You ever have one of those days when you just know it's all going to go to shit?
Ava Hunt felt exactly just that as she wiped some of the sleep out of her eyes. Outside some dogs were barking at...something. Who the fuck even knew? They were always barking. It'd be more of a problem if the constant sound of the rail yards nearby didn't drown out nearly everything else. Most of the steel mills in Pittsburgh itself had left, but the fucking railyards that supplied and transported their materials sure as shit had not. Most people might think an Assistant District Attorney would be able to afford a nicer home in a less crime-ridden neighborhood.
Well, most people can go suck a fat one.
The tired woman ran her fingers gingerly on some old scars along her right shoulder. They'd been a bit stiff yesterday. Tight is probably a better descriptor. Ava had gotten used to feeling like she was going to fall to pieces years prior, but she was a little glad that her flesh seemed to have relaxed somewhat this morning. This was before she stubbed her toes on the door jamb on her way out of her bedroom. Yep, there it was. The absolute shittiness of the world coming back to her.
A quick bathroom break and a long depressing look in the mirror later and she was back in her bedroom, attempting to formulate an outfit for the day. On the plus side, Ava was sure she didn't have court this week, but she did have a bunch of depositions to go over. A few expert witnesses had been paid by the tax payers to give their testimonies regarding a couple of her cases and it was her job to try and figure out what was actually admissible in court.
So today would be a simple black two-piece suit with a thankfully unwrinkled white blouse underneath. Make-up would also be as minimal as possible. No need to try and convince a jury with her looks today. Of course, that horrible reminder in the mirror weighed in on that thought. Her days of being able to bat an eyelash with a bit of a pout to make up for any lack of skill or charisma were over long before she even began law school.
Big ass handbag? Check. Keys and wallet inside too? Holy shit, Mom would be proud. Well, she was the one who'd bought this gigantic thing. Her reasoning was something about being "too big to lose". Ava'd fired back something about not wanting to carry around a goddamn duffel bag, but the black leather bag with stainless steel buckles wasn't horrible on her eyes. She drew the line at Mom's pitch for the white version.
As she left her little single-story cottage house, Ava checked her cat's food and water bowls before leaving. Tigger himself lazily eyed his caregiver before yawning atop the back of one of the living room chairs. Her therapist had recommended that she get a therapy animal three years ago. Ava didn't want to get an animal that would constantly need her attention. Tigger was the compromise. He allowed her to pet him once in a while and, in return, he didn't shed much and had the decency to only vomit on her linoleum kitchen floor. Many cat owners would tell you that this situation was one hell of a deal...or at least Ava thought so.
The neighborhood seemed to grow a bit more active as Ava removed her key from the door locks. A badly-spray-painted black van drove by as she unlatched the little chain-link gate at the front of her property. The prosecutor briefly registered the thought of the kids down the street driving rather early in the day before becoming distracted by her immediate neighbors: the Carfields. Well...at least the two Carfield kids, Jamal and Desiree. Ava swore these two woke up at the crack of dawn and just watched her house for when she came out.
"Good Morning, Miss Hunt!" the young boy said with a slight lisp. He'd just lost his two front teeth last week so the "Miss" really came out as "Mith". Ava secretly thought it was adorable.
"Quit botherin' her, Jamal!" the older of the two snapped, "Sorry, Miss Hunt."
"It's fine, Desiree. Why are you guys up so early?"
Don't you fucking laugh at him. He's eight.
"Well, I hope you guys have a good day today."
"Can we thee Tigger before you go?" Jamal asked, his exuberance having beaten his patience finally.
"Sorry, guys, not today. I've got a meeting to get to and the 376 is probably already backing up."
The lies had no sooner left her mouth than the guilt sank in. Lying to children wasn't exactly a new thing for her. Lying to everyone really. Lying to her coworkers. Lying to her neighbors. Lying to her therapist. Lying to Mom. There were days that Ava truly believed that she'd lied twice as much as she'd spoken the truth. Those weren't great days.
Still, the lies had purposes. This particular one was to simply spare the feelings of some children. Telling them "No, I don't really feel like walking the 30 feet back to my front door, unlocking aforementioned door for five minutes before then hustling two snot-factories out of my house so I can repeat the process I've already done once to just will my actively rotting body out the fucking door again just so you two can pet a fucking cat that really doesn't like being bothered by children"...yeah, telling them all of that might hurt their feelings a bit. Ava figured the slight disappointment was better.
Her vehicle, a black 2012 Toyota Highlander, beeped as she unlocked it with the key fob. She had, somehow, become somewhat of a well-liked figure in the neighborhood so her street-parked SUV still had its wheels. Ava always found this to be a bit odd considering her line of work, but she didn't question it much. Sure, she might have cut some deals with some of the local kids here and there where she could in her early years as a prosecutor. They weren't bad kids. Just made some bad decisions. And sure, she'd contributed her fair share once or twice at a few block parties. Maybe that was it.
Well, Ava had almost made it to the office when her phone went off.
Caller ID: Mom.
Nope. Too early for that, woman. I condemn thee to voicemail, foul hag.
As she pulled into the parking garage, Ava strangely found herself waiting for the little notification of a new voicemail. It was only when she'd parked and gotten out of the SUV that her phone softly dinged.
Fuck. That's a long one. Someone probably died again. Yeeeeeeah no. Not checking that until after breakfast.
Sirens were already echoing through the streets outside as Ava Hunt sat down at her little desk. Another day in paradise.
The pile of casework seemed to grow larger every time he tossed a file into the "completed" drawer of his filing cabinet. He thought that the move from the SA/DV division to Homicide would come with the benefit of reassigning his old cases to other detectives but, much to his chagrin, he was still dealing with all of his former cases in addition to his new stack of cases. While paperwork was the most abundant thing on his desk, energy drink cans were easily the second most plentiful. Matt mentally checked off when he had finished each can and gently shook the can closest to him. Hearing the sloshing of liquid energy inside the can, he brought it up to his lips as he rifled through his filing cabinets. As he finished his drink and put the can back on his desk, he threw his Pittsburgh PD hoodie over his head. The night shift was way more relaxed and he really only wore his suit jacket when he left the precinct.
Grabbing the desired folder, he stood from his desk and made sure to lock his computer before making his way over to the time clock. He was supposed to be off three hours ago but a mix of working a late scene and having to wait around for the DA's office had him waiting around the office. Years ago, he would have rushed home, taken a shower, made breakfast for his family, and then gone to visit the DA but he rarely ate breakfast and he certainly didn't have any reason to rush home. Between the drive home and the time needed to get back downtown, he might have time to take a shower and drink a beer before needing to be at the DA's office. Considering he didn't want to lose motivation by getting home, Matt knew it was better to just stay at the office.
The exhausted detective allowed himself to fall into the driver seat of his car and, pressing on the brake, started the car. The V8 roared to life and he thumbed the button for his heated seats. The 376 is probably a parking lot right now, I guess I'll cut through the surface streets. I hope this doesnt take too long or I'll hit early afternoon traffic.
After a seemingly endless number of red lights, aggressive drivers, and the general hatred that came from sitting in traffic, Matthew found himself pulling into the parking garage at the DA's office. The third deck was normally reserved for police vehicles and flashing his badge to the security guard was good enough to ensure he didn't have to park with the same people who were here to try to get their cases dismissed. The chilly morning air sent a chill up his spine and, for a moment, Matthew was taken away from the city and into a field in rural Pennsylvania where the night air seemed to cut the tension like a knife.
Shaking his head to rid himself of the useless thoughts, he found himself in front of an acne-ridden teenager who was manning the front desk. While the security guards knew him from his many trips up here and the Pittsburgh PD hoodie, the young man, no older than 19, almost had a breakdown when the metal detector went off. "Sir. Sir! The sign clearly says no weapons! You can't have that gun in here!" A deadpan stare from the detective did little to calm the young man, who was appealing to the security guards. "Look, I'm a detective here to meet with ADA Hunt about a case. I'm not walking back to my car to secure this where someone can steal it. I don't feel like explaining all of that to my bosses and I know you don't want to have to explain it to yours. I've never had a problem here before and your guards clearly don't have an issue with me because I have a badge. Feel free to call Hunt and tell her I have a gun, I don't care. You don't have the power, nor the justification, to detain me so I'm going upstairs. Have a good day, chief."
Matt punctuated his point by turning and leaving the man sputtering about guns and rules and the sign. The jaunt to the elevator was the quickest part of making his way upstairs, primarily because it seemed like everyone and their brother was going upstairs at the same time. Between the buzz of the lights and the din roar of conversation in the elevator, Matt knew he would need a few motrin by the time he got home. He paused right before knocking on the door labeled ADA HUNT before mustering the energy needed to tap on the door. "Counselor Hunt, this is Detective Jones about the Baker case. They told me to talk to you and I'm hoping you have a minute."
And so it began. The endless shitshow of her day. Ava had no sooner settled into her rather old and raggedy black office chair when one of the newer paralegals burst into her office. Apparently knocking was something the girl hadn't learned in college.
"Miss Hunt, thank god you're here," the twenty-something blonde blurted out, the exasperation evident in her voice, "Mr. Perez and Mr. Cohen took the week off and we need someone in Superior Court #5 tomorrow afternoon for the Alvarez case!"
Gonna need this one to learn how to calm the fuck down.
"I'm guessing the DA just signed off on the bullshit?"
"OK, first, shut the door and take a deep breath."
It didn't take her long to cooperate with the orders.
"Alright...listen, Cindy...it's Cindy right? Yeah, so Cindy, we're going to establish some quick ground rules in my office. First, you knock if the goddamn door is closed. Second, you give me five fucking minutes to get my collective shit together before you start blowing down my door with other people's work. And thirdly...thirdly any conversations regarding the DA that happen between us in this office behind closed doors stay in this office until I tell you otherwise. Am I clear?"
The paralegal nodded. Ava realized that it was only her second month on the job so she willed her irritation away. It wasn't the girl's fault. It was the fucking District Attorney. One might think that he would be a little less cavalier about getting paid off by some of the city's men of lesser repute. One might also think that his shitty lackeys would also have a little more brains than balls regarding their open exploitation of said bribery. Assholes were probably already on some beach sipping cocktails with hookers on their-
"I'm sorry, ma'am. I just didn't know what to do. Cohen's secretary just threw her hands up at me and basically said to get lost."
"Not your fault, kid. Most people are caught clueless the first time they find out their boss is a piece of shit. Alright, let's sort this out."
The discussion took about 3 minutes. The bright side was that Ava was pretty sure that the girl actually learned something besides her overall supervisor being a criminal dirt bag. The down side was that Ava had roughly 20 seconds to recollect her thoughts before Detective Jones was knocking on her door.
Fuck. The Baker case.
Donald "Big Donnie" Baker. CEO of Baker Industries. Owned a slew of properties both inside and outside the city. Wasn't rich enough to be listed in any magazine but wealthy enough to be a political player on a local level. The case was bad. Sexual Assault on a minor. Kid's dad found them mid-"act" at Donnie's kid's birthday party. Beat the shit out of him pretty bad. Cops came. Charges were pressed both ways. Eye-witnesses flip-flopped during Discovery. It was as bad as they come.
Fucking case wasn't even supposed to be mine. I hope Cohen's hooker gets lockjaw.
"Come on in, Jonesy," Ava announced before hitting a key on her phone, "Andre, could you bring me some more coffee and Detective Jones an energy drink and some water. Thanks."
The prosecutor stood up for a moment to shake the man's hand before sitting back down.
"You needn't have come down here personally, you know. It wasn't my call and there's nothing I can really do now. DA."
Her secretary/assistant, Andre Willems, entered the room promptly with the morning refreshments in hand. He was young too. 24. Was working while attending law school. This job counted as a few different class credits for him and paid him a livable wage. Ava had fought for that. Of course, this began rumors around the office that she was banging the kid on the side. It didn't help that the guy was 6'4" and built like a goddamn Renaissance sculpture. Ava nodded in thanks before the man silently left. She quietly wondered if Andre the Giant's shirts kept getting smaller or if it was just a figure of her over-active imagination.
"You look worse than I do, Detective. Drink the water."
The office seemed to get smaller every time he visited, though Matt was far from signing a lease at the DA's office and had really only met with ADA Hunt a few dozen times. Most of those meetings had been about cases, though he had sought her advice both times when he applied for law school. They might have even shared a couple sad drinks together when he and Lucy split, though Matt's memory of the first few weeks was spotty at best. It had been so bad that the PD refused to assign him new cases and relegated him to the scut work rather than giving him important tasks. He hadn't even been able to lay his hands on a case file, much less interview a witness or provide an update to the brass. For those few weeks, he had been the precinct's secret, secluded away in a broom closet of an office not because he had finally earned an office but because he wasn't composed enough to be seen in the detective's bullpen with the rest of them.
Shaking his head yet again, he realized that he had shaken her hand and was slightly concerned that he had been a tad too forceful. He had a habit of defaulting to a very firm handshake, if only because that's how he had been raised and the sheer testosterone in the PD, especially the academy, required him to adapt without thinking about it. He lowered himself into the offered seat and placed the file on the ADA's desk roughly halfway between them, though still close enough that he could reach it without straining.
As Andre entered the room, Matthew took the drinks with a word of thanks and, unfolding a McDonald's napkin from his pocket, sat the water on the desk. Outside of the ADA's office, Matty had really only seen Andre during his last application for the University of Pittsburgh School of Law and he was glad that the young man was able to handle the burden of law school while also working in such a busy office. When the man exited, Matt shot Ava a look as if to say Are you fucking him? He made sure that the look was nonjudgmental and adopted a nonchalant smile as if to indicate the fact that 1: he didn't care and 2: he figured the ADA could use some stress relief. She practically lives here, thought Matthew as he cracked open the energy drink.
"Water is great but I've been sleeping like shit lately and I still have an hour ride home," said the detective, the exhaustion almost pouring from his voice as he dropped the façade of invincible detective who took shit from nobody. He brought the Ghost to his mouth and easily downed a third before remembering that he had the entire meeting to fight through. He sat the drink down on the other half of the napkin and opened the folder. On the top was an email from the DA's office. Matt reached forward and grabbed it between his thumb and forefinger, the paper lightly creasing from the pressure.
"I'll let you read it because this file is yours to keep but I'll save us both a bit of time and read the highlights." Scanning the page, the detective almost remembered not to mouth the words as he perused the same email he had read countless times. He had it memorized and it had burned itself into his memory. He'd had cases dropped, of course, but most of them had been during his time on patrol and, of those dropped since his time as a detective, almost all of them had been dropped since DA Cohen had taken office. Getting to the portion he desired, he took a deep breath. "Due to shoddy police work, inferior evidence management, disreputable witness testimony, and numerous other factors, the DA's office lacks the burden of evidence needed to pursue charges. The case against Mr. Donald Baker will be dropped with prejudice during the next applicable court date. Failure to comply will result in office being taken against detectives found to be out of line with department policy, guidelines from the DA's office, and any applicable state and local laws."
The detective took yet another breath. Most of the email was fluff designed to hide the true message behind the email but one important aspect had been left out: a point of contact. He sat the email in front of Ava and reclined in his chair. "Did you know that I had to call not one but four of my friends over here to find out what was going on? I didn't find out until three days ago that it had been kicked back to you. I didn't find out until yesterday that the court date had been moved up to Thursday."
Matt paused to take another drink of his Ghost before splaying out the top eight or so pages of the file. "I've got signed and witnessed chains of custody. I've got copies of the SA report that was done on a seven year old." He allowed the last three words to pour with venom and hatred. Not at the victim but at the perpetrator and DA Cohen. "I've got blood on....Well, you can see the photos. I've got this guy caught in the act and witnesses who were cooperative during our portion of the process. Suddenly they come here and things are muddy and it's my fault? I've got a slam dunk case against a guy who, were it any state south of Maryland, would be in a pine box with a memorial Facebook page." It was only at the end that Matt realized that he was very close to screaming, his last words having been punctuated by him slamming his fist down on the desk. He wasn't crying, though the emotion was clear in his face.
"Sorry. I've understood when you guys have dropped cases in the past. I get the he-said-she-said and the 'victim drops charges for one reason or another' and all the other stuff that comes with prosecuting these cases. I'm not an idiot. But I wrap this up in a bow, tie a little knot on it, and do my best to get justice for a seven year old girl who had her life ruined by this monster and it gets dropped? You know me, Ava, I follow the rules. I dot my 'I's and I cross my 'T's. I do my best to help your office out, especially after the rough start I had with my first few cases as a patrolman. I have more pictures in that file than some people have on their Instagram but that's not enough? Make it make sense. How am I supposed to go to this family and tell them that it wasn't enough?"
Matt sat back and wiped his face, trying his best to regain control over it. He couldn't see what it was doing but he knew it wasn't going to help him here. He reached for the water and took a swig, if only because he hoped it might placate her concerns about his wellbeing.
Ava caught the glance and shook her head slightly. Looking was one thing. Committing a series of flagrant ethical violations was another. Plus, the kid already had a girlfriend who was the sweetest little bundle of actual sunshine Ava had met in decades. It was almost infuriating how cute they were together...but moving on...
Ava let the detective continue on his rant for a while. He deserved to vent a little, at least she thought so. Plus she agreed with him, but he already knew that on some level.
"Well, first I'll answer all of that categorically so I don't have to repeat myself," the prosecutor began, "Your witnesses all turned. All of them. Flip-flopped. Well, every one but the kid and her father, the latter of which is still in fucking custody. Your photos are easy to get thrown out. The DNA evidence came back "UNCONCLUSIVE" which means that those samples were corrupted at some point from your side of things."
Ava took a moment to drink some coffee while pulling a rather thick twine-wrapped folder that was almost bursting with paperwork inside out from her lower desk drawer.
"This is the original file containing all of the supporting evidence I had prepared three days ago to submit for Discovery," she announced before pulling out a thin blue bound file, " and this piece of shit is what I've got now."
The woman slid the thin file over to Matt with a hint of frustration.
"I'll spare you the indignity of having to read the fucking Post-It-Note's worth of a case I'm left with: the kid and the STILL INCARCERATED FATHER. I'm sure you've managed to piece together how I can't put either of those two on the fucking stand."
Ava let out a heavy sigh filled with disappointment.
"Even then, I was going to press it before I got that shitcan of an email myself. Hell, you knew before I even did that the case had gotten bumped to me. Me. Brief reminder in case you've forgotten, but I'm supposed to only be on Homicides. Sexual Assault, even on a child, isn't a murder charge. Which then begs the question 'Why dump it on her when we know the city's death toll keeps climbing?'" she asked rhetorically, "I'll fucking tell you why: Donnie's friends with the mayor and half the city government. He slides them cash and free shit and they actively look the other way when he...oh...I don't know...rapes a kid at a birthday party."
It was then that a rather ingenious idea came to mind. Ava might even call it devious were it not in pursuit of justice. Justice for a little girl and her family whose only crime was going to a birthday party at a rich guy's house.
"Hey...I've... I might have something. OK OK OK hear me out: we ask Judge Fenton for an extension. I can probably get a month out of that. The courts are all heavily backlogged right now. That gets Cohen's dumbass back in town. As soon as he's back, we leak the big file to the press. Court of Public Opinion calls 'im guilty and demands action. In the meantime, that gives us enough time to get some protections on the kid and her family too. I wouldn't put it past Donnie for him to try and get some petty revenge for getting his ass handed to him. Two birds. One stone."
Of course, such an action would immediately put Ava in the crosshairs of both her boss and Donnie Baker, but she'd dealt with worse. After all, neither of them had access to thermonuclear weaponry.
He knew he had been forgetting to do something. He needed to finish processing the father and get him bailed out. While bail had been set and the father had the means to pay, Matt was supposed to square that away before he left the office this morning. I definitely won't be getting home before noon, thought the detective with a grimace, but at least that little girl will have her dad back home to protect her.
When Ava mentioned the lab, Matt felt his face present a deep scowl no matter how much he tried to keep an even keel. He composed his thoughts but he knew better than to interrupt her. She had done him the honor of letting him finish and he more than owed her the ability to finish presenting her points. He was one of the few detectives who could call her assistant and get a meeting within a few days and he knew better than to risk that privilege. As his mentor once told him, a good detective maintains a good relationship with the DAs office at all costs, even if it means looking like an idiot at times.
The addition of two new folders on the desk made Matt sit up and then lean forward. Almost instinctively, he reached for the thicker folder. He was used to reading quality case files and any case file with only a few pages in it was quality but in the "extremely low" category. He redirected his hand at the last moment and grabbed the thinner folder, opening it to see the State's Evidence and Witness list. Instead of dozens or hundreds of items, there were fewer than ten. Matt quickly perused the list and sighed before setting the file back on the desk. He rifled through his own file as Ava continued to respond, his attention to her dwindling as he looked for the documents he sought.
Aha!He found the lab results and made a brief mental note of the tech's name as he waited for his turn to respond. Todd Jenkins, read the detective, trying his best to remember if Mr. Jenkins had been the cause of any other issues.
"Before I tell you just how bad that move will be for your career, look at this report." Matt passed her the DNA report from the forensic lab and sat back once again. "You and I both know that Cohen, the commissioners, the mayor, and everyone in between has been spewing hate at our lab for being backlogged. Our guys are working double time more often than not and we both know that fatigue causes mistakes. That report has ten matching markers. Before 2017, 13 was considered a 100 percent match. Now that it's 20 markers, it's still 50 percent. Tell me how that seven year old has anything close to 50 percent of Donald Baker's DNA inside her. Tell me how 50 percent is inconclusive and unusable."
"On top of that, my own report, complete with time stamps and bodycam to confirm it, shows that the vic's fear of the ER docs, combined with all of the trauma, delayed the testing. That little girl scrubbed herself clean of the blood and everything on scene before responding officers could arrive on scene. Tell me how, even after all that, 50 percent isn't enough. I don't get it, Ava. Before Cohen, this would have been an easy case."
Matt groaned and downed more of his energy drink, silently lamenting the fact that it was already starting to go flat. "You and I both know that the dad isn't a great witness but I fucking refuse to put that little girl on the stand. I'm not going to ask that of her and if your office wants to try it, I'll drag my feet on every case I've got with you. The Jenkins case about that shooting on 4th? Maybe I lose my notes and forget to submit my paperwork on time. I don't care about two gangbangers feuding over a drug deal, not as much as I care about not distressing these victims and traumatizing them even more than they already are." He knew he was treading down a dangerous path. Even though they had worked together for quite some time and even though she might be the closest thing he had to a friend who wasn't part of the Department, she was still a District Attorney and still had the rights and privileges of her position.
"Look, I'm sorry. I know I can't let it get to me like this but Cecelia turns seven in a little over two months. I wanted to be able to start the trial process before she turned the same age as our vic. Instead, I'll have to go to her party and pretend like there isn't a sick monster parading around the city like some victim of police ineptitude who wins a seat on the city council by framing this as being a political enemy. I'll support your plan but know that both Cohen and Baker are going to come after you like few have. I can try to rerun the rape kit, see if I can get the doctor to submit a formal statement, and try to do things from my end if it helps but I don't want you risking your career. You do good here and I'm okay with being busted back down to patrol or fired if it means I help but this bastard behind bars. I'm just a little fish in a big sea and you're a larger, more influential fish."
"Before Cohen, I was allowed to do my job, Detective."
The detective's situation was unenviable. Ava knew that the problems of this city were pressing heavily on the man on top of his personal problems. This particular case hitting closer to home definitely didn't help. She let his threats of being a proper shitter go. Like it or not, his success was her success, but that was also true in reverse. This was especially true as his new appointment in the Homicide Division matched up with her own "official" duties as the lead prosecutor for the DA's Homicide Unit.
"You let me worry about Cohen," she answered with a smirk, "The man relies on my conviction record to get votes anyway."
Standing up slowly and brushing a couple of donut crumbs off of her lap, Ava calmly walked around the desk so she could be right next to the tired cop.
"And listen, I'm a big girl. I can handle anything that lard ass Baker can really send at me. Being an ADA has its perks even in this town. Coming after me would draw too much heat for even him. Also, don't worry about the kid's dad. I'll have Andre send over some release docs and then get him and the family somewhere safe to stay for a while. I don't suppose you guys could spare a couple of beat cops to watch over them for a bit?"
"Either way, Jonesy," Ava continued, standing up and walking to her door, "We're not going to call it quits on this one. The kid seems cute, and she reminded me of your daughter too... We won't let this bastard get away with it. Now, you go home and get some sleep. I'll handle today."
Opening door, the prosecutor made it clear that this meeting was over. She had way too much work to get done today to afford spending any more time chatting with her colleague.