"A Chinese MAK-90 a.s.sault rifle modified for fully automatic performance."
"You're a deer hunter, I suppose?"
"You'd be surprised how fast those suckers can run."
"And still, with all these problems, you are walking around, eating cheese steaks, grabbing a beer at the corner tavern?"
"The prison cap."
"Such a wonderful thing for nice young men like yourself. You're right, Michael, you do have a problem. So what are you doing here?"
"I need a lawyer."
"Yes, you do, Michael. But I haven't been so successful on the criminal side. I'm sticking to civil law from now on."
"What, you're not going to take my case?"
"That's right. Now, after you get out of jail, if you want to sue the friend who lent you the stolen car with the automatic rifle inside, give me a call and I'll see what I can do."
"But I was sent."
"You were sent?"
"Yeah. I was sent. The man told me to come here and that you should become my lawyer."
"The man sent you. What man?"
"The big guy."
"I'm supposed to guess, is that it, Michael? This man who sent you, he was big as in tall or as in fat?"
"Now I know you're putting me on. Mr. Raffaello sent me, said you would take care of me, said you owed him a favor."
"Oh," I said slowly. "That man."
"He told me to give you this." He reached into his brown leather bomber jacket and pulled out a stack of bills, green and dirty, bound with a rubber band. He tossed the stack onto my desk. I didn't reach for it.
"What's that, Michael?"
"Ten thou. He told me to give it to you, like an up-front fee."
"Yeah. That's it. Your retainer."
I knew it would come, I just didn't know when or what. I thought maybe I'd get a call in the middle of the night, a soft voice telling me to show up at some deserted corner in South Philly for my instructions. I had already decided I wouldn't kill anybody for him, but I had also decided that I would do anything short of that. The surrept.i.tious delivery, the stashing of stolen goods, the hiding of a fugitive until the heat died down. I owed Enrico Raffaello, yes I did, and even though it hadn't turned out well for me it was a debt I would have to repay. I was almost disappointed that repaying my debt would be so pedestrian - represent Michael Tombelli and I was off the hook.
"Hey," said Michael. "You're the guy shot by the wacko they stuck in that loony bin up there in Haverford."
"That's right," I said.
He leaned forward. "What did it feel like, getting shot and all?"
"I figure you'll find out for yourself someday, Michael."
"Not me. I'm too smart for any of that. But my buddy Peter Cressi, he plays it so far to the edge you never know. You know Peter?"
"I haven't had the pleasure."
"He's coming in too, today or tomorrow. Nothing serious, just a DUI. But he'll be back. He's the guy what they should put up in the loony bin."
"Tell me something, Michael," I said. "Am I on a list of some sort now? Are your friends going to keep coming in to see me?"
"You bet, Mr. Carl. The word's out that you're the guy when we have our little problems." His smile again. "You're going to be busier'n s.h.i.t."
"Now I understand," I said, and I did. No more worrying about my future, it was set in Carrara marble. "All right. Michael, here's the word, and you should tell it to your friend Peter and anyone else who is going to come visiting. The law says I can't accept any money that is the fruit of an illegal transaction, so any money you give me has to be clean. You understand what I just said?"
He scrunched up his eyes and rubbed the back of his hand across his nose and then said, "Sure, yeah."
"Is this money from a drug transaction?" I asked.
"Hey, wait, what do you take me for?"
"Is this money stolen?"
"Get out of here. Rest a.s.sured, Mr. Carl, I work hard for my money."
"Knowing the law as well as you do, can I, in good conscience, take this money, Michael?"
"Trust me, Mr. Carl," he said with his broad smile.
I looked at him very carefully, weighed everything, and then I took hold of the bundle of bills and placed it in my desk drawer. "Wait just a second," I said as I reached into my drawer for some letterhead, "while I write up a receipt."
"Receipt?" he said, as if he had never heard of the word before. "What's with the receipt? I paid you cash."
"Lawyers who don't give receipts for cash sometimes have the peculiar problem of forgetting to report the payments to the IRS."
"Yeah, isn't that funny," said Michael Tombelli. "That's what happened to my last lawyer. He just got four years."
"First I'll write out your receipt, Michael," I said, "and then we'll discuss what to tell the District Attorney."
So that was that. I had once aspired to walk among the paneled corridors of wealth and power with the elite names of the legal world. I had wanted to shed my past and my heritage as a snake sheds its skin and ascend to Olympian heights. Now I would skulk around the City Hall courtrooms, representing baby mobsters and other lowlifes as they tried to minimize their jail time for their petty and not-so-petty crimes, socking away my retainers and advising my dear clients how to stay just to the right side of that narrow and shifting line. I knew what life was like for a lawyer who represented the members of the mob. It was no different than for a lawyer like Tony Baloney, who spent his life defending drug dealing sc.u.m. He was scorned by his fellow pract.i.tioners, excluded from the finer firms, from the prestigious clubs, from the sober-minded committees of the bar a.s.sociation. Aspersions were cast as to his integrity, his veracity, his fitness to stand before the bar. He was investigated relentlessly by the District Attorney, he was hunted like wild game by federal authorities, his taxes were audited each and every year. He became a pariah.
I had found my calling.