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7. Path of Least Resistence
Tires protestedone last pathetic squeal as she turned into the motel's parking lot. Her ears were immune to the howls and she felt little remorse for ignoring its pleas for mercy as the breaks grated when she pulled into the numbered spot. Olivia sat in the idling car, eyes fixed on the figure her headlights had captured.
Lilly sat on her doorstep. She leaned against the door, legs stretched out casually as if blocking someone's doorway was wholly acceptable in the state of Pennsylvania. The blonde shielded her eyes. Clambering to her feet, she dusted off her slacks as the engine clicked off.
It smelled of burnt oil and scorched rubber, of the fury that Olivia had driven it with. She slammed the door and hulked towards the paint-peeled door.
"I thought we decided to go our separate ways."
Olivia unlocked the door and threw it open. She ignored Lilly as she entered the room and began clearing her things from the dresser. A balled up sweater, a crossword half-finished, mismatched socks, a box of bulletsall tossed haphazardly into the small suitcase.
"Going somewhere?" Lilly stood in the doorway, uninvited. Her voice was quiet, unassuming, and tender. It lacked the vim or vigor that Olivia craved. For what she wanted more than anything at that moment: A good fight.
"Home. I can't do this anymore."
"She called again," Lilly blurted.
"Did she confess this time?" Olivia scorned.
"Look, I know you're pissed but I need your help. You know Alex, you know the case better than anyone and I know we can figure it out together."
Olivia flipped the suitcase shut. "Is that your version of an apology?"
"Let's just say there are things I regret," she stepped across the threshold and pressed the door shut behind her. "And others I don't," she whispered.
In that breath Olivia understood what she meant and industriously chose to ignore it.
"I'll lose my job if I stay."
Lilly cupped her cheek. "You'll lose a lot more if you leave."
"I'm not convinced helping you arrest an innocent woman will help my case."
Her touch withered, her voice hardened. "She's safer in custody than she is out there, Olivia. And, quite frankly, so are we."
"What are you talking about?"
"Another victima womanshot point blank like the others. Executed."
"If you had ever met Alex you would know how ridiculous you sound."
"And if you hadn't?"
They stared at one another, both stubborn in their convictions. The fluorescent bug zapper sparked, flickering outside her window.
"I guess there's only way to settle this. Give me that case file."
Lilly smiled at the small victory. Olivia would stay to fight another day but the battlefield was far from level. Cabot, guilty or not, wielded an admirable power over the otherwise undaunted detective.
Papers scratched as she flipped through the file. A few minutes later Olivia looked up. "Miranda Inez?"
"What is it?"
"That's his girlfriend." Disgusted, Olivia threw the crime scene photo onto the bed.
She shook her head. "I'm not following "
"Velez," Olivia paced. "Christ, I should have known." Lilly stared up at her, still confused. "Miranda Inez was his girlfriend."
"Do you believe me now?" Lilly felt righteous, justified, she felt damned good.
"Don't you get it? If Inez is dead, Alex is next."
8. Lost & Found
She didn't "get it" but Lilly was content to watch the dark detective pace as she explained.
"We tried to turn Inez after Alex was killed," Olivia looked over at Lilly, panic flickered briefly in her eyes and she couldn't stop from wondering if it was a conditioned response to talking about Alex or, if she genuinely felt the same anxiety remembering the events that had delivered her to that moment in time.
Olivia circled the photos of the dead woman in what looked to bequite literallyan absurd attempt to get new angle on the crime.
"Didn't blink is more like it. Something. There was something about her..." She leaned over the gore fanned across the bedspread and tore into a piece of pizza.
What it would take, she wondered, for Olivia to lose her appetite. Brain matter hadn't done the trick
The motel phone brayed.
Lilly eyed it suspiciously as Olivia was swift to snag the receiver from its cradle.
The greeting never came. Olivia stood next to the ugly pastel lamp, silenced. Her mouth still held the shape of words half-formed, unspoken, secreted by the interruption. She gripped the phone with both hands. It must have felt heavy then as the tangle of emotions worried her features.
"Alex," she whispered.
"Please don't say anything."
Olivia drew in a sharp breath.
"I need you to listen to me. I didn't want to involve you in this, but your " her voice hung there, "counterpart doesn't seem to have much faith in me right now."
She hazarded a glance at the other detective as Alex continued.
"I'm in trouble, Olivia. And, as much as I don't want you involved, I don't have the luxury of time right now."
Focused so completely on her voice, Olivia became cognizant of the whoosh of traffic, rushing through the receiver when she paused again.
"I thought I had it under control but things are..." Alex paused, settling the emotion that had crept into her voice, "beyond repair."
"Alex." The name stretched on, elongated as is passed through her lipstwo sharp syllables and a lungful of air but a whisper.
"Don't. I can't do this if you talk."
Olivia swallowed the lump in her throat and took a deep breath to stave off the stinging in her eyes and the sinking of her stomach.
"Get in your car and drive. Westbound I-70. I'll be in touch."
A click and the call ended as quickly as it had begun. The phone banged against the dresser as Olivia abandoned it. She rifled through the suitcase that she'd spontaneously packed earlier. The box of bullets jangled as she stuffed them in her pocket, the cool slide of metal echoed through the room as she checked her weapon's magazine, wishing she'd brought her back-up piece.
Olivia snatched the keys from atop the television and strode towards the door.
"Where are you going?" Lilly was on her feet. Close.
"She's in trouble."
She searched Olivia's face, blue eyes darting over the confusion and panic written so plain and unremarkably on her olive skin. "I'm coming with you."
Olivia sped through traffic. It'd be a small miracle if they managed to get out of Philadelphia without having to persuade a baby-face traffic cop of their very important case.
"What'd she say?"
Lilly gripped the door panel. The engine revved and Olivia jerked the steering column as they careened around another corner.
"She must have said something "
"I-70. Which way to I-70?"
"Take I-76," Lilly pointed at a sign as it flashed by.
Olivia never slowed, never strayed as she blindly sped into the night. Lilly admiredwas utterly jealous ofthe careless and unyielding loyalty she'd shown the other woman. Even with evidence stacked to the ceiling and the years that separated them Olivia was determined to make her stand. Was it proof of Alex's character of her lasting impression? Or, was she Olivia's greatest flaw? Loyaltybut at what cost?
"What?" Olivia snapped.
"What happens when you close the case?" she asked continuing to study Olivia's profile.
"We go home."
"What do you want me to say?" Her tone was sharp and impatient.
"Three years is a long time."
"You don't need to tell me that."
"I just hope you're ready."
"Prepared, you mean?" she snorted. "You still think she's guilty."
"And you're so convinced of her innocence that you have a box of bullets in your pocket."
Gritting her teeth, Olivia pressed the gas pedal to the floor and throttled the leather-wrapped steering wheel.
They hadn't spoken in over an hour. Traffic flowed freely on the turnpike and Olivia drove the car hard, weaving between the few vehicles that got in their way.
"Aren't you concerned that we haven't heard from her yet?"
"So, what you're just going to drive until we hit California?"
"If that's what it takes."
"What if it's a set up?" she said finally. "Drawing us away from the city, from other potential victims?"
"Into an ambush, you mean."
"Admit that you don't know where we're going or what's going to happen."
"We're all on the same side. I wish you could see that."
Lilly's lips parted, but no words came. She looked out the window at the passing trees, the yellow dotted line blinking furiously in the headlights as they sped to an unknown destination. She wrestled with reason, with a conviction that was too knotted up in emotion to trust anymore.
Her cell phone lit up as it began to ring. Worry gilded Olivia's face as the other woman held the phone apprehensively. One more ring and they'd both be undone.
"Rush," she answered, her voice filled with contempt and impatience.
"Take the Breezewood exit," said an equally edgy voice.
"Where are you?"
"Take the next exit," she said more insistently. "Turn around. Go East."
Olivia eyed the other detective.
"Breezewood," Lilly said, covering the mouthpiece. "Turn around."
The car swerved onto the exit ramp and sped toward the light. Traffic flashed past, colored metal reflecting the streetlight in a rainbow of combinations, the engine tickedpanting like a bomband smelled of burnt oil. When the light turned green Olivia stomped on the pedal and sped onto the overpass.
"What kind of game are you playing?" Lilly chided.
"I hope one that keeps us all from getting killed."
The car cornered again and accelerated along the onramp. Merging with eastbound traffic, she grabbed the phone.
"Where are you?" Olivia asked, unable to hide the desperation in her voice.
"Right behind you," was her measured response.
With that the line went dead. High beams flashed in the side and rear view mirrors as the car behind them sped up and slipped into the lane beside them. A horn blared, as the car that was cut off registered its dissatisfaction with her driving. The BMW swerved in front of them and accelerated. The trees along the shoulder gave way to an orange construction barrier.
"The old turnpike," Lilly shook her head as the tail lights in front of them drifted off the road, swinging by the reflective signs, ripping up grass as its back end swayed over the uneven terrain. "Don't," she whispered. And then more forcefully: "Olivia, don't."
The sedan shook as she followed the other car off the interstate. Gravel pelted the hood and dust obscured the road, blanketing the car. A snap and crash of metal in front of them as the gate barrier was thrown wide open. The remaining chain was just a lump under their tires as they pursued the other car. On the straight and narrow stretch the already overtaxed rental car struggled to keep pace with the luxury sedan.
The pavement was cracked and irregular and the car rattled as the chase continued. Trees lined either side of the abandoned roadway, grass encroaching on the crumbling shoulder and through cracks in the old turnpike. The car shookas if it would break apart at any moment. Gravel bombarded the undercarriage of the car and the noise was overwhelming.
Lilly held onto the door as Olivia pushed the car faster still. "This is crazy."
The check engine light cast Olivia in crimson shades. She'd been driving in the red for hours and it had finally taken its toll on the economy sedan. Still she didn't let up, doggedly following the two brake lights streaking ahead of them. The red glow brightened and faded from sight as the car in front of them spun around to face them.
Olivia jammed the brake pedal with both feet and jerked the wheel. The car spun, its engine cutting out as it shuddered to a stop in front of the Sideling Tunnel.
Alex was out of her car before the dust had settled. Olivia wrestled with her seatbelt and kicked open her door. Lilly fought the dizziness she felt, stumbling out of the car onto the deserted road. The glare of the headlights blinded her momentarily. She held a hand up as her eyes adjusted. A silhouette ran towards them and despite being unable to make out her face, eye or hair color, Lilly was quick to register the tell-tale shape of a gun in her hand.
She drew her weapon on the other woman. "Drop it!" Lilly shouted, hands shaking.
"They're coming." Alex's eyes were wide with warning. Two sets of headlights barreled towards them. "Olivia, do something."
9. Sum of Years
Adjusting to the sight of Alex half-hidden in the shadows, Olivia was paralyzed by the anguish she'd denied for so long. It wasn't supposed to be like this.
"Olivia," Alex said again.
Dust billowed, settling on the hood, glowing in the headlights. Gravel sparkled like constellations at their feet. Breathless, Olivia fought the oppressive the tide of emotions.
"Lilly," she said finally, her voice not sounding quite right. Olivia stepped between the women. "Put it down, Lilly," she gestured with a gentle hand.
"I have to take her in, you know that."
"Bigger picture," she flipped the snap on her holster open. She held her gun against her thigh and pointed at the cars racing toward them with her other hand. "We've got a problem."
A quick glance over her shoulder and Lilly was letting up, relaxing her stance and lowering her weapon. "Fine, but we're taking her in once this is settled."
"If we live through this, you can take me wherever you want."
The smirk Alex wore was reminiscent of her arrogant lady lawyer days. A lifetime separated her from the pastBut some things never change, do they? Upon closer examination, Olivia saw the same vulnerability and worry she wore before every verdict and every deal. Once, masteredhidden so easily, tonight they shone beneath the starlight.
She couldn't tear her eyes away. Infinitesimal were the ten feet that separated them, now. Fear mingled with exhilaration. In as little as a minute they could be dead. How appropriate that it might all end here, she thought.
If she closed her eyes she could feel Elliot standing beside her, choking up, her heart wrenching itself as Alex slid from the government vehicle like the Phoenix, sovereign to her exile. She relived it all therestanding on another deserted stretch, gravel grinding beneath her feet, tears in her eyes, the same words still stuck in her throat.
Two sets of blue eyes burned into herone fearless, the other
Screeching tires and exhaust fumes heralded their arrival. Alex sprinted into the tunnel, Olivia took cover behind the front wheel well, and Lilly crouched at the rear of sedan. The sounds of inevitability besieged them: the click of doors opening, groaning shocks as weight was unburdened, gravel scraping as feet shuffled, settling onto the aged and uneven asphalt.
A breathless whisper: "How many?"
Olivia pressed her back against the warm metal and concentrated on their sounds. Two steps forward, something in Spanish"Finish it," she translated.
Rustling from the tunnel, the front of the BMW shook and then she heard it: the unmistakable sound of shotgun shells being chambered. Had they been surrounded?
"Alex," she hissed.
Lilly peered around the bumper, headlights blinding as she squinted out their numbers. The cold, clean snap of metal and two shots echoed into the night. The first whirred past the bumper, the other ripped through the back tire.
Lilly cried out, crumpling to the ground. "Five," she grunted, holding her thigh.
Two quick breathslike a swimmer preparing to dive into the depthsand Olivia popped up, firing three quick shots before ducking out of sight again. A grunt and messy fall confirmed her kill.
She spared a glance at Lilly who, on her stomach, emptied her gun at their ankles. Howling, followed more shouting before the order: "Kill them!"
Lilly fumbled for another clip, fingers trembling as they searched her duty belt. Blood welled up from her thigh; she pressed a palm against it and cried out again. Footsteps advanced upon them. Olivia's next round of shots were in vainall missing their targets as her gun clicked impotently.
"Alex!" She shouted this time, the urgency of their situation finally setting in.
Bullets rained onto the asphalt as the box collapsed in her panicked grip. She tried to load the magazine, but the spastic shaking of her hands made it more difficult than she could have predicted.
"Keep pressure on it," she said, the direction was obvious but words were the only thing that still fueled the illusion of control.
A glimmer in the darkness of the tunnel and shots zipped past. Cheek instinctively pressed against the ground, Olivia counted feet. Three men still standing, a fourth was down, bloody but not dead, the fifthdefinitely deceased.
Another rounddifferent caliberhowled overhead.
"Jesus Christ," Lilly growled, teeth gritted.
The men were crouching now, waiting for the sniper to exit the tunnel. Lilly tossed her gun. It rattled like a toy sliding between the women, across uneven terrain, sounding insubstantial in their time of need. She nodded at the Lilly, snatching up the proffered gun.
Before she rose again, Olivia spared an instant for prayerthat Saint Michael would keep her safe. Fucking Elliot. There wasn't time for superstition. If she avoided getting shot in the back, she didn't owe a patron saint a beer Just Elliot. Just as a prisoner finds God as they are strapped to the Chair, Olivia found faith in her partner's beliefs as she stared down a more uncertain fate.
She put another man down even as footsteps advanced on her from behind. She winced, even as she fired ahead, waiting for a muzzle to press against her skull.
When she dropped to her knees again Alex was next to her panting and an arsenal lay between them. It was hard not to focus on the impetuosity that set Alex's skin aglow, the smug expression that asked her if she liked the gift of guns, or the intoxicating proximity.
Olivia swallowed hard. "Help her." She nodded at the other detective.
Lilly shifted, eyeing Alex, and then the pile of artillery. "I'm fine."
"You need to tie that leg off."
She stood again and the shotgun exploded with a boom and another man went down. She dropped back and reloaded.
Alex inched toward the other woman, each wary of the other's intentions. Her arms stretched between them, settling cautiously on Lilly's belt.
"I'm just going to" Dipping her head, Alex unbuckled the other woman's belt. If it weren't for the searing pain she felt, Lilly might have smiled at her shyness. She tugged and Lilly lulled forward before thumping back against the car. Alex flinched. "Sorry."
Alex worked the belt free from her waist, discarding the accoutrements of the Job in a neat pile as it slipped free. The familiarity she handled each item with was not surprising considering
Olivia swore and discarded an empty handgun. Windows exploded as three more shots zipped through the sedan.
Alex paused, awkwardly assessing the wound. Lilly's palms pressed into the bloody mess on her leg, her pale fingers stained, the stench of copper hanging hot and angry in the air between them.
She slipped the belt under Lilly's thigh, quickly reaching between her legs to retrieve the buckle before she fastened and tightened it. They grimaced in unison as the belt cinched off the blood flow.
"How's that?" she said finally.
Lilly studied her, from the angle of her jaw to the secrets hiding in the shadows of her eyes. And it was there that she saw the same uncompromising loyalty Olivia had shown for her. It was more subtle than Benson's balls-out passion, but it was there: quiet and proud.
The fingers flexed around her wrists, the question still lingering on Alex's face. Four more shots pinged into the hood, and ricocheted off the bumper.
"Fine," her resignation was barely heard over the booming fire fight.
Nodding, Alex released her. The women studied one another, neither bothering to disguise their motivations from the other.
From mistrust to envy, Lilly's face was a portrait of disappointment. She could see it now, Alex was no killer, Olivia was no longer lonely and that, she thought with a great regret, made her the third wheel.
Olivia dropped next to them. "I've got four shots left," she panted. "Anything left in your trunk?" she nodded at the BMW.
"How many?" Lilly rasped.
"Twothey're barricadedI can't get a clean shot."
The would-be partners exchanged a look that spoke volumes. Any cop unfortunate enough to have drawn their weapon has felt the emotion that bubbled between them. Transience and regret for not having done more to prevent death. Had this shot hit its mark or that shot put him down they might not be giving consideration to how they wanted to die.
Inhaling, Olivia stood again, firing two quick shots through the passenger window. The ricochet told Lilly she had missed and instinctively she held her breath. Alex closed her eyespraying for the impossibleand waited for the inevitable.
A howl that started in the distance blew closer. Tires squealed on approach. Olivia popped up to survey the scene. "Shit."
An engine roared, metal crunched like an empty can underfoot and glass exploded onto the ground. Olivia emptied the gun at the men, whose attention had been drawn away momentarily. A hit, albeit nonfatal, was her last act as savior. She flopped beside Alex again, staring at the barren gun in her grip.
Car doors clicked open and the shooting started anew. Lilly listened to each exchange, noting the pauses for reloading, the tactical method, and the groupingsthe tell-tale signature of law enforcement.
"Officer down!" a voice shouted, presumably into his cell phone.
Another round, another body crumpled. Lungs filled with bloodrasping, choking, aspirating sounded like a chorus of mortality. And finally silence. Another set of footfalls crushed the earth, crunching closer still. The whoosh of traffic on the new turnpike washed over the gruesome scene. Alex pressed her back against the sedanrigid as she awaited her one man firing squad. Wearied, Lilly sagged against the rear quarter-panel as Olivia, wide-eyed and frantic, searched the space between the cars for a solution. Her hands combed the dirt for a bullet, clumsy and fumbling were the fingers that seized the prize. Trembling, she loaded the lone dusty bullet into her gun.
The feet advanced methodically. Olivia crouched near the bumper and prayed the adrenaline would be enough to take him down. When his polished shoes came into view her arms shot out, snaking around his ankles, jerking backwards and lifting him off his feet.
With a sickening crack, their assailer landed flat on his back. He was still shaking it off when Olivia scrambled on top of him, knee pressing into his chest, the lone bullet quivering in the chamber of her weapon as the muzzle dug into his forehead.
"Benson!" Agent Hammond's voice boomed. "What the hell are you doing?"
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