"So, you haven’t seen her?" The aging prostitute sighed at the man’s persistence.
"For the last time, honey, I ain’t seen her in months."
Jack Peeve watched the prostitute walk away, ironic amusement twisting the corner of his lips. He’d come back to Delia’s old haunt to try to find some evidence that she’d been doing something she shouldn’t be. He would have loved to get some proof that she’d been using or hooking again. Heck, he’d have been grateful to find someone that merely had seen her around the seedy neighborhood.
But, of course, no one had seen her or had any information about her whatsoever. Figures, he thought. Over the last few months, Jack had been experiencing a growing feeling of guilt for his part in giving Delia a chance at regaining custody of her daughter. He still remembered the pathetic addict he’d finally managed to locate and pitied the girl who had to call that piece of gutter trash "Mother." Added to that guilt was the fact that he was mightily ticked off at the blonde bitch who had hired him in the first place.
Relena Dorlian had promised him all sorts of things when she’d hired him. He hadn’t really believed that she’d sleep with him – though she’d given him enough hints that that was her intention – but he’d at least expected to get paid what was due him. She’d given him his initial retainer, plus a bit of extra for expenses, but that was it. After he’d found his quarry and had dragged her stinking carcass into his office, Relena had up and disappeared with the woman, never bothering to contact him about his remaining payment. Of course, Jack knew where Relena lived and where she worked, but he didn’t really have it in him to intimidate the woman face-to-face. He didn’t know what it would take to fluster the likes of that cool, leggy blonde, but he was certain that he didn’t have it, whatever it was.
So, when he’d heard about the start of the custody hearing from his old flame in DYFS, he’d decided to do something to assuage the annoying and unfamiliar feelings of culpability. But, his search had turned up nothing. Apparently, Delia had taken advantage of Relena’s selfless offer of kindness and had managed to stay sober for the nearly eight months since she’d been found. Jack chuckled, shaking his head. Just when he’d tried to do something altruistic for a change...
As he was walking back to his car, the PI saw a half-familiar face. He couldn’t place the prostitute at first, she wasn’t very memorable, but after a few moments, it hit him. She was the woman who he’d originally asked about Delia’s whereabouts all those months ago. Actually, it only had been on her information that he’d found the missing woman at all.
"Hey, you," he called out, crossing the dark, deserted street towards the woman. "You in the orange dress." She turned around and her eyes widened in recognition. Obviously, Jack mused, he was more memorable than she was.
"I remember you," she said. "You was the one who was lookin’ for Delia. Did you find her?" Jack stopped in front of her and nodded.
"Yeah. Yeah, I did, thanks to you." The woman waved away the words of thanks.
"Did she ever find her kid?"
"Yeah. Matter of fact, I think she’s trying to win back custody of her." The prostitute’s hard eyes went soft for a brief moment.
"Hm. Well, I wish her luck, then."
"Luck, right," Jack agreed for the sake of agreement. "Uh, actually," he added, "Delia’s the reason I came back around here."
"What about her?" the woman asked.
"Just wondering if you’ve seen her lately? Doing some research for the court, you know," he said, trying to sound important. Jack was unsurprised when the prostitute shook her head.
"Nah, ain’t seen her for a long time. Not since last time I told you about her. I mean, what would she be doing back here if she’s trying to get her daughter back?" Jack shrugged at the insightful question.
"Nothing, I supposed. Oh well, just needed to ask. Guess it’s a good thing that she hasn’t been around here. That will go over well with the judge."
"Yeah," she said, looking down the block like she was anxious to be about her business. However, she turned to Jack once more, her sincere expression sitting uneasily on her worn feature. "Well, if you see Delia, tell her that Cathy said ‘Hi’. And good luck."
Jack replied with a vague promise as she left. Well, that cinched it. Delia apparently had decided to walk the straight and narrow. Good for her, he concluded. If she was really trying to do right by her kid, then more power to her. Jack took a deep breath, telling himself that his conscience was assuaged. He could do nothing about Delia and wasn’t really sure he should if he could. As for Relena, well, his mother had always told him that women were no good. Guess the old windbag had been right about that, at least.
Jack crossed the street again and started towards his car, parked only a few blocks away. The depressing, dangerous feel of the buildings and the dark alleys made him nervous and he walked quickly while trying not to look like he was hurrying. No better way to attract those looking for a target than to look like prey.
He saw his car at the end of the next block and made his way over to the rusted vehicle. There was a kid standing another half block past his car. At first, Jack wasn’t sure whether it was a boy or a girl, but as he got closer, he saw that it was, indeed, a girl. His confusion had been caused by her utter lack of womanly features. She couldn’t have been more than 12, Jack guessed, probably younger. But there she was, standing on the street like any other whore, waiting on a customer.
The PI shook his head in disgust, wondering what kind of pervert would pick up a kid like that. His question was answered only a few moments later when a dark, late-model sedan cruised passed him and stopped in front of the pre-adolescent girl. Jack watched in a sort of amazed revulsion as the girl ambled over to the car, her attempt at a sexy strut ruined by her gangly frame. The way she leaned into the car window, however, told him that this wasn’t her first time accepting a trick. Jack found himself trying to look into the car, wanting to see the sick bastard he was planning on wishing to Hell as he took his nightly libation at his neighborhood watering hole.
Jack caught the impression of spiky, gray hair but couldn’t see much more through the car’s tinted windows. Just then, the girl pulled back from the window, her feature pinched in poorly masked abhorrence and not a little fear. Whatever the man had offered had frightened her and Jack wondered what the heck the man could possibly have suggested. A well-manicured hand stuck out of the window, a gold watch glinting in the grimy streetlights. The hand held several bills and the man stuck his head out of the car window to reinforce the tacit offer, not willing to let his target get away. Jack caught a clear view of the john and his breath caught in his throat as he felt a jolt of recognition.
"Holy shit," he whispered, getting into his car so as not to draw undue attention from the pair down the block.
He stared at the man for a minute more but there was no mistaking it. He’d seen that guy on the news, preaching about the evils of homosexuality and the Gay Family Rights’ bill that had been in the news so much a few years ago. Judge Miles Hervé, senior family court judge and all-around self-righteous asshole. After all of the high-faultin’, religious crap that he’d spewed during the bill’s pendancy hearings, it looked like good ole Miles was nothing but a damned pedophile.
And then, Jack remembered something else which made his jaw dropped nearly to his lap. His old girlfriend had mentioned that there had been some sort of shake up in Laura’s case, something about a change in presiding judges. He didn’t remember all of the details that she’d chattered on about. He’d been to busy trying to take her clothes off at the time. But he did recall that Hervé was now in charge of the custody hearing. And since the man was such a self-proclaimed homophobe, he was sure to be doing everything in his power to see that the two guys who’d been taking care of the girl would never get permanent custody of her.
"Hot damn," Jack murmured. "Maybe I can do something after all." As casually as he could manage, he pulled away from the curb, grimacing as he saw the young prostitute get in the honorable judge’s car. As he drove away from the shadowy slum, he reached for his cell phone and dialed good-old Sheila.
"Hey, babe, it’s me, Jack," he said after she answered. "Say, who was the original judge on that case you were telling me about? You know, that Laura girl." He listened as she rattled off the name. "Judge Barton, huh? Would you happen to know the number to the courthouse? You do? Thanks, you’re a peach." Jack smiled as he fumbled for a pen and a discarded napkin on which to write the information.
He chatted with Sheila for a few minutes, anxious to get her off the phone but not wanting to antagonize her. She’d been a fount of useful information ever since he’d first gotten this case and who knew how much more he’d need from her in the future. Better to be nice.
"Yeah, okay, doll," he finally interrupted. "Look, why don’t we get together this weekend, just you and me. Yeah, that’d be great. Right now, though, I really need to call this Barton guy. Talk to you later." He hung up without waiting for her reply, knowing she’d be mollified by his offer. Ever since they’d broken up last year, she’d been trying to get him back. As useful as she’d been to him lately, he was seriously considering it.
But right now, he had more important things to think about. Trying not to crash his car, Jack dialed the number to the courthouse, keeping one eye on the road. He reached a receptionist and asked for the judge. After a few seconds of listening to the line ring, a woman picked up.
"Good evening, Judge Trowa Barton’s chambers."
"Yeah, um, I mean, yes. May I speak to Judge Barton, please?" Jack corrected his informal slip quickly, but apparently, it was too little, too late. The woman, a secretary or something, he guessed, cleared her throat. Who knew that such an indelicate noise could be made to sound prissy, he mused.
"I’m sorry," she said. "Judge Barton isn’t in at the moment."
"Can I leave a message?" Jack asked, repressing a sigh at the woman’s attitude.
"Yes, you may leave a message." He listened while she rustled some papers, apparently looking for a pen. "Go ahead," she continued after a few seconds.
"Alright," he began. "Let’s see. Um, tell the judge that I have some information for him about a case he’s on. A custody case involving a girl named Laura Tippen." The snooty secretary cut him off.
"I’m sorry, but Judge Barton is no longer presiding over that particular matter. Please direct any further inquiries to Judge Hervé’s office. Good day."
"But..." Jack stared at his phone, hearing the dial tone of the disconnected line. "That bitch," he mumbled. This time, Jack let the sigh escape as put away his phone. He’d done what he could, he thought. Activism wasn’t really his style. If Delia was meant to get her daughter back, then so be it. He’d just have to put the case and that Dorlian woman out of his mind. Hmm, maybe he’d call Sheila back tonight and see if she wanted to go out.
Trying to convince himself that he was fully absolved of all further involvement, Jack drove on, whistling to himself. But the image of that damned pervert of a judge proposition that little girl just wouldn’t leave his mind. Could he truly live with himself if just sat back and allowed the fate of another little girl, probably not much younger than that prostitute, rest in that bastard’s hands?
Jack’s whistle faded away as he headed for his favorite bar, his dry throat begging for a stiff drink.
"Barbara, you’re still here?"
The secretary looked up at the sound of her boss’s voice dampening the small thrill she still felt every time she heard his subdued tones. She’d been working for him for nearly three years and it seemed as though her schoolgirl infatuation with the tall, gorgeous man was as strong as ever.
"Yes, Mr. Barton. I remembered you saying that you might come back to the office after court, so, well, I thought I’d wait until you got back." Barbara caught herself smoothing down a stray hair and placed the errant hand firmly in her lap. The young judge directed a gentle smile in her direction and she barely managed to hold back a delighted sigh.
"Thanks, Barbara," Trowa replied. "I appreciate it."
"No problem at all," she rushed, eager to reassure him. "So, how was court today?"
Trowa’s smile disappeared as he thought back on the day’s events. Dorothy had finally begun her case that morning and had presented several, strong character witnesses for Heero and Duo. Noin and Howard, both of whom had known Heero for a long time had been emphatic of their portrayal of the two young men as a happy, loving, respectable couple. And Howard, having been Duo’s boss for over three years, gushed about Duo’s work ethic, his skills as a mechanic, and his value as an employee.
Perhaps the most compelling testimony, however, had come from Laura’s teacher, Chang Wufei. Chang had made his dedication to his students’ wellbeing very clear to the court, and it was his informed opinion that he had rarely come across a more well-adjusted, hard working, and generally pleasant child than Laura. It had been extremely persuasive testimony, considering how the girl had been living only ten, short months before. It was evident that Laura’s foster fathers had had an amazing impact on her, and all for the good.
But what was also clear was that, regardless of the convincing nature of the testimony, Judge Hervé had been left utterly unmoved. The older judge was obviously determined not to give two gay men custody of a child, no matter how much the parties involved loved each other and no matter it was clearly the best thing for the child.
"Not great," Trowa, replied, answering the secretary’s question with his characteristic reticence. Even his ever optimistic lover, Quatre, was apparently loosing his faith that justice would prevail. After all, how could anyone remain positive in the face of Hervé’s obstinacy? It was that, more than anything, which was pissing Trowa off.
"That’s too bad," Barbara said, knowing not to expect anything more from her taciturn boss.
"Un. Were they’re any calls?" Quatre was waiting for him at his apartment and the young judge was anxious to be gone, longing to return to the blonde’s soothing presence. The secretary shook her head.
"No, no calls. Oh, wait a minute," she called out as he stepped into his office to gather a few documents. She rose from her desk and followed him into the adjacent room. "There was one call. Some guy saying he had information about Laura’s case. He was obviously some crank caller since he should have known that you were no longer presiding over that case if he were legitimate. So, I told him to call Hervé’s office with any information..."
Barbara’s words died in her throat as the young judge turned to face her. His entire body had gone rigid and his emerald green eyes were afire with anger. She’d never seen this sort of emotion on his face, let alone with such intensity. The secretary felt the blood drain from her face as Trowa glared at her.
"Someone called this office with possible information about a case that is very important to me and you just turned them away?" The words were spoken without heat but the underlying fury was palpable. "Did you at least get his name?" Trowa asked, speaking with a tightly clenched jaw.
Barbara glanced at his hands and gasped at the sight of his white knuckles. She didn’t know how to handle Trowa’s anger. She’d always thought him so mild mannered, insouciant. But like they said, still waters run the deepest. She locked her knees to keep them from shaking as she answered.
"N-no," she stuttered. "I-I thought it was just some nut. I thought..."
"You’re not paid to think, damn it! Last time I looked it was MY name on the door, not yours!" The condemnation, spoken in a harsh voice so unlike Trowa’s normal, dulcet tones drove Barbara to sobbing tears, which she tried to hide by burying her face in her hands. Though she called her fascination with the young judge a mere crush, she knew that it could easily have developed into something more had he shown the slightest interest towards her. Therefore, his anger hurt all the more.
Trowa was at her side before she could unlock her throat enough to speak. He put his arm hesitantly around her shoulders and she looked up at him through her tears. His acute regret was apparent in the deeply etched lines around his frowning lips. He’d taken an abnormal interest in the girl’s case and the stress showed in the shadows beneath his eyes. They just made her feel even worse about her stupid mistake.
"Barbara, I am so very sorry," Trowa said, his tone full of apology. "I had absolutely no call speaking to you in that way. I’m...I’m not really angry at you. I’m just tired of this case that should never have been allowed to get this far. And I’m tired of that damned, obstinate Hervé. But that’s still no excuse. Please forgive me." Barbara shook her head, wiping the tears from her face.
"No, you were right. I should have taken the message no matter what I thought. I’m sorry. I promise I’ll never do anything like that again." She spoke quickly, worried what her extreme screw-up might mean to her job.
"I’m sure you won’t," Trowa said. He squeezed her shoulder before moving away. "Why don’t you get out of here? I’m all finished. And, Barbara," he called as she started back towards the reception area, "I’ll see you tomorrow."
That was so like him, putting her mind completely at ease with only a few words. Barbara smiled as she gathered her coat and purse. She left the office feeling not a little bit relived.
Trowa sighed as he gathered up his own things and left out a few minutes later. He turned off the lights and locked the door, his mind pondering the identity of the unknown caller. And what had been his information? Could it have really help Laura’s case? God knows, Duo and Heero could use all of the help they could get.
"Guess I’ll never know," he mumbled as he walked towards the elevator. Well, at least he would be seeing Quatre soon and that always lifted his spirits. The burgeoning family that had so captured his heart would just have to wait until morning. There was nothing else he could do for them tonight.
AN: Thanks to my former beta-reader for the plot idea about the jerky judge. ^_^ Also, this part is dedicated to Leslie who unfailingly believes me every time I say that everything really will turn out alright. She IS Quatre!! ^_^