The tip had been anonymous, which meant they had to check it out.
"Louise, the receptionist, took the call," said Leonard. "She said it was a man. She didn't recognize the voice and he didn't identify himself. Asked for me, but I wasn't in. She asked him if he wanted to leave a message on my phone. He said no. Gave her this message to give me when I got back. It was simply that Dwight MacKenzie was into more than what he was being tried for, that he was into meth—manufacturing crystal speed, is how she said he put it. Then he hung up."
Blow looked up from the yellow pad he'd been making notes on. "That's all? All he said?"
Leonard nodded. "Not much, is it. But it was enough."
"Yeah, I suppose. Could have been a setup. You say the trial was looking good at that point?"
"We thought so. MacKenzie's a charmer. Classic con man. Commonwealth's case was a little shaky. Hard to prove fraud anyway, and MacKenzie was playing the victim, claimed his associates, as he called his sales staff, were the ones falsifying appraisals and credit reports. Without his knowledge, of course.”
“You knew better? I mean, you didn't buy that?”
“I didn't have to. I was defending him. Attacking their evidence and protecting my flank, making sure nothing blew up in my face. You know how that works.”
Blow, writing on the yellow pad, nodded without looking up. When he finished writing and did, he saw the brothers break off an apparent silent communication. Elvin Bacon's lips were parted as if slackened in a trance but his black eyes, aimed at Leonard, flashed menace. Shifting his glance Blow detected a playfulness in Leonard's eyes.
“So--” Blow began, but Elvin Bacon, snarling, cut him off.
“My brother--” Leonard, his voice the loudest since they'd arrived, cut Elvin off.
“The partners discussed what to do. It came down to we had no choice. No time to do our own investigation. No question of letting our client know, of course, in case this was a setup, which it very likely might have been. Conspiracy, disbarment if we knew of a felony and didn't report it.”
“We didn't know anything!” Elvin barked.
Leonard grinned, shook his head, kept his eyes on Blow. “We discussed that point at length. Elvin's argument had merit, still does. But we decided we couldn't take that chance. The firm's reputation was on the line. It would come down to the judge, and we had a history with him. We had to be clean as Caesar's wife.
“So we called the judge. It was a Sunday. We got the call Friday afternoon, and by Sunday we'd decided we needed to bring it forward. Judge was pissed. Emerson. Retired now. He was watching football, said it was highly irregular etc. etc. We asked for a hearing first thing Monday. Didn't want to surprise him. Okay okay, sounding more pissed than you'd think he should have. Which is why I think he already knew, that it was a setup. And boy were we lucky.
“What does the Times-Dispatch have on its front page Monday morning?MacKenzie's named in a drug investigation. According to sources, of course. Nothing official. Spokesmen refuse to comment. Same damned anonymous tip. I'd bet on it. Judge is still pissed at our meeting. Pissed at me, not at the press for running with the story. Pissed at me, because, no doubt in my mind, because he knew too. We'd slipped their little trap.
“So now Emerson's in a real spot. Has the jury been tainted? Probably, you can never be sure with something like that. Does he call a mistrial? Pickett would love that. He's pretty sure the trial's going south on him. If there's anything to the drug thing he's back in the game. If not, screw it. Better than losing.
“I consult with Mac. He doesn't know what the hell's going on. Pissed at me for ratting him out, even though he denies on his mother's grave he knows nothing about any meth, but maybe those damned associates, but why didn't I talk to him first, before going to the judge. I ratted him out. The way he says it sounds just like Cagney. I could've laughed in his face.
“You're my lawyer, he says, practically shouting. We're in a little witness room but I'm sure you could hear him out in the courtroom. Emerson and Pickett are probly laughing their asses off. Says he's going to fire me. I tell him fine with me, but he might want to consider cutting a deal right now.”
“Huh? Whattaya mean, a deal? You can see the gears turning in his head. I explain to him how he could really burn in a new trial, if there's anything to this drug business, which he assures me again if there is he has nothing to do with it. I tell him that would be up to a jury, a new one if there's a new trial, and there's no telling what kind of evidence Pickett might have by then. I tell him if there really is something with the drugs they won't want to deal with us, that this could be a bluff and the only way to find out is to call it. He finally says okay.”
“We go back to the judge. We offer a guilty plea on two of the twenty-seven fraud charges. Seven to ten. Emerson and Pickett look at each other. Pickett shrugs, judge says okay. We've got a deal.
“A year later I get a letter from Mac, from Mecklenburg, Dear Rat. Hand written. Filled with profanity. Every time he mentions me I'm a rat. I figured he'd been stewing and was letting off steam. Now I see I should have kept the damned letter.”
“Jeezus!” Elvin's eyes were closed, his head wigwagging like a rail-cross warning.
Blow said, “You tossed it?”
“I felt like it. Can't really say what happened to it. I've looked through the files lately, and couldn't find it. Might've stuck it some other place. I'll have my secretary keep looking.”
“You know what's ironic about this, he went after your brother. If you're the rat I wonder why he didn't come after you?”
“Good question, Joe.” He looked quickly at Elvin. “Maybe the girl got her signals crossed, or somebody did. I guess it really didn't matter. Discredit the whole firm, you know?” Grinning, he jabbed a thumb at his brother. “The girl probly just figured Elvis here was an easier target.”
“Don't call me that.” It came out a growl. Sounded well-used.