I was asleep on a cot, dreaming of rape. Then a telephone rang.
I sat up and looked at my watch. It was three in the morning, eighteen hours into my twenty-four hour shift. My stomach burned. I was in a small, dirty, musty-smelling room, with four empty cots: the riding room in the Brooklyn District Attorney's office. A nearby table was covered with half-filled paper cups of cold coffee and unfinished sandwiches. A man's sweat pants were carelessly draped across a nearby cot; they served as pajamas for another assistant district attorney, who had been called out an hour before to investigate a police shooting.
I was glad not to have been called for that case. I had already investigated one police shooting that evening. A policeman had shot a black sixteen year old. By the time I got to the scene, no one wanted to talk. The cop, through his Patrolmen's Benevolent Association lawyer, asserted his Fifth Amendment right to silence. The other police officer-witnesses refused to say anything, since they didn't want to inculpate a brother officer. The civilian witnesses were useless. Who shot at whom could never be clarified. Meanwhile there was a dead black boy; an angry black community screaming that another child had been killed by racist pigs; and a police precinct full of enraged cops, convinced that the DA's office was too quick to accuse them of murder. Finally a homicide supervisor from the DA's office arrived. He tried to make the cops and other witnesses talk, but only antagonized everyone even more. In the end I was blamed for not being thorough enough and having to call in the bureau chief from his beach house in East Hampton. Now I was holding the phone receiver in my hand and hoping that on the other end there was not another crime I would have to leave the office to investigate.
Only the most serious crimes require a DA investigator at the scene: murder, rape (especially sodomy or rape of anyone under thirteen), race bias crimes, arson, police shootings, or any crime that might attract great publicity.
Three days earlier, I was called when a police officer shot a dog. I had to explain that this did not constitute homicide. The cop tried nevertheless to convince me to ride. If I investigated the case, he knew he would be moved to the head of the line at central booking in the arrest of the dog's owner and would avoid the eight hour wait while the other arrests of the day were processed.
On the phone was the same dog-shooting cop from the 77th precinct, which included Crown Heights.
"ADA Carmen Rodriguez? This is Officer Murphy from the 77. We gotta homicide."
"Great, Murphy, you shot Lassie this time?"
"Aw, cut the comedy, Rodriguez. I got something good for you today. I gotta dead Brooklyn cowboy."
"A Brooklyn cowboy. You know, a white guy with a broad brimmed black hat, a long coat, and a red beard."
"You mean a Hasid?" I asked.
"Yeah, you got it. You better get down here fast. I got the rabbi, the cantor, the mohel, who the hell knows who else, they all look the same, and they're all crazy mad."
"What are they doing there? It's, what do they call it? that holiday of theirs."
"Nah, nah, honey, it ain't shabbos once the sun goes down. It's 3 AM Sunday morning. Where you been?"
"Keep cool, Murphy, just keep calm. Where did you find this dead cowboy?"
"I didn't find him. Another cowboy did. He was lying in a little alley, not far from President Street. He's been cut open and there's blood all over the place. You better get here fast."
"Do you have a suspect?"
"Oh yeah, the Hasidic police, the whaddya call 'em, the shomrim, they found this little Spanish guy bending over the body. They saw him, he ran. I would too. They're wackos, them cowboys, and they finally caught him three blocks away."
"Anything recovered? You got the weapon?"
"Three blocks later, are you kiddin'? He musta ditched the knife who knows the hell where."
"So you got nothing, right?"
"Nothing? I got fifty guys who look just like Abe Lincoln breaking this place down. I gotta murderer who's about to be murdered himself. And a DA who wants to go back to sleep. Listen, you get yourself down here pronto, honey".
"What about your search for the knife?"
"This is Brooklyn. That blade's probably being used in another robbery right now."
"Have you even looked for it?" I asked.
"Yeah, yeah, we give it the once over. I found garbage cans. I found a whole mess of crack vials. I found syringes. I found needles. I found mattresses. I found rats, but I didn't find no knife."
"Send a car over."
"Where's the DA's car?"
"This is Brooklyn, remember? Our driver is taking another DA to the 71 on the police shooting," I said.
"OK, the car'll be there in fifteen minutes."
"Drive safely. Don't hit any dogs."
Two officers from the 77th precinct appeared fifteen minutes later. One was a tall woman, officer Dunne, whose cap, tilted back, revealed platinum blond hair with dark roots. She chewed a wad of gum.
"You Rodriguez?" she asked.
"You found me," I said, gulping a swig of Maalox from a bottle in my purse. "I'm ready. Let's go."
I picked up two large briefcases. One contained a tape recorder; the other contained subpoenas, forms to make the case, and all the DA policies and guidelines.
Then I turned.
"You forgot something?" asked officer Dunne.
"The New York Criminal Procedure and Penal Law Handbook. I'm carrying all this crap, and I almost forgot the most important thing."
The squad car was dilapidated: the seats were falling apart, the interior reeked of cigarette smoke and sweat. The two officers sat in the front. I sat in the back and held my nose.
"Yeah, it's a mess back there. We've had a lot of perps. The last one vomited on the floor. We cleaned it up. I think it's OK now," said Officer Dunne between chews.
"If you don't mind, I'll roll down the windows and try to breathe some fresh Brooklyn air," I said.
It was a warm summer night. Even at 3 AM, teenagers were sitting on stoops or standing on the sidewalk. As the squad car drove past, I occasionally saw them impudently raise a middle finger.
"Ya know," said the cop who was driving, "these mutts got no respect. Used to be, you see a cop, you treat him with respect. Hello, officer; how ya doin', officer? Nowadays, they give you the bird."
The squad car pulled into a back entrance. I entered the precinct and found officer Murphy seated in a little interrogation room with two Hasidic rabbis. One was short and plump, the other tall and stooped.
"I am the assistant district attorney, Carmen Rodriguez." I extended my hand, definitely a faux pas. The plump rabbi stared at the floor. The tall one looked up at the flaking paint on the dirty ceiling. Both thrust their hands into their pockets.
Murphy called me aside.
"Don't you know they can't touch you? An orthodox Jew can't touch a woman who ain't family."
"Are they witnesses to something?"
"No, not these guys. They was sent here by the Grand Rebbe."
"Well then, I don't need to talk to them."
"Hold on, hold on, I think you should talk to 'em. Tell 'em how you're gonna work hard on their case. You know, reassure 'em. I told 'em mostly everything. Just keep your hands off 'em, OK?"
"I'm going to write up the charges after I speak to some witnesses," I said to the two rabbis.
"But the charge is murder," said the plump rabbi.
"First we have to interrogate eyewitnesses, if there are any."
At this moment, I caught a strong whiff of Poison perfume. A tall, striking woman, approaching fifty, entered the room. She was immaculately dressed in designer clothes and short heels. She had a thick mane of long blond hair, nails varnished dark red, and wire-rim sunglasses with black-appearing oval lenses. She wore gold rings on almost every finger: a cameo ring, a Sofia ring, and various birthstone rings. Gold earrings gleamed in both ears. All heads turned toward her.
"Detective Sofia Ricci, Homicide Squad," she said.
Almost all the female homicide detectives I had met were young, and dowdy as well. I had never known one like Sofia Ricci.
"Oh, you're the ADA," said Detective Ricci. "You made the big time. Last time I saw you, you were writing up shoplifts. ADA Rivera, right?"
"Rodriguez," I said.
"Close enough," said Detective Ricci. "Let me take over for a while."
"Rabbi," said Ricci, "we're gonna get this killer, don't you worry. I been talking to him. He knows what he's done. This here ADA will take care of all the papers the judge needs. But you gotta let us talk to your witnesses. We need to know what they saw, OK?"
"Will our people be in any danger?" asked the plump rabbi.
"No, no, no, don't you worry, rabbi. Trust me," said Sofia Ricci, a heavy gold bracelet jiggling on her wrist. The plump rabbi nodded confidently, while the tall rabbi smiled beatifically at Detective Ricci.
"Shlomo will speak to you now, officer," said the plump rabbi. "He found Avram. He is outside."
"Thank you, rabbi," said Detective Ricci. "If there's anything I can do for you, anything at all, any questions, you just call me. Here's my card." Each rabbi took a card and put it into a pocket beneath the prayer shawl draped around his waist. They smiled at Sofia Ricci as they left.
"Let me look at your DD 5's," I said, referring to the police report of each witness interview.
Detective Ricci laughed. "DD 5's?" she said. "I haven't spoken to any witnesses yet."
"What about the suspect?" I asked.
"Him? All the poor guy's doing is crying for his mamacita."
"He doesn't speak any English," I said.
"No kidding? Why don't you interview him? You talk his lingo."
"I would," I said, "but I have to read him his rights in English."
"Maybe you can find a Spanish-speaking officer," said Ricci.
"We need an official interpreter."
"We'll dig someone up, counselor," said Ricci. "Before we go on, you want anything? Some extra strong, thick black 77 coffee that'll keep you going for days?"
"I don't drink it," I said.
"You should," said Ricci.
"It's hell on my ulcer. What time is it, anyway?"
"Quarter to five. I been up already forty-eight hours," said Sofia Ricci.
"Detective, one of the witnesses is here," said Officer Murphy.
"OK, we'll talk to him in a minute," said Ricci. "Murphy, why don't you tell the DA what you know already."
"Well, it goes down like this. Shlomo, the guy you're gonna talk to, is patrolling President Street with two more Hasid police. He sees a Hispanic walking between two buildings, radios another Hasid cop to cut the Hispanic off from the opposite direction. They think the Hispanic's a burglar, see. They try to close in on him. They're sneaking up..."
"Stop, Murphy. What kind of buildings are these?" I asked.
"One residential, about thirty apartments, all Hasids," said Ricci. "But the building behind it is all Hispanic."
"Thank you, detective," I said.
"Don't mention it, counselor," said Ricci.
"Anyways," said Murphy, "when the Hasids get behind the building and they see the Spanish guy bent over, his hands are moving around somethin'. So they close in on him, and the Spanish guy makes a run for it. One Hasid radios to another that they have to get this guy. They chase him. In the meantime, a Hasid cop named Shlomo sees the Spanish guy is bent over a body of one of their own. The Hasid cries out 'murderer.' At this point, everybody goes nuts. They start to radio all the other patrols in the area, giving a description.
"The Spanish guy runs out from the alley, jumps a fence, and dashes into the street. But he don't know that there's about sixty Hasids covering the whole block. When he gets onto the street, he runs alongside a building. A Hasid patrol car appears and pins him to the wall like a butterfly pinned to a board.
"This is when I come in. I get flagged down. I see a mob yelling and screaming. I see the Spanish guy up against the wall, crying, scared shitless, his legs pinned by an '89 Olds. I order the Hasids to pull the car back. I say, what's going on here? They all shout that a man has been murdered. That's when this Shlomo tells me he saw the Spanish guy kill the stiff in the alley. So my partner takes custody of the Spanish guy. I go check out the body."
"Did the suspect tell you his name?" I asked.
"Ramon Perez. We're waiting for his prints to come back to verify that."
"I think the counselor's been brought up to date," said Ricci. "You want to talk to Shlomo now, counselor?"
"Bring him in," I said.
Shlomo was a young Hasid with a thin blond beard, thick glasses with one cracked lens, and pale cheeks. He chewed an index fingernail as he sat down in a chair in front of me.
"This is Carmen Ramirez," said Ricci.
"Rodriguez," I said, drawing a Polaroid Camera from one of the two large bags I was carrying. "I'm going to take a picture of you," I said.
"Picture? What for a picture?" said Shlomo.
"Don't you worry, son," said Ricci. "We're only gonna use it for our records. No one's gonna see it. Then we know who says who."
"First, Shlomo, tell me what happened," I said.
Shlomo looked at Ricci.
"Go on, son," said Ricci, "you can talk to her."
"I don't know if Shlomo knows who I am," I said.
"This is the assistant district attorney," said Sofia Ricci. "She needs to know what happened so she can get her paperwork done."
"I was with Moshe and Kalman, other men from our community patrol," said Shlomo. "We were walking down the alley between two buildings. I look over and I see the murderer with a knife. He is stabbing someone on the ground. So we run towards the body and we see it is Avram. There's blood. I radio the other people on our patrol and tell them the direction that the murderer ran. Ten minutes later, I hear by radio that the others caught him, not far away. We call the police, and then I go to where they grabbed the killer. I see that they have the same man who stabbed Avram. There's blood all over his shirt."
"How do you know it was the same man?" I asked. "Can you describe him?"
"Of course, it was the same man. I had seen him ten minutes before. He was a Spanish guy. The same man. I'm sure."
"I need to know why you're so certain," I said.
"Certain? I'm certain because I saw with my own two eyes."
"Was the man dark or medium-skinned? Did he have a mustache? What was he wearing? Could you give me some description?"
"Like I said, he was a Spanish guy. Maybe Spanish, they are dark, like your skin color. I think he had a mustache."
"Look, counselor, that seems like a pretty good description to me," said Sofia Ricci.
"Thank you, detective," I said. "The more description, the better. Right now, Shlomo has given a description that fits half of Brooklyn."
"Can't you see the witness is upset, counselor? Why are you giving him such a hard time? You got an eyewitness. Do your paperwork."
"What time did you find the victim?" I asked.
"Between midnight and one AM."
"You were walking in the alley?"
"I was one building over when I saw the killer stabbing Avram."
"How far from the victim were you when you saw the stabbing?"
"One building over. I could see perfectly well from there."
"You can't tell me in feet?"
"Maybe fifty feet. I was one building over."
"Can you tell me what the murderer was wearing?"
"He was wearing the jeans he wears now."
"How many times did the murderer stab his victim?"
"I saw his arm move up in the air many times."
"What type of work do you do?" I asked.
"During the day, I teach retarded children in a yeshiva on President Street. I have a masters in special education from N.Y.U," said Shlomo.
"Thank you, Shlomo. Let me talk to the detective now."
Shlomo left the room.
"I don't think you have enough for an arrest," I said.
"What? In case you haven't noticed, sweetie, we already made the arrest," said Ricci. "What's the problem? Shlomo says it's the same guy. You have an eyeball witness who says that the guy who stabbed Avram is the guy we arrested."
"Your eyeball witness has some set of eyeballs. He says he sees everything in a dark alley fifty feet away, and he notices that the murderer had a mustache."
"You're asking him trick questions, counselor," said Ricci.
"Hand me the mug shot of the perpetrator," I said. "Look, the perp doesn't have a mustache."
"What are you talkin' about? Sure he's got a mustache. See that darkness around his mouth?"
"Come on, you took that picture at two in the morning. He hadn't shaved. He looks like a Herblock cartoon of Nixon. You're seeing a two o'clock shadow, not a mustache. Look at his skin color. Would you say he's darker than I am or lighter than I am?"
"He must have been getting a lot more sun than you have."
"He's darker than I am and Shlomo just said we had the same skin color."
"Yeah, yeah, well, to him, both of you are dark."
"Both of us probably have mustaches, too. But that doesn't tell me Shlomo saw who he says he saw."
"Counselor, I think you are getting a little too sensitive. Shlomo gave you a description. I mean, the suspect is a Spanish guy, isn't he? Shlomo told you the suspect's the guy he saw in the alley, even identifies him in a mug shot. Buttabeam, buttaboom, you got your murderer."
"What about the other Hasids who were with Shlomo? What were their names?"
"Moshe and Kalman."
"Where are they?"
"They left. They didn't feel too good."
"I don't feel too good myself," I said. "You know why? Your case stinks, Ricci. You don't have enough evidence."
"We'll talk to the perp. Maybe he'll admit to what he's done. Officer Torres has already explained his rights to him. I think he's ready to confess."
The Hispanic suspect, Ramon Perez, was in another small interrogation room. He had obviously been roughed up by the Hasids who had apprehended him. His T-shirt was in shreds. His jeans were torn and bloody. His arms were scratched and cut.
A video camera was set up. Officer Torres, serving as an interpreter, was sitting next to the suspect, handing him a cup of water.
"This is going to make a great video," I said. "The perp looks like you beat a confession out of him. Do you think we can get him a new shirt? Maybe you can voucher the one he's wearing for evidence. It might have Avram's blood on it."
"Listen, sweetheart, we're not Macy's. We don't provide these guys with new clothes," said Ricci.
"Detective, why don't you try to work with me a little bit?" I asked.
"Yo no hice nada. Yo no mate ningun judeo," said Ramon.
"What does he say?" said Ricci.
"He says he didn't kill any Jew," I said.
"Torres, did you talk to this guy?" Ricci asked.
"Yes, sir. I told him everything you told me to say."
"Exactly what did you tell the suspect, Officer Torres?" I asked.
"Listen, Miss DA, you got your procedures, we got ours," said Ricci.
"Please turn the video equipment off," I said.
"Que te dijieron?" I said to Ramon.
"Pues que yo mate un judeo, y que te lo diga a ti, y que todo iba ir bien, y que si lo confieso no me castigan mucho," said Ramon.
"Detective, what exactly did you tell this man?" I asked.
Ricci glared at the suspect. "If he's telling you we promised not to punish him much if he confessed, yeah, we told him that. Maybe you'll give him a plea bargain if he works with you, right?"
"Dicen que me vieron matarlo pero esos judeos estan locos."
"Detective, he says you told him that the Hasidim saw him kill the victim."
"That's right," said Ricci. "His enchilada is cooked. He better try to help himself by confessing on the video."
"Que me iban avejar en un quarto con todos esos judeos para que me den de jodasos."
"You told him you were going to let the Hasids beat him up if he didn't talk?" I asked.
"Yeah," said Sofia Ricci with a broad grin. "You like that, don't you."
"No, I don't like it at all," I said. "What's more, I don't find it the least bit funny."
"Yo quiero un abogado," screamed Ramon. "Yo no hice nada."
"Those are the magic words," I said. "No statement. He wants a lawyer. You can put him back in his cell."
"Nice going," said Ricci. "If you had just leaned on him a little..."
"He asked for a lawyer. I'm not going to talk to him if he wants to speak to his own lawyer. That is his right."
"You still got Shlomo's statement. Why don't you write your complaint now," said Ricci.
"Shlomo's statement is not enough evidence. I told you before, I think we're going to have to defer this arrest, unless you get me some more witnesses who say this guy is the same one who killed Avram."
"Listen, we got enough for the arrest. There's no way you're going to defer this collar. You better call your supervisor before you start doing things like that around here. Better yet, I'm gonna call Christian Goldberg."
"Why can't you leave him out of this?" I said.
"Why should I? He's the liaison for the Hasidic community, isn't he? Wait'll I tell him you're about to cut loose someone who killed a Hasid. He's gonna love that." Sofia Ricci picked up the receiver and dialed.
"ADA Goldberg? This is Ricci, homicide, Brooklyn north. Sorry to wake you up, Mr. Goldberg. I got a homicide collar here at the seven seven. Hasidic guy stabbed to death by a Puerto Rican kid, suspect caught about ten minutes after it happened by members of the shomrim patrol. We got a confirmatory ID on the scene by an eyeball witness...What's the problem? I got an ADA here who says there's not enough evidence to authorize the arrest...Yeah, sure she's crazy...Oh, the Rebbe already called you?...No, there ain't no problem, except this here ADA. You want to talk to her? She's trying to get though to some other supervisor. I'll put her on."
Ricci thrust the receiver defiantly at me.
"Hello, Mr. Goldberg...Yes, this is Carmen Rodriguez...Well, Mr.Goldberg, first of all, that eyeball witness isn't really so great. He says he sees everything in a pitch dark alley. His descriptions are off...I know I'm not trying the case, but I don't understand how he could see what he says he saw...No, no, no confession...He asked for a lawyer. Says he didn't do it...I know they all say that...No, the confirmatory ID isn't great, either...I know I'm not a judge, but it looks like they pinned the first Hispanic they saw in the area...So you're telling me to authorize the arrest?...Yes, I've been an ADA for three years...Yes, I'll be at your office at nine AM."
"Told you so," sneered Ricci. "Now will you write up this case, counselor?"
"Fine, I'll draft a complaint, but I don't think these Hasids have sharper eyesight than everybody else."
"When they make you bureau chief of homicide, you can call the shots. For now, looks like you been overruled. Murder two, right? You know what? I'll even let you use my desk to do your paperwork," said Ricci.
"Thanks, you're a real doll."
With a burning stomach, I proceeded to write up the complaint, containing the acts to support the charge of second degree murder:
Officer Murphy has been informed by a witness known to the police department that Ramon Perez stabbed Avram Grabscheid, thereby causing his death.
I noted on the file that the defendant should be held without bail.
"Here you go, Ricci, here's your collar," I said, handing over the completed complaint. "Can you give me a ride back to my office?"
"Don't the DA give you guys your own driver?"
"I want to get back as soon as I can. I don't feel too well."
"Yeah? Maybe this job ain't your cup of tequila."
"I'll give the lady a ride," said Officer Torres. "She don't look so good."
As I walked out of the precinct, Ramon Perez shouted from his cell, "Yo no hice nada."
In the musty-smelling riding room of the Brooklyn DA's office, I found five telephone messages from my mother. Lying on a cot was another assistant district attorney, an athletic, clean-cut man in his twenties with a freckled face, Brett Pivot.
"Hey, Carmen, don't you look beautiful. Your mom's been calling, but I can't understand a word of her Spanish."
"She's always worried. She doesn't like the idea of me being alone in a room with a bunch of men. She doesn't even like my volunteer job serving food in a men's homeless shelter. How long have you been back?"
"About an hour," said Brett. "After the shooting, I had a statutory rape of a minor. You know, the usual: You're thirteen, you're beautiful, and you're mine. I wrote up the case, but it's not going anywhere. Not that I care. You know these cases: They never go anywhere, just a waste of our time. You got any plans?"
"Brett, that's over. I don't want to talk about it."
"But why?" said Brett. "Can't you reconsider?"
"I've told you why. I won't compete with Sheldon. It's either him or me, and you made your decision."
"Sheldon is my dear friend. I can't drop him."
This is the only kind of man who's ever attracted to me. I'm the Judy Garland of the nineties. "I have to talk to Christian Goldberg later this morning about the homicide he made me write up."
"You should try not to pick a fight with that guy."
"What time is it, anyway?" I asked
"It's ten to seven. Try to get some rest. When are you supposed to see Goldberg?"
Christian S. Goldberg had a carpeted room, off a carpeted hallway, in the executive wing of the District Attorney's office in Brooklyn's Borough Hall. The carpet was cheap, but a step up from the usual dirty linoleum. The walls were covered with awards and plaques from community organizations: the B'nai B'rith, the Antidefamation League, and the Community Board of Crown Heights. In one framed photograph, Goldberg stood among a group of bearded men with long black coats and black skull caps, the Crown Heights Hasidic community leaders. In one corner of the room a violin case was propped against the wall.
Christian Goldberg was a balding, paunchy man in his middle forties. He was the only child of a Christian Scientist mother, a distant relative of Mary Baker Eddy, and a violinist father. Milton Goldberg had been for many years the concertmaster of the Flatbush Philharmonic.
Christian Goldberg wore red suspenders and a tie to match. The butt of a dead cigar was clenched between his teeth. He looked up from his newspaper as I entered.
"Have a seat, Rodriguez," he said, pointing with his cigar to a nearby chair. "I just got off the phone with Rabbi Lifshitz. He's a big adviser to the Grand Vogelsteiner Rebbe. I think you met Lifshitz last night. Tall, thin, dried out."
I had learned that the various Hasidic sects, called courts, are named after parts of Europe that were their places of origin or the birthplaces of their founders. The Vogelsteiners, whom I had met the night before, had originally come from the Galician town of Vogelstein.
"I spoke to the rabbi very briefly," I said.
"Not too briefly. The rabbi says you told him the murder you investigated last night was no murder at all. You didn't believe Shlomo Dubov, the eyewitness. Rabbi Lifshitz says you're calling Shlomo a liar. What in hell did you say to these people to get them so riled up?"
"I didn't call Shlomo a liar. In fact, I hadn't even spoken to Shlomo when I met the rabbi. All I said was I didn't know if there would be a murder charge until I interviewed the witnesses."
"Detective Ricci says you didn't believe Shlomo."
"I had some questions about what he saw."
"Questions? What kind of questions? You got a guy from the Shomrim who sees the murder go down and id's the murderer ten minutes later. The murderer's wearing the same clothes he wore when he stabbed the victim."
"I don't know how Shlomo could have made the identification. That's all I was saying."
"You're acting like a Legal Aid attorney, trying to make something out of nothing. You weren't there, were you? How do you know Shlomo couldn't see?"
"But I've been..."
"I don't care where you've been, Rodriguez," said Goldberg, slamming his hand on his desk. "You don't know how the Vogelsteiner Shomrim operate. Did you even ask them if they had flashlights?"
"No, I didn't."
"Of course not. Because you already had your mind made up, didn't you? You walked in there and immediately insulted the rabbi."
"I didn't insult the rabbi."
"Thank God for Detective Ricci. She smoothed things over for us. Another thing, Ricci said you were questioning her arrest. Do you know Ricci has been a homicide dick for twenty years? She was one of the first female detectives on the force."
"I love her clothes," I said.
"She's some dresser, alright," said Goldberg. "You should see her apartment. She lives in a little studio in Merrick, full of clothes on rolling garment racks. You can hardly move around in there. Anyway, this is an open and shut case. We got eyewitnesses you wouldn't even bother to interview. All you wanted was to go back home and sleep."
"I wanted to interview the other witnesses. Ricci told me they had left."
"You're the ADA. You give the orders. You should have insisted. You could have had the witnesses brought back."
"You just told me not to contradict Ricci."
"Don't argue with me. Try to listen and learn instead of shooting off your mouth. I've got a lot of work to do now, thanks to you. I have to smooth everything over with the Vogelsteiners. This isn't the first time for you, either. You better stop playing fast and loose with your theories, lady, or else you'll be back in criminal court prosecuting token-suckers."
"Is that all, Mr. Goldberg?"
"For now. Go home, get some sleep. I want you to be alert when you explain why you didn't take a statement from the defendant."
"I didn't take a statement from the defendant because he asked for a lawyer," I said.
"Ricci says you told him to ask for a lawyer," said Goldberg.
I was furious. Ricci was nothing but a slimy liar. "Does Ricci understand Spanish? I spoke to the defendant in Spanish, and that's not what I said to him."
"First of all, you have no business speaking to a defendant off video in any language. Second, the only thing you should be saying to him is that he's got the right to remain silent. For God sakes, we gave you training. We have set procedures, and you ignore them. If you had followed the riding guidelines, you wouldn't be in this mess. We probably would have a nice confession."
"What kind of mess am I in?" I asked.
"Look, Ricci says you practically told the suspect not to make a statement. Your paperwork indicates you didn't think Shlomo could have seen certain things. As far as I'm concerned, you might as well be sitting at the defense table. You've all but handed the defendant an acquittal."
"We should know the weaknesses of the case from the beginning. I thought I was there to investigate."
"Investigate for the prosecution, dummy, not for the defendant. Seems you have a problem knowing what side you're on. Well, at trial you're going to explain to the defense everything you wrote down last night. And believe me, there are no weaknesses in this case."
I left Goldberg's office with a tremendous sense of frustration and anger. How had I ever involved myself with the law to begin with? During high school, I had often thought of becoming a social worker. At least then, I would have done someone some good.
I live in a brownstone walkup a few steps from the subway. Near the entrance to the building, Hispanic food vendors sell yucca plant and plantains.
My mother was waiting for me on the sidewalk. She has olive skin and a shock of gray hair pulled back in a tight bun. She is short and round. Her name is Pilar. "Why do you have to work all night long? What kind of office makes a lawyer work all night long? I sweated at two jobs to give you your education, so you could have a better life. All your school, all my years of sacrifice to pay for it, now look at you. You're all worn out. You spend your day in bad neighborhoods with the people I tried to protect you from. We live on the same run down block, because your job doesn't even give you enough money to pay your student loans. Dios mio, what is going to become of us?"
"I like this neighborhood, ma," I said. "Maybe one day..."
"Maybe one day, maybe one year, maybe one lifetime, maybe I'll be dead before I have my own little garden in my own house. Now all I have is a lot and some weeds I've grown. Asi es la vida."
"Don't be so gloomy," I said.
"What were you doing all night alone with those men? This is not a decent job for a young woman."
"I was investigating a case, mama. A man was stabbed. He died. They found him in an alley."
"Did they catch the stabber? Do they know who did it? I hope he wasn't a Latino."
"He is. Other men saw him stab his victim."
"Who did he stab, another Latino?"
"No, he stabbed a Hasid in Crown Heights."
"Ay, aya, now he's really going to get it. Porque, when a black or Hispanic is killed, who cares? Pero, you kill someone white, a cop, a turista, a rich man, they want to put you in the electric chair."
"No, mama, every case is prosecuted the same way."
"No me digas. Remember your cousin Benny? He was stabbed and killed. The DA didn't want to go to trial. He said Benny probably had a knife on him too, even though they didn't find one. And the whole neighborhood knew Benny never hurt nobody. No matter, the DA decided it must have been Benny's fault. Then that poor tourist from Utah comes, gets stabbed. Everybody in the neighborhood knows somebody who's been killed like that for some money and nothing gets done. But the Utah kid gets a trial, an apology from the city, even a park named after him. I feel bad for his family, sure, but I feel bad for every young boy from the neighborhood who gets killed."
"Lots of police and DA's really care about helping the community. That's why I became an ADA."
"Oh, is that the reason? I'm glad you got such a good reason."
"You should stop hating the courts," I said.
"I shouldn't and I won't. I spit on your courts and your laws. When you're poor, you don't have a chance at justice."
"See, mama, that's why I'm an ADA. I'm there to represent us."
"You're the only fly in the buttermilk, mijita. You're not going far in that office. They make you run around 24 hours a day while they sit on their behinds stroking the fat cats with the big money. You should find a new job, then you don't work for the people who killed your brother."
"That was the Manhattan DA. I work in the Brooklyn DA's office."
"Oye me, they're all the same. A Puerto Rican girl is never going to be accepted in their world. Mija, you'll never be one of them. Meanwhile, your stomach gets worse. You start to look like a viejita, a little old woman. Forget about helping the community; help your family first. I'm sick of living in a tiny taco box. Not even a goat would want to live here. The neighborhood gets worse every day. They sell drugs on the corner. The kids have nothing to do, no jobs, no nothing. No wonder they sell whatever they can. What else can they do? Look at you. You're going to be working your whole life just to pay the student loans. They don't respect you at your job. After you burned your eyelashes off studying, what do they say? Oh, affirmative action, that's why you got where you are."
"Maybe you're right," I said.
"Well, you're better off than me. I spent my life ironing clothes and cleaning toilets for rich ladies on Park Avenue. But I hope you get a different job someday."
"We'll see," I said.
"Why don't you get some sleep. I make you a nice breakfast to help your stomach."
"Put Maalox in the eggs. I got yelled at," I said,
"For asking too many questions about the guys who say they saw the stabbing."
"You know, the case I told you about. One guy who saw the stabbing was far away and it was night time. How can he be so sure the person they caught is the one he saw?"
"Desgraciados," said my mother, "they yelled at you for that? Of course you should question such a thing. Because a man points at another man and says he's a killer, everyone should believe him? People make mistakes. Don't make me think about what happened to your poor brother."
"That mistake was one in a million. It doesn't happen often," I said.
"One small chance of putting an innocent man in jail is one chance too many. When your brother died, a part of me died too. It was so easy for them to put him away. A rich woman points her finger at him and says he robbed her. No one believed him. Now you question these people who point a finger at someone else and you get in trouble. You should get a promotion, but all your boss wants is to lock somebody up and throw away the jail."
"Throw away the key," I said.
"Take a nap so you can go to mass with me."
"Again we're going to have this argument? What are you, a communist? All those years I paid for your Catholic school, now you never want to go to mass. You should pray to God to find you a new job."
"I have a better chance if I look in the Times."
"Don't say such things. Sacrilege!" said my mother, making the sign of the cross. "No wonder you have bad luck. Get some sleep. I wake you up in two hours for the Spanish mass."
"I'll walk you to church, but I'm coming back home."
"Muchacha, you go to mass with me. You may be an assistant district attorney, but at home I give the orders. Don't you laugh at me, señorita. You don't even know how to do your laundry without turning your white clothes orange. Where would you be without me?"
"I don't know, ma, but I won't be at mass."
"Bueno, when your old mother is dead, you'll remember she asked you to go to mass with her."
"Believe me, I'll remember more than that about you."
Our Lady of Sorrows, called Nuestra Señora de Dolores by its parishioners, looked like a small, run down church from the outside. From the inside, its stained glass windows and the odors of burning candles and incense scenting the air gave it a restful familiarity. The bells pealed for the four o'clock Spanish mass. Fifty worshipers had already assembled as latecomers drifted in.
My mother and I arrived as the last bell rang and Father Pedro Aguilar mounted the pulpit. The mass began with hymns in Spanish. I sang in a low voice, mostly to keep myself from falling asleep. When I did doze off, my mother stuck an elbow in my ribs or stepped on my toes.
After the mass concluded, the congregants slowly filtered out of the sanctuary. Father Pedro stood at the back, greeting his flock as they left.
"Buenas tardes, Padre Pedro."
"Buenas tardes, Pilar. Mira quien esta aqui," said Father Pedro, glancing at me.
"Hiya, padre," I said.
"Carmen needs to come to church more often," said my mother. "She needs a lot of help."
"I don't need a lot of help," I said. "I need a lot of sleep."
"Always the smart answer," said my mother.
"Carmen was very smart when she was a student at our school," said Padre Pedro. "I thought she got her brains from you, Señora Rodriguez."
"Thank you, Padre. But with all her studying, she has forgotten her soul. She never wants to come to church."
"I don't think Carmen has forgotten her soul. Maybe God will reach her in a different way."
"While I'm asleep?" I said hopefully.
"I did want to speak to you, Carmen," said Father Pedro. "We're all very proud that you're an assistant district attorney. People from the neighborhood hope that with you in the DA's office, maybe someone will listen to them. Someone who understands this community."
"I try," I said.
"Ramon Perez's mother came to me and told me her son was arrested for murder," said Father Pedro. "She said Ramon spoke to you at the police station."
"Yes, father, that's true. We didn't talk much because Ramon asked for an attorney. He'll be arraigned soon. I interviewed other witnesses who say he murdered a Hasidic Jew. There's nothing else I can do."
"I know you're only doing your job. But Maria Perez is very upset. She came to me with her friend, a neighbor, Altagracia Garcia. Altagracia said she saw everything. She said that Ramon stepped out of their building and a mob of Jews attacked him. She had seen Ramon minutes before in the hallway of her building. So how could he have stabbed a man two miles away? He can't have been in two places at one time, no es verdad? Why don't you speak to Altagracia. She's willing to testify for Ramon."
"Father, Ramon's already been arrested and charged. He's going to be indicted. I told you, there's nothing I can do. I can take your witness' name. Maybe somebody from the office can speak to her. When Ramon has a lawyer, his lawyer will talk to her."
"But Carmen, wouldn't it be better if the case is cleared up soon? You shouldn't subject Ramon and his family to a trial and send him to prison if you can find out ahead of time that you've made a big mistake."
"I know, Father, but there are witnesses who swear they saw Ramon stabbing a man," I said with a shrug of my shoulders. "There's nothing that can be done right now."
"Ramon was always a hard working boy. He tried to help his mother. She has five other children, you know. He did everything to help his family. He held some good jobs."
"That's great, except..."
"Look, the boy is no murderer. He needs your help. Don't forget your people," said Padre Pedro.
"I'll see what I can do," I said.
"Dios te bendiga," said Padre Pedro.
Other neighbors greeted me and my mother.
"Buenas tardes, Señora Pilar," said an elderly lady. "You should be proud of your daughter. She has done so much. Such a nice young lady."
"Thank you, Señora," I said.
"Hi, Carmen," said a little boy.
"See, everybody in the neighborhood loves you," said my mother. "You should do what Padre Pedro asks of you. God has been very good to you. Don't forget where you come from."
"I'm won't, mama. You're the one who's always complaining about the neighborhood, remember?"
Near home, my mother said, "If you could see yourself now, the big shot DA. You look like the walking dead."
"Well, mama, I wanted to sleep. No, you said I had to go to mass. Now I have more to worry about."
"You don't have anything to worry about. You know right from wrong. You do what's right. Que digan misa. Let them say whatever they want."
"Yeah, well, what if I lose my job, what then?"
"Bueno, so you get a new job. You're a smart girl. We've had worse things happen to us. Don't ever be afraid to do what's right."
Do what's right? Stupid religious platitudes: they had led me to let what faith I had lapse many years before. As a prosecutor, it wasn't my job to do what was right. My job was to convict the people I prosecuted.
I arrived at Borough Hall early the next morning. There was a message: report to Christian Goldberg. I found Goldberg seated at his desk.
"Have you seen this?" he said, handing me a copy of the New York Post. A banner headline on the second page screamed out,
BROOKLYN RABBI MURDERED
Avram Grabscheid, an eminent rabbi from Brooklyn's Hasidic community, was brutally murdered last night, stabbed multiple times by a robber. "A holy, pious man, absolutely irreplaceable," said a spokesman for Itzhak Konigsberg, the Vogelsteiner Grand Rebbe...
"I didn't know Avram Grabscheid was a rabbi," I said.
"How would you know, eh? You didn't speak to the Vogelsteiners like you should have when you were writing up the case. Here's a list of witnesses. Take statements from all of them. I got witnesses I'll be speaking to myself. Go through all the police reports. If there are other possible witnesses, follow up on them. Call Detective Ricci. Try to get along with her. She'll bring the witnesses to you or maybe take you out to them. I don't want any excuses, understand? I want you to reach every witness."
"I know of another witness," I said.
"How's that? Somebody not on this list?"
"Yes. When I was at mass yesterday, the priest told me he spoke to the defendant's mother. She has a friend who gives Ramon an alibi. I have the friend's name. The priest said we should interrogate her."
"What? What are you doing, talking about this case to the defendant's priest."
"He's my mother's priest too, you know."
"I don't care whose priest he is. You should tell him that the defendant has a lawyer. Period. Defendant wants to serve an alibi notice, we deal with it then."
"I thought the alibi would be exculpatory evidence, Brady material, that we have to turn over to the defendant."
"All you have is a hearsay statement from a priest who wasn't there, that the defendant's mother heard that the defendant's mother's best friend says the defendant was somewhere else. Why don't you concentrate on being a prosecutor instead of a defense attorney? Let the defendant do his own investigation. If Mrs. Alibi comes into our office, fine. Maybe we'll talk to her. But I certainly don't think her statement will be exculpatory. All she sounds like is a neighbor trying to help her friend out. Why don't you interview some real witnesses?"
"Have you got the report of the autopsy yet?" I asked.
"I have it right here. I even copied the file for you. Start getting in touch with the witnesses. Tomorrow morning I'm bringing in Shlomo Dubov for the grand jury. Get a time slot. Make a simple presentation, nothing fancy."