Olivia knocked on the door to the first apartment on the floor and was unable to conceal her surprise at the sight of the barefoot four-year-old who answered the door. The tips of the little girl’s toes were spotted with something dark red.
“Hi,” she said softly, crouching to come nearer to the child.
“Yes?” answered the girl with eyes that were a lighter brown than Olivia’s.
“My name’s Olivia. Is your mom home?”
“Yes,” said the little girl and she stared back at Olivia without making a move to inform said parent of Olivia’s presence.
“Can you get her for-”
“BiCi!” rang a woman’s voice from further in the apartment. “I know you didn’t answer that door when I told you not to!”
The light-skinned black woman stormed into view, but paused once she saw Olivia standing at the door. Olivia pulled out her badge and the woman stiffened.
The little girl obeyed her mother and quickly ran to stand in front of her.
“I’m Detective Benson,” said Olivia, waving her badge again. “I’ve been questioning some of your neighbors this morning. May I have your name?”
“Ms. Tremont, has your daughter been with you all morning?”
“Yeah, we were just getting ready to go. I’m taking her to the sitter’s.”
Olivia bent down toward the little girl again. “Bionna…could you hold up one of your feet for me?”
The girl obliged, but her mother pulled her closer, a strong scorn spreading rapidly across her face.
“You mind telling me what this is all about? BiCi’s been here with me all morning long.”
Olivia sighed. “There was a woman found about a block from here.”
“What’s BiCi got to do with it?”
“It looks like she had some children with her at the time of her death and we found footprints. Your daughter has red all over her toes.”
She held her daughter tighter as she shook her head. “Bionna’s been with me. She got into my polishes last night and I didn’t have to time scrub it this morning. Who got killed?”
“A young woman. Her name was Whitney-”
“Tarver?” Michelle’s eyes grew wide and Olivia could see the grip on her daughter tighten further.
“You knew her?”
Michelle closed her eyes and ran a hand over her face. “BiCi, go in your room and play.” The little girl bounced off toward a back bedroom and Michelle sighed. “Yeah, I knew Whitney. She was our sitter. She takes care of Dana’s daughter in the morning and they let me take BiCi over there later on when I gotta go to work. I can’t believe this.”
“I’m so sorry,” said Olivia.
“How’d it happen?”
“It looks like she was stabbed early this morning.”
Michelle shook her head. “I just can’t believe it. Does Dana know?”
“We’re working on that right now. If you’ve got any contact information for her, we could get to them all the sooner.”
“Bionna…she accidentally threw my phone in the toilet this morning. The thing’s broke and I lost all the numbers.” The stress lines of the single mother deepened as she closed her eyes and shook her head again.
“I see. Well, if you-”
“Wait! What happened to Cecilia?”
“Cecilia?” Olivia’s mind raced as she thought. Cecilia…the original target.
“Dana and Malcolm’s daughter. Her name’s Cecilia and the both of them leave for work real early in the morning. If Whitney got killed, then something must’ve happened to CiCi and the other one.”
“What other one?”
“They have a little white girl with them, but I don’t know her name.”
“What does she look like?”
“White. She’s got red hair. She’s not theirs though.”
“Someone else brings her to be watched during the day?”
“No, ‘cause when I pick up BiCi at night, the girl is with them. She’s been with them since at least Thanksgiving and I’d been meaning to ask, but…But, where are they?”
“We’re canvassing the area looking for them. They were not found at the house.”
“Yes, it’s looking so.”
Michelle ran a hand over her face. “There’s that guy out there…I heard on the news this morning you all just found another girl.”
“We did,” said Olivia, “but my entire squad is dedicated to finding him too.”
“You said your name’s Benson?” asked Michelle, now squinting at her.
“Yes. Detective Olivia Benson.”
Michelle’s right eyebrow rose toward her hairline. “You know, Clayton Banks had some things to say about you the other day.”
“And, I’ve got some things to say to him too,” said Olivia as she resisted rolling her eyes, “but regardless, I’m focused on finding the killer of those girls and Whitney’s killer.
“Man…” said Michelle. “All this and…and BiCi’s opening doors to strangers by herself…”
At that moment, the echoing call of a child’s voice saying “uh-oh” following a loud crash wafted in the living room and Michelle squeezed her eyes shut as she shook her head.
Olivia pursed her lips and patted Michelle’s arm as she handed her a business card. “If you know of anything that might help us catch this guy, please don’t hesitate to call.”
“I will,” said Michelle sighing.
The remaining tenants were not nearly as helpful or as endearing as Michelle and Olivia continued on to the next buildings on the block tense with the little information she had received.
It was past by the time she had completed her canvass
and yet, only Michelle Tremont had any information to give.
Tired and cold, Olivia leaned against the gate that surrounded the brownstone to make some final notes in her Blackberry. As the luncheon hours had dwindled, so did the number of people on the street, yet Olivia was still surprised to discern a small squeak on the city streets. She turned toward the noise and saw a small child with red hair hobbling toward her.
“S’cuse me!” yelled the little girl as she moved forward, clutching at her side. “Can…can you find a cop for me?”
Every unrealized maternal instinct within Olivia heightened at the sight of the pale child and she hurried forward to reach the little girl. The January wind was blowing in several directions and the girl was without a coat and wearing only a light sundress.
A tightening in her chest grew great as her eyes fell to the little girl’s feet. Her bare feet were nearly black as she stood on the dirty cement, but there was no mistaking the hints of red that appeared with each step she took.
“My name’s Olivia and I’m a detective,” she said, kneeling in front of the girl to stare her directly in the eye. “Are you okay?”
“Um…yes,” said the little girl. “Everything’s fine. I just…I think I need to talk to a cop.”
“You can talk to me, sweetie,” said Olivia.
“Um…I…,” began the little girl, but her body started to shake in front of Olivia and she pressed her hand against her side once more.
Dear Jesus…it’s her.
The girl’s light brown eyes were glancing everywhere except at Olivia and Olivia could see that the girl who looked no more than seven-years-old was on the verge of tears.
“How ‘bout we start with your name?” said Olivia. “Can you tell me your name?”
“Okay, Emily. Can you-”
“No,” said the little girl, now staring direct and stern at Olivia. “Not Emily. Emm-lay. Two syllables. Emmlay.”
Olivia could not wipe the surprise from her face as she stared at the girl who had corrected her, surprised by the sudden change in her demeanor and also the proper use and context of the word “syllable.”
“Okay, Emmlay,” she said. “How’d you get up here?”
Emmlay shrugged and Olivia took off her own coat.
“I’m going to put my coat around you so you don’t catch cold. Is that okay?”
“Aren’t you gonna get sick without it?” said Emmlay.
The concern brought a small smile to Olivia’s face. “Well, you need it more than me. Where are you’re parents, Emmlay? Do you live up here?”
“I don’t know,” she said. “Mommy’s dead. I was at Aunt Lily’s house and then I was at CiCi’s.”
“So, you were with your aunt…Do you know where your Aunt Lily lives?”
“Not here. We took a long drive and then she told me to stay at CiCi’s house because she had to go to work.”
“Where’s Aunt Lily now?”
Emmlay’s shrug was hindered by Olivia’s coat that hung heavy over her shoulders. “Don’t know. She hasn’t come back.”
“How long has she been gone?”
“I’m not sure. It’s been a long time. I had Thanksgiving at CiCi’s and Santa couldn’t find me here, so CiCi gave me one of her presents.”
“Okay, well who’s CiCi?”
“Is your friend a grown-up like me or is she a girl like you?”
“She’s like me. She’s seven too.”
“And, do you know where CiCi lives?”
Emmlay shook her head, but spoke anyway. “I think she lives back that way. I don’t remember.”
She pointed upward in the direction of a towering set of low-income housing projects, but as she did, the sleeve of Olivia’s coat slid down her arm, revealing a large purple smudge against the pale skin in its wake.
“What happened to your arm?” asked Olivia, but Emmlay quickly pulled the coat sleeve back in place.
“Nothing. Everything’s fine.”
“Everything’s fine?” repeated Olivia, the image of the purple mark on the girl’s arm that had every making of a special victim’s bruise, unable to be shaken from mind.
Emmlay nodded and touched her side again.
“Why are you holding your side?”
“Okay,” said Olivia as she stood. “Well, I think I need to take you to the hospital Emmlay.”
“No!” she said grabbing Olivia’s hand. “I don’t want to go.”
“But, if you’re hurt the doctors there can make you better.”
Emmlay released Olivia and took several steps backward. “I’m not going to the hospital.”
“It’s okay,” said Olivia as she tried to shuffle forward with Emmlay. “I’m just trying to help you.”
“I’m not going to the hospital,” said Emmlay taking another backward step.
“I need to help you if you’re hurt.”
“I’m not hurt. Besides…it’s nothing. Everything’s fine. You can’t help anyway.”
“You can let me try.”
“Everything’s fine. I’m not going to the hospital anymore.”
Olivia sighed. Even under her coat, Emmlay’s sin was growing paler and paler from the cold and there was no telling how long the girl had been exposed to the winter air. Some parts of Harlem were quickly becoming the newest “up and coming” places for the neo-liberal, youthful wealth of the city and it was not so rare to find white faces among the seas of dark in the streets north of 120th Street, but nothing about Emmlay sounded like she came from a yuppie home nor looked like she lived in the projects for any length of time. The question How’d she get up here? was barely answered by the girl’s description of her aunt and friend and Olivia felt her stomach twist again at Emmlay’s refusal to go to the hospital.
“Okay,” said Olivia. “Well, I can’t just leave you here on the street, Emmlay.” She thought for a moment. “What’s CiCi’s last name?”
Oh Christ. CiCi is a nickname for Cecilia…
She an urge to probe Emmlay with questions about what she knew the murder and Cecilia Watterson right then and there, but the sight of the little beginning to shake on her bare feet from the cold, brought Olivia back to her sense.
“All right, sweetie. How ‘bout I take you back to my precinct? I can get you something warmer to wear, okay?”
Emmlay blinked eyes that neared the colour of her own red hair. “I guess so.”
Ten minutes later, Olivia had Emmlay buckled in her car after wrapping her in blanket to help keep her warm, and was driving south toward Precinct 16 when her partner’s name popped up on her phone display.
“Liv, it’s me,” said Elliot into the phone a minute later. “I’ve got nothing out here so far and Munch and Fin didn’t turn up anything either.”
“I had, uh….a little more luck. How are we on a name for the girl yet?”
“We’re still working on her and
“I’m heading back to the house. Elliot, I’ve, uh…” Olivia paused as she glanced at Emmlay who stared back at her with large inquisitive eyes. “El, there’s something we’ll need to tend to once I get back.”
“Why? What’s going on?”
“I’ll tell you when I get back.”