Jack Tells It
Jack McCoy was not by nature a patient man.
He had been uncharacteristically patient all afternoon, methodically dealing with each matter on his desk, reassigning Abbie Carmichael's cases, hurrying from arraignment to pre-trial conference to deposition and back. He had not rung the hospital. Colleen had passed a message that Ms Carmichael was doing okay, and that was all they'd heard.
Jack did not ring the hospital. He did not watch his phone in the expectation that it would ring. He did not look at the blood on his shirt-sleeve. He did, one after the other, everything that needed to be done at the office, and a few things that probably could have waited until tomorrow, until at 7pm Adam Schiff stuck his head in the door and said:
"Get the hell out of here, Jack, what are you trying to prove?"
And then Jack was done being patient. He grabbed his coat and hat and headed for the lift, jabbing the call button repeatedly until the car arrived. He almost ran across the lobby and out into the street, and if he hadn't got a cab in the first ten seconds there might have been murder done.
In the cab, drumming his fingers impatiently on his knee, he was trapped in idleness. He tried to remember the last case he'd been clearing off his desk before he left the office but his mind had left work matters the minute Arthur had pulled away his defence. The cab was taking him to the hospital, and it was to the hospital his mind turned.
Fighting it off for a couple of days, Abbie'd said through white lips. I should have noticed, Jack thought. She'd been pale yesterday – and the day before. I thought she was tired. We're both tired.
She skipped dinner last night, he remembered. They'd worked late, as usual, and at eight he'd looked up from the witness statement he was studying. "Chinese?" he asked.
"Not for me," Abbie said.
"Prefer something else?"
"I'll grab something later."
She'd looked pale and pinched. I thought she was tired. But she hadn't been tired, she'd been ill.
And this morning, when she got out of breath on the courthouse steps … He'd seen she was struggling, but it wasn't until she'd collapsed in the conference room he'd realised – he'd paid enough attention to realise – that her repeated denials were lies. She was not fine. She was a long way from it.
I should have pushed. I should have seen.
Jack had not had the chance – he had not given himself the chance – to remember those moments, but the enforced idleness of the cab let his mind wander …
"You coming?" Jack said impatiently.
"Yeah," Abbie said slowly. "I'll catch up."
"Abs, we're late already. What's the matter?"
"Sorry," Abbie mumbled. She swept the papers up and stood. McCoy stood in the doorway, hand on the doorhandle, the very epitome of important man in a hurry, of important man delayed by dilatory assistant. But the pose didn't have the effect of hurrying Abbie Carmichael along. She turned slowly towards him –
Her eyes were glassy, staring right through him, and she was deathly pale beneath her year-round tan. Jack took a step toward her as she swayed, and then dropped his briefcase and lunged forward as the folders slipped from Abbie's hands and her eyes rolled up and her knees buckled.
Jack caught her arm and pulled her against him before she could fall, then got his other arm around her waist. For a moment Abbie seemed to come back to herself, steadying, leaning against him, struggling to get her balance. They stood in an almost-embrace, Jack listening to Abbie's shaky breathing and feeling the weight of her body against his.
"Are you all right?' he asked at last. Abbie lifted her head as if to speak, and then her head tilted back and her eyes closed and she sagged limply in his grasp.
"Abbie!" Jack half-carried her back to her chair and as she began to come round again, lowered her to sit in it, bending her forward until her head rested on her knees. "Abbie, can you hear me? Abbie?"
She wasn't the first person to swoon in his conference room. He'd seen that pallor and slackness on the faces of over-wrought witnesses, defendants suddenly presented with uncontrovertible evidence of guilt, once a defence attorney realising his client was in fact guilty of the heinous murder of which he was accused. But Abbie hadn't been tossed any curve balls in today's conference. He touched the back of his fingers to her forehead and found her skin cold and clammy.
Get help. But he didn't want to leave her. Jesus, she's pale. And so cold!
Keep calm. Keep her calm. "Abbie." He used his most soothing voice, the one for fragile witnesses. "Abbie, can you hear me? Abbie. Abbie!"
He felt the normal living tension come back to her shoulders and breathed a sigh of relief. She moved, tried to sit up, and he stopped her. "Sit still. Sit still. Hush now." She looked crumpled and crushed in on herself, and McCoy impulsively smoothed his hand over her hair, as if he were someone who had the right to offer comfort to Abbie Carmichael, as if she were someone who had the right to expect comfort from Jack McCoy. She seemed to relax a little, and he ventured to rub her shoulders.
Jack could see the edge of her face, one closed eye, and could see the colour return a little. "Abbie, do you think that if I helped you, you could walk down the hall to my office?"
"Sure," she said.
"Why don't you sit up - slowly now – there you go. How do you feel?"
"I think I'm okay, Jack. I'm sorry – "
"Sshh," he told her. "Put your arm over my shoulder – there you go – I've got you – up you get."
She stood on her own for a second and then slumped against him. Jack held her up, wondering if he should simply carry her, wondering if he'd spent enough time in the gym this year to sweep her up in his arms, wondering how her dignity would take to a fireman's lift. Then she lifted her head from his shoulder and took a wobbly step forward.
He helped her from the room and into the corridor, looking around for someone he could send for help, and saw Briscoe and Curtis heading down the corridor toward them.
" Mr McCoy, we were coming to see you for the pre-trial on Tennati," Briscoe said, and then, concerned, to Carmichael "Hey, kiddo, you okay?"
"No, she isn't," Jack answered. "Can you ask Colleen to call an ambulance, please?"
"On it," Briscoe said, and turned back down the hall.
"I don't need –" Abbie started to say, her voice feeble.
"Don't argue," Jack said. He would take care of her in this rare moment of weakness, even if he had to fight her to do it. He didn't stop to consider his motivations. "It'll be alright."
"Here we go," Rey Curtis said, coming around to Abbie's other side and supporting her. "Let's get you lying down, Ms Carmichael."
They got almost to his office before Jack felt Abbie's head droop against his shoulder again. He tightened his grip as she started to fold up.
"I got her," he said to Curtis, and picked Abbie up in his arms and carried her the short distance to his office. Briscoe was there with Colleen Petraky, the DA's senior secretary. Briscoe jumped to open the door and Jack carried Abbie into his office and laid her on his couch.
"Ambulance is on the way," Briscoe said. "You gonna ride with her?"
"I can't, I'll have two case loads to manage." It was a legitimate reason: it made the decision for him. "Can you go with her?"
"Yeah, no problem. She's a good kid."
"She's not a kid, Lennie," Jack said.
"She looks bad, man," Curtis said.
Abbie did, indeed, look bad, wisps of hair clinging to her sweaty face, the only colour there the bluish shadows beneath her eyes. Jack got a blanket from the filing cabinet that he kept handy for nights when he worked too late to even pretend to go home and spread it over her, then pulled a chair over to the couch and sat.
Abbie opened her eyes.
"The ambulance is on its way," he told her.
"I'm coming down with the 'flu," Abbie said. Her voice was weak. She raised a trembling hand to brush her hair away from her face. Jack reached to do it for her, then took her hand in his own. "Or what you had. I don't need an ambulance. I thought I'd be alright for the day – I'm sorry – "
"You passed out twice in ten minutes," Jack said. "You're going to the hospital. Coming down with the 'flu, huh?"
"Fighting it off for a couple of days," Abbie said, and then gasped a little. " Jack – I think I'm gonna throw up –"
"Here." He grabbed the wastepaper bin and held it for her as she heaved herself up on her elbow and leaned over the edge of the couch. She threw up violently, shoulders heaving, and when the spasms finished she stayed slumped over the edge of the couch. Jack turned to put the wastepaper basket aside and saw that his cuff was spotted – spotted bright red. He looked in the basket and saw the discarded pages of a draft summation splashed in the same bright blood.
"Oh Jesus Christ," he said. "She's bleeding. We need that ambulance, Lennie, get it here, dammit! Abbie, can you hear me, Abbie?"
She moved a little, feebly, and he lifted her, cradled her against his shoulder. There was blood on her lips and chin. She blinked, slurred a word that he recognised as the name of a witness they were due to depose.
"I'll handle Tartosky. And your arraignments. Don't worry about your cases. The ambulance will be here soon. Briscoe, put a hurry up on the damn ambulance, will you?"
"I don't feel too good," Abbie confessed. Jack imagined he heard fear in her voice and felt his heart constrict.
"You've looked better, but you'll be okay." Jack said. He smoothed her hair away from her face. "Don't talk. Don't talk."
"They're in the lift," Briscoe said from the doorway.
"Listen, Lennie's going to go with you to the hospital, okay? Is there anyone you want me to call?"
"Got no one," she told him.
"Not true," Jack said soberly.
And now he was on his way to the hospital to find out if his promise had been true. The cab pulled up outside Mercy General and Jack flung a twenty at the driver with a curt "Keep the change" and bolted into the waiting room.
And there was Lennie Briscoe, sitting directly under the sign that said "Please Turn OFF Your Mobiles."
"Where is she? How is she?"
"She's in recovery. We can't see her yet. The doctor seemed to think things looked pretty good." Briscoe said.
"In recovery? She had surgery?" Jack said, sitting down beside Briscoe.
"Kinda, endo-something. She's got a stomach ulcer, and it's ruptured, and stuck a tube down her throat to sew it up or something."
"But she'll be OK?"
"They seem to think so. She lost a lot of blood, though. The doc said she'd probably been bleeding for a few days. Hey, here she is."
They both stood up as the doctor came towards them. "Are you Ms Carmichael's family?"
"Homicide," Briscoe said, and flashed his badge. At the doctor's raised eyebrows, Briscoe said: "So what can you tell us? Was she poisoned?"
"You think this is attempted homicide?" the doctor asked incredulously.
"We have to tick all the boxes when it's an ADA," Briscoe lied. "So tell us, what's the story?"
" Ms Carmichael had a peptic ulcer, which ruptured, causing internal bleeding," the doctor said. Jack though she looked to be about fifteen. "The bleeding had become quite severe before she presented to the ER and Ms Carmichael lost a lot of blood. Fortunately, we were able to stop the bleeding and transfuse her in time. At the moment she is in recovery. We don't anticipate any complications, and we expect her to make a complete recovery."
Jack realised how anxious he had been only when the doctor's words penetrated.
"Oh thank god," he said. "Thank god." He turned away from Briscoe and the doctor, hand to his face.
Briscoe gave him a moment, engaging the young doctor in small-talk, for which McCoy was grateful. When he mastered himself and turned back, Briscoe asked the doctor when they could see Carmichael.
"You can see her now," the doctor said. "But she's still coming out of the anaesthetic. She'll be pretty groggy."
"You go on," Briscoe said. "I'll call the office, let them know."
"Thanks, Lennie," Jack said. He followed the doctor down the hall.
Abbie was pretty groggy. Actually, Jack thought, she was totally off her face.
" Heyyyyy, Jack …." she said, her raspy voice even hoarser than it usually was. "… looking good … how ya doin'?"
"I'm okay, Abbie, how are you?" Jack said, coming to stand beside her bed.
"I'm pretty good," she said, and giggled.
"You're pretty stoned," Jack said, unable to keep from smiling at her.
"Yeah." She beckoned for him to come closer and when he leaned over, said in a hoarse stage whisper: "The drugs here are FABulous. Highly recommended."
"I'll bear it in mind." He smoothed her hair back, and she gave him a sleepy smile.
"That's nice. You're nice."
"Don't tell anyone," Jack said. "I have my reputation to protect."
"It'll be our secret. Shhhhhh." Abbie tried to raise her finger to her lips and nearly poked herself in the eye. Jack took her hand in his and lowered it gently back to her side.
"You won't remember a word of this tomorrow." Jack said.
"Then it'll be your secret."
"Your keen legal mind is always at work."
She frowned. "Am I really stoned?"
"You really are," Jack told her.
"Don't tell anyone. If I said anything dumb. Don't tell anyone."
"I won't," Jack promised.
"Not even me."
"Not even you," Jack said.
"That's what I love about you, Jack. You know when to keep a secret. Don't tell me I said that."
"That I know how to keep a secret?"
"That I love you. Don't tell me." Abbie's eyes suddenly filled with tears. "Don't tell me, please?"
"I won't," Jack said, and smoothed her hair again. "I promise. Now get some rest."
"Will you be here when I wake up?" she asked plaintively.
"If you want me to be," Jack said. He took her hand. "Go to sleep. You'll feel better when you wake up."
He watched as her eyelids fluttered closed and her breathing slowed. Her grip on his fingers eased as the slim tanned hand in his relaxed. Jack gently placed her hand back on the coverlet and pulled the visitors' chair a little closer to the bed, to where she'd see him if she woke.
He'd made a number of promises to Abbie Carmichael today, and Jack McCoy intended to keep all of them.
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