DISCLAIMER: See Chapter One.
Light in the Shadows
Part Three, Chapter One
Alex woke up well past noon. She was on her side, facing the slender rays of light piercing the gap between the drapes. As her mind slowly regained consciousness, she became aware of the magnificent feeling of a loving arm wrapped around her, and the magnificent sound of quiet breathing right behind her. Alex smiled with a deep happiness that neither deadly assassins nor dire conspiracies could diminish. So it wasn't a dream. Alex, this is real. She smiled with the innocent delight of a child on Christmas morning. As full consciousness returned, she remembered the details of the night before. So much of it felt exactly like a dream ... but her memories of Olivia were as solid as the arm around her.
She remembered coming apart near the end. It was utterly unlike her. She'd been with others, had enjoyed their companionship and their beds ... but this was something entirely new. Thinking back to her long years of university she recalled an insidious thread of worry, a whispered fear that something was wrong with her. Her sexual experiences had been enjoyable, but she'd never achieved the release described in such vivid detail by the authors of the marginal works of fiction she read in her rare moments of leisure.
So the high school counselors were right all along: it takes the right person.
Alex knew her normal response to such a display of weakness would be fear. Fear at having exposed herself so much, and at the potential consequences. But that most-dreaded of all emotions was nowhere to be found. Instead, she felt ... safe. Perfectly and completely safe. In a bizarre way that she could not understand, it felt ... right ... needed and appropriate, to shatter to pieces within the safety of the arms that held her, and allow herself to form anew in the embrace of the woman she loved so much.
It's not a sign of weakness at all, Alex ... you're just growing up.
Alex drifted a while longer in contemplation of her new world, listening to the tick of the old clock on the wall and the soft breathing behind her.
She admitted at last that it was time to get up. Deadly assassins and dire conspiracies were out there, no matter how much she wished them away. Alex looked over her shoulder at Olivia. The detective was sound asleep. With a quiet sigh, Alex rose and attended to her morning ritual in the bathroom.
Alex drank a glass of tap water as she watched her detective. She needs another day of rest, at they very least. But we should leave here tomorrow. It's getting too risky. Contemplating a road trip to parts unknown, Alex realized that more shopping was in order. They had no luggage and few possessions beyond the clothes on their backs.
She hadn't even brought a jacket when they fled her apartment. Alex pulled Olivia's leather coat around her shoulders, feeling the detective's scent and presence surround her like chain mail. She left a note in case the detective woke up, then snatched up the old-fashioned key and left the room.
Shopping, shopping ... normally such a joy. Alex reconnoitered the streets first, checking out the array of stores within walking distance. We need luggage, and some more clothes. Alex spotted a CitiBank branch. And money. She crossed to the bank and walked inside, heading straight for the waiting line to the tellers.
When Alex reached an open teller she requested a $5,000 withdrawal from her account. In cash. The teller was a bit taken aback at the enormous figure but she checked Alex's ID and retreated to the nether regions of the bank. She returned after some minutes, bearing a stuffed envelope. As tellers must, she withdrew the wad of bills and laboriously counted them out.
Alex jammed the thick envelope in the left-front pocket of her jeans and left the bank, untucking the hem of her blouse to hide the protruding bulge. Across the street was an L.L. Bean outlet. Perfect, they should have everything.
Alex wandered the aisles of the cavernous store. She first picked out a duffle bag to serve as temporary luggage. Next, a change of clothes for both of them. She had checked the tags on Olivia's jeans and sweater before she left the hotel room, so she knew the right size. Alex grabbed items off the racks without much contemplation. She shopped as she would for herself, just getting two of everything. Jeans ... T-shirts ... socks ... underwear ... Alex passed a rack of pajama pants and realized how much she missed her usual evening routine of changing into sloppy clothes. She grabbed a pair of patterned flannels. She was about to grab a second pair when she pictured Olivia. No ... I think my detective is more the sporting-goods type. Alex wandered to the relevant section of the store and spotted navy blue sweatpants and a matching hoodie. She grinned. All we need is a big NYPD monogram, and my champion would be back in her shining armor. Alex suddenly realized she was in the unique position to buy whatever she thought Olivia would look good in. Feeling happy, and distinctly silly, Alex scanned the store. I've always wanted to see her in a shirt, sleeves rolled up ... Succumbing to the pleasant wave of irresponsible delight, she picked out two cotton button-downs, one in white, the other in a dark grey. Smiling like a teenager on her first date, Alex brought her purchases to the counter and paid in cash.
Threat of mortal danger be damned.
On her way back to the hotel, Alex spotted an Alamo outlet. Perfect. Rental cars are just around the corner.
Laden with shopping bags, Alex returned to the room to find the detective awake and watching cartoons on TV.
"Hey, you're up. How are you feeling?"
Olivia hit the mute button on the remote. "Not bad. I took a couple more pills, but it's a lot better than yesterday." Olivia watched the ADA juggle her key, the door, an armload of shopping bags, and a newspaper. "Where have you been?"
"Shopping, of course. What else is a prosecutor to do to celebrate the day she skips out on an appointed court date for the first time?"
Olivia smiled wryly, "Sorry."
Alex dropped her bags on the armchair and turned to the detective. "Olivia Benson, if you think saving my life twice in one day and taking a bullet for me is something to be sorry for, you are one sadly confused individual."
Olivia grinned. I guess I did do that.
"Alexandra Cabot, come over here. I want to tell you something."
Alex came over to the bed and sat down.
Olivia played with the leather jacket, "Looks good on you."
Alex grinned, "Looks better on you."
Olivia brought her hand to Alex's face, cupping it gently. She caressed the skin lightly with her thumb, "Alex, listen to me." Her voice was soft. "I feel like I'm in a dream ... but here you are."
Alex was entranced by the quiet words. "I feel the same, Liv." She reached out a hand and brushed the backs of her fingers lightly against the detective's cheek.
"Alex, it seems to have taken heaven and hell to bring us here, but here we are. I don't want to give this up. Ever." The detective felt herself floating, flying, in blue eyes that bespoke the freedom of a spring sky.
"I love you, Alex."
Alex's heart swelled to bursting. She lowered her head and pressed a kiss against Olivia's lips, "Liv, I have always loved you, since the moment I first saw you."
The detective smiled in that charming, lop-sided way that set Alex's pulse racing. "Do you always have to trounce the opposition, Counselor? I'm just a dumb cop. Have a heart."
Alex grinned back, "A dumb cop who uses words like 'trounce'? What a novel concept. And I'm afraid it is a necessity inbred by my profession to always have the last word."
Looking into smiling brown eyes, Alex felt the world click into place. Touching her lips to Olivia's once more, she felt a rush of absurd confidence. Deadly assassins and dire conspiracies be damned ... we are ready for anything. "Detective, I believe we have some bad guys to catch."
"That we do, Counselor, that we do."
Alex consulted the phone book and ordered delivery pizza. When it arrived, Alex took the armchair and Olivia took the floor, leaning back against the bed.
"So what's our next move?" Olivia took a bite of the thick, cheesy pizza, relishing her first 'real' food in more than two days.
"Unfortunately, I think we need to get out of here as soon as we can. The connection to that cab driver is remote but it could nail us. We need to stay ahead of them. We should leave tomorrow morning ... but where to next?"
"We should get out of the city." Olivia had a thought, "Here's an idea: I remember Elliot talking about a hunting trip he and some marine buddies went on last year, they rented a cabin near Brosewere Bay. It's on Long Island. Isolated, but not too far a drive out of town."
"Sounds good. Do you remember the name of the place?"
"Indian ... Indian something. I think he mentioned that Ocean Point was the nearest city."
Alex nodded as she swallowed a mouthful of calories, "Ok, good. We'll try 411 and see if we can find it. Now, what about our enemies? What leads do we have left? We never got to meet with Judge Cramer, I suppose we could try that again. Is there anything else we've missed?"
Olivia's eyes twinkled, "My dear Counselor, if you reach into the inner pocket of the jacket draped over the arm of your chair, I believe you will find the lead you seek."
Alex raised an eyebrow. She put down the pizza crust and rooted around in Olivia's jacket. Badge ... chapstick ... a wallet. What's this? Alex retrieved the black faux-leather wallet. "Where did we get this?"
Olivia grinned, "That is the wallet of one of the assholes who was waiting for you outside your building."
Alex raised both eyebrows, "You're kidding. You took this wallet off one of the killers?"
"Good work, Detective!" Alex opened the wallet and extracted its contents one-by-one onto the low coffee table, "Driver's license, bank card ... VISA." Alex turned to the money pouch. "Twenty-two bucks and change." She spotted a fragment of paper. "And what is this?" She extracted the piece of paper and held it up to the light. "Well, well, well ... a phone number." The hyphenated seven-digit inscription was scrawled in a careless hand.
Olivia held out her hand and inspected the fragment closely when Alex handed it over. "It could be a phone number ... could also be a bank account, or something else."
"How many bank account numbers do you know that have a hyphenated three-digit/four-digit pattern?"
Olivia smiled wryly, "Ok, so it's probably a phone number. Now what do we do with it?"
Alex's eyes sparkled, "Liv, I believe it's time to add another member to our little team of insurgents. My old friend Ringo is just about the best hacker you could ever hope to find. He can run all kinds of scans on the information in these cards."
"Do you think we should pull him into this? It's dangerous, Alex."
"Ringo is no stranger to danger ... and you give him any whiff of a government-engineered conspiracy and he's off and running. I'm going to call him."
Olivia held out her hand, "Hand me the phone first." Alex dug one of the Nokias out of Olivia's jacket and tossed it to her. "I'll try and find that Indian-whatever outfit and reserve a cabin. You can tell him the address when you call him. D'you think he'd agree to join us in exile?"
"In a heartbeat."
Olivia dialed 411 and began navigating the treacherous waters of directory services. She explained her vague request to the first operator ... then a second, and a third. Finally someone on the other end found the listing she was looking for.
"Indian Village Hunting Lodges, please hold for the number."
Olivia dialed the number and waited for a couple of rings until someone answered.
"Indian Village, what can I do for you?"
The detective first verified the location with the man, then went ahead and reserved a cabin.
"Ok, miss, that'll be cabin number nine. We'll expect you tomorrow morning." No request for a credit card number. Thank the lucky stars there are still backwoods rednecks out there.
Olivia ended the call, "I've got the address." She handed Alex a scrap of paper from the hotel's thoughtfully-provided pad of stationery.
Alex took the phone and dialed a number from memory. She smiled when the phone picked up, "Hey, Ringo. Rook to bishop four."
"Alexis! How'd it go with that info I gave you last week?"
"Extremely useful, Ringo. In fact, we stung them so bad that we're on the run, buddy. Let me tell you a bit of what's going on."
Olivia rose and wandered to the bathroom as Alex conversed with her friend. The detective felt the frustrating weakness and lightheadedness coming on again and put a hand out to the wall to steady herself. Benson, hurry up and heal. No time for this.
When she wandered back to the bed, Alex was just hanging up the phone. "I gave him the address and the cabin number for Indian Village, and he has our cell number in case something goes wrong. He said he'll be there tomorrow around midnight."
Olivia nodded, and sat down heavily on the bed, "Alex, I think I need to crash again."
"Yes, you get all the rest you can while we're here." Alex helped the detective back into bed and pulled the covers over her. She smiled and brushed an unruly lock from the detective's eyes. "Mind some company?"
Olivia settled her head on the pillow and patted the mattress beside her. Alex changed into her new pajama pants and a soft T-shirt. Ah, comfort at last. Sloppy clothes were her escape from the confining press of business suits that she had to endure each day.
"Plaid? I'm shocked, Counselor."
Alex climbed under the covers next to Olivia. "Just promise you won't tell, my image would be ruined." The ADA propped herself up with pillows and grabbed the TV remote. She patted her stomach, "C'mere you." Olivia happily moved from her pillow to a much softer, human one. Alex brushed her fingers through dark hair as she surfed the channels. "Let's see ... crap ... crap ... crap ... CNN ... CNN Headline ... here we go, Chris Matthews. You ok with that?"
"You like Hardball?"
"The guy's great, totally non-partisan and thinks at the speed of sound."
"But he never lets his guests finish a sentence."
"I know. He should have been a lawyer."
"Wasn't he a lawyer?"
"No, I think he went straight into politics. Carter administration, I think he did some speech writing."
Olivia watched the program and relaxed into the feel of Alex's fingers stroking her hair. Every few minutes, Alex would come back with some comment, shredding arguments with familiar enthusiasm. Olivia loved listening to her. Sheltered in a haven of warmth, and listening to the woman she loved tearing Chris' guests to pieces, she let the weakness of her injury take over and drifted back to sleep.
Early Tuesday morning Alex and Olivia woke up to the alarm clock. Alex hit the shower as Olivia dressed and packed their things into the duffel bag Alex had purchased. Alex emerged shortly, clothed in jeans and a sweatshirt.
"Bathroom's free, do you want a shower?"
Olivia shook her head, "No, later ... let's just get out of here." The detective was becoming increasingly nervous. They'd been at the Palermo for two full days. The forces against them could be at their doorstep any minute. "We need to leave."
The detective hefted the bag onto her left shoulder and immediately felt a twinge in her injured abdomen. The pain was relatively mild, thankfully, but Alex saw the grimace on the detective's face as she tried to suppress it. "Here, give me that."
With Alex carrying the duffel bag, they checked out at the front desk. The day-manager was a heavily-pierced girl in her twenties. At their appearance, she put down her Harlequin paperback with an air of profound irritation.
They walked the four blocks to Alamo. "They're going to need a driver's license and a credit card," said Olivia.
"Yeah, but do we care? We're gone, they can't trace where we're going."
"What about the license plate? We don't know how well-connected these assholes are, they might be able to issue an APB on the plate."
Alex considered this disturbing possibility, "Yeah, maybe. But Liv, I think we're back against a corner here. We need a car. I think we have to chance it."
"I guess you're right." Olivia sighed, unhappy with her inability to keep them completely safe. "Let's get the thing and get out of here."
When they arrived at the Alamo desk, Alex presented her ID and reserved an SUV for a week. She had no idea how long they'd need it but a week was a decent guess.
"Do you need a map of the area, ladies?"
"Yes, whatever you have."
With Olivia checking the map intermittently, they arrived at Ocean Point. They stopped at a diner for a quick bite to eat, then continued south. As they drove further into the peninsula surrounding Brosewere Bay, the civilized communities of Long Island fell away in the rear-view mirror, leaving nothing but forested wilderness. Alex eventually turned east, now following the last-stage directions provided by the manager of Indian Village. The office was at the edge of a tiny community, consisting of little more than a few stores, a bar, and a gas station. Olivia stayed in the SUV as Alex went in and rented the cabin. She put down money for five days and returned to the SUV with keys and a map.
"Cabin nine is a few more miles down this road. Looks pretty isolated from the map."
"I saw a general store two blocks back, let's grab some supplies then head out."
As Olivia got out of the SUV with Alex, she noticed a hunting and fishing store across the way. She put her hand on Alex's shoulder and pointed. "I'm going to run over there, ok?"
"Ok. I won't be a minute, just getting some food, a few other things."
Alex was closing the trunk on her shopping bags when Olivia returned and climbed into the passenger seat, carrying a small paper bag. Alex got in and started the vehicle, "What'd you get?"
Olivia remained silent, so Alex reached over to peer into the bag on her lap. Five small boxes, marked with obscure lettering: 'Remington 9 x 19 mm, 115 grain, JHP +P'. The icon of a bullet on the box gave it away. Ammunition.
Alex turned back to the road. Guns, violence, people trying to kill them ... they couldn't leave it behind forever. She was bombarded by the very unpleasant feeling of being out of her depth and it ate at her natural confidence. Alex had always been a capable person, able to contribute and to take care of herself and others in almost any situation. She remembered freezing up at her apartment, her brain unable to cope, hanging on to Olivia just to function. It sickened her stomach. Cabot, this is not acceptable.
The cabin was indeed isolated. After three miles, they turned off the rural road and onto a narrow, barely-paved track that led them into the woods for another two miles. No sign of human habitation could be seen, a fact which made Olivia very pleased indeed.
The cabin appeared abruptly when they turned around a bend in the road. Alex pulled the rented vehicle to a stop and turned off the ignition.
"Lovely vacation spot."
Olivia grinned at the wry humor ... but in fact, the cabin looked cozy enough. "Let's go see what we've gotten ourselves into."
By unspoken mutual consent, the detective opened the door first, revealing a pleasant-enough living room with couch, armchair, and coffee table, all arranged around a promising-looking fireplace. The kitchen was set off by a counter slightly above waist height. A corridor beyond led to the bathroom and two bedrooms.
"Good choice, detective. Nary a stuffed moosehead on the walls."
"Bonus." Olivia grinned, "I'm going to check out the backyard, ok?"
"Sure. I'll bring in the shopping."
Olivia was the designated Protector on this mission and she did her job thoroughly. She noted the one, narrow path leading away from the back yard into the woods. She digested the presence of an old worktable in the yard and checked the quality of the locks on the doors. She walked round both the front and back porches, looking for potential weaknesses against an outright attack. Except for the windows, whose vulnerability could not be helped, she was pleased with their new location.
The detective found Alex crouched on the kitchen floor and rooting through one of the cabinets. "Alex, I think we're good here. I'm gonna take a shower, feels like days since I had one."
Alex nodded and continued her exploration of their new home.
Olivia felt good when she emerged from the shower ... alive again for the first time in several days. The wound was healing well and the annoying weakness she'd been feeling seemed to have finally passed. Towelling her hair, she wandered into the living room. Alex was sitting on the couch, one knee bent and held against her chest. She was wearing jeans and a grey sweatshirt that extolled the virtues of Stony Brook U in bold black letters.
Alex turned to Olivia as she walked in. The detective tossed the towel onto the back of an armchair and sat down. She looked at Alex, seeing an expression that was both focused and remote. "What's up?"
Alex paused for a couple of seconds before speaking.
"Liv, I want you to teach me how to shoot a gun."
Olivia heard the request clearly. Her response was confused, however, by a burst of unclear emotion, an unexpected turmoil. Her immediate reaction was negative. She paused, to wonder why.
The answer surfaced quickly: she didn't want Alex to be ... tarnished ... by the world of violence. Olivia had long ago accepted that world as part of her destiny. In fact, at a deep-seated level, she felt that it was her purpose on this planet to inhabit and patrol that world so that others could be spared its horrific touch.
But violence had come to Alex's doorstep and all the wishing in the world wouldn't make it go away. It was painful to admit, but Olivia realized that she could never really promise that she would be there to protect Alex forever. Things happened, things beyond one's control, twists of fate that laughed in the face of every bold promise a human being could make. Only one thing mattered: that Alex was alive and stayed alive. Her wish to learn how to defend herself was both understandable and sensible.
Olivia gazed into serious blue eyes, trying to read the emotions therein. There were none that she could see, only focus and sober intent.
Olivia took one breath, then got up and walked to the counter separating the kitchen from the living room. She grabbed her jacket and her holstered gun, and retrieved a box of ammunition from the paper bag.
"Let's go outside."
The backyard was a large cleared space completely enclosed by the surrounding forest. The cabin was truly isolated, no human sounds except their own could be heard. Good thing. The yard contained a rough-hewn worktable located a short distance from the back porch and Olivia led Alex towards it. Unholstering the Glock, she released the clip with a practiced motion, cycled the slide to eject the chambered round, and pulled the trigger to release the tension on the firing pin. She arranged the clip, the freed round, and the box of ammo together on the table to her left and set the gun to the right.
Olivia stepped back. With her right hand touching Alex's lower back, she guided the ADA forward to the table and stepped in behind her, standing close and looking over her left shoulder. She had instructed people before. An effective instructor had the student work through each step of the process on her own, learning by doing. Having a student simply watch and listen as new techniques were demonstrated was next to useless.
Alex surveyed the deadly devices on the table. She could feel Olivia's close presence, centimeters away, radiating warmth into her back. A vignette flashed: Olivia pressing her back against a door, shielding her from an oncoming wave of bullets as she fired shot after shot down the corridor. Alex had no illusions about ever achieving such a state of physical courage and power, nor did she wish to. But she also had a fighting spirit, and her deeply self-reliant nature rebelled at finding itself in a space where she couldn't hold her own. The possibility of Olivia needing her help at some point and being unable to step up to the plate ... the idea was repellent. She took a deep breath.
"Alex, how much do you know about guns?"
"Nothing, really. I know it's ridiculous given my line of work, but I've never needed to know anything about them. I've never even seen a bullet up close."
Olivia nodded behind her, "Ok. We'll start with that. Most people are under the impression that it's the gun that's dangerous, but it's not. All of the explosive power comes from the bullet. Go ahead and pick one up."
Alex turned to the collection of ammunition to her left and picked up the loose round in her fingers. It was so small, only 9 mm in diameter and 19 mm long. It seemed impossible that such a tiny object could wreak such havoc.
"The next misconception is that what you're holding is an actual bullet. It's a cartridge, or round; the actual bullet is only one part of it. You can think of the cartridge as a tiny missile silo. At the very top is the bullet itself, the missile. You can see it protruding out the end. Beneath it, within the cartridge case, is packed gunpowder, analogous to rocket fuel. Immediately below that is a tiny pellet of primer. Have a look at the flat end." Alex turned the round in her fingers. "The tiny dot in the middle is the exposed primer. When the primer is subjected to a hard mechanical shock, it ignites. The heat causes the gunpowder above it to explode, turning into a ball of gas under extreme pressure. It's the pressure of the expanding gas against the cartridge enclosure that ejects the bullet from the end."
"Like the expanding gas which inflated our air bags the other day."
"Exactly. You are holding a fireable weapon in your hand. If you were to clamp that little guy to the table and smack the primer with a nail, the bullet would fire."
Alex nodded. She was amazed at her previous, tacitly-assumed misconceptions.
"Essentially, the gun is nothing more than an efficient substitute for a vice and a nail. The cartridges are supplied to the gun through the magazine, or clip, that flat thing to your left. It's spring-loaded, always pressing the cartridges upwards. To load it you just shove one round in at a time, pressing against the spring. Go ahead and add that round back into the clip."
The spring tension was strong, but with some guidance from Olivia as to which end to press on first, the round clicked into place. Alex added a couple more from the box.
"Now we come to the gun. To supply it with rounds, just slide the clip into the handle."
Even Alex had watched enough TV to know how this went. She grasped the big Glock in her right hand and slapped the clip into the grip with the heel of her left hand. Olivia smiled, "Good job."
Alex was now holding a loaded gun for the first time. Unlike a knife, which had many utilitarian uses, a gun had only one purpose. She took a breath. Having no idea how the damn thing worked, she felt like it could go off any second and she didn't want to move it.
Olivia saw the expected nervousness. "Alex, I want you to point the gun at that tree in front of us and pull the trigger." Shit, do I want to do this? Alex breathed and sighted the gun as she was told. Clenching her teeth a bit, she pulled back on the trigger. It was far back against the trigger guard, and it didn't move at all when she pulled back.
"That's right. Just loading a clip does not make a weapon ready to fire."
Alex realized the purpose of this exercise: to allay her initial timidity with the weapon. It worked. Our detective does indeed have many skills.
"To make the thing fire, you have to understand a bit of how it works. Have you ever watched any old Westerns?"
"You remember the guns that John Wayne and Clint Eastwood carry around in those films?"
"Those are revolvers. Their operation is easier to explain that the semi-automatic you're holding because all the parts are exposed and you can see them moving. Remember John and Clint getting ready to shoot a bad guy ... what's the first thing they do?"
"Well, they squint dramatically."
Olivia smiled and pressed her hand against Alex's back, "Yep. But then what?"
"Ok, I think you mean the hammer on the back of the guns ... revolvers. They pull it back with their thumbs."
"Right. The gun's most elementary purpose is to hit that primer fast with a sharp object, the firing pin. When John and Clint pull the hammer back, they're cocking the firing pin. A spring compresses and the hammer locks against a notched lever. The trigger's purpose is to release that lever, which sends the firing pin flying into the primer. Check?"
"Check." It made perfect sense.
"So, for the gun to fire a round, it has to be cocked. To do that, you have to pull the hammer back. On this gun you can't see the hammer, but it's there and the principle is the same: you pull the slide back to cock it.
"The second requirement for the gun to be ready to fire is that a live round has to be positioned in the chamber, in front of the firing pin." Olivia reached over Alex's shoulder and indicated the position of the chamber, roughly at the barrel's midpoint. "Revolvers move rounds into position by rotating the cylinder when the hammer is cocked."
"Yes, I've seen that in the movies."
"On a semi-auto, the rounds have to move upwards from the magazine, then forward into the chamber. Pulling on the slide accomplishes this task as well. When you pull back, the space above the magazine is cleared allowing a round to pop upwards. Then, when you let the slide go, it springs forward and pushes the round into the chamber."
Alex was fascinated by the technical details. "So both actions are fulfilled by pulling the slide back and releasing it."
"Exactly. Ace, you are good to go. But before you cock the gun, vital safety tip number 1: never put your finger on the trigger until you're ready to fire." The detective reached over Alex's right shoulder and gently moved her index finger off the trigger until it rested on the outside of the trigger guard, "That's the way you hold a gun until you're sure you're ready to shoot. Got it?" Alex nodded, intent on the low voice close to her ear. "Second tip: never point a gun about to be primed at anything you don't want to kill, and that includes anything you can't see. Look around, where's a safe place to point it?"
Alex glanced at her surroundings, "Into the ground, between us and the trees."
"Good. Now let's get this baby primed. Grab the slide from the top, yank back on it, and let it go."
Alex grasped the slide and racked it back, then let it snap forward. As she heard the various clicks she visualized the operation as Olivia had described it: the Glock striker locked into its unique half-cocked position, a round was stripped from the clip, and the return motion of the slide pushed it into the chamber.
"OK, Alex, now the gun is ready to fire. You've got it pointed in a good place and your trigger finger is in the right spot -- on the guard, not the trigger. Perfect. Before you hit the trigger, let's check your stance. The gun is going to kick a bit and a good stance is the key to controlling that." Olivia first checked Alex's grip on the weapon with her strongside arm, the right. She told the lawyer to lock her elbow, and guided the arm into the correct position with her hands. Then she reached over to manipulate Alex's left arm and fingers into the supportive position of the Weaver stance. With a cocked and loaded gun in her hand, and Olivia's hands adjusting the position of her body, Alex's senses were alive. The detective finally placed her hands on the lawyer's shoulders and rotated them so that the strongside shoulder was back.
"I want you to visualize the following: pushing forward against the gun with your straight right arm while pulling back with your left. That creates isometric tension; it promotes stability and is the best way to offset the gun's recoil."
Alex appreciated the explanations that Olivia offered with each instruction, absorbing the details better when they were understood, "Got it."
Olivia stepped back a foot, "Ok, Ace, pull the trigger. The draw is going to be a bit heavy on your first shot, just pull hard."
Alex clenched her teeth involuntarily, then squeezed down on the trigger before she could think too much about it. The gun exploded with a loud retort. Although she had only recently been exposed to live gunfire, the sound was more shocking than the recoil.
Olivia's hand was on her shoulder, "There you go. Not so bad eh?"
Alex smirked, having noticed the landing point of the bullet in her peripheral vision. "I appear to have demolished a patch of turf some considerable distance from my intended target."
Olivia grinned. "Hey, it if was easy, everyone would do it," she said, quoting loosely from a favorite film. "But you know what? I'm willing to bet money that you have a talent for this. You're the most focused person I know and that's the key to accurate shooting. We just need to get a couple more details out of the way." Hand still on Alex's shoulder, the detective told her to look at the gun in her hand. "See how the trigger is now in the middle of the guard? Unlike when you first slapped in the clip? That's a sign that the gun is cocked again. It's the secret of semi-automatic weapons: they use the recoil from the exploding cartridge to send the slide backwards, thereby recocking the hammer and chambering another round automatically. After your first shot, the gun is ready to go again. And did you see the shell eject when you fired?"
Alex nodded, having noticed something flying off to the right after her pull. "The third function of the gun is to eject the spent cartridge -- the housing of the missile silo -- after a round is fired, to make room for a new one. The backward motion of the slide accomplishes that task as well. Those ejected cartridges are the debris of a gun and they've given us a lot of clues and evidence over the years.
"Ok Alex. Focus on that favorite patch of dirt of yours and try it again. No need to cycle the slide again, just pull the trigger. The pull will be a lot easier now. But this time, I want you to concentrate on the isometric pressure between your hands, especially on the forward-push of your strongside arm. Keep your strongside elbow locked, but don't tense your fingers. A clenched muscle is as useless as a slack one. Also, check your sights. The forward post on the barrel should be aligned with the rearward notch and the target. The best thing to focus on is the forward post, not the target. Finally, good breathing helps you steady your arm. If you have the chance, best thing is to breathe out, pause, then breathe in again ... hold it a second, then fire at the beginning of the exhale. Take your time, Alex. I want you to dump the rest of the clip into that piece of grass ... but first I want you to clear your mind, and feel only your body. Your mind is not the thing we're trying to train here. Take your time. After every shot, feel your body's response, check your accuracy, try something new. Train your body through observation. Ok, love, go for it." Olivia released her hand from Alex's shoulder and took a step back.
Her mind ringing with the vivid instructions, and her body tingling from the feel of Olivia's hand and voice, Alex did as she was told. She tried to steady her breathing. She visualized the suggested isometric tension and foresaw its effect if properly accomplished. Sighting with focus on the post, she realigned with her anonymous target and breathed. In ... out ... in. Hold. Exhale ... and pull the trigger. Even before the ground erupted triumphantly 15 cm from her intended target, she felt the advantage of firing on an exhale. Her body was steadier. Mind quieting as she had been asked, her body processed the feel of the more accurate shot. She cycled her breath again and fired. Closer. Her body was learning.
Olivia watched as Alex devoted absolute attention to the task at hand. The woman was a learning machine. After every shot, she paused to assimilate the new data, and visibly readjusted her posture.
When the last shot was fired, the slide racked back and locked automatically into its rearward position. Not noticing, Alex tried to pull the trigger again. Olivia stepped forward, placing a hand on Alex's arm, "That's it, the clip is empty. Have a look at the gun: see how the slide has stuck far to the back of the barrel?"
Alex had a look at the weapon in her hand. Indeed, the slide appeared jammed in an awkward-looking position far to the rear of the barrel.
"When the last round is fired, the spring-loaded follower at the bottom of the magazine kicks up the slide catch. The release lever is here on the left side." The detective placed her hand over Alex's and moved her thumb to the lever in question. "Now you have an empty gun and you need to learn how to reload."
Olivia took Alex through the remaining drills of firearm handling, making sure she performed each one entirely on her own. Reloading and recocking the Glock ... clearing a cocked weapon by dropping the clip and manually ejecting the chambered round ... the safety questions pertaining to carrying a Glock in firing readiness.
"Aren't these things supposed to have a safety button or something?" Alex asked.
"Most guns do, yes. The safety either locks the hammer so that it can't drop, or decocks the gun. But the Glock is unusual, the only safety is the slight double-pull in the trigger." Olivia pointed out the unique extra lever set into the face of the trigger itself, "It's not a real safety, but it prevents the gun from being fired accidentally. This one also has a New York trigger, a modification to increase the draw weight on the first pull."
They started the sequence all over again. One by one Olivia asked Alex to repeat the procedures she had described, in various sequences. The brain's short-term memory forgot easily, but the body's memory was another thing entirely.
After all the firing they'd done, there was no way anyone who might be hiding in the dense woods beyond their enclosure would be so stupid as to have remained there. Olivia decided to end the training session with a semi-realistic target: the old oak tree that stood about 20 yards away from them. Even from this distance, she could see the pockmarks left in its trunk from the similar practice of previous sportsmen. Poor tree.
"Ok, Alex, you've done great." Olivia grinned. "If only all my students at the academy were this fast." Alex grinned in response, flushed with pride at the encouraging words. "One last exercise, then we'll call it quits for today. This time, you're going to shoot at a more distant target."
Olivia's ingrained ammo counter reported a half-full clip left in the gun. "First, clear it and stand down." Only twenty minutes earlier, Alex had heard her brain reciting the relevant sequence in forced, rote-learned phrases ... but new mental pathways had been burned quickly, and this time the procedure required much less thought. Her thumb hit the magazine release, she extracted the clip as it dropped, then racked the slide to eject the chambered round. She hit the trigger to release the striker and placed the weapon on the bench.
Holy crap on a bun. I have never seen a cadet learn that fast. "Perfect. Now imagine you have a cleared gun and a target has just appeared. The target is that inoffensive oak tree directly opposite us. Load two more rounds in the clip and take him down."
Alex's hand had already learned a rocking motion that enabled easier loading of the rounds. Loading completed, she slapped the magazine in place and pulled back on the slider, letting it spring forward to chamber a round. She locked her right arm as she swung the gun onto target, feeling rather than thinking her thumbs into the crossed position of the Weaver stance. The tree trunk came into view behind the barrel's sight post, but she resisted the impulse to focus on it. Focusing instead on the post and settling her aim, she waited for her inhale to complete, then held for half a second. On the exhale, she fired twice with a brief pause between shots. Olivia's remembered voice floated in her mind: Always fire twice on a lethal target. Twenty yards away, a fragment of bark flew from very near the center of the much-abused plant.
"Stand down, soldier." Without even thinking, Alex pointed the gun to the ground and repeated the clearing procedure. When she set it down on the table Olivia's hand turned her around by the shoulder. The brown eyes were open in frank admiration. "Alexandra Cabot, you are an amazing woman, do you know that?"
Alex's mind and body were alive, the natural response to a bout of intense physical awareness. Her eyes sparkled with alertness, "Olivia Benson, you are an amazing teacher, do you know that?"
Olivia breathed once, holding an intense gaze that shot fire into her heart. She had one last thing to say. "You have to practice every day after this for a while, at least for the next several days. Short-term skills are volatile, you can't leave too long a break after your first session before they start to evaporate."
Alex's many years of studying in college had confirmed that basic principle. "Got it."
Alex stared a bit longer, thinking, "You know, there's something peaceful about this. I know it sounds stupid ..."
Olivia smiled in genuine appreciation. She understood completely. "Yes, there is. I feel the same way when I'm practicing at the range. Shooting is a great sport. Requires absolute focus to do it right, that's what generates that feeling of peace. You might want to keep it up after this mess is over. I told you you'd be good at it. I just didn't know how good."
Alex's smile illuminated the deepening shadows of their back yard. "Flattery will get you everywhere, Detective."
Alex reached out a hand, "Liv, the light's fading. You want to take a walk in the woods with me? When we get back, I'll fix dinner and we can wait for Ringo. He said he'd be here around midnight."
Olivia had never heard a more perfect suggestion. "Sounds like a plan." It was hard to tear her eyes from Alex's, but she managed just long enough to return to the work table. She loaded a clip, chambered a round, and clipped the holstered Glock onto her belt. She took one more minute to lock the back door.
On her first tour of the camp, she had spotted a narrow path leading out of the back yard toward the northwest. She grasped Alex's hand, lacing their fingers together, and guided her to the entrance.
The woods were not the most luxuriant either of them had seen, but they were filled with living things, and that was beauty enough. They walked in silence for a while, then Alex told a story about going camping with her dad. Olivia admitted that she had never been camping. "Maybe sometime you can teach me, eh?"
Alex smiled, "I doubt there is much I can teach you, Detective, but I'd be happy to try."
More stories were swapped as they walked. Olivia was in the lead when they met a slight incline, a hill just high enough that they couldn't see beyond it. The detective kept her hand in Alex's as she mounted to the top, pulling the ADA behind her.
When Olivia reached the top of the berm, her breath stopped. Brosewere Bay. The expanse of placid water stretched out before them, its reflective surface rendered in the color of molten gold by the rays of the setting sun. Only one human presence disturbed the tranquil surface of the bay: a small fishing boat drifting way off to the west.
"Alex, look ..."
Alex was right behind her and pulled up next to the detective. When she saw the panoply before them, she also stopped. Just to stare.
Time stood still for a while as the detective and the lawyer just watched. Gulls wheeling in freedom above the water ... the tiny ripples in the water that turned the sun's rays into molten nuggets ... the slow progress of the solitary fishing boat, the only, distant evidence of human presence.
Senses awake, heart and mind stilled, Alex turned to face Olivia. Incapable of disturbing their joined hands, she brought her other hand to brush lightly against the cheek of the woman whose beauty put the magnificence of the bay to shame. Gently, she turned Olivia's face until their gazes locked. She had never seen the detective's eyes look so soft, so open. Alex's heart swelled with a joy that surpassed the glow of the fading sun on the water.
Words had no place here. With soft pressure, Alex brought their lips together. Against the plaintive sound of gulls riding the air currents of the dying day, two human beings reached out to one other, caressing with tender longing.
The gentle explorations of new love persisted until the rays of the setting sun turned red, and the gulls retired to their hidden homes.
Olivia finally pulled back, bringing her hand to Alex's cheek. The blue eyes were alive, soft, filled with beauty.
"Love," she whispered. Olivia leaned in for one last, brief kiss. "We should head back."
Alex followed Olivia back down the slope, holding on to the strong hand that she had never released.
Part Three, Chapter Two
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