Marcia Clark: 'Guilt By Association'

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At this time of day I didn't have long to wait. Within seconds, the bell rang and I stepped into a blissfully empty car. The elevator hurtled down all eighteen floors and came to a shuddering stop on the first floor. It was a head-?spinning ride that happened only at quiet times like this. I enjoyed the rush as long as I ignored what it meant about the quality of the machinery and my possible life expectancy.

As I walked through the darkened lobby toward the back doors, I stretched my eyes for better peripheral vision. I'd been walking to work ever since I'd moved into the nearby Biltmore Hotel a year ago. It seemed stupid to drive the six blocks to the courthouse, and I enjoyed the walk — it gave me a chance to think. Plus it saved me a bundle in gas and car maintenance. The only time I had second thoughts about it was after dark. Downtown L.A. empties out after 5:00 p.m., leaving a population that lives mainly outdoors. It wasn't the homeless who worried me as much as the bottom-?feeders who preyed on them.

Being a prosecutor gave me an inside line on the danger in any area, but the truth was, I'd grown up with the knowledge that mortal peril lurked around every corner. So although I didn't have a permit to carry, I never left either home or office without a gun. The lack of a permit occasionally worried me, but as my father used to say, "I'd rather be judged by twelve than carried by six." I'd never applied for a permit because I didn't want to get turned down. There'd been a crackdown on gun permits ever since a certain sheriff's brother-in-law had fired "warning shots" at some neighborhood kids for blasting rap music from their car. And, to be honest, permit or no, I was going to carry anyway. Besides, I was no novice when it came to guns. Being my father's daughter, I'd started learning how to shoot the moment I could manage a shaky two-?handed grip. If I had to shoot, I wouldn't miss. I stood at the wall of glass that faced out toward the Times Building and scanned the parking lot and sidewalk, as always, looking for signs of trouble. Seeing nothing, I pushed open the heavy glass door and stepped out into the night.

As I walked toward the stairs that led down to street level, I heard the sound of sirens, distant at first but rapidly getting louder. Suddenly the air was pierced with the whooping screams and bass horn blasts of fire engines. They were close, very close. Police cars, their sirens shrieking, seemed to be approaching from all directions, and the night air jangled with wild energy. I watched intently, waiting to see where they were headed. The flashing lights seemed to stop and coalesce about four blocks south and east of the Biltmore, in the middle of a block I knew was filled with junk stores, iron-?grilled pawnshops, and low-?rent motels. I'd never seen this much action at a downtown crime scene. My usual "neighbors" — druggies, pimps, hookers, and the homeless — generally didn't get this kind of "Protect and Serve" response. My curiosity piqued, I decided to find out what was going on. At least with all those cops around, I wouldn't have to worry about muggers.

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