[DISCLAIMER: The following is an original work of fiction based on the television series "The Practice", created by David E. Kelley, and produced by David E. Kelley Productions and Twentieth Television.]

Chapter One

Bobby Donnell hadn't been this outraged – or enraged – for as long as he could remember. He clutched a brown paper sack in his right hand as he marched through the front doors of Crane, Poole and Schmidt. His knuckles had whitened around the item nestled inside.
Tara noticed his entrance, and stepped into his path. "Mr. Donnell, may I help you?"
"Tara," he said. "Nice to see you again." He looked past her. "Where's Alan Shore?" he asked, in a voice that wasn't half as choked as she'd expected.
"His office, I think," she replied.
"Where is that?" he asked, not paying any real attention to her.
"Why do you want to see him?" she asked, trying to divert his focus.
"No reason in particular," he said. His eyes noticed the nameplate on a far door. "That's his office there, isn't it?"
"Yes, Mr. Donnell, but – " was all she could get out as he side-stepped her and dashed toward the door. Tara decided to follow, but at a safe distance. No reason she needed to get Alan's blood on her new blouse.

Bobby stormed into Alan's office and slammed the door. "I cannot believe you did this," he said, his jaw clenched.
Alan looked up, and offered a blank expression. "Which this?"
Bobby opened the sack and slapped the contents onto Alan's desk. "The porno movie you shipped to me, the hospital board of trustees, and the insurance carrier's general counsel, with a Post-It note on it referring to a particular scene as, and I quote, 'an approximate dramatization of actual events.'"
Alan picked up the videocassette. "I thought visual aids would be helpful," he said.
"A visual aid? 'Nasty Nurses 5'?"
"Don't dismiss it. Not only does it feature fascinating couplings – and triplings, if that's a word – but between the lines it's also a scathing indictment of modern medical practice."
Bobby groaned. "Of all the low and rotten things I heard about you from Eugene and Eleanor and Jimmy – "
"Most of which are true," Alan added, dropping the tape into a desk drawer.
"- I can not believe you did this."
Alan blinked. "Are we starting again? 'Cause I didn't hear the bell."
"You wanna hear echoes and bells? I can help you with that," Bobby growled.
Alan sighed. "If you want to hit me, do it. Get it out of your system. But be warned: I have a tendency to enjoy physical punishment. Usually only in a heterosexual situation, of course, but hey, I'm always open to new experiences."
"Smug son of a bitch," Bobby said.
"That's a fair assessment," Alan said, nodding. "Plus I'm also right."
"About what?"
Alan leaned back in his chair. "You've been here before, Mr. Donnell. Put yourself in my place. You're asking for seven million dollars from a doctor. Do you think the insurance carrier is just going to roll over and write you a check made out to cash? Of course not. You use whatever you have handy. And in this case, you, or rather, I have his sex life."
Bobby frowned a little more. "Jeff Hopkins is a respected doctor, plus husband and father. Bringing an indiscretion like this into open court could destroy that."
"Indiscretion? That's a pretty way of saying it." Alan's voice stayed cool. "But I prefer saying that he was boinking a nurse-practitioner, as shown in the movie, and that he was in mid-boink when Jenny Bailey was rolled into the emergency room. Your client admitted it during depositions. He also stated that he ignored his beeper. And that this ignorance occurred not once, but twice. That's gross negligence. That's why a woman is dead."
Bobby shook his head. "No, she's dead because she died in the ambulance. When she arrived in the ER, her pupils were fixed and dilated, and she had no pulse. Both EMTs verified that she had been gone nearly ten minutes before my client had a chance to help."
Alan cocked his head. "Before he zipped up, you mean? Because the timeline is pretty clear about that."
Bobby leaned over the desk, his palms flat on the surface. "When I was a kid, I had this tendency to go after the guys who were hurting my friends. Sure, I got my share of black eyes and bloody noses, but you should have seen them. The nuns would scold me, say I needed to be the bigger person in such heated emotional matters. And I try to be, now as much as then. It's not easy, but I do try. Now, you're attacking a client of mine, one who also happens to be a close friend. And I want to be the mature one. But I can't help seeing just another school yard bully that needs a good ass-kicking. So forgive me for regressing, but when this is over, Shore – and the sooner, the better – I intend to break every bone in your body."
A chilly silence permeated the air. "Then have your client settle," Alan finally said with a shrug. "And start with the legs."

Tara had waited outside Alan's office for what seemed like an eternity, then watched Bobby Donnell storm out, his square-jaw features darker than she could have imagined. She poked her head in the doorway. "Just wanted to make sure you were still alive," she said, only half-joking.
Alan's voice was soft. "Do you really want to make sure? You could always check my pulse. Listen to my heart. Take my temperature."
Tara's eyes met his. "I can just imagine how you'd want that done."
Alan let a small smile play on his lips. "You and your dirty little mind."
Tara shook her head. "By the look on Mr. Donnell's face, I'm guessing he has no interest in settling."
"He thinks he can win. And if the paramedics are right, the odds favor him. Plus, the client is another one of his 'old friends'. You'd think that he'd have run out of buddies by now."
"He's not you, Alan," she said.
"That much is clear," he replied.
Tara nodded, with a small frown. Then she looked back into his eyes. "Why did you take this case?" she asked.
"It's been bothering me," she said. "This case doesn't seem to be up your alley."
"You're not wrong."
"So why?"
Alan took a deepish breath, then said, in that same soft tone, "Just to steal a few extra minutes a day with you." His eyes drifted over her. "Nice skirt. The newest Denny Crane directive?"
"Yeah, just like you having to take two contingency cases a month," she said, striding slowly into the room. "And two more if you want to make him happy."
"Well, we are put on earth to make him so, isn't that true?"
"Sure, Alan." She stopped at the edge of his desk. "No words about the buttons?"
Alan's eyes narrowed. "What buttons?"
"You know, on my blouse." She leaned across the desktop. "The way they seem to strain against the thread, remember?"
He stood up slowly. "I make one – or nine – off-hand comments, and you never let me forget it." Alan let out something of a sigh, as he leaned closer to her. "That's just mean."
"I am so sorry. I didn't realize that I was being insensitive to your precociously lewd nature," she said, forming each word fully with her lips.
"Besides, I've seen the blouse," Alan said, his voice matching hers. "The legs, not so much."
She smiled a bit. "You'd think they'd pro-rate for using less fabric, but no."
He considered her for a moment. "Flouncy, even playful, and in black, too. Plus the pleats really work for me."
"Thanks for the review. But I'm not twirling for you, you deviate, so don't ask."
His eyes danced. "Aw, shucks."
She leaned her face closer to his, and held her gaze. "The clock on the wall says bantering time is over."
He grinned. "Give me a second to move some things."
"It's not time for that, either." Tara didn't budge.
Neither did Alan. "Double shucks."
"I need a drink, maybe a nice dinner. How about you?"
"Not tonight," he replied.
She shot him a faux-puzzled look. "I'm sorry, I don't think you understood. I was telling you my plans." With that, she spun on her heel and walked out.
Alan was frozen, partially because of her parting shot, but mostly because of the sway of her skirt. "That's just mean," he said, when he could finally speak.

Jeff Hopkins was sitting at his dining room table. He was looking at his folded hands, like a little boy pulled into the principal's office. And Bobby felt like he was playing the part of the principal. "Shore has a case," Bobby said. "And he could win."
"Because of Maria and me, right?"
"That's part of it. It doesn't help that the hospital isn't willing to vouch for you. Or that the state medical board keeps delaying your reinstatement hearing."
"They upheld Maria's suspension. Six months. Plus eighteen months probation. And if she's not perfect – "
Bobby furrowed his brow. "When did you hear this?"
"Last night. She called."
"She can't do that."
"I know. It's against the rules. Like everything else we did." Jeff's eyes welled. "And Jenny Bailey died because of it."
"Jeff, her death is not your fault," Bobby said. "The ambulance crew said there was no way you – "
"I could have helped that woman. I know I could have," Jeff said, as he wiped his eyes with his hands. "All I had to do was not cheat on my wife."
"You can't think like that, Jeff. And you certainly can't keep saying it. Unless you want to lose this case."
"I don't know if it matters anymore."
"What are you talking about?"
Jeff chuckled sadly. "Sheila left."
"What? When?"
"Yesterday. Took the kids, went to her parents' house in Philadelphia. Not like I blame her."
Bobby shook his head. "Look, Jeff, maybe you're right. Maybe you could have helped that woman. Maybe you shouldn't have given in to an urge. But that doesn't change the fact that Jenny Bailey had died in the ambulance. She was unresponsive, she had no pulse, and her heart had stopped twice before she was anywhere close to your hospital."
"Please don't talk to me like you're the hospital counsel, trying to cover your own ass."
"Then I guess I'll have to talk to you like we've been friends for fifteen years. Since that is the case." Bobby leaned forward. "Your insurance company will not want to pay seven million dollars. They won't want to pay a dime. You'll be lucky if they don't dump you outright, unless you win. So you need to accept that you aren't God, that bad things happen, and that you were not responsible for Jenny Bailey's death."
"No matter how guilty I feel about it," Jeff said.
Bobby sighed. "Then decide if you want to set a price to soothe your conscience, or if you'd rather fight."

Alan stood at the Bailey front door for six or seven minutes, deciding if he should knock. He was thinking about leaving. There wasn't any news, or settlement offer, or reason for him to be here. He could be at home, staring at something pornographic, or calling up his favorite escort service for an in-home delivery. He'd ask for Linda or Kristin or Jane, any one of them, in a skirt like Tara had been wearing. And they'd play word games, and she'd twirl for him. And then, Alan thought, come the delights.
But for some reason, he knew that by the time it was over, he'd be somewhere else, unable to truly indulge himself. That damn question Tara had asked him would still be ringing in his ears. Most likely, he'd be wishing that he had knocked on the door he was standing at right now. So he rapped his knuckles on the varnished oak veneer.
A nine-year old girl with suspicious eyes opened the door a crack. "Who are you?" she asked.
"My name is Alan Shore," he said. "Could I speak to your father?"
The door opened wider. Paul Bailey appeared on cue behind his daughter, a smaller girl in his arms. "Mr. Shore? Do you have news?"
"No. I just wanted see how you were. If you needed anything." Alan looked at the girl who had answered the door. She was still eyeballing him, but was clutching her father's pant leg.
"We're okay, Mr. Shore."
"Good." Alan caught a glimpse of cardboard boxes and bare walls. "I see you're doing some packing," he said.
"Yeah, the moving truck is coming Friday," Paul said, forcing the enthusiasm into his voice. "And then we're in our new place. It's smaller, but that's gonna be better for us." He tried to smile.
Alan nodded. "Are you going to be ready by then?"
"Yeah. My brother and his wife, they'll be here to help tomorrow. I've gotta go to Gwen's school and get her records and such in the morning, so she can get started as soon as possible at her new school." He squeezed the girl's shoulder a little.
"Wow, Gwen, a new school," Alan said to the girl. "How do you feel about that?"
"I hate it," she replied, with a trembling lower lip. "I don't want a new school. I don't want a new house." And then she ran into the house, up the stairs, and out of sight.
Alan shook his head. "I didn't mean to – "
"It's not your fault, Mr. Shore," Paul said. "I wish I could say what she said. But I can't." He rubbed his other daughter's back. "I have to put this one to bed. Thanks for dropping by," he said, closing the door.
"Good night, Mr. Bailey," Alan said, as the light from inside gave way to the darkness of the night. He turned on his heel, and headed down the stairs to his car. And just before he put his key into the ignition, he looked back at the house, and not only knew why he took this case, but why he had to win.