~Light in the Shadows~
Title: Light in the Shadows
Disclaimer: The characters depicted here are the sole property of the National Broadcasting Corporation (or so I presume). Next, I'm a tool, and I do love details, especially accurate ones. I've done my level best to get everything right, but as an amateur writer without a budget, there's only so much research one can do. I'm happy to hear any corrections you have to offer (e.g. one reader pointed out that I misremembered the speed limit on the LIE.) In a couple of cases, I have taken knowing liberties with facts for the sake of the plot (e.g. the relative location of certain towns on Long Island). I expect my most egregious mistakes are in the area of the legal details, where I have no training at all. I did try to check as many of the procedural details as possible using available internet resources, but one expert reader has already pointed out places where I misinterpreted the legal material I read. I'm afraid the plot makes it impossible to change at this point; I beg forgiveness, legal friends. Of course, a couple of the elements are pure nonsense, notably Warner's analysis of 'The Compound' and Ringo's inhuman ability to break into every database in existence. But these are fond and familiar pieces of nonsense of the type one sees all the time in television and film. 'Willing suspension of disbelief' ... it's only fanfic, friends. :-) Finally, the R rating means what it means, be advised. The violence is confined to good-old perp-slamming and running gun battles, but the HoYay is not. And if you are under the Age of Majority, you shouldn't be here at all. You should be doing your homework so you can get a great job like Alex, Olivia, and Elliot. Y'Hear?
Rating: NC 17
Summary: Alex & Olivia investigate the most dangerous case of their careers, with the able assistance of Stabler, Warner, and some other familiar friends.
Archiving: Only with the permission of the author.
~Light in the Shadows~
Part One, Chapter One
Now on with the show. "You'll laugh, you'll cry. You'll kiss three bucks goodbye." -- Ernie Fosselius
"Your Honor, the People request remand."
Alex Cabot smiled. It was a routine line, but she was having a good day. The SVU detectives had handed her a case that no one could lose. No dubious witnesses, no hearsay issues, just solid forensic evidence. This bastard would get what he deserved. He'd raped and strangled a mother of three in broad daylight, in a neighbourhood park where she was walking her dog. The body had been well hidden within a stand of trees and no one had seen the crime, but the perp had left forensic evidence even a trainee could find: DNA, hair samples, even fingerprints. When fed into Melinda Warner's fabulous computers, each piece of evidence had immediately found its match in a single police record.
Max Klein had been convicted of aggravated assault and battery in a vicious bar fight when he was 19. He was sentenced to four years in prison, a very light sentence given the maximum penalty of ten (plus his victim's inability to walk or speak for some time after the incident). In prison, he proved, surprisingly, to be a model inmate, and was released on good behavior after only two years. Immediately after his release, he enlisted with the U.S. Marine Corps. He apparently served well for his six-year tour, attaining the rank of Staff Sergeant. After that, he disappeared from the view of the SVU computers. Nevertheless, his prior record flagged him immediately as the perpertrator. As she awaited the defense attorney's inevitable request for light bail, Alex wondered how the perp had become so foolhardy as to commit such a heinous crime without any attempt to conceal it. Given the technical sophistication of television programs these days, even a ten-year-old could have done a better job of covering up a crime scene than Mr. Klein.
Mr. Klein was being represented by a public defender, one Joseph Stiles. Alex had encountered him many times and found him unfailingly irritating. Though in his early forties, Counselor Stiles retained a naivety that she found most unflattering in a person of his experience.
"Your Honour, the defendant has a distinguished military record and has served our country with distinction in recent conflicts abroad. His record speaks for itself: he is a protector, not a predator.
Nice alliteration, buddy. "Your Honour, the case against the defendant is supported by forensic evidence so incontrovertible that his guilt cannot be denied. Further, the defendant has no ties to persuade him to remain in this community. The residential address he has given is that of a Veteran's Lodge, and he has no records of any sort after leaving the Army. He hasn't even applied for a driver's license. The flight risk is blatant."
His illustrious Honour F. William Trumann graced the two attorneys with a much-practiced gaze of severity. Nice dramatic effect, Judge. Over the years, Alex and her colleagues had found Judge Trumann's theatrics to be a rich source of dinner jokes.
"The defendant is remanded without bail." The Judge rapped his gavel.
Alex worked to suppress a smirk as she packed her briefcase. I'd almost feel sorry for Joe ... except I don't.
When she looked up, she couldn't help glancing over at the defense table ... and was surprised to find that it wasn't Joe looking at her, but the defendant. Max Klein had grey eyes so light they almost appeared white. He gazed at her with an expression of amusement, his mouth cast in the hint of a smile. Alex felt an involuntary shiver. Though his crime filled her with nothing but repulsion, she found it hard to break the eye contact. Why is he smiling? He should be writing his will. Alex looked away, disturbed at the amount of effort it took.
Alex grabbed her jacket from the back of her chair, and surreptitiously took a deep breath while gazing at the impassive floor. Though her job brought her into contact with the most disturbing segements of humanity on a daily basis, it never became easy. The deep breath helped. You're gonna pay, you smug bastard. Count on it. Grasping her briefcase by its well-worn handle, she pushed through Lawyers' Gate and headed for the courtroom door.
Unbeknownst to Alex, Detective Olivia Benson had been sitting in the back row of the courtroom during the arraignment. She wondered why she was here. It was 12:15, and she had invented an excuse to abandon Elliot for their usual lunch break.
Why am I here? she wondered. To check on the arraignment of a perp whose arrest was one of the simplest she could remember. Right. Maybe it was instinct. Despite the enormous amount of evidence, the moment she and Elliot had first met Max Klein at the flop-house room he was renting, she'd felt a prickle of uncertainty at the base of her neck. This case was not as ordinary as it seemed. She had no evidence to support her feeling, but in this business, instinct was more important than a sidearm in the daily quest for survival. Something was wrong. Yet she had no idea what that was, and her presence at this functional legal proceeding was utterly redunant.
So why was she here? Olivia watched as Alex countered the defense's request with her usual thoroughness. And with absolute confidence, as always. It was a confidence that rang in her voice whenever she spoke, that surrounded her like a halo when she looked at you. That was impossible to resist. What a gift ... no, a power. Today's court proceeding was a simple arraignment that any underling in the DA's office could have handled. But watching Alex do her job, no matter how routine, was watching a master at work.
The Judge's gavel sounded and the brief proceeding was over. Alex was reaching behind her chair for her briefcase. Olivia watched her back. Watched her sure posture, betraying nothing but intense concentration. Watched her lustrous blonde hair sway briefly, as she collected her papers. Time to leave. Olivia rose from her seat and was out the courtroom doors before Alex snapped the latches on her briefcase.
Olivia's instincts were buzzing as she jogged down the courthouse steps. There was something wrong with this case.
A little voice in her mind was also buzzing, and it repeated a familiar phrase: "You know damn well why you were there." But some voices are meant to be ignored. Olivia was very practiced indeed at silencing this one. She shoved her hands in her jacket pockets and headed to rejoin her partner.
Alex played with a quarter in her left hand, as she often did when concentrating. She was putting the finishing touches on her closing arguments. Closing was still a couple of days away, but might as well get it done. Max Klein was one of the easiest cases she'd ever tried. Why was she working so hard on this argument? It was a slam dunk. If she chose to sing a medley of Broadway tunes to the jury, she'd still win it. Maybe it was those damn eyes of his. Cold as ice, yet there was a fire in there, a rage buried very deep. No shit, Cabot. Want to try your hand at psych next?
Alex set down her pencil and closed her eyes, endeavouring to clear her mind. How easy it was to simply replace the grey, penetrating gaze of Mr. Klein with a pair of eyes that she found equally mesmerizing. Warm brown ones, but impenetrable as well. Her mind retrieved an often-revisited memory: a drab interview room where Detective Olivia Benson was interviewing an 11-year-old boy accused of complicity in a brutal rape-homicide. His file read like a novel so tragic one can neither put it down nor bear to discover the conclusion. Sent into the care of the State at age four, he ended up in a foster home with a father who sexually abused him at the age of six. The fact that he sought companionship with the drug runners of his neighborhood, and solace in their product, was a foregone conclusion. At the tender age of 11, he was now a hardened criminal. Trapped at last in the interview room of a police station he stared at Olivia, a representative of The System, with raw hatred.
When Alex had arrived to view the proceedings, the boy's rage projected through the one-way mirror so powerfully that she could almost sense it physically. Nevertheless, after ten minutes of watching his defiant responses to Olivia's calm questions, she was ready to walk through the door and throttle him herself. Alex later learned that Olivia had already been with him for an hour at that point. Alex was mesmerized as she watched Olivia's unflagging patience. Her tone never wavered and her warm eyes never left the boy's. To defuse his hatred of his own life, Olivia skillfully manoevered him to ask about her own. Despite his hateful tone, Olivia answered honestly each time, relating bits of her history that she would never share voluntarily with her colleagues. Each incident, each little vignette from her past, was related with such honesty: neither overplayed nor downplayed. As Alex watched, entranced, the little boy that had never been allowed to be finally leaked through the cracks of a decade's worth of armour. In a choking voice, he related the one memory he held precious: a four-year-old's memory of his mother. Olivia took his hand and the floodgates opened, for the first time in his life.
Alex was there when Olivia finally left the interview room. Without thinking, she reached out, just to offer a human touch on her shoulder. Olivia saw her, and recoiled from the offered hand. Dark brown eyes gazed at the ADA for long seconds, their message indecipherable. And then she was gone.
Alex rubbed her eyes and returned her attention to her legal pad. Closing arguments, piece of cake. She took up her pencil and resumed her editing. Main point is a rapid-fire summary of the forensic evidence. That's the key. Keep the rest to a minimum and make sure the jury focus on the forensics. DNA ... hair samples ... fingerprints. Alex recalled the SVU detectives describing to her their exact model for how the fingerprints had been placed. It was persuasuive, this would be a good time to repeat it. How did it go: left hand here while he supported himself, strangulation pattern somewhere else. Despite Alex's prodigious memory, she was certain she'd forgotten some detail. It really was important to get this right. Another glance at the reports? No, she'd memorized those. Better to check in person.
Alex rose and grabbed her suit jacket. A little voice snickered in the back of her mind: Better to check in person. Cute, Cabot.
Alex pushed open the doors to the SVU squadroom and found it unusually empty. Only Munch was arond.
"Hi John. Where are Olivia and Elliot? I have a couple of details I want to clear up for my closing statements."
"Hi Alex. They're out on a call, but they should be back any minute, they just called in. How's the case going?"
"Piece of cake, John. Ex-marine leaves forensic evidence all over a crime scene: hard to lose this one."
"Yeah." John smirked. "Makes you wonder if the noble United States Marine Corps ever lets its jarrheads watch TV. But, hey, even reruns from the 80's reveal that you're supposed to wear gloves when committing a brutal murder. Guess our friend Mr. Klein was a quiet, studious teen who found T.J. Hooker beneath his intellectual standards."
"Yeah." Alex smiled. But she'd been wondering the same thing. The amount of forensic evidence was ridiculously large. He didn't even try to cover up his crime, almost seemed like he was sending a message. Pure defiance, in the 'I don't care what you do to me' sense? The unexplained detail gnawed at the back of her mind. But really, it didn't matter, the decision was a foregone conclusion.
Alex walked over to Olivia's desk and perched on the corner. She couldn't help running her fingers lightly over the old gunmetal surface. Detective Benson's desk was always neat, and utterly free of any personal elements. It was an ancient, battered piece of furniture, beneath the status of even the lowliest clerk in any modern business office. So strange, given the unique power and responsibility of the detective's office. Although as an ADA, she was the one who ultimately put people away, she was largely shielded from the brutal reality of crime. The detectives were the ones who actually went out into the shadow places of the world and physically retrieved violent people from their warrens into the light of the legal system. In these days where society shunned violence absolutely (except within the safe confines of their television screens), the Police, as the last civil office of legally-sanctioned violence, were almost a throwback to earlier times. 'To Protect and Serve'. Modern-day knights. Maybe the old desk was appropriate.
Alex heard voices in the hallway and turned, just in time to see the squad room doors open. Detective Olivia Benson and her partner Elliot Stabler sauntered in, chatting amiably. Benson was wearing a black leather coat over a white V-neck top and low-rise vintage-wash jeans. With the coat-of-arms of the NYPD displayed in gold on her belt, she walked with a distinctive swagger. It was a swagger of physical confidence that Alex could never get enough of. She stared, pinned like a deer in headlights. Olivia noticed their visitor and turned her eyes to Alex.
Brown eyes met blue ones, and Alex's heart flipped over with an intensity approaching physical pain. Her senses narrowed to a point, allowing only details to penetrate. The click of bootheels on the floor ... the swing of the leather jacket ... the gaze of dark eyes that met her own.
Olivia stopped a mere foot from Alex's perch on the desk.
She was so close. The smell of leather and gunpowder and the Outside radiated from her. It was her essence, and so close that it wrapped around Alex like a shell. So close, so within reach. It took vicious discipline to fight the force drawing her hand. To keep from touching her. To run her hand inside that jacket, to feel the strength beneath it. To press her body against Olivia's, running her hands against a muscled back. To taste the pulse-point in Olivia's neck, throbbing with life, and power ...
Alex, why did you come here. You can't handle this much longer.
"Alex." Olivia's eyes pinned her, "What's up?" Alex couldn't look away. Brown eyes, so deep. I'm drowning. An intoxicating mixture of force and sensitivity. And an inner wall that kept the world out.
Liv, please, see me.
Alex swallowed and tried to breathe, "I, uh." Alex, God, stop it. You have a job to do. She took a breath, hoping its shakiness wasn't noticed. Or was. "I was working on my closing arguments."
Olivia's lopsided grin lit her face, "Should be an easy one, Counselor. For once."
Heart beating madly, Alex tried to compose herself. "I wanted to review for the jury the pattern of fingerprints, that model you guys presented to me. You know, exactly what he did. You had everything explained."
"Wasn't it in the file?" asked Elliot from behind her.
Gulp. "Could you just go over it once more to make sure I've got the details straight." She stood up, holding a hand lightly against the desk to steady herself.
Elliot came into view, broad grin in evidence, "No problem. Yeah, it all makes sense, good thing to close on." Elliot snatched a file from his desk and reviewed the list of fingerprints that had been found. Alex tore her attention away, and turned to Elliot. She breathed again. Easier to concentrate now. She tried to ignore Olivia's continued proximity. Elliot proceeded to go through the prints, demonstrating the order and placement
Olivia watched the pantomime. 'Could you just go over it once more?' Right, Counselor. The ADA's memory was nearly photographic. What was Alex doing here? It had been a great pleasure to hold the ADA's gaze for that long. She had allowed herself a rare treat, daring to hope ... what? Olivia was trained to notice, and Alex's shaky breath had been clear. Are you really daring to hope, Liv?
The brilliant spark of intelligence and outrageous confidence in those blue eyes was staggering. The tailored suit, the elegant body, the soft blonde hair, absolute pride radiating from every pore. And Alex perched so close, right on her desk. Olivia wanted nothing more than for time to stop, for the rest of the squad to disappear. The gap between them was so small. If only time would stop, just for a minute, she could simply reach out and touch this magnificent woman. Her toned thighs were inches away. Olivia could feel what it would be like to press her hands against them. To push that expensive skirt back. To step between her knees, and push them gently apart, while whispering words of longing into perfect ears. Words begging for the privilege of worship.
The image of Alex sharing an intimate dinner table with the hated Trevor flashed with blinding intensity into her mind. Every hated detail was engraved in her memory: Alex's dress, Alex holding his hand, Alex's smile. Olivia's erotic thoughts shattered like a broken mirror.
The smile was wiped from her face. Get over it, you fucking idiot. Olivia turned her attention away from Elliot's elaborate demonstration and took her seat at her desk. Always more fucking paperwork to do. Get to it.
Alex took down some notes during Elliot's explanation. It was clear, and it would serve perfectly in her closing. The small fact that she had already written each of these details on the legal pad back in her office was readily shoved under a mental rug. Well, that was it. Alex gathered her things and rose to leave. She glanced at Olivia. Imagined or not, the Wall of Jericho was back up, and Olivia's attention was confined to her desk and her files. No, not again. What did I do? Desperate, Alex reached out to touch Olivia's shoulder briefly. "I'll see you in court tomorrow."
At least Olivia didn't shy away, but the response was blunt and the detective never looked up. "See you tomorrow."
Her heart breaking, confused by her own emotions, Alex left the squad room.
Alex, this can't go on. But I don't know what to do.
Elliot Stabler was a superb detective, and that meant superb powers of observation. But even the most unpracticed observer could not miss the live sparks of electricity that arced between those two when they were together. He sat at his desk, and contemplated the closed expression on the face of his partner. Head bent over her desk, she had shut out the world. What's the problem here? Elliot was also a man of great patience. This was not the time to confront his partner, so he would wait. But he would see this absurd situation resolved. Elliot smiled fondly at his oblivious partner. Liv, why are you fighting so hard? He'd make sure it all came out right in the end. With a shake of his head and a smile, he turned to his own mountain of paperwork.
"Dr. Warner, please describe the procedure used to analyze the fluids found at the crime scene."
Alex loved having the great M.E. Warner herself as an expert witness. The woman radiated competence. She was utterly convincing, and had a mind like a steel trap, there was never a detail she couldn't remember. She even had a gift for explaining complex medical procedures to the lay people of the jury. Normally the medical technician who actually performed the analysis of the evidence would be on the stand, but she had called in some overdue vacation time a few days ago. Alex was thrilled.
The M.E. began her explanation of DNA analysis, avoiding technical jargon as much as possible and holding the jury's attention. Alex's further questions prompted her to explain how the computers had found a match in both the military and criminal databases.
"Thank you, Doctor. Your witness."
Alex sat down, watching defense counsel rise to cross-examine. So where did this guy come from? Since the arraignment, the defendant had somehow managed to retain the services of a pro. The new lawyer was in his 50's, but his ramrod bearing and trim haircut proclaimed 'ex-military' in no uncertain terms. Indeed, Counselor Michael R. Brenner had spent his career in the J.A.G. office. He had recently retired to private practice, mostly consulting on cases for the government. How the unfortunate Mr. Klein had managed to procure the services of such an experienced individual was anybody's guess. Probably called in a favor from his days in the Marines. Alex wondered why he'd bothered. No defense attorney could win this one.
Brenner briefly consulted his notes, then turned to the witness stand.
"Dr. Warner, did you yourself perform the procedures you described on the evidence in question?"
"No, I didn't. This particular case was handled by one of my staff technicians, Rosa Zacharias."
"I see. Isn't it customary for the technician who actually analyzed the evidence to present testimony in court?"
"Yes, it is. But Ms. Zacharias went on vacation a few days ago."
Brenner nodded, "Dr. Warner, does the Medical Examiner's office perform background checks on its employees before hiring them?"
Alex straightened slightly in her chair.
Warner paused, also surprised, "Yes, for someone in Ms. Zacharias' position, checks for criminal records are required."
"Would you hire someone with, say, a felony conviction for drug trafficking?"
Where is this going? Alex sensed the first murmurs of worry crawling at the edge of her mind. She kept her game face firmly in place but she was set to leap in with an objection the instant Brenner gave her an opening.
"No, a felony conviction would make a technician ineligible for a position where he or she was required to handle case evidence."
Brenner nodded, apparently deep in thought. Then he strode back to his table and retrieved a stapled sheaf of paper from his desk.
"Your honor, I would like to introduce into evidence the criminal record of one Rosa Zacharias as Defense Exhibit C."
Alex was on her feet. "Objection! The people were not made aware of this evidence during discovery."
Brenner's impassive expression slipped for an instant as he glanced at Alex with something approaching a snarl. "In the state of New York, felony convictions are a matter of public record. There was no need to disclose."
Shit. Judge Trumann squirmed uncomfortably in his chair, "Objection overruled."
Mask back in place, Brenner stepped to the Bench and handed over a sheaf of paper. He had a copy in his hand as well, and handed it to Warner.
"Doctor, what I have just handed you is a copy of the criminal record of one Rosa Zacharias from the Circuit Court of Suffolk County, New York. Could you please read the highlighted passage."
Warner stared at the attorney in obvious bewilderment, then turned to the paper in her hand. "The People of Suffolk County find the defendant, Rosa Zacharias, guilty of the charge of Possession with Intent to Distribute. The defendant is sentenced to a prison term of not less than 30 days and not more than 1 year."
Alex barely heard the eruption of voices in the gallery behind her. Her brain was racing, trying to find some leverage she could use to defeat this completely unexpected attack vector.
The judge banged his gavel for silence. "Silence in the court. Silence!" Momentarily back on theatrical safe-ground, Judge Trumann turned to the defense attorney, "Continue with your witness, Counselor."
"Thank you, Your Honor. Dr. Warner, do you have an explanation for this appalling breach of regulations within your office?"
Warner's back straightened visibly. "There was no breach of regulations," she snapped. "The criminal record check was performed, as always, and no conviction was found. Rosa Zacharias has always been a competent and valued employee, a credit to her profession. The only thing I can't explain is this badly-photocopied piece of paper you've handed me."
Not a good idea to piss her off, you asshole. Alex was thinking furiously. I need an angle. Anything.
Brenner ignored the implied aspersion and strode back to the defense table. He retrieved another piece of paper, "Your Honor, I also offer into evidence Defense Exhibit D, a copy of bank transactions pertaining to the account of Rosa Zacharias at First Union's branch in Bayport."
"Objection! This evidence was also not revealed during discovery, and bank records are most certainly not part of the public record."
"Approach, both of you."
Alex strode to the Bench in a mixture of fury and utter confusion.
"Your Honor, the people demand the opportunity to review this evidence. Request for a continuance."
Trumann looked at Brenner and held out his hand, "Let me see your evidence." Brenner handed over the piece of paper. The judge donned his reading lenses and glanced at the form. Alex could see that one line was highlighted in yellow. Despite his attempts to maintain an air of unconcern, the Judge was clearly taken aback. Adjusting his expression, he turned to Alex with a practiced look of reproach, "Counselor, this is most irregular."
And I'm supposed to have done what? Pompous jerk. "Your Honor, we have had no opportunity to evaluate this new evidence, or its veracity."
Brenner stiffened, "Your Honor, I take offense at Counsel's implications. These records were obtained legally and I vouch personally for their veracity. I have no objection to a continuance."
Trumann's sigh of relief was almost visible, "Prosecution's request for a continuance is granted. You have until next Monday, Miss Cabot."
Brenner turned to Alex and handed her a second copy of the report, also highlighted. He sneered: "Enjoy." Alex took the paper, favoring him with a sneer of her own. Watch it, you arrogant bastard. Both attorneys turned on their heels and returned to their tables.
"The jury is released until next Monday at 9 am. Court dismissed." The Judge's gavel sounded, terminating the proceedings.
As Alex gathered her things, she glanced at the highlighted line on the paper she'd been handed. Oh, shit. Alex's game face would have stayed in place if the paper had revealed evidence of the dead victim leaping out of her grave into a throng of observant bystanders. Nevertheless, her equanimity was in turmoil. One thought superceded all others: What the hell just happened?
As the Judge's gavel banged for the last time, Olivia and Elliot rose from their seats in the gallery. Their thoughts echoed Alex's as they headed for the hallway outside: What the hell just happened? It wasn't long before Alex emerged, with Warner right behind her. The group closed ranks immediately.
Elliot was the first to erupt, "Alex, what the hell does he have? What happened?"
"Our case just got blown to hell, that's what happened," Alex snapped. She rounded on Warner and thrust the highlighted paper in her face, "Care to explain this?"
Warner looked as furious as the rest of them. But as she scanned the page, her face fell, "This can't be."
"Well apparently it is. Highlighted here in convenient yellow is a $10,000 deposit to the account of Rosa Zacharias, dated the day after the body was discovered." Alex needed to lash out at someone and Warner was the most convenient target.
Warner looked at her, "Alex, you have to believe me. I know Rosie. She's a quiet girl and an excellent technician. She's never even been late with a report, for God's sake. I wish all my staff were that reliable. Alex, trust me. This is bullshit. I don't know where he got it, but it's a damn lie."
Alex fought to control her emotions, knowing no one here was to blame. "OK, Melinda. OK. So it's bullshit. Now how do we prove it?" She turned to the detectives, "This case was supposed to be a no-brainer. But now, it looks like Mr. Klein has found a way to invalidate our 'indisputable' forensic evidence. Do you have anything else?"
"No we don't," said an angry Elliot, "because we didn't think it was necessary. But we'll find it. Count on it."
Alex took another breath, finally getting her temper under control. "OK, people, we've got one week. I'll look into this damn piece of paper and see if there's some way to beat it. You two, just pretend we have no forensic evidence at all and re-investigate Klein all over again. And Melinda, I don't know what to tell you. Just get me some ammunition."
Without another word, Alex grabbed her briefcase and left, brain clicking through its storehouse of potentially-relevant statutes.
The remaining trio watched her go. Warner couldn't help a wry remark: "Our ADA is pissed, kids."
Despite the situation, Olivia couldn't help a chuckle, "Yeah, I'd say so." She turned back to the group. "So what's next? I guess we'd better check out 'Exhibits C and D' first, then do some background on Mr. Klein."
"Munch and Fin can look into past acquaintances while we double-check the records," said Elliot.
Warner's next step was less clear. "Elliot, Olivia, I'm telling you, I know Rosie and this is not possible. For God's sake, the woman doesn't even drink." Warner had a thought, "Can you try to find her? She left a message with the admins on Monday morning that she was taking some vacation time. I didn't think about it at the time, but it was a bit sudden. Honestly, I don't remember her taking a vacation before."
Elliot nodded, "We'll look into it, Doc."
When they got back to the squad, Elliot and Olivia explained the courtroom fiasco to Cragen then proceeded according to plan. While Munch and Fin delved into the marine's past and the medical tech's current whereabouts, Benson and Stabler paid personal visits to a variety of record offices. Unfortunately, the maddeningly-efficient clerks employed therein took no time to produce laser-printed facsimiles identical to the the mysterious Exhibits C and D that Counselor Brenner had yanked from the ether.
Olivia and Elliot were justifiably frustrated when they re-entered the squadroom near the close of their shift. But Munch and Fin had some news to offer.
"Well, no sign of Ms. Zacharias," said Munch. "We found no trace of a ticket purchased in her name for either plane, train, or automobile. That in itself is suspicious. However, Sergeant Klein's file did at least reveal someone you can talk to." Munch consulted a file on his desk. "'Jacob Trent' was in the same squad as Klein and served with him during the Gulf War. They joined up on the same day, left on the same day, and their promotion records match with eerie precision. During their six years in the service, each of their promotions occurred within a month of each other." Munch looked up, "In case I haven't mentioned this before, the armed services exceed all government agencies in the likelihood of their participation in a variety of underhanded schemes."
Elliot fired off an amiable retort while settling into his chair. "Hey, watch it buddy. Some of us might take offense."
Olivia remained standing and kept her jacket on. "Munch, did you get an address?"
"We did indeed. Fin?"
Fin sauntered back from the coffee pot and grabbed a piece of paper from his desk, "Here you go. Last know address. It's in Queens."
Olivia glanced at her partner, "Elliot, you up for one more stop? We can hit it on your way home. Cabot's under the gun with this one."
"Uh huh," said Fin under his breath. In a squad filled with people trained to observe, Olivia was the only one who hadn't yet absorbed her obvious fixation on the blonde ADA.
Elliot smiled amiably, "Ok, one more stop."
As the squadroom door closed behind Elliot and Olivia, Munch and Fin looked at each other. Munch smirked: "How about a frying pan over the head at the next department picnic?"
Fin grinned, "Prob'ly wouldn' work."
The light of day was nearly gone as Olivia jogged up the steps to a seedy-looking door in a seedy-looking neighborhood. Elliot came up behind her as she pushed the bell marked 'J. Trent' in sloppy, hand-scribed characters.
"Nice place," she muttered to her partner.
They waited, but no response was forthcoming from Mr. Trent's apartment. Let's try this again, shall we? Olivia pressed the button three times in quick succession, holding it down on the third ring and speaking into the microphone, "Mr. Trent, this is the police. We'd like to talk to you."
Five seconds. Ten. Fifteen. They were about to leave when they heard the distinctive buzz of a remotely-released door lock. Olivia glanced at Elliot with a raised eyebrow.
Elliot shrugged, "Let's go see Mr. Trent."
Olivia pushed open the door and stepped into the 'foyer'. Besides two ground-floor apartment doors, the space held nothing but a staircase leading upwards. Not even mailboxes, much less an elevator.
"Apartment five-twelve, top floor. Did your 10k this morning Elliot?"
Elliot's grin matched Olivia's as they mounted the stairs. The diminutive 5th floor landing sported two doors, one closed, the other open by an inch.
Olivia approached the slightly-open door. "Mr. Trent? We'd like to talk to you." She palmed her badge and held it up to the crack. "Can we come in?"
More hesitation. Five seconds ... ten ... Then the door opened another centimeter. An eye was clearly visible this time.
"What do you want?"
"We'd just like to ask you a few questions Mr. Trent. Can you open the door?"
The eyeball of Mr. Trent surveyed Olivia, then Elliot, then back to Olivia. At last, a reedy voice emerged. "My place is a mess."
"We don't care, Mr. Trent. I guarantee we've seen places worse than yours." Olivia internally doubted this, but whatever.
The eyeball swivelled again. Then the door opened fully.
Olivia and Elliot stepped forward, into a pigsty of spectacular proportions. While keeping her eye firmly on the illustrious Mr. Trent, her peripheral vision recorded a truly impressive multitude of empty cans, beer bottles, and plastic wrappers of indeterminate origin, all scattered with reckless abandon on the floor. Every surface in the small residence was covered with debris.
Now this would put a frat-house dorm room to shame.
The light in the apartment was dim. Olivia was glad that it was insufficient to reveal the army of cockroaches that must have adopted this spot as their headquarters. But it was sufficient to illuminate Mr. Trent himself. The scraggly beard, liberally-stained T-shirt, and matching sweat pants were not a surprise. The two detectives focused instead on the same detail: Jacob Trent's pupils were so violently dilated that the color of his irises was a matter of pure guesswork.
No word or gesture was required. These two knew each other better than most married couples and trusted each others' abilities with their lives. Like synchronized swimmers, Olivia moved to the left, drawing Jacob Trent's focus away from the door while Elliot positioned himself to block any attempt at escape.
"Mr. Trent ... can I call you Jacob?"
Jacob stared at her with wide eyes that were very far away. Pause. "Sure."
"Jacob, do you remember an old friend of yours? His name is Max. Do you remember Max?"
Jacob continued to stare. Then he nodded once, with an abrupt birdlike motion.
"That's great. Jacob, what do you remember about Max?"
Stare. Pause. "Max was my friend."
"I know, Jacob. He was a good friend of yours."
"He was my best friend."
"Is he still your best friend?"
Stare. Pause. "I don't know."
"What happened, Jacob? Why don't you know?"
The pause was much longer this time. "Max is away."
"Where is he, Jacob?"
Stare. "He's away, in the Other World."
Olivia tried to be patient. The man was clearly drugged out of his mind, but there had to be a nugget of truth in there somewhere.
"No he's not, Jacob. I saw him just the other day."
Jacob frowned, "Liar. He left for the Other World."
"Jacob, I just saw him, here in this world. Why don't you tell us ..."
Jacob's face contorted abruptly. "LIAR !!!" he screamed, loud enough to wake the building, and launched himself at Olivia. She was expecting it. She stepped aside and tripped him, grabbing his wrist in the same practiced motion. Another second for gravity to do its work and he was on the ground with Olivia's knee against his back.
As she snapped the cuffs on, Olivia recited the Miranda caution, "Jacob Trent, you are under arrest for assaulting a police officer. You have the right to remain silent, anything you say can and will be held against you in a court of law. You have the right to an attorney ..."
Elliot relayed their condition over the radio: "Attempted assault on a police officer. Everything under control, do not need backup. We're bringing him in. Dispatch: notify ADA Cabot that we have a witness. Tell her to meet us at the station."
Elliot jammed the radio back into his belt and helped Olivia haul the raving Jacob Trent to his feet. It took brute force on both their parts, but they managed to get him down the interminable stairs to the car.
Olivia slammed the back door closed and got in the front. Jacob continued to scream invectives from the back seat. Jesus, someone shut him up. Elliot pulled out the blue light and they sped toward the precinct.
Alex strode into the interview room and took her place next to Captain Cragen.
She glanced through the one-way mirror and saw a very sorry-looking member of the human race cuffed and bent over the interview table, breathing hard and shuddering intermittently, as if in the grip of malaria.
"What have we got?"
"Munch and Fin identified a 'Jacob Trent' whose military record suggested he was a close acquaintance of Max Klein. Benson and Stabler went to his address of record to question him. They barely got a word in before Mr. Trent lunged at Olivia."
Cragen turned to Alex, "Honestly, I don't know what we've got here. The man's been raving like a lunatic since we brought him in. His pupils are so dilated it's clear he's seriously doped up."
Alex stared at Mr. Trent through the glass. "Does he know Max Klein?"
"It's not entirely clear, but his testimony so far indicates that he does. He's been raving about Max being taken to 'Another World'. I'm going to call Huang in tomorrow for a consult."
Alex narrowed her eyes at the shaking prisoner, "You say he attacked Olivia?"
Cragen looked at her, "If he's not doped up, he's mentally unstable at the very least. Yes, he attacked her. But it's clear the man needs help."
"I don't care if he's the Pope. If he assaulted a police office we can hold him for 24 hours. And we can get a blood test, without a warrant. Do it."
Alex's stare could have burned the glass between her and the unfortunate Jacob. "I want to talk to him."
Cragen grabbed Alex's shoulder and forced her to face him, "Alex, listen to me. You won't get anything from him tonight. Wait til tomorrow when he comes down from whatever high he's on. And you sure as hell are not going in there with him."
Alex's smile was predatory, "I am precisely not going to wait until tomorrow. I'm charging him with assaulting a police officer, and that means we can get a blood sample from him now, before whatever's in his bloodstream has a chance to disappear. If it's illegal, as I'm sure it is, we can hold him longer. And you bet I'm going to talk to him. Send in all the detectives you want but that man is confused and vulnerable right now and I want to hear what he has to say about our dear Mr. Klein."
Cragen sighed. "Alex, do you know what you're doing?"
"Damn right I do."
Damned kids, all of them. Talent and youth are wasted on the young. Cragen sighed again, "Just stay here, will you? I'll get Benson and Stabler, they're still in the building."
"And call the M.E.'s office, we need someone who can take a sample."
As Cragen left, Alex turned her attention to the one-way mirror. The prisoner remained as before: slumped over the table, but disturbed by a violent shiver every few seconds. So you know our friend Mr. Klein? Well you're going to tell me all about him, pal.
Alex continued to observe for another minute. Then the door behind her swung open, and she turned as Elliot and Olivia stepped in.
"Alex, what's the plan?" asked Elliot.
Alex turned to the pair. Her eyes swept rapidly over Olivia. Leather jacket, boots ... that swagger ... knock it off, Cabot. She focused on Elliot instead. "I'm charging that sonofabitch and I'm going to talk to him. Cragen won't let me in without an escort, and I'm sorry, but it appears you're it. Now let's go see what Mr. Trent is prepared to reveal while he's coming down from his Happy Place."
Alex in a full-blown state of righteous indignation was something to behold. Olivia knew well the outrageous manoeuvers that their dangerously-brilliant ADA had pulled off over the years ... but this was just dangerous. Though she felt foolish raising legal points with The Master, she had to ask. A vague concern surfaced that the ADA's rout in court earlier today had pushed one button too many.
"Alex, whatever you get from him won't be admissible in court. You know that, right?"
Alex rounded on Olivia, ready to let fly with a vicious retort.
When she saw Olivia's face, worry plastered all over it ... her cutting remark evaporated. Deep brown eyes were filled with concern. Alex paused.
Alex, do you know what you're doing?
Confronted with those warm eyes, Alex took a breath. Her arguments burst into their component parts, whirling in the mental ether. Another breath ... and the arguments resettled, like puzzle pieces. But from a calmer state of mind this time.
"Olivia. First, I've ordered a blood test so we can do a tox screen. We don't need consent, and we don't need a warrant. Uniformed police compel blood tests from suspected drunk drivers all the time, this situation is analogous. Second, anything he says to us while he's as high as a kite can certainly be used. True, a witness' testimony can be impeached if he was intoxicated at the time of the event he witnessed. But that's all. Any other statements made under the influence of drugs or alcohol are deemed reasonable products of an investigation, as long as no police coercion was involved. Colorado v. Connelly: even a confession made in a psychotic schizophrenic state is allowable, because there was no police or other governmental wrongdoing."
Olivia realized she should have known better. Pissed off or not, Alex never did anything without multiple layers of arguments to back up her actions.
"Ok. I understand. But why do you have to go in there?"
"Because I want to talk to him."
Olivia stared at her for one more heartbeat. The blue eyes were calm, though the mighty CPU's of Alex's brain could practically be heard churning in the background.
"OK. Let's go, then. But you stay on the far side of the table."
Lord, they're good for each other, Elliot mused. The brilliant ADA had a streak of volatility, while the strong detective sometimes tended to melancholy. They tempered each other perfectly.
Elliot and Olivia entered first. Olivia took a seat close to Jacob Trent while Elliot moved to stand behind him. Alex walked in and sat at the far end of the table, facing Mr. Trent. The man was clearly suffering: slumped over the table, violent shudders wracked his body every few seconds.
Olivia spoke first: "Jacob, we need to talk to you. Look at me, Jacob." Her tone was measured, but stern.
Jacob lifted his head from the table and turned wild, bloodshot eyes to Olivia.
"Jacob, we need you to tell us about Max. How long have you known him?"
"We were in grade school together."
"Were you best friends in grade school?"
Jacob nodded jerkily, "Yes. Max was my best friend."
Olivia recalled the details of the case. "When Max came out of prison, when he was 21. You decided to join the service together. Was that your idea?"
Jacob shook his head, "Max said it was the right thing to do. For people like us."
"What sort of people, Jacob?" Using the suspect's name repeatedly was a tactic Olivia had learned many years ago.
"'Hunters' he said. Max said we were hunters, and we belonged in the army. He said the army needed people like us."
"Did you join the army too, Jacob?"
"Yes. We went together."
The distinction between 'the army' and 'the marines' was clearly lost on Jacob. It was also clear that Jacob was the weaker member of a symbiotic relationship that had started in early childhood.
"Did you like the army, Jacob?"
Jacob hunched his shoulders and rocked, back and forth, back and forth. "They wanted hunters. We were hunters."
Olivia tried a different tactic, "Jacob, when you and Max were kids, what did you hunt?"
Jacob's rocking continued, "Birds. Squirrels."
"Did you kill them, Jacob?"
Jacob nodded. The rocking persisted.
"Jacob, what did you do with the bodies of those birds and squirrels when they were dead?"
Jacob's face contorted in memory, "They weren't dead."
"What did you do Jacob?"
Jacob's rocking increased in amplitude, though the frequency remained steady. "They weren't dead." Olivia waited. "We were hunters. We had to kill them."
"How did you kill them, Jacob?"
Tears rose in bloodshot eyes. "They didn't want do die. They fought us, real hard. But we had to kill them."
Olivia leaned towards him, "Why, Jacob? Why did you have to kill them?"
"Max ... Max said we were hunters. We had to."
Before Olivia could ask another question, Alex's clear voice rang across the table.
"Mr. Trent, what did the army think of hunters like you?"
Jacob's gaze snapped upward and was transfixed by the stare of blue eyes blazing across the table. Good cop, bad ADA. This'll work, thought Olivia. Now what is she thinking?
Jacob swallowed convulsively, still rocking, but remained pinned by Alex's gaze. "The army said we were special. Our L.T. told us we were special."
Alex leaned forward, "What did the army do with special people like you and Max? With hunters like you and Max?"
"They showed us the Door. The Door into the Other World. It's supposed to be the Same World. But it's not, I know it's not."
"How do you know it's not the same world, Mr. Trent?"
"I feel big in the Other World." He rocked back and forth. "I feel small in this world."
"What did they ask you to do in the other world, Mr. Trent?"
Jacob swallowed, "Nothing. Just hunting. Like squirrels and birds."
A knock interrupted the interview, and a familiar technician they all knew from the M.E.'s office walked into the room. He carried a small satchel and looked at the detectives, "You ordered a blood test?"
"I did," said Alex, rising. "This man has assaulted a police officer and is clearly under the influence of drugs. I want you to do a full tox screen."
Jacob's eyes flashed wildly between the ADA and the tech, trying to absorb this new event. The technician nodded and placed his bag on the table. He undid the zipper and retrieved a cellophane-wrapped object. Tearing the wrapper, the tech withdrew a syringe.
Jacob spotted the needle and freaked completely. "NOOOOOOOO," he screamed, at the top of his lungs. Though still impaired by handcuffs he lunged in animal panic toward the only possibility of escape: the door. This brought him toward both Alex and the technician, but also directly across the path of Detective Benson. She leapt up in an instant and grabbed him bodily. With practiced technique, she turned his momentum and slammed him down, hard, onto the interview table. In a fraction of a second her right hand was against the back of his neck, forcing it down. Elliot was on him in another second, pressing Jacob's shoulder against the table.
The suspect screamed again, clearly in a state of terror. He surged violently against them, trying to get up. The detectives forced him back to the table. Olivia bent to Jacob's ear, "Jacob, listen to me." Jacob recoiled again. Olivia held him down with her body while Elliot kept his shoulder pinned to the table.
"Jacob, stop it. We're not going to hurt you." Elliot struck his knee against the back of Jacob's leg, making him lose his purchase on the floor. Olivia glanced over her shoulder at the medical technician and nodded. Olivia turned back to Jacob. "Jacob, stop it. We're here to help. Let us help you." As she continued to offer quiet words, still holding him down with her body, Jacob collapsed into wracking sobs. As he cried, Elliot pushed back the right sleeve of his filthy sweatshirt and held his arm steady.
The technician approached and managed to tighten a tourniquet around the panicked man's upper arm. Retrieving the syringe, he added the force of his own hand next to Elliot's, trying to immobilize the arm. He waited for a minute, seeing Jacob's wracking sobs subsiding under the influence of Olivia's words. Finally he focused on a bulging vein and pierced Jacob's skin with the needle. The attached receptacle filled with blood. When it was filled, he swapped it out, filling two more.
The tech withdrew the needle and snapped off the elastic tourniquet, "Got it." He deposited the evidence in his bag and left.
Olivia moved her hand to the back of Jacob's head. Though still wary, she lessened the pressure. "It's over, Jacob. It's over. You did well. C'mon, now, we're going to take you to a nice bed where you can sleep. Come with us." Though still sobbing, Jacob hardly resisted as the detectives brought him up off the table and walked him to the door, supporting his weight between them.
Elliot knew it wasn't fair, but he had long ago admitted that some things were beyond his control. As they passed Alex he said, "That what you had in mind, Counselor?"
The instant Jacob Trent had leapt from his seat in mindless panic, animal instinct flung Alex back against the one-way glass. Civilized thought was violently pushed aside by baser urgencies, roused by the sudden and very real proximity of physical danger.
Alex glimpsed the subsequent scene in vignettes. Sharp snapshots of awareness. Olivia's body appearing in front of the enraged man, keeping him away. Olivia's arm straining with brute force, holding him down. Olivia's soft words, offered even as her hand, tensed with strength, kept him subdued. With animal responses awakened, the scene morphed into something else. Olivia's hand, tendons straining. Holding her down. Wandering across her body with flagrant ownership, while a warm voice whispered words of understanding in her ear ...
Alex's faculties only recovered when she heard Elliot's barbed remark. Is this what you had in mind?
Part One, Chapter Two
Elliot and Olivia walked into Warner's morgue the next day, there by her request. The M.E. looked up from the autopsy she was performing.
"Detectives. Come over here." Warner snapped off her surgical gloves and walked to the countertop computer. "I have news that is neither good nor bad, only strange." After pressing a few keys, she stood back to afford a view of the flat-screen monitor.
The SVU detectives peered at the jagged histogram being displayed.
"What's this?" Elliot asked.
"Mr. Trent's blood sample contained many familiar chemicals, including a nice dose of alcohol. We removed those, and isolated this." Warner turned to the screen, pointing at one of the indecipherable peaks. "This, lady and gentleman, does not have a match in our computer."
Warner turned back to the detectives, "Whatever it is, its chemical signature is similar to that of two recognizable compounds. One is paroxetine HCl, better knows as Paxil."
Elliot grunted, "Used to treat depression and anxiety."
"And recently connected with a number of teen suicides," added Olivia.
Warner nodded, "Yes, but that's mostly media hype. And anyway, this little baby here is not paroxetine." She turned back to the screen. "It resembles it, but it's not a match. See these compounds here, and here?" Warner gestured at the screen. "They're similar to the readout of paroxetine ... also of fluoxetine, Prozac, which is similar. Now let's remove them, using the paroxetine spectrum as a baseline." Warner pressed a key and the peaks she'd indicated largely disappeared. "What's left has no match either, but it's not entirely unfamiliar." Warner pressed another key and a shaded histogram appeared in overlay. The broad features of the open and shaded graphs obviously agreed, though their particulars were different. Warner turned to Benson and Stabler, "Lysergic acid diethylamide."
"What's that, the technical term for aspirin?"
Warner smiled at Elliot, "Much more famous: LSD." Glancing at the screen, she summarized her opinion. "I don't know what our friend was on, or what it's supposed to do, but given these chemical similarities I'm almost certain it was psychotropic in nature."
Olivia and Stabler straightened, digesting this unclear but disturbing evidence.
"Could he have taken two drugs simultaneously to produce this pattern?"
Warner shook her head, "No, this spectrum came from a single compound. Someone mixed up a cocktail that has two familiar traces, but as you saw, neither is an exact match. I'm just giving you my best guess."
Elliot nodded, "That's all we can ask for. Thanks, Doc."
As Olivia and Elliot walked through the doors of the squadroom, Fin looked up from his desk. He rose, grabbing the pink slip of a phone message.
"CHiPs called. They foun' Rosie."
Olivia froze in the process of removing her jacket. "Rosa Zacharias? Where?"
"Side road on the L.I.E. near Manhasset. Foun' her car pulled over. She was lyin' in the ditch with a bullet in her head."
Olivia snatched the piece of paper. She focused on an underlined word. "Suicide?"
"Powder burns on her temple and her hand. Gun was lyin' way off in the ditch. Nassau County CSU said it's consistent with the recoil."
Olivia looked hard at Elliot, "Nassau County CSU, my ass. Call Warner."
Elliot grabbed the phone and dialed the familiar number, "Get me the M.E." He was connected after a 30-second wait. "Warner, highway patrol found Rosie. Her car was left on a sideroad off the L.I.E., looks like a suicide."
Elliot listened for a few seconds, "That's what I hoped you'd say. We'll pick you up in ten minutes."
Elliot glanced at Olivia, grabbing his jacket, "Road trip. Let's go."
Warner was waiting for them at the curbside when Elliot pulled the car to the M.E.'s office. She jumped in the back with an air of raw anger.
"So Rosie committed suicide? We'll see about that." Few words were exchanged thereafter as Elliot barrelled toward I-495, the Long Island Expressway. Olivia had already radioed ahead to the locals, telling them to keep the crime scene secure until they arrived. Warner yanked open her voluminous backpack, extricating a laptop and a portable scanner. She worked at the laptop's keys until they reached exit 33, the turnoff for Manhasset.
One more minute and they came upon a cluster of flashing lights, emanating from a collection of cars painted in the distinctive navy-and-yellow of the New York Highway Patrol. Elliot pulled to the other side of the road and the trio got out of the car. Warner had repacked her devices, and hoisted her backpack.
Elliot approached a patrolman watching for traffic and sporting one of the 'big hats' favored by state services. How the hell do they recruit with those damned hats? Elliot produced his badge, "Who's in charge here?"
The implacid patrolman nodded at the badge and indicated a bearded individual sporting an unfortunate suit. "Captain Noonan, sir."
Stabler stalked to the Captain and presented his credentials. "Detective Elliot Stabler from Manhattan SVU. This is my partner, Detective Benson."
Noonan turned his attention away from the ant-colony of crime scene technicians scouring the area. An old white Tercel was parked placidly on the highway's shoulder. Something beyond it, no doubt the body, seemed to served as their hive, a spot from which they emanated and to which they subsequently returned.
Noonan stubbed out his cigarette with a scuffed bootheel. "What brings you to our lovely neighborhood, detective?"
"You've identified the deceased as one Rosa Zacharias. She was in the employ of the Manhattan Medical Examiner's office, and case evidence she processed is closely connected with a case we're working on." Elliot motioned toward Warner, "This is Dr. Melinda Warner, the medical investigator for Manhattan. She was Ms. Zacharias' immediate superior and she'd like to review the crime scene for herself."
Noonan regarded Elliot. He gestured toward the ant farm, "Help yourself."
Well that was easy. The Irish are a wonderful people.
Elliot and Olivia escorted Warner toward the parked Tercel. She spotted the local M.E. by his jacket and went over to confer. Elliot and Olivia saw the distant placement of Rosa's prostrate sheet-covered from, then focused on the car. There was little to discover. The car appeared untouched. As if Rosa had simply pulled over to the shoulder at the suggestion of someone trusted, like a friend. Or a cop.
The detectives had little to contribute after that and simply watched Warner. She took her own Polaroids of the victim, feeding some of the images into her portable scanner. She retrieved a tape-measure from her backpack and measured the distance between the victim and the gun, a .38 which had been found roughly five meters from the fallen woman's body.
It took nearly an hour for Warner to record the evidence to her satisfaction. Her face was tight as she remounted the sloping edge of the ditch, "Let's go."
Due back in court in a scant six days, Alex had requested immediate updates from the SVU detectives on every piece of evidence they uncovered in the Max Klein investigation. She stared at Warner's report on the Jacob Trent blood test: "Unidentified chemical compound of a probable psychotropic nature."
And now Rosa Zacharias' body had been found off the L.I.E., apparently dead from a self-inflicted gunshot wound.
This case stank to high heaven. Unidentified psychotropic drugs ... suspects with military backgrounds ... mysteriously-discredited witnesses found conveniently dead on the highway. I hope Munch is loving this, 'cause we're gonna need him.
Alex picked up her phone, simultaneously paging through her PDA's contact list with her other hand. She retrieved a very old number.
The phone rang twice on the other end, then a voice picked up, "Ringo."
Alex smiled, "Hey, Ringo. Remember me? Alex Cabot."
The next morning, Elliot and Olivia met over the coffee pot, as usual.
Elliot's grin was feral, "Feels like Christmas morning. Warner's got something, I know it. Did you see her face yesterday?"
Olivia grinned in response, "If there's anything there, she'll find it."
Returning to their desks with coffee mugs in hand, the detectives began their daily attack on the bottomless mountain of paperwork that bred daily on their desks.
It was a quiet morning. No calls reporting atrocities within the confines of their fair precinct, nothing to disturb their labors. Until 8:45 am, when Cragen yanked open his office door.
"Benson, Stabler, in here now."
Fin looked up. "Dad's mad."
Though his expression was fixed, Cragen was torn. Goddamn this job. On the one hand he had his most prized detectives here in his office, looking like babes in the woods. On the other hand, he'd just gotten off the phone with an irate commissioner at One Police Plaza. When the brass got involved, the shit was near the fan, no doubt about it. The best thing he could do to protect his detectives was scare them. Or at least try.
Cragen rounded on Benson and Stabler as they entered the office. "Close the door." Elliot did so and turned back to the Captain, who let fly.
"What were you doing out in Manhasset yesterday? That investigation is way out of your jurisdiction and has competent people handling it. Don't you have enough work here to keep you busy?"
Both detectives acknowledged the jurisdictional issue, but were taken aback by Cragen's intensity. "Captain, the crime scene had direct bearing on the Klein case. We didn't step on their toes, we were just there to observe."
"And by 'observe', you mean dragging Warner on a 5-hour scenic tour of Long Island? The Nassau County coroner's office lodged an official complaint this morning about her intervention. She had no business being there, and neither did you."
"But Captain, we didn't interfere with their investigation in any way. We just had a look around. Same with Warner. Captain, she knew the victim, it's only common courtesy between units to let her have a look."
Cragen took a breath, "One PP was on the horn this morning, telling me to keep my detectives away from a simple suicide. They cited 'emotional involvement'. Benson, Stabler, let the Nassau people handle this. It's being ruled a suicide, with plenty of evidence to support that conclusion. Back off."
Benson and Stabler nodded mutely as they left Cragen's office but glanced at each other the moment the door was closed.
"Where the hell did that come from?"
Olivia was wondering the same thing. The Powers That Be were telling them to back off, and it raised the hackles on the back of her neck.
The detectives returned to their reports, and were shortly called out to a crime scene. It was close to quitting time when they returned to the squad room. Just another day in The City.
As they were summoning the energy to return to their reports, Elliot's phone rang. "Stabler."
He listened intently, then nodded, "Got it. We'll be there." When he turned to Olivia, his expression would have made Munch proud.
"That was Warner. She's got something on the Manhasset scene. Ready for an early dinner?"
Olivia's grin matched Elliot's, "Starving."
Warner's expression was as feral as they'd ever seen it when they arrived at her office. Without a word, she rose from her desk and led them toward the elevator. "I've got good news, kids. Whatever bastards are behind Rosie's murder, they made a big mistake. I want you to meet a new friend of mine."
Elliot and Olivia followed Warner into the elevator. The M.E. pressed '3', leading to one of the technical levels. Down a hallway, through a door, past busy labcoated individuals. Warner eventually stopped in front of an innocuous-looking flatscreen terminal.
"This is GILDA," she gestured. "There's a crime scene squad in Las Vegas that's been publishing papers like crazy for the past several years." Warner grinned. "Ever since they were taken over by an old school buddy of mine."
The M.E. tapped a key and GILDA's screensaver vanished. "Their latest triumph is a piece of code that performs force-vector analysis on powder burns and gun-recovery location at the scene of 'apparent' suicides." Warner pressed a few more keys and a high-resolution photograph of yesterday's crime scene appeared. The body of the medical technician was in the center, surrounded by busy individuals wearing State Police jackets of various sorts.
"The gun was found over here." Warner clicked the mouse, and the location of the .38, hidden in the grass, was highlighted. A vector also appeared in yellow, pointing from the victim to the gun and bearing a distance reading in bold characters. "I measured the distance from her head to the gun at 5.12 meters. Now let's zoom in."
A few more mouse manoeuvers and the display zoomed in on a wire-frame rendering of a human head. "Next, we input the series of photographs I took of the powder burns on Rosa's temple." The sparse display was supplemented by a collection of red dots of varying intensity, all clustered around the figure's right temple. "You drop enough photos into a scanner, even Polaroids, and this program can analyze the burns, using pattern-recognition algorithms." Warner grinned, "Grissom is an arrogant bastard, but he's a brilliant bastard."
Olivia and Elliot felt a little left out of this virtual conversation between Warner, her monitor, and a distant ex-colleague. But it was a familiar feeling in the M.E.'s office. They waited for the next display of graphical magic.
Warner was intent on the program, "Now watch this. When a person holds a gun to his or her head and pulls the trigger, most people don't appreciate the force of the recoil. Staged suicides are often discovered with the gun still in the victim's hand, which is impossible. Our perps, whoever they are, were smart enough to know this. But not smart enough." She pressed a key and the wireframe head zoomed out to a complete person, standing with a wireframe gun pressed to its head. "The software matches the burn-intensity pattern to determine the thrust vector, see?" Another click, and the engineering drawing of Rosa Zacharias blew its own head off. The figure fell and the gun went flying. Force vectors erupted on the screen, and one in particular caught the detectives' eyes. The gun only flew 2.62 meters from Rosa's head.
Elliot appreciated the technical wizardry but had an objection, "How do you know she was standing straight like that? Maybe she was standing at an angle, and the gun flew off further than you think."
Warner grinned with glee, "Not possible, detective. Welcome to the Laws of Physics. The maximum range for a ballistic trajectory is achieved with a 45-degree angle of launch. Even if Rosa had been inclined in such a bizarre way as to achieve that precise angle, the gun would have flown less than four meters."
"This scene was staged, detectives. Cleverly staged, but still as phony as a two-dollar bill."
Elliot's predatory grin matched Warner's, "Call Cabot. We are on the scent."
Olivia glanced at her watch, "Elliot, it's past six. Do we need to call her now?"
Elliot clapped his hands together. "We are going to celebrate, and our hard-working ADA deserves to be in on it."
Weeknight or not, O'Malley's was always busy. Nevertheless the SVU detectives spotted a free table in the back and grabbed it. Motioning to O'Malley himself behind the bar, Elliot ordered two pitchers of Bass. When Alex arrived ten minutes later, the detectives were talking away about the week's events and working on their pint glasses. Two open seats remained at the circular table, both opposite Olivia.
As Alex sat down, Munch looked up from his tirade du-jour and saluted her with his glass, "All hail the ADA. Nice to see you, Alex."
Alex grinned and filled herself a glass from the remains of the second pitcher. "Hey, John."
The conversation reverted back to Munch and Fin as they performed their familiar three-ring debating circus over one of Munch's inexhaustible supply of conspiracy theories. This one concerned the IRS. With tax day drawing near, Alex got into it and found herself laughing. Munch was fun to listen to ... diverting enough that she managed to keep her eyes off the woman across from her. Mostly. Peripheral awareness could not be denied, however. Olivia laughed on occasion, but she stayed well back in her chair, left hand shoved into the pocket of her leather jacket, right hand intent on the minute motions of her beer glass. Alex felt dark eyes burning through her but she refused to acknowledge it, and refused to look up. Get over it, woman.
They were on their second round when ADA Craig Connelly from the Manhattan tax-fraud bureau wandered into the bar and spotted Alex. He smiled broadly and wandered over to their table. "Hey, Cabot!"
Alex looked up at the familiar voice and beamed, "Craig! Long time no see! Come on over!"
Though in his early thirties, Craig Connelly had the infectious grin of a youngster and an unruly shock of blonde hair that fell into his eyes, complementing the impression. He sat down next to Alex, "What's up, Alexis?"
Alex grinned with real delight, "Hey, Cregster, we were just discussing taxes. You're the man, enlighten us buddy." Still smiling, she turned to the squad. "This sorry excuse for a lawyer is my old debating partner. He never could carry his own with real people, but give him a calculator and he's off and running."
Munch shook Craig's hand amiably, Fin nodded, and Elliot began pouring. Munch then seized on the newcomer with enthusiasm, summarizing the essential details of his IRS theory. After the initial exposition, Craig burst out laughing. Elliot grinned and smacked John on the shoulder: "See, we always knew you were full of it." Craig's infectious grin soon had them all laughing, as he presented a counter-argument based on numerous incidences, personally observed, of the agency's underlying incompetence. "Sorry, John, takes skill to mount that kind of operation. You need to look elsewhere."
Despite the good humor around the table, Olivia's gaze had fixed on ADA Craig Connelly the moment he joined the table. Dark eyes tracked him with an intensity that belonged in the interview room, not here. Every laugh, every gesture, every genuine smile from Alex ... she hated him. The tiny voice telling her she was being a childish idiot was drowned in a deluge of black emotion. She watched the scene, absorbing it in knifelike fragments. Alex really laughing for the first time in weeks. Alex really relaxed for the first time in weeks. Alex filling his beer glass.
Alex reaching over to ruffle his hair. Olivia felt the blackness consuming her and stood up. "Gotta be in early tomorrow. See ya," she managed through clenched teeth. Grabbing a twenty from her pocket, she threw it on the table and headed for the door. As she turned, her peripheral vision caught a snapshot of Alex. The woman's formerly-laughing face was frozen in horror.
Olivia jammed her hands into her pockets as she stepped outside. The cool, impersonal night air was a blessing. She breathed once, hard, then turned in the direction of her subway stop. Seven paces more and a hand grabbed her shoulder from behind.
She wheeled, ready to ruin at least one facial feature in the sorry imbecile who had chosen the wrong woman on the wrong night. She came face to face with Elliot.
His expression was stern, "Liv, what the hell are you doing?"
"What the hell are you talking about?" she sneered. "I need my beauty sleep." She shrugged off his hand.
"Liv, cut the shit." The profanity was atypical of Elliot, and it stopped her.
"Liv, you're eating your own heart out. For no reason. For God's sake, talk to her."
Olivia glared at him, realizing with painful slowness that they were actually in the same space. But defiance and denial are not so easily set aside.
"What the hell do you know about anything. Leave me alone."
Elliot grabbed her shoulder in earnest, "Liv, cut the shit. You're out of your head over a certain blonde ADA back there and everyone knows it."
Six or seven cutting remarks stood in readiness ... but they shattered one by one against her partner's serious expression.
"Leave me alone." She tried again to shrug off his hand on her shoulder.
"Liv, what in hell is the problem? Why don't you just talk to her?"
Olivia looked at the filthy street. Elliot had nothing to do with this and he didn't know shit. Get rid of him. She looked up with a snarl, "Remember Mr. Trevor Langan, Elliot?"
Elliot stared at her. Her expression was distorted by the vicious brush of long-held pain, tinged with hatred. He knew very little of his partner's personal life but his perceptive mind filled in the gaps. He tightened his grip on her shoulder, forcing her to pay attention. "Liv, have you ever been with a man?"
He knew she had, of course, but the blunt question worked. Sort of.
His partner's eyes revealed waves of conflicting emotion for another few seconds ... and then the walls came crashing down. He knew the expression well. Olivia had shut herself off from himself and the world.
"I'll see you tomorrow Elliot."
She turned and left. Elliot sighed. He hoped to hell he'd chosen the right moment to intervene. Kathy would know. He jammed his hands in his own pockets and headed for home.