Chapter 2of The Confession, ©2004 Sheldon M. Siegel, Inc.
"Cases involving the clergy are especially troublesome."
Inspector Roosevelt Johnson. San Francisco Chronicle
"Where is he?" Rosie asks.
I'm pulling on my jacket as I say, "The rectory at St. Peter's."
"Who made the arrest?"
"Marcus Banks and Roosevelt Johnson." The SFPD isn't taking any chances. The veteran homicide inspectors have more than eighty years of experience between them. "Johnson was standing next to him and Ramon couldn't say much. Banks told me to meet them at the Hall of Justice."
This elicits a troubled look and a realistic analysis. "Sounds like the chances of stopping the train before things get out of hand aren't very good."
I need to deal with an important issue up front. I ask, "Do you have the energy for this?" It isn't a purely academic question. Rosie's health problems are largely behind her, but murder cases take on a life of their own and we agreed to steer clear of high-profile matters until Tommy gets out of diapers.
"We know all the reasons why we shouldn't take this case," she says.
I hope there's a "but" coming.
"But it's Ramon," she says. "We have to help him."
When push comes to shove, Rosita Carmela Fernandez is always there. On to another touchy subject. "He's a priest," I say. "He isn't rolling in cash."
"We didn't pay him to mediate our divorce."
No, we didn't. Ramon engaged in six weeks of thankless shuttle diplomacy while Rosie and I negotiated our settlement. We spent more time hammering on him than reviewing the legal documents. He never lost his composure even when the sniping got especially nasty.
"You're prepared to handle his case pro bono?" I say.
"The Archdiocese may be willing to pay his legal fees."
"And if not?"
Her sense of obligation trumps her customary dedication to fiscal responsibility. "We owe it to him. I'll take the kids to my mother's, then I'll meet you down at the Hall."
End of discussion.
# # #
In my hometown, the wheels of justice grind ever so slowly in a massive gray temple we lovingly call the Hall of Justice. The monolithic six story structure takes up two city blocks adjacent to the 80 freeway and houses the criminal courts, the morgue, the DA's office and the Southern Police Station. The architect who designed the Plexiglas-covered jail wing that was added in the early nineties drew his inspiration from Cold War-era structures in East Berlin. The cops derisively refer to it as the "Glamour Slammer."
The lifeless slab is especially depressing in a driving rainstorm as I pull into a parking space on Bryant Street a few minutes after midnight. The cross-section of San Francisco's underbelly who conduct their business while the sun is still up are absent, and the dimly-lit granite hallway echos with an uninviting reverberation. I'm soaked as I pass through the metal detector where the night guard greets me by name. I take the excruciatingly slow elevator to the fourth floor, where Marcus Banks and Roosevelt Johnson are waiting for me outside an airless interrogation room next to the bullpen where the homicide inspectors ply their trade. This area bustles with activity during the day, but is eerily quiet at this hour. Things could be worse. In normal circumstances, we'd be conducting this unpleasant exercise at the intake center in the Glamour Slammer.
Banks is dressed in a custom charcoal suit that exudes cool control as it hugs his ebony skin. In a minor concession to the hour, his Armani tie is loosened. The only hints of his age are the gray eyebrows that form a single line across the top of his wire-rimmed bifocals.
Johnson played linebacker at Cal and was a member of the SFPD's first integrated team when he walked the beat with my father a half-century ago. He came out of retirement to keep busy after his wife died earlier this year. His attire is a study in meticulous business casual: khaki slacks and an oxford shirt. His trim mustache is now a distinguished shade of silver, but he looks as if he could still cover a tight end sprinting downfield.
We exchange forced greetings and I address Johnson, whom I've known since I was a kid and who is generally more forthcoming than his partner. "Where is Father Aguirre?" I ask.
He gestures toward the interrogation room and responds in a measured baritone. "His arraignment will be at ten o'clock this morning."
Rosie is making the obligatory calls, but it's unlikely the duty judge will grant bail. The best-case scenario is that Ramon will be here for only one night. Given the circumstances, all I can do is cast a line and start fishing. "What's this all about?" I ask.
The combative Banks grudgingly offers a morsel. "Ms. Concepcion's mother found her daughter's body in the bathtub, wrists slashed."
"The papers said it was a suicide."
"They were wrong. We found a kitchen knife in the bathroom. It was covered with her blood."
"That's still consistent with a suicide," I say.
"Except for the fact that Father Aguirre's fingerprints were on the knife."
Hell. "I'm sure he has an explanation."
"He hasn't shared it with us. A lawyer advised him not to talk."
That would have been me. I'm tempted to explain that Ramon knew Concepcion, but you never offer anything that could be used against you. "I want to see him," I say.
"You'll have to come back during visiting hours."
No way. "I want to see him right now."
"We'll try to work something out as soon as he's done talking to his lawyers."
What? "I'm his lawyer."
"Not according to the two guys inside who say they're representing him."
"F.X. Quinn and John Shanahan."
The Archdiocese isn't wasting any time protecting its turf. Father Francis Xavier Quinn is the overbearing chief in-house counsel for the Archdiocese, a man who looks like Orson Welles and talks like Donald Rumsfeld. He earned a law degree at night and has worked his way up the bureaucracy at the Archdiocese for thirty years. When I was a priest, he oversaw the administration of St. Anne's Parish, and he was less than understanding when I decided to leave. John Shanahan is the eloquent senior partner of the well-connected firm of Shanahan, Gallagher and O'Rourke, where Concepcion started her career. Quinn and Shanahan are the designated SWAT team when a priest gets into trouble. Quinn is the muscle and Shanahan is the mouthpiece.
I give Banks my best Clint Eastwood look and say, "Father Aguirre called me first."
"This isn't a race."
"He asked me to represent him. He's always free to change his mind."
"Evidently, he already has."
"I'll need to hear it from him."
"This is like a bad joke," he says. "How many lawyers does it take to represent a priest who is accused of murder?"
"Just one," I say. "Me."
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