Did you ever wonder what Claire and Lennie would have talked about if he had been there when she went looking for him at the precinct? Leslie Rampey has...


File It Under "Conversations That Never Took Place"
By Leslie Rampey

Lennie sighed as he watched his daughter walk down the street away from him -- always away from him. Well, no, that wasn't true. It was after all Cathy who had come looking for him at the OTB. And it was he who blew it -- major blew it -- as always. Someday he was going to have to figure out this fatherhood thing. But not today. Today wasn't a good day for anything. Ah, hell, it was probably much too late for that anyway.
Speaking of late, Lennie glanced at his watch. Well, not nearly late enough by the clock. What in the hell was he doing taking a day off in the first place? That was seldom a good idea under the best of circumstances. And today it was Mistake Number probably about 623.
Work. He really needed to work. Even if no one had gone and gotten themselves murdered, there probably were reports. Yeah, there were always reports to do. And the hum of the station house might keep his mind off the bar where the never-quenched longing for a drink might lead him.
Within half an hour he was back at his desk. Van Buren kept eyeing him suspiciously, not sure she was believing what she was seeing but plainly reluctant to object if Briscoe was voluntarily tackling paperwork.
So immersed was he, in fact, that it was a few seconds before he even realized that Claire Kincaid had come in and was standing by his desk. Sort of a different Claire, however -- a Claire with pulled back hair in a sloppy ponytail and wearing a black leather jacket. Sure different from the ADA's pageboy and the prim office attire in which Lennie usually saw her. Sure different from the way she looked this morning. Aw, hell -- this morning... That was just all he needed to think about right now.
"Counselor. What's up? Some case I'm missing?"
"No, I'm off the clock." Her voice was subdued, almost faraway. "Glad you're still here, though."
"Not still here -- back here. Something I can do for you?"
She settled down in the chair beside his desk in what seemed a very weary motion for someone so young. "Want to talk, Lennie?"
On the tip of his tongue was the answer, "Not particularly," but the need in the young woman's face stopped him. She needed something -- and it seemed to be something she needed from him, of all people. OK, Lennie, he thought. Go ahead, give it a whirl -- see if you can screw up another girl's day today. Practice does make perfect.
Closing the file folder in which he'd been writing, he said, "Okay, I'm gonna go way out on a limb here... This morning?"
She nodded.
Slumping back in his chair, he asked, "What's to say? What's really to say?"
"How'd it make you feel, Lennie?"
He considered what he'd told Cathy about that earlier and gave Claire the short version. "Helpless."
"Yeah, me too," she whispered.
An uneasy silence hung between them until she broke it by asking, "Was it right?"
"Was it right that it happened? Was it right that we went up there to watch it? The answers are 'maybe,' and 'no -- really bad idea.'"
"It's the law, Claire," he sighed. "I didn't write it. You didn't write it."
"Just because it's the law..."
"...doesn't make it right," he finished. "Yeah, yeah -- I know. No, I'm not okay with it -- not okay with it at all."
He saw something like a look of relief cross her face.
"What? You thought you were the only one?" he asked.
"It was sure starting to feel that way. So many others... They all seem so certain."
"I wouldn't necessarily be too sure about that. McCoy? Rey? Do you know where they are right now -- what they're doing or thinking?"
"I've got a pretty good idea where Jack is," she said ruefully.
So did Lennie. Lucky bastard, he thought.
"You know, I'll bet my next lucky streak at the OTB that right now they might not be as all-fired sure as they were this morning -- and that they might not even know that yet."
"What makes you think so?"
He shrugged. "I know them. They saw what we saw. They're not brutes."
"Nor are we, Lennie. What about the parts we played in it?"
"Ah, now there's your keyword -- 'parts.' As I said, we didn't write the script."
"But don't we have some responsibility?"
"We did our jobs. That's our responsibility."
"Oh? 'Just doing our jobs?' How far is that from 'just following orders?' Haven't we all heard that one somewhere before?"
He pointed a finger at her. "Don't go there, Claire. You're too damned smart to go dealing in cliches like that. It's not the same thing at all, and you know it."
"Don't lecture me, Lennie," she groaned. "I've had just about all of that I can handle today."
"Not so much him. My stepfather."
Lennie snorted. "So, I guess there was a whole lot of warm-hearted family crap flying around this city today."
"What does that mean?"
"Nothing -- forget it. Who's your stepfather?"
"He's a law professor -- once was one of my professors actually."
"I take it he doesn't see eye-to-eye with you over this thing?"
"That's what's strange -- he would have once, but now he's on the other side and tells me that I went up to Attica in order to be able to feel morally superior."
"That was a hell of a thing to say to you!"
"Yeah, it was." She seemed near tears.
"Claire, look... Oh, hell. Fathers don't always... I mean, they can't always... Maybe he's just not good at saying the right thing. Look, I, um, saw my daughter today, too. If it's any comfort to you, our visit didn't go a heck of a lot better than it sounds like yours did."
"Your daughter? The nurse?"
"Yeah. Cathy." It was now Lennie who sounded far away.
"What was the occasion?"
"Same stuff. She saw us on TV."
"Yeah? So, what's her opinion?"
Lennie realized that he didn't have the vaguest idea. "Don't know," he mumbled. "That's not what we ended up talking about."
"Oh. I just thought that maybe since she's a nurse she might have some strong feelings on the subject."
"She might have, for all I know. For all I know anything about her at all."
"You two aren't connecting?"
"Never did. Probably too late to start now."
A ring sounded from somewhere in Claire's leather jacket, and she pulled out a cell phone. "Excuse me just a second, Lennie." She turned halfway away from him. "Yes?" she said into the phone. "Well, that's just great.... Where?.... And you can't take a cab?...."
Lennie was trying not to listen, but it didn't take much imagination to figure out what was going on -- figure out that McCoy was out somewhere being a jerk.
"Okay.... Yeah, okay.... But I'm in the middle of something here. Give me just a little bit.... I'll be.... Yes, I'll be there. Goodbye."
Sighing, she replaced the phone in her pocket.
"Gotta leave?"
"It'll keep. About your daughter..."
"Nah, don't worry about it. I shouldn't have said anything. You go do what you need to do."
"No, Lennie. This is important." She reached across the desk and took his hand. Looking straight into his eyes, she said, "You said it's too late. It's not, you know. Never. Not until.... Well, what we saw this morning. Don't wait until then. Please."
She was so young, so earnest. She didn't really know anything about him, not much about his past -- didn't know that some messes couldn't be fixed. Still, he was more than a little touched by her concern. Why couldn't he have talked with Cathy like this? He patted the hand that grasped his. "Thanks, Claire. I'll think about that."
"Do, Lennie, do," she urged him once more. "You're a great guy. Your daughter deserves to know that."
"Oh, yeah -- a real great guy. I didn't give you many answers, did I?"
"Hey, there aren't always answers. I know that. But you listened and took me seriously. That's what counts."
He let go of her hand and picked up the file he'd been working on when she came in. "Go on. Get outta here. I think you've got to go rescue someone before he drowns."
She stood up and said simply, "Thank you, Lennie."
With his more common gruffness, he replied, "Yeah. For nothing."
She turned to walk out into the night, and he called out more gently, "Be careful out there, Claire."
She waved in response and was gone. Second girl walking away from him today. Oh, yeah, he really had the magic touch, didn't he? But, on second thought, this time it was different. This time he didn't feel so alone. And, he realized, this time maybe he didn't feel like such a screw-up. And maybe Claire was right. Maybe next time with Cathy.... Yeah, maybe.

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