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Six Degrees of Mistrust (9/?)
playthewoman

Title: Six Degrees of Mistrust
Rating: T/PG-13
Pairing: none, gen!fic
Warnings: language, but milder than what you'd see on the show.
Beta reader: the gracious Laminamara. Thank you!
Disclaimer: I do not own "Suits" or any of the content affiliated with it.
Summary: in the aftermath of the merger, relationships unravel at the old Pearson & Hardman, as the landscape of the firm changes. A lawsuit that Harvey gets dismissed without problems reveals that Edward Darby might have one secret too many.


Frank Randall Community Center, Brownsville, Brooklyn






“Mrs. Jennifer Randall?” she asked, walking towards the slim,
ebony-skinned woman she'd been referred
to. “I'm Emmeline Moretti. Father Lucas Adler from Our Lady of
Peace called you about me.”






The woman smiled warmly at her. “Yes, he did. I was expecting you.
Jennifer Randall. Nice to meet you, Emmeline.”






Emmeline smiled in return, already liking Jennifer's no-nonsense
attitude. Her firm grip also spoke highly in her favor. “Likewise,
Jennifer.”






“Come on, let's go talk into my office. Do you want a cup of tea?
Coffee?”






“No, thanks. I've got my own,” she said and pulled a large travel
mug from her bag. “Never go anywhere without it.”






Jennifer smiled again as they walked into her cluttered,
half-unpacked office. “I can relate.” She removed a box from a
chair. “Have a seat.” Emmeline did. “Sometimes I still can't
believe I have an office at the Center. When I started five years
ago, we had two rented rooms above the restaurant down the street.”






“From what I can see, you've come a long way.”






Jennifer seated herself across from her, a bitter smile on her face.
“I can't take any credit for it. The truth is it was all the Lord's
justice. He might choose to go the long way sometimes, but when it
comes to right and wrong, He is always the one to tip the scales in
the right direction. The company responsible for my husband's death
finally paid us a settlement last year, so I was able to expand the
Center. And now I'm looking for new projects for all these available
rooms.”






“Father Lucas told me about your husband. I'm so sorry for your
loss.”






The other woman looked away. “Thank you. My Frank was one in a
million, Emmeline, but he had it rough. He grew up on these streets.
Back then it was much worse than it is now. Not that it's ideal now,
but back when Frank was a kid, this was the real Hell's kitchen.
Frank made a few mistakes as a teenager, but he served his time. He
put himself through school and got a real job. That's how he met me.
After we got married, we moved to Bay Ridge and had two sons. We were
happy. Then one night he didn't come home from work. We'd had that
car for a week,” Jennifer said with something akin to violence in
her voice, like that truly mattered. “Both the insurance company
and the police said the hood was bad, but guess what?” the woman
continued with wry irony in her slightly crumbling voice. “Coastal
Motors, the guys who made the car, could afford one of those fancy
law firms downtown.” Emmeline shivered as if struck by a chill at
Jennifer's words. “Before I knew it, this suit ragged on my dead
husband in court and my lawyer was cowering in a corner.”






Emmeline surveyed the floor briefly, steeling herself to meet
Jennifer's teary eyes. “You lost.”






“And then some. Turns out I didn't even lose fair and square. That
lawyer and the car company committed fraud to win. That's how I got
paid the settlement,” Jennifer explained bitterly.






“I'm sorry, Jennifer. I've experienced first hand how more often
than not the legal system is about who can afford the best attorneys
rather than justice being served.”






Jennifer rubbed at her eyes. “Anyway, I don't wanna think about it.
I just want to focus on my children and making this place work. No
money will bring my husband back, you know.”






Emmeline worried at her lower lip with her teeth. “I know.”






“I'm sorry. I didn't mean to be inconsiderate. Father Lucas said
you lost your husband, too.”






“Yes, four years ago, but the circumstances were very different.
Raul had Hodgkin's lymphoma.” Emmeline forced herself to stay in
the present, as she spoke. Opening the gate to the memory of her
husband was never a good idea. “He'd had it before we met. I know
what people think: the man had cancer; how did I expect it to end?”
she smiled dryly, reminding herself to breathe and stay in the
present. Always stay in the present and never think of his face. She
would choke, probably to death, if she did. “But Hodgkin's has a
high survival rate and responds well to conventional treatment. And
he was young and healthy so the doctors were optimistic. They were
right to be, you know. It wasn't the cancer that killed him. The
chemotherapy affected his lungs and he died of pneumonia fifteen
months after we got married.” Emmeline's voice wavered at the end,
but never once her mind strayed from the present moment.






“I'm really sorry,” Jennifer said softly, sincerely.






“Thank you. I was already volunteering with a Church counseling
center, but I was helping more with the addiction recovery side,
since I have some experience with that myself. So a while after
Raul's death I went to the nuns managing the center and offered to
organize a support group for men and women who lost a spouse. I know
there are a lot of those online now, but it's just so impersonal and
cold. Plus, statistics show they're rife with posers and
attention-seekers.”






Jennifer nodded. “You've done your homework.”






“This is important to me. I know I'm not a therapist and I'm not
trying to substitute that. All I want is for the people who've been
through the same thing as I have to get a chance to meet once a week,
have some tea or coffee, and talk. Sometimes all you need is someone
who'll listen.”






“Do you have any idea how many widows and widowers around this
neighborhood can't even catch a break to think about their loss?”






“My group back in Rome was from a poor, immigrant neighborhood.”
She left the rest unsaid and for a moment, neither of them said
anything.






“One more thing. I don't really have a life outside my day job so
if you need one more helping hand around here, I'd be happy to do it
– free of charge of course. I don't think myself above anything,
from making coffee to mopping floors.”






“I can afford to pay people for that now.”






“I'm sure that money would be better spent on a new project.”






Jennifer nodded with a slight smile. “I like you, girl.”






“The feeling's mutual. So how do we go about this?”






~ * ~






As predicted, Harvey strolled in shortly after one o'clock, looking
perfectly put together. So much, in fact, that Donna didn't put it
past him to have intentionally smoothed over anything that might clue
her in on the reasons of him taking half a day off, which was about
as ordinary as snow in the middle of July.






“Lopez buy-in finally came through,” she said in lieu of greeting
and handed him the corresponding file. “Burroughs Investments
contracts signed. Mike's been lurking around when he thinks I don't
see him, so he's angling for a meeting. Your coffee.” When he
leaned closer to take it, she lowered her voice to deliver her final
bit of news. “Something's up with Jessica.”






He frowned ever so slightly and signaled her to follow him into his
office. “I think it's personal,” she said, once the door closed
behind them.






He opened his briefcase and handed her the New York Times. “Yes, it
is. Check the obituaries.”






Donna leafed through the paper until she reached the page in
question. One look was enough; the obituary Harvey had seen was at
the top of the page. With pictures. Quentin Sainz, CEO of a
pharmaceutical company that had developed an ALS wonder drug, passed
away last night at the Staten Island University Hospital surrounded
by family and long-term girlfriend, Lisa Parker. Pillar of the
community. Beloved son. Wonderful brother. Trusted friend....
No
word on his marriage to Jessica. Donna's stomach twisted uneasily.






“Her ex died,” she said, more to herself than to him. Harvey sat
in his chair, legs crossed, head resting on the back-support, eyes
trained on rainy Manhattan outside. His profile wasn't wholly
inscrutable. Some of his compassion shone through.






“Is she flying to Dubai today?”






It wasn't really a question, but Donna answered anyway. “Left for
the airport right before you arrived.”






He gave no indication he'd heard her. When his father had died,
Harvey had taken a total of three minutes before returning to work.
Donna knew that for a fact, since she'd counted. He had taken one day
off: the day of the funeral. That had been it. Somehow Donna had
thought Jessica to be different. It was a little jarring to be wrong.






Harvey, seeming miles away, kept his silence, his face almost surreal
in the vague, ashy light spilling from his vast windows. There was
something definitely wrong with him, too. Donna disliked the way her
day was shaping.






“Harvey,” she began.






“No,” he said quietly, his tone firmer than she'd heard it in
years.






Donna was close to panicking. “What did you do?”






He didn't move a single muscle past those required for speech.
“Don't. Just don't. Not this time.”






“This is about the firm, isn't it? Harvey, you've already crossed a
line to stop the merger. How far will you go next?”






He turned his chair to fully face the windows. The clouds seemed to
hang directly above his head in a way that disturbed her.






“Donna,” he said softly. “Send Mike over.”






The sudden change in topic felt like a whiplash. “What?”






He didn't turn back to face her. “You said he acted like he wanted
to see me. Send him over.”






She blinked. Once. Twice. “Are you sure?”






Silence was apparently as good an answer as she was gonna get. So she
turned on her heel to do just that when he called her name again. She
froze in her tracks, barely daring to hope.






“Don't throw anything at him when he comes over,” he cautioned
mildly.






Final word. He would not confide in her with whatever it was that
made him behave like the weight of the world was on his shoulders. He
wanted that weight on him and him alone and if she knew anything
about Harvey Specter, it was that, once his mind was made up, nothing
and no one was gonna change it. An incoming apocalypse wouldn't help.
And this was worse. She smelled his overgrown sense of responsibility
in this. Responsibility and foreboding.






“No,” she replied flippantly, trying to cover up her
disappointment and concern. “I prefer more insidious punishments.”






Harvey was turning towards her now, his facial muscles recovering
some range of motion. “You put scratching powder in the suit he
keeps at the office, didn't you?”






She paused at the door. “Not today I didn't.”






He actually had to grimace to keep from smirking. “Do I want to
know what you put in his coffee?”






“Just a few novelty laxatives. You'd be amazed what they've come up
with since we used to do that to Louis.”






Harvey tilted his head to the side. “You did that to Louis just
last week.”






“Yes, but I didn't put them in his coffee. I put them in his
cleansing tea. That counts as helping him detox.”






~ * ~






Mike felt tempted to hum the Jaws theme as he dashed past Donna's
cubicle. Harvey's assistant was sitting back in her chair, glaring at
him in ways that made him wish he was passing the shark from Jaws. It
was all he could do to walk rather than run into Harvey's office.
Even there he could feel Donna's eyes burning into the back of his
head through the glass door. His former boss and mentor seemed
absorbed by whatever it was that he was doing on his laptop.






Mike took a few tentative steps closer to Harvey's desk. He counted
till ten, yet Harvey still gave no sign of acknowledging his
presence. There was no way Mike was returning to the corridor to face
Donna, not yet. He'd rather take his chances with Harvey.






“You wanted to see me?” Mike asked, desperately wishing he
sounded more confident. But his guilt didn't help his case,
especially in the light of the begrudging help Harvey had thrown his
way the night before.






Harvey finally lifted his eyes from the laptop on his desk and leaned
back in his chair, legs crossed, looking up at Mike in a calm,
collected way that offered absolutely no clue as to what was going in
his mind. The closer was dressed as impeccably as always, wearing the
whitest shirt Mike had ever seen and the vest of his three-piece
suit.






“The way Donna tells it, you're the one who wants to see me,”
Harvey said, his tone almost bored.






Mike knew Donna was always listening, so he decided it was wise not
to contradict that statement. After all, nobody was allowed inside
her cubicle. For all he knew, the woman kept an arsenal concealed in
there.






“Yeah... I wanted to tell you you were right about the plaintiff in
the Sparling lawsuit.....”






“Mike, I'm busy,” Harvey interrupted calmly, his voice lacking
any sign of impatience.






“But of course, you knew that,” Mike muttered. Harvey's hands
returned to his laptop's keyboard. “I need an investigator to dig
into Myra Tomlin,” Mike blurted.





Harvey's eyes were fixed on his computer screen rather than Mike.
“You're not getting Vanessa,” he said.






Mike fidgeted briefly, trying to decide on a strategy. In general
getting Harvey to budge was already bordering on the impossible, but
given the state of things between them lately, Mike knew he had no
realistic chance of changing his mind.






“But I could call her for you,” Harvey offered, giving Mike that
cryptic look again. “But you'll owe me for this one, just like
everybody else does. And make no mistakes, I will collect. And it
will be big and it'll brook no argument or recounting of any of the
216 reasons why I suck.” Harvey leaned back in his chair. There was
something regal in the way he looked up at Mike.






Mike inhaled. “Seriously?”






“One time offer. Take it or leave it.”






Mike exhaled. Try as he might, he couldn't stop the surreptitious
shiver climbing its way up his spine. He didn't know if it was the
prolonged lack of exposure to Harvey or the absence of the easy
familiarity they'd once shared, but all of a sudden it was hard to
breathe. The vast office seemed to be rendered claustrophobic by the
sheer force of the other man's personality. Or maybe the defeat had
steeled Harvey and the months since the merger had added to his inner
strength. If that was true, Mike hoped Harvey never ever lost again.
It scared him to think of anything that could potentially increase
Harvey's already oversized ego.






I'll take it,” he said weakly
as his brain went into overdrive, every defense mechanism kicking in
to sustain him through this exchange.






Harvey
gave no outward indication of triumph. He simply took his cellphone
from his desk and pressed a button. Mike felt his knees weaken. It
occurred to him that it wasn't entirely unlikely that Harvey had set
this whole thing up, subtly manipulating events until he had his
wayward associate right where he needed him.






'Will
you walk into my parlour?' said the Spider to the Fly
,
Mike thought. Apparently, he had.




TBC



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