New Leaf, Same Tree
Jean didn't think she'd ever seen Richie Roberts looking so panicked. No matter how many lawyers or cops he dealt with, Richie was always the man in control. And he looked this alarmed over a woman?
Feeling a little sorry for him, Jean said, before she went out and closed the door, "Whatever you did, you'd be amazed how far a sincere apology will go."
Richie looked at that closed door for a long moment, trying to gather himself. What was he supposed to say to Jess? What had Jean just said? Something about a sincere apology? Sincere. He could do sincere. He thought.
Picking up the phone, he cleared his throat. "Hello?" Waited a moment. "Oh- Uh- Hi, Jess." Shit, but that sounded lame! Briefly, he wondered if Michael had started calling girls yet, and if he sounded anything like his father had sounded just then.
"Hello, Richie." Jess was a little hesitant too. She wasn't at all sure he wanted to hear from her. But he really hadn't looked well when she'd seen him last night. She could just tell he had a headache from the look of pain in his eyes and the way his forehead had been screwed up. She'd thought about calling him, had lain awake most of last night thinking about it, and telling herself that, if he wanted to talk to her, he'd call.
Finally, today, she'd gotten tired of telling herself that. Heck, wasn't she the one who had first asked him out? So, why lose her courage now? She'd call, ask if he was okay, and then stop bothering him. If he didn't want to see her again, that was fine. It was certainly his choice.
As soon as she heard his voice, she felt all that resolve faltering. "I- I just wanted to see how you were doing." She stopped, not sure where else to go.
"Oh, yeah. I'm okay." Richie was relieved she hadn't torn into him about not calling her. That's what Laurie would have done. Why the hell did he keep thinking about her in terms of his ex-wife? Jess didn't seem to be a think like her.
"Listen, Jess- I have been meaning to call you. Really. I've just been working on this really big case. And it just got a lot harder yesterday. My key witness died and-" He trailed off. Maybe she didn't want to hear about this.
"Was that what was wrong last night?" she asked him, interested in spite of herself.
"That was. Yeah. Well, mostly, anyway." How the hell was he supposed to tell her that the rest of it was her. That he'd been arguing with himself all week over whether he should call her. Whether she'd want to see him again. And then, when he'd walked in and she was with that guy-
"I hope you apologized to your friend for me. What was his name? Jack?"
"Jim," Jess said with a sigh. "And he's not exactly my friend. We're supposed to work together on a committee to help improve drop-out rates at school this coming year. He asked me to go out and have coffee with him and talk about it."
She went ahead and took the plunge. "I wish I had asked you to sit with us. It was really boring. I couldn't talk with him at all about anything but school and the committee."
Richie had a sudden vision of Lena or Lila, or whatever the hell her name had been at the bar last weekend. "Yeah." He chuckled a little, relieved to hear that this Jim was nothing to her other than another teacher. "I know what you mean. I've had a little bit of that myself this week."
"So- Is your case looking any better?" Jess decided that concentrating on work might be the best idea for conversation. Try and keep things light.
"No." He knew he sounded short. But dammit, he still hadn't come up with a way to make up for the loss of Paul Moretti's testimony. And every hour that passed made him more anxious about it.
"Wish there was some way I could help," Jess offered sympathetically.
"So do I, babe. So do I," Richie sighed, calling her babe without even realizing he'd done it.
"Well-" she said reluctantly. "I guess I should let you get back to work. I just wanted to see how you were doing."
"Listen, Jess-" Richie was back to feeling uncomfortable now. "I really will call you. This weekend sometime. This has just been such a tough week and I-"
Cut the crap, Roberts, he told himself firmly. And then he went on. "And I just really haven't been sure what to say to you after- You know. After what happened."
She sighed. "Don't worry about it, Richie. That all must have seemed awfully lame and childish to you."
"No. Not- I mean, if that's the way you feel about things, then-" He stopped, still picturing Lila and trying to explain himself to her.
"Listen," he said into the phone, gathering up his scattered thoughts and attempting to make a plan. "There's a Yankees game Saturday afternoon. I don't know if you're into baseball much, but- But I'm planning to go and if you want to, well-"
"I'd like that," Jess said simply, trying not to sound too excited and make a big deal out of it.
"Okay then." Richie was surprised at himself for asking her, but now that she'd accepted he felt a lot better about it. "I'll pick you up. Around noon maybe?"
"Great. I'll see you then, and, uh, Jess- I'm glad you called." He really was glad. He probably would have gone on worrying about what to say and putting off calling her until it was way too late to do anything about it.
His phone hadn't been back on the hook more than a minute before Jean knocked briefly and then swept into the room. She eyed him curiously. "Well, you look better than you did before. Straighten anything out?"
Richie returned her look, mildly annoyed. "You mean you weren't listening in?" At her indignant look, he held up a hand. "Okay. Okay. I know you wouldn't do anything like that, but honestly Jean-"
Then, he gave in and grinned at her. "Yeah, we straightened out that I'm an ass and that she's going to the ball game with me on Saturday."
"Oh, well, if that's all-" Jean shrugged with a grin of her own. "I could've told her you were an ass, Roberts, and saved the poor girl a lot of trouble."
As she turned to leave, still grinning, Richie called to her. "Hey, Jean. When does it get easier for a guy to talk to women?"
Her hand on the doorknob, Jean studied him for a moment, trying to determine if he was being serious. Deciding that he was, she answered, "When he finds the right one," as she went out and closed the door behind her.
The rest of the day went better for Richie. Or, at least, there was one less thing for him to feel stressed about. And something to look forward to as well, he thought to himself.
He got back to the office at 6:00 on Friday morning, having not left until 8:00 the night before. By 7:30 am he was in a conference room down the hall from his office with the entire Bianchi case laid out on the long conference table before him. With Paul Moretti dead, a vital piece of information would be missing out of the case he could present to the jury.
Paul Moretti had been the eye witness who could place Bianchi himself at the scene of the triple homicide. Without Moretti, the rest of the evidence regarding Bianchi's whereabouts was hearsay and wouldn't fly with the judge. Richie carefully went over every witness, every tiny piece of evidence he had. Began carefully formulating a plan that might--just might--work out.
While he was deep in thought, making occasional notes to himself, the door to the conference room opened. Ben Warner, another assistant district attorney, stuck his head in and asked, "You been watchin' the news, Roberts?"
"Haven't had time," Richie answered, going back to his notes. "Anythin' interestin' goin' on?"
"Oh, yeah," Warner said, in a tone which told Richie he wasn't necessarily going to find it interesting. Entering the room, Warner turned on the television in one corner and sat down opposite the table from Richie.
"--bodies pulled from the river this morning at 7:00 am," the pretty blond Channel Six newscaster was saying. "Gwen Bianchi was scheduled to testify against her ex-husband later this month."
Richie's face became a mask of calm, despite the fact that, inside, he was cursing in words even he'd never used in his life. "Well, that's it," he said, laying down his pencil. "Without her or Moretti, I won't have a chance in hell to convict Bianchi."
"How the hell did they get to her?' he asked Warner. "She was under protective custody."
"They're still tryin' to figure that out." Warner gave him a sympathetic look. "There's no way you can work around her?"
"Sure, I can work around her," Richie snorted. "But it'll be a waste of the taxpayers time and money! No damn way would I get a conviction!"
He stood up, pushed his chair in, and walked out the door. Down the hall in his office, he grabbed his coat and said to Jean, "I'm gonna be out the rest of the day."
Jean knew better than to sympathize right now, to ask if there was anything she could do. She knew there was nothing and that Richie Roberts would have to work himself out of this mood on his own. "Okay, Richie," she said quietly, watching him go.
Down in the parking garage, Richie slammed his fist as hard as he could against the cold metal of the elevator door. "Dammit!" he shouted. A couple of people who were probably witnesses here to be deposed gave him a startled look and skirted around him on their way to the same elevator.
Rather than get in his car, he walked. Didn't know how long he walked, but it was the only thing that would let him work off all this rage. All the damned work he'd put in on this case. All the hours, all the brainpower. Wasted.
Eventually, Richie ended up at his own apartment. Inside, he put on a pot of coffee, then changed into jeans and his favorite worn blue paisley shirt. Deciding against the coffee, he went out for more walking.
Ended up at his old precinct in the office of Captain Lou Toback. Lou had been his captain when he'd been a detective on the police force. His commanding officer in the narcotics task force. He was one of the few cops who had understood and approved of Richie's complete honesty on the job. And one of the very few cops with whom Richie had remained friends.
When Richie opened his door, Lou took one look at his face and said, "Whyn't we go grab some lunch and a beer?"
In a corner booth at the little neighborhood bar they were in, Richie told Lou everything that had happened with the Bianchi case, since the last time they'd talked.
He was almost finished with his second beer when Lou asked, "So, how's the rest of your life goin', Richie?"
"What rest 'a my life, Lou?" Richie emptied his bottle, motioned for the waitress to bring him another. When the waitress looked a question at him, Lou shook his head. One was his limit, especially in the middle of the day.
"You know." Lou's Jersey accent was even heavier than Richie's. He almost seemed to slur his words at times. "Life. How's Michael? How's Laurie? You got anybody new?" Lou asked that last question almost cheekily. He knew all about Richie's love life. It had been the stuff of urban legend back when they were both in the department.
"Michael's doin' great." A ghost of a smile appeared on Richie's face as he talked about his son. "Been talkin' to him every week. Just spoke to him last night. He's thinkin' of tryin' out for the baseball team when his school starts back."
"And Laurie?" Lou asked.
"Laurie? She's okay, I guess. Michael didn't say anythin' was wrong with her when we talked. Why would you ask about Laurie?" Richie was actually puzzled. Lou knew all about what had happened with him and Laurie.
Dropping his eyes and swirling his beer bottle around, Lou said, "Oh, I dunno. I guess- I guess maybe 'cause Elaine and I always thought maybe you two might get back together." He grinned sardonically across the table at Richie. "You know. After you had grown up a little." Tipping his bottle at Richie, he took a long swig from it.
Richie gave him the most surprised look he'd ever seen. "Boy, you two sure do love fantasy stories don't ya'? Even Michael knows we'd never get back together!"
"Besides-" Richie downed half of the new bottle of beer as soon as the waitress placed it on the table. "Laurie's datin' some guy. Been goin' on for six months now. Looks serious."
"Really?" Lou was surprised to hear it. "How you feel 'bout that?"
"Don't go gettin' all analytical on me, Lou!" Richie's look was disgusted. "Laurie and me- We're over. Were over a long time before the divorce even. If she's got somebody new, that's great."
"How 'bout you?" Lou was grinning at him again. "Got anybody new?"
Jess flashed immediately into Richie's mind. He looked down at his beer. Lifted it to take another swig, and then put it down without drinking. Meeting Lou's eyes over their empty plates, he said, "Maybe."
Lou Toback was floored. He'd expected to hear something like "Not a chance in hell!" The fact that Richie would even venture a "maybe" meant he was actually thinking about it.
"Well, I'll be damned!" Lou's grin was even wider now. "Where'd you find the poor girl? She must be from outta town. Every woman around here knows you too well to think about datin' you, Roberts!"
Richie refused to tell him any more about Jess than that they were going to the ball game the next day. He didn't want Lou makin' a bigger deal out of it than it was. Nothin' like that was ever gonna work out for him anyway, he thought. No sense in acting like it was.
After lunch, with Lou making him promise to have drinks with him next week, Richie went back to his own place. On the way, he stopped back by the garage at the office and picked up his car. In his apartment the case, which he'd actually been able to take his mind off of for a little while, came back full force. Just as he usually did, Richie sat down with a beer to go over it in his mind again and again. Got more and more agitated as he did. Finally, he'd had enough.
Some female companionship was what he needed. With dark falling, Richie headed for a little place where'd he'd had more than his share of luck picking up women. Dammit, he was gonna forget all about work, Jess, and everything for a little while tonight!
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