Have rewritten this chapter to add a prelude. If you like Johanna, this is your introduction.
"Mom, you can't keep doing this to me," he groans, face-palming under the support of his elbow on the kitchen table. He can feel it ruffle his fringe too, no doubt making him look even more unkempt which probably isn't going to help his case any. But hey, he only woke up half an hour ago.
He's gotten used to the prickly feeling against his palm, almost sad to see it go. He hadn't shaved the three days before he got on the plane at LAX. He wanted them to see he was a grown up. Hell, he was flying home from his established life in his dorm to spend the holiday with his family. That was as grown up as you could get – well until you got yourself a mortgage, a marriage and some kids.
Well, that might have been reading into it a little too far. The real reason was probably a lot more like laziness, but his laziness had grown on him.
His father had taken one look at him coming through the arrivals terminal, duffel bag in hand and shook his head. When he escaped his mother's arms, his father had pulled him in for a hug and whispered, "She's not going to like that."
He was right. His mother didn't like his scruff but at least his father had sounded sympathetic the first time the order to shave was given. Sympathetic like man to man - putting up with a female must be a rite of passage.
"It's Christmas dinner, Richard."
"So what? Jesus had a beard."
She clips him around the back of the head. "Not when he was born, hotshot," she smirks. "Besides I'd hardly call those whiskers a beard."
"Watch it," he exclaims, hands to his cheeks protectively. "They have feelings."
"What, all two of them?"
"Jo," his father chides from the other side of the beaten pine table. "How many times have I said you can't come between a man and his beard?"
"On the first of December every year."
His father's face grows speculative, his hand feathering its way along his jaw almost absently as if it was still remembering the recent nudity it had been subjected to. Richard had seen the photo – his father didn't suit a beard; it was just as well his mother had made him shave it off. Movember. Jim Beckett got into the spirit like an elf on eggnog; he couldn't go for the dignified iron look, but the soup catcher version. As proud owner of a week old beard, he felt he had the right to say going that far was just wrong.
"And how many years have we been together now?" Jim questions, obviously recalling the injury. "Facial hair is important. I thought you would have remembered it by now."
"Jim Beckett," she turns from the bench where she was pouring herself a cup of coffee. Her eyes are narrowed, darker framed by her lashes but they twinkle and the hint of her dimple keeps popping into existence despite her best efforts to tame it down. Ever since he was a little boy, he had been telling people his momma had a twinkle in her eye. He didn't know at the time why both his parents flushed when he said it.
"Yes, dear?" Jim asks innocently. Both men in the kitchen grin and concentrate matching blue eyes on her, waiting for her control to slip. It'll start from the eyes. The forehead will relax and from there it's inevitable.
Johanna Beckett looks from one to the other, taking in their identical mischievous glee and throws her hands up into the air, playing it up for them as she laughs. Then she walks around the table, takes hold of his chin and pulls down on his whiskers.
"Maybe they're more attached than I thought," she chuckles as he yelps and bats her hand away. "Now go and get rid of them before they expect a place at the dinner table."
"You better do as she says," Jim advises, picking up his newspaper again and hiding behind it.
"Suck up," Rick hisses at him, just loud enough for his mother to hear. Jim winks.
Coming home isn't so bad.
"And you," he hears her chide his father. "You know I refuse to kiss you with a live animal attached to your face so you don't have to look so indignant. You shaved it off voluntarily."
He hears the unmistakable whispers of lips breaking apart and he grins at how whipped his father is.
"What? No study?"
"No," Rick flicks his eyes up to the man who had just walked through the door. The tie is already gone; he probably took it off in the car again which is fine as long as he can remember that's where he left it; Rick doesn't want to wake up to reverberating relays in the morning as his father hunts for one. Parents don't seem to remember a sleep in entails quiet on their part. "You see, I have a life."
Jim Beckett bends at the waist and bats at the front cover of the book in his son's hands. "Don't let your mother hear you say that." Richard half-heartedly tries to shelter the book against his chest so Jim takes the spine and pulls the whole thing free of his hands.
"When did you start reading plays?" Jim sounds surprised.
"I'm not reading it!" Richard protested. "Exactly." He looks up at his father and takes the book back. "It's Kevin's. He needs it for one of his English papers so I thought I'd, you know…"
"Rick," his father chuckles.
"I just wanted him to clean our room. The place looks like a blizzard factory. There's papers everywhere. The walls are practically wallpapered with sonnets. He was so useless at English at high school, he's going totally overboard with this course - he'd probably wipe his butt with Shakespeare if it helped him pass this. I figure if he was looking for this specifically, he would tear the part so badly he might actually have to clean up a little."
"A likely story. What makes you think he needs it that badly? Can't he just get another copy out from the library?"
"Ah," Rick grins at holds up a finger. He flicks open the copy to the dedication page and flourishes the binding towards his father.
"If you're looking for gold at the end of the rainbow, call me. Jen XX," Jim reads. He blinks and lifts his eyes from the inscription over a phone number to his son.
"This copy is kind of special to him," Rick shrugs, his face carefully restrained from laughter.
"What's special to who?" Johanna sighs coming in from the hall. Her briefcase went down beside the couch where Jim had offloaded his a minute before and she followed on its tails, the full key ring still around her index finger as she slumps into the end of the couch. Ah, so she was putting the car away; he thought she might have been working late again.
Jim dropped the book on his wife's stomach, eliciting a groan. "It sounds like Kevin Ryan isn't as Catholic as Rick made him out to be."
She takes one look at the message before an involuntary shout of laughter makes its way out of her, a startled sound, and she looks delighted with it. Delighted she had found the energy to birth it.
"It's always the quiet ones," she chuckles. "They have a way of surprising you."
He doesn't miss the look she shoots at her husband and he cringes a little internally. He doesn't want to think about all that implies – especially since he's been out of the house. Was his bed still his bed?
"Girls dig poetry," Jim nods.
"When are you going to bring a nice girl home with you anyway?" Johanna groans, sitting herself a little more erect against the cushions. He wonders at it. He's been home a week now and the last three days, his mother has been absolutely run down. It must be a hell of a case.
"Not until I start carrying around Hemmingway apparently."
"Hemmingway didn't do poetry," Jim offers. "He's all about shooting animals."
Johanna tosses the book at her husband.
"Looks like you're both going to be deprived of grandchildren forever." Rick gives her the best kicked puppy impression he could, hoping he can make her laugh.
"Bite your tongue," Johanna growls.
"That won't help, mother. Tongues come in handy for…delicate situations," he flicks his eyebrows at her. He dodges her hand and skips out of the room listening to his father's chortles. He made Johanna Beckett blush. Ah, it was a good day.
The jump from the car to the sidewalk caught in her throat and dragged at her steps but before she could falter or adjust she had reached the sliding glass doors and passed through their boundaries and into their shelter. Almost to spite the relief of the sun, a shiver trembled down her spine as the AC made her nerves giggle.
Despite her time here, Kate couldn't reconcile the notion of air conditioning after Thanksgiving. Kate could have taken her pick of jackets to ward off the more zealous of the machines but couldn't bring herself to do it. She loved her array but it felt like heresy to wear them here in December. If she were back in New York it would go without saying; unless you wanted to die of exposure you mastered layers. Here in LA it pained her to cover up and take the sun for granted. Enjoy it while it lasted. It was better to have the sun and then freeze indoors than to wear a jacket and be no different than she would if she had never left home.
It was a stupid thing to be stubborn about.
She bypassed the bronze plaque and called the elevator. The cold seemed to emanate from the button on her finger as well as from the air and she drew her finger back quickly. She was developing such a thin skin here and it had only been a month all up. This week made it a month. Maybe she needed to go back. This whole mess was proof enough she should never have left. Who said film was better than the stage?
Habitually she nodded as she stepped into the elevator, appreciative it was ready and waiting. The lighted panelling lit up with barely a caress and it rose smoothly. The whole building was efficient. Smooth. It made her uncomfortable and relieved at the same time. Kate appreciated efficiency, the order, but there was something ominous and foreboding lingering in all the small details. It was like walking into a castle. The air was oppressive as though she had a target on her back and the clean lines couldn't distract from the sense she wasn't welcome here.
Psychosomatic. Had to be. Kate tried to let the assent lull her nerves. There was something about elevators and planes taking off that she loved. Her stomach might not agree with her all the time, but her whole body thrilled at the momentum, to be going somewhere. There was a purpose, a destination. That was comforting.
The lighted scale had just skipped from ten to eleven when she yawned and had to blink back tears. She pulled her fingers back and checked them for traces of makeup but they were clear. The last thing she wanted was to get back and give her team another reason to grumble today. They had berated her for the full half hour she spent in her chair with them.
What did she do to herself?
Why couldn't she sleep like a normal person?
What were they supposed to do with those bags and the red eyes?
Finally Kevin had stepped in and ushered them out. He was sweet – something she wasn't used to. It seemed everyone in the business here in LA had an attitude. It was if everyone she had met in this city had taken personal offense at the stereotype of nice LA and decided to put forth their bid for LA as the egocentric capital. Personally she didn't see the problem with being labelled as nice people. You didn't see Canadians complaining, did you?
Kevin Ryan wasn't one of them. They didn't see much of each other. She literally couldn't – he was always hidden behind a camera crew, but when they got a chance to talk they appreciated a cool, dedicated work ethic untainted by ego that she found solace in.
This morning when he overheard her stylists he hadn't asked – had purposely explained the less he knew the better, for publicity reasons of course- but had recommended she make her way here during the long lunch he could schedule. She didn't have the heart to tell him it wasn't what he thought.
He's good at helping people when he wants to. The laconic smile as Kevin described the man she was on her way to meet made for a backhanded compliment and not the most confidence inspiring, but she was tired. She wasn't sure how many more drunk phone calls she could handle. And if she never had another phone call like last night, it would be too soon. She needed help.
Her stomach twisted and she checked her phone again but there were no new messages. In the first comforting measure the building had attempted so far, it took pity on her stomach and slowed the elevator to a stop.
Running alongside the carpeted path to the welcoming desk was a glass wall. The interconnected panes a montage of the park. From this height looking down and out across the green gave her a quick shock of vertigo. Kate imagined that was probably a bonus here. How many people had walked the other way and took their last look at the sky? The borders of each window making the panoramic view were dark against the brilliant blue as if they were bars. The sky was already behind bars. As if to say, I've already got you.
It was getting harder to draw breath and her eyes pricked against the searing blue stretch of LA sky. From the left colour caught her attention and broke the hold and let her eyes refocus on her target.
'I have an appointment to see Mr Beckett," Kate greeted the receptionist, almost grateful for the vicious red combo of shirt and nails after the unending blue outside.
"Of course." The woman, Rebecca according to her name badge, smiles.
Rebecca scoots her chair back from her desk and leads the way down the hall on spindly heels Kate wouldn't consider wearing unless she had a desk job. The walls and doors cut off the view of the outside. Kate knows her nerves are shot when she goes from wishing there was an end to the sky to feeling edgy when it was out of sight. Her emotions have been playing hot potato for days. What did she think was going to happen? She chastised herself. It wasn't like it was going anywhere.
"It's quite a view," Rebecca smiled, noticing the last look Kate shoots over her shoulder.
"I don't know how you can take your eyes off it."
A little more warmth makes its way across her face. "It's not as hard as you might think. I feel like I need a sunglasses and I have Advil in my desk drawer at all times." Her confident stride falters and she nods at the simple label on the side of the door jamb.
That was the name Ryan gave her. He wrote it hurriedly on her rewrite, waving off his assistant in handwriting that was barely legible. He helps people. That's what Ryan said, but Kate realised she knew the name – a lot of people did – and as far as she knew, the only way this man ever helped anyone was into a cell without a key. That didn't seem like the person she needed right now. Her hesitance must have shown on her face at the time because he shrugged.
He's a pit bull.
She asked if that meant he was tenacious.
He smirked, blue eyes bright. I mean he's vicious and ugly.
The way Rebecca's spine was ramrod straight leant weight to Ryan's description. Kate watched her lick her lips a little apprehensively and draw in a breath.
"What's her name?" Kate hears from inside.
Rebecca moves into the doorway and Kate follows. She can make out the back of a coiffed set of elegant black ringlets standing in front of a desk and obscuring the speaker. Hanging from one hands looks like a sandwich. Subway she notes idly. There must be a store nearby – probably because of the high school.
"Nikki Heat," the woman answers her companion unaware of her audience. The voice sounds familiar.
The next words grumble out. "Sounds made up."
"It is," Kate admits. It isn't until the room's occupants turn to her in doorway that she realises she's spoken aloud. Rebecca looks at her, startled. The other woman in the office turns and Kate sees the man behind the desk for the first time. She barely registers a shock of sandy hair before the light eyes and thick eyebrows stop her. They're familiar- filled with the same speculation she sees a lot of when she walks into an audition. In both sets of eyes she can see the attempt to gage ephemeral qualities. How ditzy she is. Intelligence, pride, character.
This audience wasn't comparing her to her mother for a change; not expecting her to be the same or different. She has no idea what it is they might be searching for.
The awareness is almost stifling here, as if it was the epicentre for the creep in her spine as soon as she had stepped into the building. A woman is centremost in her field of vision and Kate lets the figure pull her attention, accepting the shapely hand and shaking firmly.
"Ms Heat," she smiles. "I'm Melanie Parish, we spoke earlier on the phone." Her grip matches the power suit, but Kate likes it. She appreciates the confidence and sass the woman radiates from her Louis Vuitton's to her glossy black curls. "I'm sorry we had to monopolise your break."
"On the contrary," Kate replies easily, allowing the familiarity of the process ease her stressed mind for a brief moment. Lately her life had been nothing but meeting new people, the smiling, the hand shaking, the air-kisses, the pleasantries. It was a highly plastic process she hated. She didn't get into the business to be fake. She wanted to be real. Kate finds she doesn't mind it, maybe for the security to be found in routine, or perhaps because Melanie Parish is so vivid and real.
"Is there anything you would like? Coffee?"
"No. Thank you."
Melanie nods at Rebecca, still hovering in the doorway and she disappears out of sight back up the corridor. The woman steps closer to usher Kate to a chair and only then does Kate realise even with the heels, Melanie is significantly shorter than herself. Kate follows and seats herself in a subtle leather armchair. She fights off the shiver that tickles at her when her bare legs make contact with the cold material.
Melanie stands at her three o'clock. "My partner," she offers and Kate lets her eyes flow across the dark wood desk to the man ensconced on the other side. "Richard Beckett."
They nod at each other and he stretches out a hand, practically swallowing hers. They're warm. The warmest thing in the building so far actually.
"If you'll excuse me," Melanie retreats and closes the door behind herself.
Both she and Mr Beckett watch her progress and fixate on the closed door for a second, acclimatizing to the change. The room seems larger and smaller, like the focus was lost and hadn't been reset yet so it hovered around the door, waiting for the small woman to come back and repossess it.
Melanie Parish would do well on the stage with a presence like that. Too bad she decided to use it in a courtroom.
When a throat clears behind her, Kate almost startles. She hadn't forgotten he was there, not really, more like he just let himself hover in the background. As she registers the width of his shoulders in the office chair and processes his physical size for the first time she is impressed at his ability to do so. It was quite a talent – kind of like hiding a gorilla. She snickers internally at the comparison.
Big. Male. Type A. Vicious Pit bull. Ugly. Maybe she's on to something.
Kate looks at his face for confirmation, swallows. Not ugly. Also not the older gentleman she had been picturing up until now. Somehow from Ryan's description she had pictured a crotchety, hard-ass old man. More like the scarred old lion of the courtroom. Richard Beckett was not old, or scarred.
"Ms Rodgers," he nods. Pleasant voice.
"Mr Beckett," she returns, unsurprised that he recognises her and more than a little relieved he hasn't tried to fawn over her. "You don't seem surprised."
"Were you in disguise?" he asks rhetorically. "What can I do for you?"
Kate casts her eyes over the full bookcase against the wall. There is a lot of light reflecting off golden words on thick spines – so many manuals and law books she's impressed the shelf can hold them all. "I wanted some advice on a legal matter."
He leans back into his chair and she notes the fingers of one hand absently worries at the leather on of the armrest. It strikes her as a lazy habit, not a stressed action, almost as if he were stroking a giant cat in his lap – or considering his job, a Doberman's ears. "And your lawyer is…"
"I wanted someone unbiased."
One eyebrow quirks. "No lawyer is unbiased."
She can't help but smirk at that. "Is that an admission?"
His slips quirk lazily to one side in answer. "So," he expels. "Why my company?"
She shrugs. "I heard it was the best."
"Always nice to hear," he nods complacently. "Which little birdie has been spreading rumours this time?"
"A friend on set."
"Ah. You probably have quite a few of those. Nothing better in Hollywood than fresh imported meat," he rolls his eyes and sits forward to retrieve a cardboard cup. "Are you sure it wasn't for discretion? We don't take many private clients. You make the appointment under a fake name…" he takes a sip. "So what did you do?"
"I see someone as renowned as you walking into a prosecutor's office and I ask myself, why is she here? If it were someone stalking you, you have people for that. You have people for everything – the studio would probably fall over themselves if you asked. It'd have to be something pretty big or embarrassing for you to be here and under a pseudonym."
"And you naturally assume I did something?"
"If you knew half of the stories about some of the celebrities in this town," he shakes his head, amused. "They only come to people like me when they don't want their own lawyers to know what happened." His eyes went hard. "When they want to make the world forget it ever happened. The overdoses, drunk driving, solicitation, affairs and blackmail. Ms Rodgers I am not a cleaning service. I will respect your confidentiality but that is the best I can do."
"Does that little speech come standard or do you just not like me?" Kate asks coldly, forcing the words through a tight throat. Who the hell did he think he was? Her palms itched but she kept them ruthlessly chained to her lap.
"I don't meet many good people in my line of work."
"You put people in jail," she pointed out.
"Yes, I do. You may understand why it's hard to give people the benefit of the doubt."
"You're a cynic," Kate accuses.
"Pays the bills," he sets the coffee cup down and eases the line of his shoulders, relaxing as if she had satisfied him somehow. "I apologise if I offended you."
Her eyebrow shoots up. "If?"
"That," he admits candidly. "I apologise that I offended you. It's quite refreshing to meet someone with principles."
"You're obviously in the wrong line of work," she advises, still internally fuming.
"Perhaps. Nevertheless here you are," he studies her. Kate stares him down easily. "Because…" he prompts.
A test. All of it was a damn test. He may have apologised for offending her, but he obviously had no qualms about deliberately pushing at her buttons. It was a crude and arrogant power play. She was half-tempted to get up and walk out but that was probably what he wanted.
He's good at helping people.
Yeah, she shoots back at the memory, if he wants to and they don't shoot him first. Kate eyes the man on the other side of the desk, mentally weighing up the need for help against the desire to walk out of this office and pretend she had never heard of Richard Beckett. He didn't avoid her eyes, just stared back unflinching and all too aware she was doing a little testing of her own.
He's young, she thought almost in surprise. When he spoke the animation and affectations lent him towards a much older, short tempered man but sheltered in his chair silently, the light from his windows reaching over the back of his chair to touch the top of his head, he looked young. There were laugh lines as well as frown lines. He can't be that much older than me, Kate guessed.
He blinked and she finds herself mirroring him through an involuntary rapport.
"My mother," she sucks in a breath to steady herself and bottle it all away. "My mother remarried in October. They spent two weeks in Florida for their honeymoon. It was all the time she could get before her new show started. Two nights after they got back to New York, he emptied all their accounts and disappeared."
He doesn't move, just keeps his eyes focused on her. If they weren't so intent on what she was saying, it would be creepy. She's not used to so much direct unapologetic eye contact from people she doesn't know. He's obviously waiting for her to continue, but she doesn't. There's nothing left to tell.
"And she needs help," Kate answers. Her mother is falling to pieces away on her tour and it scares her. Kate can't do anything about it other than take her mother's drunk incoming calls at odd hours of the morning and listen to her cry or rant.
"You want to sue him. Get her money back," he guesses.
"No," she shakes her head. He stares. "Well, yes," she cocks her head. What does she want? "I think she needs closure more than she needs the money back. The last thing I want is for her to end up in some public legal battle with her pain for all to see."
He nods. "Quick and quiet. "
"Like you said,' she says. "Discretion."
"I'll need the contact details of his lawyer," he sits forward and picks up a biro from his blotter.
He's reaching for a drawer when she interrupts. "What lawyer?"
He opens the polished mahogany and rummages, coming out with a post-it pad. As he glances cursorily at the top note and rips it off he asks, "What do you mean, what lawyer? Your stepfather's."
"He doesn't have one."
He looks up. "What, is he a lawyer?"
"No. I don't know where he is."
Richard stops palms still pressed together as if in prayer with the now crumpled pall of post-it paper trapped. "Excuse me?"
"My step-father. No one knows where he is. He disappeared."
Richard frowns and transfers the ball of paper to his left hand where he starts rolling it absently with his thumb around his palm like a race track. "What's the name of the Detective in charge of the case?"
"There isn't one."
"You didn't call the police? "
"The fewer people who knew about it the better. First-hand experience has taught my family how easily the press loosens lips. Inside sources, scoops."
Kate recognised a locked down face when she saw one. "When did he leave?"
"Your step-father leaves with her life savings almost a month ago and no one called the police?" he shakes his head and pushes himself out of his chair in favour of the glass wall. He's silent for almost a minute, backlit by the midday sun. Kate imagines his eyes are resting on the green of the park across the road or watching tiny cars run down the street so far below. "Why did you come here? I'm a lawyer, not an investigator."
"I didn't come here because you're a lawyer," she replies coolly. "I came here because I was told you would be able to help me."
"Help you what?" he asks rhetorically. He continues to look out the windows for almost a minute before he picks up his cell and a business card from his desk and scribbles on the back. "Here," he hands it to her. "As a lawyer, I advise you to contact the NYPD. They'll find your man and then I'll hang him upside down and bleed him for you."
Which is not what she wants. She just wants it over, but more than that she wanted a place to start – an idea for a way forward beyond call the cops. As if that hadn't occurred to her before.
"Mr Beckett," she rises from her seat and straightens out the folds in her pants. "I'm sorry to have wasted your time. I can see I was wrong. You don't help people. I'll see myself out."