Bugle P.I. — Legal Trouble

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Chicago: Tuesday, 22 January, 03:05

Eddie met me at the international terminal in a car that still had about three inches of snow on the roof. I tossed him the boxes of duty-free cigarettes I bought in Dublin as he apologized for being half-asleep. Eddie goes to bed early these days, same as me. He asked me to roll down my window as he lit up a bent cigarette before we pulled away from the curb. Then he drove to our favorite diner in Rosemont without saying another word. I let him concentrate on the snowy roads, although I was pretty wired after dozing on the four glasses of Powers from the lounge in Dublin.

We drank coffee and talked about our youthful hijinks for a while. Eddie’s favorite story was how he ran into an Irish painter-turned-developer in a West-side bar and got in shape so he could play tennis just to spend more time with the guy. The part that he couldn’t tell most people was that, for the next ten years, he and that painter treated the biggest developers in Chicago like marks for a confidence game. So he loved to talk about it with me. And I lost myself in the good auld days for a while.

The sun came up, and he took me back to his flat on the Northside. I had plans for lunch, catching up with an old friend, and that took the whole afternoon.

Then I met Eddie’s lawyer, in his home in Evanston. I knew Dr. Dan Annville, the Litigating Lecturer, by reputation. He represented good people in tight spots as a hobby. His colleagues in the Economics department hated him for his newspaper columns that ridiculed the Ph.D’s who became PR hacks, and his brothers in the local halls forgot that he was an egghead after the first beer.

Annville had a small room fitted with bookshelves, computer equipment, four comfortable chairs, and a wet bar. My kind of room; maybe I’d earn myself one someday. There was a young, tall kid standing with Annville when Eddie and I arrived. At first, I couldn’t tell which one was the lawyer, until I noticed that Annville looked just as young, but tired around the eyes and the shoulders.

“Sorry about the kid’s toys,” he said by way of introduction. “Until the semester starts, I let my boy have the run of the place. This is Mack, a law student; he’ll keep the kid occupied until we’re done.” I appreciated the consideration.

“I’ve heard your name a few times, Will,” he said and then caught himself. “You don’t mind first names?” I said that was fine, and we got down to business immediately.

Eddie was being sued by a small-time developer who claimed that Eddie committed extortion in the 1990s. The developer’s team of lawyers managed to work the RICO act into the mix, attracting attention from some anti-union rags. The story was sure to spill into the more reputable papers in a few days.

About fifteen minutes in, Dan poured three drinks while he explained a fine point of the case. The “bad act” on Eddie’s part was filing an objection to a razor-wire-fenced junkyard that the developer wanted to put up a block from his daughter’s school. In those days, Eddie read the minutes of planning commission meetings and wrote more letters and objections than a creationist parent with a kid in public school. His friends, myself included, mocked his earnest participation in public life, but this particular objection seemed to kill the junkyard.

The fenced-in junkyard killed some suburban public space instead, so Eddie took little pleasure in the pyrrhic victory. At least we stopped making fun of his Tuesday night trips to the county buildings. But now, with this lawsuit, the forgotten little objection eclipsed all the genuinely sketchy things that Eddie had done for the sake of his neighbourhood.

“Legally, the case is weak, but it’s been used many times before.” Dan sighed and took a sip. “There’s a precedent from 2001 that basically tells corporations that they can’t use this kind of thing to intimidate people, even if they are associated with unions. The problem is that the bad guys allege that Eddie was acting as a front for the Brotherhood of Fence Post Pounders. With the current state of the courts, that might just fly. Even if it doesn’t, it would take a lot of time and money to make this lawsuit go away.”

I worked for the BFPP at the time, and Dan figured that I was the only connection between Eddie and the Pounders. It wasn’t smart for the developers to rest the whole case on me, but the point appeared to be legal harassment, rather than a verdict. From what Dan could tell, the lawyers were betting that I wouldn’t be available to testify, what with my new life in Dublin.

If Friday went well, and if the judge was straight, then the case would be dismissed before it got started.

“No pressure,” Dan repeated, as Eddie looked at the books on the shelves and swished his drink around and around. Dan’s smile was genuine, but it didn’t comfort me one bit.