DISCLAIMER: See Chapter One.
Light in the Shadows
Part Two, Chapter One
The next day dawned bright and early. Despite the black mood of a certain New Yorker, the city's birds celebrated the birth of a new day as joyfully as ever.
Olivia smacked her alarm clock. The handful of pints at the bar last night had been liberally supplemented once she got home, thanks to a helpful bottle of Dewar's that she kept hidden at the back of a kitchen cabinet. The reasons she kept it hidden were obscure to all concerned and she was uninterested in exploring them. Her head was throbbing as she walked to the bathroom. Step one: handful of Advil. Step two: try to brush your damn teeth. Idiot.
It was 10 am when Alex pushed open the squadroom doors. An uncharacteristic hesitation impeded her motion. Though she wasn't sure what exactly had happened last night, she was very sure it wasn't good. But work took precedence. Suck it up, Cabot. Job to do, remember?
Benson and Stabler were seated at their desks. Elliot was on the phone, while Olivia appeared to be holding her head up over her papers by main strength.
Elliot dropped the received into its cradle and turned to the ADA. "Hey, Alex, what's up?"
Alex focused on him. Easier that way. "Well, I'm not sure. Yesterday I phoned an old friend of mine with ... shall we say, certain skills related to the flow of information."
Elliot raised an eyebrow, "An ADA consorting with hackers? What is this world coming to."
Alex muttered, "I was in the chess club in college."
Elliot grinned in delight, "An ADA consorting with geeks! Even better!" The image of a younger Alex Cabot vigorously debating opening gambits and pawn structure with a pack of sweatshirt-clad, Jolt-propelled nerds was about the cutest thing he could imagine.
"Anyway, I was thinking. This whole mess started when Counselor Michael Brenner appeared, bearing mysterious documents. And presenting yet another connection to the military. If Warner's right, and I'm sure she is, this staged suicide means that whoever's out there protecting Max Klein has powerful resources. We keep hitting the military, and besides Klein himself, and Trent I suppose, Brenner is our only connection. So I asked my friend to have a look into Mr. Brenner's record."
Olivia's hangover began to evaporate as she focused on the ADA's news. "Did he find anything?"
Alex glanced at her, "Well, that's just it, I'm not sure. Everything looks above board. After graduating from Annapolis, Brenner served a stint in the navy. He was decomissioned after five years, then took his law degree at Cornell. On graduation he was offered a position in the JAG office and there he remained for ten years. My friend found a normal-looking paper trail for Brenner's time in JAG: regular promotions, a few commendations. But after ten years, Brenner was transferred out of JAG to a new position, at the Pentagon. There the record goes blank. My friend couldn't find anything about him after that. He apparently stayed at the Pentagon for another years, then went into private practice."
"So his records at the Pentagon are sealed. Not entirely a surprise."
Alex nodded, "I agree. But on the other hand, it's the only lead we have. My friend was able to get a name from Brenner's transfer papers. 'Colonel Walter Rakowski' seems to have initiated the transfer and supported Brenner's promotion. It was a long time ago ... but I have an address." Alex produced a slip of paper, "It's now 'General Rakowski', but he's here in New York."
Olivia took the slip of paper, and looked at her partner. She hated to say it but she remembered Cragen's admonission from yesterday. "Elliot, should we be doing this? Remember what Cragen said."
"Why not? There's no question of jurisdiction here."
"But what basis do we have for going to see this man? Cragen told us pretty clearly to back off."
"You've been told not to investigate this? By whom?" Alex's eyes were sharp.
Olivia described Cragen's warning, apparently handed down from the lofty heights of One PP.
"Why do they care about a rape-homicide in Manhattan?"
"Good question. He did only tell us to back off Rosa's suicide. I guess there's not a problem."
Alex was not happy with this news. "He called it a 'simple suicide'? An employee of the Manhattan medical examiner's office is found dead only a day after evidence she analyzed was presented in court, and it's a 'simple suicide'? I do not like this."
Nevertheless, it was clear to all three that none of them could leave matters where they were. Olivia grabbed her jacket and took another glance at the slip of paper. Her eyes met Alex's briefly as she and Elliot prepared to leave.
Alex looked into eyes clouded with thought. So many things to say.
General Rakowski's apartment was a top-floor penthouse in a pricey building. Olivia wondered how a military officer could afford such a place. Despite his high rank, she was intimately familiar with the modest salaries the State chose to afford even its loftiest servants. Elliot pressed the bell.
The door opened to reveal a straight-backed individual on the near side of sixty. Grey liberally peppered his trim hair, which was otherwise dark. He regarded their presence with an air of distinct displeasure.
"General Walter Rakowski?"
"I'm Detective Stabler from Manhattan SVU and this is my partner, Detective Benson. We'd like a few moments of your time."
Rakowski's eyes betrayed nothing but irritation, "What does this concern?"
"A case we're working on, sir. We'd like to ask you a few questions about a former colleague of yours, Michael Brenner, formerly of the Judge Advocate General's office."
"Is Mr. Brenner a suspect in your case, Detective?"
"No, sir." Elliot was starting to feel like he was in the witness chair.
"Then I fail to see his relevance to your investigation."
This was not going well. "He's the attorney for the defense, sir. We'd just like to ask you a few questions. Can we step inside?"
"You most certainly may not.
"It has to do with some, uh, unexpected evidence he presented at trial the other day. We'd appreciate a few moments of your time, General."
"Well I would appreciate it if you'd confine your investigation to your suspects, Detective. I find it absurd and highly unprofessional that you choose to disturb citizens in their homes when a defense attorney surprises you with an 'unexpected' manoeuver."
Elliot felt like a school boy in the principal's office. Shit, did we screw up here?
Rakowski glared at them one final time and closed the door in their faces. Elliot and Olivia felt chastised, and confused. And nervous.
Rakowski watched the door close on the detectives, noting their lost expressions with a dark mixture of satisfaction, wariness, and hatred. As soon as the door was closed, he grabbed the phone.
The rest of the day, and most of the next, passed without major incident: a few calls, more reports, but no further news on the Klein case. Around 3:30 on Friday, Olivia returned to her desk from the interview room, where she had been taking a statement from a rape victim. She looked up in surprise when a shouted voice erupted from within Cragen's office.
"What!? Captain, this is bullshit!!"
Though muffled by the closed door, her partner's voice blazed in anger. She could see his back through the gaps in the venetian blinds. What the hell?
Olivia rose in concern, as did Munch nearby. The shouting escalated.
"Elliot, why the hell didn't you report this?"
"Captain, you can't possibly believe this shit! It's a fucking lie!"
"Do you think I want to believe this? What do you want me to do?"
The captain's voice lowered beneath their hearing. Ten more heartbeats, then Elliot nearly tore the door off its hinges as he burst from the office. His face was red, contorted with rage. He grabbed his coat from the back of his chair like it was a rattlesnake needing to be strangled. Olivia had never seen him like this.
"Elliot!" Her voice bounced off his back as he slammed the squadroom doors open with a crash. Glancing in growing panic at Munch, she raced after her partner.
Olivia finally caught up with Elliot in the park across the street. She grabbed his shoulder. Elliot whirled on her and looked ready to hit something. Olivia snatched her hand back, knowing how deeply the trained responses to physical threats were ingrained in all of them. "Elliot. What is going on?"
Elliot tried to speak but he couldn't. The emotions were still too raw. Olivia guided him over to one of the park benches, applied gentle pressure to his arm to make him sit down.
Elliot was breathing hard, but he managed a sentence at last, "I've been suspended."
"For ..." He struggled to control his emotions. "Someone," he spat the word, "apparently just dug up an incident from my days in the marines. Apparently, my file records that I ... that I raped a nurse with our unit."
"Jesus fucking Christ."
Olivia felt cold fear wash over her. "Elliot, they've altered your record." Fear's icy fingers grabbed her heart and squeezed. "Who the fuck are these people?"
Stabler blinked at his partner's reaction, offered immediately, without thought. The unequivocal trust in her voice did a great deal to calm him down.
"You don't believe it?"
"Of course I don't fucking believe it."
They both just stared, trying to absorb this impossible twist of events. "Elliot, this is a warning. We are being warned to back off."
Both brains churned, finding no solution.
"Elliot, we're in over our heads. We can't let them do this to you. Let's just forget it. Max Klein will get off and that's the end of it. We'll pretend this case never existed. You'll take some time off, you'll go to your hearing in a couple of weeks, and your whole squad of jarrheads will vouch for you. That'll be the end of it."
Elliot felt a deep stab of gratitude for the magnificent, amazing woman he'd been blessed with as a partner. She offered a solution, a way out, an escape from this impossible nightmare. Several more breaths as he absorbed the concern in her eyes, saw how much she cared about him. A few more deep breaths, and some semblance of calm began to return.
With it came the steel of Elliot Stabler's very solid spine. And Elliot Stabler's sense of honor, so fierce it was almost an anachronism in this 'civilized' age.
"Like hell. These fuckers want to play hardball? They haven't seen hardball."
They were the words Olivia both wanted to hear, and didn't. The familiar flash of fire and righteous indignation in her partner's face was both a blessing and a curse. "Elliot, are you sure? This could turn dangerous very fast."
"So we'll be smart." Elliot looked at her. He appreciated her concern but knew she shared the same burning sense of outrage.
"Olivia, they are not going to get away with this."
Two similar natures, throwbacks, maybe, to an ancient time of chivalry and honor, met in common acknowledgment that some things had to be corrected. And it was their place in the world to do it.
Slowly, two fierce grins emerged. Completely inappropriate they knew, but shared in feral communion.
"No, they fucking will not."
The detectives bent their heads to plan. May fortune favor the foolish.
Olivia and Elliot had come up with at least the vapors of a plan. Amongst the precious little they had to go on, the records presented by Brenner to discredit Rosa Zacharias stood out as an element worth further investigation. In light of the blatant falsification of Stabler's military records, it was very likely that the technician's records has been tampered with as well. Elliot, stripped of gun and badge, went home to be with his family while Olivia's job was to look deeper into Exhibits C and D.
The plan was for her to go to Bayport, Rosa's home town on Long Island, and try to find actual people who could confirm or deny the incidents described in Brenner's damning evidence. She placed a couple of calls and confirmed that the Bayport branch of First Union was open for a couple of hours on Saturday. The Suffolk County courthouse, located in a nearby town, was not however.
Well little things like opening hours have never stopped a certain someone we know. Olivia grabbed her cell phone and hit the speed dial.
Despite the late hour the phone at the other end picked up on the first ring, "Cabot."
At the familiar tone, sharp and sparkling with confidence, Olivia grinned like a predator. She couldn't help it. These bastards do not know what's about to hit them. Resources or not, the brain of Alex Cabot was a force of nature.
"Alex, Olivia. Something's happened, I need to talk to you. Can you meet me?"
"How about dinner? I can meet you at Marty's in half an hour." Though Olivia's voice radiated intensity of purpose through the phone, Alex couldn't help a silly, girlish smile. Dinner date.
When Alex arrived at the restaurant and saw Olivia's face, all adolescent thoughts evaporated. Something was very wrong.
"What's happened?" she asked as she sat down.
Olivia regarded Alex's intent expression. The outrage she'd shared with her partner began to dissipate as she realized another person was about to be drawn into this vortex. This was not a game. People with real power were making real threats, threats that could turn violent very quickly. Do you know what you're doing, Liv?
Nothing for it but to lay all the cards on the table. Proceeding with caution, Olivia explained the events leading up to Elliot's suspension. She was gratified to see the look of fury on Alex's face, never doubting Elliot's innocence for a moment.
"Liv, this is serious." Their hushed voices dropped further in volume.
"I know, Alex."
"What do you need me to do?"
A flash of pride gripped Olivia's heart. Alex was on board without a second thought ... but a second thought was merited. "Alex, this is serious. Are you sure you want to get involved? Alex, I shouldn't have brought you here. We've been told in no uncertain terms to back off. If we don't, their next move will not be confined to a tampered record and a suspension."
She's worried about me. In an abrupt surge of emotion, powerful and conflicting feelings washed over Alex. Fear, outrage, love, anger, concern. She waited for the emotions to subside, beating themselves into silence like the pounding surf of a retreating tide. When their forces were spent only clear purpose was left standing. Danger or not, her job was to put criminals behind bars and there were criminals out there. Powerful, vicious ones that needed to be brought to justice.
What they needed was a plan, an angle. Brushing away the issue of danger as if it had never been, Alex switched to brainstorming mode.
"We need to investigate that technician's records, prove they were falsified."
Olivia could see the processors in that beautiful blonde head begin clicking. Issues of personal danger were swept aside before the presenting puzzle. They were going up against a powerful, faceless villain with nothing but wits and a prayer at their disposal, but she still had to smile. Good sense be damned, people were born to a destiny. The best each of them could do was accept it. What the hell. The Three Musketeers it is.
Olivia also swore a sacred oath to herself, a bold oath that echoed back to shadowed generations where such things had real meaning. I will keep her safe.
"As it happens, that's what we thought as well." Olivia's lopsided smile provoked a little flip-flop in Alex's heart, as it always did. "I'm going to drive up to Bayport tomorrow and visit that First Union branch office, see if anyone there can help. I'd like to visit the Suffolk County courthouse as well..."
Alex filled in the blank, "But it's closed on Saturday. And you're wondering if a bit of favor-swapping within the noble offices of the Halls of Justice might present a solution."
"That would about cover it."
Housed within their little bubble of shared conspiracy, restaurant patrons a distant shadow in the irrelevant the background, Olivia grinned at Alex and Alex grinned back.
"I believe I recall a name or two from the Long Island circuit courts. I'll make some calls, see if someone can let us in and give us a tour."
"Somehow, I figured you'd say that."
"When do you want to be there?"
"The bank is open at 10 am. The courthouse is in Islip, not far. How about setting up a meet for 11?"
Olivia secured a car from the motor pool and stopped outside Alex's apartment early the next morning. Alex was waiting at the curb. Stepping into the passenger's seat, she offered a steaming travel mug to Olivia. Drawn like a moth to the heavenly aroma of caffeine the detective took a sip. Perfect.
"Peet's," Alex smiled. "Shipped all the way from the Bay Area."
Olivia grinned absurdly as she pulled away from the curb, "You are a woman of many skills, Alex Cabot."
You have no idea.
"Are they going to miss you at the precinct?"
"Nope, I'm off today. Perfect day for a drive in the country."
The drive passed in silence as Olivia navigated the city traffic, congested as always, on their way to I-495. Conversation resumed once they were on the expressway, tossing ideas back and forth concerning the slim fragments of evidence they had collected so far. Though they managed to solidify their thoughts a bit, no further insights had emerged by the time they turned off at the exit for Bayport.
The sign welcoming them to the bustling metropolis of Bayport, Long Island advertised a population of 8,662. They had no trouble finding the inevitable 'Main Street' within the tiny community and it led them quickly to the First Union branch in question.
"There's the bank."
"Let's go fishing."
Alex and Olivia pushed through the glass doors and surveyed the contents of the diminutive branch office. A quaint establishment, the decor was all old world, in comfortable oak and muted greens. Three tellers manned emplacements to the right; a more open area to the left displayed four desks, two of which were occupied.
Noting their uncertainty, a cheerful woman in her early sixties and wearing a floral-print dress rose from her desk and approached them, "Can I help you?"
"I'm Assistant District Attorney Alex Cabot and this is Detective Benson." Alex flashed her ID; Olivia's badge was affixed to her belt. "We're from Manhattan, and we'd like to ask you a few questions in connection with a case."
"Oh my. Well, come right this way." She led them back to her desk, which bore a brass nameplate with a proud honorific: 'Mrs. Cindy Trottier, Accounts'. Mrs. Trottier smiled at them, "Can I get you girls anything? Some coffee?"
Olivia smiled at the appellation and sat back to let Alex do the talking.
"Mrs. Trottier, we'd appreciate it if we could have a look at the records for one of your clients, a Rosa Zacharias. She grew up here, but she worked at the medical examiner's office in Manhattan."
Mrs. Trottier's face fell, "Oh yes, poor Rosie, what a terrible thing. I heard about it. What a tragedy, her being found on the roadside like that. They say she committed suicide?"
"We're really not at liberty to discuss that, Mrs. Trottier."
"Yes, I understand. I just can't believe it. Rosie was such a sweet child, and a lovely young lady, she came back to see her family every holiday."
"Could we see her bank records?"
"Oh yes, of course. Let me pull that up." The account manager turned to her computer and tapped some keys. "Rosie has a small account here. She's had it ever since her 10th birthday, when her father opened it for her as a present. I remember them coming in. She was so proud, holding her first checkbook like it was a bar of gold. She'd come in every week with her allowance and later with her baby-sitting money, always deposited every cent. Such a responsible girl."
Who ended up with a conviction for drug trafficking, thought Olivia. Uh huh.
The account information came up at last. Mrs. Trottier blinked in surprise. "Oh my." She turned the screen so that the cop and the lawyer could have a look. "A ten thousand dollar deposit, that's most surprising. Rosie never had much money in this account, just her savings from her childhood. I believe she opened another one with First Union in the city, for her paychecks in college and then from her job. I think she only kept this little account out of nostalgia. As you can see, the balance was less than eight hundred dollars."
Alex frowned at the display, "Mrs. Trottier, how did she deposit the money? Was it a check? Did she bring it in herself?"
"Well, no. This entry here shows that it was a wire transfer. Oh my, we almost never see one of those."
"Who initiated the transfer? Can you see which bank it came from?"
"Well it says 'CitiBank', and there's an address in New York City. There's an account number too. But I really don't know much about these wire transfers. Let me get the manager for you, he can tell you more."
Mrs. Trottier rose and headed for the manager's office at the back. His position merited a door, bearing the stencilled letters 'Mr. Cussler'. She knocked and the manager emerged, "What is it, Cindy?"
"There are two ladies here from the police and DA's office in Manhattan. They're looking into Rosie Zacharias' bank records. Could you come and have a look?"
Mrs. Trottier led the manager back to her desk and they bent their heads over the screen. Mr. Cussler's eyes widened in surprise, "A ten thousand dollar wire transfer? That's not possible."
Alex's eyes narrowed, "Why not? Something wrong with the routing codes?"
"No, that's not it. It looks alright." Mr. Cussler leaned closer, "Well now that you mention it, it doesn't look alright. Any wire transfers we get, which are very rare, always go through our parent office, the main branch in the city. This one seems to have come directly from CitiBank. We never route them that way. But on top of it, I don't remember processing anything like this. It was less than a month ago, I'd certainly remember."
"Do you process all wire transfers at the bank?"
"Well yes I do. We get them so rarely, I've simply never trained any of the staff to take care of them, no point."
Alex's eyes flashed. Gotcha, you bastards.
"Mr. Cussler, do you have any other records that might indicate this wire transfer was falsified?"
The manager's face looked grave, "No, miss, I'm afraid I don't. The transaction is simply recorded in the computer. Once the record is there, it becomes reality, so to speak."
So no hard evidence, but an excellent witness. It was definitely a start. Alex requested a printout of the screen, then she rose and shook hands with both Mrs. Trottier and Mr. Cussler. "Thank you both for your time. You've been very helpful."
Alex and Olivia climbed back into the car. Alex's were flashing fire, but Olivia couldn't help a grin of predatory triumph. "Well that was productive."
"Bastards," Alex spat the word in anger. "Falsifying peoples' bank records, then showing up with it in court and shoving it in our faces ... Mr. Brenner is going to have some serious explaining to do."
"They're good, but they're not that good. The cracks are showing. Next stop, Islip."
Alex nodded, still at boiling point. Olivia glanced over her shoulder as she pulled away from their parking space. It took less than a minute to reach the outskirts of the village; five more and they were back on the Long Island Expressway. Left arm resting against the window sill, Olivia accelerated to 65, eating up the 10-mph margin-of-grace on the speed limit that traffic cops across the country had agreed to by a mysterious process of universal consent.
"Alex, check the map. What's the exit number?"
Alex retrieved the road map from the dashboard and scanned it for their destination. "Exit 53. Should be about 15 miles ahead."
Olivia nodded. She hit her blinkers and changed lanes, accelerating past a lumbering 18-wheeler advertising office furniture on its garishly-painted trailer. She stayed in the far left lane, glancing at the exit numbers as they sped past. They advanced on another truck, occupying the center lane. As she was about to pass it the trucker signalled and started drifting left, despite the significant disparity in their speeds. Asshole. The detective pressed the brakes.
Time went into slow motion as Olivia felt her foot sink to the floor, without any resistance at all. A sick wash of panic swept over her as she tried the brakes again. Nothing. Oh. Shit.
The 18-wheeler was looming at them with terrifying speed. Olivia yanked the steering wheel hard to the right. With a screech of abused tires, they crossed into the middle lane just in time.
Alex braced herself against the door and the dashboard, thrown by the sudden manoeuver. "Liv what are you doing?" she shouted.
Alex saw the detective's face, frozen in a grim mask. "No brakes."
Another hard jerk of the wheel and they missed a minivan by centimeters. Olivia jammed her hand against the stick shift, slamming the car into the lowest gear available. Fucking goddamned automatics. She yanked on the e-brake, but as usual, it did precious little of anything. fucking goddamned fucking motorpool and its fucking automatics ... The litany of swearing kept her mind occupied as the much faster clock of survival instinct took over. Evaluating the deadly ballet of the cars ahead at lightning speed she threaded a path, avoiding collisions by millimeters. Shoulder, get to the shoulder. The crawling, closely-packed string of cars in the right-hand lane blocked their escape. She could hear the implacable timer on their luck ticking downwards as she jerked the wheel to avoid a blue Toyota. Back again to miss a BMW. Sensory input streaming on wideband evaluated the obstacles ahead while watching simultaneously for a gap in the right-hand lane. fucking goddamned assholes just hit your fucking brakes just give me a fucking window...
There. "Alex, hang on!" Spotting a barely-passable gap between two of the slower cars Olivia yanked the wheel hard to the right and headed for it. Crossing two lanes she sped through the narrow opening. Her peripheral vision recorded a snapshot of terrified children's' faces. Clearing the cars by a hair, she yanked the wheel back to pull them in line with the shoulder. The tires screamed in protest as they fought to hold traction. But the coefficient of static friction could not be denied forever. The back tires skidded out of control and the car's massive momentum propelled them toward the looming ditch. Distantly, Olivia realized it was the best thing that could happen: the friction of an uncontrolled skid was the one force that could slow them down. She offered a prayer of forgiveness to her first-year physics professor, wishing she'd paid more attention. That, and a last glance at Alex, was all she managed before the car plunged over the side of the ditch. A microsecond's worth of the sound of metal being torn to pieces deafened her ears. Then blackness.
When Olivia regained consciousness she was greeted by the piercing odor of the ammonia being waved under her nose. Shaking her head, she swam toward the painful light of awareness. Gradually the world around her came back into focus.
Flashing lights somewhere ... a uniformed paramedic holding the capsule under her nose ... and the concerned face of Alex Cabot hovering over her. "Alex." Memory returned in a rushing sequence of images.
When they saw she was awake and reasonably aware they helped her sit up. Olivia realized she was on a stretcher in the back of an ambulance. Alex's arm was around her shoulders. She blinked to clear her head. "Alex, help me get up." With Alex's help, she swung her legs over the side of the stretcher. When she tried to stand Alex held her back with firm pressure on her shoulder. "Liv, just sit still for a few more minutes. Everything's fine. Just take it easy."
Olivia took a deep breath. Apart from the disorientation, which was lifting, and a dull pounding in her head, she actually felt ok. "Alex, I'm fine. What happened?"
"Just sit still a couple more minutes, ok? You banged your head pretty hard against the driver's side window."
That would explain the dull pounding.
"Jesus, Alex, we were lucky. We hit that ditch at more than 50 klicks."
Alex offered a wry grin, "We have Allen K. Breed to thank for our general good health."
Olivia lifted an eyebrow.
"The inventor of the automotive airbag, Detective. They both went off."
"At least something worked on that damned car."
The sickening sensation of the brake pedal sinking beneath her foot came back in a rush. Could this possibly have been an accident? The car came from the unit's motor pool. Motor pool technicians weren't always the sharpest tacks in the box, and they did insist on stuffing the place with automatics, but they did their jobs. A brake failure that sudden and that complete meant that the hydraulic system had burst somewhere. Very old seals in the master cylinder could do that, the materials disintegrating spontaneously under pressure after years of decay. But that scenario was unthinkable in a regularly-maintained car from a police motor pool.
The alternative was much more likely, and much more sinister. "Alex, I'm ok. Let me get up. I want to see the car."
Olivia's voice and expression were clear. Though sporting a narrow cut on her forehead, she was fine. Alex released her hold, and the detective stepped off the stretcher and out of the ambulance.
Olivia looked at the scene. Four state troopers were in evidence, huddled at the edge of the ditch. More were probably below examining the car. Red and blue lights flashed on three patrol cars that she could see. "I see we rated a party." She shoved her hands in her pockets and strode to the patrolmen.
Alex just stared. The woman had saved them both from certain death by millimeters, she was cut, bruised, and banged up, their former car was now an unrecognizable pile of scrap iron, and half of Long Island's emergency services had turned out to marvel at the fiasco. Yet Olivia walked like she owned the place. That swagger ... it was really too much. Alex felt her knees go weak. Dear God, it's Alex. Is this some sort of test?
Olivia conferred briefly with the cops. They exchanged a few sentences then one of them nodded. Olivia descended into the ditch. Alex emerged from her stupor and followed her.
If the heap of metal that confronted them had ever been a car, it was doing a wonderful job in the disguise area. Despite its heavy framework of Detroit steel, the front hood had crumpled like an accordion, compressing the glass of the windshield and both side windows into confetti. Olivia was amazed that their faces hadn't been seriously cut by the glass shards, they would have sprayed from the shattered windows like a fragmentation grenade. God bless Allen K. Breed, I guess. The rush of nitrogen from the airbags' exploding gas capsules must have been fast enough to beat the destruction of the windows by a hair.
As Olivia approached the car, she looked intently at the front wheels. The tires were shredded, but the massive wheelbase was still there and relatively intact. Now, how to get to it. The car's remains were tilted at a weird angle, propped in a delicate-looking equilibrium against the far side of the ditch. The front wheel on the near side appeared inaccessible, Olivia couldn't see how she could get her head under the car from that side. She wandered over to the far side. Better. The easiest access was from the front. With the car's sides propped against the floor of the ditch on one side and its sloping wall on the other, a narrow depression beneath the crumpled hood offered a way to get underneath. She turned to one of the troopers surveying the car.
"Can I borrow your flashlight?"
The trooper unhooked the big Maglite from his belt and handed it to her. Olivia gauged the gap once more, then dropped to the ground. Rolling onto her back, she pulled herself carefully under the wrecked car. It was a tight fit. She twisted on the flashlight and turned its beam toward the right wheel.
Olivia pushed herself a bit further back on one bent leg. What a mess. But the wheel was still visible. She scanned the flashlight over the tangle of cables in its vicinity. One of them would be the hydraulic feed to the brake pads. There we go. The clear gold of new brake fluid gave it away ... except the fluid would ideally be confined to the inside. The detective inched the beam along the slender cable. Close to the back of the wheel she spotted the source of the leak. Bringing her eye as close as she could, she twisted the line gingerly.
Clear as day. On the front side was a neat slice, a knife cut that pierced the edge of the plastic tubing but didn't cut through. Olivia guessed what the CS team would find on closer scrutiny: that the incision didn't quite reach the inner diamater of the tubing. It's intent was to weaken the line, allowing it to hold just long enough for them to get on the highway and reach full speed.
Olivia glared at the incision. To her, it was a gauntlet thrown. So the gloves are off. The inanimate incision spoke to her with the arrogance of the shadow voices behind it. You bastards are going to get what's coming to you. Count on it.
Olivia dragged herself out from under the car. Standing up, she dropped the Maglite on the former hood of the car and swiped her hands against her jeans. Alex was there waiting. "I see you know your way around a car, Detective."
Olivia looked up into a raised eyebrow. Threat of mortal danger be damned, she could not resist this one.
"I know my way around a variety of interesting places, Counselor."
Olivia held Alex's eyes for another half second, then grabbed the flashlight and walked back toward the state troopers to relay her findings.
Ok, that was not my imagination.
The New York Highway Patrol proved to be painstaking in its attention to detail. Annoyingly so, in fact. Olivia explained her evidence of the cut brake line to the troopers, then repeated it to their unit chief when he arrived. One of the officers decided he needed to check it out for himself and crawled under the car. In the heat of curiosity, he attempted an examination of the left-front wheel as well. This resulted in an unfortunate geometrical crisis involving his belt buckle and one of the shorn struts on the underside of the car, requiring much swearing and the assistance of two brothers in arms to extricate him. The state cops drove the detective and the attorney back to their headquarters, where it started all over again. She and Alex even got sent to separate interview rooms, as if they were conspirators. Olivia felt her irritation approaching trip-level. Finally, she and Alex managed to get two minutes to themselves, alone.
Olivia dragged the ADA out of the station house, beyond the reach of inquisitive ears.
"Alex, despite the touching concern of our friends in there, we are in trouble. Someone just tried to kill us."
Alex bit her lip, "I know." She had been thinking, during the interminable hours in the station house. "Liv, who did you tell about the car yesterday?"
Olivia looked at her, "I swung by the motor pool last night after we split up, booked the car."
"Liv, how did they know we were here?"
Olivia just looked at her, dread encroaching on her defiant mood.
"Did you tell anyone at the motor pool where we were going?"
"I didn't actually tell anyone but you have to write your intended destination on the signup sheet."
"Did you tell anyone else? Did you call Elliot?"
"No. After Cragen suspended him we talked in the park. There was no one near us. Then I went to meet with you. I didn't talk to him after that."
"I didn't tell anyone either ... except the judge we were going to meet, of course, Judge Cramer. But I've known him for years, Liv, he's a friend of my dad's, he's been on the circuit court bench forever. He couldn't be involved. Could it have been someone in Bayport, someone who didn't expect us, but came up with the brake-lines plan spontaneously when we showed up?"
Olivia thought carefully, "I don't think so. We weren't there for very long, not enough time for someone to realize we were there, then decide on a course of action, and carry it out. While you were talking to Mrs. Trottier I kept my eye on the rest of the place, I didn't see anyone suddenly run out the back door or grab a phone or anything."
Alex nodded, "And in that case, if it was someone from the outside, they had to know where we were going, in advance."
Olivia looked grim, "Alex, the only way they could have known was that one line I wrote when I booked the car. Civilians don't have access to records like that. Are we saying that cops are involved too?"
Alex's expression was equally dark, "I don't see any other explanation."
"Jesus, who can we trust?" Olivia felt a noose tightening around them. "Alex, we know they can alter records, bank records, military records, criminal records. We know there's a connection to the military: it was our visit to General Rakowski that provoked Elliot's suspension, nothing else could have triggered it. And now, if they have people inside the force ..."
Olivia fixed on Alex's eyes with real urgency, "Alex, we are seriously screwed here. Yesterday, we could have gotten out of this by just quitting, dropping our investigation and letting Klein get away with his bloody murder. But today's little exercise was not a warning."
"They must think we're onto something. We may be closer to the truth than we realize."
"That may be, but it doesn't change the fact that we do not have the resources to fight this. At least not while we're still visible."
Alex looked at her, "You think we should run."
Olivia's fighting spirit hated it but her mind failed to find another solution. They were now under active attack. If the resources of the New York City police department were also lost to them, they had nothing left. "I think we have to."
"The trial starts again on Monday."
"I know. And you cannot be there." A very personal fear gripped her heart. "Alex, they just cut our brake lines. They don't want you in that courtroom. They just declared war, Alex, and they are not going to stop."
Alex tried to absorb what this meant: going into hiding, going AWOL from her job. Her thoughts were in such turmoil that she couldn't even remember the bar association's penalty for prosecutors who didn't show up at a scheduled court date. And where would she go? This situation was out of control.
"One of my uncles has a cabin in Connecticut. I could go there. Where will you go?"
Olivia closed her hand on Alex's upper arm, "Alex, look at me." Blue eyes met brown ones that burned into her with a ferocity she had never seen before. "I am not letting you out of my sight, do you hear me?"
Alex nodded mutely. She was too lost to argue, and much too grateful for the strong, protecting hand on her arm to fight it.
Olivia realized this conflict had just moved from Alex's domain into hers. War. They needed to retreat to higher ground. She glanced at her watch. Half past six.
"Alex, here's what we're going to do. We're going to go back in there and we're going to bum a lift from our state friends back into the city. You are going straight to your apartment and you're going to pack a bag. A small one, just the essentials. I'll do the same. I'm going to phone Elliot and set up a meet, tell him what's happened. Then I'll come by your place, around eleven, and we will get the hell out of Dodge. OK?"
Alex's eyes were growing dim. They were going to run. She was going to abandon a court date for first time in her life. Nothing made sense. Nothing except the hand wrapped around her arm.
As Alex went back into the station to arrange a ride back to the city, Olivia hit Elliot's speed dial on her cell. She waited through two rings.
"Hi Kathy, it's Olivia. Is Elliot there?"
Olivia walked a few steps further away. "Elliot." She spoke as quietly as she could. "We're in trouble, buddy. Meet me at ..." She scanned for a location. Public. "It'll take us a couple of hours to get back to the city." She glanced again at her watch. "Can you meet me at the west ticket booth on Coney Island at nine?"
Elliot's positive answer was tinny through the phone's tiny speaker. His concern came through loud and clear, however, asking her what had happened.
"The gloves are off."
There was silence on the other end.
"Watch your back, Elliot. Alex and I are going back to our places to pack some stuff. We're going to meet back at her place around eleven, after I see you. We're going to need to think about disappearing, real soon."
Silence. "Be careful, Liv."
"I'll see you later Elliot." Olivia snapped the phone shut.
Alex and Olivia uttered not a word on the long drive back to the city. They were lost in their own thoughts and acutely aware of the presence of the uniformed state trooper at the wheel.
The trooper dropped them off separately at their apartments. Alex was first. As she was about to close the door, Olivia met her eyes: "I'll see you later."
Alex nodded, her face a mask.
When Olivia reached her apartment she took no time jamming clothes, toothbrush, and other random items into a gym bag. Explaining what had happened to the state cops had taken many hours and nine o'clock was rapidly approaching. She grabbed her bag and headed for the door. As she locked her apartment, she wondered when she'd see it again.
Part Two, Chapter Two
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