Jack glanced up at the darkening sky, wondering if he’d waited too late. It was still early in the evening, but government buildings were notorious for only being open at ridiculously inconvenient times. He could have left his task for the morning, but his conscience hadn’t given him a moment’s peace in the last twenty-four hours and he had grown tired of the nagging voice in his head.
Last night, as he’d sat in his favorite bar downing several bad, but inexpensive, beers, Jack had sworn to himself that he was finished with anything to do with Relena’s job. He’d done what he could to honor the few morals he still possessed. He’d tried to find something that would help the girl, Laura, get away from her mother for good. But, he hadn’t gotten anything on Delia. She’d apparently managed to keep her nose clean, so to speak, and was living on the up-and-up.
However, Jack hadn’t been able to get the image of that young prostitute out of his head. The look of fear and disgust on her jaded, young face as she’d listened to the old judge’s proposition had forced him to go through at least half a dozen glasses of beer before feeling that he’d be able to get a decent night’s rest. He didn’t know if the girl had actually gone with Hervé, but, even in his sleep, she’d haunted him. Her face got all mixed up with how he picture Laura until it was Delia’s daughter that that perverted bastard of a judge was propositioning.
Jack breathed a sigh of relief as the courthouse door opened in response to his pull on the handle. He’d decided, during the darkest hours of the early morning, that he had to try to get through to Judge Barton, no matter how difficult it proved to be. He knew that he wouldn’t be able to live with himself if he could have done something to help Laura but didn’t out of some stupid sense of apathy.
He just hoped that revealing Hervé’s dirty little secret would be enough to remove the old man from the case and to put Laura’s future into safer hands.
The hard soles of Jack’s shoes echoed off of the marbled walls as he walked deeper into the empty lobby. He glanced around, hoping that, since the building was open, there would be someone on duty to point him in the right direction. At first, he saw no one at the guard desk, but after a moment, an overweight, middle-aged man unfolded himself from behind the small table. He was puffing slightly, as though his sizable paunch had made whatever he’d been doing – tying his shoes, most likely – more strenuous than it needed to be.
The security guard turned towards Jack, waiting until the approaching man reached him before speaking.
"Can I help you?" he asked.
"Yeah," Jack replied. "I need to see Judge Trowa Barton. Can you tell me where his office is?" The guard reached for his phone.
"You have an appointment?"
"Uh..." Jack considered lying for a split second but decided honesty was the best course. If the guard called up to Barton’s office and that hoity-toity secretary of his picked up, who knew what she’d say. "No. No appointment."
The guard’s eyes narrowed suspiciously as he took in Jack’s battered fedora and clichéd trench coat.
"You supposed to be a private eye or somethin’?" Jack nodded, smiling ruefully as though sharing in the joke of his appearance.
"Yeah. I’m working on something for the judge and I need to report in to him. It’s really urgent," he pressed as the guard started to shake his head in refusal.
"I don’t know..." the guard murmered, almost speaking to himself. Jack leaned forward against the desk, and looked the other man in the eye, determined to impress the guard with his sincerity.
"Look, the case I’m working on? Well, it’s really important. It’s a child custody case and unless I get my information to the judge, it could go very badly for the kid. Now," he urged, "I know you’re just doing your job, but do you want that on your conscience? I sure as Hell don’t."
The guard looked him up and down and Jack thought he might be given the boot after all. But then the older man sat back and nodded.
"Alright, alright. Go ahead, then. Judge Barton is on the fourth floor. Room 403."
"Thanks!" Jack called over his shoulder as he walked away from the station. Now that he was actually here, he was beyond eager to give the judge his information. He’d never realized before how good it could feel to really help someone, especially a child. He would be sure to mention his heroics to Sheila. She’d be all impressed and would be more than willing to show him just how great she thought he was.
Jack chuckled at his own self-satisfied musings. Any congratulatory humps from Sheila would have to wait. First, he needed to talk to Barton.
The elevator doors opened on the fourth floor and Jack made his way down the hall with hurried steps, taking only the time to glance at the placards identifying the room numbers.
"403," he mumbled as he found the indicated door. But, before he even attempted to knock, he could tell by the darkness behind the frosted glass in the door that no one was there. "Damn it," he swore, rattling the door on its hinges as he pounded a fist against the glass. He would have even been grateful to see that snotty secretary if only there’d been someone there with whom he could share his news. Why wasn’t she there? He’d called last night later than this and she’d been here.
Jack’s gusty exhale sounded along the empty hall as he admitted defeat. Today wouldn’t be the day he got to be the good guy. But, refusing to let his newfound determination waver, Jack promised himself that he would just try again the next day. He started away from the door, reaching in his coat pocket for his car keys. When something tapped against his chest and he paused, calling himself all kinds of idiot.
"Stupid," he muttered, turning back toward the judge’s office door as he pulled his notepad from the breast pocket of his trench coat. He hadn’t done any real detective work in so long that he’d forgotten he always carried the notepad with him just in case he needed to jot down some observation or other. He glanced down at the pad and a brief moment of concern was assuaged as he saw the pin stuck securely in the metal rings holding the notepad together. He whipped out the pin and flipped to a blank page, pausing only long enough to think of what he wanted to say.
"Okay," he said absently as he began to write.
I have some very important information about a case you were on. It concerns that girl Laura. I tried to reach you last night, but was put off by your secretary.
Jack quirked his lips, amused at his own pettiness but unable to resist the dig.
My information concerns the judge currently on the case. I saw Hervé pick up a child prostitute last night in Laura’s old neighborhood. I thought you’d like to know that he’s a pedophile. Might help Laura’s case if he were removed from the hearing. If you want more details, call me. Jack Peeve
Jack scrawled his number across the bottom of the note and ripped the page from the binder rings. Giving it a final look over, he nodded and bent down, slipping the note under the door. Jack stared down at the space beneath the door for a long moment. He could hardly believe that he’d just done something so selfless.
When he’d started in the detective business, he’d been full of fire and enthusiasm, determined to use his skills to better mankind, or something equally inane. For a long time now, though, he’d lost any passion for his work and was doing whatever he could – spying on cheating husbands and the like – just to make a buck.
But now, it was like he’d gotten back some of his former zeal. A smile crept its way across Jack’s face as he walked back towards the bank of elevators. For the first time in more years than he cared to remember, he had done something to help someone. He’d done something right.
Dorothy rubbed at her tired eyes, though it did little to alleviate the ache stinging behind them. She knew she should have gotten a good night’s rest the night before, but anxiety and a sense of impending doom had refused to let her sleep. She’d turned over the events of the hearing, all four, grueling days worth, and wondered if there was anything she could have done, anything at all, to alter the outcome she feared might come to pass.
Around three in the morning, she’d finally managed to fall asleep, still refusing to give in to the defeatist attitude that threatened to overwhelm her. She refused to accept the idea that there was no way Hervé would ever grant Duo and Heero custody of Laura. She had to believe that the system still worked or else, what was her purpose? Why should she even bother being a lawyer in the first place? Maybe it was just that Quatre’s faith in justice had rubbed off on her after all. She smiled at the notion.
It was almost a half-hour before the start of the hearing and Dorothy was the only one in the courtroom. She’d made sure that she arrived first, wanting to give herself a few minutes to think over her options. If everything went as it should, Duo and Heero would go home with their daughter and she could congratulate herself on a job well done. And in the worst case scenario, she would figure out what was required to appeal the case to the Family Court Board of Commissioners. Whatever occurred that morning, Dorothy resolved that she would not stop fighting until Laura was living the happy, secure life she deserved.
She didn’t even want to think of what would happen with her two, older clients if they actually were denied custody. Dorothy thought back to yesterday after the adjournment of the hearing. Laura, clearly devastated by the, in Dorothy’s opinion, utterly unnecessary torture of being forced to recall the events of her rape in open court, had fled the room in tears. Duo had wanted to go after her, but Heero had persuaded him to give her a bit of time alone. None of them had realized right away that Delia had also left the courtroom. Duo was the first to notice Delia’s absence, and when he did, he immediately left in search of Laura.
Dorothy shook her head in disgust at Delia’s gall as she remembered the fury on Duo’s face as he’d reentered the courtroom a few minutes later, mere seconds behind a slightly shaken-looking Laura. He’d hauled the girl into his arms, ignoring everyone at first as she’d buried her face into his chest. But at Heero’s urging, Duo finally explained that he’d been walking in the hallway when he’d heard Laura’s cries coming from the women’s restroom. He’d hesitated to go in, but quickly overcame his reservations at the thought of her in pain. However, as he moved to open the restroom door, Laura had come running out, not even seeing him through the tears in her eyes. Duo had turned to follow her when Delia flew out of the restroom behind the girl and plowed into him.
A grim smile crossed Dorothy’s lips as she recalled Duo’s words to Delia. She agreed one hundred percent. It would be a cold day in Hell before Delia ever had the right to call Laura her daughter again, if Dorothy had anything to say about it.
The sound of the courtroom door opening broke her from her musings. Quatre entered the room with Une and Laura. Dorothy nodded towards them, watching Laura as the girl approached the seat next to hers. Laura didn’t say anything or even acknowledge the blond attorney’s presence; she just stared into space, her fingers twisting around each other in her lap. Dorothy glanced up at the blond social worker and the tall doctor. The looks on their faces told her that nothing bad had happened. Dorothy figured that Laura was just really nervous and rightfully so. Today would very likely determine the course of the rest of her life. Dorothy would have been worried if the girl hadn’t appeared ready to jump out of her skin.
But Laura looked up as the swish of the reopening door was followed by the sound of Duo’s voice. He and Heero found her immediately upon entering the courtroom and Laura stood up and rushed towards them. Heero caught her up in his arms and walked toward his and Duo’s accustomed spot on the bench behind the gate. The three of them sat silently, just content to be together for as long as they were allowed to be.
The little family was unaware of the next people to come into the room, but Dorothy felt her top lip curl up into an unbecoming snarl as Relena entered through the door, followed by Treize and Delia. The blond woman looked smug as usual, her expression matched by the ginger-haired attorney who was solicitously handing her into her seat.
Dorothy ignored them and, instead, turned her attention to the one she was really concerned about. Delia sat in the petitioner’s seat, her face still and composed. Though Laura hadn’t offered any details about what occurred between she and her mother, Dorothy gathered that it hadn’t been at all pleasant. And Duo had certainly made it seem as though the woman had been extremely upset as she’d been thwarted in her attempt to chase after Laura.
So why her inexplicable air of calm?
Dorothy started to turn towards Une, wanting to get her opinion on Delia’s strange demeanor. But she was interrupted as the door opened again. Dorothy looked around as Trowa entered the courtroom. He looked as unflappable as ever, but she noted the faintest hint of tightness near the corners of his generous mouth. Just as the door closed behind him his cell phone rang, causing him to pause as he retrieved it from his jacket pocket. She watched Trowa as he hit a button on the keypad and raised the phone to his ear.
"Yes. Barbara? It’s me. What is it?"
Dorothy listened to the one-sided conversation as he slowly resumed walking towards the gate separating the gallery from the rest of the courtroom.
"A note? From who? No, I don’t know any Jack Peeve." Trowa glanced towards the front of the room as the bailiff entered through a side door.
"Look, Barbara, the hearing is about to resume. I’ll call you back once Hervé has announced his decision. Okay, goodbye."
Dorothy heard a female voice yell, "But, wait!" However, Trowa had already disconnected the call and was walking through the gate.
"What was that all about?" she asked quietly as he sat next to Quatre.
"I don’t know," he answered. "I’ll find out after the hearing is over." Trowa went silent as the bailiff spoke.
"All rise for the honorable Judge Hervé."
Everyone got to their feet as the gray-haired judge came through the same side doors from which the bailiff had previously entered. He sat in his raised chair, his expression unreadable though more than one person in the room was furiously attempting to read his mind as they regained their own seats.
Hervé glanced down at his notes, the sound of them being shuffled resounding in the hushed quiet of the courtroom. After a long moment, he reached up and removed his glasses, wiping them slowly on a handkerchief he’d retrieved from his robe. At length, he peered through them at the overhead light and Dorothy felt her jaw starting to clench with impatience. Evidently satisfied, he replaced the glasses on his nose and returned the white square of cloth to its rightful place before looking out at those seated before him. He cleared his throat pompously before speaking in deep, measured tones.
"I have spent the last few days hearing testimony in the matter of the proper custody of the minor child, Laura Maxwell."
If at all possible, the room went even more silent than it had been just a moment ago. Hervé looked at those present, his face never once losing its stony countenance.
"After hearing the witnesses that each side has presented..." He paused, causing several people to groan silently at the unnecessary theatrics.
"After hearing all of the evidence, I have made my decision."
AN: Room 403. Did you get it? 4 03. 4x3... Oh never mind. ^__^