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Seeing Red
By EponinesGhost

Chapter Six

By the time the clock struck 7 am the next morning, Kelly was finishing her third cup of coffee. Latte, to be exact. At least this one was. The first one she'd gulped down in her apartment was black and strong. She hadn't bothered to add cream or sweeten it since it was mostly medicinal anyway. Sometime in the night, staring up at her ceiling in the dark, she had decided that her best defense would be an aggressive offense. She would dive right into her work today. Building layer upon layer of mundane reality around her, she hoped to hide the scars from the night before. And if she worked hard enough, she might convince herself that she could survive in close proximity to Tracey Kibre.

As she plowed through depositions and drafted motions, she consciously avoided looking at Tracey's desk. She had been in the office almost two hours earlier than her usual arrival time, and she hoped to be out of it before her senior associate arrived. Whenever that might be. She blocked any further speculation about where Tracey was and what she might be doing, and concentrated on critiquing the last of her notes. Satisfied, she gathered the latest briefs and stacked them sharply against the top of her desk. You can do this, Gaffney. One step at a time.

Leaving all of the newest information regarding the Canton case laid out prominently on Tracey's desk, along with a copy of her own schedule for the day, Kelly grabbed her briefcase and headed out to her first appointment.

Tracey was very rarely nervous. Even in court. She believed in mind over matter and in her own abilities. Nervous meant unsure, and she made it a practice to be sure of herself. Confidence and conviction were weapons she wielded quite successfully. Despite her track record, she knew this was going to be a tough day to bluff her way through. Most of her bravado came from a carefully cultivated devil-may-care approach to her life and her job. She did what she could, she did her best, and the rest was history. Of course she cared. Sometimes quite deeply, but it didn't pay to let that get out. Too many consequences and too much looking back. Most of the time she took her shot, shook off the bad breaks, and moved on to the next challenge. This was different. This time the stakes were too high.

Trying to center herself as she went through her morning routine, she examined her face in the mirror. She looked anxious and uncertain and it bothered the hell out of her. Worse, she knew it was an accurate reflection. You're scared, whether you want to admit it or not. You are worried sick because you don't know what in the hell you're going to do if you can't make this right. And you hate that it matters as much to you as it does.

Halfway across town, Kelly was meticulously reviewing a crime-scene walk through. This was the second time she had been here, mentally reenacting what she knew of the events. This visit was to affirm that all of the more recent details still jibed with their original narrative. As she made one more pass around the parking garage entrance, she cross-checked her statements with the time stamped records. It wouldn't hurt to have Hector and Ravell re-interview the principals, someone might have remembered something else or regretted their prior declaration. If so, she wanted to know about it before they were in open court. She knew how Tracey loathed surprises ...

She wasn't much for them herself. Last night had been a major one. Of knock-your-socks-off proportions. Grimly she clamped down on that train of thought. After confirming a few more measurements and sketching another perspective, she wrapped up her inspection. Nodding at the security guard who had accompanied her around the premises, she made her way toward the corner. It was nearly ten. She'd call Hector and ... Chris ... She winced slightly at the memory of his eyewitness involvement in her nightmare. She'd call them and get the ball rolling on the interviews, then she'd grab a bagel and some more coffee and meet Canton's counsel at Rikers. With every passing hour, she felt a bit closer to her goal: Pretending that this was just another day.

As the cab inched along, Tracey fought to contain her mounting frustration. She usually walked to work on pleasant days and had been known to take the subway occasionally. This morning had gone straight to hell. Wrestling with her guilt and hope and anguish, she'd barely slept, waking with a start when the alarm sounded. God, she'd felt like shit. Even a longer, hotter shower hadn't erased it completely. She was so preoccupied with visualizing various scenarios for approaching Kelly about last night's debacle that it had taken her twice as long to get ready. Hell, she'd even run two pair of hose before she'd given up and decided on the gray pants. It didn't matter what she wore, it was about what she was going to say and do. And damn it if she knew. Her mind had been racing, searching, grasping at straws when she burned herself on the coffee maker. She was a mess.

The worst part, setting aside how off-kilter she felt, was that she had had every intention of being in the office by 8:30. Over and over again she heard herself icily informing Kelly, "I may be late in the morning. I'm sure you can handle everything," as she practically groped Rochelle. She'd been such a bitch. It had made her feel better at the time, but in hindsight ... She had vowed to be early, if not in by her regular time. So much for that. By the time she'd finally left the apartment she was way behind schedule. Cursing and trying to pull herself together, she'd flagged down a taxi. Now she was being eaten alive by traffic. Dammit.

She WAS going to be late. She didn't give a shit about her tardiness from a professional standpoint. She put in plenty of hours. But her empty desk was going to be a glaring reminder of all that she had implied to Kelly during her fucked-up fit of animosity. Leaning forward and tapping the driver's shoulder, she ordered him to pull over and let her out right there. At least if she was walking she could let off some steam.

Tracey blew through the front doors like a hurricane, garnering more than a few startled looks from people in the lobby. She'd been so focused on getting there that she'd scarcely had time to consider her entrance. Momentarily out of breath, she paused to collect herself. Great, Kibre, you look like you ran the last two blocks. She struggled to compose herself as she fished out her ID for the security check. Smoothing one hand over her mass of curls she fought against the dread that was gathering inside of her. You're here now. This is it. God. She should have stayed in the cab. Maybe she would've had more time to think, to prepare. A short elevator ride up and it's over. She tried to calm down by telling herself that it wouldn't be the end of the world ... but a small voice in the back of her mind naggingly whispered that for her, it might be just as bad.

Whatever happened, she'd brought it on herself. She could at least own up to it. Spilling out of the elevator with everyone else, she set her jaw and entered the arena. Dammit. The first person she saw this morning would have to be Ravell. She ignored the smirking look on his face and his raised eyebrow as she passed by. Bastard. She knew she needed to check her anger. Sometimes it served her well to let it fuel her actions and ambition, but she had seen ... felt ... all too well how it could backfire.

She was holding her breath as she pushed into her office, feeling not unlike she was crossing a minefield. Exhaling as she reached her chair, she wasn't sure if she was incredibly relieved or crushingly disappointed that Kelly was absent. Surveying her own desk, she could immediately tell that her partner had been busy. So she had been here. Scanning the documents a few at a time, she smiled wryly. At least there was no resignation letter. And why would there be? Thinking a little too highly of yourself, aren't you, Kibre? Maybe she hadn't been upset after all. Maybe she and Rochelle were just imagining things. Hanging up her coat and depositing her briefcase behind her, she thought fleetingly about the redhead with a prickling pinch of guilt. At least that was done.

Sucking the tip of her burned finger, she read over Kelly's schedule. Her reprieve could last a few more hours. She might actually get some work done. Grabbing up her coffee mug, she stepped out into the bullpen. Ravell was placing his phone back onto its cradle as she moved by him.

"That was Gaffney." He was shrugging on his jacket. "She wants us to double back on some interviews with the parking garage witnesses."

Just hearing him mention Kelly's name reignited the blazing fury she thought she had successfully squelched. Without thinking she whirled on him, advancing within inches. Her tone was low and tight as she growled, "If you hurt her, so help me ..."

He nearly pushed her away reflexively, he was so blindsided by the attack. What the fuck?!? Instead he sidestepped, both hands raised in front of him, his expression clearly showing that he thought she was crazy. This had to have something to do with last night, but he'd be damned if he knew what. He had figured out that Gaffney's reaction meant something was going on between her and Kibre, but he'd let it go at that. Now she was in HIS face? He snorted in disbelief.

"Back off ... I don't know where the hell you're comin' from, but leave me the hell out of it! And as for hurting her ... you're doing a damn fine job of that yourself."

Spinning away he stormed out of the office, muttering to himself as he went. Tracey stood there fuming, his last words ringing in her ears. Sonofabitch! What the hell was happening to her? Out of the corner of her eye she picked up everyone watching her while trying to act nonchalant. Get a grip Kibre. This can't go on.

Deflated, she continued toward the coffee machine, wishing with all her might that she could go back to yesterday and start all over again.

Part 7

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