that slogan. It brought in a lot of clients. But the California Bar wasn't so pleased with it, made me get rid of it. Ten is the price and it is reasonable, Ted. If you can't or don't want to pay it, I'll file the paperwork today. I'll drop out and he can go with a PD. I'll turn everything I have over. But the PD probably won't have the budget to fly in the photo expert."

Vogel shifted his position on the window sill and the car shuddered under the weight.

"No, no, we want you. Hard Case is important to us, you know what I mean? I want him out and back to work."

I watched him reach inside his vest with a hand that was so fleshy that the knuckles were indented. It came out with a thick envelope that he passed into the car to me.

"Is this cash?" I asked.

"That's right. What's wrong with cash?"

"Nothing. But I have to give you a receipt. It's an IRS reporting requirement. This is the whole ten?"

"It's all there."

I took the top off of a cardboard file box I keep on the seat next to me. My receipt book was behind the current case files. I started writing out the receipt. Most lawyers who get disbarred go down because of financial violations. The mishandling or misappropriation of client fees. I kept meticulous records and receipts. I would never let the Bar get to me that way.

"So you had it all along," I said as I wrote. "What if I had backed down to five? What would you have done then?"

Vogel smiled. He was missing one of his front teeth on the bottom. Had to have been a fight at the club. He patted the other side of his vest.

"I got another envelope with five in it right here, Counselor," he said. "I was ready for you."

"Damn, now I feel bad, leaving you with money in your pocket."

I tore out his copy of the receipt and handed it out the window.

"I receipted it to Casey. He's the client."

"Fine with me."

He took the receipt and dropped his arm off the window sill as he stood up straight. The car returned to a normal level. I wanted to ask him where the money came from, which of the Saints' criminal enterprises had earned it, whether a hundred girls had danced a hundred hours for him to pay me, but that was a question I was better off not knowing the answer to. I watched Vogel saunter back to his Harley and struggle to swing a trash-can thick leg over the seat. For the first time I noticed the double shocks on the back wheel. I told Earl to get back on the freeway and get going to Van Nuys where I now needed to make a stop at the bank before hitting the courthouse to meet my new client.

As we drove I opened the envelope and counted out the money, twenties, fifties and hundred dollar bills. It was all there. The tank was refilled and I was good to go with Harold Casey. I would go to trial and teach his young prosecutor a lesson. I would win, if not in trial then certainly on appeal. Casey would return to the family and work of the Road Saints. His guilt in the crime he was charged with was not something I even considered as I filled out a deposit slip for my client fees account.

"Mr. Haller?" Earl said after a while.

"What, Earl?"

"That man you told him was coming in from New York to be the expert? Will I be picking him up at the airport?"

I shook my head.

"There is no expert coming in from New York, Earl. The best camera and photo experts in the world are right here in Hollywood."

Now Earl nodded and his eyes held mine for a moment in the rearview mirror. Then he looked back at the road ahead.

"I see," he said, nodding again.

And I nodded to myself. No hesitation in what I had done or said. That was my job. That was how it worked. After fifteen years of practicing law I had come to think of it in very simple terms. The law was a large, rusting machine that sucked up people and lives and money. I was just a mechanic. I had become expert at going into the machine and fixing things and extracting what I needed from it in return.

There was nothing about the law that I cherished anymore. The law school notions about the virtue of the adversarial system, of the system's checks and balances, of the search for truth had long since eroded like the faces of statues from other civilizations. The law was not about truth. It was about negotiation, amelioration, manipulation. I didn't deal in guilt and innocence because everybody was guilty. Of something. But it didn't matter because every case I took on was a house built on a foundation poured by overworked and underpaid laborers. They cut corners. They made mistakes. And then they painted over the mistakes with lies. My job was to peel away the paint and find the cracks. To work my fingers and tools into those cracks and widen them. To make them so big that either the house fell down or, failing that, my client slipped through.

Much of society thought of me as the devil but they were wrong. I was a greasy angel. I was the true road saint. I was needed and wanted. By both sides. I was the oil in the machine. I allowed the gears to crank and turn. I helped keep the engine of the system running.

But all of that would change with the Roulet case. For me. For him. And certainly for Jesus Menendez.

Excerpted from The Lincoln Lawyer © Copyright 2005 by Hieronymus, Inc. All rights reserved.

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