A/N – At long last, here we are, dear readers. Sorry for the extremely long delay – out of town + writer's block no story update. I couldn't figure out how, exactly, I wanted to pull Carver in (enigma that he is) but now I think I've done it (hope I've done it, that is). Enjoy the conclusion and THANK YOU for being the best and most supportive readers EVER! You rock!

We have seen examples of unseen hands steering and guiding the fate of people who are unknowingly bound together. We have seen the power of a simple meeting, a statement casually spoken, and of a collision of events that at first glance appear merely coincidental or random. We have seen these things – I have explained these things to you in easy terms – and yet you don't believe me, dear reader. In a city with a population as large as New York, you find it hard to believe that the same few people can interact so many times before they actually meet. And yet, this only goes to prove a larger point: there are no strangers, only people who steer us on our way throughout the journey of our lives.

So now I must give one final example to make you a believer, once and for all. I must make it a good example or else you will continue to believe in coincidence, in the ideals of chance. I shall tell you the following:

A young lawyer strides into his legal aid office first thing on a Wednesday morning in March and hangs his coat on a nearby hook. He is slight of build (though his body will undoubtedly thicken as he ages) with a serious face and earnest look about him. His manner is all-business and very deliberate, as though he contemplates each and every solitary action before making a move, weighing every possible outcome in his mind. He is almost robotic in his methodical approach to his morning, moving through his routine with careful and practiced ease as he glances through the stack of memos and papers on his neat desk and checks his calendar for the day.

His office is sparsely furnished but one gets the idea that it is not merely because of the lack of revenue that flows through an office that specializes in giving legal assistance to those without means to afford it, but rather because the young lawyer in question is not one to be bothered with such trivial matters as decoration. His diploma from law school hangs prominently on a wall and on his desk are two photographs in plain wooden frames, one showing a very pretty woman with dark skin and delicate features and the other showing a group of young men in choir robes (including the lawyer), mugging for the camera. Nothing else about the office suggests that it is inhabited by anyone, much less a lawyer who is in love and can sing (as the three framed items attest).

Yet when his phone rings, the jangling noise breaking his quiet reverie, and he speaks a quiet, "Hello" into the receiver, it is easy to believe that he can, indeed, sing. His voice emerges as a rich baritone, a surprise since the slightness of his body combined with his youthful face suggests a reedy tenor, not the deep and full sounds that echo from deep within his chest.

"Ron, it's Larry Masters," says the voice on the other end, a voice tinged with that full-mouthed accent that is unique to the city of New York. "I've got a case I want you to take a look at."

"That may be difficult, Larry," is Ron's response. "I've got six cases too many right now."

"Trust me, you can handle this one," Larry haggles. "It's a slam dunk – young man was in the wrong place at the wrong time."

"I hardly think that I would refer to that as a 'slam dunk'," Ron says dryly, tone still mild and unperturbed.

"There are a dozen other suspects that are more likely to have done it than this guy, Ron," Larry responds patiently. "He's just a kid – only turned eighteen last week – and he's going to spend the best years of his life in prison if he doesn't get help. He can't afford a lawyer." A pause and then: "He needs someone like you."

"Then I'm afraid that you'll have to find someone like me," Ron shakes his head, "because I simply can't take the case."

"Ron, I'll level with you," Larry's voice lowers conspiratorially. "He's a black kid who was arrested by white cops in a white neighborhood. They'll convict him on race alone if you don't do something."

"I'm certain there are other black attorneys in the city capable of helping him," Ron replies through gritted teeth. He is becoming annoyed now.

"I know, I know," Larry backs down, tone apologetic. "Look, I don't want to pull the race card but that doesn't mean that the prosecutor won't. Can't you just meet with the kid? Hear his side of things and then decide whether or not to take it."

"Larry, I really can't…" Ron begins to say with more force in his voice, but is cut off.
"Ron," Larry pleads one more time, the word hanging in the air between them until the attorney swallows it in a sigh and says: "Fine. When and where?"

We won't bother with the details here, reader, because I think a discerning mind such as yours can figure out what happened next, and thus a summary will suffice. After all, from what you've seen of young Ron in this brief early description you can easily intuit that he made room on his immaculate desk for one more case file, that he met the young man and believed his side of the story, and that his sense of idealism and his well-organized mind helped him win the case. Thus, the only pertinent piece of information for you to know – a piece of crucial information that may surprise you and that certainly changes the outcome of this chain of events – is that the young man was, in fact, guilty of the crime of which he'd been accused.

Something in Ron changed on the day that the innocent verdict was read, something that would sharpen his already keen sense of morality and that would ultimately bring him to leave behind the noble realm of legal aid. In the eyes of his client (a young man whose name is immaterial, but who still plays a crucial role in the fabric of our story), young Ron could see the gleam of victory and the eagerness for another taste of lawlessness without repercussion. The young man would commit more crimes and Ron felt as though he had single-handedly given him permission to do so.

The feeling left a bitter taste in his mouth.

The prosecutor who opposed Ron on the case was a seasoned veteran named Adam Schiff, a man who would later go on to become the Manhattan District Attorney and who recognized a certain tenacity in his opponent that would put him in good stead were he to change sides of the courtroom. It was at Schiff's suggestion that Ron did just that.

No doubt, reader, you've leapt ahead in your mind and written the end of this tale based on the information you've just read. You've placed Ron Carver on the fast track to becoming an Assistant District Attorney assigned to the Major Case Squad and put him on a first name basis with New York City's top lawyers and judges as well as the mayor and other top political minds. And yet you seem to forget that the road to the top is long and winding and most people don't get there without a nudge from someone else.

In Ron's situation, his ascent to the top was sealed by one particular case that he prosecuted: the case of a patrol officer shot and killed by a motorist during a routine traffic stop in Rockaway Beach. The details of the case were complicated, as the only witness was the officer's partner and he had been in the car speaking to their dispatcher on the radio when the shooting occurred. The incident had happened so quickly and unexpectedly that neither officer had time to react, not Officer Doolin as he fell to the ground and not his partner, Officer Mankowicz as he rattled off a hasty call for help and rushed forward to aid his fallen friend. And yet in the melee, Mankowicz managed to get the license number of the shooter's vehicle as he drove off with squealing tires and a cloud of exhaust – a number that later traced back to the very man whom Ron Carver had helped back in his legal aid days, the man who had (as Ron had feared) returned to a life of crime and was now a cop killer.

And so it was a rather cruel piece of irony as prosecutor Ron Carver faced his former client in the courtroom, outlining with painstaking detail how the known events of that day that had led to the fateful traffic stop and fatal end for Officer Doolin. In his rich baritone voice he told the jury of the past criminal record of the accused and of the erratic driving maneuver that had led to the traffic stop when the accused ran a stop sign and sent an older model BMW careening off the road and through two suburban lawns before the driver was able to right the car. The BMW did not stop and because neither Doolin nor Mankowicz got the license plate number, the driver was unavailable as a prosecution witness. As the years following the case piled on top of each other, Ron Carver even began to forget that their had been a BMW and an unknown driver, so shocking was the death of Doolin – a death made more upsetting when it was revealed that the accused had shot Doolin over a mere gram of cocaine in his possession that he had feared the officer would find.

During the trial, Ron used his deep baritone voiceto tellthe jury of Officer Doolin's outstanding record with the NYPD, of his commendations and his stellar reputation. He painted a picture of a man who wanted nothing more than to put things right in his little corner of the city and of a man who loved his family and his wife of only a short time. Yet in a deferential bit of strategy that demonstrated his respect for Officer Doolin's widow and his well-concealed but certainly generous heart, Ron never indicated her presence in the courtroom to the jury, though the sight of her pale and stricken face would have sealed a guilty verdict from the beginning. He acknowledged her presence every morning, though, upon passing her in the back row of the courtroom, giving a nod and slow blink to affirm that he was doing everything in his power to give her justice and closure. Still, they never spoke – not even when Doolin's killer was sentenced to twenty-five to life with no possibility of parole, sealing Ron Carver's ascent to the upper echelons of the New York City legal system.

The name of the guilty man is still immaterial, as he was merely a catalyst in a chain of events that may well have played out with another character had he not made the choices that he did. Yet the identity of Doolin's widow is certainly important, as she and Ron Carver were not introduced officially until the day that she joined the Major Case squad, having made detective first grade and transferring up from Vice to be partnered with Detective Bobby Goren, New York City's answer to Sherlock Holmes. But Dr. Watson was someone whom Alexandra Eames would never be and Ron Carver knew that the moment she took the hand he offered, shook it firmly with a dry palm, and said:

"I look forward to working with you, Mr. Carver."

Her eyes locked on his as she spoke the words, her gaze unwavering and showing only the barest indication that she recognized him (though it was there, a glimmer of what they had shared during those weeks in the courtroom). And in a way, he supposed that they really had nothing in common in their past except for a shared tragedy – hers in losing her husband and his in letting the man who would become her husband's killer free in the first place. He certainly could not feel guilty for playing any sort of role in Officer Doolin's death – after all, he had not put the gun in the man's hand, nor pulled the trigger – but it was never far from his mind that if he had lost that long ago case Doolin might never have had to make that traffic stop. Thus, Ron Carverwas left toassuage some of his lingering guilt with the knowledge that he had somehow righted a wrongwhen he hadbrought the man whom he had freed in his legal aid days to justice at last. And working with Alex Eames would also ease any pity that he might be tempted to feel, as Ron discovered her to be strong and more than able to hold her own in the detectives' bullpen.

And if Bobby Goren ever wondered why Ron Carver was often so quick to take Alex's side if they argued or if he ever noticed the assistant district attorney giving his partner a slight touch on the arm to guide her through a door or just to reassure her, he never said anything. Or if the keen detective ever noticed Alex giving Ron a nod of understanding or agreeing with the attorney instead of backing his play, he never gave any indication that he thought there was history between the two. Rather, he focused his encyclopedia-like mind on their current caseload and continued to place unwavering trust in Alex, relying on her to balance and stabilize his sometimes erratic crimesolving techniques.

Thus, dear reader, I have presented you with four cases of people whose lives have been intertwined long before they knew and whose courses have been steered by incidents that appear at first glance to be accidental, to be unrelated and based on chance. I hope that you now recognize the truth – that chance is simply the name we give to events that occur seemingly randomly but that later prove to be life-altering and that strangers are, in fact, people that are placed in our lives for a specific purpose. Some become friends, some become family, and some fade from our consciousness after their purpose is fulfilled.

Yet just because people fade does not mean that they will not reappear later. Want a last example of this before we conclude our tale? Remember the unknown BMW driver who could not be found after Officer Doolin's shooting? He certainly played a role in the lives of Ron Carver and Alex Eames – and later he became a significant player in the life of Alex's partner.

The driver's name was Dr. Daniel Croydon and his name would linger in the mind of Bobby Goren for the rest of his life. But that's a story that you probably already know, dear reader, and its retelling is best saved for a different day.

Meanwhile,another butterfly flaps its wings in South America…

FIN