Stand Up Guy
Fans of Kitt's fic won't be surprised to read again that the topic of missing moments comes up yet again in "Stand Up Guy." Facts are often only as reliable as what those who participated remember ... and sometimes all it takes is one crucial witness to change history. Lennie has one question to ask of Jack, just one. And that's all it takes.
The soft green felt spread out before him like a grassy plain, an open expanse of possibility. So much open green space almost made him feel agoraphobic; a native New Yorker like himself, who maybe went to the Catskills once or twice when the kids were little, could get spooked with that much openness. Time to fix it. Lennie Briscoe leaned over the wooden edge of the pool table, feeling a familiar dull pain in his lower spine tweak at him, and lowered his stick expertly, propping it up in the Y of his thumb and forefinger. Draw back, release, contact. The balls smacked together satisfyingly, and the eight did a nice smooth slide into the pocket.
"That's twenty you owe me," he remarked, standing up carefully so he wouldn't throw his back out. "Don't you never learn, John?"
John Munch peered at him over his horn rims. "The odds are in my favor, Detective," he noted, leaning on his stick. "Sheer statistical fact demands that eventually, I will beat you."
"So, double or nothin'?"
"You're on, man."
It was a nothing Thursday night, nothing going on at home or on the streets, and both detectives had cut out from work a few minutes early for Munch's weekly pool rousting. Ever since Munch had wrangled himself a transfer from Charm City -- or, as Briscoe often needled him, Crab City -- into the Special Victims' Unit of the NYPD five years ago, the two had been coming into Flannagan's on Thursdays to throw down a club soda (Lennie) and beer (John) while battering through the week's comings and goings in the criminal world. Lennie passed on his behind-the-scenes from the homicide department while John shared the more gruesome aspects of his line of the business. Sometimes, they even had an insight. Mostly, they played pool. Or rather, Lennie played, and John lost. But he had to give the guy credit: After some hundred-odd games, Munch had never given up trying to win. He was like a bulldog -- got his teeth in, and was prepared to wear out Lennie, no matter how long it might take.
These days, Lennie figured John was right -- the odds were on his side. That back twinge was getting worse, and he hadn't seen the spring side of chicken in a lot of years. Lennie had arrived at retirement age four years ago, and was hanging on because he couldn't figure out what else the hell he'd do with his time, if he wasn't chasing down the bad guys. But his Lieutenant had been giving him the eye for a while now, noticing where he was slower, realizing when his partner Eddie had to catch up on the slack, and he knew there was no promotion in his future. If he was lucky, they'd let him have a desk job in another six months. But Lennie knew he'd never been that lucky. It was like at pool -- he was just good at what he did, and luck didn't have much all to do with it. And even these days, his eyes didn't focus so good on the balls, not like they used to. When he and Munch had started hitting the green on Thursday nights five years back, the SVU detective was lucky if he got an opportunity past the break. These days, they were sharing more turns at the balls. He was closing in on Lennie, who didn't like it one bit. The whole world sometimes felt like it was closing in.
John finished collecting the balls and put the eight in the center, just like Lennie had taught him, then made a neat margin of space with his fingers at the base of the triangle before removing the shape. "You break," he announced, and when Lennie took aim again, asked, "So how's life at the two-seven? Donnie sends his love, a'course."
"I'm sure he does," said Lennie tightly, barely thinking of his old precinct captain, who'd landed in SVU a while back, and sent the white flying. A crack like bone, the balls sailed apart. Well, some of them did. Another casualty of aging. Not a single one went in. Now, if Don Cragen had been here, Lennie would have really looked good -- Don was even worse than Munch at pool. "You know, usual shit, murder here, drunk driver there, Green's showing up late again."
Munch clucked his tongue disapprovingly. "What, he on a binge again?"
Lennie shrugged and gestured for John to take his turn. "Maybe. All I know is he shows up at ten, I gotta cover for him." But it was more of a problem than that. When Eddie Green had been assigned to homicide back six years ago, he was a good, solid cop with one major flaw: He loved gambling. That first year, no sweat, just sometimes he'd show up bleary eyed on Monday after a sleepless weekend at the cards in Atlantic City, throwing his paycheck away. Lennie sympathized. He'd battled his own addiction with a bottle for fifteen years, and knew what it was like when that whore came knocking again. You had to open the door. You just had to. And if your wife and kids escaped when the door was open, that was just a casualty of the war. At least, that was the mentality. Lennie knew Green had no wife or kids to keep him in check, so he lived with his demon. Except, of course, on the months he couldn't make rent 'cause he'd gambled it all gone.
"Bad news," said Munch, sinking a stripe, taking aim at a second. "You got Van Buren all over you 'bout it?"
Lennie shrugged. "She knows when I'm bullshitting her, that's for sure. He can't have that many dentist appointments. She ain't called me on the carpet about it or nothin'. But it's more than just showing up late this time."
John missed and Lennie began chalking up his cue. "What -- not the rent again."
Lennie nodded. For at least another pay period, he suddenly had a guest on his sofa -- his partner. That afternoon over lunch -- a hot dog grabbed on the run between dead vics -- Lennie had planned to clear Eddie up on what was what about the whole being late jazz, when his partner suddenly said, "I'm out again, Len."
Lennie had shaken his head. "Aw, man. Don't even tell me you can't make rent."
"She locked me out, Lennie. Won't let me in 'til I give her two months this time."
On the one hand, Eddie had a saint of a landlord -- she wouldn't evict him, even if he was late with rent. On the other hand, if he was more than two days behind, she would lock him out without a word until he paid up. This was about the third time in the past 18 months, and Lennie was getting sick of being relied on as a backup crash pad. "You gotta pull it together, Ed. This ain't healthy."
"I know, I know," Eddie ran his hand over his goatee. "I'm real sorry. You ain't got company or nothin', do ya?"
Lennie laughed sharply and felt the hot dog turn into heartburn. "Yeah, right. It's just my harem."
"Yeah, yeah," he'd told his partner. "The sofa's yours. But this is the last time."
"The real last," Eddie grinned, and off they had gone to the next scene of the crime.
In the pool hall, Lennie took a gulp of his club soda. "Of course, I'd be willing to make a bet that ain't the last time, not by a long shot."
"You're a pushover," said John, his dour expression deepening as Lennie hit his stride and ball after ball disappeared in the pockets.
"Tell me about it." Lennie stood up and stared at Munch. "Why the hell do I keep saying 'yes'? I don't want that guy in my apartment. I wanna stay up and have my insomnia in peace. Now I gotta stare at the ceiling while he snores in my living room for two weeks."
John clapped a hand on Lennie's shoulder. "You may not be the fastest or the youngest or the smartest -- that's me -- but we all know you're the guy."
"What the hell's that mean?"
"It means you're a stand-up guy, Lennie. You do the right thing. Even when it gets you shit on, you do the right thing."
Lennie laughed, but the words stuck in his head. It wasn't such a bad thing, if that's what people thought of him. His laughter trailed off as he took aim at the next shot. A stand-up guy.
Jesus, how the hell did he get in there? They're gonna shit bricks downtown when this gets in the papers. This is no fucking good at all....
"Yo, Lennie. Lennie."
He heard Munch calling him from far away. "What."
"You gonna shoot, or you posin' for a magazine?"
The shot was still there, right in front of him. He'd just done a fade. And what a memory to be having. His arm arced back, and expertly hit the cue ball in precisely the right place. The ball slid into the pocket. Thunk.
A stand-up guy.
They had no idea.
Executive Assistant District Attorney Abbie Carmichael ran her hands through her hair and caught them unexpectedly at the back of her neck. Even after three years with her hair bobbed, she still hadn't gotten used to not having a long fall of brunette to keep her shoulders covered. But with position came responsibility, and there was something off about an EADA with long hair. She'd had it chopped, and knew it made her look a little older, but she needed to command that authority. Snip, snip, there goes the old Abbie. Sometimes when she looked in the mirror she was startled by the face that stared back.
Pawing through the papers on her desk, she found the file she was looking for, and began scanning it. Just yesterday, her assistant had passed on briefs for three new cases, to add to the never-ending stack on her desk, but she needed to be up to date for the meeting with the DA. First page, made sense, set it up, second page -- blank. Third page -- also empty. She buzzed her assistant. "Hey, Alan, come on in here a minute."
He was in her office almost before she had the receiver back in the cradle. That was Alan Lenski, more precise than a Swiss watch and wound tighter than one, too. "You rang?"
"Yeah," she held up the brief between two fingers. "This the case of the invisible man?"
He frowned and took the blue and white pages. She knew this would kill him -- he was the kind of A personality who took every mistake personally. "Oh, my God, Abbie, oh, my -- please. You have to understand --"
"It's okay, Alan. The world's still spinning on its axis."
"I can't imagine how this happened."
"The copier -- there have been problems all week --"
He folded himself into a chair like a cardboard doll.
"Just fill me in, okay? I know the rudiments. But I've got a meeting in ten minutes and I don't have time to wait for you to print out another."
"Right. Gotcha." He took a deep breath and closed his eyes. His method of memory retrieval had startled Abbie the first time she'd seen it, three months ago -- he acted like a computer -- but once he came back with facts, he could truly astound with detail and recall. And he didn't fail this time, either. "Right, okay. The Straub drunk driving case." And off he went. It was a standard DD -- guy's had a few, guy goes too fast on slick streets, guy skids through a red light into a car that's legitimately in the intersection. Straub was the driver, and had survived; his passenger had been impaled on the stick shift and had a blood alcohol level high enough to get the coroner drunk just on the fumes -- and the driver in the other vehicle had died on impact. Straub was genuinely contrite, according to the cops who'd interviewed him at the hospital -- he'd had a beer or two but was totally under control and just taking a much more drunk buddy home. But there had been trouble with the car, the brakes had gone bad, and Straub had lost control. As he put it, Straub had two choices: swerve into a lamp post, or keep going forward. He made his choice, which resulted in the smashup that left two dead. Alan stopped talking.
"And we're prosecuting this why?"
Alan shrugged. "The guy wasn't totally sober, I guess. And come on, Abbie. He killed two people. We don't know for sure his story's for real. We have to investigate."
"It does sound awfully convenient," she mused. "Blame it on the brakes, blame it on the guy he was taking home, everybody but himself."
Alan nodded his head. "Want me in there with you? I might know more if he asks me more stuff."
Abbie waved him off. "You've got arraignment court. I'll do fine."
But after Alan left, she eyed the clock and suddenly wasn't so sure. As she'd learned from experience, taking a DD case -- no matter how simple -- to District Attorney Jack McCoy was never as cut and dried as it might seem.
Unless he had a breakfast meeting with the mayor or some other dignitary, Jack McCoy kept the first of the morning hours for himself. He arrived at seven to Hogan Place, avoiding most of the obsequious morning greetings of clerks and members of the court who had avoided acknowledging his presence for the first twenty-seven years of his tenure at Hogan Place, but who now treated him like the President, slipped into his office before even his secretary arrived, and shut the door. For almost an hour every morning he would then be alone, surrounded by rows of legal tomes, stacked like a forest of information, sitting behind his mahogany desk covered in a plate of glass, a desk which always felt too clean, a desk which faced the window out on Police Plaza. The sun would be up, or be coming up depending on the season, and he would need no lamplight for hours yet. So Jack would sit there in his high-backed chair, alone in the quiet of his cave with the sun and his aromatic Starbucks coffee. The phone would not ring, no one would knock. It was as if he had dropped off the face of the earth. Come eight, everything started up again.
But for those fifty-odd minutes, his world was his own. And he could think at his own pace.
For months after moving into what had been Adam Schiff's old office he felt like a fraud. Yes, he had the support of Schiff for the position, yes he had run the race and won it -- and in truth he had earned it after nearly thirty years on the job. And yet.
This was the place he had reported to, this is where he had been interviewed for an ADA position in the '70s, this is where Schiff, cranky old genius that he was, had chewed him out more than once. Jack felt his real office was rightly a floor down and several yards down the hall. Anywhere but here. He felt like he had dethroned the king.
Not true at all. On their way home from the Supreme Court case a few years back -- Jack had lived a dream going to the Supremes, and it was a glory he'd never forget -- Schiff had quietly pulled Jack aside and let him know he was retiring before the next election, going off to do good works in Europe, and they'd need someone to sit in his place in the interim. He was giving it to Jack, which all but ensured the election later on. Jack had hesitated, and that woman, the woman nobody had ever heard of practically until she was in the position, took over. Left after two years. Schiff called Jack again, who again demurred -- he didn't want the figurehead, he loved trials too much.
Schiff had growled, "It's time, my boy."
The office had been Jack's now for just about three years -- and sometimes, he still wondered how he'd gotten here. He didn't have the political friends Schiff had. He didn't work the system the way Schiff knew how. Still. Here he was. The highest-ranking Mick in the whole city, running the law of the land. Jack chuckled to himself. Wouldn't his pop just have shit a brick.
His phone buzzed.
Jack blinked out of his reverie and stared at the flashing light a moment, collecting himself. After a moment, it stopped flashing. His secretary Drucilla knew she didn't have to say anything. It was just a wake-up call. Time to start the day.
When his door opened a half-hour later Jack was deep inside the penal code, checking an obscure reference. He jerked to attention and quickly slid the reading glasses off of his face; a consequence of being D.A. apparently meant the indignity of old man's vision. That didn't mean he had to let anybody see him wearing them. His guest strode into the office and took a seat on the far couch and for a moment, with her dark bobbed hair swaying he would have sworn --
To hell with her...
-- she was someone else. "Morning, Abbie," he managed after a moment, once again hating the hairstyle his onetime assistant, now executive assistant, had adopted. But what was he going to say -- don't cut your hair like that because I never totally got over the last assistant I had an affair with and she used to cut her hair like that? Bullshit. Sentimental bullshit, but he was a sentimental bullshit kind of guy, if you hit him the right way. Claire Kincaid had hit him in all the right ways, and some of the wrong ones. And, dying young had permanently frozen her in his memory -- she would always been late 20s, childless, free and independent, in a leather jacket. She was eminently obessible.
"Got a few things to go over, Jack," Abbie's familiarly husky tones dissolved any illusion he might still be harboring, and he joined her over by the sofa. "All set?"
"Ready and willing."
As they always did, once a week, she brought him the latest cases on her docket, and he gave advice on proceeding, agreeing with her most of the time, occasionally disagreeing on charges or how to go about things. Abbie had a mean streak that caught him off-guard -- he never could anticipate what would turn her into a pit bull, but he recognized that she would be happy to fry most of the unlucky souls who made it through their office. "Get a man two on that one," he'd say to a case, and she'd give him a look like she'd just swallowed a lemon. "Yes," he'd insist, "man two." And later, she'd inform him that the guy would never plead out, and Jack would remember that "no" was never an option in Schiff's office. "I don't care what it takes, Abbie. Get him to plea. You don't want that to go to a jury."
They were nearly finished twenty minutes later. "Here's one more," she added with a hesitancy he didn't like. She often saved the bad ones for last, the ones she thought he'd argue hardest over. As if she might have worn him down already and therefore would get what she was asking because he was too tired to fight.
He sat up in his chair and fixed her with a steady gaze. "I'm waiting."
Abbie told him the case of The People v. Gary Straub. "It's his first offense, he's got a clean driving record except a speeding ticket four years ago. I'm gonna have Alan check out Straub's story with the experts, but I don't see much of a case here. He was trying to do the right thing."
Jack had drifted into a hazy gray area and couldn't really hear her.
"What do you think?"
"How drunk was Straub."
"About two beers worth."
"And he couldn't've called a cab, because this city has no cabs, right?"
"Abbie, the result is the same: Two people are dead. There are two families who have children who aren't coming home. There are spouses and children and lovers and friends who will never see their..." he faded a moment, feeling his heart begin to pound. "I'm not brushing this aside."
"I never said we should."
"I want two counts of murder one."
Abbie's pencil rolled off of her legal pad on to the soft carpeting and she did not move to pick it up. "I heard you wrong."
"You did not."
"Those are the charges."
She sat back in the sofa and regarded him. At this distance, without his glasses -- because he did need them for distance these days, too -- she came close, so close. She was too tall, of course, and too swarthy and too many things, but without his glasses she was just a little out of focus, and that way he could remember. The way Claire had moved like a graceful gazelle through his office and through his home, through his life and then out of it. How he'd helped her to stand up for herself and think in ways her other mentors had neglected to do, and how she had responded so well she was just about ready to kick him to the curb when she died. Frozen in time, that was perfect for her. He never had to let go this way.
"The law doesn't fit, Jack." Abbie again broke into his reverie. "You have to explain to me how you can fit this square peg into a round hole, 'cause you've got me confused."
"Whose car was it." Jack's voice was a rough bark.
"The drunk guy's."
"Did he know the drunken man?"
Abbie checked her notes. "Sort of. Colleague from work."
Jack tapped his fingers together. "So. We have a theft of a car --"
"He was driving his co-worker home."
"Robbery in the first degree," Jack overrode, "during which the man who had been stolen from attempted to regain possession of his vehicle. Mr. Straub refused, causing the car to lose control. It then plowed into another vehicle. Murder One -- if, during the course of committing a robbery in the first degree -- or in the course of immediate flight after attempting to commit the crime -- another person dies, it is indeed murder in the first."
Abbie shook her head, as if trying to clear it. "You need intent, Jack. There's no intent here."
"There is always some intent," Jack ground his teeth. "Have Alan find it."
"This isn't right," Abbie argued. "I won't take this to a jury."
"Then don't," Jack snapped, standing. "I will."
Word got around, as word always did. By the end of the afternoon, the entire building knew; by the morning it was in the paper: D.A. Seeks Death Penalty For Drunk Driver. By the end of the week he had staunch supporters on the far right, Mothers Against Drunk Driving cheering him all the way, the New York Post on his side. Flip it around, and in another week the Times was doing editorials on the discretion afforded a district attorney in bringing charges; the judge who remanded the case to trial and thought the use of murder one was both creative and worth exploring (and who didn't mind presiding over a case the DA himself would be trying; he was looking for an even higher position eventually) considered by the ACLU to be completely out of touch. The decision had but two sides: Those who thought the D.A. had gone over the edge, and those who applauded his no-bullshit stance on drunk driving. Some even compared him to the former Mayor Guiliani, who passed away of prostate cancer a year ago. Back in the late '90s, that Mayor had tried to impound drunk drivers' cars, and Jack's stance was seen as a logical next step. Jack McCoy had made himself a national name, entirely unplanned, with a controversial, questionable move that also made for fascinating dinner conversation. No one could look at his wine glass the same way again.
The world didn't change much for Lennie and John. They still met every Thursday night for beer and club soda and to knock the balls around. On one particular nothing Thursday, about a month after the D.A. went public with the charges, they were exactly where they could always be found. Munch was deep into going over the strangely coincidental nature of three individual sex crimes which had come across his desk, all of which involved an unusual use of thimbles, as Lennie sank a final shot that brought his game total up to 3 wins, 0 losses that night. Which also brought his ultimate total up to 861 wins, zero losses. Munch was into him for at least a grand, if not more.
But an uninterrupted winning streak wasn't what was on Lennie's mind -- the game, the money and that thing with thimbles Munch had been going on about for the last quarter hour all swirled around his gray head but didn't penetrate. Lennie had his mind elsewhere. "Another?" he asked in the middle of one of John's long, eloquent sentences.
"Glutton for punishment, you know that," John said immediately, and gave his pool partner an odd look. "You aren't hearing me at all, are you."
"Sorry," Lennie grunted, resting his cue against the wall. "Just thinkin'."
"You're not seeing Gwen again, are you?" John's voice spiraled upwards.
The fact that Lennie had an affair with one of John's exes (there were so many, and the affair had not been intramarital, and he hadn't even known John Munch at the time) had preyed heavily on John's head ever since they met, but Lennie knew he was trying to make a joke, to keep things light. "Oh, yeah. Forgot ta mention that. You don't mind, right?"
John gestured graciously that she was all Lennie's. "Come on. You can tell old Munch. What's really clogging your arteries, anyway? You've been off your beam a couple weeks now."
Lennie shrugged. "Eh, nothin' to get chapped over. Goin' to get a soda. You want another?"
"I don't turn it down," said Munch, and dropped the subject.
Lennie headed to the bar, wanting to go into detail, knowing he couldn't. Sure, there was shit to talk about. But he couldn't do it with Munch, or Eddie, or Donnie -- and especially not with the Lieutenant. Briefly, Lennie remembered what Munch had called him a few weeks ago, and shook his head a little. For a stand up guy, I'm doing a lot of sitting on my ass, Lennie thought to himself.
But the walls were closing in. The call had come earlier that week on his voice mail at work. A familiar voice, and only a few words: "Gimme a call back. I wanna know what you're thinkin'." Lennie'd been surprised not at the terseness of the call from his conscience, but at the fact that the message hadn't come sooner.
His club soda came, and he nodded for the waitress to bring Munch his beer. After paying the tip, Lennie had about fifty cents left in change. It was enough. Shuffling over to the pay phone, he dialed a number he'd memorized years ago, when circumstances were a hell of a lot different. Ring once, ring twice -- Lennie noticed how it always seemed to ring different when you were calling another borough -- and a third time. He began to wonder if he'd leave a message or just hang up and try later -- and then the connection went through. "Hey. Yeah, it's me. You're right. We gotta talk."
They might have met anywhere, but the ferry made the most sense, an in-between place neither Manhattan nor Staten Island, a limbo in which anything could be discussed and nothing would go further than the dark waters surrounding them. When rush hour wasn't stuffing the small boats, they usually ran near empty, the noise of the motors foiling most chances at eavesdropping. It was a place for privacy in a city where no such thing really existed.
Lennie leaned over the side rail, watching as Manhattan receded in the distance, the twin towers of the World Trade Center and the lights of Wall Street basked in a faint purplish glow that surrounded the city like a protective layer. Briefly he turned to stare up into the heavens and was obscurely delighted to notice stars, pinpricks of light, a connect-the-dots puzzle that could never be finished. When he glanced down again, Mike Logan was hopping down the upper deck staircase with that slightly bowlegged jog of his, same leather coat flapping out behind him, the breeze making his thick dark hair stand up on one side. To his credit, Logan looked pretty much exactly the same as Lennie remembered him -- solid, challenging, the kind of off-kilter handsome the women went nuts for. Sure, there was some gray at the temples now -- but he was pretty much the same guy Lennie had partnered with back in the '90s for a few years. Until, of course, Mike's brutishness got the best of him one day and he popped a councilman. He'd been sent down to the Island, and never returned to work in Manhattan on any permanent basis.
Mike squinted at Lennie and gave him a half grin as he thrust his hand forward. "Hey, Len. Lookin' good."
Lennie shook Mike's hand awkwardly. "Thanks, man. Nice night out here."
Mike rested his forearms on the rail and stared out at the waters. "Yeah, for a September, it's good. It'll get witchy cold soon 'nuff, though. Riding this tub when it's bitter makes you wish you'd stayed home, you know?"
"Do you ride it much?" Lennie hadn't realized Mike ventured into the city any more.
Mike shrugged. "Happens. I was seeing somebody who lived in the West Village for a while. Made commuting a bitch. Probably one of the main reasons I got out of that one."
"Never put yourself out too much, Mikey."
"Oh, I've been known to, from time to time."
Lennie let that sit between them, knowing it was an offer to start, still not sure he cared to open this can of worms. He knew the answer, he knew what Mike was going to say, he knew all of it. Getting to believing it himself was where Lennie got stuck. They weren't friends, not exactly -- anybody you can go a year and a half without seeing ain't much of a friend -- but they had something between them that kept up a link. Things done under cover of darkness had a way of keeping you attached. "C'mon. I wanna sit." Lennie turned to a nearby bench and strolled over, the crick in his back acting up again. Six months, then a desk job, if he could get one. That's all Lennie wanted. Not retirement, not a promotion. Not any more. Just a place to be from nine to five, where he belonged. He creaked into the bench and stared straight ahead as Mike joined him in a minute. Lennie envied the younger man's spry bouncing and landing and sitting -- and for a minute hated him for it. Somehow he felt he'd know the answer to all this if he was younger.
After a long few minutes, he said, "I thought you'd call."
"I thought you'd call me first," said Mike.
"Didn't know what to say," Lennie admitted. "We always agreed to just keep our traps shut so nobody got hurt."
Mike nodded. "Problem is, somebody's gonna get real hurt this time if we don't say anything. Or, if you don't say anything."
"You're not gonna back me on this?"
Mike shrugged. "If you need me, I'm there, Len. I'll verify. But nobody trusts me up there any more, not since Profaci got nailed."
"That was years ago."
"C'mon, you know to a cop a year is a dog's age. My name's mud in Manhattan. Why'd you think I stayed here all this time?"
Lennie said nothing. Mike had chased down a murder case found in the Harbor and it eventually led to one of the two-seven precinct's most beloved cops, who was dirty. Mike was a rat, that's how the long-timers saw him. The rookies never heard of Mike Logan. He'd be okay with them at first. But he'd always have the shadow of the old cops passing down the knowledge. Mike was right -- he had been exiled like Napoleon, and it was a life sentence. Lennie felt guilty he'd never made any real fuss about clearing Mike's name, or making the path back to town easier ... but that was the way Mike was. He sometimes could make it real hard to root for him. And then, there were the times when he was the only person in the world you could rely on.
Why had he called Logan on that one night, anyway? Why out of all of the other cops Lennie knew he could rely on, of all the friends and relatives he had in the world, of all the ADAs he was friendly with and knew could keep a secret -- why did Mike Logan's name poke through the fuzziness of a near concussion and stand before him in big lights?
Mike, it's Len. I know it's 2am. There's a mess. We gotta clean it up.
So they had. Mike had been on call that night, so the ring had jumped to his beeper and he'd rung Lennie back in seconds. Mike was in town, he'd be over in ten minutes. Lennie had called Mike before the ambulance, before the cops, before anyone else. After they'd clicked off, he'd retched up the three or four drinks he'd had into the sewer and sat on the curb with his head between his knees until Mike had come, pulling up to the corner in the Honda he'd bought not long after moving to the Island. And together, they'd cleaned up the mess. Only when Mike had sped off did Lennie call 911.
"Do you ever think about it, Lennie?"
"I'm thinkin' about it now, Mike."
And he was. It was a hell of a day; the first execution Lennie had witnessed in all his years on the job. Schiff had gotten the bright idea that since no one who had been involved with prosecuting the state's first death-penalty case was with the DA's office any more, he was going to send a token EADA and ADA to the big event; the Lieutenant had thought that was a brilliant idea, and sent Lennie and his then-partner Rey upstate as representatives from the precinct in which the killer was caught. Together they had stood like a herd of frightened wildebeest behind a big glass pane and watched silently as the life had drained out of the convicted citizen's body. One minute he was a snarling, unrepentant asshole, the next he was just a corpse. It was enough to drive a man to drink, which Lennie did, steadily, from that evening until the accident later on. He'd run into the future D.A. at his bar of choice, and McCoy already been well into his cups by the time Lennie arrived. They shared drinks, blotted out what bothered them, and laughed with the boys. Then McCoy had gotten all pissy when his date hadn't responded to his numerous beeps -- date, schmate, it was Claire Kincaid, everybody knew they were banging each other even though nobody ever said anything -- and stalked out to find his own way home. Claire had shown up not long after that with her tousled hair and leather jacket to find not her lover but just another drunk old guy and volunteered to take Lennie home herself.
"Jesus, she was gorgeous," Lennie murmured.
Mike fiddled with the thumbs in his lap. "She always was."
"No, I mean that night. I'd had more than a couple and she just showed up and for a second the guys in the bar thought she was there for me. So I turned and it was like -- hey, why not? She could be, she likes us mature guys, maybe she really is there for me. But then she gives me this look like my kid used to give me, and I know -- I just know. Bitch."
"Oh," Lennie waved him off. "I don't mean it. Of any of 'em, Claire was probably the least bitchy. It wasn't in her. But that night I was so off my head I just wanted to...." he trailed off. "I didn't want to go home alone."
Mike blinked at him, listening.
"I was gonna do something stupid like ask her up once we got to my place. Or I might've even made pretend I was too drunk to get up myself, and I'd need her help. And we'd get up there and then...."
"And then you'd've passed out."
Lennie laughed. "Yeah. Probably." He sighed. "You and she ever --"
Mike shook his head. "Nope. Dunno why. I never asked. She never made a move. I figured -- if I figured anything -- we had time." He folded his arms. "I've been wrong before."
They sat a while longer, thinking of what had been lost.
"What I meant," said Mike, "was do you ever think about ... the accident."
"It's been in my mind," said Lennie lightly. "Particularly the last few weeks."
"Which brings us to this place," said Mike. "What're you gonna do?"
"I suppose you've got some opinions on the subject, a'course."
Mike set his hands behind his head and stared up at the sky. "It's not about protecting anybody any more, Len. It's about saving somebody this time. He's over the edge. You gotta put a choke chain on that puppy."
"I wanna see him reined in, Mikey, I don't want his back broke."
"It's been ten years, Len."
"Yeah, and you can see what a great recovery the guy's made. Nearly got himself censured before, now he's thinking he's God's own avenging angel."
"Hey, I thought that was old Stone's realm."
Lennie laughed. "It comes with the territory, I guess." He shook his head. "Look, the guy might get acquitted anyhow, and then none of this makes no difference."
"Or, he gets convicted, and then what you have to say makes no difference while he marches to the gas chamber." Mike stood and stretched, then leaned up against the railing again. They were pulling into the dock at Staten Island. "You want me to come with you when you tell him?"
Lennie shook his head. "Nope," he sighed sadly. "This is me. I'll leave you outta it, so far as I can."
Mike shrugged. "Whatever, Len. It's your call. But I think the answer's out of our hands now. This time, we don't get to choose." And with that, he tapped his fingers to his forehead in a mock-salute. "See ya, partner."
Lennie smiled. None of 'em had been as good as Logan in the end. He was a cop, through and through -- and a good one, temper or no. He looked up to wave farewell, but Mike had already turned his back and was disappearing into the night's darkness.
It had to be done.
The District Attorney offices in Manhattan never fully shut down; there was always someone there for the lobster run -- that is, the overnight shift. Lennie found Jack with no problem at all at ten at night; everyone knew the past week or so the D.A. had been working the kind of late hours he'd become known for when he was prosecuting regularly. It was a real sensation -- the D.A. taking this case himself, prosecuting it himself. The rumor was that he couldn't get anybody else in the offices to do it for him, but Lennie didn't believe that. Any EADA worth his salary would jump at the chance to toady up to the boss by doing this for him. Lennie knew Abbie had turned it down, and Jack had then decided no one else could possibly muster the passion necessary to send Straub to death row, and that had been the end of it.
Lennie hefted up the plastic carrier bag in his hand and stuck his head in the partially-opened office door. The oily aroma of Chinese food still hung in the air, and his stomach grumbled. He was starving but hadn't been able to eat since last night after talking with Mike. Everything tasted like sand. He felt like a pussy, letting this get to him like it was, but he couldn't help it. Thinking about that night, and everything they'd done always made him a little sick to his stomach.
McCoy didn't notice him, deep into a book and some paperwork. Lennie stepped all the way into the office, glancing down at a young skinny kid -- the assistants looked younger and younger these days; this one had to be around 13 -- with a brush haircut, sitting on the floor surrounded by Federal Registers.
The kid looked up and moved his glasses higher on his nose. "Can I help you?"
"I'm here to see the big man," Lennie told him.
McCoy glanced up, looking a little wan, but with a familiar brightness in his eyes. It was the holy light some prosecutors -- and some cops -- got when they'd sunk themselves heart and soul into a case. Lennie hadn't known any prosecutor to have it nearly as much as Jack McCoy, which was both a good and a bad thing. "Detective Briscoe," Jack said firmly. "Working a little late, aren't you."
"You could say that," said Lennie, but didn't go on, hoping Jack would get the message.
Jack sat back in his chair and set his glasses on the desk. "Actually, I was thinking about you earlier, Detective. It's hard not to, with this case."
"Really." Lennie kept his tone even, suddenly thinking: Does he know? All these years, could he have known all along? In a strange way, Lennie hoped he might.
"Of course. It was yours and Green's, yes?"
The heavy weight settled back on Lennie's shoulders. "Oh, yeah. We caught it. Not much to investigate, really. All right there."
"Did you know --" Jack ruffled through some pages, the light in his eyes feverish, "that Gary Straub had a blood alcohol level one tenth a point lower than the legal limit when he was picked up?"
"No, can't say --"
"And did you further realize that an hour after he was picked up the test was re-administered in the hospital and the level had gone up five tenths, so that he was, in fact legally driving drunk?"
Lennie thought about it. "Well, he was legally drunk in the hospital, not in his car."
The kid made a noise.
"That's what Alan said," Jack noted, deflating a bit. "He's second-chairing with me."
Lennie turned. Toady at five o'clock.
"Sorry I didn't recognize you, Detective," said Alan. "I'm a little wired."
"The point being," Jack overrode loudly, "that Gary Straub had drunk far more than he let on at first, and had the car not crashed he likely would have been drunk, and in his car, and therefore, driving drunk."
"Can't argue with that," said Lennie, beginning to feel stupid, standing there in his overcoat with this heavy bag, wishing Jack would get his assistant the fuck out of there.
"As I plan to assert," Jack said with an air of finality, and rubbed his eyes. "Well. To what do I owe this visit, Detective?"
Lennie stared at him. "We got business to discuss."
Jack shook his head. "Whatever it is, I'm sure it can wait until after the weekend. We're crunched. Voir dire begins in a week." He tapped his pen on the desk. "Unless it has to do with this case, of course."
"It kinda does."
"Well, then." Jack opened his hands wide. "Please, go on."
"And it kinda doesn't."
Jack narrowed his eyes a bit, trying to understand. "Sphinx riddles hurt my head this late at night, Detective. Just spit it out."
Lennie rolled his eyes. "This ain't for public consumption, Jack. We can do it here -- or there's this bar way downtown on the lower East Side we could go to. You know where it is, right?"
He saw the arrow penetrate. Jack still didn't know what was going on, but the code was finally being received. "I don't have time to go over ancient history, Detective." The words hissed out like air escaping from a tire. "I have to focus on the here and now."
Lennie blew out a lungful of air and shrugged. Not that he was giving up. He'd psyched himself up for this moment, and now that he was right here, ready to talk, there was no chance he was gonna back down. Whether Jack knew it or not, he was coming on this ride. One last time. "Gotcha, Mr. District Attorney. Loud and clear. That bar's too far. But there's a great place just five blocks west from here, Myron's. I'm goin' over there. And I'm gonna sit for a little while, and then maybe I'll go home."
"You do that, Detective." The fever was dimming in Jack's eyes; now he was all hard steel, and growing angry.
"And maybe, after you wrap up all this important business here, you might think about stopping by."
"And maybe," this time Lennie overrode Jack, "on your way over you might wanna think about this question: How did you end up getting home that night?"
He walked, of course.
Jack dismissed Alan and gradually made his way out of Hogan Place, taking his time but hurrying up all at once, mind racing. Damn Briscoe; he'd lost them a good two more hours of work by coming in and stirring things up. The minute the cop had left Alan had wisely gone back to his research but try as he might, Jack's attention had wandered again into a decade-old world of drunken memory and regret. After another twenty minutes there was no more work he would get done, and he sent Alan home. Once outside, Jack waved away the waiting Town Car that would take him to his apartment uptown, and he walked.
As he had done that night ten years ago, walked right out of that bar, full to the gills of piss, vinegar and several kinds of Scotch, and blinked into the night air. Lower East Side bar. Apartment uptown. No problem. He would walk. If it took all night -- or the remains of the night -- he would walk. So Jack had set off down the street.
The voice came out of nowhere in the middle of the deserted courthouse buildings. Jack glanced in the direction from which it came and for a moment had the impression that the Federal Courthouse was speaking to him, calling his name. And then he saw him, a dark shadow against a lighter stone background: Lennie sitting on the courthouse steps like a gargoyle, waiting for him. "Briscoe," said Jack after a moment, heart slowing down a few beats.
"Didn't feel like hanging at Myron's," said the detective. "Thought the night air would do some good."
"What is it you want, Detective." Jack tugged his jacket tighter around his chest. He usually treated the cops with far more deference than he was giving Lennie at the moment; Lennie of all people was the one cop he was occasionally on friendly terms with. But this wasn't just Lennie sitting up there. Jack felt like a person who has locked his keys inside the apartment and knows he's missing something, but can't think of what. Lennie currently had Jack's keys, and until this moment, Jack never even knew they were missing. With that one abominable question, suddenly everything went up in the air.
How had he gotten home?
He walked, of course.
But Jack had no memory of it whatsoever. He left the bar. The next thing he recalled was a phone ringing at six in the morning, shattering him awake, with news that would shatter much more in his life before the day was through. He'd opened his eyes still in clothes from the night before, the reek of smoke and sour mash in his nose, spread out in his own bed. So clearly, he had gotten home just fine. He'd fallen in something along the way; the sleeve of his shirt had been spattered with small spots of dark that never completely washed out, so it had gone into the bag for Goodwill. But that was long after. Lennie had been the last one with her the night she died, he got the story on how it all happened from Briscoe -- but everything from the moment Jack stepped out of the bar until he woke up the next morning was second-hand. The night was a dark spot that didn't wash out.
"C'mere," Lennie waved a big hand in Jack's direction. "Have a seat."
"It's coming up on midnight, Detective. I don't much feel like sitting in the dark on the courthouse steps with you."
"Okay," said Lennie. "Did you figure an answer to the question?"
"I walked," said Jack. "I walked home."
"I think." Much softer. Jack sighed, and after a moment more, strode up the steps to where Lennie had parked himself. He took a seat a foot or so from the detective, lowering himself stiffly to the concrete step. It hadn't been cold on the sidewalk, but here Jack felt frigid.
"No big deal about Myron's, anyway," said Lennie. "They closed fifteen years back. I brought a bar with us." He pulled the carrier bag around and withdrew a six-pack of Michelob bottles.
"I don't drink, Detective," said Jack. "I haven't for years. And last I checked, neither do you."
Lennie pulled out a bottle and regarded it like a woman. "Yeah, well ... life holds many surprises, counselor. Tonight, I think we're both drinkin' men again."
"Speak for yourself."
Lennie's dark features regarded him, then popped the top on the bottle and he drank half of it in a swallow. "You didn't walk."
Jack felt a trembling in him come from nowhere. Not like a quake, but like a fear so deeply imbedded there's nothing to do but shiver. He took a fresh bottle and popped it open, sipping. "No?"
"Well," he said, the tremble quieter now -- it had only been beer, and Michelob at that but damn that had tasted fine. "Thanks for clearing that up, Detective. I can sleep easier now."
"Can Gary Straub?"
The non-sequitur threw him. "I don't see that one has anything to do with the other."
"I read his report. He changed his story once you hit him with the death penalty, I noticed."
It was nothing new, and he told Briscoe as much. Faced with death, details often changed. "Naturally. All of a sudden it wasn't crappy brakes. It was the drunk guy in the shotgun seat. Typical."
"He said the guy reached for the wheel, Jack. It was the drunk guy's car, and he reached for the wheel. That's how come he ended up with the stick shift in his liver. That's how come the car went out of control."
"So you say," said Jack. "Straub was drunk, he had taken someone else's car, and --"
"Last I checked, Mr. D.A., it wasn't up to the prosecutor to invent the story to fit the facts. The facts made their own story."
"I am not in the mood to sit here and be reprimanded," said Jack. "Alert me after you graduate law school, and then we can have a discussion on ethics and the law. Until then, just keep doing your job the way you have the last twenty-nine years, and I'll do mine." He started to get to his feet, but Lennie put out a hand to his forearm and made him sit again.
"Look, Jack," said Lennie, voice even and resonant. "Trust me, okay? If you don't promise to act reasonable with Straub, you're gonna make me do something I don't wanna."
Jack frowned. "That sounds like a threat." And yet it didn't.
Lennie opened another beer and sighed, then drank it down. After a minute, Jack did the same, and they sat in silence with the tangy alcohol flooding their systems. Jack closed his eyes a moment, and he could see the bar on the lower East Side he'd wandered into for a few after the execution, and then stayed all evening at. There was a pool table, two. Guys in flannel at the bar. TV on with the sound down in the corner. Neon. Pinball machine. Cigarette machine. Telephone. He'd called her twice, and both times -- nothing. Not even a message on his machine at home. He'd hated her then, in his drunken stupidity, he'd hated her and he'd hated himself because he had always been more involved in them as a twosome than she had. His heart felt like a cannonball, sunk so deep and fast into his chest it would never move or feel again. The shame of it all, of everyone seeing the relationship for what it was and never saying a word, of Lennie knowing exactly who he was calling from the bar all night, and never bringing it to attention. What they all didn't say was worse than the cute jibes they would have made up if he'd been dating somebody they'd never met. But Lennie, Mike, Rey, all the cops and ADAs he dealt with daily knew Claire, and if they were straight men they all wanted to be the ones in his place. So they'd all said nothing. And there it was, coming to a close, and soon he was going to have to see Claire on the arm of some other man, with pictures of her next lover on her desk, and it was going to kill him. Jack could see it all, the weeks and months and years of her not coming home to him. It was almost more than he could bear.
So he'd left. He'd stumbled outside into the cool evening air, alert and wondering to the fact that it had obviously rained; the streets were slick and small drying puddles marked the cracked sidewalk. He would walk, that had been his intention. He made it a few blocks down, felt sick, heaved into a trash can, and rested his forehead on a cool lamppost, trying to regain his dignity. He didn't even see the car until it was pulled up in front of him with the window rolled down.
"Hey, shyster," called a voice. Jack glanced up and squinted. The guy stuck his head out, and Jack felt relieved -- it was one of the guys from the bar he'd been sitting around with most of the day. This one, he thought, might have come in later than the others, but he wasn't sure. "C'mon. I'll give you a ride home. You ain't in no shape to go roamin' around."
Gratefully, he had gotten in on the passenger side, slumping against his seat. And promptly passed out.
He hadn't remembered that until just now. "Huh," said Jack to Lennie, his second beer now a long-ago memory. He opened a third. "I guess I didn't walk."
"Nope, you didn't," said Lennie. And he began to talk.
They were tooling along nicely in the near-empty streets, overhead lights throwing shadows across their faces. He was making small, light talk, trying to ignore a growing desire to have her in the backseat -- a strong animal sexuality he hadn't sensed in years -- when it happened. Claire pulled her small car out into the intersection, about to make a turn, when this enormous two-ton bullet shot out from the other direction and slammed into them. Time slowed: Lennie could remember to this day how his body had jerked in the seat belt harness, the canvas cutting into his neck and gut, then how he was tossed against the soft back seat like a doll; he could remember the awful crunching sound of metal against metal, the scraping that gave him goosebumps, the soft cry of alarm from Claire next to him, the last sound it would turn out that she would make. And then, suddenly, silence. They were still alone in the streets. The car that hit them had stopped. They were frozen in place, dancers waiting for the next step to be called.
Lennie couldn't remember who he was for a terrifying few seconds. He didn't know the woman leaning lifeless in the seat next to him, he didn't know even where he was. Then it all returned, his brain stopped jangling around and he heard a high buzzing in his ears. His forehead must have banged on something; there was a small cut oozing blood, and he used his handkerchief to wipe it away. He felt winded as if he'd just run a race, and then the adrenaline kicked in. Jerking off the seat belt that had saved his life he flung open the car door and tumbled out, barking his knee on the ground, then standing up quickly, desperate to get away, afraid of what would happen next. It was all primal, instinctual -- he barely had a moment of rational thought for a good ten minutes. In the meantime, it felt like he was the last man on earth -- neither car made a sound except a hissing of steam from the radiator of Claire's hood -- and no one came for help. Lennie patted his pocket, felt for the cellphone Rey insisted they both carry, felt it still there. People would come, when he was ready for them.
Slowly, Lennie stepped to Claire's side of the car and hung his head. Claire's delicate face lay tilted to one side, a considerable gash in her temple beginning to drip. Lennie raised his fingers under her jaw and felt no pulse; he set a hand in front of her mouth and nose and his palm remained cool. She was gone, she wasn't coming back. He felt shameful that his last thoughts of her had been sexual. It felt like necrophilia suddenly. "Jesus Christ," he sobbed, catching it in the back of his throat -- and heard a noise.
Just a shift, a bare movement, but not the car settling. It had emanated from the 4x4 that had come out of nowhere and erased Claire Kincaid from the world, and for a minute, Lennie had an ugly thought: Hope there's lost of pain for you, too, buddy. But he was a cop, and even in his jarred state he had to check, he had to know if what was inside the 4x4 was better or worse than what had gone on in Claire's defenseless car. He headed over to the driver's side and raised himself up on his toes to peer inside the high side window. The driver took up most of the view, mashed flat on the steering wheel, a hand with a gold engraved ring sandwiched between his face and the wheel. It looked like the guy had just taken a nap. His head was bleeding profusely, soaking the collar of his flannel shirt, and Lennie was pretty sure he was a goner.
The hand made a fist.
"Christ!" Lennie cried, every ounce of self-assurance flooding into his feet. He reached up to yank the door open, and found it locked from the inside.
The fist went flat and slid away from the driver's face.
Heart pounding, Lennie raced around to the other side of the car. By the time he got there, the passenger door had already swung open wide, and the passenger himself had tumbled to the pavement, massaging his hand. He looked up at Lennie's stunned face and started to laugh hysterically. The fumes came next: He was still drunk as he'd been when he left the bar about a half hour ago.
Lennie blinked. The adrenaline and shock had sobered him up but quick. He went into cop mode. There was a decision to be made here.
He made it.
Reaching for the cellphone, he poked a few numbers in and eventually got his onetime partner on the line. "Mike, it's Len. I know it's 2am. There's a mess. We gotta clean it up."
He had been so happy to be alive and intact the fact that others might not have been so lucky had never occurred to Jack. Being drunk had advantages: Major car crash, you're too relaxed to tense up and break bones, sometimes. Survivors of plane crashes often were the ones who were asleep or drunk when the thing went down. He'd almost been both. One minute, sleeping like a baby in the front seat of this total stranger's car, the next, feeling the massive vehicle swerve, knocking him into the driver, who had fallen asleep at the wheel. There was no time for thought, no reason attached to what he did next -- Jack just reached over and pulled at the wheel. Either they went up on the sidewalk and hit a building, or they careened through these mostly empty streets, mostly straight, until Jack could get the driver back in the land of the living. He pulled hard, swinging the wheel towards 10 o'clock, then back to 4 o'clock, trying to get a balance, screaming mightily for his driver to wake the fuck up.
The driver shot awake just in time to see the red lights in front of him, and a screaming drunk maniac trying to take hold of the wheel. Fumbling for the brake, his foot hit the accelerator as he tried to push Jack away. Jack had just enough time to think goddamn miracle if we don't hit anything -- before they did. Jack's head banged into the dashboard and he was pinned in place by the driver's head. The car stopped. After a minute of disorientation, Jack worked himself free, feeling a rising spiral of nausea and hysteria in his head, then kicked the side door open and slid out.
The first person he saw was Lennie.
Now, that was funny.
Another nothing Thursday night, and John was late, so Lennie headed over to their usual table and racked up the balls, sinking one after the next, in numerical order, then all colors and all stripes. He rarely played solo these days; it was fine for practice but he'd been doing this so long there was no more practicing to be done. He just hit. Put him on a desert island for five years with no pool, come back to a pool table, he'd hit the same. Though the twinge in his back might be a little worse. Tonight, he was feeling fine. Draw the stick back, pick your spot, let it slide through, a little burn on the soft inside of the finger. Nice. Satisfying. Even.
"I never thought of you as a poet, Lennie."
The ball slid down the inner groove and clicked in place as he glanced up at Jack McCoy, standing with his hands in his coat pockets, surveying the table with a soft smile on his face. "If I'm a poet," said Lennie, taking aim again, "it's of the limerick variety."
Lennie straightened and half-grinned. "The only kind." He leaned on his stick and stared out over the table. "What brings you into this neck of the woods?"
"I ran into Detective Munch. He told me you could be found in these parts on Thursdays."
"John knows the truth when he sees it. He tell you when he was getting his sorry ass over here?"
Jack shrugged a little, and picked up the eight ball, tossing it between his hands, scooting it on the green expanse. It had been a week since Lennie last saw him, a week since their conversation on the courthouse steps. Lennie hadn't paid much attention to what happened after that night; his conscience was clear. He'd done what he could. The burden was somebody else's. But he'd heard things.
"Straub allocuted today," said Jack. "Judge reduced it to time served, suspended his license for a year."
"Huh," said Lennie, taking down the plastic triangle and rounding up the balls again. "Justice is served." He was examining the district attorney now, slightly edgy but collected, very different from the man on the courthouse steps last Friday night. That man had remembered what his alcoholic haze had allowed him to forget for nearly ten years, then started gasping and grabbing at his tie, yanking at it so hard the top button of his shirt had ripped off. The bottle Jack had been holding had tumbled from his fingers and rolled to the bottom of the steps, where it broke into hundreds of crisp shards.
Lennie stared at Jack, who set the ball in the center of the triangle. "You're the D.A. You should know."
"There's a lot I don't know, apparently." Jack's voice scratched a little as he forced it to pitch lower. "Tell me something."
"Tell you what."
"Why. That night. Why didn't you tell me she was there. What made me so goddamned important I didn't even get a chance to say goodbye?"
Lennie sighed, taking a sip of his soda. "Seems to me you proved the point, Mr. D.A. Papers get ahold of that story, you in the killer car, about ten of us in that bar hear you say what you said before you left that night ..." he let that trail off and shrugged. "Fuck all knows what the papers do with that. It looks suspicious to me and I know what really went down. You think you'd be where you are today if we hadn'ta spirited you outta there?"
"I might have been injured."
"Then it's a different story. You weren't."
Jack's shoulders sagged and he shook his head. "You're not that smart, detective."
Lennie went back to the triangle and made a neat line under the balls with his fingers.
Jack's voice rose a little. "There were plenty of others in the office who wanted to be D.A., too. Are you trying to tell me you'd've done the same for them?"
"Sure he would've." Lennie and Jack's heads shot up as John Munch's shadow fell across the table and he tapped blue chalk on the end of the stick. No one had heard him approach. "That's the type of guy Lennie is."
Jack had frozen in place, a bright fear in his eyes, then stalked away from the table.
"What're we talking about, anyhow?" John cocked his head at Lennie.
"Hold the fort," said Lennie, and darted out the front door. He found Jack just outside, on the sidewalk, pacing in the thick, soupy air. It was going to rain soon. "Don't mind Munch," he said. "He just pops off and ain't got no idea what about."
"I'm sorry, detective."
"For in there. For giving you a hard time a week ago. I was wrong. You are that smart."
Lennie shook his head. "Only about some things." He sighed. "Look. We're gonna play a few games. Wanna join us?"
Jack shook his head. "No. I've got ... a lot to think about."
"How're you getting home?"
Jack gave him a wry, sad smile. "Walking. All the way."
"Okay," said Lennie. "See you around." He started to head into the hall again, but Jack called to him, and he half-turned.
"You didn't answer my question."
"What was it?"
Jack waited, letting it come back to him, the way Lennie had let it all come back to Jack.
Lennie shook his head. "You got it all wrong, Jack. I never did nothin' for you." He yanked open the pool hall door. A rush of air conditioning flooded out and goosebumps raised on his arms, like somebody had walked over his grave. "I did it for her." With that, he jumped back inside, letting the door slam behind him, not bothering about what else Jack might have to ask. They all had black marks on their souls; it was impossible to get into this business and not end up with a few scuffs. Lennie knew Jack would learn to live with his, same way Mike had, the same way Lennie himself had. Jack was a survivor. Most of them were. Most everyone walked away from their own car wrecks and gone on. And some, like Claire, didn't. It was how the world worked.
Way in the back, John was tapping on his watch to get his pool partner to hurry the hell up. Lennie had to chuckle, thinking, Maybe I'll even let him win a game tonight. Statistically speaking, I owe him one.