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Brooklyn, 1999

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"Good luck convincing a jury to convict the bastard," Rollins said bitterly, sipping her scotch.

"Come on, Rollins, you can't have that attitude." Carisi clapped her shoulder. It was late, nearly 11, and yet nobody from the squad could persuade themselves to go home. This case in particular was hitting them all particularly hard, despite not having a personal element for any of them.

The suspect: Elijah Franklin, a 29-year-old dentist, accused of raping his secretary at an office Christmas party. However, the only evidence was her testimony, and his DNA in the bathroom where the rape supposedly occurred. However, since that was also in his office, it made sense for his DNA to be there. Barba was going to have a rough time making a case. And speak of the devil, in he walked, simultaneously throwing his jacket over the back of a bar stool and signaling for a drink.

"Damn, Barba, you look like hell," Rollins observed.

"Thank you, Rollins. I feel like hell." He swallowed half of his double scotch in one sip. "I don't suppose you found anything in the last five hours."

"Not a one, Counselor. But have you considered maybe offering a plea deal? I'm sure he'd accept maybe five years probation, and-" Carisi was interrupted by the hostile sneer on Barba's face.

"Booyah, Fordham Law. And no. He wouldn't. Trust me, I tried, but Rita Calhoun's defending him. She knows she's got a chance." He laughed bitingly. "It does remind me of the Margarita Lopez case, though." Carisi looked puzzled.

"Margarita Lopez? Who's that?" Now it was Barba's turn to look confused.

"You don't remember? Brooklyn? 1999?" Carisi shook his head and took a swig of his beer.

"I remember working in Brooklyn for about a month in 1999, but what does this have to do with that?" Barba shrugged.

"It was our first case together."

"No, our first case together was Ellie Porter. In 2014."

"Ha. Okay." Barba grinned. "Whatever you say." Rollins looked back and forth between the two of them.

"Okay, storytime, let's hear it. Brooklyn 1999." Barba leaned forward in his seat and cracked his knuckles.

"Let's set the scene. Brooklyn, July 4th, 1999. It was my fifth year in the Brooklyn ADA's office, and I was walking to a party when I almost got hit by a police car..."

 

Brighton Beach

July 4th

Rafael Barba, Brooklyn's youngest-ever ADA, missed the relative 'peace and quiet' of the city streets on any night that wasn't the 4th of July. People took Independence Day to mean that they had the independence to get blackout drunk, set off fireworks very poorly, and then disappear as soon as it came time to prosecute. It made his life harder, and that automatically knocked it off his list of favorite holidays (it was down to just New Year's and Halloween). Plus, rowdy white frat boys in American flag tank tops and flip flops? Not his first choice. He kept his hands shoved in his pockets and pushed through the throngs of people on their way to bars and beaches. He knew he'd end up prosecuting at least one in every group for assault (with fireworks), or vehicular manslaughter (DUI), or just good old-fashioned bar brawls that escalated to serious injury. It sounded cynical, but it was true.

Despite his pessimism, he was on his way to a party of his own. An old friend from law school (Harvard, as he was so proud of reminding people with the framed diploma hanging above his desk) was having a barbecue at Brighton Beach, and although at first Barba had been extremely reluctant to come, he found himself becoming more and more excited for it. Partially because his friend promised he'd invite girls, and Rafael hadn't had a date in almost three years. On the other hand, he wasn't wearing a three-piece suit, which he'd worn every single day since his first day of law school. Including weekends.

The thick curls that were usually combed so carefully back were loose and unencumbered by product. His stubble had grown out just past the point of being a shadow on his jaw. He tugged uncomfortably at the collar of his long-sleeve polka dot button down, paired so thoughtfully with a pair of neatly pressed khaki shorts and spotless white sneakers. Casual clothes, even dressed-up casual clothes, were unnecessary in his mind.

He remembered what his abuelita had told him the day he told her he got the scholarship to Harvard. After she hugged him as tightly as he'd ever been hugged, she went into her bedroom and returned with a box. In the box was a green and gold silk tie, which he remembered well. It had been his abuelito's favorite tie. She pressed it into his palm and leaned in, whispering softly.

"Nieto, this tie was your abuelito's. He wore it to your christening, and he thought it was only right you should receive it. He escaped Cuba with this tie. Nieto, people always saw him as just another spic, another ungrateful immigrant trying to take away the jobs from the real Americanos." She scoffed. "But when he wore this tie, he walked a little taller. People listened to him. If you wear this tie, those gringuitos won't be able to see you as some drug-dealing thug Cubano from the Bronx. They'll have to see you as one of them."

Those words had stuck with him ever since. He'd never bothered to test it.

The party was already in progress when he arrived. A bonfire towered high above him, silhouetting the other partygoers in front of an orange glow. He found his friend, a man named Andrew Kelly, in front of a charcoal grill, already on what, judging by the empty bottles, looked like his third or fourth of the evening. When he saw Barba, he grinned widely, clapping a friendly hand around his shoulders. Barba could smell him. Definitely his fourth.

"Raffi! How's it been, my man?" Barba accepted the cold beer Andy offered him.

"Not bad. How's patent law treating you?"

"It pays well, mi amigo. How's the DA's office?"

"You know how it is. They like to stick the new guy with either the boring or the unprosecutable cases. But I'll get there."

"You know it." Andy clinked his bottle against Rafaels. "Cheers."

"Cheers." Rafael twisted the cap off and took a long sip, wandering off through the sand. He found a reasonably isolated corner, far enough away from the water that other people probably wouldn't bother him but close enough that it wasn't weird. The fireworks had already started at one of the other beaches, the loud BOOM muffled by distance and the ocean waves. He leaned back, the sand cold without the sun to warm it. He bristled. Cold sand, cold beer, cold wind coming off the waves. Too cold for July, in his opinion. Damn New York weather. The BOOMs from across the water, the rhythmic pounding of the waves against the sand, and the incessant chatter coming from the other side of the beach made it much too loud to hear feet shuffling through the sand until he heard her drop down next to him. "Excuse me, I'd really rather-" He started to speak, but stopped when he saw her face. She was all curves, hardly held in by a red bikini top and daisy dukes. Her raven-black curls encircled her face in a halo, and with the light of the bonfire reflecting off it, she really looked like an angel.

"You'd rather what?" She gave him a toothy grin, showing the narrow gap between her two front teeth, and stuck out one small, freckled hand. "I'm Margo." He shook it.

"Rafael."

"You didn't answer my question, Rafael."

"What?"

"You were saying something. You said, 'Excuse me, I'd really rather-' and then you stopped. You'd rather what?"

"I was going to say I'd rather be alone, but I've recently decided to retract my statement."

"Ooh, breaking out the fancy language. You tryin' to impress someone, Rafael?"

"What-? No, I'm just- It's my job. I'm a lawyer. An assistant district attorney, actually."

"Fancy language, fancy job. What else about you is fancy, Counselor?" He tried to smother a smile.

"Nothing that I know of, Margo." He sipped his beer. "What do you do?"

"I'm Andy's secretary. But I'm going back to school now. I'm gonna be a paralegal," Margo said proudly, like a child pronouncing that she was going to be a princess when she grew up.

"Good for you. And if there's ever an opening for a paralegal at the DA's office, I'll let you know." Margo giggled and stood up, brushing the sand off her legs.

"I should get back to the party. See if Andy needs anything. I'll see you around, Rafael."

"See you around, Margo." She sauntered away.

 

Barba stayed for a few hours, watching as Andy set off his own fireworks, until a thick cloud of smoke settled down on the beach. Around midnight, he rejoined the party, looking for Andy, so he could say goodbye and get home to his dog. Unfortunately, the party had essentially descended into chaos. Nobody could see anyone else through the fog. He figured he'd just send Andy a text later and thank him for the invite. As he started his walk to the subway, he heard faint sirens in the distance. He expected them to fade further and further into the distance, but they just got louder. Soon, they were accompanied by flashing lights, which were attached to nearly a half-dozen patrol cars. Rafael sped up his pace, trying to get out of the way before he was crushed into the crosswalk.

The blaring of a horn was dimmed in his ears under the sound of sirens, and the lights were a blur around him. He hardly even heard the brakes screech until the patrol car was mere inches away from him. His heart pounded and his head spun, but he shook himself out of it when the officer stepped out of the car.

"Hey, asshole! Your job is to protect and serve, not smash assistant district attorneys with your car!" He made an obscene gesture with his hand.

"Sorry, man, but we got a job to do. A woman got raped on the beach over there. Know anything about it?" The cop held up his hands defensively as he spoke.

"No, I wasn't really participating in the party. You said someone got raped?"

"Yeah. You said you're an ADA?" The cop grinned. He was young, but his face made him look even younger. "I guess we'll see a lot more of each other."

"Whatever." As the cop raced off toward the scene, Barba watched after him. His long legs bounded down the boardwalk and into the cloud of smoke. With that, he was gone.