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He'd never know what kind of favors Constance must have called in with the warden, to be permitted to bring the cloth tape measure past all of the screening points between Pelican Bay's main gates and the counsel room. Nothing with that kind of strength or potential to be weaponized - nothing with the tempting possibility of holding steady just long enough to become some convict's sure and sudden escape - was supposed to make its way into the blocks.

But, somehow, she'd made certain that the tools she needed for the job came in with her, and when he looked at her with the question in his head if not on his lips, she'd only given a wry smile and said, "I'm very persuasive when I need to be."

He'd known that much already; if she hadn't been, he would have resigned himself to passing another ten (Thirty. Fifty.) years, contemplating zen and polished concrete and whether fury could burn cold enough to shatter a man from the inside out, an ice shelf collapsing in on itself, taking unwary explorers with it. Instead, he was here, reviewing deposition transcripts in advance of hearing - not trial, Constance had emphasized, though he wasn't clear on the difference - and being fitted for a new suit. Hope wasn't something a man in his position could necessarily afford, but somehow, she'd managed to sell it to him anyway.

Couldn't afford a suit either, especially the tailoring she seemed to be envisioning, but she'd insisted that the firm would advance it as an expense, to be reimbursed out of the settlement he'd be entitled to. Didn't mention what would happen if there were no settlement to bill against.

"They need to see you, Charlie. Not the jumpsuit." She pulled the tape taut across his shoulders, marking a point and making a careful notation in her moleskine notebook. "I can reach them more easily if they're already thinking of you as a person and not an inmate number."

He let her finish taking his measure - waist, inseam, collar; her hands simultaneously businesslike and the gentlest that had fallen on him in years - and didn't say how often he wondered to himself, from a perfect state of tranquility, whether he were still a person.


He was still wearing the suit, a few hours after the Court had made its pronouncement, sitting on a stool, somewhat looser-limbed than he'd been five pints of sharp, bitter beer, (plus one orange and a plate full of pineapple garnishes) ago.

The bar, narrow but deep, tucked into a brick storefront a short two blocks from the courthouse was cool and dark, more polished than his place and Tom's had been, all brass and stained glass and rows of shiny taps. No pool table or perforated dart board in sight. Complimentary individually wrapped hand wipes instead of matchbooks. He wondered what had happened to the old place, whether he could buy it back and call it a fresh start.

He laughed sharp and hollow into the last inch of his beer. He'd need help, managing the settlement money, putting a check on his worst ideas - the ones that amounted to setting it aflame and throwing what remained of him on the pyre.

More immediately, he'd need help navigating the polished planks between his stool and the door, and the familiar but wholly-changed city outside.

The bartender knew Constance, had her vodka tonic poured almost before she had claimed the stool next to Charlie's.

"So, what's next?" she asked, offering him the wheel of lime balanced on the rim of her glass.

He took it, sharp on his tongue, clashing with his beer. An unpleasantness he could deal with. Could learn to relish, he thought, after so many years of cold concrete and tinned food.

"Well, I have this very nice suit. I should probably think about finding someplace to hang it." Closet space was something he could afford now. Plans, too.