Title:Picking Up the Pieces (2/2)
Date Written: 3/28/03
Author: JanetD
Rating: PG (mild language)
Summary: This is a follow-up to my alternate universe story, Nick's Alternate Reality. In that story, rather than being assigned probation and community service, Nick was sentenced to twenty-four months in a minimum security prison. This story picks up with Nick being released on parole some thirteen months later.
Author's Notes: 1) Please keep in mind as you read this story, that I have projected what would happen in the TG universe if Nick had gone to prison (e.g., he would never have worked at LSP). Therefore, certain changes that we have seen take place at his father's law firm on TG, have not taken place here.
2) In the original story, I made reference to Nick's house. This was a boo-boo, as we have been told on more than one occasion that Nick was living in an apartment when he was busted for drug possession. Therefore, I have rectified that mistake this go 'round.
3) Thanks go to Goldie and Meghan for the beta reads.
Disclaimer: This is a work of fiction. The characters in this story are borrowed from the TV show "The Guardian". No money is being made from this story. Any resemblance of a character in this story to any real person living or dead is purely coincidental. Likewise, any resemblance between an organization depicted in this story and any such actual organization is purely coincidental.

Friday, October 4th, 2002 8:45AM

Nick Fallin, briefcase in hand, stepped into the elevator at the Frick Building on Friday morning with a feeling of trepidation. This was to be his first day back at Fallin & Associates, and he was a little nervous. His hand went up to check the knot of his tie once more. He had been unsurprised, but still vexed, to find that when he'd put on his suit that morning that both the jacket and the pants were noticeably loose (he'd had to take his belt in an extra notch). Nick was still debating whether he should have his suits altered, or just assume that he'd quickly regain some of the weight that he'd lost in prison. He was used to having his suits fit impeccably, so didn't like the thought of presenting a less than perfectly-tailored appearance, but he also couldn't see going to the trouble to have alterations done, if he was just going to have to turn around and have them redone a couple months down the road.

As the elevator began its ascent, Nick turned his mind to a review of all that he'd accomplished in the last three days. There had been meetings with his parole officer, a decent-seeming man named Bruning, and with Michael Stone, the attorney who had agreed to represent him in front of the disciplinary committee of the Bar Association. Bruning had informed Nick of what would be required of him while he was on parole. Among other things, he was expected to mail in a postcard to the Parole Dept. once a week. This was to confirm his whereabouts for Bruning and was also the way in which Nick was to affirm that he remained gainfully employed. In addition to the postcard, he would be required to meet with the parole officer face-to-face once a month, and he would also be subject to random drug tests (to be conducted at his own expense). Indeed, to Nick's chagrin, this first meeting had ended with his peeing in a cup.

The session with Stone had gone smoothly. The attorney assured Nick that getting his law license reinstated should be very cut-and-dried, simply a matter of presenting the facts to the board. Nick had been pleased when Stone informed him that he had been able to get the hearing scheduled for the following Thursday afternoon.

Both the meeting with his parole officer and his lawyer had occurred on Tuesday. Much of Wednesday had been taken up with an exhaustive round of apartment hunting. Nick had finally settled on an upscale townhouse about three miles from the office. It was available for immediate occupancy, and he'd pulled some strings, and arranged for his furniture and other belongings to be delivered later today. So tonight he'd once again be in a home of his own. This would come as a relief because he could never be completely comfortable staying in his father's house. The rest of his time had been taken up with mundane things like filling out a change of address for the Post Office, getting his phone turned on, having the the utilities put into his name, stocking up on some groceries and other basics for the apartment, and getting that haircut he needed so badly. Nick ran a hand across the top of his head. After all that time with longer hair, it still felt strange to feel the shorn locks.

At last, the elevator doors opened onto the nineteenth floor, and Nick stepped out. He walked the short distance to the Fallin & Associates suite, drew in a deep breath, lifted up his chin, and pushed open the lobby doors. He was met with a curious glance by the woman at Reception. Vickie, that was her name. She'd started shortly before Nick's trial. Nick nodded to her, and then rounded the stairs to get to the hallway that gave access to his office. Walking up to the door he stopped short when he saw the name, Philip Thebeau on the plaque beside the door. Of course, what was he thinking? He shouldn't have expected that his office would have been left empty all this time. He stared at the name plaque for another few seconds. Philip Thebeau--he didn't recognize the name. The guy must be new. Nick was just about to turn, and head back to the reception desk to inquire about the location of his office when Jake Straka emerged from the next doorway.

Jake said warmly, as he caught sight of his former colleague. He rapidly closed the distance between them and extended a hand. Welcome back. Burton told me you'd be here today.

Hi, Jake, Nick said, as the two men shook hands.

How are you?

Nick gave a little shrug of his shoulders, and replied, I'm good.

Jake looked his friend up and down. Well, you...you look good.... I guess you were looking for your office, huh? They've put you down that corridor off the conference room. Here, I'll show you.

You don't have to, Nick said quickly. I can find it.

No, come on, it's no trouble.

Jake led the way out of the hallway and down past the central group of cubicles, heading back toward Burton's conference room. Nick met the stares of several people along the way. He thought with self-derision, Well, what else could I expect? Who wouldn't be curious about the return of the jailbird son of the founding partner? Reaching the conference room, Jake and Nick bore left, and entered the hallway Jake had mentioned. Nick's office was about halfway down, fairly large, but with no window. Nick walked in, and set his briefcase on the desk.

Well, this is it, Jake said. I'm sure Burton would have preferred to give you a window office, Nick, but I guess there just weren't any available right now. He looked closely at the man whom he regarded as a friend, but who had always been something of a mystery to him. Is there something I can get you?

Nick shook his head. Thanks, but I know where everything is.

Oh, well, sure. Sure you do. Uhm, Burton mentioned that he'd like to have you work on the McPherson case with me--McPherson's Mini-marts. They're being sued by a group of employees for racial discrimination. The employees are claiming that McPherson's has no African-American managers because they're prejudiced against blacks.

Nick nodded.

So, once you've settled in, come on by, and we'll go over it. Okay?

Sure. That sounds great, Jake.

Okay then. Well, I'll see you later, Nick.

Jake headed for the door, but turned back at the last moment. I'm glad you're back, Nick. We've really missed you around here.

Nick offered a little half-smile. Thanks, Jake.

Jake left, closing the door behind him. Nick walked over to the bookcase, and examined the rows of law books. Picking one up, he flipped open the cover and read, Nicholas Fallin. So these were his books. Good. He supposed they had been boxed up during his absence. It was nice to know that someone had taken the time to unpack them before he'd arrived.

Nick walked back to the desk, and sat down. He spent a couple moments adjusting the chair to his satisfaction, then opened the desk drawers. Someone had already stocked the desk with supplies--legal pads, pens, pencils, paper clips, a stapler--all the necessities. He sat back in his chair, and steepled his fingers in front of him as he mentally reviewed his old client list. He knew a couple of his clients had left the firm, but most had just gone with other Fallin & Associates' lawyers. Nick knew which lawyers--his father had informed him of the disposition of his various accounts on one of his first visits to Waynesburg. Even before his release, Nick had begun planning how he would woo those clients back. He would have to be judicious about it. If he stole back all his old accounts there'd be a lot of hard feelings among his co-workers. So he'd have to pick and choose, weigh the value of each client against the cost of the enmity of those lawyers whose clients he would be poaching. It would be a challenge all around, but then he enjoyed a challenge.

Nick had also been reviewing strategies for winning new clients. To start with, he had begun scanning the papers for any stories that might point up a possible opportunity--new companies setting up business in Pittsburgh, obituaries and retirement notices for prominent local citizens (Nick had learned that when control of a family business passed to the younger generation they often wanted to shake things up--put their own stamp on the enterprise--and that was a perfect opportunity for someone like Nick to suggest that they begin by changing their legal representation).

After a few moments, Nick reached in his breast pocket for his pack of cigarettes. He placed one in his mouth, and laid the pack down on his desk. Just as he was about to light up, he realized that he hadn't seen an ashtray anywhere. His eyes swept around the room--no ashtray. Then he made a quick search through the desk drawers--still no luck. He'd have to go find an ashtray. Leaving the cigarette on top of the pack, he got up and headed out of the office. Nick decided he'd ask Sheila, his dad's secretary. He figured she'd be able to steer him in the right direction.

As Nick rounded the corner to Sheila's desk, he glanced through the glass partition that gave view into his father's office. His dad was there, deep in conversation with a man that Nick couldn't identify, at least, not from just the back of his head.

Sheila looked up as Nick approached, and smiled warmly. Nick found himself returning her smile. He'd always liked Sheila. She was efficient, friendly, and discreet. Nick knew there had to have been plenty of times that she had gotten an earful of the arguments that periodically erupted between his dad and himself. But, as far as he could tell, she had never turned those incidents into fodder for the office gossips.

Nick, welcome back! It's wonderful to see you again.

Thanks, Sheila. How've you been?

Fine, Nick, just fine. Did you want to see your father? I'm afraid he's tied up with a client right now, but I can let him know you stopped by when he's through.

No, no, I actually came to see you. I was hoping you'd be able to tell me where I could find an ashtray.

An ashtray...well, sure. She got up from her desk. There ought to be some in the supply room. Let's go look. She quickly led the way to the large room that housed office supplies, and served as a catch-all for various sundry other items. Walking to the back of the room, she opened a cabinet, and reached up into the top shelf. Here you go, she said, pulling down a glass ashtray. It's a little dusty, but I think it will serve the purpose.

Thanks, Sheila.

You're welcome. She turned back to face Nick. Are you finding everything else all right?

Nick nodded, Yeah, yeah, I am. Thanks.

Well, if there's anything else you need, you just let me know.

I will. Thank you.

As Nick was returning to his office, he couldn't help but notice a new set of curious faces. He did his best to ignore the interested looks, and had almost made it back to his own corridor when he was hailed by a female voice. Turning around he saw Amanda Bowles. Amanda had been the first-year associate who had (for all intents and purposes) functioned as his gofer prior to his imprisonment. She was a tall, attractive red-head who dressed to show off her figure to advantage. There'd been more than one occasion when Nick had found himself distracted by her slit skirts and clingy blouses. Seeing her outfit today, Nick concluded that she hadn't changed her style of dress. Amanda wore a tight-fitting silk blouse, copper-colored, with some sort of pattern in the weave. The first three buttons of the blouse had been left undone. Her skirt was a darker shade of copper, and was slit up one thigh. Nick also noticed that she still wore her hair long, but had toned down the shade. It was no longer that screamingly bright red, and he viewed that as an improvement.

Amanda favored him with a brilliant smile. Nick, it's so good to see you. I heard you were coming back, but I didn't realize it was today.

Hi, Amanda.

How are you? Are you okay? I mean, was it awful? When Nick didn't respond she began to get flustered. I'm sorry, that's probably none of my business. I just wanted...I mean--

I'm fine, Amanda, Nick said, deciding to take pity on her. How are you?

Me? Oh, I'm great. Really great. Nick could hear the confidence restored to her voice, as she added, I've got some of my own clients now. I finally feel like I'm making a difference around here.

Well, so, where have they got you sitting? I know that Philip Thebeau has your old office.

I'm just down here, Nick replied, pointing over his shoulder to the hallway.

Oh, okay. Well, I guess I'll see you around. It's nice you're back, Nick. She paused, then asked tentatively, Maybe, maybe we can have lunch some time?

As Amanda walked away, Nick stared after her for a moment, shaking his head slightly--still the same old Amanda. He smiled at the thought, then returned to his office.

A little more than an hour later, a knock came at Nick's door. He was deep in study of the files on the McPherson discrimination case. Come in, he said, glancing up to see who it was. It was Jake, with a file folder in his hand. Nick's attention shifted back to his work, as Jake spied the thin trail of smoke rising up from a cigarette in the ashtray, and reacted with surprise.

Nick, you're smoking now?

That's right, Nick answered shortly, not looking up.

Jake gave a little chuckle. Wow, that's...that's a surprise.

When Nick didn't respond, Jake said, I mean, I know your dad smokes, but I never figured--

Nick raised his head, and fixed Jake with a stare. Things change, Jake, he said flatly.

Jake's good mood begin to dissipate. Yeah, I guess they do. He glanced around the office, and then to the file in his hand. He felt like he should say something else, something about being sorry for what Nick had gone through in the past year. But he knew Nick, and was certain those kinds of comments would be unwelcome. Finally, Jake decided he should get to the point of his visit. Approaching the desk, he said, Anyway, here's something else for you to take a look at--depositions from some of the claimants in the McPherson case.

Nick nodded. Just set it on the desk.

Jake complied, and then said, Well, if you have any questions, just let me know.

I will.

Okay. I'll see you later then. Jake quickly exited the office.

Not more than two minutes later a second knock came at the door. Nick exhaled a frustrated breath, and called out, He raised his head just in time to see his father walking in.

the elder Fallin said with a smile. How's it going? Sorry, I didn't come by earlier, but I was in with Fred Davies. He walked up to the desk, and waved a hand at the open file. Is that the stuff for the McPherson case?

Nick said distractedly.

Well, good, good. I'm glad Jake got you started on that. He paused, and put a hand up to his chin. So, everything going okay? You got everything you need?

Nick looked up. Yeah, everything's fine, Dad.

Good, glad to hear it. Uhm, you want to have lunch a little later, son? I thought we'd make it a kind of Welcome back' affair. Get Jake and some of the other young bucks to join us. Whadaya say?

Nick pushed his chair back from the desk. He looked pained, but tried to keep the irritation from showing in his voice. I don't think so, Dad. I thought I'd just work through lunch today, maybe have something sent in.

Come on, Nicholas, it's your first day back. You don't have to push so hard. I figured we'd go to Bennington's, you always liked their seafood, right?

Nick nodded reluctantly.

Come on, son. I'm not taking no' for an answer. Okay?

The younger Fallin gave an internal sigh, but answered civilly enough,

Good, I'll see you about noon then.... It's good to have you back, Nick.

Nick nodded, and Burton turned to go. Nick stared at the door as it closed behind his father, then returned his attention to his work.

Friday, October 11th, 2002 6:45PM

Nick Fallin drove home through the last traces of the Pittsburgh rush hour. A week had passed since he'd started back at his father's firm. Yesterday he had gone before the disciplinary board, and been much relieved when they had agreed to restore his law license and readmit him to the Bar. That had been the last hurdle to clear. Well...almost the last hurdle. He still found himself almost daily fighting the urge to pay Colin Bennett a little visit. Colin had been his dealer of choice before his arrest. He had a reputation for handling only the best stuff--the primo of the primo. On his way home, Nick had found himself more than once having to resist the urge to turn the car in the direction of Colin's apartment. So far, he had successfully resisted. Drugs had already cost him too much--more than a year of his life, not to mention the various foul-ups he had made in the past, foul-ups that could nearly all be attributed in some way to his attraction to drugs. Well, that was all over now. It had to be. He wasn't going to let himself be seduced by that scene again. He couldn't.

Nick brought the car to a stop at a red light, and found himself reaching into his jacket pocket for the piece of paper Michael Stone had given him yesterday after the hearing. He unfolded it, and read, Lawyers Concerned for Lawyers of Pennsylvania 1-888-999-1941. Stone had told him it was a support group for attorneys who were dealing with various personal problems--drug or alcohol dependency, gambling addictions, depression. Stone had said they offered peer counseling and meetings for recovering lawyers, and he had assured Nick that everything was kept strictly confidential. Nick hadn't wanted to hear any of it yesterday, but nevertheless he'd kept the piece of paper, had even picked it up off the dresser this morning, and put it in his pocket. Glancing up, he realized the light had changed. He put his foot on the gas, and accelerated through the intersection.

For the rest of the drive, Nick's mind continued to worry at what to do about his reawakened desire to do cocaine. It had been easier in prison. Waynesburg had a very effective no drugs program that had succeeded in eliminating almost all illicit drugs from the prison population. Nick had quickly learned that there was very little chance of getting his hands on any coke while inside. Knowing it wasn't available had made it easier to ignore the yearnings. Now, he was back on the outside, and he knew all it would take was a little cash and a trip to Colin's, and he could experience once again the sense of euphoria and seductive certainty in his own brilliance that the white powder bestowed.

Nick entered the townhouse from the garage, set down his briefcase, and tossed his keys onto the kitchen counter. Walking across the room, he picked up the cordless phone. He stood there and stared at the phone in his hand, his face echoing his indecision. After a moment, he put the phone back down. He turned, preparing to walk away, but didn't. Instead he turned back around, his eyes coming to rest once more on the phone. He sighed heavily, ran a hand down the back of his hair, then reached into his pocket for the piece of paper. Picking up the phone, he dialed. He heard the line ring twice, followed by a male voice answering mechanically, Lawyers Concerned for Lawyers.

Hi, yeah-- Nick cleared his throat. My name is...Nick, and I, uh...I think I might need some help.

The End