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The Setup

When a star running back is gunned down by a cop with a questionable history, the city of L.A. is on the verge of a racial explosion. Enter a lawyer who comes to the cop's defense…but a desire for justice hasn't nothing to do with it.

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“So, tell me,” Littlefield said, tugging at his goatee, “out of all the attorneys in L.A., why do you want me to represent you?”    

Officer Harold McIntyre, a barrel-shaped man with pockmarked cheeks, sat up straighter in his chair, as if to brace himself for a grilling.  “You represented an officer out of Southwest in a race discrimination case a while back,” he said.  His voice had a raspy hum, like he had a handful of gravel rolling around inside his mouth.  “And I’ve seen you on the news quite a bit.”  

Littlefield liked having his skills acknowledged.  He operated under the principle that if you can’t beat ’em in court, then bash ’em in the press.  

“Your case could end up being bigger than Rodney King,” Littlefield replied.  “For the record, murder trials aren’t exactly my specialty.”  

He neglected to mention that he didn’t have a specialty.

The first flicker of emotion surfaced on the man’s face, but Littlefield didn’t know whether it was the Rodney King comparison or the mention of the word “murder” that made him flinch.  

“I don’t need an attorney with experience trying murder cases,” McIntyre said calmly. “This case isn’t going to trial.  If it does, I’m a dead man.”

Littlefield almost wanted to laugh.  The case was going to trial and McIntyre was a dead man.  The shooting of Deon Jackson, the University of Southern California’s star running back and recent Heisman Trophy winner, had left virtually the entire city in a state of mourning.  Even white folks were calling his death a textbook example of what was wrong with the LAPD.  Luckily for McIntyre, nobody had caught it on videotape.

“Tell me why you think it’s not going to trial.  You hoping to cut a deal?”  

McIntyre shook his head so hard Littlefield thought he felt the room vibrate.  “The shooting was clean. The only hope I have of proving that is by getting my side of the story to the public.  You have a reputation for being good at that.”

Littlefield knew McIntyre had another reason for wanting to hire him. Black folks, especially those in South Central, didn’t trust cops. Having a black man as his mouthpiece would add credibility to his story. Since McIntyre didn’t have his own race card to play, he wanted to borrow Littlefield’s.  

“According to the papers,” Littlefield challenged, “Jackson was unarmed. How’s that a clean shooting?”

McIntyre hesitated. “Is our conversation confidential? Are you saying you’ll represent me?”  

“I can’t decide that until I hear what you have to say.” Littlefield enjoyed hearing the neediness in McIntyre’s voice. He had never felt that kind of power over a cop before. “But whatever you tell me is still protected by the attorney-client privilege.”

Officer McIntyre inhaled and looked down at his hands. “I was on solo patrol, driving around the perimeter of the University, when I saw two black guys . . . uh  . . . I mean, two young guys, standing near a tree in Exposition Park. I figured they were making a drug deal.”

“You always assume a drug deal is going down when you see two brothers standing near a tree?”  

Officer McIntyre’s beefy neck turned a deep crimson. “I could tell from the way they kept looking around that they were up to something. So, I pulled over and jumped out. One guy took off deeper into the park, the other one ran across Exposition Boulevard, back toward the campus.  So I took off after him.”

“Did you know then that it was Jackson you were chasing?”

Officer McIntyre responded with a solemn shake of his head. After a long moment, Littlefield made a circular motion with his index finger, directing him to continue.

“Like I said, I ran after him, yelling ‘LAPD. Stop!’ I was gaining on him and—”

“Hold up.” Littlefield raised his right hand. “You expect me to believe that the best college running back in the nation couldn’t outrun you?”

“Maybe he was high, or maybe he wasn’t giving it his all, I don’t know,” McIntyre said, his jaw line tightening.

“I’m just telling you what happened. When Jackson got to the edge of the campus, he stopped near some bushes, turned back and aimed a gun at me. That’s when I fired.”  

“But there was no gun found at the scene,” Littlefield pointed out.

“I don’t know what happened to it, but I’m telling you I saw one.” McIntyre paused. “You ever have a gun pointed at you? That’s not something you can forget.”  

Littlefield certainly agreed with that. Recalling his own run-in with a cop and a gun made him distrust McIntyre even more.

“So what do you think happened to the gun?”

McIntyre lowered his voice an octave. “You want to know what I think?” he said, leaning forward, as if poised to reveal some sinister plot. “I think somebody from the University got to the scene and took it. And they’re willing to hang me out to dry to cover up the fact that their little Heisman Trophy winner was out buying drugs and carrying a concealed weapon.”

“Didn’t you go look for the gun yourself?”

“I’d never shot anybody before. I was in a state of shock. Before I knew it, the campus police were everywhere. They went nuts when they saw it was Jackson. I told ’em he had a gun.  I just assumed it had flown out of his hand and was somewhere in the vicinity, probably in the bushes. And I bet the campus police found it.” McIntyre’s eyes narrowed.  “But instead of turning it over, they kept it.”

Littlefield wasn’t buying a word of McIntyre’s story. “According to the news reports I heard, it was too dark for you to have seen a gun in Jackson’s hands.”       

“There was more than enough light from the streetlamps,” McIntyre insisted, his voice louder than it should have been. He sighed, then sat back in his chair. “So will you take my case?”

“If all you want is a chance to get your story to the public, why aren’t you talking to somebody like Gloria Allred or Leo Terrell?”

“I don’t think Allred likes men and I know Terrell hates cops.”

“What about Mark Geragos or Tom Mesereau?”

“Can’t afford ’em.”

Indecision gripped Littlefield. The media attention he’d attract from handling the case would be major. But he would be vilified by the black community for defending the man—the white man—who murdered one of their own. Black folks were his bread and butter. If they stopped knocking on his door, he’d starve to death. As much as the case intrigued him, the risks outweighed the rewards.  

Before he could communicate his decision to McIntyre, the officer pulled an envelope from his back pocket and slid it across the desk.  

“Here’s a cashier’s check for my retainer,” he said. “But I have to be straight with you, this is all the money I can get my hands on at the moment.”

Littlefield opened the envelope and stared at a check in the amount of twenty thousand dollars made out to him. The clients he represented didn’t have account balances with that many zeroes. Every case he took was on contingency. An instant twenty grand in his pocket would solve a whole lot of problems.  

He promptly calculated that at his rate of $250 an hour, the retainer would cover exactly eighty hours of billable time. If he worked the case hard, the retainer would be spent in three, four weeks tops. He could do a little investigating, hold a few press conferences, then tell McIntyre to find himself a new lawyer.      

Littlefield laid the check down on his desk and looked up. “Officer McIntyre,” he said, extending his hand, “you’ve got yourself a lawyer.”


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(November 2013)