Karen, who delighted us with "Flashback" in last year's Halloween Issue and "Moment To Breathe" in our Winter issue, returns with a gentle reminder of how important the right person in a child's life can be. Makes you want to run out and start mentoring right away!
There, But For The Grace
By Karen Howard-Joly
A cold, dark November night enveloped Manhattan, threatening rain, but Executive Assistant District Attorney Jack McCoy sat in the lamp-lit solitude of his spacious office, oblivious to everything but the documents in his hands. With city government personnel long gone, the only soul remaining in the DA's building, other than Jack, sat at the Security desk downstairs. McCoy noticed none of this. He hadn't seen Abbie Carmichael stop by his doorway on her way out around 6:00, pause, then continue on when she realized that he was preoccupied. He hadn't seen Adam Schiff slowly stroll by just after Abbie, not even bothering to stop when he saw his EADA in deep scrutiny of the file before him. That had been two hours ago. At 8:07 p.m., the file still had his undivided attention.
Terrence Kevin "Terry" O'Neill, age 35, had a rap sheet that ran six pages. Just about anything one could imagine, O'Neill had attempted and had been arrested for at least once in the past 25 years. Beginning with petty crimes like shoplifting and vandalism when he was a juvenile, then working his way up the ladder, O'Neill now stood charged with murder -- 1st degree murder. A chance at the death penalty. O'Neill had killed a cop, but not just any cop. The victim was one Robert T. O'Neill -- his own father.
It was this fact that first drew Jack's attention to the case. Curious, he delved deeper into O'Neill's file, searching for information that might lend insight into the background of this son of a cop. He found more than he bargained for.
Stapled to the back of an old arrest report was a psychiatric evaluation, done when O'Neill was 15, and accused of viciously assaulting a high school classmate. The District Attorney's consulting psychiatrist, Dr. Saul Weinstein, concluded that O'Neill had suffered, and was still suffering at the time of the report, "extreme emotional and physical abuse" at the hands of his father, patrol sergeant Bobby O'Neill. The younger O'Neill's memories of such abuse seemed to go back to age five. Terry O'Neill, the report went on to say, was "an extremely angry, volatile young man, capable of transferring repressed feelings about his father onto others, especially those he allows close to him." There was more, but Jack skimmed through the rest until he came to the part of Weinstein's recommendation that Terry receive therapy and the elder O'Neill "be required to seek professional counseling pursuant to retaining his employment with the City of New York in the capacity of a law enforcement officer."
Flipping back through the file, McCoy sought and found record of the father's work assignments. Amazingly enough, Sgt. Bobby O'Neill, for all of his 35 years on the force, lived, worked, and one week ago Wednesday, died in the 27th Precinct.
"Home grown," Jack mumbled to himself.
He picked up his phone and dialed the familiar number.
"27th Precinct, Dozier," snapped the desk sergeant.
"Sgt. Dozier, this is Jack McCoy, DA's office. Has Detective Briscoe left for the day?"
"Just a minute. I'll check." The gruff voice paused for a second or two. "No, Mr. McCoy. Detective Briscoe is at his desk. You want me to put you through?"
"Please, Sergeant." McCoy heard the line click with the transfer, then the ringing of Briscoe's line.
"Briscoe," answered the annoyed detective.
"Sorry to interrupt you, Detective."
"Counselor!" Lennie brightened upon recognizing Jack's familiar voice. "You burning the midnight oil, too? It's, what, after eight? I thought you DA's were usually well into your third or fourth scotch by now."
Jack smiled at the typical Briscoe wit.
"No such luck, I'm afraid." Jack could have told the detective that he hadn't touched a drink in months, but didn't feel it necessary.
"Then, how can I help you?" Briscoe had had his ups and downs with McCoy in the past, but the mutual tragedy that hit them a few years ago, with the death of Claire Kincaid, seemed to erase any enmity between them. Lennie would do just about anything for the guy -- within the law and within reason.
"I know you're busy -- or you'd be at home yourself -- but I need to ask you about the cop who was killed last week. It's not your case, I know, but..."
"Bobby O'Neill," interrupted Briscoe matter-of-factly.
"Yes, Bobby O'Neill. Did you know him personally?"
"I tried not to."
Jack winced at Briscoe's confession.
"Look, Jack," Lennie lowered his voice. "I hate speaking ill of the dead -- especially where other people might hear, ya know?"
"Yeah, I understand, but..."
Lennie cut Jack off with a suggestion. "I'm ready to knock off here anyway. How 'bout you and me gettin' together at O'Hara's in about twenty?"
"Sounds good. Thanks, Detective."
As the line went dead, Jack replaced the receiver and sighed. This shouldn't matter to him. He shouldn't be pushing this deeply into the case, but he had to know. Something far deeper inside him, something that transcended his duty as a prosecuting attorney told him he had to know more about the accused, Terrence O'Neill, and his cop father. What little he already knew reminded him too much of his own past. Nothing could ebb his curiosity.
O'Hara's, one of a multitude of Manhattan watering holes, turned out to be just the place for McCoy and Briscoe to meet for a discreet talk. The "Happy Hour" crowd already departed, and the regulars not yet having made their appearance, the place was virtually deserted at 8:30. Selecting an out of the way corner table, the two men shrugged off their overcoats and had a seat. Both ordered club soda when the cocktail waitress appeared, ensuring even more privacy. She wouldn't constantly be interrupting them to take refills.
"I appreciate your taking time to meet with me," Jack began.
"Hey, no problem," replied Lennie. "A little evening stroll through the rain beats sitting at my desk writing reports."
"So, you knew O'Neill?" Jack got right to the point.
"Yeah, I knew the mook. They broke the mold when they made that one, believe me."
"How do you mean?" asked McCoy.
"I mean," Lennie moved closer to the table and looked him straight in the eye. "The guy was overbearing, vulgar, and abusive -- all the time. How he stayed on the force is beyond me."
"You know anything about his kid?" Jack played with a corner of his cocktail napkin.
"Terry?" Lennie asked. He sipped his soda, then paused a moment. "He's the oldest. Bobby had four kids. Three boys, one girl. Abused them all, but Terry was the one who got the worst of it. Everything came down on that kid's head. It was a shame."
"You seem to know a lot about the situation."
"Yeah...well...the two of us were assigned as partners for a few months...back in '79." The expression on Briscoe's face told Jack that this fact didn't foster pleasant memories.
"About the time Terry O'Neill was arrested for assault?" asked McCoy.
"Uh-huh," Lennie nodded. "I remember it well. It was April. Bobby and I had made a routine traffic stop earlier in the week. Some lost tourist made an illegal U-turn and almost hit our patrol car. Bobby lost it and started roughing the guy up for no reason other than he was pissed off. The tourist filed a complaint and O'Neill received an official reprimand, plus one day suspended. He went home, had a few beers, then beat the crap out of Terry when the kid got home from school. Of course, we didn't find out about it until Terry was arrested a few days later."
"Tell me about that." Jack sipped his drink, waiting for Lennie to continue.
"Not much to tell. The kid got into it at school with, supposedly, his best friend. It was over somethin' dumb...yeah, I remember...they'd been arguin' about the upcoming baseball season and who had the stronger team, the Yanks or the Mets. Anyway, words escalated, then Terry jumped his friend and put him in the hospital. When the stuff came out about Bobby abusing Terry, I'd had it with the guy. I put in for a change of partners."
"Terry's file indicates that Bobby O'Neill was ordered to counseling or risk losing his job. You know anything about that?" Jack guessed the answer, but he had to ask.
"What a joke!" Lennie scoffed. "Word got around the precinct that O'Neill went to one session, then told the department shrink to stuff it. Nobody followed through administratively. For O'Neill, it was business as usual. Nothing changed. The brass just looked the other way. Sometimes I hate the department for that mentality."
"It's not just the New York City Police Department, Detective," Jack said sadly. "Believe me." He finished his club soda and gave Briscoe a nod.
"We done?" inquired the detective.
"Yep. And, again, I thank you. You've been a big help." Jack stood and wriggled into his coat.
"I'm a bit puzzled, Counselor." Lennie, on his feet as well, wasn't quite ready to drop their discussion. "In the first place, you're doing the work you usually leave up to Carmichael; you know...the grunt stuff. In the second, the questions you've been asking sound more like they're coming from a defense attorney, not the DA. What gives?"
"I was just curious, Detective. That's all."
Jack was stonewalling and he knew Briscoe wasn't going to buy it.
"That's crap, McCoy," grinned Lennie.
"Let's just say it's personal and leave it at that, okay?" Jack wasn't smiling.
"Whatever you say." Briscoe realized McCoy wasn't about to disclose anything more. He good-naturedly threw in the towel. "Hey, I had to ask. It comes with the gold shield."
Jack nodded in understanding, then reached over and tapped Briscoe on the arm.
"You take care, Detective."
"You, too, Counselor."
Both men exited the bar, each hailing a cab. Lennie gave his driver directions for home. Jack's drove him back to the DA's office; he wasn't going home until he made one more phone call.
Terry O'Neill, pleading not guilty by reason of mental defect, had been examined by the prosecution's psychiatrist, Dr. Emil Skoda. McCoy dialed Skoda's home phone number. He picked up on the first ring.
"Emil? Jack McCoy, sorry to bother you at home."
"No bother, Jack. It must be important, though. Ten p.m. and you're still working?" Skoda knew McCoy as an aggressive prosecutor, which translated into the label "workaholic"...but he'd never known Jack to call this late at night.
"It is. I've been looking over the O'Neill file, and I see that you examined him yesterday."
"I did. You need some information?"
"Yes...." Jack paused, trying to find the right words for the question he needed to ask. "Emil, in your opinion, was Terry O'Neill acting in his right mind when he killed his father? Or...."
"Or was he incapable, at that moment, of understanding what he was doing?" Skoda finished Jack's question for him.
"Something like that, yeah."
"Jack...." It was Skoda's turn to pause. McCoy could hear him take a deep breath and exhale. He spoke, his bass voice rumbling, as if narrating a documentary. "Terry O'Neill's formative years were a living hell. As a child, into adolescence, and continuing until he left home at eighteen, he received treatment no better and often worse than that of the family dog. His father, sober or not -- it didn't really matter -- consistently beat him. He showed me scars yesterday that would make you cringe. When Bobby O'Neill wasn't beating the boy, he verbally abused and humiliated him, leaving him with incredibly low self-esteem. This led Terry into a life of dismal failure; he failed at school, failed at relationships; failed to hold down even the most menial jobs and he got into trouble with the law. Though arrests and jail time became far more frequent than life outside, he did manage to marry and have a family. That's where our little story takes a twist." Skoda stopped speaking for a moment.
"Did he beat his own kids?" Jack asked.
"Curiously, no. He and his ex-wife -- the marriage failed a few years ago -- share custody. All signs indicate he's been a good father, though a lousy role model."
"I don't hear an answer to my original question, Emil." McCoy's voice hinted at annoyance.
"Two questions," Skoda reminded Jack. "You asked two."
"No, you asked one of them for me," Jack smiled over the phone. He felt weary, but relieved at the brief break from Skoda's intense monologue. "You said there was a 'twist'."
"Yes. As in so many of the abusive situations I see, Terry and Bobby O'Neill still had frequent contact with one another. In fact, on the day of the murder, Terry had dropped his two boys off at his father's house for a visit while he made mandated contact with his parole officer. When he returned to pick the boys up, he walked in on his father verbally assaulting one of them. Turned out he was mad because the kid touched his TV set. Terry calmly gathered both boys, took them to his car and told them to stay put. He went back into his father's house, grabbed O'Neill's service revolver and emptied the clip into his old man. But, you must know that part -- you've got the report."
"I only have the part that says he shot him; I didn't know over what, or why," Jack said quietly.
"Well, now you know the 'what.' The 'why' is this: Robert O'Neill was a brutal, sadistic son of a bitch. All the time his son was growing up, the kid was taking the brunt of the abuse in that household. His father was bigger, stronger, authoritarian. The only way Terry could protect his younger brothers and sister was to take the punishment himself. He had no way to strike back. Last Wednesday, when Terry saw his father doing the same thing to his own kids, he found a way.
"To answer your question, I think Terry O'Neill knew exactly what he was doing. He was slaying the monster. Mental defect? I've gotta say 'no.' But a good defense attorney, using the O'Neill family history, might be able to make a plausible case for it with a jury."
Silence hung between the two men.
"Counselor? You still there?" Skoda thought he'd lost McCoy.
"Still here, Emil." Jack felt drained.
"You need anything else?" asked the psychiatrist.
"No, no I don't. Thanks for filling me in. I apologize for calling so late."
"You're welcome...and don't worry about the time. I'll bill Schiff."
"You do that," replied Jack.
McCoy replaced the receiver and slumped back in his leather chair. Fingers interlaced, thumbs underneath his chin, he stared across the room at nothing in particular. His mind moved a hundred directions. Closing his eyes, he attempted to focus on the question of how to prosecute the O'Neill case, but memories began assaulting him. He tried to push them away, but the long day, combined with the mental strain of the past few hours, was taking its toll. The pounding in his head didn't help matters. He eyed his soft, chocolate brown leather sofa.
Just ten minutes, Jack thought to himself. All I need is ten minutes and then I'll head home. Rising, he struggled out of his suit jacket, and tossed it over the arm of his chair. He staggered toward the beckoning sofa, unknotting his tie and letting it drop to the floor. Stretching his 6 foot plus frame out completely, he nestled into the comfortable leather. He didn't bother removing his shoes. Ten minutes, he thought again and closed his eyes. Almost immediately, he began drifting towards sleep...and memories swirled to the surface of Jack McCoy's ocean of thought, taking him back to a time and place he had once wished out of existence.
"John James McCoy! You'd better watch where you throw that ball. You break anything of your father's, you'll wish you'd never been born!" His mother always had a way of spoiling any fun he was having. Just mention how mad the old man was going to get about anything, and that pretty much did it.
"Heck, Ma," sassed the thirteen-year-old boy. "It isn't like I'm robbing a bank or nothin'. Tommy and I are just having a catch. Tryouts are next week for the high school team and we gotta practice. We'll be careful."
Jack hadn't been this excited about anything in a long while. Skipping a grade, jumping over eighth and straight into ninth, put enough of a damper on his social life. He had to deal with new groups of kids, all of them older than himself, many resentful because of the "brain" who was now a part of their freshman class. He hadn't wanted to move ahead. His father decided he would. End of discussion. Now it was spring. Life had evened out at school; it was time for baseball and Jack saw his chance for salvaging at least part of an otherwise miserable year. His saving grace had to be baseball.
Playing football was out of the question. Besides being too small, he hated the sport. For one thing, he saw it as too brutal. Most of the guys he knew who played it were either extremely arrogant or intellectually challenged. They were also the ones who gave him the roughest time in the hallways during the passing bell. The biggest reason he loathed the sport, however, was because his father loved it. It figured. The old man had to admire a sport that glorified violence. Why not? He was a pretty good practitioner of it himself.
Jack would have gone out for basketball in the winter, but, unfortunately, he hadn't yet hit his growth spurt and there were older, taller, more talented guys from which the coaches could choose.
No, only baseball would do for Jack. Jack loved baseball. Baseball was grace, agility, power, speed, and strategy all rolled into one. To be a complete player, you had to be able to throw, field, hit, run -- and think. Jack loved baseball because it was a thinking game -- and you didn't have to be big and tall to play it well.
"Hey, Jack! Catch this one!" Tommy hollered as he heaved the ball on a long arcing path.
"Oh, shit!" Jack cursed under his breath. The ball was heading right for the new family Chevy. Turning his back on Tommy, he sprinted as fast as he could for the month-old car, hoping and praying he could get there before the ball came down. His eyes fixed on the shiny front grill, his legs pumping up and down for all they were worth, he didn't dare look back yet. Timing was everything. As he came within fifteen yards of the car, his legs still propelling him forward, Jack turned his head to the left and looked up over his shoulder. He spotted the ball immediately. It looked like it was coming down at an angle that would take it well beyond his reach. Knowing that he was quickly gaining on the chrome bumper of the car, he took a chance, planted his right leg and leaped as far as he could, glove outstretched.
He missed the ball by an inch. One more inch of leather, one more inch of height, it didn't matter which. One more inch would have made all the difference. As Jack came crashing down hard on the hood of the blue Chevy, he saw the ball sail just beyond his glove. Worse, he heard the sickening crack of glass as it smacked off the middle of the sun-glazed windshield.
He lay still for a moment, trying to catch his breath, taking in the enormity of the situation. His ribs hurt, but that was nothing compared to what he knew would come once his dad got off shift. Overcome with fear and despair, Jack slid slowly from the hood to the pavement. He dropped his glove and sat with his back against the front tire, his knees bent, arms encircling them. He sat with his head down, chin against his heaving chest.
Tommy came on the run.
"Oh, God, Jack! I'm sorry! I'm really sorry!" he cried. "Oh, God!"
All Jack needed was to hear the panic in his best friend's voice to know how much he cared. Tommy knew. Best friends always know. Jack looked up at Tommy, his dark brown eyes glistening in the warm spring sunshine -- and he grinned.
"Aw, Tom, it's okay," he said brightly. "Really. No big deal."
"But, Jack..." sputtered Tommy. "Your dad, man. He's gonna..."
"Hey, I almost had the thing, ya know?" Even at thirteen, Jack was adept at changing the subject when it came to his old man, a clever tactic to avoid thinking about consequences.
"Yeah," said Tommy, his head down, dejection in his voice.
Jack got up, dusted the street from his jeans and faced his friend. His eyes still twinkling, but his face serious now, he put his right hand squarely on Tommy's shoulder.
"It'll be okay, Tom. What can he do to me, huh? Take away my birthday?"
Tommy chuckled. "Yeah, right. What can he do?"
"Look..." Jack paused. "Maybe you'd better head on home. I'll call you later."
"Okay, Jack...if you're sure."
"Sure, I'm sure. You go on." Jack lightly pushed his friend on his way.
"Call me," said Tommy. "You promise?"
"I said so, didn't I? Now, go on!" Jack turned his back, swallowed hard and strode resolutely towards his house. Tommy watched his friend disappear through the front door, then turned and trotted off down the street.
Jack didn't call Tommy that night. He wasn't at school the next day, nor the next. Calls to the McCoy residence went unanswered. It wasn't until Jack showed up for school on the third day, a Friday, cast on his right arm, that Tommy found out just what Jack's dad could do.
Upon his return to school, Jack retreated into a world of solitude. His dream of playing baseball shattered along with the bone in his right forearm, he slipped into a depression that saw his grades plummet from honor roll to barely above failure. His mother tried everything she knew to cajole him into studying, into caring about his once revered academics, to no avail. To make matters worse, he turned away from the few friends he had made at school. Tommy, having tried out and made the baseball team, became a constant reminder to Jack of what he had lost. The two argued incessantly, Jack always determined to take the opposite viewpoint from Tommy's. Finally, having had enough, Tommy stopped talking to Jack altogether, leaving the young McCoy isolated even more.
His grades continued to spiral downward. His mother found it impossible to love him into caring, and his father's beatings did no better. Word came from the attendance office that John James McCoy was ditching classes more than he was in them and if he didn't get his act together, steps would be taken not only to retain him next school year, but possibly to return him to the eighth grade.
Then, in late March, with crucial midterm exams close, Jack walked into his last period Civics class five minutes after the bell. He knew he'd catch it from old Father O'Donnell. The priest had zero tolerance for tardiness. Unexpectedly, he was met at the door by a new face.
"Well, you must be Mr. McCoy," said the unfamiliar teacher. He displayed no displeasure at Jack's late entrance, rather, he wore an amused expression. Jack stared at the athletically built, sandy-haired man, then arched an eyebrow.
"Who the hell are you?" he inquired angrily.
"I'm your new civics teacher, Mr. McCoy," the young teacher responded calmly. "I just explained to the rest of the class that Father O'Donnell has been called away for the rest of the term. My name is Ellis, Lawrence Ellis." He smiled again. "Oh, and we don't swear in this class...unless, of course, we're in mock court and someone raises a right hand." The class, quietly observing the doorway confrontation, burst into laughter. Mr. Ellis motioned for Jack to enter the room.
The boy shrugged his shoulders, trying to act like he didn't care, but there was something about this man. He was drawn into the classroom by a feeling he couldn't explain. Deciding he had nothing to lose, Jack marched across to the only available desk, dropped his notebook on top and slumped into the seat. Okay, Mr. Ellis, he thought. Let's see what kind of a teacher you are.
Ellis closed the classroom door and turned to face his captives. "Okay, gang, time to get to work." Everyone, with the exception of Jack, groaned. "Oh, c'mon, I promise; it won't be that bad," responded Mr. Ellis.
"Now, who in here can tell me what the framers of our Constitution had in mind when they drafted the Bill of Rights?" Silence in the room. Ellis smiled, "Well...in that case...let me fill you in..."
Thus marked the turning point in the downward track of John James McCoy. Mesmerized by Lawrence Ellis for the next forty minutes, Jack began to feel some of the excitement he'd had before his "accident" -- the euphemism his father had used on emergency room doctors -- and, gradually, the boy started coming around.
Abbie Carmichael, determined to get an early start on piled up paperwork, expected to be the only person on the DA's floor at 6:00 a.m. this brisk November day. Surprised to see a dim light coming from Jack's office, she crept to the window to investigate. The first thing she spotted through the Venetian blinds was his dark blue suit coat, carelessly tossed over the chair behind his desk. Her eyes then picked up the tie Jack had dropped on the floor, which in turn led her to Jack himself, sound asleep on the sofa. She shook her head slightly and smiled. "Jeez, McCoy," she whispered. "Some people don't know when to go home."
She walked the few paces to her own office and soon returned with a soft wool blanket that she kept handy for cool weather. Quietly opening Jack's door, she tiptoed over to the sofa. He lay on his side, his left arm dangling off the edge, his right tucked beneath his head. All in all, Abbie thought he looked quite comfortable, but there was a definite chill in the room. She figured the blanket would do the trick. Unfolding it, she carefully draped it over the sleeping McCoy. He moved slightly, his left hand curling around an edge of blanket and pulling it a bit closer. Abbie paused, hoping she hadn't awakened him, and was relieved to hear nothing more than the sound of Jack's even breathing. She knew the man needed all the sleep he could get. The attractive ADA exited his office as quietly as she had entered and started to work.
Around 8:00 a.m. Abbie looked up from a file she was reading to find Adam standing in the doorway.
"Good morning, young lady," he greeted her with a slight nod.
"Good morning," Abbie replied. "You're in early."
"Seems to be going around," he observed. "I just passed McCoy's office. You know any reason why he'd spend the night?"
Abbie, elbows folded on her desk, leaned forward. Her dark eyes widened.
"Beats me. He was sound asleep when I got here at 6. All I did was add the blanket."
Adam offered his patented tight-lipped smile and sarcastically commented, "How nice." He turned and disappeared back down the hallway. Grinning to herself, Abbie returned to her reading.
The process of young Jack McCoy's recovery was solidified one week after his first introduction to Lawrence Ellis. As he entered Ellis' classroom that Friday afternoon, he kept his head down, eyes averted from the teacher's desk. He knew that he was only postponing the inevitable. Ellis would surely notice the purple and black discoloration around Jack's right eye. His other teachers had pretty much ignored the injury -- the only exception being Sister Agnes, in English class, who raised an eyebrow when she saw him, but kept any comment to herself. The looks she sent him, though, told Jack that she figured he probably had gotten what he deserved by mouthing off to someone. Jack didn't like the old Nun anyway, so he spent the bulk of class glaring back at her.
Ellis was different. He knew Ellis would say something. Since their first meeting, the teacher had gone out of his way to speak to Jack every day. Nothing big; no lectures or nosiness; just a greeting here, or a comment there. Because of this, Jack found the Civics teacher's classroom a comfortable place to be. It didn't matter who you were, you had a voice in Mr. Ellis' room -- and he listened, actually listened to what students had to say. On this day, however, Lawrence Ellis merely asked Jack a question.
"Mr. McCoy, would you please stay after the bell?"
Surprised, Jack nodded. He'd never been asked to stay after class before, and wondered if his offending eye was to blame, or if Mr. Ellis had another agenda. He found it difficult to concentrate on class discussion about the 2nd Amendment when all he really wanted was for the bell to ring. Finally, at 2:45, he got his wish. As everyone else filed out of the room, Jack remained seated, waiting. Mr. Ellis stood with his back to Jack, erasing the chalkboard.
"How ya doin', Jack?" Ellis began the conversation.
"Fine, sir," Jack replied, clearing his throat.
"I met a friend of yours the other day," Ellis continued.
"Yeah? I don't have many of those." Lack of honesty was never a McCoy fault.
"Well, this one says he's your friend, no matter what you may think. Kid by the name of Tom Barton." Ellis, his back still to Jack, began writing Monday's assignment on the board.
"I haven't seen him lately," mumbled Jack, as painful memories flooded back.
"Yeah, he told me. He said he's been awfully busy what with baseball games and all. He also told me that you're a darn good player in your own right, but that ya didn't get to try out for the team."
Jack's heartbeat quickened and he felt his face begin to warm. He wasn't sure he liked the direction Mr. Ellis was heading. He chose to remain silent. The teacher finally turned away from the board and faced him.
"He told me a story that troubled me a great deal, Jack...and I...well...I didn't wanna believe it, ya know? But I see ya today. I see that shiner around your eye...and I'm thinkin' that Tom Barton was square with me." Ellis paused as he pulled up another desk and sat next to Jack. He lowered his voice. "Your father did this, didn't he?"
Jack still refused to speak. He clenched his jaw and stared straight ahead.
"C'mon, Jack. Nobody -- not a parent, not anyone -- has the right to do what he's done. I can help ya. I can..."
"You can what?" Jack exploded and turned to face his teacher. "What can you do, Mr. Ellis? Report him to the authorities? Huh? Is that what you can do? He's a cop, for cryin' out loud!" Jack jumped to his feet and Ellis followed suit.
"Jack, listen...." Ellis tried to calm him down.
"No!" Jack screamed. "You listen! Sweet Jesus! My old man is a cop! There's nothing you can do, ya hear? Nothing!" Angry tears streamed down his face as he turned and headed for the door.
"Jack, wait!" Ellis wasn't about to give up. He moved in front of the boy, cutting off his escape route. Holding his arms out, palms facing Jack, he softly pleaded, "Don't go. We need to talk about this. Please!"
Jack wheeled away from Ellis and backed into the wall. He felt overwhelmed. He knew Ellis meant well. He knew that he really, truly cared, but there was no way the man could alter Jack's reality -- the reality he faced every night in the McCoy household, where the old man's moods changed as quickly as the Chicago weather and where terror was as common as a wind off the lake. How could he explain to Mr. Ellis the feeling of loving your father, yet hating him at the same time? Jack couldn't understand it himself. Emotionally spent, he slid down the wall, into a sitting position on the floor, and sobbed.
"You just don't understand, Mr. Ellis," he cried, shaking his head, eyes downcast.
Lawrence Ellis, his heart aching for this intelligent, sensitive, lost young man, knelt beside him and placed his hand on Jack's shoulder.
"Don't understand what, son?" he asked quietly. "That ya love your father? That there are times when ya hate him as well?"
Jack quickly looked up, puzzled, his tear-brimmed eyes meeting his teacher's gaze. He wiped his face on the sleeve of his white cotton dress shirt.
"I can understand that, Jack; he's your father." Ellis paused for a moment, then continued, "But I also understand this: The only way your father knows of handling his own frustrations and disappointments is to take everything out on the ones he should be loving and protecting. That's wrong. It's sick, and it has to stop."
"It'll never stop, Mr. Ellis," said Jack sadly, shaking his head. "He'll have to die before it'll stop. I know you mean well...and I appreciate it...but, nobody can stop him. The cops won't stop him. He always says, 'Cops protect their own,' and he's right. He'll always win."
Jack saw the truth of his statement reflect in his teacher's eyes. Ellis eased from his kneeling position, down next to Jack, his back against the wall as well. Neither spoke right away. Finally, Ellis broke the silence with a request.
"Jack, I don't want to see you, or any other member of your family, hurt by your father. Let's make a deal. How about if we keep in touch on a daily basis? So I know how things are going."
Jack thought for a moment, then nodded, "I guess I can do that."
"And," continued Ellis. "You have to promise me that if there is any...and I mean any...threat from your father, you'll call me right away. I'm gonna give you my home phone number. We'll figure out something, some way we can keep him from hurting you again."
"No cops," demanded Jack.
"No cops; I swear." Ellis raised his right hand as if to take an oath. This caused Jack to smile. It felt good to smile.
Mr. Ellis was true to his word. From that March day in Jack's freshman year, until he graduated three years later, at the top of his class, Lawrence Ellis became the ballast in his life. No matter the circumstance at home, Jack knew Ellis would always be either at the other end of the phone, or present in the sanctuary of his Civics classroom, ready to help in any way he could.
That isn't to say that Jack avoided his father's heavy hand altogether, but life wasn't nearly as bad as it could have been had Ellis not been there. The two formed a bond, mentor to student, that fostered in Jack a sense of confidence and positive self-esteem. Even his father's abuse could not tear it down. When Jack graduated from the University of Chicago, Ellis was there. While attending New York University School of Law, Jack occasionally made late night phone calls to the Ellis residence, picking the man's brain over constitutional issues. He was the first person McCoy called when he passed the bar exam. Jack still spoke to the now 75-year-old man every other month or so. That he loved Lawrence Ellis went without saying. How could he not love the man who saved his life?
Jack opened his sleep-filled eyes and stared at his office ceiling. The recovered memory still fresh in his mind, he made his decision about Terrence O'Neill. Suddenly aware of the comfortable blanket draped over him, he wrinkled his brow, trying to remember, not only how it got there, but where it came from.
Jack jumped, startled at Adam's voice. He turned to see the older man's figure just inside his office door.
"And 'good morning' to you, too, Adam," said the Executive Assistant as he sat up, stretched, and ran both hands through his salt and pepper hair. "What time is it?"
"Just after 8. You sleepin' one off?" inquired the DA gruffly.
Jack grinned and shook his head. "Nope. It was late. I was gonna close my eyes for about ten minutes and then head for home. Guess I was more tired than I thought."
"Guess so," agreed Adam. "You work too hard."
"Right," smiled Jack. "And you don't."
"I," emphasized Adam, "Sleep at home...in my own bed."
Jack, scratching the back of his head, could only smile and nod. Adam turned to go.
"Stop by my office later," he ordered over his shoulder. "After you're more presentable." Before Jack could reply, the DA was gone.
Twenty minutes later, freshened by some cold water in the men's room, a quick shave with his old stand-by electric razor, and a clean change of clothes, Jack ambled into Abbie's office.
She looked up, surprised at how alert he appeared, considering.
"Well, good morning," she grinned.
He held out the folded, dark blue blanket.
"I'm told this is yours." He paused and then added, "Thanks."
"No problem," she replied, her husky voice taking on a mischievous tone. "You can return the favor sometime." Her dark eyes twinkled as she took the blanket and set it to the side of her desk. Jack's eyes widened a bit at her comment. He acknowledged it with a slight nod, then tossed a file folder on her desk.
"This is for you." He turned to go, but not too quickly, anticipating her reaction.
"The O'Neill case..." she stammered. "Jack...this is...I don't get it." Abbie was truly flustered. This was big. A cop killing...and he was dumping it in her lap?
"Your case, Abbie. Nothing to get. My recommendation is on the front."
Abbie looked down, reading the scribbled note attached to the folder. Her head snapped up and she opened her mouth, but before she could question him, he continued.
"Plead it down. Man One. I think his attorney will be agreeable."
Abbie rose from behind her desk and stood directly in front of him. Not yet totally speechless, she tried to argue. "Jack, what gives? The charge should be Murder One. It's a death penalty case. Guy killed a cop. Have you talked to Adam about this?"
Jack looked into Abbie's eyes and quietly, but firmly, replied, "The charge is what I choose to make it; a son killed his father; and it's not Adam's call...it's mine."
The Texan in her coming through loud and clear, Abbie stubbornly refused to yield. "You're gonna hafta to do better than that, Jack. I don't understand. This isn't the Jack McCoy I know." She stood staring at him, flipping her dark shoulder length hair with an indignant nod of her head, her lean arms folded tightly across her chest.
McCoy stood silently, thinking. He knew that familiar, Carmichael, "we're not done with this yet" pose -- and this was only Abbie's reaction. He knew his offer of Man-one would flood the DA's office with the kind of publicity Adam loathed. Jack would not be popular around the cop precincts, either. Well, he'd been there before. He didn't owe the public or the police an explanation, but Abbie and Adam -- well, that was different. He made another decision.
Abbie stared at him, waiting.
"Lunch," he said abruptly, catching her off-guard.
"What?" she asked, not believing she'd heard him correctly.
"If you want to understand, you'll have to wait until lunch. My treat." He smiled.
Totally disarmed, she looked at him, her mouth open. Letting out a little sigh of impatience, and shaking her head, she gave in.
"Fine," she said curtly. She sarcastically added, "Can't wait."
"Good," he nodded brightly, ignoring her tone. "I'll stop back around 11:45. Now, then...I've got a certain DA to placate."
Jack ducked out of Abbie's office and strode confidently down the hallway towards Adam's. As he walked, his thoughts were of Terrence O'Neill. Shaking his head, John James McCoy, survivor, lamented in a low voice, "Where was your Lawrence Ellis, Terry? Why aren't there ever enough to go around?"