"Don't you ever go home, McCoy?" Lennie quipped as the lean figure approached the open office door. Van Buren was gathering up her things, preparing to return home later than usual, since she had been debating with the chief of police on the phone for an hour over the case. Jack was without his usual charm as he replied, "I need to talk to you about the Vin Dissel case."
"Look, the chief of police just spent an hour telling us to drop it," Anita intervened. "I'm not one to back down under pressure, McCoy, but I gotta tell you, this could get ugly real fast." The strength of her voice only compounded the emotion in her features, normally so complacent. Anita was one of the most remarkable women he had known, despite their rocky beginning. Jack had been forced to put her on trial shortly after their first meeting, but the months that had lapsed since had given her cause to respect him. He looked warily at her a moment, and then said, "I know, and I'm ready to assume the full responsibility."
"And when Schiff comes down on you?"
"It wouldn't be the first time."
They shared a knowing glance and she purposefully picked up her things, sliding the strap of her purse over one shoulder and leaving them to a slowly emptying precinct. The night shift had come on and most were working quietly behind their desks. Logan had gone home, and Jack assumed his chair behind the desk facing Lennie, so they might talk. "Danielle Melenick hinted this afternoon that we might want to look into Elaine Vin Dissel's history, rather than that of her husband," he said. "Did you do any follow-up on her at all?"
"Nothing beyond the usual. Her coworkers love her, and the servants have never said anything bad about her."
"Look into the financials, and see if she has paid anyone off. In the meantime, let me see the file."
It was passed into his outstretched hand, and for the next several hours Jack read every line of the police reports, the interviews, the witness testimonies, the detectives' observations. Lennie was more proficient in record keeping than he anticipated, and he barely noticed the cups of coffee that came and went, the dimming of the lights, the strain on his eyes. When he finally did look up, it was past two in the morning and he was one of a handful of people left. He spoke briefly with the officer on duty and returned home.
Claire was surprised to find him on her doorstep the next morning, eager to confide what he had learned from the files. One or two witnesses were reluctant to speak to the detectives, but their statements had held inconsistencies so mild that an initial investigation had overlooked it. She was not surprised when mid-afternoon, Lennie Briscoe turned up on their doorstep. "You were right, McCoy," he said before he was halfway in the door. Jack looked up from his lunch and the brief he was reading, his sleeves rolled up and tie askew. "We looked into Mrs. Vin Dissel's records and she has had several complaints against her by former coworkers, accusing her of violent behavior. They were never fully prosecuted because the victims suddenly decided not to press charges. I wouldn't be real surprised to learn money changed hands. We talked to the housekeeper and after some encouragement she confided that the kid had been slapped around a bit. Supposedly, the banister railing where they had the work done was broken when Mrs. Vin Dissel pushed her daughter down a flight of stairs."
The attorneys shared lingering glances across the desk.
"I trust you've arrested her."
"Half an hour ago. She's in the precinct screaming for her lawyer. I thought you should have the head's up before her husband calls your boss."
Jack made a slight face and pushed back in his chair. "I appreciate that," he said. Lennie nodded and vanished down the hall, exchanging greetings with one or two of the prosecutors he knew from the building. Claire closed the law book open on her lap and watched as Jack ran his hands over his face, a gesture that revealed how tired he was.
"When was the last time you got any sleep, McCoy?" she inquired.
He smiled. "You might want to vanish for an hour down to arraignment court. Adam is going to walk through that door any second." He looked at her, noting her poise as she got up off the couch. She dropped the book on the desk, onto a stack of hearing notifications, and replied, "It was my case as much as yours. I'm staying. What do you plan to do about her?"
"Prosecute her for child abuse and endangerment. Her actions lead directly to her daughter's death. I might not be able to nail her for negligent homicide, but she's not going to get away with it, no matter how many campaign contributions her husband makes."
The door edged open and Jack rose to his feet as a familiar head peered inside. Adam leaned against the doorjamb, his fedora still crooked on his brow. He had been on his way to lunch. He looked at them both long and hard, then managed, "She was beating on her daughter?"
"So it seems."
Adam shook his head. "A kid is dead because her mother hit her, and a do-gooder thought he would 'rescue' her by taking her life. What a mess. Call Melenick, offer her a plea." He appraised their astonished expressions, clicked his tongue in disapproval, and vanished down the hall on his lunch hour. Claire sat down on the desk, finding her legs would no longer support her, and said, "Adam must be going soft in his old age."
Jack started putting papers into his business case. "He's a parent," he said. "He looks at those photographs of Samantha Vin Dissel and sees the face of his granddaughter." Glancing up, he found Claire watching him perceptively.
"When you looked at those photos," she said, "did you see your daughter's face?"
She didn't really expect an answer, for it was rare that they tread this deep. Jack's hand fell to the desk and for a moment he avoided looking at her. Then he felt for the straps on the case and said, in a voice that remained soft but unwavering, "Yes. Every time I see a young woman's picture, every time I hear a rape or molestation case, every time I am forced to wallow in the gruesome details of the absolute evil that runs rampant in our society, I think about my daughter. That's why I do this job, because I want the parents of these children to have some justification, a belief that though the system might be flawed, it will bring about ultimate justice for their loss."
Claire had never been a parent, but she sensed the powerful affection that rippled through that statement, a fatherly need to control some aspect of the world in which his daughter lived, to prevent her from meeting the same felon on the streets that he cross-examined in the courtroom.
"Grantlund may not be insane," he said, "but his justification won't hold up in court, and Danielle will take a plea. After that, this evening, I will take you out to dinner."
He did, and it was quite a different aura between them as they spoke of everything except work, deliberately avoiding the mundane details of their caseload. Claire walked with him down the narrow hall to her apartment, the lights burning low and the sound of her neighbor's television barely audible through the walls. She unlocked the door and looked at him. Jack almost accepted her unspoken invitation, but then said, "Good night, Claire," and walked away down the hall.
Entering the darkened room as he left, she flipped on the near lamp and dropped her things onto the couch. Standing there a moment, she found her ambition would not be dampened and returned to the door, drawing it open just as he lifted his hand to knock. He crossed the threshold impulsively and took her into his arms. The door swung closed behind them and she felt its smoothness against her back as he pressed her against it. His long fingertips caressed the side of her face. She was overwhelmed by his scent, the same slight smell of aftershave that captivated her in the office, by the feel of his gentle arms around her, by the taste of the wine on his lips as they lowered to hers. She responded desperately to him, drawing him against her.
Though he loathed letting her go, Jack softly pulled away. She ran a hand through her hair, and watched as he reached for the doorknob. "See you in the morning," he said mischievously.
And vanished into the hall.