Barba straightened his tie and smoothed the front of his vest before standing and looking evenly at the young woman on the stand. “Ms. Moloney, you testified that you spent the entire weekend of September 17th at the defendant’s apartment, correct?”
The young woman — Claire Moloney, the defendant’s girlfriend and his only alibi at the time a brutal push-in rape had occured only two floors down in his apartment building — sat up straighter and nodded. “Yes,” she said, her voice wavering only slightly.
Barba nodded slowly. “And at no point during that weekend did you return to your own apartment?”
“No,” she said, with slightly more confidence.
“And who looked after your cat?”
Claire blinked, glancing immediately at the defendant before looking back at Barba. “My cat?” she asked, her voice higher pitched than before.
“Your cat,” Barba repeated helpfully. “Mister, uh—” He pretended to confer with his notes. “Mr. Mittens, isn’t it?” He looked back up at Claire, but she seemed frozen in her seat. “Your neighbor told us that she usually looks after Mr. Mittens when you’re gone, since you can’t leave him alone overnight. Is that correct?”
She was silent for a long moment before saying, hesitantly, “Yes.”
Barba was careful not to smirk, even though he had her now, had her right where he needed her in order to watch the defendant’s alibi unravel, and he made a mental note to thank Olivia later for whichever of her detectives had figured out the cat connection. “So I’m going to ask you again — on the weekend of September 17th, who looked after your cat?”
Rita Calhoun stood, and Barba barely managed not to roll his eyes. “As fascinating as Mr. Barba’s apparent interest in feline care is, this has no relevance on what the witness testified about the weekend in question.”
Now Barba did roll his eyes, exaggeratedly, and mostly for the jury’s benefit (though he’d be lying if he said he didn’t get anything out of it). “No relevance?” he repeated scathingly. “Your Honor, Ms. Calhoun’s defense rests almost entirely on Ms. Moloney’s alibi, and the care of her cat for the weekend in question is highly relevant—”
Without warning, the witness dissolved into tears, openly crying into her hands with huge, hiccuping sobs. Barba immediately crossed over to her, pulling out a handkerchief and handing it to her. “I’m sorry,” she gasped, her shoulders shaking. “It’s just…Mr. Mittens died.”
“I’m very sorry to hear that,” Barba told her gently, and he meant it, though mostly because a sobbing witness didn’t reflect well on him or his case. “Recently?”
Claire nodded. “Yeah,” she said, blowing her nose in Barba’s handkerchief. “He...he had liver disease. I had to give him shots every six hours.”
Barba nodded, and took this opportunity to get his line of questioning somewhat back on track before he lost the jury’s sympathy permanently. “I can tell you really loved him,” he said, still gentle. “Which means you wouldn’t have skipped out on making sure he got his shots.”
“Never,” Claire told him, eyes wide. “He was…” She let out another sob. “He was my best friend.”
“So on the weekend of September 17th,” Barba continued as soon as she looked up again, “you wouldn’t have left Mr. Mittens alone all weekend.”
“N—No,” she stammered, looking over at her boyfriend again.
Rita stood again. “Your Honor, I request a recess. The witness clearly needs a few minutes.”
Barba threw her a look, as did Judge Barth. “Overruled.”
“So Ms. Moloney, I’m going to ask you one more time — did you spend the entire weekend at your boyfriend’s apartment?”
Claire hesitated only a moment before shaking her head. “No,” she admitted tearfully. “No, I had to make sure Mr. Mittens got his shots. But…but he said he didn’t do it.”
“I’m sure he did,” Barba said, his lip curling, and he didn’t even wait for Rita to say anything before adding, “Withdrawn. No further questions.”
Rita stood again, this time resignation clear in the set of her shoulders — at least to Barba, who knew defeat when he saw it. “Your Honor, I request a recess. I need to confer with my client.”
“Yes you do, Counselor,” Judge Barth said dryly. “I also recommend conferring with Mr. Barba while you’re at it.” She banged her gavel. “Court will reconvene tomorrow at 9am.”
Barba stood, sorely tempted to whistle as he gathered his papers together. Rita muttered something to her client in an undertone before heading in his direction, clearly unamused. “Can I have a moment, Counselor?”
“For you, Rita? Always,” Barba said with a smirk.
Rita rolled her eyes as she followed him out of the courtroom. “You realize that you got lucky in there, right?”
“Luck?” Barba scoffed, holding the courthouse door open for her. “It’s called skill. You’d recognize it if you had it.”
Rita rolled her eyes again. “Gloat all you want, Barba, but there was no way you could’ve known that her cat died recently,” she said snippily. “And you just better hope that one day your luck doesn’t run out.”
Barba just laughed. “I’ll keep that in mind,” he said dismissively. “Now, since we both know that you’re going to take whatever deal I offer after that little meltdown and since I doubt you really came all this way just to hear me gloat, what do you want?”
For a moment, Rita looked like she might deny any or all of what Barba had said, but then she sighed and shook her head. “I wanted to see if you were going to the DA’s fundraiser tonight.”
Barba snorted. “When have you ever known me to voluntarily go to one of the DA’s fundraisers?” he asked.
“C’mon, Rafi, it’ll be fun,” Rita said, her tone turning wheedling. “And while you may have luck in spades, you know as well as I do that you could use some fun.”
Barba’s eyes narrowed and he gave her a suspicious look as he opened the door to 1 Hogan Place. “What kind of fun?” he asked warily.
Rita smirked. “Well, for starters, it’s a masquerade theme, and I know damn well that there’s nothing you love more than the opportunity to be dramatic.”
“Is that your way of calling me a drama queen?” Barba asked mildly. Rita smirked and Barba rolled his eyes before changing tacks. “What’s the real reason you want me to go?”
Rita hesitated. “There’s an associate at my firm who’ll be there. And he happens to be gay.”
Barba gave her a look, pushing the button for the elevator with more force than was necessary. “If I even hear the words ‘blind date’ come out of your mouth—”
“And see, that’s why I don’t need to call you a drama queen,” Rita said blithely, following him onto the elevator. “You always prove my point for me without me having to say anything.” When Barba just glared at her, she sighed. “Come on, Rafael, give the man a chance. He’s gorgeous, he does civil law so you won’t have to go up against him in court, negating your standard excuse of conflict of interest, and besides...he thinks you’re cute.”
Though Barba couldn’t help but preen slightly at that, he still gave Rita a suspicious look. “And what do you get out of this?”
“Can’t I just want to do something from the goodness of my heart?” Barba just gave her a look and Rita laughed. “Ok, fine, he’s considering an offer from a firm in Chicago and my boss is desperate to keep him, so I figured, you show him a good time tonight, take him to pound town—”
“Please never say the words ‘pound town’ when I’m in earshot again,” Barba said, drawing some strange looks as they got off the elevator.
“—And maybe he’ll consider sticking around.” She gave Barba a pleading look. “Please, Rafael? You get laid, I make my boss happy, it’s a win-win scenario. And did I mention that this guy is gorgeous?”
As tempted as Barba was to tell her to fuck off just for the satisfaction of doing so, he had to admit that the idea didn’t sound as terrible as he had feared. And besides, he needed to get laid. “Even if I wanted to go, I’m not exactly dressed for it,” he hedged as they arrived at his office.
Carmen stood as they approached. “Mr. Barba, it seems your dry cleaners messed up and had this sent to your office instead of your apartment,” she said, holding out the dry cleaning bag for him, but Rita snatched it from her before Barba could even reach in that direction.
“Is this is a Tom Ford tuxedo?” she asked.
“If it is, then it isn’t mine,” Barba said mildly.
Rita gave him a look. “Oh, who cares,” she said dismissively. “Knowing your luck, it’ll fit like a glove, and besides, now you don’t have an excuse not to go tonight.”
Barba sighed, but Rita had a point. “Fine,” he said reluctantly. “I’ll go. Provided I get all my work done, anyway, since now I have to come up with a reasonable plea deal for your client.”
Rita rolled her eyes but chose not to comment on that. “Excellent,” she said brightly. “Then I will see you there.”
Barba just grunted in response as he took the tuxedo into his office with him. He glanced at the tag and made an appreciative face. The jacket at least was his size, so maybe Rita wasn’t too far off about his luck…
Olivia looked up from the paperwork she was working on. “Can I help you with something, Carisi?”
Carisi sighed. He hated confrontation, especially in the workplace, but this was the third time this had happened this week, and he would’ve taken it personally if it weren’t for the fact that, at the end of the day, it was just his luck. “Um, you forgot to give me an assignment today.”
Olivia blinked. “Oh. Right. Sorry, Carisi, I thought you still had a case you were working on.”
“Nope,” Carisi said bracingly, and he gave Olivia his best, most winning smile. “But I’m ready and able to work on anything you need me to.”
Olivia managed a smile as well, but it was slightly distracted as she sorted through the papers on her desk. “I appreciate your willingness as always, Carisi, but I don’t…” She trailed off and sighed before giving him a rather forced smile. “Why don’t you tag along with Fin and Amanda today? I’m sure they could use the extra help.”
“To interview an eighty-year-old woman?” Carisi asked, doubt clear in his voice, but he forced a smile nonetheless. “Sure, Lieu. On it.”
“Thanks, Carisi,” Olivia said, her attention already back on her paperwork, and Carisi sighed and retreated from her office.
Amanda looked up at him, sympathy mixed with amusement. “Liv forgot you again?” she asked.
“She’s got a lot on her plate right now,” Carisi said defensively.
“Uh-huh,” Amanda said skeptically. “In any case, if you’re riding with me and Fin, there’s something you should know.”
“What’s that?” Carisi asked, picking up his barely touched cup of coffee from his desk.
Amanda smirked. “I already called shotgun.”
“That’s fine,” Carisi said, mainly because, knowing Amanda, it could’ve been worse. “I don’t mind the backseat.”
After the car ride from hell, and Carisi subsequently spilling his entire cup of coffee on himself, he was beginning to regret saying that.
And from there, his day only got worse.
As Amanda and Fin interviewed the witness, Carisi was tasked with entertaining the witness’s dog, a high-strung chihuahua whose owner claimed had anxiety issues. Normally this wouldn’t be a problem — Carisi liked dogs and got along well with them — but this particular dog took one look at Carisi and decided to use him as a large and gangly chew toy.
“You know, I actually paid decent money for this suit,” Carisi said mournfully, examining the shredded remnants of one suit jacket sleeve as he trailed after Fin and Amanda as they left the witness’s apartment.
“Why?” Fin asked, glancing in the rearview mirror, and Amanda smacked him lightly on the arm.
“Just because you haven’t worn a suit since the 80s doesn’t mean Carisi’s not allowed to try to look nice,” she said, turning to smirk at Carisi. “Especially if he’s trying to dress swanky for a certain someone.”
Carisi flushed and Fin rolled his eyes. “Oh Lord,” he said, starting the car, “not this again.”
Carisi didn’t bother denying that he was dressing a certain way for anyone, knowing damn well that Amanda wouldn’t believe him and Fin didn’t want to hear it. The truth was that while he had started dressing nicer because he wanted to try to fit in better in Manhattan, catching the eye of the well-dressed ADA was a pleasant if inadvertent side effect.
Or would have been, anyway, if Carisi’s wardrobe change had made any impact whatsoever on Barba.
Over a year later and despite Carisi’s best efforts, Barba still never seemed to have anything to say to him except a snide comment or pointed joke. Which was fine with Carisi, because the alternative was Barba not noticing Carisi at all.
...Ok, so there might have been a little bit of truth in what Amanda had said.
But as if reiterating Carisi’s place in the grand scheme of both the universe and Rafael Barba’s regard, when they went to 1 Hogan Place to get a warrant, Barba barely even spared Carisi — who had left his mangled suit jacket in the car, figuring there was no need to add insult to injury — a second glance before telling him dismissively, “You have mustard on your tie, Detective.”
Amanda managed to contain her laughter until they were back on the elevator, Carisi’s face burning red. “I’m sorry,” she told him in between laughs. “But you’ve gotta admit you might have the world’s worst luck.”
“Well, you know what they say,” Carisi said bracingly, “if it weren’t for bad luck, I’d have no luck at all.”
As if to prove his own point, the moment he stepped off the elevator, he slipped on a patch of wet floor and fell on his ass in front of numerous attorneys, judges and fellow officers. This time, Amanda was kind enough not to laugh as she reached down to help him up. “It could be worse,” she offered, mostly joking. “You could've fallen in front of Barba.”
“Yeah,” Carisi said with a rueful chuckle. “That would be my luck.”