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Ladies Who Lunch

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"We need a new in-house," Will said, tossing his baseball into the air. It smacked against his palm and Diane looked up from her desk. She hadn't realized he was still there; she hadn't realized anyone else was still in the building.

"An investigator? What's wrong with the one Jonas brought on?" Erik or Aaron, Diane couldn't remember, but the man had seemed competent enough when Jonas introduced him.

Will wrinkled his nose. "I don't like relying on Jonas's people. We need someone who'll come to us first. Anyway, Erik's old-school. He might be great at gruntwork, but I'm not sue he even knows what the internet is. Gotta keep up with the times."

Diane smiled in spite of herself. "And I assume you have some ideas as to where we should look for a likely candidate?"

"Well, actually..." Will ducked his head, looking slightly abashed.

"You already have someone in mind." Typical Will – she should have known he wouldn't make a move without already being five steps ahead.

"I do, but you have veto power," he assured her, hands out in an attempt to placate her. "It's just, I know a guy who's got connections on the force, and I happened to mention we might be looking."

"Right." Diane eyed him wryly. "So, a police officer? That has potential..."

"Not exactly," Will said. "Look, how about I set up a meeting? You can make a decision then."

"Yes, fine." Diane checked her calendar. "Wednesday or Thursday afternoon? A short appointment," she added, "I have the Danielson depos to deal with." The less time she had to spend with Will's old-boy's-club connections, the better.

"Great." Will twirled the baseball in his fingers. "I think you'll really like her," he called from the hallway.

Her? A grin spread slowly across Diane's face. That was unexpected. Sneaky, Will, very sneaky, she thought, laughing quietly to herself.

*

Two days later, Diane clattered into the foyer of Keefer's and swept her coat off her shoulders. "Reservation for Lockhart," she told the hostess, smoothing her hair in the mirrored wall and simultaneously scanning the room for anyone who looked a likely candidate for Will's would-be in-house. In her experience, the best investigators tended to be a little scruffy, as if they spent too much time delving beneath others' surfaces to pay any attention to their own.

Why did Will choose a place like Keefer's? Diane suddenly wondered. Surely the girl would stick out like a sore thumb. Business lunches at Keefer's were for people who wanted to see and – Diane straightened the sleeves of her Escada jacket – be seen by Chicago's movers and shakers.

"The other party hasn't arrived yet, Ms Lockhart," the hostess smiled, "but I can seat you now, if you'll come this way?"

Diane checked her watch discreetly as the hostess led her to a window table. She was already five minutes late due to a combination of Chicago traffic and, perhaps, a bit of a power play. But for a prospective employee to keep her waiting.... She took the wine list with slightly more force than strictly necessary and nodded the hostess away. Will had made her promise to be as unbiased as possible, but not even he could claim that being late was a good start to the meeting. She thought almost longingly of the deposition transcripts waiting on her desk, then sighed and settled into her seat.

The girl hadn't shown by the time Diane was through with the wine list; she ordered an excellent and pricey Napa Bordeaux out of spite, determined to dine out at Will's expense even if the interview never happened. She was in the middle of composing a truly scathing put-down for him, something pointing out the follies of wanting to hire an in-house who couldn't keep track of details as simple as lunch reservations, when a slim form stepped into her line of sight.

Diane's eyes tracked from the smart leather Via Spiga boots, up over the fitted military jacket, stopping approvingly on the Burberry scarf, before reaching a calm, almost expressionless face. Paralegal? Court clerk? she wondered, raising her eyebrows expectantly.

"Diane Lockhart?" the woman asked, sounding as if she already knew the answer. At Diane's nod, she shrugged out of her coat, revealing a CK skirt suit – last season's, but stunning on her – and slid into the seat opposite. "Kalinda Sharma," she said, twisting to signal to the waitress. "Hi."

Diane blinked. This is the investigator? She fits in better than I do. Not that those amazing boots make up for her timing. "You realize you're late," she said sharply.

"Yeah. Sorry." Kalinda smiled briefly. She tugged a sheaf of paper out of her handbag and passed it across the table; Diane took it out of reflex.

"What's this?" she asked, flipping through the pages quickly. Catching a familiar name, she slowed, stopped, and then started from the beginning again, skimming carefully. When she looked up, Kalinda was watching her over the rim of a glass of wine. "These... these are incredible," Diane started, shocked.

"Yep," Kalinda agreed.

"Mark Danielson's alibi... you've found independent confirmation? How? I've been working on that for two weeks!" Diane took a large swallow of wine. "And the surveillance photos, are those from the deli?" Kalinda nodded, and Diane sighed in exasperation. "The woman who owns it swore up and down that she didn't have working cameras! How did you find out?"

Kalinda shrugged slowly. "I can be very persuasive," she said evenly. "But it did take a little longer than I expected. Which is why I was late."

"Did Will set this up with you?" Diane asked. "Fed you my trial information so that I'd hire you on the strength of a sheaf of notes and a promise to be 'persuasive'? Because I'm not that easily persuaded."

"Will had nothing to do with it," Kalinda answered; Diane was pleased to see some fire in her voice and the way her knuckles whitened on the stem of her wine glass. "I checked the court calendar to see what you were appearing on this week. Then I got hold of the transcripts of the discovery. From there it was simple. I worked out what you needed and found a way to get it." She steadied her voice, but her grip didn't relax. "I'm sure if you need further persuading, I can handle that as well."

"Oh, really." Diane folded her hands on top of the precious bundle of notes and leaned forward. "So tell me, where did you get all that information from? Who gave you access to the discovery? And why are officers of the Chicago PD recommending you to my partner?"

"I work for the state's attorney." Kalinda leaned back in her chair. "I know a lot of people."

Diane laughed. Nothing about this interview was going as she'd thought it would, but she could already tell that having this Kalinda in the office would be as entertaining as it would challenging. Especially when I sic her on Will. "And you want to work for us because?" she asked.

"I want to do something different. And maybe I'm tired of answering to men all the time." Kalinda sat forward, mirroring Diane's stance. "It would be nice to work under a woman for a change."

Diane became suddenly, consumingly aware of the size of the table and the short distance between the two of them. If she moved her foot, it would touch Kalinda's.

The audacity of this woman astonishes even me, she thought, impressed. It takes guts to pull that kind of move on a first meeting. I want her. In the office, of course. "And have you... done that kind of work before?" she asked, wondering how far she could push the conversation.

"Not in the same situation." The corners of Kalinda's lips twitched in what was almost a smile. "It's not every day I meet a woman with enough power to hold her own in a partnership with two of Chicago's bulldog attorneys."

Speaking of power dynamics. This one's going to be a doozy. "You wouldn't just be answering to me, you know," Diane said carefully. "Will and Jonas – Jonas Stern – they'd have... equal access to demands on your time."

"Yeah." Kalinda toyed with the stem of her wine glass again, her fingers loose this time. Then she raised it to her lips and drained it smoothly. When she set the glass down, her lips were red and damp. "But it's a man's world out there. And we girls need to take any advantage we can." She smiled at Diane, the expression transforming her face completely. "Don't we?"

Diane curved her hand beneath the bowl of her own glass and smiled back. "I'll drink to that."