DISCLAIMER: See Chapter One.
Light in the Shadows
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.
Part Two, Chapter One
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