I was somewhere around Temecula on the edge of some fire-denuded hills when the drugs began to take hold.
I had dry-swallowed a fistful of something while rushing to check out of my hotel to rescue a client. Advil Sinus? Tylenol Cold & Flu? Plus Extra-Strength Advil? God knows. Faced with driving more than a hundred miles on short notice to make a client's first appearance, and suffering from a thudding headache from a sinus infection, I took more of what I had self-medicated with the night before. Whatever that was. So anyway, around Temecula, the familiar detached surreal too-damn-much-OTC-cold-meds feeling kicked in and a sort of gritty but serene sense of unreality draped itself like a dirty shower curtain over my consciousness.
I wasn't supposed to be driving at all. I was supposed to be at the American Bar Association's White Collar Crime Committee conference in San Diego, an annual event at which defense lawyers kick the shit out of their livers during a lurching parade of cocktail parties and ditch continuing education seminars in order to schmooze. I was looking forward to it. I felt like crap — I'd felt like crap for a week and a half — but I was looking forward to seeing old friends, auditing portions of a few presentations on topics that interested me, and hitting the party circuit. I didn't bring a tie. I didn't even bring anything to shave with, because fuck that.
Fast forward to the first full day of the conference. I wake up to find an email from a partner. One of my clients — let's call him Mr. Client — has been indicted and picked up at 6:00 a.m. by the FBI. He's in custody now, and will be making his first appearance (with a crucial bail hearing) that afternoon more than a hundred miles away. Say, is that the same Mr. Client about whom I spoke with the FBI and the federal prosecutors? The same Mr. Client I offered to surrender immediately if he's ever indicted? The same Mr. Client who is accused of nonviolent, low-dollar-figure crimes, who has lived in the same community all his life, and owns a business there? That's the one the FBI got an arrest warrant for, rather than summonsing him in or calling me and telling me to surrender him? Yep. That Mr. Client. Ratfucking chickenshit feds, you suck.
So I pack my room two days early, very reluctantly cancel lunch with a First Amendment demigod, and check out. I have one suit with me. I go into the gift shop and find the least incandescently hideous tie they sell. It's on the thin line between bright red and pink with weak stripes. I search for something to shave with. All they have left are pink women's disposable razors. That's the sort of thing that passes for funny with God these days. I hurry back to my room to shave. Let me tell you: all that FIVE-BLADES-BITCHES stuff isn't just Gillette puffery. At this point shaving with a forty-cent two-blade pot-metal disposable women's razor turns my face into blood salad.
So I drive, addle-headed and oozing blood onto my collar, to my client's first appearance in another district umpity-ump miles away. I arrive two hours later, pull the indictment, schmooze the pretrial services officer and the clerk, and prep. The FBI and AUSAs are smug. I argue to the magistrate judge — a guy I used to spar with when he was a DFPD and I was an AUSA — that it's ludicrous to require my client to secure his bond with the signature of a third-party surety because (1) the bastard has known he's a target of a federal investigation for almost a year and hasn't gone anywhere, (2) he's like 55 and not cut out for life on the run and his whole life is here and he's got noplace to go, and (3) I offered to surrender his sorry ass if he was indicted but they arrested him so they could get pictures of the perp walk. Black robe fever: he's not a public defender any more, and requires the third party surety. I convince him to give me two business days to get it.
My head's throbbing. My sinuses are making squeaking, screaming noises, like that Ceti eel makes after Kirk phasers it. I depart the courthouse. The press is waiting out front, reporters and video cameras and flash cameras. They regard me skeptically as I walk out. "That's probably one of the FBI agents," one of them says. Motherfucker! The tie isn't that bad. It must be the haircut. I go pick up my car and drive to a credit union parking lot behind the courthouse to wait for them to release my client and his codefendant, who is the reason for the cameras. The U.S. Marshals — reliably some of the most reasonable and decent feds around — are releasing them out the back to avoid the press scrum out front. But a reporter follows me, watching me suspiciously. Shit. The metal gate swings open, and my client, his codefendant, and some poor mope on a probation violation beef get shoved out, blinking, into the light. I execute a credible screech and swerve and swoop, narrowly missing the reporter, throw open the passenger door, pull in the client, and pull out as the fat guy with the video camera waddles around the corner into range. The more sought-after codefendant runs to the safety of his family's car; the probation-violation mope stands dumbstruck wondering what the hell is going on. As I peel out one of the reporters is trying to interview him.
Next I trudge through rush-hour traffic to get the client home. He's working through the usual stages of I-can't-believe-it-happened to me. I calm him. My head is pounding louder. I drop him off, remind him of the basics — don't talk to anyone, dammit! — and head home through more traffic. After about half an hour I have to pull to the side of the road because the headache is making my hands shake. I get a grip and navigate to an urgent-care center in my neighborhood. Let me tell you this about America, friends and neighbors — if you're wearing a suit and tie, even an ass-ugly tie, they give you good drugs without asking questions. The doc nearly throws Vicodin at me. Try that with cargo shorts and an Ed Hardy T-shirt.
Home. Exhausted, doped, woozy, barely-scabbed-over shaving wounds bleeding into the pillow, I'm insensible before ten.
It's all so very, very glam.
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