Dedication: For Jodi.
There are things that you were never meant to know about yourself. Limits that are never meant to be tested. Motives that were never supposed to be examined. Ambitions that should never have been realized. Loyalties that should never have been founded.
It takes something that isn't quite human to go along casually with the planned death of children.
I've had foreknowledge of death before. The first time was right after I joined the firm, I was working in Lawrence Cohen's office -- just another of his slugs. Running around, filing paperwork, typing out his briefs, confirming appointments, chauffeuring his mistress or his wife around town, or even just fetching him coffee. Cohen was one of those guys who was usually given new recruits to break in. He put us through hell, and I remember two guys and a girl who quit the practice of law because of what he put them through. At the time, he seemed like the most sadistic, useless bastard to ever drag his chain-smoking, sweaty, obese carcass from beneath whatever rock he had crawled out of.
I was right, of course.
What I didn't know was that there's a reason that the firm gives all new recruits to him. In addition to all of his other attributes (many of which I haven't even named), he's a very shrewd man. He puts the pressure on, and puts recruits through hell to see what they'll take. To see what they're made of. After a certain amount of time, he'll make his recommendation about where the person should be placed in the company. Everyone who makes it through his training period is placed. Those who don't have the stuff to be in Wolfram & Hart find the door very quickly.
Lily down in Records only suffered under Cohen for three weeks. Lance over in Communications dragged through five.
Me? I had six solid months with which to loathe every cubic inch of that man with everything inside me. I'd never felt so focused before in my life, even when I was hauling myself over hot coals to get through law school. It's amazing what sheer hatred will do.
He seemed to take special delight in tormenting me. Every day I'd walk in and feel his beady little eyes -- almost lost between the lanky waves of his unwashed hair -- boring into me with a secret glee. I'd set my chin and work harder. I poured hatred into everything I did, and he later told me that he'd never had a slug whose loathing he could feel in every typed brief before I came.
One night, I was working late. He'd given me fifty case folders to summarize for him by the next day, and I knew that I'd be up all night doing them. My mind was hazy, and by four in the morning not even straight expresso was making much of a dent in my exhausted body.
Then, I saw it. Case folder #46 looked completely innocent -- standard murder case, open and shut -- in the beginning, and the middle, and the end, but something bothered me. I read it again. Then I read it a third time. And a fourth. Then it hit me.
The date of the alleged murder was one week in the future. But the alibi, the expert witnesses, and even the police statements were all prepared.
The next morning, I walked straight into Cohen's office and confronted him about it. He looked at me with only the mildest interest and said, "Yes, Lindsay? What's your point?"
It was a turning point. I knew that in an instant. I could've walked right out of the firm, since that case folder had confirmed months of suspicions. We weren't upholding the law, we were making a sham of it. We were using everything that had been put in place to protect the innocent to put the guilty back on the streets.
But I wasn't going to be a slug forever. That was so exquisitely clear to me then.
"It's a good defense, but we're still dealing with the alleged murder of a priest. Your defendant doesn't have the best background in the world, and the jury will probably be moved by the sight of sobbing nuns and church-goers who demand justice for this aged man of the cloth. So you need a lawyer to work this case who can look honest, and trustworthy, and horrified at this outrage. You need someone who can sell this."
Cohen was starting to smile a little as he lit up the a cigarette from his third pack of the morning. "What's your point, Lindsay?"
"You need me."
He smiled. He handed me the case folder, telling me that it was all mine. Then he handed me a key and a room number. I rode the elevator. I walked into my new office. I met my new secretary. I saw my new pay rate. After I won the case, I popped open the bottle of congratulatory champagne that Cohen sent me.
And all it had cost was the life of some old priest who gave crappy sermons anyway.
That was the first time. It was even easier the second time. And the third, and the fourth. I've lost track since then of how much blood has indirectly stained my hands.
But this time it was different.
I left my office early, and even gave the secretary the day off. I wandered around, not really sure what I meant to do. When I found myself standing in front of the Wolfram & Hart Day-Care Center, I couldn't even tell you how I found my way down there.
On weekdays from nine to five, you'll see the place literally crawling with kids. From just days out of the womb to days away from first grade, they're all there -- playing with colored blocks and dolls while upstairs their mommies and daddies play with life and death. On Saturdays, though, it's pretty empty. Usually you can find babysitters or spouses or family to take care of the kiddies on the weekend.
It took a security code to get in, and the security guard at the door scrutinized me carefully to make sure that I was human before he took his hand off of his panic-button. After the Day-Care first opened, some of our non-human clients were getting a little too interested in the youngsters. I guess it was a bit like watching veal scamper around on your plate. Well, less nauseating. Anyway, one of them got in one day and would've taken a bit out of some toddler if one of the attendants hadn't gotten in the way. It's interesting to know that Wolfram & Hart will provide cost-free therapy for your child if they are splashed with the blood of one of their care-givers while on company property.
The only person I could see was Andrew, who is the head of Day-Care. The man rivals me for devotion to work, since he's here from the time that the first kid arrives to when their parent finally comes to take them home. Sometimes he ends up sleeping here. This was probably the first time I'd ever seen him without at least one toddler clinging to him. If you see him walking in the hallway, he's almost invariably holding some baby that will start crying if he puts it down even for a moment. If you see him in the cafeteria, he's escorting one of the older kids who deserves a treat -- though if cafeteria food is considered a treat, I shudder to think what they feed the kids in Day-Care. If you see him in the bathroom, then you find another bathroom quick, because some kid is invariably vomiting.
If he's surprised to see me, it doesn't show in his dark eyes. I guess after dealing with at least thirty children a day, you attain some kind of zen state where nothing will ever phase you again. Or else you go nuts. Apart from two attendants who work part-time, this guy is all by himself. He'll spoon-feed one kid apple-sauce while wiping another kid's nose as he conducts storytime with five other kiddies clinging to his legs wailing that they need to go potty.
Personally, I'd completely lose it within five minutes. So would most seasoned parents, too.
On weekdays, he abides by company dress code. I'm told by one of the security guards at the front entrance that he always looks impeccable when he walks in. His suits aren't expensive, but they manage to nicely compliment his mocha-colored skin and hold a firm crease. His shoes are shined. His hair is neatly combed.
The security guards swear that it's true, but no one has ever been able to verify that. By the time anyone else sees him, he looks like he just walked through a jungle for ten days while being attacked by wild midget aborigines.
Since it's Saturday, he apparently dressed down. Jeans and a tee-shirt for this man, but there must've been some kids in earlier, because he looks like he just finished up an extended tour in Bosnia.
Telling this man's age is impossible. He could be anywhere from twenty-five to his early forties. The lines on his face are light, and there's a general look of serenity on his face. He loves his work, and he loves these kids.
The ironic thing is that in the eyes of the state, Andrew is an unsuitable parent. In the eyes of certain church groups, he's an abomination.
Yeah, Andrew is gay. He'll devote all his waking hours to these munchkins, and walk through fire for them, but he'll never have one of his own.
I guess something is showing on my face. He tells me to sit down, and while it's a very friendly voice, it's also one that has authority in it. I sit down in a comfy armchair as obediently as a four-year-old. There's something squishy underneath my right leg, but I honestly don't care right now. My three-hundred dollar suit probably just got ruined by some kid's snack, but that's what dry-cleaning was invented for, right?
"So," he says, "some kids are about to get whacked, and you're having a crisis."
My jaw drops. I would honestly be afraid to play this man in poker.
"Yeah, I know the look." He continues, as he starts folding up some blankies that were apparently left over from naptime. "Every few months, some rising star from one of the upper offices comes down here looking like their legs just got shot out from under them. People make moral choices all the time in this company. Sometimes they make the right ones, sometimes they make the wrong ones, but that's really not my area to judge. Most of them can be made in private, or at the bottom of a bottle. But not this one, eh? No, this one has to be made in a place where children are. Where they live out their little lives. Where you can look around and see some drawing that looks like a piece of cat-barf, but has all the love and devotion of the Sistine Chapel. That's the only place to make a decision to snuff out a life that can truly boast to contain absolute innocence and promise."
I'm getting the impression that there will be little input required from me during this discussion. So I nod. He continues.
"I've seen that look on my face, too. Sometimes someone will need a baby cared for before some kind of sacrifice. So, they figure they might as well bring it down to the company Day-Care. After all, they can just say that it's a niece or nephew! How would an idiot who spends his days singing the alphabet song have any idea what's going on? I see, of course. How can you not? So I won't let those kids inside this room. I won't be a party to some child's death, not even by proxy. The first kid who went through this day-care program just graduated high school last year. Do you know that she still remembered me? So I couldn't do that," Andrew put the last of the blankies on a shelf. "I will not ever hold a child who will die to fulfill some goon's ambition."
If this man wanted to shame me, he was doing a hell of a good job. I couldn't even look at him anymore. I just looked down at my pants. Noticed that some peanut-butter was oozing out from beneath my right leg.
The smell of baby powder made me look up. There was one horrible moment of fear as Andrew thrust a soft bundle into my arms. It's the fear that everyone who isn't used to kids gets when something so small and helpless is suddenly thrown into their arms. I'm just as bad with puppies.
This one was sleeping, so it didn't wiggle much. Couldn't have been more than a few months old, it still even had a new-baby smell around it. It woke up a bit while I was still juggling it around. Huge blue eyes, and a little yawn. I notice all the things that you generally notice about babies. The nose. The ears. One and two, respectively. The hands had little mittons on them. The baby's jumper had a little ducky on it.
If it weren't for the stupid protective instinct towards babies that is really just instinctual to us all, I would've been pretty pissed at Andrew for using tactics like this. As it was, though, it severely influenced my decision.
And it also made me wonder if having all the jurors on a case hold a tiny, cute baby while deliberating on a child-abuse case would be considered as tainting.
I finally managed to say a word. "Bastard." Not very eloquent, and my mother would've given me hell for swearing around a baby, but it got my point across to Andrew.
"Actually," he said, making me really want to punch him, "Jodi is completely legitimate. Her mother is one of the computer support people, and her father works at a construction company across town."
There were worse names I could've called Andrew, but I got the feeling that he had heard them all before. Besides, Jodi had started to coo.
I looked up. Andrew was looking rather pleased with himself.
"Have you made a choice?"
Dammit. Last time I come to Andrew for a moral crisis.