"You got any of the details?" I asked.
"He was booked last night. It sounds like a bar pickup gone bad. The family lawyer said the woman's in it for the money. You know, the civil suit to follow the criminal case. But I'm not so sure. She got beat up pretty good from what I heard."
"What's the family lawyer's name?"
"Hold on a sec. I've got his card here somewhere."
I looked out the window while waiting for Valenzuela to find the business card. I was two minutes from the Lancaster courthouse and twelve minutes from calendar call. I needed at least three of those minutes in between to confer with my client and give him the bad news.
"Okay, here it is," Valenzuela said. "Guy's name is Cecil C. Dobbs, Esquire. Out of Century City. See, I told you. Money."
Valenzuela was right. But it wasn't the lawyer's Century City address that said money. It was the name. I knew of C. C. Dobbs by reputation and guessed that there wouldn't be more than one or two names on his entire client list that didn't have a Bel-Air or Holmby Hills address. His kind of client went home to the places where the stars seemed to reach down at night to touch the anointed.
"Give me the client's name," I said.
"That would be Louis Ross Roulet."
He spelled it and I wrote it down on a legal pad.
"Almost like the spinning wheel but you pronounce it Roo-lay," he said. "You going to be here, Mick?"
Before responding I wrote the name C. C. Dobbs on the pad. I then answered Valenzuela with a question.
"Why me?" I asked. "Was I asked for? Or did you suggest me?"
I had to be careful with this. I had to assume Dobbs was the kind of lawyer who would go to the California bar in a heartbeat if he came across a criminal defense attorney paying off bondsmen for client referrals. In fact, I started wondering if the whole thing might be a bar sting operation that Valenzuela hadn't picked up on. I wasn't one of the bar's favorite sons. They had come at me before. More than once.
"I asked Roulet if he had a lawyer, you know? A criminal defense lawyer, and he said no. I told him about you. I didn't push it. I just said you were good. Soft sell, you know?"
"Was this before or after Dobbs came into it?"
"No, before. Roulet called me this morning from the jail. They got him up on high power and he saw the sign, I guess. Dobbs showed up after that. I told him you were in, gave him your pedigree, and he was cool with it. He'll be there at eleven. You'll see how he is."
I didn't speak for a long moment. I wondered how truthful Valenzuela was being with me. A guy like Dobbs would have had his own man. If it wasn't his own forte, then he'd have had a criminal specialist in the firm or, at least, on standby. But Valenzuela's story seemed to contradict this. Roulet came to him empty-handed. It told me that there was more to this case I didn't know than what I did.
"Hey, Mick, you there?" Valenzuela prompted.
I made a decision. It was a decision that would eventually lead me back to Jesus Menendez and that I would in many ways come to regret. But at the moment it was made, it was just another choice made of necessity and routine.
"I'll be there," I said into the phone. "I'll see you at eleven."
I was about to close the phone when I heard Valenzuela's voice come back at me.
"And you'll take care of me for this, right, Mick? I mean, you know, if this is the franchise."
It was the first time Valenzuela had ever sought assurance of a payback from me. It played further into my paranoia and I carefully constructed an answer that would satisfy him and the barif it was listening.
"Don't worry, Val. You're on my Christmas list."
Copyright © 2005 by Hieronymus, Inc.
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