by Stephen A. Cooper
“Open it,” Daddy Mac said, handing Rifkin an unsealed manila envelope.
Mac’s head, round and smooth like a milk chocolate-covered bowling ball, was sweating; it was stifling inside the legal visit room. 45 years old and a gargantuan 6 foot 2, 330 pounds with gold teeth and a black eye patch, Rufus King, known as “Daddy Mac” was a 21st century pirate: Before his arrest he and his gang raped, robbed and ran roughshod over the entire city.
Rifkin, his lawyer, also 45 years old, was short and skinny. His complexion was fair and he wore his curly hair long and in a ponytail. He, too, was sweating. Rifkin hadn’t seen Daddy Mac since his sentencing and hoped he’d never see him again. But the message in the manila envelope he got in the mail was clear: “Come see me or you die. Daddy Mac.” “Open it,” Mac said, his deep voice husky, his working eye twitching. Reluctant but too scared to resist, Rifkin reached into this new envelope removing—to his horror—a glossy 8 X 10 of his daughter. In it she was swinging from their backyard swing set, her smile blissful and, under the circumstances, ironically serene. A perfectly drawn replica of a Mac-10 machine gun was pointing at her head. “What—what do you want,” Rifkin asked. “Nothing,” Daddy Mac said, and getting up from his chair, he opened the door to the room, and without another look at Rifkin, gestured for the guard, saying, “Hey, man, we’re done.” Left alone with his daughter’s picture, Rifkin was shaking.
* * *
Back in his office, Rifkin flashed back to two years ago, when he’d first met King. It was a memory he’d had many times since, sometimes waking in the middle of the night, sweaty and scared from it: King’s bear-sized bare knuckles banging down on Rifkin’s mahogany desk with such brutality his grandmother’s Mont Blanc pen and matching stand short-hopped before falling to the floor, breaking. “If I go to jail—you’ll go too . . . you’ll do every damn day . . . counselor.” He’d enunciated “counselor” in a drawl, swishing the syllables around in his mouth like a bad taste.
Rifkin had tried like hell to withdraw, but Judge Irwin’d stood firm. The appointment would stand. King had already fired three lawyers, including the federal public defender, so: “No”, Judge Irwin was simply unmoved by any of Rifkin’s lawyerly pleas—to rules of ethics, the desperate financials of a solo practitioner, or even, Rifkin’s honest admission, made ex parte at the bench: “Your honor, Mr. King—he—he scares me.”
The lead charge, conspiracy to distribute drugs—over 100 kilos of cocaine—was bookended by obstruction of justice and felon in possession (of a firearm). Tens of millions of dollars had been seized, 837 thousand and change recovered from a cooler in King’s apartment alone. The cops found it hidden under loose floor boards—right next to his Mac-10. What could Rifkin do?
“I’m no Houdini, Mr. King . . . . They’ve got you dead to rights: There’s a valid search warrant filled with probable cause, including taped conversations of you transacting in drugs. Then, of course, there’s the two snitches, including your own nephew—they’re going to testify against you. And that’s all before we even get to the gun, the Mac-10, and you . . . you know, you being a convicted felon.” But this and all Rifkin’s following explanations fell on the deaf ears of a stalwart, stoic, completely unsympathetic King. Rolling the dice, they came up snake-eyes just as Rifkin predicted, and the judge, in no gaming mood, dispensed 22 years. Led sideways through the narrow courtroom door, Daddy Mac turned to Rifkin and said: “See ya soon”.
That was two months ago.
* * *
They were black balloons stuffed with drugs that were easily smuggled into the prison—particularly by a trusted lawyer carrying a briefcase with a stealthy, secret compartment; Daddy Mac’s associate, ‘Little Mac’, dropped it off with the first balloon.
“This fine-ass leather piece is all yours man, courtesy à la Daddy Mac,” he’d said.
“I won’t do it,” Rifkin’d said, but even he could hear his weakness and fear. Daddy Mac had that effect on people.
“You will. Or your girl’s toast. Then your wife. Then you,” said Little Mac.
And so, petrified, just one week later, peaking on Percocets and other pills, Rifkin smuggled in Daddy Mac’s first package. That was eight months ago. Eight packages followed, one each month.
* * *
It was the ninth month and ninth balloon and Rifkin was sitting in the legal visitation room watching Daddy Mac get high. Mac liked “a dabble of the white queen for the road”—and what better place to get fixed, especially when incarcerated—then in private consultation with your lawyer?
It was winter and wearing two pairs of long-johns under his prison uniform, Daddy Mac looked bigger, bulkier, even more intimidating than usual. Leaning back, he licked some white residue from his finger, and smiled lazily at Rifkin.
“You want a hit, counselor?,” Mac said, nodding at the table where the ninth black balloon was peeking out from under his legal file.
Rifkin didn’t answer. Looking at Mac sullenly, he said, “I gotta go”.
“What’s your hurry, counselor. Stay a while. Daddy Mac ain’t chargin’ by the hour, though I should. See, what you don’t realize—what your fancy Ivy League education hasn’t taught you—is you are being schooled, homeboy. That’s right, schooled. And, I’m your ‘welcome to reality’ teacher.” Mac leaned his chair all the way against the wall as he spoke, its metal legs creaking loudly under his load.
“See, here’s the thing, counselor. Here’s what most folks don’t know or don’t understand. In this world, most men are peasants. Pawns in service of their king. It don’t matter how much money they got, who they’re daddies and mommies are, or how smart they turn out to be . . . Or think they is. That ain’t what royalty’s about, son. Kings are made, not born!”
Rifkin didn’t respond.
“Now, as your King,” Daddy Mac said, “I release you. Right after I take another hit.”
* * *
The sun’s up but it’s cold outside and I can see my breath as I turn the lock in my office door. Is it for the last time? Pulling my collar high as it’ll go, I turn to walk up the street that’s already decorated for Christmas though Thanksgiving isn’t for another week. I’m not feeling festive. Maybe it’s cause there’s a chance I’m heading to my own death. If I am, the thought occurs that it’ll suck to miss the holidays. It’s easily the best time of year for a criminal defense lawyer because court closes—except for new arrests. My second thought as I begin to pick up steam, birthing small clouds of white breath as I go, is at least I’m wearing clean underwear in case my next destination’s the morgue.
The vendors I pass on the six-block walk to the city jail are clearly having lighter thoughts. They’ve just begun setting their stands up for the day. They lay their wares on misshapen pieces of cloth or carpet—incense, umbrellas, cheap silver jewelry, books for ‘mature readers’—talking in a sing-song way like birds. Most know me and I them, so I nod or tip my hat, as we see each other each time I make the trek to the jail from my office, or to court, which is just a few blocks further. I do this several times a day, everyday—walk to court or the jail, or both—whenever my clients require.
I’ve been called “one of the best overlooked criminal defense lawyers in town”—not by my mamma, but by the Post—the city’s leading newspaper. According to market insiders, they wrote, “Joel Rifkin’s the guy you go see when you did it—they’ve got you red-handed—but you’ve got the dough to get off.” Did Daddy Mac read that before he asked Judge Irwin to appoint me? I’ll never know. It’s damn good copy, I suppose. Hell, I might even put it on my business cards. If I survive. I’ve good reason to wonder if I will ‘cause I’m heading to the jail now to see Rufus King, a.k.a. “Daddy Mac.”
Last night I dreamed he was standing over me, Mac-10, in hand, he said: “Who’s your daddy now?” Maybe you think ’cause he’s in jail, I needn’t worry? Well, that’s actually where I need to worry most. Just ask probation officer Luis Ricardo. Well, maybe ask his wife, ’cause Luis is dead. He went to interview Daddy Mac for the presentence report and I have it on good authority that just as Luis was leaving the facility, humming happily to himself when the first shank caught him in the ribs. They haven’t found the dude who put it there and probably they won’t cause the video camera was disabled.
Now, it’s just my opinion, but Luis might still be alive had he kept his sentencing recommendation to himself. He should have typed it in his report and submitted to the judge and onto the next case he’d be. Instead, Luis gave Daddy Mac a peek at the coming attractions in court, and well, I guess Ol’ Mac didn’t like the preview. Could I get shanked too? Why not? I’m every bit as vulnerable as Luis.
I thought about buying body armor online, maybe taping something protective to my chest like a hardback book or two. Something to cover my heart at least. But I better not. The guard who pats me down at the lawyer’s entrance to the jail might notice something. I don’t know all the guards on Daddy Mac’s payroll or their shifts, so it’s not worth the risk. They could get word to him, give him a heads up, “Hey man, something is funny with your lawyer today.” He’d be on his guard then, suspicious, and it wouldn’t work. Hell, who am I trying to kid, except maybe myself. It might not work anyway. In which case, I hope the end is quick. That it doesn’t hurt. When they found Luis he’d been stabbed 56 times and according to my same Good Authority, “Man, it was like the Red Sea.” I’d like to avoid that. But, at the same time, I guess I’m willing to risk it too. ‘Cause I’ve had enough. Sometimes a man’s got to take a stand. Stand up to the scum and say, listen, I’m not gonna take it anymore. No, I haven’t been watching too much De Niro in Taxi Driver, but I’m feeling kinda crazy today, I am.
* * *
“Hurry up, now, put it here.” Holding his battered legal file open a half-inch, Daddy Mac was staring through the corner of his working eye at the guard in the pod, while impatiently tapping on the table—toc-toc-toc—with his massive fist. Checking first with both eyes to be sure the guard wasn’t looking, Rifkin slipped the black balloon into the file. Putting a dirty fingernail like a spatula into it—”This one’s lucky number 10, ain’t it counselor”—Daddy Mac peeked again at the guard in the pod before pushing the powder up his nose.
“This is the last time, King,” Rifkin said as Daddy Mac’s Cyclops eye relaxed and clouded, his huge body leaning back precariously in his chair.
Daddy Mac laughed. “The hell it is . . . counselor . . . the hell it is.”
Suddenly, he coughed. Then again, but harder, breaking into a fit. Sitting erect, a sheen of sweat formed on his brow. His eye got wide, real wide, and looking down at the white powder in the balloon then back at Rifkin, he croaked, “What’s this?”
“Ground up castor beans. Well, actually, just the poisonous part,” Rifkin said, snatching the entire file with the balloon from the now gasping Mac. Quickly, he stuck this evidence in his briefcase, which was not really his, slamming it shut.
“This appointment’s over,” Rifkin said, rising, “The King is dead.”
◊ ◊ ◊
Stephen A. Cooper
Stephen A. Cooper is a former D.C. and federal public defender. Between November 2015 and March 2016 his nonfiction writing has been published in numerous newspapers and magazines in the United States and overseas including The Huffington Post, The New Indian Express, The Trinidad Express, The Cayman Reporter, The Havana Times, Unhinged Magazine, Yardflex Magazine, The Pier Magazine, The Los Angeles Daily News, The Montgomery Advertiser, al.com, thegrio.com, caribbeannewsnow.com, SF Evergreen Magazine, The Berkeley Daily Planet, The Ventura County Reporter, ipinionsyndicate.com, thecuturetrip.com, The Stanford Daily, and The Daily Californian. “Rifkin Rising” is his first work of fiction to be published.