Hey, I've finally updated! Dana's pretty sure her life is a cosmic joke.

Un-beta'ed, so quibble away.

- o – o -

Chapter ten: Just An Ordinary Day

Dana Thompson was good at ignoring things that bothered her. It was how she'd made her way through the first few months of Vince's "death". It was also how she'd been able to smile every time she went into work and had to smile through Travis trying to flirt with her (while she'd still been grieving, no less).

All of that practice was now going into ignoring the fact that members of the Longshoreman's Union were now following her around.

She didn't want to know why they were following her, but did. The public defender had discovered that, over the past few days, every single dockworker in Palm City was loyal to Scales. All of the character witnesses she'd been collecting in case things proceeded to trial had one story or another about how generous he'd been to them, or how he'd been willing to work alongside them to discover if their complaints about working conditions had any merit. The smuggler was loyal to his men, and to his public profession. (Dana wondered why he'd never run for a political office; if half the stories she'd heard were true, the man would have had the vote of every single person who worked on the docks or was closely related to someone who did.)

Dana sighed as she caught sight of one of her shadows. This one was about fifteen (or at least looked it; some people got all the luck in the genetic lottery), and looked skittish. Dana couldn't blame him—working for Scales must have been terrifying. She was getting used to him, but… There were still some things that worried her. Like his tendency towards violence, or at least threats of violence. (His press conference had made it sound like he'd only ever learned how to use violence to get what he wanted, but his employees had another story entirely.)

"Do you want some coffee?" Dana asked, turning around to face her shadow. He'd been trying to look unobtrusive as he thumbed through a rack of magazines. Tried being the operative word; Dana had yet to meet any man, straight or otherwise, who would willingly read People magazine without making snide comments.

"Umm….yes?" he replied, chewing his lower lip. Dana rolled her eyes and got another cup of coffee from the barista.

"Stop trying to be sneaky," the public defender advised. "You're not good at it." With that, she walked away, sipping her coffee and thumbing through reports. Her shadow opted to walk beside her, pretending to be interested in his coffee. Dana made great strides in pretending that she didn't know the bulge on his back under his coat was an automatic.

It just wasn't worth the headaches.

- o – o -

Dana hated organizing paperwork. Sure, she only had one caseload to work through, but considering who she was defending… The public defender sighed and resisted the urge to throw the lot into her waste bin. For one thing, she'd spent too much time pulling every shred of data she could find out of whatever sources she could get. For another, she had too much invested in this case.

After her revelation earlier that week, Dana had decided that getting Scales out was her first—and probably only—option for making ARK suffer. If she could get enough evidence together, she could, hopefully, be able to build a case against them. Fraud was probably her best bet, although suing them for emotional damages would work too. (She probably wasn't going to be able to get Fleming for duping her into signing the divorce papers, since she'd done that out of her own free will.)

The public defender sifted through her pile of references, looking for one piece in particular—the statements from the arresting officers. She had, as far as she knew, one chance to get everything thrown out as circumstantial evidence. It rankled her that she had to help a criminal, but—as she'd become aware—Dominic was starting to grow on her. If only, she thought morosely, he'd act more like the villainous scumbag the papers had always made him out to be…

Of course, life was never that easy… Dana jumped as her phone rang. She checked the caller ID and wondered what had happened this time.

"Mrs. Debolt," she said pleasantly, forcing a smile into her voice. "How can I help you?"

Dana hung up five minutes later and wondered why her life had to be so complicated. It was probably some cosmic joke, wasn't it…?

- o – o -

Trip sat on the bench outside school, pressing the bag of ice to his face. Four kids—three girls, one boy (who didn't count because he was in kindergarten)—sat on the bench with him. Their mother, a scary lady with bright red hair, was busy yelling at a bus driver and the crossing guard. Both of them looked like they were about to cry. Trip didn't think that was a bad thing. His split lip and bruised shins didn't think so either.

He'd been waiting outside school for his mom to come get him, when three older boys had jumped him. Trip didn't know what their problem was. His dad had been proven innocent. (The ten-year-old did have to wonder why no one had looked up his dad's service record, though. He thought it should have been more obvious.) Trip was a pretty good fighter, but that was only in one-on-one against the boxing coach at school, who pulled his punches.

The boy had been waiting for them to get bored when she appeared, four children in tow. Mrs. Kaczanowiczk had scared all three boys off and handed Trip the bag of ice. Trip blushed red in humiliation as she called him sweetie and sat him down on the bus stop's bench before heading over to harangue the bus driver who'd been waiting for more students, and the crossing guard, both of whom had stood by, ignoring the kid getting beaten up right in front of them.

Trip knew that, even with his dad's innocence being proven, people still hated his family. At least they hadn't broken anything this time…

His day got worse when Mrs. Debolt came out and began speaking to the red-headed woman who'd saved him. Trip gulped nervously when his teacher pulled out her cell phone and called his mother.

He was so dead.

- o – o -

Dana had given up trying to get rid of the Longshoreman's Union's presence in her life. She had the younger members following her around, and now their temporary leader had his wife looking after Trip. There was no way to escape them. Scales had been surprised when she'd told him about her shadows. It was news to him.

(And really, Dana could believe that. Somehow.)

She sighed and stared at her reflection in the mirror. "Dana, your life is a cosmic joke." The woman reached for her lipstick, looked at it, and sighed. The shade was too dark for a casual dinner with friends, so she put it back. The pink was discarded due to the sparkles. She had to hide a smile as she recalled the occasion it had been purchased for; if she liked Peter Fleming a little more, or her ex-husband a hell of a lot less, she'd have pulled the photo albums out and shared the pictures. (She had never given up the pictures of the Palm City Police Department's Cross-dress Ball. It had been a charity event for a youth group. Vince had looked stunning the backless black evening gown and bright pink lipstick. Marty had never let him live the look down.)

The public defender finally settled on lip gloss and pulled her hair back into a loose ponytail. It was pizza and soda with Kia and Kia's boyfriend. There was nothing fancy about it. Just a dinner with friends, and no children. (Philips was apparently a softie who let his nieces and nephews stay over if they were in Palm City, which was apparently all the time. At least their parents paid out for their spawns' visits, or Kia would have complained to Dana about it.)

When the doorbell rang, Dana jumped a little. She answered the door and smiled at the two people standing there.

"Hey guys," Dana said cheerfully, pulling Kia into a hug. She looked at Philips, wondering what had him so quiet. According to Kia, getting him to shut up was the trick.

He had an odd look on his face, and looked like he was about to start gaping. Dana turned to look at what he was staring at, and frowned. It was just a picture of her husband goofing off, taken several Halloweens ago.

Why, then, did the man look like he'd just seen a ghost?

-o – o -

So, what did you think? Good? Bad? Think Dana needs to catch a break? Drop a line and let me know!