DISCLAIMER: See Chapter One.
Light in the Shadows
Part Two, Chapter Two
Stepping out of the subway station at Coney Island was like stepping into another world. In the space of a few paces one passed through a time portal: from the impersonal technology of the New York City Transit Authority, to the exuberant, feverish decades of the early 20th Century. Just as Olivia wondered why she had chosen this spot for a rendezvous point, she supplied the answer: because it was familiar. This was a place her mother had loved. They had come here often and it was one of the rare happy memories from her childhood.
Not even tough New York City Detectives are immune to the human impulse to run home in times of crisis.
The origins of Coney Island, the famed beachfront area and perpetual amusement park, dated back further, back into the 19th Century. Yet somehow it remained a time capsule locked in the era of the Roaring 20's and its sister decades. It was a time when mankind was reinventing itself at a feverish pace: Artists breaking out of the constraints of form into the realm of Expressionism ... Nascent psychiatrists creating their field as they went along, injecting notions like the 'subconscious' into the mainstream of cultural awareness ... Physicists navigating the treacherous waters of the quantum revolution and pondering the mind-expanding paradoxes of special relativity. Appropriate for such an era of change and possibility, the popular consciousness of the time had embraced the mysteries of the occult, thronging to the performances of mediums, psychics, escape artists, hypnotists, magicians. The impact of the monumental changes in art, science, and philosophy that occurred during those unique years rippled forward in time into the later decades of the 20th Century, and remain with us to this day. More sober generations have shouldered the burden of assimilating those changes into society, struggling with their implications ... and thereby freeing the Creators of the early century to an enclosed module of history which reveled only in Exploration, and Imagination. The lights, sounds, and perpetual gaiety of Coney Island bespoke a museum piece, a glass case in which curious schoolchildren could observe the exuberant shadows of a unique time, dancing forever.
When Olivia emerged from the subway stop into the mystery of Coney Island, the garish tapestry of lights and sounds embraced her. Glowing in the darkness, the colorful brazen signs evoked the magical world of the circus. Strolling vendors called out their wares in bold voices. The confidence men of the midway enticed willing victims to their booths with siren promises of victory in games of skill and chance. In the distance, thrill-seekers screamed in delicious terror on the Cyclone.
It wasn't hard to understand why this famous island had held such a fond place in her mother's heart. Dreams were possible here. The place was spun from the spider-silk of human fantasy, a place where illusion was real, and magic was around every corner. Even as she remembered her mother holding her small hand in its safe grasp, Olivia felt a pang of regret for the woman she'd never managed to know.
A bold voice sought her out of the crowd. "Do you want to know your future, pretty lady?" Olivia glanced to the side and saw a figure from picturebooks. A charlatan in garish costume, offering her a florid gesture of welcome into his tent.
Absurdly, she answered him, "I don't think I do."
The charlatan smiled, echoes ringing back to the age of Houdini, of the silent screen, of magicians long gone. "But the future will come, pretty lady."
Blinking to suppress the surreal moment, Olivia turned her eyes away and headed for her rendezvous with Elliot.
Waiting at the west booth, Elliot scanned the crowd with anxious eyes. He glanced at his watch. Where is she? At last he saw Olivia emerge from the throng. Breathing a sigh of relief, he walked to meet her.
The partners huddled immediately, backing against a darkened, abandoned vending stall. Olivia related what had happened on their fateful trip to Long Island, describing both their findings in Bayport and their nearly-fatal incident on the highway.
Elliot's expression was grim, "Liv, what are we going to do next? Some very powerful people are involved here and, for reasons unknown, they'll go to any measures to protect Max Klein. What do we do next? You and Alex have clear evidence of record tampering, should we just bring it to court? The trial is supposed to resume on Monday."
"Should we go back to trial?" Olivia reconsidered her earlier impulse to run, to get Alex as far away as possible. "Elliot, I think it's too dangerous. That was an assassination attempt back there on the LIE. I don't think they're going to stop at cutting brake lines. What will they do if we bring Alex back into court on Monday?"
"Can we bring in the FBI, get her some protection? Maybe Huang can help." The two never noticed that they hadn't mentioned their own safety, which was in equal jeopardy.
"We have our own protective details. Maybe ..."
Olivia's sentence was truncated forever as the sharp crack of a rifle pierced the night air and the darkened window behind them exploded in a million shards of glass. In a heartbeat, the detectives were on the ground with guns drawn. Nearby pedestrians screamed in panic, pushing each other to get away from the unseen threat.
"Liv, go right!"
They scrambled to a crouch and circled to opposite sides of the ruined vending booth. Peering around the corner, Olivia sighted along her gun at the possible target sites in front of her. Where the fuck is he? The crowd in front of them had conveniently dispersed but the scene beyond revealed only a space empty of people. Nothing. The operators of the booths across from them had hit the dirt and nothing was moving. Where is he? Her gun snapped from potential-target to potential-target, sighting into the dark passages between the stands of the midway. Nothing.
A second shot cracked, and Olivia actually felt the deadly displacement of air as the bullet flew past within centimeters of her cheek. She lunged back against the side of the booth in animal reflex ... but she'd spotted the muzzle flash, way off to her left. "Elliot! Rooftop! Center-left, the restaurant, by the carousel."
Elliot swung his 9 mm onto target, trigger finger itching for the slightest movement. The rooftop was over 50 yards away. Pure darkness, he couldn't see a damn thing up there. The chance of either of them hitting anything at this range was precisely zero.
Fuck. He called back, "Liv, we're sitting ducks. It is time to leave."
Olivia realized he was right. There was no way they could take on a well-positioned sniper. She checked over her shoulder. The edge of the park beckoned, but there was a nasty stretch of open space between them and the next source of cover. They'd have to make a run for it. "Elliot. Fall back, we've got about 25 yards of ground then we're clear. If we get split up, regroup at the subway."
"Got it," he called back. Turning, he surveyed the ground behind them. "On three." He set himself for a sprint. "One ... Two ..." Kathy. "Three!"
The two cops exploded like Olympic runners from the blocks, racing across the open field toward the welcoming cover of the buildings beyond. The rifle cracked twice more but missed them, raising patches of dirt in their footprints.
Breathing like a racehorse, Elliot grabbed Olivia as they came to a stop between two blessedly solid walls. "Liv, keep going." He gasped for air, "Lin's coffee shop." The familiar location popped randomly into his mind. They needed to regroup. "Keep going."
They kept running until they hit civilization: a popular street thronged with the the never-ending press of New York residents and their guests. Slowing their pace to a brisk walk the detectives headed for the coffee shop. Senses alive, scanning for mortal danger, their vision of the crowd morphosed into a surreal collection of laughing mimes. A feverish tapestry of faces. A garish puppet show of meaningless sound and expression.
Lin's coffee shop was reached at last, its red door beckoning like a haven. Elliot pushed the door open and followed his partner inside. The muted colors of the plastic tables glowed in their heightened senses. The waiters' disinterested glances appeared sinister.
The detectives sank into a booth and tried to collect themselves. The reality of what had just happened needed time to be absorbed, but there was no time. In less than twelve hours, the enemy had escalated from a covert attempt to murder them in an apparent 'accident', to fielding assassins with rifles. Thoughts whirled, trying to put the events into some perspective.
Elliot was the first to speak and he was right on point, "Liv, how did they know we'd be there?"
Olivia looked up at him, "Did they follow us?"
Elliot shook his head, "No way. Tails don't carry high-powered rifles around, that sniper was in place when we got there. They knew exactly where we'd be."
Olivia felt cold fear crawling in her belly. "We set up the meet over the phone. No one else knew, not even Cabot. I was far away from the state cops when I talked to you. No way could they have heard."
The reality hit them like an icy blast of winter air, the kind that chills to the bone. "They're tapping our phones." Elliot and Olivia stared at each other. The implications crawled to the surface.
Olivia's eyes flashed in horror, "Elliot, your cell. Turn it off." She grabbed at her jacket, retrieving her own phone with a shaking hand and jamming her finger on the power button. "The signals to the towers. They can track us."
Elliot had understood his partner immediately. Only the shaking of his own hand persuaded him to hit the power button rather than smashing the invasive device against the wall like an insect.
Watching the cheery display on the phone's screen dim to blackness, Elliot's racing mind uncovered yet another cause for horror. He looked at Olivia, going pale, "Cabot. You told me on the phone that you were going to meet her at her place later tonight."
Olivia went still. "Her apartment. Oh Christ. Elliot, late at night. It's the perfect place for a hit." Jesus christ jesus fucking christ, they might already be there. If they knew when she'd be back, they may already be there, may already have gotten in. "Elliot, oh God, why did I leave her alone? I thought it was safer if she stayed in her apartment. I should never have left her alone."
Elliot grabbed her hand and squeezed hard, "Liv, you'd prefer she'd been here, getting shot at by a sniper? You did the right thing, Liv. When were you going to meet her?"
Olivia tried to quell the cacophony of panic that was preventing her from rational thought. Liv, focus. Now. Details from their earlier conversation made it to the surface. "I said eleven, I told her I'd be there at eleven." She glanced at her watch. "It's just after nine thirty. I've got to call her."
Elliot's mind raced as well. "Pay phone?"
Olivia nodded, "There's one in the doorway."
"But her phones may be tapped too. What are you going to tell her?"
"I don't know." They stared at each other.
"Just to stay put." Olivia breathed. "There's nothing else we can arrange. I'll go and get her, and we will get the hell out of this goddamn city."
If that was a plan, it had all the earmarks of General Custer's brilliant strategy at Little Big Horn. But there was nothing left.
Elliot looked at Olivia and presented a brutal reality of his own. "Kathy and the kids. Liv, I have to get them out of here."
Olivia pulled her hand from under Elliot's and grasped it firmly. "Yes, Elliot. Do it. Run, and keep your family safe."
One last look passed between them, then it was time to move. Olivia walked to the pay phone, assessing every customer she passed in the restaurant with fevered intensity. She dialed a number that she'd committed to memory long ago, though she'd almost never used it.
One ring ... two ... three ...
"Cabot." Olivia breathed a sigh of relief that echoed to the marrow of her bones. Just the sound of that living, breathing, brilliant voice was enough to pour energy back into her veins.
"Alex, just listen to me. Stay put. Stay away from the windows, but close all your blinds. Don't leave, and don't open your door unless you hear my voice. Do you understand?"
Alex heard the undertones in the detective's voice immediately. "Yes."
Weak with relief, Olivia hung up before she could say any more. She held on to the receiver, trying to stop her hand from shaking. No time for this shit. Get it together Benson. Time to move.
The detectives left the coffee shop together. As they emerged, the pink and grey icon of a T-Mobile store glowed from across the street like a beacon.
"Elliot, over there." They crossed the street. Elliot recognized the familiar logo from a vacation in Bavaria, where it had been plastered on the phone booths located at every street corner: Deutsche Telekom, the mighty telecommunications arm of the German government. Their wireless division had recently privatized, with the Bundesrepublik as its principal stockholder, and crossed the ocean. They were one of the first companies to push the international digital standard GSM in America. They were now happily selling Teutonic efficiency on Japanese and Swedish hardware to their oblivious American customers, under a catchy anonymous name and the elegant endorsement of Catherine Zeta-Jones.
Olivia headed straight for the counter and asked for three prepaid cells. The woman on duty was a bit taken aback by the terse request but she complied, retrieving three individually-wrapped packages from a rack.
Olivia jammed a hand into her pocket, rooting for cash. She came up with 75 bucks and change. She glanced at Elliot who grabbed at his wallet. He looked up with the first smile all night, "Went to the bank earlier today." He triumphantly forked over six twenty's, enough to cover the bill.
Grabbing their purchases before the bewildered clerk had a chance to offer them a bag, Olivia strode outside. She handed one of the maddeningly-wrapped packages to Elliot while she fought with another. Elliot's penknife saved the day. At last, they held in their hands three tiny Nokias with completely untraceable numbers.
"Elliot, read me the number." Olivia tore the store bill in half and grabbed a pen from her jacket.
"I could just call your phone, you could pull the number into memory from the call log."
Olivia looked up at this clever suggestion. And then a vision, a horrible vision, clouded her mind. Though shrouded in mist, it was a vision that made her ill. A vision of a future time when the Three Musketeers were not so cocky any more. When one of them was missing.
Do you want to know the future, pretty lady?
"Elliot, if they get a hold of one of these ..."
There was no need to continue.
Elliot read the number of the phone in his hand from the packaging and Olivia wrote it down on the torn receipt. She wrote the numbers from the other two on the other half and handed it to him.
That was it. They had planned as much as they could, and their subway stops were in different directions. Two partners who trusted each other with their lives looked at each other one last time. Elliot grabbed Olivia in a fierce hug.
"You be careful, you hear?"
Olivia clutched him back, feeling the strength of her partner's arms surround her like armor. "You too. Call me when you get out of town."
Elliot finally let her go. Game time.
"Go after her, Liv. Keep her safe."
The walls of the subway tunnel flashed by in a streak of distant color. Face set in stone, Olivia's emotions raged. One name, one face accompanied them all. Alex, Alex, Alex. Please, God, please, keep her alive.
Maybe it was in response to the desperate prayer, or maybe it wasn't ... who knows? But as the metro rattled toward its destination, its regular rocking motion began to seep into the detective's awareness. The steady harmonic oscillations pressed a firm hand against the cacophony of fear that clouded her mind. As the train raced on, her breath slowed. Her heartbeat calmed, and the fevers of terror grew quiet.
A voice from faded memory replaced them: the steady, patient voice of her old teacher.
She had met the tall woman in high school, during a time when Olivia had been taking her first steps on the angry, rebellious road to ruin. Pure chance had brought them together, yet the mysterious older woman had taken Olivia under her wing. She had introduced her to discipline. Starting from the age of 16, and unbeknownst to her mother, Olivia had begun spending more and more of her afternoon hours at the woman's spartan loft. There she began to learn the demanding skills of a nameless fighting style. The lessons had been brutal at first. For weeks, Olivia's every attempt at a successful attack, trying hard to follow her teacher's instructions, had been met with a move that sent her crashing to the mat. She'd get up, try again, but the result was always the same. As the angry teenager lay flat on her back, frustration burning in her eyes, her tall, dark-haired teacher regarded her with dispassion. Daring her to quit. The challenge fuelled young Olivia's resolve like gasoline on an open flame. Day after day it sent her back to the loft. Once, after the first month, the woman offered a riddle to the teen's departing back, "Olivia."
She turned, her hand on the door.
Dark hair resting against broad shoulders, the woman's voice was calm, as always. "The sage retains tranquility, and is not by speech or thought disturbed. By this means he is empty of desire, and his energy is not drained from him."
Olivia stared. The encrypted nature of the words defied meaning and her anger flared. She slammed the door behind her has she left.
She was back the next day. Day after day, week after week of painful falls, she threw her anger against the solid wall of her teacher's skill. It was many weeks before the riddle's meaning surfaced. One day, after yet another hour of correcting her stance, adjusting her motions under her teacher's guidance, and failing utterly when she tried out the corrected manoeuver in sparring, she lay on her back and stared at the ceiling. Not even rage could beat this. It was impossible.
Miraculously, something new happened. Her mind simply gave up, and went quiet.
For the first time she heard sounds, sounds other than her own thoughts. The sounds of the apartment. The partly-open blinds beating softly against the windows. The quiet tick of a clock on the mantlepiece. The muted rush of cars passing three stories below. The steady breathing of her teacher.
When Olivia looked up she saw a smile on her mentor's face. The woman offered a hand and Olivia stood up. Spent of emotion, quiet new sounds soothing her awakened senses, the young teen attacked without preparation or forethought. She was aware only of the practiced motion of her body: foot planted firmly behind the taller woman's calf, leg twisting just right to break the bend of the knee, arm with smooth momentum behind it sweeping in to apply force to a vulnerable shoulder.
The woman was on her back in the blink of an eye. Her smile beamed from the ground, filling the youngster's heart with pride. She extended a hand and the teen pulled her up.
"Well done, Olivia. Well done."
One would think that lessons so profound would be quickly learned ... but sadly, it isn't so. Such is the nature of our troubled race. What Olivia learned that day was Concentration, and her skill advanced rapidly thereafter. But the restless turmoil of human desire could not be quelled so easily. Glimpses of the peace she had found that day did return, once or twice, but glimpses only.
Olivia trained with her mentor for just over two years. She learned nothing of her personal life, saw nothing of her outside their sparring sessions. There were no personal elements in the loft to offer clues, save one small photograph of a smiling blonde woman. Olivia wondered if she was a relative, but never asked. The day that Olivia went off to college she visited the apartment one final time. Olivia hadn't seen her teacher for two weeks in the tumult of packing and planning for her departure. The tall woman simply placed a hand on the young shoulder and offered one phrase: "Follow your heart, Olivia."
The remembered words now rang forward in time, into the present, into a subway car racing toward its destination. Toward a brilliant, beautiful woman with a smile that stopped her heart.
Olivia never saw her teacher again. When she returned home after her first year of college the loft was converted to office space. Olivia had never even known her mentor's name. The only appellation she had ever offered was clearly not a name, or a title: daskalos.
Many years later, confronted in an idle moment with the newly-born search engines of the internet, she had learned its meaning. It was just a word: teacher. In Greek.
When Olivia turned the corner into Alex's darkened street she felt herself glide into a long-forgotten state. Like stepping out of one set of clothes, and into another.
It was open war now. She knew they were here and they knew she was coming. Worry, second-guessing, even the iron grip of fear ... all evaporated in the brilliant light of clear purpose. Only awareness was left. Every sight, every sound came through with crystal clarity. From the rush of a car passing down Alex's street, to the whisper of leaves rustled by a tiny breeze. Listen to the silence. The words of her old teacher seemed obscure but they were as practical as the loaded Glock 17 in her hand. Listen to the background, get to know it, so you can hear anything that doesn't fit. She stuck to the shadows, moving slowly. Silent, invisible. Listening and watching.
Time was a fluid thing in combat, like a liquid. She waited, shadowed in a doorway, as time flowed by unheeded. It carried the sounds and sights of the place past her like a warm breeze. A mewling alley cat was absorbed into the tapestry. The muffled television set of a resident ... faint music from a distant stereo ... the quiet sound of water trickling through the drains beneath the ground.
The tapestry flowed like water. A living thing, but constant. Moving, yet static. Nothing out of place.
There. It was the slightest of sounds, but it stood out against the background like a knife.
The shifting of feet. To her right, range 15 yards. Barely moving, she left her position with the patience of an animal. Soundless, placing every foot with precision, gun locked in both hands on the unseen target she knew was there, her grip not too tight, not too loose. Time had no meaning at all as she advanced on her prey, the clock of thought stilled to silence. Again. The shuffle of feet was closer now. The next doorway. Only five more meters. Four ... three ... two. Olivia freed her right hand from the gun, preparing. There could be more of them, silence was essential. As she reached the corner to the shadowed doorway, the invisible sounds of breathing could be heard.
She visualized the strike, from beginning to end. Visualized the exact placement of her opponent from the sound of his breath, the exact motion of her arm. The secret to street fighting, particularly with larger opponents, was to hit fast and hit hard, without hesitation. A 300-pound wrestler had many spots on his body that were just as vulnerable as those of a 90-pound woman. His nose would break as easily, his throat would collapse as readily, his eyes were just as soft. One strike was always enough to guarantee the ending, as long as it was well placed and delivered without hesitation.
The world went to complete silence as Olivia surged around the corner with her arm cocked. One microsecond to check the target (man, P38, right hand) then her elbow smashed into the bridge of his nose. Too stunned by the paralyzing pain to cry out, he remained suspended in perfect position for the conclusion, a second elbow that cracked the back of his head against the brick wall. He crumpled mutely to the ground.
Olivia didn't move, listening for a response from the street. She kept her eyes and gun trained outward. Nothing. Eyes never wavering, she knelt down and worked her right hand through the jacket of the unconscious man, patted down his pockets. She found his wallet. Without glancing down, she retrieved it and shoved it into her inner coat pocket.
Still no sounds out of place in the street beyond. No movement caught her eye. The door to Alex's building was straight across the road. If there was a sniper he'd be directly above her. In this darkness she'd never see him. The street lamps were below the tops of the buildings, they'd hinder her vision while helping his. There was nothing to do but bluff.
Straightening, Olivia hid her left hand with the Glock in her jacket pocket and pulled her own keys from their belt clip. She stepped into the street, walking casually, playing with the keys in her right hand. Every sense was awake and she could practically feel the cross-hairs converging on her back. She jogged up to the door and made a pantomime of selecting a key. Shielded from outside view by her body, her left hand went to the buzzer marked 'Cabot'.
Alex answered immediately. Olivia kept her voice as low as she could manage and still be heard, "Alex, Liv. Buzz me in, fast."
The hesitation lasted only a second but felt like an eternity. The buzzer sounded. God bless that woman. Olivia continued her pantomime, apparently putting her key to the lock. She prayed that the sound of the buzzer hadn't been heard, if indeed there was anyone out there to hear it.
Yanking the door open, Olivia stepped inside and paused to sweep her senses across the foyer. Tasteful, upscale ... quiet, no movement, staircase straight ahead. The apartment was on the second floor. Olivia headed up the steps, pulling out the 9 mm as soon as she was out of sight of the building's glass door. She moved more quickly now but hugged the wall, ears alive for a sound, checking around every corner before continuing.
The second floor hallway opened before her. Clear, nothing. Apartment 204. Olivia had never been here before and wished her first visit was under different circumstances. The doors to 201 and 202 passed by ... 203 ... 204. On the right. She stepped in front of the door, making herself visible to the peephole. Shifting the gun to her right hand, she pressed the doorbell. Her eyes remained trained on the stairwell.
The door opened almost immediately. "Alex, we're leaving. Keep quiet."
"I'll get my bag."
"Leave it. We have to go. I dropped one guy out front but I think there's a second one."
Realizing in mounting shock that this situation had escalated way beyond her understanding, Alex dimly wondered what 'dropped' meant.
"Is there a back door out of this building?"
"Yes, other end of the hallway, it's a service stairwell."
"Where does it go?"
"A courtyard, several of the apartment buildings back on it."
"Any ways out? Is it closed off?"
"No, there are alleyways between the buildings. They're open."
The detective still hadn't looked at Alex, eyes trained on the main staircase to her right.
"Good. Alex, go. Stay behind me and keep your eyes open. If you see anything hit the floor. Do you hear me?"
"Yes." Alex's brain was approaching numbness, having no relevant experience with which to process this impossible scenario.
Her hand was shaking as she locked her door, then shoved the keys in her pocket.
Olivia took a quick glance over her shoulder at the other end of the hallway. Clear. But she judged that the major threat lay in the other direction. If there was a sniper out there, or someone else, her thin ruse with the keys could easily have been observed. As she turned her attention back to the stairwell she caught a microsecond glimpse of Alex. Jeans, runners. Good girl. The detective pushed Alex behind her with her left hand.
They'd only taken four paces when the crash of shattering glass rose from the staircase.
"Run!" Olivia shoved Alex hard and turned for a sprint. The sound of heavy footsteps raced up the staircase behind them. The door to the back stairs looked infinitely far away as they ran toward it. Olivia's mind calculated distances, speeds ... they'd barely make it.
Just as they reached the door Olivia's ears knew their attacker had reached the top of the stairs. She wheeled, slamming Alex between her back and the door, shielding her with her body. A dark figure burst from the staircase and spotted them immediately, snapping a sidearm to bear.
Just as Olivia sighted and squeezed off two shots, the answering fire erupted, in a blaze of sound that sent dread into the heart of every city cop. The low-throated, deadly-smooth pulse of a Mac-10 machine pistol. Light, concealable, and capable of a sustained rate of 18 rounds per second, the illegal weapon's very existence was hated by every law enforcement official in the nation.
Still firing, Olivia's left hand scrabbled behind her for the door handle. She felt Alex take over and get the damn thing open. They nearly fell backward into the staircase.
Olivia pushed Alex to the side and grabbed the door, shoving it closed. "Are you ok?"
Leaning against the wall for balance she grabbed Alex's arm and yanked her bodily to her feet. "Go." She pushed the lawyer toward the stairs.
The terrifying pulse of the Mac-10 stopped. The assailant was racing toward them.
They ran down the steps and reached the ground floor in record time. Alex was ahead, and yanked open the door to the outside. As she was about to step out to freedom, she screamed, "Liv!" Alex threw herself away from the doorway as a man in a hooded sweatshirt stepped through.
Olivia's head snapped around. The man's gun hand was already coming up and her own was out of position. She threw her weight against his, slamming him back into the wall, nearly on top of Alex.
Her right arm pinned, she raised her left arm with lightning speed and smashed her fist into the man's face. His nose shattered ... but this one was fuelled by adrenalin and didn't fall. He responded with a head butt, and got a hand between them to push them apart. She stumbled back. Gun free. Olivia snapped the Glock up an instant before he regained his balance and fired at point blank range. The gun shot was deafening in the enclosed stairwell. Blood and brains splattered the far wall and the enemy crumpled bonelessly to the floor.
Shaking her head to clear the deafening ringing in her ears, the detective hauled Alex up by the arm and shoved her toward the door. She turned her aim back up the staircase. The Mac-10 would be on them again any second. Alex grabbed at the handle with shaking fingers. Olivia felt a hand on her shoulder, pulling her back.
Olivia backed through the door then turned to scan the courtyard. There, a tiny gap to the right between two buildings: an alley. "Alex, run." She could barely hear her own voice.
Olivia grabbed Alex's arm and pushed her toward the opening. She didn't hear the stairwell door opening behind them, but she did hear the burst of automatic fire. It tore at her ringing eardrums but she didn't look back. Still disoriented, they finally reached the entrance to the alley and Olivia used every ounce of her strength to hurl Alex to the ground into the safety beyond. Olivia wheeled to her knee and aimed the Glock in one motion. Fuck. The bastard had taken cover, good cover, behind the steel fire door of the staircase. The subconscious counter drilled into her by Police Academy instructors reported immediately: 9 shots gone, 8 left. Fucking bastard, he can fire that fucking thing with one hand and spray the area with nearly 20 rounds per second.
They didn't have a chance.
She turned and dragged Alex to her feet, "Run!" She pushed Alex in front of her and they both sprinted into the safety of the alley. Halfway down, she looked over her shoulder for pursuit. Nothing.
They hit the end of the alley and Olivia shoved Alex against the brick wall, holding her left hand against her to know where she was. The ominous silence of the Mac-10 almost frightened her more than its bursts of deadly noise. Pressing Alex back with her left arm, she peered cautiously around the corner. Street, nothing moving. Rooftops, nothing. She grabbed Alex's shirt and yanked her around the corner to the left, "Go!"
The dreaded machine pistol exploded behind her. No thought, wheel, drop to one knee, target, brace, fire. She sent three shots down the alley, hoping to hell she hit something, then turned again and ran after Alex into the street. Scan the surroundings ... "There, Alex, alley to the right!" They bolted for the relative safety of another narrow passage. From the cover of the corner, Olivia dropped again to scan back into the street. Quiet. Where the hell is he ... did I get him? Nothing moving, no sound of pursuit. But her ears were still ringing and she could barely hear her own breath. Fuck it. We need to leave. She turned into the alley and caught a brief glimpse of Alex's face. Terror, close to shock. No time now. Olivia pushed her forward, "We're out of here, go!"
They ran from alley to alley, appreciating for the first time those narrow New York passages so-infamously shielded from the light of sun and street lamp alike. Olivia's senses detected nothing behind them, and she stayed behind Alex, checking over her shoulder every few seconds. Nothing. But no guarantee at all, keep running. At least her ears were beginning to recover. She had no idea how much time had passed when Alex stopped suddenly in front of her.
"God, it's Central Park." At the mouth of their current alley, there was indeed a populated road at last, yellow cabs passing back and forth in an intermittent but steady stream. And beyond that, the dubious haven of Central Park.
Now what? Olivia scanned the street ahead. I guess a crowd would be good. Time to mingle. She took a step toward the corner ... and the world began revolving around her. Alex ...
The next thing Olivia knew she was on her hands and knees and staring at the filthy floor of the alley. Dimly, she felt a hand on her shoulder, and a throbbing pain in her abdomen, left-hand side. She pressed her hand against the area. Her brain felt sluggish, immersed in molasses. Her balance failed again and she reached out, "Alex ..."
Alex had never been in a situation remotely like this before. Someone was trying very hard to kill them. The alien threat of real physical violence was right behind them and had thrown her into a state of numbness. Her brain was struggling to restart, to catch up to this impossible reality. She had no basis for judgement here. This could not be real.
She turned to Olivia ... and saw her drop to her knees, like a puppet with severed strings. Oh god, oh no, god no ....
"Olivia, what's wrong?" She heard her own inanity from a distance, knowing remotely that she was in a state of shock. Olivia seemed to be trying to regain her bearings. The detective reached out a hand.
A hand covered with blood. Though distorted by the neon rays streaming into the alley from the streetlamps ahead the color was unmistakable. Olivia had been hit.
The animal instinct to protect those most dear swelled in Alex. Like the sun after a rainstorm, it swept aside her stupor with a fierce hand. Enough of this shit. You're up, Cabot. Get it together.
Keep her safe. The deep-seated instinct gave her the strength, somehow, to drag Olivia back into the relative haven of the alley, pulling them both behind an overflowing dumpster. She cupped her hand against Olivia's cheek, turned her face to the thin light from the streetlamps. She looked closely at the detective's eyes, praying for signs of lucidity. "Olivia, where are you hit?"
"It's not bad." Despite the warmth of Alex's hand against her face, Olivia grimaced against the pain. How in hell had she not noticed. Adrenalin. Too bad it's gone. She forced her brain to assess the situation: the pain was low on her left side. A good spot, relatively speaking, probably nothing vital.
"Help me up, it's not bad."
Alex looked at Olivia closely. Olivia looked back. Her dark eyes were clear. "Really, Alex, it's not bad, help me up."
Alex looped her arm under Olivia's and did her best to help as the detective struggled to her feet. Olivia groaned and fell back against the alley wall.
"Help me off with this thing."
With eyes slitted against the growing pain Olivia tried to shrug out of her leather jacket. Alex saw her intentions and helped her remove it. Next came the black sweater. As soon as it was off, Olivia grabbed it from Alex's hand and pressed it hard against her side. Bandage, pressure. Of course. The 'bandage' could nonetheless not conceal the fact that half of Olivia's white T-shirt was soaked in blood.
The detective turned toward the wall and leant against it with her right hand. She was cold, and breathing had become an effort. "Alex, did it go through?"
The bullet. Alex stared at Olivia's back and saw nothing but pristine white cotton. She pressed her hand against the detective, "No, nothing."
"Shit. Shit ..." Olivia closed her eyes, trying to focus. Now what? Priority: keep Alex safe. Olivia glanced back down the alley, and instantly regretted it. The world began to spin again and she leaned heavily against the cool brick wall. She was losing blood, fast. She pressed the sweater harder against the wound. Made sense, all that running tore it open. Now what? Keep Alex safe. Just hole up somewhere with a bottle of iodine and a ton of gauze. It'll be fine.
Alex's fertile mind raced along the same path. What options do we have? Try to treat it ourselves? But that bullet has to come out, and that means an X-ray and a medical professional of some sort. We have to get Olivia to an ER. But we can't even step inside a hospital: ID has to be presented on registration and all gunshot wounds have to be reported to the police. We'd be found within minutes. What about a small clinic? Fat chance, Alex, it's too late. Or maybe a hospice, or children's' services facility, they have night nurses on call, right? Shit, she still needs an X-ray to get that bullet out. Any medic would send us to a hospital ... and there, gunshot wound means 'inform the police' ...
Alex looked up sharply. "Fuck, we are the police. Liv, where's your badge?"
"Your badge, is it in your jacket? I think we can get out of this."
"Inner pocket, left side." Olivia leaned her forehead against the brick wall.
Alex reached into the pocket and retrieved the NYPD badge. "Liv, sit down. I think I've got a plan."
Olivia opened her eyes enough to see a completely inappropriate gleam in the lawyer's eyes. A gleam that she knew accompanied an Alex Cabot masterpiece of outrage.
"OK." She managed a bit of a grin, then sank gratefully to the ground. She barely felt Alex draw the warm jacket back around her shoulders.
Alex snatched Olivia's 9 mm from where it had fallen, then detached Olivia's holster from her belt. She could see the detective was nearly past caring and it ate at her guts. Focus, Cabot. She stuffed the Glock into the holster, grasped the NYPD badge of office in her left hand, and stepped out of the alley. Though it was nearly 11 pm, the stream of cars around Central Park was still considerable. She sucked in a breath, put on her game face, and stepped out into the street.
Step One: Intimidate a Civilian.
Alex waited all of three seconds before a silver Lexus pulled around the corner and headed toward her. Alex stood right in front of it and held out Olivia's badge like it was some sort of magical warding spell. And perhaps it was, as the Lexus screeched to a halt right in front of her.
Alex strode to the window. "Sir, please roll down your window." The window descended, revealing a 30-something yuppie with an astonished expression.
Alex randomly resurrected the maiden name of a favorite aunt. "Sir, I am Detective Adams of Manhattan Homicide and I must commandeer your vehicle under section 47 paragraph 12 of the New York penal code." Section 47, paragraph 12 actually contained the legal definition of Grand Theft Auto, but Alex doubted the irony was appreciated.
That was annoying. Alex reigned in her temper with effort and tried again: "I am Detective Adams of the NYPD, as you can plainly see from the badge, and my partner has been shot. This is an emergency, I need this vehicle, and I am fully entitled to commandeer it. Do you understand now?"
The yuppie swallowed twice, "Shot?"
"Just leave the motor running, sir, I'll be right back." Alex left her stupefied victim behind and sprinted for the alley. Dropping to a knee behind the dumpster, she found Olivia lapsed into unconsciousness. No, no, stay with me.
"Liv, come on, wake up." No response. Alex grasped Olivia's shoulders and shook her. Again. Nothing. Whispers of panic made themselves known. Not now, Cabot. Keep it together. Alex shook Olivia once more, hard, and thank all the gods and goddesses out there, this time she moved. Olivia groaned.
"Liv, come with me. Liv, we're leaving, you have to get up." Alex ran her arm once more around her friend, but this time, heaving her to her feet was a great deal more difficult. Olivia said nothing, but managed to execute some semblance of a walk as they left the alley.
The stunned expression on the Lexus owner's face redoubled in intensity when Alex emerged from the alley half-carrying another woman, this one with a T-shirt half-soaked in blood. He leaped from the car and opened his back door for them. "Good God, is she all right?"
"No, she's not all right," Alex snapped. Between the two of them, they got Olivia installed in the back seat. Alex stepped to the other side of the car and got in next to the detective. She pressed her hand hard against the injured woman's side and fixed her gaze on the driver.
"We need to get to St. Vincent's, pal, and this is a fancy-ass car. Show me what it can do."
Though Mr. Lexus continued to look like he'd swallowed a golf ball, he did indeed floor it. Alex wondered if he appreciated the police-sanctioned opportunity to break the speed limit. She also wondered at her own stupidity in inviting the attention of patrolling cops.
But fortune smiled, and they arrived at St. Vincent's ER entrance in record time.
Pressing Olivia's limp hand against the makeshift bandage at her side, Alex left the car and strode into the ER. She passed a buffet of unfortunates with bleeding noses and broken limbs and advanced on the reception desk with an air of fury. The duty nurse looked up, and took a step back. Alex thrust the borrowed badge in the woman's face. "Detective Adams, Manhattan Homicide. My partner's been shot, she's in the Lexus outside. Send a team."
The duty nurse was visibly shaken by this display of authority and scrambled on the desk for her microphone, "Code Three, Code Three. Officer Down in ER."
Alex was gratified when a wheeled stretcher propelled by uniformed medics appeared only moments later. The medics raced to the ER doors, and retrieved the unconscious Olivia from the back seat of the Lexus as gently as they could. Alex invoked her practiced mask of dispassion as Olivia was rushed by. She turned to the nurse and pierced her with the most severe gaze she could muster ... which was considerable.
"I have radioed my squad and they'll be here soon. Thank you for your assistance, we'll remember it."
"Always happy to help the boys in blue. I mean girls. Um, girls in blue."
Alex strode past the stammering nurse toward the curtained cubicle where Olivia had been taken. Efficient emergency-room medics had descended on Olivia like a colony of army ants, and were busily doing something whilst exchanging urgent-sounding phrases encoded in medical jargon. Mask firmly in place, Alex strode into their midst.
"Who's in charge here?"
One of the doctors popped his head out of the melee and spotted Alex. "Someone, get her out of here!"
Alex marched toward him and flashed the badge. "I'm Detective Adams from NYPD Homicide and that's my partner. What's the prognosis?"
Alex in a rage was enough to intimidate even an ER doctor.
"What? She's, um ..." He tried again. "She's going to be ok, I think. Looks like nothing vital was hit. She's lost a lot of blood but we're typing it now and calling up supplies. Do you know her blood type?"
Alex had no idea if this was the sort of thing partners habitually shared with each other. The best bluff is the simplest bluff. "No, I don't know."
"OK, well it won't take long. I think she's gonna be fine. By the way, who should we call? As you know, we have to report anything like this to, well, you guys."
"No need for that. I've radioed my squad and they'll be here as soon as they can."
"OK." The doctor grabbed his Clipboard of Interminable Paperwork from a nearby counter and scanned it quickly. "We can fill in the medical bits ... but, wait, what's her name?"
"Detective Sandra O'Connor." Alex grimaced to herself. Alex, for God's sake, could you be any more obvious.
The doctor actually smiled, "Heh, named after the judge I guess."
"Just make her well again." Alex pierced him with a stare that expressed volumes of dire threats, all without any legal ramifications of course. "What is it you need to do exactly?"
The doctor swallowed involuntarily, "Well, we need a couple of X-rays to determine the path of the bullet. We need to get that out. Looks straightforward, shouldn't be a problem, say about an hour. But she needs to get some of that blood back into her, that'll take a few more hours."
Alex's impassive mask didn't even flicker. "I'll inform the captain. And thank you for your help."
Alex turned on her heel and headed back to the waiting room. Liv wouldn't be ready to leave for several hours. Plenty of time for the no-show from her fictitious squad to start raising eyebrows. Alex, did you think this through?
Nothing to do but wait. Alex chose one of the free vinyl chairs and sat down. She looked around the waiting room and saw the NYPD uniform on duty glancing at her. He nodded. She nodded back. Shit.
One hour and 39 minutes later, Alex had read every issue of Cosmopolitan from the last decade, and remembered not one word. She had been too busy monitoring the activities of the NYPD Uniform out of the corner of her eye. As the clock ticked along, the continuing no-show from her 'squad' at the shooting of a fellow officer was becoming ever more suspicious.
At last, Uniform took a coffee break. Time to leave. Alex dropped her unidentifiable magazine and walked straight past the nurses' desk to the treatment area. Unbelievable how no one questions you when you appear to know what you're doing. Works every time.
The next part was a bit of a trick: trying to look like she belonged in the 'authorized personnel only' area while checking out each of the curtained areas for any sign of Olivia. Where is she? Alex felt the timer on her luck ticking inexorably towards zero as she passed yet another medic for the second time. She nodded, and slipped into the next treatment room as soon as the person's back was turned.
Finally, pulling back yet another curtain in yet another featureless treatment room, she found Olivia.
The detective was out cold, and hooked up to what was clearly a blood drip.
Alex closed the curtain and came to Olivia's bedside. The detective was as pale as a ghost. A tangle of wires ran from the machines surrounding her, converging like a nest of serpents on her motionless form. Oh God. Alex felt her confidence deflate like a punctured balloon, brought face-to-face with the reality behind this ridiculous scheme.
Olivia looked so lost, so weak amid the ominous devices. Alex gripped the bed rail and fought a wave of emotion. The vulnerable image confronting her clashed violently with a deluge of vignettes that flowed from memory. Olivia facing down a perp in the interview room. Olivia striding up to the witness booth, and turning to face Alex with a grin. Olivia holding the hand of an 11-year old whose childhood had been taken away. Olivia's body shielding Alex's own as she subdued an enraged inmate. As she fired shot after shot down a hallway, placing her own life between Alex's and a wave of bullets.
Olivia sharing that charming, lopsided smile in a rare moment of unguardedness.
Please, God. I need her. Alex forced back tears long suppressed.
"Liv, wake up, we have to go."
She squeezed Olivia's limp fingers. Nothing. "Liv, sweetheart, please, we have to go." Alex, no tears, not now.
Nothing. The steady bleep of the machines continued without variation. Without thinking at all, Alex leaned over the most perfect woman in the world, and kissed her. Her hand drifted to the side of Olivia's face and tears amassed behind her eyes, "Liv, please. Wake up love, we have to go." No response. In desperation, Alex grabbed a fold of palid skin beneath her fingers and pinched, hard.
The detective moved at last, reflexively backing away from the sudden source of pain. Olivia's eyes blinked open, scanning her surroundings in confusion. Her eyes swept the room, seeing nothing ... until they came to rest on the face in front of her. "Alex."
"Liv ..." Alex choked back a sob, "Liv, we have to leave. We're in danger, we have to get out of here. How do you feel? Do you think you can walk?"
Olivia frowned, "Where am I?"
"You're in the ER at St. Vincent's. We have to go, Liv. Did they get the bullet out?"
Memory returned gradually, like a bubble rising to the surface of a syrupy liquid. A car ... Alex taking her badge ... gunfire ... a chase ... Shit! The return of memory, fragmented though it was, snapped Olivia to life and she struggled with the sheets and blankets trapping her in the hospital bed. She soon noticed the tether of the drip in the back of her hand. "Shit, help me out of this thing."
Between them, they removed the sensor pads and managed to extricate the drip without making too much of a mess on the floor. Olivia heaved herself to an upright position on the bed, then paused for a few seconds while the room spun around her. "Where are my clothes?"
"Right here." Alex snatched the blood-stained garments from an adjacent countertop and handed them to Olivia, "Can you manage on your own?"
Wry grin, "I'll try."
It took a bit of a team effort, but eventually they had Olivia dressed and more-or-less ready to go. When closed, the leather jacket covered the bloody stain on her shirt. "Can you walk?"
"I think so. Let's get out of here."
Alex took one last look at the detective, then clamped down hard on feelings that would not serve them now.
During her tour through the backrooms of the ER, the lawyer had noted a door that led, not into the waiting area, but into the main hospital. Alex steered them to it and luck was on their side. Olivia was leaning against her only slightly as they passed through the doors to the outside. And like New York Angels from heaven, a line of Yellow Cabs was lined against the curb. Alex signed to the first one and relayed an address as she installed them both in the back seat: "Hotel Palermo in Queens."
As the yellow cab took off, a uniformed NYPD cop on a smoke break stubbed out his cigarette from his vantage point right next to the outside doors.
Part Two, Chapter Three
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