No matter how tough the job, or how little the reward seems to be, for Jack McCoy and Abbie Carmichael, there are....
Determined to stay awake, a very drowsy Abbie Carmichael pinched herself hard and continued to stare at a thick volume of the New York Criminal Code. At a nearby table, Jack McCoy ran a hand through his tousled hair and sighed deeply, also immured in a dense law book. They were the only two workaholics still slaving away in the law library at such an hour, and the lines of text were beginning to blur into unintelligible smears of ink.
Ten minutes later, Jack could stand it no longer. With a grunt of frustration, he slammed his book shut and glanced over at Abbie, who despite her fierce Texan determination had fallen sound asleep. He knew that Abbie would want him to wake her up, but then again, she looked rather cute with her cheek pressed to the table and dark mane framing her delicate face. After a moment's hesitation, Jack tore a blank sheet off his legal pad, wadded it up, and pelted it at his young coworker for his own amusement. The direct hit to the head woke her up as intended.
Abbie rubbed her eyes and asked apologetically, "How long was I out?"
"Just a few minutes," answered Jack, who was doing a less-than-satisfactory job of concealing his devilish glee.
Discovering the crumpled yellow projectile lying on the table, Abbie glared at Jack and growled, "John James McCoy…"
Though he was one of those people who tended to push his luck a little too far, twenty-odd years in the business of criminal law had taught Jack how to keep his behind out of hot water whenever possible. "Mercy!" he pleaded with his very best sad puppy dog eyes. Abbie relented with a reluctant grin. God, she thought, it was always so hard for her to resist that look.
One glance at the mountain of papers piled before her made Abbie's temples begin to throb. "Find anything?" she asked Jack.
He shook his head tiredly and buried his face in his hands. "If we don't come up with something by the hearing at nine, we'll lose the confession. And we both know the it's practically our entire case."
"That's not true," Abbie shot back, even though she knew it was. "We've got the fingerprint --"
"Partial and unconfirmed."
"The weapon --"
"Not directly traceable."
"The prior threat to the victim --"
"Hearsay, probably'll get thrown out."
Abbie couldn't bear the thought of losing another murderer on a technicality. She knew the technicalities were part of the system, and being young and green she truly did believe in the system, but it upset her idealistic sense of right and wrong to realize that what works so well in theory doesn't always work in practice. Suddenly, Abbie wanted to cry, and as a matter of fact, so did Jack. They were both out of patience for fighting losing battles. A long silence hung in the air.
Abbie cleared her throat. "Jack, what made you decide to become a prosecutor?"
Jack snorted, "You mean, why did I make the transition from amateur smartass to professional smartass?"
"Yeah," laughed Abbie.
Jack pondered this for a moment, then began slowly. "It wasn't like I wanted to serve the people and do justice. I was never that idealistic; I just knew that the job fit my personality, I guess. As a kid, I swear my mouth had a life of its own."
"Oh, like it doesn't now?"
"No! You are looking at a much-improved Jack McCoy, trust me."
"Dear God, your poor mother."
"Hey, Ms. Carmichael, give the witness a chance to answer the question."
"Okay, okay, I'm listening."
"While I was growing up I talked back to everybody, that includes my parents, teachers, priests… I was constantly in shit with somebody over my bad attitude. One time I got referred to the school counselor by my theology teacher. I thought theology was the dumbest class ever, so I'd enlighten my teacher and classmates with my own ideas. I was the kid who would make comments like, 'If you have to have sex to have a baby and Mary had Jesus, then she's obviously not a virgin!' Getting a rap with a ruler didn't work, neither did detention or pushups. So the teacher sent me to the counselor to get me off his back for awhile and told Mrs. Torres, 'I don't know what to do with this child; he is blasphemous, impious, and thoroughly disruptive to the learning process.' After one conversation with me, Mrs. Torres put me on the debate team. At my first tournament I didn't know a thing about debating, but I won all my rounds anyway because I was so used to coming up with smart-aleck remarks, I mean it just came naturally. The coach of the debate team told me that I would make a good lawyer and the rest is history."
Abbie digested this information, but sensed that there was more and eyed Jack carefully. "It wasn't just that, was it? You became a D.A. when you could probably be making millions in a big tax firm."
Jack paused for a moment, mildly surprised by her perceptiveness. "I think you know that my old man used to beat on me when I was a kid." Abbie nodded.
"He was so strong...his hands were so strong...he was my father. I was nothing; I spent the first eighteen years of my life completely powerless. We have so much discretion in the way we handle cases; it's pretty obvious that the D.A.'s office has an enormous amount of influence on the community. It's scary when you realize that we can give someone their life back or take it away -- I mean, we do it every day. So I guess it was the power of this job that appealed to me in the beginning."
Jack finally looked up. He had been examining his cuticles for the last few minutes. "…So that's the whole story. What about you?"
"Didn't think I'd let you off the hook, did ya?"
Shifting in her seat, Abbie looked slightly uncomfortable. "To be truthful, my first reason for going into criminal law was making my parents mad."
Jack grinned. "So you weren't one of those 'out to save the world' people after all."
Abbie shook her head ruefully. "Actually, all I wanted to do was spite my mother. Imagine, her Abigail working among dirty criminals. A disgrace!" Abbie smiled at the thought. "See, she was one of those Texas belles who organized tea parties and ice cream socials for the community. Now don't be getting the idea that we Texans are old-fashioned plantation hicks, but my mother was very demure and ladylike, very proper with an hourglass figure and impeccable manners. I think it bothered her that her only daughter had no interest in paper dolls or knitting or embroidery or whatever it is that 'ladies' do. She would dress me up like a little doll for one of her social gatherings, and I would go out to play and come back mud-stained. Then of course I'd get the disapproving look, and the speech. When I got to a certain age I realized that I would never fit into my mother's mold of a proper lady and I got sick of trying to please her. She wanted me to…dammit I still can't figure out exactly what she wanted from me…I think she wanted me to become an interior decorator and marry a rich doctor. I do love her, but we never understood each other. Still don't. I guess we're just too different."
Jack nodded sympathetically. "You're holding out on me."
Abbie laughed and leaned back in her chair, stretching out her long slim legs. "Nothing gets past you, Jack McCoy." She suddenly looked pained but quickly regained her composure. "The rape in college," she began, and Jack kicked himself mentally for being so insensitive.
"I'm sorry, Abbie, you don't have to --"
"No, it's okay," she interrupted. "For so long afterward I never let myself cry, not at all, because I decided that I had brought it upon myself and that I'd been so stupid that I deserved it. You're still the only person who knows. Somehow, I know it sounds really dumb, but somehow I convinced myself that becoming a prosecutor made me better than other women who were rape victims. Like I could get above them, and then maybe I could even erase what happened. This way the rapists who victimized those other women would now be my victims."
In or out of the courtroom Abbie was always such a pit bull, but all of a sudden she looked very thin and very vulnerable. Jack swept her up and gave her a big hug. "It wasn't your fault, Abbie."
"I know," she said softly. Drawing back, she gazed into his glittering eyes and asked, "Have you ever regretted this job?"
He shook his head firmly. "Never."
Her faith reaffirmed, Abbie sat down, took a deep breath, and reopened the book, which no longer looked quite so intimidating. Jack did the same. It was back to business, with no regrets.