I. The First Time
He doesn't know why he says it, but he says it aloud: "I am Jack's total disarray." And once it is out, he feels better and remembers the book he's been reading lately where one character often refers to himself in that way. He says it again. "I am Jack's total, and utter disarray." This time it doesn't ring as well. He stops. Rolls up his shirtsleeves. Runs a hand through his straw-dry hair, pins it back, it falls forward again. There. He reaches down on the floor by his desk and presses the flat of his palm against the tallest of the stacks. Moves three folders, takes the fourth. Rifles through it.
Cancer. Women. Women with cancer. Yes, this is the file. Hurry, Jack, he thinks, done with speaking aloud. There isn't much time left. He tosses it on his desk and fans out the papers, the motions, the depositions as if he has been poring through them all morning. The early afternoon sun blazes through his open blinds and he eyes them, considering, then shrugs. It dusts up the place, all that sun, but it makes his new, drafty office warmer at least. For a minute, he stops completely and glances around. The big room. One of the big rooms, anyway. Until two days ago he'd been stuck with half a window and an office half this size. He'd been half an EADA. Stone always had the good office; Stone was Adam's pet all those years. Now, Stone is subtracted from the equation and that leaves...
Me with a good office, he thinks. Glances at his watch. Almost, almost.
Adam, solicitous for the first time since Jack had known him, called him to his office two days ago. Monday. "Ben's gone," he said shortly, always in that rough, annoyed voice. "You're it. Move in and take over."
He stood there, dumbstruck. Impossible. Stupid look on his face. "Me?"
Adam blinked at him as if he was an annoying insect. "There someone else in the room? You."
"Thanks." He felt reality settle around him again. The distant sounds of traffic ten floors down began to seep into the room. "I'll need an --"
"Pick who you want. Tell Doris." His secretary.
Jack knew already who he wanted. But he stopped himself and bit the inside of his cheek. Give back to the karma police, he thought. You got a gift. Give some back. "Who do you recommend, Adam?" The words dragged out like needles.
The D.A. sat up straighter than his hunched form usually allowed and Jack knew he'd scored a point. One down, he thought, a million to go. And Adam told him exactly who he thought was the right person.
Fortunately, Jack agreed.
Now, she is nearly here. He has never met her officially, just heard things and seen her pass in the hallway. He knows she's good, if still a little green. He's heard of her occasional blunder - the time she nearly got canned when a child witness lied on the stand; the time she temporarily quit when it was revealed she'd once slept with a judge then under investigation. It was just enough tarnish to intrigue him. Assistants always intrigued him; he loved being looked up to. It was a weakness he'd identified in himself long ago, and learned to live with. This time, he swore, no involvement. The last one -- Diana -- she'd been too hard. They'd broken it off ugly; he'd suspected she was shirking her job, and had to tell her so. No more entanglements. Business not as usual.
He hears her, or he hears heels in the hallway. Somehow, through the wall of his closed door and all the cacophony of a busy D.A.'s office, he hears her coming. Something sticks in his eye and he rubs once, hard. A lash on his finger. He flicks it away and paws at the folders on his floor, turns away. Must look busy, must look as if this is just another event in his day. But a new assistant ... ah, that is always cause for celebration. Jack steels himself, staring at the worn Oriental rug under his desk area where Ben rolled his chair for just about fifteen years. He thinks about the places where the nap shows through, and the places as yet untouched. He thinks of his oncoming assistant and promises himself: Not this time. No distractions. Work. Suck up to Adam. Get the job Ben was destined for because Ben crapped out on everyone. Work, all the way.
He turns, glances up. She has come into his office. The sunlight on her is soft, radiant, unearthly. She glows like an angel, something from beyond.
Well, he figures, maybe next time.
For now, he is Jack's Charming Grin.
II. Landing Gear
She is absolutely perfect, still against the sheets, dark hair against crisp whites. Her hands tremble with a slight palsy. As he stares down from above, he wants to cry. The backs of his eyes feel dry, then burn. He is aching to do something, say something.
But there is no one around. The doctors and nurses are racing up and down the hallways for other patients, patients who have a greater than 10 percent chance of recovery. The ones who are going into brain death are no longer their concern. They've done what they can.
Someone should be here for her. Mike knows her parents won't show up; their little rag doll isn't any fun when her lights are out. That's why after they slap her around and she goes all limp and cold and bloody on the parquet floor, they leave her there. When she wakes up, then the fun can start all over again. Mike closes his eyes a minute to stop the itching in them and feels it, remembers what it was like to be thrown -- and more importantly, what it was like to land. The whoosh from when the air in his lungs was suddenly gone and he was gasping like an asthmatic, completely in thrall to his lungs, paralyzed, faint. If he was lucky, his older brother Sean would be there to pick him up, to rub that dent in the back of his neck until he calmed down. Once Sean told him how crocodile charmers could put the beasts to sleep by massaging a special place on them; Sean called Mike's soft spot at the base of his neck his crocodile gully. Eventually, Mike could breathe again, though his chest would hurt like he'd been stepped on, and he'd hiccup a few minutes while crying, and Sean would take him back to their shared bedroom, where Ma usually didn't bother either of them. Ma only came after Mike when he was running around, being bad, knocking things over, talking too loud. Once she'd knocked him down and out, there was no point. She'd move on.
So Mike knows about why this little one's parents won't be here.
He stands perfectly still, waiting for his partner Max to arrive, hands clasped in front of himself, protective and yet reverential. He feels he is already seeing her in a coffin and is just paying respects. She'll be dead soon, he knows enough about brain injuries to sense it's coming. He wishes he had a thousand bucks to give every one of the kids they come across a proper funeral. He wishes he just had it for Deirdre, this one. So little. Perfect. Perfectly still. Her round, closed eyes are gray from lack of sleep; she's getting plenty now. In a way, despite the fact that this case has ruined him inside, he's a little happy that she won't have to ever put up with some insane adult batting her around. Sometimes, he knows from experience, living with knowing he had one parent who made a hobby out of administering corporal punishment and another who just didn't seem to give a damn - that's almost too much for him to bear. He thinks his heart might break if Deidre grew up with that on her soul. There should be some way to get rid of those memories. To replace them with the Brady Bunch ones. He's tried alcohol, but it only works short-term. He's tried fixing it with lots of women, but in the end, they're short-term too. It's all short term.
Life is short-term. Particularly for Deirdre.
Mike releases his clasped hands and feels the cool air of the room strike them, drying the persipration that has formed. Slowly, almost as if he is afraid to hurt her further, Mike reaches forward and sets his hand on her forehead. She's oddly warm there, not quite feverish, but still alive. "Go to sleep," he tells her. "There's nothing to wake up for."
Only then do the tears come.
III. The Two Things
She has two things to say, and she's going to say them quickly and efficiently and with as little of the "sass" she's gotten reprimanded for by both her supervisor at the Public Defender's office and judges during sidebars as possible, and then she's going to turn tail and walk out. That is the plan.
Shambala Green punches the elevator button on the ground floor of the District Attorney's office and begins the wait that has caused her to miss numerous appointments upstairs and to be overly early for just as many more in the years she's been at the P.D.'s office. She's wondered more than once if those in charge on the ninth floor purposefully avoid renovation because they want the cranky, eternally slow-moving vehicle to say to the occupants: You're on D.A. office time now. You'll get there when we want you to get there, and you've got no control any more, so shut up and sit down.
It's the kind of thing she bets Stone would appreciate. That man has as many faces and temperaments and attitudes as a Halloween parade, and she's usually not sure which one is his real one, or if he even knows any more. Twenty-odd years at any job, and you see if you can tell your real face from the masks you wear. She half shrugs a little and turns her large almond eyes up at the seemingly-stuck red floor indicator numbers. Something's on three. It'll get here. She taps a toe and crosses her arms. The one mask she does like on Stone is the one he always has when she comes in the room - it's a thin-lipped, partial smile, the kind of gesture she only knows is a smile because she's been working around him so long. If she knew him better, she'd almost think he was delighted to see her. But that would be expecting too much. The only thing that really delighted Mr. Benjamin Stone was a guiltily verdict, and if it came at the expense of "Miss Sham-ba-la Green," as he would say, all the better.
The elevator makes a sickly binging noise and a full half minute later, the faded brass doors creak open. Eight people spill out as if grateful for escape. She makes a mental note: Stone's not one of them, which means he should still be upstairs, working out strategy. Shambala slides to the back of the car and pulls her briefcase closer. A narcotics ADA she's seen around the courthouse squeezes in alongside and stares. The doors close, and the woman doesn't stop looking, examining, thinking.
Shambala knows this stare. First, what runs through most everybody's head is: Who let that black woman in here? Isn't she supposed to be with the crying vic's families or what? But nobody says that any more. It's the politically correct 90s now, and people just think the ugly thoughts. Shambala stares forward, ignoring the impertinent stare, but constantly aware of it. Next, from experience, Shambala knows they start realizing she's got a business suit on and a briefcase, so they figure she works here, or at least in the court system, and the gaze turns appraising instead of wary. And as soon as they appraise, taking in the African-print scarf she often has folded over one shoulder, held in place with a pin she got in New Orleans once, they raise their gaze and ask --
"Your hair is lovely," says the ADA in a husky voice. "May I --?"
They always want to touch the dreads. It kills Shambala. She feels like a pet. "Please don't," she says in a low voice. Some of the other elevator inhabitants half-turn, hearing confrontation.
"Sorry," says the rasping ADA. "They're just pretty incredible."
Shambala loves her hair, and doesn't have any plans on changing it. She saw an actor on television with them, and just fell in love with dreadlocks -- short ones, for now -- and has ever since gone every few months to have them worked on. They're a little challenging to some people; everyone expects her to speak like an island woman, and smoke a lot of dope. Shambala likes the idea that no one can guess who she is by what she looks like. She thinks that Stone has never asked to touch her dreadlocks. And she thinks in the next moment that she would probably let him.
The elevator reaches the floor with the narcotics division, and the elevator half-empties. Raspy voice edges out without comment. When the doors close again, Shambala re-orients herself. She'll be on nine soon, and she has two things to say. One of which is that for some reason today in court, the great EADA Ben Stone didn't ask some of the most pertinent, damning questions he could have. He should have asked his witness: Where did Mr. Lowenstein get the money to support his jet-set lifestyle? Lowenstein was trash, and he'd trashed his wife until she trashed their kids; Shambala had put a shield around the wife and gotten her a deal, thanks to knowing how to tug on Stone's heartstrings. So she was out of the whole case, which just was involved with prosecuting the source of the evil now. So how come Stone slipped? That she couldn't be sure of. He wasn't a slipper. He saw the angles before she usually considered them, although she'd surprised him once or twice herself. In their years of working together, they were always adversaries, and this was the first time she'd really had a chance to be a disinterested bystander on a case he was trying, so she'd come to the daily sessions as often as her caseload would allow, and watched him in action. He really knew his stuff, she'd known that for some time. But a few days ago, she'd lost track of what he was saying and felt herself mentally re-creating the images of him moving across the courtroom, the way he waved one long-fingered hand while making a point, the way he stove his hands into his pockets, the long, drawn out pauses he used for emphasis.
She'd told herself she was just taking notes from a master to use in her own courtroom attacks.
But she's wandered off in her own head, and here is the ninth floor. She has to remember what she came up for. Yes. Lowenstein. Shambala shoulders her briefcase and steps out, heading slowly to Stone's office. She is going to walk in there and tell him about what he missed with Lowenstein. The evil son of a bitch dealt drugs. It's a big wallop. Stone is going to be very pleased with her. And if he is pleased, and he gives her that almost imaginary half-smile, she might find the courage to ask him the second thing.
His door is closed, but his secretary just waves Shambala in, assuming she already has an appointment. Shambala grips the handle on his door and strolls in, eyes only on Stone, who's sitting relaxed behind his desk in shirtsleeves and suspenders. He rises immediately as she enters. "I didn't hear you knock," he says. And he gives her the half smile.
"That's because I didn't," she tosses back. "If I'd'a knocked, you'd have heard it."
He leans up against the interrogation table. "I don't doubt that."
Stone's assistant, Robinette, makes a sound, and she sees him for the first time, her stomach crumpling. No, not today. Not in front of Robinette. She is unaccountably disappointed. Today, there will be no second thing.
But there is always tomorrow.
IV. The Last Time
"What's it feel like?"
"Like nothing, Claire. Just sleep."
"How do you know?"
"But you're so...sure."
"Surety is one of the primary reasons I get up in the morning. If you can't count on knowing certain things, then all there is is chaos."
"Like guilty or innocent. Clear choices like that."
"Ah-ah, Claire. Guilty or not guilty. Not the same. You've been in the office what, four years now? You know the difference."
"But what do you think it feels like?"
"Well ... there's the pinch of the needle on your arm. So that hurts, a little. Like giving blood."
"But the opposite."
"...Right. I suppose. Then, the liquid's room temperature. Warm, kind of. It's all regulated, depending on the body size, weight, general anxiety of the patient."
"Convict. Victim. I don't care what you call him. Patsy. Winner. Loser. The guy on the gurney. Do you want me to answer this question or not?"
"Waitress? More coffee. Thanks. Where was I."
"Patient's terrified. Warm stuff in his arm."
"Hmm. I don't think you're taking any of this seriously."
"I always take you seriously, Jack. Then what."
"Then ... I don't know. I'm making this up. I think the first thing he gets is a barbiturate-like solution, that puts him to sleep. So he's out cold when the rest of the poison goes in. He's asleep, dreaming."
"What kind of dreams do you think he has, Jack? What does he dream of?"
"Do you think it hurts?"
"I thought I just told you. No. The guy's a mackerel on that gurney by the time he's done."
"I think it does. It should."
"No, no, I don't mean it that way. I just mean...well, you know how sometimes, when you flip the last light off in the room before going to sleep, and a little spark jumps out -- this infinitesimal slash of violet, and it stings a second? And how between the split second of when you touched that light switch and when the room actually went dark time seemed to go slower because you'd been shocked?"
"I'm trying to follow this, but go on."
"Well, I'm not saying I want the execution to be painful. But other than birth, this is the biggest thing, the most final and complete thing that ever happens in a person's life. Someone is literally pulling this plug that is your life. They're flipping that switch, and out you go. Into ... what do you call it?"
"Right. Well, the last thing between when you know you're alive and -- whatever comes next -- that should be like that little spark that shoots out. The last, vivid thing you ever experience where time goes slower, just a little bit. And inside that period of time the room is going dark. Until suddenly, the pain's gone --"
"And so are you."
"Something like that. It should hurt. You should know when your light is being blown out."
"I like the dreaming idea better."
"I'm not surprised."
"Where are Briscoe and Curtis, anyhow?"
"It's a long drive. They'll be here. And Adam's meeting us there, right?"
"Last I heard. He gets the limo ride, of course."
"What's wrong with my Honda?"
"Nothing. Though the bike would have been more fun."
"Jack, I love your motorcycle, but the middle of the night three hours north is pushing my limits."
"I like pushing your limits. Do you remember the first day you came into my office?"
"Sure. Place looked like a tornado had hit it."
"See, there's our difference. You remember the place, I remember...just you."
"Jack...please. We talked about this."
"Well, I'm not the one who suggested a cooling-off period."
"...I just need some room. The office feels like it's closing around me sometimes."
"And I'm part of this office, aren't I."
"Oh, no, wait. I see it now. I am the office."
"That's unfair. I never see my friends, my mother keeps asking me over for dinner and I never have the time, I've missed more holidays and weekends and...just...life since -- since there became an us. And that's not your fault. That's mine. I thought I'd explained that already. I have to have a sense of me outside the wood walls of Hogan place."
"Even though I don't, is that what you mean."
"That is not what I mean. Stop making this about you. I've been telling you for weeks I think I'm not cut out for the DA's office. And you keep pulling me back in. I keep letting myself be pulled. But..."
"Check, please. Thanks."
"Where are you going?"
"I'm going to wait outside."
"It's dark out. And it's damp."
"I'm going to have a butt, and then I'll be at your car. I'd like it if you'd wait in here until the detectives arrive."
"You haven't smoked in months."
"That you know of."
"Jesus, Jack, you can be so petty."
"No, Claire. That's not what this is. That's never been what this is."
"Then what has it been?"
"...It's...it's been a violet spark between the flicker of the light, Claire."
And as he walks out of the diner into the dark night sky, she finishes his thought silently: And after that spark has faded, soon enough, the darkness will come.