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Authors: Sara Paretsky

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BOOK: Warshawski 09 - Hard Time
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31 A Day in the Country

Everything was making me nervous. I was afraid to go home because I didn’t know if someone would jump me. I was afraid to go to my car for the same reason. I was afraid to send Mr. Contreras down to my office to fetch the car in case Baladine had planted a bomb under the hood. In the end my nervousness made me angry enough that when I got off the L, I went home the direct way: up the sidewalk, into the front door. Nothing happened, and perversely enough that made me even edgier.

In the morning I took the train down to my office and threw a rock at the hood of the car. It bounced off. The car didn’t blow up, but a couple of boys who were lounging across the street scuttled into the alley: it’s scary to share the street with a crazy woman.

The woman from the temporary agency was waiting for me inside: Tessa had arrived unusually early and let her in. I got the woman started on organizing papers before calling the Unblinking Eye to discuss a surveillance system for the building. Since Tessa and I really had only one entrance to protect, we didn’t need more than two screens, one for each of our work spaces. Although it was still money I didn’t have, it wasn’t as big a hit as I’d feared. The Unblinking Eye would do the installation in the morning and pick up their rental camera from me at the same time.

After that I buckled down at my computer, researching court cases, trying to find Veronica Fassler. It’s a needle–in–a–haystack job: there’s no index of cases by defendant. I tried to guess the year she’d been convicted, since she said she’d been at Coolis longer than Nicola Aguinaldo, and finally, with some luck, found her case, dating back four years. Fassler had been caught with five grams of crack on the corner of Winona and Broadway, and justice had followed its inexorable course of three to five years. A year for every gram. It seems odd that the U.S. is so reluctant to go metric, except in measuring the minute amount of crack it takes to send someone to prison.

I also did a search for information on Coolis. I had ignored stories when it was under construction, since I wasn’t with the public defender any longer. I started with
Carnifice gets contract for new facility.
The
Corrections Courier
said it was
a novel idea, combining jail and prison in northwest Illinois, typical of the innovative approach to vertical integration that is Carnifice Security’s hallmark.
Because of overcrowding in Cook and Du Page County jails, women arrested and unable to post bond would be housed in a special wing of Coolis. That way they could just move down the hall to the prison once they were convicted—since being in jail for a year or more while awaiting trial greatly increased your chance of conviction. If you couldn’t afford bond you must be guilty, I guess.

Because you go from jail to trial, jails are supposed to be close to the courts—a condition obviously not being met at Coolis. An article in the
Herald–Star
described how House Speaker Poilevy overcame that little obstacle. The year Coolis opened, he held a special legislative session on crime. Fifteen of sixteen bills zipped through the state legislature that session. One designated a particular courtroom to be part of Cook County on Mondays, Tuesdays, and Wednesdays, part of Du Page on Thursdays, and split between Lake and McHenry on Fridays. A couple of public defenders from each county could carpool with the State’s Attorney, spend a few nights in Coolis, and save the state the cost of busing large numbers of women from the jail to their local county court.

I could see why Baladine was so tight with Poilevy—the House Speaker worked Springfield as if it were legerdemain, not legislation he was engineering. What I couldn’t figure out was where Teddy Trant and Global Entertainment came into the picture. The financial papers didn’t shed any light on the problem.

The only story the
Wall Street Journal
ran had questioned whether Carnifice was making the right kind of investment in a women’s multipurpose correctional facility. The
REIT Bulletin,
in contrast, praised the move highly and gave the project a triple–A rating for investors.

Women prisoners make up the fastest growing segment of the fast–growing U.S. prison population, the
Bulletin
said. A twelvefold increase in women in prison in the last decade . . . seventy–five percent with children . . . eighty percent commit nonviolent crimes—possession, prostitution . . . theft usually to pay rent or other bills, unlike men doing it for drugs or thrills.

I skimmed the stories and finished with
Model workshops in prison: Coolis is of, for, and by the prisoners.
Prison workshops in Coolis allowed prisoners to earn as much as thirty dollars a week manufacturing food and clothes for consumption in the state prison system. The computer produced a blurry picture of smiling inmates in a prison kitchen and two serious–looking women operating monster sewing machines. Carnifice had invested a lot of money in the workshops when they built the prison; they lobbied unsuccessfully to overturn an Illinois law that prohibited sales of goods outside the prison system. In fact, that was the only bill that failed Poilevy’s special crime session.

“The labor unions have a stranglehold on this state,” Jean–Claude Poilevy grumbled when he was unable to muster the votes to overturn the law. “They make it impossible for efficient use of industrial facilities in order to protect their own fiefdom.”

While I waited for the articles to print, I logged back on to LifeStory. I should have done this days ago, but my cocaine adventures had put it out of my mind. I wanted to see what kind of report I would get on Lucian Frenada this time around and contrast it with the first. I pulled up my original report so I could double–check the parameters I had specified.

When it came on the screen I thought I was hallucinating: instead of the modest bank accounts and two credit–card balances I’d seen ten days ago, I got pages of detail: bank accounts in Mexico and Panama; eighteen credit cards with charges on each ranging as high as twenty thousand a month for travel and jewelry; a home in Acapulco and one in the Cote d’Azur. The list went on and on in a mind–numbing fashion.

I was so bewildered I couldn’t even think for a few minutes. Finally I went to my briefcase and took out the wallet of backup disks I carry between home and office. I found the floppy with the Frenada report on it and opened the file. The simple figures were the ones I’d shown Murray yesterday morning.

I sat bewildered for a long time before I could think at all. It slowly came to me that when the vandals broke into my office last week, they’d gone into my computer and altered my files. They’d somehow loaded bogus numbers into the LifeStory files and downloaded them onto my machine.

I wondered whether they had messed around with any of my other documents—altered my case records, my tax data—they could have done anything. Once again the sense of violation made me feel sick. Someone had helped themselves to what was almost an extension of my mind.

I’d started the day determined to drive out to Coolis to try to see Veronica Fassler as soon as I found her trial record, but I was too upset to deal with the prison system this morning. I wished I could find my old hacking buddy, Mackenzie Graham. He could have told me how someone had managed to screw around with the LifeStory data, but he was somewhere in East Africa with the Peace Corps these days.

I opened up several old case files but then decided I didn’t want to find evidence of a stranger’s hands and feet in my life. I zeroed out my disk.
Are you sure you want to do this?
The system asked me twice and then seemed to shrug its electronic shoulders.
Okay, but you will lose all your files.
I wiped it clean and reloaded the system from my backup disks, reloaded all my data, offering Mackenzie a million thanks for forcing me to the unwonted discipline of daily off–site backups.

I spent the rest of the day working assiduously with the woman from the agency. By five we had eighty–two neat piles of papers for which she could type folder labels in the morning. I told her what to do in the morning when the Unblinking Eye came to install our surveillance camera and monitors, then lugged my computer to my car and drove it home. I didn’t know where to set it up that would be really safe, but my apartment was less vulnerable than the warehouse, because at least here someone was usually around.

I took my computer to the third floor and sat in my bathtub for half an hour, listening to Bach, trying to relax. It would have helped if I knew what my opponents wanted. Besides to drive me crazy with uncertainty. By and by I poured myself a whisky and went downstairs to see my neighbor. I wanted to persuade him to lie low until this miserable business had come somehow to an end. When he came to the door, I put a hand over his mouth and led him through his apartment to the back. A couple on the second floor was entertaining on the back porch. The reassuring clink of glasses and friendly laughter drifted down to us. Under its cover I told Mr. Contreras how someone had frightened Mary Louise into backing away from me and that I didn’t want the same people terrorizing him.

“I don’t want you to be a sitting target for BB Baladine,” I whispered urgently. “What if he comes around trying to find who went with me to Coolis? For all I know they had a security camera taking pictures of us—I wasn’t very bright. I bolted headlong into trouble without stopping to think. I’m worried I put you at risk as well. You were right not to want your name on the record.”

“It ain’t like you to scare easy, doll.”

“It isn’t very often that I come across a man who thinks bayoneting newborns is all in a day’s work. Will you do me a favor and go to your daughter’s until, well, until this Aguinaldo business gets sorted out?”

Of course he wouldn’t. Aside from the fact that he and his only child had as much in common as a dog and a fish, he wasn’t about to turn tail. Didn’t I ever listen to him when he talked to me about Anzio?

“Listen!” I screeched, forgetting to whisper, so that the party above us momentarily grew quiet. “You were twenty–something at Anzio. You may have the will you had then, but you don’t have the strength. And if this guy figures out the relationship between us, which he will if he puts any energy into the matter, then he’ll know it was you with me at the Coolis hospital, not Nicola Aguinaldo’s grandfather.”

We argued for an hour, but all he would agree to was to deny any relationship with me if someone came around asking. Oh, Ms. Warshki, she lives in the building, but she’s a young woman, we know each other to say hi coming in the door at night. Of course, if someone questioned the rest of the tenants, one of them was bound to say that the old guy and I were pretty tight. The woman on the ground floor, for instance, who complained about the noise the dogs made when I came in late. Or even the party above us tonight: Mitch and Peppy, bored with lying in the yard, went up to the second floor to investigate. I followed just in time to grab Mitch before he helped himself to a plate of hummus. Those neighbors certainly would remember Mr. Contreras and me barbecuing together in the backyard.

“Okay, I won’t open the door to no one I don’t know while you’re away from home, but even if I ain’t the guy I was at twenty, I can still look after myself without running off to Hoffman Estates like a scared mutt.” That was the best I was going to get out of him.

Thursday morning I got up early, took the dogs for a long swim, and headed out to Coolis. Even though I wasn’t stopping for lunch, without Mr. Contreras the ride seemed to take longer than it had last week. Still, I pulled into a visitors’ lot at the prison a little before noon.

I had dressed professionally, in my wheat rayon trouser suit. The drive in the un–air–conditioned car had left my white shirt wet around the armpits and neck, but I thought the front still looked pressed and clean enough for my mission. I carried the briefcase my dad gave me when I graduated from law school. It’s almost twenty years old now, the red leather worn pinky–white around the edges. To preserve it I use it sparingly, but today I needed to feel his presence in my life.

The prairie sun pounded on me as I walked across the asphalt to the first checkpoint. In the distance I could hear grasshoppers whirring in the high grasses, but in the prison compound no trees or grasses mediated the heat, which shimmered from the pavement in knee–high waves. The white stone was so bright that my eyes watered behind my sunglasses.

I stopped at the first checkpoint, held out my ID, explained I was a lawyer here to see one of the inmates. At the second my briefcase was examined for weapons. I waited forty minutes there for an escort to the prison entrance. The CO who finally came for me was a short, plump woman who joked with the guard but didn’t say anything to me.

At the entrance the door slid slowly open on its pneumatic trolley. We then faced an inner door, which would open only when the one behind us had wheezed shut again. Inside, I was escorted to yet another guard station, where I explained my business: I was a lawyer, here to see Veronica Fassler.

I was sent to a waiting room, a small windowless space with plastic chairs on top of worn linoleum and a television mounted high on the wall. Oprah shouted down at me and the three other women in the room.

Two of the waiting women were black, the only faces of color I’d seen since entering the prison compound; all three stared ahead with the weary passivity of those accustomed to being of no account to the world around them. A corrections officer looked in periodically, I suppose to make sure we weren’t stealing the furniture. When I asked her to turn down the volume, since none of us was watching the program, she told me to mind my own business and retreated again.

Around one–thirty the older of the black women was escorted to the visitors’ room. Two more people arrived—a Hispanic couple, middle–aged, nervous, wanting to know what to expect when they saw their daughter. The white woman continued to stare stolidly ahead, but the second black woman began explaining the procedure, where you sat, what you could talk about. It was hard for the pair to follow her underneath the noise of the television. As she repeated something for the third time, the corrections officer returned to escort me to the warden’s office.

BOOK: Warshawski 09 - Hard Time
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