DISCLAIMER: Don't own 'em. Carmichael belongs (though she might argue the statement) to Dick Wolf and NBC. Kirkendall belongs to Steven Bochco and ABC.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: This is the third installment in what I'm coming to think of as the "Days and Nights" series. It picks up about two weeks after "Several Mornings After."
FEEDBACK: Feedback welcome at: sbowers04@yahoo.com
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.

Day In Day Out
By Sharon Bowers


The long-legged figure racing down the sidewalk was a familiar and pleasant sight to the bleary-eyed doormen as she flashed by them. Morning had just arrived on the city's doorstep and was making herself at home before rousing the house's unsuspecting inhabitants. Even a place as big as New York City had to sleep sometime, and that quiet hour just as the sun crept over the horizon was the time when even its most relentless inhabitants put their heads down to rest.

Ironically, it was the time when Abbie Carmichael was most awake and alive.

She had grown up in wide open spaces, her vision mostly unchecked by people or things-- and a part of her still hadn't adjusted to the change, even after all this time. On her worst days, amidst the city's towering buildings and constant crush of people, she had to fight down the urge just to start running and not stop until she saw the uninterrupted horizon and could take a breath free of the rank foulness that was the city's signature scent.

Abbie wasn't a big believer in meditation, and the nearest she'd come to a transcendental experience was that time in Mexico when she ate the worm-- but she'd be the first to admit that the early morning's hour was the closest to a place of peace that she could find in the cacophony of her daily life. The run cleared her mind of the previous day's debris, ordered her thoughts, and determined the rhythm of the hours to come. And sometimes-- those rare occasions when the pavement fairly flew underneath her feet-- she could ride the endorphin high all day long.

Yet this morning-- as had been happening every morning since she first met the tall, blond detective -- she found herself ruminating instead over the impact Jill Kirkendall was unwittingly having on her life. They had only shared one brief night in each other's arms-- hadn't even, in fact, made love-- and yet, Carmichael couldn't seem to stop trying to carve out a small space for herself in the other woman's life. The pair had reached a tentative understanding when the ADA had been called to cover the 15th precinct until a permanent assignment could be made to that station house. Despite what she suspected were mutual feelings of attraction, Abbie held no illusions about the likelihood of anything romantic growing out of their new friendship.

Were she brutally honest with herself, Abbie would have to admit that she took a great deal of comfort from that knowledge.

She could count on one hand the number of lovers she had willingly taken in her life, and only to one of these had she said the words, "I love you..." Those three words, uttered low and filled with dazed wonder as she lay spent and sated in the golden tangle of her lover's arms, had cost her everything. She hadn't been much more than a child herself when she'd said them-- though she had been two years gone in college. In the unthinking and selfish way of children, she had known only that her lover restored a sense of wholeness to a body that had been violated and a spirit that had been shamed and very nearly broken. She hadn't stopped once to consider what it might mean to the rest of her world. And she had paid for that recklessness dearly.

Shaking her head roughly, Abbie picked up the pace and lengthened her stride-- as if she could shake the past off her heels simply by outrunning it. Her thoughts of Jill, however, inevitably seemed to tangle themselves in all that she had left behind and drag her right back to where she started, leaving her winded by the chase and confused about what eluding the pursuit would mean.

Fortunately, the faintly shrill bleating of the cell phone attached to her hip called the hunt off early for the day and led her back to the here and now with its insistent noise.

It took her a few, long strides to bleed off the momentum she had built; and when she finally did, she snatched the phone from its resting spot and glared at its calmly green digital read-out. Worry adding its distinctive beat to her already thundering heart, she trotted out of the line of any potential traffic and snapped the phone on. "Carmichael," she answered, too-aware of the ragged sound of her breath and hoping that McCoy or whomever it was wouldn't draw the natural conclusions-- or at least the ones that made for good water cooler gossip.

"Ms. Carmichael, I have a request from Mr. Schiff." The coolly-elegant tones of District Attorney Adam Schiff's secretary, Evangeline, rang precisely in her ear. If the all-purpose secretary/administrative aid/ scheduling goddess had any interest in what ADA Carmichael was doing gasping for breath at six in the morning, her voice certainly didn't indicate it. They said Evangeline had been with Schiff from the beginning; and as Schiff's burdens weighed heavier and heavier on his already-stooped shoulders, Evangeline only seemed to grow sharper and more precise-- if a bit grayer-- as though the years had honed her efficiency with its razor's edge.

Phone calls at odd hours of the night or morning were nothing new to Abbie; but since she had moved from the whirly-gig insanity of the Narcotics Division-- where strange hours were the norm-- the calls had tapered off. Now her first fear was that McCoy had finally cracked himself up or worse on that goddamned hog of his. "And that might be?" she prompted unnecessarily.

"Mr. Schiff requests your presence at a crime scene. Are you available?"

Not that she had much of an option. Like it or not, Adam Schiff was God in her world. He had hired her out of law school, put her in narcotics, and then given her the plum assignment as ADA to his protégé, Jack McCoy-- over others who would argue they were more qualified than the loud-mouthed and admittedly young Texan. Carmichael herself wasn't sure why the old man had become her unlikely champion, and even she lacked the brass ones it would take to ask him. Still, she wasn't about to let an opportunity to prove herself pass by. If Schiff had asked her to come over and walk his dogs, Carmichael would have been hard-pressed to say no. "Sure," she said, cursing the coin toss that had clipped the phone to the wallet pack strapped around her hips. "What's the 20?" She closed her eyes to memorize the address that Evangeline rattled off with annoying precision and then repeated it just to be sure.

"He would like you there as soon as possible."

Abbie rolled her eyes in irritation. She was standing in the middle of what would be, in a few hours, one of the busiest residential streets in New York City-- and she was wearing nothing but her running shoes, a pair of old gray shorts and a cut-off Longhorns T-shirt. A few cabs were beginning to return the Young Turks home from their night's revelries, and she figured she could catch one of them back to her apartment, grab a swift shower and a change of clothes. There was no way in hell she was going to a crime scene dressed like this. "Give me 45 minutes, max. Okay?"

"Yes, Ms. Carmichael." Abbie thought she detected a faint note of disapproval in Evangeline's even tone and immediately began wondering how she could shave minutes off her time. "I'll let him know. Please check in with him as soon as you assess the situation. That will be all."

"Happy freaking morning to you too." Carmichael muttered under her breath as she heard the assistant ring off. "Christ, this is not how I like to start the day..."

She hadn't been dead that long.

A faint warmth that ironically sent a chill through Diane Russell as she checked for a pulse still clung to the lifeless body. It was a god-awful way to die, Russell reflected, and she wondered just how many times the girl had seen the knife slashing towards her before she had finally given up the fight.

Judging from the number of defensive wounds just on the girl's hands and arms, it had been far too many.

Careful not to disturb the girl's final resting place before the CSU had taken all their pictures, Diane backed away from the body and examined her surroundings. It was a typical alley in many respects, a place wide enough for trucks to sandwich their way through and make deliveries, but not intended for through traffic. There were the usual dumpsters at either end of the alley; but overall, it was oddly free of the debris and darkness that usually made places like this breeding grounds for crime and violence. The owners of the businesses that shared the alley had pitched in together and bought four sets of spotlights-- to keep, they said, things like this from happening.

It hadn't worked. Each of the spotlights had been shattered, mostly likely with the fist-sized chunks of broken asphalt found near the shards of glass scattered over the ground. Diane didn't hold any hope of getting prints off their porous surfaces, but she had CSU bag it anyway.

A murmur from the uniforms around the perimeter rose behind her in an appreciative wave; and Russell cocked her head in that direction, a smile tugging at her face as a very distinctive figure came into focus.

Carmichael was too preoccupied with clipping her DA's badge to a long chain and slipping it over her head to notice Diane's eyes upon her. Russell took the moment to smile at the familiar leather jacket Abbie wore that hung to mid-thigh. When they were both in narcotics, Diane had borrowed the garment so many times that Carmichael finally went out and bought her one just like it. Russell had accepted the gift, although she never had quite enough nerve to tell Abbie that the only reason she was so fond of the jacket was because it carried the other woman's distinctive scent embedded in its seams.

To Diane, there had always been something fundamentally reassuring about Abbie Carmichael. Maybe it was because Carmichael's smoky tenor had talked her through so many operations, or because her arms were the strength that had held Russell up in the aftermath of her worst benders, or simply because Abbie had never blinked in the face of all Diane's pain. She had been so resolutely steadfast in her composure that, when Russell had finally seen Abbie break, it had been too much-- and the memory of her own behavior still shamed Diane to this day.

She hadn't had another close female friend until Jill Kirkendall became her partner-- and that friendship had been born of a mutual attraction to the same man and cemented during his death. Without Jill, Russell didn't know how she would have made it through losing Bobby-- in fact, she almost hadn't-- but the other detective had been right there for her through every step.

The same way Abbie would have been, Diane suspected, had Russell given her the chance.

Catching the attorney's attention, she waved Abbie over, grinning at her unusually casual attire. "This the new look for the DA's office?" she asked, pointedly staring at Carmichael's 501s, black T-shirt, and black boots.

"It is when you drag us out to a crime scene at the crack of dawn. As I recall, the folks in narco didn't seem to mind too much."

"That's because they were all too busy staring at your ass," Russell shot back.

"Is there a problem with my ass?"

"Only when it's standing in my way." The voice that interrupted them was gruff and irritated. "Like it is now."

Carmichael cast a questioning glance at the round detective who shouldered his way past them and towards the body. She noted with a critically approving eye that, despite his abrupt demeanor, he was wearing latex gloves and stayed within the narrow, tape-marked line that the CSU set up as their corridor to the body.

Russell sighed in resigned exasperation and shrugged. "Andy, this is Carmichael from the DA's office. Abbie, this is Andy Sipowicz. We're both at the 15th."

"I thought Kirkendall was your partner?"

"I am." At Jill's increasingly familiar and deep tones, a flush ran through Abbie's body having nothing to do with the machine-gun pace she had been keeping this morning. "How's it going, Carmichael?" The greeting was loose and nonchalant, but the quiet smile on Jill's lips belonged to Abbie alone.

"Hey, Kirkendall," she returned, equally casual. "So, all you guys caught this together?"

"Ayup," Russell affirmed.

"So, what is this we all seem to have caught?"

"This..." Sipowicz pronounced, strolling over to the body and gesturing towards it grandly. "Is your usual fag bashing, only instead of a fag with his head beat in, we got us a dyke done with a Psycho routine."

Andy's dismissive tones made Carmichael's skin crawl, but she noticed the swiftly exchanged glances between Russell and Kirkendall and forced herself to not miss a step. "How do you know she's a dyke?"

"Cause she's wearin' them, you know, colors?"

"She's wearing colors? As in gang colors?" Couldn't hurt to play with him a little, she supposed.

"No, no..." He gestured towards the dead woman's head and the necklace made of black twine and metal rings. "Them rainbows. You know..."

"You mean freedom rings," she supplied.

"Yeah. Freedom rings. Whatever. She's wearin em."

"Do we have any reason to believe that her attackers knew she was gay? Other than the rings, of course."

"Well, we haven't asked for a list of her old girlfriends yet, but look around you," Sipowicz retorted. "We ain't in the middle of suburbia here."

"What, exactly, do you mean?" she ground out.

Picking up on the hard line of Carmichael's jaw and the level-voiced darkness in her tone, Russell interrupted. "Both the businesses on either side of the alley are gay bars. It's a pretty safe bet that anyone hanging around here knew that."

"Oh shit," Carmichael muttered, running a hand through her hair. "Well, at least I know why Schiff wanted me down here for the investigation."

"Why's that?" Sipowicz asked, a touch of antagonism coloring his voice.

Abbie didn't bother to suppress her irritation any longer. "Detective, if you read the papers, you'd know that the National Gay and Lesbian Coalition Against Hate Crimes is meeting here in New York for the next two weeks."

"Uh-oh..." Kirkendall and Russell chimed in unison.

"Uh-oh is right. Just about every member of the gay and lesbian press is town. If it is a gay bashing, we are probably-- to put it mildly and pardoning my language-- royally screwed. Aside from the fact that someone was just brutally murdered, this has public relations disaster written all over it from a political point of view. No doubt my bossman wants everyone to know that the DA's office is on the ball with this one. Particularly since our recent track record regarding gay bashing has been less than stellar. And let's not forget that next year is an election year."

"Sounds like somebody just handed you a bag of crap," Sipowicz commented solemnly.

Abbie barked a short laugh. "You'd be right about that, Detective."

"Well, I hate to add to your burden there, Ms. Carmichael..." Sipowicz pointed to three approaching figures. "But it looks like the shit shovelers have arrived."

"No pictures, please." The palm of one hand neatly covered the camera's lens while the other arm snagged the still photographer about to traipse all over the crime scene. "Whoa there, big boy. Where do you think you're going?"

He looked at Abbie as though she were a particularly slow specimen of some inferior life form. "To take pictures." He waved his press pass under her nose. "See? I'm a photographer with the New York Times."

Though her first instinct was to snatch the laminated badge from his hands and shove it down his throat, Abbie took a deep breath and counted to five before speaking. "I don't care if you're Annie-Freaking- Lebowitz... you trample that crime scene and I'm gonna have to explain to a jury why it's your size 12 sneaker by the body and not the killer's. That's not the kinda thing that exactly inspires trust in a jury. You know what I mean?"

He opened his mouth to argue with her, but they were interrupted by a quietly firm voice.

"Well, can we just stand over here and film then?" The voice belonged to an exquisitely slender woman with close-cropped black curls that highlighted deep, green eyes and skin the color of rich caramel. She gestured to the video man behind her and smiled at Carmichael with the deceptive openness of a seasoned television reporter.

Abbie knew some sort of con in play-- she could see the blinking red light that indicated the camera was on. "Well, ma'am, I can't stop you from doing that," she drawled, her voice unconsciously dropping an octave as she stepped front and center to block his camera angle. "But do you know how many false tips and confessions the police get on the average high-profile case? It's in the hundreds. And most of them are easy to discount because the caller doesn't have knowledge of the modus operandi or the crime scene. You put that scene back there on the air, and those calls will triple, I guarantee you. And it will be twice as hard to sift through them because all the crackballs can describe this place. You telling me that you want the police to spend their time dealing with that instead of finding this perp?"

The reporter smirked at her. "Next thing I know is that you'll be saying that most crimes are solved within 48 hours or not at all, right Detective?"

"You're right. The window of opportunity closes really fast, and we need to take advantage of whatever we can as quickly as possible. I'm sorry if you find that amusing." Carmichael leveled her with a stare. "And I'm not a Detective."


"I'm not a cop."

"You look like a cop." The reporter grinned at her again, this time openly playful. "Well I know you're not a press officer." When Carmichael merely arched a questioning brow, she gestured at Abbie's clothes. "One of them wouldn't be caught dead in front of a camera in Levi's."

"Ah... good to know for the future."

To Abbie's surprise, the reporter offered her a hand that Carmichael shook warily. "I'm Christienne Turner, by the way. Good to meet you."

The name rang a bell in the recesses of Abbie's mind. "Oh, you do that public affairs show on Sunday. What is it? New York something?"

"New York Now," she replied, chuckling lightly. "I also anchor the six o'clock news for WST."

"Sorry," Abbie apologized half-heartedly. "But I'm never home at six o'clock."

"Out fighting crime?" A mocking gleam entered the reporter's eyes, telling Abbie she was being toyed with.

"Well, I'm not Batman or anything."

"No cape, huh?"

"Nary a one."

"So, who are you?"

"My secret identity, you mean?" She shrugged diffidently. "I'm Carmichael with the DA's office."

"The DA's office? You've made an arrest already? Looks like you didn't need that 48 hours after all."

"The investigation is still in its initial stages. District Attorney Schiff wants to make sure we co-ordinate our effort with those of the NYPD." Seeing a chance to wrap the conversation up, Carmichael decided not to waste any time. "And I really don't have anything to add to that. As soon as we have something to release to the press, I'll make sure you have it ASAP. Okay? Thanks for being patient." She offered a tentative smile to the reporter and nodded curtly at the photographer before turning to go.

"Oh, Ms. Carmichael?" Turner called her back, a misleadingly ingenuous smile on her face. "You called this case high-profile. What makes this case so special?"

Abbie didn't miss a beat. Returning the smile in kind, she pointed at the reporter. "Your presence, Ms. Turner. I'm sure WST wouldn't just let you run around on their dime for no good reason." Then she pointed at the camera. "And don't think for one minute that I didn't know that thing was turned on."

Turner shrugged and grinned openly at Carmichael. "Well, if I can't show the crime scene, I might as well give the viewers something good to look at. Right?"

In reply, Abbie only rolled her eyes before motioning some uniformed officers to set up a perimeter just outside the alleyway to keep curious bystanders-- not to mention reporters-- out of the crime scene proper.

"How's the crap?" Sipowicz asked as she made her way back to the detectives' sides.

"Hip deep. I'm gonna need some waders soon."

Jill glanced over her shoulder to where Turner and her cameraman still stood. "Isn't that the woman who does the six o'clock news?"

"Yeah." Carmichael grimaced. "And I think she was kinda pissed off that I didn't know who she was."

"You don't watch the news?"

"Nah," she grinned at Kirkendall. "All they talk about is crime. All that bad news brings me down."

"How was your run?"

The abrupt change in subject startled Carmichael, but she had been rolling with conversational punches all morning. She figured one more wouldn't kill her. "Interrupted." She slipped her hands in her pockets and studied Jill out of the corner of her eye. This was the first time the detective had referred to the night they had spent together. "I'm surprised you remember," she remarked quietly.

"It's not likely that I'm gonna forget anyone who tells me they voluntarily get up at dawn."

"I see..." Carmichael ducked her head to hide her disappointment at the flip answer, but a gentle hand on her arm brought her eyes unwaveringly to Kirkendall's.

"Or anything else you said that night."

They regarded each other silently until Russell's approach interrupted them. "Hey, guys-- you wanna take a ride down to the House? The women who found her want to talk down there. "

"Can't really blame them," Abbie remarked, feeling Jill's hand drop away and ignoring the questioning glance Diane was shooting her. "We id the vic yet?"

"Andy found a driver's license. Medavoy and Martinez are chasing down the next of kin."

"Great. I'll check in with the bossman once we get to the House." She winked at Kirkendall as they began making their way to the unmarked cars. "I'm riding shotgun."

"Victim's name was Stephanie Pruitt. She was twenty-seven, stockbroker at some tony brokerage house on Wall Street. Parents live in Iowa-- they're flying in tonight. Eight-year, committed relationship with a woman she met at Columbia University where they both attended college. Her lover's a first-chair violinist for the symphony-- they were performing in DC at the Kennedy Center last night-- she's already caught the shuttle up here. Detectives Medavoy and Martinez are with her now. Work associates and friends say that Stephanie was openly gay and politically active. For the last few years, she's was sitting on the board of a local gay youth in crisis center as well as volunteering as a rape crisis counselor." Carmichael finished her run-down of the victim of this morning's murder and stared expectantly at both her bosses.

She had remained standing throughout the conversation, though Schiff was seated behind his desk and McCoy was slumped into one of the chairs opposite the desk. Jack had been uncharacteristically silent during her report; now Schiff glanced at him in a wordless prompt.

McCoy wasn't sure what Adam was up to-- Jack had come in this morning to find a note on his desk saying that Abbie was out of the office working a homicide in the 15th precinct. Nothing unusual in that, and he had put it out of his mind until Schiff called him into the office at noon and turned on the news. There Abbie was, larger than life-- well, as large as the small fifteen-inch screen could make her-- fielding banter from WST's star anchor with smooth nonchalance. He had to admit, if Schiff was looking to put a young and aggressive face on the District Attorney's office, he couldn't have made a better choice. Standing there in her jeans and leather jacket, yet as professionally composed as ever, Carmichael radiated intelligence and an almost cocksure confidence in what she was doing. "Another poster child," he muttered, not sure if he was thinking of Stephanie Pruitt or the woman standing in front of him.

"With due respect Jack, another dead poster child," she retorted, unaware of his private thoughts. "Murdered for no other reason than she was gay."

"We don't know that," McCoy objected, falling into the devil's advocate role she usually played for him. "Not for sure. It could have been a robbery."

Abbie shot him a scathing look as if to say "What planet are you living on?"

"You find any cash or credit cards?" he asked, ignoring the hardness in her eyes.

"No, but her id was in her back pocket. She could have spent the cash and not carried credit cards. She was also still wearing her Columbia class ring and a pretty nice Bulova watch. When you add that to the fact that she was murdered in an alley that separated two gay bars-- it's not a far reach to conclude that whoever did this was looking to kill somebody gay."

"Anybody report any trouble there earlier in the night? Anyone strange hanging out?" Schiff interjected, seeing the signs of another full-blown, McCoy-Carmichael fifteen rounder brewing.

Carmichael shook her head, returning to the matter at hand. "No. And both clubs' owners said that they had a pretty mixed clientele-- men and women with a smattering of 'hip'-- their word-- straight people."

"So you're saying your killer wouldn't have necessarily stood out."

"Killers," Abbie corrected. "ME said he couldn't say for sure until he looked more closely, but he was guessing there were two blades-- one with serrated edges and one without."

"Jesus," Schiff murmured.

"She had over two dozen defensive wounds on her arms alone. Two of them armed with knives, and she still fought like hell. She didn't go easy, sir." Carmichael leaned forward, her arms bracing themselves on Schiff's desk as dark eyes fixed firmly on the District Attorney. "I want these bastards," she said, her voice low and ardent. "I want them to burn for what they did. What they took away from this community. That girl was going places-- she had a life, sir, a life-- goddamn them. And they took it for no other reason than she was something they couldn't understand." Her body shook with more emotion than Jack could have fathomed she possessed, yet Carmichael seemed oddly restrained-- as if she knew she was just this side of out-of-control.

"This one's gonna be under the klieg lights," Schiff remarked. "And not just the normal crime beat folks."

"Yes sir, I know that." She leaned back and dropped gracefully into the chair beside McCoy. "And I know there's a national gay coalition in the city talking about hate crimes this week."

"The timing couldn't be worse," Adam admitted.

"What if the timing's not coincidental?" Jack asked.

"We're already looking into that," Carmichael acknowledged the possibility. "We've got two detectives investigating any threats to coalition members or the hotel where the conference is being held. We're also checking to see if Stephanie had any ties to it. So far it looks like she wasn't going to be attending, but we haven't talked to all the members. And we haven't checked the press credentials of reporters who are in town specifically covering the meeting. We thought we'd see if there was any reason to think she might have known any of them before we tip our hand-- they are the press, after all."

"You're doing this quietly, I assume?"

She looked at the district attorney wryly. "As quietly as possible when there are several hundred conference attendees, not to mention support staff, hotel employees, and freelance help. This thing isn't exactly a Kwianis club meeting. But we're concentrating most of our efforts on tracking down and talking to the people who were at both clubs last night. Thank god it was a weeknight and they weren't as crowded as they could have been."

"The owners are co-operating fully?"

"So far. There are some good folks up there at the 1-5. They've handled the owners perfectly."

"You need any help in that department?"

"I thought about calling Special Vics to talk to some of the club patrons. I know it's a kind of outside of their purview, but they're a little more empathetic than your average run-of-the-mill plainclothes detective. Might ease their discomfort level a bit. We'll see if the need arises."

Schiff nodded a moment, as if coming to some silent conclusion. "All right. Sounds like you've got your bases covered. Keep running with it." He pointed at the EADA who was looking at him with unconcealed surprise. "You need any help, you see Jack. Now get out of here, it's after seven-- and I know you haven't stopped all day."

"Yes, sir. Thank you." She rose to go but was halted by the DA's gruff voice.

"And Abbie... tomorrow, try to wear a skirt." A gleam twitched in his eye, belying his serious tone. "The leather jacket may have looked great on TV, but we try at least to pretend we're professionals around here."

She smirked in reply. "Will do, boss. I'll catch you later, Jack."

Schiff waited until Carmichael closed the door before rising from behind his desk and strolling over to the corner cabinet where he poured himself a drink. "Well... go ahead." He looked at Jack expectantly.

"Go ahead what?" McCoy did his best to keep an expression of casual disinterest on his face, but judging by the sly chuckles emanating from the district attorney, he was failing miserably.

"Tell me what a big mistake you think I'm making in letting Carmichael run with this. Go ahead, you've never stood on protocol before."

Jack ran a hand through his already-ruffled hair in exasperation. "Well... Adam... I don't think it's the smartest thing you've ever done."

Schiff's chuckles became genuine laughs as he sat on the sofa and regarded his old protégé and friend. "My boy, I didn't know you had that much diplomacy left in those old bones of yours." He held his glass up in silent salute. "Now tell me why you think that."

Jack sputtered for a moment, then rose and paced the length of the office. More than anything he wished for the comforting weight of the glass that Adam now held in his hand, but he didn't drink in front of anyone anymore. In fact, as far as everybody knew, he had quit drinking entirely. He wasn't sure why he was so nonplused by Schiff's actions. Abbie was... well... Abbie... and she had been a bone of contention between Adam and himself from the day she first blew into his office with that arrogant smile and those unwavering eyes. "I just... don't think she's ready," he finally said, relying on the excuse-- wearing increasingly thin as the months went by-- that had been his objection to her since the beginning.

"She's been in your office almost two years, Jack. Four more with Narcotics. Just how much experience do you think she needs before you trust her?"

Trust... As usual, Adam's blunt question cut to the heart of the matter. He didn't trust Abbie Carmichael. Not in his head, not in his gut, and certainly not in his heart. Not the way he had Claire. Or even, eventually, Jamie. For the life of him, he couldn't explain why, and at times like this it gnawed at him. He spread his hands helplessly before him. "I don't know, Adam. Why do you trust her so much?"

Schiff finished his drink in a quick swallow and rose awkwardly to pour himself another. "When I look at that girl..." He pointed at the door Carmichael had just exited. "I see the future." He looked at McCoy closely. "I'm the past, Jack. I know that. The best thing I can do now is offer what guidance I can to you both. When I stop being helpful... I'll step down." Jack started to protest, but he waved the other man's words away. "Don't worry, that's not going to happen anytime soon. I have to stick around a while longer, if only to keep you two from killing each other."

"You think Abbie Carmichael is the future of this office?" McCoy shook his head incredulously. "I'm sorry, Adam, but I just don't see that."

"Have you really looked?" He settled himself back behind his desk and motioned Jack to his seat, waiting until McCoy was sprawled back into the leather office chair before he continued. "You want to know the first time I ever saw Abbie Carmichael? She was twenty-one years old and captain of this tiny little nothing debate team for the University of Texas."

"Debate team?" Jack sat up slightly in his chair. The few times Carmichael had talked about college, she had mentioned only track teams and football games-- and nothing of her academic life.

"It was at the 1988 NDTA Championship-- where five Supreme Court Justices were deciding the first true national debate championship in twenty years."

"She was there watching it?" It would be just like Abbie to bulldoze her way into meeting the man who ran the largest and most powerful District Attorney's office in the country. Some said that after the Attorney General herself, Adam Schiff was the most important law enforcement figure in the country.

"Watching it?" Schiff snorted. "Hell, Jack, she was arguing it! The University of Texas had come out of nowhere to win the Western Regionals and was debating Harvard in the finals. Nobody knew who the hell this girl and her partner were. You think she's fire and brimstone now? You should have heard her-- those Harvard boys looked like they had been poleaxed."

"What was the issue?"

"Capital punishment."

"Well, that makes sense," Jack scoffed. "She's always been a hang em high..."

"She wasn't arguing the affirmative. UT lost the toss and she had to argue the negative position. In her summation she said, 'The greatest injustice of the death penalty isn't the one perpetrated on the condemned... but rather the one we perpetrate upon ourselves when we allow this to happen. Capital punishment gives us the God-like power of life and death... and yet He says, "Thou shalt not murder..." Capital punishment isn't about justice, it's about vengeance... and that belongs to no man... only God.' I have never heard a silence in a courtroom like the one after she finished. Right then, I knew I wanted that girl in this office."

"Powerful stuff," Jack admitted. "I just wish she believed it."

"Funny thing is, Jack, I think she does."

"You think she doesn't believe in the death penalty?"

"No, Jack, I think what she does believe in-- is justice. In doing whatever it takes to make sure justice is served. And that, not her conviction record, what persuaded me to move her up here with you. I knew you two would fight like cats and dogs-- you're too much alike not to-- but I always thought you'd give her a fair chance."

"We are not alike," he protested, conveniently ignoring Adam's last sentence.

"Yes you are-- you're both stubborn as all get out, you both want to lead the band, and neither one of you wants to march to the other's tune."

McCoy chuckled darkly. "Sounds like a bad student production of The Taming of the Shrew. Maybe I should just marry her."

"Somehow, Jack my boy, I don't think you're her type."

"What does that mean?"

"It doesn't mean anything." Schiff waved the comment away. "But I'm serious about this, McCoy. This situation can't continue. I want her on point on this case, but she's going to need help."

"Me?" He pointed at himself mockingly, arching his brows. "What makes you think she needs my help? She's the future, after all. I think I should just step aside and let it roll."

Schiff's eyes darkened, and his face took on a stone-hardened cast that McCoy rarely saw anymore. It was the look that had terrified him as a green ADA-- along with not a few other judges, lawyers, and criminals. Jack was astonished to realize that the look still had a similar impact on him today. "You don't get it, do you, McCoy? You're too involved in your self-pity and bellyaching to realize that I'm not talking about your job or mine. I think this girl could be the next Attorney General of the United States. She's that good. She's that hungry. I look at her and I see everything you could have been before you pissed it away in the bottom of a scotch bottle."

McCoy jerked his head up and stared in astonishment at his boss. Adam and he had always had a certain degree of familiarity between them, but it had never gone this far.

"Why did you do it, Jack? Why?" Schiff ignored the muted gasp from his EADA and shook his head uncomprehendingly. "That's what I don't understand. Was it because you realized the Sixties were over and your peace-love-and-understanding revolution was never going to happen? Because the bad guys got away once too often? Because the woman you loved died in a stupid, pointless accident?

"You took your bruised ideals and wouldn't play the game anymore. You settled for being good when you could have been great. You think you're devoted to this job, but not really, Jack. You're devoted to keeping up appearances. But it won't work anymore." Schiff leaned back in his chair and waved disgustedly at his protégé. "So go ahead and pour yourself a drink. I know you want one."

"I... I didn't know you thought so little of me, Adam." Even to himself, McCoy's voice was stilted, as if strained to its very limit. He stood and made his way to the tiny bar with the unsteady gait of someone who has taken a catastrophic blow to the head.

"You're wrong, Jack. I think the world of you. I don't have much patience anymore for your cowardice, however."

The scotch burned its way through his consciousness, soothing the frayed neurons in its path. Fortified by the drink-- yet shamed by his desire for it-- he turned to face his boss. "Maybe you're right. Maybe I was like Abbie is now-- her ideals, as you call them, haven't gotten bruised. She's young..."

"You still think she's some idealistic kid?" Schiff laughed in disbelief.

"Isn't she?"

"You don't know a damn thing about your partner, Jack. Let me ask you something... Did you know they threatened to take her scholarship away if she pressed charges against that boy who raped her?"

McCoy jerked his head up at the question. He still remembered vividly the day Abbie had told him about the rape. The matter-of-fact-tone in her voice had been unnerving, but more unsettling to him was the intimate nature of the confession itself. He had set her up as his adversary from day one, took a perverse pleasure in clashing with her-- all the while telling himself that he was testing her, tempering her instincts and making her back up her shoot-from-the-hip attitude with hard facts and provable cases. Her quiet words, "I blamed myself for a long time... I don't anymore..." made her seem at once more vulnerable and stronger to him. It also threatened to cast Carmichael in a light that he wasn't sure he wanted to see her in-- a human one.

"Yes, I know all about it." Schiff waved the unasked question away. "Our background guys found out about the incident when they were running the check on her before we offered her the job. She's a working class kid, Jack, that scholarship was the only way she could go to school at all. But he was a rich and a law student..."

"So they told her not to make waves or else."

"Essentially. When I asked her about it, she said that sometimes surviving was the only justice there was, and there was no shame in accepting that. But it wasn't going to stop her from trying for something more."

Abbie had never been to Smitty's, the pub where she had agreed to meet Diane; but she recognized it instantly as a cop's bar, populated with mostly uniformed officers who were now off-duty and in their street clothes. A few clusters of plainclothes filled some of the rickety tables and the booths that lined the side of the wall. As her eyes roved over the faces searching for Russell's, an all-too familiar voice chuckled behind her. "Hey Hollywood... you were lookin' pretty good on TV this afternoon. We should put you up against Johnnie Cochran on that Celebrity Death Match thing."

"Nah," she replied lazily, turning around to confront friendly dark brown eyes filled with a rare good humor. "No contest-- I'd take him in two rounds flat." She dropped into the booth beside the Special Victims Unit detective and nodded to the man seated across from her. "Scootch over some."

"Hey, I was here first," Olivia Bensen objected, but nonetheless complied.

"Yeah, and I'm here now. Deal with it. How're you doing, Elliot?" she asked Olivia's partner, ignoring the discreet poke in the ribs from the woman beside her.

"Can't complain, Abbie. You?"

Carmichael rolled her eyes. "Well, you know that book about the old guy who hooks a huge fish and gets towed across the ocean? I think I'm the old guy."

"You do seem to be the flavor du jour," Olivia agreed, pouring Abbie a glass of beer from the half-empty pitcher on the table.

Abbie frowned. "Then wouldn't that would make me the fish?"

"I've called the press a pack of sharks more than once in my career," Elliott offered.

"Great. By this time next week then, there shouldn't be anything left of me but skin and bones."

"Aww... poor baby. Have another beer." Knowing that she was one of the few people in the NYPD that could openly tease Abbie Carmichael and get away with it, Bensen took shameless advantage of it in their off-duty hours. They were two of a kind in many ways-- both dark-haired, dark-eyed, with a relentless sense of justice and a burning desire to see it served.

"Liv, I haven't even had my first one yet."

"Then drink up, girl, you've catching up to do. Speaking of which-- what are you doing here? Not that Elliott and I mind the company, but I thought you didn't play on weeknights?"

"I'm not playing. I'm meeting somebody, but if I sit down alone I'll become prey. Cops don't like being told no."

"We'll protect you, Abbie," Elliott promised solemnly, only the slight gleam in his eyes betraying his humor.

"Meeting somebody? You have a hot date?"

Carmichael shot her a withering glare. "Not a hot date, an old friend. And look, there she is."

Russell's distinctive brown curls and angular features caught more than one approving eye, but she moved through the crowd determinedly, smiling in relief when she saw Abbie's hand motioning her over. "Hey, sorry I'm late."

"Don't worry about it," Carmichael waved the apology away. "Diane Russell, this is Olivia Bensen and Elliott Stabler of the SVU. Diane's plainclothes in the 15th."

"How you doin'?" Russell nodded in greeting. "They gonna sit in on the questioning tomorrow?"

"What questioning?" The partners chorused.

"That case that got me on TV. It looks like a gay bashing at a night club," Carmichael explained. "I was going to see if maybe a couple of the SVU could shake loose and help talk to some of the patrons who were there."

"Don't see why not," Olivia replied. "Talk to Cragen in the morning and we'll see what we can do."

"Terrific." Abbie grinned at her friend and rose to stand beside Diane. "I appreciate it, Liv. Now we're gonna let you finish your fries. Elliott, see you later."

"Take it easy, Abbie."

They made their way across the scuffed and stained hardwood floor to another booth tucked quietly in the corner of the crowded room, away from traffic. Carmichael settled Diane in the booth and shouldered her way to the bar, returning triumphantly with drinks a few minutes later.

Russell looked with surprise at the Diet Coke sitting in front of her. "How'd you know I was off the sauce?" she asked quietly.

"You look too damn good not to be," the attorney replied with a grin, thinking the words were more than true. Despite the lines of grief that were etched permanently into Diane Russell's remarkable features, she looked healthier and more relaxed than Abbie had ever seen. During their days in narco, Russell had been almost schizophrenic in her mood swings-- jittery and wired one moment, haggard and exhausted the next. They always said that booze had been Russell's drug of choice, but there were nights and moments between them that Carmichael still believed were fueled by something else. Now, a more centered and peaceful Diane Russell sat before her, and Abbie couldn't stop smiling at the sight. "You've gotten someplace you need to be. You have no idea how happy that makes me."

Surprise shone in warm brown eyes. "You can still say that," she marveled. "Even after... everything?"

Abbie fought the urge to laugh at the bland euphemism for all that had come between their friendship. "I never stopped worrying about you, D." Unaccountably embarrassed by her own admission of tenderness, she fixed her gaze on the numerous scratches and dings that littered the table surface. "Never."

The hand that pried her fingers from the beer bottle was small, almost delicate, as it nestled in Carmichael's larger palm. "Abs.."

"It's okay, Diane." She squeezed the hand in hers gently and found Russell's eyes once more. "Honest."

"I hurt you."

"You hurt yourself more," Abbie pointed out. "That's what... I couldn't handle." Carmichael released her hand and took a long swig of her beer, the glass tingling in cool contrast to the warmth of Diane's hand. They had always touched easily and often, and only now could Abbie begin to admit to herself how much she had missed it. Exile and disillusionment had twisted her nature and forced her into becoming a solitary figure, never giving her a choice. Early in their acquaintance, the undercover operative had shown no qualms about breaching the carefully constructed, demilitarized zone of personal space Carmichael had erected. At first Carmichael allowed it because it was so much like her home-- where the frequent contact was rough-and-tumble-rowdy, but it was also a reassuringly physical symbol of family ties. Later, their touches became lifelines for both women-- anchoring Russell to a reality that seemed disconcertingly far away and reminding Abbie that there was someone in the world who gave a damn about how she was doing. Losing that had been devastating, and she hated to think of what might happen a second time. "Just let the past go."

"You're not gonna let me talk about this, are you?" Diane asked ruefully.

"Nope. Not here, not now, and definitely not tonight."

Russell studied her intently for a moment then acceded to her friend's request gracefully. "Probably for the best anyway. I don't seem to be doing too well with heart-to-hearts today."

"What do you mean?"

"Oh nothing." Diane blew out an exasperated breath and noodled absently with the bowl of pretzels Abbie had brought over with the drinks. "It's just that... Jill and I got into it today. And I hate that."

"Over the case?"

"Nah. Personal. Unfortunately I had to be the bearer of bad tidings..."

"And she decided to shoot the messenger?" Abbie finished for her, feeling her heart rate pick up at even the mention of Kirkendall's name. A part of her wanted to scoff at her body's admittedly adolescent response; but at the same time, she couldn't deny it.

"Something like that. Thing is, I feel bad for her, but another part of me just wants to shake her for being so stupid."

Carmichael arched a brow in question. "She doesn't look stupid."

"Yeah, well I've found that no one is particularly bright when it comes to romance."

"Romance?" The word was strangled and harsh in Abbie's throat, so she swallowed the last of her beer and motioned the waitress for another. "What do you mean?"

Russell looked at her closely, as if to ask why Carmichael cared, but then shrugged and continued. "She's been seeing her ex again-- not for long, I think-- she only mentioned something about it last week, wanting to see what I thought about the whole idea."

A dull heat flushed over Carmichael's system, and she couldn't help but wonder if Jill had chosen Don, not confession, as a way to repent what had happened to between them. Keeping her voice light, she asked, "And you picked today to tell her?"

"I didn't pick anything. Today I found out that the Job's seriously looking at this guy for a collar."

"That sonofabitch," Abbie muttered with more vehemence than she intended. Jill had called him her favorite mistake... but this was a little something more. "What's he up for?"

"Muling dope."

"Jesus. How stupid is he? Or does he just think it's that easy to get over on her?" She punctuated her statement with a long swallow of beer then, seeing the speculative look in Diane's eyes, sat the bottle down abruptly. "What?"

"There something you want to tell me, Abs?"

Years ago, that question had first cemented their friendship. Diane had caught Abbie's eyes discreetly following a long-legged redhead strolling up the street ahead of them, put two and two together, and the inquiry had popped out. Abbie had turned about five different shades of decidedly embarrassed pink before Russell had stopped teasing her. After that, those words had prefaced just about all of their personal conversations.

"No," Carmichael flatly replied.

"Jill Kirkendall is about the straightest woman I've ever met."

"Why do you say that about every woman you think I'm interested in?"

"Because it's usually true," Russell retorted.

"I'm not interested in Jill Kirkendall." She didn't know who the lie would convince, but looking at Russell's face, she knew it wasn't anyone at this table.



"Then why are you sucking that beer down like there's no tomorrow?"

As the waitress set Carmichael's third bottle of Sol in front of her, Abbie knew she was busted. Over her years in narco she had become so adept at nursing a single drink that by the end of the evening no one knew she wasn't as wasted as the rest of them. Diane was privy to the information only because Carmichael was usually the one who took her home. The third beer sweating on the table in front of her was a dead giveaway of two things-- one, that Abbie trusted Diane to take care of her if something happened; and two, that she was absolutely terrified of what she was starting to feel for Jill Kirkendall.

Both revelations were not lost on Diane who waved the waitress over and ordered two burgers with the works for them. Then she commanded, "Talk to me, Abbie."

Caving in to the inevitable, Carmichael laid the whole story out for Diane. Her first meeting with Jill, the bar, the young turks, Mae's diner, and then-- more awkwardly-- what had come after. The intimacy, the warmth, the tenderness. She left nothing out-- not even her abandonment the next morning and the sense of loss she felt upon waking up alone.

"Good God, Abbie. I had no idea."

"I think, given the circumstances, that's a pretty good thing."

"But it makes sense..."

"What do you mean?"

"The way you two were leaning towards each other all day. And the little glances and stuff. I noticed it first at the crime scene this morning, but couldn't figure out why." She shrugged, polishing off the last of her fries and stealing a second one from Abbie's plate. "Now I know. She likes you."

Carmichael laughed cynically. "Yeah, she likes me so much she's taken up with her skel of an ex-husband."

"Cut the woman some slack, Carmichael. Don's always had a nasty hold over her-- I think it's mostly because of the kids now... but she was crazy in love with this guy when they were younger."

"Before he turned out to be such an asshole?"

"I think he was always an asshole... but Jill told me something once. She said that he was the first one to ever really look at her. Like he was interested in her as a person, and not some leggy blond to get over on. She said that guys always wanted to score, but never talk, with her."

"Don talked," Abbie concluded.

"He made her feel special."

"And the rat bastard's been trading on it ever since."

"That's pretty much what I figure. Even after all he's put her through, a part of her still loves him for making her feel that way. Jill's not the kind of person to give her heart lightly, Abs."

A pained smile twisted its way across Carmichael's features. "Think she would be interested in giving it to somebody like me?"

She picked up the phone and punched six unfamiliar numbers. Her finger hovered over the seventh for a long moment before she pressed it and held the receiver to her ear.


The voice on the other end of the phone was so groggy and thick with sleep that Jill almost hung up the phone without a word, but calling Don on all his lies tonight had left a dull bruise on what was left of her heart and an aching need to feel cared for. Somewhere deep inside, she had known Don hadn't changed-- he was no more capable of altering his true nature than any other predator-- but she had wanted to believe so badly that this time would be different.

"He's the only one to have touched something... in here..." she said to Diane, tapping her chest. "That's hard to let go."

Now, listening to the sleepy, scuffling sounds on the other end of the phone, she realized her words had been an unwitting lie. Don might have been the first one, but he wasn't the only one. Not anymore.

Abbie Carmichael had blown into her life with a lazy drawl, honest eyes, and a quiet pain that Jill still couldn't fathom. Slipping her arms around the dark-haired Texan may have been the boldest thing Kirkendall had ever done in her life, but it had felt so incontrovertibly right she hadn't been able to stop herself.

Second thoughts had come the next morning, and they had propelled her out of Carmichael's apartment and-- apparently, she realized now-- into Don's arms. She had taken him to her bed the next night, pushing memories of a slender and decidedly female body out of her mind. Jill had honestly intended to call Abbie the next day to explain-- it was why she had the attorney's phone number now-- but somehow, she had let the task slip away. When Carmichael had appeared at the 15th precinct, Jill had anticipated the worst-- Don had accustomed her to that. Abbie, however, had confounded her expectations, displaying a calmly professional demeanor in the squad room and a disarming openness in private when discussing what had happened between them. A tentative friendship had begun in those few moments, and Kirkendall had relished every minute of it. She almost invited Carmichael to Kyle's first Communion, but hesitated when she worried what Abbie might think about her rekindled relationship with Don. Jill knew now that worry should have told her something about how important the attorney was becoming to her, but she had willingly blinded herself to it-- the same way she had blinded herself to Don's lies.

"Hello?" The voice, still husky, darkened with suspicion. "Anybody there?"


A hesitation, then a low-pitched chuckle drifted through the wire. "Hey you," she said. "I was just thinking about you."

"Sounded like you were dead asleep."

"Maybe it was a dream." Another chuckle. "Maybe this is the dream."

A quiet sigh escaped Jill's lips. "I wish it were."

The murmured words seemed to shake the sleep from Abbie's body-- Jill thought she could hear the lawyer sitting up in bed, and she couldn't help but remember the white Oxford that had hugged Abbie's long frame the night they had been together. "Talk to me, Jill. What's wrong?"

Jill slid down the wall beside the telephone table, drawing her knees up underneath the cool silk nightgown she wore. She felt like a fool in the outrageously feminine garment, as though it were a sign of everything she couldn't be. "I just wanted to hear a friendly voice, that's all."

"Well, you've got one here. You know that."

The words were unhesitatingly warm and their tenderness sliced Jill to the core. "I..." The whole nasty story trembled on her lips, wanting to pour itself out to the sympathetic woman on the other end, but she held back. Whether it was to spare herself the pain of recounting the tale again or to preserve whatever respect Carmichael still had for her, Jill didn't know. Instead, she just wanted to lose herself in Abbie's whiskey-throated voice, though it was no substitute for the strength she had found in the other woman's long arms. "Tell me about something you love. Please." .

A brief pause, and for a horrible moment Jill thought Abbie was going to brush her off, make some inane joke about non sequiturs or something-- like Don had always done at these brutally awkward moments when she was vulnerable-- but Abbie was only thinking. "Back home, long about July, it gets so hot in the afternoons you'd think that if it got just one degree hotter that everything around you would burst into flame. The sweat running down your back about scalds you, and all the wind does is blow the sunburn all across your face."

In spite of herself, Jill found herself smiling. "This is something you love?"

"Hush up," Abbie reproached her lightly. "I'm getting to that. Then-- just when you think it can't get any worse-- you start seeing the thunderheads rolling in. Pile after pile of clouds getting taller and darker with every minute. And if you're smart, you duck out and find yourself someplace to wait it out. Most of the kids went to the Dairy Queen... some of the boys, the troublemakers mostly, would go airport where you could really see the lightning-- they'd stand out there and dare God to hit them." Another low chuckle rolled through the phone. "He took them up on it a couple of times, too." Her slow words began to paint the rhythm of those summer days for Jill, rounded vowels and rambling sentences telling of aimless hours and sensibilities dulled by the heat. The coils of tension in Jill's spine and stomach slowly began unknotting themselves as she lost herself in the tiny piece of Abbie Carmichael taking shape in her mind's eye.

"Is that where you went?"

"Naw... I'd go back home, usually. My Daddy's house has a big screened in porch on the back of it. I'd steal one of his longnecks and settle down there to wait it out." Her voice was filled with an still-childlike wonder as she began to describe the scene from her youth. "You haven't ever seen a storm like the ones we had back there. The rain was like this blanket of water that covered your eyes, kept you from seeing where you were going. It came down so hard that the ground couldn't soak it up fast enough-- bounced off the dirt and flattened the plants. Thunder so loud you couldn't hear yourself talk, and the wind so strong that sometimes the rain would be sideways. It'd blow through the wire on the screen and spray me down-- which was a good thing because I was usually about to roast. Daddy wasn't a big believer in air-conditioning.

"It never lasted more than fifteen, maybe twenty minutes. A half-hour is about the longest I've ever seen it go on. The ground would start steaming when the sun came back out, and by nightfall you'd never know that the storm had ever happened. But the air was always so clean afterwards-- you could fill your lungs with the freshness and just... breathe."

A relaxed silence, born of Abbie's unhesitating the gift of memory, connected them through the wire. "Thank you," Jill said, at last, loathe to break the spell, but wanting to acknowledge the other woman's kindness.

"Any time." She heard the pause on the other end of the line, could almost feel Abbie considering whether or not to ask anything further. "Think you'll be able to sleep now?"

To her surprise, Jill had to stifle a yawn with the back of her hand as a pleasant weariness settled upon her shoulders. "Yeah... I think so."

"Good. We've got a long day ahead of us tomorrow. Sleep tight." Jill made a quiet noise of agreement and moved to hang up the phone, but Carmichael's soft voice called her back. "And Jill..."

"I'm still here."

"Try to not to focus on the storm, okay? Think about what comes after it."

Abbie was convinced that Hell was nothing but chaos and that she was currently in its depths. Cutting her dawn run short, she arrived at the office well before seven, where the sheer size of the paper mountain covering her desk threatened to send her into a strategic retreat and seriously consider her career options. Instead, she brewed a pot of coffee and hunkered down to wade through it before any more arrived. The Pruitt investigation took precedence over everything-- Diane had brought Stephanie's parents and lover by the office about an hour ago-- but she held no illusions that anyone in the office, especially McCoy, would help take up the slack on her other cases in the meantime.

She hadn't missed the astonished look on Jack's face, or the anger that underlay it, when Schiff had given her point on the investigation into Stephanie Pruitt's murder. No doubt he thought she didn't have what it took to handle such a high-profile case and all its attendant publicity. Truth be told, she was scared to death of screwing up and saying the wrong thing to the press-- but she'd be damned if she'd ask McCoy for help.

It had been like that between them from the very first. Jack would tell Schiff she didn't have enough experience or some such nonsense, and Abbie would get her back up about the insult and bluff her way through whatever it was she wasn't supposed to be able to handle. So far it had worked about ninety-five percent of the time, and her missteps had been minor. Carmichael, however, had no doubt that one day she would have a spectacular screw-up on her hands. Of course, maybe that's what McCoy was waiting for-- her to crash and burn so he could ride in to the rescue and prove he had been right all along.

Then maybe they could have a normal working relationship.

As it was, she was about to pull her hair out trying to figure out how to deal with him. She knew what he wanted-- Jamie Ross. He had made no secret of how much he had wanted her to stay with the DA's office, and how much he resented Schiff's executive privilege in choosing her as Ross' successor. Well, Abbie wasn't Ross-- or heaven help them all, the blessed Claire Kinkaid-- and she wasn't about to twist herself out of shape to be an inferior copy of what Jack really wanted all along. They had settled into a manageable, if not exactly harmonious, routine where she handled most of the investigative footwork and he took care of the courtroom presentations. The situation would have been much more untenable if Cragen at the SVU hadn't taken to calling her in for some of their cases. Those she handled from start to oftentimes bitter finish, and she had even made some friends down there. Her relationships at the SVU and the 15th precinct reminded her that things between McCoy and her didn't have to be the way they were-- but as things stood, she had no way of changing them.

Out of the corner of her eye, she caught a flash of rumpled dress shirt and salt-and-pepper hair passing her office. "Speak of the horny toad devil," she muttered, dark head still bent low over her response to a motion for suppression.

The sharp rap on her open door jarred her out of her thoughts, and she glanced up to see that the flash had stopped and was now leaning in the door frame, an unexpectedly pleasant expression on his face.

"Hey Jack, what can I do for you?"

McCoy looked around Carmichael's tiny office at the paper, law books and legal pads scattered all over. "You look kind of busy."

"Yeah, well what can I say? The Xerox machine upchucked in my office last night. I'm coping with it," she replied more sharply than she intended.

McCoy's face closed down. "I guess you are."

Abbie saw the minute twitches in Jack's body, counted to five, and blew out a deep breath. "I'm sorry, Jack. That was uncalled for. Too much coffee, I guess. It's just been a very long morning."

He looked at her closely. "How long have you been here?"

"What's it-- about ten-thirty now? I dunno, about four or five hours?"

"Good Lord, Abbie." Black brows crept skyward, and a hint of a smile teased the creases around his mouth. "No wonder you're cranky."

"Don't you mean crankier-- as in than normal?" she smirked.

"I didn't say that."

"It's okay, I could read it in the thought bubble over your head. Now, let's start over and pick up this conversation from-- Hey Jack, what can I do for you?"

"Actually..." he hesitated. "It should be what can I do for you? What are you working on right now?" Tentatively, he seated himself on the corner of her desk, peering at the upside down legal pad.

"Howertson has made a motion to suppress his client's confession. I'm working on the rebuttal."

"That the B&E where the wife got killed?"

"Ayup. It's gotta be in Judge Chapman's office by five today, and I'm not gonna have any time later this afternoon. It's now or never."

"Why don't you let me handle it?" he offered. "I'm familiar with the case file and can pick up where you left off. I'll have it couriered down to the judge's office as soon as I'm done and copy you on it."

"Jack, it's grunt work."

"I remember. I used to be a grunt. Besides..." he pointed at her, smiling wryly. "Don't you have a press conference in an hour that you should be prepping for?"

Carmichael groaned, letting her head fall back against the cool leather chair and closing her eyes. "Don't remind me. I am not looking forward to this."

"I'm sure you'll do fine," McCoy replied diffidently. "Schiff wouldn't have called it otherwise."

Cracking one eyelid, a dark eye stared at the EADA suspiciously. "Who are you and what have you done with Jack McCoy. Seriously. We both know that you think I have the diplomatic skills of a bull in a china shop."

"Another thought bubble over my head?"

"No, you actually told me that once."

"Oh," he frowned. "When was this?"

"When I called that Mafia consigliere a pig-faced weasel that I was going to enjoy seeing disbarred and thrown in jail one day."

"Ah... we all have our off days."

"I'd be surprised if you thought I ever had anything but an off-day, McCoy," she replied, unable to keep the bitterness out of her voice. She walked a troublesome line every day with her laconic boss, and usually she kept her frustrations well in check. Lately, however, everything-- from her growing relationship with Jill to Stephanie Pruitt's senseless murder to the unexpected spotlight she now found herself in-- had conspired to bring the roiling mass of her emotions to the surface, spitting up old wounds and new hopes randomly, almost faster than she could cope with them.

A heavy silence settled between them. "That was harsh," he finally replied.

"Sorry, I'm just not feeling like I have the confidence of this office behind me."

McCoy stood, gathering the Howertson files along with a couple of others, and tucked them under one arm. "I know that I haven't exactly been supportive of you sometimes-- hell, most of the time. The reasons why are another conversation for another time and place. But don't doubt for a minute when you walk out in front of those reporters that every single person in this office is standing behind you. Including me."

"The ring was very distinctive, Detective Kirkendall-- a marquis-cut sapphire with diamond trillions on either side. The band was platinum and torqued in a curve-- there was an inscription inside. It said, 'Always, my love.' Steph... she never took it off." The slight tremble in the woman's voice was the first crack in Lorraine Fitzgerald's quiet composure that the detectives had seen. The devastation she felt, however, was written in the agony clearly visible in bright green eyes and unnaturally pale skin. Lorraine dropped her head, shoulders shaking with suppressed sobs. "I'm sorry," she murmured. "It's just so... unreal."

"I understand, Ms. Fitzgerald. But we need to get someone in here to sketch the ring, do you think you can wait a few minutes while we do that?" Russell asked gently.

Lorraine ran a trembling hand across her eyes, dashing the tears away before they could fall. Her fingers were long and tapered, strong in their presence-- reminding Kirkendall that this woman was a musician, and a highly trained one at that. "There are pictures of it-- we took them for the insurance. My attorney has them. He can have them couriered over if you need them."

"Insurance?" Slumped in the corner and silent until now, Andy stood upright. "How much?"

"The ring was insured for its market value. I believe it was a little over ten thousand dollars."

Andy emitted a low-pitched whistle. "You're telling me that your girlfriend wore a ten thousand dollar ring to a gay bar?"

Cold eyes snapped to the detective's round form, and her spine straightened perceptibly. "It was her wedding band, Detective Sipowicz." She looked pointedly at the plain gold band on Andy's finger. "Do you take yours off at the drop of a hat?"

Exchanging swift glances with Kirkendall, Russell nodded slightly and crossed the room to stand beside Bobby's partner. "Hey, Andy, you wanna help me see about getting those pictures?" Sipowicz scowled in acknowledgment of the ploy's transparent desperation, but made no protest as they left the room.

As soon as the door quietly closed behind them, Lorraine slumped in her chair in relief. "Is he always that genially bigoted?" she asked.

Kirkendall cracked a wry smile. "Sometimes I think Andy doesn't realize that most people think before they speak. If it's any consolation, I think it was the money part more than the gay part. A ten thousand dollar ring is a little out of a cop's reach."

"Great, as far as he's concerned I've got two strikes again me-- I'm rich and I'm gay. Does that mean the police aren't interested in finding who..." She stumbled over the words, her voice trembling violently. "....Who did this?"

"Whoa... Ms. Fitzgerald. Just calm down." She knelt down in front of the violinist and took the other woman's hands. "Andy may be a bit pigheaded about a lot of things, but he's one of the best detectives I've ever worked with-- and he's just one of the people committed to finding these bastards. You've got me and Detective Russell on your side too. We'll be with you every step of the way. You've already met the district attorney..." The unconscious echo of a smile lit her eyes as she spoke Abbie's name. "... who's going to be handling this case. Believe me, when we find them she's not going to let these perps just walk away. But we need your help. The ring is a good start, we can give pawnshops and such a good heads-up and keep an eye on those who wouldn't care about... where it came from."

Lorraine was still shaky, but seemed reassured by Jill's quietly composed words. "You can do that?"

"Believe me, we will. I need you to answer some more questions for me, though. Okay?"

"What do you need?"

Sensing the steadiness returning to Lorraine's body, Jill returned to the chair she had occupied previously. "Did Steph go clubbing often?"

"No, rarely. Sometimes we'd go with friends for a birthday or something, but we were really both getting too old for that scene." Lorraine shook her head, a sad smile curving her lips. "The smoke in those places gave her a headache, and the music..." She shuddered delicately. "So you can imagine we weren't frequent visitors."

"Any reason why she might have gone out night before last?"

Lorraine rubbed her eyes wearily, and when she returned her gaze to Kirkendall's, the anguish gleamed so brightly that Jill almost flinched. "It's my fault, Detective. I... I talked to her earlier than evening. I always tried to call her before a performance. She said she was so lonely. I had been on tour over two weeks, and she hated it. I did too, but we both knew it really couldn't be helped." Lorraine shrugged helplessly. "Things at work had been really tense for her, with all the first quarter economic reports coming out and the stock market reacting like a yo-yo, so a few of her friends were going out for drinks and to dance off some of their nervous energy. They had invited her, and I... I encouraged her to go." She laughed bitterly. "'Look at some beautiful women,' I said, 'And forget your troubles for a while. I'll be home soon.' And so she did."

"That something she did often?" Kirkendall asked, more to distract Lorraine from her grief than anything.

"What's that?"

"Look at beautiful women?"

"Are you asking me if we were faithful, Detective?" She smiled wanly at Jill. "We had been together eight years, we were going to be together the rest of our lives. A glance and a fantasy never hurt anything."

"But that's all it was?"

"Yes." Her answer was resolute. "From the day we met each other, there was never anyone else. Never any need, really. We... completed each other in a way. Bookends, our friends called us. We were so different, but undeniably a matched pair.

"Don't get me wrong, we had our share of troubles. My parents weren't thrilled about my 'lifestyle choice' and we argued over where to live and whether a not to get a dog-- stupid things, really-- but they were ours. It was a life. Our life. And they've taken that away now."

"Any trouble with gay bashing?"

Lorraine shrugged. "Not really. I think somebody keyed Steph's BMW once because of the rainbow sticker in the window. We were... discreet."

"What does that mean?"

"Just..." She shrugged. "I don't know. We just weren't really, in the life. Neither of us was very big on public displays of affection, but we didn't hide who we were. At Steph's company, they expected me-- and welcomed me, I might add-- at group functions. But I don't think we had been to a pride parade since we were in school. Politics bored me-- so much shouting over so little progress. Steph did some work at a gay youth center, and she loved it. Loved the kids she met. I gave money-- it seems to be the one thing I have in abundance." Lorraine seemed almost eager to talk now, her body's rigid control relaxing, as if putting words to her life with Stephanie made it real, and gave her permission to grieve. More than understanding the other woman's need, Jill allowed her to continue, knowing that more often than not trivial details added together to form a portrait of the whole woman. It might help them pinpoint why Stephanie Pruitt had drawn the attention of the monsters who did this.

"Anything in particular?" Kirkendall encouraged.

"Cancer research and awareness programs mostly. AIDS and HIV gets all the publicity, but I read an article once that said lesbians were four times more likely to be at risk for breast and ovarian cancer than straight women. Too many senseless deaths happen because a lot of lesbians work in blue collar jobs and can't get insurance, so they don't get to a doctor until it's too late to do anything. Add to that the difficulty of explaining why you don't contraception or a pregnancy test every time you go to the gynecologist-- and you can understand a lot of the hesitation. Plus, it's the leading cause of death for all women."

"It took my mother," Kirkendall murmured.

"You see what I mean, then. I can't do a lot with these hands, Detective, except play the violin. But my money can."

"Sounds like you were political enough."

"Not enough to keep my lover from getting killed," she spat scornfully, the first sparks of rage Jill had seen turning inward. "Maybe if I had been standing on the rooftops shouting about hate and what it does-- do you think that would have kept her alive? Maybe whoever did this might have heard me, and thought twice about what he was doing."

"Maybe," Kirkendall agreed. "Most likely not."

"We'll never know, will we?" Lorraine asked bitterly. "Steph and I were so lucky. Don't think I don't know that. Those kids Steph worked with... most of them were fifteen and sixteen years old, some even younger, and had been turned out on the streets by their families. All because of who they loved. My parents didn't understand it-- my loving Steph-- but I was their daughter, they said, and as long as I was happy and she was good to me, that was the best they could hope for.

"I thought we lived an honorable life, Steph and I. But it stop the hate, did it? Not from getting us in the end."

A brief knock at the door interrupted anything Jill might have said, even though she knew nothing could comfort the woman sitting beside her. Russell poked her head though the opening, "Ms. Fitzgerald, your attorney is here. He said he's got the photographs you asked for and would like a moment to speak to you."

Kirkendall took that as her cue to leave, but she stopped beside Lorraine Fitzgerald and placed a tentative hand on her shoulder. "You did live an honorable life," she said softly, before excusing herself and slipping out the door.

Following Russell into the break room, she hesitated awkwardly in the door. Though they had both apologized for the harsh words exchanged the day before, each woman was painfully aware of the tension still hovering between them. Kirkendall itched to tell her partner the whole story-- how meeting Abbie sent her reeling into Don's arms and enmeshed her, willfully ignorant, in his schemes. If her ex was snatched up and started talking, she could be in deeper trouble than anyone currently realized. Something, however-- pride, maybe-- kept her silent. Don hadn't been the one to play her for a fool; in wanting to deny what had happened between her and the attorney, she had played herself. Now, Jill reckoned, she'd have to pay those consequences.

"How's it going?" Diane asked, not turning around. "She give anything else up that might be useful?"

"Nah... it's looking like Stephanie was just in the wrong place at the wrong time. And I think it's finally starting to sink in with her lover."

"She lose it?"

"A little." Wordlessly, Diane handed her partner the first mug of coffee from the freshly brewed pot. It was a peace offering of sorts, and Kirkendall accepted with a grateful smile. "Thanks."

"You should have seen Carmichael with her and the parents this morning. Stephanie's mother was a wreck and her father was screaming bloody murder at Lorraine about how she had gotten his daughter killed with her degenerate lifestyle. I honestly thought the old guy was going to have a stroke. Lorraine just looked like she had been hit by a truck, and I think I smelled liquor on her breath. Abbie poured about a pot of coffee down Lorraine's throat, used up an entire box of Kleenex listening to the mother talk, and told the father if he was only interested in blaming Lorraine instead of the assholes who did this, then he could get right back on the plane to Iowa-- she didn't have time to waste on him. By the time they left the office, the three of them looked like a recruitment poster for P-FLAG. Carmichael even got the parents to appear with her at the press conference this morning. Speaking of which..." Russell snapped on the tiny color TV set up in the corner of the break room. "It should be about time."

WST had already cut away from its regular noon newscast to the press room of the Manhattan District Attorney's office. Carmichael was finishing up her official statement and offered to take a few questions from the press. The television cameras only highlighted the severe planes of Abbie's face, her eyes dramatically dark against her bronze skin and neatly braided hair. Her court clothes, a sharply tailored black suit and white blouse, and implacably professional demeanor sharply complemented the freewheeling leather jacket and up-at-dawn cocksure aggression from the morning before. The cumulative subliminal effect said one thing-- I have the whole package...

Kirkendall found herself smiling at the image of the woman on the screen. Had Abbie been an actress they would have said she had "star quality." Hell, this was New York, they'd probably say that anyway.

"That is one good-looking woman," Medavoy said, startling Kirkendall from her musings. She glanced around to see Sorenson, Sipowicz, and Martinez had joined them as well.

"I'll say," Martinez agreed.

"It's not just the looks, though..." Medavoy began to continue, but was shushed by both Russell and Kirkendall. "Sorry."

Returning her eyes to the screen, she heard Abbie acknowledge a reporter in the front row.

"Christienne Turner from WST..." the reporter introduced herself.

Abbie grinned wryly and half-turned, showing the reporter her back, "See? No cape. They took it away when you blew my secret identity."

Chuckles floated through the room and Turner smiled in acknowledgment of the attorney's good-natured humor, knowing that by leaving her "Batman" crack in the interview footage they ran, the ADA would take a lot of ribbing from her colleagues. "You seem to have survived quite nicely, Ms. Carmichael," she replied complacently. "Has there been any connection established between Ms. Pruitt's murder and the meeting of the NGLCAH?"

"That's part of our on-going investigation, so I can't comment specifically."

"But if someone is targeting members..."

"Stephanie Pruitt was not a member of the NGLCAH nor was she planning on attending any of the meetings. Let's not try to create a situation that isn't there, Ms. Turner." The light glimmering in the attorney's eyes hardened. "I think the crime we have on our hands is pretty horrible enough."

"Ms. Carmichael..." Another reporter drew her attention away from the WST anchor. "Crimes against gays still fall outside the purview of Governor Pataki's Hate Crimes Legislation. Yet without a doubt Stephanie Pruitt's murder was fueled by hate. What is District Attorney Schiff and the NYPD doing to insure that this guy doesn't slip through the cracks?"

"Well, first of all, I don't think anything about the case can be said 'without a doubt,'" Carmichael replied evenly. "And secondly, the fact that I'm standing up here in front of you should be a pretty good indication that District Attorney Schiff has every intention of aiding the NYPD in catching whomever is responsible and prosecuting them to the fullest extent of the law. He doesn't bring me out here to do dog-and-pony-shows, ladies and gentlemen." A brazen smile crossed her face. "That what we have press officers for."

"You said the 'fullest extent of the law,'" Turner's voice interjected amid the mild laughter. "Does that mean you'll seek the death penalty?"

"That's something to be decided when the party or parties responsible are apprehended and the complete circumstances of the case are understood. To say anything else on the subject would be premature at this point."

"Are you officially calling this a hate crime, Ms. Carmichael?" a slender man with a press pass identifying him as a reporter for the Advocate asked.

"Well, the pat answer is that all murders are hate crimes, sir. Certainly this woman's constitutional rights were violated with extreme prejudice. Her sexual orientation is irrelevant to me.

"That said, however, I am very aware of some of the recent tensions between the gay community and the police and district attorney's office. The investigating detectives and I are making every effort to ease those tensions-- but quite frankly, I'm no politician and attitudes have no place in a criminal investigation. Stephanie Pruitt's partner and family are being treated with the respect and consideration that their loss demands. Beyond that I really can't comment."

A few more questions were shouted at Carmichael, but she waved them off. "I'm sorry, but I really can't take any more questions. As we have more relevant information to pass on, we'll be sure to keep you apprised. Thank you, ladies and gentlemen, for your time and attention."

The detectives watched Carmichael deftly guide the Pruitts through the microphones and cameras shoved in their faces, protecting them with a gentle hand on Mrs. Pruitt's arm and a muttered, "I really can't comment on anything else" to all other questions. The show over, everyone filed out of the break room, leaving Kirkendall and Russell alone once more. "That was something," Diane said, a speculative look on her face as she studied her partner.

"It sure was. But if we don't get these guys... That performance is gonna leave her way out there."

"Well, I've never known Abbie to do anything half-heartedly. She either went all the way or she didn't go. It's just her nature."

"Yeah... I've noticed," Jill agreed absently, a sudden idea popping into her head. "Hey, you mind if I pass on our lunch plans today? I've got a couple of errands to run."

Russell frowned, then shook her head. "Not at all. Something important?"

"Nah, just some... thing... I need to do." She gave Diane's hand a brief squeeze. "Anybody tell you that you're a great partner?"

The question visibly surprised Russell, who ducked her head to cover the flush that warmed her cheeks. Compliments were few and far between for the partners, and the unexpected praise dissipated the remaining tension between them. "Not lately."

"Then they've been an idiot. Thanks, Diane, for everything. I don't know what I'd do without you."

Finding the District Attorney's office was easy. Finding Abbie Carmichael in the mountain of paper that littered her cramped office was not. Jill was way past second thoughts about bringing lunch to the harried ADA-- she was on her third, fourth, and fifth rounds. Her original goal was to bring Abbie some of Mae's home cooking, but she couldn't remember where the diner was, and after half an hour of looking for it, she gave up-- thinking that for a cop she had been paying precious little attention to anything that night except the woman beside her. She settled for a Chinese restaurant closer to Carmichael's Manhattan office. Then there was the whole issue of did Abbie like Chinese, and if she did, what would she eat? In the end she got about four little cartons of chicken cooked in various permutations and a lot of rice. She had even had them throw in a couple of eggrolls and some fortune cookies.

Now she stood tentatively in the other woman's doorway, wondering if she had made the right decision. The back of Abbie's desk chair was facing Jill, the top of the attorney's dark head barely visible as she slouched down in the chair, speaking intently into the phone. "No. No. No. Yes. I don't care how you do it, Jimmy, just push it to the top of the ME's 'to do' list. He does have one, doesn't he? I need to know what kind of knives were used, so if the perps bought them someplace other than the Wal-Mart I can start looking for them. What do you mean, what's Wal-Mart? Jesus, Jimmy. Just do it. Okay?" She slapped the phone back into its cradle without looking up and spun around, dropping her head on the desk and banging it gently on the papers piled there. "Damn Yankees," she muttered.

"We aren't all that bad," Jill replied, a wry smile drifting across her face.

Carmichael's head jerked up so quickly, Kirkendall winced, fearing whiplash. "Jill... uh... I... uh... hey there?" The greeting was more of a question than anything else, but the startled pleasure in the other woman's face at the blond detective's arrival was unmistakable.

"Relax, Rebel, this Yankee comes in peace. And bearing gifts." She hefted the lunch bags. "I saw your press conference and guessed you'd been so busy that you probably skipped lunch. I hope you like Chinese."

The delighted smile that creased Abbie's features confirmed for Jill that she had done the right thing. "As long as it's not one of those Ho-Hos from the vending machine, I'll eat it. I think those things are older than I am." Jill watched with admiration as Carmichael rose from her chair with the lithe grace of a young animal and crossed the room to stand in front of her. "You are a goddess among women, Jill Kirkendall. This smells terrific, and I am starving." Gently she took the bags from the detective's hands and motioned with her head at the small couch against the opposite wall. "You mind eating in here? We take this to the cafeteria and a pack of wild dogs masquerading as attorneys will attack us. If you'll just toss all that stuff on the table there onto the floor, I'll run get us a couple of cans of soda. You want diet or regular?"


"Not a problem. I'll be right back." She grinned happily at Kirkendall and ducked out of her office, leaving the other woman a chance to glance surreptitiously around Carmichael's second home.

There weren't a lot of knickknacks or doodads scattered around the office. A Lady Longhorns pennant hung discreetly in the corner, along with a coat rack with a black cowboy hat perched crookedly on top of it. Her undergraduate and law school degrees hung in a suitable place of honor behind Carmichael's desk, but the only framed photo in the room was a picture of a rather disheveled and happily bare-chested Troy Aikman with his arm thrown around Abbie's shoulders. In the snapshot, wearing Aikman's Cowboys jersey and a faded pair of jeans, Abbie grinned cockily back into the camera's lens.

"Don't let the picture fool you," Abbie murmured softly into Jill's ear. "We were both perfect gentlemen that night."

Caught red-handed in her survey, Jill could only shrug sheepishly. "Sorry."

Carmichael grinned her discomfort away and handed her a cold soda. "Don't worry about it. Come on let's eat before it gets cold."

"So..." Jill began, when they had parceled out the food on the paper plates the attorney had snagged from the cafeteria. "... If you were both perfect gentlemen that night, why do you have the picture framed and in your office?"

"Because it throws people off kilter." Abbie shrugged. "And it makes me smile," she grinned. "It was a helluva barbecue."

"So you used to go out with Troy Aikman?"

"No! I actually don't really know him that well. A buddy of mine from UT is an offensive lineman with the Cowboys now. He invited me to this little thing, where I think there was more booze than food-- and somehow that picture got taken. Nothing happened, and I haven't ever seen him again."

Kirkendall let out a low whistle. "Some fast company you're keeping."

"Not really," Carmichael disagreed blithely. "We're all a bunch of good old boys, when you get right down to it. Texas is just a small town spread over a hell of a lot of acreage."

The unthinking statement was another brushstroke added to the portrait of Abbie Carmichael beginning to form in Jill's mind. "It reminds you of home, doesn't it?"

The attorney's eyes dropped to her plate of moo goo gai pan, and she suddenly seemed far too interested in rolling all the baby corns to one side. "They're my favorites," she said to Jill, aware of Kirkendall's eyes upon her, but not raising her own glance to meet them. "So I save those for last."

"Why that?" The detective in her couldn't refrain from pressing the subject. "Why did you pick something so.... impersonal... to remind you of home?"

Carmichael glared irritably at her tormentor and sat her plate down abruptly on the low coffee table. "Did you really come all the way over here to grill me on my choice of mementos? Because, if so, we both have better things to do."

"Waitaminute..." Kirkendall placed a tentative hand on the other woman's arm, as if to steady herself in the rapidly shifting conversational terrain. "Where did that come from?"

The attorney shrugged the touch off and retreated to her desk as if seeking shelter. "Thanks for lunch, Kirkendall, but I have a lot of work to do. I'm sure you can see yourself out."

Bewildered, Jill searched for some hint of the tenderness she had heard in Abbie's voice only a few hours before, finding only the implacable professional veneer Carmichael had offered the reporters in the press conference. "Abbie... I..." She shook her head. "I'm sorry if I..." Throwing up her hands she decided to try starting all over again. "I didn't come here to interrogate you or make you angry."

"Then why did you?" Suspicion inflected Carmichael's usual drawl, sharpening the edges of her vowels.

"Would you believe to make sure that you had something besides a stale Ho-Ho for lunch?"

Abbie's snort of laughter eased the worst of the tension between them, and Kirkendall took the opportunity to move closer to the other woman, perching on the edge of Carmichael's desk. "Honest?"

"Really. And..." She hesitated briefly. "To say thank you."

"Thank you?"

"For last night," Jill elaborated. "We don't really know each other at all... I don't know why I needed you, your voice... But I reached out... and you were there for me. "

The declaration hung gently in the air for a moment, and the faint traces of a smile curved along Abbie's mouth. "Well... ah... I guess I was just returning the favor." Blazingly intense eyes focused unwaveringly on Kirkendall, leaving heated trails of awareness in their wake as she rose to stand only inches from Jill. "A couple of weeks ago a total stranger told me that I looked like I needed to be held... and that she wanted to be the one to do it." A hesitant hand brushed the bright cap of Jill's hair, settling an errant lock back into place. "I suppose you could call us even now. But I'll have to owe you for lunch."

"Dinner," Jill blurted, her senses distracted and sent into unwitting overload by trying to determine if the slightly raw, spicy scent emanating from Carmichael's skin was natural to the woman, or something she could stop by Macy's and pick up. Either way, it was definitely something she wanted to investigate further.

"Dinner?" the attorney echoed, the question a quiet burr in her throat.

"You could ask me to dinner."

Abbie leaned back, gathering Kirkendall's gaze with her own. "What are you saying?"

"I'm not really sure," she replied on unsteady breath. "And I'll be the first one to admit that. Not to mention my life's a mess right now, but..."

"But?" Abbie prompted unnecessarily.

"I like the way I feel when I'm with you."

"That's nice to hear." Gentle worry flickered across Carmichael's brow. "But I'm not interested in being some experiment."

"Believe me, I'm not an experimental girl. It's not like I've never been hit on by a woman, Abbie," Kirkendall replied dryly.

"Hey, I never hit on you," she protested with a smile.

"Oh yeah, what would you call it?"

"You're the one who told those guys we were together."

"So I started it?" Kirkendall retorted, liking the teasing lilt in Abbie's voice.

"I think that would be a fairly accurate assessment of the situation. Be that as it may, I'll be happy to take the rap for it," Carmichael offered gallantly. "So, Detective Kirkendall, what do you say? Will you go out with me?"

"Took you long enough to ask."

"Haven't you ever heard the saying, 'Getting there is half the fun?'"

Kirkendall rolled her eyes. "I have a feeling I'll be hearing a lot more often from now on." They shared a moment of relaxed peace-- the first either woman had found all day-- and Jill found her hand naturally searching for Abbie's, entwining their fingers. The length and supple shape of the attorney's fingers unaccountably reminded her of Lorraine Fitzgerald's delicate hands pressed to her face in grief.

Was the love that she and Stephanie had shared any different from any other young, devoted couple? Her mind wandered to the truest example of committed love and passion she had ever seen-- Diane and Bobby Simone. The memory of her own love for Don was tainted by his crimes-- his unwavering self-centeredness and his deceit. Never in her life had Jill Kirkendall been more vividly aware of the things she had let slip away-- whether out of fear, practicality, or some sense of not deserving the extraordinary. Her desire to be accepted had quashed any rebellious impulses in her youth, her love of Don had destroyed any birthing friendships she might have found, and her boys-- they were the two regrets she had never had in her whole life-- but they undeniably chained her to the past, to her feelings for a man who thought nothing of using them and her love to manipulate her into helping achieve his dubious goals.

Now, in front of her, was one of the most gifted people she had ever met-- passionate in her devotion to justice, cloaking an unspoken pain behind shadowed eyes. Jill knew she was standing on the brink of something important in her life, a crossroads she wasn't sure she was ready to face-- but years of pain and not a little heartache had taught her that she didn't get to pick and choose her opportunities.

A part of her mind was screaming that her behavior was completely unacceptable, her actions totally unprofessional, her desire... out of bounds... but still she found herself leaning towards the dark-haired apparition in front of her, reaching out to stroke the velvety skin of her cheeks, smiling as she saw Abbie respond.

Their mouths met only briefly, lips barely having a chance to brush together before the phone jangled a startling interference call.

They stared at each other in astonishment, breathing slightly ragged, until Abbie snatched up the phone.

"Carmichael," she snapped.

"Abs, it's Diane. Something's broken on the Pruitt case. We got the ring..."

From behind the two-way mirror in the interrogation room, Abbie studied the man they suspected of killing Stephanie Pruitt. He wasn't particularly tall or strong-looking-- indeed there wasn't anything distinctive about him. Blond hair dirty with grease hung limply in his face, and the skin on his cheeks was pockmarked and scarred. His right foot beat a steady tattoo on the floor, and Carmichael was willing to bet he was coming down hard and fast from something. "How'd we collar up on him?"

"Dumb asshole didn't even realize how valuable the ring was. Thought it was silver. Gave it up to the dealer for a half a grand." Andy snorted at the never-ending stupidity of street skels.

"And the dealer was just an upstanding citizen?" she asked skeptically.

"He runs shop that's usually pretty clean, but has been known to accept a questionable item or two. Ten minutes after the skel leaves, the radio-cars show up with the pictures from Fitzgerald's lawyer. Didn't take him ten seconds to recognize the ring. When he saw you on that press thing, he put two and two together and realized he'd never be able to move the thing."

"What's he want?"

"Some consideration from the DA's office on a couple of charges pending."

"I thought you said he was clean."

"I also said he was known to accept a questionable item or two."

Carmichael nodded grimly. "If this is our boy, I think something can be arranged."

"I figured."

A muted click signaled the arrival of a third party in the small room, and Carmichael smiled briefly in greeting as Lt. Fancy joined them. "Mind if I watch?"

"Perp's name is Danny Rinaldi, sheet's pretty long," Sipowicz offered. "Mostly petty crap-- auto theft, possession of stolen property, robbery..."

"Anything violent?"

"Nah, L-T, the guy's a pus..." He caught Carmichael out of the corner of his eye and shrugged awkwardly. "Well, you know."

"That's quite all right, Detective. I'm very well-aware of what a pussy is." Carmichael arched a sardonic brow in his direction. "So what're the odds that this guy is just a middleman and not involved in the murder at all?"

"Possible, but I don't think so. You know that cartoon with the big dog and the little dog and the little dog is always running around going 'What are we going to do now, Spike?' That guy's the little dog."

"So who's Spike?"

Tap tap tap tap tap... The sound of a booted heel striking the floor in rapid rhythm echoed in the silent room.

Tap tap tap tap tap... "Can I get a smoke?"

Russell and Kirkendall exchanged glances and silently continued to stare at Danny Rinaldi.

Tap tap tap tap tap... "Huh? Can I?"

Russell slid further down in her seat, her posture aggressive, glaring at the man opposite her. Russell remained casual, waiting for the next move.

Tap tap tap tap tap... "Hey! Don't you guys speak English?"

Russell pulled a cigarette from the pack of Luckies in her blazer pocket and placed it between her lips. Striking a match and bringing the flame close to the tobacco, she inhaled deeply. The sound of burning paper filled the room briefly.

"Can I have one?" he asked eagerly.

Russell exhaled a plume of smoke in Rinaldi's face before stubbing the cigarette out on the metal table. "No."

"Aw man!" Rinaldi pushed his chair violently away from the table with his handcuffed wrists. Diane was on him almost before his chair slid to a stop.

"Don't piss me off, Danny," she hissed, grabbing him by the collar and shoving the chair back to the table. "Today is not the day for it."

"Come on! Then what's the deal? Why am I here?" he whined.

Russell leaned hard on one shoulder. "We just want to have a little chat. That's all?"

Bloodshot brown eyes darted from the enraged woman on his right to the calmly relaxed Kirkendall across from him. "About what?" he asked, his eyes waveringly coming to rest on Jill.

"About this." The plastic evidence bag containing Stephanie Pruitt's wedding band skittered to a halt in front of Rinaldi. His eyes widened in surprise, but he managed an unconvincing shrug.

"Dunno what that is."

Gripping the back of his head, Russell pushed him hard towards the bag, stopping his nose inches from the bag. "Wrong answer, Danny. We've got you on the fucking surveillance tape in the pawnshop."

"Diane." Kirkendall's voice was husky with warning. "Let him take a minute. Maybe he didn't get a good look at it."

Behind Rinaldi's head, Russell winked and nodded, backing off and folding her arms across her chest. Her voice, however, remained sharp and angry. "That's all I was doing, Jill. Letting him take a closer look." They had vetoed the idea of Sipowicz working this with them, thinking that two women might provoke the perps into losing their cool. Andy was their back-up plan, in case the perps, needed a friendly male voice.

"So, Danny..." Kirkendall's voice was light, almost conversational. "Tell us where you got the ring."

"Yeah, yeah... well..." Every muscle in Rinaldi's body seemed to be twitching, and absently Kirkendall wondered how he managed not to vibrate out of the chair. "It was, like, my grandmothers. But she's, like you know, dead now. So I figured she wouldn't be needin' it anymore."

Russell's arms jerked, as if to grab Rinaldi once more, but a minute shake of Jill's head stopped her.

"Family heirloom, huh?"

"Yeah yeah. An..." He stumbled over the word. "Heirloom. Yeah. That's right."

"So you must come from a pretty rich family," Jill remarked. "How'd you end up in a shithole like the one we found you in?"

"Wha-- what do you mean?"

"I mean, Danny..." Kirkendall leaned forward and scooped up the ring, dangling it in his face. "That this ring which-- like the schmuck you are-- you pawned for half a g, is really worth ten grand. I'm trying to be very patient with you, but I'm kinda in a bind here."

"Oh yeah?"

"Yeah, Danny. Because I've got a murder on my hands. A really nasty, ugly murder. And, you see, this ring-- the one that belonged to your grandmother-- well, the woman who was murdered last night had one exactly like it. Even the inscription was the same."

Rinaldi's already pallid face took on a deathly cast. "R-r-eally?"

"Yeah. Really." She pointed at the mirror across from them. "And I've got a District Attorney behind that glass who was all over television this morning telling every reporter in sight that the NYPD and the DA's office weren't going to rest before they cleared this case. So she's very interested in these proceedings."

"Sh-sh-she is?"

"Here's what I got, Danny. I've got a dead woman-- brutally murdered, butchered even. I've got a ring that she never took off-- missing. And I've got you-- pawning a ring that looks just like the one she always wore. Right now, the DA is adding one plus one plus one-- and you know what she's coming up with?"


Russell leaned in close to his ear. "You, a gurney, and a needle. It's called lethal injection."

Rinaldi's body jerked spasmodically. "No! You gotta... that's not... no!"

Kirkendall spread her hands wide. "If that's not the way it was, Danny, you gotta say something now. If there's something in our addition that's wrong, tell us. Maybe we can help you. The DA, though, she's ridin' us hard. If you're all we got..." She shook her head sorrowfully. "Then we're gonna give you to her."

"Davie!" he practically shouted. "It was Davie! You gotta find him. He's... he's..."

Russell circled around him, intently capturing his eyes with her own. "Talk to us, Danny. Tell us what Davie did."

Rinaldi brought his hands to his face, pressing the heel of his palms into his eyes. "Oh man... can I have a cigarette?"

Silently Russell tossed him the pack and the lighter. They waited while he fumbled with the implements, the cuffs on his wrists impeding the process. Finally, however, the cigarette was in his mouth, and he sucked on it greedily-- as if it were giving him strength for the story to come.

"We were just hangin' you know? At this corner store not too far from Christopher Street, when this chick blows in to buy a pack of smokes. Oh man... she was hot, little black skirt, bright red top. Not like the usual bulldykes you see around there, with their noses all pierced up and shit."

"So you knew you were in a gay neighborhood?" Jill interjected.

"We ain't fags or nothing," he objected hotly. "Davie's really built, you know-- so the fags, they chat him up, tryin to get over on him. When they're not looking, I lift their wallets. Sometimes, though, he gets pissed off if they try to cop a feel."

"What does he do when he gets pissed off?"

Rinaldi shrugged. "He beats the shit out of them. I just grab the stuff and run, usually. I don't stick around for that part."

"So this chick blows into the store?" Russell prompted.

"Yeah, yeah... she's buying some girly cigarettes. Some menthol shit. And Davie tries to strike up a conversation. Nothing disrespectful at all."

"And what does she do?"

"Gives him this tight-assed smile and blows him off big-time. Says he's not her type.

"And then David says, 'Don't knock it till you've tried it.'

"And then she says, 'I already have.' Then she points at some fag who'd been eyeing us and says, 'Maybe you should too. You'd probably enjoy it more than I did.'"

Kirkendall arched a brow. "Meaning that Davie should find himself a man."

"Yeah, I guess. Davie's face got all red and he called her a dyke. She looks down her nose at him and says it took him long enough to figure it out. Then she blows out of there."

"What did you and Davie do then?"

"Everybody was laughin' at us, so we headed out of the store. Caught sight of her about a block ahead of us. Couldn't miss that red shirt. Davie tugs at my arm and says let's follow her. There are all kinds of dyke and fag bars around there, so it wasn't real hard to figure out where she's headed. So we circle around to this back alley. Don't ask me how Davie knew it was there, 'cause I don't know. And sure enough in a few minutes, she comes strolling down the sidewalk."

"Wasn't there anyone else around?"

"Just a few people. Here and there. Nobody's payin' any attention. Most of them are either drunk, stoned, horny or on their way to getting drunk, stoned, or laid. So when Davie steps out in front of her, nobody pays much mind. If there was even anybody there.

"Right away she gets all defensive, like 'Get the fuck away from me, you asshole.' And Davie says she shouldn't use language like that. It ain't right. He just wants to talk, he says. Come on, talk to me. Let's go talk. He keeps saying it over and over. And he's got this look in his eye.

"She wasn't no idiot... she's trying to back away without him noticing it, but all the time he's herding her towards the alley. Until she's in the middle of this dark alley and there's nowhere to do.

"Where were you in all this?"

He shrugged. "Just watching. But when she's in the alley, he tells me to grab her-- keep her from screaming."

"So you do?"

"I usually do what Davie tells me."

"Why's that?"

"Cause I seen what happens to people when they don't. 'Sides, I just figured he was gonna slap her around a little. I mean, she didn't have any call to get all nasty on him back at the store. He was just making conversation."

"So you're holding her?"

"Yeah, I've got one hand over her mouth and the other around her waist. And she is struggling like a motherfucker."

"Not an unusual reaction to being pulled into a dark alley by two stranger men," Kirkendall remarked dryly.

"I can't see anything, 'cept Davie's shadow. But he's talking to her the whole time, telling her that she needs to mind her manners and that she shouldn't talk back to people who were just trying to be nice. But his voice is all growly and shit, and it's startin to scare me too. Then outta nowhere-- bam!-- I see his blade comin up and going down."

"How'd you see his knife if it was so dark?"

"Just cause there weren't no lights in the alley don't mean there weren't outside. I saw the flash off the blade."

"What did you do?"

"Nothing." He shrugged. "I mean, I dropped her. She was tryin to scream, but there were just these really gross gurgles comin out of her mouth, and I didn't want to get blood on me."

"So Davie just stabbed her."

"Over and over again. All the time he's talkin' about teaching her respect, and minding her manners. And didn't dykes have any manners. It was some weird shit, let me tell you. I'm freaking out, saying like 'Davie, come on let's get outta here.' I was afraid somebody would see us. It was pretty loud, what with us being between two bars and all, so I don't think anybody could have heard us, but who the fuck knew when two fags might be comin out there for a quick fuck. You know?

"So finally she's not moving and he's on his knees just stabbing stabbing stabbing. And then he just stops. And I hear him. He's like 'You gotta do her too, Danny.' I'm like, no the fuck I don't you crazy motherfucker, but you don't talk to Davie like that. So I was just like, 'Davie, I think we should leave.' And he's like, 'No no, you gotta do her too, that way it'll be just as much me as you.' Like I don't know it's already as much me as him." Rinaldi shook his head. "Fuck me, if I didn't."

"You stabbed her too?" Kirkendall's tone was cutting.

"She was already dead, man. That chick was definitely dead."

"But you stabbed her too?" Louder now.

"I'm telling you she was already dead."

"You sonofabitch..." Jill was around the table in a heartbeat, yanking the man from his chair-- one hand on his throat the other tangled in his shirt. "You fucking stabbed her and you think it's all right because she was already dead.... And for no other reason than she dissed you...?"

Russell's eyes were wide with shock at the enraged expression on her partner's face. Nothing ever pushed Kirkendall over the edge, but something was very visibly coming undone in front of her eyes. "Ease down," she murmured to her partner, placing her hand over Jill's. "Ease down. We got him."

Bonelessly, Jill let Rinaldi slump back to his chair. The small man was trembling uncontrollably now as he regarded the women with more than a little fear. A disgusted expression on her face, Kirkendall tossed a legal pad and pencil in front of him. "You want any hope of saving yourself, you give us Davie's full name and address. Then you write down everything that happened like you told us. And don't fucking forget to say you're sorry. All right, asshole?"

Moments later, Abbie and Diane found her in the ladies room, retching violently. As the heaves finally subsided, she leaned wearily against the cold tile floor, tears running down her face. Wordlessly, Abbie slipped to the ground beside her, gathering the other woman in her arms and not bothering to check the tears that flowed from her own eyes.

"Davie turned out to be easy to find. And he's got a violent rap sheet about a mile long. Unfortunately most of his victims were too afraid or embarrassed to press charges. When they picked him up he seemed almost cocky about the whole thing. Wanted to know if he could be on 'Maury Povich.' I think he's the most cheerful sociopath I've ever met." Abbie snorted angrily and leaned back in her chair.

The day had exhausted her in more ways than one, and she'd had no time or space to collect herself as she had moved from moment to moment. Lunch was a vague memory and her morning run only a faint impression on her brain cells. Her heart ached for the senselessness of Stephanie's death, and she'd been unable to look Lorraine Fitzgerald in the eye when Lorraine had asked her why Davie and Danny had killed her lover.

The only concrete feeling left from the hours passed was of holding Jill in her arms on the unforgiving bathroom floor. Carmichael had watched Kirkendall play a flawless good cop to Russell's bad cop, but she had seen the growing rage in Jill's eyes as Danny blithely recounted Stephanie's impertinence-- and the price it had cost her. She felt Jill snap a moment before the blond detective had risen and grabbed Danny by the throat-- felt her own rage and fury echoed in Kirkendall's every movement.

Now Jack McCoy was standing in front of her, wanting a full recounting of the day's activity, when all she wanted to do was surrender her weary bones to a hot bath and stiff shot of Jack Daniels. If she were being completely honest with herself, she'd admit that she wanted Jill's arms around her as well, but Abbie-- quite frankly-- was in no mood for honesty at this moment in time, and the tentative dance she and Jill were doing left no room for lingering embraces.

"The club owners both confirmed that the last of the streetlights in the alley had been broken a few days ago, and they hadn't gotten around to replacing any of them," she continued, not wanting to dwell on where her private thoughts were currently residing.

"What about the ring, why'd Rinaldi take that and nothing else?"

"Turns out it was a complete accident. He didn't intend to take anything, but apparently the ring slipped off in the struggle and fell near Stephanie's body. Rinaldi was in such a hurry to leave that he tripped and fell, literally landed almost on top of it. He saw it..."

"And picked it up."

"Yeah. He had no idea how much it was worth. He was just looking for enough cash to score his next fix."

"And Davie Wolters?"

"Davie's supreme stupidity is surpassed only by his arrogance. Once they had him in custody, the cops had trouble shutting him up long enough to Mirandize him. I don't think even F. Lee Bailey could stop the needle on this one," she finished, not bothering to look at her rumpled and jeans-clad boss.

McCoy slumped gracelessly into the chair opposite her. "You going for the death penalty?" he asked tonelessly.

Too tonelessly. Abbie cracked a suspicious eyelid and glared at her boss. "I don't have time for your hippie love crap, Jack. A woman is dead because these men didn't like her tone of voice."

"Because a man didn't like her tone of voice," he corrected gently.

"Oh forgive me, I forgot that Danny Rinaldi was just a gutless wonder who could only stab Stephanie Pruitt after she was dead. There's such a fine distinction. He held her down."

"True. And I'm sure you wouldn't have any trouble getting twelve jurors to agree with you."

"But?" she asked skeptically.

McCoy held up both hands. "But nothing. I understand why you identify with this woman. You're both bright, intelligent and beautiful women who have a brilliant future ahead of you. And in Stephanie Pruitt's case, that was taken away. I'm only asking you if you think justice will be served if these two men die."

Carmichael rubbed a weary hand over her eyes, vaguely thankful for the invention of no-run mascara. "I don't think there's any justice to be found in this case. Do I think Stephanie Pruitt would have wanted these men killed in her name? I don't know. But how can I ask her lover to help feed, clothe and house these men for the rest of their lives in prison?"

"Maybe you just say the words, Abbie. Find out what Lorraine Fitzgerald wants. What the Pruitts want. Don't take the entire burden on your shoulders. You don't have to."

"Don't I?"

McCoy smiled sadly. "Adam played a video tape for me the other day-- of a young college student arguing a debate in front of the Supreme Court. That student said, 'Capital punishment gives us the God-like power of life and death... and yet He says, "Thou shalt not murder..." Capital punishment isn't about justice, it's about vengeance... and that belongs to no man... only God.'" Abbie eyes went wide as she recognized the quote and wondered where Schiff had gotten a tape of the debate. "Ask the Pruitts what they think justice is. And Lorraine Fitzgerald. Then ask yourself."



"And this is Christienne Turner and you're watching New York Now. With me is Assistant District Attorney Abbie Carmichael. Ms. Carmichael surprised many in the city's legal community when she announced that the DA's office would not be seeking the death penalty against David Wolters and Daniel Rinaldi in the brutal murder of Stephanie Pruitt just a little over a week ago. Can you explain why such a decision was made and who was involved?"

Abbie shifted comfortably in her chair, crossing her legs at the knee. Schiff had strong-armed her into doing this show, saying that the press rarely ever covered it when they did something right, he was going to be damned if they let this opportunity pass them bad. Jack had only beamed at her discomfiture, as if to say, I told you so... As a result, she was here, and he was probably going to laugh his ass off when the show aired Sunday. "A number of factors went into the decision, Ms. Turner. First and foremost were the wishes of Ms. Pruitt's lover and her parents."

"Which were?"

"Stephanie Pruitt was a remarkable young woman. She was devoted to her partner, committed to her job, and passionate about helping her community. I spent a long time talking with Lorraine Fitzgerald--"

"Ms. Pruitt's partner..."

"About who Steph was, and what she would have wanted." The two women had spent long hours talking, sharing stories, laughing, and crying. Now there was a bond between the two, and Abbie had even talked Lorraine into taking Stephanie's old seat on the board of the Youth Center. "Lorraine told me that one of Stephanie's role models was Harvey Milk, how she had seen a documentary about his life and that it had really affected her desire to make her community a better place."

"Harvey Milk was the San Francisco city supervisor assassinated in 1978," Turner supplied for her less-than-informed television audience.

"When Harvey was assassinated, the gay community responded not with violence, but with a candlelight vigil that joined an entire city-- gay and straight-- and lined them up and down the city streets, as far as the eye could see. They mourned the loss of this remarkable man, of the light he shone on his community, and the changes he could have brought about. They didn't react with violence, they didn't clamor for vengeance-- they simply mourned. And asked for justice. A justice, I might add, they didn't get."

"And justice in this case?"

"It isn't murdering her murderers. That's showing as much hatred and contempt for these men as they showed for Stephanie. Lorraine didn't want their blood on her hands or mine-- or on Stephanie's memory. She said that Stephanie wanted to contribute to her community, not take away from it. Killing these men in her name, Lorraine said, was wrong."

"And do you agree with this decision?"

"I'm a public servant, Ms. Turner," Abbie attempted to deflect the question.

"That's not what I asked." The look in Turner's eyes said that she wasn't about to let this issue go.

"As a District Attorney, I agree with Lorraine's decision. I think it was the right one. I hope those two have a lot of years left to contemplate their crimes. They've both agreed to a plea bargain that will put them behind bars without parole for the rest of their lives."

"And as an individual?"

Abbie dropped her eyes, staring at her steepled fingers. "I'm not sure I could have shown as much grace and mercy as Lorraine and the Pruitts," she admitted softly. "I'm not sure if I had lost... a lover... that I wouldn't want to put a bullet through the head of each man responsible." She lifted her chin and met Christienne Turner's eyes once more. "But my job as a public servant is to serve justice. And I'm confident in this case-- justice was, indeed, served."

Turner paused a moment, letting the camera linger on the firm cut of Carmichael's jaw and the resolute tone of her voice. Then she wrapped up, instinctively knowing that nothing more needed to be said. "This is Christienne Turner for WST news. Good day."

The End

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