Date: May 28th, 2010
Tracy's first step in fixing her past mistakes takes her to a familiar face, if not a familiar place.
"Guilty Until Proven Innocent"
Near Washington, D.C.
The halls of the prison system are not familiar to the woman known — today — as Tracy Strauss. And that's fine. She walks them with confidence in her black, lightly pinstriped pantsuit, head held high, shoulders straight as though she were backed by the full arm of the law with a whole detachment of attorneys at her back, leading them into war.
It could be any building, here: bland walls, nondescript locked doors. It could even be an office building. But she quite remembers the security she had to go through to get inside, and it's a guard employed by the detention center who walks ahead of her.
And instead of a pack of lawyers, a lone woman a decade or so older than Tracy, shorter in all ways (height, hair, poise) who follows along, catching up to her side. She looks decidedly unhappy to be here.
Not that Tracy looks thrilled, either — just determined. As the trio (advisor, attorney, and guard) approach a certain windowed door, Tracy allows herself a more uneasy glance around. Not because of where she is; because of what she's attempting to do here.
"Shouldn't be long," the guard mumbles before admitting the ladies into a small, private, and as-of-yet empty private room. They both oblige with a few quiet thank-yous. As they wait behind the meeting table, Tracy turns to the other woman. "This is a huge favour, Rhonda. I know that you're the professional in this scenario," she says with grace only to add, "Just let me do the talking first. I'm the one trying to fix this. If I tell him he has a shot in hell, he might actually believe me."
This is no high-class restaurant. There are no portly diplomats laughing cheaply over expensive wines. When the door opens at the other side, it's to admit two mostly disinterested guards with a former governor between them who's seen more days inside than restful hours of sleep since. Clothed in unflattering orange against his grey hair, and shackled head and foot, Malden looks exactly like what he's known here as: a convicted felon.
It's hard not to immediately notice the confident blonde in the room — especially over her less impressive company — and a touch of surprise greases Malden's tired face. He doesn't say anything as he's escorted somewhat bodily to the table, the handcuffs transferred to a waiting metal ring installed into that side.
Not until he's seated and can really give Tracy an examining look, missing some of the lingering it used to have — though one could easily blame the furniture blocking his view, does he give a short, almost accusingly baffled, smile. "Tracy Strauss." And conveniently forgotten homely woman next to her. "I'd offer to buy you a drink, but…" Jangle, jangle go the cuffs as he spreads his hands.
Unhindered by due process and whatnot, the guards seem content to hover next to the doorway through which they entered, doing a great job of very obviously ogling the women and listening in to the conversation.
Tracy's attention is quickly taken by the door midway through settling into her seat, a swift turn of her head swinging a slender professional ponytail over her shoulder. Not that she wasn't expecting the former governor to look like a convict — he is one — but the sight of Malden in prisoner's orange and shackles gives her significant pause. She has to hide her surprise behind a polite mask, but a tight and rather pitying smile escapes through. It really should have been a frown instead.
"Governor." They all know he's not the governor anymore. A more familiar smile flashes, and Tracy falls into a friendly professional mode, which, really, is easier than thinking about how Malden got here to begin with. "…Old habits die hard. Hi. It's good to see you again." A glance to her companion. "This is Rhonda Jackson. She's an attorney."
The woman in question reaches across to the shackled politician. For a handshake, as much as he's … able. "Mr. Malden."
Tracy, on the other hand, only folds her hands on the table, leans ahead slightly, and looks intently across at Malden, sobering as she reveals: "I'm trying to get you an appeal."
Being called 'Governor' is certainly a relic from a better day: one which Malden clearly remembers well enough to smile wistfully, and yet trace bitterly, at its use. In an odd state of affairs, the expression he has for Tracy after her use of the title is not dissimilar from her own one of pity for him. "It'd be better if it wasn't here," he responds, not aggressively contradictory, only a passing fact. And a sideways compliment: "This is no place for you." Poor, gentle woman.
The handshake with Rhonda might require her to do most of the work reaching, but clasped, his hand is as firm as it ever was. "Ms. Jackson." More an ingrained habit than anything else. Malden doesn't regard either woman with a lot of optimism, even with the other's job revealed and Tracy's years of steering him right — or so he thought.
It's evident from the get-go that Tracy's intenseness has all the impression of a six year old informing her father of her new lemonade stand. His hand stops short of its unconscious desire to pat hers, if only because of the bonds. "That's very sweet of you, Trace, but…"
But nothing. The flare of annoyance at being so easily dismissed comes faster than it perhaps would have in another life. Just as before, though, Tracy's confidence is unwavering, and she offers the imprisoned politician a bold smile. In answer, she gives her head a tiny shake and murmurs a quick "no" under her breath. "I've already been making progress — feeling the waters," she explains with, now, a few nods of her head. "The case against you the first time is full of holes. I've already filed a notice of appeal," she says. "We both know you're not supposed to be in here."
Perhaps taken slightly aback by her spirit, though he's no stranger to it, Malden physically slide backwards as well, hitting the rest of his chair at the same angle with which he regards his former advisor and now appealer. It's her use of the phrase 'feeling the waters' that summons a note of amiss familiarity in his eyes that taints the rest of her statements. "As always, I admire your… gusto, Tracy," her name is hesitated, possibly as it takes the last-minute place of something a tad more intimate, and inappropriate at this juncture. In this company. Thus reminded, the disgraced politician gives a glance over his shoulder at the yet present guards. "And I'd love to be out of here, but I wouldn't want you wasting your time or your talents," sorry, Ms. Jackson, "in a dead-end arena." He pauses, eyes wandering Tracy a bit better than before — maybe remembering, maybe calculating odds. Rewards. "Not that I wouldn't welcome back your services…" Eyes abruptly on hers. "But I would've thought you'd moved on by now." So, namely: who is she really here for.
Herself. That's the answer. For once, however, the woman isn't acting out of selfishness — or even for tactical advantage. Explaining that, though, to someone like Malden, as she meets his too-familiar gaze, is not a feat Tracy is willing to attempt. She doesn't even want to. Not now, if she has any chance of him taking her seriously. So she laughs under her breath, and she lies. "A lot's happened since you've been gone," she informs him with light, laughing contrary. Okay; so that is definitely not a lie. "…A lot is … an understatement, actually. The point is, I've been through a couple … positions and none were … well, let's just say I'm envious of my old position. I'm not saying we'd even be able to go back to that if you did get out, but … I feel like I owe it to you. To help you. The truth is, I didn't realize, until recently, that I know a thing or two that could help with an appeal."
The attorney present, having agreed to her silence, now clears her throat slightly. "She isn't wrong Mr. Malden — I happen to share the opinion of Ms. Strauss. It's not a dead end. If this appeal gets to trial … you might have a fairer chance than you did."
If anything, it's by making him not take her seriously that warms Malden to Tracy's words; his constant underestimation of her allowing him to be comforted by what she seems to be suggesting more than what she's saying. He's always been, however, a cautious man, and a hefty amount of time becoming unfortunately accustomed to this new way of life does not endear him to false hope. As the attorney speaks, his mouth lines up more formally and he sits up, hands steepled, in a guarded position more suited for being questioned. "What stops it from doing exactly what got me here in the first place?" He asks, looking between both women, a unknowingly purposeful linger on Tracy, "Has any of this been given to the public? Is there any kind of backing? Or are we three blind mice looking out for each other? No offense to your skills, Ms. Jackson, but the people love to see a politician kicked while he's down as much as they fawn when he was instated."
Ms. Strauss, not Ms. Jackson, pipes up before the attorney has time to answer. Lifting one hand in a palm-open gesture to Malden, waving a few manicured fingers, Tracy says, "That's what got you in here. No, the public hasn't gotten the chance to bite yet, 'n' — when they do? I'll be prepared for the press." She fights the instinct to fall into a more somber mode and presses her lips to smile. "I've given this a lot've thought, Gov— " Pause. "… Robert… and… the only blind people're the ones who locked you behind bars," she says, her words even, like facts. Now her smile falls, and so does her gaze from the lingering one, and the former advisor's features harden. No wonder. Once her blue eyes raise, they're just as hard. She delivers, "You were framed. And I can prove it."
"Framed?" That's serious business, indeed. Not that Malden isn't entertaining it the longer he mulls over the thought. Yes, framed. He clearly is likening to the sound of that — because what's better for reclaiming your old life than having had it unfairly taken from you? In a moment, it won't even matter if it's true. "Good angle," he declares to Tracy, bringing the tips of his hands to his chin to bump there thoughtfully a few times. Jangling from the cuffs every time. "I wasn't sure for a while there," he admits openly, another time for that underlying second emotion to surface within his polished speaker's tone. Familiarity, confidence, general underestimation of her skill-set… there's one more thing he's reserving for Tracy. And somehow, "But I was always right to trust you," doesn't feel quite like it. Yet, those are the words out of his mouth, and that's what the softened smile on his lips says for her. "So I suppose I will again."