DISCLAIMER: See Chapter One.

Light in the Shadows
By Canna

Part Four, Chapter Three

The next afternoon, Melinda Warner made her way to the fourth floor of St. Vincent's hospital. She had been called out to the Hudson River Park scene late last night. The dark, derelict warehouse district had been alive with emergency vehicles, a throng of police cars and ambulances. Their flashing red and blue lights illuminated the remains of the massive gun battle in strobing, garish color.

The place looked like a war zone. After organizing her technicians and coordinating the processing of the bodies of the fallen mobsters and ex-marines, she had remained, this time in her capacity as a doctor. She was very fond of the detectives of the 16th precinct and had pushed other medics aside to supply emergency assistance to her valued colleagues. Stabler had taken a bullet in the leg. He was quickly splinted, shot with painkillers, and wheeled away to the ER in an ambulance. Olivia's severely fractured arm and perforated shoulder blade merited closer attention, and Melinda used all the skill at her disposal to ensure that no permanent damage would result. Two SWAT team members and one of the police reinforcements had also been hit, but fortunately, none of their injuries were life-threatening. Even ADA Cabot had taken a nasty hit near her left eye, accompanied by a jagged cut. The injury had discolored rapidly, and the swelling of damaged tissue seeking to heal itself had closed her eye for the time being.

Pushing open the door to the semi-private hospital room, Warner surveyed her patients. Benson and Stabler occupied the room's two beds. Stabler's lower leg was in a cast and propped up on the bed sheet, while Benson's arm was in a sling with a cast on her forearm and heavy tape securing her shoulder. Both detectives had required surgery, for pinning work on their broken bones. Olivia also had a white gauze patch taped over her left eye: the hit from the pistol grip had been sharp enough that a detached retina was not impossible, and Warner had insisted on caution. The two detectives were engaged in animated discussion, replaying and analyzing the various tactics that had been employed at last night's warehouse battle.

ADA Cabot was sitting at the room's small circular table, her eye showing puffy discoloration beneath a white bandage. Across from her was a thin man with dark-framed glasses and straggly long hair, wearing faded jeans and a thin black T-shirt listing in small print the cities visited by Megadeth on their 'World Needs a Hero' tour. The two had a cheap chessboard between them, purloined from the floor's common room. They played easily, without the painstaking concentration of neophytes but with the casual skill of experts, recognizing patterns as they emerged on the board and chatting nonchalantly as they moved the pieces in rapid succession.

The blonde man moved a piece and plucked Alex's second bishop from the board. "Predictable, Alexis. Lasker's Combination."

"You think? Just believe that, Ringo."

Warner announced her arrival to her heavily bandaged friends, "Good grief, this place looks like a MASH unit."

Stabler looked up with a smile. "Hey, Doc, good to see you. Thanks for all the help last night."

"My pleasure. But you guys left quite a mess behind, we're going to be analyzing bullet trajectories for days."

The two detectives and the ADA had been quickly seized upon by the medics last night and whisked away. They were eager for news of the case.

"Did Talon make it?" asked Alex.

"He's still in intensive care but it looks good. No one's been able to interview him yet, but he should be awake in another day or so. Gaston is awake already and has been moved to a holding facility. He hasn't said anything yet, but we're waiting for the effects of the drug to wear off. We took a blood sample ... same signature as the one from Jacob Trent."

"What about Rakowski and Kettler? And that mob boss, Fabrocini?" asked Olivia.

"They stayed under cover in the warehouse, uninjured. Looks like you guys pinned each other down pretty effectively. It was all over when the reinforcements went in through that hidden side door, all but one of the mobsters surrendered. They're all in custody."

"How is the evidence-gathering going?"

"Munch and Fin are fine and they're working on it. Cragen himself is helping out and he's recruited assistance from the FBI's OCD director and a team of his people. They've already tracked down a number of open OCD cases on mob hits that match the dates and times from that spreadsheet." Warner smirked. "You know, the mysterious spreadsheet provided by Munch's 'anonymous informant'. Plus Kettler is singing like a nightingale. Liz Donnelly offered him a deal and he's spilling his guts."

Alex grinned, "Perfect. As their IT guru, I'm sure he has all the info we need to nail every last one of them. How did he get involved, anyway? He suggested they had some hold over him."

"Yes, it was a computer-security infraction that he was pulled in on as a grad student. Talon recruited him, and has been blackmailing him ever since with the threat of a conviction."

"One piece we never figured out was Brenner's role. We knew Rakowski recruited him to the Pentagon, and it looked from the spreadsheet like he was serving as their front man, collecting payments directly from the clients. We figured he was the one who provided the connection between Rakowski's squad of assassin's and Talon's client list."

"Yes, pretty close. Brenner and Rakowski got to know each other when Brenner was in the JAG office. A soldier under Rakowski's command was accused of illegal activity and Brenner served as his counsel. The charge was dismissed, under pretty mysterious circumstances. We're looking into that too. It's probably the incident where Brenner and Rakowski realized they had a common fondness for shady operations and, of course, money. As for Talon, believe it or not, he and Brenner met as kids. They were both military brats who moved around a lot, but they spent their teen years together when their fathers were posted at the same base. They became fast friends, kept in contact every since."

Ringo spoke up with a question of his own, "What did Jack-the-Hack do to get himself in trouble?"

"Kettler launched something called the 'DaVinci virus' into an oil company's computer systems."

Ringo recognized the incident, "The DaVinci virus, 1995. That was an impressive bit of work. Dangerous though. We all thought they never caught the guy."

Warner turned to the hacker and held out a hand. "We haven't met. I'm Melinda Warner, Medical Examiner for Manhattan."

Ringo shook the proffered hand and favored the stunning medical examiner with his patented, geeky-attempt at a roguish expression. Olivia rolled her eyes. Ringo, pal, you need to take lessons.

"Richard Langly, ma'am, pleased to meet you. But call me Ringo, everyone does."

"So Ringo, why do I get the feeling you're the mystery man behind the 'anonymous' spreadsheet and network logs?"

Ringo's grin persisted, "Why, Dr. Warner, I have no idea what you're talking about. I'm simply a law-abiding citizen visiting some friends out of concern for their well-being."

Warner was a bit of a rogue herself and appreciated the outrageous plans that her colleagues and their hacker friend had executed to solve the case. "If I'm going to call you Ringo, you have to call me Melinda."

"Beautiful name, Melinda. So those bullet trajectories you're analyzing ... I've done some consulting work for ... various people, I may have a piece of software that might interest you."

Warner was interested. "Really? The biggest challenge we face is combining the bullet trajectories with the reconstructed estimates of the shooters' movements during the conflict."

Ringo snorted in disdain at the supposed complexity of the task. "I've done some moonlighting in video game graphics, to pay the rent ... done plenty of work in animated texture-mapping of wireframes following calculated paths. Don't see why that couldn't be combined with your analysis of the projectile trajectories. Are you able to determine the relative times of the bullet hits?"

Warner's eyes flashed with the possibilities, appreciating Ringo's quick mind ... and truth be told, she also appreciated his outrageous confidence in his own abilities, a trait she shared in significant measure. "Not precisely, no. Certainly not on the time scale we'd need to help in the reconstruction of a short-term engagement. But I've always thought an algorithm could be written to watch automatically for matches between the bullets' paths and those of the shooters as they moved. Can you write that into an animated simulation?"

Ringo's smirk was tinged with a leer, finding the ME's mixture of technical savvy and beauty an enticing combination. "Of course. Why the hell not."

"Mr. Langly, would you be interested in a position with the New York Police Department's technical division? I believe we might have use for your ... special talents."

Ringo's roguish expression was almost convincing this time. "Only if you take me to a real expensive dinner, cutie."

Warner grinned at the bald-faced come-on. "Sure. I'll get you not one, but two Happy Meals at Mickey D's. That'll about break my weekly salary, but you get to keep the toys. And we get to keep the plastic cups too, I have a lovely set of sixteen back home."

Alex and Olivia glanced at each other, grinning in delight. Geeks of the world, unite.

Olivia only arrived at the squadroom around 1 pm the following day. Due to her injuries, she was on half-time for two weeks, but with full pay. She was confined to desk duty as well, maybe for an even longer time. The doctors had reassured her that her wounds were healing well, no permanent damage was expected, but it would take time and physical therapy to restore the full use of her right arm.

Olivia sat down across from Stabler, whose crutches were propped against his desk. She favored him with a grin, "We did it, buddy. We're banged up, but we nailed 'em good."

"Yes we did. Cabot stopped by earlier and she's slinging motions and indictments left and right. They're all going down."

Elliot smiled to himself, recalling the fond, loving looks that his partner and the ADA had exchanged during their time in the hospital room. Guess they found their way to each other at last. Kathy was so happy to hear it. She had a feeling about those two, even before I did.

"Oh, nearly forgot. Cabot left an envelope in your desk drawer."

Awash with the new joy of having found the love of her life, Olivia opened the desk drawer and retrieved the plain manilla envelope. She opened it and retrieved a brief note, written in Alex's precise hand.

You never got to see my apartment. I think you might appreciate my pride and joy: a 5.1-channel surround-sound system equipped with a powered-sub and a 42-inch wide-screen DLP Toshiba. And you're right, I am a closet nerd. The sentence was concluded with a winking smiley. I have a collection of DVD's as well, and I'd hazard a guess that we have some overlap in taste.

Donnelly's going to keep me here late, but don't let that stop you. The other item in the envelope is one I hope you'll keep in your pocket for a very long time, Detective.

Grinning foolishly, Olivia looked once more into the envelope ... and found a key. She withdrew it and stared at the keychain to which it was attached: a chess piece, White Queen, rendered in crystal. She held it up to the squadroom windows. The tiny charm cast no shadows at all, only caught the light of the sun and refracted it into a thousand beams, radiating brilliance, and warmth ... and love ... in every direction.


CODA: My sincere and heartfelt thanks to all of you kind readers who have taken the time to provide supportive feedback during the construction of this little tale. Your mails have been greatly appreciated.

Also, I expect I'm not the only pop-culture geek among you, and I hope some of you have been amused by the gratuitous nods and shout-outs to other films and television shows. For the sake of completeness, here they are. (At least the ones I'm aware of ... I have been known to speak in quotes without realizing it)

CSI: Warner's reference to Grissom and his Las Vegas crime scene unit Xena: the description of Olivia's mysterious martial arts instructor can hardly be missed as a supremely-cheesy tribute to the almighty warrior herself (including the 'listen to the silence' line from the finale). The cryptic quote 'daskalos' offers young Olivia is from the Tao Te Ching (written by Lao Ma, not Lao Tzu, according to Xena canon :-)) The X-Files: Richard 'Ringo' Langly and John Byers are two of the Lone Gunmen from the X-Files American Beauty: the Kevin Spacey quote from the Hotel Palermo A League of their Own: the source for Olivia's 'loose quote from a favorite film': 'If it was easy, everyone would do it' Battlestar Galactica: origin of the nerdy moniker 'Cylon' that Kettler assigned to his hard disk Bound: 'Angelo Marzzone, head of the Marzzone family', and 'the Carpettas' are direct shout-outs Bloodsport: 'Meditate until you can feel nothing but your own energy, nothing can distract you' is one of Shidoshi Tanaka's final admonitions to Frank Dux (Jean-Claude van Damme) during an intense training session Tommy Boy: 'That's gonna leave a mark.' Hackers: the 'DaVinci virus' was a key element of the plot Renaissance Man: 'And we get to keep these, I have a lovely set of sixteen at home' comes from a charming McDonald's scene with Danny DeVito ... and the one that got away, Aliens: As it is one of my favorite films of all time, the temptation to use Ripley's Great Line when Alex takes down Talon was almost overwhelming ... but I resisted. :-)

The End

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