Day In Day Out
The long-legged figure racing down the sidewalk was a familiar and pleasant sight to the bleary-eyed doormen as she flashed by them. Morning had just arrived on the city's doorstep and was making herself at home before rousing the house's unsuspecting inhabitants. Even a place as big as New York City had to sleep sometime, and that quiet hour just as the sun crept over the horizon was the time when even its most relentless inhabitants put their heads down to rest.
Ironically, it was the time when Abbie Carmichael was most awake and alive.
She had grown up in wide open spaces, her vision mostly unchecked by people or things-- and a part of her still hadn't adjusted to the change, even after all this time. On her worst days, amidst the city's towering buildings and constant crush of people, she had to fight down the urge just to start running and not stop until she saw the uninterrupted horizon and could take a breath free of the rank foulness that was the city's signature scent.
Abbie wasn't a big believer in meditation, and the nearest she'd come to a transcendental experience was that time in Mexico when she ate the worm-- but she'd be the first to admit that the early morning's hour was the closest to a place of peace that she could find in the cacophony of her daily life. The run cleared her mind of the previous day's debris, ordered her thoughts, and determined the rhythm of the hours to come. And sometimes-- those rare occasions when the pavement fairly flew underneath her feet-- she could ride the endorphin high all day long.
Yet this morning-- as had been happening every morning since she first met the tall, blond detective -- she found herself ruminating instead over the impact Jill Kirkendall was unwittingly having on her life. They had only shared one brief night in each other's arms-- hadn't even, in fact, made love-- and yet, Carmichael couldn't seem to stop trying to carve out a small space for herself in the other woman's life. The pair had reached a tentative understanding when the ADA had been called to cover the 15th precinct until a permanent assignment could be made to that station house. Despite what she suspected were mutual feelings of attraction, Abbie held no illusions about the likelihood of anything romantic growing out of their new friendship.
Were she brutally honest with herself, Abbie would have to admit that she took a great deal of comfort from that knowledge.
She could count on one hand the number of lovers she had willingly taken in her life, and only to one of these had she said the words, "I love you..." Those three words, uttered low and filled with dazed wonder as she lay spent and sated in the golden tangle of her lover's arms, had cost her everything. She hadn't been much more than a child herself when she'd said them-- though she had been two years gone in college. In the unthinking and selfish way of children, she had known only that her lover restored a sense of wholeness to a body that had been violated and a spirit that had been shamed and very nearly broken. She hadn't stopped once to consider what it might mean to the rest of her world. And she had paid for that recklessness dearly.
Shaking her head roughly, Abbie picked up the pace and lengthened her stride-- as if she could shake the past off her heels simply by outrunning it. Her thoughts of Jill, however, inevitably seemed to tangle themselves in all that she had left behind and drag her right back to where she started, leaving her winded by the chase and confused about what eluding the pursuit would mean.
Fortunately, the faintly shrill bleating of the cell phone attached to her hip called the hunt off early for the day and led her back to the here and now with its insistent noise.
It took her a few, long strides to bleed off the momentum she had built; and when she finally did, she snatched the phone from its resting spot and glared at its calmly green digital read-out. Worry adding its distinctive beat to her already thundering heart, she trotted out of the line of any potential traffic and snapped the phone on. "Carmichael," she answered, too-aware of the ragged sound of her breath and hoping that McCoy or whomever it was wouldn't draw the natural conclusions-- or at least the ones that made for good water cooler gossip.
"Ms. Carmichael, I have a request from Mr. Schiff." The coolly-elegant tones of District Attorney Adam Schiff's secretary, Evangeline, rang precisely in her ear. If the all-purpose secretary/administrative aid/ scheduling goddess had any interest in what ADA Carmichael was doing gasping for breath at six in the morning, her voice certainly didn't indicate it. They said Evangeline had been with Schiff from the beginning; and as Schiff's burdens weighed heavier and heavier on his already-stooped shoulders, Evangeline only seemed to grow sharper and more precise-- if a bit grayer-- as though the years had honed her efficiency with its razor's edge.
Phone calls at odd hours of the night or morning were nothing new to Abbie; but since she had moved from the whirly-gig insanity of the Narcotics Division-- where strange hours were the norm-- the calls had tapered off. Now her first fear was that McCoy had finally cracked himself up or worse on that goddamned hog of his. "And that might be?" she prompted unnecessarily.
"Mr. Schiff requests your presence at a crime scene. Are you available?"
Not that she had much of an option. Like it or not, Adam Schiff was God in her world. He had hired her out of law school, put her in narcotics, and then given her the plum assignment as ADA to his prot�g�, Jack McCoy-- over others who would argue they were more qualified than the loud-mouthed and admittedly young Texan. Carmichael herself wasn't sure why the old man had become her unlikely champion, and even she lacked the brass ones it would take to ask him. Still, she wasn't about to let an opportunity to prove herself pass by. If Schiff had asked her to come over and walk his dogs, Carmichael would have been hard-pressed to say no. "Sure," she said, cursing the coin toss that had clipped the phone to the wallet pack strapped around her hips. "What's the 20?" She closed her eyes to memorize the address that Evangeline rattled off with annoying precision and then repeated it just to be sure.
"He would like you there as soon as possible."
Abbie rolled her eyes in irritation. She was standing in the middle of what would be, in a few hours, one of the busiest residential streets in New York City-- and she was wearing nothing but her running shoes, a pair of old gray shorts and a cut-off Longhorns T-shirt. A few cabs were beginning to return the Young Turks home from their night's revelries, and she figured she could catch one of them back to her apartment, grab a swift shower and a change of clothes. There was no way in hell she was going to a crime scene dressed like this. "Give me 45 minutes, max. Okay?"
"Yes, Ms. Carmichael." Abbie thought she detected a faint note of disapproval in Evangeline's even tone and immediately began wondering how she could shave minutes off her time. "I'll let him know. Please check in with him as soon as you assess the situation. That will be all."
"Happy freaking morning to you too." Carmichael muttered under her breath as she heard the assistant ring off. "Christ, this is not how I like to start the day..."
She hadn't been dead that long.
A faint warmth that ironically sent a chill through Diane Russell as she checked for a pulse still clung to the lifeless body. It was a godawful way to die, Russell reflected, and she wondered just how many times the girl had seen the knife slashing towards her before she had finally given up the fight.
Judging from the number of defensive wounds just on the girl's hands and arms, it had been far too many.
Careful not to disturb the girl's final resting place before the CSU had taken all their pictures, Diane backed away from the body and examined her surroundings. It was a typical alley in many respects, a place wide enough for trucks to sandwich their way through and make deliveries, but not intended for through traffic. There were the usual dumpsters at either end of the alley; but overall, it was oddly free of the debris and darkness that usually made places like this breeding grounds for crime and violence. The owners of the businesses that shared the alley had pitched in together and bought four sets of spotlights-- to keep, they said, things like this from happening.
It hadn't worked. Each of the spotlights had been shattered, mostly likely with the fist-sized chunks of broken asphalt found near the shards of glass scattered over the ground. Diane didn't hold any hope of getting prints off their porous surfaces, but she had CSU bag it anyway.
A murmur from the uniforms around the perimeter rose behind her in an appreciative wave; and Russell cocked her head in that direction, a smile tugging at her face as a very distinctive figure came into focus.
Carmichael was too preoccupied with clipping her DA's badge to a long chain and slipping it over her head to notice Diane's eyes upon her. Russell took the moment to smile at the familiar leather jacket Abbie wore that hung to mid-thigh. When they were both in narcotics, Diane had borrowed the garment so many times that Carmichael finally went out and bought her one just like it. Russell had accepted the gift, although she never had quite enough nerve to tell Abbie that the only reason she was so fond of the jacket was because it carried the other woman's distinctive scent embedded in its seams.
To Diane, there had always been something fundamentally reassuring about Abbie Carmichael. Maybe it was because Carmichael's smoky tenor had talked her through so many operations, or because her arms were the strength that had held Russell up in the aftermath of her worst benders, or simply because Abbie had never blinked in the face of all Diane's pain. She had been so resolutely steadfast in her composure that, when Russell had finally seen Abbie break, it had been too much-- and the memory of her own behavior still shamed Diane to this day.
She hadn't had another close female friend until Jill Kirkendall became her partner-- and that friendship had been born of a mutual attraction to the same man and cemented during his death. Without Jill, Russell didn't know how she would have made it through losing Bobby-- in fact, she almost hadn't-- but the other detective had been right there for her through every step.
The same way Abbie would have been, Diane suspected, had Russell given her the chance.
Catching the attorney's attention, she waved Abbie over, grinning at her unusually casual attire. "This the new look for the DA's office?" she asked, pointedly staring at Carmichael's 501s, black T-shirt, and black boots.
"It is when you drag us out to a crime scene at the crack of dawn. As I recall, the folks in narco didn't seem to mind too much."
"That's because they were all too busy staring at your ass," Russell shot back.
"Is there a problem with my ass?"
"Only when it's standing in my way." The voice that interrupted them was gruff and irritated. "Like it is now."
Carmichael cast a questioning glance at the round detective who shouldered his way past them and towards the body. She noted with a critically approving eye that, despite his abrupt demeanor, he was wearing latex gloves and stayed within the narrow, tape-marked line that the CSU set up as their corridor to the body.
Russell sighed in resigned exasperation and shrugged. "Andy, this is Carmichael from the DA's office. Abbie, this is Andy Sipowicz. We're both at the 15th."
"I thought Kirkendall was your partner?"
"I am." At Jill's increasingly familiar and deep tones, a flush ran through Abbie's body having nothing to do with the machine-gun pace she had been keeping this morning. "How's it going, Carmichael?" The greeting was loose and nonchalant, but the quiet smile on Jill's lips belonged to Abbie alone.
"Hey, Kirkendall," she returned, equally casual. "So, all you guys caught this together?"
"Ayup," Russell affirmed.
"So, what is this we all seem to have caught?"
"This..." Sipowicz pronounced, strolling over to the body and gesturing towards it grandly. "Is your usual fag bashing, only instead of a fag with his head beat in, we got us a dyke done with a Psycho routine."
Andy's dismissive tones made Carmichael's skin crawl, but she noticed the swiftly exchanged glances between Russell and Kirkendall and forced herself to not miss a step. "How do you know she's a dyke?"
"Cause she's wearin' them, you know, colors?"
"She's wearing colors? As in gang colors?" Couldn't hurt to play with him a little, she supposed.
"No, no..." He gestured towards the dead woman's head and the necklace made of black twine and metal rings. "Them rainbows. You know..."
"You mean freedom rings," she supplied.
"Yeah. Freedom rings. Whatever. She's wearin' 'em."
"Do we have any reason to believe that her attackers knew she was gay? Other than the rings, of course."
"Well, we haven't asked for a list of her old girlfriends yet, but look around you," Sipowicz retorted. "We ain't in the middle of suburbia here."
"What, exactly, do you mean?" she ground out.
Picking up on the hard line of Carmichael's jaw and the level-voiced darkness in her tone, Russell interrupted. "Both the businesses on either side of the alley are gay bars. It's a pretty safe bet that anyone hanging around here knew that."
"Oh shit," Carmichael muttered, running a hand through her hair. "Well, at least I know why Schiff wanted me down here for the investigation."
"Why's that?" Sipowicz asked, a touch of antagonism coloring his voice.
Abbie didn't bother to suppress her irritation any longer. "Detective, if you read the papers, you'd know that the National Gay and Lesbian Coalition Against Hate Crimes is meeting here in New York for the next two weeks."
"Uh-oh..." Kirkendall and Russell chimed in unison.
"Uh-oh is right. Just about every member of the gay and lesbian press is town. If it is a gay bashing, we are probably-- to put it mildly and pardoning my language-- royally screwed. Aside from the fact that someone was just brutally murdered, this has public relations disaster written all over it from a political point of view. No doubt my bossman wants everyone to know that the DA's office is on the ball with this one. Particularly since our recent track record regarding gay bashing has been less than stellar. And let's not forget that next year is an election year."
"Sounds like somebody just handed you a bag of crap," Sipowicz commented solemnly.
Abbie barked a short laugh. "You'd be right about that, Detective."
"Well, I hate to add to your burden there, Ms. Carmichael..." Sipowicz pointed to three approaching figures. "But it looks like the shit shovelers have arrived."
"No pictures, please." The palm of one hand neatly covered the camera's lens while the other arm snagged the still photographer about to traipse all over the crime scene. "Whoa there, big boy. Where do you think you're going?"
He looked at Abbie as though she were a particularly slow specimen of some inferior life form. "To take pictures." He waved his press pass under her nose. "See? I'm a photographer with the New York Times."
Though her first instinct was to snatch the laminated badge from his hands and shove it down his throat, Abbie took a deep breath and counted to five before speaking. "I don't care if you're Annie-Freaking-Lebowitz... you trample that crime scene and I'm gonna have to explain to a jury why it's your size 12 sneaker by the body and not the killer's. That's not the kinda thing that exactly inspires trust in a jury. You know what I mean?"
He opened his mouth to argue with her, but they were interrupted by a quietly firm voice.
"Well, can we just stand over here and film then?" The voice belonged to an exquisitely slender woman with close-cropped black curls that highlighted deep, green eyes and skin the color of rich caramel. She gestured to the video man behind her and smiled at Carmichael with the deceptive openness of a seasoned television reporter.
Abbie knew some sort of con in play-- she could see the blinking red light that indicated the camera was on. "Well, ma'am, I can't stop you from doing that," she drawled, her voice unconsciously dropping an octave as she stepped front and center to block his camera angle. "But do you know how many false tips and confessions the police get on the average high-profile case? It's in the hundreds. And most of them are easy to discount because the caller doesn't have knowledge of the modus operandi or the crime scene. You put that scene back there on the air, and those calls will triple, I guarantee you. And it will be twice as hard to sift through them because all the crackballs can describe this place. You telling me that you want the police to spend their time dealing with that instead of finding this perp?"
The reporter smirked at her. "Next thing I know is that you'll be saying that most crimes are solved within 48 hours or not at all, right Detective?"
"You're right. The window of opportunity closes really fast, and we need to take advantage of whatever we can as quickly as possible. I'm sorry if you find that amusing." Carmichael leveled her with a stare. "And I'm not a Detective."
"I'm not a cop."
"You look like a cop." The reporter grinned at her again, this time openly playful. "Well I know you're not a press officer." When Carmichael merely arched a questioning brow, she gestured at Abbie's clothes. "One of them wouldn't be caught dead in front of a camera in Levi's."
"Ah... good to know for the future."
To Abbie's surprise, the reporter offered her a hand that Carmichael shook warily. "I'm Christienne Turner, by the way. Good to meet you."
The name rang a bell in the recesses of Abbie's mind. "Oh, you do that public affairs show on Sunday. What is it? New York something?"
"New York Now," she replied, chuckling lightly. "I also anchor the six o'clock news for WST."
"Sorry," Abbie apologized half-heartedly. "But I'm never home at six o'clock."
"Out fighting crime?" A mocking gleam entered the reporter's eyes, telling Abbie she was being toyed with.
"Well, I'm not Batman or anything."
"No cape, huh?"
"Nary a one."
"So, who are you?"
"My secret identity, you mean?" She shrugged diffidently. "I'm Carmichael with the DA's office."
"The DA's office? You've made an arrest already? Looks like you didn't need that 48 hours after all."
"The investigation is still in its initial stages. District Attorney Schiff wants to make sure we co-ordinate our effort with those of the NYPD." Seeing a chance to wrap the conversation up, Carmichael decided not to waste any time. "And I really don't have anything to add to that. As soon as we have something to release to the press, I'll make sure you have it ASAP. Okay? Thanks for being patient." She offered a tentative smile to the reporter and nodded curtly at the photographer before turning to go.
"Oh, Ms. Carmichael?" Turner called her back, a misleadingly ingenuous smile on her face. "You called this case high-profile. What makes this case so special?"
Abbie didn't miss a beat. Returning the smile in kind, she pointed at the reporter. "Your presence, Ms. Turner. I'm sure WST wouldn't just let you run around on their dime for no good reason." Then she pointed at the camera. "And don't think for one minute that I didn't know that thing was turned on."
Turner shrugged and grinned openly at Carmichael. "Well, if I can't show the crime scene, I might as well give the viewers something good to look at. Right?"
In reply, Abbie only rolled her eyes before motioning some uniformed officers to set up a perimeter just outside the alleyway to keep curious bystanders-- not to mention reporters-- out of the crime scene proper.
"How's the crap?" Sipowicz asked as she made her way back to the detectives' sides.
"Hip deep. I'm gonna need some waders soon."
Jill glanced over her shoulder to where Turner and her cameraman still stood. "Isn't that the woman who does the six o'clock news?"
"Yeah." Carmichael grimaced. "And I think she was kinda pissed off that I didn't know who she was."
"You don't watch the news?"
"Nah," she grinned at Kirkendall. "All they talk about is crime. All that bad news brings me down."
"How was your run?"
The abrupt change in subject startled Carmichael, but she had been rolling with conversational punches all morning. She figured one more wouldn't kill her. "Interrupted." She slipped her hands in her pockets and studied Jill out of the corner of her eye. This was the first time the detective had referred to the night they had spent together. "I'm surprised you remember," she remarked quietly.
"It's not likely that I'm gonna forget anyone who tells me they voluntarily get up at dawn."
"I see..." Carmichael ducked her head to hide her disappointment at the flip answer, but a gentle hand on her arm brought her eyes unwaveringly to Kirkendall's.
"Or anything else you said that night."
They regarded each other silently until Russell's approach interrupted them. "Hey, guys-- you wanna take a ride down to the House? The women who found her want to talk down there. "
"Can't really blame them," Abbie remarked, feeling Jill's hand drop away and ignoring the questioning glance Diane was shooting her. "We I.D. the vic yet?"
"Andy found a driver's license. Medavoy and Martinez are chasing down the next of kin."
"Great. I'll check in with the bossman once we get to the House." She winked at Kirkendall as they began making their way to the unmarked cars. "I'm riding shotgun."
"Victim's name was Stephanie Pruitt. She was twenty-seven, stockbroker at some tony brokerage house on Wall Street. Parents live in Iowa-- they're flying in tonight. Eight-year, committed relationship with a woman she met at Columbia University where they both attended college. Her lover's a first-chair violinist for the symphony-- they were performing in DC at the Kennedy Center last night-- she's already caught the shuttle up here. Detectives Medavoy and Martinez are with her now. Work associates and friends say that Stephanie was openly gay and politically active. For the last few years, she's was sitting on the board of a local gay youth in crisis center as well as volunteering as a rape crisis counselor." Carmichael finished her run-down of the victim of this morning's murder and stared expectantly at both her bosses.
She had remained standing throughout the conversation, though Schiff was seated behind his desk and McCoy was slumped into one of the chairs opposite the desk. Jack had been uncharacteristically silent during her report; now Schiff glanced at him in a wordless prompt.
McCoy wasn't sure what Adam was up to-- Jack had come in this morning to find a note on his desk saying that Abbie was out of the office working a homicide in the 15th precinct. Nothing unusual in that, and he had put it out of his mind until Schiff called him into the office at noon and turned on the news. There Abbie was, larger than life-- well, as large as the small fifteen-inch screen could make her-- fielding banter from WST's star anchor with smooth nonchalance. He had to admit, if Schiff was looking to put a young and aggressive face on the District Attorney's office, he couldn't have made a better choice. Standing there in her jeans and leather jacket, yet as professionally composed as ever, Carmichael radiated intelligence and an almost cocksure confidence in what she was doing. "Another poster child," he muttered, not sure if he was thinking of Stephanie Pruitt or the woman standing in front of him.
"With due respect Jack, another dead poster child," she retorted, unaware of his private thoughts. "Murdered for no other reason than she was gay."
"We don't know that," McCoy objected, falling into the devil's advocate role she usually played for him. "Not for sure. It could have been a robbery."
Abbie shot him a scathing look as if to say "What planet are you living on?"
"You find any cash or credit cards?" he asked, ignoring the hardness in her eyes.
"No, but her I.D. was in her back pocket. She could have spent the cash and not carried credit cards. She was also still wearing her Columbia class ring and a pretty nice Bulova watch. When you add that to the fact that she was murdered in an alley that separated two gay bars-- it's not a far reach to conclude that whoever did this was looking to kill somebody gay."
"Anybody report any trouble there earlier in the night? Anyone strange hanging out?" Schiff interjected, seeing the signs of another full-blown, McCoy-Carmichael fifteen rounder brewing.
Carmichael shook her head, returning to the matter at hand. "No. And both clubs' owners said that they had a pretty mixed clientele-- men and women with a smattering of 'hip'-- their word-- straight people."
"So you're saying your killer wouldn't have necessarily stood out."
"Killers," Abbie corrected. "ME said he couldn't say for sure until he looked more closely, but he was guessing there were two blades-- one with serrated edges and one without."
"Jesus," Schiff murmured.
"She had over two dozen defensive wounds on her arms alone. Two of them armed with knives, and she still fought like hell. She didn't go easy, sir." Carmichael leaned forward, her arms bracing themselves on Schiff's desk as dark eyes fixed firmly on the District Attorney. "I want these bastards," she said, her voice low and ardent. "I want them to burn for what they did. What they took away from this community. That girl was going places-- she had a life, sir, a life-- goddamn them. And they took it for no other reason than she was something they couldn't understand." Her body shook with more emotion than Jack could have fathomed she possessed, yet Carmichael seemed oddly restrained-- as if she knew she was just this side of out-of-control.
"This one's gonna be under the klieg lights," Schiff remarked. "And not just the normal crime beat folks."
"Yes sir, I know that." She leaned back and dropped gracefully into the chair beside McCoy. "And I know there's a national gay coalition in the city talking about hate crimes this week."
"The timing couldn't be worse," Adam admitted.
"What if the timing's not coincidental?" Jack asked.
"We're already looking into that," Carmichael acknowledged the possibility. "We've got two detectives investigating any threats to coalition members or the hotel where the conference is being held. We're also checking to see if Stephanie had any ties to it. So far it looks like she wasn't going to be attending, but we haven't talked to all the members. And we haven't checked the press credentials of reporters who are in town specifically covering the meeting. We thought we'd see if there was any reason to think she might have known any of them before we tip our hand-- they are the press, after all."
"You're doing this quietly, I assume?"
She looked at the district attorney wryly. "As quietly as possible when there are several hundred conference attendees, not to mention support staff, hotel employees, and freelance help. This thing isn't exactly a Kwianis club meeting. But we're concentrating most of our efforts on tracking down and talking to the people who were at both clubs last night. Thank god it was a weeknight and they weren't as crowded as they could have been."
"The owners are co-operating fully?"
"So far. There are some good folks up there at the 1-5. They've handled the owners perfectly."
"You need any help in that department?"
"I thought about calling Special Vics to talk to some of the club patrons. I know it's a kind of outside of their purview, but they're a little more empathetic than your average run-of-the-mill plainclothes detective. Might ease their discomfort level a bit. We'll see if the need arises."
Schiff nodded a moment, as if coming to some silent conclusion. "All right. Sounds like you've got your bases covered. Keep running with it." He pointed at the EADA who was looking at him with unconcealed surprise. "You need any help, you see Jack. Now get out of here, it's after seven-- and I know you haven't stopped all day."
"Yes, sir. Thank you." She rose to go but was halted by the DA's gruff voice.
"And Abbie... tomorrow, try to wear a skirt." A gleam twitched in his eye, belying his serious tone. "The leather jacket may have looked great on TV, but we try at least to pretend we're professionals around here."
She smirked in reply. "Will do, boss. I'll catch you later, Jack."
Schiff waited until Carmichael closed the door before rising from behind his desk and strolling over to the corner cabinet where he poured himself a drink. "Well... go ahead." He looked at Jack expectantly.
"Go ahead what?" McCoy did his best to keep an expression of casual disinterest on his face, but judging by the sly chuckles emanating from the district attorney, he was failing miserably.
"Tell me what a big mistake you think I'm making in letting Carmichael run with this. Go ahead, you've never stood on protocol before."
Jack ran a hand through his already-ruffled hair in exasperation. "Well... Adam... I don't think it's the smartest thing you've ever done."
Schiff's chuckles became genuine laughs as he sat on the sofa and regarded his old prot�g� and friend. "My boy, I didn't know you had that much diplomacy left in those old bones of yours." He held his glass up in silent salute. "Now tell me why you think that."
Jack sputtered for a moment, then rose and paced the length of the office. More than anything he wished for the comforting weight of the glass that Adam now held in his hand, but he didn't drink in front of anyone anymore. In fact, as far as everybody knew, he had quit drinking entirely. He wasn't sure why he was so nonplused by Schiff's actions. Abbie was... well... Abbie... and she had been a bone of contention between Adam and himself from the day she first blew into his office with that arrogant smile and those unwavering eyes. "I just... don't think she's ready," he finally said, relying on the excuse-- wearing increasingly thin as the months went by-- that had been his objection to her since the beginning.
"She's been in your office almost two years, Jack. Four more with Narcotics. Just how much experience do you think she needs before you trust her?"
Trust... As usual, Adam's blunt question cut to the heart of the matter. He didn't trust Abbie Carmichael. Not in his head, not in his gut, and certainly not in his heart. Not the way he had Claire. Or even, eventually, Jamie. For the life of him, he couldn't explain why, and at times like this it gnawed at him. He spread his hands helplessly before him. "I don't know, Adam. Why do you trust her so much?"
Schiff finished his drink in a quick swallow and rose awkwardly to pour himself another. "When I look at that girl..." He pointed at the door Carmichael had just exited. "I see the future." He looked at McCoy closely. "I'm the past, Jack. I know that. The best thing I can do now is offer what guidance I can to you both. When I stop being helpful... I'll step down." Jack started to protest, but he waved the other man's words away. "Don't worry, that's not going to happen anytime soon. I have to stick around a while longer, if only to keep you two from killing each other."
"You think Abbie Carmichael is the future of this office?" McCoy shook his head incredulously. "I'm sorry, Adam, but I just don't see that."
"Have you really looked?" He settled himself back behind his desk and motioned Jack to his seat, waiting until McCoy was sprawled back into the leather office chair before he continued. "You want to know the first time I ever saw Abbie Carmichael? She was twenty-one years old and captain of this tiny little nothing debate team for the University of Texas."
"Debate team?" Jack sat up slightly in his chair. The few times Carmichael had talked about college, she had mentioned only track teams and football games-- and nothing of her academic life.
"It was at the 1988 NDTA Championship-- where five Supreme Court Justices were deciding the first true national debate championship in twenty years."
"She was there watching it?" It would be just like Abbie to bulldoze her way into meeting the man who ran the largest and most powerful District Attorney's office in the country. Some said that after the Attorney General herself, Adam Schiff was the most important law enforcement figure in the country.
"Watching it?" Schiff snorted. "Hell, Jack, she was arguing it! The University of Texas had come out of nowhere to win the Western Regionals and was debating Harvard in the finals. Nobody knew who the hell this girl and her partner were. You think she's fire and brimstone now? You should have heard her-- those Harvard boys looked like they had been poleaxed."
"What was the issue?"
"Well, that makes sense," Jack scoffed. "She's always been a hang 'em high..."
"She wasn't arguing the affirmative. UT lost the toss and she had to argue the negative position. In her summation she said, 'The greatest injustice of the death penalty isn't the one perpetrated on the condemned... but rather the one we perpetrate upon ourselves when we allow this to happen. Capital punishment gives us the God-like power of life and death... and yet He says, "Thou shalt not murder..." Capital punishment isn't about justice, it's about vengeance... and that belongs to no man... only God.' I have never heard a silence in a courtroom like the one after she finished. Right then, I knew I wanted that girl in this office."
"Powerful stuff," Jack admitted. "I just wish she believed it."
"Funny thing is, Jack, I think she does."
"You think she doesn't believe in the death penalty?"
"No, Jack, I think what she does believe in-- is justice. In doing whatever it takes to make sure justice is served. And that, not her conviction record, what persuaded me to move her up here with you. I knew you two would fight like cats and dogs-- you're too much alike not to-- but I always thought you'd give her a fair chance."
"We are not alike," he protested, conveniently ignoring Adam's last sentence.
"Yes you are-- you're both stubborn as all get out, you both want to lead the band, and neither one of you wants to march to the other's tune."
McCoy chuckled darkly. "Sounds like a bad student production of The Taming of the Shrew. Maybe I should just marry her."
"Somehow, Jack my boy, I don't think you're her type."
"What does that mean?"
"It doesn't mean anything." Schiff waved the comment away. "But I'm serious about this, McCoy. This situation can't continue. I want her on point on this case, but she's going to need help."
"Me?" He pointed at himself mockingly, arching his brows. "What makes you think she needs my help? She's the future, after all. I think I should just step aside and let it roll."
Schiff's eyes darkened, and his face took on a stone-hardened cast that McCoy rarely saw anymore. It was the look that had terrified him as a green ADA-- along with not a few other judges, lawyers, and criminals. Jack was astonished to realize that the look still had a similar impact on him today. "You don't get it, do you, McCoy? You're too involved in your self-pity and bellyaching to realize that I'm not talking about your job or mine. I think this girl could be the next Attorney General of the United States. She's that good. She's that hungry. I look at her and I see everything you could have been before you pissed it away in the bottom of a scotch bottle."
McCoy jerked his head up and stared in astonishment at his boss. Adam and he had always had a certain degree of familiarity between them, but it had never gone this far.
"Why did you do it, Jack? Why?" Schiff ignored the muted gasp from his EADA and shook his head uncomprehendingly. "That's what I don't understand. Was it because you realized the Sixties were over and your peace-love-and-understanding revolution was never going to happen? Because the bad guys got away once too often? Because the woman you loved died in a stupid, pointless accident?
"You took your bruised ideals and wouldn't play the game anymore. You settled for being good when you could have been great. You think you're devoted to this job, but not really, Jack. You're devoted to keeping up appearances. But it won't work anymore." Schiff leaned back in his chair and waved disgustedly at his prot�g�. "So go ahead and pour yourself a drink. I know you want one."
"I... I didn't know you thought so little of me, Adam." Even to himself, McCoy's voice was stilted, as if strained to its very limit. He stood and made his way to the tiny bar with the unsteady gait of someone who has taken a catastrophic blow to the head.
"You're wrong, Jack. I think the world of you. I don't have much patience anymore for your cowardice, however."
The scotch burned its way through his consciousness, soothing the frayed neurons in its path. Fortified by the drink-- yet shamed by his desire for it-- he turned to face his boss. "Maybe you're right. Maybe I was like Abbie is now-- her ideals, as you call them, haven't gotten bruised. She's young..."
"You still think she's some idealistic kid?" Schiff laughed in disbelief.
"You don't know a damn thing about your partner, Jack. Let me ask you something... Did you know they threatened to take her scholarship away if she pressed charges against that boy who raped her?"
McCoy jerked his head up at the question. He still remembered vividly the day Abbie had told him about the rape. The matter-of-fact-tone in her voice had been unnerving, but more unsettling to him was the intimate nature of the confession itself. He had set her up as his adversary from day one, took a perverse pleasure in clashing with her-- all the while telling himself that he was testing her, tempering her instincts and making her back up her shoot-from-the-hip attitude with hard facts and provable cases. Her quiet words, "I blamed myself for a long time... I don't anymore..." made her seem at once more vulnerable and stronger to him. It also threatened to cast Carmichael in a light that he wasn't sure he wanted to see her in-- a human one.
"Yes, I know all about it." Schiff waved the unasked question away. "Our background guys found out about the incident when they were running the check on her before we offered her the job. She's a working class kid, Jack, that scholarship was the only way she could go to school at all. But he was a rich and a law student..."
"So they told her not to make waves or else."
"Essentially. When I asked her about it, she said that sometimes surviving was the only justice there was, and there was no shame in accepting that. But it wasn't going to stop her from trying for something more."
Abbie had never been to Smitty's, the pub where she had agreed to meet Diane; but she recognized it instantly as a cop's bar, populated with mostly uniformed officers who were now off-duty and in their street clothes. A few clusters of plainclothes filled some of the rickety tables and the booths that lined the side of the wall. As her eyes roved over the faces searching for Russell's, an all-too familiar voice chuckled behind her. "Hey Hollywood... you were lookin' pretty good on TV this afternoon. We should put you up against Johnnie Cochran on that Celebrity Death Match thing."
"Nah," she replied lazily, turning around to confront friendly dark brown eyes filled with a rare good humor. "No contest-- I'd take him in two rounds flat." She dropped into the booth beside the Special Victims Unit detective and nodded to the man seated across from her. "Scootch over some."
"Hey, I was here first," Olivia Bensen objected, but nonetheless complied.
"Yeah, and I'm here now. Deal with it. How're you doing, Elliot?" she asked Olivia's partner, ignoring the discreet poke in the ribs from the woman beside her.
"Can't complain, Abbie. You?"
Carmichael rolled her eyes. "Well, you know that book about the old guy who hooks a huge fish and gets towed across the ocean? I think I'm the old guy."
"You do seem to be the flavor du jour," Olivia agreed, pouring Abbie a glass of beer from the half-empty pitcher on the table.
Abbie frowned. "Then wouldn't that would make me the fish?"
"I've called the press a pack of sharks more than once in my career," Eliott offered.
"Great. By this time next week then, there shouldn't be anything left of me but skin and bones."
"Aww... poor baby. Have another beer." Knowing that she was one of the few people in the NYPD that could openly tease Abbie Carmichael and get away with it, Bensen took shameless advantage of it in their off-duty hours. They were two of a kind in many ways-- both dark-haired, dark-eyed, with a relentless sense of justice and a burning desire to see it served.
"Liv, I haven't even had my first one yet."
"Then drink up, girl, you've catching up to do. Speaking of which-- what are you doing here? Not that Eliott and I mind the company, but I thought you didn't play on weeknights?"
"I'm not playing. I'm meeting somebody, but if I sit down alone I'll become prey. Cops don't like being told no."
"We'll protect you, Abbie," Eliott promised solemnly, only the slight gleam in his eyes betraying his humor.
"Meeting somebody? You have a hot date?"
Carmichael shot her a withering glare. "Not a hot date, an old friend. And look, there she is."
Russell's distinctive brown curls and angular features caught more than one approving eye, but she moved through the crowd determinedly, smiling in relief when she saw Abbie's hand motioning her over. "Hey, sorry I'm late."
"Don't worry about it," Carmichael waved the apology away. "Diane Russell, this is Olivia Bensen and Eliott Stabler of the SVU. Diane's plainclothes in the 15th."
"How you doin'?" Russell nodded in greeting. "They gonna sit in on the questioning tomorrow?"
"What questioning?" The partners chorused.
"That case that got me on TV. It looks like a gay bashing at a night club," Carmichael explained. "I was going to see if maybe a couple of the SVU could shake loose and help talk to some of the patrons who were there."
"Don't see why not," Olivia replied. "Talk to Cragen in the morning and we'll see what we can do."
"Terrific." Abbie grinned at her friend and rose to stand beside Diane. "I appreciate it, Liv. Now we're gonna let you finish your fries. Eliott, see you later."
"Take it easy, Abbie."
They made their way across the scuffed and stained hardwood floor to another booth tucked quietly in the corner of the crowded room, away from traffic. Carmichael settled Diane in the booth and shouldered her way to the bar, returning triumphantly with drinks a few minutes later.
Russell looked with surprise at the Diet Coke sitting in front of her. "How'd you know I was off the sauce?" she asked quietly.
"You look too damn good not to be," the attorney replied with a grin, thinking the words were more than true. Despite the lines of grief that were etched permanently into Diane Russell's remarkable features, she looked healthier and more relaxed than Abbie had ever seen. During their days in narco, Russell had been almost schizophrenic in her mood swings-- jittery and wired one moment, haggard and exhausted the next. They always said that booze had been Russell's drug of choice, but there were nights and moments between them that Carmichael still believed were fueled by something else. Now, a more centered and peaceful Diane Russell sat before her, and Abbie couldn't stop smiling at the sight. "You've gotten someplace you need to be. You have no idea how happy that makes me."
Surprise shone in warm brown eyes. "You can still say that," she marveled. "Even after... everything?"
Abbie fought the urge to laugh at the bland euphemism for all that had come between their friendship. "I never stopped worrying about you, D." Unaccountably embarrassed by her own admission of tenderness, she fixed her gaze on the numerous scratches and dings that littered the table surface. "Never."
The hand that pried her fingers from the beer bottle was small, almost delicate, as it nestled in Carmichael's larger palm. "Abs.."
"It's okay, Diane." She squeezed the hand in hers gently and found Russell's eyes once more. "Honest."
"I hurt you."
"You hurt yourself more," Abbie pointed out. "That's what... I couldn't handle." Carmichael released her hand and took a long swig of her beer, the glass tingling in cool contrast to the warmth of Diane's hand. They had always touched easily and often, and only now could Abbie begin to admit to herself how much she had missed it. Exile and disillusionment had twisted her nature and forced her into becoming a solitary figure, never giving her a choice. Early in their acquaintance, the undercover operative had shown no qualms about breaching the carefully constructed, demilitarized zone of personal space Carmichael had erected. At first Carmichael allowed it because it was so much like her home-- where the frequent contact was rough-and-tumble-rowdy, but it was also a reassuringly physical symbol of family ties. Later, their touches became lifelines for both women-- anchoring Russell to a reality that seemed disconcertingly far away and reminding Abbie that there was someone in the world who gave a damn about how she was doing. Losing that had been devastating, and she hated to think of what might happen a second time. "Just let the past go."
"You're not gonna let me talk about this, are you?" Diane asked ruefully.
"Nope. Not here, not now, and definitely not tonight."
Russell studied her intently for a moment then acceded to her friend's request gracefully. "Probably for the best anyway. I don't seem to be doing too well with heart-to-hearts today."
"What do you mean?"
"Oh nothing." Diane blew out an exasperated breath and noodled absently with the bowl of pretzels Abbie had brought over with the drinks. "It's just that... Jill and I got into it today. And I hate that."
"Over the case?"
"Nah. Personal. Unfortunately I had to be the bearer of bad tidings..."
"And she decided to shoot the messenger?" Abbie finished for her, feeling her heart rate pick up at even the mention of Kirkendall's name. A part of her wanted to scoff at her body's admittedly adolescent response; but at the same time, she couldn't deny it.
"Something like that. Thing is, I feel bad for her, but another part of me just wants to shake her for being so stupid."
Carmichael arched a brow in question. "She doesn't look stupid."
"Yeah, well I've found that no one is particularly bright when it comes to romance."
"Romance?" The word was strangled and harsh in Abbie's throat, so she swallowed the last of her beer and motioned the waitress for another. "What do you mean?"
Russell looked at her closely, as if to ask why Carmichael cared, but then shrugged and continued. "She's been seeing her ex again-- not for long, I think-- she only mentioned something about it last week, wanting to see what I thought about the whole idea."
A dull heat flushed over Carmichael's system, and she couldn't help but wonder if Jill had chosen Don, not confession, as a way to repent what had happened to between them. Keeping her voice light, she asked, "And you picked today to tell her?"
"I didn't pick anything. Today I found out that the Job's seriously looking at this guy for a collar."
"That sonofabitch," Abbie muttered with more vehemence than she intended. Jill had called him her favorite mistake... but this was a little something more. "What's he up for?"
"Jesus. How stupid is he? Or does he just think it's that easy to get over on her?" She punctuated her statement with a long swallow of beer then, seeing the speculative look in Diane's eyes, sat the bottle down abruptly. "What?"
"There something you want to tell me, Abs?"
Years ago, that question had first cemented their friendship. Diane had caught Abbie's eyes discreetly following a stunning redhead strolling up the street ahead of them, put two and two together, and the inquiry had popped out. Abbie had turned about five different shades of decidedly embarrassed pink before Russell had stopped teasing her. After that, those words had prefaced just about all of their personal conversations.
"No," Carmichael flatly replied.
"Jill Kirkendall is about the straightest woman I've ever met."
"Why do you say that about every woman you think I'm interested in?"
"Because it's usually true," Russell retorted.
"I'm not interested in Jill Kirkendall." She didn't know who the lie would convince, but looking at Russell's face, she knew it wasn't anyone at this table.
"Then why are you sucking that beer down like there's no tomorrow?"
As the waitress set Carmichael's third bottle of Sol in front of her, Abbie knew she was busted. Over her years in narco she had become so adept at nursing a single drink that by the end of the evening no one knew she wasn't as wasted as the rest of them. Diane was privy to the information only because Carmichael was usually the one who took her home. The third beer sweating on the table in front of her was a dead giveaway of two things-- one, that Abbie trusted Diane to take care of her if something happened; and two, that she was absolutely terrified of what she was starting to feel for Jill Kirkendall.
Both revelations were not lost on Diane who waved the waitress over and ordered two burgers with the works for them. Then she commanded, "Talk to me, Abbie."
Caving in to the inevitable, Carmichael laid the whole story out for Diane. Her first meeting with Jill, the bar, the young turks, Mae's diner, and then-- more awkwardly-- what had come after. The intimacy, the warmth, the tenderness. She left nothing out-- not even her abandonment the next morning and the sense of loss she felt upon waking up alone.
"Good God, Abbie. I had no idea."
"I think, given the circumstances, that's a pretty good thing."
"But it makes sense..."
"What do you mean?"
"The way you two were leaning towards each other all day. And the little glances and stuff. I noticed it first at the crime scene this morning, but couldn't figure out why." She shrugged, polishing off the last of her fries and stealing a second one from Abbie's plate. "Now I know. She likes you."
Carmichael laughed cynically. "Yeah, she likes me so much she's taken up with her skel of an ex-husband."
"Cut the woman some slack, Carmichael. Don's always had a nasty hold over her-- I think it's mostly because of the kids now... but she was crazy in love with this guy when they were younger."
"Before he turned out to be such an asshole?"
"I think he was always an asshole... but Jill told me something once. She said that he was the first one to ever really look at her. Like he was interested in her as a person, and not some leggy blond to get over on. She said that guys always wanted to score, but never talk, with her."
"Don talked," Abbie concluded.
"He made her feel special."
"And the rat bastard's been trading on it ever since."
"That's pretty much what I figure. Even after all he's put her through, a part of her still loves him for making her feel that way. Jill's not the kind of person to give her heart lightly, Abs."
A pained smile twisted its way across Carmichael's features. "Think she would be interested in giving it to somebody like me?"
She picked up the phone and punched six unfamiliar numbers. Her finger hovered over the seventh for a long moment before she pressed it and held the receiver to her ear.
The voice on the other end of the phone was so groggy and thick with sleep that Jill almost hung up the phone without a word, but calling Don on all his lies tonight had left a dull bruise on what was left of her heart and an aching need to feel cared for. Somewhere deep inside, she had known Don hadn't changed-- he was no more capable of altering his true nature than any other predator-- but she had wanted to believe so badly that this time would be different.
"He's the only one to have touched something... in here..." she said to Diane, tapping her chest. "That's hard to let go."
Now, listening to the sleepy, scuffling sounds on the other end of the phone, she realized her words had been an unwitting lie. Don might have been the first one, but he wasn't the only one. Not anymore.
Abbie Carmichael had blown into her life with a lazy drawl, honest eyes, and a quiet pain that Jill still couldn't fathom. Slipping her arms around the dark-haired Texan may have been the boldest thing Kirkendall had ever done in her life, but it had felt so incontrovertibly right she hadn't been able to stop herself.
Second thoughts had come the next morning, and they had propelled her out of Carmichael's apartment and-- apparently, she realized now-- into Don's arms. She had taken him to her bed the next night, pushing memories of a slender and decidedly female body out of her mind. Jill had honestly intended to call Abbie the next day to explain-- it was why she had the attorney's phone number now-- but somehow, she had let the task slip away. When Carmichael had appeared at the 15th precinct, Jill had anticipated the worst-- Don had accustomed her to that. Abbie, however, had confounded her expectations, displaying a calmly professional demeanor in the squad room and a disarming openness in private when discussing what had happened between them. A tentative friendship had begun in those few moments, and Kirkendall had relished every minute of it. She almost invited Carmichael to Kyle's first Communion, but hesitated when she worried what Abbie might think about her rekindled relationship with Don. Jill knew now that concern should have told her something about how important the attorney was becoming to her, but she had willingly blinded herself to it-- the same way she had blinded herself to Don's lies.
"Hello?" The voice, still husky, darkened with suspicion. "Anybody there?"
A hesitation, then a low-pitched chuckle drifted through the wire. "Hey you," she said. "I was just thinking about you."
"Sounded like you were dead asleep."
"Maybe it was a dream." Another chuckle. "Maybe this is the dream."
A quiet sigh escaped Jill's lips. "I wish it were."
The murmured words seemed to shake the sleep from Abbie's body-- Jill thought she could hear the lawyer sitting up in bed, and she couldn't help but remember the white Oxford that had hugged Abbie's long frame the night they had been together. "Talk to me, Jill. What's wrong?"
Jill slid down the wall beside the telephone table, drawing her knees up underneath the cool silk nightgown she wore. She felt like a fool in the outrageously feminine garment, as though it were a sign of everything she couldn't be. "I just wanted to hear a friendly voice, that's all."
"Well, you've got one here. You know that."
The words were unhesitatingly warm and their tenderness sliced Jill to the core. "I..." The whole nasty story trembled on her lips, wanting to pour itself out to the sympathetic woman on the other end, but she held back. Whether it was to spare herself the pain of recounting the tale again or to preserve whatever respect Carmichael still had for her, Jill didn't know. Instead, she just wanted to lose herself in Abbie's whiskey-thoated voice, though it was no substitute for the strength she had found in the other woman's long arms. "Tell me about something you love. Please."
A brief pause, and for a horrible moment Jill thought Abbie was going to brush her off, make some inane joke about non sequiturs or something-- like Don had always done at these brutally awkward moments when she was vulnerable-- but Abbie was only thinking. "Back home, long about July, it gets so hot in the afternoons you'd think that if it got just one degree hotter that everything around you would burst into flame. The sweat running down your back about scalds you, and all the wind does is blow the sunburn all across your face."
In spite of herself, Jill found herself smiling. "This is something you love?"
"Hush up," Abbie reproached her lightly. "I'm getting to that. Then-- just when you think it can't get any worse-- you start seeing the thunderheads rolling in. Pile after pile of clouds getting taller and darker with every minute. And if you're smart, you duck out and find yourself someplace to wait it out. Most of the kids went to the Dairy Queen... some of the boys, the troublemakers mostly, would go airport where you could really see the lightning-- they'd stand out there and dare God to hit them." Another low chuckle rolled through the phone. "He took them up on it a couple of times, too." Her slow words began to paint the rhythm of those summer days for Jill, rounded vowels and rambling sentences telling of aimless hours and sensibilities dulled by the heat. The coils of tension in Jill's spine and stomach slowly began unknotting themselves as she lost herself in the tiny piece of Abbie Carmichael taking shape in her mind's eye.
"Is that where you went?"
"Naw... I'd go back home, usually. My Daddy's house has a big screened in porch on the back of it. I'd steal one of his longnecks and settle down there to wait it out." Her voice was filled with an still-childlike wonder as she began to describe the scene from her youth. "You haven't ever seen a storm like the ones we had back there. The rain was like this blanket of water that covered your eyes, kept you from seeing where you were going. It came down so hard that the ground couldn't soak it up fast enough-- bounced off the dirt and flattened the plants. Thunder so loud you couldn't hear yourself talk, and the wind so strong that sometimes the rain would be sideways. It'd blow through the wire on the screen and spray me down-- which was a good thing because I was usually about to roast. Daddy wasn't a big believer in air-conditioning.
"It never lasted more than fifteen, maybe twenty minutes. A half-hour is about the longest I've ever seen it go on. The ground would start steaming when the sun came back out, and by nightfall you'd never know that the storm had ever happened. But the air was always so clean afterwards-- you could fill your lungs with the freshness and just... breathe."
A relaxed silence, born of Abbie's unhesitating the gift of memory, connected them through the wire. "Thank you," Jill said, at last, loathe to break the spell, but wanting to acknowledge the other woman's kindness.
"Any time." She heard the pause on the other end of the line, could almost feel Abbie considering whether or not to ask anything further. "Think you'll be able to sleep now?"
To her surprise, Jill had to stifle a yawn with the back of her hand as a pleasant weariness settled upon her shoulders. "Yeah... I think so."
"Good. We've got a long day ahead of us tomorrow. Sleep tight." Jill made a quiet noise of agreement and moved to hang up the phone, but Carmichael's soft voice called her back. "And Jill..."
"I'm still here."
"Try to not to focus on the storm, okay? Think about what comes after it."