THE HARLEM SATELLITE office of the social service, nonprofit New York Heart was on 134th Street off St. Nicholas Avenue. The sour scent of sweat and marijuana made Francis X. Mooney nostalgic as he mounted the unswept stairs two by two.
For the past ten years, Mooney had been the main adviser of their legal outreach program, which took on cases for the poorest of the poor. He stared at the posters and photographs of the organization’s community theater and community garden that covered the stairwell walls and smiled. New York Heart was truly a labor of love.
“What’s cooking, kids?” Francis said after he gathered the half dozen social workers in the cramped conference room ten minutes later.
Francis X. smiled around the battered table at the lanky twenty-somethings. He remembered being that young, having that fire in the belly to set things straight. Not every young person was a selfish, whining brat, he thought.
“I just got your message this morning, Kurt,” he said. “How’s Mr. Franklin’s case going?”
Kurt, the social service’s in-house law advocate, looked up from his bagel and cream cheese. He’d gone to Ford-ham and hadn’t passed the bar yet, but Francis had faith in him. The kid’s heart was in the right place.
“The reason I called is that Mr. Franklin’s last appeal pretty much got slam-dunked into the shitter, Francis,” he said between bites. “The fuckers are going to fry him this Friday, and the rednecks down there will probably tailgate in the prison parking lot. What are you going to do? Hope the Republicans are happy. Another one bites the dust.”
Francis couldn’t believe it as chuckles exploded around the room. Mr. Reginald Franklin, the son of a destitute local resident, and borderline retarded, was about to be executed by the American government. How was that funny?
“Did you look over the habeas corpus?” Francis said.
“Of course,” Kurt said. “The appeals court decided to go by the trial record.”
“That’s what they always do,” Francis said, raising his voice now. “Did you get a copy of the police report, like I told you to? Did you look into the adequacy of his first attorney? The man supposedly fell asleep at one point.”
The room was silent now. Kurt set his bagel on the table as he sat up.
“No, I didn’t get a chance,” he finally said. “I did call you.”
“Didn’t get a chance? Didn’t get a chance!” Francis yelled. His chair made a thunderous shriek as he leapt up. “Are you out of your fucking mind? The man is about to die!”
“Jeez, Francis,” Kurt mumbled with his head down. “Relax.”
“I won’t,” Francis X. said. He didn’t want to cry. Not in front of these kids, but he couldn’t help it. A torrent of hot tears poured down his reddened face.
“I can’t relax, don’t you see?” he said as he stormed out. “There’s no more time.”