11 November 2013

Scratch Esquire: Chapter 2

I looked at Carl. The big black man looked back at me with a serious expression on his face. I'd worked with him on at least a dozen cases over the last five years and he was good at what he did. However, I prosecute economic crimes and I’d never worked with him on anything involving racial issues. Heck, I’d never even heard him talk about racial issues and that was saying something in a city as charged with racial politics as Ridland, Virginia.

Then his face split with a huge grin. “I’m just fucking with you. If I knew what to charge this idiot with I wouldn’t be here. I’d have gotten a warrant from the magistrate or filed an indictment packet for the grand jury.”

He glanced around, leaned forward, and spoke in a lowered voice. “I wouldn’t even be wasting my time on this crap except Captain Doyle has been on me. Who cares if a bunch of thugs sign away their souls? It ain’t like they were on their way to Heaven anyway. I got real work to do, not this bullshit.”

Before I could say anything, he leaned back in his chair and waved his hand in a resigned manner. “You know how it goes. All the flashy stuff happens in Drugs, Gangs, and Violent Crimes. EC isn’t in the headlines every day, so if something stupid comes down the line we get it.”

It was a familiar complaint. The Investigations Division was split into four sections and Economic Crimes was the red headed step child of the Division, if not the entire Department. There was nothing exciting or prestigious about EC. While other sections were doing undercover work and making headlines, EC detectives were slogging through mounds of paperwork and trying to decipher creative book keeping which would be daunting for a lot of accountants. Captain Doyle, the division commander, didn’t get much publicity from EC and seemed to think that meant the detectives there weren’t doing anything. It followed that whenever something particularly ridiculous or unusual got assigned to Investigations he assigned it to EC, instead of tying up officers who were doing real work.

However, yet another discussion with an EC detective about internal politics at Ridland PD wasn’t going to be productive, so I asked an obvious question. “Who is this guy anyway? I’ve ever heard of anybody named Scratch. And I’m pretty sure I’d remember an attorney with that name.”

“That’s because you’ve been doing economic crimes ever since Blackmon poached you from the feds. Scratch does mostly low level stuff and mostly he works down in Westerfield County. Lots of court appointed work. Lots of shoplifting and thug on thug crimes.”

“Okay, then why are we looking at this. Why isn’t Westerfield?”

Carl snorted. “Yeah, tried that already. The detective I spoke to in Westerfield pretty much told me that he had real work to do and pointed out that Scratch’s office is actually in the city. I checked. It’s about twenty feet over the line. So, we’re stuck with it.”

“I can’t think of anything particularly illegal about this. It’s not even a binding contract. I mean, how you going to enforce that? It’s not like you can take a dead man to court. If you want to leave it, I’ll look and see if I can figure something out, but . . .” I shrugged.

Carl shook his head. “You’re not going to be able to sit on this one Mike. I think every preacher from south of the river is pissed about this, including that nutball priest from Holy Cow. It’s not going away and my boss is going to try his best to shift the heat to your boss as soon as he can.”

And then I finally got it. This wasn’t just a meeting so I could help Carl figure out a charge. He was dumping responsibility. Carl was going to go back and tell Captain Doyle that it was now in my lap and Doyle would tell the clergymen they needed to talk to the Commonwealth Attorney. And Father Antonio Figueroa-Pasqual would turn his attention to me.

Father Antonio was a crusader. He caused so much trouble in Fairfax that he got banished to a tiny catholic church in a highly protestant area on the southside of Ridland. He promptly allied himself with the four biggest protestant preachers down there and they founded the Southside Christian Fellowship. The Fellowship was a thorn in the side of any politician whom it deemed in need of instruction in proper Christian behavior. And now the Fellowship might turn its attention toward me, or worse, my boss.

“Wait a second. If it’s that much of a hot potato, maybe we should put it through a grand jury.”

Carl looked dubious. “How? Don’t we need a charge to present to the grand jury?”

“No, not really. The grand jury has to approve every felony before we prosecute it, but there’s nothing that keeps us from presenting other things to them. You ever heard a judge talk to the grand jury after they’ve decided which felonies to approve?”

I paused and he shook his head. “Well, the judge asks them if they have all agreed which felonies should be prosecuted and which felonies should not. Then he asks them if they want to empanel themselves as a special investigative grand jury. They always say no. They don’t want to be dragged back to the courthouse over and over again. They just want to go home.”

I smiled. “You’ll present this to them without any indictment or anything - just for their consideration, they will tell the judge that they don’t want to serve as a special grand jury, and we’ll both be off the hook. Any reporters or preachers call and we can honestly tell them that we gave it to the grand jury and they chose not to go forward.”

By the time I finished explaining, Carl had that huge grin back on his face.

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