Letting Jack know she'd been raped was only the start of the murky waters that lay beneath Abbie's hard-as-nails surface, as Karen Howard-Joly reveals in this editor's pick....
A Moment to Breathe
By Karen Howard-Joly
"I was a Freshman; he was a third year law student..."
As a stunned Jack McCoy drove away from the New York County jail, alone, his mind replayed Abbie's jolting confession from just minutes before.
"...We were on a date," her voice had broken slightly as she continued. "I never told anybody..."
And, there she stood, sharing this long kept secret with him. Well, he'd asked for it with his, "You wanna talk about it? Or not. Whatever you feel comfortable with."
He'd sensed something had been amiss from that moment in the courtroom, three days earlier, during Abbie's cross-examination of the defendant. The case was a messy one to begin with. A corrections officer, Charlie Tyner, murdered. An inmate from the women's correctional facility at Pine Hills, Alice Simonelli, on trial for contracting his death. Simonelli insisted that she had been raped repeatedly by Tyner at the prison. Complicating matters more, the defendant was in prison because of a drug trafficking charge -- put there by Abbie when she was with Narcotics Prosecution. Alice blamed Abbie for all her woes, and there was no love lost from the young prosecutor's end either. Jack had decided to leave the questioning of Simonelli to Abbie.
Under intense cross from Abbie about why she hadn't told anyone she'd been raped, Simonelli sarcastically snarled back, "You ever been raped before, Ms. Carmichael? I was ashamed; I blamed myself." He saw movement, an almost imperceptible movement, of Abbie's head -- like a little jolt ran through her. She went on to adequately finish her questioning of the witness. But something had changed. She was quiet on their return to the office; didn't say much over the next two days, in fact. And, when it looked like the jury was hung, and it was Abbie who suggested they call attorney Danielle Melnick to meet about their offer of first degree manslaughter, Jack's mouth had dropped open, considering her earlier, aggressive stance toward the accused. As he drove, he silently kicked himself for not catching it.
"...I used to blame myself -- and not anymore."
Abbie had turned and marched resolutely out the door, leaving Jack moored in a wake of mixed emotions. Should he follow her? And say, what? How do you respond when a bomb like that is dropped in your lap? She had already refused his offer of a ride, opting instead for a cab. "I need to decompress," was how she'd put it. Jack knew his ADA; if she said she wanted to be alone, then she wanted to be alone. He mulled over his options on his way back to the office. Upon pulling into the motor pool a few minutes later and signing the county car back in, he'd decided on a plan of action.
As Jack walked down the hallway leading to his office, he glanced toward Abbie's and observed light filtering from her partially closed blinds. Good, he thought, she's in. Disappearing into his own office, he emerged five minutes later clad in his light blue dress shirt -- minus the tie, and blue jeans. Draped over his left arm was his leather jacket, motorcycle helmet dangling from his left hand.
He stepped across the narrow hallway and lightly tapped on her door. Hearing a faint, "Come in," he poked his head into her office. Sitting up straight, obviously for his benefit, her forearms resting on her mahogany desk, she appeared calmer than when he'd last seen her. Gloomy, but calmer.
"You have a change of clothes here?" His twinkling eyes belied his serious tone.
"Excuse me?" The question caught her by surprise.
Moving completely into the room and her view, Jack repeated, "Clothes -- a change." He stopped even with the armchair she kept for visitors and balanced his helmet on the back of it.
"Uh..." She hesitated, unconsciously brushing a strand of her long dark hair back from her face. Taking in his appearance fully, but still puzzled by his question, she mumbled, "Yeah...somewhere...I think."
"Then change," he commanded gently. "There's something I wanna show you."
Sense of duty got the best of her and she balked.
"Jack, it's the middle of the afternoon..."
"And we're done for the day," he interrupted, squelching her protest. "Anyway, Adam owes us. I'll check in with him; you change. Meet ya in the hall." He picked up his helmet and, without allowing her a chance to refuse, silently left the room.
Jack strolled down to the DA's office and was immediately waved in by Schiff's assistant. Adam sat in his favorite reading chair, the latest edition of the Times in his lap. Looking up from the paper, and over the top of his reading glasses, he noticed the attire of his Executive Assistant and grunted.
"A little overdressed today, aren't we?"
Jack smiled at his friend's sarcasm.
"Adam, I don't usually ask you for personal favors," he began as he leaned his tall, lanky frame against the doorway. His coat remained slung over his left arm, his helmet in both hands, resting against his thighs.
"But," interjected Schiff. He anticipated Jack's request.
"But, I need the rest of the day. Abbie, too." Noticing Adam's eyebrows rise questioningly, he added, "There isn't anything on our calendars that can't be rescheduled."
"Anything I should know -- be concerned about?" Adam had risen slowly and, tossing the paper into his now empty chair, moved closer to McCoy.
"Nothing I can tell you without betraying a confidence, no." Jack shook his head and gazed at the floor, avoiding Adam's hard stare.
"So. Whatcha aren't saying," he observed. "Is that this has something to do with Ms. Carmichael."
Jack looked up at his boss and grimaced. "This case -- it's been rough."
"You plead it out, or leave it to the deadlocked jury?" Adam referred to the state of deliberations that had prompted that morning's meeting about a plea bargain. The jury had been out for three days with no verdict in sight.
"Alice Simonelli pled to man-one; four to six," reported McCoy.
"Ms. Carmichael happy with that? I seem to recall that just a few days ago she was out for that gal's scalp." Adam fixed his eyes on Jack's, waiting for his reply.
"She's okay with it," he said, distracted. He kept picturing the pained expression on Abbie's face and in her eyes as she had shared her secret with him, the same look she still wore. He was determined to remedy that look.
"Adam," he admitted. "You're digging for information I can't give you. I'm just asking you for the rest of the day."
Schiff bit his lower lip in thought, then spoke more to the walls than to McCoy.
"He wants the rest of the day. He's running off on his motorcycle with his second chair and I get no explanation other than 'this case has been rough.'" The old DA paused, shaking his head slowly. "Fine," he said at last. "Take the day -- but," he warned. "This better be worth it."
"Thank you, Adam," Jack smiled gratefully. "It will be." He ducked out the door and headed back to Abbie's office.
She met him in the corridor, weaving around busy associates and staff who were still in the process of putting in a day's work. Jack noted her nice taste in casual attire: cream-colored v-neck cashmere sweater, blue jeans, and sneakers. She'd pulled her shoulder length hair back into a ponytail. There was only one thing missing for what he had planned.
"Be right back," he said to her and disappeared into his office. He emerged a few seconds later with a spare riding jacket and handed it to her.
"Too big for you," he noted. "But you'll need it."
"Just what did you have in mind?" she inquired. Her body language, arms folded across her chest, one foot forward of the other, told him she wasn't convinced she should be going anywhere with him.
"Trust me, Abbie," he tried to reassure her. "I told you; there's something I gotta show ya." He held out the jacket and she reluctantly took it.
"And Adam says we can leave for the day." She pronounced it as a statement of fact, not a question.
"Yes," Jack confirmed.
"Okay," she sighed in resignation and followed him to the elevator.
As the two approached his Yamaha in the parking garage, Jack asked, "You ever ride before?"
"No," answered Abbie. Jack could tell it wasn't going to be easy getting her out of the mood she was in, not that he blamed her.
He unlocked his spare helmet from the bike and handed it to her. Reaching across to put down the right passenger foot peg, then the left, he explained, "First thing to remember is keep your feet on the pegs. I'll take care of keeping us upright." He smiled, but she wasn't looking at him; her eyes were fixed on the seat of the bike.
"Where are the handles?" she asked. She slipped his jacket on and zipped it up.
Jack grinned. "Uh, there aren't any handles. You can hold on one of two ways. You either grab the bar behind ya," he sat on the back of the bike to demonstrate. "Or, you hold onto me." This last option, he noted by her expression, didn't seem to go over very well. He quickly added, "Whatever you're comfortable with.
"The second thing to remember," he continued, "is to lean when I lean...and lean in the direction I lean."
"Or?" she asked.
"Or..." He narrowed his dark eyes and looked directly into hers. "We end up at some emergency room instead of where I want to take ya."
"Right," she said curtly.
"Last thing," he warned. "Don't touch the muffler." He pointed to the long chrome pipe on the right side of the bike.
"Because?" she questioned as she pulled the dark red helmet on her head and fumbled with the chinstrap. He was being as patient as he could with her monosyllabic questions and answers.
"Because you'll burn the hell out of that pretty leg and, again, we're back in the emergency room." He reached over and helped her with the strap, tucking it under the buckle so it wouldn't flap in the wind. Swinging his right leg over the bike, he patted the seat behind him and invited, "Hop on."
With a slight hesitation, she settled onto the back of the bike, carefully avoiding the still cold muffler, and placing her feet on the pegs as instructed.
Jack pushed the starter switch, revved the throttle and, as the bike warmed up, put on his own helmet. He smiled to himself, realizing that Abbie had chosen option number one for hanging on. Well, he mused, we'll see what happens on a bump or a curve. Satisfied that the bike was good to go, he kicked it into first gear, slowly eased out on the clutch, then headed out of the garage and towards Central Park.
Sensing Abbie's initial apprehension, he attempted to put her at ease by giving her as smooth a ride as possible considering New York streets. He took the first few turns slow and easy, even traveled at the posted speed limit on the straightaways -- not a McCoy trait. Abbie continued to hold onto the bar behind her, but Jack could tell that she was beginning to understand the teamwork it took between driver and passenger. When they got to a relatively uncongested area of the park, he decided to add some speed and move a little tighter into the sharper curves. She was a natural, leaning right along with him. Jack saw this as a sign that she was climbing out of her dark mood. At one point, just around the bend in a curve, they hit a section of recently patched potholes. The city road guys had missed one. As the bike bounced over the rough spot, Jack felt Abbie's hands quickly grab for the sides of his leather jacket, her body moving just a little closer to him as she reached to hold on. He chuckled.
She felt his laugh and he heard a muffled, "What?" come from behind him.
Flipping up his visor, he turned his head slightly to his right and responded above the roar, "Nothing; nothing at all." He snapped the visor back into place, grinning.
They rode to a section of the park most people didn't know existed. Dog-walkers, and joggers rarely ventured beyond this area where sidewalks ended and dirt paths began. Despite the heavier growth of shrubs and trees, the city's commitment to safety was still evidenced by well-lighted trails and trimmed undergrowth. None of this detracted, however, from the surrounding beauty.
Familiar with the area, Jack stopped the Yamaha in a small turnout just beyond the end of the last cement walkway. Shutting off the motor, he pulled off his helmet and announced, "We're here."
Taking this as her cue, Abbie carefully swung a long denim-clad leg over the bike and dismounted. As Jack locked both helmets to the cycle, he glanced up to see her taking in the surroundings.
"Impressive," she said, looking from the scenery to Jack.
"Just wait," he replied as he pocketed his keys and moved in the direction of a narrow trail off to the right of their parking place. "C'mon," he said, nodding toward the trail.
Wordlessly, Abbie followed.
As they walked along the cleared, hard dirt path, moving slightly uphill, Jack recalled the first time he'd laid eyes on it. Actually, he stumbled across it by accident. He'd come to the park -- no, he'd run away to the park -- trying to put a crappy day at the office out of his mind; a day that had been filled with tension, pressure, and constant, painful reminders of Claire Kincaid. He'd blown off a meeting with Adam, jumped on his bike, and ridden to Central Park in hopes of escaping the feeling that he was drowning. But -- a funny thing happened on the way through the park: he got lost.
In truth, he was so absorbed in thinking about how miserable he was, he rode right past all the known landmarks, finally pulling up at the now-familiar little turnout. Figuring any place was better than where he'd come from, he chose a trail and began walking. What he discovered at the end of the path that day three years ago was what he hoped Abbie would discover today. He'd soon know.
Their uphill climb along the path began to even out, then slope downward. On both the left and right stood large leafy trees of unknown classification -- Jack was never good at identifying trees or flowers. Here and there scurried squirrels, chipmunks, and other small rodent-type animals. Songbirds forgot they were in the middle of a metropolitan city and warbled incessantly. He wasn't sure why, but he enjoyed listening to the music they made.
Ten minutes into their journey, the trail, still sloping downhill, veered sharply to the right. Jack stopped. Abbie, following closely behind, moved to stand beside him. Slightly out of breath from the quick pace he'd set, he smiled and broke the silence they'd kept through the hike.
"Okay," he said, catching his breath. "What I wanted ya to see is just around this corner." He nodded at the curve. "First, though, I wantcha to do something."
"What?" asked Abbie, a bit out of breath herself.
"Close your eyes," answered Jack. He looked at her expectantly.
"You're kidding, right?" Abbie had been playing his game up til now, but he could tell she was losing patience.
"Nope; not kidding. Close your eyes." He gave her that McCoy, eyebrows raised, eyes-wide-open stare.
"Jack..." she started to protest.
"Please?" he interrupted, thinking the plea might ensure her cooperation. He thought right. Abbie closed her eyes -- but not without an exasperated sigh.
"I'm just gonna lead ya a few yards, okay?" He took her left hand and began to guide her carefully around the bend in the path.
"Okay, " she warned. "But I'd better not fall."
"Not a chance," he said confidently. "Just a little bit farther." About ten seconds later, he stopped, letting go of her hand.
"Okay, Abbie," he whispered in her ear. "Take a look."
He watched her expression closely as she opened her dark brown eyes and beheld the scenery before her. Abbie gave a small gasp of surprise.
"My God, Jack," she whispered in awe. "It's beautiful!"
"Yeah, I know," he said quietly.
They stood in an open meadow of thick ankle-high grass, the dark, luscious green carpet dotted with white daisies. Where the meadow ended, approximately fifty yards away, a small, sapphire blue lake began. Scattered along the lake's edge were three to four foot boulders -- good for sitting, as Jack knew well enough. Surrounding the lake on every side except theirs were the same varieties of trees they'd passed on the hike in.
McCoy looked around him and was struck by the fact that his reaction to this place never changed, no matter how many times he came. In his mind, it was the best view going in New York City -- and it surprised him that so few knew of its existence.
"Let's get a closer look," he suggested and marched off through the grass, toward the water. Climbing onto one of the larger rocks, he reached down and grabbed Abbie's offered hand, pulling her up next to him.
"Beautiful," she commented again as they sat side by side, facing the glassy lake. As they watched, a flock of white ducks waddled into the water off to their left and set sail for parts unknown. The only sound to be heard was the quacking of the ducks and the distant chirping of tree-shrouded birds.
Looking not at Abbie, but at some point across the lake, Jack explained, "After what you shared with me this morning -- and after seeing the effect this case has had on you -- I knew I had to bring you here, had to show you this. Sometimes, Abbie, we just need some space, ya know? We need a moment to breathe, to get away from the madness of our profession, the madness in our day-to-day world, to reaffirm to ourselves that somewhere outside it all is a place of peace, a place of beauty, a place with no monsters. For me, this is that place. I wanted it to be for you, too."
Abbie sat beside him in silence. He glanced at her and noticed a tear rolling slowly down her finely sculptured cheek. He turned back towards the blue water, fixing his gaze on the tail feathers of one of the white ducks. It appeared to be bobbing for food.
"Ya know," he said slowly and firmly, not taking his eyes off the duck. "If I knew who and where he was, I'd make him pay." He watched the duck continue its quest.
"I know," she said quietly.
A comfortable silence settled between them, only punctuated here and there by the surrounding inhabitants of lake, woodland, and meadow. As he ran a hand through his unruly salt and pepper hair, Jack noted that the sun had moved considerably lower in the afternoon sky and that a slight breeze was blowing off the lake. The duck finally bobbed back above the water, evidently satisfied. He was admiring the feathered creature's tenacity when he sensed Abbie move. Feeling her soft lips gently brush his slightly-stubbled cheek, Jack turned and met her dark gaze.
"Thank you," she uttered in that husky voice, her eyes glistening. A small smile flirted with the corners of her mouth.
Nodding, with a smile of his own, Jack turned his eyes back to the lake. The white duck made landfall on the opposite shore and, shaking the water from its feathers, waddled onto dry land.