GUNFIRE

It came out of nowhere, the spray of gunfire and spatter of blood. Screams filled the arraignment court as the guard leapt forward, wrestling with the woman holding the gun. Most of the onlookers had dove to the floor, but it happened so suddenly that Claire barely had time to react. Blood covered her face and shoulder, staining her blouse. She stared in horror at the suspect lying dead on the floor. It had been a simple bail hearing, and now was a newly formed murder charge.

The shooter was subdued, screaming and cursing at the man who had killed her daughter. The courtroom was filled with insensible voices; the judge demanding to know how this had happened; the witnesses chattering excitedly amongst themselves. The secretary had abandoned her notation devise and come to ascertain if Claire was all right. She pushed away the woman's assistance and left the courtroom. Her footsteps were even and precise, unlike the frantic pounding of her heart. Her hand trembled as it pushed open the door to the ladies' room. It was empty, and she faced the mirror. Putting her brief case down, she wetted a paper towel and began to dab off the blood, pausing to look at the first stain that appeared on the damp napkin.

Gripping the edge of the sink, she stared at her reflection. It was quiet, only the sound of the central heating system softly filling the background. The hall beyond was full of tramping feet, quickened voices, the news spreading through all that worked in the building. She wiped her face and squeezed the excess water into the sink. It swirled around the drain in a pink haze. The door behind her edged open and she glanced up, seeing a familiar face peer around the door.

When he saw she was alone, Jack entered and came to her. "I was on my way to Adam's office when I heard what happened," he said with concern. His hands were warm against her shoulders. There was worry in his chocolate eyes, the same eyes that could grow cold when facing a suspect or twinkle with laughter when he was in good humor. The same eyes that often looked across the pillow at her. She had never seen them so full of anxiety, so utterly expressive of his thoughts. He was relieved to find her in one piece, had come immediately when the clerk stopped him in the hall, knowing he would want to be informed. Everyone knew he worked with Kincaid. Few knew it was a relationship built on more than respect.

"I'm all right," she said before he could ask.

Jack knew her resolve: that she refused to be shaken by things. He didn't stop her when she pulled away and went back to silently dabbing the blood staining her favorite blouse.

"How did the Grand Jury go?"

He marveled at the tone of her voice, how it maintained complete calm.

"They said we have enough evidence to go to trial, not that it will do us much good now. As much as I appreciate being prevented from contending with a rape-homicide, there is no excuse for spraying a courtroom with gunfire."

Claire tucked a stray strand of hair behind her ear and gripped the edge of the sink, feeling as though her knees were going to give out. She was starting to remember now, how she had been addressing the judge; how her hand rested on the legal pages before her; how opposing council had been arguing bail terms. Then had come a violent popping sound, screams, blood.

She felt Jack's hand on her back, barely aware of when the door opened and a trainee stepped inside. One sharp glance from Jack sent her scampering out again.

"I'll take you home," he said softly.

"I have two more arraignments this afternoon."

"I rarely exercise my authority as your superior, Claire, but you are going home." He picked up her briefcase and handed it to her. Claire was relieved to have someone else making the decisions. She tried to repress her emotions as she walked with him down the hall, avoiding the lingering stares that followed her bloodstained form. Jack hailed a cab on the courthouse steps and entered with her. Only when they pulled away did his hand slip into hers. It pulled free again when they reached her apartment building, but he followed her up the stairs and into her flat.

Everything was immaculate. Claire was meticulous in her housekeeping. She dropped her keys into the dish on the side table and removed her jacket. Though she knew it was futile, she took it into the laundry room to soak it. She sensed Jack watching from the doorway as she scrubbed with increasingly more frantic motions. He came up behind her, watching as she slowly stopped. Rubbing her eyebrow with her wrist, Claire turned and placed her arms around his neck, leaning against him. He held her in silence. In the street below, they could hear passing taxis and the sound of children in the corner park laughing as they jumped rope.

With one hand firm on her back, Jack reached out with the other and fingered the stained jacket. Claire felt the movement and turned her head to watch, bringing her arms down to encircle his waist.

Neither spoke. They didn't have to.