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i.

The first time Will saw Kalinda Sharma, she did not exist. He was assisting in a pillow factory litigation case, keeping an eye on Julius Cain and ready to jump in if adding a partner's presence would sway the judge, when the plaintiffs couldn't find their lead witness. While the bailiff went to retrieve the expert from the bathroom, Will lounged back in his seat, the picture of nonchalance, and spun to survey the audience.

The courtroom was nearly full; both sides had significant interests vested in the outcome of the case and wanted to see it through to the finish-Will counted only eight open spots. Up in the back of the room sat a single woman with a small orange notebook who wouldn't have stuck out if she weren't surrounded by a quarter of all the empty seats in the entire courtroom. You had to really want to be alone to get that much wiggle room.

Two hours later, the court finally adjourned for the day. Will was snapping shut his briefcase when he noticed the State's Attorney entering the courtroom against the flow and catching the arm of the loner woman. Peter Florrick bent down to whisper something in her ear, then she nodded curtly, turned, and briskly left, his hand never leaving her elbow as he guided her out the door.

Will shook his head. The State's Attorney had no reason to get involved. If he was sending his minions in to scope out the case, they'd have to step up their game. Will slung his jacket over his arm and headed back to his office, dialing Diane on the way.


ii.

Out at a bakery on West Division, Will turned the box of apple fritters over in his hands, now and again checking out the liquor store across the street. The case should have been an easy juvenile open/shut plead out to attempted robbery, with a sealed record and community service, but when the cops arrested the kid they found a hot gun stashed in her bike, matching one used in a string of gang shootings over the last few months. The SA's Office was coming after them hard, and all Will could do was pray the kid wasn't lying when she said the gun wasn't there when she left and hope he could find a witness to back her up.

The door chimed, and Will looked up to see just over five feet of black and leather and heels stride through the door and clack over to the counter. Hot. He resumed his perusal and was picking up a box of lemon longjohns when he heard the phrase "security tapes." He tried to surreptitiously meander down towards the counter with his doughnuts and caught the owner nodding and explaining that the pawn shop next door had a camera. Amazing what curves could do to lubricate communication with reluctant interviewees.

As Will drew near, the woman thanked the shopkeeper, turned, and clicked past, leaving Will at the register holding his pastries.

With a sigh, will paid and headed for his car. If she was with the prosecution, there was no way he'd get to see those tapes until the weekend, at least. Time to find another method. He reached for his door handle when he noticed something on the windshield.

Under the wiper blade sat a crisp business card.

Kalinda Sharma, State's Attorney's Office, it read, with the state seal and some contact information below. Turning it over, he found written in tiny, neat italic, Check the boyfriend. We have a mutual interest in getting the right shooter. Will smiled and reached for his phone.


iii.

"Here's the file on that bank manager you wanted." Kalinda passed the manila folder across the park bench as Will plopped himself down next to her.

He opened it up and flipped through its contents. "Do I want to know how you got your hands on this?"

"Not really."

"Will I regret your giving it to me?"

"No."

Will scanned the first few documents before snapping the folder shut. "Why do you do this, Kalinda?"

She gave him a shrug and took a sip of her coffee.

"No, really. Why help me out on these cases? I've heard Peter Florrick is a jealous man."

Kalinda took a breath, held it, blew it out. "I like you, Will. You're clear. You're a conniving son of a bitch in the courtroom, but at least you're upfront about it."

A passing street sweeper blew a battered paper bag up onto the sidewalk, where it skittered past them in the breeze.

Will was about to thank her and move on when she spoke again.

"Besides," Kalinda jabbed her hands in her pockets, "It's good to have other people in your debt. Better than owing. You never know what favor they'll call in."

Will shifted the folder in his hands, but before he could respond, Kalinda rose deliberately. "Got to get back." She strode away down the street, leaving Will alone with the street sweeper.


iv.

Will arrived at the scene five minutes after the police did, to find Rowson already in the back of a squad car while the third-year associated who'd received the call battled it out with the arresting officer. Some yards away, he spotted the SA investigator, reclined against the hood of her car, camera in hand. He sauntered over.

"Kalinda."

"Will."

"Thanks for the tip about Lewis's stash."

"Yep."

"He was guilty, you know. Of the possession and the assault. Not Roberts."

"Yep."

"So, what's the scoop here?" Will tried to casually imitate her stance. "My phone call just said Rowson was in deep."

"Killed his wife. Bludgeoned her to death with the coffeemaker. Neighbor phoned it in after he heard the screams and breaking glass."

"With the...coffeemaker? That's original."

"Nope. That's all you get. Nothing else on this one."

"You think he planned it?"

"Doesn't matter. He did it."

Will let the sirens hang in the silence between them for a moment.

"Go to your client. I can't help you this time." Kalinda hopped off the hood and walked away, criss-crossing the lawn before disappearing around the corner of the house.

Will watched her go, then lifted the police tape to go talk to Rowson himself. Maybe the State would take a plea bargain.


v.

As his eyes adjusted to the bar's dim light, the first thing Will noticed was the pair of empty cups on the counter. Next to them Kalinda reposed, rigid and composed as he'd always seen her when she wasn't smooth-talking a superintendent into unlocking a witness's apartment for her or convincing an inebriated businessman to offer a password. He settled onto the stool next to her and motioned for a glass of his own.

"So, why'd you call me down here? You need a ride?"

"Have a drink, Will." He motioned for a glass of his own, swigged a mouthful, and nearly choked. That was strong.

"You all right, Kalinda?"

"What do you measure that by?" Kalinda drained the liquid, then turned the glass in her hands.

"I dunno." Philosophical Kalinda was a new one.

He waited in silence for a few minutes, interrupted only by the bartender brushing by to offer them new tumblers. Will marveled at her ability to remain seated after four glasses. He at one in he was already feeling warm.

"So..." Will began, tapping his hands next to his drink.

"I have a proposal for you."

"Oh?"

"You need a proper in-house investigator. One who will do the job right, so you don't have to rely on the good graces of the prosecution for your information." Kalinda stopped to swallow half the rest of her drink. "I'm the best. So here's your deal: I'll contract for you. You won't have to worry about confidentiality of cases, but what I do with my own time is my business. I won't compromise your assets or break privilege; you don't touch my life."

"Are you in trouble, Kalinda?"

"I'm fine. It's just an offer."

Will nodded slowly, still eyeing her. "It sounds fair. I'd have to talk to Diane. But we'd need you full-time."

"However you like. I'm available. But you could use the help."

"I'll get back to you as soon as Diane approves it." Will reached over to pat her knee- or her shoulder, more likely -but Kalinda ducked out of reach at the last second and he settled for thumping the counter emphatically. "Wait, what about the State's Attorney?"

"You've got my number." And with that, she deftly slid off the stool and began picking her way around the tables.

"Kalinda?"

She turned.

"I've got your back."