DISCLAIMER: Law & Order: Trial By Jury and all characters are
property of NBC and Dick Wolf.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
SEUQEL: Belated sequel to Caught.
Her pen was flying across the page. Rapidly recording her thoughts and impressions about the Patterson case, Tracey was in a world of her own. Part of her mind registered the soft knock on the door, but the rest of it was in full concentration mode. She raced to complete her sentence before she had to look up. "Yeah?"
The rap was sharper and louder the second time, almost forcing her to turn toward the sound. Her expression was just this side of irritated as she greeted her visitor. "Hector, come in." Belatedly she remembered why he was making such a point about being invited. Damn. She raised an eyebrow.
"I pulled everything we had on Patterson's known associates, raps sheets." He briefly raised the manila folder he carried in his hand. Stopping in front of her desk, he continued. "Chris is out running down his last address, checking out neighbors, nearby hangouts."
Tracey was about to reach to accept the folder when she realized he wasn't extending it toward her. Instead he kept it pressed close to his shirt. Settling back in her chair, she appraised him coolly. The dark hair, the dark eyes, the dark jacket. The overall attitude and demeanor that he projected. She supposed the most appropriate word might be "smoldering." Back when she'd still slept with men, it was a look that she would have found hard to resist.
"Was there something else, Hector?"
His eyes never wavered from hers. "It's really none of my business ..."
"Agreed. But you have an opinion."
Hector slid the edge of the folder back and forth between his fingers. "Look Tracey, I know that you believe you know what you're doing, and from what I hear ... of your reputation ... this may be old hat to you, but ..."
He paused as if he expected Tracey to protest, to interrupt. She didn't. "But I don't think she knows what she's getting herself into. It's a small world here, and some people are quick to judge ... and long to remember. Just ... be aware of that."
Tracey appreciated his directness even as she felt the sting of his words. Lacing her fingers together against her stomach to keep them from shaking she continued to meet his gaze. "She's a grown woman, Hector. And a damn fine attorney. Your concerns are duly noted."
Without changing his expression, he slid the folder onto her desk. Before he could make his exit, Tracey's voice stopped him.
"You're one of the best investigators this office has ever had. Most of the time your instincts serve you well. Just remember that they aren't foolproof ... that rumors can be useful when we're tracking down leads, in need of information ... but even though they may eventually expose some facts and some truth ... just as often, if not more so, they send us on wild goose chases and down rabbit trails to nowhere." She pulled the folder to her and began to flip through it, effectively dismissing him.
He was still processing her last comments as he left.
He found Kelly staring at the coffee pot, cup in her hand. Right in front of him, but in actuality far away. Not wanting to startle her, but already too close to back off gracefully, he reached for the handle of the decanter. "Excuse me."
Blinking, she finally looked at him and almost instantly became flustered. "Oh, sorry ... I was ..."
"Just getting some coffee?" He finished pouring his own and tilted his head toward her empty cup.
Gratefully, she held it steady as he filled it. "Yes, please. Thanks." She hadn't looked at him again, and he detected a faint blush as he glanced at her face.
"Hey ... about the other night ..."
Her head snapped up. "No ... don't worry about it ... it was ... we were ... working."
Hector's eyes slid to the side as he shifted his weight from one foot to the other. "Yeah." Nodding his head a few times, he set the coffee pot back on the warmer. Almost before he knew it, he heard himself say quietly, "Just ... be careful."
Completely puzzled, it took Kelly a few moments for his meaning to sink in. Her hand shot out, resting on the arm of his jacket to keep him from turning away. "Of Tracey?!"
Totally uncomfortable now, and wishing like hell that he'd just walked away after his implied apology, Hector exhaled. "Yeah ... I mean, just ..." Embarrassed, but sincere, he leaned closer. "Make sure you take care of yourself, watch out for what's best for you."
He'd come this far, he might as well finish it. "I just don't want to see you get hurt."
Kelly stood there -- perplexed, stunned ... and more than a little offended, on several levels -- unable to muster a reply. When she'd recovered enough to string two thoughts together, Hector was halfway down the hallway.
Tracey popped open the container that held what was supposed to be her lunch and looked at it with disinterest. Hanging up her coat, and leaning her briefcase against her chair, she glanced over to where Kelly sat, phone tucked under her ear. Her partner was jotting down notes as she listened, a habit that she held even when it was a simple personal call. Closing the lid on her meal, she walked over and deposited it on Kelly's desk. Pointing at it, she mouthed, "I brought you something," and returned to her chair. She wasn't hungry anyway and Kelly wouldn't know the difference.
Tapping her pencil absently, Kelly finished the call and slid the receiver back into place. "That was Ravell ... he's located two of Patterson's former girlfriends. They talked to one at her mother's apartment, but felt that girlfriend number two might be worth bringing in." She checked her watch. "Should be here in about an hour." She reached for the takeout box. "Thanks."
Tracey answered with an "it was nothing" gesture and pulled some work from her briefcase. She was pleased to note that Kelly had started to eat as she eased into her chair. She hated to ruin her appetite, but she had less than an hour to get this out and at least they were alone ... Maybe a few more minutes.
"What?" Kelly waved to get her attention. "You're staring."
"Nothing. Didn't mean to ..." Tracey cleared her throat. "Hector came to see me this morning."
Something about the way Tracey had said it told Kelly that it hadn't been about the case, or the office or anything related to work. She swallowed another bite and pushed the food to the side.
"His very chivalrous intention was to ... how do you say? .... warn me away from you." Tracey smirked slightly and shook her head. "I should have fired him."
Kelly grimaced. "He spoke to me this morning too. Along those same lines ..." She was still floored by the conversation ... that it had taken place at all. "Did you tell him that he totally had the wrong idea? That there's nothing going on?"
"No." Tracey crossed her arms. "Did you?"
"I don't think I said much of anything, actually. I was so surprised." Her eyes scanned the ceiling quickly. "Forget that he's way off base ... why would he tell me to 'be careful'? Of you of all people?"
"Come on, Kelly. You going to tell me that you haven't heard the buzz ... been filled in on my past exploits ... caught wind of my terrible reputation?" At Kelly's blank look she hinted. "Think Jack McCoy ..."
"That's ridiculous, Tracey ... your private life is your own business. Of course people talk, it's human nature and an office environment. Besides when you are single and amazingly attractive ... they're going to assume all sorts of things ... I never listen to that kind of gossip anyway. I prefer to make up my own mind."
Tracey smiled. "And if most of it were true?"
"Still your business." Kelly was becoming more and more exasperated. "The very idea that I would need protecting ... that there's any way possible that you could take advantage of me ..." She slammed her palm down on the desktop. "I'm not fragile or innocent or stupid!"
"That's pretty much what I told Detective Salazar." This was not the moment to reveal that she found Kelly cute as hell when she was indignant. "I could speak to him again. Set the record completely straight ..." Excellent word choice, Kibre.
Kelly shook her head. "Only if you do so for your own sake. It's not necessary as far as I'm concerned. And I don't want to give him the satisfaction."
Several seconds of silence passed as each of them pondered the other reasons why they weren't all that anxious to deny the connection. Then Tracey spoke softly. "Amazingly attractive?"
Tilting her chin up slightly, Kelly met her eyes across the room. "Yeah."
"Then let 'em talk."
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