Chapter 16: Case dismissed

Kevin made polite conversation with the starstruck Lindsay as he watched a restless Howie pace the floor. How had he gotten here? Kevin hadnít told a soul, and then made doubly sure -- once he confirmed with Bondon what time Kat was going to be there -- by taking the last flight out of Orlando. Heíd even made sure there was nothing leaving Tampa for Toronto at a later time. And the earliest flight out of either airport didnít leave until 8:30 a.m. There was no way he could have...

"Lindsay, let me just talk to Howie for a sec, okay?" The girl nodded. She didnít know what was going on but it had something to do with Howie. She was dying of curiosity, but if Kat was going to help her hero Nick, she was willing to stay out of it.

Kevin rose and grabbed Howieís arm, stopping from yet another turn on the carpet, and pulled him over to a quiet corner.

"How did you get here?"

"Nick called. There was a message on your machine. He was there with Brian and they called me. I couldnít find a flight, so I chartered a plane."

"Why didnít you call me, Kev?" Howie asked softly. "Why didnít you tell me she was okay?"

The pleading tone in Howieís voice almost broke Kevin. "She asked me not too."

"Yeah, she made AJ promise not to, too," Howie said bitterly.

"Come on D, itís not the same. She was doing this for Nick. I figured I could come here and convince her to come back with me. Clear all that up."

"You though she would?"

Kevin had to be honest. ĎI donít know. She was...she wouldnít talk about it on the phone. But I thought, face to face. Itíd take some time but I could convince her."

Howie stared out the window. "I told her I loved here, and that didnít convince her to stay before."

"But you came."

"Yeah," Howie said desolately.

Kevin was silent for a moment. "She did ask about you."

"She did?"

"And she didnít react too well in there," he said gesturing to the closed door. "No matter what, she still cares deeply about you."

"Thanks, man." Kevin squeezed his shoulder, giving him support, then sat down, stretched his long legs and waited.

It was almost an hour later that the door opened. The prosecutor Turner walked out briskly, a scowl on his face. Kat emerged cautiously -- looking for the man she loved so much it hurt. She saw Lindsay, who was dozing quietly in her chair, and Kevin who stood expectantly. No Howie. Had she imagined him there? Wanted to see him so badly that she had conjured him up? She was about to asked Kevin when Bondon hustled out.

"I must say, that was wonderful I think we can wrap this up quickly. Thank you so much for coming forward." He turned to Kevin, "quite a help, this lady." Then bustled hurriedly down the hall, followed by a train of sub-lawyers.

"I think thatís that," Kat smiled.

"Heís in the clear?" Kevin asked anxiously.

"Not yet. But I think I destroyed the case against him."

"How?" Kevin was stunned.

"Remember Dave?" Kevin frowned. "The guy who looked like Nick?"

His face cleared, "what about him?"

Howie was here. She could feel him. She may not have recognized it in the conference room, but now. She took as step, sideways, turning to her left, so that she could see him rather than having him continue to stand behind her.

"He was one the last to leave that night. You and Alexis had all ready left." Kat continued, "that was their big piece of evidence. Why they wouldnít drop the case. They had a jacket, with bloodstains and semen on it. The jacket Nick wore that night at the concert."

Kevin looked blankly at her.

"Nick was drunk, and he thought having a look alike there was really funny. He dressed Dave up in his clothes than let him keep them."

Howie nodded, his face deep in thought as he remembered the incident.

"So Nick didnít..." Kevin said.

Kat let a flash of anger cross her face. "Did you ever think he had?"

"But she was raped?"

"I donít know. She was with Dave when Nick showed up. It could have been a set-up or an actual assault." Kat shrugged her shoulders. "That is for them to clear up. All Nick has to do is agree to take a blood test to confirm its not his...stuff...on the jacket. But seeing as they found the jacket in the stairwell, its pretty obvious," she finished.

"That damn blood test," Kevin muttered and Kat looked at him curiously. "They asked Nick to take a blood test a month ago but wouldnít say why. He canít remember that night clearly; heís the only one of us who actually thought he might have done it, so he was scared of taking the test. Bondon counseled against it, and has been blocking their attempts to get it since then," he said, filling her in.

"It would have cleared this up then," Kat pointed out.

"Yeah. If theyíd told us why they wanted it. I gotta call Nick," Kevin said.

"Fine. I have to take Lindsay home." She walked over and shook the sleeping girl. "Hey, wake up." Lindsay looked blankly at her and Kat smiled tightly. "Come on, weíre going home. And by the way, as an early warning system... youíre fired."

The two walked towards the elevator, Kat hitting the down button.

"Where are you going?" Kevin asked.

"I told you. I am taking Lindsay home."

"I...WEíre coming with you," he said, walking towards her, Howie following.

"Kevin.." Kat said, warning in her tone, but he ignored her.

"Donít fight us on this one, Kat. Where are you parked? Want me to drive?í

They entered the elevator. Howie stationed himself at the back, behind her. She could feel his eyes boring into her. He still hadnít said a word. She hit the button for the parking garage; then, noticing the way her hand was shaking, clasped her hands together quickly, hoping no one else had noticed. She was having a hard time concentrating with him in the elevator. How was she going to survive a two and a half-hour drive?

"Keys?" Kevinís voice drew her out of her reverie. They were standing in front of her car. She shook her head, and drew her keyís out, opening the driverís side door.

"This is where it ends. I canít handle this. Iím sorry, itís too much. I am taking Lindsay back. Alone. Lindsay, get in."

"Forget it, Kat. We are not letting you run away this time," Kevin replied rigidly.

Kat was about to argue when Lindsay opened the front passenger door and hit the switch that unlocked all the car doors. She knew se was betraying Kat in some way, but was sure she was doing the right thing. Kevin flashed her a brilliant smile, and he and Howie climbed into the back seat.

Kat just stared at Lindsay as the girl started to climb into the car. "Damn you," she said coldly, and was rewarded by having the girl flush.

Lindsay tried to make polite conversation on the long drive. Kat had to hand it to the younger woman; she was trying her best to break the tension. The girl was more perceptive than Kat had realized. She had gotten herself stuck in a drama that she had no understanding of. It wasnít her fault that Kat never joined in the conversation except when asked a direct question. Howie had still not said a word.

Kat pulled up in front of Lindsayís house. Kevin, by this time, had elicited a promise from the girl that she wouldnít tell anyone about the dayís events. None of them really believed that she would be able to sit on the news for very long, though. She drove home, parked and walked up the stairs to her apartment, shadowed closely by the two men.

Kevin glanced around the apartment quickly, then said, politely, "nice place."

Kat saw her hideaway through anotherís eyes. Threadbare sofa and Salvation Army furniture. She had been there two weeks and there was nothing of her in the place. It was as sterile and emotionless as the day she had moved in.

"Shut up, Kevin. Itís a hole and I know it."

He looked away, surprised by the vehemence in her voice. "Iím going to call Nick," he said. "Whereís the phone?"

Kay chucked him the cell phone from her purse. He looked at it, shocked, realizing for the first time the extent to which she had gone to cut ties with the past. To disconnect from all ties, especially those that would bring her back into contact with the group. And what it had taken for her to come forward, without a second thought, to help them. He dialed quickly, walking into the hall, leaving Kat and Howie alone in the living room.

Kat walked over to the window and looked out at the early evening gray sky. It had started to snow again, the flakes dusting the streets. She couldnít stand it anymore. He just stood there, watching her, so much emotion playing through those beautiful eyes of his. She could feel them on her back. She didnít turn, couldnít face him, just took a deep breath, trying to calm her emotions, and asked softly, "how are you, Howie?"

He opened his mouth, about to answer, but Kevin walked in, holding out the phone. "He wants to talk to you."

Kat sighed and took the phone from him. "Hello?"

"Itís finally over?" Kat felt tears pricking as Nickís voice broke.

"Almost, Nicky," she said gently. "They just need one more thing from you and then it will all go away."

"I was so scared. I couldnít rememberÖ I wasnít sureÖ" he was crying.

"I was, Nicky. Nobody who knows you believed it. It just took a little while to let others see it," she consoled him, listening to him weep. "Itís okay, Nick. Iím just sorry that I couldnít have fixed this earlier."

Nick pulled himself together, wiping tears that she couldnít see away. "Howieís there?"

Kat glanced quickly at the man. "Yeah, heís here."

"I sent him," Nick said. "I wanted to go myself but Brian wouldnít let me. I was afraid youíd leave if he came, but I sent him anyway."

"How did youÖ"

"You left a message on Kevinís machine. Donít blame him; I donít think he realized it was still there. Alexis didnít know where Kevin went and when I saw the message on the machineÖ"

Kat smiled slightly. Sheíd been the one who had caught her. Kevin hadnít ratted her out, but she knew that much all ready Ė from seeing his reaction to seeing Howie there. It did clear up the mystery, though.

"So she did move down there, hunh?"

Nick was glad of the change of subject. "Yeah. They are always together. They are really happy. Itís disgusting."

Kat laughed.

"It is good to hear your voice."

"Yours too. So everyone knows?"

"Just us four. I donít think anyoneís told AJ."

"Tell him. Heís your friend, Nick. Heíll want to know you are going to be okay," Kat said, knowing it was right, but also knowing that now sheíd have to face the things that she had run away from.

"If you are sure." She could hear the question in his tone.

"Yeah. And Nick?í

"What?"

"Smile."

"Youíve finally given me something to smile about," he said, severing the connection."

Chapter 17