[Chapter 1] . . . [Chapter 2] . . . [Chapter 3] . . . [Chapter 4] . . . [Chapter 5] . . . [Chapter 6]
The Boss was really upset. Yusif had only seen him in this foul a mood once before back when Yared police officer had not done anything about one man stabbing another in a fight over a girl in the parking lot of the local eZee Stop. He had not even sent the stabbed man to the hospital or taken the knife from the aggressor. He just sent everybody home and the victim's father had actually driven the guy to the hospital. The officer would not even come to the courthouse to talk to Brad and when Brad finally got him on the phone his explanation had been "It's just two thugs. They ain't worth the trouble." The case was so screwed up that Brad had to settle it as an assault and battery with no jail time. Yared had stayed up in his attic retreat as much as possible for the week or so that it took Brad to calm down that time.
This time the anger looked worse. After the priest left yesterday there had been a long "discussion" in which Brad made it very clear to Yusif that he was never to talk to anyone about joining the office unless Brad had told him he could. When Brad left the office he had been angry; when he came back this morning he was furious. The get together at his house the night before had clearly gone sideways.
Yusif did not go to the party in honor of Father Awesome. Few things actually got Brad angry, but it was usually best to avoid him for a while if you were the cause of that anger. Just in case the subject came up, Yusif had met with one of the Saint Minas police officers last night at seven thirty about a case in General District Court this morning. That gave him some cover if Brad cornered him and asked why he skipped the party. So far, he had only seen Brad when they arrived at the courthouse at the same time and walked in together and for a minute or so when he picked up some of the blank plea agreements they filled out by hand because Judge Fleming hated verbal plea agreements. Brad had said nothing other than a muttered greeting in the parking lot and he actually yelled at someone on the phone while Yusif was down in the main office. All things considered, Yusif planned to stay as far away from his boss as he could for the next week or two.
General District Court was a disaster this morning. Judge Fleming decided rather quickly that no case could go forward unless he had the original summons or warrant which had been signed by the defendant - all of which had been destroyed in the fire. The fact that the Virginia Supreme Court's database had the charge and the officers had copies of the warrants or summons signed by the defendant did not budge the judge from that position. When Yusif pointed out that a statute allowed the judge to sign off on warrants and summons himself upon testimony of the officer, Judge Fleming had looked him in the eye and explained in simple words that he was not going to hear evidence and sign off on warrants for the two hundred people on the docket today. He was going to dismiss those charges, without prejudice, and if the Commonwealth thought they were serious enough he could send the officers back over to the magistrate to swear out new warrants.
Starting at nine, there were about thirty people scheduled for trial each hour. Every hour, when the people came in and sat down, the judge came in and announced he was dismissing their cases and sent them on their way. After the eleven o'clock crowd wandered away, Yusif left the courtroom and found a man whom he did not know waiting in hallway.
"Can I help you, sir?"
"We'll see." The man reached into his coat pocket and pulled out a business card. Then he seemed to think better of it and put the card back. "Sorry. It's a natural instinct. I don't think I should give you my name yet. I represent someone who asked me to talk with you. Is there any place private we can go to talk?"
"We can go to my office."
The man waved his hand, rejecting that option. "No, it needs to be someplace where nobody else will see or hear us."
Yusif looked the man over. "I know you're not from here, but you've got to realize that the moment a lawyer from somewhere else shows up people around here notice."
The man smiled. "Oh, I'm sure that's true, but I haven't told anybody who I am or where I'm from and I'm sure you've had enough outsiders poking around for the last couple weeks that people will forget me pretty quickly. Do you have a witness room where we can talk privately?"
Yusif looked around pointedly and then back at this guy. "You must have noticed when you came in that this is a courthouse built in the eighteen hundreds. We have one courtroom. Up those stairs," He pointed to the right, "are Mr. Dollerby's office, in the old balcony, and another set of stairs which lead to my office in the bell tower. Down here all we've got are the two restrooms and the law library."
Before Yusif finished speaking the man started walking toward the door with the plastic sign on it reading "LIBRARY." Yusif hesitated for a second then stuck his head back in the door of the courtroom and told the bailiff that he would be in the library if the judge needed him. Then he followed the stranger into the room.
The law library was a small rectangular room with bookshelves on all four walls and one circular blue and yellow stained glass window above the shelves on the outside wall. The books on those shelves were ancient. In one corner there was a copy of Virginia's statutes so old that they were all in a single large book. The other books ranged from an old set of Corpus Juris with the name of the lawyer who had bequeathed them to the library on their bindings through a set of law reviews from Washington and Lee Law School that were all from the nineteen eighties. In fact, the only books that were not at least twenty years old were a single set of modern Virginia statutes kept next to the door and Yusif knew from experience that the books containing the criminal and traffic codes would be missing. They were always carried away somewhere by lawyers, although the judge's secretary putting two inch strips of red and white tape on them had stopped lawyers from taking the books back to their offices anymore so a search of the courthouse usually turned them up. The entire room was almost filled by a worn oak table that was so large Yusif thought it must have been built inside the library. The nearest concession to modernity was a single computer at one end of the table which was about five years old and allowed research over the internet for those patient enough to coax the information out of it.
As usual, the library was empty. The man walked to the other side of the table and sat waving Yusif toward one of the chairs opposite him, acting for all the world as though this was his office and Yusif were the stranger. Yusif shook his head and instead leaned back against the book shelf.
The man nodded once and began speaking. "I'm here because someone contacted my office yesterday and asked me to come speak to you without involving local law enforcement or Mr. Dollerby. Can I get your promise that you won't talk to either about our conversation?"
Yusif looked at the stranger. He was a man in his late twenties or early thirties and wore the same sort of plain business suit as any courtroom lawyer, but his haircut was a little too fancy and his accent was not one that Yusif had ever heard in the mountains. Further, he had just asked Yusif if he would betray his boss.
"I don't know who you are and I don't know why you're here, but I'm not promising anything like that. What do you want to talk to me about?"
The man stood again and walked back around the table. As he did he spoke again. "I'm sorry Mister Habib. I have a specific set of instructions and I'm not allowed to discuss the matter without your agreement to those conditions." He stopped at the door. "You're sure you won't reconsider?"
As the man came around the table, Yusif stopped leaning on the shelves and took a couple steps back from the door. "No. If I am told something important I will tell Mister Dollerby. He makes the decision about whether to tell anyone else."
The man seemed to consider that for a moment. "I thank you for taking the time to speak to me this morning Mister Habib and I thank you for your honesty. I'll tell the client what you've said and see how the client wants to proceed." Then he turned and started to walk through the door.
As the man walked out, Yusif tried to get some sort of information. "Can you at least tell me what this concerns?"
The man stopped in the opened door and half turned back. "Are you going to talk to Mister Dollerby about this conversation?"
The answer from Yusif came back without any thought. "I already told you that."
"Then," the man said as he turned and walked out the door, "I'm afraid I can't."
Yusif stood there for a couple beats and then headed out the door himself. The man was already out the front door of the courthouse and Yusif followed behind him, hoping to at least get the guy's license plate. However, the man did not get into any of the cars on the street. Instead, he started walking down the street in the direction of the the Food Time grocery. There were very few parking spots in town so a lot of people parked in the Food Time's parking lot. About a minute after after the man turned into the parking lot so that Yusif could not see him a red Lexus sedan which Yusif had never seen before came out. It was too far, and moving too fast for Yusif to get the entire plate, but he was pretty sure that the last three letters were "ESQ."
Going back into the building, he headed up the stairs. This was entirely too weird and even if it meant facing an angry boss, he had to report this to Brad.