Chapter Two


Friday January 12, 2007

Tompkins Square Park, New York


Tompkins Square Park by day was a beautiful inlet to the city, with its large, old-growth trees and picnicking areas, its baseball field and quaint, yet urban pathways. By night, the park was illuminated by the lights of the bordering streets of Avenues A and B, and single persons walking through carried a step quicker than that taken North or West of the park. The bitter January wind rustled the residual leaves that lied on dirty snow piles and the park itself seemed to shiver against the cold.

Elliot stepped out of his precinct car, thinking of Sunday afternoons he had spent in and around the park as a child himself, and those spent when he and Kathy were young and still without children. Less than a hundred feet from where he had parked, the red and blue lights of NYPD squad cars lit the surrounding trees and pavement in a flashing purple light. He walked toward the scene quickly, preparing himself with each step. It was a ritual he had performed with every murder scene to which he was called and this morning would be no different.

"You sure it's the same guy?" Elliot asked in the direction of the medical examiner as he approached the scene.

"I can't say for an absolute certainty yet," the black woman, medical examiner replied standing from the tree-covered area.

Her long, curly, black hair was pulled back into an elegant pony-tail and her large, dark brown eyes were inquisitive, yet filled with sorrow for a picture she had seen far too often as a medical examiner in the city. As the county medical examiner associated with Manhattan’s Special Victims Unit, Dr. Melinda Warner worked with the murdered victims of rapists and child molesters every day, and though she saw the worst filth society could produce many times a day, she was still not quite accustomed to it.

"I'm willing to bet he is," Melinda continued. "Just from the positioning of the body and the ligature marks on his neck. He was beaten and sodomized…the same as the Lewendale boy."

"No box this time," Elliot said forcing his hands into the fingertips of a latex glove.

"No," Melinda said. "And, I don't see anything on the ground to denote that he ever laid one down here."

"This is the other side of the park," Elliot said as he looked around through the flashing lights. "Jacob Lewendale was found by the baseball field. The basketball courts are just up the way from here."

He often spoke his thoughts aloud, mostly in Olivia's company, just in case anyone around him could add any insight to his observations.

"We're starting a canvass of the area," an older, uniformed officer informed Elliot. "We’re guessing this guy’s gotta be local."

Elliot only nodded as he came upon Melinda's vantage point and stared at the lifeless body of a twelve-year-old boy. They had shared this view several times already since the New Year and Elliot hoped this was not indicative of the rest of the month.

The boy's blond hair was browned from the mud and dirt from the surrounding ground under the trees and he looked so very thin that Elliot simply shook his head. He probably never stood a chance against his attacker.

"How are we on an ID?" he asked.

"Nothing at all, yet," Melinda said. "We just got lucky with the other one."

"Not lucky enough," Elliot whispered.

"What've we got?" Olivia's voice shouted from the patrol cars a few yards away from the scene.

Melinda sighed. "Another white male, approximately twelve years old. He's been raped and strangled."

"Just like Jacob Lewendale," Olivia said when she finally got to where they were standing.

"Minus the box," Elliot said.

"We sure it's the same guy?"

"The ligature marks on his neck looks the same, but..." Melinda stood over the boy's body. "Doesn't look like there's any fluids present, though."

"Wonder why he decided to wear a condom this time?" Olivia asked aloud, more to herself than to the doctor and the detective standing before her.

"He's getting better at what he does," Elliot said.

He bent down and took a long look at the solemn face that would never again wake and made a mental note to check Missing Persons reports as soon as he and Olivia got back to their precinct.

The air grew colder even though small rays of light were beginning to shine on the horizon, and Elliot took out a weathered note pad as his eyes began to fully take in the scene. He could see Olivia doing the same a few feet away from and a right, old ritual began. 

They had been working together for a little more than eight years, and all those in the SVU could see, few partnerships were as solid as theirs. In a unit where people left sometimes days after volunteering or being assigned, Elliot and Olivia had stuck it through together. Sometimes the partnership was seamless and they were like a machine. They could work in tandem and few words were needed to track down a criminal or investigate a dire situation. Elliot could count on Olivia to simply know and she could do the same. Like with many pairings between males and females on the force, there had always been a bit of speculation on just how in sync they were. All talk aside, they had been nothing but professional throughout the course of their partnership...until last May.

Elliot nodded toward Olivia who strode off in the direction of several officers on the scene to begin her line of questioning. As he nodded, he caught something in her eyes that told him they were still not in sync; still not back to where they used to be. The connection he had valued to the point that he had taken it for granted was still lost.

They had argued heavily over their last major case and he wondered whether they could get back what they used to have. His anger combined with her sarcasm and snide comments during the case had led them to a place he would rather not revisit.

 Olivia had tried everything in her power to get Elliot to open up to her when he was going through the beginnings of his separation. She had seen it building over several years; he was slowly losing his place in his family and he refused to talk about it. She had offered herself as someone he could talk to, but he continuously pushed her away from him.

Although she could never openly discuss cases with her, Olivia had often spoken of her worsening partnership with Elliot to Maya. Maya would always give a positive quip, stating that perhaps they needed some space from one another; space and time to put things back into perspective. They received both last May after Olivia had come too close to one of her marks. The child rapist, Victor Gitano, had been holding two children hostage and she had been a step too close behind him when he had lashed out with the blade he held. Another moment closer and it would have been the end of her.

When they finally tracked down Gitano, he had murdered one of his hostages and nearly killed Elliot when he took him captive as well. A frequent nightmare of Olivia’s was Gitano telling her that he would kill her partner before her while she held him at gunpoint. Once Gitano had been taken down by a sniper cop, Elliot and Olivia had time to talk and their conversation turned down a road that made Olivia’s inside squirm. She could not shoot Gitano when he had Elliot by the throat because she would not chance Gitano killing Elliot first, and Elliot ran to her side when Gitano had knifed her instead of pursuing Gitano, resulting in the death of one of Gitano’s hostages. She and Elliot had become too close and she decided to leave the unit. Once she had had a taste of time away from Elliot, she was only too excited to jump on an offer from the FBI’s New York branch months later in August.

Even after Olivia had returned to New York and the SVU, things between she and Elliot were still tense. They had said things to one another; things they had never once uttered let alone allow show in facial expressions or movements. Instead of their partnership flowing effortlessly like it had in the past seven years, there was now strain, anxiety and, of course, conflict. May had sparked a match in their relationship and their separation in August did nothing but fan the flames. They noticed things in one another they had deliberately ignored in the past; a sway of hips or shifting muscles, the pure blue of one’s eyes or the white flash in the other’s smile. Each knew the only things that kept their emotions from turning pubescent were Olivia’s current relationship and the state of Elliot’s past one.

Olivia began her line of questions to the surrounding officers and they each stood respectfully and answered one by one. Technically, there was no real difference between a uniformed officer and a plain-clothes detective, but there was a reverence held for detectives, especially those in the SVU.

A few yards away, Elliot questioned a second set of detectives.

"Who found the body?" he asked the shortest of the three standing before him.

"Guy named Drover," the officer said. He pointed toward the well-lit patrol cars. "He's over there. Pretty shook up too."

Elliot nodded. "What's he doing out here? It was probably three in the morning when he found the body."

The officer shrugged. "Said he was takin' a walk."

Elliot smirked. "A walk?"

The officer smirked in return. "A walk."

"Well, all right," Elliot said.

He began to stride off in the direction where Jeffrey Drover stood near the line of flashing squad cars. The moment he began walking, he saw an officer point Olivia in Drover's direction, and she too began walking toward him. They caught eyes and nodded toward one another. They came together and made a direct track toward Drover. Together they towered over most of those encountered and although his broad shoulders sometimes dwarfed her thin frame, they always walked in perfect stride. Their every movement together commanded nothing but respect and veneration.

"Jeffrey Drover?" Olivia said once they had reached him.

"Yeah," he said turning to face them.

"I'm Detective Benson," she said, "and this is Detective Stabler. We need to ask you a few questions."

"Yeah, sure," Drover said solemnly.

Elliot took in every part of Drover as Olivia began to question him. He was thin and his long, drawn face, though oddly undistinguished, gave the impression that he was a bit older than his thirty years would suggest. Large, grey eyes that refused to reach Olivia's, perfectly reflected the patrol car lights as they stared at the ground. His face, covered with a light, blond stubble, was soft, likeable and attractive and appeared fairly tan against his dark brown hair. He held a face that anyone could trust.

Drover's black, spring-like jacket flapped open and shut as Olivia rattled questions at him and his loose-fitting jeans seemed stiffened against the cold. While the jeans could be fitting for any occasion, Elliot did not like that Drover was wearing a light jacket in the middle of January. Even without a heavy coat, Drover did not look at all chilled by the winter air, which raised the question: What had he been doing to keep so warm? He gave Drover another quick glance and decided that he did not like him; from his all-too-handsome and trusting face to the way he had his hands stuffed into his jeans pockets.

"I just can't believe someone would do this to Connor," Drover said shifting on his feet.

"You identified the victim?" Olivia asked eyebrows high on her forehead.

"Yeah," he said. "I used to coach his U-10 soccer team. I've trained him and a bunch of other kids on and off for the past couple of years." He sighed. "I just can't believe someone would do something like this to him."

"How well did you know him?" Olivia said.

Drover shrugged. "Well enough, I suppose. Came from a normal, nuclear family. Never caused any trouble...well, anymore than any of the other boys. He was a really great kid."

"What were you doing out here this early in the morning?" Elliot asked, little sympathy reflecting in his voice.

Drover blinked twice at Elliot, a bit caught off guard by the question. "I was just going for a run."

"In your jeans?" Elliot said squinting in skepticism.

"I've got some spandex pants on underneath," Drover said without missing a beat.

"Wouldn't sweats or something been a little better?"

Drover nodded. "I thought about that, but it's laundry day tomorrow and I figured that bigger jeans would be warm enough. I just haven't been able to sleep recently. I'm sure you guys know what it's like to lose sleep over your job."

“Truly,” Olivia said scratching a pen on her notepad. “Did you notice anything out of the ordinary when you were out tonight? Any cars in the area, anything on the ground?”

“You mean besides the dead kid I’ve known for years,” Drover said toward the ground.

Olivia sighed softly. She normally took better care of those who found children in the city. He deserved a little more tact, especially since he had known the victim. “Did you notice anybody in the area when you found him?”

Drover shook his head. “No. No one was out here.”

“Did you touch him at all when you found him?”

“I just called the cops the second I saw it was…was a person.”

“How’d you notice him?” she asked.

“I saw something white near the trees and…I don’t know, I figured someone had dumped something in the park.” He sighed and shifted on his feet again, shaking his head. The detectives could see his eyes were beginning to shine. “I still can’t believe it...I mean I just saw him a couple weeks ago. I just can’t believe it.”

Olivia reached into her pocket and pulled out a white card. “This is my number. Please, call me if you need anything or just need someone to talk to.”

Drover took the card, nodding his head. “Thanks,” he said softly. He stared at Olivia for a long time, almost as if studying her face. “Thanks a lot.”

“Talk to the officers over there and they’ll make sure you get a ride home,” she said breaking the eye contact.

Drover nodded again not really hearing what she had said and just stared at her card, while she and Elliot began to walk back to the crime scene.

“Well,” she sighed. “Do we want to start on Avenue B and work our way West or do you wanna start from the other end of the park?”

“Avenue B,” Elliot said. “And I want to talk to him again.”

“Who? Drover?” she said surprised.

“Yeah,” he said. “I want to bring him in.”

“What?” Olivia had stopped walking. “Elliot, we haven’t even talked to anyone else yet.”

“There’s something…off about him,” Elliot said. “You didn’t see it?”

“I didn’t notice anything off about him, except for maybe running at three in the morning. But he’s not the only New Yorker who gets his jollies risking an early-morning run.”

Elliot shook his head. “I don’t like it. My gut tells me we should look at him a little more.”


“Come on, Liv. What’re the odds that the victim’s old soccer coach is the one who finds him on an early-morning run?”

“The same as the odds on one of the first cops to the scene identifying Jacob Lewendale. What makes you want to jump on Drover? There’s nothing about him that seems liked he’d be anything less than a red-blooded, all-American.”

“Who goes running in regular street clothes in the middle of the night?”

“He didn’t have a drop of blood on him or look even remotely dirty, Elliot. He would’ve got something on him if he dumped the victim here.”

“He didn’t look remotely cold either,” Elliot said. “It’s the middle of January. Who goes out anywhere without a coat? Running or not, his story already isn’t adding up.”

He began to walk down the path, but Olivia caught up with him in three strides.

“Well, I still want to know if anyone in the surrounding apartments noticed or heard anything, before jumping on Drover. You know, do a little police work rather than rely on hunches.”

“Sounds good,” Elliot said sardonically and they began trekking East toward Avenue B.

They canvassed each of the buildings and their respective tenants over the next four hours. They had given instructions to several sets of the officers at the scene to question those in the surrounding buildings on Avenue A and East 7th and 10th streets, but enacted their own canvass in silence between one another.

By nine o’clock in the morning, only one tenant on Avenue B had seen anything; the same black SUV driving past the park continuously around one o’clock. The detectives noted the information, but both doubted the reliability of the neighbor, who looked like he had spent the majority of the previous night drinking a great deal.

“Want to grab a cup before we go in?” Olivia asked Elliot. He agreed and within in thirty minutes, they were sitting in a busy coffee shop at Sixth Avenue and Eleventh Street.

The coffee shop was small and always crowded, with old images of faces smiling in a New York long past. The detectives were regulars to the shop, and while the little man who ran the shop was characteristically rude to the sporadic customers and those who referred to his shop as being on "Avenue of the Americas," he always made sure Manhattan's SVU detectives were well-served. Elliot and Olivia had successfully apprehended the man who had attacked his daughter while she was closing one night, and aside from his tearful thanks when the rapist had been convicted, he always made sure to slip them a piece of pumpkin pie for free.

They both sat silently drinking their coffees and looking over respective notes from the early morning canvass. Elliot stuck a fork into his generous slice of pie; Olivia had declined hers stating it was far too early in the morning for sweets. Although they were just beginning their investigation in the murder, the case was already reaching a disheartening state with virtually no witnesses and few options available, most of which would leave them empty-handed. And, the silence was killing both of them.

"So," Olivia said, her coffee drained, "when do you want to track down Connor Whickfield's family?"

Elliot stared at her for a moment. “I think Warner’s already working on the positive ID. She’ll be calling any minute now.

Olivia nodded and allowed her eyes to wander over the rest of the shop as silence fell over the pair of them again.

“Maybe…” Elliot began. “Maybe I was a little premature jumping on Drover this morning.”

A wave of relief rushed over Olivia as a small smile crept to her lips. “I understand why you did though.” She paused. “If this is the same guy who killed Jacob Lewendale, we’ve got to find him before he gets a better taste for this.”

It was Elliot’s turn to nod at his partner. He pulled out his notepad and flipped the sheets to notes made several days earlier. “What notes did you get last night? I want to compare with the Lewendale case.”

"Yeah," she said taking out her notes. "Same park for both of them, but no box the second time."

"Hang on sec," Elliot said pulling his phone out of his pocket. "Stabler."

"Elliot," Dr. Warner's voice said through the phone. "It's Melinda. I made a little headway on this morning's case. There are definitely spermacides present and the ligature marks on his neck are the same as those on the Lewendale boy. I've also made the positive ID on Connor Whickfield. He's from the Upper West Side too."

Elliot sighed staring at his notes. "Where?"

He heard some papers shuffling through the phone. "210 West 66th. Parents Leroy and Hannah. He's been in the system as a Missing Person since Tuesday. The parents gave us a few of his things to lift his prints."

He wrote down the address, nodding into the phone all the while. "All right. We'll be by in an hour to get a photograph."


He hung up without a valediction and looked up at Olivia who was staring at him expectantly. "That was Warner. She made the positive ID on Connor Whickfield."

"Missing Persons?" she asked.

"Since Tuesday," Elliot said, putting on his coat.

They both headed toward the front door of the shop where the owner told them their coffees were free and that his daughter just made Dean's List at Hudson University.




Whickfield Residence

210 West 66th Street



The Whickfield home so resembled that of Jacob Lewendale's it made Elliot's stomach turn. The bright, busy streets home to many people raising families, held an almost innocence that was rarely seen in the city. The apartment buildings of the two boys looked nearly the same and Jacob Lewendale's family lived just three blocks North of the area.

The detectives quickly walked the steps to the Lewendale home and with just one knock, the front door opened to reveal a frantic woman in her early forties.

"Yes!" she nearly yelled at them.

Elliot and Olivia removed the badges from various pockets and flashed them at the woman.

"My name is Detective Stabler," Elliot said. "And this is Detective Benson..."

"Roy!" she shouted running into the apartment. "Roy! The police are here!" She came back to the door, tears forming at the brim of her eyes. "Have you found any word on Connor? Please tell me you have something!"

"May we come in, ma'am?" Olivia asked.

"Why are asking to come in!" she shouted. "Just tell me! Tell me now. Where is Connor?"

Olivia steadied herself as a gentleman came running to door. He had his father's eyes, she thought.

"I'm Leroy Whickfield," he said putting his arms around his wife who had dissolved into tears.

"Mr. Whickfield..." Olivia said. "We found Connor. I'm so sorry, but he's dead."

She heard an all too familiar wail come from Mrs. Whickfield and Olivia only saw a rush of greying blond hair come toward her as she felt a hard shove come to her midsection. Her balance completely thrown, Olivia felt herself falling backward and braced herself for the impeding fall against the stone steps. Elliot's arm shot out from his side, grabbing hold of Olivia's side and coat flap as she began to fall. When he managed to steady his partner, Elliot shot a glare Mr. Whickfield who was holding his wife to his chest to keep her from launching further attacks on Olivia.

His partner could have been seriously injured. A backwards fall down eight stone steps was likely to break at least one bone and depending on how hard she hit and if she had hit her head, Elliot would have been spending the next few months in and out of hospitals visiting Olivia. All this not withstanding, his stare toward the Whickfields was also filled with compassion and understanding. They had just received the worst news that any parent could ever hear and Elliot knew, if put in the same situation, he might have reacted in a similar fashion. After delivering the same somber to news to parents over and over again, he had been slapped, punched, kicked, screamed at and thrown against walls by parents who refused to believe what they had heard. He hated having to do it and it varied each time the ritual was performed. Some parents were speechless, in a daze of confusion and tears when they received the news. Others acted much like Mrs. Whickfield had. Most were a combination of tears, disbelief and fury.

" When?" Mr. Whickfield said over his wife's screaming into his shirt.

"We're not sure when," Elliot said, "but it looks like sometime within the past forty-eight hours. He was strangled." He did not know whether he should include the fact that Connor had been sodomized at that point. The mother was still screaming over the news of hearing that her son was dead and news of how he died might send both mother and father over the edge.

Mrs. Whickfield removed herself from her husband's grasp and fled into the living room, falling just before reaching the sofa placed perfectly in the room.

"Is there a place where we can talk?" Olivia asked quietly.

Mr. Whickfield nodded and ushered the detectives into the apartment.




"He was always so good. That's what everyone would say to us. Connor was such a good kid."

Leroy Whickfield's hands trembled as he attempted to rest his teacup onto the table that sat in the small dining area."

"He's our only child," he continued. "We married young, Hannah and I, and we tried for years to have children. We both've come from large families and wanted at least five, but...the doctors could never tell us what was wrong. All the tests and everything, and no one ever knew what was wrong. And when Connor came...he was our little miracle."

Elliot and Olivia sat opposite Mr. Whickfield, both with their hands folded and neither touching the tea the grieving man had made.

"Never caused one bit of trouble. Ever. I can't remember having to tell him to do anything more than once. He was always ready to go to church on Sundays, always had his homework done. He always had a lot of friends and got excellent grades...Hannah and I would lie awake at night and wonder how God blessed us with such a perfect child."

"Mr. Whickfield," Olivia said softly wishing she could allow the man to continue on about his son forever. "Do you remember anyone paying Connor any extra attention lately? Anyone who looked out of the ordinary around him or the rest of your family?"

He shook his head. "I don't know. I really wouldn't know. Connor was always so popular...he was always telling us about someone new he had met."

"Can you think of any reason anyone might have to hurt you or your family?"

Mr. Whickfield shook his head again and sighed. "Look, I know you're probably used to dealing with mobsters or something, but we were just ordinary, boring people. We don't gamble or owe any large debts and we aren't involved in any illegal activities or anything. We just work, we pay our taxes and we loved our son."

Olivia felt Elliot shift in his seat next to her and she wondered again just how much this case was already affecting him.

"You said Connor had a lot of friends," Olivia began. "What kinds of things did he do? Did he do a lot of sports or did he hang out a lot?"

"He was always out," a voice said from the dining room doorway. Mrs. Whickfield, having recovered from the initial shock of hearing of her son's death, stood just behind where the detectives sat, looking extremely distressed. Her blonde hair with its slivers of silver was tousled and standing on end in places, and blue eyes appeared dull behind the torrent of red in what should have been the whites of her eyes.

"Connor played baseball and basketball and soccer," she continued stepping into the room. "He was constantly active. The only we way could keep track of him was through his cell phone."

"When was the last time you saw or spoke to him?” Elliot asked.

Mrs. Whickfield took the untouched tea that sat in front of Olivia and slowly sat down next to her husband. "Monday night. He had indoor soccer practice that night and he was supposed to call us once they were finished so we could pick him up. When he hadn't heard from him by midnight, we immediately called the police...It's strange because we thought the worst, but really didn't believe it. To think that something could have happened to our little boy. Our perfect little boy..."

Her voice trailed off and she dissolved into tears once again as her husband enveloped her in his arms.

"When you're up to it," Olivia said. "Do you think you can give us a list of Connor's friends? Anyone who knew him well?"

Mr. Whickfield nodded, but continued to rock his sobbing wife.

Thirty minutes later, the detectives were walking back toward their car, bickering slightly over Elliot's last comments before leaving the Whickfield home.

"Do you know a Jeffrey Drover?" Elliot had said as he and Olivia were walking out the door.

"Yes," Mr. Whickfield had said. "He was Connor's soccer coach a few years ago. He gives the boys personal training sessions about once a month now. Why?" 

Elliot had paused a long moment before replying. "He was the one who found Connor this morning."

Mr. Whickfield stared at him in disbelief. "You don't think...," he had said. "I mean we've known Jeff for years. He's always been great with the kids. You don't really think..."

"We'll be talking with everyone in Connor's life," Olivia had interjected, half dragging Elliot out the door.

Minutes later the detectives were snipping back and forth at one another.

"You had no right to bring up Drover!" Olivia shouted as they reached the car.

"Olivia," he said. "As far as I'm concerned, he's a suspect, and we are obligated to find out the truth about him."

"You can't just go around telling anyone who'll listen that you like Drover for this! He just rubbed you the wrong way and now you're launching some kind of war against him. There was no reason to mention Drover to them, especially since there's no reason to suspect him."

"He says he just happened to be walking around at midnight. In the same park where Connor was found. That's just too convenient for me."

"Elliot, there is no evidence that Drover's involved with in anything other than having poor judgment."

"How much are you willing to bet we find a correlation between Drover and the Lewendale boy, too?"

He glared at her as she stood mouth open, unable to reply. On face value, Elliot had a valid point. It was more than intriguing that the Whickfields had had a close relationship with the man who found their son murdered, but on the other hand, she had heard of stranger coincidences previously. They also needed to consider that letting Drover's name out too early in the investigation not only impeded on his civil rights, but could also cause him run if he was actually involved.

"Elliot...what if...what if they'd said he was a creep because they just didn't like him. That one thing could've led us on a wild goose chase after Drover when he's completely innocent."

"It wouldn't be the first time that mistake had been made."

"But it doesn't mean we can just go after Drover like that."

"I don't understand why you're going to bat for a guy who may have had contact with both victims. Our first real suspect."

"And, I don't understand why you're pulling out all stops for a guy you decided that you just didn't like, right from the start! Besides, Elliot," she continued. "We haven't talked to anyone else in Connor Whickfield's life and we don't know who he could've met the night he was killed."

Elliot shook his head at her and broke eye contact, staring at the car door.

"And it's like you said, 'may have had contact...' If we talk to the Lewendales and they mention Drover...maybe he'll be worth looking at, but not until we have proof of something. We need something more to go on aside from gut feeling. Do you really think Casey'll be able to get a warrant to search him if we've got nothing but praises from the victim's parents and a bad feeling from you?"

"We both know that gut feeling has saved more people than it's screwed over."

Olivia sighed.

"Okay fine," he said. "We'll lay off Drover for a bit, but how are you going to feel when he's killed a few more kids and we coulda had him after this one?"

"The same way I'll feel if we find out he's killed these two kids and he bolts because he knows we're onto him and then we can't get any resolution for their families."

Elliot shook his head and got in the car, slamming the door shut in the process.

Their little tiff had drawn a bit of an audience from people walking by and Olivia felt her face grow hot at the idea that she and Elliot had let their argument escalate the way it did. She got into the car and they drove to Connor Whickfield's middle school in silence.




MS 251 Ulysses S. Grant School

283 West 70th Street



Middle School 251's red bricks shone bright as the sun showered the small building with light and gave the appearance of comfort and warmth despite the striking cold. Pre-teen children were streaming out of the doors and began congregating around the concrete steps in front of the school. Small groups appeared almost instantly separating the grinning jocks and the tense nerds, the blond popular girls and the sullen late-bloomers and not even the winter air could quell the flirtatious attitudes of the more adventurous youths.

The navy, police-issued Taurus pulled in a space found across the street from the school and the detectives quickly strode across the street. They stood out immediately, drawing stares from a few of the students, as they walked in silence into the school. The task before them was sometimes just as gruesome as the one from which they had come. Kids, especially pubescent ones, had the tendency to be even more unpredictable than adults when confronted with news of death. They also lied more often and stymied the detective's best efforts to find the truth about any individual, usually to the detriment of all those involved.

Inside, the building was brightly lit, and the school's trophy case brandished several awards in athletics as well as academics, though the latter were scattered further back in of the case. Students crowded around lockers that lined the walls, gathering coats and hats, most faces filled with delight that school was finished for the day.

The detectives found their way to the school's front office, flashing badges to one of the braver hall monitors who had asked if he could help them, and asked if the principal was available.

Principal Harry Randall was a massive man at six-foot-four and appeared to have handled his share of middle school fights and difficult cases in general, but despite his unyielding demeanor, the brims of the aging man's eyes grew red behind round glasses at the news of Connor's murder.

"I just can't believe it," Randall said, sitting into the weathered leather chair that sat behind the faux-oak desk. "Connor...Are you sure?"

Elliot nodded. "We made a positive identification with his parents this morning."

"My God," Randall said as he put a hand to his furrowed brow. "I just talked to them yesterday. I told them they shouldn't get too worried just yet. That he'd turn up all right."

"Is there a way you could give us some information on some of Connor's friends?" Olivia asked. "His parents had the numbers for a couple, but we didn't want to push them considering..."

Randall nodded. "Yeah...uh...there's Carter Latham. Those two are...were always as thick as thieves, but...uh...It's hard to think up anyone too specific right way. Connor has always been so popular. The kids are really going to have a time when they hear about this."

"We understand," Elliot said softly.

"There's Chris Stradding and Steve McPhillips. They live close to Connor and I think they all went to elementary school together. And, yes, Branden Hastings and Nicholas Baumgardner. I think all five of them all played soccer with Connor. But...uh...I'd talk to Carter first. If there's anyone who might know if Connor was up to something, Carter would know."

"Do you have a list of his teachers?" Elliot asked. "We'd like a chance to talk to them if we could."

"Yeah, I can get you his schedule," Randall said turning toward the computer on his desk. "Just give me a second."

"Have you noticed anyone watching the school lately?" Olivia asked while he typed. "Anyone who's been paying special attention to Connor or any of his friends?"

"We're a middle school, Detective," he said sternly. "All of the staff are trained to keep an eye out for individuals who shouldn't be around the schools. If anyone had noticed anything, they would have notified me."

Minutes later in the teacher’s lounge of the school, Elliot and Olivia spoke with all eight of Connor’s teachers in one setting. Each one of them had the same things to say: Connor was an angel, everyone like him and that they were completely shocked. Two had asked what this world was coming to and another actually erupted in tears. A short while later, after promising to do what they could to find the person or persons responsible for Connor's death, the detectives were making their way through Manhattan traffic back to their police precinct, the 1-6.

The tall, multi-story building was a flurry of blue and white as officers wearing various uniforms actively carried out the mission "To Protect and Serve." Elliot and Olivia rode the elevator to the fifth floor, the Special Victims Unit, and his early caffeine fix waning, Elliot poured both he and Olivia a cup of slightly old coffee.

The small, brown coffee stand overlooked the array of desks and tables that scattered the floor of the SVU and it was a crucial element of the unit’s atmosphere. All those in the unit were overworked and as a good night's sleep was such a rare commodity for either the desk clerks or the detectives themselves, the coffee pot was constantly delivering a stream of the dark stimulant.

Elliot handed Olivia her coffee, dark with two sugars, and sat down at his desk with his own, dark three sugars, that was set opposite against hers. Every inch of space was used on either desk, covered by countless open cases, follow-up notes, and pending court appearances. The brown tops were weathered, slightly scratched and held several ring stains where coffee cups had sat, continually filled, well into the midnight hours.

He kept multiple pictures of each of his children and kept the sole image of his once whole family hidden behind his stack of phone messages. On Olivia's desk sat a series of framed photographs that were each at varying degrees of exposure due to her own stacks of paper: one of she and her mother, one of she and Maya from when they were in college, and one of Jillian's sons who referred to her as "Aunt Liv." She had considered adding an image of her and Jonathan to the array, but decided against it after remembering a comment Elliot had once made about her having to change the picture in the “boyfriend” frame quite often.

            Elliot glanced up at Olivia as she took a long drink of her coffee and thought for a moment on all the others who had sat in that seat throughout his years in the unit. His first partner in the unit, Detective Flannery, had showed Elliot the proverbial ropes when he first came to the unit and taught him everything he knew. After Flannery there had been two others who did not last long and then there was of course, Olivia. When she left for Oregon in the summer past, Elliot was given a new partner. Dani Beck, the curly haired beauty, struck Elliot in a way unbecoming of NYPD detectives and, thankfully, she did not last long in the unit. As he recalled the pure delight that ran through him when Olivia once again occupied that desk across from him, she handed him a file he needed to sign and he snapped back to the present.

A few feet away from Olivia and Elliot's desk pair sat the desks of Detectives John Munch and Odafin Tutuola.

Munch had been on the force for more years than anyone could remember. The bespectacled, three-time divorcee had worked as a detective in Baltimore’s Homicide for more than twenty years, before deciding to come to Manhattan and continue on a different path. He had previously thought that dealing with something other than the constant murders seen in Homicide would make a better, brighter path for him, however, Munch, like so many others who came to the SVU, found that dealing with so many living victims was far worse than the more straightforward task of tracking down murderers. Living victims meant an actual person who could describe every, single thing that happened to them. In the end, however, Munch enjoyed knowing that his work eventually helped victims and could send them on better paths rather than simply providing empathy to families after-the-fact.

He had a way of keeping the dark setting of rapes and child molestations on a lighter side, by cracking jokes when he could and adding an air of conspiracy theory wherever possible. For Munch, everything was connected and even his work in the SVU, regardless of whether or not others wanted to hear about it, held some kind of intrigue to it.

John's demeanor contrasted sharply with that of his younger partner. Odafin, nearly always called "Fin," had been transferred into the SVU after serving in Narcotics for several years. The light-toned, black American rarely opened up to the other detectives preferring instead to remain stoic and keep a cool vigilance. His time with Narcotics had hardened him in many ways and Fin had ways of retrieving answers from suspects that was matched by few others. Over the years, Fin had let down his guard through the constant stream of heart-breaking victims to even the acceptance of his homosexual son.

Fin had joined the unit seven years earlier, and while he had not planned on it being a permanent shift, he stayed regardless. He had been told some of the horror stories regarding the SVU prior to coming, but Fin, as the tough New York cop he was, knew he could handle anything. Most cases affected all of the detectives, but Fin remained strong against all the crimes against humanity he had seen. Every once in a while, however, he removed himself from a case when he knew he needed time away from the unit.

He had grown so accustomed to the conspiracies and "shake-downs" of criminals in Narcotics that it took him a while to gain a sympathetic ear and allow himself to feel for the victims. Fin would never openly admit it, but the hugs from rape victims he had helped and the overflowing thanks he received from the parents of children he had saved from the hands of pedophiles was all he needed to keep him going.

Fin threw a nod of his head in the direction of the detectives to acknowledge their presence and continued updating a case from his own hefty caseload. Elliot nodded back and rubbed his hands across his face, taking in the rest of the unit's space out of sight for a moment.

The unit was open and spread out across a large, arena-like space. It was crowded and filled with desks, tables and multiple dry-erase and state-of-the-art electronic bulletin boards and monitors throughout the office to aid the detectives as they mapped out the actions of criminals and victims. On the far end of the center stood the office of Donald Cragen, Captain over the Manhattan Special Victims Unit.

The captain had reached his position nearly twenty years earlier, however, due to a number of political issues arising in his career, he could not manage to get promoted. Problems with alcohol reoccurring every once in a while notwithstanding, Cragen remained diligent in his work. He held a kind face beset by soft, brown eyes and although the majority of his hair had long since gone, the few wisps of grey that remained shaped him well.

Inside the office, Cragen stood from his desk, taller than average with a build that suggested he was once an athlete, and stared through the blinds of the large window in his office. He too had been awakened with the news that a young boy had been found in Tompkins Square Park and he had just gotten off the phone with his boss who wanted an immediate account of his detectives’ efforts to find this murderer. As the day proceeded, he had been updated with a few pieces of information regarding the case, but he primarily depended on his two lead detectives to feed him what he needed.

He glanced behind him at the white-faced clock that hung on the wooden panels of the office and sighed. Catching a glimpse of the many photos and accommodations that lined the walls of the office and led the eye to the rollaway bed that stood in the corner of the office, Cragen knew it was going to be a long weekend. They were only just beginning the case, and the more dire the case, the more likely it was that he would be spending his nights on the hard mattress of the bed he kept in the office.

“People,” Cragen said, as he marched out of his office, his hand square in his trouser pockets. “What have you got for me on this newest victim?”

He spoke directly to Elliot and Olivia and though they had each had at least ten opened cases bearing down upon them, they knew exactly of which victim he spoke.

“We talked to the parents and the teachers,” Elliot said. “And we’re going to give his friends a chance to get home before questioning them.”

“Anyone have anything on him so far?” Cragen asked, a frustrated wrinkle appearing in his brow.

Olivia shook her head. “Nothing so far. Everyone we talk to just keeps saying the same thing. Connor was an angel. Connor was such as good kid…”

“We found one tenant,” Elliot said, “on Avenue B who said he saw a black SUV going around the park a few times around midnight.”

“But,” Olivia said. “He’d been downing tequila alone for most of the night, so there’s no telling what he actually saw.”

Cragen stared at a space past the two detectives for a moment. “Wasn’t there someone from the Lewendale case who said something about a black SUV?”

Olivia picked up a manila folder and rifled through several pages.

“Yeah,” she said. “Marcus Valentino played on Jacob Lewendale’s soccer team…he said the last time he saw Jacob, he was talking to someone in a black truck.”

Quiet fell over all of them as the realization that they were truly dealing with a serial killer hit home.

“What did the medical examiner have to say about the two of them?” Cragen asked.

“There’s no DNA this time,” Elliot said, “But Melinda says everything looks nearly identical in both murders.”


Olivia and Elliot exchanged glances and the level of tension rose several degrees in the room. Fin shook his head at the pair of them and returned to his gaze to his paperwork. He wondered vaguely whether or not his co-workers would be able to get themselves back together. The detectives shared an icy stare for almost a full minute before Elliot spoke.

“There’s a guy,” he said. “Jeffrey Drover. He found Connor Whickfield and he also knew him.”

“What did the parents have to say?” Cragen asked.

“They said he was a stand up citizen,” Olivia interrupted. “And I know I didn’t see anything otherwise in him.”

Elliot glared at her. “I don’t like him. When he found the body, he said he’d been running, but he was dressed in street clothes.”

“But, he there was nothing else extraordinary about him this morning,” Olivia added.

Cragen glanced between them and frowned. “Well, daylight’s burning and the longer it takes for us to find a lead, the longer it’ll take us to track down this guy. I want you two to start on the friends of the Whickfield boy. Bring up this Drover and then see if there’s any other connection to the Lewendale case. Fin, you and Munch will talk to the neighbors once Munch gets back. You’re also catching tonight.”

Fin nodded, but said nothing, having already known he would be the detective on-call that night. Elliot and Olivia stood, their respective coffees just barely beginning to tingle in their bloodstreams and grabbed their coats.

“Well, that was two hours I’ll never get back,” John Munch said as he strode into the squad room.

“Where’ve you been?” Cragen asked he walked toward them.

“Wallowing in that heated menagerie of lies, deceit and black robes,” he said.

“Hell?” Fin asked a small smirk appearing on his normally stoic face.

“No, the courthouse,” Munch joked. “The perp’s back in his jail cell and his lawyer’s being held on contempt charges when he tried the screaming approach when it came to me. Perhaps they’ll have a chance to re-strategize while sharing bunks for a few days.”

Elliot shook his head and he and Olivia walked toward the elevators on the floor.




Carter Latham had the same dark blond hair and bright blue eyes seen in Connor Whickfield, but his face was covered in a dusting of freckles that would most likely disappear by the time he finished high school. He had a despondent expression on his face that looked eerily similar to the one on Connor when he was found.

Carter's parents sat on either side of him, his mother gently rubbing his back while tears welled in her eyes. The entire family sat on one side of their dining room table, and Connor sat with his chin in his hands and his elbows propped up on the table.

"Are you sure?" Carter said, squinting across the table in Olivia's direction. "I mean...How could he be dead?"

 Fat teardrops splashed from his mother’s eyes onto the table and his mother wrapped her arms around him.

"It's okay, Baby," she said. "It'll be okay."

Olivia felt Elliot shift beside her, the second time that day, and she instantly thought of how Connor, Carter and Dickie all looked so very similar.

"Carter," Olivia said with the soft voice she had honed perfectly for victims and their families. "When was the last time you saw Connor?"

Carter shook his head and did not look at Olivia. "Not since Monday."

"What time Monday did you see him?"

"During practice," he shrugged.

"Did you see where he went after practice?"

Carter shrugged again. "I thought Jeff was giving him a ride home, but he just walked off."

"Okay," Olivia said, her voice losing some of its high-pitched air as she gave Elliot a side glance, "from the indoor soccer fields, what direction did Connor start walking?"

Carter stared at the wall behind Olivia. His expression had not changed and though he was not crying, he rarely blinked.

"Do you have any idea what might've been bugging him," she asked. "I mean, you said he'd been out of it lately...what'd you mean by that?"

"I don't know," he said, his voice growing lower and more dejected. "He wouldn't talk to me about it. He said he could talk to Jeff though. I think it musta been about a girl he didn't want me to know about."

"Why wouldn't he want you to know about a girl?"

Carter shrugged. "Happened last year, 'cause it was a girl we both liked, but other than that we talked about everything."

"This Jeff," Elliot said after remaining silent for the majority of the exchange. "He's your coach?"

"Well...he's more like an assistant coach. He's a trainer."

"Yes," Mrs. Latham said. "He's always been so great with all of the boys. Always supportive and always there for them."

Mr. Latham cleared his throat. "We're actually quite thankful the boys have him in their lives. We know there are things they won't talk to us about, but Jeffrey's always been someone they could talk to."

Someone they would be prone to trust, Elliot thought.

Elliot turned his attention back to Carter. "Why did you think Jeff was going to take Connor home on Monday?"

"Connor said he'd talked to Jeff that weekend and since he was there that night..."

"Is Jeff around your practices a lot?" Elliot asked.

Carter looked up for the first time and squinted at Elliot as if he did not understand the question. He glanced at Olivia and squinted as if saying, "Is he serious?”

"Uh, yeah...he's our trainer. He's always there."

Elliot paused briefly remembering the escalated conversation he had had with his own thirteen-year-old son. "Did he ever seem inappropriate with you guys?"

"No," Carter said. "Jeff is cool. He's always cool."

"Okay," Olivia said sensing that Carter was getting agitated. "It's okay. We just want to find out what happened to Connor."

"Well, why are asking about Jeff?" Carter said his blond brow beginning to furrow. "You make it seem like he did something."

"No," Olivia said though Elliot had opened his mouth to respond. "We just want to know where Connor went on Monday. If there was anyone who talked to him or anyone he would've gone off with."

"I told you, I don't know!"

"It's okay," Olivia said. "I understand..."

"No!" he shouted his voice cracking. "You don't understand! How could he be dead?"

He stood up and backed away from the table. "I don't believe you! Connor just ran away or something. He's fine. He's fine!"

Mrs. Latham rushed and grabbed her now crying son. She just held onto him and wept with him. Mr. Latham simply sat in his seat shaking his head.

Elliot and Olivia stood from the table.

"We'll come back," Olivia said pulling one of her cards out of her coat pocket and handing it to Mr. Latham. "When he's calmed down a bit."

"Yeah," Mr. Latham said and the detectives left the apartment.

The visits to the homes of Connor's other friends faired no better. Each time the detectives were met with either anger and tears or solemn testimony with few words. Nicholas Baumgardner confirmed Drover's "coolness" with the boys, but no one knew anything about where Connor was going or had any information regarding who might have taken him.

Drained, both emotionally and physically, Elliot and Olivia returned to their precinct with little more information than they had when they started. It was nearing eight o'clock and they had been attempting to find something, anything, related to the case that could help them find who killed Connor, yet nothing had been forthcoming.

Olivia sat silently at her desk, a solemn expression on her face, while Elliot phoned his wife to explain a situation with his son. Elliot had told her what had happened with Dickie, on the drive from Connor's school, and while Olivia felt that Elliot had blown the situation out of proportion, she knew she had no place to tell her partner how to raise his son. She sat instead, pondering on the night ahead of her in the squad room, instead of what she had hoped she would be doing with Jonathan that night. Olivia had hoped that she could relax in his arms this Friday, but she knew with her 4AM wake-up call came the idea that she was automatically expected to spend the majority of her night pouring over this case. In the past, either she or Cragen would send Elliot home to spend at least some time with his family, but no such allowance was coming tonight. Given that they had literally nothing on which to base their investigation, Friday night was to be devoted solely to coming up with information on Connor Whickfield and Jacob Lewendale.

"...and make sure he stays inside," Elliot said over the phone.

"Well, how long do you expect to keep him holed up here?" a female voice asked on the other side of the phone.

The level of annoyance in Kathy Stabler's voice was apparent and biting, and it was all Elliot could do to keep from escalating the situation based only on her tone.

"I mean," she continued," you're not the one who has to play prison guard for him for the next couple days."

"It's not my fault he's decided lying to me was the best thing he could do."

"You should've just let him go."

"At eleven o'clock at night?"

"Why didn't you just take him over there?"

"It's the principle of the thing," Elliot said his voice growing a bit louder. "He procrastinated. He should’ve told me he had something to do and I could've rescheduled for him. The point is he shouldn't've lied to me."

"How long do you expect me to keep him like this?"

"At least until he apologizes for lying to me. Until he realizes that sneaking out at night is not acceptable here with me home with you."

Elliot was met with silence and he wondered for a moment if she had simply hung up on him.

"Well," she said after a full minute of silence, "just as long as you know that he's practically on lock down until you say so. I'm not going to undermine you, but if this continues on too long..."

"I know, Kath," he said. "I got it. But tonight, he's not going anywhere."

She sighed into the phone. "All right, Elliot. He'll be okay." She paused again. "Has Kathleen called you recently?"

His eyebrows furrowed together in alarm at her sudden change in topic. "No," he said. "Why? What's wrong?"

"Nothing," Kathy said quickly. "She's just been...I don't know how to describe it. She's just been so quiet lately and I know something's wrong."

"Have you asked her?"

"Yeah, because she's always been so open with information in the past..."

"You never know."

Kathy sighed again. "Just...when you talk to her listen for anything...I don't know...strange."

"I'll listen," Elliot said. "When she decides to talk to me."

She did not answer immediately. "Well...I've got to go. I'll talk to you later."

He only nodded into the phone, though he knew she could not seem him and did not reply. 

"So," he said, once he hung up his phone. "We've talked to nearly two dozen people today and everybody is saying that Connor was an angel and no one knows what happened to him that night..."

"Just like Jacob Lewendale," Olivia said absent-mindedly.

They sat in silence for another moment before Olivia spoke again. "We need to track down every kid on Connor's soccer team and see if anybody knows anything. There's no way that no one saw Connor after he left his practice that night."

"Well, we have the names of all the kids," Elliot said. "And…I think we should talk to Drover sooner rather than later."

Olivia threw him a cautionary glance, but he continued. "Look Liv. He came up in every conversation with every kid we talked to today."

"Because you brought him up."

"And, if you remember we were told to."

"But all of them, Elliot? No one has had one word against him and none of these kids are even slightly behaving as if Drover's done something to them."

"Carter Latham was upset. More so than the others when we...I brought up Drover."

"Elliot, we had just told him his best friend had been murdered. He reacted as any thirteen-year-old boy would."

"But, his response in regards to Drover was the strongest out of all of them." Olivia simply glared at him. "If he and Connor were best friends, then the odds are high that if Drover was abusing one he might have abusing them both. I think we need to bring him in because he's the only lead we've got so far on this case."

Olivia allowed her eyes to linger on his with a tired, yet angry expression set upon her face. "Let's talk to everyone on Connor's team first, before we drag this guy in for no good reason."

"Fine," Elliot said standing. "But if anyone, anyone, says anything crazy about Drover..."

"I'll drive to his place myself to bring him," Olivia finished.

He gave her a slight smirk. "All right. I'll be back. Nature calls."

She nodded and began to write notes as to how the case was progressing. A constant stream of reports detailing the case was necessary for not only her superiors, but also in the event that they found the criminal responsible, her documentation would be essential to the court case that would follow.

Her telephone gave its shrill cry from its place on her desk and Olivia picked it up quickly, expecting it to be Maya or Jonathan inquiring on why their plans had been destroyed for yet another evening.

"Benson," she answered.

"Uh...hi, Olivia?" a young voice said. "This is Kathleen. Is my dad around?"

Olivia looked up toward Elliot's desk though she knew he had just left. Elliot's second oldest daughter was calling her, but his phone never once rang. Her brow furrowed in slight confusion over why Kathleen had not simply called her father's desk or cell phone from the start.

"," she said. "He's not around me at this second, but I can get him. Hold on."

"Wait!" Kathleen said. There was an urgency in her voice that Olivia did not like. "I...uh...actually wanted to talk to you...if that's okay?"

Olivia was silent a moment before answering. “Um, yeah. That’s fine. What’s up? Is there something wrong?”

“Well…no. I just…”

As Kathleen’s voice trailed off, Olivia felt apprehension growing within her. While she had talked to Kathleen outside of Elliot’s presence in the past, and more recently had done so as she pleaded with Olivia to talk Elliot into returning home, Olivia still did not like the tone of her voice. The conversation was bound to turn somewhat ominous.

“Kathleen?” she said. “Are you okay? Do you need help?”

“No, no, no,” Kathleen said quickly. “I just…uh…wanted to talk to someone about…something.”

“Okay…is it something important?”

“Well, no…not really, I guess.”

Olivia repressed a sigh, not wanting Kathleen hear her growing annoyance, but it was difficult. Elliot’s daughter had called her specifically, but she was being less than cooperative when it came to the facts.

“Are you sure it’s not important?”

“Well…no. It’s not. Well…I-I guess I just don’t want to talk about it over the phone.”

“Do you need me to meet you somewhere?”

“Um…yeah. Actually, could we meet in the city? There’s this café near NYU…Schreider’s. Do you know where it is?”

“I do,” Olivia said. “What time ‘cause I’m still at the station house?”

“Uh, yeah, I know…How ‘bout tomorrow? I’m taking Dickie to his indoor soccer practice early, so maybe like…around eight in the morning?”

“Okay…that sounds fine.”

“Great.” The relief that resounded through Kathleen’s voice was nearly overwhelming and Olivia felt slightly unnerved.

“Are you sure you don’t want me to get your dad because he’s just around the corner?”

“No,” she said, again too quickly for Olivia’s taste. “He doesn’t need to know. In fact, I was kind of hoping you wouldn’t have to tell him at all?”

Olivia felt her breath catch involuntarily. She had never cared for secrets, especially between her and her partner, and whatever Kathleen needed to talk to her about was going to be something secretive. Something Kathleen wanted neither of her parents to know. Olivia felt a chill run down her spine as she considered actively helping one of Elliot’s children keep a secret from him.

Another secret, she thought attempting to push away an old memory at the same time.

“Well,” she began slowly. “If it’s important, I’m sure he’d want to know.”

“He will,” Kathleen said. “Just…not right now. I want to talk to someone else first.”

“Okay,” Olivia said nodding into her phone. “So, tomorrow morning, eight AM at Schreider’s.”

“Yes,” Kathleen confirmed. “Thanks so much, Olivia.”

“No problem.”

She hung up her telephone, but allowed her hand to rest on the receiver, unsure of the next step to take. She tried running down a list of all the things Kathleen could feel comfortable talking about with Olivia and not Elliot: school, hair, makeup, boys, sex, alcohol, drugs, pregnancy, college…The list seemed to go on forever, and Olivia did not feel comfortable talking to Kathleen about any of them outside of Elliot and Kathy’s permission.

“You ready?” Elliot said as he strode toward their desks.

She perked up immediately and stood, grabbing her coat. “Yep.”

“Something wrong?” he asked when he saw the quick change in her demeanor.

“No,” she said. “Everything’s fine.”

Elliot nodded at her and did not pursue the issue further. As they walked out of the squad room together, notes on the members of Connor Whickfield’s soccer team in hand, Olivia felt a weight upon her shoulders that she simply could not shrug off of her.




Northbound on Amsterdam at Broadway

Upper West Side, New York



Elliot pushed his foot on the gas pedal of the navy Ford, breezing through another green light as he drove up Amsterdam Avenue with Olivia sitting beside him silently. She was leafing through pages of notes they had both made after visiting the homes of eight of Connor Whickfield’s indoor soccer teammates. With eight homes down, thirteen when Connor’s closest friends were included, and still no significant information on the victim’s whereabouts, the case was looking more dire than it had earlier.

The detectives had five more homes to visit before they would return to their precinct to regroup. Olivia had earlier suggested that she and Elliot run the two crime scene details through their system to see if a similar MO appeared and they decided they would spend the rest of Friday doing such once they had interviewed everyone.

As much as he hated to admit it, Elliot knew that Olivia had been more or less correct in regards to Drover. Each of Connor's teammates had nothing but wonderful things to say about him. They each said in various ways that Drover was a "stand-up" guy, always enjoyable and never seemed even remotely inappropriate with any of them. While he did not have personal training sessions with all of them, the ones whom he did train on the side fervently confirmed that Drover was a normal person.

One boy, David Campbell, seemed less enthusiastic in regards to Drover and more complacent about the idea that one of his peers had been found murdered, but Elliot chalked the boy’s demeanor up to shock. The boy had said that Drover sometimes behaved as if he wanted to be his teammates’ role model and that the idea bothered him, however, from simply listening to him talk about the sport in general, it was apparent that David was being forced to play and take separate lessons by his parents and had long since lost any passion for soccer.

All the praise poured into Drover’s direction not withstanding, Elliot could not help but feel that there something off about Drover. Maybe it was simply the way he looked that morning. He did not seem as shocked about finding a child’s murdered body as Elliot would have expected him to be. Maybe it was simply the way he had looked at his partner when she questioned him.

He gave Olivia a sideways glance and shook the idea from his head. Maybe it simply had to do with the fact that his son had had team trainers on his soccer teams and they always looked just like Drover. There was also the issue that someone was murdering boys just Dickie’s age, likeness and demeanor. The similarities between Dickie and both Connor Whickfield and Jacob Lewendale were so striking that it took a fair bit of strength to keep from revealing to Kathy that night his real reason for keeping his son in the house was more a precaution than a punishment. A flash of Connor Whickfield’s image on the mantel of his parents’ decorative fireplace sprang to Elliot’s mind, and when the face dissolved into Dickie’s, a cold shiver ran through him.

As he turned right onto West 82nd Street, Elliot’s thoughts turned to his prior conversation with his estranged wife. He and Kathy always kept the majority of their conversations quick and to the point, rarely leaving them room to discuss anything more than a situation regarding the children. As the night stood, Elliot wondered how much Dickie hated him at that moment and he felt a slight burn in his stomach when he thought about what could be wrong with Kathleen.

There seemed to always be an issue with Kathleen lately and Elliot knew it all stemmed back to his and Kathy’s marital problems. He had seen the same issues arise in other children throughout his career with the SVU, and while he never wanted to imagine the same problems falling onto his own children, Elliot knew he probably should have seen it coming. Of the four, Kathleen was taking the impending divorce the hardest and, of the four, she was also the most hostile to both he and Kathy.

Olivia sighed next to him and she flipped her notepad to a new sheet in preparation for delivering gruesome news to yet another family. Elliot’s mind sprang forth the memory of the look on Olivia’s face when he had returned from the restroom just before they left the precinct. She appeared worried, like something was not quite right with her and that same preoccupation rested on her face hours later. After nearly a decade of spending the greater part of his waking hours with her, Elliot could read Olivia exceedingly well and a part of him wanted to ask what was bugging her, but he did not. Eight years together had also taught Elliot not to probe her until he was absolutely certain something was wrong.

He gave her another sideways glance and looked away as her eyes came up to meet his. Perhaps she had just been checking up on a victim from one of their last cases.

She’s always been so good at that, he thought to himself.

Olivia gave a slight shiver in her seat and Elliot instinctively turned up the heat in the car. She was not actually cold, but simply could not stifle the bodily reflex that occurred when her mind was focused on many things at one time.

She felt a myriad of emotions weighing on her with every breath and the idea of having to break somber news to yet another young life was not helping. There would also be the matter of the press to attend to if not that night, then certainly the next and the reporters were always relentless with their questioning. She was also simply annoyed that their entire day had been devoted to this one case and yet they were no closer to tracking down a suspect than they were the moment they had found the victim. The fact that she and Elliot had spent a good part of the day arguing over Drover had not benefited her mood and while she and Elliot had shared a quick, but more upbeat dinner than they had had in the past, she still did not like where they were as partners. Regardless of her efforts they were still not back in sync and she attributed some of her own unwillingness in attempting to close the gap to her looming conversation with Kathleen.

Olivia stared out the window at the family homes and apartments that lined the street and wondered if she should just tell Elliot that his daughter had requested to speak with her. If what Kathleen needed to talk about was serious, she would have to tell Elliot, and she knew he would be angry to learn that she had not told him the moment she knew something was wrong. As Elliot parked the car alongside a row of neatly parked vehicles, Olivia felt more drained than she had all day. Running on only the chocolate covered espresso beans she kept in her desk drawer and sheer perseverance, Olivia got out of the car and followed Elliot up the stone steps to the home of the Dyseki family to speak with twelve-year-old Everett.

Several minutes later, Ms. Dyseki was telling the detectives that she had already heard about what had happened to Connor and that she wanted to do anything possible to help them find the person responsible. Everett, taller, but the thinner than the other boys on his team, informed them that Connor had left the indoor soccer complex on West 108th once their practice had ended and headed toward Central Park on his own.

“Why’d you let him go off on his own up there?” Ms. Dyseki said with a very condescending tone to her son. “We’ve all told you a thousand times not to go walking off alone when you’re around the fields. You never know who’s watching.”

Everett sighed and stared at the beige rug on the living room floor.

“Are you sure he went toward the park?” Elliot asked. “Because Connor’s house is West of Columbus. If he was going toward the park, he’d have been going in the opposite direction of his house.”

Everett shrugged. “He went towards the park. I know because I remember thinking he was maybe going to just catch a cab or something and that it seemed stupid because he could’ve just got a ride with me or Carter or any of the other guys or even Jeff.”

His eyes darted toward his mother at the mention of Drover before quickly settling back on the floor. Both Elliot and Olivia noticed this and Elliot gave Olivia a look to perform a well-rehearsed diatribe with the mother.

“Ms. Dyseki,” Olivia said. “Could I trouble you for a glass of water?” She revealed a single pill from her coat pocket. “I just needed to take my, uh, asthma medication.”

Elliot suppressed a smirk knowing full well that Olivia had just quickly removed a sugar pill from its package that lied inside her deep pockets and did so to get Mrs. Dyseki out of the room for a moment. They had used the same routine dozens of times to allay parent’s suspicions. They were not specifically lying to speak to minors alone, but without the more underhanded techniques, younger witnesses tended to keep quiet about pivotal pieces of evidence. In cases when the parents seemed overbearing, as with Everett’s mother, Elliot thought it necessary to talk to the boy without her for a moment.

Everett,” Elliot said once Olivia and Mrs. Dyseki had left the room. “Now, you’re sure Connor went towards the park on Monday? It’s very important.”

“Yeah,” Everett said. “He went towards the park. I remember him going out the door and towards the park.”

“Okay.” Elliot nodded his head. “What about this guy Jeff? You said Connor could’ve gotten a ride from him. Why him? What’s special about him?”

Everett glanced toward the doorway through which his mother had disappeared and looked down at the floor sighing.

It’s okay, Everett,” Elliot said in almost a whisper. “You can tell me. It’ll be just between us.”

“It’s not anything,” he said. “Jeff…he just…”

Elliot stared at him expectantly. If he could just say the right words, they would have something on Drover and finally a break in their case.

“Jeff…” Everett continued. “He used to date my mom, that’s all.”

“I see,” Elliot said ensuring that no disappointment aired in his voice.

“I thought they were going to get married or something a while back, but my mom broke it off. She’s still really weird about it, but he’s actually pretty cool. He doesn’t, like, call me out during practice and training and stuff.”

“He’s a cool guy,” Elliot repeated, having heard the same statement made a dozen times that day.

“Yeah,” Everett said. “You know, he’d help me with my homework and took me to pro soccer games and stuff. Just…you know stuff like that.”

“Okay,” Elliot said nodding.

They shared a pregnant pause before Everett broke the silence. “Is it true, what I heard? That Jeff actually found Connor this morning?”

“Who told you that?”

Everett simply shrugged as Olivia and Ms. Dyseki returned from the kitchen. Olivia gave a nearly undetectable nod of her head toward the doorway and Elliot returned it with a nod that was just as invisible.

“Thanks a lot, Everett,” he said. “You’ve been really helpful tonight.” He pulled his card out of his pocket and handed it to Everett. “If you think of anything else, you can call me at anytime, okay?”

Everett nodded and Ms. Dyseki opened the door for them.

“Thank you,” she said as they were leaving. “Please, let us know when you find out anything.”

“We will,” Olivia said, knowing that Ms. Dyseki and Everett would most likely learn the details from the same sources that informed them that she and Elliot were coming, long before they would hear an official word from them.

“What’d he have to say about Drover?” she then asked Elliot once they were back in their car.

“Same old story,” he replied. “Drover’s a great guy who even helped with his homework.”

Olivia nodded, but Elliot continued. “But, he did say Drover dated his mother.”

She scoffed. “Well, maybe Drover likes his women in their latter years. I’m told some women seem to be more fun-loving when they start to approach their golden years. I think it’s something with getting that last itch scratched before they’re too old to get things started.”

Elliot smiled for the first time that day and simply shook his head as they drove toward the next house.

Three hours later, Elliot put the dark Ford into “park” on 10th Avenue and stared at Olivia as he turned off the car. They had spent the past hours going through dozens MOs of past sexual offenders in their system, after receiving no further significant information from the last three boys on Connor’s soccer team. They were both coming close to twenty-one hours on their feet investigating the case and a little after twelve, Cragen had sent them both home, claiming they had done all they could for Connor Whickfield that day.

Elliot did not always drive Olivia home after work, but as he still had to cross the East River to get back to his apartment, he ended up dropping her off at her apartment more often than not. Sometimes she protested, insisting that it was not worth the trouble and many times she simply left hours after him to take a cab home instead. Tonight, however, things still seemed unsettled between them and Elliot did not have to coax Olivia into the car for a ride home.

"I want to apologize about Drover," Elliot said with a sigh. " were right. I really didn't like him the second we saw him."

"El," she said. "It's okay. I mean at least we can more or less cross him off the list."

"But, I do still want to talk to him just to know what he and Connor talked about this past weekend," he added quickly.

Olivia nodded. "Understandable."

"It's just," he continued, "I can't help seeing Dickie in all those faces. I know I've even seen a couple of the kids we talked to tonight on teams he's played soccer against before. And's like he's every soccer or baseball coach I've ever met. I think it just hits a little closer to home than usual because I know that Dickie would probably like a guy like Drover."

"I know, Elliot," she said rubbing his arm.

"And now...I can't even go home and hug them and know that it'll be okay."

She nodded again. "How are Kathy and everyone else doing?"

Elliot shook his head. "Fine. Everybody's fine." He wanted to open up further to Olivia, but something, whether it was pride or shame, kept him closed. "What about Richie Rich? How's he doing?"

Olivia smiled and nudged him. "Jonathan is doing fine. Not that I've seen much of him lately, but I assume he's doing fine."

"I liked his little greeting this morning. 'West of Olivia's bed.' "

"You like that, eh?" she said.

"Yeah, it was cute. Just what I'd expect of him."

She smiled again and wondered if this would be a good moment to tell him that Kathleen had called her. Silence fell over them as she thought and it was awkward, the likes of which they had had more often now than they had in the past.

"Well," he said, breaking her thoughts with a smile. "It's late. Get the hell out."

Olivia gave him a light pinch in the arm and left the car. As she opened the outer door to her building, she heard someone come up behind her.

Her immediate tension was relieved when she saw Adam holding the door behind her.

"It's one AM on a Friday," she said with eyebrows raised as they entered the elevator. "What are you doing home this early?"

"What are you doing home so late?" he replied with mock agitation.

"I was out cleaning up this city. What's your excuse for being home so early?"

"Well...," he began. "I was 'sposed to meet my girl at this bar on 104th, but she never showed, and when I called her and to tell her I was going home, she said she was at this place on 123rd with a bunch of her girls."

"She stood you up?"

"She says she'll think about coming back down here to see me, but she's probably too drunk to get in a cab by now."

Olivia shook her head. "She'll make it up to you."

"Yeah," he said. "Hey! D’you have still have that book you said was supposed to be good?"

"What? Brown?"

"Yeah, let me borrow it."

"You didn't watch the movie?"

Adam scoffed. "I can't even coordinate a meet-up at the bar with my girl, let alone go the movies. Do you still have it?"

"Yeah," she said with a smile. "You can just have it actually. I didn't really like it."

"Didn't live up to the hype?"

"Not even close."

They chatted in her apartment for a bit while Olivia retrieved the book and she was relieved in having a lighthearted conversation with a man that had nothing to do with work or her own relationship. She cherished each laugh they shared and any meaningful conversation they had that did not remind her of the gloom that stood over her profession.

When Beyonce’s “Irreplaceable” rang from Adam's cell phone, he stared at the number on the phone with a frown.

"Hang on a second," he said to Olivia. "Yeah...what...calm down...well I didn't shoulda called me the sec-...okay, okay...just calm down...Girl, calm down. I’m at my neighbor’s…yeah, I’m in the building…I’ll be right-…my neighbor Liv…yeah, so…Look, I'll be there in a second!"

He hung up his phone and rolled his eyes. "That's Taysia. Apparently, she's been downstairs buzzing my apartment for the last ten minutes and now she's losing her mind down there."

"Wow," Olivia said. "You'd think she would've called you earlier."

"That's what I was saying, but I'll deal with it later. See you and thanks for the book."

Olivia had changed into her slippers and was about to call Jonathan when she heard knock at her door.

"Who is it?" she asked cautiously, the door chain still in place.

"It's Mark."

She rolled her eyes and looked at her watch.

"Mark," she said as she opened the door. "It's almost two in the morning."

"Yeah, sorry," he said. "It's just that...uh...I saw that black guy from the tenth floor down here again, and I just wanted to make sure that he wasn't bothering you or anything."

Olivia sighed and gave an exasperated roll of her eyes that she ensured Mark saw.

"I know you say you don't need me to look out for you, but everybody needs somebody to keep a look out on things. I don't want him bothering you and I could even have the super talk to him too."

"Mark, I don't need-"

"And, I could do something about him too. You know...I know people."

"Look, Mark. There's nothing wrong with Adam. I like him. He's a friend and I know you're concerned, but I can take care of myself. And most importantly, I'm a cop and I don't want to hear anything about any people."

"Okay, okay," he said defensively. "I'm just..."

"You're just looking out for me and I appreciate it, but just...lay-off."

"Okay. Well, have a good night."

"Oh, and Mark."

He turned around expectantly. "Yeah!"

"That black guy's name is Adam, and I think it would do you a lot of good to get to know him."

Olivia then closed her door and locked it immediately. She shook her head thinking about the interruption. Sometimes Mark's sheer nerve and overwhelming ignorance managed to surprise her in new ways every time she came into contact with him.