The Good You Just Forget
Notes: The characters are not mine and the story is! This is part of a current writing project of mine on Livejournal, a series of missing scenes from my story The Case of the Broken Ties. The majority of this one is a series of flashbacks concerning the season 3 episode The Case of Paul Drake's Dilemma, however, and I'm so pleased with it I decided to put it up here. It will go on Livejournal on the 21st, for that day's 31 Days writing prompt Locked Together and Pushing. If anyone is interested in reading the entire theme set of stories, please look up 31 Days on Livejournal. I'll be posting every day until the end of the month. For anyone who has read The Broken Ties, the framing scenes of this take place around the end of chapter 11 and the beginning of chapter 12.
Paul's mind was wandering as he searched the city for the missing Mr. Vann. While he was always keeping his eyes focused on the streets in case the treacherous man would suddenly appear, at the same time he was mostly on auto-pilot.
It was still dark outside, although it was morning. Paul had not managed to sleep at all at the hospital because of his overly active thoughts. They were continuing to bother him now.
Over and over he replayed the argument with Burger. Some things about it kept sticking. Hamilton had said he never wanted to prosecute Paul for murder several years ago. Paul had said that he knew Hamilton had not wanted to be there, but he had not known the reason.
Was that really true? Or had he simply refused to see the reason?
He gripped the steering wheel. The idea that he would deliberately push it away even if he had recognized it was deeply troubling. And he honestly was not sure what the truth was. He had been so upset and angry back then. Understandably, of course, since he had been arrested on suspicion of murder. But he had also felt bitter. He remembered that very well. When the police had first taken him, almost his first thought had been Burger is going to have a heyday with this.
Instead, Burger had mostly been serious, even somber. He had bristled somewhat during his interview with Paul before the hearing, but, Paul reflected, maybe that had been in response to Paul's own attitude.
Paul sighed to himself as his mind traveled once again over the past.
The door clanged open as Paul was brought into the interview room. Burger was already waiting. But instead of the gloating smirk Paul had fully expected, the district attorney looked sad.
"I never thought I'd see you in here like this, Drake."
It had been a long and frustrating night and Paul's head was still throbbing. He could not hold his tongue as he replied, "I thought you probably dreamed about this sort of thing all the time."
Burger's eyes flickered with something, guilt or hurt or perhaps a different emotion; Paul was uncertain. "Well, nevermind that," he mumbled. "Sit down, Paul." He waited until Paul complied and then sat across from him. "I read the arresting officer's report about what you told him."
"There's not much I can add to that," Paul grunted. "What I told him is what really happened."
"Paul, don't you know that the apartment manager saw no one come in or leave after you went up with Frank Thatcher?" Burger exclaimed.
"The police told me," Paul said, the edge slipping into his voice. "I can't help that. I know I didn't kill him!"
"It was your gun!" Burger countered. "The police even found powder marks on your hands!"
Paul slammed his hand on the table. "I know!" he snapped. "But that doesn't mean I'm guilty. You should know better than that by now, after all the frames Perry's clients have been up against."
Burger rocked back. "Paul, it doesn't matter what I think," he said. His voice had leveled now. "The evidence against you is more than enough to charge you with murder in the first degree. I can't stop that from happening, not unless I obstruct justice."
"And Heaven forbid you do anything like that," Paul muttered. He had not meant to say that, either. It just slipped out.
And he had hit a nerve. Burger stood now, pointing his forefinger at Paul. "Look here, Drake," he snarled. "I know you and Miss Street have an overwhelming loyalty to Perry, no matter what he does. But that doesn't make everything he does the right thing. Sometimes he bends the law to tip things in favor of his clients. And then he gets you into the act, too."
"Perry has nothing to do with this!" Paul retorted, his eyes flashing.
Burger took his briefcase off the table. "You're the one who brought him into it, Mr. Drake," he said.
Paul regretted his outbursts even as Burger turned and left the room. But he did not try to call the other man back or apologize. Instead he leaned over the table, running his hands into his hair.
He had never liked Burger, but he had kept it to himself. Perry had come to like him, for reasons unknown to Paul. Even Della sometimes acted as though she had a soft spot for Perry's rival.
. . . Maybe, although Paul had not thought about it before, he did as well. Burger amused him sometimes, at least.
He had never meant to lose his temper like he had now. That couldn't look good for him, especially in light of the fact that he had allegedly killed Thatcher in a fit of anger. Burger would probably really lay it on at the hearing. In fact, maybe Burger had deliberately tried to goad him into snapping, for that very purpose.
"Stupid," he berated himself. "How could I have been that stupid?"
He had calmed down by the time Perry arrived. He said nothing about the altercation between him and Burger, and if Perry knew, he did not ask.
But Paul continued to worry.
The hearing was a strange and surreal experience. Paul had so often been present while Perry had used his legal tricks to free innocent defendants from all walks of life. Now he was the innocent defendant. It was his life on the line.
Part of him was still sure that Burger was going to milk this for everything he could, particularly after their ill-fated encounter. He certainly seemed to be enjoying himself, for the most part.
But then, during the testimony of the hit-and-run victim's widow, he turned and looked at Paul with an indescribable expression. Regret and sorrow and agony were clearly among the foremost emotions.
Paul met his gaze for a moment before he had to look away. It was too uncomfortable, too unreal. He had never thought he would see Burger look like that, and over his fate, no less.
Paul received more than one of those looks before the hearing was over. And when Perry oh so casually spoke with the apartment manager and exposed the fact that really, he did not get along well with everyone, as he claimed, Paul was surprised when Burger did not object. Instead he seemed to be smiling, even enjoying watching Perry work. And when brief laughter echoed through the gallery as Perry's intent became clear, Burger seemed to be chuckling himself. Paul did not know what to make of it.
The day was grueling. But a weight was lifted from Paul's shoulders when Perry discovered the true murderer at long last and the hearing was adjourned. He rose from the defendant's table. "I never want to sit here again," he muttered.
Perry smiled, clapping Paul on the shoulder. "And you'd better never have to."
Paul looked at him. Perry had never even asked whether Paul had killed Frank Thatcher. Perry had always believed him fully from the beginning. And he knew Della had, too. He swallowed the lump in his throat. He had no intention of getting mushy right now.
"Thanks, Perry," he said quietly.
The look in his eyes said all that needed to be said. Perry smiled more. "Now there's just the matter of what you owe me," he said.
"Anything," Paul exclaimed. "Nothing's too good a price after this."
"Be careful, Paul," Della said in amusement. "You don't know what outrageous sum Perry will come up with."
"Oh, it's quite extravagant," Perry deadpanned. "How about lunch?"
Paul stared. "What?"
"We'll go out to lunch and you'll pick up the bill," Perry elaborated.
"That's all?" Paul could scarcely believe it.
"That's more than enough, considering the exceptional cuisine I have in mind," Perry said.
Paul shook his head, again overwhelmed. "Okay, if that's really what you want."
"I'll make the reservations," Perry said, heading through the gate.
Paul looked to Della. "Can you believe that?" he exclaimed.
"Yes," Della smiled. "I can." She gathered her materials. "Shall we go, now that you're a free man again?"
"A free man," Paul breathed in awe. "Those words have never sounded so good."
He jumped a mile at the new voice joining their conversation. Burger was approaching them now. Paul was uncertain whether to tense or relax. After the way Burger had acted during the hearing it seemed unlikely that he would make a smart remark now. On the other hand, maybe it was more likely, in a "Don't think you'll get away with it if this happens again" way.
Instead Burger held out his hand. "Well, I'm glad everything turned out this way," he said with what seemed to be a genuine smile. He quickly sobered. "I'm sorry I had to prosecute you. And I don't want to see you turn up as the defendant again."
Paul hesitated, but finally, slowly, accepted the handshake. "Yeah. And don't worry," he added, as Della looked on. "I won't."
Hamilton was not alone as he searched for Lieutenant Tragg, who had vanished from the hospital sometime that night. And Paul, who was not answering his phone, now seemed to be missing as well. Della had insisted on accompanying Hamilton during the dual search. Hamilton was grateful for the pleasant company, in spite of his concern over Della ending up hurt. But his mind was wandering.
He started and glanced over as Della spoke. "Yes?" He looked awkward. "I'm sorry; I wasn't paying attention."
"Oh, I didn't say anything else," Della said. "I just wondered if you're feeling alright."
Alright was the farthest thing from what he felt. But even though Della had offered her friendship last night, Hamilton did not want to burden her with his problems. Especially when she did not remember. "I'm fine, Miss Street," he answered.
He, like Paul, had been turning their argument over and over in his mind. It was not the first time they had wound up in a confrontation; the memory of the disastrous interview attempt when Paul had been arrested had been the first.
He should have been able to control his feelings better, he supposed. He had been worried, but that had not helped Paul any. It had only been a catalyst for Paul's temper to bend and break. And then Hamilton himself had grown upset when Paul had implied a comparison between him and Perry. Knowing he could not hope to have a decent interview with Paul right then, he had taken his briefcase and left.
Emotions had been running high, and ordinarily he would have excused the whole matter as something not even really meant. But he had sensed for a long time that Paul did not like him. Their altercation only served to cement that idea in his mind. True, Paul likely would not have said anything if he had not been pushed to his breaking point, but what he had said had almost certainly been his genuine feelings.
Hamilton had been sincerely distressed at having to prosecute Paul. He had tried to convey his regret, but he'd had no idea whether Paul had understood. All he had been able to glean from Paul's silent response to his glances was that Paul had been uncomfortable. He had only met Hamilton's gaze for a moment before looking away. Although then he had turned back, perhaps not wanting to be rude, perhaps for some other reason.
Neither of them had ever mentioned the negative interview again, Paul for who knew why and Hamilton because he had seen no point in stirring the waters.
What he had done was to go to Paul when the hearing was over and express relief that everything had worked out. Paul had nodded and a few words were exchanged. But nothing much changed afterwards. They still rarely ever interacted, unless forced to.
That was how it had happened now, as well. Thrown into this mess together, they were pushing with all their might to get out.
And luckily, some people were listening.
What about when it was all over, though? Would everything slip back the way it was, just as it had after Paul's release from jail?
Hamilton had no real reason to believe it would not. They had called a truce, but that would come to an end. He could not imagine it lasting beyond the close of this disaster. They would go their separate ways and soon the tension would be felt once more.
The thought left him more sad and weary than he already was.
He pushed it aside. There were other things to think about now, such as finding both Paul and Tragg.
And helping Tragg and Della and everyone else to remember the truth.
It was starting to grow light by now. There was no sign of Mr. Vann. And Paul was only feeling worse, not just about that, but about that argument in the hospital.
He had never apologized for the clash in jail those years back. Oh, he had thought about it and wondered if he needed to, but things seemed to go along as usual after he was cleared. Burger had not appeared affected. Paul had decided it was better to just let it drop, especially since the relationship between them had never been good. If Burger did not care, there was no point in stirring it up.
Now, in light of what Hamilton had said tonight, everything was taking on a new light. What if he had said those things at the jail not because he had tried to bait Paul into losing his temper, but because he had been agonized and upset over how bad it looked for Paul? Maybe he had not been able to contain his worry.
Of course he had not wanted to prosecute Paul. It had all been so obvious, especially at the hearing. He had believed in Paul's innocence, too. And regardless, as he had told Paul tonight, he had thought of Paul as a friend. If only Paul had looked at the situation with a clearer mind, he would have seen it—just as he was finally seeing it now. The explanation was not that Paul had seen and refused to believe. He had seen but had interpreted it differently, because he could not believe.
"Stupid," he said aloud, just as he had scolded himself in the jail. "How could I have been that stupid?"