Probation Officer #130: An afternoon with the police 11

I said, “Ana was already in the Kempff, Hsang and Cowper offices when Jane Siebel took that photo. And she hasn’t moved from there all day.” I knew that because Sa’afia would have texted me if Ana had left. “So Ana didn’t put that bag there. Greg Curnow did. There were probably two other officers with him. What time did Curnow bring in the baggie?”

“And you know it was Curnow how?”

“Because this morning Curnow and two other officers -”  

But Maynard waved his hand again. “Oh, all right, leave that for now. Were you with Siebel when this photo was taken?”

“There were two witnesses with Ms Siebel. I was one of them.” 

“Uh huh. Thought so. You just happened to tag along. Yeah. As if you didn’t set the whole thing up.”

“Jane Siebel is the lawyer. I’m just Ms Matatumua’s probation officer.”

“Bullshit. There’s a crusade on and you’re running it. If I didn’t know Jock better, I’d think you’re banging this damn girl. He hasn’t put you in hospital, so I guess you aren’t. Short of that you’re doing everything that a probation officer shouldn’t do. If you were on my staff I’d fire you before I fired Curnow. You’re a fucking ideologue.” 

Now I was angry. So I said nothing. I didn’t trust my voice if I spoke. 

Probation Officer #129: An afternoon with the police 10

I said, “Yeah, I hoped that’d be more discrete. But it means I just got an email. It should be a copy of an email that’s just been sent to you, to some people at Kempff, Hsang and Cowper. And Ms Matatumua’s probation officer. So you’ve probably got email too.” 

Maynard was already looking at his pad. I checked my own phone while he was ignoring me. It was from Jane, her reply to the one-character text I’d sent her. Her note said the attached picture was taken at Ana’s street address. The attached picture showed the dusty space under Ana’s loose floorboard. That was picture 4 of the shots Jane had taken of the various potential drug hidingplaces in Ana’s room. 

spiderHer photo showed dust, a dead spider, and a watermark that said the photo had been taken at 11.13 today. What was not there, in loud and ambiguous fashion, was the ziplock plastic bag full of white powder that Greg Curnow had photographed later the same day.

Maynard looked at Jane’s pic. Then he said, “I see.”

The comment came about five seconds after he’d opened his email. I’d had better ammunition than him, for this meeting, but Jock was right to say he was no fool.

Probation Officer #128: An afternoon with the police 9

While Jock skimmed the charge sheet I pulled out my phone. It’s not a good thing to do at a meeting with someone more powerful than you are, but I had little choice. I’d already set the message up, in the sense that the phone would open with a text set up and ready to go.  But I had to key in a number, which would be the text’s sole content. If it’d been an older phone I’d have been able to send the message from under the desk, by feeling for the keypad. The trouble with touch screens is that you have to squint at them for a couple of seconds. I pressed 4, and then Send. 

It was a demonstration of how people did not behave in front of Maynard. His astonishment meant I’d finished before he exploded. I said, “Sorry, that was rude.” 

“Give me that phone!” 

He knew that he had no right to see it unless he had a warrant. He should have appealed to Jock, who did have some authority over me. But he was angry.

I needed to change the subject, quickly. I said, “Your officers won’t have found Ms Matatumua, though. Will they? But I know where she is.”

Maynard shook his head. “You are digging yourself one hell of a  hole. Jackass.”

At the same moment Jock said, “Thought you might.” He looked at me, and held the look for a second, letting me see the effort he was making to hold himself back. Firing me on the spot would be legally complicated, but suspending me would not. He was in no mellow mood. Still, though he wasn’t radiating warmth, he was at least giving me more time to keep running this.

Maynard wasn’t radiating warmth either. “Mortimer, you’re saying she’s hiding from police and you know where. You’re helping to harbour a fugitive from justice? Aiding and abetting isn’t exactly in your job description, is it?”

Jock said, “Nah, we’ll stop that here, Greg. My officer volunteered that he knows where Ms Matatumua is, in – what? – five seconds? – after you tell us there’s a warrant out. First time you mentioned it. If you try to make a problem out of that, Greg, then… Well.”

“All right.” Maynard turned his attention to me. “Jackass. Okay, let’s you and me prove that you’re not harbouring a fugitive. That suit you? So: where is …” His mouth worked for a second. “Ana?”

bored ana“She’s now represented by Jane Siebel.” Maynard let his annoyance show on his face for a second, before he reverted to blank. “But she’s not at the Community Law Centre. She’s in the offices of Kempff, Hsang and Cowper.” This was the firm where Sa’afia worked, where Ana was sitting, phoneless and presumably bored, in the tea room.

Kempff, Hsang and Cowper, all mahogany and mirrored glass, were a much more formidable proposition than the Community Law Centre.

Maynard could imagine ordering his officers to forcibly enter the Community Law Centre to carry out an arrest, but breaching the monied sanctuary of  the Kempff, Hsang and Cowper building was unthinkable.

I added, “I don’t think Ms Cowper will have advised Ana to cooperate with your officers in any way.” Evangeline Cowper was one of the partners, known for taking on feminist causes and civil rights cases. Maynard would dislike her almost as much as he disliked Jane Siebel, and if he had any sense he feared her more. The key words in what I’d said were, “I don’t think Ms Cowper will have advised Ana”, but Maynard was too outraged by then to question the details. 

My phone vibrated in my pocket. Jock didn’t notice but Maynard had good hearing. He looked at me.

Probation Officer #127: An afternoon with the Police 8

Jock sighed. He had no reason to trust me, and he was going to shut me up soon, unless I pulled something worthwhile out of this.

But I’d succeeded in making Maynard angry. He said, “I know her damn name, you little jackass. I’ve just written it on a charge sheet. We’re charging your client with drug possession, at least, and trafficking. It’s a traffickable amount. She’ll be going where you won’t be playing the white knight for her.”

I said, “What’s the drug?”

He ignored me. “And that’s your fault. If you’d been doing your job you’d have been keeping her away from drugs, not telling her to treat my officers with contempt. You’ve got your client Dwane into jail. And if you think we’re going to go easy on Lance Holder you’re insane. That’s two for two. And now Laga’aia.”

“It’s La’asaga. Really, you should just call her Ana.”

fist“Don’t waste my fucking time! You’re a disgrace to the probation service. You’re the most irresponsible officer I’ve ever known.”

“Can I see the charge sheet?”

Maynard smiled. “I don’t think you’ll ever have access to police or probation records after today.”

Jock shook his head. He was thinking Maynard was right. I said, “But today…”

“This should be the last official document you see. Kind of appropriate…” He passed a piece of paper to Jock. “There’s also a warrant for her arrest, of course.” 

Probation Officer #126: An afternoon with the police 7

baggieThe white powder was probably amphetamine or coke, padded out with talcum powder, local anaesthetics, animal tranquilizer and such. At that time the quantity, with an attractive see-through zip-lock sandwich bag thrown in, would set a street buyer back about $500. 

Someone who wasn’t rich would probably divide it into smaller bags, to sell and fund the purchase of another bag. 

But I’d seen that dusty space just three hours ago, in the company of Jane Siebel and Sa’afia. It was under the loose floorboard in Ana’s room. A curled-up spider at one end of the gap, long dead and desiccated, confirmed it. Dust and boards weren’t so distinctive, but I’d seen that little corpse before.

I looked at Maynard. He was watching me. I tried to keep my face straight, giving nothing away. My heart was loud and hard, maybe double speed. His natural bent would be to be cagey, because he was like me. But I needed to make him say that the drugs were Ana’s, and that the police had taken steps to charge her. If he said that in front of Jock, then Jock was a witness, no matter how pissed off he’d be with me.

Maynard would be linked to Curnow’s attempt to pervert the course of justice. He wasn’t party to that conspiracy but it’d make him look a fool, and that wasn’t good for his career. That would make him angrier at Curnow, and the other officers involved, than he was at me. But right now I needed him angry at me. So I breathed out through my nose, like a sort of aural shrug. “You found a baggie at Dwane’s? You think I’ve been advising him that, oh, drugs are good? He should keep them at home?”

Maynard smiled, thin and tight. “This isn’t Dwane’s. This was found, this afternoon, in the room of Tiana…” Maynard paused, irritated. Not being to pronounce Ana’s name was unprofessional.

I didn’t let him try, in case he succeeded. I said, “Tiana Matatumua Vainu’upo La’asaga. Most white people call her Ana.”

Probation Officer #125: An afternoon with the police 6

I said, “Then I’ll look forward to receiving it. If it shows that Dwane didn’t understand the advice he was given, then I think that as a Department, not just me, we’d want to look at ways of getting that information across in an even simpler form. Well, simpler for certain clients.”

Jock grunted again. He thought I was being a bumptious little wanker, but he was enjoying himself. He’d warned me not to think Maynard was a fool, but he didn’t like the man. 

Maynard had picked up an Ipad from his desk and opened the cover, folding it back. He looked at it while he spoke, though he was talking to me. “Oh fine, yes, you may need to rethink the clarity of the advice you give your clients. Very good.” Now he looked at Jock. He felt he’d dealt with me. “But the police view is that the problem in Mr Mortimer’s case isn’t the clarity. It’s the content.”

He passed Jock the Ipad. Jock looked at it, grunted again, and passed it to me. The photo on the screen showed a sandwich bag containing a finger of white powder. It was in what appeared to be a gap between two floorboards, in a very dusty space.

Probation Officer #124: An afternoon with the police 5

I said, “Well, that’s a hypothetical question, isn’t it? It’d only apply if that I really was giving out advice like that.” Jock grunted. He liked that. “But no probation officer, including me, would ever tell a client they can’t be arrested. It’d be, well, insane.”

“So what do you claim you told Mr James?”

“What I tell any client. He has to give his name and address if he’s stopped by a police officer. I also told him he should say where he’s come from and where he’s going if a cop asks him. That’s more than he exactly has to do, you know that, but he’ll never  hold all the relevant law in his head. That advice is close enough and keeps it simple. And absolutely, I told him that if he gets arrested he should go quietly and not get himself into more trouble. That’s the same advice I give to all clients. It’s definitely helpful to the City.” 

I caught myself about to smile and stopped it. Maynard seemed to want to make me the issue, so he had to have more material than this. On the other hand, if he’d bothered to use something that Dwane might or might not have said, he couldn’t have much. Still, it wasn’t a good idea to relax. 

Maynard said, “Mr James made a very different statement about the advice you gave him.”

“Well, I can’t really comment on hearsay.” 

Maynard looked pleased. I was acting defensively, like a suspect. “Okay,” I said. “I’m not even going to make an issue of that. Not now. But I’ve outlined what I actually said to Mr James. It’s the same advice any probation officer would give, and the police have never objected to it. If Dwane really said I’d told him he can’t be arrested, then he’s nuts. Well, okay, he is anyway. More importantly, he’s not telling the truth.”

meatJock said, “Oh come on, Greg. Dwane’s as dumb as a plate of meatloaf. And he was having a psychotic episode, wasn’t he? What the hell does it matter what he said? You know better than this.”

I said, “No, Jock, it’s ok. Commissioner Maynard, if you show me the police record of Dwane’s arrest, including the records, paper or electronic, made at the time, of what he actually said, then I’ll be glad to respond. In as much detail as you’d like. If you’re concerned about this I’ve no intention of being obstructive.”

I may have put a little too much sincere helpfulness into my voice. But by then I didn’t really mind if I annoyed Maynard. 

Maynard gave me a look. We were two public servants having fun. “Yeah, that’s helpful.”

Probation Officer #123: An afternoon with the police 4

A uniformed cop showed us through to the office of the Police Commissioner, who Jock had been calling the Chief. There was faint derision there. 

tanThe Chief – I’m afraid I’m following Jock’s derisive view  – was Greg Maynard, a trim man with tan spectacles, a greenish tan suit, and neat sandy hair. He was waiting in his office, alone. He was confidant he could handle Jock, as the head of a service with less statutory power, a lower profile and smaller budget. Since I was a junior employee, he wasn’t counting me at all.

Jock shook Maynard’s hand and asked after his wife and health, and Maynard made non-answers and asked back.

Then Jock introduced me. I got a handshake but no questions. I repeated my name, and his. We looked at each other then, and though he was about twenty-five years older than I was, we knew and loathed each other in a second.

He was more like me than like Jock. He was a public servant, and he only happened to be working for the police. He could as easily be working for the City’s Finance department, cutting the police budget as ruthlessly as he currently defended it. He was tied to long term goals that had nothing to do with traditions or institutions. We had different goals, but we knew that we were somewhat alike. We smiled at each other like people switching a torch on and off to test it, and then he turned his attention to Jock.

Jock went through his spiel about cooperation between the police and probation services, the long relationship, and so on. I listened to it because I hadn’t heard it delivered in this setting before. Maynard wasn’t listening, and in most senses nor was Jock.

Then Jock looked at me. “The thing we want to resolve at the moment, as you’ll be aware, is the incident involving Lance Holder and some farm worker he thumped, because that farm worker was trying to lock him in a barn. You’ve charged Holder with assault. Under the circumstances, all of the circumstances, we’d like to suggest that that might be unhelpful, not just to Holder, of course, but also to the City of LA. My young colleague here -”

Maynard waved his right hand at Jock like the tail of a fish. “Just a second. I’m happy to talk about Holder, but there have been a couple of other incidents, even more recent, involving your young colleague‘s caseload. I think perhaps we could clear up some things there first. The City of LA might find that helpful. Mr – Mortimer is it? – last week we picked up one of your clients, a Dwane James.”

I said, “Yeah. That was a serious assault. I don’t think there’s going to any disagreement between the police and us over Dwane” 

“Well, when we picked him up, he was quite belligerent. He said my officers had no right to detain him. He said he knew this because his probation officer had told him so. He assaulted one of my officers, based on his probation officer’s advice. Your advice. He’ll be charged with that too. Do you think it’s your job to give advice like that? Do you think that’s helpful to the City of LA?”

He looked at me. So did Jock.

Probation Officer #122: An afternoon with the cops 3

I understood. There was silence until I turned off the road into the police yard. We’d been driving with no talk and his vast, self-contained displeasure hovering like a black cloud beside me.

ministry of fearI was prepared to do harm to the continued good relationship between the police and probation service. If it got in the way of what I wanted too do, particularly for Ana. Jock wasn’t. He had more invested in that relationship than one Samoan girl, a flasher, and a thug who really did belong in jail.

So I understood that I was only afraid of failing. Jock was afraid of me.

I didn’t consider that much of an advantage. I respected Jock. He didn’t know it, which was a failure on my part. Still, his fear was a fact, and I’d have to take it into account.

I parked and Jock got out of the car. He straightened his shirt and tie, and walked ahead of me to the back entrance of the police station. He said, without looking back at me, “Okay. We’re on.” 

Probation Officer #121: An afternoon with the police 2

I was never going to be as fit as Jock. Not even with gym muscles. I was unlikely ever to confront a guy with an axe when I had nothing in my pockets but hands. No one would ever tell awed stories behind my back.

But there was another difference between me and Jock. He cared about the probation service, and he was in the only job he could imagine doing. 

But I only worried about Anna, and Lance, and even the likes of Dwane, though Dwane was psychotically violent at unpredictable intervals and no brighter than a plate of cat food. But I didn’t worry much about the probation service. 

I could imagine our offices closing and a computer firm or a travel company moving in. So long as someone was still working to keep most of the clients out of trouble and out of jail, I didn’t care where they were based. I could easily imagine doing something else, somewhere else, for a living.

The state of California would still need Jock and his colleagues. But to Jock the probation service had a tradition he cared about, and it was part of his home and part of him.

So he sat silent and grim beside me. Finally he said, “All right. You can talk through your issues with your clients. At the meeting.”

“Thank you.”

"You bumptious little wanker."

“You bumptious little wanker.”

“But don’t waste anyone’s time. And remember I’ll be keeping an eye on you, and so will the Chief. And so will any people he takes into this meeting. Say as little as possible, and don’t you ever take them for fools. If you fuck anybody round, and that includes me, you bumptious little wanker, there’ll be consequences.”


“Think of me, angry, as a consequence. A consequence. Do you understand?”