"When I get back to Memphis, be one less man alive" - The Grateful Dead
Tony came to me on account of a traffic problem. He was referred by an old high school chum who had prospered among lower companions. The traffic problem was that for the last few weeks every time Tony drove away from his small, unpretentious, two-bedroom tract-style home in North Portland (Oregon), he was stopped, searched and rousted by the police.
He was, he explained, an independent dealer in semi-precious stones, and it was occasionally prudent in his occupation to carry a firearm. To that end he had obtained the requisite license, firearms training and, last but not least, a pistol. The third time he was stopped within three days he was carrying stones of significant value and had his sidearm with him. Despite his obvious legal authority to do so, he had been detained for hours, had missed a private auction and had provable lost income.
I tried to refer him to a civil litigator, but he said he needed a criminal lawyer because of what he “suspected” about the cause of the harassment. He had, he said, been attacked by a dog and gone to the emergency room at Providence Hospital. They took him right into an examination room, helped him off with his jacket, and disinfected the long gouge marks on his arm which were almost healed when he displayed them to me. They told him the emergency room doctor would be right in, and then he sat there undisturbed for an hour and fifteen minutes. His jacket had disappeared.
Everyone he tried to talk to asked him to wait for the doctor, and when he finally tried to leave they told him he couldn’t because he needed medical attention. He said he knew that and wanted to go look for some as he wasn’t getting it there, and right then the police showed up to ask about the pistol in his jacket pocket. When he explained about the semi-precious stones, they asked him if it was unusual to do that business at 3:00 AM, and it was then he felt the need for a criminal defense lawyer.
I brought in a friend from law school who had success winning and collecting judgments, and Tony retained him. My friend promptly sent Risk Management at City Hall a nasty letter demanding immediate compensation for the lost semi-precious stone sales and spent some time with Tony talking about how to document his official bedevilment. And then I did a little poking around on my own.
About 2 years before I met Tony, I defended a woman who the police suspected had harbored a couple of wanted desperadoes, one of whom had blindsided a policeman and beaten him nearly to death and so tempers were up. Some of the most promising information led to the client’s home, and they had rousted her pretty severely, searched her house without a warrant, seized her furniture and her deceased husband’s wheel chair and interrogated her for 18 hours - in waves - all to no avail. She was tough as nails despite her middle-aged-Betty-Crocker appearance. They prosecuted her for a user amount of cocaine and a user amount of heroin they found when they searched and they were still pissed at her.
I filed a motion demanding that the drugs be “suppressed” - meaning not allowed in evidence - and that her belongings be returned. The judge had no trouble excluding the drugs - no warrant and no probable cause - but it took two hearings to get the property returned. During the second, I had a golden opportunity to embarrass one of the lead investigators over a shoving match he and I got into in the hall, but it wasn’t required to win the case and looking back the next day I realized I had enjoyed the physical contest, as high school as that is.
Anyway, I didn’t complain and when asked about it not too subtly a week or so later by a detective with whom I was on good terms, I lied and said we were friends and he was showing me a martial arts move. That got a huge smile, and with an act like mine you didn’t get too many of those from the cops. Nothing that happens in the courthouse stays entirely secret, of course, and rumors had reached the brass.
By the time Tony came along, that investigator had been promoted and was a Lieutenant at North Precinct. I asked around, discovered where they had coffee, and was there one morning when he came in. He knew right away it was not by accident, so we had coffee and I outlined Tony’s traffic problem and he said he would get back to me.
The story he told me two days later over lunch - on me, of course - should not have surprised me, I suppose, but I had been misled by Tony’s generally smiling, mild and affable demeanor and his lack of any criminal record whatever.
Tony was about 5'9" tall, could not have weighed as much as 175 lbs., he was clean shaven and had thick, medium brown naturally curly hair that he kept neatly trimmed to about 2 inches, and John Lennon glasses, and he looked and talked for all the world like a teacher’s assistant in a master’s degree program. He drove a 5 year old Honda Civic, lived in chinos and short sleeved business shirts, and he supplemented a legitimate, respectable, taxes-paid income from the semi-precious stone business, according to the Lieutenant, as a free-lance, professional killer for hire.
They pieced this story together after a year-long investigation, including a very few scattered telephone records here and there and some credit card receipts, yet it was nowhere near enough for a case. It seems that between 2 and 5 times every year Tony takes a trip and when he gets back there is one less man alive. That man had always, at least until the dog bite incident, been dead somewhere else but now the cops were not so sure about that.
However, the dog bite incident was not the problem. What Tony had not told me was that he was occasionally overwhelmed by an intense enthusiasm - what the old time rounders call “a Jones” - for smoking cocaine base coupled with marathon sex with North Portland street girls. And when the urge would overtake him, he would obtain a quarter to half a pound of the first and two or three of the second and take them all home for a party for three or four days.
He had a small safe inside a closet immediately down the hall from the living room behind a set of those louvered doors that fold in the middle, and during one of his debauches one of the girls saw him open the safe and dip into the big bag of sparkly white powder, but she also got a glimpse of uncut rubies and emeralds. She knew what they were as it happened because her uncle was a thief, but a literate one it seems, and he had books about those kinds of things.
This was too good to pass up, so during a time when one of the other girls had Tony’s head held so firmly between her thighs his ears were shut tight and all he could hear was the cocaine noise in his head, she called her pimp boyfriend and told him where they were and all about the stones and the blow, and then she had to get off the phone, she later explained to the police, because it was her turn to give Tony some head.
Some time after dark there was a knock on the door, and Tony herded the girls into the hall to the bedrooms, told them to be quiet, and answered the door dressed in his towel only to be confronted with three, large, unfriendly looking black men, one with a sawed-off shotgun pointed at Tony’s chest. They pushed their way into the house and put Tony up against the wall. The girls came out and one pointed out the closed closet doors, and Tony, who presented no threat dressed as he was, was virtually ignored until one of the robbers reached for the closet door.
Tony darted into the kitchen, activated a dialer that was on the wall under one of the cabinets, and huddled under the kitchen table in the dark. One of the robbers, noting Tony’s departure, stopped the one reaching for the door from opening it and began to examine it. He found some unusual wiring that had been glued along the molding and painted over and when they went to get Tony they noticed the blinking lights on the silent alarm pad and they knew the cops were just minutes away. So they took the girls and fled.
By the time the police arrived, Tony had dressed, hidden the cocaine, and disarmed and hidden the percussion grenade set to go off just inside those louvered doors if you opened them without twisting a small knob just above the latch a half-turn to the left. The cops did not learn about the grenade until near the end of the investigation, and they discovered it in a way that disqualified it as evidence.
Yes, they do, and they do it all the time!
Tony quite candidly told the story about the hookers and the robbers, omitting any mention of drugs and pointing at the valuables in the safe as a motive, and he accurately described the robbers. It is the district car officers who take the initial crime reports, and the district car officers are generally personally familiar with the local bad boys. One of them, apparently thinking aloud, inadvertently mentioned to his partner that the descriptions fit . . . and he said two names . . . and after a little more conversation Tony promised to come down and sign a complaint and they went away.
Tony did go sign a complaint, but the suspects had dropped out of sight, at least for about a month. Then, looking for a cousin of one of them to serve with a warrant on an unrelated matter, sheriff’s deputies found two bodies, each with a single .32 caliber bullet through the right eye at fairly close range. They had been dead for days, and there were no clues except that now the third suspect became much harder to find.
The case languished for several months, but ultimately the third suspect was located, removed from the cellar where he had not been living large and taken unceremoniously to Tony’s house in a convoy of 3 patrol cruisers and one unmarked car with 2 detectives. By that time, of course, the investigation was well underway and the authorities were very suspicious of Tony’s official image. They didn’t really intend to rely on the third suspect as a witness to anything, but wanted to know if Tony would identify him.
When Tony came to the door, they asked him if the man they had between them in handcuffs was one of the men who tried to rob him. Tony looked at the man carefully and said that he did not believe that he was.
The third robber suddenly became extremely agitated and began shouting “Yes it is, yes it is!” and then he immediately switched to begging the police “Don’t let him kill me, please don’t let him kill me – oh – don’t let him kill me, please!”
He was struggling all the time, but the officers there did not for a moment think he wanted to escape from custody; he just wanted to put as much distance between his personage and Tony as possible, and they had to put him back in the police car. As they drug him across the sidewalk to the car he continued to struggle and maintained at high volume that he would tell them everything he knew about everyone he knew and gladly go to jail if they would just please not let Tony kill him.
After they wrestled the robber into the car, the police all turned, almost in unison, and looked silently at Tony. He just smiled, shrugged his shoulders and went back in the house.
Right after that the traffic problems began.
I asked the Lieutenant if there was anything Tony could do, and he said that Tony could relocate. Less than 60 days later, Tony did exactly that.
I never saw Tony again, but I heard a rumor a few years later that he had won the Washington Lottery for three or four million dollars and he had dropped off the radar.