No Controlling Legal Authority Ch. 01byTheScribe©
Chapter I: Trash Can Calls a Friend
It all began a year ago, almost to the day. Caleb had been working late in his office; the one with the antique mahogany desk, the flags in the corners, the bookcases filled with worn law books and the green leather sofas and chairs. He was studying transcripts from a case, which he had heard a few days earlier and was jotting down his impressions on a yellow legal pad. His intercom crackled, breaking his concentration, and he heard Mildred, his secretary, announcing that Terrell Cloud was holding on the line, and that he was insisting on talking to him.
"Who?" he asked impatiently. Mildred had worked for him for years and knew better than to interrupt him while he was working on a case unless it was really important.
"Terrell Cloud." She repeated. "He says you were classmates in law school and that he urgently needs to talk to you. I wouldn't call him desperate exactly, but he said it was really important."
Caleb rocked back in his chair and closed his eyes for a moment trying to visualize the caller. Lord, he thought, Terrell Cloud. What's it been? Ten years at least. Where the hell did he wind up? Kansas or Arkansas, naw, further, Oklahoma, maybe. What in the world could it be that's so important he has to call me up to talk about it? Probably the ten year reunion or something else equally inane."
Caleb sat up and dropped his pen in the open transcript to mark his place. He pressed the talk button on the intercom and asked Mildred to put the call through.
"Hello," he said, picking up the receiver on the second ring.
"Caleb?" a voice from his distant past responded uncertainly.
"Yep, it's me, Trash Can. Is that really you?" Caleb replied with a chuckle, confirming the connection. The vaguely familiar voice brought back a flood of memories. They had been close in school, but like so many others, they had scattered and had become absorbed with the practice of law and making money and babies, not necessarily in that order, and had drifted apart.
He smiled recalling how Terrell had acquired the nickname, "Trash Can." Exams in law school were a very big deal; there was only one per course, the final, so what ever you made on that one was what you got in the course. Exams made everybody up tight and nervous because so much was riding on them, but Terrell had elevated that anxiety to an art form. He would wind up and his stomach would be tied in knots, and the closer he got to exams, the worse he got, so, by the time exams day arrived, he would be a wreck. He would creep up the steps in front of the law school, white as a sheet, trembling and sweating like a death row inmate opening a letter from the Supreme Court, and, the minute he came through the front door, he would run all out for the nearest trash can to puke his guts out. He became so predictable, and proved to be such an inadequate sprinter, that the janitor started putting a trash can out by the front door just for him to throw up in, and then, somebody hung a sign with Terrell's name on the can. After that, somebody wrote "Trash Can Day" across the top of the exam schedule, which was posted on the bulletin board out in the main hall, and from then on, on exam day there would be a pretty sizeable crowd hanging around out front to cheer as Terrell went through his ritual. The rest, as they say, is history.
"It's me, Caleb." Trash Can replied somewhat plaintively. "You think I'll ever get past that nickname?"
"Course you will, Terrell." Caleb answered reassuringly. "Soon as you out live all your classmates."
"That might be tough to do, since I'm about ten years older than the rest of you guys."
"Yeah, but we're catching up with you, and, besides, we're droppin' like flies here lately. You heard about Richard Turklo, I guess?"
"Yes, I did. Motorcycle accident, wasn't it?"
"No, he survived that; snowboarding, hit a tree. Killed him instantly, just like Sonny Bono."
"That's awful." Terrell answered mournfully. "But, I don't remember Bono, was he in our class or the year after?"
"He was two years later, Trash Can." Caleb replied evenly, doing his best not to laugh.
"Oh, OK, I'll look him up in the yearbook."
"You do that," Caleb chuckled. Changing the subject, he continued, "Where are you nowadays, Terrell?"
"Yeah, Sedalia, Missouri. Bonnie and I moved out here about four years ago. Her mom got sick and Bonnie wanted to be closer, so her dad, he has a U-Haul franchise here, set me up an office in the back of his business, and I've been practicing out of there ever since."
"How's business, then? Kind of hard starting over in a new place, isn't it?"
"Business has been pretty good. Mostly domestic relations, divorces and custody, stuff like that. Works out pretty good too, I get them the divorce and Daddy Warton, that's Bonnie's dad, rents `em a trailer to move their stuff with when they separate."
"Sounds like the perfect setup," Caleb replied agreeably, masking some growing impatience.
"How about you, Caleb? You been nominated for the Supreme Court yet?"
"Not yet, Trash Can, and, with my past, I don't think I could stand up to the vetting."
"You haven't been neglecting the FICA taxes on your housekeeper, have you, Caleb?" he asked jokingly.
"A little worse than that, Terrell," Caleb replied vaguely, "but surely you didn't call just to vet me out for the Supreme Court nomination."
"No, actually I need your help, Caleb."
"My help with what, Terrell?" he replied somewhat uncertainly.
"There's this woman I know, here in Sedalia. She's in trouble," he began, his voice dropping to a near whisper as though he feared being overheard.
"Excuse me?" Caleb snapped back incredulously, "I figured you were a little beyond getting women in trouble, Terrell."
"Oh, no," he gasped. "That's not it. She's not pregnant; she's in real trouble, maybe even in danger."
"Sounds like a problem for the police, Terrell, why don't you call them?"
"They won't lift a finger to help her, Caleb. It's a political thing. You know how it works, don't you. A person gets on the wrong side of somebody in authority and pretty soon every where they turn there're nothing but stone walls."
"Oh yeah, I know exactly what you mean," Caleb replied bristling a little, "never did care much for that kind of crap."
"I know you don't, Caleb," Terrell answered with a hint of admiration in his voice. "How many crooked sheriffs have you put away, now?"
"Oh, I don't know; two or three," he replied modestly.
"Well, what ever the number, you've acquired quite a reputation from it. You know what they're saying about you, don't you? That your methods are pretty unconventional most of the time, but that you're firm, fair and solid as a rock when you make up your mind."
"Well, thanks, Terrell, but I still don't see how I can be of any help to your woman friend."
"She's not a friend, Caleb, she's way too young and pretty for that. She's a client, and it's a long story. I was hoping you could give me a few minutes to fill you in and convince you to help."
Caleb glanced at his watch. It was nearly five o'clock, and his day was already shot. There was no way he could get back to the transcript and accomplish anything more before suppertime. And, Terrell had presented him with some pretty good bait with that business about the police ignoring his client's problems. That was just the sort of thing to peak his interest and get his blood flowing. And, for certain, playing to his vanity with that remark about his reputation was pretty clever. And then, old Trash Can had really set the hook with that "young and pretty" comment. Maybe the old fox wasn't as dim as he acted. After all, he had "aced" every law school exam he ever took, puking first, notwithstanding. Caleb pulled his chin in contemplation for a moment, wondering if he was about to be taken for a ride, and mentally flipped a coin. Heads it was; heads always comes up on the side of friendship.
"Hold on a minute, Terrell, I'll be right back," Caleb said after the pause, and he reached for the talk button on the intercom.
"Mildred, you can go on home. It looks like I'm going to be here a while longer. See you tomorrow."
"Good night, Judge. See you in the morning. Don't forget, you have that hearing on McPeak's Habeas Corpus petition at eight o'clock."
"I'll remember, Mildred. Thanks."
He switched the intercom off and returned the telephone receiver to his ear. He waited till he heard Mildred saying goodnight to the Sheriff's deputy stationed in the hallway outside his chambers and the sound of his outer office door closing, before he spoke.
"OK, Terrell, you have my undivided attention, so let's hear what you've got to say."
Caleb leaned back in the chair and settled in for Trash Can's long story. As it turns out, it was quite a story indeed, a sordid one with ramifications for many people, innocent and otherwise, not the least of whom would be himself. He had listened with mild interest in the beginning as Terrell filled in the background, but after the first quarter hour or so, he was sitting up and scribbling notes on his legal pad and was already three pages into the story.
Her name was Anne, Terrell said, but he wouldn't reveal her last name unless and until Caleb had agreed to help her. He said it was "too dangerous for her." She was young, only a few years out of college and was a teacher. She had been orphaned as a teenager and was sent to live in an orphanage. The operators of the orphanage were a sorry pair, named Caruthers, who had a few scrapes with the law, but nothing major until now. They forced the girl to participate in what became a criminal enterprise engaged in creating and distributing child pornography. She had run away, and, with help, went to college, got a degree and had pretty well started out fresh. She had worked a couple of teaching jobs and wound up teaching at a private boys school not far away. That's where her past caught up with her a while back. The Caruthers showed up at the school where she was teaching and sold some pictures of her to the headmaster there. They weren't sure at this point how the Caruthers tracked her down, although that wouldn't have been too hard to do if they were really trying to find her. Whatever, they showed up with pictures of her to sell. They didn't make any attempt to blackmail her themselves; she didn't even know they were around till Caruthers showed up in the headmaster's office one evening. She says Caruthers got thirteen hundred dollars for a handful of photos, which was about ten times what they were worth on the street, so she figures that the idea was for the principal to use them against her and blackmail her with them. As it turns out, she was probably right, 'cause the Caruthers were fugitives at the time. The postal inspectors were after them on child pornography charges but hadn't moved quickly enough, and they got away. Terrell guessed that the Caruthers were living out of their van, on the run, and that they figured they could make some quick, easy cash from the photos by selling them to somebody who had a use for them. Wasn't much later that the inspectors showed up at Anne's school looking for her and asking questions about her involvement in the porn ring, and that's when she came to me.
Caleb interrupted. "So what's the problem, Terrell? What's the danger to her?"
"She's afraid that the Caruthers are after her; that they'll try to kill her, or maybe kidnap her and carry her off somewhere where she can't testify against them."
"Is that realistic, or is she just a scared kid seeing bogeymen in the dark?"
"She's young, Caleb, but she's no kid, and yes, I think, it's a rational fear. The inspectors made it pretty clear to everybody that she's a prime witness against the Caruthers. She was the only girl in the photos they've uncovered so far, and most of the boys have scattered to the winds, so she's really important to the government's case. The Caruthers know that, too, and they have to know that without Anne's testimony, the government's going to have a hellova time getting a conviction on them."
"OK, Terrell, I can see that reasoning, I guess, but why me? Why not just go to the postal inspectors and offer her cooperation and get them to put her into the federal witness protection program? Happens all the time."
"We tried that already. It was the first thing that I thought of, Caleb, but they weren't buying."
"Whacha mean 'they weren't buying?'" Caleb asked incredulously. "The subject of their investigation is threatening their principal witness and they refuse to protect her?"
"That's it in a nutshell, Caleb."
"Well, why the hell not? What's their excuse?"
"They claim they're not sure at this point whether she was forced or cooperated in making the pictures. Claim she was smiling and looking pretty excited in most of them, so they figure she wanted to do whatever it was she was doing and that makes her an accomplice. Since she's potentially an accomplice and may be charged along with the Caruthers, they claim they can't be offering her any protection at this point."
"That's a crock, and they know it, Terrell, or they've forgotten all about that business with Patty Hearst and the S.L.A. Besides, how the hell are they going to charge a minor child with being an accomplice in her own statutory rape? You did say she was under age during all this, didn't you?"
"Well, she was close on the age thing. Some photos before, some after, and who the hell knows when the ones the inspectors have were made. From the few she's showed me, it's anybody's guess."
"That's a complication, I suppose, but I still think they're just bluffing, squeezing her into cooperating by scaring hell out of her first."
"I agree with that, Caleb, but there's another angle, too."
"I think I can guess what that is, Terrell, but you tell me."
"She's bait. As long as she's a threat to the Caruthers, there's a chance they'll show up and try to get her out of the way, so the government's just sitting back and letting her attract their flies for them."
"The inspectors know that the Caruthers have already been there to see her and know where she can be found?"
"Oh yeah, her principal volunteered that much immediately, but he also denied buying anything from the Caruthers, and fired her on the spot."
"So he has some photos of her, too, I guess?"
"Not any more, she made him give them to her before she left."
"Interesting. How'd she manage to do that?"
"I'm not sure, Caleb. She wouldn't say, actually. Mentioned something about a handkerchief, was all, and said he was a spineless worm. The girl's got moxie, buddy, I promise you that."
"OK, that's not important anyway. But look, I can't say as I blame her for not liking her position, Terrell, but, since they'll be looking for the Caruthers there, they'll have the place staked out, so it's not like she's unprotected and all alone."
"Wish you were right, Caleb, but with all the cutbacks in personnel and funding, the Postal Service doesn't have the manpower to do the job and can't afford to pay the overtime it would take to stake out her place around the clock."
"So, what are they doing?"
"`Drive bys?' What in hell is a 'drive by?'"
"Their investigators have been told to drive by her place whenever they are in the vicinity and check for suspicious activity."
"That's comforting," Caleb said sarcastically. "How often do they plan on 'driving by'?"
"Well, she's pretty far off the beaten path for them and they don't have a lot of business down there, so they were guessing maybe every three or four days somebody could get over there and check on her."
"Shit!" Caleb exclaimed. "How about the locals? Did the Postal Service apprise them of the situation and ask them for help?"
"Yeah, they did, but the Sheriff gave them some story about being short handed himself, and flatly refused to do a thing. Later, he sent one of his deputies around to tell her that if she knew what was good for her, she would get hell out of town before sundown."
"Jesus, Terrell, when was that?"
"Couple of days ago; about the time she came in here looking for me."
"What was that about? Have any idea?"
"She's pretty vague, Caleb, but from what I can gather, she got mixed up in some sort of business at her school that involved the mayor's son, and, somehow, she got crosswise with the mayor. What ever happened, the upshot was that the sheriff said that if the Caruthers did catch up with her, she probably wouldn't get much worse than she deserved, and he didn't much give a damn what happened to her."
"Well, isn't that a hell of a note." Caleb declared. "Where is she now?"
"She's holed up in the motel downtown. I have her car hidden out behind the shop in one of Daddy Warton's sheds, but it's just a matter of time before they find her again."
"Who's 'they,' Terrell?"
"The Caruthers and the Postal Service, of course." The questions startled him a little.
"And, you wanted me to help her hide from 'them'?"
"Well, the Caruthers, anyway, Caleb." His response was somewhat contrite.
"I'm glad we understand each other, Trash Can. I can help her hide from the Caruthers, but I can't do a thing to help her flee from prosecution or to avoid testifying against the Caruthers. You know that."
"Good. Now look, it's getting late and there's not much we can do tonight. I will put my people on this first thing in the morning. They'll check out what she's told you and report back to me on it. If she checks out, I'll agree to help her on the condition that you tell the Postal Service that she is in hiding, that you know where, and that she is prepared to surrender herself immediately if charges are brought against her, and, in the event the Caruthers are arrested and brought to trial, she will testify voluntarily against them on any matter the Postal Service desires of her. Consistently, of course, with her Fifth Amendment rights. Got that?"
"Yes, sir, Caleb. I got it loud and clear."
"Want to discuss it with her first?"
"No need, Caleb. I already told her those would be your conditions and she's agreed."
"Good. We have a deal then, Trash Can. You tell her to get some sleep, 'cause my boys will be there tomorrow to talk to her. They'll check with you first at the U-Haul store, and you can take them to her. That OK with you?"
"Yeah, sure. Who are they?"
"Just a couple of guys who've worked for me in the past. One's ex-CIA and the other's a former FBI agent. Both of them were Special Forces in the Army, way back whenever. They're good men, Trash Can, tough when they need to be, and thorough. You help them all you can. OK?"
"Of course, Caleb, whatever they need, you know that, but where do you come up with guys like that?"
"Oh, here and there, where's not important. Just remember, you can trust them like you trust me, and they are there to ask questions, not to answer them. Understood."
"Good, then. Good night, Trash Can. I'll give you my final answer within the week. Your client good to hold up that long?"
"She'll have to be, Caleb. G'night."
Caleb left the receiver pressed against his ear and broke the connection with his forefinger pressing on the button. He dialed from memory and listened patiently for his call to ring. A familiar voice answered on the third ring.
"Hello, Judge." The voice was deep and forceful, with a hint of accent, which Caleb thought would be difficult to recognize if he did not already know the source.
"Damn, Moon Dog, you spooky bastard, how did you know it was me?" `Moon Dog' was a code name from the Army days, which had stuck. It came in handy when Caleb didn't want eavesdroppers to know to whom he was talking.