Chapter 26

R ain thudded against his truck’s windshield and hammered the pavement as Donnally sat in the parking lot of the Santa Rita jail, spread out in a central Alameda County valley.

He looked at his watch. It was nearly 3 P.M., kick-out time for Charles Brown and the rest of the prisoners who had completed their sentences.

Donnally wondered how much the place had changed since the few trips he’d made out to the campuslike facility more than a decade earlier. The long, wide hallways and the bare interview rooms, with their unscuffed paint and inmate-waxed linoleum, were then as sterile as hospital floors and lacked the grime of despair and hopelessness that sometimes made the guilty want to purge themselves. As he watched the entrance at the end of the rising, grass-bordered walkway, Donnally wondered whether the place had now deteriorated enough to make detective work possible.

The slow clunk-swish of his wipers provided more rhythm than clarity as he waited for Brown to emerge. A couple of defense attorneys ran from their cars toward the entrance, attache cases gripped with one hand, legal newspapers held above their heads for shelter with the other.

He recognized one of them: Mark Hamlin, Sonny Goldstine’s lawyer, and wondered whether Sonny had finally been arrested for the gun he wasn’t supposed to own, and whether Hamlin had come to represent him, or maybe just to shut him up in order to protect others connected to the Tsukamata murder all those years earlier.

In any case, Sonny would surely have to wonder where Hamlin’s loyalties lay: with him or with former clients among the remnants of the sixties and seventies radicals whose secrets Sonny might want to trade to buy his way out of a third-strike life sentence.

For a moment, Donnally enjoyed thinking through the trajectories and anticipating the collisions, for time and distance and weariness had broken the gravitational pull of caring about Sonny’s future.

But then he remembered the dollar that tied him and Sonny together and that was still in the pocket of his Levi’s jacket. It made him feel queasy, doubting whether he should’ve accepted the money. Not only had he gotten nothing for it, but it felt like a leash around his throat.

A few minutes later, inmates began filing out through the front door and into the rain. They looked to Donnally like refugees who were still dressed in the clothes they were wearing when the bombs fell or the earthquake struck and destroyed their homes. He turned his wipers on high and peered out through the windshield, inspecting the men first for race, then size, then features.

The men streamed out one-by-one, then collected at the bus stop at the foot of the walkway. The weak stood in the rain and the strong under the surrounding trees.

But no Charles Brown.

Maybe he’d been moved to the county hospital psych ward, Donnally wondered.

Maybe he got released earlier.

Maybe-

The door opened again. It was Hamlin. Walking backward. His arms spread wide like he was trying to herd an escaped goat back into a pen.

Then Brown walked out, shaking his head and holding his hands out in front of him as though he was blocking an assault.

It wasn’t Sonny after all who had brought Hamlin to Santa Rita.

Hamlin backed down the walkway another twenty feet, moving side to side as Brown tried to slip around him with his eyes lowered and his body hunched. Hamlin reached into his shirt pocket and pulled out a business card. Brown pushed it aside, then cut across the grass, angling west away from the bus stop and toward the two-lane road leading to the freeway.

Hamlin watched him go, then stared at the receding figure like a salesman whose deal of a lifetime had been rejected by a customer.

In that gesture, Donnally saw Hamlin’s plan expose itself like a pervert opening his raincoat. Hamlin had intended to sign up Brown as a client, then call a press conference and display the hangdog lunatic as a victim of judicial abuse. He’d claim that the harmless, innocent man-child had pleaded no contest solely to end a miscarriage of justice, and then he would leverage that claim into a lawsuit against everyone who’d laid a hand on Brown, maybe even Donnally himself.

But Brown had walked away from it.

Why? Donnally asked himself. Too crazy to grasp his own self-interest? Rushing to reclaim his square of sidewalk in Noe Valley? Hurrying to get a blow job from a homeless crack addict behind a bush in Golden Gate Park?

Donnally watched the rain soak into Hamlin’s three-piece suit, then smiled to himself as the lawyer’s hair flattened to his head like seaweed on an exposed rock. Hamlin took a last look at his forty percent fee slipping away and then ran inside out of the rain.

Contents