There's no better distraction in the world than focusing on the next thing instead of looking back on what went wrong. Especially if the next thing is the Patton case – because suing China is bigger and better, and should be so much more important than some random murder case.
The first thing Ron does when he walks out of the courtroom is return to his office, take the Patton files and go over his strategy once again, looking for loopholes he might have missed, restructuring his arguments. The others come along and join him, out of loyalty or dedication to the case, but he hardly notices that they're even around. He doesn't allow himself to notice anything, except for this: the file in his hand, the letters on the paper, the things he will say in court, the next step.
It's an easy enough strategy: if you don't think about something, it can't matter; if it doesn't matter, it cannot hurt you – not as long as your mind stays away from it, anyway. A psychologist might call it denial; but then, Ron never had much respect for shrinks, and as long as it works, that's fine with him. The extra bit of concentration he puts into his work surely can't hurt.
It's only when there's a knock on his office door that Ron lets his focus slip a bit. He looks up and finds Tom leaning in the doorframe, watching him with an expression that seems, if anything, carefully blank.
"Maybe this would be the right time to return the offer of taking you to Vegas," Tom suggests. He keeps his tone light, but there are layers underneath that Ron hears and he knows that Tom is only half-joking.
He smiles thinly. "Don't worry. I'm fine."
"Come on, Ron. You've been sitting here since we got back from court this morning without coming up for air once. You cannot—"
"I'm fine, Tom," Ron repeats, emphatically, and gives Tom a long hard stare. The smile doesn't move: as if it's set in stone – pleasant and superficial and fake, a kind rebuke and a request to be left alone. He doesn't need Tom to believe him, just to act like does.
Tom looks away and nods; and Ron could swear that he can make out the onset of a pout. "Of course you are. It'll be at home, then, if you need to talk… about the case." The small, pointed pause is not lost on Ron. Tom's unique branch of subtlety is, more often than not, anything but subtle. It nothing else, it brings out some actual amusement in Ron's smile.
"Go home, Tom. Get some sleep. I'll see you in the morning."
Tom lingers for a moment, but eventually, finally, leaves without protest. Apparently the lesson that you have to pick your fights and know when it's time to let something go wasn't completely lost on him after all.
Ron watches him go, feeling strangely detached for the first time since the verdict. It's as if the world is revolving around him in slow motion, blurring at the edges of his vision. Tom vanishes around the corner, the sound of his footfalls getting softer. There's a low bang as a door falls shut. And then, nothing.
Ron continues staring into space for what could be ten seconds or five minutes, before shaking himself out of the trance.
He desperately wants to get back to work, pick up the file and bury himself in the comfortable distraction it makes, but he knows that nothing worthwhile will come out of it now. Going home is not really an option. If he hurries, he might still be able to catch Tom in the parking lot. He entertains the idea for a few seconds before discarding it.
Instead, he ends up in a bar downtown, alone.
It's one of his favourite places, where he sometimes takes a drink or two the night after a loss. He always goes there alone, never bringing any of his colleagues. Some people might be surprised that Ron Trott, of all people, would seek out one of the few bars that doesn't have a public TV screen broadcasting news 24/7. In truth, this is one of the reasons why he loves this place. Well, that and their seventeen-year Single Malt.
He's on his second glass and just starting to feel some of the tension evaporate when the door opens and a familiar blonde steps into the bar. Ron's hand clenches around the glass, his sanctuary immediately shattered by her presence. It's a sad comment on the kind of people he knows that she doesn't actually qualify as the last person he wants to see right now. To be fair, though, it's a close call.
"I thought I'd find you here," Suzanne says as she slips onto the stool next to his, uninvited. She shrugs out of the coat, the light beige fabric brushing against the floor as she struggles to slide it off. He doesn't offer to help her with it.
"I suppose you know me too well." He's aiming for casual nonchalance and missing it by a mile, the sarcasm thick in his voice.
Suzanne smirks. "I know you better than you think."
She signals for the bartender, whose eyes keep drifting down to her cleavage where the upper three buttons of her blouse have come undone. She probably came here straight from the studio, without a stopover at home to change.
"What do you want, Suzanne?"
It's a loaded question. He's aware of that even as he is asking, and he's almost relieved when she doesn't immediately hatch on the pun he all but walked into but only turns the question around on him. "Who says I have to want something?"
He snorts. "You always want something."
She smiles into her glass and takes a sip. "I know you had a bad day, and I thought you might not want to be alone, even if that's what you tell everyone, and most likely yourself too. So I thought we could have a few drinks and just… talk a bit. No ulterior motives on my part."
"I think I'll have to decline. Generous as the offer is, I already refused when it was Tom who suggested it."
"Ah. Tom." Coming from her lips, the name holds a significance that makes him slightly uncomfortable. "But then, I'm not Tom. I'm not going to ask you terrifyingly intimate questions about your emotional state and expect honest answers."
Ron laughs. "No, honesty was never exactly your strongest suit, was it?" The smile does nothing soften the barb; it only serves to make it sharper. Suzanne, however, doesn't seem fazed.
"Something we have in common," she retorts, her smile every bit as sharp as his own; and suddenly, he doesn't want to do this anymore.
"What do you want, Suzanne?" he repeats, matter-of-factly, careful not to let on how much she's getting to him. "Really. Because I'm not in the mood for games tonight."
Suzanne holds up her hands in mock surrender. "No games, I promise."
The scathing jab that her promise is hardly worth more than any client's claim to innocence rests on the tip of his tongue, but he holds it back, if barely. He's hardly one to miss out on a good battle of wits, but for once he has no desire for debate – not tonight, anyway, and not with Suzanne.
He still remembers her, seven years younger and infinitely softer – not unlike Karen, and he cannot quite escape the notion that somehow, this is his fault. That he was the one who turned both women into what they became.
It's an absurd idea. Whatever distance he purposefully put between himself and Karen, it couldn't possible have damaged her enough to drive her to murder; and Suzanne's ruthlessness had always been there – had in fact made her pursue him, and was possibly one of the key factors that attracted him to her in the first place.
He sits back and silently watches her sipping her drink. Once, during one of their more vicious fights, he told her that he liked her best when she shut up. A blatant, silly lie. Her sharp tongue and ability to keep up with him in mental sparring has always been one of the things he liked best about her. Sitting with her like this, quietly, feels almost unnatural, surreal, and he has to restrain himself not to break the silence. Maybe that's what she wants. Maybe silence is her way of wearing him down and getting information – on or off the record – on today's events.
Downing his whiskey, he watches her through narrowed eyes.
"I was in love with Karen once, a long time ago." It's no outburst of emotion, no burden he feels urged to share, but a deliberate statement of fact that he knows is bound to throw her.
She hides her surprise well, but her voice takes once again a bitter edge. "I never thought I'd see the day when you talk about love." She doesn't say, 'I could have sworn you weren't capable of that emotion,' but then, she doesn't need to. She said that before, and now the words swing silently along.
"Love is overrated," Ron replies, with just the tiniest hint of a smile; and Suzanne laughs and shakes her head. "Now that sounds more in character." Just like that, the bitterness is gone from her voice, making Ron wonder whether he might have just imagined it.
"Not that I disagree," she adds.
"And yet, you're here."
There's that laughter again, silvery and a little dirty, and all too addictive. "Do get over yourself. This is not about love."
He smiles and watches her finish her wine. "No, of course not. You just wanted to talk."
"Well, you know, talk, keep you company. Basically, just take your mind off what happened in court today."
"That's really kind of you. One might almost say selfless." As if the word actually exists in her dictionary. And just like that, despite her promise that there would be no games tonight, despite his vow not to let her engage him in one, they are playing the old game again, and Ron can't bring himself not to enjoy falling back into those old patterns. It's not like they're doing anything different than what they always do, on and off air, with just a little extra innuendo thrown into the mix.
Suzanne rolls her eyes a little. "Well, maybe not all that selfless."
"Maybe not," he echoes. Even as he says it, he realizes that his tone is all wrong: too soft, almost gentle; and he knows that this has to stop before it gets any further. "Even so… I think we should call it a night."
"Already." She raises a sceptical eyebrow. "You're getting old, Ron. It's not even eleven."
There are only so many ways to respond to the blatant attempt at manipulation. He could tell her the truth, that if he doesn't leave now, he might be unable to resist her siren's call of half-faded memories and unspoken promises later. But that truth is a little too close, a little too honest. He can't afford to give her that kind of ammunition.
For a second, he's tempted to give her some excuse about getting up early the next morning to be at court, but he stops himself when he remembers that she has no right to demand an excuse, and there's no need to offer one.
It is too easy to forget that this is now, and that was then.
His trademark smile slips into place once again. "Goodnight, Suzanne. Thank you for the company. We should do that again sometime." He puts some bills on the bar, enough to cover for both of them and a good tip, and leaves.
He makes it out of the door before Suzanne catches up with him, putting on her coat as she runs after him. "Ron, wait."
He turns to face her. The neon light casts colourful shadows on her face, softening the edges, turning her into someone she hasn't been for a long time, maybe never was.
"Wait," she says again, even though he's standing still. They're both standing still, and yet she sounds out of breath, as if he's running from her and she's trying to catch up.
"Suzanne –" he begins, suddenly weary, because he feels as if they've been there before and he doesn't want to have this talk again. Because he knows that whatever he gives, Suzanne will want more, and at some point, there won't be anything left to give. He doesn't blame her. She can't change it; it's who she is.
"Just… just tonight. For old times' sake." She draws her coat more tightly around her, shivering in the cool night air. Her voice has an almost pleading undertone, and it makes him wary. Perhaps he's jaded, but he knows Suzanne. He only gets to see of her what she wants him to see. The vulnerability she's letting him get a glimpse of may or may not be real, but the decision to let him see it is hers alone, and he doesn't like being manipulated.
He reaches out and draws her close. Her body is soft and warm and fits all too well against his; and when he kisses her, he tastes raspberry lip gloss and lingering traces of coffee underneath the heavy sweetness of the wine.
He steps back with a smile. "Goodnight." Before the incredulous expression can turn into something else, he turns and walks away.
She will be angry, and there will be hell to pay when American Crime covers his next case, but it doesn't matter. He needs to walk away now. There's only so many times you can dodge a bullet in one day.