Two Guys and a Girl
By Clare Bautista
Claire Kincaid sat at the bar of Molly's, waiting for Jack McCoy to arrive. She looked at her watch once again -- 8:15 p.m. -- Jack was already 15 minutes late! She took another swig of her pint of Guinness, stifling a sigh of irritation. The man could at least page. But knowing Jack, he probably so caught up in some brief or the other and completely lost track of time.
For a moment, she debated whether or not to call him. She should at least check that he was indeed still in the office, instead of lying in a gutter somewhere with his bike. It was an icy winter night but only heaven knew why Jack still insisted on riding his bike to work despite the fact.
Before Claire could make a firm decision however, she heard a voice that made her quickly turn around in her seat. "Claire?"
"Oh, my God! Ben?" Claire exclaimed, almost not believing her eyes.
Ben Stone, former EADA, smiled and then impulsively and uncharacteristically gave his former assistant a brief embrace that truly surprised Claire.
"Yes, I am." Ben said. "You look good, Claire."
"Thanks." Claire replied. "So does this mean, I'll be seeing you in Hogan Place again?"
Ben shook his head. "No. That part of my life is over."
"I see." Claire said. "But --- you're at peace now --- I mean --- you know with everything?"
"If you mean Anne Madsen, well let's just say I've learned to put her where she belongs --- in the past." Ben told her earnestly.
"That's nice to know Ben. Though, I'm still convinced that Adam would love to have you back on board." Claire put in.
Ben didn't comment on her statement. Instead, he asked, "Would you mind if I joined my former colleague in a drink or are you expecting someone?"
A wary look came over Claire's face as she suddenly remembered her reason for being there. Ben noticed the expression on her face and hastily said, "Look, if I'm going to be disturbing anything...."
"No, no, not at all --- it's just --- well, never mind. I'd love to have some company, Ben. Really. Please. Stay and have a drink with me."
Ben hesitated for a brief moment, searching Claire's face. Finally, convinced that she was sincere in her invitation, he sat down on the bar stool next to her and ordered a pint of Guinness as well.
"So, Claire, tell me about you."
"What about me?"
"Well...let's start with work. So that we can get it over with. How is it going?"
Claire laughed and then answered, " It's been going well. I'm still enjoying it."
"So who's your superior now? I mean who are you assigned to?" Ben asked.
"Well, I'm with Jack McCoy." At the instant, she realized how her statement sounded and she tried to backtrack. "I mean, I'm assisting Jack McCoy now...I was assigned to him after you resigned." Claire tried desperately to maintain her composure.
"Ah." Ben remarked. "The great Jack McCoy. Tell me something Claire, is he really the ladies' man they make him out to be?"
Claire blushed then and she quickly grabbed her beer hoping that Ben didn't notice the heat that had suddenly risen in her face. She smiled quickly at him, hoping to hide her discomfiture as she replied, "Well....he can be quite the charmer." Her answer was slow and hesitant and Ben caught it.
Claire looked at him then and asked him rather defensively, "What's that supposed to mean?"
Ben stared at her, his face beginning to break into a knowing smile. "So I take it that Hang 'Em High McCoy has charmed the pants off the irrepressible Claire Kincaid?"
Claire didn't answer. She just took another drink from her pint.
"Come on, Claire you can tell me." Ben cajoled. "I'm no longer your boss and I am no longer with the DA's office."
No sooner than Ben had said that, Claire's beeper went off. She quickly took it out of her bag and the read the message . It was Jack informing him that he had just finished in the office and that he was on his way.
Ben continued to look at his former assistant as she returned her beeper in her bag. "Jack?" he inquired.
To Ben's surprise, Claire started to laugh. "You know what Ben, I never knew that under that tough exterior there was a curious George waiting to come out."
Ben chuckled. "Come on, Claire, you know it pays to be curious in our profession or should I say your profession. If I weren't curious, then many criminals would have never been prosecuted."
"True, but that's about a case...I never knew you to be so curious about your colleagues' personal lives and or your former colleagues'..."
"Well, I just want to know what's up with you, but if you don't want to talk about it, it's okay."
Claire laughed ruefully then and said, "Well, I suppose I should just tell you now, rather than give you a nasty surprise when he turns up here in a few minutes."
"So - you are meeting someone here!"
Claire nodded. "Yes, I'm waiting for Jack."
"Because you need to discuss work?" Ben questioned her in a serious tone, but his eyes were twinkling mischievously.
Claire saw that he was teasing and chuckled. "Yeah, that's right Ben."
At that, they both started to laugh.
After their laughter had subsided, Ben spoke up once more. "So, how long have you and Jack been together?"
Claire was silent for a moment, thinking. "Let's see...around 7 months."
"I see. And things are going well? I mean, just tell me if I'm getting too curious here?"
Claire smiled, amused at seeing this friendly, bantering side of the rare-smiling Ben Stone. "No, it's all right, Ben. Well, it's been great and crappy, too. It's hard keeping it a secret from everyone in the office, especially Adam."
Ben gazed at her and then said, "Adam knows."
Claire froze at his words and then looked at him directly in the eye. "How do you know that? Have you talked to him since you got back? Did he tell you something?"
Ben couldn't help but laugh at Claire's panic. Claire glared at him. "Ben, former boss or not, this is not funny. Tell me now, did Adam say anything to you?"
Finally, Ben stopped laughing and replied, "No, Claire, he didn't. I've been back in this country for less than a week. Save for you, no one even knows I'm back."
"So, if you didn't talk to Adam, how do you know that he knows about Jack and me?"
"Because, Claire," Ben said, "The man maybe be old, but his is not blind and he's still very sharp. And he hasn't stayed the DA for New York county this long for nothing."
"So, basically, it's just speculation on your part." Claire stated.
Ben shrugged. "You call it speculation. I call it knowing Adam Schiff."
"Okay, I'll go along for a minute. Let's say he knows --- then how come he's never metnioned anything to me or Jack? How do you explain that?" Claire said.
"Well, I don't. But I do know this, if you and Jack are as a good a team as you and I were, then you have your answer."
"What do you mean?"
"I mean, if you two focus on your work when it's work that needs focus, then, Adam wouldn't really care."
"Well, we are a pretty dedicated team." Claire acknowledged.
"Exactly. And the fact that you are shows him that you don't let your personal relationship interfere with your professional relationship. And to Adam that's all that matters."
"Maybe you're right." Claire admitted.
"Trust me, Claire he knows. The man knows how to pick up the faintest of scents." Ben told her.
Claire took a leisurely sip of her Guinness then before answering. She looked sheepish as she said, "I guess you're right. When people know me and Jack as well as he does, it would be impossible not to know. I'm glad he trusts us that much."
"Well, Adam knows who the good people are."
"Like Jack and me?"
"Yeah, like Jack and you." Ben took a swig of his Guinness. "So what time will Mr. McCoy be getting here."
"I don't know. He paged saying he was on his way. But with the streets being as icy as they are, who knows? He has to go real slow on that bike of his."
"Bike? He rides a bike?" Ben's tone was incredulous.
Claire had to grin at Ben's expression. "Yes, a bike."
"The man is crazier than I thought! No offense to you, course." Ben told her.
"But, of course." Claire was still grinning.
Well, maybe I should get out of here before he gets here. He may not be too wild on me knowing your little secret."
"No. Come on, Ben. I'd really appreciate the company and like you said, who cares if you know --- you're no longer with the DA's office."
Ben saw that Claire meant it. "All right," he conceded.
"Great." Claire replied, "Now, why don't you tell me all about Europe? Is it as beautiful as everyone says?"
"More...Claire, Europe is amazing. I have no words to describe it. It's really a place to go if you are looking for some sort of peace. It gives you this feeling of calm and of being alive all at the same time."
"Mmm...that sounds amazing. So where in Europe did you go? I mean, which countries?"
"I went to England, Ireland, Scotland, Spain, Italy and France."
"Nice, which is your favorite?"
"Italy. Definitely Italy. Florence, Venice, Positano, Naples --- the whole country is so beautiful."
"Yeah, I'm sure it was."
"You should go one day," Ben urged her.
"I hope ---"
Just then a voice interrupted Claire. "Hey, hon, sorry I'm late."
Claire and Ben turned at the sound of Jack McCoy's voice. A look of surprise came over Jack's face as he recognized his predecessor.
"Hey, Jack." Claire greeted him. "It's okay. Ben's been keeping me company."
Ben could see that Jack wasn't exactly thrilled by this but he stayed put. Jack glanced at Ben and nodded.
Claire then asked, "By the way, you two have never been formally introduced, right?"
Ben stood up then, shaking his head in the negative. "No. We haven't. We've occasion to see each other in the courtroom, but that's about it."
Jack's eyes darted back and forth from Ben to Claire, before he finally replied, "That's right."
"Well, this is a momentous occasion then. Jack McCoy, this is Ben Stone. Ben Stone, meet Jack McCoy." Claire introduced the two men.
For a moment, the two just eyed each other then, Jack held out his hand which Ben shook heartily. Ben said, "Good to meet you finally, Counselor. I hope you don't mind keeping your lovely friend and assistant here company while she waited."
Jack glanced at Claire who smiled at him encouragingly. Finally, Jack let his guard down and smiled. "Not at all, Counselor. I'm glad someone was here to keep her company."
"It was a pleasure, Jack." Ben replied, smiling. Ben then signaled the barkeep for his bill and told the couple, "Well, I'm going to go. I don't want to interrupt your dinner. It was great seeing you again, Claire. And Jack, it was good to finally meet you."
Ben took out his wallet as the barkeep handed him his check. Jack and Claire exchanged glances and both came to a quick decision. "Hold on, Ben." Jack spoke up. "Why don't you join me and Claire for dinner?"
Ben smiled at Jack as he shook his head. "No, I don't to be a bother to the two of you."
"You wouldn't be, Ben," Claire interjected.
"Trust me, Ben, if you were going to be a bother, we wouldn't be having this conversation," Jack told him with a grin.
Ben looked at the two of them and chuckled. "All right. I will. Thanks."
"Good. Now, maybe you can tell how Claire was before I came into the picture?"
"Now, that's a subject we can stay on all night long, Jack," Ben told him, smiling broadly.
Claire gazed at the two men in amusement and said wryly, "I've got a feeling this is going to be a very long dinner."
Jack and Ben looked at her and started to laugh. Claire stood up and Jack took her hand as the three went to get a table.