Saturday, June 18, 3:10 a.m.
“When did they leave?” I ask the cop.
“Ten minutes ago.”
A difficult situation has transformed into a full-blown disaster. Rosie struggles to keep Grace calm while I start pumping the cop for information. “Who made the arrest?” I ask.
The dean of San Francisco homicide inspectors has handled every high-profile murder investigation in the City for forty years. A half-century ago, he and my father formed the SFPD’s first integrated team. The good news is he’ll proceed with competence and professionalism. The bad news is he doesn’t arrest anybody unless he has the goods.
“Is Inspector Johnson still here?” I ask.
“No, sir. He accompanied Mr. Fairchild downtown.”
“Was he able to reach my client’s mother?”
“I don’t know, sir.”
Grace breaks free of Rosie’s grasp. “We have to do something, Dad!” she shouts.
“Stay calm,” I hiss, immediately regretting the harshness in my tone. Rosie and I quickly escort her out of the young cop’s earshot. “I know this is hard,” I say to her, “but you have to keep your composure.”
Tears are welling up in her eyes. “I’m trying, Dad.”
“I’m sorry I snapped at you.” TV news vans are beginning to assemble down the street. I turn to Rosie. “We need to start damage control.”
She hands me her car keys. “Go down to the Hall of Justice and tell Bobby to keep his mouth shut. Grace and I will find his mother and his brother. We’ll meet you as soon as we can.”
“I want to come with you,” Grace says to me.
“They won’t let you inside,” I tell her.
“Then I’ll wait outside.”
“No, you won’t,” Rosie says. She invokes the unequivocal Don’t-Even-Think-About-Arguing-With-Me tone I’ve heard countless times in court, at the office, and in bed. “You’ll end up sitting by yourself in the corridor for hours. I need your help.”
In addition to Rosie’s independent streak, Grace is also imbued with her mother’s sense of cold, hard reality. She surrenders without another word.
# # #
“What do you need, Mick?” the raspy voice asks. My younger brother, Pete, became a cop to prove he was just as tough as our father. He spent ten years walking a beat out of Mission Station before he was forced to resign after he and his partner allegedly broke up a gang fight with a little too much enthusiasm. He’s still legitimately angry the City hung him out to dry when the so-called victims threatened litigation. Nowadays, he earns his keep by tailing unfaithful husbands.
Driving Rosie’s car down Oak Street through a heavy fog at three-thirty on Saturday morning, I wedge the cell phone between my right shoulder and ear. “Are you working?”
“Margaret has to eat.”
My five-year-old niece is a charmer. I’m convinced she and Tommy compare notes about new ways to drive their respective parents insane. “Where are you?”
“St. Francis Wood.”
He’s working upscale tonight. “Cheating husband?”
“Can you break away for a few minutes?”
“Anything for my big brother. Does this have anything to do with Judge Fairchild?”
“How did you know?”
“I just heard it on the police band. What the hell happened?”
“That’s what I need you to find out.”
“Is Grace okay?”
“She’s fine. Her boyfriend isn’t.”
“Bobby’s a nice kid.”
“He’s been arrested for killing his father.”
“Jesus. Is Roosevelt handling the investigation?”
His silence confirms what I already know—Bobby is in serious trouble.
“How soon can you get to Cole Valley to start asking questions?” I ask.
# # #
“I need to see my client,” I say.
Inspector Roosevelt Johnson eyes me through wire-rimmed, aviator-style bifocals. The former college tight end has dropped some weight since he underwent radiation treatments for throat cancer last year. Nevertheless, the seventy-five-year-old legend still carries over two hundred pounds on his imposing six-foot-four-inch frame. The warhorse has fought the cancer to a standstill, but his lyrical baritone has developed a gravelly edge. He’s tried to retire three times, but he keeps getting drawn back to work.
“Since when did you become Bobby Fairchild’s lawyer?” he asks.
Four o’clock on Saturday morning is not the Hall of Justice’s busy hour. We’re standing in the new jail wing’s high-tech intake center. Known to the cops as the “Glamour Slammer,” the Plexiglas edifice was unceremoniously shoe-horned between the Stalinesque old Hall and the I-80 Freeway in a heavy-handed response to a court order to relieve overcrowding in the San Francisco jails. It isn’t much to look at, but the utilitarian facility is cleaner and more user-friendly than the original Hall, a maze-like structure combining the architectural elements of a medieval dungeon with a third-world street bazaar.
“How’s Rosie?” he asks.
He’s genuinely interested in my law partner’s well-being. He also never asks a question without a purpose. He wants to see if he can get me to let my guard down.
“She’s fine,” I say. “I need to talk to Bobby.”
“He’s still in processing. I’ll bring him up as soon as he’s done.”
“You have a legal obligation to let me see my client.”
“As soon as he’s done,” he repeats.
I up the ante. “If you try to introduce anything he’s said to you, I’ll get it excluded.”
“Dial it down, Mike. For the record, I conducted all of my conversations with your client within the letter of the law.”
It’s undoubtedly true. He’s also holding the face cards, so I soften my tone. “As a matter of professional courtesy, I would appreciate it if you would expedite booking.”
“He’s been arrested for a serious crime. He’ll be processed like everybody else.”
Which means Bobby is being subjected to an unpleasant search, showered with cold disinfectant, given a perfunctory medical exam, and issued a freshly pressed orange jumpsuit.
I try again. “As a personal favor, I would be grateful if you would arrange for Bobby to be housed in his own cell until we can straighten out this misunderstanding.”
“There’s no misunderstanding. We take the killing of a judge very seriously.”
“Come on, Roosevelt. He just graduated with honors from University High.”
“He told me his father got precisely what he deserved.”
“Teenagers say a lot of things. That doesn’t mean he killed him.”
“We’ll have to agree to disagree on that point. The investigation is ongoing. I can’t talk about it, Mike.”
“You mean you won’t talk about it.” I lower my voice. “Please, Roosevelt. He’s Grace’s boyfriend.”
He looks around the cold intake area as he ponders how much he’s willing to tell me. “Judge Fairchild was bludgeoned to death in the laundry room adjacent to the garage of his house. Your client was holding a bloody hammer when the first officer arrived.”
“That proves he picked up a hammer,” I say. “It doesn’t mean he used it.”
“There was blood on his hands.”
“Obviously, he tried to help his father. Or the hammer was bloody when he picked it up.”
“He was angry. His behavior was erratic. He showed no signs of remorse.”
“He had just found his father’s body. He was in shock.”
“I guess we’ll have to agree to disagree on that point, too.”
“Did you consider the possibility this is related to the Savage case?”
“There’s no evidence.”
“Savage made no secret of his disdain for the judge.”
“I have no more love for Savage than you do. On the other hand, he’s smart enough not to pop a sitting judge.”
“Maybe he paid somebody to do it.”
“We will conduct a full investigation.”
“I understand the house was vandalized. It could have been a botched robbery.”
“A couple of pieces of furniture were knocked over. There were no signs of forced entry.”
“Maybe the killer had a key. Maybe somebody left a door open.”
“I don’t think so.”
“Are you suggesting Bobby trashed his father’s house to make it look like a break-in?”
“There were no signs of a struggle or defensive wounds. That suggests Judge Fairchild was killed by somebody he knew.”
“Maybe the killer sneaked up on him.”
“It’s a tight laundry room, Mike.”
“Maybe the killer hit the judge as he was coming in the door.”
“I’ll let you make that argument when the time comes.”
“Have you come up with a motive?”
“Too soon to tell. Maybe your client was angry about his parents’ divorce. Maybe they got into a fight because he came home so late. Maybe the judge wasn’t happy his son was going out with your daughter. Any way you cut it, Judge Fairchild is dead—and your client was holding the murder weapon when we arrived.”
“Alleged murder weapon,” I say.
“Have it your way.”
“Bobby called 911,” I say. “He would have tried to get away if he was guilty.”
“Not necessarily. He’s a smart kid. He knew it would have looked suspicious if he ran. It sounded more plausible to say he found the body.”
I probe for additional details, but he isn’t forthcoming. Finally, I look into the eyes of the man my father always described as the best cop he ever knew. “Did he mention he was with Grace last night?”
“Yes. That’s something else we need to discuss. I expect her full cooperation—immediately.”
“You’ll get it. They didn’t get back to Rosie’s house until one o’clock.”
“That’s consistent with his story. If I were in your shoes, I wouldn’t be thrilled my sixteen-year-old daughter was out so late.”
“I’m not. We’ve already talked to her about it. It also means Bobby didn’t get back to his father’s house until sometime after two.”
“That information will help me establish a timeline.”
“Bobby couldn’t have killed his father if the autopsy puts the time of death before two.”
His mouth turns down. He knows I’m trying to back him into a corner while eliminating any suspicion of Grace. “I am not in a position to rule out the possibility he killed his father sometime earlier in the evening.”
“That’s impossible,” I tell him. “Bobby wasn’t there earlier in the evening.”
“That isn’t what he told me.”
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